My looooords!! Get into that seminar!The "Vital Spark", Para handy's famous puffer.A load of casks outside the Evening Star in Brighton.Seminars - even better at 09:00 in the morning!A Plane, funnily enoughA scooping book.  Well thumbed too.A cask on-stillage at a beer festival.Kleuver's brauhaus winnersOtley Arms, TreforestA big Praha Tatra T3 in the snow

  Beer of the Month 2011 

Last Updated : 01/06/11

The Pub of the Month pages are here...

If any of the winners actually wants a certificate commemorating this great event in their careers then let me know and I'll see what I can knock up in Paintshop Pro...

kay, I know this is what all those posey blog writers (and even some beer writers) do, but I've had some superb beers recently and thought to myself "Gazza, how can you not bore your reader with the gen on these whoppers?" and so, always one for listening to strange voices telling me to do things, hey ho here we go...  hopefully this will develop into a monthly post if I can be arsed, but as that's the main reason I don't do a blog - my general lack of being arsed - we'll have to see about that one (it seems to have thus far!)

Click the links here to see previous beers of the month pages from 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Beer of the Month - March 2011

Brewery: Fyne Ales From: Achadunan, Cairndow, Argyllshire
Beer: Jarl Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details:  Dragon, Worcester, cask 3.8%. 
2nd: Otley Motley Brew    3rd : Koreb Łaskie nefiltrowane
UK scoops during the month :  94 Foreign scoops during the month : 23

On the face of it you wouldn’t expect a microbrewery up in the wilds of Scotland to be a forerunner in the use of hops as all the conventional wisdom says that Scottish breweries don’t use many hops as they don’t grow there. 

Well, this may or may not have been true in the past – although new research by Ron Pattinson suggests that many Scottish beers were actually hoppier than their English counterparts – but in these days of airfreighted hops and next-day courier delivery all over the UK it doesn’t really matter where a brewery is located as they can use ingredients from anywhere.  This globalisation of beer may have seen the end of several local beer styles but it’s been a good thing for those brewers wishing to take advantage of American and New Zealand hops and, even up in the Scottish Highlands, you can order your hops one day and they could well be in your hands the next.

So, it should come as no surprise that Fyne ales use a whole load of new-world hops but it’s definitely a surprise that they use them as well as in as large quantities as they do!  Their prime brew for showcasing hops is the 3.8% (very) pale ale Jarl which is quite definitely brewed in the new style prevalent in the UK (Mid-Atlantic, New World, whatever you want to call it) and brewed with the achingly trendy new variety of Citra.  I make no apologies for being a massive fan of this hop and the peach, mango, tropical fruit and – sometimes – almost “cat’s piss” character it imparts, and Fyne have definitely used a lot of them in this brew!

The nose is stunningly aromatic with sweet mangoes, a hint of cattiness and a deep, fruity lusciousness and this follows through into the flavour which, whilst being sweet (as befits a hop tasting of mango!) there is a solid bitterness to balance it out.  The finish is a swirling mass of soft fruit, bitterness and even a dash of malt and it fades out slowly into a succulent hop-oil aftertaste which simply begs another gulp of this delicious brew… and then another; it really is a moreish beer and at a mere 3.8% it’s eminently sessionable, too! 

Jarl won’t be for everyone, that’s for sure, but if you like the Citra hop there aren’t many better ways to taste it’s juicy lusciousness than this stunning single-hopped brew.

In second place comes one of the most consistent brewers in the UK, in my opinion the best brewery in Wales and, increasingly, a great innovator too.  Guessed who it is yet?  Otley, of course, and although I must declare an interest here in that I know the family and Steel City have done beer swaps with them recently, my love of their beers is based purely on lupulins and not swayed by friendship… although the Otley family are all, to a man, great people and just the guys you want to do business with and – more importantly – have a few beers with!

Matt Otley, head brewer, is a man who loves his hops and Motley Brew is his homage to the great IPA’s of America’s West Coast.   In fact, it tastes so American that you’d struggle to pick it out of a blind tasting as being from Wales and, I reckon, it’d knock a lot of home-grown US IPA’s into the tall grass with it’s fantastic hoppiness and big malty – yet not cloying – body.  Matt told me that they sampled it after a few weeks in cask and decided that it wasn’t hoppy enough so stuffed in an extra bunch of hops into each nine just to make sure it was… that’s just the way I like my brewers to act!

The aroma comes billowing out of the pump as the beer is pulled; there aren’t many beers I can recollect smelling as they are being pumped but this was one!  A massive rose petal, hop oil, citrus and zesty fruit aroma leaves you in no doubt about the brew’s intentions and, once you’ve sniffed the glass for ten minutes wearing a huge moronic smile (as I did), it’s time to take a swig… initially, there is a whack of sweet toffee maltiness, yet not as cloyingly sweet and sticky as many US brewers manage to imbue their IPA’s with, but then come the hops… and what a tidal wave of oily, sticky, resinous hops it is!  I could taste Columbus and maybe something fruitier (Simcoe? Citra?) but the thrust of this hop attack is the hop resins themselves and it’s wave after wave of relentless bitterness, hop oils and leafy hops which climax in a bitter, malty finish which has an oiliness that would have BP drilling in your mouth if they could… you won’t find many better examples of an IPA in Britain and, dare I say, you won’t find that many better in America, either.

Last but certainly not least comes Koreb Łaskie nefiltrowane, a Polish “jasne” pale lager, yet this one is made without any of the industrial heavy-handedness which characterises the larger Polish brewers.  Jasne is a Polish style which has much more in common with the worty, sweetish, hoppy Czech lagers than the thin, dry, underhopped German examples and therefore, when made well, is eminently delicious and drinkable with a lovely hoppy bite and juicy malt backbone – just like a proper Czech Světlý Ležák 12˚ beer should taste – although slightly sweeter and fruitier.

It was sampled in the unusual location of Warsaw’s Rynek Starego Miasto (old-town square) from a little hut as part of a local produce market!  The beer was served from keg via a standard tap without a chiller and was advertised prominently as being “nefiltrowane” or unfiltered, a major selling point and a massively increasing sector of beer sales in Poland (and, happily, most of the world!), and a steady stream of customers was ordering half-litres of the cloudy golden brew to consume whilst browsing the market for local edibles.

Never one to turn down such a golden opportunity to score a massive winner in a bizarre location, I was soon clutching a plastic half-litre glass of the brew which, judging by it’s almost opaque haziness, was definitely unfiltered! It had an aroma of mown hay and juicy malt, the trademark of Jasne, and a full, dry, very malty flavour which had plenty of residual dextrinous (a difficult taste to describe; imagine a thick mouthfeel and rich sweetish malt flavour) barley flavours with a bitter, grassy hop character counterbalancing the grain perfectly.  The taste was very complex and interesting with yeastiness, a developing bitterness and more grainy, malty and mown hay hops coming together for a full-flavoured, complex finish with a lot of character and interest; anyone who says lager is bland and boring really needs to be force-fed stuff like this until their narrow mind expands sufficiently!

Poland is currently experiencing, along with most of the world, a renewed interest in craft beer although their brewing industry, and micro-brewers in particular, seem to be lagging behind in being able to supply quality, interesting beer leaving the more adventurous bars going elsewhere – usually the Czech Republic – for their beer.  Koreb is one of the few genuinely good Polish micros and produce a wide range of beers including the Polish staple Miodowe (honey) which is sweet and deliciously moreish and a bizarre Herbowe beer which tastes of… erm, herbs!  Their standard beers are very impressive and well worth a try if you find them; even their bottles are unpasteurised!


Other good beers in March:

UK : Bottlebrook Darkness on the Edge of Town had a huge roast flavour with complexity from molasses and a dry, ashy, roasted finish, LAC Liquorice stout was very black with a full-on dry roastiness and hints of liquorice in the smooth fruity finish, Tunnel Munich lager was sampled, unpasteurised, from a keg at a garden show and had a deliciously honeyed malt flavour with a sweetish, mellow maltiness and yet more honeyed grain, Kinver Khyber IPA was very pale and intensely citrussy with a dry and bitter flavour then bitter grapefruit in the raspingly bitter finish; this tastes around 4.5% despite being almost 6%!, Otley Saison Obscura had a dark brown countenance with a bizarre nose of bananas, spice and cobwebs; chocolate was in the flavour with a toasted grain character overlain with spice, banana, cloves and yet more brettanomyces-like cobwebby yeast… very complex and, whilst not my favourite style of beer, a very interesting example indeed.

Abroad : Rogue Yellow Snow IPA was amber in colour, reasonably bitter and dry, with a fruity, dry and bitter yet still malty flavour with some astringency and a simple bitter finish, Bierhalle (Warszawa) Jasne had a promising haze to it’s golden colour with a lovely balance of sweet malt, bitterness and grassy, lemony hopflowers, BroWarmia Krolewska Pils was hazy and golden, packed with delicious lemony European hops and grainy, chewy maltiness full of dextrins and an enjoyable yeasty, malty yet distinctly bitter and citrusy finish with ample hoppiness, Smuttynose Big A IPA possessed an amber colour and a sweet – almost too sweet – fruity flavour with bitterness, astringency, some malt and a fruity, juicy hop finish with bitterness and hops, Kocour AM Lager was scooped from bottle in the brilliant Czeska Baszta bar in Warszawa and, whilst a touch simple, had an attractive candied fruit character and fruity, hoppy aftertaste, Qásek (Biovar Ostrava) Světlý Ležák 12° in the same bar was golden, fruity and hoppy with an interesting mix of flavours including rich maltiness, grassy, fruity hoppiness and a well-balanced malt/bitter finish.

Beer of the Month - February 2011

Brewery: Mallinson's From: Huddersfield, Yorkshire
Beer: Binary Star Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 4.7%, cask at the Dragon, Worcester
2nd: Clanconnel McGrath's Irish Black    3rd : Dungarvan Black Rock
UK scoops during the month :  41 Foreign scoops during the month : 34

February’s Beer of the month is, yet again, from the hopheads at Mallinsons brewery of Huddersfield and is their Binary Star, yet another deliciously hoppy brew from Tara and Elaine.  This one had a complex hoppy nose with hints of coconut and soft fruit, peach and mango, before a dry, bitter and hop-led flavour stuffed full of hops and fruit character; I picked out leafy, juicy hop oils, mangoey tropical fruit, lean citrus and just a touch of what I assume was Sorachi Ace as the suggestion of coconut and pineapple in the aroma followed through into the taste and, more prominently, in the finish too which was lip-smackingly bitter yet balanced excellently with malt and a big complex hop finish… top stuff, as we expect from Mallinsons!

2nd place is a beer from Ireland and suggests just how far the Irish craft scene has come in a few short years; although Porterhouse has seemingly been around for ever (and, despite a large increase in production and a relocation from the pub cellar to an industrial estate, is still make some great beers) there are now a new breed of craft brewers and, after sampling beer from most of them in February, I reckon the Irish beer revolution is finally here to stay!

Depending on your political opinions you may class Clanconnel brewery as Irish or British, being from Northern Ireland as it is, but whatever your classification you can’t argue with the quality of the beers they produce!  All three we tried (in bottle-conditioned form from the amazing shop on Stoneybatter) were well-brewed tasty beers, but the star of the show was easily McGrath's Irish Black, a “proper” Irish stout in all respects! Definitely black in colour, it had a pronounced roasted grain and dark chocolate aroma which led through to a toasted, dry yet very roasty taste with a good dose of bittering hops.  It finished bitter, roasty and dry with a good helping of 70% cacao chocolate and a hint of winey sweetness giving a deliciously moreish aftertaste; this is a proper stout and even more impressive coming from a bottle; I wonder what it’s like on tap?

In third is another Irish Stout, this time definitely Irish, Dungarvan Black Rock.  Yet another of the very new micro-brewers to emerge in the last year, Dungarvan seem to be stitching up the cask ale market in Dublin (yes, there is such a thing, with around half a dozen pubs now selling cask ale) although you’ll see them more commonly in bottle.  We sampled all three in bottle from – yet again – plus the stout on cask form in the relaxed and cosy L Mulligan Grocer pub which, coincidentally, is very close to the superb shop… Stoneybatter is certainly a beer destination in Dublin!

Oh yes, the beer… on cask it was deep red to black with a distinct treacle toffee aroma.  The flavour was fairly subtle yet interesting with sweet malt, fruit, roast grain, some chocolate and a dab of bitterness which developed well into the complex, interesting finish with no flavour dominating overall but all combined well to give a deliciously flavoursome aftertaste; if I have one criticism it’s that the beer could stand a touch more roast and less sweetness to be a true dry stout but it’s still a delicious brew and one I’d heartily recommend.  Strangely enough, the bottled version tasted a lot drier and more burnt, with a distinct black malt characteristic and was far less sweet and had plenty of burnt grain tastes so maybe the answer is to try both the cask and bottle-conditioned versions to see if they’re the same and, if not, choose yourself a favourite!

Other good stuff in February:

UK: Little Ale Cart’s Harley's Megamix was a blend of a few “bin-ends” left over from racking and had the usual hop-led aroma and taste you’d expect from LAC, Kinver The Noble 600 had a distinct suggestion of Citra on the nose and a bitter, hoppy yet juicily malty flavour, Cotswold Spring Old Sodbury Mild was full of liquorice and aniseed flavours with a good body and bitter-ish finish for a mild which all came together in a sweetish, mellow liquorice/chocolate finish, Pictish Green Bullet had the usual vanilla notes of Pictish atop a deliciously hedgerow-esque, leafy and tangy hop flavour and, finally, Blue Bee Lustin' for Stout (brewed at Raw) was near-black with ample roast grain, a dry bitterness and a flavour-packed roasty, bitter and complex “burnt matches” finish.

Abroad: Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop was a surprise visitor to Porterhouse Central and had a huge crystallised fruit nose which morphed into rosepetals, toffee, bitterness and an astringent finish with more crystallised fruit and a toffee maltiness, although the bitterness was a little too astringent for my tastes, Bay Lager had a delicious pineapple and fruity nose then a full malty taste allied to an interesting hop bitterness with a complex bitter, fruity, malty finish which was very moreish indeed, Porterhouse Hophead was good from the bottle but extra-good from tap with it’s big hop oil aroma and loads of citrus essences plus an assertive bitterness before a magnificent finish full of bitterness and juicy hop oils, Carlow Irish Pale Ale tasted pasteurised yet the boiled sweet nose didn’t totally ruin the grassy hops and even a suggestion of citrus in the grassy, bitter aftertaste, whilst their strong stout Leann Follain was fairly sweet with a nutty, roasty and smooth yet tasty flavour with caramel, roast, bitterness and a hint of alcohol in the toasted barley finish, Speakeasy Payback Porter was very dark and caramelly, just as a porter should be, but then kind of spoilt things by going all stouty with a chocolatey, toasted malt, bitter and roasted aftertaste, and Big Hand Revolution Red (brewed at Trouble Brewing by the original Dublin Brewery brewer), scooped in the bizarre Cobblestone Bar, was amber not red yet had a sweet caramelly flavour as you’d expect from the style and tasted very much like an old-fashioned mild with a sweet, fruity finish.

Beer of the Month - January 2011

Brewery: Ca L’Arenys From: Valls de Torroella, Barcelona, Cataluńa
Beer: George's APA Score: Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !Une Point !
Details: 4.9%, unpasteurised/unfiltered keg at the superb La Cervecita nuestra de cada dia in Barcelona
2nd: L'Anjub 1907    3rd : Fyne Black IPA
UK scoops during the month :  34 Foreign scoops during the month : 60

The first “beer of the month” of 2011 is from a region new to craft brewing on a serious scale and one which, although having shown promise for a good few years, has suddenly exploded into beery life and is fast becoming one of the more interesting areas to explore in Europe.  I’m talking, if you hadn’t realised by now, about the Northern Spanish semi-autonomous region of Cataluńa which is the area around Barcelona and up to the French border; If you’ve been on holiday to the Costa Blanca and only found San Miguel this may be a touch hard to believe, but you’ll just have to trust me!

Ca L’Arenys, also known as Guineu, are a small brewery not far from Barcelona and one which seems to be at the forefront of supplying equipment and ingredients to the growing band of micro-brewers in the area as well as, if I read their website correctly, providing consultancy services on all aspects of brewing.  Having been very impressed by their bizarre 2.5% hop-monster pale ale Riner a few years back I was keen to get a handle on as many of their beers as I could and now, having tried four more, I’m pleased to report that their beers are excellent all across the range, although the best I had was a house beer for a superb new bar / beer shop in the east of Barcelona, La Cervecita nuestra de cada dia which, I think, translates as “our beer of every day” which must mean something locally!

The bar / shop (at Carrer de Llull 184) is easily reached by Barcelona’s Metro system (the yellow L4 line to Llacuna) and it’s an impressive place with a huge mural behind the bar, shelves along one wall stocked with a bewildering array of beers from Catalan (and other Spanish) microbrewers – along with a selection of others from further away such as Brewdog – and big-scale homebrew kit for sale which is large enough to be used, presumably, by small-scale microbrewers!  The rest of the floor area is filled with tables and chairs which, on our visit, were full of happy locals – for this bar is definitely not somewhere a tourist would happen across – drinking beers, nibbling on snacks and filling the room with a sociable buzz of conversation.

We sampled half a dozen brews, four from bottle and two from tap, with the best being the bar’s house beer brewed for them – to a unique recipe of the their specifications – by Ca L’Arenys and called George’s APA.  American Pale Ale isn’t what I’d classify it as but this is a compliment as the brew lacks the flood of toffee-sweet sickliness which ruins many a potentially good APA, although it does share many APA’s big “C” hop characteristics!  A luscious rosepetal and hop oil aroma led into a pine, grapefruit and zesty citrus flavour with hops very much in charge although some maltiness peeped through from under the blanket of hops.  Floral, zesty hops brought the beer to a bitter, tangy and hop-led finish with some peach and pine notes and lots of oily hop resins in the aftertaste; if I’d tasted this blind I’d have sworn it was one of the new “Mid-Atlantic” UK pale ales and considering it’s from a very new brewing culture makes it even more impressive! 

My one slight criticism would be the presence of a hint of sulphur but this was very minor and barely distracted from the gorgeous hops!  The bar is a great place to try this – and most other Catalan – beers and it’s available on tap and in bottle, too; try it and tell yourself this is a Spanish beer; he contrast between this and industrial kak such as Mahou, San Miguel or Damm really is like comparing the proverbial chalk and cheese and shows great promise for the Catalan brewing revival.

Second comes another local brew, this time from Vinebre in Tarragona, in the shape of L’Anjub’s 1907.  As with a few of the new Catalan producers I’m not 100% sure if they brew themselves or “cuckoo” somewhere else – some cuckoos brew at Bleder, for example – but this is semantics when the beer is as good as theirs is!  1907 is in the camp of what could vaguely be described as “Catalan pale ales” which have modest maltiness and plenty of hop, generally using Cascade and European aromatic varieties such as Styrians and Saaz whilst being bittered by American hops such as Galena and Nugget and, whilst maybe not as hoppy, are close in flavour to UK pale ales such as Oakham JHB.

As soon as it was uncapped I knew I was going to like this brew; a delicious fruity, grassy hop aroma swirled, Genie-like, from the bottle and I inhaled it with pleasure; oily, grassy European hops with a hint of citrus – maybe Cascade, maybe Styrians – is an aroma I’m a big fan of and I spent a few minutes taking in this melange of aromatics before taking a slurp.  Malt was evident yet balanced very well by bitter, leafy, hay meadow hops which grew in intensity as I drank with a luscious hoppy oiliness increasing very impressively leaving a bitter, malty aftertaste dripping with European hops and ending with a leafy, grassy and almost Mediterranean herb-like (oregano?) twang; absolutely delicious and a great example of clever hop use and brewing skill producing a supremely drinkable yet interesting ale.

I could have easily chosen another dozen Catalan brews for this list and, being totally honest, the quality and flavour of the vast majority of the beers we sampled was excellent, even more so when you consider this is a very new and experimental beer revolution!  Most of the beers you’ll find are bottle-conditioned in 330ml bottles although some do make it into keg (again unpasteurised) but all are worth a try; in particular I’d recommend beers from Bleder (especially Foc de Drac) including beers from their cuckoo Zulogaarden whose impressive “Sang de Gossa” (bitch blood!) and Norai porter brews are well worth a try, as is +Lupulus from Montseny (CCM) and anything from Art and Rosita

Make no mistake, Cataluńa is a scene exploding into life and anyone interested in witnessing the birth of a new beer culture, with all the interest, experimentation and devil-may-care that entails, should get themselves over to Barcelona now and experience revolution in full ferment.

In third place comes a brewery you’d not expect to produce such hop-forward beer as they do, coming from the wilds of Scotland and all that, but they’ve been doing just this for a good few years now and their brews seem to be getting hoppier the longer they brew so I’m not complaining!  Fyne Ales brew some cracking beers – Jarl being an example of sublime Citra use – but it’s their Black IPA I’m rewarding this month and what a brew that was!

Black IPA is currently an excruciatingly trendy style yet very difficult to get right and, from much personal research and having actually brewed one myself, I can say that I’ve not had many which work well and manage to mesh together the usually mutually exclusive flavours of dark malt and citrussy US hops, but this one certainly did!  Jet black, this was textbook BIPA with a smooth chocolatey malt flavour, some sweet toffee, lots of what I assume to be Sorachi Ace with it’s distinctive pineapple and coconut flavours before a smooth chocolatey finish with a good, biting bitterness, more fruity, juicy hops – fruity rather than citrussy – then a dry, hoppy, bitter and very fruity finish with a mellow chocolate maltiness; overall, then, my kind of Black IPA and it’s a real pleasure to drink one as well crafted as this.


Other good beers in January –

Abroad: Art Cervesers Fosca with it’s full-on toasted, burnt roast malt flavour and sweet, winey roasted finish, Ca L’Arenys Montserrat which inhabited ground between a hoppy stout and a Black IPA with smooth chocolate and a big malty, bitter and very hoppy taste with plenty of resinous European hops in the aftertaste, Ausesken Blanca with it’s Oakham White Dwarf-esque bitter, dry, grainy flavours and very dry bitter finish, Bleder Foc du Drac with a good balance between toffee malt and fruity, citrussy hops, Bleder Espuma de Drac which was very pale, reasonably lemony and distinctly dry and hoppy in the finish, Zulogaarden (brewed at Bleder) Sang de Gossa had a deep amber colour and smooth, fruity well-balanced taste of malt, toffee, hops, citrus and deep bitterness, Zulogaarden Norai Porter’s deep brown, liquoricey, ashy, roasted bitter loveliness with a hint of sourness made a classic porter, Montseny +Negra had an easy-going yet complex roasty, burnt grain flavour and nutty, winey roast finish, Montseny +Lupulus plenty of grassy, leafy European hops on the nose and palate then finished with a grassy, bitter and very pleasant hop finish and, finally, Rosita Negra Amb Avellanes D’Alcover with it’s dry yet sweet and toasty malt body and black fruitiness.

UK: Little Ale Cart Coal Train Oatmeal Stout had a big winey, roasted dry yet full-bodied taste with coffee, toasted grains and bitterness in the complex finish, Summer Wine Heretic Black IPA was near-black, had plenty of strength and bitter, fruity hops followed by a hoppy, bitter and roasted finish and, although I did co-brew it, I still must say that Steel City Shadowplay was an absolute cracker with hop oils billowing out all over the place over a smooth chocolate malt body, beefy bitterness and plenty of leafy, fruity and hemp-like hopleaf flavours… bloody lovely!