Archive for April, 2008

Beer Review: Gaymer Ice Dragon Extra Strength White Cider

30 April, 2008

YESTERDAY’S introduction to strong, white cider in the form of Gaymer Diamond White wasn’t great. It wasn’t as delicious, nor as strong as Gaymer’s other strong cider, K. What I need to try are more white ciders. Which brings me to the next in my strong, white cider round-up, Gaymer Ice Dragon.

Gaymer Ice Dragon Extra Strength White Cider can

This tall, 500 millilitre can was purchased from my local off-licence for very little money. It used to be 440 milliltres. But they’ve used the old trick of adding 13.5% to make it the same gigantic size as the other alcoholics favourites.

The front of the can doesn’t give away who made it. Just like K and Diamond White, whoever is behind is keen to hide their name. And they do it well. What with the unusual, mostly blue colour scheme and red dragon logo, it stands out.

Under the solid blue and “Ice Dragon” logo, is a frosted, icey snow flake blue background. On top of which, are the basics. Namely the description of “White Cider”. A pill shaped red blob telling us that this has the typical 7.5% volume. And the words “Extra Strength”. In case you didn’t know that 7.5% alcohol volume is quite a lot for a cider. I like the way this can looks. It’s too colourful and cheerful be an alcoholics choice. Instead, it looks to be trying to be the student party cider of choice.

Turn the can around enough times, and you reach the details side of the can. Everything, or at least the details they decide to give you, are here. All in high-contrast and readably sized lettering. Thank goodness for that. After a few weeks of needing to squint to read the labels, its good to have things printed clearly and in a readable size.

Gaymer Ice Dragon Extra Strength White Cider details side of can

It may be readable. But that doesn’t mean that there’s much to read. From the top, it starts with the uninspired “Serve Chilled”. Under that, we learn that this has 3.8 UK units of alcohol. Which if you didn’t know, is a lot. You really wouldn’t want more than that amount each day.

Under that is the terse description and ingredients of “White Cider with Sugar and Sweetener Contains Sulphites”. Maybe they’re supposed to be two or more different sentences? With nothing else even approaching a sentence printed on the can, you’ll have to look elsewhere for reading material while drinking Dragon Ice.

Like Diamond White and K, the manufacturer isn’t madly keen on being identified. You have to find the postal address to find out that this is, once again, the output of one Gaymer Cider Company. The same one, of Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England who hid behind Diamond White and K. Are we going to discover that every white cider brand out there is owned by these chaps?

As for what to expect, I’m guessing that it will be a lot like Diamond White. Why shouldn’t it be? It’s white cider and it’s from the same company. Either way, it’s time to find out.

Poured into a glass, and first impressions are that it’s identical to Diamond White. It’s just as fizzy and just as pale.

Gaymer Ice Dragon Extra Strength White Cider poured into a glass

The smell is almost exactly the same, too. That is to say, it smells of synthetic apples. All in all, not a great start.

A couple of gulps in however, and it does start to redeem itself. It does taste a little more of apples that did Diamond White. And that refreshing apple aftertaste seems to stay a little longer. On the other hand, it could just be my imagination, and it’s no different at all. There isn’t much in it. It’s still very very similar.

It’s just as light, easy to drink and quite refreshing. But on the other hand, it hasn’t got much taste. Or the apple-y refreshment that you expect from cider.

If you asked me to recommend either Diamond White or Ice Dragon over one another, I would be hard pressed to come up with a winner. They’re both equally cheap, tasteless and strong.

If you are a student who is trying to decide whether to buy Diamond White or Ice Dragon, pick either. Or pick the cheapest. Or pick something else entirely. K is about as cheap, stronger and tastier. Or pick a beer, spirit or wine instead. There aren’t many reasons to recommend this.

As a consequence, it scores exactly the same mark as yesterday’s white cider.

Rating: 2.95

Have you tried Ice Dragon or any other of Gaymer’s many ciders? What did you think?
As usual, recommendations, ideas, suggestions and corrections in the comments box please.
Check back tomorrow for my next white cider review. How much worse can they get? Or will the next one surprise us all?

Advertisements

Beer Review: Gaymer Diamond White Strong White Cider

29 April, 2008

A FEW weeks ago, during my look at super-high-strength lagers and ciders, Gaymer K was the big surprise. It was very strong at 8.4% volume, tasty, drinkable and cheap. This, I followed up with a few days ago with Strongbow Super. At 7.5%, it was a weaker. And because it was a dry cider, it wasn’t as drinkable. But it was still cheap.

Next to them on the shop shelves however is another type of strong cider. The White Ciders. All at 7.5% volume, I’ve rounded up three strong, white, ciders. The first of which is a little bottle of Diamond White.

Gaymer Diamond White Strong White Cider bottle

The bottle isn’t unusual in shape. But it is quite small. And there doesn’t appear to be much on the labels.

The neck label keeps things simple with only the word “Strong” beneath an illustration of a diamond. That says it all really.

Gaymer Diamond White Strong White Cider neck label

The main front label doesn’t have much on it either. But it’s still the place to look for the details.

Gaymer Diamond White Strong White Cider front label

The blue background and stylised “Diamond” and “White” lettering looks good. “Strong” is still very prominent. And the 7.5% is neatly positioned to stand out. There’s also the words “Drink Cold” next to what looks like the sort of star symbol that you see on freezers. Not sure if that means you should store it in a freezer or just a fridge.

The back label doesn’t have an awful lot on it either. In fact, it’s mostly barcode with little bits of text around the edges. You get the impression that if they didn’t need a barcode, there would be no back label whatsoever. It really is little larger than a postage stamp.

Gaymer Diamond White Strong White Cider back label

Prominently positioned next to the Diamond White logo is the units of alcohol symbol. 2.1 for this little bottle. And the smallness of the bottle is confirmed by the label. It is only 275 millilitres. Unusually small, this is the first bottle I’ve seen that has this odd capacity. Also on the back label, it describes itself as “Strong White Cider”. It contains sugar, sweeteners and contains sulphites. Just like every other cider. Yet I’m no clearer on what sulphites are.

There’s still little indication of who is behind Diamond White. Hold on… what is that I see in tiny lettering beneath the barcode? It’s the postal address and name of the manufacturer. I wander who it is? Well stone me, it’s Gaymer again! The same Gaymer Cider Company of Shepton Mallet, Sumerset, England who were behind the excellent K. And if I remember, they were keen on hiding their identity on that cider too. This hints at two things. First, that Gaymer really doesn’t want to be associated with strong ciders. And two, if K was anything to go by, Diamond White will be pretty good. Time to find out.

Pouring it, the reason for the unusual 275 millilitre amount becomes clear: it filled my half-pint glass nicely. The other thing that stood out were how many bubbles were rapidly rising to the surface. So many, and so violently, they cause a quite loud fizzing sound. The last thing that strikes me, is how it looks. It’s a very weak shade of yellow for a cider. Although that could be down to it being a white cider. Until I’ve tried some others, it’s not clear if it’s unusually light in shade or not.

Gaymer Diamond White Strong White Cider poured into a glass

The smell is good though. A light and apple-y smell accompanies Diamond White. But there is something synthetic about the way it smells. Rather like it’s sister cider, K.

A couple of gulps down, and it’s clear that white cider, or Diamond White at least, is a different animal to ordinary cider. It tastes less of apples. And minus the full-flavoured, full-body that I love about cider of the non-white variety. Diamond White is… well… rather watery.

As a cider, this makes it hard to judge. With the tiny amount I’ve had so far, I’d say that it’s somewhere between a dry and a sweet cider. Although I could be wrong on that call.

There are some cider-like qualities still present however. It does taste a little of apples. And, especially when cold, it is quite refreshing. It’s also very easy to drink. And surprisingly, despite how fizzy it is, I didn’t end up burping. Which was a relief.

But I’m not impressed. It doesn’t have the lingering, apple-y, refreshing aftertaste that cider should have. It doesn’t have much taste or flavour at all. And it’s not all that potent either, if that’s what you’re after.

At the end of my glass of Diamond White, I’ve hit upon what white cider is all about. Assuming that Diamond White sums up what the category is all about. Diamond White, or white cider in general is the strong lager of the cider world. Like strong lagers to ales, Diamond White hasn’t got much taste or flavour. But it is strong. And this one is easy to drink, easy to buy and cheap. But, it isn’t as strong, or as delicious as, for example, K. And that makes Diamond White and the other white ciders a puzzle about what their purpose is. With two more white ciders to go in this round-up, there’s still time to figure it out.

Rating: 2.95

What is Diamond White and the phenomenon that is white cider all about? If you’re tried Diamond White or the other white ciders, leave a comment with your thoughts, opinions, ideas, corrections and suggestions.

Beer Review: Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale

28 April, 2008

THIS one has been in my sights for a while. Regularly stocked at Tesco, this is a modestly priced bottle from a fairly local brewer in Kent.

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale bottle

What with the large, wide base, and long thin neck, the bottles from this brewer stand out on the shelf. It’s the giraffe of beer bottles. It’s also completely transparent glass, revealing the dark liquid within.

The neck label looks very promising indeed. We all know that age and heritage are no guarantees of quality. But it’s still nice to know that it’s from a brewer that can trace its history back to a Mesolithic tribe. This one doesn’t go quite that far, back, but it does claim to be Britain’s oldest brewer. And that counts for something.

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale neck label

The date “1698” is proudly displayed. As is an “Over 300 Years” banner running across it. Underneath that, is the nearly as prominently named origin of Faversham, Kent.

The main front label keeps things simple and traditional. And purple. It’s an unusual colour scheme, but purple is the colour scheme of Biships Finger. Fortunately, it doesn’t detract too much. The text is stylised, yet readable. The 1698 date is proudly displayed again

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale front label

But what is that text across the top of the label? The text “Shepherd Neame” is unusual. But with no other indication of the brewers identity, Shepherd Neame is, presumably, it. On the bottom part of the roundel, we’re told that this is “Kentish Strong Ale”. Strong ales are good ales in my book. How the Kentish origin changes that, is something I’m looking forward to discovering.

On the other side of the bottle is a long with label. And that label is split between the ‘story’ text and the small print details.

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale back label

The ‘story’ opens by telling us that the original Bishops Finger was a Kentish signpost, pointing the way to Canterbury. And that this particular ale dates back to 1958. Apparently celebrating the end of malt rationing. An essential ingredient if you intend to brew your ale strongly.

Then the eccentricity of Shepherd Neame kicks in. Bizarrely, Bishops Finger is produced according to a “Charter”. This stipulates that it may only be brewed on Friday’s, by the Head Brewer with local, Kentish barley malt, hops and water from their well. Crikey. What the benefits of this are, I’m not entirely certain, but I hope it’s reflected in the taste and drinkability.

The last of the paragraphs of small, white text talks about the fact that this is the first beer in the UK to have been awarded Protective Geographical Indication status by the EU. And that’s important. It means nothing else can claim to be a Kentish strong ale. In the same way that only genuine Champaign can use that name, and not any old sparkling white wine. And that gives Bishops Finger points for being distinctive.

The paragraph on the back label continues with a description of the beer by someone called Andrew Jefford. Whoever he is, he describes Bishops Finger as having “fruit notes”, “roasted malts” and a “lingering” “orange finish”. How true all of that is, we’ll discover soon enough.

This side of the back label ends with the slogan “At 5.4% it’s near the knuckle”. Do you get it? Near the knuckle and it’s called Bishops Finger? Side splitting. There’s also a web address printed just under that in utterly minute writing. www.shepherdneame.co.uk takes you to a decent company website.

Over on the small print side are the basics. Above the barcode are proof that this is indeed a 500 ml bottle. That is has a 5.4% volume that provides 2.7 of your UK units of alcohol. Importantly, and unusually, there’s also the small logo proving that this beer has Protected Geographical Indication status. The Faversham, Kent, postal address of Shepherd Neame Ltd is on there. The ultra-brief ingredients is a little unusual though. Most give the chief ingredient as being “malted-barley”. Not Bishops Finger though. That would be much to normal. This goes with “Contains Barley Malt”. And with that out of the way, we can finally see what this beer is actually like.

Coming from a transparent glass bottle, the colour wasn’t much of a surprise. It’s as dark brown as it looked on the shop shelf. It also has a pleasingly thick head. And one that stays around after it’s been in the glass for a couple of seconds.

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale poured into a glass

The smell is good too. In a word, it smells of quality ale. The rich smell of malt and hops is delightful.

A couple of gulps down, and the first tastes to hit me were of bitterness. And, sadly, rather more bitterness than I care for. Andrew Jefford described this as having fruity, malty, orangey tastes and flavours. Well the malt is definitely there. Working with the hoppiness, it gives it a rich, strong bitter character. I’m not so sure about the fruits however. I’m not picking them up, but that’s not to say that they aren’t in there. Your name just needs to be Andrew Jefford for you to notice them.

Nearly half-way through, and I’m delighted to report that this beer has not yet been decapitated. That is to say, it still has its head, which I’m pleased to see. The bitter and sour aftertaste really does stay with you, too.

Working through this strong ale, and it clearly has plenty of pluses. It has rich, strong flavours. These give it a full-body and escape from the weak, watery beers and lagers I’ve endured over the last few days. The proportions of everything that’s in it is unusual enough to score it marks for character and distinctiveness. And, importantly, it’s quite drinkable.

It’s not without its minuses however. It’s not quite as distinctive and different as the label leads me to hope it would be. It’s a little on the gassy side. It’s not terribly complex in the make-up of its flavours. And that rich, strong, lingering bitterness. Some of you out there. In fact, probably a lot of you reading will adore that about it. Me however, found it made Bishops Finger less palatable and accessible. And, ultimately, not as interesting or easily drinkable as it could be.

To sum up, Bishops Finger is a high-quality strong ale. It’s got a rich, deep, bitter taste, distinctiveness and a good history behind it. But, it’s not unusual, interesting or drinkable enough for it to score very highly. This is one for people who like their bitters. The quality was in abundance – just not to my tastes.

Rating: 3.6

Have you tried Bishops Finger? Or any others of the Shepherd Neame brewery?
What did you think? And recommendations?
Comments, corrections, ideas and insults in the little comments box below please. And thank you for reading.

Beer Review: Piwowarska Żubr

27 April, 2008

IF ANYONE out there can translate what is printed on this can, then do please leave a message at the end of this post. That’s because this can has no English language whatsoever. Purchased from my local off-licence, I’m assuming that this 500 millilitre can is imported straight from an Eastern-Europe.

Piwoworska Żubr can

The ‘front’ of the can has a logo of an animal that looks like a bison. The big name prominently printed on the can is “Żubr”. At least I think that’s right. There’s what looks like a little dot above the letter “Z”, making at a Cyrillic character. Which I have no idea how to pronounce. If you know how to pronounce it, then leave a comment at the end of this post.

There’s a little red banner in the top-left corner. The word “Sugerowana” looks like the word “sugar”, so perhaps this is a low-calories brew? Also making some educated guesses of what else is on the front, Żubr probably is made of pure water and natural ingredients. The “1768” date is also probably significant. The word “Sponsor” also hints at the fact that the brewer of this beer sponsors something. What it is that they sponsor, I’m at a loss to explain.

Turning the can around, and on the barcode ‘side’, there’s a logo apparently relating to their sponsorship. Of something. There’s also a paragraph that happens to include the same words that are on the logo. So this paragraph probably says something about whatever it is, that they are sponsoring.

Piwoworska Żubr  barcode side of can

If you know what it is that they are sponsoring, you know what to do when you reach the comments box at the end of this post.

Turning the can around even further, and we reach what I think is the details ‘side’ of the can. Of those I can make out are the “500 ml”, recyclable aluminium and an information line. At least I think that that is what “Infolinia” means.

Piwowarska Żubr details side of can

There’s also an ingredients list. Not being able to understand ingredients lists even when they are in English, I attempt to make some sense of it. The first thing on there is 12%. 12% of what I don’t know. It’s a bit steep for the alcohol content. Next is “alk, 6,0% obj.” That has got to be the alcohol volume. Thanks to my Polish commenter’s on previous posts, I’m inclined to believe that this high 6% strength is indeed the alcohol volume. Reading on, and I think that the brewer is someone called Kompania Piwowarska SA. Is that right? And that they are from Poznań, which is in Poland. Something that answers a few of my questions about the origin of this can.

So this is another Polish beer. That puts it up against Tyskie, Zywiec and Lech. None of which were outstand, but some were pretty good. Expectations are modest then, heading into the taste test for Żubr. Not just that, but I don’t know if this will be a larger, a pilsner or any other type of beer. That makes this the biggest step into the unknown since I started reviewing beers on this blog.

Poured into a glass, and my hopes of quality are dashed by the light-golden colour of lager. The fizzy head then promptly dies away to accumulate in a little pool in the corner of the glass.

Piwowarska Żubr can poured into a glass

There’s quite a lot of bubbles rising to the surface, so it might be gassy. And the smell is… not one of complex fruit and hop aromas. Instead, it smells cheap. The less said about the smell then, the better.

A couple of gulps in and I’m becoming more and more certain that this is a ghastly high-strength lager. It tastes of light and watery malted barley with a lingering bitter and sour aftertaste. You won’t notice the taste however, because you’ll be concentrating on burping after every gulp.

It’s not totally without merit however. It is refreshing. And it is light in character. Although most of that will be down to how watery it is. What is in it’s favour is how easy to drink it is. If my translation is right, and it is 6% alcohol volume, then it is very drinkable for the strength.

Apart from that there isn’t much to redeem it. Compared to the other Polish beers and lagers I’ve tried, this is the worst of them all. No wander then, that Piwowarska don’t appear to be officially importing Żubr. The most frustrating this about all this is that Poland is producing a lot of different beers. But only the worst are making their way over to the UK. There must be better Polish beers out there.

To sum up, then, Piwowarska Żubr is a strong, but ultimately dire lager. If you want a strong yet reasonable quality lager, there are plenty of others to choose from. Many with writing you can understand. Try it if you’re curious about Polish lagers. Otherwise, choose something else from your off-licence shelf.

Rating: 1.95

Have you tried Piwowarska Żubr? What did you think?
Can you translate any of it, or explain what Żubr is all about?
Then do please leave a message!

UPDATED 13 Sept. 2008:

Knowing how popular Żubr is with my Polish readers, I managed to find it in bottled form. And it looks even better than the can does. If you can buy a bottle instead of a can, then do so. It usually tastes a bit better too. Here’s the pics…

Piwowarska Żubr bottlePiwowarska Żubr neck labelPiwowarska Żubr front labelPiwowarska Żubr back labelPiwowarska Żubr poured into a glass

Updated April 2010:

Thanks for all the comments! You’ve helped make this old ‘review’ one of the most interesting on the whole site.

Something I need to do is change my original verdict. You see, I’ve been warming to Żubr. It might not be the world’s most sophisticated ale, but it certainly is good with a curry. Quite simply a dependable, refreshing Pilsner style lager. Possibly even my favourite of the Polish lagers that fill our shops.

Beer Review: Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale

26 April, 2008

IT HAS been a while since I last tried a pale ale. Greene King IPA was the last pale ale that I remember testing. So it’s about time for another. Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale will provide just that. Not that I knew that this was a pale ale when I picked up this bottle.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale bottle

The neck label proudly boasts that this is the “Official Beer of England”. The England Cricket Board coat of arms hints at some sort of sponsorship deal with the tedious and baffling pastime. And resolving my confusion about how any beer can be officially assigned to the English peoples.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale neck label

The main front label, like yesterday’s, is a fine piece of traditional imagery.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale front label

The logo roundel is tasteful. The logo of what looks like beer barrels are appropriate. The banner with the “Pedigree” name is the right proportion. And the ECB stamp is a sensitive promotional device. Unusually however, there’s no mention of the alcoholic volume.

Over on the back label, and everything is a mixture of black, white and red.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale back label

Most prominent of which is the red banner cutting through the middle. This has the Marston’s “Don’t Compromise” slogan. Straight to the point, but unoriginal. How about “Compromise In Order to Reach Agreements” or “Don’t Cooperate”.

The top of the back label opens with what I call the “story”. This one talks about 170 years of uncompromising excellence. It then goes on to say that it is brewed in Oak casks of Burton Unions in Burton Upon Trent. Also, tucked away in this little paragraph, they let slip that this is a Pale Ale. Why it’s hidden away is anyone’s guess.

Underneath the “story” section we get something that looks familiar. Not seen since the back labels of Badger beers, this Marston’s has a little grid and chart describing the taste! Fantastic addition here, chaps. These make it so much easier to know if you’ll like it or not before you buy it.

This take on the grid and chart sees the thing divided up into “Style” which comprises “See”, “Smell” and “Taste” subsections. And into “Bitter” and “Sweet” indicators. All of which shouldn’t need any further explanation by me. The “Style” row is the first place where we learn that this has an ABV of only 4.5%. Pedigree is clearly going to have to work hard in the flavour department to make up for that shortfall.

For “See” they describe the colour as “Golden Brown”. For “Smell” they’ve gone with “Burton Sulphur” whatever that is. And for “Taste”, they have the keywords of “Dry, Biscuity, Malt, Spicy, Hop”. The “Bitter” and “Sweet” indicators which use little pictures of hops and sugar cubes respectively both have two and a half out of five. Balance is clearly the intended order of the day with Pedigree.

Beneath this and the slogan banner, we get into the small print. This kicks off with the web address at www.marstonsdontcompromise.com. Like we’ve seen at least once before, this 500 millilitre bottle is made lighter by using less glass in order to please the eco-mentalists. The postal address of Marston’s Brewery in Burton Upon Trent, England is on there. As is a very detailed box outlining the recommended daily units of alcohol for men and women. Neither of which is exceeded by the 2.3 units in this bottle.

In the glass, it looks the promised shade of golden brown. But there’s a disappointingly absent head.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale poured into a glass

The label describes the smell as being of “Burton Sulphur”. I’m not sure if that’s what I’m smelling or not. I’d call it a faint smell of malted barley and an even fainter hint of hops.

A few gulps in and I can report that the “Bitter” and “Sweet” part of the label is about right. They are indeed balanced, in so far as neither are much in evidence. It’s hard to know what you’re tasting apart from the faintly bitter/sour hoppiness. I’m having difficulty finding any of the buscuity, spicy maltiness promised on the label.

And it doesn’t get much better in those other important characteristics either. It doesn’t have an awful lot of body. In fact, you could call it somewhat watery. It’s also not particularly complex for an ale. You could go as far as to call it boring. But then it is a pale ale, so perhaps that’s normal. If you think this is normal for a pale ale, do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

Marston’s Pedigree isn’t without merit however. There is still a lot to like about it. It’s not very gassy. It’s very easy to drink. And the tastes and flavours are almost totally inoffensive. I’ve had coffees that are harder to drink than this ale. This is one of those beers that would go well with a pub meal with friends and relatives.

I know a lot of you will love its lack of strong, complex flavours. But that’s why I can’t rate it highly. Maybe this means that pale ales just aren’t for me outside of the pub meal with friends and relatives scenario. Try it if a pleasant, inoffensive pale ale appeals to you.

Rating: 3.25

Have you tried Marston’s Pedigree or any others of the Marston’s range? Got any ideas, suggestions, recommendations, disagreements, corrections, advice or insults? Then leave a comment now!

Beer Review: Fuller’s London Pride Premium Ale

25 April, 2008

HAVING lived in London for a few months, it’s about time I tried the local ale. And here it is: Fuller’s London Pride Outstanding Premium Ale.

Fuller's London Pride bottle

One of the things I like about this traditionally shaped bottle is the number of words embossed on the glass. The coat of arms logo, established date of 1845 and “Independent Family Brewers” are all raised on the surface of the bottle. That’s the most I’ve yet seen. But I would like to see a bottle that only has that type of print. No printed or painted labels, just raised lettering. Are there any out there that do that?

Back to the real world, and the neck label needs a magnifying glass to see properly.

Fuller's London Pride neck label

Central of which is the Fuller’s coat of arms logo. Something that throughout the outside of the bottle, always mentions its home at the Griffin Brewery in Chiswick, West London. Can anyone confirm if that is the one that you pass while driving into London from the M4 motorway?

The neck label also says that this is award winning. There are also some little pictures of medals with the words “Voted Britain’s Best” to back up that assertion. Sadly, no actual awards get named.

The main front label is a picture of tradition. There’s a big red shield, on which are the logo, a picture of some hops and the basic facts.

Fuller's London Pride front label

It’s not overcrowded. And it doesn’t push any boundaries. You could say that it’s unoriginal. But when it comes to ales, that doesn’t matter very much. The most important detail on the front is the alcohol volume, which for London Pride is only 4.7%. And that’s lower than most of the beers and ales that I’ve tried recently.

Over on the back of the bottle, the rear label is a big red rectangle with lots of small white text.

Fuller's London Pride back label

Fairly prominent is the famous slogan “Whatever You Do, Take Pride”. Famous because it’s recently been on the side of a good number of London taxis.

The first chunk of small white text goes on describing what London Pride is all about. Not the intangible emotion of pride in London, but the more relevant topic of what this ale is like. They describe it as having a distinctive malty base, balanced by hop flavours. They also say that they use Target, Challenger and Northdown varieties of hop. None of which I understand the significance of. If you know why these are good, do please leave a message at the end of this post.

They go on to say that this is a surprisingly complex beer considering its strength. By which I think they mean that even though it’s weak, it will still taste good. They also say that this is the UK’s number one premium ale. Is that number one in a competition? Or number one in sales? That would be odd, as I don’t remember seeing it on sale anywhere else in the UK.

On the back label in the white text, they go on to mention their other beers. Their website at www.fullers.co.uk and their Fine Ale Club. The small print begins shortly after with the Chiswick, London, postal address for Fuller Smith & Turner Plc. Other pieces of small print in three of the four corners of the label include the UK units of alcohol, which are 2.4 in this case. The 4.7% alcohol volume. And that this is a 500 millilitre bottle.

With all that chatter out of the way, I’m looking forward to seeing if I can take pride, in London Pride.

In the glass, the colour is a dark gold. There’s a modest head too. But the head swiftly vanished which was disappointing.

Fuller's London Pride poured into a glass

The smell is invitingly complex though. Even I was able to smell a fantastic blend of malty, hops and… is that a hint of something fruity in there? It is a very nice blend of smells. I wasn’t expecting it to smell this good.

A couple of gulps in though, and I’m undecided. It seems too watery and bitter. This will need a few more gulps to figure out.

A few more gulps in, and yes, the taste is mostly one of bitterness. Presumably the end result of all those hop varieties. But it does have some complexity. There are some other tastes and flavours in there if you look hard enough. The label mentions a malty base, which does seem to be in evidence. Even if not to the fore. And thinking about what I called a fruitiness to the smell, I could be wrong, but is that coming from the hop varieties? That’s because I’m picking up hints of something arable in there, and the hops are the only things I can think of that link all these things together.

Other things on the credit side are that it’s not gassy. In fact, it’s almost still. Which, I’m tempted to put on the debit side, but won’t. They have also done a good job of squeezing maximum taste complexity from minimum volume. It’s also quite drinkable. This is one of those I think would go well with a pub meal with friends.

But over on the debit side, it can’t escape the accusation of being a little weak and watery. It just lacks the body that I expect an ale to have. Still, it has won lots of awards from people who know more than I do. What do you think? Am I looking at London Pride in the wrong way? Or am I right?

To summarise, London Pride is good. It smells good. It tastes as hoppy as anything I tested so far. But with that, comes the drawbacks of bitterness. And it’s lacking in strength and body. Some people will like those things. But for me, they mean that it doesn’t quite cut it. Even so, it’s good enough to make me want to try the rest of the Fuller’s range.

Rating: 3.2

Have you tried Fuller’s London Pride or any other Fuller’s beers? What did you think?
Comments, ideas, suggestions, corrections, explanations and insults in the comments box below please.

Beer Review: Strongbow Super

24 April, 2008

TIME for another strong cider. Recently, the only other strong cider I’ve reviewed was K from Gaymer which weighed in at 8.4% volume. This one is Strongbow Super from the HP Bulmer Ltd empire, and comes in at 7.5%. It’s about the same price and just as easy to buy as K, which raises the question: will it be 0.9% better tasting?

Strongbow Super can

Like most of the very strong lagers and ciders, this can doesn’t list packaging as one of its strengths. Most of it is taken up with that large and monochrome image of the famous Strongbow warrior image. Apart from the name, and very prominent red “Super” and the little text “Extra Strong Dry Cider”, there’s not much else to mention.

Rotate the can around however, and you can find the small print squashed into a tiny strip down the can. And even this is intercepted by one of the illustrations of an arrow.

Strongbow Super barcode side of can

Besides the barcode, perhaps the most noticeable thing on there is the 3.8 UK units of alcohol. Being the socially responsible purveyors of low price strong cider that they are, they also include the maximum recommended daily units for men and women. Four for men and three for women in case you were wandering.

As well as the Hereford, England, postal address address for HP Bulmer Ltd, there’s also a careline number. Plus there an email address of strongbow@bulmers.co.uk.

There’s also a little description on there telling us that this will be a “Strong Dry Cider With Sugar And Sweetener”. And that it “Contains Sulpher Dioxide”. Whatever that is. There’s little else to say about this 500 millilitre can. The only way to say anything more, will be to drink it.

In the glass, and it’s a very deep, dark yellow. Roughly the same shade as mid morning pee.

Strongbow Super poured into a glass

It has an equally strong, if better smelling odour about it, though. A little different to the very strong apple-y smell of K, but still mouth-watering for any cider fan.

A couple of gulps in, and immediately, there’s something different to the taste compared to K. Where K was sweet, Strongbow Super is dry. And to me, that makes it less drinkable.

It’s no disaster by any means. It’s still very easy to drink considering how strong it is. And the apple-y taste and refreshment that cider is all about are still there.

But a few more gulps in, and surprisingly, I’m not finding it as nice as I was expecting. Aside from the dryness that makes some bitterness and sourness come to the surface, there is something else to make me think twice about it. Yes it’s refreshing. Compared to a stout. But there are beers out there that are more refreshing. And this, being a cider should surpass them all in levels of refreshment. But it doesn’t.

In short then, Strongbow Super wasn’t as good as I had been hoping. Compared to K, it’s not as strong and its dry quality makes it less drinkable. As least to my taste buds. I’m almost certain that some of you out there will prefer the fact that it’s dry enough to rescue the south of England from a medium-sized flood. But I didn’t. Which is why I’m only giving it…

Rating: 2.9

Strongbow Super isn’t the only 7.5% cider out there though. Close to it on the off-licence shelf is something called Diamond White. It’ll be interesting to see if that can do any better.

Have you tried Strongbow Super or any other strong ciders? What did you think? Got any recommendations or any you think should be avoided?
Then leave a comment in the little box below.

Beer Review: Young’s Waggle Dance

23 April, 2008

HERE is a bottle, and a category of beer that has long intrigued me: Young’s Waggle Dance. And it’s a honey beer. Yes, I’m confused by what that means, too. But apparently there are other honey beers out there. This one looks as good a place as any to start with honey beers.

It’s from the Wells & Young’s English brewing empire. The same one that brought us the excellent Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills and the above average Young’s London and Champion beers. Expectations are high-ish, then for this 500 millilitre bottle regularly stocked by Tesco.

Young’s Waggle Dance bottle

The first thing you notice is the honey coloured theme. The transparent glass bottle lets you glimpse liquid of a colour you would normally associate with a different supermarket shelf entirely. The temptation at this point would be to fill the labels with pictures of bees, beehives or beekeepers. But Young’s go and so something quite unexpected.

The neck label doesn’t do anything at all. Absolutely nothing. There’s some honey yellow shades and some wavy lines, but that’s it.

Young\'s Waggle Dance neck label

But the main front label goes for a photo of a woman dancing. Seriously. See for yourself.

Young’s Waggle Dance front label

Another thing that strikes me about the front label is how much of it is simply blank, yellow coloured space. Apart, that is, from a tiny, lone picture of a bee. Above that, and the dancer, there is the very prominent “Waggle Dance” name. Maybe the woman pictured is dancing the Waggle?

Reading on… The rest of the front has the important details such as the 5% volume. Which I’m pleased to see. The Young’s established date of 1831 is also there. And above the main title is the description “a Light & Refreshing Honey Beer”. Sounds delicious.

Turning the bottle around and restraint is again in evidence on the back label. No pictures of dancers, bees or anything.

Young’s Waggle Dance back label

Instead, there’s a paragraph of background and the usual small print. This time, the background story is really worth reading. If for no other reason, than to explain what this Waggle Dance business is all about. And Young’s open the story with perhaps the best sentence you could have on a beer bottle… “Unusual name, unusual beer”. Tell me even you wouldn’t want to read on after that?

It goes on to explain that the Waggle Dance is something a bee does in a bee hive, to tell the other bees about a source of nectar. A sort of communication through expressive dance.

Furthermore, Waggle Dance is brewed with “a touch of honey” which gives it the taste it has. And that it has a “healthy dose of hops” to provide bitterness, giving a “delicate flavour”.

All very feminine. Which leads me to a theory. That Waggle Dance is aimed at the woman drinker. The picture of the dancer on the front. The warm colour. The choice of words on the label. It’s all painting a picture. And that picture is carrying a handbag.

Also tucked away on the back label are the small print details. That this has 2.5 UK units of alcohol. That it was brewed and bottled in Bedford, England. And that the web addresses that matter are www.youngsathome.co.uk and www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk. Both of which go to very professional websites.

Will my theory hold true? Will the honey taste be noticeable? And is Waggle Dance any good? Time to find out.

In the glass, you can see that it’s a good dark golden colour. And that it comes topped by a nice frothy head.

Young’s Waggle Dance poured into a glass

But while I was pouring, what struck me was the smell. It really is quite strong. And quite pleasant. To me, it smells like yeast and hops. But I’m notoriously bad a judging smells. Are yeast and hops what I’m smelling here? Or is it something else? If you think you know what Waggle Dance smells of, leave a comment at the end of this post.

A couple of gulps in and the first thing I’m noticing is the hoppy bitterness. So far, that’s all I’m noticing. It’s both the fore and aftertaste. It’s also rather gassy.

Further in, and the smoothness and quality are starting to shine through. This is not going to be difficult to drink quickly. I’m not sure if it’s my imagination, but I am now starting to detect that very slight hint of honey sweetness, buried deep beneath the hoppy bitterness.

About half way through now, and I’m starting to enjoy this Waggle Dance honey beer concept. It’s bitter, but it’s not hard going. And if you look hard, it’s balanced by a little bit of sweetness. Whether it’s sweet or fruity enough to satisfy the tastes of female drinkers though, I’m not sure. So girls, if you’ve tried this beer, leave a comment on what you thought of it.

If it were up to me, I’d add a whole lot more honey inspired sweetness. Not being a huge fan of bitterness, I think a very sweet beer would be an excellent niche filler. As it is, I’m awarding some extra marks for originality. Because even though there are some other honey beers out there, it’s hard to call them mainstream yet. But I’m taking some away because it could go a lot further.

Overall, Waggle Dance is another above average beer from Young’s. It does something somewhat unusual. It packages it in an inspired way. And it’s very drinkable. But at the end of the day, it’s another mostly bitter tasting beer.

Rating: 3.85

If you’ve tried Waggle Dance, leave a comment! If you’ve tried any other honey beers, leave a comment on what they were and what you thought of them.
Any other suggestions or ideas for the blog are also very welcome.

Beer Review: Leffe Brune/Bruin/Brown

20 April, 2008

A WHILE ago, I tried a bottle of Leffe Blonde. And it was one of the best beers I’ve ever had. So it’s with considerably optimism that I move on to try Leffe Brune/Bruin/Brown. A drink I think is probably a brown ale.

Leffe Brune/Bruin/Brown bottle

In Tesco and most of the off-licences near me, this modestly priced beer usually only comes in very large bottles. But after a bit of searching, I did manage to track down this review friendly 33 centilitre bottle. Whether it comes in cans or not, I don’t know. But why anyone would choose a can over a civilised bottle is beyond me.

On the outside, they’ve stuck to the same formula as with Blonde/Blond. Except that the golden yellow colour scheme is replaced with brown. The neck-label and the main front label keep everything the same as with Blonde/Blond apart from that colour.

Leffe Brune/Bruin/Brown neck label

Leffe Brune/Bruin/Brown front label

The Germanic typeface is still there. The 1240 date is still there. The quirky duplicating of every word in Dutch and French still happens. The stained glass style illustration of the Leffe Abbey is still there too. As is the foil wrapping around the top of the bottle. Everything is intact, but with touches of brown here and there.

Over on the back label, and it’s even more similar to that of Blonde/Blond. In style and layout at least.

Leffe Brune/Bruin/Brown back label

There isn’t much story on there. Just the usual small print repeated in lots of different languages. To save you the bother of trying to read it, here are those small print details… It has a surprisingly strong 6.5% volume. Apparently, it contains “approximately 1.7 standard drinks”. And it is best served between 5 and 6 degrees C.

Now to see if Leffe Brune/Bruin/Brown maintains the outstanding Belgian beer track record.

Be careful pouring Leffe Brown, or you’ll end up with a gigantic frothy head like I did. Fortunately, it settled down to enough to drink after a few minutes.

Leffe Brune/Bruin/Brown in s glass

As per the billing, it is brown. Very dark brown in fact. But it’s the smell that interests me. Leffe Blonde was outstanding in its malty aroma. And I’m pleased to say that Leffe Brown isn’t too much of a disappointment. It doesn’t smell as insanely, richly malty as Blonde. And you wouldn’t expect it to, as this is a different beer. And that’s reflected in the smell. It’s still very rich and malty. But different somehow. In a more rounded sort of way.

A couple of gulps in, and just like the smell, it is a bit like Blonde. But also a bit different. Brown shares some of the deep, rich, smooth maltiness. But, it hits you with a bitter taste. And a bitter and sour lingering aftertaste.

There’s a lot of Leffe’s trademark quality in here. It’s smooth. It’s got a good amount bitterness. A full-body and character are both in evidence. And it’s very very drinkable. I reached the end of this bottle much too quickly. Another bonus is that it’s very strong.

There are however, downsides. It’s gassy. So you’ll be burping in between gulps of this beer. And even though it’s not very bitter, it’ll still put some people off. Me for example. Bitters just aren’t to my taste.

How can I sum up Leffe Brune/Bruin/Brown? Well it is very good and very drinkable. But the bitterness means that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Blonde. Even so, a lot of you out there will like the bitterness. And even I found it palatable. But on the shelf next to a bottle of its sister beer, Leffe Blonde, I’ll choose the blonde instead of the brunette.

Rating: 4.3

What did you think of Leffe Brown?
Have you got any suggestions of anything similar that you think I should review?
If so, leave a comment in the usual place. The comments box. Obviously.

Beer Review: Maximus Strong Premium Ale

19 April, 2008

I like strong ales. They keep their aims simple. And they usually deliver. But there’s always something to distinguish one over another. It could be drinkability or flavour or any other characteristic. So, how will Maximus fare against the competition?

Maximus Strong Premium Ale bottle

The neck label starts off promising enough.

Maximus Strong Premium Ale neck label

“National Award Winner” keeps the message simple. And is usually a good sign. Hopefully, we’ll learn what award it actually won, elsewhere on the bottle.

The front label doesn’t give much away, either.
Maximus Strong Premium Ale front label

In front of what looks like a shield, is a sword. On front of that is the stylised name of Maximus and the words “Strong Premium Ale”. Maximus sounds Latin to me, but do the illustrations of the shield and sword match the era?

Something else on there too is the volume. Which for this 500 millilitre bottle from Tesco, is 6.5%. Not that high for a strong ale, but strong enough for it to qualify as one.

Another thing that’s noticeable about this bottle is that you can see the drink inside. And more clearly than you can with most others. Without a vast wrap around label stuck on, or a dark shade of glass bottle, you can see the liquid within. Which in this case, is a very dark brown.

Over on the back label, we learn a little bit more. But not very much more. This is clearly a bottle of few words. It doesn’t say which national award it won. But it does describe it as being “strong”, “warming”, “smooth” and “easy to drink”. All the right things, but I’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.

Maximus Strong Premium Ale back label

The label goes on the say that the Maximus name comes from the name of it’s sister beer, “Double Maxim”. And that it, not Maximus, has been brewed and sold since 1901. They also suggest serving slightly chilled at 12 degrees C. Whether that’s what my fridge is set to is anyone’s guess.

In the small print, we learn that the brewer is Double Maxim Beer Company Ltd. They kept that fact surprisingly hidden. Most bottled beers advertise their brewery quite prominently. But not this one. For the curious, their Wearfield, Sunderland address is on there. As is their web address at www.dmbc.co.uk. Which, doesn’t link to their website at all. Not again. This is another bottle that has printed on it, a web address that doesn’t work. Come on guy, your beer is being sold at Tesco now. These things need to be right. A Google search reveals their website to be hiding at www.dmbc.org.uk.

Enough prattle. Time to find out if Maximus deserves its national award. Whatever that award happened to be.

Shortly after pouring, I remember that Young’s Champion was passed its best before date. So I decide to double check this one. And cripes. This one passed its best before date on the 28th of January this year. Oh well. I’m still here after Young’s Champion, so I’ll give this a try as well. Plus I really really want a drink, so nothing is going to stop me.

In the glass, Maximus is very dark brown indeed. It’s nearly as opaque as a stout. It is also topped off by a reasonable head.
Maximus Strong Premium Ale in a glass

It has a stouty smell to it as well. You know the one. That rich malty smell. But in a strong ale, that’s nothing to be afraid of.

The first gulp down, and you can tell that this is another good, strong ale. It is very smooth and about as bubbly as Gordon Brown. The taste is rich, but not so strong as to scare off the timid drinker. And, predictably, it tastes of malt and barley. Not surprising, when the chief listed ingredient is “malted barley”.

What is mildly surprising me is that it has apparently no bitterness at all. Which I warmly welcome. The aftertaste is a slightly sour one of hops. But it’s not very hoppy.

Other pluses are that Maximus is easy to drink. And that it is full-bodied, with plenty of flavour.

The minuses are that it’s not in any way light and refreshing. Although, having never described itself as such, that may be unfair on it. It does however, leave you with a not too pleasant wheaty aftertaste that lingers on an on. The heaviness might put women and lager drinkers off. And there’s not exactly a complex bouquet of aromas or flavours. Which will put off the real-ale fans. It also doesn’t leave any room for character and originality which I qualities I respect and give high marks for. Again though, that’s not point of strong ale.

What Maximus is all about, is the basics of ale, but done well. And done strongly. It’s strong. Easy to drink. And there is a lot to like about it. But there are one or two drawbacks that keep it from troubling the most outstanding beers and ales. Despite these, I enjoyed this bottle. And it deserves whatever award it won. Give it a try if you like your ale strong.

Rating: 4.05

Have you tried Maximus Strong Premium Ale? Do you think I should try their Double Maxim?

Leave your thoughts, comments, suggestions, ramblings and insults in the comments box below.

Beer Review: Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer

16 April, 2008

THIS one got my attention as soon as I saw it on the shelves of my local Tesco. That’s because it is Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer.

Young\'s Champion Live Golden Beer bottle

First it got my attention because I enjoyed Young’s Special London Ale. Secondly, it got my attention because of the big mentions of “Champion” and “Live” on the front. “Champion” hints at the winning of prizes. Always a good thing. And “Live” and “Bottled Conditioned” beer are always my favourites. In fact, I’ve yet to try a live or bottled conditioned beer I’ve not enjoyed. And that means that you’ll probably enjoy them too. But will Young’s Champion reaffirm or disappoint? I’m looking forward to finding out.

The neck label is where you’ll find a surprising amount of marketing. Or should I say background to the Ram Brewery. It’s also got a reassuringly large “Bottle Conditioned” on it. If it were up to me, that whole Ram Brewery text on the neck label would be replaced by a list of the virtues of bottle conditioning. Maybe one day, eh?

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer neck label

The front label keeps things simple, yet stylish. Lots of sweeping lines dominate this one. And the result is quite different to Special London Ale. Which, by the way, I recommend you read now, so I don’t have to repeat myself over all the little details. The Ram logo is in tact again. But this time, the word “Champion” takes centre-stage, plus a small illustration of hops. The 5% volume is on there, but tucked away in a corner so you need to be looking for it. The colour scheme is light and bright, but looks a bit odd on the dark glass of the bottle.

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer front label

Over on the back, the layout is much the same as with the Special London Ale. The CAMRA logo is on there. As is the symbol telling you that this 500 millilitre bottle has 2.5 UK units of alcohol. And what’s that I see? Amazingly, this is the first time that I’ve bought a recently stocked bottle from Tesco, only to discover that it has passed its “Consume By” date. I didn’t realise it in the shop, but no it’s clear as day. This went ‘off’ after the 31st of January 2008. Outstanding cock-up, Tesco. Readers; check the date on your bottle before you put it in your shopping basket. Or live on the edge. Like me.

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer back label

The correct procedure here would be to return this bottle and obtain a refund or replacement. But having come this far, I don’t want to turn back. Just how bad can it get in those few weeks? That’s what I want to know. So, in the name of investigating blogging, let’s push on.

The story part of the back label describes Young’s Champion as “light-golden”, with a “full-flavour” and “refreshing bite”. It uses “malted barley” and “Styrian hops” for a “well-rounded floral flavour” with “hints of fruit” and a “dry, hoppy bitterness”. Again, they suggest serving cool, pouring gently to keep the yeast in the bottle. And that the website of this Wandsworth based London brewer is at www.youngsathome.co.uk.

Time to open the bottle to see a few things. One: if I’m poisoned from out of date beer. And two: if Young’s Champion is as good as I’m hoping it will be.

In the glass, there’s a good frothy head. But it’s controllable, staying within the pint glass. It’s light golden and it looks like none of the yeast sediment made its way in there. That said, it is still fairly opaque.

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer in a glass

Like the good live bottles I’ve tried before it, the smell is good. Definitely above average. That yeasty, malty, hoppy smell is mouth-watering.

A couple of gulps in, and I’m not dead from this out-of-date bottle. But I am enjoying the make-up of the flavours here. None of which really dominate, and thus making it a very inoffensive experience. The malted barley and hoppy, bitter aftertaste are most noticeable. And yes, as you work through it, you do begin to notice a tiny floral hint, as promised by the label.

This is turning out to be a well-balanced and well-rounded beer. It’s also easy to drink. And that’s important, as it makes this bottle of beer even more accessible to the casual drinker. Like you. And let’s be honest here, me too.

It’s also fairly crisp and refreshing. This isn’t a big heavy drink at all. But it isn’t the lightest and most refreshing out there either.

If I had to level a criticism at Young’s Champion, it would be that it’s too inoffensive. It’s not the yeasty, malty explosion of taste that I adore. And you could even describe it as being ever so slightly watery. But then this calls itself a beer rather than an ale, so it can get away with that up to a point.

This bottle may be a few weeks out of date, but that didn’t stop me from liking it. If you want a decent live bottled beer, try it. If you want a tasty, refreshing, quite strong beer with little to complain about, try it. If you want a live beer but are too squeamish about bits floating in it, try it. There’s no bits of yeast sediment if you pour carefully. If you want a big, heavy, strongly flavoured brew that scares away teenagers, have an ale instead. This won’t quite satisfy you. I however liked Young’s Champion, so you might to.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Young’s Champion? What did you think?
Or if you’ve got any suggestions for other good live beers, or ones to avoid, leave a comment!

Beer Review: Caledonian 80/-

14 April, 2008

DO you remember when I recently promised you a break from reviews of Scottish beers? No? Good. Because here is a 500 millilitre bottle of Caledonian 80.

Caledonian 80/- bottle

There’s little to distinguish the bottle of 80, but I like the straightforward approach to the label. Both the little neck label…

Caledonian 80/- neck label

…and the main front label…

Caledonian 80/- front label

…keep the details to a minimum.  To sum up, this was brewed in Eninburgh, Scotland. It was established in 1869 and is described as “Definitive” and “Satisfying”.

Over on the back label, the “80” reference is explained. Specifically, by the “80/-“, which makes this an 80 Shilling beer. It has something to do with the duties charged on different strengths of beer in centuries past. And it’s not the first that I’ve tried. Belhaven 80 Shilling was the first. And… it was ok. Nothing special. But I thought the 80 shilling concept deserved another chance. So here we are.

Caledonian 80/- back label

The label also describes a “rounded maltiness” and “distinctive hop character”. “Crystal malts”, “roast barley” and “complexity of flavours” are also on there, none of which is out of the ordinary. What does stand out, is that the cask version was the inaugural CAMRA Champion Beer of Scotland. And that it’s still brewed in a Victorian brewhouse on direct fired open coppers. What the importance of these things are, I don’t know. But I’m looking forward to finding out.

Also on the back label are the web address at www.caledonian80.com and at www.caledonian-brewery.co.uk. And their Edinburgh postal address. The 4.1% volume isn’t very prominent, but the “product of Scotland” isn’t all that common. And with that out of the way, it’s time to see if this 80/- is better than the last 80/-.

In the glass, it’s quite dark in colour. Looks like a bitter to me. It has a good head on it though. Consistent and creamy in appearance. And it smells good too. A strong whiff of hops and malted-barley is never far away. It’s not very complex, but I like it.

Caledonian 80/- in a glass

A few gulps down, and Caledonian 80/- is rapidly revealing its character. Quirte simply, it’s a bitter. Well, technically it isn’t. And the experts out there will point out all the reasons why this isn’t the case. But to me. And my untrained taste buds, it tastes bitter. The taste is bitter and the after taste is hoppy. But apart from that, there’s no real complexity to the taste. And there’s no wide spectrum of flavours. Disappointing considering what the label promised.

I’m not a fan of plain bitters. But I know that a lot of you out there are. And that means that you might really enjoy Caledonian 80/-. And there’s a lot to like about it too. Even though the flavours are mostly bitter, malty and hoppy, they are done well. It’s not offensive. And it’s easy to drink.

The downsides are that it’s quite weak. The lack of anything beyond the usual flavours make it boring and lacking in character. There are plenty of much more interesting and unusual beers on the shelf to choose from.

The bottom line on Caledonian 80/- is that it’s a decent, if uninspiring ale that’s mostly bitter. If you like your bitter, you should be this a try. As you should if you want to see what this 80 shilling business is all about. But if you’re wanting an interesting, unusual and flavourful bottle, then pick something else. Above average, but not special.

Rating: 3.25

Have you tried Caledonian 80/-? Or anything else from the same brewer? What did you think of it?
Comments, suggestions, corrections and insults in the comments box please.

Beer Review: Sole Bay Brewery – Adnams Broadside Strong Original

12 April, 2008

TESCO have a new range of bottled beers in stock. So it’s my solemn duty to review every last one of them. This one is Adnams Broadside Strong Original. It’s from the Sole Bay Brewery from Southwold, Suffolk, England. And it costs slightly above average for a 500 millilitre bottle.

Adnams Broadside bottle

The dark glass and background label give this bottle a stylish dark look. I think it looks like a small bottle of rum or some other spirit. It looks good.

The little neck label has a small illustration of some sort of sword wielding warrior and the slogan “Beer From The Coast”. Something that turns up again and again, including embossed on the glass at the bottom of the bottle.

Adnams Broadside neck label

The front label uses colour to good effect. Even if all the words are a little jumbled up. The Adnams name is orientated one way. The Broadside name another. And there’s the reference Solebay and 1672. It’s not immediately clear if Adnams or Solebay (or should that be Sole Bay?) are the brewer. What does get my attention is the picture of a ship. And the 6.3% volume. Which makes this a strong ale. And I like strong ales. That’s actually why I chose this beer over others on the shelf.

Adnams Broadside front label

Over on the back label, and the nautical theme continues. The little story tells us that Broadside commemorates a 1672 navel battle with the Dutch Republic, just off the Southwold coast. Presumably, that’s the time in history when the Dutch decided that wars weren’t their thing, and turned their attention to tulips and soft drugs instead.

Adnams Broadside back label

Keeping things to the point, the label continues with a short description of what to expect from this beer. This includes mentions of “fruit cake aromas, almonds and conserved fruit”. The language might be different to what’s on most beer bottles, but I think it means that this will have plenty of complex, fruity flavours.

The web addresses listed include www.adnams.co.uk and www.beerfromthecoast.co.uk. Both of which work, and take you to some very professional and informative parts of the Adnams empire. That’s an improvement over the addresses given on some ale bottles out there.

One interesting addition is on the little red bar at the bottle of the rear label. It turns out that this is the lightest 500 millilitre beer bottle in the UK. And that is because light glass has been used. Which it transpires is better for the environment. George Monbiot will be pleased.

Also on the small print, this 500 millilitre bottle has 3.2 UK units of alcohol. And has the slogan “Remember, you can have too much of a good thing”. Very responsible. I’d suggest that something similar be printed on the cans of high-strength lager, but you couldn’t call them a “good thing”. Adnams on the other hand, call a beer to “savour”, so let’s see if they’re right.

Adnams Broadside in a glass

I thought I had poured carefully. As you can see, the head disagreed by frothing up, held together only by surface tension. And that was with stopping and starting, letting it settle every so often. Still, it soon settled down enough to drink. Be warned if you try to pour from the bottle yourself. Broadside needs time and care.

Apart from the head, a couple of other things struck me. First was the colour. This is much darker than I was expecting. It looks more like a stout. This is partly backed up by the other thing that struck me. The smell. The label describes the aroma as being like a rich fruit cake. I’d describe it as smelling like the rich malts you find in stouts. It is very rich smelling indeed. But what does it taste like?

The first gulp leaves me thinking “what is that?” It does have that deep, rich, malty flavour of a stout. But the aftertaste, or should that be aftertastes, go beyond that. This is going need a few more gulps to understand…

A few more gulps in, I think I’m cracked it. The aftertaste is where you’ll find all those fruits and things mentioned on the label. That makes this an unusual beer. The first tastes and flavours are like that of a stout. But it’s more than that. After those flavours, it changes to the fruity and hoppy flavours that you’d find in an ale.

This is a very strong flavoured brew. Full-bodied and with lots of character are some of the jargon terms that get used for this kind of beer. It is somewhat gassy, but it is smooth and easy to drink. The quality is much in evidence.

The flip side of this is that it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. In fact, I’m still unsure whether to love it or hate it myself. If you like stout, you’d be insane not to try this. If you like ales with lots of complex flavours. Or if you like beers and ales with lots of fruit, then by all means give Broadside a go. But be prepared for the possibility that you’ll find it to be just too much.

Personally, I’m going to rate it as above average. It’s got quality in spades. Flavours and taste combinations that I previously hadn’t thought possible. And originality. But it’s just too stout-like and inaccessible for me. And will be for other people to. It’s an excellent half-a-litre, but I wouldn’t open another bottle straight after it. I would however be eager to try other beers carrying the Adnams name to see if the positives carry-over.

Rating: 4.025

Have you tried Adnams Broadside? Or anything else by Adnams?
What did you think of it?
Comments in the comments box please.

Beer Review: Efes Pilsener

10 April, 2008

ANOTHER bottle that doesn’t have a lot to say is that of Efes Pilsener. This one was purchased from my local off-license, but I recently saw Tesco selling this too.

Efes Pilsener bottle

Aside from the little label around the neck, there’s nothing printed on this 33 centilitre bottle at all. Only the name Efes embossed on to the glass. That, and the tall shape give Efes a distinctive look. And I happen to think that it looks stylish. It reminds me of that other stylish bottled beer; Viru Premium.

The small label on this bottle, doesn’t ruin the enigma of this beer, either. There’s very little detail on it. That’s because what you normally call the front label and back label on any other bottle are both shrunk down to fit on the small label around the neck.

Efes Pilsener front of neck label

The ‘front’ has a clean, Continental look to it. The text isn’t very Germanic in style, so it must be from elsewhere in Europe. I wander where? Let’s read on and try to find out…

Around on what would normally be the back label, most of our questions are answered. There’s a web address for www.dreaminefes.com. Clear and prominent mentions of it’s 5% alcoholic volume and the 33 centilitre size. The small print tells us that the ingredients are water, malted barley, rice and hops. Rice? This is the first time that I’ve seen rice on the ingredients list of any beer.

Efes Pilsener back of neck label

Oh look. There’s an address on there too. Maybe that will answer the question of where in Europe that Efes originates. My bet would be that this comes from somewhere in the Baltic. Let’s find out…

“Brewed and Bottled by: Anadolu Efes Brewery” the label starts. And continues with “Bahçelievler, Istanbul, Turkey”. Looks like I was way out on that one. Efes Pilsener is from Turkey. And that makes this, the first Turkish beer that I’ve tried. Is anyone else surprised to discover that Efes is Turkish?

With that out of the way, we can get going with the all-important taste testing. Since I usually love any beer with the word “Pilsener” mentioned on it, my hopes are high. Time to open the bottle…

Poured into a glass, and Efes Pilsener has a good, yet controllable head. It looks very bubbly and is light gold in colour. It also has a very light malted-barley and hops smell. But you need to sniff hard to detect it. I’m starting to fear that this will be another lagery disappointment.

Efes Pilsener in a glass

Fortunately, my fear are unfounded. A couple of gulps confirms that this is indeed, a pilsener beer. The taste is of malted-barley with a faint aftertaste of hops. And the character is light, crisp and refreshing. There’s a lot to like here. It’s also easy to drink. And inoffensive in almost every way.

On the downside, it is one of the more gassy beers I’ve tried. And, unlike the ales that I’ve grown to love, you won’t be finding complex aromas and flavours. I’m also not entirely sure that Efes Pilsener is all that different to other pilsener beers. But I haven’t tried enough lately to be sure of that.

To sum on then. Efes Pilsener is good, decent middle-of-the-road beer. Not as full flavoured as ale or stout. Nor as crappy as lager. Like most pilseners, Efes epitomises was good beer, in the broad sense of the word, is all about. It tastes quite good. But this one lacks the special quality to separate it from the crowd. A notch above average, but not by very far. Worth a try however, if you want to tell people that you’ve had a Turkish beer.

Rating: 2.99

Have you tried Efes Pilsener? Or any other Efes or Turkish beers? What did you think?
Comments, ideas, suggestions and insults in the comment box below please.

Beer Review: Red Stripe Brewed in Jamaica

9 April, 2008

SUDDENLY with less time free for reviewing beers, I need a bottle without much writing on it. Something that let’s me get straight to the point. And Jamaican Red Stripe looks like it.

Red Stripe bottle

This is a 330 millilitre bottle of Red Stripe beer, purchased at the much reduced price of 89 pence.  Although it will probably be more than that elsewhere. It’s also available in cans, and has the honour of being the drink of choice for Oasis loudmouth, Noel Gallagher. What interests me most, is that it comes from the same brewer as the rather good Dragon Stout.

As only a small bottle, I think it has an unusual look. And unlike most other bottles, the label isn’t printed onto paper and glued on. This looks to have been painted directly onto the glass. Again adding to the unusual look.

Red Stripe front label

Also on there is the reasonable 4.7% volume. This isn’t going to be a strong beer then. And that’s about all there is on the front of the bottle.

Over to the back of the bottle, and they’ve taken the approach of having a little information. But repeating it dozens of times in many different languages. The only bit of ‘story’ tells us that this beer has embodied the spirit, rhythm and pulse of Jamaican people for 75 years.
Red Stripe back label

The small print tells us that this was brewed by Desnoes & Geddes Limited of Kingston, Jamaica. And that the ingredients are water, malted barley and hops.

And with that out of the way, we can get to the fun bit…

I chose a half-pint glass. Which isn’t big enough for the full 330 millilitres. So you might want a bigger glass. Out of the bottle, Red Stripe doesn’t have much head. The little there was, dissipated quickly. The colour is light gold and looks a lot like lager. The smell is quite hoppy. And quite good too. But again, sort of lagery.

Red Stripe in a glass

And yes, it even tastes lager-ish. I know that you’re thinking, I don’t have a good reputation when it comes to identifying what is lager and what is ale. But I’m nearly completely sure in this case. And that’s because of the tastes, flavours and character of the drink.

The first taste that hits you is a sharp bitterness. But it’s fleeting. There’s not really any sour, hoppy aftertaste to speak of. Which is a good thing. It’s also light and refreshing. It would probably be a good choice on a hot, sunny day. It’s also very easy to drink, because of this.

The downsides are that it’s too light and lager-ish. It lacks real character and substance. There’s barely any flavour or taste to describe at all. I dare say that this is a watery drink. Even if I have been spoiled by some of the best ales in the land. That said, if you like lagers, you’ll probably get on well with Red Stripe.

To sum up Red Stripe then, I’d say that it provides good value, drinkable suds. If you want complex flavours look elsewhere. If you like straightforward, refreshing lager-style beer, you’ll like it. I, however, don’t. Therefore…

Rating: 2.3

I’m 100% certain that someone out there will completely disagree. If you are that person, leave a comment below and tell the world what you thought of Red Stripe.
In fact, leave a comment whatever your thoughts on this one.
And also to leave any other ideas or suggestions of your own.

Protests at the Olympic torch relay along Whitechapel Road, East London (Pics Inside)

6 April, 2008

THAT was extraordinary. I’ve just got back from Whitechapel Road in the East End of London. This afternoon, after lunch and the snow showing sings of stopping, I thought it would be fun to watch the Olympic torch relay pass by. Whitechapel Road, is after all, just the other side of Brick Lane, so it wouldn’t take long to get there. Anticipating there to be huge crowds, I set off with plenty of time to spare. I used the official press release to help gauge when to leave.

Turned out, I had arrived early. And it was still cold, even though it had stopped snowing. At least this would give me a chance to stake out a good place opposite the nearby East London Mosque.

There weren’t many other people there. But there was a sizeable contingent of police. And gradually, a small crowd gathered. But it was cold, so I just hoped the show would get a move on.

Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long. Some booming music, the distant sight of blue flashing lights and a big red open top bus with flags happily waving was spotted in the distance. The scene was that of celebration. I hope they enjoyed it while they could.

But sadly, we had to wait. For whatever reason, the red open top bus and the loud music pulled in, some distance away. And proceeded to wait there. For about quarter of an hour. While we shivered in the cold. This was my view for a good length of time.

As we waited, things around me started to become energised. The police went into crowd control mode in front of us. And there was a growing bunch of people standing around me.

Finally, things started to move. Namely, the police started to move. Here’s a picture of some police motorcycles. The Met Police force had clearly thrown all their people into this operation.

At last, the open-top double deck bus passes by. There’s some people on the top deck waving. I have no idea who they are. Politely, I wave back.

But things had changed from the carnival atmosphere when the bus entered into view. Now people had started booing and shouting slogans like “Free Tibet” and “Shame on China” and “Shame on the Torch”. These slogans would follow me, and the torch itself, for the rest of the outing.

Following the bus was a float. Mysterious addition this one. Presumably the hip-hop music and sexy dancers would have looked right if it was sunny and no one was protesting. But here, hours after the snows, in the freezing cold and among the protests; it was entirely out of place. Especially as the float drove right in front of the huge East London Mosque.

After the float with the dancers, there was a gap. Which was quickly filled by lots more police passing. Here’s some of them.

They were swiftly followed by more official and support vehicles. Here’s an official looking people carrier.

Which was followed by numerous support buses. Some of which had water for the runners; which evidently included the platoon of police and Chinese officials. Other buses were filled with Chinese officials in their tracksuits. All of which were greeted with passionate boos and a variety of slogans.

It looked like everything would pass smoothly. There wasn’t much disruption and everyone behaved themselves. Albeit, not verbally. After a Free Tibet protester passed with a banner on a trailer pulled by his bicycle, it looked like the drama was all over.

The media truck, carrying all the cameras was a sign that it wasn’t all over.

Excitement and atmosphere was electric by this point. Suddenly, the torch itself arrived into view. Well almost. If you look hard enough, you might see it behind the layers of police and Chinese officials.

As it goes by, at a fast-jogging pace, the booing, Free Tibet slogans and protest goes into overdrive. Pretty much where I was standing, the nature changed from the celebration and into the protest.

Hearing some others deciding the run along with the torch, I decide “what the heck”, and run. The new plan is to follow the protest, to photo the torch as it goes by, then repeat until I run out of breath.

So I start running. Something made easier by everyone else running with me. This is tremendously exciting. As I run along hearing the protest, some people throw things. The barrier on the kerb where I had been standing runs out. And I hear one of the police officers shout “End of cordon”, trying to get his colleagues to cover the gap. But their too late. The protestors run out in front of the torch.

Although the police manage to keep most out of the way, I see one of the protestors with a banner running directly in front of the torch bearer. Rapidly followed by a police officer tackling him, pushing him to the ground and pulling him out of the way. Amazing. This is a real protest now. And I’m all caught up in it.

I do catch the occasional glimpse of the runner herself, but I don’t recognise her. Also, the police aren’t able to keep the runner in the open for long. It’s never more than a few moments before another person tries to leap out in front of it all.

Sadly, my archaic camera phone is struggling to keep up.

All memory of the promised carnival-like celebrations are forgotten. Until we all stumble upon them. People dressed up, or operating a mechanical dragon. All very impressive. Although they look to be unsure about what exactly is going on. I quickly snap a couple of bad shots, before dashing off to catch up with the torch and the protest.

Around this time, I start seeing sign of Chinese supporters. Here’s one of many who were carrying Chinese flags.

I’m quite out of breath now. And things are changing. The torch bearer and the masses of people have stopped. Are they bundling the torch bearer and the Chinese officials into the support buses? I think they are.

The buses go past, each to very loud protest. Every slogan, plus a few more are directed at the people inside the buses.

The buses speed off. I’m much to unfit to continue pursuit by foot. And my camera clearly isn’t up to the job either. So I call it quits, and start the walk by home.

Enroute I pass more protestors. These people were carrying a Free Tibet banner between them. Although I’m at the wrong angle for you to read it. Well I was thoroughly exhausted by this time.

On the walk back, I was able to see a few more aspects to the protest. There were people from the Left List party. People campaigning for human rights from Amnesty International. There was even a fur trade placard in the hands of someone else. It was like everyone with a grievance was voicing it here. And come to think of it, some of the slogans didn’t even make sense.

The official banners strung-up by Tower Hamlets hint at what the torch relay could have been. Those plans look extremely optimistic now.

There are still a lot of people milling around. Here’s someone from Bangla TV doing their piece to camera.

Walking back along Whitechapel, and Brick Lane to return home, I’m pleased to have see it all. That experience was extraordinary. The atmosphere was incredible. The rush of chasing the torch and watching the passionate protestors. Even if some of them didn’t know what it was they were protesting about.

Well done to the police for dealing with things largely professionally. Although I did see some people with cameras getting pushed around by some officers.

What do you think about the Olympics and it’s ideals? Well it got me running. Even if not in the way the organisers would have hoped. Chasing the action this afternoon is the most exercise I’ve had in a long time. And it’s all down to the Olympics, and their capacity to ignore human rights abuses when it suits them.

Beer Review: Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale

4 April, 2008

ALL too soon, we reach the end of our second round up of Hall & Woodhouse brewed ales. If you haven’t read my reviews of their other brews yet, then here’s your chance to catch up. Brace yourself, they’ve built up a vast range of bottles:

Badger Original Ale, Badger Golden Glory Ale, Badger Golden Champion Ale, Badger Harvesters Ale and River Cottage Stinger.

Hall & Woodhouse do traditional ales very well, but that they aren’t afraid to try new things and throw in the unexpected. But will that be the case with Badger Blandford Fly?
Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale bottle

On the outside the Badger style is much in evidence. And as usual, the neck label is the place to start.

This one goes with a little sentence that describes it as “An unusually refreshing premium ale subtly spiced for EXTRA BITE”. Their capitalisation. Not mine. Which hints at what will make this refreshing ale, stand out from the crowd.
Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale neck label

Down on the main front label everything looks rustic and traditional. And that background. Does it remind you of bees wax? Or wallpaper?
Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale front label

Onto the roundel, and all the details are where they should be. It’s not overcrowded. And I happen to think it all looks quite attractive. The old Badger 1777 logo makes a more prominent reappearance this time. And the little illustration of a Blandford fly inbetween the words “Subtly” and “Spiced” hint at a story behind it. The 5.2% volume is on there. And besides the mentions of Hall & Woodhouse and Blandford St. Mary, Dorset; there’s not much to report from the front. Apart from the symmetry. Maybe that’s why it looks just right?

Around on the back label, things are straightforward again. Accompanied by some little illustrations of flys buzzing around, it starts with a concise description of what this ale is all about. As well as aiming to be a refreshing premium ale, it also has spicy ginger overtones and a warming character. The spicy ginger must be what gives it that “EXTRA BITE” mentioned on the front.
Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale back label

Those of you wanting a story to go with your ale won’t be disappointed. This one goes with that of the Blandford Fly of Dorset’s River Stour. You see where they got the name for this ale? It transpires that the fly in question has a habit of biting people. And that custom was; ginger would provide an antidote. Which would explain the name and idea behind this ale. Okay, it’s a tenuous link, but it’s better than some of the stories on beer bottles.

The invaluable ‘Taste Profile’ chart is always worth a look. Especially with Blandford Fly. This is the first time that I’ve seen one element of it rate as a five and another rate as a zero. In pole position this time with five out of five, is ‘Sweet’. ‘Bitter’ and ‘Fruity’ both receive three. ‘Malty’ has two. But ‘Hoppy’ isn’t even on the chart. According to this chart, Blandford Fly will be sweet, fruity and not even slightly hoppy. I can’t wait to find out what that’s going to be like.

But unfortunately there’s the small print to get through. Which I happen to know that some of you out there do like to know. So let’s plough through them quickly in order to get to the fun part of the review… The Blandford St. Mary, Dorset address is on there. So to is the www.badgerales.com web address. This is a 500 millilitre bottle, so the 5.2% volume gives it 2.6 UK units of alcohol. And it contains malted barley. That’s the dry part of the review out of the way. Now, time to find out what Blandford Fly is really all about.

Once in the glass, there’s more head than I’ve become used to from Badger. It’s surprisingly frothy. But. It does make the 500 millilitre bottle completely fill the pint glass.
Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale poured

This has one of the most distinctive smells I’ve yet witnessed. You can smell the ginger. And it is as unexpected as you’d imagine. Even after reading the label. You just don’t expect to smell it from an ale. Unusual and a good start.

Within one gulp, you can tell this is exactly as advertised on the label and the ‘Taste Profile’. The first taste you get is one of sweetness. Quickly followed by bitterness and fruitiness. Followed by an aftertaste of ginger. And that, is the sting of the Blandford Fly.

Some, if not most ales, need the entire bottle to figure out. But this gets straight to the point. And I have to say, I like it. And not just the being polite, acknowledging the quality, half-heartedly liking it. Blandford Fly is excellent. It’s easy to drink. Quite refreshing. Not too gassy. And it has that unusual ginger ‘sting’ that adds the most important quality. Difference. And I love beers that do something different.

The downsides. That ginger flavour is strong and won’t be to everyone’s tastes. So it won’t please everyone. You couldn’t describe it as ‘inoffensive’.

To try and sum up then; Blandford Fly is a Marmite of an ale. You’ll either love it or hate. I happen find it outstanding. And as it’s my blog, it gets a high rating. If you like unusual beers and ales, this is well worth the risk.

Rating: 4.35

If you’ve tried Blandford Fly, I’d be interested know if you liked it as much as I did. Or if you didn’t.

If you’ve got any suggestions of your own for ginger flavoured ales, or anything else you want me to review, leave a comment in the box below.

Beer Review: Hall & Woodhouse River Cottage Stinger

3 April, 2008

ONE of the more unusual innovations to come out of Hall & Woodhouse, is this: River Cottage Stinger.
River Cottage Stinger bottle

From the same Dorset brewer that brought us Badger Golden Glory Ale and yesterday’s low-alcohol Badger Harvesters Ale. Jettisoning the rule book, Hall & Woodhouse appear to be on an innovation binge with this 500 millilitre bottle. The bottle shape and shapes of the labels look the same as the Badger range, but as far as I can tell, that’s where the similarities end.

The bottle top is green with a ‘River Cottage‘ logo atop it. The neck label alludes to something unusual indeed with “Tongue Tingling Ale” surrounded what look like… no it can’t be… are those nettles?
Hall & Woodhouse River Cottage Stinger neck label

The plot thickens on the main front label.
Hall & Woodhouse River Cottage Stinger front label

In place of the usual badger logo is the “River Cottage” one. But under the large, green, stylized “Stinger” text, I’m glad to see the old badger still makes an appearance. An appearance from foliage that looks like… nettles. There they are again. A reassuring and disconcerting illustration. But one that makes you want to read on.

Under the illustration is the biggest mention I’ve yet seen of Hall & Woodhouse on the front of one of their bottles. “Brewed by Hall & Woodhouse” wasn’t on the front of their other bottles. Presumably because this one is more of a River Cottage ale than a Badger ale.

Next there’s a very stylised description of “using organic nettles hand-picked in Dorset”. That explains it. This is made from organic nettles. As for the hand-picking part, all I can think is, I hope they had plenty of dock leaves to hand. If you don’t know what I mean, that’s because you are a townie. You have my sympathies.

Also on the front is a respectable 4.5% volume.

Over on the back label, and the River Cottage connection becomes clear. There’s a photo and extensive quote from Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall. You know, the celebrity chef, author and journalist from Channel 4’s River Cottage series of programmes. At first, his involvement with an ale, organic or otherwise baffled me. That was until I learnt that his River Cottage is in Dorset, and thus, the link to Hall & Woodhouse became clear.
Hall & Woodhouse River Cottage Stinger back label

At this point, I must confess that I’ve never watched more than a few odd minutes of Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall’s television programmes. I’ve seen enough to get the gist that he likes the back-to-nature ways of cooking. And that’s something I respect. But anything more than a few minutes at a time and I’m afraid I might start voting Liberal Democrat.

Back to the label, and I’m delighted to see the little ‘Taste Profile’ chart has made in tact to this bottle. Albeit, minus the ‘See’, ‘Smell’ and ‘Taste’ additions from Harvester Ale. With this one, ‘Malty’ and ‘Fruity’ come out top with four out of five. And ‘Sweet’, ‘Bitter’ and ‘Hoppy’ are three, two and one out of five respectively. Something tells me that this is going to be distinctive.

The main text on the back label is actually a gigantic quote from H F-W himself. To summarise, he wanted to create an organic beer. And sums up Stinger with words like “delicious”, “refreshing”, “West Country character”, “depth”, “slightly spicy” “light bitterness” and “subtle tingle that comes from the nettles”. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly intrigued at this stage.

Among the usual small-print details, there’s one little symbol that makes it’s presence know. And that is the Soil Association Organic Standard mark. Yet again, we’re seeing another ale making a deal about being organic. This really does seem to be the next big thing.

Of the other small-print that may or may not interest you, is the little symbol telling us that this bottle has 2.3 of your UK units of alcohol. That is contains malted barley. The H & W address in Blandford St. Mary, Dorset, England. The www.badgerales.com web address. And, also, the www.rivercottage.net web address.

Enough chatter. Let’s see if this strange and unusual drink is actually any good.

Once safely in the glass, the first thing that surprised me was the colour. I was half hoping for an outrageous nettle green colour. But alas, it’s a straightforward light gold. And one with a predictable, thin head.
Hall & Woodhouse River Cottage Stinger poured

It does smell a little different however. And… I don’t know how to describe it. It smells kind of fruity and a little malty. But not in any ways that I’ve smelt it before. It’s not overpowering, and quite pleasant. I like beers that do something different, so in terms of smell, Stinger is doing well so far.

Only smell isn’t the most important part. Flavour, taste and drinkability are. So let’s get drinking. And my first impressions are good. Excellent in fact. A couple of gulps in, and this has a full, proper ale taste. Regardless of the unusual way in which it was made. Only I’m having some difficulty figuring out what it is that I’m tasting. Let’s compare it against Hugh’s description…

Yes, it is refreshing. Not the most refreshing ever, but served cool, it ticks that box. It’s got that character and depth that made me love the other Badger ales so much. So, if like me, you like your ale to be a complex blend of stuff, then you’ll probably get on well with Stinger too. Hugh also describes a light bitterness, with a spicy tingle. The light bitterness is definitely there. And it’s one of the lightest bitternesses I’ve seen for a long time. And it comes with hardly any bad aftertaste. So if you don’t like bitterness, you’re fairly safe with Stinger. As for the spicy tingle, I can’t quite find it on my taste buds. I’m getting a tiny hint of something tingly, buried in the blend. But the nettle-like sting isn’t much in evidence.

Over half of the way through now, and Stinger is proving to be a very enjoyable, and easily-drinkable ale. Easier to drink than even yesterday’s low-alcohol Harvesters Ale. This is turning out to be quite different to what I was expecting.

Stinger seems to be avoiding the downsides of being very hoppy. While being a little of the bitter, arable side of the flavour spectrum. Not greatly so, mind. And that I think, could be the weakness. It’s just not as unusual as I hoped it would be. Not that I expected nettle leaves to be floating in the bottle. But more of a nettle flavour would have helped Stinger stand out. And as a fan of homemade nettle soup, I can vouch for the tastiness of nettles.

To sum up then. What Stinger is tuning out to be, is a not an outlandish, new-age inspired eco-drink. But rather a quality, mild, drinkable ale with a nice taste. If you can find it stocked, I’d say it’s worth your time.

Rating: 4

Have you tried Harvester? What did you think of it?
The comments box is below. You know what to do…

Beer Review: Badger Harvesters Ale

2 April, 2008

LOW-ALCOHOL beer. What is the point? To me, something always seemed disingenuous and suspicious about low-alcohol beers and lagers. In the same way that ‘edutainment’ computer games would try to cover up learning with fun. Or Open University documentaries would try to disguise facts with a garnishing of entertainment. Whenever you consumed them, you would always have that suspicion that you were being manipulated into being ‘good’.

Realising this, yet still wanting new markets, the big brewers scratched their heads and did a spot of innovating. Most notably, Carling with their “mid-strength” 2% volume, C2 launch in 2006, aimed at the so-called ‘metrosexual’ man who wants a “proper pint” without getting drunk.

While I haven’t reviewed C2, I did review Tesco Value Lager. Which is also 2%. And a taste-less, pointless waste of time. And that, I suspect, is true of most low or mid-alcohol lagers. But… what about low-alcohol ale? Could that be the answer? Could it be a genuine, tasty, full-bodied beer for the health conscious socialite?

To answer this question, I have here a bottle of Hall & Woodhouse’s Badger Harvesters Ale. This comes from the same brewer as Badger Original Ale, Badger Golden Glory Ale and Badger Golden Champion Ale, whom insisted that I try a few more of their beers. So, let’s take a closer look at Badger Harvesters Ale.
Badger Harvesters Ale bottle

And one of the first things that grabs your attention is the little label on the neck of the bottle. And it’s a label I’ve been seeing a lot of recently.
Badger Harvesters Ale neck label

Broughton Double Champion Ale and Ridgeway Blue both have them, and Harvesters Ale joins them as a 2008 winner in the Tesco Drinks Awards. This time, in the category of ‘Lower & No Alcohol’. From my experience with those two other Tesco award winners, they tend to pick good drinks. So my expectations are going up. Albeit from a low starting point.

The big front label is a distinct variation on the Badger theme.
Badger Harvesters Ale front label

The entire design shouts, or rather whispers “take it easy”. The soft yellowy colours and the little picture of, presumably a harvester, relaxing under a tree paint a picture of pre-industrial rural bliss. Look a little closer and you’ll also notice the stylised ‘Harvesters’ logo has an arable touch to the letter ‘H’. There are also some simple pictures of birds, one of which is placed like an apostrophe above the logo. Or is it supposed to be Harvester’s and not Harvesters?

Standing out prominently is it’s own corner is “ALC 2.5% VOL”. And that could be key. It’s 0.5% higher than some of those awful medium-strength lagers. Over on the other corner, Harvesters is described as “refreshing” and “well-hopped” and as having a “lighter touch”. I hope all of that proves to be true.

Around to the back label, and I’m delighted to see the taste profile. And this label has made some additions to it.
Badger Harvesters Ale back label

The main part of that godsend of a chart gives ‘Sweet’ the highest of them all, with ‘Bitter’, ‘Hoppy’ and ‘Fruity’ all in joint second place. ‘Malty’ is the lowest.

The additions come in the form on three little boxes next to it. ‘See’, ‘Smell’ and ‘Taste’ all have their little icons, and, as you’d expect, give us yet more of an insight. Under ‘See’ we have “Light golden brown”. Under ‘Smell’, it is “Light and hoppy with grape undertones”. And for ‘Taste’, is tells us to expect “Medium bitterness & sweetness”.

I happen to think that these little boxes and the taste profile are terrific ideas. They give you an idea of whether you’ll like it or not, when you’re in the shop. And it gives me something to judge it by when it comes to my own taste test.

As with the other Badger ales, this one comes with a story behind it. This one revolves around the ale given by landowners to labourers at harvest time. And how, to avoid the calamity of drunken labours failing to do the harvest, less potent ales were sought. And that this is just such an ale. Light, yet supposedly not comprised in the things that matter.

There’s also all the small print you expect. That this is a 500 millilitre bottle. The Hall & Woodhouse Ltd. address in Blandford, Dorset, England. And www.badgerales.com web address. That this contains malted barley and sulphites. The fact that this only has 1.3 UK units of alcohol. And a few more details that don’t make it onto most other bottles. There’s a small table listing the recommended daily maximum of alcohol units; 3-4 for men and 2-3 for women. Also, next to the usual ‘drink responsibly’ message and recycle symbols, there’s one indicating that pregnant women should not drink. This takes corporate social responsibility to the next level.

But is it any good. We’re about to find out…

Well, it’s a golden brown colour. As described on the label. It’s topped off by a creamy and consistent head. As for the smell, it is as mildly hoppy as hinted at by the label. I’m not so sure about those grape undertones however. Although there’s a hint of something citrus in there if you sniff it hard enough.
Badger Harvesters Ale in a glass

The label described the taste as having medium bitterness and sweetness. A couple of gulps in, and I’m undecided about it. It is bitter. A little too much so for my personal taste. And leaves a hoppy aftertaste. But the sweet fruitiness. And the rich, complex flavours that make ales so good just weren’t as much in evidence as I had hoped.

On the other hand, it is refreshing. Not too gassy. And importantly, it’s also quite easy to drink.

While this is much much better than the watery Tesco Value Lager, it doesn’t quite deliver the full ale experience minus the alcohol. That said, it does get pretty darn close. If I were having a beer with a meal during a lunch break at work, this would be the right thing to have. It sets the standard for low-alcohol ales. By and large, it accomplishes what it sets out to do. Even though it didn’t really do it for me.

Rating: 3.15

Have you tried Badger Harvesters Ale?

Or do you have any recommendations of your own for low-alcohol beers?
Comments, ideas, suggestions and insults below please.


%d bloggers like this: