Archive for December, 2008

Beer Review: Badger Fursty Ferret

30 December, 2008

DORSET’S most prolific brewer has snuck a couple more bottles into my local corner shop again. Marvellous. The last half-a-dozen bottles of Badger/Hall & Woodhouse ale I tried were very good. Or better. What is Fursty Ferret? And why is Ferret Fursty? Let’s see.

Badger Fursty Ferret bottle

The bottle is transparent. Which is different to most other Badger bottles. It takes away the surprise of an unexpected colour. But then why hide such a deliciously brown liquid in an opaque bottle?

Badger Fursty Ferret neck label

The bottle comes with a neck-label. And that label describes it as “Ale Full of Character”. Appetising, but it could do more. Brewers, use the neck label to tell us something useful about the drink. Is it fruity, malty or made with silage?

The front-label is the simplest Badger front-label I’ve seen yet. Just look at it.

Badger Fursty Ferret front label

Besides the name and logo, the only other details are “Country Crafted” and “Alc 4.4% Vol”. You have to love the ferret’s getting up to mischief around the keg of beer though. 4.4% volume isn’t too bad either. Even though I like my ale to have more power, a lot of you will like how it sits nicely between the three-point-something’s and more-than-five-percent’s.

The lack of information isn’t a problem either, when you remember how superb Badger’s back labels are.

Badger Fursty Ferret back label

The story comes with a story as tenuous as any about ferrets sneakily enjoying the brew at a country pub. It goes on to describe itself as a “tawny amber ale” with a “nutty” taste, “hoppy aroma” and something to do with “Saville oranges”. Fortunately, they also included one of their excellent charts for those of us who prefer to see pictures instead of reading. And, for the first time, I have a camera good enough for you to read what it says.

What are the most important bits? The taste. They describe it as “Malty” and balanced. On the chart, “Sweet” stands right out, bolstered by strong “Malt” and “Fruity”. But you didn’t need me to say that because, for once, my photo is good enough for you to see for yourself.

Under the interesting bits we get to the small print. The only ingredients on the list are “malted barley, wheat & sulphites”. At 4.4% volume, this standard 500ml weighs in at 2.2 UK units of alcohol. So you can have around two of them in one sitting.

At the very bottom of the label are the addresses that matter. There’s Hall & Woodhouse Ltd’s address. In case you want to write to them. Or visit them. And there’s the web address which is www.badgerales.com.

Does it taste sweet, malty and fruity? Time to crack open the bottle and find out. I’m looking forward to this.

Badger Fursty Ferret poured into a glass

The colour is as “tawny amber” as it looked in the bottle. Only now it has a patchy and rather disappointing head.

The label promised a complicated smell of things like spicy hops, orange and malt. That’s a lot of different things. It’s so complicated that I can’t disagree. All those things are in the smell. And possibly a few more besides. Hoppy, tangy and complex is the overly simplistic way I’ll choose to describe it.

Miraculously, it tastes exactly the way it smells. All the complexity and everything. That was a very satisfying first gulp.

The flavours aren’t strong. They’re not weak either. Just a bit passive. Great if you want a gentle, nutty and slightly fruity and malty. Not so much if you wanted something strong and outrageous.

The gentle flavour is gently replaced by the aftertaste that gently rolls onto your tongue. Pleasant hoppy-ness takes centre stage. Tangy malty-ness are the supporting acts. And the whole act is a bitter sweet balance. All in all, the label is spot-on.

Two-thirds of the way through the bottle, what am I enjoying about Badger Fursty Ferret? Quite a lot. Hall & Woodhouse rarely disappoint with their labels. The profile box on the back of Fursty Ferrett is as accurate as any. And that’s good because it will help you pick a bottle that you like. It smells complex, which a good ale should do. It tastes good. In fact, it’s so gentle and tasty, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who’ll hate it. It’s not gassy. And the Badger quality is most definitely here. You can taste the care and quality. Especially if you’ve come straight from a lager.

What am I not enjoying about Badger Fursty Ferret? Mostly the things that come down to personal taste. The gentle flavour is all well and good, but I like something that takes bigger risks and does something original. Which Fursty Ferret doesn’t really. Even though that’s probably not what they set out to do. What else? Nitpicking again brings me to the strength, but then it never said it was a strong ale. The only valid complaint I can think of is that it’s hard to find in shops.

To sum up, Badger Fursty Ferret is a deserving member of the Badger line-up. It’s tasty, gentle and well made. Even if it is a little on the boring side. I liked it and you probably will too. It’s like Canada. Hard to hate.

Rating: 4

Have you tried Badger Fursty Ferret? What did you think of it? Leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy in the comments section here.

Snack Food Review: Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines with Hot Peppers

19 December, 2008

REMEMBER my look at Brunswick Candian Style Sardines in Louisiana Hot Sauce? No? You’re not alone. No one else has read it either. In short, Canadian Style turned out to be full of bones and fish gunk. And the hot sauce really was hot and tasty.

How, then, will Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines with Hot Peppers compare?

Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines with Hot Peppers

Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines with Hot Peppers

Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines with Hot Peppers

It’s all exactly the same until you open the thing. Just like how the “Hot Louisiana Sauce” surprised me last time be actually being “Hot Louisiana Sauce”? Well, this does the same thing. It actually has hot peppers sitting on top of the sardines. You’ve got to admire the honest packaging of Brunswick.

Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines with Hot Peppers

What does it taste like? Not as hot as I thought it would be. Not even if you eat the small slivers of pepper. There’s some liquid in the tine, but not much. About the same as with their Louisiana Hot Sauce.

I’m about half-way through now, and the peppers are having an effect. At last. This is gradually turning into a satisfyingly hot tin of sardines.

What else can I say about it? Well, the Canadian style is in full effect again. These are nearly complete sardines full of all their gunk and bones. Some of you will love the experience of carefully trying to open and remove the unwanted bits from each fish using only a fork. I however, am not so keen on the Canadian style. Not least because they’re too dry for my taste.

I can’t fault the advertising though. Both this and the Louisiana Hot Sauce did exactly what they promised. And they did it better than the usual big brands they sell over here. They’re amazingly tasty considering how dry they were. If they can do these things but with boneless sardines instead, they’ll have a winner.

Have you tried Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines with Hot Peppers? What did you think of them? Got any requests, recommendations or opinions? Then do please leave a message in the boxes below.

Snack Food Review: Cypressa Gherkins

17 December, 2008

DESPITE growing up in Pembrokeshire, I’ve always loved pickled gherkins. That’s a bit like someone in Turkey having a love of gravy. Whatever the reason, and whatever your own origins, the preserved condiments make outstanding snacks.

But what makes a good pickle? Pondering this question for nearly twelve seconds led me to the decision that a good pickle needs to be:

  • Tasty
  • Tangy
  • And crunchy

Most corner shops and supermarkets here in the UK have jars of Mrs Elswood brand pickles. And they’re perfectly fine. But, regular readers will know that I like to see what else is on the shop shelves. Helping me in this quest is London with its shops catering for every single nationality.

Where do we begin? With a jar of Cypressa Gherkins purchased for £1.29 pence from Anisha Cash & Carry on Redchurch Street in Bethnal Green.

Cypressa Gherkins

The ingredients are gherkins, water, vinegar, sugar, salt, sill, mustard seeds, onion, and flavourings. Is any of that relevant? I don’t know my types of pickle well enough. If you think any of that is important, leave a message at the end of this post.

The Wikipedia page on Pickled Cucumber at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickled_cucumber does make it look like this is Polish style picked cucumbers. Can anyone confirm that? Messages at the bottom of this post please.

What else can I tell you? Well, it has a 680 gram net weights and a 370 gram drained weight. It was imported into this country by Katsouris Brothers Ltd. And it is the product of Turkey. Which must be why they’re laying claim to the “Cypress” part of the “Cypressa” name.

Cypressa Gherkins

But, are they any good? Let’s open it and find out.

Cypressa Gherkins

Even with vinegar as one of the main ingredients, you can hardly taste it. It tastes more of salty water. But even that’s not very strong.

Cypressa Gherkins

Cypressa Gherkins

Are they tasty? Not very. There’s almost no flavour. They’re nearly plain old dill cucumbers that just happen to be floating in a jar.

Are they tangy? Surprisingly, no. They’re a tiny bit tangy, but nothing more.

Are they crunchy? There’s a minimum level of crunchiness. They’re not chewy. Just adequate in crunchiness.

Cypressa Gherkins seem to be all about providing the least flavoured pickled dill possible. That might be great for some recipes and sandwiches. But I want more flavour. Buy them if you want a gentle experience and almost no taste. Otherwise, pick up a different jar the next time you visit the shops.

And so ends my first review of a jar of pickled gherkins. What did you think? Have you tried Cypressa Gherkins? Is there anything you want me to look out for next time? Leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy in the boxes below.

Beer Review: Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip

16 December, 2008

OLDE TRIP but contemporary style. Having the shield label and writing on transparent labels and a transparent bottle makes this bottle of Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip look interesting. Interesting and familiar. Something about this bottle rings a bell. I’m sure I’ve seen the crown and “Estd 1799” embossed on the shoulder of another bottle.

Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip bottle

The neck label is the only bit that isn’t transparent. That makes it look out of place. It also doesn’t tell you anything about the ale within. If you’re going to stick a label around the neck of a beer bottle, use it to describe what the beer will be like. Not that I don’t mind being totally surprised by a beer. I like it. But normal people won’t.

Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip neck label

The front label is superb. It gets everything right.

Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip front label

First of all, it’s in the shape of a shield and it has old fashioned writing. If, like me, you’re looking for interesting bottles of ale, this bodes well. Under the glorious “Olde Trip” name, it then comes in with the details you want to know. First by describing itself as a “Premium Ale”. And then by giving the alcoholic volume of 4.3%.

Okay, I do like my ale to be a little stronger than that. But you can’t fault this front label. It gets to the point in a quirky way. And that’s good.

Over on the back label, we get the sort of story we’re looking for on a bottle of British ale. We also get some much needed answers to our suspicions.

Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip back label

The story is tenuous as the best of them. This one tells us how this ale has taken it’s name from “Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (AD1189)”. Apparently England’s oldest inn, at the foot of Nottingham Castle, where knights went for a drink before The Third Crusade. How charmingly politically incorrect. I’m liking this bottle more and more.

Under the story however, things start to look eerily familiar again. The sensible drinking message rings a bell. As does the malted barley symbol.

Down in the small print now and clearly displayed are the details you want to know. For instance, this 500ml bottle, with it’s 4.3% volume content weighs in at a reasonable 2.2 UK units of alcohol. Which means you can treat yourself to two bottle of Olde Trip before the government sends you a social worker.

Right at the very bottom of the label, in tiny writing is the answer to my suspicions. Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip is in fact brewed by Greene King in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. So, that explains that.

But, what will it be like? It’s a premium ale, so it could taste of just about anything. So the questions are simple ones. What will it taste like? And is it worth your money and time? Let’s crack it open and find out.

Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip poured

It fizzed right up. Even getting the glass in place swiftly couldn’t save a few drops from making an escape. I recommend playing video games until your reactions become fast enough to open this bottle.

Once safely in the glass however, it looks good. Not surprising. We knew exactly what colour it would be from the transparent glass bottle. But that dark ruby colour is most appetising.

It comes with a fairly good head, too. It didn’t froth up uncontrollably. Nor did it vanish into a few stray bubbles. Instead, it’s a creamy little layer.

What does it smell like? Rich and complex. There’s more different smells than I can make head or tail of. If pushed to stick my neck out, I’d say it smells chocolaty, roasted and fruity. Like a burnt Carbury’s Fruit & Nut. Maybe it’s because it’s been so very long since I had enjoyed an ale, but it smells wonderful. Not too strong and as complex traffic law.

Does it taste as delicious as it smells? A couple of gulps in, and first impressions are fairly good. It’s complex enough for me to need a few more gulps to make sense of the flavours. And it’s tasty enough to far for that to be an appealing challenge.

A few more gulps in, and Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip is coming into focus. What you get in a gulp first, are flavours. Frustratingly, they’re hard to decipher. They don’t last for long before they’re gone, wiped out by the aftertaste. The only flavours I’ve succeeding in identifying are something roasted and some fruit. The flavour part of Olde Trip isn’t exactly forthcoming.

What dominates a gulp of Olde Trip is the aftertaste. It rolls in purposefully and delivers it’s payload of hoppy bitterness. It’s a long lasting aftertaste too. How can I describe it? It tastes like a blend of leaves and twigs. And that, in my opinion, is what a hoppy and bitter ale should do.

Nearly at the bottom of the glass now, and I’m enjoying a few things about Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip. I like very much how complicated it is. I like how it looks and smells. I’m intrigued by the hoppy-ness that is, in the end, what Olde Trip is all about. I love how easy to drink it is. It’s not too bitter or off the wall to be off-putting. There is a lot to like about Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip.

Is there anything I’m not enjoying about Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip? Well, it made a mess on my kitchen work top. The flavours are hiding when they could elevate Olde Trip even higher by staying around for longer. It’s a little gassy and not easy to find in shops. Those however are not big complaints. The big complaint is that it doesn’t do anything new. I’ve tried hop driver ales before. This is an excellent example of one. But without those flavours being allowed to do something unique to the formula, it can’t make the final leap to greatness.

To sum up. Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip is an excellent example of an ale that gives you an interesting hoppy bitterness as an aftertaste. I thoroughly enjoyed this bottle. If you like this type of ale, then it’s worth your time and money. If you like light lager then you might not like it. I on the other hand have enjoyed ever gulp.

Rating: 4.29

Have you tried Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip? What did you think of it?
Leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy in the boxes below.

Snack Food Review: Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines in Louisiana Hot Sauce

14 December, 2008

YOU know those little tine of fish. You see them in every supermarket and corner shop in the land. They have a ring pull and are usually filled with sardines. Or mackerel. Or some other type of fish. Well, I’ve been enjoying Princes mackerel fillets and boneless sardines recently. But, what happens when you go beyond the big-name brands?

While looking through Tesco’s ever-growing selection of ethnic food, I found these: Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines in Louisiana Hot Sauce. What they’re doing in the ethnic foods section is beyond me. If you know why Tesco are hiding them there, then do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

Front of wrapper

Unlike they’re British counterparts. These come in a tin, inside a wrapper. If they’re aim is to add a premium feel, then they’ve succeeded. It’s the equivalent of adding foil wrapping to the top of beer bottles. Pointless, but it looks good.

On both sides, there’s a lot of information. Little of which is interesting. If you want me to list the ingredients or whatever next time, then leave a request at the end of this post.

Back of wrapper

They’re serving suggestion involves crackers. Which is a new one to me. They’re web address is www.brunswick.ca. A website that helpfully has a section especially for those of us in the UK at http://www.brunswick.ca/brunswick/unitedkingdom/mainpage.asp. With heritage going back to 1893, Brunswick must know how to make a good tin of fish. And I’m fascinated to see what “Canadian Style” means. So, let’s open.

Tin

Once out of the colourful wrapper, things become a little more functional.

Opening the tin reveals what look like complete sardines. Minus the head and tail. Decanted into a bowl, I can report that they are actually large fragment. They smell of fish. They look as if they were only just in the water. And they have the manky bits I’m not so keen on. The bones and mysterious brown stuff that I try to avoid.

Opened tin

There’s also not a lot of sauce. I was expecting it to be drenched in the stuff like the sardines normally sold here. But it’s not.

How do they taste? First bite was plain. It tastes of plain old sardines. No bad thing if that’s what you want. But I was hoping for hot sauce. As per the billing. Then it hit. Like the after taste of a beer. It does have a hot taste. Hotter than with most UK brands.

They’ve also done a lot less processing than with the UK brands. I’m pulling out nearly complete backbones and stuff. Some of you will love that. But it’s not really what I’m after from tinned sardines.

Right, I’ve just finished eating. What is there to like about Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines in Louisiana Hot Sauce? It’ll please those who like the experience of eating a fish with the convenience of a tin. There’s no mass of sauce to splash all over your clothes. The flavour is hot.

What did I dislike about Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines in Louisiana Hot Sauce? Well, the sardines were so complete; I spent a good deal of time carefully removing the backbones and manky brown stuff. I hope you have an air freshener and a lid on your bin. If anyone has tips for how to dispose of fish bits, leave a message at the end of this post.

In conclusion, Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines in Louisiana Hot Sauce are not bad. Excellent if you like the fish eating experience. Not so good, if, like me, you prefer a bone-free fish. Outstanding hot flavour though. That’s unmatched compared to the brands over here.

Do please leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy in the boxes below. Thanks for reading my first food review!

Beer Review: Birra Moretti Imported

13 December, 2008

AFTER moving to a cold, rodent infested flat. And after going without an Internet connection for weeks on end, I’m back. The bottle of beer with the monumental task of cheering me up is this little bottle of Birra Moretti Imported from Italy. Remembering how lacklustre Peroni, Peroni Nastro Azzurro and Castello Premium were, I’m expecting it to be competent and not much more.

Imported Birra Moretti bottle

The bottle doesn’t look bad. But then style was never the weak link with Italian beer. This stumpy brown glass bottle has the “Moretti” logo embossed around the shoulder.

The front of the neck label says pretty much everything you need to know. That it’s imported. That quality and tradition feature somewhere within, assuming that’s what “Qualità e Tradizione” mean. I’m also guessing that “Dal 1859” means “Est.” or “Since” 1859. And that’s not bad at all. Castello Premium didn’t give a date at all.

Birra Moretti Imported front of neck label

In case you were in any doubt about the origins of Birra Moretti, the wrap-around neck-label gives you an answer.

Birra Moretti Imported rest of neck label

“Birra Italiana”. Even I can understand that. And I’ve never studied Italian.

The front of the front-label takes the approach of an illustration of a traditional countryman about to enjoy a big frothing glass of beer.

Imported Birra Moretti front of front label

No points for originality. Bottles of beer all over the world have illustrations of jolly men about to enjoy a big, frothy glass. The thing is, this man doesn’t look jolly at all. In fact, he looks jolly miserable. As we all know, everyone in Italy is either a Communist or member of the Mafia. Since this miserable man is wearing a smart suit and hat, that must mean he’s just finished a hard day collecting money from local shopkeepers for the entirely legitimate protection operation which in no way obliges participation.

The rest of the front-label roundel is a bigger version of what’s on the neck-label. It’s all very tasteful and informative. It doesn’t stop there, however. Instead, it wraps around very slightly at either side. Why they didn’t just make the back label bigger is beyond me. Nevertheless, here’s the left-side of the front-label.

Birra Moretti Imported left of front label

This side helpfully says, in English, “Imported from Italy”. Under that are lots of words I can’t understand. Therefore, I make plea to any Italians reading. If you can translate anything from the label, do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

Not all the words are a mystery though. “Heiniken Italia” must mean that this comes from the Italian branch of the Heineken mega-brewer. “Milano, Italy” must mean that it comes from Italy’s spectacular Northern city of Milan.

Birra Moretti Imported right of front label

Over on the other side of the front label, and there are some more words that I can’t understand. What I can understand are this beer’s vital statistics. It has a perfectly respectable 4.6% volume, and it comes in the typical 33cl bottle size. It also has an Italian language list of ingredients. Some of which look familiar, others do not. Fortunately, the back label steps in to help.

Imported Birra Moretti back label

I doesn’t have much. There’s an impenetrable block of multi-lingual text and a repeat of many of the details from the front. But, it does have an English language list of ingredients. And that list includes “water, malted barley, corn, hops”.

But, what will it be like? Will it be better than other Italian beer? What will it taste like? It’s time to find out.

Imported Birra Moretti poured into a glass

Anyone hoping for a dark, frothing glass as in the front-label illustration will be disappointed. It’s just the most pale lager I’ve seen in a long time. And it’s lacking much in the way of froth. There’s a patchy layer of bubbles, but calling it a ‘head’ is a stretch.

Despite these drawbacks, it smells good. Not original. It has much the same smell as other good lagers. But that blend of malted barley and other ingredients in lager-ish proportions is just the right strength. Not so weak as to be almost invisible. And not too overpowering.

Of course, I’ve been here before. Smelling right is one thing. It’s how it tastes that matters. So let’s try this fridge cooled glass of Birra Moretti.

First couple of gulps, and first impressions are okay. It tastes the way most lager does. That is, it tastes of a blend of malted barley and other beer ingredients. No flavour. Then a smooth, gentle introduction of a mild lagery bitterness. Not so much a “bite”. More a nibble. A couple more sips confirms it. Birra Moretti is another competent, yet bland lager.

What is there to enjoy about Birra Moretti? If you like (or at least don’t mind) lager, then you’re in luck. There’s little to put you off it. There’s no unpleasant “bite” to the aftertaste. In fact, it’s one of the smoothest and gentlest out there. All of which make it easy to drink.

What of the downsides to Birra Moretti? Well, it is a lager. And that dooms you to flavour boredom. It doesn’t even attempt to push the boundaries within the confines of being a lager. And that doesn’t score it points of originality. It’s also on the gassy side.

Does it compare better than any other Italian bottled beers? No. They’re all okay.

How can I sum up this imported bottle of Birra Moretti? It’s a perfectly competent lager. When I visit Italy, I’ll happily drink this. But on a shop shelf next to considerably more interesting bottles, choose something better instead.

Rating: 2.25

Have you tried Imported Birra Moretti? What did you think of it?

Can you translate anything on the labels?

Do please leave your translations, corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy in the box below.


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