Beer: the quest continues

The beer trail moves south once more, this time to West Berkshire, both geographically and by name. The West Berkshire brewery began in 1995 and now has an online shop with a selection of bottled, canned and mini-keg ales. Conveniently, four different beers were available, which fits in nicely with the threshold for free delivery.

Good Old Boy (4.0%)

This is their “flagship” bitter and appears to be the most commonly available, as friends tell me they have seen it in supermarkets in the south of England. It is more malt than hop, and consequently, I wasn’t that keen on it. There is a little hoppiness once you get into it, but the prevailing flavour is malt and fruit.

Mister Chubb’s (3.4%)

A copper-coloured ale with a little more bitterness than the Good Old Boy. It’s a rather lightweight beer, however, not just in terms of strength, but also flavour. Pleasant enough, but a little thin and lacking in character.

Mister Swift (3.7%)

This proved much more appealing, a pale beer with a nice balance, hops winning out this time. A very decent session beer with a floral aroma. There is also a hint of tropical fruitiness.

Full Circle (4.5%)

This also went down very well. A little strong for a session beer, but fine if the session isn’t an extensive one. This is a golden ale that has a good hoppy zing to it. Interestingly, the hops – it’s a single hop beer – are locally grown, one of the very few hop gardens in that part of the country.

Sadly, Maggs’ Mild, a 3.5% mild ale, wasn’t available, but I have it on very good authority that it is worth seeking out. My correspondent, a native of Berkshire, is not normally a mild drinker, but assures me that it is a very fine beer.

Grin and Beer it

Moving north in Norfolk leads us to Woodforde’s, which began operations in the early 1980s. Their online shop sells a sizeable range of bottled beers and a limited number of mini-keg ales. However, their choice, while narrow, contains some very pleasing choices.

Wherry (3.7%)

The aroma suggests a malty bitter, but this is rather misleading (happily for this taster, who is not a fan of overly malty brews). There is a grain, biscuity feel to the beer and a satisfying hoppy finish. A very tasty, very drinkable and surprisingly complex session beer

Bure Gold (4.3%)

As the name suggests, a pale beer with notably orange characteristics. There is a good hop tang and a fruity sweetness. A good beer for a summer evening, but not to be sniffed at on any other evening, either.

Nelson’s Revenge (4.5%)

Unlike with Wherry, the initial malt aroma does not deceive. Not, I would have to concede, a beer that I enjoyed greatly, but as will be evident by now, malty beers are not my thing. There is little bitterness and a fair deal of malty sweetness. Those who like their beer on the sweet side will doubtless reach a very different conclusion than mine.

Norfolk Nog (4.6%)

This is a beer that is hard, if not impossible, to classify. It’s a dark, though not black, ale, perhaps somewhere between a strong mild and a lighter-strength porter. There is a liquorice hint reminiscent of many dark beers, but also a distinct plumminess. That gives it a gentle sweetness, but there is a constant and pleasing bitterness throughout. A really lovely and unusual ale.

Reasons to be Beerful (Part Three)

Time to zip off to Suffolk and Adnams of Southwold. Adnams is one of Britain’s larger independent breweries and produce a good range of beers, some on a regular basis and others seasonally or occasionally. Their online shop sells mini-kegs. Service can, on occasions, be a little chaotic, but they do at least seem to resolve any problems effectively. For example, they recently sold us some beer that was borderline “best-by date”, but allowed us to have some fresher beer to the value of the original order as well as keeping the original beer, which was in perfectly good condition. Not a bad deal!

Southwold Bitter and Ghost Ship are commonly available, the latter often found in supermarkets. We’ve tried a fair range of their beers, so we should look at those.

Southwold Bitter (3.7%)

A good balance of malt and hops, with a bitter finish. This is a very palatable session beer and while the first taste suggests nothing special, there is a complexity that comes through later. There’s a little toffee and caramel sweetness that is offset by a roast bitterness.

Ghost Ship (4.5%)

A very pale beer with a distinctly citrus tone to it. The slightly fruity sweetness is offset by a sharp and pleasing bitterness. Proof that mass production does not necessarily mean blandness.

Mosaic (4.1%)

Another pale beer and another fruity one, this time with a more tropical fruit feel than citrus. Closer to a session ale than Ghost Ship, but with a similar bitter note.

Ease-up IPA (4.6%)

More fruitiness, again of the tropical variety. This is a very juicy beer, with any sweetness coming from the fruit rather than the malt.

Dry-hopped Lager (4.2%)

Brewed with Pilsner malt and dry-hopped using Australian hops. It’s a reasonably clean-tasting and bitter beer, though I find it a little on the bland side.

Blackshore Stout (4.2%)

A relatively light (in strength) stout, but a very tasty one nonetheless. Nice coffee and dark chocolate tinges and a gentle bitterness in the finish. A really pleasing beer and low enough to treat as a session ale.

Old Ale (4.1%)

A style you rarely see these days. Old ales are not quite stouts, not quite milds and not quite winter warmers. It is, though, in the fashion of a darker ale, with those chocolate and liquorice flavours of a black beer. There is, like the stout, a soft bitterness and a hint of red fruit. Sometimes hard to find, but worth seeking out.

Broadside (4.7%)

Much more malty than any other Adnams beer, with dark fruit flavours. Personally, I find Broadside a little too sweet and malty, but this is simply my preference.

Beer Odyssey: Hook Norton

We’ll start this little jaunt with an old favourite, Hook Norton. This, following the sad demise of Morrell’s and Morland’s, is Oxfordshire’s oldest brewery. Your correspondent lived in Oxford for eleven years, though in those days of the tied-house system, it was rare to see any Hook Norton beer in the city. Ironically, I’ve drunk much more Hook Norton beer since living in Scotland than I ever did in my time in Oxford.

The brewery sells a wide range of bottled beers, including many seasonal and occasional brews. They don’t do mini-kegs, but sell pins of ten and twenty litres. Three are regulars: Hooky Bitter, Hooky Gold and Old Hooky. Now and then something else pops up, like Double Stout.

Hooky Bitter (3.5%)

This is almost the definition of a session beer. It’s an amber beer with a good balance of malt and hop, but a noticeably hoppy finish. There is a hint of fruitiness. Despite its relatively low strength, it has a depth of flavour and character. Most assuredly, a Mallard Tavern favourite.

Hooky Gold (4.1%)

A more recent addition to the regular beers, this is a golden (who’d have known?) ale that uses American hops. This accounts for its distinct fruity aroma and flavour. A lovely beer for the end of a warm summer day.

Old Hooky (4.6%)

This beer came along in 1977 to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and has been around ever since. It’s darker than the above ales and there’s a hint of the winter warmer about it, with a note of dark fruit, but still a good bitterness. It’s one of those beers that tastes a bit stronger than it really is. You could easily imagine, on blind tasting, that it was above 5%.

Double Stout (4.8%)

This is something of a resurrection ale. Hook Norton brewed it for many years before discontinuing it, but stout has enjoyed – happily – something of a revival. Many of us are grateful for this trend, as breweries now offer us much nicer alternatives to the dull, mass-produced likes of Guinness, Murphy’s and Beamish. The Hook Norton version is, unlike a lot of stouts, hoppy. It makes only the occasional appearance in pins, but is most welcome when it does.

The Joy of Beer

In these times, “travel” involves little more than a walk in the immediate vicinity. Time, then, to turn our attention to other things and what better things are there than beer?

The internet has a lot to answer for. Well, perhaps we should say that certain internet users have a lot to answer for. There are, it seems, masses of people who feel the need to spout hatred and division, lies and disinformation. Some of these people are heads of state.

Happily, the internet has its positive side. One such is that we can now obtain things from all sorts of places, stuff that you probably would only have obtained when on holiday or travelling around. Stuff like beer.

There are plenty of generalist and specialist beer retailers around and a few are very good. However, it tends to be the case that buying directly from breweries if often the best option. This is one good reason for using the direct route, along with the simple fact that it provides important help to independent breweries in difficult times.

It seems only fair, then, to start a small series looking at some of the fine beer that is available. A personal preference is for mini-kegs and mini-pins as opposed to bottles and cans. A five-litre keg, or a five or ten-litre mini-pin allows one to have a good sample of a beer. It’s not exactly what you would get in a pub, but it’s the closest you come.

The plan is to cover some of the beer enjoyed in the (fictional) Mallard Tavern over the course of the last few months. We have sampled brews from Adnam’s, Hook Norton, West Berkshire, Yeovil Ales, Allendale, Tyne Bank, Hadrian and Border, St Andrews and a few others.

Beer, like art, is a personal taste. Different people like different styles and tastes. The “reviews” that will follow are, necessarily, down to personal taste. Just because I, or anyone else, doesn’t particularly like one beer does not mean that the beer is bad. So what you will see are purely personal opinions, which are merely there to inform and, one hopes, provide a little inspiration.

Happy drinking!