Sunday, 29 January 2012

Great Divide Brewing: Titan IPA Vs Rumble Oak Aged IPA

I’m a huge fan of the not so humble Oak tree, its majesty has captured my imagination since I myself was a little acorn. Not only is the tree itself great but the wood has been crafted into barrels or shaved into chips to be used by the brewing and distilling industries for a very long time. As the keener eyed readers among you may have already noticed (assuming you’ve read any of my previous blogs) I’m also a massive fan of the American style India Pale Ale and so tonight’s experiment involves comparing one of my favourite IPA’s to exactly the same IPA that has been aged using a combination of French and American Oak in an effort to alter or perhaps enhance the flavours of an already impressive brew.

The duo of beers up for assessment in what is surely going to be a true head to head 'clash' are Titan IPA and Rumble oak aged IPA from Great Divide Brewing based in Colorado, USA. I’ll confess now that I have had both of these beers before, in fact I’ve had Titan several times both in a bottle and from a keg. I’ve also tried both beers at the same time when I was lucky enough to visit their tap room in downtown Denver when on one of my jaunts to the States last year. However this is the first time I’ve had the chance to sit down on my own, really geek out over them and pit them together in a one on one battle for survival where only the best beer can win.

It would have been easy enough to write this blog based on those previous tastings, I pretty much got the gist of the two beers and had made my conclusions. However I think it’s important, as a beer geek, not to over analyse every single mouthful of ale and looking back at when I first tasted those beers I wasn’t in a situation that warranted in depth analysis, I was out with my family and my girlfriend having a few beers on my way to see Steve Earle and so that was not the time to be taking tasting notes. It was reasons like this that previously put me off writing a beer blog, I didn’t want to agonise over every beer I ever tasted, sometimes I just want to enjoy a beer with my mates and as a beer writer this is something I will try to remember… or not depending on how much I had to drink the night before.

This time though is the time to sit down on my own with a bottle of each of these beers, see what sets them apart and try and decide if there are any benefits to ageing this wonderful ale on oak. For the record I have thus far been unable to find out if Rumble is aged on oak chips or in a barrel so I would genuinely appreciate it if someone could enlighten me. Both beers are a hefty 7.1% ABV and once again I am drinking them straight from the fridge as I believe that a cool temperature best suits this style.

Cracking both bottles open I take a whiff before I pour them, Titan is everything I remember; freshly cut grass, pine needles and bitter citrus, a real thick and almost creamy nose. Rumble is almost noticeably thinner, sharper but much less in your face with definite notes of vanilla creeping up the nostrils. The nose translates pretty accurately into the pour with Titan oozing out of the bottle and leaving a nice, rich head around the rim of the glass but Rumble barely manages to gather enough bubbles to produce one. I take another whiff and my initial thoughts are backed up and so I hastily move on to the tasting. I decide to take a sip of Rumble first because I feel pretty familiar with Titan and so I wanted to give it the full benefit of my fresh palate having not had any other beers before these today.

Clash of the Titan... Rumble in the Jungle, etc.
My initial taste of Rumble found it to be very bitter and sharp with those subtle vanilla notes combining with lemon peel and a tiny hint of lychee. I found Rumble to be lacking a little in body for an IPA and it had a very dry, bitter finish missing enough malt sweetness to back up it’s sharpness. Titan, on the other hand had a much thicker mouth feel and loads of bready, digestive biscuit-esque malts to balance out flavours of grapefruit, lemon and pine from the stacks of hops used in this brew. Titan also had a much longer, more satisfying bitter finish whereas Rumble was very dry and did not stick around to party in my mouth.

I’ve tried and enjoyed many barrel and wood aged beers before but I’m not sure that the IPA sees much benefit from this process. IPA should be as fresh as possible when it is drank so that you can reap the maximum amount of flavour from the brew and so with Rumble being ‘aged’ it implies that it might not be as fresh as a typical India Pale Ale. That said after finishing of my fantastic bottle of Titan I went back to the Rumble and found it’s flavour starting to grow on me, I definitely enjoyed this beer but Titan was so awesome it wins hands down for me. As beer preference is relative to ones own taste buds I would love to hear from anyone who enjoyed Rumble more than Titan and why they thought it was a superior beer.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

So Long Uncle Sam

I think you’ll all agree that there has never been a better time to be a beer drinker living in the UK. Never before have we had so much excellent choice from so many breweries there is literally something for everyone. The best thing is that this multitude of ales has got our tongues wagging, beer fans be it casual or hardcore are talking about beer (and not just arguing about the dispense method!) including people like me who like to write these things down for their own selfish amusement.

From my early twenties onwards I always enjoyed ‘real ale’ whatever that may mean these days but it wasn’t until I visited the USA for the first time in the summer of 2010 that my eyes were opened to the world of craft beer. It helps that the part of America I visited was Colorado which just happens to have more microbreweries per capita than any other state in the US… Before I visited Colorado I thought I knew about beer, I was wrong. Colorado held my beery ideals aloft before smashing them on the ground like a Rocky Mountain snow globe. You see, it wasn’t just the beer that blew my mind it was the attitude of the drinkers, the scene, the enthusiasm about beer and when I got back to the UK the beers I used to drink regularly just didn’t do it for me any more. Thanks to the SUPREME POWER OF THE INTERNET I managed to find outlets such as and British brewers such as Thornbridge, Brewdog etc to satisfy my newly acquired vampiric craving for hops.

When I’ve blogged a bit more about the beers I like (and perhaps some that I don’t) I plan to write an in depth piece about that historic trip to the town of Fort Collins (It’s like some kind of ale MECCA) and all of its liquid wonderment but that’s another story for another time.

You couldn't buy these in the UK even if you wanted to.
You’ve probably gathered by now that I am a bit of a hophead, I love craft beers from the USA and I think we owe a lot to the mighty craft beer scene from across the pond. I think that without it we wouldn’t be experiencing this beer renaissance that we can see happening before our very eyes but the sad fact is that beer imported from the States is expensive. It’s not just expensive for the drinker, it’s expensive for the Brewer… For example take Denver’s Great Divide Brewing which I was lucky enough to visit last year… the brewery is TINY, in fact I was staring at the tanks in disbelief because I knew that bottles and kegs of the stuff were available in the UK (if you were happy to splash some cash on any then you’ll know that it’s worth it) when it was plainly clear that they were barely able to supply the demands of their own state let alone the rest of the country. Odell, another Colorado brewery, perhaps my favourite of the ones I’ve tried, currently only distributes to ten states and yet they decided that the best road for expansion from that point was to ship to the UK. I’m happy they decided this because it means that I can buy their beer and drink it at home and I accept that I have to pay a premium for it because it is a premium imported product however, it would probably have made a great deal more financial sense to introduce their brews to an eleventh state.

Canny English brewers have got wise to our insatiable need for hops, more and more UK brewers are dry hopping the living hell out of high ABV beers for our enjoyment (my taste buds are dancing as I type this) and the beers shipped from our friends in the US finally have some genuine competition. Plus if you’re anything like me you’d rather pour your hard earned cash back into the UK, right? These are tough times and we should be supporting home grown produce, especially when it’s so damn good!

So with the rise of US style beers brewed in the UK on the up then it seems plain to me that these North American brews which we have learned to love will start to gradually disappear from our shelves as these breweries look to expand their market share on their own shores. To be honest I can’t say I blame them, I manage an independent retailer and it’s bloody tough out there at the moment and in order to survive these financially testing times everyone’s got to maximize their earning potential and if that means reducing exports then so be it.

I’ll admit it, it saddens me somewhat that some of these great beers may cease to become readily available but many of these breweries just aren’t very big and I cannot see them sustaining overseas trade. When I first got into craft beer one of the first breweries I put on a pedestal of glory was the sublime Dogfish Head and I’d give my right arm (metaphorically, I need it for drinking, playing the guitar and… stuff) if their 60 and 90 minute IPA’s were on the shelf of my local offie (or mail order beer website) which they were when I first discovered them but sadly no longer. Despite this I can now pick up a Brewdog Hardcore IPA in Tesco… TESCO FOR GOODNESS SAKE and this is something that US brewers cannot aspire to achieve at the moment.

It's fantastic that beers from the likes of Brewdog (just one of many examples) readily available and some of them are arguably better than their American counterparts and you know what, I think our brewers might just concentrate on expanding their UK marketplace rather than overseas.

Incidentally if there are any black market beer dealers that can hook me up with a regular supply of Dogfish, Oskar Blues, New Belgium and Bear Republic beers (or anything else that you think will blow my mind) then please get in touch.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

My Standout Beers of 2011

It occurs to me that as it’s still January and I’m still awaiting the delivery of some fine beers from that it would be appropriate to reminisce on ten of the finest beers I had last year. I consider 2011 to me my first full year as a craft beer enthusiast as I like to trace my craft beer ‘awakening’ to my first trip to the USA back in July 2010.

What follows is not a top ten, it’s simply the ten beers from the last twelve months that have stuck in my mind most prominently. Unsurprisingly to me this list is dominated by hop heavy US brews and this is because although not exclusively, this is by far my favourite kind of beer. Alongside some outstanding American beverages are some fantastic European beers and not all of them hop bombs. I am super excited to see what delights 2012 will bring and I have a feeling that next years list will instead be dominated by amazing British craft beer but for now, here are my beers of 2011…

I’m already cheating a little with this one because I first tried it in 2010 and I’ll be honest that I struggled with it back then. On my first trip to the states my palate had not developed enough to enjoy a really hoppy brew but on return journeys I’ve enjoyed it over and over again. Dales Pale Ale is so crammed full of hops it makes the popular Sierra Nevada Pale ale (which for the record I think is great) seem almost bland in comparison. Bitter lemon and grapefruit notes burst on the tongue but and despite reaching a pretty high ABV which similar pale ales in the genre do not it’s still supremely drinkable. Dales Pale Ale is brewed by Oskar Blues in Longmont, Colorado and sadly is not readily available here in the UK. It may be one of the greatest beers in the world.

I remember sitting upstairs in the Euston Tap about two thirds the way through a particularly heavy session and sending my mate Dom to the bar for ‘something stouty.’ He returned with a pint of thick black liquid that he ‘saw some bloke order and it looked interesting’ and up until that point I had no idea just how interesting it would be. This was my first sip of a black IPA, at first I didn’t know what to think, I was getting hops, glorious resinous hops sitting upon a rich, roasted malt backbone. I looked into the black liquid and wondered how something so dark could taste so bright and lively but soon stopped caring and went and ordered another.

Inversion, from Oregon based Deschutes, is one of several American IPA’s to make this list which is no surprise being my favourite style of beer. Last year I tried more American IPA’s than any other type of brew which made it the toughest decision deciding which ones were my favourites. Inversion is almost the perfect example of how an American IPA should taste alongside Odell IPA (which I didn’t include as I've already gushed about Odell in a previous post) with bitter, resinous hops perfectly matched with sweet caramel malt flavours. The irony about this American IPA is that it’s not actually that pale, more a deep amber colour but semantics needn’t get in the way of good beer.

It’s often important, as a beer geek, not to let yourself get carried away by an obsession with one kind of beer. I don’t turn my nose up at decent kolsch or lager because just as much effort goes into the brewing of these beers as it does into the beers I prefer, in fact I think a lot more craft breweries will decide to produce a lager of their own this year. British best bitter almost always disappoints me, I find the taste of Goldings hops repetitive and boring but Gem is indeed a diamond in the rough. Instead of dreary leftover dishwasher water Gem is robust and full flavoured with plenty of vim to keep even hop nutters like me interested. This is the best session beer I tried all year and it’s also really easy to find in supermarkets such as Waitrose so you have no excuse not to try it for yourself.

Some beers that I drank last year...

It was a toss up between this and Mikkeller Mild Interpretation, having tried the latter on cask at… err... CASK pub and kitchen in Pimlico. In the end only one mighty Dane made my list and it was Cat’s Piss from Evil Twin brewing that made the biggest impression on me this year. I ordered this beer based purely on it’s name, I had never heard of the brewery and the name to me was a challenge to the discerning drinker that I duly accepted. What I found was one of the most sumptuously hoppy brews I have ever had and I was kicking myself having only ordered a single bottle. Evil Twin beers can be very expensive and hard to find but if you have a few extra shekels in your pocket, dig deep and give them a try. One thing not to try is milking a cat, turns out that cats are not involved in the brewing of this beer at all and I for one find the name to be a tad misleading.

From one hoppy, hazy brew to another, Hazed & Infused is quite simply dry hopped brilliance. The Boulder Beer Company is Colorado’s oldest microbrewery and although they’ve been peddling their wares since 1979 you’ll be hard pressed to find their produce outside of their home state. Hazed & Infused is a lesson in subtlety, unlike most dry hopped American brews its flavours rock gently instead of slam dancing on your palate but it has enough citrus punch to keep even folk such as me entertained. The best thing about this beer is that it’s a measly 4.85% so you can go at it with seemingly reckless abandon, that’s if you’re used to getting smashed at 5000 feet above sea level, which is the norm for denizens of Boulder, CO…

I love Flying Dog, they’re one of the first breweries that made me excited about craft beer and with their beer being readily available in the UK it’s a love affair that’s long to continue. The more astute readers among you may have noticed that I am a fan of the work of one Hunter S. Thompson and Flying Dogs Gonzo Porter is brewed in tribute to the great man. This wild dog version of the beer has been aged for an extra three months in wooden barrels used to make whiskey and as such this already superb dark, smoke laced porter has absorbed rich sweet flavours that’ll take you to Woody Creek and back. It was a limited release at the time but if it ever becomes available again be sure to treat yourself to a couple of bottles.

If you’re into American craft beer then you’re sure to have heard of Dogfish Head and if you’ve tried one of their ales then you’ll know what all the fuss is about. 90 minute is a sublime example of a double IPA with rich, deep malt flavours providing a strong platform for a massive hit of citrus and tropical fruit. Double or Imperial IPA’s have a characteristically thick mouthfeel which can be off putting to people who don’t normally drink or are new to this style of beer but something about 90 minute makes it one of the smoothest sipping IIPA’s of it’s class.

You can’t escape the Brewdog juggernaught, if you’ve taken even the slightest bit of notice of the UK craft beer scene recently then you’ll know the Brewdog have been making waves and ruffling feathers. I for one love them and proudly invested in their Equity for Punks scheme in which they sold off shares to their fans (something I’ll no doubt touch on again at some point.) I worked out that I probably sank more bottles/pints of 5am Saint than any other beer last year and for that reason alone it makes this list. Saint is my go to beer when I have nothing else at hand, the instant it’s pine needle aroma smacks me around the chops I know my thirst will be quenched. It will more than likely be my most consumed beer of 2012 too thanks to Brewdog opening one of their bars a mere four miles from my house, thanks guys.

For a brewery that has only been open for just over half a year Magic Rock have impressed, surpassed even the highest expectations and blown minds with their outstanding brews. I have tried five of their beers so far and not a single one has disappointed, in fact I might go so far as to say that they might be the single best craft brewery in the UK at this point in time. If you read beer blogs then you must already know about this beer, it is absolutely awash with tropical fruit flavours and is perfectly balanced with rich, chewy malty goodness. There is not a lot more to say about a beer that has been so highly praised and the best news is that they recently tweeted that they’re brewing another batch. 2012 will be massive for Magic Rock and massively damaging to my bank balance as a result, in fact when they launched their new Black IPA ‘Magic 8 Ball’ last week I ordered 12 bottles without having tasted a single drop because I just know it’ll be another corker.

So there you have it, 10 absolutely phenomenal beers that you must try. Didn’t see any of your favourite beers in the list? Please comment below and I’ll endeavour to try them at some point. Who knows, perhaps they’ll make next years list!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

A local problem?

I was recently out with friends in one of my local watering holes which for those who are interested in such specifics was the Railway Tavern in Crouch End, North London. I had been there for a couple of hours and things were panning out as they usually do; I had sank several jars that were not quite up to the stringent standards of my palate and I was flapping my gums about PROPER craft beer to my friends who were not the slightest bit interested. Quite frankly I was three sheets to the gale force wind so there really was no stopping me. The trouble is once your brain decides that from now on, life is all about the hops exploding on the tongue then many beers that you used to like do not provide sufficient kindling, this is the downfall of the craft beer addict.

At some point in the evening my beer addled brain ‘decided’ to complain that none of my beer was locally brewed. My brain then sent words to my mouth and into the ears of my friends who weren’t that bothered. I had been on Harvey’s Best (dull, dull, dull from Lewes, Sussex) Sharp’s Doom Bar (You all know this well enough, all biscuits and blackcurrants, not that bad really and from Rock, Cornwall.) and the old faithful, Tim Taylor Landlord (always reliable, zesty English bitter from Keighley, Yorkshire). As my friends were not receptive to my ranting I inevitably turned to Twitter to vent my frustration at the fact that I wasn’t drinking locally brewed beer at that EXACT moment in time. All this nonsense spouting from a man who spends a small fortune each month on imported American beers, I know what you’re all thinking…

There are currently more breweries in Britain THAN THERE HAVE EVER BEEN, it is an exciting time to be an ale enthusiast and the best thing is I still think that the industry is a long way from reaching it’s apex. London is now home to some exceptional breweries including, The Kernel, Brodie's, Redemption, Meantime and Camden Town to name but a brilliant few so why aren’t more local pubs stocking locally produced beers?

Well, slap me in the face with a wet kipper they are, I WAS JUST IN THE WRONG PUB. Don’t get me wrong, the Railway Tavern is a great pub with a brilliant atmosphere, great staff and has a decent, rotating selection of cask ales to satisfy the tastes of most beer drinkers that aren’t demented hop obsessed anomalies like me. It turns out there are plenty of pubs near me selling locally brewed beer, most notably Redemption which is in nearby Tottenham, in fact after I’ve finished blogging I might try and see if the girlfriend fancies a trip to the Three Compasses round the corner as I’m working up quite a thirst.

When I was, shall we say, a little tiddly the other night I was furiously mashing notes into my iPhone about how my local pubs don’t stock local beers but thanks to the amazing power of THE INTERNET I was proved wrong, I was just being lazy. I truly believe that a craft beer REVOLUTION is coming and that more and more pubs will start stocking locally crafted product, more breweries will open and they will have their own bars and that the quality of the product will keep getting better and better. I for one am very much looking forward to it and I excitedly await a time when more pubs sell takeaway and I can wave my 2.5 pint growler in the face of the public shouting “I’VE GOT SOME AMAZING BEER IN HERE!” Vive la revolution…

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Odell Brewing ‘Myrcenary’ Double IPA

Odell Brewing Company hail from sunny Fort Collins, Colorado, a city which I’ll talk about relentlessly during the making of this blog. It’s the city that gave me the gift of craft beer and keeps on giving, offering my palette an increasing amount of delight upon each return. It is home to nine breweries (last time I counted) from Americas third largest craft brewer, New Belgium to operations like Pateros Creek which basically operate out of some blokes garden shed. Odells established themselves in 1989 (in fact I recommend you read their about their history here) and have grown to become one of the most well respected breweries in the craft beer consuming world and with good reason, their beer is awesome.

A couple of years ago my dear old Dad decided he’d had quite enough of the good ship Blighty and debunked to the land of the free. Fates guiding hand just happened to send him to good ol’ FoCo before I even knew my Chinook from my Centennial and my craft beer journey began. One of the first things I do when I get to Fort Collins is head to the Odell tap room, it’s a wonderful experience getting a tray of pilot beers pretty much straight from the brewery floor, something I’d like to see more of  in the UK. The pilot beers are always hit and miss but the beauty of it is that you can experience a host of taste sensations in half an hour, watch the local dudes come to get their growlers filled and smile at the tourists on the towns ‘beer trail’ which is something I recommend all British craft beer fans experience in their lifetime.

The last time I visited Fort Collins was in September 2011 and they had a new offering in the tap room that had got me very excited, Myrcenary double IPA. Weighing in at a mighty 9.3% ABV Myrcenary is Odell IPA (perhaps one of the best India Pale Ales available) but sent into overdrive. Named after the ‘myrcene’ essential oil that is found in hop flowers, Myrcenary is an excellent example of the one-upmanship that keeps craft beer exciting, beers are getting more alcoholic, packed with more malt, more hops and more flavour. There will inevitably be a point in time when the sublime becomes the ridiculous but for now I am enjoying the ride.

A matching glass is the best way to enhance the flavours.

I’m about to crack open the last bottle of Myrcenary in my flat, given to me by my Dad when he visited over Christmas. The first thing that strikes you about any Odell beer is the effort that’s gone into the design of the label, Myrcenary is probably one of the finest efforts their designer has cobbled together yet and it’s this kind of effort that makes me even more excited about the beer. As you can see, to increase the level of beer geek I have used my Myrcenary pint glass (that’s an American pint not an Imperial) instead of a snifter which is what I would normally use for a beer of this calibre.
The beer has been taken straight from the fridge, it’s served chilled in the Odell tap room so it’s served chilled in my house and between you and me this is one beer that will not benefit from being warmed up. Don’t panic, it’s not got ice crystals forming in the head, it’s probably around 6 degrees Celsius as it leaves my fridge and I’m going to spend as much time as I can enjoying it so it will have risen to around 10 degrees during it’s consumption.

Cracking open the top I can already smell the beer has a little haze creeps over the rim of the bottle, as I pour the beer my nose is filled with a massive mango aroma followed by grapefruit, lemon peel, caramel and being a high strength ale, alcohol. The beer is a lovely deep amber colour with a creamy, slightly off white head and you can see from the pour that it’s quite thick for an IPA. This thickness transfers to the mouthfeel, in fact it’s almost viscous and feels like it’s lining the inside of your mouth with its oily hop resin. The taste is a lot more bitter than the aroma, those grapefruit notes combining with the sensation of freshly cut grass (hang on, I’m having a Jilly Goulden moment here) and the alcohol giving off a gentle warming sensation.   

The finish is epic and supremely bitter with grassy undertones and a warming alcohol vapour seems to gentle creep up your esophagus. The amount of hops in this beer, as with any double IPA, are mind blowing but Myrcenary packs in stacks and stacks of sweet, caramel malt flavours that keep everything in check. The beer is well carbonated but the bubbles are tiny so while being very zingy it is also very smooth and slips down far too easily. I must’ve taken my last sip at least five minutes ago but I can still taste this beer at the back of my throat.

Myrcenary is not to be quaffed, it is not to be ‘bashed down’ (something I’m incredibly fond of doing) it is a beer to spend time with and to savour. I’m not asking you to move in with it and have its babies but a beer of this quality deserves your time and attention just as you might give a fine wine or a single malt whisky. If I had to choose, I’d take an Odells IPA over this on most occasions, it’s much less syrupy in the mouth and has less tendency to make you fall over after you’ve finished off a six-pack but for special occasions, or after a particularly awful day in the office, grab a Myrcenary.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Dark Days - A Stoutoff

Although the rise of craft beer has been predominantly focused on hyper-hopped brews (and rightly so, they are the best kind) other great styles are coming to the forefront of peoples attentions and now dark beers such as stout, porter and more recently, mild are rapidly gaining popularity.

This is no surprise as there are some fantastic dark beers available at the moment and in this, my first proper blog about beer I am going to talk about three of my absolute favourites. Now I’ve always considered myself a fan of stout even before I discovered the world of craft beer and I am of course referring to Guinness… Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with Guinness, it’s nice enough, not particularly interesting or exciting but it serves a purpose and is my ‘emergency’ beer if I ever find myself in a drinking establishment that doesn’t (gasp!) do ales. My major problem with Guinness is the marketing, its just crap which is all the more reason to go out there and try some of the amazing stouts that are available at the moment.

Many people consider stout be a pretty heavy going drink, the name itself suggests that stout should be robust and well, stout but I for one find dark beer incredibly quaffable and you shouldn’t let it’s dark appearance deceive you into thinking that this style of beer isn’t easy to drink.

Enough waffle, let me get into my first beer Marble Chocolate winner of the silver medal at this years Great British Beer Festival. Hailing from Marble Brewery in Manchester, Chocolate pours almost like a thick toffee syrup and settles with a lovely off white head. The aroma is fantastic with notes of toffee, caramel, licorice and funnily enough chocolate… maybe it’s the name giving me some sort of beer synesthesia but this beer is making me feel like Augustus Gloop at the banks of Willy Wonkas chocolate river. Upon tasting the beer is as thick and rich as the pour and aroma suggests and all the flavours you would expect from the smell are there but then the magic happens. All the roasted malt sweetness is perfectly balanced by wonderful hop bitterness which I was not expecting the first time I took a sip of this brilliant brew.

It’s worth noting here that I keep my beer in the fridge, I discovered craft beer when I visited the USA, this is how they drink it and I agree that this is how beer should be served but Chocolate definitely needs half an hour to stand and warm up slightly before drinking as the cold does mask some of the subtleties that this beer has to offer.
Some Marble Chocolate, yesterday
Moving swiftly on we’re going to hop (HAH!) to the other side of the pond so that I can unashamedly review my favourite brew of this style; Sierra Nevada Stout. This one can be drank straight from the chiller, it doesn’t have any subtleties it just has a supreme flavour wallop that takes you to stout heaven. It doesn’t pour as thick as the Marble, the head is still very pronounced but is slightly lighter and the beer is noticeably more carbonated... and hopped. The hops combine with the roasted malts to give you a wonderful mix of bitter and sweet aromas that beg you to take a sip. The beer is noticeably thinner in the mouth than the Chocolate but the extra carbonation helps the mixture of flavors zing around your tongue. Being American this beer is a little hoppier than the two British brews I’ve put it up against which to be honest probably has a lot to do with why it’s my favourite but it still has that wonderful malt backbone which makes stouts so great to drink.

Some of you might say why would you drink this beer straight from the fridge and that’s simply because I think it’s better that way. I find no benefit from letting a beer like this warm up, in fact I think that you would be going against the brewer if you did. If you rocked up to the Sierra Nevada tap room in California it would be served chilled and from a keg, just as the brewer intended. I am totally in love with the North American beer scene, not just the beer but the attitudes of the drinkers, how people go out of their way to drink local and the fact that you can rock up to pretty much any bar and they will have fantastic local microbrew on tap. The UK beer scene is slowly catching up but us Brits think differently to the Yanks and I think that they will remain one step ahead for a while.

I digress, this is another subject for another time so I’m going to move on to a brewer that is clued up about the beer scene and for me is injecting some much needed USA attitude into the UK. This brewer is of course Magic Rock and the beer is Dark Arts.

I’m off topic again, clearly I have a lot to write about in the future but lets get into Dark Arts. It pours thicker than the Sierra Nevada but is not quite a syrupy as the Chocolate, it does however have the most off white head of the three as well as the biggest bubbles. The darker head indicates what I expected, enough malt to capsize a battleship and the aroma is one of burnt chocolate, digestive biscuits and I’m definitely getting licorice (I’ll be honest writing about how a beer smells is new to me and feels weird, I just like drinking them but hey, maybe I’ll get used to it!) The taste is full, and rich with the roasted malts powering over your palette, this is definitely the ‘stoutiest’ of the three which I’m sure is why the hardcore stout drinkers rave about it on twitter so much. There are hops there which give the beer a wonderful finish but this beer is all about those roasted malts and as such pairs wonderfully with sweet foods (I once had it on cask with a sticky toffee pudding, those were good times).

Again I’ve tried this beer at several temperatures and enjoyed it the most straight from the fridge and if this makes me some pitchfork wielding beer heathen then so be it but at least I’m happy. 

So there we have it, one genre but three very different beers which I highly recommend you all try unless of course you don’t like beer but then, why would you be even reading this blog?

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Welcome to Total Ales

I've been toying with the idea of starting a new blog for months, specifically I've been trying to decide whether or not the internet needed another bloody beer blog clogging it's already fat laden aorta. After months of soul searching I decided that it most definitely did not so I've decided to start one anyway.

This isn't my first attempt at a blog, once upon a time I wrote a blog about guitars which was great because frankly, I love guitars. However thirty-something posts later my interest waned and the poor thing fell by the wayside like so much roadkill on a Yorkshire B-road. This was perhaps because I actually run a guitar shop and writing about your work on your day off is hardly appealing, plus when you are selling a range of products and then blogging about stuff that your suppliers can't even get hold of then the whole activity becomes counter productive.

On the contrary there are few things I love more than coming home from a tough day hocking guitars to Slash wannabes than cracking open a bottle of finely crafted... err... craft beer. I don't just drink beer, I get my nose in there, I let the flavour take me to another place (after a few beers it's usually to the toilet for a wee) get really involved with the beer and then I let my friends know about it. Now this is the part that really annoys everyone because not many of my friends appreciate beer in the way I do, especially my long suffering girlfriend Dianne HOWEVER I have decided that the internet DOES CARE and as such I will attempt to write about beer once or twice a week.

This blog will mostly feature me gushing about the beers I love, which for the record are big, hoppy American style beers that smack you in the face with their mighty hoppy fists. Many of these beers are India Pale Ales or IPAS but not exclusively, I love stouts, porters, bitter, red ales, wheat beers, lambic and sour beers... in fact you name a style and it's unlikely I don't like it. I'll also aim to write about the beer selling establishments I visit on my travels, profiles on my favourite brewerys and at some point I'll tell you a story about a bloke in his mid to late 20's who used the think Doom Bar was haute coutre as far as ale was concerned until fate sent him to the US of A where his mind was truely opened. As for being Gonzo, it's just a turn of phrase but expect more Great Gonzo and less HST...

That, however is for another time and in the mean time read on and if you make beer and want to send some for me to review then please do but be warned if it's shit then I won't hold any punches (tip #1 don't brew shit beer). So if you made it this far, thanks and I hope you enjoy reading the blog, oh and remember... "Good people drink good beer".