Felinfoel Double Dragon – A Welsh Beer for a Welsh Party

Last Saturday I sent a message via Twitter to Leeds’ brilliant (AND DEFINITELY STILL OPEN) Beer Ritz asking them if they had any Welsh beer in stock. “Only Felinfoel Double Dragon – is there anything you’re after?” was their response.

I wasn’t really sure what I was after, maybe something from Otley Brewery, I know that they’re quite hip these days, and from Wales. Other than that, I was open to suggestion. Having just one beer available was perfect though, saved me having to make a decision. I dispatched my father to Beer Ritz with instructions to grab me half a dozen bottles of Felinfoel Double Dragon – ‘they sell it in Beer Ritz’, I figured, ‘so it must be good’.

Why did I want a Welsh beer, and any Welsh beer? Well, as my post title suggests, I was having a bloody Welsh party, wasn’t I?

Turns out that Felinfoel Double Dragon was exactly what I wanted. The party was a small, family affair (parents, in-laws, wife, new son [born unexpectedly in Wales, hence the theme]). Food came in the form of lashings of damn fine Welsh Rarebit.

So we cracked open the Double Dragon. A 4.2% ale, and proclaimed “The National Ale of Wales” (although I’m not sure who decided this). It was just a proper, honest ale. A rich acorn-colour, good and malty with lovely hints of hops lurking inside. While I wouldn’t be so bold as to proclaim this a FAB!POW (which is, it seems, what every beer blogger seems to call any kind of beer and food pairing these days), the smooth warm tones of the beer sat splendidly with the intense cheese hit of the rarebit and proved lovely and refreshing on a hot Spring day.

In a world where beers seem to struggle to gain praise if their not proudly single-hopped, high abv’d, hitting 100s of IBUs or flavoured with something weird and wonderful, sometimes we forgot the pleasure of supping a quality ale, in a lovely setting, with good folk.

This is what this post was about.

Do I think Double Dragon is a great ale? No. But in the right setting, at the right time, with the right people, it’s bloody lovely.

ReetGood Rides the Zeitgeist: Thornbridge’s Halcyon

Thornbridge's Halcyon

Thornbridge's Halcyon

My blog ain’t usually at the forefront for beer related news, or reviews of the newest concoctions, bottles or brewing methods. It’s more just me occasionally rambling about stuff I’ve drunk, when I get round to drinking it.

For example, I’ve not yet reviewed Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, when every other bugger has. I will drink it some time and review it then, but I’ve not got round to it yet.

But this time I’m writing about a beer only a matter of days since everyone else has. Which is novel. Zak Avery wrote about it here, Real Ale Reviews kind of did it here and HopZine did it here. Others have banged on about it too.

What is it (if you haven’t followed the link yet)? It’s Thornbridge Brewery‘s Halcyon. Why are people writing about it? Well, because 1) it tastes good, 2) it smells good, 3) it has a nice attractive bottle (look at my photo) and 4) it’s quite novel in terms of brewing.

Most beers dry hop (i.e. used dried hops for hop flavour/nose), while Halcyon is hopped with fresh hops (from Mr Capper’s farm, Hertfordshire, no less). This method probably does all kind of smart, chemically things to the beer to make it taste good, the main thing for me though, is that this beer tastes fresh, the hops taste ripe, vibrant and, because I can’t think of a better word, zingy. It’s dry, bitter and also has a long, lurking fruitiness that picks up on about every tropical fruit you could ever desire. Plus a lovely warm, refreshing pineyness.

Which is all very nice.

As Zak pointed out in his lovely video blog, this beer isn’t quite perfect, there’s quite a lot of, erm, “gunk” in it from the hops. But then I’m not a massively discerning individual. The gunk don’t bother me, and I can deal with it for making such a great tasting beer.

Finally, I should mention why I decided to pop this bottle open in such a timely manner. It’s not to be newsworthy, or interesting. It’s because I figured it’d be a lovely bottle of beer and, therefore, a bloody great way to celebrate LEEDS UNITED GETTING PROMOTED TO THE BLOODY CHAMPIONSHIP! HOORAH!

WOAH! The UK Launch of Dogfish Head.

Dogfish Head

Dogfish Head

This should be brief. Maybe it won’t end up being so, but it should be.

Last night was, as the post’s imaginative title suggests, The UK Launch of Dogfish Head. Maybe I’m lazy, but I can never be arsed telling you all about some exciting brewery. They’ve all got websites that will tell you more than I know. In the case of this Delaware brewery (see I told you a little) you can find out loads more here. That’s easy.

What I will tell you is that while it seems the US can’t get enough of DFH (technically the F shouldn’t be there, but it looks better), we’re stuck, well, not being able to get enough of it. Until very recently (yesterday) we’ve got dribs and drabs every now and then. It’s been very pricey and unreliable in its attendance behind bars and on shelves.

Lucky for us, the good folk at Leeds based beer importer Vertical Drinks (guys, if you ever need a new employee, I’m yer man) decided that enough was enough and they were bloody well going to get DFH over here. So now we have it. It was that easy.

So, folk in Leeds can buy their DFH at North Bar and Beer Ritz now. And probably some other places now. Do they want it though?

The evidence of last night suggests that bloody hell, yes they do. There were some 40-50 people paying the very reasonable £25 per head to be at the launch at The Cross Keys in Leeds, and try the beer with food as paired by The Cross Key’s bloody good chefs. I’ve posted the menu before here, it looks bloody tasty. And it was.

I’m not going to describe all the beers (they probably do that on the DFH website). I will give you the edited highlights though.

What We Drank: 60 & 90 min IPA, Raison D’Etre, India Brown Ale, Paolo Santa Marron and one special extra

Best Beer: India Brown Ale (hoppy and malty all at once, really rich, chewy and a little sweet)

Best Beer and Food Pairing: 60 Minute IPA and devilled sprats (that means spicy whitebait) – the spice and hops was perfect, and the crisp freshness of the IPA was refreshing and cleansing after them smelly fisheys.

Best Bit of The Evening: Well, we’d all worked out we were going to try Life & Limb long before we were actually told. But yeah, we got to try Life & Limb, the collaboration between Sierra Nevada and DFH. Unfortunately I got about 25mls of the stuff (we have 4 out of 12 bottles in the UK, so sharing was a must, and my pour was stingier than most). I’m not moaning, but after so much food, that wasn’t really enough to give it a proper judgement. Zak Avery is loads better at that than me. He tells you all you need to know here.

What I Learnt: I still love owt that’s packed full of hops, India Brown Ale is loads nicer than it sounds, I should take photos and make notes more, more girls come to beer tasting events than you’d think, sharing five bottles of beer (three per table of seven) still gets you nicely pissed if they range from 6-12%, Venision Faggots, despite having a name that can no-longer be said without a guilty titter, are well nice, Parkin is the best kind of cake there is.

Will I Be Buying DFH Now: Damn right I will. Especially the 90 Minute IPA and the India Brown Ale

Am I Going To Stop Writing This Now: Yes. Night.

Dogfish Head at The Cross Keys

I’ve mentioned before that I write for Leeds Guide for a living. Why do I keep bringing it up? Well because my work there and this blog often over-lap in terms of subject matter (ie, I try to get as much beer content into the Leeds Guide as possible).

My latest foray has been previewing the Dogfish Head tasting event at the Cross Keys on 16th February. It’s going to be great. Read all about it here:

http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/boozeflash/dogfish-head-tasting-at-the-cross-keys/13240

Join the Facebook group here: http://www.facebook.com/LeedsGuide?ref=ts#/group.php?gid=265953517390&ref=ts

Plus, the menu’s here:

Beer One: 90 Minute I.P.A
Food: New season garlic soup, english snails & parsley juice
(Veg Option: New season garlic soup with parsley juice)

Beer Two: 60 Minute I.P.A…
Food: Devilled sprats with seashore vegetables and sorrel mayonnaise
(Veg Option: Seasonal vegetables with sorrel mayonnaise)

Beer Three: Indian Brown Ale
Food: Venison faggots, split pea puree & onion gravy
(Veg Option: Wild mushrooms, split pe puree)

Beer Four: Raison D’Etre
Food: Ginger parkin, rum & raisin syrup, horlicks ice cream

Beer Five: Palo Santo Marron
Food: Palo santo rarebit with apple & vanilla chutney

Sounds amazing!

STAGGING IT! And the Shropshire Union Canal Beer Club

Assorted beer club beers

Assorted beer club beers

As I write this blog post, my body seems to be in some kind of post-barge stress disorder. I may have been firmly on dry land for well over 24 hours (and I was only on a boat for two nights), but still my mind is still gently rocking me back and forth. When it will stop, I know not. But I hope it’s bloody soon.

So, what am I on about? Well, this week was a STAG DO! but not in the way you think. We didn’t hit the nearest swanky town, fill ourselves full of beer and then call into the nearest strip club. Oh no, for this was a classy, sophisticated, well behaved affair. This was a barging trip, between Bunbury (there were two English graduates on the trip, and neither of us made an Importance of being Earnest joke, indeed, I only just noticed the link n0w) and Chester on the Shropshire Union.

Our relatively sober, good behaviour was partly due to us all being sensible grown-ups with self-control and a knowledge of our own limits, and partly down to the worry that a hangover on a barge could be about as pleasant as being in a furnace with a temperature, or on a building site with a migraine.

However, this being a stag do, there was obviously going to be some drinking. But this wasn’t normal drinking. It was beer club. The stag do organiser had told us all to bring some interesting beer with us. That beer was going to be shared, tasted and rated. This was beer club.

Now, most beer tasters would be horrified at this tasting. Our scores were out of 10 for each beer, with no real criteria. We were tasting our beer out of plastic cups with a skull and crossbones on (their was a slight pirate theme upon the barge, we even had a Jolly Roger before some Chester bastard nicked it in the night), the beers were drunk roughly in order of darkness and most of the beers were just from the supermarket. A sophisticated beer tasting this was not. But, it was a laugh. And that’s what matters.

Our  barge was called the Speckled Hen, so, we started we Old Speckled Hen. It came straight in at 7 out of 10, mainly for being inoffensive, yet pretty tasty. If unspectacular, our tasting then took us to a few more beers whose notes have been lost in time. We had an Abbot Ale that was far too cold (again, this wasn’t a very scientific tasting) a bottle of St Peter’s Best that scored a lowly 1.87 (“stylish bottle, but fizzy and too shallow” said our shared notes). We had a Ginger Tom which seemed to go down well, and moved on to a Barbar honey ale, which promised much, but disappointed us with a strange mash of flavours (“strong, bitter, sweet and smooth a confused ale that doesn’t know what it wants to be: 3/10”) and a Wells Banana Bread Beer that tasted like that nice medicine you get as a nipper.

After The Banana Bread Beer, we moved on to darker, stronger things. We started with Duchesse de Bourgogne, the Flanders red ale. Many of my drinking colleagues hated the vinegary kick and the sweet flavours. I, however, have been a fan for years, and happily finished off the spares. A Westmalle Dubbel was strangely lacklustre, lacking any depth of flavour, bu Grimbergen Dubbel abbey beer wowed us all, although our notes seem to say “salty and liquoricey. Deliciously hollow – 8.3/10”, which is an odd turn of phrase.

Next up was the dark stuff. Old Tom’s Strong Beer showed initial promise with a nice meaty kick, but then failed to give anything in the finish. Old Growler looked a bit suspect, despite scribbling that it was “like an angular wet dog”, we all declared it “malty, drinkable, really gets in your mouth” (whatever that means) and gave it a mediocre 6.5/10. My beer for the tasting was Meantime London Stout. I loved it, but my companions found it a little bland. Which was odd.

After stouts, some unwise drinker had decided to bring a load of chocolate beers with him, to largely dreadful affect. Meantime Dark Chocolate Ale faired better than the rest, but even that only got the following response: “like alpro soya milk. bleurgh. 4.2/10”. The rest, though, Old Tom’s Chocolate Beer and, worst of all Flors Chocolate got 1.3/10 and our notes just said “nauceous”.

Foolishly, we left the lagers until our palates were well and truly baffled and we had ingested a load of salty snacks. Lucky Beer came in a Buddha-shaped bottle, and was slightly limey and sweet. We quite liked it. Our last beer, Kastell Cru faired less well, the standard one being far too unremarkable to be worth the price, while the Rose version really unimpressed and had us somewhat un-PCly declaring it “quite possibly one of the gayest beers”.

Yes, this was a massively unscientific beer tasting, yes, it might tell you very little about the beers, but it was bloody fun. After that we hit Chester, found a few nice pubs and, it true stag fashion, finished the night on a barge, with cups of green tea (decaff). Wild.

Meantime London Stout: An old fashioned stout

Meantime London Stout

Meantime London Stout

I had to try this beer tonight. Tomorrow night is bottling the home brew night (all being well), which means I’ll be too busy that night for proper sampling. And Friday night I’m jumping in my car, a small number of bottles of Meantime London Stout in my boot, and heading straight off to a stag do. In Shropshire. On a barge.

Part of the stag do will be a beer tasting, where the eight of us each bring a beer to test, rate and, inevitably, make us a bit merry. I opted for this London Stout because I thought it would be a) good and b) interesting. I decided though that I must try a bottle first just incase it’s crap.

Of course, it’s not crap. Head brewer Alastair Hook won the Best Brewer award from the British Guild of Beer Writers in 2008. That means that people who know and write a lot a beer think his beers are good. They’re hardly likely to be wrong. In fact, I know from past experience that Meantime is very good.

So, yes, Meantime London Stout. Yes. London Stout. Because there was stout before Guinness. And that stout came from the UK, and of course because London is the bloody capital and therefore home to bloody everything that’s bloody good, it was in London where most of the brewing went on.

This beer is made using the original recipe for stout. With just malt and no barley, unlike most stouts these day, which mix the two.  Meantime (so called before they’re based in Greenwich) claim that the use of malt gives it “a more velvet mouthfeel and greater vanilla notes than Irish alternatives”.

Velvety sure is right. It tastes rich, creamy, almost soft it the mouth, with a substantial, almost sooty bitterness (that makes it sound horrible, I know, but it’s great, trust me) and even a hint of roasted nuts – hey, it’s Christmas. It’s rich, ballsy and gentle too. It’s got a lot more about it than the 4.5% abv would have you believe. Plus, it goes very nicely indeed with this slice of coffee cake I’m munching on.

Unless anyone brings something really rich and fiery, I’d imagine we’ll be saving this for the final tasting (good luck tasting a light summer ale after this one). I just hope my fellow stags appreciate the all-enveloping smoothness. If not, I know someone who can finish their bottles off!

I’ve still got a bottle of Meantime’s London Porter in the cellar. I’ll be comparing these two when I break that one out.

Click here for more Meantime