Archive for March, 2008

Beer Review: Young’s Special London Ale

31 March, 2008

FROM Oxfordshire, we take the short journey to Wandsworth, London with Young’s Special London Ale. This one was from my local Tesco, where I also noticed a Young’s Bitter. But since I don’t much care for bitters, that would have been a pointless choice. So here we are with something that does very tasty indeed.
Young’s Special London Ale bottle

The shape and colour look good. This bottle stands out in the crowd on the shelf. Then your eye gets drawn to the label on the neck.
Young’s Special London Ale neck label

Above the identification that this comes from The Ram Brewery is an award. Apparently, this is a ‘Bottle Conditioned Beer’. Like yesterday’s good Ridgeway Blue, and the outstanding Hoegaarden. It also happens to have won the ‘Silver Medal’ in 2004 by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale. What surprises me is that a second-place prize is used to market it. But the knowledge that people much more knowledgeable than I am like this bottle. Plus the fact that it is bottle conditioned, get me salivating, and no longer worrying about what got the gold medal.

The front label does what you’d expect of a London Ale. The silhouette of the London skyline is good. If touristy. The Ram Brewery logo appears to feature one, or is that two rams? It’s a good piece of design, but looks out of place on the blue and black colour scheme of the label.
Young’s Special London Ale front label

Another thing that grabs your attention on the front is the alcohol volume. Which is a surprisingly high 6.4%. That might put some of you off, but I like my beers and ales not to comprise on strength. That and the bottle conditioning are raising those expectations. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint.

The rear label fits everything important onto a small, but readable little label.
Young’s Special London Ale back label

And Young’s start the label by not letting up on those expectations. They tell us that it won those awards by being strong, but very drinkable. There’s the “CAMRA says this is Real Ale” logo. Which, although it doesn’t mean that much, is still a nice addition.

The label goes on the tell us what it will be like to drink. Here are some of the words they use: “malty richness”, “huge amounts of hops”, “balanced”, “aromatic”, “dry” and “fruity flavour”. Wow. That is a lot to take in. Let’s see… Malty can be good. If it’s the right type. Hoppy can be good if it doesn’t leave a bad aftertaste. Balanced; that’s only used to describe beers I’ve enjoyed, so I’m glad to see that word in there. Fruitiness is almost always a good addition. Not sure what to make of the “dry”-ness at this stage, though.

Young’s go on to suggest gentle pouring. And that leaving the yeast sediment safely in the bottle is what they think is best. I’ll do my best, but I can’t guarantee that enthusiasm won’t get the better of me.

Also on there are the brewers’ Wandsworth address. Their www.youngsathome.co.uk website. Which works. And that this 500 millilitre bottle has 3.2 of your UK units of alcohol. Enough of this prattle. It’s time to pour. Very very gently.

The first thing that surprised me was the head. The instructions to pour gently made me expect that it would suffer from an uncontrollably frothy head that would spill over the glass and flood my flat. What I got was a thin and patchy head.
Young’s Special London Ale in a glass

The colour is cloudy dark-gold. It really is cloudy in there. Much more opaque than most other gold coloured brews. That must be the yeast doing its job.

The smell is pretty good. Maybe 70:30 of hops to malt. No sign of those fruits though.

The first gulp tells you that this is going to be nice and smooth. Not very gassy. And full of flavours. If only I could tell what they were. This is going to take a few more gulps to figure out.

Just like the smell, I’d say the flavour is split between the hops and the malt. With the hops managing to dominate. Time to check how accurate the label was… “Malty richness” is there. “Huge amounts of hops” are present, I’d say. “Balance” is harder to judge. All I know is that this is turning out to be quite drinkable. So I’ll say ‘yes’ and hope that it is. If you can explain in layman’s terms what “balance” is all about, by all means leave a message in the comments at the end of this post.

“Aromatic” is true. It smells like an ale should. Is it “dry”? It has a mild bitterness and sour aftertaste. Not in an off-putting way. But I’ll say ‘yes’, it is “dry”. “Fruity flavour” however, I can’t detect at all. Maybe someone with taste buds that haven’t been dulled by Pot Noodles will be capable of noticing the fruitiness. I however, could not.

Fortunately, this is one strong ale. And that makes the promises on the label; correct or otherwise; as irrelevant as a Zimbabwean vote count. This is an easily-drinkable, hop tasting, strong ale. You would have to be very averse to bitterness not to enjoy this one. By the end of the bottle, I’d very happy crack open another.

It is no surprise then, that a quick glance at their website reveals that the Young’s brewing company, is in fact part of Well’s & Young’s. The parent behind the excellent Bombardier Satanic Mills. I’m delighted to report that there’s been no compromise with Special London Ale. It is largely deserving of its award winning status. If I had to nitpick, I’d say that the bitter flavour might put some people off. But I enjoyed this bottle. If you like good, cloudy, strong ales, you’ll probably like this too.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Young’s Special London Ale?
Disagree with my rating? Want to pick up on the many mistakes I made?
Or want to share your ramblings, thought or suggestions?
Then leave a message in the little box below.

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Beer Review: Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue

30 March, 2008

SOUTH of the border this time for a bottle of beer from Oxford. This one is called Blue and it’s from Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire.
Ridgeway Blue bottle

I usually ignore the neck label when in the shop, so it wasn’t until I got home that I noticed this…
Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue neck label

It turns out that this won ‘best beer’ at the Tesco ‘brewing awards’. That makes this the second I’ve tried, with Broughton Champion Double Ale was the first Tesco winner I tried. And very good it was too. This upshot of which is that I now have higher than usual expectations going into this one.

The front label is round. And features mainly blue text. I’d describe what the illustration is of. But I can’t tell what it’s supposed to be. Can you?
Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue front label

The bottom edge of the label has their address. The full address. Post code and everything. And that’s unusual, as the address normally goes on the back label. It does prove that this one comes from South Stoke in Oxfordshire however. Also down there, in tiny writing is “Alc 5% vol.” It’s so small, you’d think they were trying to hide that fact.

Either side of the roundel are a couple of facts. On the left, it says “whole leaf hops”. And on the right, “maris otter malt”. How that will affect the taste, we’ll find out soon enough. If you think you can explain what it means, do by all means leave a comment at the end of the post.

The first thing that jumps out at you on the back label is the “CAMRA says this is real ale”. That’s not something I’ve seen on any other bottle I’ve reviewed so far, and it’s a welcome sight. Always good to know that the Campaign for Real Ale gives it’s approval to something, so that clueless drinkers, like me, can enjoy with one less thing to worry about.
Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue back label

Ridgeway open the rear label with some marketing speak about sharing this bottle or drinking it at a barbeque. Fortunately, they have some useful advice in there too, in the form of a description of what the drink will be like. As always, that’s immensely helpful, as it gives me something with which to judge the success of the drink. This one includes words such as “distinctively hoppy”, “lively” and “refreshing”.

They also suggest “drinking cold”. Whether they mean that the bottle should be cold, or that you should drink while feeling cold is unclear. Assuming they mean that the bottle is the one that should be cold, the include a nice touch underneath it in brackets saying that it’s not compulsory. I like that sort of touch.

The, the label goes on to explain something really rather interesting. And something I’ve met before without realising it. You see, Ridgeway helpfully explain what “Bottle Conditioned” is all about. It turns out, that live yeast sediment goes into the bottle, so that it can ferment some more while it waits for you to open it. And that all Ridgeway beers are bottles that way because it makes the flavour “brighter” and “fresher”. I’m not sure about those two adjectives, but I do know that Hoegaarden does something similar, and that it is one of the best I’ve ever had. And yes, looking closely into the bottle, you can see some of that yeast sediment. There go my expectations up a few more notches. Not just for Blue but for all Ridgeway bottles.

Down to the small print, and this is a moderately priced, 500 millilitre bottle from my local Tesco. It contains malted barley. And the web address given on the bottle is www.ridgewaybrewery.co.uk. Which doesn’t work. Why do so many bottles feature web addresses that are wrong or go to sites that aren’t there? Come on chaps. You’re making bottles of beer for Tesco now. Not just for the county fair.

In a glass, it has a thin head. And yes, while pouring, a small lump of that yeast sediment plopped in. The colour is a cloudy dark gold. And the smell is… quite nice. It smells almost citrusy. But I could be wrong about that. There’s definitely something ‘clean’ and ‘fresh’ about the way it smells. You’ll also pick up hints of the malt, hops and yeast that are in there too, if you sniff hard enough.
Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue in a glass

First thing that hits me is the smoothness. Then the light and palatable bitterness. And a taste and aftertaste of hops and yeast. If you don’t have ale very often, and want to try something that typifies the entire category of drink, this is looking like a good choice.

What else can I say about it? Well, it’s not to gassy. It’s easy to drink, being inoffensive to all but the most beer averse taste buds. And you needn’t worry about the sediment. This is not like drinking orange juice with bits, if that’s something that worries you. Instead, it’s more a smooth cranberry juice, of a beer. Refreshing, but with a sharp bitterness.

Towards the end of the bottle, and I’m growing to quite like Blue. It’s something you’d probably have with a pub meal. But it’s nor without its problems. I like ales to have character and complexity. But Blue is lacking both. The tastes and flavours are straightforward. It does what it does, very well, but ‘best beer’ award winning? I’m not entirely sure.

I liked Ridgeway Blue enough to want to try Ridgeway‘s other bottles. In fact, I will definitely be looking out for them on the shelves. This is a good, decent, quality, solid ale. But it just couldn’t reach my lofty expectations. It’s still worth your money trying though.

Rating: 3.5

Have you tried Ridgeway Blue or any other Ridgeway beers? Let the world know your thoughts and opinions in the comment box below.
Also any ideas for what you think I should review next.

Beer Review: Traditional Scottish Ales’ Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale

29 March, 2008

YET another Scottish ale. Yes, I know, you’re probably getting tired of every other review on my blog being of a Scottish beer. I’ll look at some bottles that aren’t from Scotland soon enough, but let’s see if this bottle can’t end on a high note. Bought from Tesco, this is a Traditional Scottish Ales Ltd bottle of Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Beer.
Traditional Scottish Ales Lomond Gold Blone Ale bottle

I’ll be honest with you. I thought that the brewery was called ‘Lomond’ and that ‘Traditional Scottish Ales’ was just a description. But that would be too easy. Instead it turns out that the brewer is called Traditional Scottish Ales Ltd, and that this bottle is called Lomond Gold. Is it only me who was flummoxed by this?

Traditional Scottish Ales’ Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale front label

The front label has a big silhouette of what is presumably a Scottish loch. Loch Lomond perhaps? I happen to think the whole label looks a big like those from the Orkney Brewery. Have a look at their Northern Light and Dark Island to see what I mean.

The style of the text is something I like. The deliberately warn down typeface that looks as if it has come straight from the dark ages is a very effective. It gives the impression that ancient Scottish clans might have stopped to drink blonde ale, in-between fighting each other and the Vikings.

This label also has the highest billing yet for ‘Organic’. This is definitely the new trend in beers and ales. Especially as a selling point by the smaller breweries. It’s probably something that we’ll see a lot more of in the years to come. Also there, are the 500 millilitre quantity and the unremarkable 5% ABV.

Over on the other side of the bottle, it’s clear that they have chosen to keep things simple. No long paragraphs describing the history of the brewer or origins of this brew. Just a white background, black text and some gold here and there.
Traditional Scottish Ales’ Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale back label

Very helpfully, they start the back label with ‘Tasting Notes’. These are always good fun, to see how near or far the drink actually is to them. The concise little sentence they give us is “Clean sharp and fresh tasting with a hint of citrus and a very satisfying aftertaste”. Sounds yummy.

Also warranting a emboldened line on the back label is the statement “Triple filtered for added purity”. Now that’s not something I’ve read on any other bottle. What are the benefits to filtering so many times? I’m admittedly a beer novice, so if you know, leave a comment at the end of this post.

Under the ‘Ingredients’ heading, the organic credentials are boosted further. Pure Scottish water. Organically grown malted barley and organically grown hops and yeast are all mentioned. The Organic Certification logo is on there. And that this bottle contains 2.5 of your UK units of alcohol. In case that is of any importance to you whatsoever.

Down below the barcode is the contact information. Which is interesting because it tells us that Traditional Scottish Ales Ltd are from Stirling. There’s a telephone helpline. And a web address, which at the time of writing, doesn’t work. Come on chaps. Get your website working before printing the address on the bottle. You’re bottles are being sold at Tesco now. If you care to try it yourself, you might or might not find it at www.traditionalscottishales.com. Changing it to a .co.uk gets things moving. So, you’ll find their website at www.traditionalscottishales.co.uk instead.

After being poured, the ale itself is non-descript. There’s hardly any head to speak of And the colour is a subdued shade of gold. The smell is quite good though. Split roughly 70-30 of malted barley and hops. A good smell for an ale, if you ask me.
Traditional Scottish Ales’ Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale in a glass

A couple of gulps in, and I’m not sure what to make of the taste. There’s nothing that jumps out at you. It’s certainly not bad. But it is hard to figure out. This is going to take a few more gulps…

There’s a little bitterness in there. But not very much. If, like me, you don’t care for bitter, you won’t be too put off here. It’s quite clean and fresh in character. This isn’t a particularly big, heavy and daunting drink. Not too gassy either.

The aftertaste is hoppy and slightly sour. But not in a bad way. And yes, there are those hints citrus that were promised on the label. In fact, all the things promised on the label are present. Only not in the ways that I was expecting. The proportions and character of everything is different to what I was expecting. And arguably different to what the label led me to expect.

But is Lomond Gold any good? I’m sure that is it. It simply isn’t too my pernickety tastes. I’m finding it too ‘sharp’ in its bitterness. But then, that was what the label advertised. I’m sure that there will be lots of you out there, with your flat caps, pipes and walking sticks who adore the bitter and malty flavours of the ale world. The organic links will also be of great interest to the pro-museli brigade of Islington. It just isn’t for me.

This leaves me in a quandary for how to sum up Lomond Gold. Traditional Scottish Ales are a relatively new outfit. And I want to encourage new breweries. Lomond Gold will appeal to some people. But not me. I found it boring and lacking the character of the many other ales and beers out there. It does well with the clean and fresh taste and citrus hints. And that is to be applauded. But with so many awesome Scottish ales out there, this needs to try that bit harder to stand out.

Rating: 3.6

Have you tried Lomond Gold? Or any others from Traditional Scottish Ales? If so, leave your thought below.
Or any other ideas, suggestions or insults for that matter.

Beer Review: Broughton Border Gold

29 March, 2008

TESCO keep surprising, with yet more Scottish ales surfacing. And, best of all. One of them is a Broughton. If you haven’t read them already, then make your way over to my reviews of three other Broughton, and you’ll see why I’m so excited. Old Jock Ale, Black Douglas and Champion Double Ale are some of the most consistently outstanding that I’ve reviewed. Each one scoring in the 4-4.5 range. And all from the Scottish Borders Broughton Ales. This one is called Border Gold and I can hardly wait to crack open the bottle and get to the fun part.
Broughton Border Gold bottle

Much the same formula for the bottle and label has been stuck to here as with the three others, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Especially as you really must read my reviews of the other Broughton bottles. The same style of front label features a roundel, sided by illustrations of hops and the Scottish Saltaire. Inside the roundel appears to be a portrait of a female monarch. Mary Queen of Scots perhaps? As usual, it will probably be explained on the story on the other side of the bottle.
Broughton Border Gold front label

Also on the front is something that should catch your eye. An A.B.V of 6.0%. That should make that that this drink is at least strong enough. And it’s something I like about Scottish beers and ales. No compromise on the alcohol front.

Turning the bottle around and the story is where you’d expect it to be.
Broughton Border Gold story side of label

The story behind the front illustration is as tenuous as it was for their other bottles. This one revolves around legend that gold from the streams of the Yarrow Valley, somewhere near the Broughton brewery, was used to make a wedding ring. And that that wedding ring was for Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scots. A ha! My historical hunch was right. It is still an undeniably round-about way of printing her portrait on the label of a gold ale.

The second paragraph goes into some detail about the drink itself. According to the label, we can expect a golden colour. A clean and full malt flavour. And a crisp, hop after taste. As usual, it’ll be interesting to see how close that gets to reality.

Over on the other side are the small-print details and barcode. Sadly, it confirms that we’re back to a 500 millilitre bottle. No full pint of drink here unlike some beers. In a small box on this side, it also describes itself as “Organic Ale”. That’s something I’m starting to see on an increasing number of bottles from small breweries. Is that actually appealing to anyone out there?
Broughton Border Gold barcode side of label

The 6.0% volume gives this bottle 3 of your UK alcohol units. And it contains water, malted barley, hops and yeast. That’s it from the outside. Finally, time to try Border Gold.

As you can see, I head a little trouble with the head. Maybe I poured it too quickly. Or the bottle had been shaken. Or it was intended to froth up like that. But a few short minutes after this photo was taken it died down, so it wasn’t a problem.
Broughton Border Gold in a glass

The colour is dark gold. Roughly what was promised. The smell is as complex as I had hoped for. In there are hints of the malt, the barley and the hops. It’s a good mix. And not too overpowering either.

The taste is sharper than I was hoping for. Much more bitter than I was expecting. And it’s not as malty as promised on the label. What does appear as advertised is the ‘hop flower’ aftertaste. Which I found to be rather too sour for my taste.

I’m not sure what to make of Border Gold. I don’t much care for the taste. But those who like bitter probably would do. The quality is again in evidence. Even though I don’t much like the taste, it still manages to be very drinkable. This poses a challenge for the rating.

I’m going to rate this lower than any other Broughton because I couldn’t get over the taste. But it’s still a high-quality, easy to drink ale. This is one for fans of bitter flavours, I think.

Rating: 3.7

Have you tried Border Gold? What did you think?
Comments, ideas, suggestions and insults below please.

Beer Review: Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills

27 March, 2008

THIS is one that I’ve been wanting to try for some time. From the English Wells and Young’s comes Bombardier. But this bottle isn’t the widely available, regular premium bitter. This, is Satanic Mills. No, not a jibe about professional wacko Heather Mills, but rather a different kind of bitter. Let’s try to figure out what they’re on about.
Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills bottle

You might not have noticed it on the shelves next to dozens of other oddly shaped bottles, but this one is different. Not different in the way that most others surprise, by being very small. But by being ever so slightly bigger. Have a look at the neck label to see what I mean.
Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills neck label

This, and the rest of the Wells Bombardier range is a pint. Not the typical, continental 500 millilitres that leaves your pint glass part empty. Finally, a brewery that sees sense. It’s confirmed on the other side too. That this is 568 millilitres. At last. Now if only every other brewer in the world would follow this example.

On the main front label, the first thing you notice is the St. George’s Cross planted firmly in the centre. This is going to be a fiercely English beer. And why not after the many fine Scottish ales that I’ve reviewed of late. Looking a little closer, this has a volume of 5.0%. And under the Wells name we’re told that they have been brewing since 1876. I like the design of the front label. The black background. The silver patterns. And the symmetry. It all gives a very professional appearance.
Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills front label

Turning the one-pint bottle around, and things aren’t so pretty. On a decent sized label, they have tried to cram a European Constitution’s worth text. And the route they’ve chosen to do that, is by using very very small text. What do you make of this?
Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills back label

I’m not looking forward to deciphering this. But I know that you’ve all come to expect impossible levels of detail from me. So here goes.

First of all, it transpires that the Satanic Mills name comes from the words to William Blake’s Jerusalem song. That like their original, and more widely available Premium Bitter, the water used for this beer comes from their own well. That they use English ‘Fuggles’ and ‘Goldings’ hops. And that this helps the drink to be fruity and smooth. But of course, I’ll be the judge of that.

It goes on in great detail to explain that Satanic Mills is brewed using ‘Ale’ and ‘Chocolate’ malt that is then intensely roasted. Not only that, but that the malt is carefully crushed instead of ground because doing so makes the flavours more complex and the head creamier. I didn’t even know that that was important before reading that. Not stopping there, it continues by telling us that it gets brewed for seven days.

Then we get to the various little details scattered all over the label. And they truly are scattered. The symbol telling us that this bottle contains 2.8 UK units of alcohol is half-way up the right-hand-side. On either side of the barcode we have the numerical volume of liquid and on the other, something telling us that this pint bottle has 13.6% more that a standard 500 millilitre bottle. In another little corner, we get a summary of the ingredients which as malted barley and oats in this case. And the address of their website which is http://www.bombardier.co.uk/.

Chaps, the front label is terrific. But the back label is a mess. It’s as if over the years, lots of little additions have been made. But no one has taken a step back and said “do we really need it all?” Cut some out. Separate the details from the story behind it. And for goodness sake, use larger sized text so we can actually read it.

With the pleasantries out of the way, we can finally see what this is like to drink. Once in the glass, it was as dark as a stout. But the head wasn’t as creamy as the label had promised. Even so, look at the sight of this. After so many bottles over-filling or under-filling the glass, it’s great to finally have a full pint.
Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills in a glass

One of the things that hit me was the smell. There’s no need to put the effort into actually sniffing this drink. You can smell the drink malt and barley from quite some distance. It might be a bit overpowering for some, but not if you like stout. Which is what this is turning out to be. Lets see if it tastes like a stout too.

I’m not sure. Admittedly, that’s probably down to my utter lack of knowledge regarding beers. But it’s definitely similar to, but not identical to stouts. Does that make this a variation on the dark ale instead? I don’t know the answer to that either.  The label bills this as a ‘premium bitter’. And yes, it is bittery. But the dark character of Satanic Mills is thoroughly different to any other bitter I’ve tested.

How can I describe what this is like to drink? It is mildly bitter, but not as strong as I was expecting. And it doesn’t have any nasty after taste either. Surprisingly, it’s not got much to offend your palate, whatever drink you usually stick to. I’m not a fan of bitters and half-expected to be unimpressed by this. But Satanic Mills is turning into a surprise.

It’s not at all gassy. And it has a heavy, full-bodied character to it. But without the downsides of strong lingering aftertastes. I expected to find this hard-going, but it’s not. Completely unexpectedly, Satanic Mills is one of the most pleasantly drinkable bitters I’ve yet sampled.

How can I sum up Satanic Mills? Instead of being the tough, heavy, dark bitter I was expecting; Satanic Mills is a heavy, dark, drinkable, lightly-bitter drink. And none of that was mentioned on the back label. This is an exceptional English bitter with plenty of complexity and character. If only they’d communicate it better. Lastly, I grew to enjoy this brew. But drinkers who like their beers refreshing might want to look elsewhere.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Satanic Mills? What did you think?
Any suggestions for what I should review next?
Comments, ideas and insults below please.

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada 2007 Summerfest Bottom Fermented Beer Lager

26 March, 2008

WHAT is this? Another out of season Sierra Nevada bottle. And this one is last summer’s Summerfest seasonal. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you have a look at yesterday’s review of Sierra Nevada‘s winter themed 2007 Celebration Ale. That one was good, but didn’t quite reach its potential. Is Sierra Nevada capable of greatness with it’s Summerfest? Let’s find out.
Sierra Nevada 2007 Summerfest bottle

Much the same bottle and label formula has been stuck to with this, as with the Celebration Ale. Again, it’s that odd 350 millilitre bottle size. And they shun the usual front and rear label combination for a front label and a neck label.
Sierra Nevada Summerfest 2007 nack label
Sierra Nevada 2007 Summerfest Bottom Fermented Beer Lager front label

As you might expect, this one is a lot less Christmassy. Gone are the snow covered wood cabins with red and green surrounds. In are yellow colours and images of sunny… well; Sierra Nevada presumably. If you have a better idea that I, of where that front label scene is set, comment below please.

Again, the main front label keeps things simple. It tells us that this beer comes from Chico, California in the USA. That it was imported to the UK by Vertical Drinks Ltd. That it contains barley. But. The prominent alcohol volume of Celebration Ale has been relegated to small text on the left-hand-side. A mystery since 5.0% is not a number to be that ashamed of. True, it’s not strong. But it’s not too weak either.

It’s the neck label that tells us most. In between the marketing speak, there are some facts. And those facts tell us that this is a bottom fermented drink. That it involved cold tank aging. Whatever that it. And is, in fact. A lager. Quite an important fact, I would have said. And one worth mentioning, in big type on the main front label. People who want a lager look for drinks that clearly say “lager” on them. And people, like me, who don’t, look for words like “beer” or “ale”. Come on Sierra Nevada. Don’t write “beer” in large type and “lager” in the small description.

With my expectations dampened, I cling onto the hope, that opening the bottle will be a pleasant surprise. Time to find out.

A small detail I noticed just before opening were the different things written on the bottle tops. Normally, I wouldn’t bother mentioning a detail as boring as bottle tops. Especially as more breweries use the same design across their range. But Sierra Nevada don’t. For their Celebration Ale, they use “Fresh Seal Cap” and “Use Bottle Opener”. But for Summerfest, it is “Pry Off”. These are the only tops I’ve seen that actually give instructions about what the consumer has to do with them. And funnier that on this bottle, the instructions read more like an insult.
Sierra Nevada bottle top comparison

After over-coming my laughter, the lager finally made it into the glass. And what can I say. It looks like lager. It’s light-gold in colour. It has bubbles rising quickly to the surface. And it has a head. Actually that detail is important. It means that this one is at the premium end of the scale.
Sierra Nevada 2007 Summerfest Bottom Fermented Beer Lager in a glass

As for smell. Well, it is lager. There’s nothing to mention. It smells faintly of barley.

A few gulps in, and I’m delighted to report that it isn’t as bad as I expected it to be. The first thing I noticed was how refreshing it is. A quality you might want at summer. It’s not too bitter. And although there is that aftertaste that I loath so much, it’s not as strong. And doesn’t linger as badly as those of cheaper lager.

Further in, and this is very easy to drink indeed. It is very nearly as easy to drink as water. I’m growing to quite enjoy Summerfest. Even if it is just a lager. It’s not as gassy as I feared, either.

To sum up, then. 2007 Summerfest is refreshing and drinkable. And the bad bits of being a lager have been hidden to some extent. Just as they promise, this is a good drink for the summer. However, I’m reviewing this on a dismal March day in London. Character and full-bodied flavours are never going to feature in a lager. And you have so many alternative lagers to choose from. If you simply want to get hammered, there’s lot of lager options. Or if you want a classier option from an independent brewery, they exist to. For example, Harviestoun Schiehallion.

My point is then, 2007 Summerfest is good. But is it different enough to stand out on already crowded shelves? I’m not so sure. And for that, it scores well, but I’m absolutely certain that Sierra Nevada are capable of delivering much more. Let’s hope we see more from this west-coast American brewer on our supermarket shelves soon.

Rating: 3.35

Have you tried 2007 Summerfest? Or any other Sierra Nevada bottles?
If so, leave your experiences, comments and insults below please.

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

25 March, 2008

A first for my Big Log today. An American ale. My local Tesco have bought in a small batch of Sierra Nevada bottles. And this is one of them: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale bottle

One look at the festive logo tells you that something is ever so slightly amiss. And the shoulder label explains what that is.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale shoulder label
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale front label

It seems that Tesco got this small batch of bottles in late. You see, this 2007 Celebration Ale was produced to celebrate the winter from which we are now emerging. In other words, the winter that’s nearly over. Fortunately, it’s still cold enough outside to feel like winter, so I’m going into my first American ale with an open mind.

Have I purchased a bottle of Celebration Ale that’s missing the rear label? Or do Sierra Nevada don’t bother with rear labels? Answers in the comments section at the end of this post please.

As it is, we’ve got to make do with the front label. One of the few pieces of information on it, tells us that this bottle is 350 millilitres. What sort of value is that? This is the first time I’ve seen that amount. Maybe it’s something common to American beers. If anyone out there knows the reason behind this, again, please leave a message at the end of this post. I’m dying to know why the unusual number.

Something prominent and appealing is the alcohol volume. Which in this case, is 6.8%. Despite its funny size, this could well turn out to be an outstanding little drink.

The brewery is also worth a mention as this is my first taste of Sierra Nevada. This one was brewed and bottled by the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. of Chico, California of the USA. I didn’t even know Chico was a real place. It looks like I’m learning new things all the time from this diminutive little bottle. Finally, it was imported to the UK by Vertical Drinks Ltd. In case anyone out there is interested in that sort of face.

Unsure how much 350 millilitres actually was, I chose a half-pint glass. That was a mistake. If in doubt, go for the bigger glass. The drink however, poured delightfully. The head went in creamily and controllably. More so than many other premium beers and ales. And the colour is a rich, deep, dark gold.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale in a glass

After so many lagers, it is fantastic to smell an ale again. And this one is a treat. It smells of fruit and flowers. But in a light way that is slightly different to the English fruity and flowery ales that I’ve reviewed on this blog. No lets see if that fruitiness and floweriness carries over to the taste.

The first taste that hits you is bitter. And the lingering aftertaste is sour. Quite a surprise as I was expecting something light and fruity. A few more gulps in though, and you do start to notice that this is more than a bitter or pale ale. There are some hints of the fruits that you noticed in the smell. Although they’re not as much in evidence as the smell leads you to believe.

Maybe because of the rough ride home from the supermarket, I found Celebration Ale a little on the gassy side. But not too much so. It was also very easy to drink. Yes it had that aftertaste that I disliked. But much of the taste, flavour and character was inoffensive. You could go as far as to say that it is playing it too safe on that front and lacking the full-on character and flavour of other decent beers and ales.

What to make of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale then? I went into this genuinely wanting to be surprised and impressed. And the smell did just that. But the taste simply hasn’t delivered. It’s simply too plain and lacking true character. But it is still a drinkable, strong, west-coast ale. And for that, it claws back marks.

Rating: 3.2

That quality is there, but make 2008 a real celebration for us, won’t you Sierra Nevada?

Have you tried Celebration Ale or any others from the Sierra Nevada brewery?
Then leave the world your comments, thoughts and insults below please.

Beer Review: Tennent’s Super Strong Lager

24 March, 2008

AFTER some disappointments, we reach the pinnacle of strong lagers. When, in the first in this series, I talked about the anti-social, ASBO teenager’s and homeless alcoholic’s drink of choice, this is what I had in mind: Tennent’s Super Strong Lager.
Tennent's Super can

Just look at it. It shouts “cheap” “strong” lager. The blue background colour is attractive enough. And the circular Tennent’s logo isn’t bad, if simplistic.
Tennent's Super roundel

But just look below. Near the terse “Brewed in the United Kingdom”. And the to-the-point “9.0% Alc. Vol.” is a statement that says everything you need to know about this type of drink. “Please Drink Responsibly”. Only this can has it written in the biggest, capital lettering of any drink I’ve ever seen. Tennent’s seem to have, unlike their competitors, woken up to the all the bad publicity surrounding super-mega-high-strength but cheap lagers. Personally, I think the entire can could be covered in warning messages, but that it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference.
Tennent's Super warning

What do you think? Does this can get the prominence of the “responsibility” message right? Comments at the end of this post please.

Oh, and it also says “Serve Ice Cold”. So you might want to put this in the freezer compartment for a few minutes first. Just don’t forget about it and end up leaving it in there overnight. Like I did once.

Tennent’s keep all the information neatly contained on a small ‘side’ of the can. It truly is a narrow strip of small print. And it reveals some sad information. Tennent’s is not, as I had hoped, the product of generations of Scottish brewing. It is, instead a brand owned by Inbev UK and brewed in Luton. Oh dear.
Tennent's Super barcode side of can

Also on there are a tiny sub-set of the ingredients. Malted barley. That’s all we’re told that’s in there. It’s also a 500 millilitre can with the usual 4.5 UK units of alcohol. So you know you’re getting hammered with minimal effort or outlay. Important if you’re propped up next to a wall hassling passers by the change.

How good is it to drink? How bad will it be? Is it easy to drink or as rough as I’m half expecting it to be. Let’s find out.

The first thing that strikes me is the head. There’s much less of it the compared to it’s competitors. Other than that, everything looks normal. It’s gold in colour and there are bubbles briskly rising to the surface.
Tennent's Super poured into a glass

The smell is nothing to write home about either. It smells almost exactly like every other strong lager I’ve tried. And very similar to every weak lager too. In case you’ve never before had a lager, it smells faintly of barley.

It maybe because I left this can in the freezer for a few minutes before doing this test, but the first thing you notice is how refreshing it is. But, moments later, the aftertaste hits you. Just like all the other strong lagers, it’s ruined by a strong bitter and sour aftertaste. And one that stays around at the back of your tongue for a surprisingly long time.

A few gulps in, and this is looking as average as every other strong lager I’ve tested so far. A taste that’s fine, followed by a ghastly aftertaste. It is however, cheap and potent. So whether you’re a teenager or a homeless alcoholic, you’ll probably not have a problem with the pitfalls of Tennent’s Super.

Carlsberg Special Brew comes out on top of the lagers compared to Skol Super, Kestrel Super and Tennent’s Super. Most of which are as drinkable as the unusual Gold Label.

Rating: 2.5 plus 3 ASBO points and 1.5 homeless alcoholic marks.

High-strength cider such as K was the surprise of the test, being affordable, drinkable and potent. And Duvel, a high-volume Belgian beer ale was delicious and strong, but expensive.

Finally, at the climax of this series looking into super-high-strength drinks, what have we proven? Pretty much exactly what I expected. Most were horrible. Some were better than expected or good, but at a price. Those that were cheap and nasty are arguably less irresponsible than those that were cheap and easily drinkable. The reasoning being, that you’d need to be fairly determined, if you were willing to put up with the taste of the stuff to begin with. The expensive drinks are out of trouble because, they’re expensive or not available everywhere. Which leaves me wandering, is part of the problem of alcohol in this country to do with price after all? I’d always presumed it wasn’t, and just a Government scheme to raise duty on drinks. But if prices were raised, teenagers and alcoholics would start walking around with bottles of Duvel instead of Tennent’s Super. And beggars in the street would become even more aggressive.

So what can we conclude? And what can be done about the problems that the press has decided is the fault of alcoholic drinks such as these? Firstly, the problem isn’t the drinks but the drinkers. That making strong drinks harder to get, or afford won’t actually help. And to solve the problem, all the drinks should be sold in bottles. But that only bloggers can own bottle openers.

Thoughts, opinions, insults, and comments below please. There’s a lot of people reading this blog so share your thoughts with them.

Update:

A huge thanks to all the readers who’ve made this ‘review’ one of the most popular on my blog. That’s why I’ve come back nearly two years later to update it, and the other super popular super strength lager reviews with some new photos.

While I had all of the 9%er cans handy, it made sense to try them all again. Only this time with the benefit of having read all of your comments beforehand. Incidentally, I’ve done the same for the other 9%-ers. Check my updates for them after you’ve finished reading this.

This time, I made sure that the can was very cold. And to drink it straight from the can to avoid accidentally smelling it. That’s why I haven’t updated the photo of it in a glass. I was also watching out for it tasting worse as it warms up.

How did it taste this time around? Not as bad. The arctic cold makes all the difference. It still tastes strong, but it also has a totally unexpected bitter hoppiness. I did not expect to find that in there. Mind you, it still has a strong, dull, long lasting malted barley bitterness too. It doesn’t say if it was made with syrup or not, but I think it had a small amount. It’s also not that far removed from normal lager, with some lightness and drinkability left in it. The can is flimsier than the competition, too.

Against the other four 9%-ers, I rank it a surprising second. As long as your can is very very cold, it’s remarkably distinctive and drinkable. But only barely so.

What do you think? How else can you make it taste better? Or less horrible? The comments section below is a goldmine. Add your nugget of wisdom now!

P.S. My ‘reviews’ of Tennent’s Super’s equally popular competitors are at Carlsberg Special Brew, Carlsberg Skol Super and Kestrel Super.

Beer Review: Kestrel Super Strength Lager

23 March, 2008

A couple of lagers in, and there’s been one disappointment and one mediocre one. Neither of which are as good as the high-strength ale or cider I tried last week. Let’s see what Kestrel Super Strength lager can deliver.
Kestrel Super front of can
First impressions of the front of the can are how similar it is to Skol Super. On a shelf from a distance, they do look equally dull and cheap. Looking a little closer however, and Kestrel Super does have its own identity. There’s the illustration of a kestrel in the logo roundel. The two pictures of barley either side of it. And… not much else.

Turning the can around, Kestrel have gone for putting the story and the details ‘sides’ next to each other. And this is the first tall can of super-strength lager to have a full story behind. Let’s see what it says…
Kestrel Super side of can

The headline of “Super Strength, Superb Quality…” is what they’ve gone with. The story below it is mostly marketing speak, but here’s my summary of the main bits: This is a gold medal award winning lager, but they fall into the trap of not saying what that award was. Nor when they won it. They go on to promise “strong character”, “distinctive taste” and bags of quality from fine ingredients. All fairly ordinary stuff. But it does make me want to get to the taste part of the review, so job done by the marketing people. The last thing it has very clearly printed on this side is a box with “Alc 9.0% Vol”.

Rotating the can a few degrees to the barcode side, and again, nothing is out of the ordinary. This one was canned and brewed in the glamorous location of Bedford, Endland. It contains malted barley. It is half a litre of drink with 4.5 UK units of alcohol. Just like every other 9%, 500 millilitre can of lager. There’s also a tiny piece of text saying “drink sensibly”, together with the Drink Aware web address. Irresponsible? Or unimportant and ignored by anyone who buys strong lagers? Leave your thoughts, if you have any, in the comments section at the end of this post.
Kestrel Super barcode side of can

In a glass, Kestrel Super looks and behaves in the right way. It has a head. It’s the right size. And the colour is the right kind of gold. The smell is also about right. It has that odour of barley. But what does it tastes like? And is it any good?
Kestrel Super poured into a glass

A couple of gulps in, and things are looking average. There’s not much distinctive about the taste. Certainly not as much as the outside of the can had promised. Where the description on the outside does ring true, is with the character which is as strong as promised. And that aftertaste is bitter, sour and rough. This is not easy to drink. Nor pleasant.

About half-way through, and Kestrel Super is becoming a chore. It doesn’t taste nice. And it’s not easy to drink. It’s not a million miles from Skol Super. You’d have to be set on getting drunk quickly and cheaply to work your way through much of this.

If you have a taste for very strong lagers, you might like this. I however, didn’t. It may be cheap, but there are tastier drinks that are the same price and equally as strong. You have been warned.

Rating: 2.1 plus 2 ASBO points

Have you tried Kestrel Super? What did you think?
Opinions, ideas, suggestions and insults in the comments please…

Update:

A huge thanks to all the readers and commenter’s who’ve made this ‘review’ one of the most popular on my blog. You have added some of the funniest and wisest comments on the entire blog. A genuine thanks to all of you. That’s why I’ve come back nearly two years later to update it, and the other incredibly popular super strength lager reviews, with some new photos.

While I had all of the 9%er cans handy, it made sense to try them all again. Only this time with the benefit of having read all of your comments beforehand. Incidentally, I’ve done the same for the other 9%-ers. Check my updates for them after you’ve finished reading this.

This time, I made sure that the can was very cold. And to drink it straight from the can to avoid accidentally smelling it. That’s why I haven’t updated the photo of it in a glass. I was also watching out for it tasting worse as it warms up.

How did it taste this time around and can I figure out why Kestrel Super is slightly more addictive than crack? Well, an arcticly cold can does help. Straight off, it’s the least offensive tasting of the lot. The cut down ingredients list doesn’t mention syrup, but I reckon it has it. More of it than the other super strength 9% competition. That’s because it’s seems a bit thicker and more syrupy. It’s not as strong and bitter, but more balanced and bittersweet. It’s not as refreshing as Carlsberg Special Brewor Tennent’s Super, but that doesn’t stop it being that bit more drinkable than they are. And it’s in a weapons grade can that’s much less flimsy than the rest.

Against the other four 9%-ers, Kestrel Super nabs first place. Unless you look at ale or cider, it’s the easiest way to imbibe 9% alcohol. As for why it has such a following, I blame syrup. It must be what makes it sweeter than the competition. Pity no one thought to research its addictive qualities first.

What do you think? How else can you make it taste better? Or less horrible? Add your contribution to the mountain of hilarity and advice below!

P.S. My ‘reviews’ of Kestrel Super’s equally popular competitors are at Carlsberg Skol Super, Tennent’s Super and Carlsberg Special Brew.

Beer Review: Carlsberg Special Brew

22 March, 2008

THIS instalment brings us to the second strong lager in this series on the subject of high-strength beers. And this one looks at Carlsberg Special Brew. Why am I looking at this one next? Well the last one I tried was Skol Super, and that was brewed by Carlsberg UK. This is the same size and strength as Skol Super, but from Carlsberg’s Danish parent. And that sets this review up for an interesting comparison…

Like most other can’s I’ve looked at in this series, Carlsberg Special Brew is cheap and available from most corner shops. It does have a unique look about it however. The beige background adds some extra respectability compared to the cheaply printed cans of its competition.

Something else I like about the ‘front’ of the can is the Danish connection. Above the ‘Special Brew’ banner is the text “By Appointment to the Royal Danish Court”. If that means the same as it does here in Britain, it means that someone in, or who works for the Danish Royal Family, drinks this stuff. And that raises expectations considerably. This is reinforced with references to “Carlsberg Copenhagen” and around a graphic of the Danish crown, the words “The Original Strong Lager”. Original anything is good in the beer world, so this is setting the expectations high. At least higher than with Skol Super.

Have a look at the bottom of the ‘front’ of the can. The words “Enjoy Responsibly” are more prominent than on any strong beer/cider/lager I’ve seen so far. A small acknowledgement of how controversial this type of drink has become perhaps. You could say that they are finally taking social responsibility. Or completely failing to do so by having it in such small writing.

Again, the details and small print are spread between two opposite ‘sides’ of the can. Here’s a photo of the side without the barcode.

Annoyingly, most of the text is at a 90 degree angle if you have the can upright. So you either need to tilt your head or the can to read this side properly. If you do decide to read it, you’ll see the 9% and 4.5 UK units of alcohol most prominent on the white band. The obligatory address of the drink aware website, and consumer helpline are there. As is a nearly complete list of ingredients. Which in this instance, are water, malted barley, syrup, hops and carbon dioxide. None of which really tell us what to expect from the taste of Special Brew.

Over on the ‘side’ of the can where the barcode lives, the writing is thankfully the right way up again. The tiny sentence of the story behind the drink doesn’t need to be summarised for the review, because here it is: “Brewed since 1950, Carlsberg Special Brew is the original strong lager”. What more is there to say?

Also on this ‘side’ is the message “Best shared well chilled”. A nice different to the usual ‘best served well chilled’. Clearly the people of Denmark are more responsible than those here, in that they share a strong can instead of downing it by themselves. It’s a nice suggestion that I doubt anyone will follow. If you’ve ever shared a can of Special Brew or anything similar, leave a comment, because I find it hard to imagine anyone doing that.

Annoyingly, this ‘side’ doesn’t actually confirm that Special Brew is imported from the continent. All we get is a “brewed and canned in the EU for Carlsberg UK Ltd”. That could mean it was churned out of a cheap factory in Eastern Europe. Come on Carlsberg. I want to know where it came from. And so does everyone else who buys your drinks.

And that’s it from the outside of the can. But what does it taste like? Time to find out.

Once out of the can, and into my big Continental style glass, everything looks in order. There’s a big frothy head. The liquid is gold in colour. And there’s plenty of gas bubbles making their way to the top.

The smell is good too. Definitely better than Skol Super. The soft smell of barley and hops seems somehow, to have that ‘premium’ quality. But will that carry across to the taste?

A few gulps down, and so far, the answer is yes. It doesn’t taste cheap either. It holds on to that bitter/sour taste and aftertaste that lager suffers from, but this is a big improvement over Carlsberg’s Skol Super. That aftertaste simply isn’t as strong and doesn’t linger as badly. And that makes Special Brew the most drinkable strong lager I’ve yet tested.

Working my way through the can, I was delighted to find it not as gassy as I had been afraid of. And the alcohol didn’t go straight to my head. Although that could have more to do with my doing this review straight after dinner than anything else.

How to sum up Carlsberg Special Brew? It’s a super-high-strength lager that comes cheaply in very tall cans. Yet it’s also pretty good quality, for a lager. And surprisingly drinkable, for a lager. The can promised a lot with its mentions of the Danish Court. And, amazingly, it actually delivered. That surprised and impressed me. No wander alcoholics love this drink.

Rating: 3.4 plus two ASBO points and one homeless alcoholic mark.

Have you tried Carlsberg Special Brew? What did you think?
Any suggestions for what I should review next?
Comments below please…

Update:

A huge thanks to all the readers and commenter’s who’ve made this ‘review’ one of the most popular on my blog. Your comments are brilliant. There’s no other way to describe them. That’s why I’ve come back nearly two years later to update it, and the other unexpectedly popular super strength lager reviews, with some new photos.

While I had all the 9%er cans handy, it made sense to try them all again. Only this time with the benefit of having read all of your comments beforehand. Incidentally, I’ve done the same for the other 9%-ers. Check my updates for them after you’ve finished reading this.

This time, I made sure that the can was very cold. And to drink it straight from the can to avoid accidentally smelling it. That’s why I haven’t updated the photo of it in a glass. I was also, watching out for it tasting worse as it warms up.

How did it taste this time around? It’s definitely more drinkable. But drink quickly before it warms up. It contains syrup which makes it weightier than normal lager. It also makes it more bittersweet than without it. It’s a strong, bland, slightly sour and syrupy malted barley tasting lager in flimsy can.

How did it compare to the other 9%-ers I re-‘reviewed’ it against? Against Tennent’s Super, Carlsberg Skol Super and Ketral Super, It ended up 3rd. Above the ghastly at any temperature Skol Super, but without the surprising hoppiness of Tennent’s Super and instant addiction to Kestral Super.

What do you think? How else can you make it taste better? Or less horrible? The comments section below is a goldmine. Add your nugget of wisdom now!

P.S. My ‘reviews’ of Carlsberg Special Brew’s equally popular competitors are at Carlsberg Skol Super, Tennent’s Super and Kestrel Super.

Beer Review: Skol Super strong lager

21 March, 2008

AFTER trying super-high-strength Duvel ale, Gold Label beer and K cider, we’ve finally reached the first of the notorious tall cans of lager: Super Skol.

At the 9% volume, prominently displayed in the front roundel, this is the strongest brew I’ll have yet tested. But this is not unusual, with many lagers out there also 9%. The wording around the top of the logo reads “a very strong lager of the highest quality”. If it is as strong as I’m expecting, it better had be high quality. A strong and unpleasant drink wouldn’t be good.

Around the bottom of the circular logo is the name of the brewer. In this case Carlsberg UK Ltd. Not as well hidden as K, but still hidden enough to help distance themselves from this alcoholics choice of beverage. Also prominent at the bottom of the can are the instructions to “serve cool”.

On one of the two ‘sides’ that isn’t full of logo, we get some text and other information.

On this side, they tell us what to expect from the drink. And I must, say, it sounds very appetising indeed. And you would too, going by the mentions of “full bodied” and “fruity aroma”. All of which make this strong lager sound more like an ale.

On the other ‘side’ things are a little more boring. There’s the barcode. The Drink Aware website address, which, lets face it, is probably needed by the sort of people who buy this stuff. The Carlsberg web address and their Northampton address are also on there if you need to write them a letter.

The best thing about that ‘side’ of the can is the full list of ingredients. Most ingredients lists are mere summaries, so it’s good to see one that it a little more complete. This one mentions water, malted barley, syrup, hops, carbon dioxide and caramel. How many are noticeable we’ll find out soon enough.

Compared to K, I’m not such a fan of the Skol Super can. It’s messy with likes and colours everywhere. And the information is split between two ‘sides’ of the can. For me, K has set the standard for design of the tall cans of high-strength drink. And Super Skol doesn’t quite reach it. But that’s all secondary to what it’s like to drink. So here goes with the strongest lager I’ve ever tried…

Once in a glass, it was good to see a good thick head. Not that that will bother most drinkers of Super Skol. The colour also looks about right for lager. Nothing notable there. What about the smell? Nothing special there either. It smells faintly of barley and hops. But it’s barely noticeable.

Now the most important part. What does it taste like and how drinkable is it? A couple of gulps down and It’s not as bad as I expected. It really is fuller bodied than most lagers out there. Especially the cheap ones. The taste is still bitter and sour so if you can’t stand lager anyway, you’re not going to like this one. I’m not sure what to make of their promise of fruity aroma at this point. Or to put it another way, there doesn’t appear to be any fruitiness at all.

A few more gulps down, and I’m not enjoying this as much as K. Yes this is fairly drinkable. But it is rather gassy. And that aftertaste awful. Maybe that’s something lager drinkers get used to. But I’m not. And predictably, I’m beginning to think this is an unpleasant experience. It certainly is going to my head quickly however. And that is probably the point of Super Skol.

And there you have it. Super Skol is affordable and strong. If you like strong lager, you might like this. If you don’t like lager, you probably won’t like it. If you want to get drink quickly and cheaply, you’ll put up with it. In addition to my rating, I also award Super Skol two and a half ASBO points.

Rating: 2.9

Have you tried Super Skol? Or any other strong lagers? What did you think?
And what do you want me to review next?
Comments below please…

Update:

A huge thanks to all the readers and commenter’s who’ve made this ‘review’ one of the most popular on my blog. Your comments are brilliant. That’s why I’ve come back nearly two years later to update it, and the other super popular super strength lager reviews with some new photos.

While I had all the 9%er cans handy, it made sense to try them all again. Only this time with the benefit of having read all of your comments beforehand. Incidentally, I’ve done the same for the other 9%-ers. Check my updates for them after you’ve finished reading this.

This time, I made sure that the can was very cold. And to drink it straight from the can to avoid accidentally smelling it. That’s why I haven’t updated the photo of it in a glass. I was also watching out for it tasting worse as you go on, while it warms up in your hand.

How did it taste this time around? Almost as bad as it did originally. Sure, the cold helps. But it’s still incredibly strong tasting. Like the other 9%-ers, it contains syrup. Yet it’s still not as sweet or balanced as they are. Does this mean it has less syrup than the others? Possibly. The taste was a long malted barley finish. Like a normal lager, but bigger. Maybe a Carlsberg response to Crest Super. It definitely seemed less syrupy, less refreshing and less drinkable than the competition.

Against the other four 9%-ers, I rank it fourth. The worst of a bad bunch. Think about that for a second. How bad does a beer need to be for Carlsberg Special Brew, Tennent’s Super and Kestrel Super to be better?

What do you think? How else can you make it taste better? Or less horrible? Add your comment now!

P.S. My ‘reviews’ of Carlsberg Skol Super’s equally popular competitors are at Carlsberg Special Brew, Tennent’s Super and Kestrel Super.

Beer Review: ‘K’ Gaymer Cider

20 March, 2008

ALREADY, my exploration into the controversial world of the super-strong drink has included an Duvel ale and a “barley wine” Gold Label beer. And we haven’t even reached the notorious lagers. And this instalment won’t either. You see, I didn’t realise this when I picked up this can, but we have here, a strong cider. This is K, produced by the Gaymer Cider Company from Shepton Mallet, England.
K can

This one was from my local off-licence. And priced quite reasonably too. Why did I choose this one as the next strongest to try? Well, it has the right image. The tall 500 millilitre can is the same size as the lagers that come with free ASBOs. It provides the young, irresponsible drinker with maximum alcohol units for minimum price. Yet at the 8.4% clearly printed below the logo, it is marginally weaker than both Duvel and Gold Label. So, I’m going into this one predicting a rough experience from a strong drink, but that it won’t be as hard going as what will follow it.

Taking a closer look at the can, I think the black background and combination of red, gold and high-contrast white lettering to be a good design. This one also has a big red banner around the top explaining that this one has an extra 13.5% to bring it up to 500 millilitres. But in the market today, it’s hard to imaging them succeeding with anything less. The quote “The ultimate in quality” follows the ‘K‘ logo all the way around the can.
K logo

And around the bottom of the can are the words “Strong”, “Refreshing” and “Different”. We’ll see about that when we try it. I do like the serious but minimal look of the can however.

Around on what you could consider to be the ‘back’ of the cylindrical can are the details. All neatly contained above the barcode. The paragraph that normally gets devoted to a story or some history in this case has a lot of marketing twaddle. It truly is one of the most inane paragraphs I’ve seen on a drink. Something about how the ‘K’ stands for the ultimate in quality. You get the idea.
K barcode side

Also on there are the main details you’d want to know. That this is cider. That it contains sulphites. Whatever they are. That is it best served chilled. That this can manages to fit an astonishing 4.2 UK units of alcohol. And neatly hidden away is the name and address of the Gaymer Cider Company.

Now I could be wrong, but I’d say Gaymer are hiding their name. As if they don’t want the Gaymer name to be associated with the ‘K‘ brand. And who can blame them. If Gaymer is pushing their name with their other premium cider brands, they wouldn’t want to be mentioned in the same breath as words like “teenager”, “anti-social” or “disorderly”.

And that’s all there is to talk about the outside of the can. Time to open it up and see how “Strong”, “Refreshing” and “Different” K actually is.

Once poured carefully into a glass, I realise it was pointless to be careful. Cider doesn’t have a head. As K beautifully demonstrates. It’s also predictably cider-ish in colour. A good, deep, gold colour.
K cider in a glass

You don’t even need me to describe the smell to you. It smells of apples. But if you’ve had cider before, you’ll know that. I’ve not tried anything more than cheap ciders in the past so I don’t have much to compare it with. It could be substandard in some way, but I wouldn’t realise it. Leave a comment if you have an opinion one way or the other.

It’s been so long since I’ve had a cider, I’d forgotten just how refreshing they can be. And even a very strong cider like K here is just that. It does, predictably, taste a little of apples. And it does have a slightly bitter/sour aftertaste. But it’s surprising how easy to drink it is considering the 8.4% strength. It would be very easy to get through a lot of this without realising how inebriated one is becoming. And that is perhaps what K is all about. The easiest, cheapest way to consume as many units of alcohol as possible.

Working through the can, I can’t say that K is the best tasting cider out there. I’m fairly sure that big bottles of Woodpecker or Strongbow as tastier. But you can’t argue with it as an effective, accessible vehicle for all those units of alcohol. Even if the gassiness makes you burp a lot.

Final thoughts? K is an example of what I set out to find. It’s affordable. Very easily drinkable. Especially if your palate isn’t yet mature enough to appreciate beer. And it is very strong. I’d rate it higher than Gold Label for drinkability but it doesn’t have the character of Duvel or strong Scottish ales. I’d go so far as to say that K is bland in comparison. It certainly is very easy to drink though. This is going to be a challenging rating to give…

Rating: 3.3

Have you tried K? What did you think?
Can you recommend any other ciders, high-strength or otherwise?
If so, leave all comments, ideas, insults and bribes in the usual place…

Beer Review: Gold Label Very Strong Special Beer

19 March, 2008

AFTER my faultering start looking at super-extra-high-strength beers and lagers with Duvel, it’s time to move to my next target. Keeping up the theme of increasingly hardcore brews, this time it’s Gold Label Very Strong Special Beer.
Gold Label can
Gold Label Barley Wine Special Beer 4 pack

I chose this as my next foray into super-strong beers and lagers because it looked to be classier than the tall and notorious cans. Yet rougher than the elegant and European Duvel. We’ll see soon enough whether I’m right with that guess or not.

These are available in four-packs from Tesco or individually from some corner shops. At between £4-5 for the four-pack, they’re not cheap. They’re also not big. One of the reasons these cans stand out, is for their size. They’re the same as ordinary soft-drink cans. Here’s a regular Dr. Pepper next to them for scale…
Gold Label Barley Wine Special Beer compared to another can

The gold colour helps these cans to stand out too. Though oddly, the Gold Label typeface is white, and on a red banner label. Maybe it should be called Red Label On A Gold Background instead?
Gold Label Barley Wine Special Beer front logo

The front is puzzling. It says “The No. 1 Barley Wine”. Yet doesn’t say anywhere on it what it is “No. 1” for. The Number one most confusing label perhaps? And barley wine. What the hell is that? It says right above it “strong beer”. If you know the answer behind this mystery, do please leave a comment.

Rotating the can around doesn’t answer many questions. But it does give you the basic facts. The “Alcohol 8.5% vol.” for instance is very clear. It’s also fractionally less than Duvel‘s 8.6%, but less than the ASBO inducing tall cans of lager.
Gold Label Barley Wine Special Beer info side of can

Also on that ‘side’ of the label, we learn where this came from. And that place is InBev UK brewery in Luton. Not somewhere you usually associate with fine beverages. But an excellent place to catch an Easyjet flight to Spain. Back to the can, just above the labels warning you to drink responsibly, the ingredients are given as including malted barley and wheat.
Gold Label Barley Wine Special Beer barcode side of can

Over on the barcode side of the can, things are kept equally simple. The can is recyclable. It crams in 2.8 UK units of alcohol. It is best stored in a cool dry place. And…. That’s it. No lengthy articles about awards won or tales from the head brewer. Clearly this is a beer to be drank, not read. So let’s not delay that any further.

Gold Label Barley Wine Special Beer in a glass
I should have learnt this by now… 330 millilitres does not fit a half-pint glass. Not that this will bother most buyers of this drink who are likely to swig from the can before pestering passers by for change.

The colour is where the “Gold” of the name makes its appearance. It reminded me somewhat of Irn-Bru. Or a light bitter. Not much head on it though.

Normally when I do these, the smell doesn’t warrant much of a description. But in this case, it does. Gold Label has the strongest barley smell I’ve yet witnessed. And it’s not pleasant. It is almost like a warning of what is to come.

The taste is strong. There was no false advertising on this can. This is a strong beer in every sense. The pungent barley and wheat smell carries straight over to the taste. And the sour aftertaste is the sourest and strongest I’ve had so far.

As I worked through the small but powerful can, I found myself wincing and cringing. In the way you do after you’ve had a drink that’s stronger than you’re used to. The whole experience reminded me of what it was like trying beers as a youngster. When everything you try is the strongest and most revolting thing you’ve ever tried. Yet, you keep coming back to it. That is what it was like for me with Gold Label.

This is not an easily drinkable drink. I was glad the cans weren’t the normal gigantic size. But I liked being reminded of what it was like trying beers years ago.

I’m not far into this test of the strongest beers and lagers, so I don’t have much to compare it too. But right now, if I wanted something potent, I’d want either the beautifully drinkable Duvel or a strong Scottish ale. Gold Label is strong. But my hypothesis was right. It’s a rough, tough drink. Not for the faint hearted.

Rating: 2.25 but higher if I were an alcoholic or used to strong beers and lagers.

Have you tried Gold Label? What did you think?
Any recommendations of your own? Or suggestions for anything you would like me to review next?
Comments, compliments and insults in the usual place…

Beer Review: Broughton Champion Double Ale

14 March, 2008

WHAT do we have here? It turns out that Tesco was holding back on one of their batch of Scottish ales. Because here, we have another Broughton beer from the Borders. And this one promises to be something special.
Broughton Champion Double Ale bottle

If you haven’t read my reviews of Broughton Old Jock or Black Douglas, then you should do it now. They were both good, and the bottles and labels looked the same at this one. That saves me time on the description here so we can get to the contents faster.

The front label sticks to the ultra-Scottish theme of before. The roundel is surrounded by illustrations of hops and the Saltaire. Unlike Old Jock or Black Douglas however, the centre illustration isn’t as stereotypically Scottish. The medieval knights could be from anywhere. I expect my Scots to be red-haired and wearing tartan.
Broughton Champion Double Ale front label

But look closely enough and you’ll see what makes this one different to the others. Tucked away at the bottom of the front label, it says “Tesco Drinks Awards Best Beer”. That and the 5.5% ABV give the impression that this should be a cut above the rest.

Presumably, the fact that there are two knights, and that this brew is called Double Ale have a connection. Let’s see what the rest of the label says…
Broughton Champion Double Ale back left label

Around left-hand-side of the big label that is wrapped around the bottle, we get the explanation. And it’s a long-one, so allow me to attempt a summary. The two knights on the front label are supposed to be Sir Alexander Ramsey of Dalhousie and Sir William Douglas, Knight of Liddesdale. They were very good at what they did, and were popular with King David of Scotland in the 14th Century.

This legend, Boughton have twisted to explain this, their blend of two beers. Hence the name Champion Double Ale. What they have done is blend a traditional strong Scottish ale with a Porter style ale. Apparently, they brew and ferment them separately, before blending and maturing the result.

They go on the promise drinkability with complex tastes and aromas. I’ll take a guess that the result will be malty, hoppy and unusual. Place your bets now on how close that guess is, because it’s time to open the bottle. Especially as there’s nothing much to note on the other side of the label. Apart from the 2.5 units of alcohol. If that’s something you like to notice.
Broughton Champion Double Ale in a glass

Once in the glass, the head is just where you want it to be. And the colour is about what you’d expect. Not that I really knew what to expect.

The smell is what you’d expect. Mostly of malt and hops. It’s exactly how you’d expect a big old ale to smell. Although maybe not as remarkable as I’d been hoping.

As you’d expect from a split-personality blended ale, the flavour is complex. It’s a big malty. It’s a bit malty. It has a bitterness and sourness to the taste and aftertaste. It has all these things. Yet none dominate the others. And that’s unusual. Because most that I’ve tried have one that towers over the others.

It might not sound it, but Champion Double Ale tastes quite good. Nothing in there is too strong to offend all but the most timid palates. It’s not too gassy. And there’s enough body to fill out its 500 millilitre bottle nicely. Add to that, the easy to drink quality that Broughton do so well, and we’ve got a beer here that is undoubtedly above average. But is it deserving of Champion, Best Beer status?

There is a lot to like about Champion Double Ale. But would I give it a Best Beer award? I’m not sure. There are a lot of special British beers out there. I’m going to say that Champion Double Ale is very very good, but the sour aftertaste puts me off. So I’m going to say that this is excellent, but some people out there will want to look for something easier to drink. I’d give this a very close Runner Up award. But don’t be disappointed Broughton, this is an outstanding ale.

Rating: 4.4

Have you tried Champion Double Ale?
Or any other Broughton ales?
Got any recommendations? Or ideas of your own for what I should talk about next?
Comments in the usual place, people…

Beer Review: Hoegaarden – The Original Belgian White Beer

11 March, 2008

Since I started this blog, I’ve been wanting to review this. I first tried it a month or two before I started reviewing beers here, and have been longing for the excuse of a review to try it again. This is, Hoegaarden white beer. Produced by the massive InBev, and available from every off-licence and supermarket in the UK for between £1.09 and £1.29.
Hoegaarden bottle

One of the first things you notice about this bottle are that everything on it is in three languages. Just like Leffe, another Belgian beer, this bottle repeats itself more times than an old episodes of Friends.

Forunately, it doesn’t cram in too much detail, so the third of the bottle taken up with English information is minimal. The label up by the neck gives a date of 1445. Although it doesn’t mention what that date refers to. A clue is also up there on the label hinting at what makes Hoegaarden different. That this is “Unfiltered, naturally cloudy”. And yes, if you look carefully enough at the bottle, you’ll see bits floating around in there. What the technical differences are, I don’t know. But I do know that orange juice with bits in is better than smooth orange juice. Maybe the same holds true of beer?
Hoegaarden Wit Bier neck label

Down on the main front label, all the important details are there. That this is a 330 millilitre bottle. What the heck is that in pints? And who the heck asks for 330 millilitre of drink? It is Belgian, so perhaps that explains it. Also on there is that this has a decent 4.9% alcohol volume. With a silver background, logo consisting of two arms holding staffs and very Germanic looking writing, Hoegaarden is terrific. If you want a north-west continental European beer, this looks the part.
Hoegaarden Wit Bier front label

On the back label, it takes a few moments to find the right language. With that done, the information is mostly concise and helpful. That this will be “delicious” and “refreshing”. And that it is “naturally cloudy” and brewed to a “unique recipe”. All very good. And the sort of thing you want your premium continental beer to be. They also, kindly for a continental beer, include the UK units of alcohol. I don’t know if they’re compelled to do that, so it’s good to see it on there. It’s 1.7 units by the way.
Hoegaarden Wit Bier back label

But then, on the right-hand side of the label, it all becomes a bit unusual. You see, in four little panels, it explains how Hoegaarden should be poured. That it takes four panels gives you an idea of how involved it is. First, one must rinse the glass into which Hoegaarden will be poured. Then, the first half of the bottle may be poured. Then the remainder of the bottle’s contents, swirled. Before the final half of the bottle is poured into the glass. I think it has something to do with the natural cloudiness and not wanting to leave the bits stuck at the bottom of the bottle.
Hoegaarden Wit Bier pouring instructions

For the purposes of this review, I carefully went through all those steps. The mistake I made however, was in using a half-pint glass. Those infuriating European measures left a big portion of the bottle’s contents, still in the bottle. What did make it into the glass however, did have a good head to it. And yes, it is cloudy. Cloudier and more opaque than any other beer I’ve yet tried, but not as opaque as some darker ales and stouts.
Hoegaarden Wit Bier in a glass

On the nose, how can I sum it up? Put it this way, I’d buy an air-freshener that smelled the same. It smells delicious. Rich and malty. With some other qualities I can’t quite place.

And that classiness mostly carries over to the taste. It is malty, but not to the same extent as Leffe Blond(e) Beer. Although, maybe because of it’s Belgian origins, it has some of the same qualities. Instead, it’s a little malty, but not at all heavy. It’s light and yes, refreshing too.

Also in the flavour are hints of the barley and wheat. And if you’re wandering, no, you can’t tell that there are bits in there while you’re drinking it. What makes a change is that there’s barely a hint of bitteness in the taste. I’d say it’s sweeter and creamier than almost every other beer I’ve yet tried.

Downsides? It can be somewhat gassy. Although some of that comes down to how it’s poured. And the quirky character might not be to everyone’s tastes. The bottle is also too small. If think you’ll might like this, buy the bigger bottle instead.

For me, Hoegaarden is another Belgian winner. It might be brewed by the faceless InBev, but Hoegaarden has a unique personality. It looks different to most others. It smells right. And it’s quite simply creamier, sweeter and more refreshing than almost everything else on the market.

Rating: 4.6

The biggest question for me now is, how does Hoegaarden compare to the other white beers out there? At least two other white beers are stocked by my local Tesco, so I’ll be sure to try those in coming weeks and let you know.

Have you tried Hoegaarden? What did you think?
Maybe you’ve got recommendations of your own?
Or your own ideas about what I could turn my critical eye towards. Go on. Suggest something in the Comments section below.

Beer Review: Broughton Black Douglas

8 March, 2008

THE last beer from this Scottish batch is Broughton Black Douglas. After enjoying Broughton Old Jock so much, I’m looking forward to this. As Broughton have stuck to many of the same conventions for this bottle, as they did with Old Jock, now would be a good time for you to read that review for more detail.
Broughton Black Douglas bottle

As is plainly visible, Broughton have stuck to the formula of having a more Scottish than thou label. Besides the illustrations of hops, are two Soltaires. And in the roundel itself, is Black Douglas himself. Someone who is most certainly not black. Presumably the rest of the label will shed some light on this. Maybe it was a nickname?
Broughton Black Douglas front label

Also on the front is the ABV, which for this beer, is 5.2%. Quite reasonable for such an typically priced 500 millilitre bottle from Tesco.

Like before, they’ve used one big label wrapped around the bottle. And it’s the segment to the left of the logo that has the story.
Broughton Black Douglas back left label

In a concise little statement, we learn that this is a “dark ruby traditional ale with soft full crystal malt flavour”. I’ve had mixed results with ruby ales recently, but this one comes from Broughton, so I reckon it’s worth having an open-mind. The label goes on to explain that it is named after Sir James Douglas. A knight and trusted friend of Robert the Bruce. As well as inspiring the character behind the beer, Broughton have also taken him up as a mascot because of his links to the Scottish border country.

On the other side of the big wrap-around label, we have the details.
Broughton Black Douglas back right label

Among the details are the number of units. Which for Black Douglas are 2.5. And the ingredients which are water, malted barley, hops and yeast. All very typical. But how good is it?

Poured into a glass, the first thing that hits you is the head. The head of this beer will give you a Glasgow kiss as it leaps out of the glass and attacks you. Alternatively, what my photo shows, is not how to pour it. Look at how misshapen the head is. Don’t worry, it died down enough to drink after a few minutes.
Broughton Black Douglas poured into a glass

To smell, Black Douglas is one of the maltiest I’ve smelt yet. Almost as much as dark ale/stout. But not the same way as Leffe Blond(e) Beer. This smells rich and malty, but also as if it has plenty of other things tucked in there.

Now the most important part… the taste. First impressions are that it’s as close as you can get to a dark ale or stout, without actually being one. And that is a good thing, as I’m not too taken by stouts or dark ales. A couple of gulps on, and the ruby ale elements begin to show. That soft bitterness and maltiness are the flavours that you notice most. What I liked was that it wasn’t too bitter. Or too sour. Or too full-on in any way. Black Douglas named after a medieval knight, isn’t as rough as you’d expect. It’s quite the opposite. This is a gentle, soft and easy to drink ruby ale.

Black Douglas is a surprise. I didn’t expect it to be the way that it is. But that’s ok, since the way that it is, is very high-quality. It could easily have been too strong and unpleasant. But it isn’t. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the flavours and style it has, it carries them off with class and drinkability.

Rating: 4.25

That makes two out of two for me, when it comes to Broughton. Looking forward to trying some more of theirs some day.

Have you tried Black Douglas? Or any other Broughton beers and ales? Then leave a comment on your thoughts, insults and ramblings in the usual place.

Beer Review: Harviestoun Schiehallion Lager Beer

7 March, 2008

THE penultimate Scottish beer of this batch of Scottish beers from Tesco is Harviestoun‘s Schiehallion Lager Beer. After trying Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted a couple of weeks ago, I’m looking forward to Schiehallion. Even if it is a lager.
Harviestoun Schiehallion bottle

For the front label and bottle shape, Harviestoun have stuck to the same formula for Schiehallion as they did with Bitter & Twisted. There’s a clear and well designed roundel. An illustration, this time of mountains and clouds. An ABV of 4.8% which makes this a premium lager. Those tantalising words “Craft brewed in Alva, Scotland” and three clear bullet points about what to expect. That is to say; “Crisp”, “Dry” and “Airy”.
Harviestoun Schiehallion Lager Beer front label

The rear label is also an example of restraint and class. And one that answers all the questions you have after seeing the front. The band across the middle gives us the pronunciation for “Schiehallion”. A name I thought was German. But is in fact pronounced “She-hal-i-on”. If you try saying it with a Scottish accent, it begins to make sense. And yet more sense when you read the description above it. It turns out that Scheihallion is the Scottish mountain of the front label illustration. And the inspiration for this apparently award-winning beer. What award it won, we’re not told.
Harviestoun Schiehallion Lager Beer back label

The information doesn’t stop there however. This one mentions a type of hops that I’ve never seen mentioned on any other bottle. Has anyone ever heard of “Herbsbrücker Lager hops” before? How are they different? Answers in the comments please.

How Harviestoun describe Schiehallion is “crisp, dry and airy” and with a “fresh, grapefruit taste”. Sounds delicious. Let’s see if it actually is.

Other off bits of information on the label include the suggestion that Schiehallion is best straight from the fridge. And that this 500 millilitre bottle has 2.4 of your UK alcohol units. If you’re drinking this in another country, don’t worry about ignoring the “units” symbol. We ignore them too.

Once in a glass, Schiehallion looks and smells lagery. It’s gold in colour and with not much head.
Harviestoun Schiehallion Lager Beer in a glass

And it smells typically lagery as well. There’s no mistaking that waft of hops that you only get with lager. The smell that I think, isn’t as good as with ale.

Now the most important part. The taste. And the question of whether it matches the description on the label. Let’s test…

A couple of gulps down, and it’s tasting as much like lager as it looks and smells. That is to say, it’s utterly lagery. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by the number of quality ales I’ve been drinking lately, but all lagers are starting to seem as full-flavoured as an Alka-Seltzer. Or perhaps I’m being harsh on it. It’s not pretending to be anything other than a quality lager.

After you recover from the bitterness that accompanies all lagers, you can begin to appreciate it a little more. The quality does shine through in the drinkability. It’s not too gassy and easy to drink. And I can’t argue with the description of crisp, dry and airy. As for the promised citrus or grapefruit taste, I found it hard to identify. What dominated for me was watery hoppy bitterness. But that’s lager for you. If you know your lagers, you’ll probably be able to pick out exactly what the flavours are.

For me, Schiehallion was nice, refreshing lager. Was it special? I’m not sure if it truly did anything new. But it was a quality lager. And if you like lagers, you’ll probably like this one. If, like me, you’ve been enjoying beers and ales with fuller bodies than Vanessa Feltz, you’ll prefer something that mentions styrian goldings and fuggles on the label.

For these reasons, I’ve got to rate Schiehallion low. But it gains some marks for it’s obvious class among lagers. And if you like your lager, you can add a point or two yourself.

Rating: 3.25

Agree or disagree with my rating?
Have you tried Schiehallion or any other Harviestoun brew?
Any recommendations of your own?
Or ideas of what I should review next?

Share your comments and insults with the world, in the usual place…

Beer Review: The Marlow Brewery Rebellion Red

6 March, 2008

The next Scottish beer review is… not Scottish at all. When I picked up The Marlow Brewery‘s Rebellion Red from the batch of Scottish ales at Tesco, I logically assumed that it was Scottish. Who wouldn’t when it’s placed next to a bottle of Orkney Brewery Red MacGregor and named something that the Scot’s are and like doing.
Rebellion Red bottle

It may be confusing, yet you can’t accuse the front label of over doing it. In the contrary, it keeps it simple. And the black background of the label matches the colour of the bottle, giving it a very stylish look. And it should do to, as this is one heck of a premium priced 500 millilitre bottle, priced over £1.70 from my local Tesco. As it’s “A.B.V. 4.5%” is fairly tame, it must make up for it in flavour. One last thing about the front label is it left me confused about what to call it. Is that Red Rebellion in the sense of a Communist revolt? Or Rebellion Red that doesn’t make much sense?
The Marlow Brewery Rebellion Red front label

That confusion carried over to the compact and concise rear label. Headed with “The Marlow Brewery”, “Rebellion” and “Red” I was puzzled as to who the brewery is and what they’ve called this beer. Skipping down to the bottle finally answered my questions. “Brewed by Rebellion Beer Company” “Marlow Brewery, Bencombe Farm” “Carlow Bottom, Bucks.” Plus the web address www.rebellionbeer.co.uk. Let’s see if I’ve got this right… This beer is called Red. It is brewed by Rebellion Beer Company at The Marlow Brewery. The Brewery is NOT in Scotland, but in Marlow Bottom in Buckinghamshire, England. Maybe I’m being dim-witted, or maybe things could be made a little clearer. What do you think?
The Marlow Brewery Rebellion Red back label

After that session of brain training, we’re treated to a concise little description about the beer. Concise, apart from the marketing-speak, likening this beer to an artists palette. Apparently, we are to expect a beer redder than any we’ve seen yet. Amber, crystal and roasted malts it says, will see to that. From the taste, it tells us to expect maltiness and citrus fruit. Appetising, but so so. It’s not exactly original. They do go on however, to mention “Goldings, Fuggles and Cascade hops.” I don’t know what any of that means, but those words are usually on the labels of beers that taste good. So I figure Red is worth trying with an open mind. Lastly, they suggest serving at between 6 and 12 degree centigrade. I’ll just have to guess that that’s what my fridge will be.

In a glass, it does look reddish. Not soft drink or bloody mary red. More a dark shade of gold. Reddish, but not the blood red sunset sky I was expecting. The head was disappointing. Disappointing because their wasn’t one.
The Marlow Brewery Rebellion Red in a glass

On the nose, Red is utterly inoffensive. A light malted barley smell. Gentle and pleasant. But it doesn’t stand out.

The smell is matched almost exactly by the taste. Which happens also to be pleasant and gentle malted barley. But with a hint of something citrus in there too. Very mildly bitter, the name Red is starting to make sense. That’s because, I think, this is a Ruby Ale. It just doesn’t say so anywhere. Am I right? Leave a comment if you’ve tried Red.

Working through the bottle was easy. Red isn’t at all gassy. It’s also very easy to drink. There are downsides however. The strength is one of them. 4.5% isn’t high. And the experience is watery. This isn’t full-bodied. Where some ales almost have the consistency of molten lead, Red is more like soda-stream. Not very bubbly flavouring added to water. With that said, Red is drinkable and pleasant. I grew to quite liked it.

So what is Red all about? How can I sum it up? And does it do anything unique? I’d have to say that Red fills the gap of a light and easily accessible ruby ale. And that’s a good niche to fill. It has its downsides. The price is one of them. But overall, there’s more to like about this bottle and dislike.

Rating: 3.9

Have you tried Red or any other Rebellion beers/ales?
Or do you have any recommendations of your own?
If so, leave a comment!

Beer Review: Belhaven 80 Shilling Classic Choice Export Ale

5 March, 2008

AFTER taking a day off to recover from several arduous days of beer reviewing, I’m back. And this time, I’m looking at a bottle of Belhaven 80 Shilling Classic choice. Again, this is from the Scottish ale batch being sold by my local Bethnal Green branch of Tesco.
Belhaven 80 Shilling bottle

This front label keeps things relatively simple. Inside the roundel, there’s a picture of a lion. One that looks like a take on the lion from the Royal Standard of Scotland.
Belhaven 80 Shilling Classic Choice Export Ale front label

There’s a discreet “estd.” of “1719” which is very early indeed. Also a hint that this Belhaven is part of a range that they call “Classic Beer”.

On the other side of he bottle, there’s a surprisingly small back label. Surprising when you compare it to the encyclopaedia’s on the back of some of the bottles I’ve looked at recently.

The rear label is headed with “Belhaven 80/- Export Ale”. This baffled me at first, until I realised that “/-” means shilling in old money. Nice quirky touch. This they followed with the reason why. According to the label, shillings were used to categorise beer strength in nineteenth-century Scotland. This beer just happens to be 80, rather than 27 or 7 guineas. Interesting history trivia for a beer label.

Also on there is a little description of what to expect from it. And it’s good news if you’re a fan of fruity beers. This one was one described as “gooseberry pie and cream”. “Kiwi”, “apple”. “walnuts” and “creamy toffee” are mentioned along with more typical “grain” and “hops”. And when they say “take time to savour the flavour”, you know that they think this will be good. We’ll be the judge of that…

On the more factual half of the rear label, we get all the basics. One of which is an unusually low 3.9% volume. Compared to the 5% and above of most other ales I’ve tried recently, this is low. What it means is that this 500 millilitre bottle has just 1.95 units of your alcohol.

With that out of the way, it’s time to see what this ale from The Belhaven Brewery Co. from Dunbar, Scotland, can do. I’m looking forward to this.

Once in a glass, it looks a little darker than I was expecting. Although it’s more transparent than some of the darker and stronger ales I’ve recently reviewed. It also comes topped with a thick and consistent head of foam.

Its smell I would rate as ale-like. Not surprising as that’s exactly what it is. Hops and grain are what comes across in the smell. And as that’s what ale should smell like, in my humble opinion, that gets 80 shilling off to a good start.

Trying to drink it will give you a milk-like moustache. So ready yourself for that. Or don’t care about it. It’s your choice.

As I had almost no idea what to expect from the taste, I was, unsurprisingly, surprised. It wasn’t bitter. It wasn’t fruity. Nor flowery. The apple and kiwi, if they truly are in there, weren’t strong enough for me to notice. As for the promised walnuts and toffee, they don’t jump out at you either. What then, does 80 shilling taste of?

If pushed, I’d say hops and malted barley. Yet neither are much in evidence either. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the ultra-flavourful ales that I’ve been reviewing recently. Or maybe 80 shilling simply isn’t a strong beer. The character reminded me most of lagers where you notice the watery-ness. And that might be down to the low 3.9% alcohol volume.

What is 80 shilling all about? It’s an ale that’s light and easy to drink. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of true flavour, body and character that makes ales so much fun. If you want something that looks, smells and tastes somewhat like an ale, you’ll like Bellhaven 80 shilling. I however, am looking for something that doesn’t comprise so much. That said, I like drinks that achieve something different. By being light, low-alcohol and drinkable, 80 shilling does just that.

Rating: 3.25

Have you tried this or any other Belhaven beers? What did you think?
Have you got any tips for beers to try?
Or want me to review anything else?
Comments below please…

Beer Review: Atlas Brewery Three Sisters Scottish Ale

3 March, 2008

AFTER yesterday’s satisfying Scottish strong ale, I’m now on to another Scottish ale from my local Tesco. This one is called Three Sisters and it’s the first beer that I’ve tried from the Atlas Brewery. Or is it?
Bottle of Atlas Brewery Three Sisters

You see, it turns out that Orkney Brewery and Atlas Brewery are both part of Sinclair Breweries Limited. How similar Three Sisters will be to Red MacGregor, Dark Island or Northern Light we will discover soon enough.

Going by the front label, Three Sisters certainly stands out. The typeface and pink-ness make sure that the Three Sisters aren’t shrinking violets. The 4.2% volume is clearly visible, as are some statements that remind me of Orkney’s labels. Specifically the “Brewed in small batches” reference. Like I’ve said before, that’s the sort of thing you like to read about your ale. Reference to huge vats and massive volume are to be avoided.
Atlas Brewery Three Sisters Scottish Ale front label

In the place of the ‘authenticity stamp’ favoured by Orkney and some other Scottish brewers, we have something more straight to the point. We learn that it will be “dark ruby” in colour. And that it will have “roast malt”, “fruity” and “hop” flavours.

The rear label is big and crams a lot of information on. Prominently placed is the symbol telling us that this 500 millilitre bottle contains 2.1 units. If that’s something you waste your time counting.
Atlas Brewery Three Sisters Scottish Ale back label

The right-hand side of the rear label mentions a couple of other Atlas beers. The left-hand side gives us the story. That the Three Sisters are in fact three peaks of Glen Coe. Somewhere that is presumably not far from their Kinlochleven address. The last thing to note on the rear label is that they use Styrian Golding hops. These are for fruitiness and a crisp aftertaste. Let’s see whether it is, as we open the bottle…

Once in the glass, it did look every so slightly red. Although I was expecting a little redder. The head was good an frothy, but it died down a lot moments after I had taken this photograph.
Atlas Brewery Three Sisters Scottish Ale in a glass

If, unlike me, you take a lot of time to smell your beer, you’ll probably enjoy the complex mixture of malt, hoppiness and fruits all muddled together. Fans of Scottish ales and those on the darker end of the ale spectrum will probably like this smell. For me though, it’s a little strong.

The taste and flavour are satisfyingly full and strong. The first tastes that hit me were the malt and the bitter. But it manages the avoid most of the bitter and sour aftertaste that accompanies a lot of the ales I have been trying recently. As I worked my was through, it was evident that this wasn’t a gassy drink. Although it did get a burp out of me.

I was rather overwhelmed with the first few glugs, but half-way through, I must have started to get used to it. This must be one of those ales that grows on you. For an ale, it is also surprisingly refreshing. Possibly down to it’s “Purest Highland Water”, or the low-ish alcohol volume, I was surprised at how easy it was to drink.

At the start of the bottle, I must admit, I had doubts. There was the hint on the label of Ruby Ale characteristics which put me off. The smell was a bit off-putting for me. And the bitterness of the first couple of gulps weren’t that promising. But after those hurdles, Three Sisters turned into a rewarding ale. Good flavour, high quality and drinkable all came through in the end. Quite an unexpected turnaround.

Recommended for fans of Scottish ales and for beer drinkers wanting an easy introduction to them. People less keen on strong-ish maltiness and bitterness might want to look elsewhere.

Rating: 4

Have you tried Three Sisters? What did you think?
How about the other Atlas Brewery beers?
Any recommendations of your own?
Comments in the comments section as usual.


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