Friday 25 February 2011

Death by BrewDog

IPA is dead. Well it is if this is anything to go by. Deader than a festering dodo. Bereft of life. Gleich tot. 

BrewDog's IPA is Dead is a monster of a 7.5% beer. They've brewed four different ones using a single variety of hop - Citra, Bramling Cross, Nelson Sauvin or Sorachi Ace - so you get to learn the distinct characteristics of each. Fine, laudable idea in theory. In practice, however, it's utterly disgusting. I have no idea which one it is I'm drinking, but have ruled out Citra or Nelson Sauvin by dint of the fact they couldn't possibly have made a beer this bad with either of those hops. Could they?

Fortunately, it's yet another 'limited edition' brew by the Fraserburgh-based publicity machine, so all is not lost.

The weird thing is, it smells terrific at first. Hoppy as a proverbial Mad March Hare on uppers; it has a wondrous flowery aroma.

But the thing with beer is... it's a drink. So eventually, you have to taste it. And when it tastes like a dead rabbit has just emptied its post-mortem bowels in a mortuary, you wonder whether tasting it really is the right option. Thank God I didn't order a pint of this crud. Oh, I did.

From the smell, you'd expect a finely crafted, subtly balanced hop maniac. Instead, what you get is 10-year-old Soreen malt loaf that throws spores of foetid mould around like its an explosion in a paint powder factory. And it hurts too. At 7.5%, it's no lightweight; rather it splays its dung-like flavour around like a 10-tonne muck-spreader, leaving rancid, hideous detritus strewn around the mouth indiscriminately.

And the trademark not-quite-there finish in which BrewDog seems to specialise rears its ugly head at the death too, just in case you hadn't had enough of an assault on the senses. Disgusting.

IPA is Dead is dead. Long live IPA.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Brief Wellington

A 20 minute walk at a brisk pace from Bungalowville, north Seaford to the old town sees me arrive at The Wellington warm, thirsty and in bad need of the loo. So a clean lavatory, complete with a full complement of toilet roll, inspires confidence. 

Paper towels add to that, as do the six hand pumps taking pride of place on the clean, well-tended bar. My barmaid doesn't appear all that au fait with the stock - these are light, those are darker, she says - but it doesn't matter as I spy a Yorkshire Terrier, which I know fairly well.

Wonder where the party is, she says, looking around the sparsely attended lounge. It's not here, I reply. But it is, soon enough, as the pub fills gradually but surely with an odd but ostensibly friendly mix of locals. From large, gruff fisherman types to younger, aspiring Eastbourners with garish T-shirts, there is a good cross-section of Seaford society rubbing shoulders easily.

As for the beer, it's outstanding. Yorkshire Terrier is exactly how I remember: yappy and snappy as its name suggests. The one beef I really have with this place is the restaurant to the right of the lounge bar. Fumes from the griddle billow straight through into the rest of the pub, but this could be overcome by simply closing the door. Locals nickname this place The Wellie, but for me it'll forever be known as the Smelly until they sort this issue out.

In all honesty, the decor's a mite upmarket for my liking. OK for a lounge or reading room; less so for a pub. I imagined it would be more rustic and am crestfallen when it's not. There are some nice touches, though, including a fake brass plaque on the fireplace, which reads: In memory of Graham 'Wiggy' Haynes, who tended this fire and brought warmth to this pub. Sadly missed by all his friends. I've added the punctuation for clarity's sake, but it's a warming presence all the same.

Next up I try a Springhead Robin Hood ale, which has a whiff of something approaching sour milk. It suffers from tasting like a cross between sour Tutti Fruttis and dentists' waiting rooms. Or even perhaps that stuff they use for taking bite impressions. All this is made worse by the sickening stench of burning pork chops wafting through from the grill. Or are they lamb? I'm afraid I'm unqualified to tell.

Returning from the loo, I find a note has been placed on my table informing me it and the chairs are to be cleared at around 11pm for the midnight session of dancing to classics from the 70's, 80's and 90's [sic]. At this, I decide to change horses mid-stream and opt for a Hardy's & Hanson's Olde Trip.

It's a fuller, maltier affair that has smoothness plastered all over its face and slips down like a pensioner in the big freeze of '63. I can't really smell much due to the now overwhelming stench of charring meats, but the flavour is that of a bruising premium bitter brewed to warm the cockles of sea-chilled old salts' hearts after a long, fruitless trawl or our oceans for fruits-de-mer.

Last knock-ins is Coach House Brewing Company Dick Turpin, a copper sunset-coloured ale that again smells of nothing but fried food, but tastes immediately like liquid Soreen malt loaf. It's as chewy as well. Something in it is making my saliva glands work overtime and my tongue grind against my teeth like an over-enthusiastic teenage smoocher works his way into his inamorata's body at a nite club. Perhaps unwelcomely.

What I can't work out is why they have faux-velvet ropes of crimson on clearly not gold stands outside the main entrance. Maybe they're intended to make the place look classier to deter Seaford's undesireables? The sculpted conifers in vase-like pots don't help much either. It doesn't add up.

The disco lighting and speakers speak volumes too. Of a place that doesn't really know its identity. It feels like a pub, acts like a bar and wants to be a night club. I write this from the soon-to-be-cleared dancefloor.

Maybe that's what Seaford demands? In truth, it's not even a one-horse town and the catchment area is tiny, so it's possibly entirely necessary to have such a catch-all establishment. To a London lad, it just looks caught between several stools and confused. But this is churlish. Overall, I think I'll be back in here. Apart from the 'heavily hopped' (read: foul) Robin Hood, the beers have been brilliantly served and kept. The Wellington's Cask Marque is fully deserved. The ambiance, while rendered a bit sterile by the new paintwork and varnished woods, is amicable enough.

I've enjoyed good beer, banter and had no hassle at all, so complaint is just inappropriate. I just wish they'd shut the ruddy restaurant door.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Blythe spirit

Hill prime: The Blythe Hill Tavern delivers
on every level
Finding real love can seem like a task akin to cleansing the Augean stables sometimes. Especially if you're picky, particular or even prone to outright prejudice. So when that rare moment comes along when there's a slim shot at the title, you need to be ready, whatever circumstances or situation dictate. 

And there really is no point settling for something barely passable when, just around the corner, something beautiful could be waiting. For sure, it's an emotional minefield out there and there are no hard and fast rules; it's up to you to play it how you see it.

But even when desperation comes calling and you're convinced anything is better than nothing, perseverence can - and it's only can - yield results you could never imagine.

The sharp focus of the first single Valentine's Day I've spent in more than a decade brings this particular truth home even more keenly as I waver outside the Honor Oak Tavern looking for a soothing beer. There's something enticing about the lack of couples in there; the promise of two ales on hand pump. The glittering decorations and welcoming plush furnishing. Yet these are all too often flatteries that stoop to deceive. Promising much but ultimately delivering only disappointment and regret.

I walk on by. Head held high. Prolonging the agony yet inwardly convinced something better lies ahead.

My reward is as welcome as it is almost inevitable. The Blythe Hill Tavern is a good 10 minutes' walk from my new flat, but it already has the potential to be my second living room. Roaring fire and oak panels adorned with all sorts - from clocks of knives to a greying, faded poster of Irish writers - mark it out immediately as somewhere I could spend a long time just drinking in the view.

The bar staff all wear white shirts, trousers and a tie. This isn't usually a detail I'd be bothered about, but this evening it really matters. They've made an effort for me and I'm genuinely touched. And the beer selection is intriguing, covering the whole gamut of flavour from Courage Best to Hepworth's Classic Old Ale. I double-take, taken aback by the range in such an outwardly unassuming pub.

And just when I'm on the tipping point of being smitten, a knowing, smiling, benevolent presence in the form of a brilliantly kept Dark Star Hophead appears before me, cupping my face in it's light, insistent hands and delivering a luscious, bittersweet, tender kiss upon my lips. Sheer bliss. I drink in its beauty, already tipsy on the warm caress of the surroundings. Even its rasping bite at the finish feels laden with good intentions, however much it smarts.

I know it's early days, but already it feels like I've found my ideal mate in the Blythe Hill Tavern. We have so much more to discover about each other, naturally. And who knows how it will develop in the coming weeks? But for now, I'm left with a gaping grin every time I think about being there. And the feeling I'm delighted I wasn't seduced by the first local to show an interest.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

It was a dark and stormy night...

With eyes like two halves of a pithy blood orange and a bellyful of wind that’s making sounds to give singing, diving, pilot whales a run for their watery money, I stroll into The Rake in Borough hoping for some solace. Instead, I find Dark Star Tripel.
More here.

Dark Star Tripel