Monday 4 March 2013

Review #128: William Mucklow's Dark Mild (Bewdley Brewery)

Style: Strong dark mild.
Appearance:  Distinctive dark ruby/garnet colour and off-white head. 
Nose: Subtle cream and berry aroma. 
Taste:  Light red grape, redcurrant and blackcurrant fruit notes make themselves felt at first. Backing these up is a strong vanilla and soft caramel sweetness from the malt. There's also a 'stale' flavour to the malt, a little like stale bread, a characteristic I often come across in milds. Hops are detectable but stay out of the way, giving a little bitterness to a herby finish. Little alcohol to detect despite being 6%.
Mouthfeel: Full and rounded. 
Carbonation: Mid to low.
ABV: 6%
What's in it?: Maris Otter, Crystal and Chocolate malts. Fuggles and Goldings hops.

This is the first beer I've tried from Worcestershire's Bewdley Brewery. When they started up in 2008 they were the first brewery in Bewdley for 96 years. This dark mild is named after the last head brewer, William Mucklow, who created the original strong Dark Mild on which this beer is loosely based. Milds in general, let alone strong versions such as this, are few and far between these days. Although saying that, many a British microbrewery has one in its repertoire, albeit often as a seasonal special. Sarah Hughes Brewery does about the most famous strong mild in the UK, its Dark Ruby Mild, being at the same strength as William Mucklow. Today its brewed at the Beacon Hotel in Wolverhampton. Also, Dark Star Brewing Co. (Sussex) do Victorian Mild, reportedly another good example of a strong mild, available in May.

Friday 1 March 2013

Cider Review #6: Prior's Tipple (Isaac & Jo Nixon)

Style: Medium dry
Appearance: Deep copper/gold.
Nose: Moderately sharp ripe apple aroma.
Taste: The first thing that strikes me is the balance and complexity. Neither acid, tannin nor sweetness stand out, although the latter is the least assertive. I think plenty of bittersharps must have gone into the mix, and perhaps the sour tang of a cooking variety or two. It has a satisfyingly earthy, farmyard funkiness to it too, like a good vintage cider often has, and not unlike the Brettanomyces flavours of a Belgian lambic beer. A good, fiery tannin grip takes hold at the finish, in addition to a grassy, sour fruit twist. 
Mouth-feel: Solid mid-full body.
Carbonation: Few bubbles to look at in the glass but feels persistent on the tongue.
ABV: 6.5%
What's in it?: Cider, dessert and culinary apples from ancient Worcestershire orchards. Varieties and yields vary from year to year. 

This is one of the most flavoursome and pleasant cider's I've yet tasted. Its a commercial cider produced on a small, local scale. Its availability is limited to the Cotswolds area, as well as the odd shop in Bristol and Reading. No sulphites for preservation or lab-grown yeasts to kickstart fermentation are added. A reliance on wild yeast is therefore necessary; I'm not sure the same can be said for many of the bigger producers. Isaac and Jo allow the cider to age and develop for up to two years, ample time for malolactic fermentation to convert a percentage of the total malic acid into softer lactic acid, yielding a smoother, more rounded cider.

Thursday 28 February 2013

REVIEW #127: Black Cab Stout (Fuller's)

Fuller's new(ish) seasonal, dry Irish-style stout, Black Cab. Finally found a bottle in the supermarket!

Style: Dry Stout 
Appearance:  Dark brown with a ruby glint.
Nose: Lovely rich chocolate digestive aroma, reminds me of Young's double chocolate stout. 
Taste: Some light plum, cherry and toffee notes up front, all relatively sweet (residual sugar) and creamy. Then the roast barley starts to comes alive, brushing away hints of coffee and custard cream, leading up to a bitterly dry finish. The length of the finish is impressive, easily exceeding that of it's closest competitor, Guinness. 
Mouthfeel: Medium body. Smooth and slippery to drink
Carbonation: low to mid.
ABV: 4.5%
What's in it?: Five types of malt. Hops. 

I would be happy if this replaced Guinness in all pubs and bars the world over*. Saying that I have had even tastier dry stouts than this from a few microbreweries, but there's not doubt Black Cab is a very good example of this style of beer. It seems a perfect session beer; loads of flavour and not too strong.

*I'd also like Guinness Special Export (#78) to replace Guinness in all pubs and bars too, but I can't see that happening either :p   

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Cider Review #6: Browns (Dunkertons)

The second single varietal cider I've reviewed by Dunkertons of Herefordshire...

Style: Medium-dry / Western Counties / SV.
Appearance: Pale lemon / straw.
Nose: Rich, ripe apple aroma, floral perfumed.
Taste: Uniquely juicy, somewhat tropical, with a citric tartness, lightly done, and mid-to-low tannins that mainly appear in the finish. To me it gives a little more sweetness (a boiled-sweets sort of sweetness - but not artificial) than dryness, but saying that its particularly well balanced and very moreish!
Mouthfeel: Firm. 
Carbonation: Mid range.
ABV: 7.5%
What's in it?: Browns' apples and sulphites. 

Browns' cider apple is classed as a sharp, possessing a very high malic acid content and a low (approaching dessert apple) tannin level. For this cider, Dunkertons seem to have transformed the sharpness into a pleasurably tart tang and combined it with a lemon sherbert fruitiness. Despite being an SV, the cider feels so well balanced and integrated its as if it was made from a range of cider apples chosen with great consideration. This is a testament to both the Browns apple and Dunkertons' class as a cider maker. I've tried three of their ciders so far and all have been impressive. Oh and I love their labels too!

Tuesday 26 February 2013

REVIEW#126: Narwhal (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.)

Well, a new imperial stout from Sierra Nevada, the granddaddy of the US craft brewing scene. I'm more than a little excited/expectant...

Style: Imperial Stout
Appearance: Pours a deep brown but appears black as pitch in the glass. The head is golden brown.
Nose: Pungent! It has a bit of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale pine aroma (although no new world hops in this), sweet and resinous, but there's also charred wood and treacle, and a phenol undertone.  
Taste: This is one decadent beer... there's leather and tar, liquid honeycomb and herbal cough syrup notes. These flavours travel into the finish where things become much drier. Acrid charred wood also found in the nose, comes across very plainly in the finish. Cocoa powder is also apt, both in terms of flavour and bitterness; roast coffee too. There's a hefty 60 bitterness units (IBU) to this beer, but even so, and quite rightly for the style, it acts purely as a backdrop to the vicious malt attack, helping to highlight the malt character rather than compete with it. There's little in the way of alcohol, save for some warmth... Its probably hidden by a sea of gloopy malt!
Mouthfeel: Thick and chewy.
Carbonation: Minimal.
ABV: 10.2%
What's in it?: Magnum and challenger hops (60 IBU)... 2-row pale, chocolate, honey and carafa malts, plus roasted barley (not malted). 

The name for this beer comes from a whale with a giant tusk, found only in the Arctic around Canada and Greenland. It's heavily hunted and sensitive to climate warming unfortunately so not sure how long the species has left! Narwhal the beer is part of Sierra Nevada's 'High Altitude' series, currently made up of three BIG beers: Narwhal, Hoptimum (an imperial IPA) and Bigfoot (a barley wine). 

Monday 25 February 2013

Cider Review #5: Falstaff (Sheppy's)

I've got a couple of single varietal ciders lined up from Sheppy's of Herefordshire, in addition to Dabinett which I reviewed previously. Let's see what Falstaff has to offer...  

Style: Medium-sweet / Western Counties / SV. 
Appearance: Straw coloured, very pale. 
Nose: Fresh and sweet smelling; a little marzipan, quite unique. 
Taste: Full of flavour; fresh and somewhat savoury (reminiscent of spongecake) fruitiness with a sharp/sour twist in the finish and little in the way of tannin. Very drinkable and not watery or thin in the slightest, despite the low-end ABV.
Mouthfeel: Medium.
Carbonation: Moderate to low.
ABV: 4%
What's in it?: Falstaff apples & sulphites.

Falstaff was borne in Kent in the 1960s as a cross between Golden Delicious (a dessert apple) and James Grieve (a cooking apple). The variety has also produced a naturally selected 'brother' known as Red Falstaff and has itself been crossed with Cox's Orange Pippin to produce Meridian, released in 2000. But enough of geneology, here we have a west county producer making a cider without a cider apple in sight; just goes to show there are always exceptions! I think the taste is spot on; a mix of acidic cooking apple combined with a sweet dessert flavour. 

Sunday 24 February 2013

REVIEW #125: Coffee Stout (Nils Oscar)

Sweden's Nils Oscar beers are not easy to come by over here in the UK, save for Rökporter and God Lager, so I was pretty excited to find this in Leicester's finest, The Offie. Now is the time to stop waffling and start drinking...

Style: Stout.
Appearance: Dark brown body and pale brown head. 
Nose: Subtle musty malt with a bitter, spent coffee scent.
Taste: There's a depth to this ale. What starts off full of oaky vanilla and milk chocolate, silky smooth and creamy, develops body and evolves into something sweeter and sharper, showcasing wholemeal cereal flavours, both spicy and nutty, with hints of tobacco. The finish has signs of a well brewed filter coffee, along with an appreciable dark or espresso roast bitterness. All this is done judiciously, carefully, nothing brash or tacky. One to savour and think about.  
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and a little oily/slippery. 
Carbonation: Moderate, nothing obtrusive.
ABV: 6.4%
What's in it?:  A mysterious (to me, anyway) blend of malt and hop. Along with Brazilian 'Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza' espresso-roast coffee.

Whenever I'm out and about in Birmingham I like to visit the Urban Coffee Company, a coffee house which is fairly unique in doing filter coffees 'the right way', i.e. freshly ground beans placed onto filter paper sitting in a porcelain filter cup, which then has boiling water poured over it sporadically for a few minutes. Simple and effective! They offer four coffees, one of which is Brazilian. This beer reminds me of that coffee a lot, being both chocolatey and fruity. So it was no surprise to find Brazilian coffee added to this beer. Although to be fair I'm sure an Indonesian, e.g. Javan or Sumatran, would work equally well. Wish I'd bought a few of these coffee stouts... After drinking this stout, I'm tempted to add an espresso to the next Guinness I drink and see what the result is :p

Saturday 23 February 2013

Cider Review #4: Dabinett (Sheppy's)

This single varietal is from Sheppy's, a Somerset independent but a big one whose ciders are widely available... 

Style: Medium / Western Counties / SV
Appearance: Pale gold
Nose: Strong, aromatic and quite sweet
Taste: Starts with some good tannin (gets in early!), a little sharpness, and a fairly low level of sweetness. Surprisingly, the latter characteristic grows in intensity throughout, reaching its peak in the finish. Thankfully at this point a slug of tannin fights against the sweetness, but only semi-successfully, leaving a remnant of refined sugar as an aftertaste.
Mouthfeel: Mid to full.
Carbonation: Medium.
ABV: 7.2%
What's in it?: Dabinett cider apples and sulphites. I would guess sugar has been added to the final cider also, but I could well be wrong.

The Dabinett variety is a mild bittersweet, vintage-quality cider apple and bittersweet is an apt way to describe the taste of this cider, therefore this can be thought of as a good single varietal cider. But thinking about it, I can't help feel this is a little too sweet for its own good. I suppose describing it as a medium is accurate, but the sweetness seems to become overwhelming - though not to the extent of cloying... bitterSWEET is the best way to sum up this SV.

Friday 22 February 2013

REVIEW #124: Ritterbock (Schlossbrauerei Kaltenberg)

I love it when I find a new doppelbock to try, thus was thoroughly happy to happen upon this (and a few other rareties) in a local off-licence, Arden Wines, of Bulkington. The bloke who runs it must know a thing or two about ale because he always has a few surprises in and seems to particularly like his German 'biers', stocking an especially good range each Christmas.  

Style: Doppelbock (a lager)
Appearance: Sits somewhere between amber and ruby.
Nose: Caramel / apple & blackberry / fresh grass / herbal. 
Taste: Malt rules the roost here, as it should in a bock / doppelbock. Its all burnt sugar and caramel, with shortbread biscuit too. There's a decent grassy (noble?) hop character on display, not always found with the style. It has a very long, herbal finish with hints of liquorice and aniseed. The alcohol seems to get drowned out by the dense and malty goings on, making the beer reasonably refreshing and quaffable (it is a lager afterall), but this is dangerous at 9%!
Mouthfeel: Full bodied.
Carbonation: Medium... Lively enough to prevent it becoming heavy going and syrupy 
ABV: 9%
What's in it?: Hop extract, light and dark barley malts and yeast, that's it. Being German it has to conform to the reinheitsgebot; stringent laws governing beer purity. 

This doppelbock is brewed by the Kaltenberg / Konig Ludwig castle brewery (actually breweries) of Bavaria, each year to celebrate an annually held medieval jousting tournament (I kid you not) in July. It was founded in 1979 by Prinz Luitpold himself. He's a direct descendent of the mad King Ludwig II, who built the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle. If you get the chance to go see it I recommend it as it really is picture-postcard stuff. I was in Munich last year in August, but there was no sign of this beer anywhere, and believe me, I looked! So I was pretty astonished to find this a couple of miles from home! If you want to find out more about the Kaltenberg Brewery and German / Bavarian beer in general, I must point you to the late Michael Jackson's superb Beer Hunter TV series, as he devotes a whole episode to the subject. Find it on YouTube.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Cider Review #3: Kingston Black (Gwatkin)

My first cider from Gwatkin, a smallish, independent family producer with a farm & orchard in Herefordshire.

Style: Dry / Western Counties / SV.
Appearance: Burnished gold colour.
Nose: Pungent, ripe apples.
Taste: Dry is the word for this cider! It lacks the juicy sweetness that so often comes with dry ciders, even though they are supposed to be dry! So on that basis it must be applauded. The dryness almost makes it feel a little thin or lightweight, but tannin is prevalent from the start as is a mild acidity which helps to balance the cider to a degree but not exactly pad it out. There's also a distinctive, very dry finish which ends all of a sudden and the only trace of having tasted this cider is a little grip in the aftertaste.
Mouthfeel: Mid to light for reasons mentioned.
Carbonation: Vigorous but not OTT.
ABV: 7%
What's in it?: Kingston Black apples and sulphites.

Kingston Black is a mild, bittersharp variety of cider apple regarded as having 'vintage quality', a rather nebulous term linked, from what I gather, to how well the cider will age (usually in oak). In addition to this 'definition' I think a vintage quality cider apple is one regarded as being able to carry an SV cider, i.e. a variety that has every aspect (tannin + acidity + sweetness) necessary to produce a good SV. This is analogous to the situation with wine where you have certain varieties of grape, e.g. Nebbiolo (of Barolo and Barbaresco) and Sangiovese (of Chianti), that produce wines well suited to (and that often improve with) ageing and that are more than capable of producing quality SVs precluding the need to blend.

As for this particular cider, well I wouldn't say its particularly well-rounded but then again its a single varietal so should be judged more on how well it represents the variety if you ask me, and less on how drinkable you may find it. After all, there are people who love their sharp, bitter ciders and there are those who like sweet, juicy ones. This will appeal to the former demographic but more importantly will give everyone an accurate taste of what Kingston Black is all about.
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