Archive for January, 2009

Beer Review: Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer

31 January, 2009

MERE weeks before I started writing beer reviews for this blog, I had much fun comparing Wychwood Hobgoblin Ruby Beer with its cousin, Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer. Both bought from my local Tesco. Making sense of their differences was one of the things that inspired me to start the thing that you’re now reading. But before I could get another bottle of Wychwood Wychcraft, Tesco ran out of them.

That was very very sad. Not just because it left a hole in my project. But because I know from the statistics that a lot of you come here looking for beers from the Wychwood Brewery.

Riding to the rescue is an off-licence from Kingsland Road. An off-licence that doesn’t just sell this, but two other Wychwood ales. They’ll appear here in a few days, but this is the place to pick things up with Wychwood. So, a year overdue, here is Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer.

Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer bottle

It’s exactly the same bottle that Wychwood use for all of their bottled ales. And already, it’s showing Halloween character that made Hobgoblin such a hit. Look closely, and you’ll notice a witch riding a broomstick embossed around the shoulder of the bottle.

A theme continued on the neck label.

Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer front of neck label

For this is where we learn that the witch on a broomstick must be their logo. And that “Brewers of Character” must be their slogan. Honestly, I’m amazed that no other brewer took that slogan first. If you’re a small brewery making bottles of ale that have character, surely “Brewers of Character” would be the obvious choice for a slogan.

That’s not all from the neck label though.

Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer side of neck label

“Thrice Hopped” sounds interesting. I don’t know what it means. But it sounds technical and like it will make it hoppier and more interesting. If hopping once is good, how much better will triple-hopping be? I’m looking forward to finding out.

The front-label of Wychcraft is another masterpiece of fantasy novel imagery.

Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer front label

Or, it’s completely unnecessary and detracts from what bottles of beer should be. Personally, I love the Wychwood style. This one has all manner of mythical folk beautifully drawn around what it essentially, a traditional roundel. Kudos goes to anyone who can name what the various folk on the front label are.

The label isn’t just brilliant artwork and Dungeons and Dragons style. It gives you some clues about what the beer will be like. And on a bottle of beer, that’s important. “Blonde Beer” gives you some hints. Although experience tells me that Blonde Beers can take almost any form.

Maybe the almost unreadable red script in the middle of the label will help? I think it says “The four Elements combined to create a Truly Magical brew”. An enigmatic response there to the question of what Wychcraft will actually taste like. It might explain the four characters on the label though.

Maybe the back label will supply the answers that we crave.

Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer back label

The back label couldn’t be much more different to the front.

Most prominent is the T-shirt offer. Send them five Wychwood bottle tops and a cheque or Postal Order for £7.99 pence, and they’ll send you a T-shirt that would normally cost more.

For the curious, they have a website that you can visit at www.wychwood.co.uk. It’s a relatively good website compared to the Flashy marketing that most brewers fob off on us. A bit of poking around reveals a very informative page about this bottle of A bit of poking around reveals a very informative page about this bottle of Wychcraft Blonde Beer at http://www.wychwood.co.uk/beers_wychcraft.htm.

Back on the label, and Head Brewer, Jeremy Moss, does what he can to sum up this complicated ale in a quick quote. He describes it as “A pale golden potion with delicate red hues, Wychcraft has a heady burst of fresh citrus aroma derived from three infusions of Styrian Goldings hops”.

As the only brewer I’ve ever seen who describes their beer as a “potion”, Jeremy immediately scores points for style. As for the three infusions of hops, I can’t wait to see how that squares with the taste he describes. Surely it’s going to taste like a hedgerow with that much hopping.

Down to the small print now, and Wychcraft Blonde Beer has a reasonable 4.5% alcoholic volume. In this regular 500ml bottle, that brings it to an equally reasonable 2.3 nanny-state UK units of alcohol. If you want to get sloshed, best look elsewhere.

For those who like to know where their beer comes from, I can tell you that Wychwood Brewery Co are in Witney, Oxfordshire. It has their address and everything in case you want to get in touch with them.

With that out of the way, we get to the fun part. What does Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer taste like? Do I like it and should you buy it? All questions I shall attempts to answer because it’s time to open the bottle.

Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer poured into a glass

Straight away, Wychwood starts to surprise. The crazy head makes it tricky to pour into a pint glass. It does settle down are a few minutes though into a thick layer of froth. It’s a much darker amber than the light gold that I was expecting, too. That’s no bad thing however. Jeremy Moss mentioned “delicate red hues” though and I’m just not seeing them.

Head Brewer, Jeremy Moss, also mentioned a “burst of fresh citrus aroma derived from three infusions of Styrian Goldings hops”. Whatever it smells of is certainly pungent. This has the strongest odour of any beer I’ve tried for a long time. I’m going to describe it as bursting with hops and citrus. Spot on, Jeremy.

But what does Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer taste like? In a word, hoppy. Not surprising for ale proudly “thrice hopped”. A couple of gulps down, and I’m finding it tasty and delicious. Beware though if you don’t like hoppy bitterness.

How can I describe the flavour of eware though if you don’t like hoppy bitterness.

How can I describe the flavour of Wychcraft? With difficulty. It’s swamped by the aftertaste. What my untrained palate is picking up on are traces of malt, biscuit and twigs and leaves.

The aftertaste is what Wychcraft Blonde Beer is all about. The website describes it as having a “dry biscuit note and a counterpoise of bitterness”. I’ll go along with dry biscuit. Bu that changes, smoothly, into hoppy bitterness. Not a strong or overpowering taste. Just a pleasant one that you get used to quickly.

What am I enjoying about Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer? A great big list of things. The flavours and tastes are delicious. There are a few different flavours and tastes all melded together. That makes Wychcraft complex and interesting. Those are qualities you want your ale to have.

It doesn’t stop there. Wychcraft is also rich and smooth. It’s full of flavour and taste, yet none seem out of place. It only takes a gulp or two for you to get used to it. After that, it’s very easy to drink. All of which evidence just how well made it is. Not too gassy either. Then there’s the brilliantly quirky packaging.

What am I not enjoying about Wychwood Wychcraft? Not a lot. If I had to nitpick, the flavours and taste are quite dry. Something to moisten it up would be welcome. Some people could be put off by the strong-ish taste. Also, the pleasantly hoppy ale has been done before by many other people. That loses it marks for originality. It’s also not easy to get hold of. Besides that, nothing really.

If you’re wandering what it’s similar too, you’ve got a few options. The only one I can remember at the moment is Hardys & Hanson’s Olde Trip. But most of the hoppy bottled ales stand around where Wychwood does.

How can I sum up Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer? Simple. This is an excellent, hoppy ale. A bit on he dry and malty, biscuity side. Very high-quality and easily drinkable by all but the most timid drinkers. I like it and I think you should try one yourself.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde Beer? Do you work for Wychwood?

Then do please leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments section. And remember to check back soon for two more Wychwood beers!

Snack Food Review: Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers

29 January, 2009

THE pickles I’ve tried so far have been disappointing. Cypressa Gherkins were tasteless and Baktat Pickled Gherkins were too salty. Probably because salt was one of the main ingredients. So, to get that tasty, tangy, crunchy pickle, I’ve looked out one that doesn’t have salt as one of the chief ingredients. For this little experiment, I’ve picked out what must be the UK market leader: Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers.

Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers jar

I love the “Mrs Elswood” name and logo. She is the archetypal Jewish mother. And for a jar of pickles, that’s perfect and ironic at the same time. A bit like having Welsh Coal Miner brand Welsh Cakes. For the culturally oversensitive, don’t worry, I have ancestry in both of the groups I’ve just offended.

Back to the jar of pickles, and the barcode side of the label reveals some interesting information.

Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers barcode side of label

Unlike the last two jars I tried, this one is British. It comes from Empire Food Brokers Ltd from Northolt. Wherever that is. They have a web address which is www.empirefoodbrokers.com. They have an annoying, Flash heavy website. So to save you time, the Mrs Elswood homepage is at http://www.empirefoodbrokers.com/main/mrselswood.htm

The other details are the weight. Net weight is 670g. Drained weight is 360g.

The other side is packed with information.

Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers other side of label

Because these are from here in the UK, you get a big table full of nutritional information. Where you’ll be pleased to see that there is very little fat. Albeit compensated with lots of carbohydrates and sugar.

Over on the ingredients list, the list is cucumbers, acetic acid, sugar, salt, onions, mustard seeds, flavouring, firming agent (calcium chloride) and colour E101. Not many of which I know anything about. There’s a fine selection of other gubbins in there besides the cucumbers. You can see that in the photo. There’s more sugar than salt which will hopefully make them taste better. These aren’t dill cucumbers either.

What are they like? Will thy be tastier, tangier and crunchier than the competition? Should you buy a jar? Time to find out…

Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers jar open

The first thing you notice is just how big they are compared to the petite dill cucumbers in most other jars. Therein lies the trade-off. Each one makes a little snack in its own right. But you get fewer per jar.

Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers on a fork

The first thing you notice, the thing that catches you totally off-guard is how sweet they are. Even though I knew that sugar was high up on the ingredients list, I just didn’t expect it to taste sugary. If you’re not used to it you will be surprised because you simply don’t expect to taste sugar on a cucumber out of a water filled jar.

Sugar isn’t the only thing in the taste. There hints of the salt, onions and mustard. All of which makes it a bit more interesting. But mostly it’s about the sugar.

So the tastiness is accounted for. What about tanginess? It has some of that. But the sugary-ness makes tanginess almost irrelevant.

How about crunchiness then? It has some of that too. The cucumbers make a satisfying crunch. But they’re a bit softer than I’d like. Overall, perfectly adequately crunchy is what they are.

What do I like about Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers? Quite a few things. The unexpected sugariness makes these quirky and edible. Very edible. They would be fantastic in sandwiches and things. In fact, anywhere you want the benefits of pickled cucumber without salt and vinegar. I like how big these cucumbers are. Big enough for your fork or to put on a plate with your lunch. Not so big that you need help to hoist it out of the jar.

Are there any downsides to Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers? For some reason, they kept reminding me of the pickles you get in subs and burgers. That meant I had a constant urge to eat a Hearty Italian bread roll. Evidently, they use sweet pickles in subs and burgers. Mind you, that’s no bad thing. Some people won’t like it though. Also, there’s that trade-off again. I’ve had two so far and there are only six left.

To conclude, Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers are the best I’ve tried yet. They have the right size and taste for snacks on their own or as an addition to a sandwich. Which is not something I recommended about the other two. This is well worth buying.

Have you tried Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers? What did you think? Do please leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments section.

Beer Review: Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale

28 January, 2009

BACK to the civilised hemisphere and to the county of Kent this time. For here is but the third bottle of Shepherd Neame that I’ve found. This one is called Whitstable Bay Organic Ale and I found it in an off-licence on Kingsland Road where the East End starts turning into North London.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale bottle

It’s a funny looking thing isn’t it? The bottle is the same bulbous shape as their excellent Bishops Finger and Spitfire Kentish ales. But for some reason, having honey-amber coloured drink in transparent glass, wrapped in matching yellow labels makes it look like the shop shelf-stacker accidentally left jars of maple syrup on the beer shelf.

The neck label sticks closely to the Shepherd Neame style.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale neck label

And that’s no bad thing. If you were “Britain’s Oldest Brewer” with a brewery dating back to “1698” in “Favershame Kent”, you’d want to shout about it too.

The front-label, again, is exactly the same shape as the ones they used for Bishops Finger and Spitfire.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale front label

What can I say about it? It’s got some pictures of small sailing boats on it. It’s a roundel design. Whitstable Bay Organic Ale is “A Modern Ale From Britain’s Oldest Brewer”, which sums up what it’s all about. And it’s very yellow.

That’s about it from the front label. It should say more about the beer to help you make up your mind while you’re in the shop. But it doesn’t. What you do instantly pick up upon however is that this is an organic foodstuff. Now, I’ve got nothing against organic ale. I’m sure that Prince Charles will be delighted with it. There’s just something a little smug about organic ales like this. Every decent bottled ale on the market should be organic by now, not just a few braggers.

If the front-label left you scratching your head about what Whitstable Bay Organic Ale is, then the back label will quell your lust for information.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale back label

Let me explain something. Normally when I take photographs of bottles and labels, they’re in portrait. That’s because bottles are normally tall, thin things. This time however, I had to go landscape to fit in this widescreen sticker.To it’s credit there is a lot of good detail in here. Yes, they have their bit about it meeting the exacting standards of the Soil Association. That they have their own well. And that it’s even approved by the Vegetarian Society. But they also have the details that you really want to know when you read a beer bottle label.

For instance, they describe Whitstable Bay as “refreshing”. Someone called Andrew Jefford apparently described it as “a deep sunset gold colour, delicate hints of hedgerow-fresh organic hops… with a tangy malty flavour”. For the very curious, elsewhere, we read that they used Target hops and barley to get it that way. How close his description is to reality, I’m looking forward to finding out. It certainly sounds tasty.

All the way over on the other corner of the back label are those all important vital statistics. Which are surrounded by more symbols than you’ve ever seen on a bottle of beer. All you need to know is that Whitstable Bay Organic Ale has a reasonable 4.5% alcoholic volume. This, in its industry standard 500ml bottle brings it to a nanny-state friendly 2.2 UK units of alcohol. If you want to know more or get in touch with them, the web address they give is www.shepherdneame.co.uk. A surprisingly straightforward website where you can find a page dedicated to Whitstable Bay Organic Ale at http://www.shepherdneame.co.uk/beers/index.php?whitstable_bay.

And with all that out of the way, we can get down to the part that you clicked on this page for: the taste test. Past experience tells me that Shepherd Neame know their stuff when it comes to brewing. Hopes are high for this new addition to the organic ale market. Which, by the way, I’m opening after it’s been out of the fridge for a while, so it’s cool, not cold. Is it any good and should you buy one? Let’s find out.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale poured into a glass

Thanks to the transparent bottle, the colour doesn’t come as a surprise. And thanks to the sensible head, Whitstable Bay won’t froth over the top of your pint glass. It all looks very nice indeed.

It smells good too. Andrew Jefford describes it as having “delicate hints of hedgerow-fresh organic hops”. I won’t dispute that. It has a delicate smell, not a strong one. And it smells hoppy. In fact, I’ll add to that. There’s something fruity about it as well.

Fine, but what does Whitstable Bay taste like? The first two gulps are pleasant ones. A good start then. But where is the taste? Andrew Jefford promised a tangy malty flavour. I’m not convinced that that’s what’s going on. I’ve swilled a good few mouthfuls now, and I can’t discern what the flavour is, if any. I’ll describe it as being slightly malty.

What you notice most of all is the aftertaste. But even that is subdued somewhat. It leaves you with a not unpleasant bitter aftertaste that’s slightly maltier that hoppier. Tangy, yes, but not as tangy as a lot of other ales.

So the taste is a rather uninspiring bitterness. But there are plenty of very good qualities about Whitstable Bay. For starters, it’s as clean and refreshing as any bottled ale out there. Almost like a light lager or cider. I’m enjoying very much how well made it is and the quality of the ingredients. All of which make Whitstable Bay an easy ale to drink.

What am I not enjoying about Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale? It would be an order of magnitude better if it had an interesting flavour and taste. As it is, there’s little to separate it from the hundreds of other ales that happen to taste quite bitter. Besides that, the only real thing I can think of is that the bitter aftertaste will put some people off. Complaints about how hard it is to find are nitpicking.

To sum up, Whitstable Bay Organic Ale from Shepherd Neame is high quality and refreshing but let down by unimaginative taste. I can’t praise Shepherd Neame enough for how refreshing this is. But that bitter aftertaste seems like an afterthought. I liked it, and you should try it, but don’t go to the ends of the earth to get a bottle.

Rating: 3.8

Have you tried Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale? Then do please leave a comment here. What are your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy?

Sweets Review: Devona Toasted Teacakes

26 January, 2009

TILLEY’S Jargonelle Pears were a good start. Perfectly respectable. But lacking that eccentric yummy-ness that sweets need. Time to see if Toasted Teacakes from Devona fare better.

Devona Toasted Teacakes front of bag

This little bag was bought from the same place as Tilley’s – a trader at Brick Lane’s Sunday market. And it’s a plain little bag. There’s a “Devona” roundel sporting the words “Quality sweets for over 50 years” stuck on. But little else. Or is there?

There are some words printed on the bottom-right hand corner. Only they’ve been rubbed into illegibility. I think it used to say “Toasted Teacakes” and something else. But what that other thing was, we may never know.

The back of the bag isn’t exactly crammed with detail. What we get instead is a little white box.

Devona Toasted Teacakes back of bag

In that box, we learn that these sweets are called Toasted Teacakes. That they are make mostly of desiccated coconut and sugar. That the bag weighs in at 140g. And… not much else besides. This bag is leaving the sweets to do the talking. So let’s find out what they’re like and if you should buy a bag.

Devona Toasted Teacakes open bag

They look yummy enough. I’d describe them as little cylinders of coconut that’s been lightly toasted at each end. Which is what I’m hoping they taste like.

That’s exactly how they taste. They taste a little of coconut. Nothing more to say about the taste. But there is something to say about the texture.

Normally when you enjoy a coconut based sweet, it crumbles as easily as sand. Not Devona Toasted Teacakes however. These are as solid and as chewy as popcorn. Something that catches you by surprise. You don’t expect coconut to be as chewy as this.

What do I like about Devona Toasted Teacakes? I like coconut. I think it should be in everything. It doesn’t taste as if it’s been pumped full of chemicals. Which is good. It’s chewy enough for you to get a good few seconds out of each one. And you get a good number in each bag.

What of the downsides to Devona Toasted Teacakes? There’s not a lot of flavour. And compared to some sweets on the market, they don’t surprise you enough. When you bite into the chewy coconut, you half hope to be greeted by an explosion of fizz. But that doesn’t happen. Which could make them a little boring.

To sum up Devona Toasted Teacakes are yummy in a conservative coconut way. If you like coconut based sweets, you’ll probably enjoy these. If you like exciting or funny looking sweets, keep looking.

Beer Review: Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina

25 January, 2009

BEING more famous for exporting kidnaps, assassinations and cocaine, Columbia’s Aguila lager shouldn’t have been much good. Yet it thoroughly impressed me by being excellent. I’m delighted then to introduce another bottle of beer imported to Britain all the way from Colombia: Club Colombia Premium.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina bottle

The bottle looks almost exactly the same as that of Aguila. Right down to the “No Retornable” embossed around the shoulder. Could this hint at their shared origins? Or a complete lack of imagination by Colombian brewers?

Just like Aguila, Club Colombia uses the screw top. What is it with Colombian beers and screw tops instead of proper bottle tops? Do they all have them? If you know the answer, leave a comment at the end of this post.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina bottle top

The similarities continue with the neck-label. Albeit not with the front of it.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina front of neck label

The front of the neck-label is a classy looking thing. Partly down to the gold, partly down to the typeface. Which, of course, is Spanish. I can’t understand it, but I think it’s the usual marketing guff about finest ingredients and dedication. So you haven’t missed anything. If you can translate it though, do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

Two words that I can understand however, are two words that keep popping up all over the labels. “Extra Fina” must mean something along the lines of “Extra Fine”. Even I know that. Or do I? If you know better, you know where to leave your translations.

The back of the wrap-around neck-label is where you’ll find the small-print and barcode. Just like with Aguila.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina back of neck label

It’s all in Spanish. But don’t worry. This bottle of Club Colombia was imported by La Casa De Jack Ltd, the same people who imported Aguila. And that means that everything you need to know is printed on the ugly white sticker that they stuck over the original label.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina back label

There’s not a lot to say about the big, white sticker stuck on by the importer. Most of it is exactly the same as it was for Aguila. Even the facts about the beer are the same. Take the bottle size and alcoholic volume. Both exactly the same at 330ml and 4%. The same with the ingredients which are “water, barley malt and deputy hops”. Whatever they are.

There’s all the contact information you could possibly want for the importer, whose website is www.lachatica.com. It’s still, and reassuringly so, a product of Colombia. It was “commercialized” by Arcas and even made by Bavaria S.A. Exactly the same brewer as Aguila. And that would explain why everything about it looks the same. Even the Spanish language warning at the bottom of the back label is the same.

Around on the front label, everything looks hunky dory. Not a roundel in sight, which makes it original and stylish too.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina front label

You can’t ignore the native South-American-style graphic. I’m not sure which ancient tribe it represents. Or who or what it is. But it looks to me like someone with two steering wheels and boomerangs attached to their head.

The “Club Colombia” name has that native South-American look too. It tells us, in Spanish of course, that it is “Desde 1889”. Something that gives it some decent heritage. At the bottom, under the words “Extra Fina”, I’m informed that it says something along the lines of “Brewed longer for a fine taste”. Translators, do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

So, will Club Colombia Premium taste the same as its Colombian cousin and join it as one of the best Latin American beers? More importantly, should you buy it? There’s only one way to find out. It’s time to unscrew the bottle and sample the contents.

Club Colombia Premium Extra Fina poured into a glass

It looks much the same as Aguila did, just minus the frothy head. The amber is a little deeper. And the head is much smaller and patchier. Altogether unimpressive.

Does it have a smell? Yes, it has the same smell of lagery blended malted barley. That makes it smell not just like its Colombian stable-mate, but like nearly every pilsner style lager in the world. Not strong or unpleasant, just straightforward and uncomplicated.

But what does it taste like? The first couple of gulps of this refrigerated bottle of Club Colombia Premium lager aren’t bad. But they’re not great either. Being a lager, it has no flavour whatsoever. That leaves it fighting every other lager in the world on the basis of aftertaste. Aguila was brilliant by having the least offensive aftertaste since the potato was discovered. Club Colombia Premium however does what almost every other lager in the world does: it has that lagery “bite” with a bitter aftertaste.

It’s not a bad example of lagery aftertaste. Not as unpleasant as some. Not as drinkable as others. Just sitting somewhere around the word “average”, trying not to be noticed.

What am I enjoying about this cool bottle of Club Colombia Premium “Extra Fina”? For starters, it’s refreshing, at least while cold. The bitter aftertaste “bite” is by no means the worst around. And that makes this quite drinkable by lager standards. It’s also quite well made and not a gassy experience.

There are, of course, one or two problems with Club Colombia. The way it tastes makes it almost identical to hundreds of other lagers around the world. That makes it indistinctive, unoriginal and boring. And, at a meagre 4% volume, it’s not strong enough to compete with the world’s other premium lagers.

Where does all this leave Club Colombia Premium “Extra Fina”? This will no doubt enrage the lager purists out there who would happily murder anyone who dislikes the bitter aftertaste “bite”, but, I have to say that I don’t rate it. Aguila was great because it did something different with it. Club Colombia however just did what all the competition does, and it does it weaker than they do. If you’re travelling in Colombia, I’d happily drink this. But, if you have a shop shelf filled with interesting beers from all around the globe, pick something nicer instead.

Rating: 2.8

Have you tried Club Colobia Premium “Extra Fina”? Do you work for Bavaria S.A.? If so, do please leave a comment with any corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy.

Snack Food Review: Mr. Porky Prime Cut Scratchings

20 January, 2009

SINCE I started writing this blog, I’ve wanted to find the perfect pork scratchings. Why? Because pork scratchings are one of the most honest, simple and tasty snack foods you can buy. Not to mention that they can round off a bottle of ale perfectly.

Crisps just aren’t as meaty. Probably because they aren’t made of meat. But pork scratchings are. So, if your religion allows, you owe it to yourself to try a packet of pork scratchings the next time you enjoy a bottle or pint of ale. As long as your religion doesn’t forbid that also.

So where do we start? The choice in shops isn’t exactly overwhelming. Tesco was my starting point and it produced this: a large 35g bag of Mr. Porky Prime Cut Scratchings. Which I think puts this at the premium end of the market.

Mr. Porky Prime Cut Scratchings front of bag

Mr. Porky himself, a jolly looking butcher type, makes an appearance on this, and the rest of the Mr. Porky range. These are, apparently “New”. And this “Seasoned Pork Rind” to give it it’s proper name is made with “Extra Big Pieces”. Yummy.

What of the back of the bag?

Mr. Porky Prime Cut Scratchings back of bag

There’s quite a lot on here. And, in my experience, it’s much the same as what’s on the back of most packets of pork scratchings. There’s a quality guarantee in the form of “Mr. Porky’s Pledge”. There’s a red warning that only people with strong teeth should ever think of eating the contents.

The ingredients list starts off with “pork rind, pork fat, salt”. And that tells you everything you need to know about what it is and what it’ll taste like. It does contains wheat gluten and soya though, so watch out if you can’t eat those things.

There’s a whole table of nutrition information. But you’re about to eat almost pure fat and salt, so you don’t want to read what it says. Really, you don’t want to know how much fat you’re about to eat.

Elsewhere, we learn that this was made by Red Mill Snack Foods Ltd from Wednesbury in the West Midlands. And, if you want to, you can go to their website at www.mrporky.co.uk. On their website, which looks almost exactly like most brewers websites, we learn that this is just one of four types Mr. Porky’s. That’s going to make my search for the perfect pork scratching go on a bit longer than expected.

And that’s about it from the bag. All that remains is to open it up and sample the piggy goodness within. What will they taste like? And should you buy them? Lets find out.

Mr. Porky Prime Cut Scratchings open bag

What do they look like? Curly bits of pork Some big, but at least an equal number of small pieces. They look very very thoroughly cooked, with top and bottom of each piece being the same yellowy colour. Plenty of seasoning too. My hands are covered in dusty seasoning and grease.

What are they like to eat? In a couple of words, crunchy and tasty. The meaty part is soft and the crackly part is crunchy. Together, they have a texture you won’t find in any other type of snack.

They taste mildly of pork. Not as much as you’d think. And that’s probably because of the seasoning and salt.

What am I enjoying about Mr. Porky Prime Cut Scratchings? I like it that there’s some fairly big pieces in the bag. I like the salty seasoning that isn’t too strong. And that it’s well made.

There are one or two problems however. For a start, Mr. Porky Prime Cut Scratchings are supposed to be “Extra Big Pieces”. Sure, there are some big pieces in there. But only about a third of them were. The rest were the normal small size. And that’s disappointing. There’s inconsistency in other ways too. Some of them are soft with a crunchy crackly top. Others are so well done that they’re all crunchy and as hard as granite. Still, it does keep you on your toes.

Are Mr. Porky Prime Cut Scratchings the perfect pork scratching? I don’t know. I haven’t had enough to know. They are delicious though. I heartily recommend them. I can’t help thinking that there are better pork scratchings lurking somewhere out there in the British Isles. Or possibly beyond.

Have you tried Mr. Porky Prime Cut Scratchings? Do you work for Red Mill Snack Foods? Then do, please, leave a comment here with your corrections, opinions, requests and recommendations.

Beer Review: Aguila

19 January, 2009

A NEW country and a new beer. Two in fact. That’s because, for £1.29 pence each from the Bethnal Green Food Center, I have two different bottles of Colombian beer. This one is called Aguila, which, according my Spanish speaking friend, is an animal name.

Aguila bottle

It’s a thin looking brown bottle isn’t it? I keep expecting to read the words ‘chili sauce’ printed on it. Those bright yellow labels give it a good festive, South American feel though.

It even has some words embossed around the shoulder. What does it say? The name of the brewer? A slogan perhaps? No. It Says “No Retornable”. Which I think is a less than encouraging recycling message.

I don’t normally photograph the bottle tops, but this one is worth sharing.

Aguila bottle top

Are those anti-clockwise arrows I see? I dare say that Aguila has a screw-top. And that immediately makes it uncool.

Can it redeem itself with the labels? Lets start with the big, wrap-around neck label.

Aguila front of neck label

The front of the neck-label doesn’t tell you much. It’s simply a smaller version of the main front label with, what must be the ‘since’ or ‘established’ date of 1913. A happy year in between the sinking of the RMS Titanic and the outbreak of the First World War.

One side of the neck-label has the barcode. And the other is full of hard to read small-print.

Aguila side of neck label

Unfortunately, every word is in Spanish. Fortunately however, it’s all translated into English on the big white sticker stuck onto the bottle by the importer.

The front-label keeps things simple. And Colombian. And Spanish.

Aguila front label

It comes down to a straight forward, if bright and lively roundel. You might want to don a pair of shades before glancing in its direction. It may not be sophisticated, but it’s perfectly acceptable for a nation more famous for hard drugs than beer.

The words around the top of the roundel tell us that this is a beer from Colombia. The words around the bottom inform us that “Refreshment Our Passion”. Hopefully a hint about what Aguila will be all about.

Over on the back of the bottle, and we have the original Spanish language back label with a great big white label stuck over it by the importer.

Aguila back label

The big white label has all the small-print, information and vital statistics you need. It’s in English. And it’s the ugliest label I’ve ever seen an importer slap onto an otherwise attractive bottle.

But what does it say? Well, this is your regular 330ml (11.16 Fl Oz) bottle. The alcoholic volume is a modest 4%. The ingredients are water, barley malt and, I’m not making this up, “Deputy Hops”. What’s that? A type of hops or a bad translation?

In a box on the other side of the ugly white label is information about the importer. This bottle of Aguila from Colombia comes courtesy of La Casa De Jack Ltd from the South Bank of the River Thames in London. They have an address, telephone number, email address and web address at www.lachatica.com in case you want to get in touch with them. Their website may lack polish, but all credit to them, they look like to people to come to if you want to import Latin American food to Britain.

Elsewhere, we learn that the brewer is one Bavaria S.A.. Someone that sounds more like a German brewer than a South American one. It was also, apparently, “Commercialized By C.I. Arcas Ltda”. What the heck does “Commercialized” mean? What is welcome are the words “Product Of Colombia”. This is the real deal, not a domestically brewed fake foreign beer like some on the market.

At the bottom however is more Spanish language. But don’t worry. It’s just a standard health warning.

So what does Aguila taste like? Should you try it if you get the chance? Time to unscrew a refrigerated bottle and find out.

Aguila poured into a glass

It does have a screw top. But not one that’s easy to open. In fact, this one was so difficult, I had to use bottle top opener to get into it.

It poured easily enough. It’s got an excellent, thick and foamy head. And fortunately, one that’s controllable enough for you not to end up with a table covered in beer foam. The beer itself an unappetizing pale yellow though. Yuck.

It does have a pretty good smell though. A lagery and strong but not unpleasant smell rapidly fills your nostrils. There’s nothing else to say about though. That malted barley smell is almost identical to every other pilsner lager in the world. With that in mind, it smells familiar, even though I’ve never tried Aguila before in my life.

But what does it taste like? A couple of gulps in, and Aguila is turning out to be one very light and drinkable lager. It’s a lager, so obviously it has no flavour. What lagers usually have is a bitter “kick” and lingering aftertaste. That’s why I hate most lagers. Aguila however, doesn’t have that. What is does have is possibly the most gentle and subtle bitter aftertaste I’ve ever seen in a lager.

I’m half-way through this little bottle of Aguila now. So what am I enjoying about it? As per the billing on the front label, it is refreshing. And the colder you can get it, the more refreshing it will become. I’m loving how easy to drink it is. With such a muted aftertaste and none of that awful “kick” that defines most lagers, Aguila won’t offend even the most delicate of stomachs. It’s also smooth and rather well made.

There are one or two drawback however. It’s fine if you just compare it to other lagers. But that’s like comparing television talent show rejects. Compared to real beers and ales, Aguila has no flavour at all. The muted, bitter, malted barley aftertaste is excellent because there’s not much of it. At a measly 4% volume, it’s weaker than typical European lagers. And the whole experience is rather watery and gassy.

That said, when you compare Aguila to its lagery competition, it comes out way ahead. Aguila is not just the best Latin American beer I’ve tried to date, but it’s one of the best lagers I’ve tried in the world so far. That’s because it’s so refreshing and easy to drink. If or when I get around to travelling in South America, I’ll happily drink this. And I recommend you look out for it too. Best of all, I’ve got another bottle of Colombian beer to compare it to next.

Rating: 3.9

Have you tried Aguila? What did you think of it? Got any corrections, requests, recommendations or places to buy to share? Then do please leave a comment below.

Snack Food Review: John West Mackerel Fillets In Curry Sauce

16 January, 2009

ANOTHER snack food review that no one will ever read. If you’re reading this, then leave a comment at the end of this post so I can learn who reads this. First though, read on to see what I make of John West Mackerel Fillets In Curry Sauce.

John West Mackerel Fillets In Curry Sauce front of tin

With the push to stop the population of the turning into chavvy puddles of lard, every food in the country now has health related symbols on it. John West Mackerel Fillets are no exception. Look closely at the front of the tin, and you’ll see a symbol telling you that this 125g tin will be “Rich in Omega 3 Fish Oils”.

On one of the four sides of the tin, we learn where these fish came from. It turns out that they were “produced” (shouldn’t that be caught?) in Portugal for John West Foods Ltd in Liverpool. Why did they have to come from Portugal instead of from our own fishermen? If you know the answer, do please leave a comment. I’m guessing that your answer may involve the letters E and U and the word “quotas”.

Over on the back of the tin there are all manner of nutritional information.

John West Mackerel Fillets In Curry Sauce back of tin

There’s some information how good Omega 3 is for your heart. That the chief ingredient, at 73%, really is mackerel fillets, which is good to know. And that this little can contains all of 275 calories and 20.7 grams of fat. No wander you never see women eating these things.

What will John West Mackerel Fillets In Curry Sauce look, smell and taste like? I’ve had them before so I know the answer. But for your benefit, here it is.

John West Mackerel Fillets In Curry Sauce opened tin

The tin opens very easily indeed. What’s inside is hard to make out. It doesn’t look like a fish in the way that sardines do when you open a tin of them. Oh well. That must be what “filleting” is.

The curry sauce smell isn’t very strong. Instead, it smells mostly of fish and partly of some kind of sauce. It doesn’t smell of curry at all.

But does it taste of curry sauce? Eating John West Mackerel Fillets in Curry Sauce is delightfully easy. With no bones and gunky bits to remove, you can dig right in without worry. Which is great if, like me, you’re too lazy to do that.

Can I taste any curry? No. If this was made by Brunswick, my eyes would be watering by now. But it’s not so I have hardly any flavour or taste in my mouth. And that makes John West Mackerel Fillets a bland eating experience. The same goes for their other hot and spicy sauce Mackerel Fillets. I’ve tried a few others and they are all similarly bland.

What else am I enjoying? The Mackerel Fillets themselves are a joy to eat. They break up easily with a fork into pieces just the right size for a mouthful.

What else am I not enjoying? They are very very dry. It’s almost exactly the same as eating chicken from over of the hundreds of fast-food chicken outlets that festoon high-streets up and down the land. There needs to be a lot more sauce to stop these fillets from being such a dry experience. Or make sure you have a beer nearby, because you are going to be thirsty by the end of the tin.

To sum up, John West Mackerel Fillets are about the easiest to eat tinned fish products you could buy. With nothing undesirable to remove, you get right into eating them. The downsides are that they’re dry and as flavourless as every other tinned Mackerel Fillet in the John West range. Highly recommended if you want a quick fish based snack, but not if you want flavour.

Have you tried John West Mackerel Fillets In Curry Sauce? Do you work for John West? If so, then do please leave a comment here. I’d love to know what you think of these Mackerel Fillets. Also, do you have any requests or recommendations of your own? Then here is the place to add them

Beer Review: Young’s Luxury Double Chocolate Stout

14 January, 2009

I LOVE it when a brewer comes over all rebellious and decides “I’m going to make something with all the wrong ingredients”. You get magnificent results like Ruddles Rhubarb, Wells Banana Bread and Badger Blandford Fly. The flavours and tastes they have shouldn’t work in a beer. But they do. So I’m thrilled to have here a bottle of Young’s Luxury Double Chocolate Stout.

Young's Double Chocolate Stout bottle

This one was procured from the every surprising Bethnal Green Food Center for the sum of £1.79 pence.

The bottle is Young’s standard bottle. The dark glass does look particularly good against the purple labels in this case though. What of that detailed looking neck label?

 Young’s Luxury Double Chocolate Stout front neck label

Well the front of it is mostly marketing speak that read like a mission statement. It’s all well and good, but it doesn’t actually say anything useful. The other side of the wrap-around neck label is full of small-print.

 Young’s Luxury Double Chocolate Stout neck label back

Buried in the tiny print, we learn that this was bottled and brewed by Wells & Young’s Brewing Co Ltd in Bedford. And that their website is at www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk. Which, of course, reminds us that Young’s is part of Wells & Young’s, the UK’s largest privately owned brewery. It’s an interesting, if dense read on a better than average website.

A quick look around and we find the page dedicated to this very bottle of Double Chocolate Stout. The address is http://www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk/wellsandyoungs/beers/ales/youngs-double-chocolate and I thoroughly recommend that you give it a read because the labels on the bottle don’t do it justice. From the website, we learn that Double Chocolate Stout has won at least four Brewing Industry International Awards. That it was made with no less than pale ale and crystal malt and chocolate malt. Fuggle and Goldings hops. And real dark chocolate and chocolate essence. This is stacking up to be something special. Even if the labels on the bottle aren’t.

Back over to the front label now, and everything is where it should be.

Young's Double Chocolate Stout front label

It helpfully describes it as “Silky Rich & Creamy Smooth”. That, together with the purple colour and typeface makes it sound and look like chocolate packaging aimed at women. Which is probably what Young’s are aiming for with this Double Chocolate Stout.

Tucked away in the corners of the front label are the vital statistics. This bottle is the ubiquitous 500ml size. And the stout within weighs in at a healthy 5.2% alcoholic volume.

The back label, unfortunately, is a multi-lingual mess.

Young's Double Chocolate Stout back label

Look carefully though, and you’ll find some interesting information. They recommend that you serve Double Chocolate Stout “chilled”. And there’s the most complete list of ingredients that I’ve seen for a very long time. To quote the list, it was made with “brewing water, pale ale malt, chocolate malt, oats, sugar, hops, yeast, natural chocolate flavouring”. Not an ‘E’ number of preservative in sight.

The only other detail on the back label that isn’t on the front are the UK units of alcohol. What with this 500ml bottle containing a 5.2% alcoholic volume drink, you’ll get through 2.6 UK units of alcohol should you drink the contents of this bottle. That means that if you have two of them in a row, technically, you’ll be binge drinking.

Sadly, I only have the one bottle. And now it’s time to put that bottle of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout to the test. What does it actually taste like? Do I like it? And do I think you should go out and buy one? Let’s open the bottle and find out.

Young's Double Chocolate Stout poured into a glass

The first thing you notice about Young’s Double Chocolate Stout is that it doesn’t have a head. There are a few patchy bubbles floating on the surface, but nothing like the head that sits on top of glasses of Guinness. It’s as black as you’d like, but doesn’t look impressive without that head.

At first, I couldn’t smell any chocolate. The first few sniffs only turned up that delicious roasted smell that stouts have. It took a few more sniffs to realise that in that smell is chocolate. Yes, it really does have a faint smell of chocolate. And it’s rather nice.

What does it taste like? The first gulp of this thick stout is a pleasant one. As was the second one. What Young’s Double Chocolate Stout is not, is complex. Double Chocolate Stout has a gentle, largely uncomplicated taste. It tastes a tiny bit of chocolate. But the flavour that dominates is a variant on the roasted malty taste that all stouts have. Unlike lots of other stouts, there’s no real bitter aftertaste. There’s so little bitter aftertaste, that it’s almost not there at all.

That else? Well, the drink itself is rich and creamy. Much like how they describe it on the front label in fact.

What am I enjoying about Young’s Double Chocolate Stout? The answer is quite a lot. The flavour is easy-going and tasty. The aftertaste doesn’t deliver an unpleasant sting in the tail. And those things make it one of the easiest to drink stouts on the market today. I love the rich flavour and how smooth it is. And how I can drink it without burping. This is a very good quality drink.

What am I not enjoying so much? It’s still a stout, so if you don’t like the syrupy liquid that makes you thirsty, you might not like this one. Even thought this one fixes a lot of my criticisms of what stout is. The biggest complaint I have is that the chocolate isn’t as prominent as I had hoped it would be. It’s very easy to forget that you’re drinking a chocolate-y stout in Double Chocolate Stout. I’d like to see it take bigger risks with the flavour by being as chocolate-y as the billing. The only other complaints I can think of are that it’s not easy to get hold of. There’s every chance that the shop where I bought this bottle will be selling something else the next time I visit.

Where does this leave Young’s Luxury Double Chocolate Stout? It leaves it as one of the best stouts I’ve tried. Forget the chocolate element. Sadly, the chocolate hardly features. And that means Double Chocolate Stout won’t be one of the great flavour-hybrid beers of the world. What it does have is the easiest drinkability of any stout I’ve tried. And that’s an achievement worth drinking to.

Rating: 4.15

Have you tried Young’s Luxury Double Chocolate Stout? What did you think of it? Leave your corrections, opinions, suggestions and recommendations in the boxes below.

Sweets Review: Tilley’s Jargonelle Pears

12 January, 2009

A DIFFERENT one this time. Lately, I’ve been broadening this blog with reviews of snack foods. The problem is, no one read them. So here is another idea: reviews of sweets. Let me know in the comments at the end of this post what you think and if you want more.

First up is this pleasingly patriotic bag of Tilley’s Jargonelle Pears. This one was bought for £1 from a friendly trader on Brick Lane’s Sunday market.

Tilley's Jargonelle Pears front of bag

Tilley’s, proudly tell us on the front of the bag that they’ve been making “Finest Quality Traditional Sweets” since they were established all the way back in 1885. The bag itself weighs in at 150 grams which is about the same as a medium-sized mobile phone.

I’ve never heard of “Jargonelle Pears” before. But I do like ordinary ones. With colourful colours, this bag looked to be worth my time and money. What though of the back of the bag?

Tilley's Jargonelle Pears back of bag

The standard Tilley’s bag of sweets takes the approach of having the ingredients for every single one of their sweets printed on the back of the bag. It makes it as easy to read as the phone book. But then, with all the ‘E’ numbers trailing every list of ingredients printed, you wouldn’t want to worry yourself. There’s also the Northants postal address for Tilley’s Sweets Limited in case you want to write them a letter. And a telephone number, fax number and email address which is info@tilleyssweets.com in case you want to bother them electronically.

From the email address, it’s not difficult to figure out the web address for Tilley’s Sweets as being www.tilleyssweets.com. An address that mysteriously takes you to an online shop called Zed Candy. Someone who, according to their ‘About Us’ page bought Tilley’s a few years ago. So that explains that.

What’s inside the bag? Jargonelle Pears that look like this in their wrapper.

Tilley's Jargonelle Pears wrapped

And look like this outside of their wrapper.

Tilley's Jargonelle Pears unwrapped

They are completely smooth. No rough surface or sugar.

What are they like? They have a bit of colour related flavour, but not much. For example, green ones taste a little but of sweet green. They would have to wouldn’t they, since the abstract concept of the colour green doesn’t have a taste. Except in the world of sweets. Either way, these Jargonelle Pears don’t have much of it.

By the time you crack the sweet open, you’re rewarded with an equally modest amount of fizz. Not much, but there’s something there at the end of all that sucking.

Total sucking time: 5-10 minutes

To sum up, Tilley’s Jargonelle Pears are subtle tasting, subtle responding boiled sweets. I like that they’re bigger than just about any boiled sweet out there. I’d prefer it if they had more flavour and more fizz, but there’s nothing to hate about them the way they are. The biggest downside is that you don’t get many in that standard sized bag.

Have you tried Tilley’s Jargonelle Pears? Do you work for Tilley’s/Zed Candy? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests and recommendations in the comments boxes here. And bookmark/subscribe to my blog while you’re at it.

Beer Review: Jennings Cocker Hoop Golden Ale

12 January, 2009

HERE is another new-to-me name in the form of Cocker Hoop Golden Ale from Jennings Lakeland Ales. This one came from the consistently surprising Bethnal Green Food Center.

Jennings Cocker Hoop Golden Ale bottle

It’s an unusual looking bottle. Conventionally shaped and so brown it looks black. All of which makes the golden shield label stand out like a firework in the night sky.

The neck label is less than forthcoming.

Jennings Cocker Hoop Golden Ale neck

All it has is a stylised illustration of mountains and the name “Jennings Lakeland Ales”. Is this ale from the Lake District? Whatever the answer is to that question, what we need is helpful information on the neck label to help us decide if we’ll like what’s in the bottle before we buy it.

Fortunately, all of these questions are answered on the main front label.

Jennings Cocker Hoop Golden Ale front label

It looks like your typical shield style logo. But look closely and you’ll notice that the top of the shield looks like two hills. A nice touch. Right at the top of aforementioned shield logo label, we learn that the Jennings name goes all the way back to 1828.

Under the Cocker Hoop name, and on top of the Jennings signature we get an answer to the question of where this ale came from. Yes, I’m delighted to report that this is a “Genuine Taste Of The Lake District”. That makes this the first ale I’ve tried from the famously beautiful area of North-West England. If you’ve never heard of it, then see the Lake District National Park Authority at www.lake-district.gov.uk and the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_District to see what the fuss is about.

The answers continue in the small box at the bottom of the front label. Thanks to it, we can clearly see that it has a reasonable alcoholic volume of 4.6%. And, couched in marketing speak; we learn some vague details about the ale itself. You need to turn to the back label though, to see the really juicy details.

Jennings Cocker Hoop Golden Ale back label

They start by describing it, vaguely again I’m afraid, as “refreshingly light and golden ale”. Something that makes it sound like cider. Under that is one of those gloriously tenuous stories about how it got the name “Cock a Hoop”.

After that, things quickly become small print and hard to read. To save you’re eyes should you ever buy a bottle, I’ll use a magnifying glass and rush through those hard to read details here. Starting with the brewery, which is the Jennings Castle Brewery, Cockermouth, Cumbria. A county that the Interweb has reached because their website is at www.jenningsbrewery.co.uk. It contains barley malt and wheat. This is your run-of-the-mill 500ml bottle, which with a 4.6% alcoholic volume brings it to 2.3 UK units of alcohol.

There is one piece of small-print that stands out however. In no uncertain terms, they advice you to “Serve Cool Not Cold”. And that’s jolly useful to know. Especially if it makes Cocker Hoop taste even better. It is very easy to miss though. On no fewer than two separate occasions, I’ve abandoned this review after realising I was going to open the bottle while it was fresh from the fridge and as frosty as the weather.

And that’s all the small-print you need to worry about on this cramped and almost unreadable label. Now for the part you clicked on this review for. What does it taste like? According to the labels, it should be light, refreshing, satisfying and golden. But then so are Corn Flakes. Jennings Cocker Hoop Golden Ale is mostly a mystery. But there’s one way to get the answers.

Jennings Cocker Hoop Golden Ale poured into a glass

It looks good doesn’t it? As golden in colour as the name implies. And it’s topped off by a thick head. Although that head has died down somewhat. There’s something about the way it looks that reminds me of lager. It’s as golden as lager looks in lager commercials on television, but that experience tells you it misses by a wide margin.

What does it smell of? With nothing helpful to go on from the label, this is my chance to show-off what I’ve learnt over a year of doing these reviews. I’m going to say it has a not very strong smell of citrus, fruit, vanilla and hops. Although I’m probably wrong on all counts. In which case, let me know in the comments at the end of this post.

What does it taste of? The first couple of gulps were intense ones. Not unpleasant. Just intense and complicated in a similar way to Ridley’s Old Bob. This is going to need a few more gulps to understand.

A few more gulps in, and I’m struggling to make sense of the onslaught of taste. It feels like the D-Day landings are taking place on my tongue. There might be a fleeting flavour of nice fruity ale. It’s impossible to tell because you’re suddenly overwhelmed by the fiercest aftertaste I’ve experienced since testing the highstrength lagers a few months ago. It’s hard to taste the pleasant hoppiness in the aftertaste. All I’m tasting is a piercing bitterness that lasts and lasts. More than half-way through now, and I’ve yet to get used to it.

What am I enjoying about Jenning’s Cocker Hoop Golden Ale? Completely unexpectedly, not a lot. Am I drinking it at the right temperature? The bottle is cool and not cold, or warm either. Has it “skunked” as, apparently, some batches of beer sometimes do? I have no idea. It’s also got a good few months until reaching the sell-by date, so it’s not that which is making the worst tasting ale I’ve ever tried.

But it can’t all be bad. What might you like about it? Well, the bottle looks good. The labels are interesting. Their website is good. The Cocker Hoop golden ale looks great in a pint glass. And the head fills your pint glass nicely without overflowing. Lastly, the alcohol content is doing its job admirably.

What, if anything, am I not enjoying about Cocker Hoop? Everything about it is delicious and interesting up until that aftertaste. Honestly, I’ve done countless reviews of bottled ales and never come across anything like it. At first I thought it was a bit like Old Bob by being on the sudden and intense side. But this goes well beyond that drinkable and recommended bottle. That aftertaste is simply unpleasant. It tastes sour, bitter and off-colour. You might be able to enjoy it, but I just couldn’t.

Where does this leave the verdict on Jennings Cocker Hoop Golden Ale? It leaves it in the balance. I’ve tried enough of these to know that something is amiss. Golden ale, even from a Northern brewer for Northern drinkers isn’t supposed to taste like this. I’m going to have to say that this one is barely drinkable and hard to recommend. But Jennings deserve a second chance. I’ll happily try another Cocker Hoop and any other one of their ales because I don’t think that this bottle did them justice.

Rating: 2 (For now)

Have you tried Jennings Cocker Hoop Golden Ale? What did you think of it? Did I get a bad bottle or do they all taste this way? Leave your opinions, corrections, advice, requests and recommendations here in the boxes below.

Beer Review: Ridley’s Old Bob Strong Premium Ale

6 January, 2009

HERE’S one I’ve wanted to try for a year. But just before I could buy it, Tesco ran out. So, stepping in to the breach is the ever dependable Bethnal Green Food Center on Bethnal Green Road.

Ridley's Old Bob bottle

The bottle is transparent, as is the fashion these days. Thanks to the gorgeous dark copper colour of the beverage within, it looks fantastic. The front label is a shield with a transparent background. Which manages to look contemporary and Georgian both at the same time. At the bottom of the bottle are the words “Brewing Perfection” embossed around it. Apart from that, everything is where you’d expect it to be.

Ridley's Old Bob neck label

The neck label proudly informs us that Old Bob won an award. Apparently, Old Bob here managed to win the “International Gold Award” at “The Brewing Industry International Awards”. That sounds important, so well done chaps.

Ridley's Old Bob front label

There’s not an awful lot to say about the front label. That’s because the front label doesn’t have a lot to say. It’s a tastefully done red shield, but it doesn’t have much in the way of useful information.

The “Ridley’s” logo is of what looks like a bull. And it dates back to 1842 which is impressive. Under that, it describes itself as “Strong Premium Ale”, which got my attention right away. There aren’t enough strong ales out there. Sadly, the only other detail on there is the alcoholic volume which is 5.1%. And isn’t strong. That makes this either a weak strong ale or a strong-ish premium ale.

There’s not much detail on the back label either. But it is transparent so at least it looks good.

Ridley's Old Bob back label

What detail they do have however, is well worth reading. They open with a description of what this premium ale tastes like. Starting with “spicy citrus fruit flavours”, it will, apparently, “lead into a dried fruit and biscuit malt finish”. Sounds yummy. The British Bottlers’ Institute Awards agree, because the label informs us that it won the gold medal. Twice. Expectations are rising for Ridley’s Old Bob.

Down in the small print, we learn that this all too common 500ml bottle, with it’s 5.1% volume contents, weighs in at 2.6 UK units of alcohol. And, if you look carefully, we see a familiar name. It transpires that Ridley’s is yet another great independent name to no longer be great and independent. That’s because Ridley’s Old Bob is brewed by Greene King in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk.

For those who want to read more, the website they have printed on the bottle is www.greeneking.co.uk. If you can find a section on Ridley’s Old Bob, leave a comment in at the end of this post. I can find every other brand on their website except for this one.

Will it have an award winning taste? Should you buy one? There’s only one way to find out. Let’s crack open the bottle and give it a try.

Ridley's Old Bob poured into a glass

It pours easily enough. It should be easy because it has no head. And that’s a bit disappointing, because I was rather hoping it would. When there is instead are a few patches of bubbles. That dark copper colour looks tasty though.

How does it smell? I’d say it smells fruity, biscuity and complex. And not in an overpowering or unpleasant sense. In fact, it smells delicious for such an odd mix of odours. And it smells unusual enough to score it points for ingenuity.

How does Ridley’s Old Bob taste? The first couple of gulps into this award winning ale are rich, crunchy and satisfying. It’s got the strongest flavours and taste of any that I’ve had for a while, so it’s going to need a few more gulps to figure out.

The label describes “spicy citrus flavours”. I think I’ll go with what they said. Because, frankly, Old Bob is so complex, I’m having trouble figuring out what I’m tasting before it all gets washed away by the aftertaste. Whatever the blend of flavours turns out to be, it’s there but not particularly strong. It’s the aftertaste that’s risk-taking and full-on.

How can I possibly describe the aftertaste of Old Bob? They describe it as having a “dried fruit and biscuit malt finish”. I’ll begin by saying that it melts into the flavours that came before it smoothly enough. There’s nothing rough or unpleasant about it. It’s the intensity that catches you off-guard. Dried fruit? There’s a tad of that in the same minimal way the flavour was a teensy bit citrusy. Biscuity malt? Yes, there is definitely some of that. I don’t know how they do it, but that biscuity and malty taste gradually becomes more and more bitter. It becomes so unexpectedly bitter that if it were a person, it would go off on a rant about why the world is so unfair. Ridley’s Old Bob has a monumental amount of taste.

Three-quarters of the way through the bottle now, so what, if anything, am I enjoying about Ridley’s Old Bob? Well, it does things with taste that I’ve not seen done before. That scores it marks for originality and distinctiveness. It does some brave things with the flavours and taste that I like, but are sure to put off the squeamish. Even with the strange and unusual things it does, it manages to be easy to drink. And that speaks volumes about the quality of the ingredients and how well it’s made. It’s not at all gassy either.

What am I not enjoying so much about Ridley’s Old Bob? That strong, bitter aftertaste is going to put some people off. The first few gulps made me wince like someone had trodden on my toe. That said, I did get used to it quickly. What else? Very little really. It’s hard to find in shops and a bit on the pricy side. Not much else that I can think of.

How can I sum up Ridley’s Old Bob? This is an uncompromising, man’s ale. You can drink it easily enough, but that aftertaste will put testes on your testes. Did I like it? Yes I did. Would I buy it again? Yes for the right kind of company. Is it worthy of all the awards it won? Probably. Should you buy one? Yes, so you can see for yourself. Just remember to brace yourself first.

Rating: 4.175

Have you tried Ridley’s Old Bob? What did you think of it? Are you the brewer? Then do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy in the boxes below.

Snack Food Review: Baktat Pickled Gherkins

5 January, 2009

CYPRESSA GHERKINS were some of the most mediocre pickles I’ve tried. They were as tasty, tangy and crunchy as daffodils. Let’s see is Baktat Pickled Gherkins can do any better.

Baktat Pickled Gherkins jar

This 24.3oz (690g) jar is a chubby looking thing.

On one side of the label is a whole table of boring “Nutrition Facts”.

Baktat Pickled Gherkins nutrition information

And the other side has the ingredients and importer. Where we learn that these pickled gherkins come from Turkey. As they would do since I bought it from Turkish owned corner shop Bethnal Green Food Center. Then again, nearly every corner shop in Bethnal Green is Turkish, so finding food that isn’t, is a challenge.

Baktat Pickled Gherkins barcode

Are Baktat Pickled Gherkins the gherkins and snack food you should buy? Let’s find out if they are.

Baktat Pickled Gherkins open jar

Baktat Pickled Gherkins

Baktat Pickled Gherkins

Without many pieces of garlic, peppercorns and other odds and ends they look clean and delicious. And mostly, they are. Not the largest pickles you can get in a jar. But if dill cucumbers are too small for you, these might not be.

The crunchiness is a vast improvement on Cypressa’s floppy gherkins. It’s got tanginess. But not a lot of it. What it has got is an interesting taste. Baktat Pickled Gherkins are spicy. Not chilli-sauce spicy. Just spicier than a salad sandwich. What you notice most however, is how salty it is. And so it should be when you consider that salt takes the lead over vinegar in the ingredients list.

These are crunchy, spicy, salty pickled gherkins. Fine if that’s what you want. Did I enjoy them? They’re better than Cypressa Gherkins, I’ll give you that. But for me, they’re too salty. Baktat, reduce the salt and increase the vinegar and these will be superb. As it is, Baktat Pickled Gherkins are like eating a cucumber that’s been preserved in the Mediterranean instead of a jar.

Have you tried Baktat Pickled Gherkins? Have you got any opinions, corrections, requests or recommendations? Are you the importer or manufacturer? Then do please leave a comment here.

Beer Review: Badger Tangle Foot

3 January, 2009

BAD news. It’s the New Year. It’s cold. You’ve got less money than you did a couple of months ago. And Celebrity Big Brother is starting. To take our minds of these things, we need a quality bottle of ale. I’m hoping that this increasingly available bottle of Badger Tangle Foot will do the job.

Hall & Woodhouse Badger Tangle Foot bottle

Like Badger’s Fursty Ferret, this bottle breaks with Badger tradition by being transparent. Always helpful when you want to know the colour of what you’re about to consume. That coppery amber hue looks tasty and interesting too.

Hall & Woodhouse Badger Tangle Foot neck label

The neck label goes with a quote this time. And it’s more helpful than they have been. This one goes with “Deceptively drinkable”. Granted, it doesn’t give away as much as you’d like. When you’re trying to decide which bottle to choose from a big shop shelf, you need a little more to go on. But it’s enough to hold my attention for another few seconds.

Hall & Woodhouse Badger Tangle Foot front label

The main front label managed to hold my attention just as effectively. And it does so whilst looking good. It’s not the most rounded of roundels. More of a rectangle really, but the colours and layout are classy and the logo is amusing enough to keep me reading.

As well as the usual Badger gubbins like the impressive heritage dating back to 1777, there’s a few new touches to Tangle Foot. First is a little stamp in the corner with the words “Proud Of Our Premium Brew” around a picture of hops. And the signature of the Head Brewer. Which makes it look like a bottle of whisky.

Most helpful of all however is what’s around the bottom border. The describe it as having been “Brewed For A Crisp Dry Finish”. That makes it sound like cider. The 5% alcoholic volume also makes it a head-on challenger for the thousands of premium lagers on the shop shelf. And that makes it well worth our while turning the bottle around to study the back label.

Hall & Woodhouse Badger Tangle Foot back label

The back label is big and full of details. But don’t worry, Hall & Woodhouse always do a splendid job of making them easy to read. And Badger Tangle Foot is no exception. All the things you want to know are on the top-half of the label.

It open with a story, as tenuous as any, about how Tangle Foot (or should that be one word Tanglefoot?) got its name. Then they describe it, in words, as a “’deceptively drinkable’ golden ale with hints of melon and pear developed from fermentation.” They go on to say that it would be “ideal for steak and pies”. Manly food then, for an apparently womanly orientated ale.

Fortunately, the ever useful taste profile box steps in to clear things up. If you haven’t had a bottled ale from Hall & Woodhouse before, then you won’t be familiar with their excellent little profile boxes. They run through a quick description of how is looks, smells and tastes and rates how bitter, sweet, hoppy, malty and fruity it is on scales of zero to five. Amazingly, they’re always spot-on. And this makes your job of trying to find a bottle that you’ll enjoy so much easier.

The smell they describe as “fruity, scented hop, cereal”. The taste as “crisp/sweet, spicy overtones”. Over on the chart, “Sweet” and “Fruity” are both on four out of five, with “Bitter” and “Hoppy” on three and “Malty” down to two out of five.

Down to the small print now. This 500ml bottle of 5% volume ale comes in at 2.5 UK units of alcohol. Which means you can enjoy about one and a half before the Government tells you to stop. Elsewhere on the bottle are Hall & Woodhouse’s Dorset address. And a web address, which is www.tanglefoot.co.uk. A website that’s better than many brewer’s websites.

What does Badger Tangle Foot taste like? The half-a-dozen Badger ales I’ve tried tell me that Badger does crisp and fruity better than just about anyone. Expectations are high, but there’s only one thing to do next…

Hall & Woodhouse Badger Tangle Foot poured into a glass

It pours easily enough. And it comes topped with a good, if lumpy head. Nothing that will scare you.

I can’t fault their description of the smell. It smells a little bit fruity, though not as much as you’d expect. And it smells of beer ingredients, which must be the hops and cereal they mentioned. I’m going to describe it as tangy. Familiar, but I can’t quite place it.

All of which is irrelevant when you get to the taste. The first gulp tells you that Tangle Foot tastes nothing like how it smells. Before your first gulp is over, you know that this is another Badger fruit extravaganza. They describe it as having hints of melon and pear, and, as always, they are absolutely right. Apart from the “hints of” part. Because I think that the pear and melon fruitiness dominates. It’s what Tangle Foot is all about.

Oddly, it’s so sweet and fruity that it doesn’t have an aftertaste in the way a normal ale would. Instead, it becomes slightly more bitter, and more fruity. And then kind of trails off.

How else can I describe the way it tastes? Well, it’s very light. It’s quite crisp. There’s something tangy and spicy about it. And it’s very easy to drink. So easy to drink, it’s one of the easiest ways to consume a 5% volume drink.

I’m two-thirds of the way through the bottle now, so what am I enjoying about Badger Tangle Foot? Quite a lot. The flavour is fruity and unusual. Those things alone score it massive points. Then there’s the sweetness and light bitterness that make it supremely easy to drink. It’s as well made as any of Hall & Woodhouse’s bottles, which is to say it’s very high-quality. It’s not gassy. And there won’t be many people who won’t find it instantly drinkable.

What of the downsides to Tangle Foot? The fruitiness might not be to everyone’s taste. The bitterness in the aftertaste could possibly be off-putting to stick in the mud lager, cider and alcopop drinkers. It’s also still hard to find, although that’s been changing in recent months. It’s also more of a summer drink. Shivering in my freezing flat in early January, Tangle Foot’s breezy fruitiness seems out of place.

How can I sum up Badger Tangle Foot? It is superb. One of my favourite Badger ales. It’s as delicious as fruit salad on a sweltering August day. Not as outrageous as Badger Golden Glory or wheaty and European as Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc. Badger Tangle Foot gets the balance of distinctiveness and drinkability in a British golden ale just right. And for that, I recommend it.

Rating: 4.35

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


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