Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Meantime Wheat, 5%

Completely ignoring my last post regarding 'the malt monsters' and hearty ESBs taking prominence in my autumn beer drinking, tonight I'm swimming against the tide with a bottle of Meantime Wheat. I recently had their Pilsner too, also terribly out of season, but who's counting?

Both this and the Pils come in nifty little 33cl bottles (sorry, no photos, I'm a technophobe at heart), almost like scaled down champagne bottles. Not that this adds or detracts anything from the contents, but it's always nice to see something a little different on the shelf.

Blurb. When studying brewing in Munich Meantime Masterbrewer Alastair Hook became fascinated by the complexity of the local wheat beers. Using a genuine Bavarian yeast strain to produce the characteristic banana, toffee and cloves aromas and with 60% wheat malt in the grist Wheat is a faithful and refreshing demonstration of the brewers' art.

Very lively upon opening, I had to quickly catch it and pour before it started flowing down the sides. This liveliness transfers to the glass with a typical wheat beer head in size, stature and colour - large, frothy and white - except it's very hasty in disappearing again. The body is a hazy golden orange with very relaxed carbonation.

There's the 'characterisitc banana, toffee and cloves aromas' as well as a wheaty, bready malt note and estery, citrus fruits with just a hint of yeast.

In terms of flavour, it's almost a mirror image of the aromas translated onto the tongue: dry fruity esters, some orange peel and a mild citric acidity. It's sweet and juicy but light to medium in body, thus it never overloads the palate.

Not much in the way of carbonation, quite a soft body with just that aforementioned dry bite. Really crisp, clean and refreshing on the palate with the merest suggestion of bitterness that's gone before you really know it was there. This is perfect in that it entices you back for more, making this an ideal summer sun beer.

Meantime Wheat is nothing out of the ordinary. It's a fairly typical German hefeweizen but this English attempt is nicely true-to-style. That being said, I think I would rather opt for a Weihenstephaner or Franziskaner if I were to session this style.

I'm not the biggest advocate of this variety, I much prefer bigger, heftier and fuller style beers, but something like this once in a while brings a refreshing change of pace - especially if I wasn't so unfashionably late.

Post scriptum. These are becoming more difficult to maintain than I initially anticipated.

Monday, 9 November 2009

A Beast of a Beer

The cold months are upon us! Not that they ever really leave these fair isles. Perhaps it's not quite time for the stouts and porters to take prominence, but certainly the malt monsters are on the march, hence why tonight's review is of a 'Beast of a Beer': Ringwood's Old Thumper.

I've had pints of this from the cask and it's always a fantastic, meaty ESB that I can really sink my teeth into. There are few things I enjoy better than a hearty ESB, especially in these chill autumn months, so when I saw this in my local Sainsbury's (at an 'introductory' £1.36(!)) how could I resist temptation?

Blurb: Hampshire's New Forest was historically the hunting ground of legendary fierce wild boar, the prize kill of an English King, Ringwood brewery celebrates this heritage with a real beast of a beer in 'Old Thumper'. It delivers a deep brown strong ale with a spicy fruity hop aroma and a warming malty finish. The distinctive taste has made it a champion Beer of Britain, popular at home & abroad.

I should note, that the bottle boasts being a CAMRA Beer of Britain Winner in... 1988... Let's see if it stands the test of time.

Old Thumper pours an effervescent amber with not much head to speak of but it never fully disappears. What there is leaves a sparse, oily lacing. Despite this, there's heaps of carbonation in the glass.

The aromas are really thick and malty with lots of spicey, peppery notes, some herbal hop undertones in there and a great toasted malt character.

It sips like a true animal. It pulls no punches. It's straight-up malt mania with more of that spiciness, lots of fruit and strong caramel notes before giving way to a dry roasted malt and grassy hop bitterness that tugs on your tongue harder than a teenage boy does his penis. After the climax - the post-coital cigarette - there's a lasting biscuity aftertaste at the front of the tongue with the hop sting giving all it's got at the back and sides.

Despite the initial carbonation, this doesn't come through too strong on the palate, which I find allows more freely for the flavours to develop on the tongue. The mouthfeel is actually quite soft, with just a touch of freshness from the fizz. It's medium in body, so it doesn't leave you feeling weighed down and it doesn't leave your palate feeling thick and sticky, just wanting more.

Old Thumper, for me, is a step-up from Ringwood's standard bitter. It's everything an ESB should be: full, warming and packed full of flavour. It's the Best Bitter on 'roids, if you will. Sure, it's 5.6% so it's a touch high for a true session bitter, but I wouldn't hesitate to try!

Post scriptum. St. Augustine once said: "post coitum omne animal triste est". If I could say the same thing for beer, I would readily apply it here.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

At the Heart of it

There's been controversy in the beer geek 'blogosphere/twittersphere/whateversphere' by the bucketload this past few weeks, coming to a head with BrewDog's latest shenanigans surrounding the Tokyo* vs. The Portman Group debacle. (If you don't already know about it, then what the hell are you doing reading this steaming pile of insignificance? - Find it here.)

I've been following the whole thing for a while now, both direct from the source and reading bloggers' responses either in outrage or heaped in praise for BrewDog's unconventional approaches. I'm a proponent of their beers, like the vast majority of craft drinkers out there. I'm certainly not their most ardent of fans - I still haven't tried the infamous Tokyo* or their Nanny State - but the beers that I have tried, I have nothing but good things to say about them.

But all this leads me to the point of this post: isn't it just beer? I know I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't have some obsession with craft beer, but - and correct me if I'm wrong (I'd love some responses!) - aren't we all just getting a bit too wrapped up in it? For some, the beer industry is a job and a living, not just an interest, but to the rest of us, the 'hobbyists', I ask "shouldn't we take it for what it is, at face value, that is, as BEER?"

I feel we are getting too caught up in the hype of marketing and it's offshoots, too caught up in the controversy and focusing less and less on the actual beer. Why don't we, as drinkers, ignore the guerilla tactics of the 'Dog and concentrate solely on their liquid outputs? I realise this is easier said than done, since the very objective of their marketing is to be as rebellious and in-your-face as possible, and this sells beer - that's just the perverse way in which the human mind works, I guess - but there are brewers out there who are brewing equally tasty and boundary-pushing beers without the excessive ornamentation.

A degree of marketing is necessary but word of mouth (physical or virtual) in beer circles is as good as any - call me old-fashioned if you will. With the increase in beer blogs, with communication over Twitter and with sites such as RateBeer and Beer Advocate, there have never been better opportunites for drinkers to consult other fans and discuss the beers they drink (or want to drink). The (beer) world is at our fingertips and instead of taking these strategies for what they are, we're getting preoccupied with everything except the beer.

Yes, I understand that if silly things are done we may lose the beers we enjoy. However, if by refusing to be taken in by these extravaganzas of self-promotion, tactics such as this become a thing of the past then don't we win out in the end?

So next time you're reading a 'thought-provoking' article of any sort relating to the craft beer business, why not just sit back, open a cold one (or room temperature one, but that doesn't have the same 'ring') and laugh it off: "those meddling kids!"

Post scriptum. I'm simply playing devil's advocate here. I'm not a professional anything and I have no experience as anything other than a drinker but if I can provoke even a decimal of the reaction that BD have been creating, then maybe someone who knows what they're talking about can put it across better with the facts and statistics in tow.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Great Divide Titan IPA, 6.8%

Ok, so I'm a member over at where the emphasis is on short, to-the-point summarised opinions on the beer I drink. It acts as a great way for me to keep track of what I've tried and what I thought of it, as well as helping me ascertain other raters' views before seeking something out. That's all well and good, but sometimes a beer is just that damned good (or bad) and needs more than fifty words description. Tonight was one of those nights.

Off the back of some fairly ordinary brown bitters at my local 'spoons, I wanted to spice my week up with something a bit more exciting. Something that would make my tongue quiver with its eager-to-please undulations of flavour and intensity. Something that would make my tongue submit to its passionate all-consuming... I'll stop there before this turns from a beer blog to a lurid take on a man's struggle with objectophilia.

With this in mind, I turned to Great Divide's Titan IPA for some solace. It's been sitting back, catching some rays, "chillin' out maxin' relaxin' all cool and shooting some b-ball outside of the school" for a while now, so I thought it about time to start makin' some trouble in the neighbourhood.

I believe I bought it on my last visit to Beers of Europe (towards the back-end of summer), which means it's getting on a bit for an IPA (BBF 11/04/10). With winter rapidly approaching I'll likely be feeling less and less inclined to pop the top of an IPA. Time to get my 'drink on' ASAP then, I thought, before it became a malty shadow of its former self.

Blurb: Titan IPA is a big, aggressively hopped India Pale Ale brewed for hop disciples. It starts out with piney hop aromas and citrus flavours, and finishes with a nice rich, malty sweetness that is balanced with a crisp hop bitterness.

Sounds great! Let's dig in.

[switch to present tense for ease of description]On cracking the cap there's an instant smack of hops straight to the nose. Pours a clear, bright and bubbly golden amber with a half-finger white head. In typical IPA fashion, the head soon reduces to a fine layer of scattered carbonation with a very loose and irregular lacing.

Remember that aroma I mentioned earlier? (Not that you're likely to forget in the space of a few lines, but this is a beer blog). Well, on closer inspection there's grapefruit and an upfront woody, pine note. It has some toffee malt sweetness, but it's almost totally eclipsed by this dominant oily hop overtone.

In terms of flavour, it's of the same mould: grapefruit hops; lemon; orange peel; before progressing to a delicate bready, toasty malt undertone. It's 6.8% so it doesn't punish the palate (or the liver), but rather ties it up in silk and treads on it with high heels, rather than ball gagging it and lashing it with cow's hide, (it's all good, it just depends what you're in the mood for, there are no judges here) like a BrewDog Hardcore for example.

Let's face it, it's called Titan IPA. It doesn't fool around, it's not meant to. It's one-track minded but the guys at Great Divide have managed to subdue it just enough and bottle it thus.

Turns out the preamble is longer than the actual review but like this beer, some things just have to get down to the nitty gritty.

[/end present tense]

Post scriptum. I'm not one for beer/food pairings, but this goes quite nicely with a mature cheddar. I only happen to impart this to you since I was chomping on a block while writing this. Student life's great, ain't it?

Monday, 26 October 2009

Introductory Fruit Lambics

Supermarket's aren't hugely renowned for their selection of quality beers, we all know that. They're getting better, I'll give that to them, but they still have a way to go. So when I spotted these two in Asda I picked them up since they were priced at £1.64 (Framboise) and £1.52 (Kriek). I figured that they'd make fair dessert beers if nothing else. What I didn't consider was how I would get them home. Taking your motorbike shopping isn't the most practical method for transporting anything, let alone beer. But when these things take your fancy, what's a beer geek to do? Thankfully, these two come nicely capped & corked, so the journey home in my jacket pockets didn't end with an explosion of faux vital fluids. In the fridge they went when I got home with a sidenote to take caution when opening.

The Kriek & Framboise weigh in at 3.5% and 2.5% respectively, so they aren't heavy hitters in terms of knockout power. Humour me a minute and let me continue with my pseudo pugilist terminolgy. They're more super flyweights; jabbing, ducking and diving (but they avoid the wheelin' & dealin') in terms of alcoholic presence, however they certainly pack plenty of flavour.

They both pour a similar dark reddy pink with creamy light pink heads (minds out the gutter people) and are pretty generous with the amount of fruit flavour on offer. Cherry/raspberry aromas dominate the nose and you'll struggle to find much more there. Flavour-wise, they lack variety and it's a gustatory salvo of sweetness with just a hint of sourness, which fails to balance the predominant sugar barrage.

Overall, neither are bad beers. Sure, they're not exceptional, but I wouldn't turn them down if offered to me. At the same time I won't be buying them again as they're far too relentless with their sweetness; too many of these and I'll be one of the youngest denture applicants on record.

Fruit beers, sour beers, fruit lambics et al. aren't my speciality (not that I have one at all) so these two were nice as an introduction and you should read these comments accordingly. After each sip I just wanted - craved even - some sourness. Just more tartness would have possibly opened them up and given them more dimension.

When looking at the labels, they do note that additional sugars and sweeteners are used. Perhaps this was necessary, but it's a little too overboard for me. They both sip well in small amounts, though the Framboise pips the Kriek at the post in my opinion.

As far as fruit lambics go, or anything similar for that matter - unblended, geuze, sours or general fruit beers - what would you recommend for my next step? I have a bottle of Girardin Black Label that I've been delaying opening since it'd be my first foray into geuze and I wouldn't want not to fully appreciate it. So recommendations for entry level stuff?

Post scriptum. My girlfriend is adamant that I'll never find a beer that she will like. With these, I beg to differ.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Obligatory Introduction

I guess that if you're reading this, you're probably into beer and happened to stumble here with some sort of drunken delusions that I have anything useful to offer. In fact, this blog will probably be quite the opposite, but the beer blog market is heavily saturated enough that I figure one more can't hurt. I've put it off long enough and I don't think my housemates can't take much more of my beer ramblings. I know I'm late to the fold, but I want in on the action! I've put it off long enough, so "hello bandwagon!"

Not that you'll care (get to the beer stuff, right?), but I'll introduce myself and my aims for this blog, should I actually remember I created it in the morning. The name's Shaun, folks. I'm a 20 year old Norfolk lad in the wilds of the south reading English & American Literature with Creative Writing, in my third year at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Don't expect any creativity here though. This is bare bones stuff, ya'll. Just a humble (read: poor, but that's expected) student crawling his way through the 'wonderful world of beer'. See? No pretensions. I can't get much more cliched than that.

If I drink a beer, I might write about it here. Chances are I won't, since I don't think they'll buy it when I try and hand in an amateur's critique on the latest (insert micro brewery here) batch as an acceptable alternative to a close reading on Middlemarch. So expect periods of drought - probably when I have no work due - and expect periods of spontaneous beer reviews or just general things of interest to me - mostly to avoid being productive, spurred by having a 3000 word essay due in for 12 the next day. But don't expect to learn anything.

That's all for now. Pass it on.

Post scriptum. "Spare some change, mister?"