Saturday 26 December 2009

Au reboire

It's with a heavy heart, but an even heavier beer, that I bid farewell to the Beer Advent Calendar for another year.

Now I'm fully aware this should have been all wrapped up before Christmas, but what with having decorations still to put up and trees to dress and all that, I only really got time for one (and a light one at that) before sloping off to bed on Christmas Eve.

Think yourself lucky; it was a good 11 months before I got round to the last one of 2008's calendar. In the two years prior to that I was clearly built of sterner stuff. Actually I've just checked and it looks like I didn't finish the first one I did at all. Lightweight.

Which brings me around to a subject I'm keen to discuss. Should I just carry on throughout the year? I mean, there's no way I'll keep it up every day, not least because I've got a few mountains to climb on a bike in July, but the idea did occur to me the other day while knocking back a pint in the Market Porter. Carry on rattling off some words about beer for the rest of the year until the next calendar comes around. But it'll be a sporadic effort by design as well as necessity. And habit, of course, as I'm not the most fastidious when it comes to prompt, painstaking daily updates as I'm sure you've noticed.

Anyway, all that remains this year is to finish up the last one and thank you all for tuning in over the course of the last month. I've had some nice comments and been pointed down a couple more avenues to explore that may or may not materialise, but it's been all good. Most of all, I've had some really tasty beers and rarely paid handsomely for them. A quick tally puts the final figure at around £30, which you can't argue with for 24 ales of mostly high quality.


Beer: Asda Whitechapel Porter
Country: England
Strength: A not particularly brawny 5.2%
Colour: Mahogany, a singularly faithful-sounding colour if ever there was one. But with a hint of scarlet, the brazen hussy
Smell: Maltier than a box of Malted Milk eating a Malteser on maltloaf sandwich. With Marmite on.
Circumstance: Boxing Day evening and not remotely the worse for wear after a strangely sober Christmas. With the missus being practically teetotal nowadays, that's hardly surprising.
Tasting notes: I'm getting Christmas cake, I'm getting sweet plum pudding, I'm getting delicious dark fruit flavours. And I'm coming over all Jilly Goolden. Thankfully, the kids have gone to bed. This really is a winner from the word go. Its label claims it's got underlying roasted malt flavour with spicy hop notes, but I think that's mostly claptrap. If anything, the malts are sweeter and fuller than more roasted ones, while there isn't a great deal spiciness at all (OK, maybe a bit at the end). The finish is characterised by a good kick in the face from a pair of treacle toffee hobnail boots, of the type the top-hatted gentleman thug on the label appears to be wearing. It's only right at the death that you get a hint of sharpness; doubtless the stiletto said bespectacled doorman is twisting into your cranial lobe as he plunges the flavour into your chest for good measure. Fantastic.
Drinkability: For a beer as dark as this, it's surprising how easy it is to down. I have a sore throat at the moment and this feels like a bottle of alcoholic Strepsils, soothing its path downwards as I swallow.
Gut reaction: Been belching already and I've not really over-eaten this Christmas, so there's something in the beer that's potentially volatile.
Session factor: Right now, I could gladly polish of a fair few. This is definitely a winter by the fireside drink, though. Not sure I'd be all that happy drinking it in any other month.
VFM: 9.9. Overall value winner here. Only a quid for a fantastically tasty, complex, smooth, satisfying, moreish, great-big-jumper of a beer. I'll be laying in some more tomorrow.

Thursday 24 December 2009

Brakspearean tragedy

Well, it was a close-run thing. Dropped a bottle on the steps outside but weirdly it didn't break.

It's double-dropped as well, so that potentially makes it the first triple-dropped beer I've ever had. Would have been a sickener if it had smashed, capping off a day in which our last-minute food shopping was nearly derailed thanks to a fire at New Cross Sainsbury's. Thankfully, both our victual-gathering and the beer survived intact.

This is, of course, the penultimate beer in the calendar, which means I'm still one day behind schedule. But given today's exertions, I'm only planning on shifting the one this evening, so you'll have to wait till Christmas Day for the final update. Something to look forward to after the Queen's Speech and Eastenders, eh?

Looking at the label tells me this is a fairly low maintenance ale that shouldn't trouble me too much, which is exactly what I need. I ended up pouring just under half of last night's down the sink as it was just too strong and, well, not very nice. I don't think I've done that on the calendar before, but the combination of works night out and poor-tasting beer wasn't one I wanted to perpetuate.

Still, I better get on with it as I need to start preparing tomorrow's food. We've decided to dispense with tradition and have curry, so I'm getting as much out of the way tonight as possible to make tomorrow a bit less stressful.

Beer: Brakspear Bitter
Country: Oxfordshire, England
Strength: A reassuringly weak 3.4%
Colour: Russet
Smell: Bit vinegary to be honest, but there's a saving grace of yeast riding to the rescue
Circumstance: Still trying to get everything done in time for Christmas having successfully fought off a hangover all day. And listening to Purple Radio, of course.
Tasting notes: To say it's on the lighter end of the scale, it's surprisingly tasty. Fairly one-dimensional, though - all about the refreshment and bitterness - but it dries out towards the finish and is moreish as a result. I can just make out a dash of orange in there too, but this isn't the complex, fragrant beer its label claims. No bad thing, though. You can have too many things going on in a beer and this doesn't suffer from that.
Drinkability: Excellent. Pleasing to the tongue and has that lovely hook at the end that draws you back in.
Gut reaction
: Too weak to cause any problems, I'd have thought, although it's slightly gassy and belch-worthy as a consequence.
Session factor: Ridiculously high. At only 3.4%, you could easily polish of a fair few without realising. Lightly chilled, this would make a terrific summer afternoon tipple.
VFM: 9.5. Another pound-a-bottle bargain and potentially session beer of the calendar.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Fair to Middler

I've heard it said that Bette Middler can't sing. A few times.

And when you hear Wind Beneath My Wings, you could be forgiven for believing it. And rightly so on that evidence.

But having stumbled back after a surprisingly enjoyable works Christmas do a few sheets to the wind, I decided to put on a Tom Waits CD that includes one of the greatest duets imaginable. I Never Talk To Strangers, featuring Tom and Bette, swooning drunkenly over each other in a captivating vocal contretemps.

I can't remember who it was who claimed that our Bette couldn't sing, but all they need to do is listen to that and then shut up. Magical. Brings a smile to the mouth and a sentimental glint to the eye at the same time.

That it's followed by Tom Traubert's Blues shuffles me even further towards maudlin reminiscence. Clearly some beery cheer is needed.

But before that, I'd like to raise a glass to my colleagues. After a ridiculous year full of late nights and almost unbearable stress, they're still smiling and happy to be with each other. There's an amazing esprit de corps there that's often amiss among so-called team mates. And despite the latent jealousies, it would appear there's a real affection underpinning everything. I'm staggered and touched by it in equal measure. However much I don't enjoy much of my time there, a big part of me is kept sane and in good humour by the people who work there. Big up 'em; not that they read this, of course.

Many of them are still drinking awful booze in a just about acceptable juicer as I type this. So this one's for them.

Beer: Shepherd Neame Christmas Ale
Country: Kent, England
Strength: A genuinely frightening 7%
Colour: The orange of a thousand hangovers
Smell: Hellish skunk and piddle-stained polyester trousers
Circumstance: Listing awkwardly after a works Christmas party and listening to Asylum Years. Ideal combination, then. Is it just me, or does Kentucky Avenue make anyone else weep about their own slightly disjointed childhood?
Tasting notes: Marzipan-clad Christmas cake. Of the kind that doesn't need embellishing with such extras. There's no escaping how strong this one is. From the very first moment it grips like a rabid Jack Russell with lockjaw. It doesn't matter how much your tongue tries to shake the alligator clip of months-open cream sherry, that gift is here to stay. No relent. No release. It'll take a rough-grade file to scrape some of that cloying melted polyurethane away and that's before the smoke-stained finish kicks in. I'd probably like this if it were the first beer I'd had today, but it's suffering almost as much as I am.
Drinkability: See above comment. But even given a clear run, this isn't something you'd hoy down with any kind of abandon.
Gut reaction: Cistern-spatteringly bad. Bog roll's in the freezer already.
Session factor: Nil. One's enough for anyone, no matter how hard they say they are.
VFM: 7.2. High alcohol content to minimal cost ratio makes this a winner. Hold your nose and you'd be forgiven for thinking it's quite nice as well. Another one for the itinerant contingent.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Asda way to do it

Why? Why did I bother with the pretenders? Asda is truly the king of clippy.

Countless expensive marketing surveys have concluded it cuts more prices than any other supermarket, so why have I been scrabbling around elsewhere for bargains when all along, they were there on my doorstep?

Four beers, four quid. Simple as that. And they're not duffers too, by the looks of it. One's a porter, two are golden ales and the other's a double-dropped best bitter.

There is an element of the nativity about this, if I can blaspheme for a minute. I've been Artaban, the fourth 'wise' man who turned up late at the meeting point because he was tending to some sickly stranger and ended up missing out on the gig. Was it my calling to be tested by the fakers instead of forging on with the quest, to be thus cruelly denied the chance of greeting the King?

Unlikely, isn't it? But I do feel I've had some kind of epiphany. Asda had a great selection, most of which were on three-for-four quid offer and some priced at the ludicrously low sum of one pound. Nowhere have I been more spoiled for choice or so uncertain of what actually constituted the best deal than at Walmart's finest.

So there you have it, folks. If you want cheap beer, go to Asda. Now all that remains is the small but not insignificant matter of tasting one of the offerings.

Beer: Asda Golden Ale (brewed by Shepherd Neame)
Country: Kent, England
Strength: A princely 4.5%
Colour: Gold, frankinsense and myrrh
Smell: Fruity, flowery, honeyed and citrusy. So a pint of Lemsip, then.
Circumstance: End of another long old slog today. This time involving work, Christmas shopping, sorting, child ferrying, wardrobe shifting and tidying. All carried out with a grossly unfair bout of catarrh.
Tasting notes: Oh, this is very good. It's not like the flock of golden ales I pilloried a few weeks ago. Oh no. This is fantastic. It has a lovely, citrusy, biscuity sharpness that's followed by a gush of honey-tinged mellowness before it flatens out like Holland. Cold and bitter (no offence to the Dutch, of course, who are a great people). Hand me my spade, please. But back on topic, a fine flavour of hoppiness lingers for some time afterwards, which is highly pleasing. There's even a suggestion of northern lights in the belch, which is a terrific sensation.
Drinkability: Among the best I've tried so far this calendar. And there have been some excellent beers. I'll be off to spend a tenner on this come payday.
Gut reaction: Who cares? I'll happily rattle out the rectum Revels all day long in return for this frankly top-notch ale.
Session factor: Higher than an ace. It's on the robust side, but think on... it's still weaker than most lagers and is only just stronger than Carling Black Label. You see.
VFM: 9.8. Would have been good value even had it been cack, but for a quid a bottle, you cannot go wrong with this. I'm massively impressed with the amount of flavour and strength available to the beer-buying public for only one pound sterling.

Monday 21 December 2009

Unseasonal bleatings

I've had a read back over one or two comments I've made on this blog so far and I have to apologise.

There's been nowhere near enough slating of stuff going on at all. OK, I ranted about work, but that's only natural in this stressful time of year. What's pissing me off more is that I haven't had the opportunity to really lay into a beer.

Maybe that's because I'm paying barely anything for them, so I don't feel like I'm being ripped off. Last year, I went to Utobeer in Borough Market. A fine stall under any circumstances and one that's looked after me on several occasions when I've fancied a different beer. But the outlay was crippling at more than 60 nicker, even given the 10% discount they generously applied.

For this year's credit crunch calendar, I'm unlikely to spend even half that; sensible drinking as I'm sure you'll agree.

So when it came to laying in the last few for the calendar, I beat a path to Lidl on Old Kent Road. The German discounter is well-known for knocking out decent booze for not much moolah, so it seemed the logical choice.

The Marston's Burton Bitter you already know about if you read the last post. Coming next (perhaps not tonight) is Shepherd Neame's Christmas Ale. The third was a trickier choice, but I settled on Wychwood's Hobgoblin as it felt vaguely from the same season as Christmas, although it dubs itself the official beer of Hallowe'en. Yeah, OK.

I've had many a Wychwood beer, so I was looking forward to sampling this one. They know their way around a brewery, this lot, although their marketing and advertising leave something to be desired. No problem, then. Should be a fine, upstanding ale, albeit veering towards the pricey at £1.49.

But I'm sad to inform you that Hobgoblin is the Paul Rideout of the beer world. Such early promise cruelly dashed upon the disappointment that is ending your career at Tranmere Rovers. As it happens, this beer tracks Rideout's career remarkably accurately.

Beer: Wychwood Hobgoblin
Country: Oxfordshire, England
Strength: A handy 5.2%
Colour: Dark chimney red with a touch of Hallowe'en orange (cheers, Tom)
Smell: Dark toffee pudding with vanilla custard
Circumstance: Rising to the challenge of catching up on my beers and still getting up early tomorrow for what will undoubtedly be a tough journey in to work.
Tasting notes: Huge burst of raspberry followed by roasted liquorice and treacle toffee. I thought it was slightly wet at first, but the flavours did take over, although not for long enough in my book. It then peters out with a somewhat disappointing salty metallic taste. Then it feels like you've just had a spoonful of bicarbonate of soda, thinking it was icing sugar. After the great start, this one really lets itself down.
Drinkability: Easy enough to quaff as it's pretty smooth and well-balanced. But that finish can get lost.
Gut reaction: The sour ending of a beer is to gut-rot what bright colours are to potential predators in the wild. A portent of pooey evil.
Session factor: Not great, although if you kept swigging it before the finish had the chance to kick in, you might avoid all the sourness till later. Probably sweeping it under the carpet, though.
VFM: 5.8. This cost a massive £1.49 at Lidl, so it doesn't qualify for any bonus bargain points at all. And the crushing sense of disappointment after having had your expectations built up marks it down further.

Gone for a Burton

It's been a long old slog and hard going in parts.

But I'm now safely back after a four-mile hike back from work in post-blizzard conditions and really looking forward to tucking in to the latest from the calendar. Transport for London must have been working overtime tonight, answering calls from irate travellers, as most of the capital came to a standstill.

London Bridge station closed, buses crawling at a sloth's pace, cars tippy-toeing with breathtaking caution. It was life transported back several decades and none the worse for it, I found.

So I donned the walking boots I'd left at work for no apparent reason and set out for home on Shanks's Pony. Many others had given up trying to return home by conventional means and had either repaired to the boozer or were trudging along looking out for taxis or unladen buses, mostly without success.

A fair few were revelling in it, including me I have to admit. For a brief moment, I was five again, plodding in wellies down the pavement and feeling the satisfying crump of compacting snow. An enterprising pair had even managed to fashion a snowman of sorts out of the already melting sludge.

So although tricky, my journey home was really rather enjoyable. This despite having the world's most blocked sinuses. I think I'd find it easier to breathe were my nasal passages filled with concrete.

Still, there's always Lemsip, although I've shunned that so far this evening lest the zest interfere with the beer. Perhaps a couple of ales will shift the blockage?

Beer: Marston's Burton Bitter
Country: Staffordshire, England
Strength: A lightweight 3.8%
Colour: It looks like the cork end of a cheap cigarette.
Smell: What's seeping through to the scent receptors is sharp, spicy and citrusy with a hint of malt; no bad thing in my current condition.
Circumstance: Just walked home in the snow, which was more pleasant than I expected when I set off. Now in the warm flat and listening to the Purple Radio Christmas Crackers mix and beginning to feel festive.
Tasting notes: Exceptionally clean. So clean, in fact, that it appears to taste of very little. But it's all about subtlety, you see. There's a faint suggestion of malty biscuits and tiny bit of mandarin orange pieces that you used to get in a tin. Then there's a tiny lap of bitterness before a trickle of subsiding sherbert drains away on the tongue. I don't think I'm overplaying it by suggesting this is one of the better session beers I've had the pleasure to neck. And I am necking it.
Drinkability: Well, I've practically finished it in the time it's taken me to type this out, so that should tell you all you need to know.
Gut reaction: Doubt it'll be in there long enough to cause much trouble.
Session factor: Ridiculously high. Low alcohol content and great taste combination equals huge session capability.
VFM: 9.7. Only a pound from Lidl, so you can't grumble on that score at all. You could get roaring drunk for a tenner, which in this day and age is a rarity indeed.

Saturday 19 December 2009

The fab four

Looks like I've got some catching up to do again.

I'll attempt to get through four tonight, but by my reckoning, that still puts me a day behind. I've run out of beer, though, after my over-zealous consumption a couple of weeks ago, so a trip to Lidl is in the offing tomorrow.

There's also the small matter of a Christmas tree to lay in, so it's a good thing I got the car fixed this week.

Tonight's delights feature such family favourites as Theakston's Old Peculier (sic), Martson's Double Drop (the first I'll have a crack at) and McEwan's Champion, a great bulging Highland games caber-tosser of a beer that weighs in at something like 7.5%. I might leave that till the end, but given the weakest of the lot is an able 5%, sobriety's looking in jeopardy already.

Which is pretty much the long and the short of this week, really. Client drinks on Monday and Thursday night left me in no fit state to even smell beer, never mind pass comment on it. Yesterday was particularly bad, which surprised me given the quality of beer I'd been drinking in comparison to Monday. Maybe bog-standard, mass-produced beers such as Guinness are better for you than the more cottage-industry ales I was sampling later in the week.

Yesterday was also coloured by the painful process of getting a magazine sent to the printers. Not that it's usually as involved, but the client in this instance makes incompetence a way of life, it seems. Instead of just getting on with what he had to do, he spent more time trying to apportion blame to me in case the magazine didn't actually get sent to print that night. Blissfully unaware of the fact he was holding up the process even more as a result, something he's been doing for months now. So I spent most of the day waiting for him to get his arse into gear before a mad flurry of activity at around 5.30pm, then waiting for what seemed like forever for final sign-off. When I did get a call to make changes, they were so picky and insignificant it was almost laughable, to wit: we really need a comma in here. For fuck's sake, just get on with it. Is anyone going to die as a result of that missing comma? No.

Finally got out of work at just short of 9pm, which put me in a foul and uncreative mood, hence the lack of posting last night. Well, that and the fact I was still feeling ropey from the night before.

But on to more pleasurable matters and tonight's first drink...

Beer: Marston's Double Drop
Country: England
Strength: A feisty 5%
Colour: An Irn Bru and Lucozade hybrid
Smell: Berry fruits and spices and citrus and a damp dishcloth
Circumstance: Spent the whole day sorting stuff out around the flat, washing clothes, cooking dinner and generally working hard. The cricket was on throughout, though. Oldham picked up a creditable away point, although 10-man Wycombe Wanderers should have been a three-pointer really.
Tasting notes: Like a beer should, really. It's slightly too cold, having been left out on the doorstep in what are now sub-zero temperatures, but that doesn't bother me too much as it's boiling in the house owing to the heating being on overdrive. A initial biscuity sweetness greets the tongue as this ale welcomes itself through the door, but that doesn't last as this visitor soon reveals its purpose. As if pulling a blunderbuss from its lengthy Loden coat, it sprays the hoppy bitterness around like an industrial sprinkler system, before calmly taking its coat off, wiping its feet properly, hanging its hat on the hatstand and settling down in an easy chair to smoke a fag.
Drinkability: Tremendous. I really wish I'd bought some more.
Gut reaction: I don't think this'll cause too many problems. It's slightly gassy but not enough to cause rumblings in the midriff.
Session factor: Fairly high, but watch out for that 5% kick.
VFM: 9.2. At £1.25 a bottle from Morrison's, this is genuinely a contender for beer of the year in my book, certainly as far as value is concerned.

Beer: Thwaites Double Century
Country: Lancashire, England
Strength: A worrying 5.2%
Colour: Off-lager. I don't mean lager that's off, mind. Beer equivalent of off-white. Oh, make your own mind up; you can see for yourself.
Smell: A sharp sniff of cooking apples with some gooseberry and a tot of melon
Circumstance: Getting to grips with the calendar and listening to Purple Radio. Will be eating shortly, so I'll be switching to the even heavier stuff after a quick stomach-lining.
Tasting notes: Terrifically balanced, with tight citrus flavours mingling naturally with malty goodness and even some summer fruits. Whatever they are. There's a speedy nip of sherbert too before an appealing orangey bitterness rounds off a thouroughly well-brewed beer. If there is a slight criticism, it's that there is a tendency towards milk in the finish, but it's barely noticeable unless you're familiar with the phenomenon of beer beginning to taste like milk after a while.
Drinkability: Extremely good. It's flavours are a show-off juggler keeping more than four objects of varying weights and sizes in the air at once. While whistling Colonel Bogey.
Gut reaction: Calming rather than volatile, I'm certain this isn't going to be coming back to haunt me from either end.
Session factor: More one to appreciate than glug, this. But under duress, I'd happily knock a few more of these back and not get bored. Might feel a bit queasy, though.
VFM: 9.1. Another bargain at £1.25, that score would have been higher but for the dairy undertones. But I do recommend seeking this one out because you won't be disappointed.

Beer: Theakston's Old Peculier
Country: Yorkshire, England
Strength: A now troubling 5.6%
Colour: Red so deep it takes on a looming darkness more usually found at the bottom of the ocean
Smell: Not entirely sure, but it's thick and chemically. I can almost detect a bit of molasses in there somewhere, but that's masked by the noxious odour of DIY balloons.
Circumstance: Hurtling towards midnight and still only halfway through tonight's marathon. I fear the wall.
Tasting notes: Ah, forget the smell. This wipes away all apprehension you may have built up when sticking your nose in the glass. All right, it tastes pretty robust, but there's a misleading lightness about it too, which I think would throw me if I were unaware of this beer's 'depth-charge' effect. It's hard to pin down exactly what it tastes like, but I'll throw Christmas pudding, pickled plums, sweet Marmite and tawny port hats into the ring for consideration. I'm a bit foxed by this if the truth be told. It's lovely, but I'm not quite sure why.
Drinkability: Great if you're not in a hurry, but it's a struggle otherwise. I can't think of any beer-related pursuit I'd less like to take part in than a Theakston's Old Peculier race.
Gut reaction: Treat with caution, for beers of this stature don't usually lie easily on the gut.
Session factor: Behave.
VFM: 9.4. At £1.25 a bottle, you're getting some serious bang for your buck here. Amazingly complex and subtle, yet juggernaut strong. Seek it out.

Beer: McEwan's Champion
Country: Scotland, Scotland
Strength: A frankly ridiculous 7.3%
Colour: Similar colour to the Old Peculier, but greyer, if that makes sense. It looks bloody threatening.
Smell: A swimming baths full of vinegar. And bad cider. I'm almost convinced the beer's off.
Circumstance: After midnight and I'm beginning to reel. In years gone by, this assignment would have been a breeze; now it's beginning to hurt. And I'm certain my sense of smell's on the way out.
Tasting notes: Not as bad as I'd feared, but it's one you'd have to 'get used to'. I'm reminded of German altbiers a little, especially given the damp burning wood flavour. Imagine drinking the smell of charred wood with cheap lager spilled on it and you wouldn't be too far away from how this tastes. In its favour, its strength isn't overpowering. In fact it's lighter than I thought it would be. According to the sleevenotes, this is 'Brewed to those fastidious standards that have made McWewan's a byword for quality beer'. Those who know McEwan's beers will appreciate that comment, I believe. Laughable.
Drinkability: Unremarkable. This is by no means the worst beer I've ever tasted, but I really couldn't see myself drinking it again, save for checking whether indeed the bottle was off or not.
Gut reaction: The porcelain is liable to receive a sound pebble-dashing tomorrow morning. Even if I stop now, which I'm not going to.
Session factor: I'd rather drink the pus from a badger's haemorrhoidal aris' than drink more than one of these in one sitting.
VFM: 6.7. While you wouldn't seek it out, it's unarguably value for £1.25. Gentlemen of the road take note.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

A piddling excuse

It's the same every year, so you'd think I'd have learned by now. But no.

Since my weekend trip to Morrison's, I've been out twice and consequently unable to even look at a beer the day after. So I've four to catch up with tonight, although given the hour I'll be lucky to get through half that.

I had such high hopes for this week as well, having planned to neck two on Sunday to make up for Monday's scheduled night out with clients while also hoping to be suitably recovered by last night to be back on track.

No such luck. On neither night out did I feel I'd had too much, but that was patently not the case when the evidence of the following day was scrutinised.

As bad luck would have it, I've another festive client entertainment evening tomorrow, so it's looking likely I'm going to have to work through a few on Friday as well.

It's a hard life.

Just the two tonight, though. Wouldn't want to overdo it, now, would I?

Beer: Wyre Piddle
Country: England
Strength: A ungenerous 4.0%
Colour: The ruby end of chestnut
Smell: A faint scent of wet pine forests and a large dose of spilled lager. There is some citrus fruit in there somewhere too.
Circumstance: Mistaking the light at the end of the work tunnel with the light of an oncoming train.
Tasting notes: More like a can of British Rail-issue 'bitter' than I've come across in the 16-odd years since it was privatised. It's sharp from the off and has a faintly metallic taste that's not unlike over-cooked spinach. There's not much in the way of body or spirit and the flavour drains away like disappointed football fans towards the end of a three-nil drubbing. That said, it's inoffensive, but it's more a beer-flavoured beverage than an actual beer.
Drinkability: Reasonable, but you'd need to be stuck on a pre-privatised train somewhere just south of Lichfield Trent Valley station to really appreciate it.
Gut reaction: I fear for my stomach as this one has both gas and vegetable water written all over it.
Session factor: Great if you're on a train. Not so good anywhere else.
VFM: 5.2. It was £1.25, so really not a huge sum, but it doesn't have much to say for itself either.

Beer: White Horse Wayland Smithy
Country: Oxfordshire, England
Strength: A fine 4.4%
Colour: Copper tun orange
Smell: The bastard lovechild of thick, treacly parkin and slovenly maltloaf. Covered in yeast and stinging nettles.
Circumstance: Watching True Blood and thinking about catching up further, although I am feeling bloated after the first one, so that's looking unlikely.
Tasting notes: Seriously hoppy and considerably more crisp and responsive than the last one. It has the attack of McVities Ginger Nuts and the same masochistically addictive quality too. It's hurting, but I want more. The bitterness stays with you long after you've swallowed and doesn't fade until several seconds later, by which time it has pulled up slightly. There's nothing too complex about it, either. A good straight-up-and-down ale that performs well over hurdles and isn't too shabby on the flat.
Drinkability: Good to soft. But schooning a few down while the dappled sun kisses the rolling summer meadows would be a firm favourite.
Gut reaction: I'm concerned the sizeable yeast element might give the innards a good shoeing later. Especially as I'm carrying a bit of extra weight.
Session factor: Middling. It's a bright, breezy effort, but I'm not sure I could handle it furlong (that's enough now - ed.)
VFM: 7.6. Another of Morrison's keenly priced ales, I'll gladly weigh in to a few more of these in the new year.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Up the junction

Longer ago than I care to remember, I spent endless summers roaming the fields and towpaths of a place called Middleton Junction.

Bikes were ridden, canals were swum in and landlord daughters were all lusted after as we waited for the day we could finally enter the licensed establishments in the area, of which there were many.

As unstubbled sixteen-year-olds, we longed to be able to walk manfully into those pubs and order a pint of Lees's. I think I even practiced ordering it with as deep a voice as I could muster. And when the day finally came when enough courage had been plucked up to enter the one that 'anyone could get served in', we were all duly ejected with a terse warning never to try again.

So when, finally, I was able to procure my first pint of this Holy Grail of beers, I marvelled at the way it settled; drunk in with my callow eyes the beautiful counterpoint between head and ale; breathed in deeply the intoxicating scent of fabled liquid. Then tasted.

It was rank. I almost spat it out there and then, but the fear of ejection forced me to swallow it down. Not one of us liked it, you could tell. And yet we all finished our first pints of Lees's. Then calmly placed the glasses on the bar and left for the santuary of the local off-licence, from which we bought some cans of Breaker to drink by the canal.

That should have taught me a valuable lesson in life - not to build things up too much in case you get disappointed. But almost a quarter of a century later, I haven't learned. And it was with a keen sense of anticipation I opened this bottle after seeing it for sale in Morrison's on offer. It really was too good to resist, unlike yesterday's self-proclaimed offering.

But now, I'm left rueing the decision and cursing my naivety for even thinking it could possibly work out.

Mind you, I think they do a nice one called Moonraker...

Beer: John Willie's Premium Bitter
Country: Lancashire, England
Strength: 4 point bloody 5%
Colour: Redbrick brown, like the houses that surround the brewery.
Smell: Vinegar and canals. OK, that might be what it reminds me of, having grown up near the brewery and also a canal-side Sarson's factory. To the neutral, it'll be malty and fruity and musty.
Circumstance: Gearing up for a night out and celebrating a rare win for Oldham Athletic with a beer from round that way.
Tasting notes: Lacklustre at first, it's prods itself into life briefly with a jolt of ashtray bitterness before subsiding back pretty quickly into its previous torpor. I used to drink John Willie Lees bitter when I started getting served in the pubs round our way and it wasn't any good then. It was cheap, but it gave you gut rot and was only to be consumed in times of financial trouble. This one's seemingly not much different from the original, although it is stronger. It just doesn't seem to go anywhere, much like the football team its brewer used to sponsor.
Drinkability: Unsurprisingly not great. You could down a few, but why bother when there are much better alternatives? If it was the only beer in the pub, you'd probably get up and leave after two or maybe three at the outside.
Gut reaction: I don't know yet, but I fear for my innards on account of this beer's chequered heritage.
Session factor: If you fancied an afternoon depressing yourself, go to Middleton where this brewery's based, sit in any of the JWL-tied pubs and drink this. As with the drinkability, you could... but you wouldn't. Not in your right mind, anyway.
VFM: 4.5. First of a few I laid in from Morrison's at four for £5.50. It was less of a ball-ache than I imagined it would be as well, the store being strangely deserted for a Saturday afternoon teatime. But cheap as it was, this stuff hasn't got enough about it to trouble the upper single figures.

Friday 11 December 2009

World's best beer

A massively bold claim and, in fact, overstatement for this beer, dubbed Irresistible Premium Ale (IPA for short, then).

But it works terrifically hard and I respect that, especially after the week I've had. And I admire that in a beer. So never mind that it's really not the best ale in the world, or even particularly irresistible, as it claims on the label. It has soul.

Which brings me to another beer that I will include in this year's calendar: Shepherd Neame Master Brew. Now I've had people whose opinion I mostly respect have a real dig at that poor, much maligned tipple, but it's got to stop. There's honesty and integrity in middling triers such as these - who are we to smite them down just because their names make claims they can rarely back up? We don't scoff at people named 'King' who aren't really actual kings, so why castigate a beer that has the audacity to call itself something slightly grander than it actually is? The world needs beers such like Master Brew and Irresistible Premium Ale. No matter that they aren't the best - they're tremendous at what they do.

I know Master Brew isn't the best beer in the world, just like this Natural Brewing Company Irresistible Premium Ale is entirely resistible. But give it some credit; it's aiming at the stars. And performing its role to a fault.

But back to tonight's ale, which is brewed by one JJ Herrington (Brewmaster). Now it's unlikely JJ is the greatest brewer on earth, but I don't for one second begrudge him dubbing himself a brewmaster because he's really come up with a solid beer here. It's even more than a trier - it's achieved already. So much so that I'm already contemplating heading back to Sainsbury's to see if there's any left.

That's all the success this beer needs. And I raise my glass (of it) to it.

Beer: Irresistible Premium Ale
Country: England
Strength: A hardly irresistible 4.3%
Colour: A ruddy, autumnal gold that screams fireside
Smell: Mildly singed flapjack with a side-order of fresh peaches
Circumstance: At the advent of the weekend. A night of slouching and listening to Purple Radio beckons, through the power of the mighty RadioTuna. And seemingly mid-pimp as well.
Tasting notes: Sharp as a tack with undertones of grapefruit and Malted Milk biscuits. There isn't too much in the middle before it tapers off, but that's no bad thing. It's a quick hit of bitterness that's really refreshing and exactly fit for purpose. It's not irresistible by any means, but it's extremely good for gulping down. And that's pretty much what I'm doing.
Drinkability: It's in the top three I've had so far this calendar and that's no mean feat considering the company it's keeping. From the first sniff to the last vestiges of the finish, it ticks all the boxes you'd want in a glugger.
Gut reaction: There is some gas about it, so I wouldn't down it as quickly as I appear to be doing right now.
Session factor: Considerable. It cuts through thirst, tickles the tastebuds and wipes its feet on the way out. Thank you, may I have another?
VFM: 9.7. The only thing that marks this down is the relatively low alcohol content, i.e. it's not gonna get you roaring after a couple of bottles. Otherwise, at £1.5o a pop, it's nearly unbeatable.

Thursday 10 December 2009

All the gold I could eat

Time to roll out the heavyweights, especially given the weekend's fast approaching.

In response to a certain retailer's mean-spirited price hikes (see yesterday's entry for slightly more details), I decided to make my selections based purely on alcohol content by volume. Up yours, Sainsbury's. I'm one step ahead of you, you miserable Scrooges.

This may or may not have been a wise move. While there's every chance just one bottle will make me feel light-headed, there's no guarantee beers this strong won't end up tasting like the entrails of a long-dead skunk. I steer clear of some of the less well-known names and choose carefully as a result.

Sadly, I don't think British beers can do stupidly potent beers of the kind of quality the Belgians seem to be able to churn out with the ease. Almost all I've tried have tasted like Gold Label Barley Wine, a cheap and remarkably efficient way of seeking inebriation as a teenager if ever there was one.

But given I'm on a credit crunch calendar this year, I've little choice but to extract value from wherever I can. This evening, I've gone for the strongest I bought, but the other two are no featherweights either. A combined a.b.v. of 21.4% for the princely sum of £4.66 is a good return in anyone's language.

Up to now, I've worked out, my beer advent calendar has set me back £13.90, plus whatever I paid for the Greengrass which I frankly can't remember. For 10 beers, that's not bad at all.

Must make an extra-special effort to bring the average down below £1.50 a bottle, though, which I expect will mean a visit to Lidl.

Beer: Fuller's Golden Pride
Country: London, England
Strength: A malevolent 8.5%
Colour: Menacingly deep amber with a chestnut jus
Smell: Rich fruitcake stuffed to the gunwales with fortified wine. With a rake-load of freshly mown lawn clippings and a small hit of amyl nitrate. Frightening.
Circumstance: Seeing light at the end of the long tunnel of a work-weary week.
Tasting notes: Ouch. That hurts. It packs a punch bigger than that Ukrainian giant Nikolai Valuev and is about as welcome on the tastebuds. There's a brief moment of sharpness when you're convinced it's going to go quite nicely, but suddenly it veers awkwardly and plunges you down into the abyss of a cloying, malt-heavy liqour ravine. There's little respite as a wave of cheap, strong vodka crashes through before gently, but slowly, ebbing away. The weird thing is, it's actually going down comparitively well.
Drinkability: Difficult. Worth persevering with, though, as I am beginning to enjoy it just under half way through.
Gut reaction: Nothing to fear too much here, except for the immense strenth. Moderation should see you through safely, though. Which leads me on to my next point.
Session factor: Negligible. I doubt you could stand more than two in a single sitting. It's really not a session beer, being infinitely better suited to insouciant sipping than reckless glugging.
VFM: 8. Good value due to its potency and usual price tag, which is somewhere above the £2.20 mark.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

My 'dinger fling

OK, a little forced, but I really struggled with the pun tonight. I blame the day job.

The run-up to Christmas creates all manner of false deadlines that mean everyone has to work three times as hard as they really ought. All of a sudden, publications that are barely read at the best of times are rushed out ahead of schedule, with the result they're even more likely to find themselves straight in the bin than they ever were before.

Welcome to the world of in-house magazine publishing. Where company policy and HR initiatives dressed up as 'news' are force-fed down people's throats as corn is to geese in south-west France. Work all hours God sends and you might even get your picture in the rag, holding some poxy certificate that hasn't even got the decency to spell your name right. Course, the photo will be taken by Sarah in HR who doesn't know one end of a digital camera from another, so she'll just take it on her new iPhone. Yes, of course that's fine - we'll be able to print that. Don't worry yourself over trivia like resolution, brightness or picture composition.

In what parallel universe do the people who pay for this crap really think it'll be read over Christmas anyway, when staff finally manage to escape the clutches of their corporate captors? Not one I've ever encountered, that's for sure.

So much for seasonal goodwill to all men and all that.

The more eagle-eyed among you will notice I'm drinking this from a different glass tonight. The old faithful finally went the way most precious-yet-fragile things seemingly do, breaking as I tried to clean it. If the one pictured lasts half as long, it'll have had a good innings.

Beer: Joseph Holt Humdinger
Country: Manchester, England
Strength: A typically stingy 4.1%
Colour: Pleasingly copper
Smell: A rain-soaked pair of just-washed woollen trousers with a pocket full of crushed gooseberries
Circumstance: Another day, another marathon work effort. Now I know how Hercules felt.
Tasting notes: Large spoonful of honey - like a tablespoon of the stuff - that makes you fear for the rest of the glass, but this soon fades. You're then treated to a swift increase in sharpness and bitterness, doubtless from the hops (he guessed), and a long, lingering, tantalising drying out laced with spices that cries out to be doused in honey. And so around we go again.
Drinkability: Good. Highly sinkable, this. It's got enough about it to keep you interested without being so over-complicated you don't want to subject your tastebuds to another examination.
Gut reaction: Soothing and calming; I don't anticipate any issues with this light and sprightly beer.
Session factor: High. The honey isn't overpowering and the bitter spiciness creates a quite wonderful viscous circle of a thirst that begs to be slaked.
VFM: 9.7. Last of the £1.50-a-bottle Sainsbury's bargains before the tight-fisted retailer upped the prices in the run-up to Christmas. So much for seasonal goodwill to all men and all that. Wasn't on offer when I went in this evening, so that makes it doubly bargainous. A real find, this, and worth every penny.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Smoke on the porter

There was a brief moment this evening when I felt like I actually enjoyed my real job. It was fleeting and didn't last, but it was there and it disturbed me.

A congratulatory event designed to patronise people who've done their job well, it nevertheless showed me why I used to enjoy the cut and thrust of being a reporter. On reflection, what I actually did was butt into people's conversations and stop them enjoying themselves quite as much as they would have done had I not been there. Short-lived job satisfaction, then.

I'm also told that my plans for a front page have been shat on by the weather and various issues with inaccessibility, so all-in-all it's been an unrewarding day. These are becoming more frequent every week; I need to reassess what I do for a living.

Would that I could be paid for this. Would that be fair? Would I come to regard this as mere work to be dealt with? Would it pall? Would routine become the dullness of a million post office queues? Would be worth finding out, though, wouldn't it?

I don't even want this beer tonight, if the truth be known. Not really. I just want to go to bed. But some poor sod has gone out and scraped together seven different malts to put this bottle of Porter together, so I guess I should at least give it a whirl.

This is brewed just down the road in Greenwich, by the Meantime brewery under licence. I've an ambivalent relationship with them. Some of their beers are good, but I always have the impression they're being a mite gimicky with their range. Happy to be proven otherwise, as ever, but I feel their relationship with M&S adds creedence to my notion they're cynically commercial rather than benignly eclectic.

Or maybe I'm just being a miserable sod? Only time will tell.

This post has been brought to you today by the habitual uplifting and jovial demeanour of Mark E Smith.

Beer: Marks & Spencer London Porter
Country: London, England
Strength: A portly 5.5%
Colour: Tarred Vimto.
Smell: Marmite. Marmite used like Bovril as a drink at football matches. In hot water. A faint whiff of shellac too. And a barrel-load of yeast. Offsetting this is a brief hint of brandied plum, so it's not all bad. It's smoky too, like an autumn's charcoal making.
Circumstance: Slap bang in the middle of doing way to much work and have just got some bad news about a cover shot we were trying to set up, so frankly I've felt better. I'm supposed to be doing more work tonight, but it can go and whistle.
Tasting notes: Charred blackcurrant initially along with a generous wodge of cheap sherry. Now I know that sounds unpleasant, but I really like this. Remember those sweets you used to get that were blackcurrant boiled sweets on the outside and licquorice in the centre? Well, this is the beer equivalent. What's disappointing is that it doesn't really develop into much. Not really. It leaves you with a desire for more, which is commendable. But I can't quite work out why, because there's no real complexity about it. A quick and dirty, if you will.
Drinkability: I'd only attempt more than one if you had a long evening by a log fire in the offing. Otherwise, two at most.
Gut reaction: It has the potential to cause all sorts of havoc if you overdo it, I'd guess. But since I'm not going to, I'll never know.
Session factor: You wouldn't. You just wouldn't.
VFM: 6.9. Not bad, I'd say. Quite strong, reasonably flavoursome, £1.63 a bottle and on my way home, so it doesn't do badly. It's not the special one, though.

Monday 7 December 2009

Danger new XB

Like the wreckless divot I sometimes am, I allowed Saturday night's update to turn into a mini session.

And I foolishly failed to take any photos or notes, so half of my remaining calendar was wiped out in a trice. A rough hangover and sheepish feeling held sway for most of yesterday and there was simply no way I was ever going to update the calendar, let alone allow beer to pass my lips. There's a lesson in there for all of us, folks.

Remember to take notes and always have a camera with you.

On the upside, that means I get to have a crack at two beers tonight for the price of one update, so perhaps there is something to be said for irresponsible drinking after all.

Another positive to come from today is the news that the people over at the excellent Caught By The River website would like me to contribute some words about beer for a potential guide book they hope to publish. I'm understandably excited by this prospect and will keep you informed of any progress. Really looking forward to working with them and recommend you bookmark the site and keep checking it out, especially if you feel like taking a break from the hectic pace of everyday life.

Speaking of hectic pace, I need to get on with this. Two beers to drink and some advertising copy to knock into shape before bedtime, so without further delay...

Beer: Theakston's XB
Country: Yorkshire, England
Strength: A sturdy 4.5%
Colour: Deep copper mixed with blood orange
Smell: Old man's beer. This reminds me of the first time I ever smelled my dad's beer and didn't much care for it. There's a faint whiff of kiwi fruit in there along with some orangy citrus
Circumstance: About to embark on a night of late work and drinking. I can see this being a difficult week given we're only at Monday
Tasting notes: Deeply malty with treacle undertones and a bit of dried fruit. But after that, it isn't massively full-bodied, as it claims to be on the label. I was hoping for slightly more complexity as well, but that's not evident either. On the whole, it promises much but disappoints. There's no real bitterness about it as well - you just get the rounded, malty taste, then nothing. I check the bottle to see if it's past its sell-by date, but no. Just a fairly average beer.
Drinkability: It's OK to drink as long as you don't expect too much. I might find it cloying after the first one, though, and I don't feel like drinking more than one. I'm reminded I used to drink this in a pub in Newcastle called The Brandling, where it was de rigeur to try and drink nine by 9pm. I succeeded in this venture once, although I don't remember too much else about the night. I'm not sure I could do nine of these in a year these days.
Gut reaction: Seems fine so far, but I'm going to mark it down as I needed to check the date, so obviously I'm none too confident.
Session factor: See above for Brandling escapades. Clearly it's possible, but I don't think it has the capacity to maintain my interest levels over a drawn-in evening.
VFM: 5.3. Another £1.50 scoop from Sainsbury's and rightly so. Was going to the shop anyway, so no inconvenience, but I feel let down by what promised more on first sight, smell and tasting.

Beer: Badger Dandelion Flavoured Organic Ale
Country: England
Strength: 4.5%
Colour: The orange of countless 70s Sunday supplement advertorials about life in Scandinavia.
Smell: Smells like a dog's watered the dandelions, though there is a hint of hoppiness straining through. There's a suggestion of cheesy mustiness as well. Unpromising.
Circumstance: One beer in and still no further with the copywriting. Oops.
Tasting notes: Well I was fairly dreading this, I have to admit. Badger brewery has a nasty habit of infusing all it's beers with an overpowering floweriness that is difficult to ignore. Given this one's actually named after a flower, and not the most glamourous one at that, I'd practically written it off and was sharpening up the claws to give it a real shoeing. With that in mind, I'm slightly deflated to report that this really isn't bad at all. There is a suggestion of meadows as you take in your first gulp, but it's a refreshing breezy flowing cornfield that greets you rather than a sodden ploughed field. Full of blighted spuds. I'm also getting a faint taste of honey, but again it's not overbearing like some golden ales can be, especially brewed by Badger, so I'm pleasantly surprised again. That said, it is drifting into the arena of the lageresque with its colour and gaseous qualities, but I could imagine that isn't all that unwelcome once the weather warms. The dry, ashen finish rounds it off superbly as well.
Drinkability: In the height of summer, I'd go so far as to say a few cold ones of this would go down handsomely. It's not as well suited to winter, but as a sprightly springtime sharpener, it stands up to more established peers.
Gut reaction: Ah yes, the drawback. It's already repeated on me substantially, jumping up and down like a yappy little Jack Russell begging to be noticed. Bless it.
Session factor: Entirely depends on the season. Too lightweight for winter evenings, it'll come into its own as the temperature rises.
VFM: 7.2. Yet another Sainsbury's effort, you cannot fault this at £1.50 a bottle. And there's double nectar points on offer too, for those that do such things, which seems entirely fitting for this self-proclaimed 'fine and dandy' ale.

Saturday 5 December 2009

Old Tom's a-cold

Go in with me: my duty cannot suffer.

Although suffer it has. I knew I should have done this last night. But through some clearly misguided sense of loyalty and desire for authenticity, I left it till today. I knew I'd be necking substandard wine this afternoon, so frankly this tasting should have been over and done with way before now.

But did that idea meet with any kind of acquiescence or approval when first mooted? I guess you can guess. But in the interests of and by way of marital harmony, such matters are insignificant, however you want to look at them.

So three or four sheets to the wind, I'm called on not only to deal with moody bus drivers and incredibly uptight offspring, I then need to pass judgment on one of the strongest beers I've seen on special offer in some time.

This is in the same ball park as asking the dog to take the cat for a walk.

On the plus side, it's Robinson's Old Tom, a beer with which I'm familiar. It's even a pleasure to reacquaint myself with a tipple first tasted in Marple and never since given a miss when possible.

It's ruddy hard, though. Literally. And it's colder than I'd have wanted, too.

Beer: Robinson's Old Tom
Country: England
Strength: An ill-advised 8.5%
Colour: When held up at the light, it appears to be Benylin mixed with used engine oil
Smell: Thick molasses and just-baked malt loaf, laced with Russian vodka. And poppers.
Circumstance: Just back from a kids' party. Surprisingly low-key, thankfully. It's the third year in succession I've come back from the same party and had to both drink and review a beer, but you can tell the adults are getting older. And those without kids don't stay all that long. The result is, I'm overwhelmed neither by too much wine nor prone cigarette smoking. As misfortune would have it, though, my eldest wanted to know how a bottle opener works, so I had to let her open a beer I was planning to use for the calendar. Oh well, every cloud, as they say.
Tasting notes: Massive wallop of liquorice straight away. Hint of Marmite, soupcon of Supermalt and little respite for quite some time. It rounds after a while into something of a fortified wine, but you do have to wait for that. You almost have the impression that there's a little imp in the bottle armed with a miniature paint brush and and a pitcher of Marmite that he's eagerly applying to anywhere in your mouth that this stuff will stick. That said, I don't find it unpleasant at all. It's faintly reassuring, almost like a comfort blanket. A good couple of minutes later and it's still there. Reminds me of treacle toffee a bit.
Drinkability: Not something you'd really want to hammer, nonetheless this is a pleasure to take in. No hint of gaseousness, flavoursome and interesting; this beer practically demands you relax in an armchair, kick back in front of a fire and partake. Perhaps with a mature Stilton and a nicely loaded pipe.
Gut reaction: So long as you don't overload, there's not much that will trouble a reasonable constitution. In actual fact, it could well be prescribed for those of an unstable gastric disposition.
Session factor: Nah, I wouldn't. Although thinking about it, I wouldn't mind giving it a crack.
VFM: 9.3. Another £1.50-a-bottle contender and given its strength, it's already vying for the title of value beer of the month.

Friday 4 December 2009

Gilty pleasures

In these days of the information superhighway and social networking what-nots, a blogger has to be careful what he writes.

But it was with an immense sense of pride that I found out a brewer to whom I'd made mention in an earlier post had been sent the comments and, flatteringly, had bothered to read them. That he then pretty much agreed with what I'd written is a real boon, so I've been looking forward to reviewing tonight's ale just so I could brag about it. *shines chufty badge*

Well, obviously not solely to bang on about it; there's a beer to be drunk after all. And from first glance, it doesn't look bad either, although it does have an element of Benson & Hedges about it. Brains tends to be marketed towards the rugby crowd and I'm guessing this one's aimed at the lager-drinking segment of that fraternity. There's been a lot of this from brewers in recent years, doubtless trying to claw back some drinkers from the dark side using the sophisticated method pioneered in the natural world by the humble chameleon. Proper cunning, that.

I've been reluctant to endorse this gold-rush thus far, principally as a result of being a stubborn git but also down to the fact many of these lager honeypots taste almost uniformly dull and dusty. I've high hopes for this one, though. Quite a fan of Brains usually, so I'm hoping they don't fail.

This one's for you, Fergus. Ta for reading and I hope you didn't take offence over the stale tea comment - you've a mostly sterling beer, there. Keep up the good work.

Beer: Brains SA Gold
Country: Wales
Strength: A punchy 4.7%
Colour: Gold, obviously. Could quite easily pass for lager.
Smell: Rounded and flowery with a hint of cream soda and a dash of mandarin orange
Circumstance: End of a long, hard week at work. Must have been stressful because I eschewed the traditional post-work snifter.
Tasting notes: You know what? That's pretty much all you'd want out of a golden ale. The bitterness wades straight in there like an over-eager teenager trying to get served at the bar and ordering a pint of 'beer'. There's little of the promised floweriness initially, but what you do get is a sherberty surge almost as powerful as fizz bombs before this all calms down and delivers an almost biscuity drying out. I can see how this could turn the lager drinker - the complexity doesn't really kick in until your tastebuds have been convinced they're sampling something relatively bland, if fizzy. I'm coming round to seeing this as some sort of 'Orange Stimulator', provoking the lager trout into an aggressive response before reeling him in to the riverbank of real flavour.
Drinkability: Sensational. Truly a prince among golden ales. The a.b.v. tag might prevent me hammering it, but I'd gladly work my way through half a dozen of these in one, albeit prolonged, sitting. Refreshes the parts most lagers have been trying and failing to reach for decades.
Gut reaction: Fine now, but there is some gas to be wary of, so treat with caution and have some food, for heaven's sake.
Session factor: Worryingly high. See drinkability.
VFM: 9.7. Quid-fifty a bottle on offer at Sainsbury's is good in anyone's language, especially given how marvellous it tastes. Highly accomplished.

Thursday 3 December 2009


I set out this morning with high hopes for the day, but ended up surprised at just how quickly these can derail at the slightest knock.

Train in to work was late, meeting was delayed, then it took too long and ended with me inheriting a bulkier workload. That fairly put paid to the rest of the afternoon and gave me scant incentive to remain dynamic for the rest of the day. Tempted as I was to stick around longer, I made my excuses and left.

So having sought value at Marks & Spencer yesterday and more or less succeeded, I took the lazy option on my return home and decided to sample their wares again. Reader, I apologise. I've failed you by seeking neither value nor quality, but instead reaching apathetically into the fridge and pulling out the first beer that came to hand.

Now there are mitigating circumstances, admittedly. Long day, busy at work and home, stresses of Christmas, etc. But none of those excuses can go any way towards redeeming the brewer of this so-called 'Seasonal Guest' beer. The bottle is uninspiring, the colour is the visual equivalent of dank and it has the fearsome odour of solvent abuse. Only a couple of sips in and that particular guest has already outstayed its welcome and there are still more than 20 days left until Christmas. Leaves a sour taste in the mouth too, especially given the not-exactly-cheap price.

That said, the buggeration factor was minimal, which will of course help soften the blow when it comes to marking it down in the VFM stakes. But I won't be drinking this again.

Beer: Bavarian Winterfest Wheat Beer
Country: Bavaria, Germany
Strength: 5.2%, but you wouldn't think it
Colour: Murky, pale, burnt umber
Smell: Paint and Quink Ink at first, disconcertingly. Then marker pen, then malt loaf and finally marker pen again.
Circumstance: Just played a 'Best of 2009' radio show on Purple Radio, which you can download from here if you like.
Tasting notes: There's a faint flavour of caramelised citrus fruit and a hint of dark, dried currants first off, but this is washed away almost instantly by a wave of sherbert and brackish water. Your poor tongue is left both reeling and floundering in this brine-like solution for some considerable time before that gives way to a mellower, warmer sensation. Much like being saved from drowning, I expect.
Drinkability: If you were thirsty and craved refreshment and you were presented with a bottle of this stuff, you'd rightly hesitate. It's not nasty by any means. No, it's too insipid for that. It just fails to hit the mark on several counts and is essentially disappointing.
Gut reaction: Windy. Wheat beer is fractious at the best of times, but this is downright volatile.
Session factor: Puny.
VFM: 4.5. It just doesn't cut it; certainly not at £1.62 a go. My advice is to spend your pennies elsewhere.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

On your marks

This is not just a beer brewed under licence, this is an M&S beer brewed under license.

And at a premium too. But then they did have a four-for-three offer on, which brought this particular beer down to a more sensible and even fairly reasonable £1.62.

What wasn't reasonable was the utter soaking I received when I popped out from work to pick up these beers. What had been a greyish yet perfectly acceptable afternoon turned nasty in the time it took me to select these particular bottles, so I received a proper drenching from the the monsoon that was just nipping over to London for a spot of Christmas shopping. Or should that be sopping?

I've been in a foul mood ever since, compounded by being moaned at while working slightly later than planned. Whether this puts me in the right or wrong frame of mind for reviewing today's beer, I'm not sure.

But as there's only one way to find out, I have no option but to crack open another bottle...

Beer: M&S Southwold Winter Beer (brewed by Adnams)
Country: Suffolk, England
Strength: A piddling 4%.
Colour: Roasted chestnut
Smell: Wet, sherried Christmas pudding
Circumstance: Waiting for dinner, still with a fairly sizeable grump on after getting a repeat soaking on the way home.
Tasting notes: Thick and treacle-y at first with a robustness that belies its meagre strength. In fact, it stands up to scrutiny pretty well, although you could probably have it in a fight. There's a flattening and drying out later on that feels like someone's sponged the inside of your mouth down, which isn't entirely unpleasant but it's unexpected and does take you a little off guard. But given how much moisture I've had to cope with today, that sensation is rather welcome, so hats off to master brewer Fergus Fitzgerald for that. Somewhat unnervingly, around five minutes after the first drink, I'm getting a taste of stale railway station tea, which is somewhat less welcome. Could do better, Fergus.
Drinkability: There are no real issues here with sticking a few of these away. In fact, the almost acrid finish practically forces you to swig more.
Gut reaction: I'm guessing the darkness will tell on the way out, but over an evening it shouldn't cause too many complaints.
Session factor: I'd happily have a few, but I might fancy switching afterwards, especially given the stale tea factor. Solid without being inspiring, it's the beer equivalent of David Moyes. Or Rob McElwee off the weather report.
VFM: 6.5. While not expensive, it's not bargain either given the compunction to purchase several to make it vaguely cost its worth.