Bavaria 0.0% – The Review

bavvySince I started doing Sober for October and raising some much deserved money for Macmillan, I’ve been trying a variety of non-alcoholic beverages – as you’d expect. Even though common sense and certain experiences tell me that it’s the ‘proper’ brews readers will  be more interested in, I thought it’d be a nice way to celebrate my ABV abstinence and open up a bit of a discussion on different ways to enjoy beer.

It’s an interesting proposition for me this. I know Bavaria lager quite well. It’s not bad. It’s often quite cheap, it ticks the refreshing taste boxes and also satisfies my quiet need to realign myself with my Dutch heritage. However, I didn’t know they had a no-alcohol version. With all this in mind, I can’t even say what my expectations were, other than that I thought they had a good chance of brewing a competent beer. I’ve cracked one open now, though, so let’s have a look.

Vital Stats

 

Look Well, the head went quickly, but I couldn’t say it was any different to other lagers I’ve had. It looks nice and lively, but it’s too pale for me. Especially the way it looks almost colourless at the edges, it strikes me as watery, which is a shame because it’s not. 4/10

Aroma It’s single dimensional, to be honest, but really nice. If you’ve ever been in a brewery and smelled that wet malt smell, then this beer’ll remind you of it. It’s this simple effectiveness that exemplifies why I’m so passionate about taste experiences. It manages to smell sweet, though, so it’s not all great. 7/10

Taste Straight off you get a wonderful malty mouthful, quite bready. There’s a very slight bitterness, only very slight though. Normally I’d say the lack of balance would be a bad thing, but it’s simply an enjoyable taste as it is. There’s quite a bit of sweetness, which isn’t good for me, and the mouthfeel’s odd. I can’t decide whether to commend it for managing to be creamy, or whether to condemn the strangely thin finish. Manages to classsily avoid the tacky metallic taste of non-alc lagers like Beck’s Blue. 6/10

Value £2.50 for a pack of four seems like a great deal. Admittedly I might be guilty of judging it by regular alcoholic drink prices, but, to be honest, I don’t know how much it costs to brew both types of beverage, so I don’t know if I’m being ripped off or not haha! But no, I think for the taste and the amount, that’s a great price. 9/10

Session Well, I mean, you can fill your boots can’t you? I don’t know whether I should say this [I don’t want to put anyone off or criticise a company erroneously], but I feel a bit odd after drinking a lot of non-alcoholic beer. Almost light-headed… Anyway, I’m not going to go into all my symptoms because it’s boring to read and it might be an idiosyncrasy particular to me and no-one else. Still, I have to give it a 5/10. On paper it’s a great session drink, but not for me!

I really think you should try this, just to see what you think of the flavour. I think there’s a lot of promise, but quite a few unfortunate setbacks. I may be being a bit harsh here, but I’m giving it 62%.

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Alhambra Mezquita – The Review

mezI was bought this as a birthday present from a mate of mine who has visited Lunya in Manchester. Apparently it’s a restaurant and bar, but, more importantly for me, it also has a shop, so foodies and ‘drinkies’ alike can take home a small slice/drop of Spain.

I was lucky enough to be given a few bottles, all of which I’ll probably review them at some point, but today I’ll start with this abbey-style offering [yes, it’s not just Belgium that has abbeys!]. It is described as “Ideal for high quality beer lovers” – so let’s test that!

Vital Stats:

  • 7.2% ABV
  • Brewed in Cordoba, Spain
  • Superior red ale style
  • Comes in 330ml bottles

Look Darker than I expected. A bright, chestnut colour. Glassy and clear with a loose head. Looks delicious enough! 7/10

Aroma Well it practically jumped out the bottle; oaky dryness and dried wheat mix with subtle fruits and a hint of hops. Didn’t distinguish itself as terribly exciting, but it certainly had power. 7/10

Taste Very much led by the malts. You get the dry huskiness mingling with nutty flavours, which makes me think it was oak aged, but I can’t find any info to back this up… Anyway, there’s a light caramel note, leading into a bit of raisin and a touch of spice. There’s also a buttered toast element going on, so plenty to appreciate. Despite its refreshing, fizzy mouthfeel, there’s no mistaking its high alcohol content with the brandy-like warmth of it. Very long finish, which is groovy. 8/10

Value It was a present for me, so should get 10/10, but I’ve seen it online for £2.09. Especially for a beer of this strength, that’s not bloody bad. For the experience, too, it’s pretty good. 8/10

Session Obviously it was never really brewed to be a session ale, in fact they recommend it to be drunk in winter, or, if in summer, as a long drink. I couldn’t manage more than one of these in succession. It’s a heavy taste, which, when combined with the very long finish, makes it one to savour toward the end of the night. The high alcohol took its toll quickly too! 4/10

In summary, this is well worth a go for those that like barrel-aged beers, or big, higher-alcohol beverages, but not one with mass appeal ‘to try at all costs’. It has a lot more depth than some I’ve had, although there’s plenty of comparable bottles [some Innis and Gunn beers, McEwan’s Export to name a couple] if you can’t find this one.

Final score: 70/100

Martin’s 2015 in Review

La Belle de Thongue
La Belle de Thongue

Hullo there ale fans! How are you doing? Had a nice winterval? Before I get going reviewing any more interesting beers, I thought I’d just share a little about the year that’s just passed.

A personal highlight of mine has been going to France in the summer. I’m lucky enough to have family living out there in Espondeilhan who invited me out for a week and, since I’d just left employment, it was a good time to take in some French culture. It was an even better time to try some French beers, though! There’s a wee brewery in the village, called ‘La Belle de Thongue‘ [pictured] that we went in. I tried three of their beers [which was all they did, apart from a Christmas one], ‘Blanche’ [5.8%], ‘Blonde’ [6.0%] and ‘Ambree’ [5.8%]. The first two had refreshing creamy lemon carries [a la Vedett White and summery saisons], whilst the third reminded me of a fresh brown ale, not entirely dissimilar to Newcastle Brown [and that’s one I like – don’t hate!]. They’re genuinely of a better-than-average quality, very tasty and, above all, perfect in the Languedoc heat. After the brewery trip we visited Wanagaine, a newer addition to the town, a cafe-restaurant-pub which is only a hundred metres from the brewery and the perfect place to sit and down enjoy more of these Belle beers, especially during a ‘tapas fete’ they had on one night. I’m still there somewhere, enjoying all that laid back beauty…

Some of the worst news this year has been the massive flooding across parts of the country, and my thoughts continue to be with those affected. We’re fortunate here in Morecambe that power cuts were the worst of it, but just down the road in Lancaster there has been a lot of flood damage. It damaged so much of the town, including a variety of different businesses. Two of my favourite ever pubs [in my top five, surely] have been badly hit [that’s The George and Dragon and The Bobbin], along with music hot spots The Yorkshire House, The Stonewell Tavern and The Juke Joint along with, love it or loathe it, one of the go-to meeting spots The Green Ayre, of Wetherspoons ownership. I know the landlord of The George and Dragon closely [he’s a lovely chappy] and helped him a little bit in clearing out his cellar. The damage could be sickening to look at, and the effect on earnings very depressing [it’s really not a high-rolling industry. You have to make it look and feel like a party, but it’s bloody hard work and can be a thankless task], but in characteristic fashion, he found positives to take from it [i.e. that the cellar needed a clear out anyway] and there has been encouraging support from locals. In fact, he’s already got ale back on hand pull, having only had to rely on bottles for a small while, so passion finds a way. The places that are open in Lancaster are doing a good job in that respect, making do with what they can and continuing to serve the pub-going folk in the area. I raise my glass to them all and encourage the public not to assume that places will be closed – your local businesses are very resourceful! And speaking of service – this story of what one local landlord has done for the historic city is really touching.

In terms of beers, the most disappointing beer I’ve had this year is Odell Footprint [to be reviewed later]. I paid a lot of money for it and have heard that other people really enjoyed it, but the actual tasting of it was worse than underwhelming… On the other end of the spectrum though, I had my favourite IPA of the year, and definitely one of the all-time greats. You’ll never guess where it came from either. Go on, have a go. No. Haha, no, not there either – have another go. Definitely not there! No, it was actually Sweden! Yes, Gotlands Bryggeri brew a wonderful IPA that I’ll review at some point in the future. They also do a Pils and a pale, which I looked at thinking ‘ok, I was surprised by the IPA, but that Pils will be boring, and the pale’ll be lame’. Not a word of it. Both also brilliant. My mouth’s watering just thinking about them, so I’ll either stop that, or start buying more. Come on pay day!

Christmas day itself was entirely beerless [in terms of presents, that is!]. I know Paul got some, but on the twenty-fifth I got something I enjoy about as much as beer – a Beatles book! On a side note, I really enjoyed it, and if you’re a Beatles fan, or know someone who is, then it’s well worth a look. It taught me a lot, entertainment me too and is suitable for a wide age range. Luckily, as well as reading material, a friend of mine who couldn’t get his present to me until a few days later had bought me beer, so I ended up with two Christmases really. He got me three groovy Spanish ales, and if you want to read about them then watch this space! I’ve already tried the one brewed with rosemary and – wow – I’ve never had anything like it before!

Looking ahead, there’s both foreboding signs, and bright hope. My favourite pub in the world, that happens to be my local, is closing at the end of January. Yes, the Ranch House will be turned into another soulless Brewer’s Fayre type thing, of which we already have at least two in town, and another candle of individuality is to be stamped out for little other reason than corporate blindness. I urge you, wherever you are in the world, to try and come down and sample the atmosphere and wares of a wonderfully English pub, a true heart of the community, with a commitment to quality and affordability, before it closes on the 31st. The excellent news is that the landlord will be opening up a new place on Regent Road, not too far from The Ranch, so let’s look forward. Also, if you’ve already been to The Ranch and want to take part in commemorating its glory, there are opportunities via the memories page on Facebook, and via photo sessions happening in the pub.

Lastly, I want to say that there are a few times a year where doubtlessly well-intentioned charities try to, whether strongly or not, demonise drinkers. Events such as Cancer Research‘s ‘Dryathlon‘ [that calls drinking a sin in its ad] and Macmillan Cancer Support‘s ‘Go Sober for October‘ [that has called sobriety ‘heroic’] aren’t bad ideas for gathering money for charity, but often use judgemental language, as I’ve pointed out. Helping out charities is great, but so is helping local businesses. Thusly, I want to spread the word about Tryanuary. If you like a drink, or you want to participate in a local team, or you like watching sport, setting up new societies or whatever, then try your local pub, which probably has a lot of events on that you don’t even need to drink to participate in. Also, I remember many times, particularly at good community hub pubs [like all the ones mentioned in this post and beyond], where landlords go way beyond merely putting a charity collection box on the bar, and host well-structured nights – sometimes putting personal pride on the line to raise a little extra cash – in order to help causes close to their heart. Is it fair that these charities should now use expensive marketing campaigns to, probably inadvertently, cause already struggling business more woes, based on the fact they sell booze? No.

#Tryanuary.

McGargles’ ‘Granny Mary’s Red Ale’ – The Review

DSCN1216When we got McGargles in The Wineyard, we got three of ’em: ‘Granny Mary’s Red Ale’, ‘Gravy Maevey’s Pilsner’ and ‘Knock Knock Ned’s IPA’. While they present themselves as a family brewery, erring on the traditional side of the craft brewing industry, I was curious to try these new additions. Probably because of the personalities they portray on their labels which, in turn, make you think of the brewery as a personality in its own right.

The Pilsner and the IPA were both really nice. At a good price, they could both be session beers [though you’d want to watch yourself on the IPA’s greater alcoholic strength, of course], and I’ve supped these in comfortable surroundings, as well as on the way to the next party. But how much of a good time beer is the red ale?

Vital Stats:

Look Busy, immature bottle that’s a bit of a spectacle.

In the glass – you can sort of see in the pic – it’s a moody brown, and when held up to the light it shows burning red hues. 8/10

Aroma Mmm, a nice, inviting malty nose with plenty of fruit. I find it hard to distinguish individual aromas because a fresh yeast and malt aroma sort of masks things. I think it’s raisiny, but there’s a vanilla hint, too, and some dry nuttiness. 7/10

Taste It’s a really deep flavour for something so light in alcohol and body. There’s a slight spicy maltiness to it, but very fruity – dried fruits like raisins and prunes. Interesting mouthfeel. Their Pilsner and IPA are both characterised by this buttery flavour and feel, but this one not so much. It’s nutmeggy, which I like, and though there’s a noticeable bitterness, it’s not a great tongue tingle texture. Yeah, it’s nice, it just loses marks for strength of flavour and audacity. 8/10

Value At less than two quid a bottle, I’m happy. They certainly don’t want for flavour! 8/10

Session The flavours develop nicely as the session goes on, and it can go on a long while at 4.4% before you should pack it in. It’s quite a typical ‘Autumn beer’ [in the sense of what pubs normally serve, not what I’m telling you should drink – you go for what you want!] and will liven up a decent sesh as those fabul0usly fiery leaves fall from tired trees. 8/10

A good score for a very solid beer [not literally…]. The only average score was the aroma, but everything else was above that, so I’ve got no hesitation in saying you should give this one a go. You might not go all evangelical about it, but I’m confident you’ll enjoy it once or, like me, many times.

Final score: 78/100

Brasseurs de Gayant ‘La Goudale’ – The Review

goudale abbey beer‘Budweiser’ and others want to wage their war against ‘pretentiousness’, well, here’s my take: there’s nothing pretentious about good beer. Hell, you already know I’m not against drinking lager and neither’s Paul. We’re not about knee-jerk judgement, we’re as inclusive as we can be, we’re just honest as well. In this vein of thought, I wanted to review a ‘low-end’ beer, as it were, from supermarket Aldi.

Aldi, the German-based supermarket that dares to be cheaper than the rest, whilst claiming quality as standard. How will one of their beers fare under my scientifically-rigorous scrutiny, especially when its name ‘Goudale’ comes from the archaic French for ‘good ale’? Let’s find out!

Vital Stats:

  • 6% ABV
  • Brewed in Douai, France
  • Comes in 750ml bottles [how very French!]

Look It’s a very simple bottle. Appealingly so. Big, clear lettering, somehow seems very genuine.

In’t’ glass, it’s a nice, clear, light amber. Plenty of fizz and head, some of which stays. 7/10

Aroma There’s a simple but distinct hoppy note, quite typical of certain continental lagers. Following that, there’s a hint of wheat before a sourish, biscuity smell from the yeast. Despite it not being radical, it’s potent and pleasant. 7/10

Taste Slightly lacking after the promise of the aroma. The hop notes are too soft and not assertive enough for me. There’s a floral fruitiness that develops on the palate, along with a caramel flavour, but I guess that’s mainly from the additives than anything else. It’s good and smooth, and some of you will really enjoy the wheaty, yeasty flavours, but I guess it doesn’t live up to my experience of French beers… 6/10

Value £2.49 for this large bottle… In terms of ‘alcoholic bang for yer buck’ that’s pretty good. It’s just a shame they had to resort to using so many flavourings, in effect meaning that you’re not paying for ‘good brewing’ [if you can agree that there is such a universal concept], but ‘polishing a drinkable turd’. 7/10

Session Not only does the 6% ABV tire me out too quick, but I just don’t particularly want to get through the first bottle. It’s just hard work, is all – sweet and heavy, really in need of bitter balance. There’s nothing totally wrong with it, but I’m certainly not a fan. Then again, of course, it’s not designed for sessions, so think what you will about this score: 3/10

So you can see that there’s plenty of promise, here, when a supermarket does a crafty brew. Unfortunately it has fallen short of the ‘real thing’, understandably enough because it doesn’t have the time/space/money to dedicate to the proper processes, using shortcuts such as flavouring to help it along. This wasn’t bad, but I’d only recommend it to people with a particular penchant for French-style beers. It won’t live up to the originals, but you might find it interesting.

Final score: 60/100

Siren Craft Brewery’s ‘Caribbean Chocolate Cake Stout’ – The Review

DSCN1276There’s nothing more you need to know about why I bought this bottle than its name. I mean, when you see something on your shelf called ‘Caribbean Chocolate Cake‘, you gotta bow down and worship the beer gods/goddesses – and kiss their feet, if possible – then rush to till and pay up, before every other beer-lover in the shop beats you to it. So that’s what I did. Actually, I lit a candle in a small portable beer-shrine that I have about my person as well. Sure, carrying it around makes walking a bit awkward, but beer’s my religion damnit!

The bottle says that this is, “…an outrageous creation. A dense rich stout, brewed with experimental hops, artisan cacao nibs… and then aged on trees of Cypress wood.” What’s of particular note is the use of the aforementioned ‘extra ingredients’ and the collaboration between two breweries, making it such a unique and passion-based thing. You may say that sounds a bit up itself, but, be honest, did you not just feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck?

Vital Stats:

  • 7.4% ABV
  • Available in 330ml bottles
  • Brewed in Berkshire, England
  • Made in collaboration with Cigar City, Florida, USA

Look It;s a nice, restrained, elegant bottle, reasonably eye-catching.

There’s a loose head, doesn’t stay around long, but had a nice dark colour to it [based on my experiences, the darker the head, the more special the beer!]. You can’t see anything other than blackness in this liquid; light cannot penetrate its beauty. 7/10

Aroma Big strong hits of dark chocolate, fruits [banana on finish?] and plenty of spice, sort of cinnamon, pepper maybe… I got the tamarind note, but I probably wouldn’t have remembered what I was smelling had the label not reminded me [I think tamarind’s a bit like honey with a peppery/chili kick…]. There’s maybe a touch of coffee, but not like most stouts I’ve ever had. There’s so much else going, on like vanilla and maybe a touch of sourness, like you might expect from a porter. 8/10

Taste Oh my word, that’s a real smooth, rich, full-bodied chocolatey flavour, with a wonderful tamarindy spiciness on the finish [not unlike chili hot chocolate, in other words]. I also get this woodiness – apparently the Cypress wood – which gives it a bit of smoky silkiness. So interesting, such big chocolate at the start, then a really long finish. I’m too distracted by the spice to get which fruits are going on, but it’s really pleasant for sure. 9/10

Value Please don’t kick off. I paid £4.25 for this. I think that’s absolutely defensible, seeing as how this is such a bold and unique experiential enterprise. Obviously, buying more than one becomes a pain, but for a one-off, I’d give it 7/10

Session Clearly, because of its strength and temperament , no-one’s ever going to look at this as a viable session beer. Having said that, there are many things that go in its favour as a session beer: it’s absolutely gorgeous, it’s as smooth as whipped clouds and it takes you closer to heaven. 7/10

This truly is an evocative beer. It’s not only evocative of the exotic places that the ingredients comes from, but it also brings to mind [and the tongue] the passion that the two breweries have for their art. I’d best stop writing this, I’m drooling too much at the thought of another one…

Final score: 76/100

Hardknott’s ‘Squiddy: Squid Ink Beer’ – The Review

DSCN1304This is a beer I was very excited to try. Hardknott is a fantastic brewery – not only do their beers speak for themselves, but they border on the kind of slightly pretentious experimentalism that I’m all about. Plus, Dave is a thoughtful and witty individual and brings extra flavour to the enterprise.

Anyways, while that’s all very interesting to you, I’m sure, the real question for me was whether the beer did justice to its star ingredient. You may remember me talking about that Icelandic beer that used endangered whale testicles in its brew. Well, I’ve not tried that, and never would on principle, due to the immoral and unsustainable way the ingredients were gathered. The special squiddy surplus is actually cuttlefish ink, but the main thing is that it’s harvested in a sustainable way. That being ascertained, what was the beer like?

Vital Stats:

Look The bottle’s eye-catching, but I actually worried how childish it looks, as in ‘if a kid saw it, would they try and grab for the bottle’.

In the glass, as I started pouring it looked like the brightest, clearest beer I’ve ever seen – seriously, it was like fluid cut glass. But, as the bottle says, you need to swirl the bottle to re-animate the settled ink. Then, it was interesting – not as gross as you’d think. The photo doesn’t do it justice [sorry!], but it looks like a slightly yellow, smoky ash cloud. 8/10

Aroma A sharp, lemony tang mixes with floral fruits… lemongrass… something peachy? Then on the finish there’s like a slightly oily, salty dried seaweed smell. It’s only slight, which is a shame for me, but I guess they didn’t want to make it too strong and put off most of the beer drinking public. I realise my tastes are probably odder than most folks, but if Dave’s reading this, make a Squiddy XXXX or something! Totally black and overly fishy 😀 7/10

Taste Nice. Not spectacular, but I’m surprised, at least, how well the strong fruity flavours tangle with the muddy, earthy, oily note of the ink. On the finish you get some salty, aromatic seaweed which is nice, but I was hoping for a more potent experience. It’s light, and a bit creamy, very saison-esque, but I’d rather have less refreshment, more interesting  and unique flavours. Good bitterness. It sort of balances itself, but between large boundaries. 6/10

Value Very reasonable, price-wise. I’d’ve thought something so ‘rare’ would’ve been more expensive. Was about a couple of squid [sorry, pounds], and, although I’m not moved to buy more, this is a great ‘give-it-a-go’ price. 8/10

Session It’s refreshing, sure. The fruitiness isn’t too sweet, sure. Lower in alcohol, sure. Could drink a lot of it and have a good time, but it didn’t wow me enough to want to have loads. 7/10

Although this is definitely a case of ‘could’ve been better’, I had a lot of fun trying this, and I know you will too, if you can get your hands on some. I mean, come on, where’s your sense of fun? It’s cuttlefish ink in your beer!

Final score: 72/100