Jazz Beer: Crown Brewery’s Django Reinhardt

Crown Brewery's Django Reinhardt

Crown Brewery's Django Reinhardt

Avid readers of my blog (are there any other than my mum? Probably not) will already know about Crown Brewery and my love for them. Read me raving about it here and here and visit their website here.

So, this is one of their jaaazzz (one can’t say jazz without stretching that “a”) beers, a series of beers named after classic jazz musicians. As far as I can tell the musician and style of beer aren’t really linked, beside it being a nice name.

I’ve not had any of Crown Brewery’s other jazz beers, indeed I’ve never even seen one before, and I didn’t realise the series even existed until I browsed the brewery’s own website.

So, what’s this beer like? Well, it’s a Double Damson Porter.

What’s that mean?

Well, I assume the double relates to the use of  a Belgian yeast strain (maybe?) the damson relates to the fact that they brewed the beer using damson for the sugar, rather than boring old sugar itself, and the porter refers to the fact it’s brewed dark and rich using roast malts, like what porters are.

Now, I don’t like criticising this beer. Crown Brewery have always impressed me, and this beer was brewed with the assistance of Zak Avery, a man whose company I’ve enjoyed while perusing his excellent store Beer Ritz and whose blog I religiously read/watch.

But, this beer has not quite hit the spot for me. It poured a lovely deep, dark brown, almost black colour with maybe a hint of damson-y purple (but that might be my brain playing tricks), but it also poured completely and utterly flat. No head, no carbonation, no nothing.

I’m no fizz enthusiast, indeed, I prefer my beers too flat to too carbonated, but the complete lack of carbonation left the flavours rather flat and the nose nigh-on nonexistant.

So while I enjoyed those deep, roasted, espresso flavours of the malt, that bitter kickback and those lingering, sharp, tangy fruit notes, it just all seemed to attack my palate at once, rather than presented itself nicely and ordered as I hoped.

And my hopes were high. I had this on draft at North Bar back in December and while I took no notes, I remember being massively impressed. It was vibrant and fully flavoured.

So, what went wrong? Well, my guesses would be:

1) this beer is just better on cask

2) my habit of not getting round to drinking bottles of beer meant it was passed it best

3) I just got a bad bottle (bottle conditioned bottles are, by their nature, inconsistent)

One of the three above points would also explain why the aforementioned Zak Avery loved it while I did not.

I’d say that I’d like to try it again and see whether this was a one off. But, as far as I know, there’s none of this left. So we’ll have to wait for the next time it’s brewed.

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Crown Brewery Smokin’ Oktoberfest; Four Months Too Late

Why haven’t I already drunk this? Erm, I don’t know.  I bought this beer at the start of October at the recommendation of Zak Avery at Beer Ritz (he told me it was the best Oktoberfest beer they had in, despite it being from Sheffield, and not Germany, which seemed like a good recommendation to you). I’d meant to drink it in October, surely the prime time to drink an Oktoberfest beer, but didn’t. Then November passed by, then December, and so on…

So, it’s sat in my cellar for months now, and Stu, the man behind Crown Brewery (which I’ve written and ranted and raved about before), warned me last week that it might not be over-conditioned and past it best.

It seemed only right that I crack it open as soon as I can. So I do.

And while I leave you awaiting the result, I’ll quickly mention that this isn’t an Oktoberfest beer in the ultra-pure, straight and drinkable Pilsner/lager way. This is an authentic marzen-style rauchbier. Apparently. I’d comment on how authentic it actually is, but I’ve no idea what a marzen-style rauchbier is. Read on and you’ll see what I think.

The opening is spectacular. Rob at Hopzine warned me that this beer was pretty lively way back in October when, like a sensible man, he drank it. To say that this bottle was lively would be something of an understatement.

Crown Brewery Smokin’ Oktoberfest 2009

Crown Brewery Smokin’ Oktoberfest 2009

I put my bottle opener to this in the middle of my kitchen. My arm now smells off Smokin’ Oktoberfest. My kitchen floor’s a bit sticky and smelly and my bottle, after pouring a nice little glass, is half empty (as you can see in this picture her). Yep. This was a true explosion. My sink and floor are a lucky pair of bastards.

Thankfully, none landed anywhere near my tea that this was designed to go with. I’d cooked up a butternut squash and chestnut risotto, and figured that the chestnuts would work well with this beer.

As the name suggests, this is smoky and chewy, full of rich, earthy roasty malt flavours. It’s got a bit of caramel there, and lovely long refreshing finish. And while the nose and first impression of the taste is prominently smoked (not unlike Bavarian ham) it’s not overwhelming. The plan with the meal was that surely roast flavours and chestnuts must work well together?

The good news was that it really bloody does. So much so that I don’t resent nearly half of it messing up my floor and bubbling merrily down my sink. Alas, I don’t think you can get any bottles of this anymore. Maybe they’ll make more for next Oktoberfest? If they do I’ll drink it in October. I promise.

Festive Drinking

Things have been quiet round these parts for sometime now. Almost an entire fortnight infact. What with Christmas, traveling around the North of England to visit various friends and relatives and a general laziness that comes from having ages off work, I didn’t get round to any blogging.

I did, however, get round to some mighty fine drinking. Again, it being Christmas and all that, the drinking was largely social and often in the kind of quantities beyond normal responsible levels (especially if the people who inspired Pete Brown’s latest blog are to believed [they really shouldn’t]), means that some beers are remembered just sketchily, others very well, and none have any kind of notes to be taken with them. So I’m going to bash through December and the start of 2010 at pace. Here we go.

Christmas Eve started well. Well, it didn’t, we were meant to go up to Burnley for a party but the never ending bloody snow foiled that. Solution: a trip to North Bar. As we were preparing to order, the splendid manager there, Matt, informed me that Crown Brewery’s Django Reinhardt – a damson porter – was about to come on tap. I instantly ceased my plan to order a Stille Nacht and waited with baited breath for the recommendation. It was worth the wait, rich in fruit flavours, warming and powerful it’s a perfect winter tipple and it got me all ready to settle down infront of the telly with a DVD of Bugsy Malone.

My Christmas Beers

My Christmas Beers

Next up, inevitably, was Christmas day. Drinking-wise today was all about Bucks Fizz (a bottle of Champagne was polished off between the two of us, before lunch, naturally), loads of muy dulce sherry from Beer Ritz. This stuff, Valdivia Pedro Ximenez, is, as the tag in Beer Ritz says, “nectar of the Gods”. It’s honey and treacle and currents and pudding and all the sweet tastes of Christmas rolled into one. I did, however, break out a Chimay Bleue to accompany our vegetarian Christmas dinner of mushroom pie. A great beer, packed full of complex flavours, it went down a treat.

The real beery treat on Christmas day, though, was two of the presents my thoughtful girlfriend got for me. Having taken advice from Zak at Beer Ritz, she’d been out and bought me corked 75cl bottles of Flying Dog Wild Dog Schwartz and Victory V Saison. I’ve not dared drink these yet – I’m waiting for a special occasion.

Gouden Carolus Noel

Gouden Carolus Noel

Boxing Day meant more of that heavenly sherry, and visits to family, all finished off superbly by Gouden Carolus Noel a special Christmas beer that was just that – special and Christmassy. The dark brown beer was heavy, spicy and figgy and a superb nightcap.

The 27th was another family day and as soon as my driving was over, I indulged in a Dark Star Espresso Stout. For a 4.7% beer it’s surprisingly rich in flavour and manages to pack in a really rich coffee flavour without overwhelming that comforting warmth you’d want from a stout. The beer presents continued here, with my folks getting me a Yorkshire ale box (two Copper Dragon beers and a great Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter) and my brother getting my two beers from Sheffield’s Kelham Island plus a cheese washed in the curds from their Pale Rider, which was interesting. A real taste experience which took some getting used to (cheese and beer work well eaten and drunk side-by-side, but combined in one is a little more acquired) but eventually kept my palate very happy indeed.

From there, it was days in Lancashire centered around the wedding of two friends. I shan’t go into details but it was an amazing do, complete with dancing, surf rock, great food and, most importantly, a lovely couple getting hitched. As an aside they also provided a cask of very local Hen Harrier by the Bowland Brewery. As you’d want for a wedding (and a subsequent NYE party which it lasted for) it was easy drinking, crisp and pale with some nice citrus flavours.

New Year’s Day (aka my birthday) was a day to break out a couple of quality beers, namely the aforementioned Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter, really amazingly rich with roasted barley flavours, and even better the BrewDog and Mikkeller Divine Rebel. This beer, a collaboration between two very impressive craft brewers, is partly aged in whiskey barrels and the taste tells you that straight away. It’s full of toffee and caramel flavours and packs a mighty punch.

An even better beer-related occurrence on that day, however, was another present from my wonderful girlfriend. This time it wasn’t beer, but the ability to make beer (give a child a fish and he’ll be able to feed himself for a day, give the child a net and he’ll be able to… and so on). Yup, she signed me up for a two day homebrew course in February. I will report back on that in good time.

Which brings me to my final subject. My homebrew. I made some back in November. Because my house is cold it took ages, but it’s ready to drink now, and also in hands of numerous friends and family members across the country. What’s it like? Well, it’s from a kit called Old Homewrecker, but it’s only around 4.5%. It’s a darkish winter ale and, like all novice homebrew, it’s just about ok. It’s drinkable, but as it has no hopping to speak of, it likes anything like a real depth of flavour. Plus, it’s got a fair bit of sediment in. We don’t have a name for it yet.

I expect my next brew, post-course, will be far better.

Crown Brewery – Wheat Stout, Unpronouncable IPA – My Word, What A Brewery

Wheat Stout

Wheat Stout

Time to fess up. Were it not for the splendid Zak Avery at Beer Ritz I would probably never have heard of Crown. I was skulking around his shop looking for some choice Oktoberfest ales, and Crown’s Smokin Oktoberfest – despite being from Sheffield which, last I checked, is nowhere near Germany – was, so I was told the pick of the bunch.

I believed Zak (well, you have to believe someone who’s an award-winning beer writer, right?) and bought the beer. It’s still in my cellar (read: damp basement) now, waiting for the right time to be supped. But it that time, the aforementioned Avery shoved a bottle of their Wheat Stout in my hand, and also recommended the Unpronouncable IPA. I got both, drank my Wheat Stout last night and have an Unpronouncable IPA by my side right now.

And thank bloody god that I do. This is good stuff.

So who are Crown Brewery? It’s a microbrewery from Sheffield (as I’ve already told you) based in the cellar of the city’s Hillsborough Hotel.  It’s name comes from another brewery that once existed on the other side of the road in the 1930s.  It got a new lease of life in 2006 when new owners took over the pub and brewery, and since July 2007 they’ve employed the services of Stuart Ross, formerly of Acorn and Kelham Island breweries.

I’ll start with the Wheat Stout (because I’m still savouring the IPA now).  It starts promising, pouring out a rich, deep black, with a dark, creamy head.  It doesn’t take much for the nose to get impressed either – it comes out all powerful and surging with bitter coffee and dark chocolate forcing its way up the nostrils.

It promises for an impresive stout, and as its sips, it delivers as you would expect. The longest-lasting and most prominent flavour is liquorice, a whole heap of liquirice, but those chocolate and coffee notes kick in too, while the powerful, warming finish is biscuity – digestive biscuity to be precise.

The Unpronouncable is, I assumed so called because its a hefty – or,if you will, traditional 7%. That’s a little closer to what the original IPAs were meant to be (they had to be strong to surive the crossing to India, see). Certainly a great deal of words could become muddled, stumbled over and generally tough to say after a couple of bottles of this.

Just because it’s pretty strong doesn’t mean that this ain’t subtle. Have no doubt, this a clever beer. After appreciating the golden colour and lovely creamy head, the first thing you get is blackberries. Yep, blackberries. Thanks, so the brewery say to their Bramling Cross hops,  this is a gloriously fruity beer designed, in the brewery’s own words as “a nice adversary to the super-hopped US-style IPAs”. They succeed in doing so. Yep, this is nicely bitter – but not overly so.  And once you’ve got your head round those lovely fresh blackberry flavours (help, no doubt, by Crown’s insistence on bottle conditioning), you get a slight bitter apple finish. Is there a better combination of flavours for the autumn?

The best bit of all this (for me) is that I still have the Oktoberfest beer to try. I shall my thoughts on that when it’s opened.

Have a look at the brewery