Southampton Beer Festival 2017 – Highlights!

Drinking beer in football stadiums doesn’t happen that much these days with rules abut taking it into the stands but CAMRA proved that they can be good venues for a beer festival. My trips to Southampton usually involve me being dragged to the football by my partner (who is a Saints fanatic) so it makes a change to go to St. Mary’s for something I would enjoy too! The festival was held in the stadium’s concourse with ample seating and space to move about – so no overcrowding! The thick brick walls and open stairs up to the main ground helped keep the room temperature cool and the beers in good condition. I had already marked a few beers I wanted to try on the train journey over so I was eager to get started, here are a few of my festival highlights.

Wild Weather’s Sublime 3.8% sounded like a good place to start with its lower ABV. This blonde ale had a very clean and light mouthfeel balanced out with a hint of lime. This didn’t last me long but was a good way to ease myself into the festival. The next beer needed to be something a little bolder…

‘When in Rome’ as they say so my next beer needed to be more local. I was eager to try Dancing Man and Eight Arch’s collaborative beer – The Lime and The Coconut. This was very tropical and had a strong coconut flavour – which I don’t normally go for considering I don’t enjoy coconut! I wouldn’t say that this beer is particularly sour but there was more of a lime hit than my first beer. If it wasn’t for the fact I was at a festival I would have continued drinking this all afternoon!

I decided to try a beer that was named after the Southampton FC legend Matt Le Tissier, particularly as I was at their home ground. On Le Tiss by Brewhouse & Kitchen unfortunately did not live up to the expectation of it’s name. I was disappointed by the flavour as it wasn’t to my taste and in my opinion I felt that it lacked any real mouthfeel. I felt like this beer was a little gimmicky but looking at other reviews from the event I could see there was a mixed bag of people who liked it and those who didn’t. A marmite amongst beers I think.

My last highlight of the festival was Jakehead IPA from Wylam. After having a few ales already I was finding my palate was starting to feel numb. I needed something with a burst of flavour and the Jakehead was it. A hoppy IPA with some citrus and grapefruit notes – this beer was the perfect end to a great festival. 

All in all a great turn out to a fantastic venue. The space was used effectively and the beers were well conditioned which is crucial for a good traditional ale. Definitely one I recommend and would be more than happy to go again in the future!

DEYA Tasting Fringe Event

One of the fringe events that I attended whilst in Leeds for the Hop City festival was a tasting evening with DEYA Brewery at The Turks Head. Ironically Leeds is a long way to travel for a tasting evening with a brewery that is fairly local to me but it was a great way to get ready for the festival. Having only had one of DEYA’s beers, Steady Rolling Man, I was interested to see what else they brewed. 

The tasting session was run by DEYA’s founder and brewer Theo. Don’t be fooled by his youth as he is very knowledgable about beer and very passionate about what he produces. He explained to us that he wanted to create hoppy beers, particularly IPAs, that don’t have an overbearing flavour. Something that I can relate too as I find very hoppy beers can sometimes end up tasting like a bar of of soap! Steady Rolling Man is Theo’s flagship beer, of which he is very proud of and one I’ve blogged about before. You can see why it’s so good when you taste it and so the first beer of our tasting went down a treat!

Next up was the Sunset Dreaming 6% Pale. A little hazier in appearance to Steady Rolling but just as easy to drink. I really enjoyed it’s well balanced citrus fruit flavours from the hops to create something that is still quite session-able. Can easily imagine drinking this on a warm sunny day!

Then in quick succession came Into The Haze 6.6% and The Very Hoppy Caterpillar 7.1%. Both these IPAs gave a hoppier punch to the palette with the softer tropical fruit notes bringing up the rear. I found that Into The Haze was so juicy it could have been like a fruit juice drink. The Very Hoppy Caterpillar had a bit more mouthfeel which I’d expect from something stronger and like the others was so drinkable!

We finished on something a little different for the brewery, an oatmeal porter called Hokum Stomp 5.5%. By Theo’s own admission, DEYA brew a family of beers with similar characteristics so this one was brewed to stand out amongst the others. Slightly thinner mouthfeel to what expected after reading the tasting notes but the charred roasted coffee flavours were definitely there. Oaty and malty, this beer reminded me of sitting in a cafe at breakfast. This porter definitely brings something different to the DEYA portfolio.

This was such a good night and a great experience to be able to meet the brewer of these amazing beers. I really felt that these beers all bear similarities of each other which maintain strong branding, except the oatmeal porter as this was designed to be different. I also feel that they have some subtle differences that make them great to drink on their own. For my personal taste I really enjoy the styles of these beers and it’s great to find a brewery that wants to do good flavourful IPAs without the overbearing soapy taste. I look forward to seeing what else DEYA has to produce!

Hop City Leeds 2017

Opening night on Northern Monk’s first beer festival, Hop City Leeds, and anticipation was hot throughout Leeds and neighbouring towns. Held at their brewery, the festival last night was sold out with the queue lining the streets. Spread out over three floors of an old Flax storage building, the festival brought together some big named breweries as well as some lesser known ones who all served up some hoppy beers from their collections. Northern Monk’s Brewery itself was decorated with tons of hops so the tasting experience was heightened.

My first stop was to try a beer that Northern Monk had released for the festival, Northern Tropics Pineapple & Grapefruit IPA. This beer was sweet and citrusy with big emphasis on the grapefruit flavour. A great palette cleanser for what was about to come. Down on ground floor, amongst the brewing kit, there was a lot of hype as people queued for beers from The Alchemist. Brought in from America, these beers were limited to one can per person so were highly sought after at the festival. I managed to get hold of Focal Banger and Heady Topper and these did pack a hoppy punch.

I noticed on the beer list that Magic Rock had brought their experimental brew Psychokinesis and I had to give it a try. Having popped along to Huddersfield two days before to Magic Rock’s Tap House I could see that this was fermenting in their brewery. I knew it was going to be fresh and it was highly drinkable. I’d never had a beer from Verdant so I decided to give their Putty a try. This beer was so juicy I could have happy drank this for the rest of the night.

The food court at Hop City had a really great selection of street foods. Burgers, Chinese style and Indian foods that definitely helped sort out the munchies halfway through the night. I had the Chinese style salt ‘n pepper ribs and chips which were just what I needed after having all these hoppy beers!

To round off the night another beer from The Alchemist, this time the imperial stout Luscious. This was a great beer to finish on as it helped slow things down and give me time to appreciate the flavours of the coffee and bitter chocolate.

Looking around and the party was still in full swing as I left last night. I was really impressed with how well run Hop City was considering it’s a new festival. I think Northern Monk have made best of the space they have and I feel it’s an interesting setting for this type of event. I hope the rest of the sessions are just as successful this weekend!

A Steady Drinking Roller Man

On the first warm and sunny day of spring there is nothing better than having a beer. On opening the fridge I found a Deya Steady Rolling Man 5.2% which had been brought home straight from the brewery – well even the can says to drink it fresh! Following the three Us, unfiltered, unpasteurised, unfined, this beer pours out a light straw colour with a soft haze. Yes it’s pretty, but it’s the taste that is incredible. Inspired by the blues this pale ale infused with American hops boasts citrusy tropical fruits. It does not disappoint as it is so juicy and fruity you forget that it’s an alcoholic drink!  It has tasting notes of sweet mango and peach with very little bitterness cutting through. This all adds to the tropical juice likeness. Like blues music this beer is so laid back and such an easy drinker. I could happily drink this on a hot summers day either in a beer garden or a sandy beach.

If you could only choose one beer to drink for the rest of your life this one has to be up the top of the list!

Stormy Tropic Thunder

Since my last blog post on Waitrose and Thornbridge’s Home Brew of 2016 I discovered that Tesco had also collaborated with a large brewery to run a similar competition. BrewDog founders, James and Martin first made success by entering a competition run by Tesco in 2008. It seemed only fitting that they would collaborate to run the HomeBrewDog Competition which awarded the 2016 title to Tropic Thunder by Tom Doyle. 

This 7% stout boasts that it has orange peel added to the final boil to give it a tropical flavour and on the first pour I was struck by the sweet smell of orange which instantly made me want to taste it. This beer certainly delivers on the orange peel as the first tasting notes are that of the tangy citrus fruit. Quickly the coffee and bitter dark chocolate flavours come in that are typical of a good stout and the hint of malty toffee helps smooth out the finish. The tasting notes on the label mention hints of liquorice however I couldn’t really detect it as I think that the other flavours are so powerful that it perhaps gets a little lost. For my personal taste I would have liked the orange to last a bit longer, particularly as it is headlined on the front of the bottle.

This is quite a light and easy drinking stout of all the types I have tried before. Being a fan of a milk stout which can be quite decadent it was nice to try something with a thinner mouthfeel that still delivers on flavour. I could see this stout being a nice after dinner drink without worrying about it feeling too heavy on the stomach. 
After trying the Thornbridge/Waitrose winner Raindrops on Roses and HomeBrewDog’s Tropic Thunder I noticed how very contrasting the styles are. Raindrops on Roses was very quirky and had quite a complex flavour profile. Tropic Thunder feels like it has taken a much more traditional approach to the flavours used and because of this they compliment each other well. I think its great that large breweries are offering opportunities for budding home brewers and will continue to support them by buying their beers!

A few of my favourite things …

This year for Valentines Day I was treated by my other half to a single red rose and a bottle of Raindrops on Roses from Thornbridge Brewery. Awarded winner of The Great British Homebrew 2016 by Phil Sisson, this was a lovely romantic gesture for a beer geek. 

The bottle itself states that it has tasting notes of rose, lemon, chamomile and coriander. With a list like this I did wonder if it might taste like Turkish Delight. On taking my first sip I was pleasantly surprised that the flavour was more savoury than expected. I found that the rose and the coriander were the most dominant flavours for the first few mouthfuls but as my tongue grew used to the taste I noticed that the lemon and chamomile helped keep everything well balanced. The beer poured out in a light golden haze that you’d expect from a home-brew with delicate lacing on the glass. To me the mouthfeel was quite smooth with a slight creaminess which was offset by the tartness of lemon. I found that the chamomile has a soothing quality that coated my tongue which worked really well whilst I was eating spicy food.
As I settled in with this beer next to my other half I was sure that I recognised the flavours but couldn’t put my finger on where I’d had them before. It was then that I realised that the savoury and floral notes reminded me of being in the Greek Islands and the ingredients used in some of my favourite dishes. With every sip I was transported back to the sun, sand and souvlaki!This evocative beer is so complex in flavour and I can see why it has been awarded the best home-brew of 2016. I recommend that you try it next time you are passing a Waitrose. I would very happily drink this again and will be adding it to the list of my favourite things.

The Curious Ales of Jekyll and Hyde

On a recent trip to Edinburgh I came across the historical pub, Deacon Brodie’s Tavern. Named after a man with duel personas, Brodie was a respected cabinet maker by day and a lowly thief by night. He later became the inspiration for Scottish writer Louis Stevenson’s characters Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This story’s theme has influenced many things and now has been portrayed in beer. A recent collaboration between Beavertown and To Øl has produced two great beers with two very different personalities, much like their creators!

Dr Jekyll 8.1%

This pale ale is a good looking beer that pours out a clear, light Amber colour. The beer has been barrel aged in Muscat barrels which gives it a ‘grapey’ sweetness and the carbonation creates a light fizz reminding me of a glass of sparkling wine. Perhaps portraying Dr Jekyll’s first impression as a gentleman. Another flavour that comes through is farm yard straw-like notes which is typical of Belgian styles using wild yeast, such as Brett named in this ale. Brett is often used the help create fun and unusual flavours and can sometimes occur naturally when it’s not wanted. This illustrates Jekyll’s battles with his inner demons and how he tries to fight Mr Hyde’s appearance. It’s then that your palette is hit by the tartness of the gooseberry which has an astringent mouthfeel commonly found with sour beers. My interpretation of the gooseberry’s tart flavour highlights Jekyll’s experimental side as a scientist and his potions leaving a sour taste in his mouth …

Mr Hyde 13.7%

And then a monster was created with this dark imperial stout giving you a glimpse into the shadowy world of Mr Hyde. The first thing that hits you with this beer is the taste of alcohol. A second barrel aged beer, but this time in scotch soaked barrels, giving the stout a whiskey flavour. Another nod to Hyde’s Scottish roots. The whiskey notes give you a warming sensation when drinking the beer which is complimented by the malty hot chocolate flavours. Roasted coffee is also present within the flavour profile of this beer however I felt it was a bit lost by a harsh alcohol burn. I feel this illustrates Hyde’s overbearing presence in Jekyll’s life, always wanting to break out to be destructive. Although the pour of this stout is fairly thick and glossy the mouthfeel was more watery than I expected. Don’t be fooled by this though, you probably want to sip at this style of beer!

Although the Hyde Imperial Stout was not to my taste I can appreciate how it would be a great after dinner drink. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two different styles of beer and how they matched the personalities of their namesake characters. I particularly like the flavour breakdown of the Jekyll Pale however both drinks have complex flavour structures. This duo is definitely worth a try for anyone, the only question is:

                                                          are you Team Jekyll or Team Hyde ….!

Joining the dark side

Since starting to drink beer I have found that I prefer to stick to the lighter coloured ales but earlier this month I found myself trying a milk stout at the CAMRA Bristol Beer Festival. The milk stout in question was by Crane who, by their own admission, are a small company but big on flavour. My only experience with stout is a Guinness I tried in Dublin. On the first taste I noticed the mouthfeel of the beer was fairly thin and the taste was quite bitter for me. Although I managed my first pint I needed to add blackcurrant juice to my next drinks orders. I thought all stouts would be like this as Guinness is one of the market leaders – and this did put me off. Putting that experience aside I was encouraged to give the milk stout a try and I was so glad that I did. This beer was nothing like what I was expecting. It was slightly sweet as well as creamy from the lactose and left a lasting coating over my tongue as the body was much thicker. I was surprised at how drinkable this stout was and how much I enjoyed it – definitely one of my favourites from the whole festival!

I’d been tweeting my beers that evening and noticed that Crane had messaged me recommending I try their CAKE stout. As it happened on my way home from the beer festival I came across a bottle which I opened up the next evening.

The pour of the CAKE stout is like nothing I’d ever seen before in beer. The texture was thick like pouring melted chocolate. The appearance was dark and glossy with a solid foam on top. After being recommended this beer by Crane I was excited to give it a try and the first taste was like a gooey chocolate heaven. It was sweet with vanilla notes but with just the right amount of bitterness to balance the flavour. I think that this beer has been given the perfect name as I felt as if I was eating a molten chocolate lava cake!

Considering I’ve always been a pale ale kind of girl I have been really surprised by how good stouts have become since my first encounter. The introduction of new infused flavours gives them wider appeal to new and current beer enthusiasts. I never thought I would be a fan of the stout but I feel I have been converted. Since then I have actively tried more stout beers and have found a few favourites.

For anyone who is nervous about trying a stout – try a milk stout first. You never know, you may really like it!

Sage what?!

When you think of typical flavours in beers first thoughts are hoppy, malty or bitter with a wide spectrum of different aftertastes such as spicy, coffee, fruity etc. I have tried quite a few different flavour infused beers however had yet to try one infused with sage leaves. So when we saw the Wild Sage Saison 7.2% by Colorado on keg at Colonna & Hunter, Bath, I was really interested in giving it a go.

First impressions of this saison are that it has a nice pale golden colour with a hint of craft haze. On smelling the beer I was hit with the savoury scents of a roast pork dinner which left me salivating for a taste. Sage is the dominant flavour when you try this saison which I expected as it’s quite a strong herb. Lemon cuts through the savoury flavour which lifts the beer overall and the sour aftertaste reminded me of a cloudy lemonade. The freshness of this beer highlights the farmhouse style flavours, making it an easy drink.

Although the flavour is strong this is a very drinkable beer and I couldn’t help going back for another sip. The balance of flavours within this beer has been well brewed to ensure that the sage does not overpower the fresher notes. This sage saison is going to taste great with pork dishes – well this is a tried and tested classic! However whilst sitting at the bar I know I’m ordering this beer with a side of pork scratchings.

Neapolitan Ales

Vanilla, Chocolate and erm …. Cloudberry?! These are the ice cream flavours that have inspired three creations by a Buxton Brewery and Omnipollo collaboration. After the success of the Yellow Belly Imperial Stout there is much excitement around this trio of ice cream ales. We were disappointed to have missed tasting these at Beavertown’s recent 4th birthday event due to early sell out, but we did overhear good things. Luckily we had a second chance and where better to taste these beers then to go to one half of the source – the Buxton Tap House! 

First of all we tried the Ice Cream Pale 5.6%. The colour is true to its name as it was pale in appearance with a craft haze. The taste is just like a soft serve vanilla ice cream. If, like me, you have a sweet tooth then you will not be disappointed in the flavour of this beer. There are some hoppy notes that you’d expect from a pale ale however they did not over power the vanilla flavour or the sweetness. The texture was slightly creamy from the addition of lactose during brewing, leaving a lasting thin coating over your tongue. I’d have happily drank this all afternoon but there were more beers to try! 

Next up was the Cloudberry Ice Cream IPA 7.2%. This was the Swedish Omnipolo twist to the traditional Neapolitan by changing strawberry to cloudberry. I wasn’t sure what to expect after ordering this considering I’d not heard of a cloudberry before but was interested to give it a go. Again there was a creamy, sweet smell to this beer, much like the Pale Ale. On tasting the IPA there was a soft sour flavour of the Cloudberry fruit which made me keep going back for more. The hops are much more detectable in this beer so the bitterness takes a step up. Usually IPA’s leave me with a soapy after taste however the balance of the sweet, sour and bitterness flavours work really well together giving this beer a rounded finish. The Cloudberry IPA has some similarities to the Pale Ale which made it a nice beer to follow on to and the sourness helped clean the palate, ready for the next beer. 

Lastly was the Chocolate Ice Cream Brown Ale 6.2%. As you would expect this beer was much darker in colour than the previous two. On the nose there is no mistaking that this was definitely chocolate. Having tried other chocolate styled beers that hadn’t quite lived up to expectation I was excited to find out exactly what this tasted like. I wasn’t disappointed as a luxurious chocolatey taste coated my tongue. There’s a lingering after taste, which at first I thought was coffee, however as the flavour developed the bitterness takes on that of a rich dark chocolate. Overall the experience of this beer reminded me of that last sip of the rich, bitter, chocolatey liquid in the bottom of a hot chocolate.

So the final verdict on these three ales: I was really surprised how much like ice cream these beers were so they really delivered on expectations. We decided to have these beers in order of colour but because they are linked by similar creamy flavours I think you could choose to drink them in any combination. There’s also a flavour for everyone! I’d never tried beers like this before and after drinking all three I don’t think I could single out a favourite. These ales would be lovely to drink in the summer but even with it raining heavily outside I still felt transported to a warm summer’s day. 

Whilst in the Buxton Tap House we noticed a member of staff bringing in a slush ice machine. I’d already heard about bars serving these beers topped with iced vanilla pale ale so we waited in for the slush to be ready. After waiting all afternoon and into the early evening it was finally ready. I’d never been more excited as I watched the bar staff pour chilled slush onto my second pale ale. This was super thick, creamy and the vanilla flavour did not disappear under the frozen top. The novelty also added to the drinking experience, like drinking an alcoholic ice cream float. If you ever get the chance I highly recommend having one!