Archive for March, 2009

Snack Food Review: Rivona Rokiškio Marinuoti Agurkai Pickled Cucumbers

21 March, 2009

IF Turkish pickles like Baktat Pickled Gherkins are salty. And sweet and sour pickles from Mrs. Elswood and Wardour were delicious. What will these Lithuanian pickled cucumbers be like?

Rivona Rokiškio Marinuoti Agurkai Pickled Cucumbers jar

This jar I bought for about £1.30 pence from an East European seller at the Brick Lane Sunday market. I’ve never seen them anywhere else. Although I’m sure you could if you scoured the East European shops around London.

I think the manufacturer is Rivona. But I could be wrong. Translators, do please leave a comment at the end of this post. What does Rosiškio Marinuoti Agurkai mean?

The ingredients list describes, in English fortunately, sweet and sour pickled whole cucumbers. So they should be nice. Sugar and salt are high on the list of ingredients. But something seems out of place. Normally, in a jar of pickles, they throw in lots of spicy and peppery things. This is no exception. But, for some unknown reason, it is mostly carrots. Just look at the bottom of the jar. It it literally packed with little pieces of carrot. One of the worlds least tasty vegetables. Why would they do that?

Rivona Rokiškio Marinuoti Agurkai Pickled Cucumbers ingredients side of label

Also looking into the jar, there’s something unusual about the cucumbers. Normally, they’re small, long and thin. Like a half-smoked cigar. But these look fatter.

Over on the other side of the label, and there are a three other useful bits of information.

Rivona Rokiškio Marinuoti Agurkai Pickled Cucumbers barcode side of label

The first is that this is a gigantic 760g jar. The second is that it comes from somewhere called Rokiškis in Lithuania. That would explain one of the words on the label. The last detail is the web address. The one printed on the label is www.rivona.lt. Their English language version is at http://www.rivona.lt/en/titulinis_en.html. They seem to be an importer of everything except beer.

So, what will they taste like? What will they look like? And should you buy them? Let’s find out.

Rivona Rokiškio Marinuoti Agurkai Pickled Cucumbers open jarRivona Rokiškio Marinuoti Agurkai Pickled Cucumbers on a forkRivona Rokiškio Marinuoti Agurkai Pickled Cucumbers missing a bite

They are one of the most pungent pickles I’ve ever smelt. They smell pickly, so nothing unexpected. They’re also covered it bits of all the things they put in the jar. Just look at the photos. Pieces of carrot, onion and spices are strewn over the pickled cucumbers. The fatness of the cucumbers has an interesting side effect too. They are full of seeds.

What do they taste of? They taste sweet and sour. Neither really dominates. It has the tanginess of vinegar and salt balanced by sweetness. They are not bad at all. The vegetables and spices add something too. Is that carrot I can taste?

Texture is a bit different to normal as well. With them being quite a lot bigger than some pickles, the crunchiness is much more interesting.

What do I like about Rivona Rokiškio Marinuoti Agurkai Pickled Cucumbers? I like the taste. I like tastes of the sweet and sour and the other things they crammed into the jar. And I like the big pickled cucumbers they use.

What don’t I like about Rivona Rokiškio Marinuoti Agurkai Pickled Cucumbers? If you want strong tasting pickles, look elsewhere. Some people might not like the taste of vegetables, either.

To sum up, Rivona Rokiškio Marinuoti Agurkai Pickled Cucumbers are very good. I like them. I wanted something quirky, and these deliver exactly that. Their size and their funny taste make them an excellent snack.

These are much more interesting than the rather generic Wardour and Cypressa and all the other jars you see in corner shops. I like Lithuanian pickles. And I think you should try them too.

Have you tried Rivona Rokiškio Marinuoti Agurkai Pickled Cucumbers? Can you translate anything? Do please leave your opinions, translations, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments.

Beer Review: Foster’s

20 March, 2009

UNTIL now, there’s been a Foster’s shaped hole in my blog. Last summer, I endured most of the bigname lagers. And, to the chagrin of dozens of angry commenters, I slammed them all. Foster’s escaped until now, because it took until now to find it in bottled form. Not easy, when most shops sell cans.

Some of you get all huffy when I turn my attention to a lager. So, allow me explain something. If I think your favourite big-name lager is awful, then it probably is. That’s my opinion. It doesn’t mean I despise all lagers. Perła Chmielowa Premium Pils and Leżajsk Beer were lagers, and they were both excellent. What it means is that you could do so much better when you’re next in the off-license or supermarket.

So, what will Foster’s be like? With hopes this low, all it needs to be is adequate to exceed expectations. If you’ve never seen what Foster’s looks like in a bottle instead of a can, here it is.

Foster's bottle

Funny looking little thing, isn’t it? It’s nearly half neck. Look closely and you’ll spot the Foster’s “F” embossed around the shoulder.

Foster's neck label

Yes, it has a neck label. The message is simple. There’s a big Foster’s “F” logo. And the slogan “The Amber Nectar”. When you have branding this good, you don’t need much else.

It’s a similar story with the front label.

Foster's front label

It conveys less information than any other bottle of beer I’ve seen. Even foreign language beers convey more than this. You’ll learn more from a copy of The Star than you will here. But then, do they need to say anything? With a name this well known, they could have stuck on a photocopied address label with the “F” logo, and we’d all immediately recognised what it was.

Fortunately, the back label makes of for the lack of information elsewhere. And they appear to have squished it into a label nearly the size of a Post-It® note.

Foster's back label

On it, we learn that Foster’s is “Australia’s famous award winning quality lager”. Award winning? From whom? When? Was it for their marketing by any chance? Whatever the case, we learn that it’s “enjoyed in over 150 countries”.

They describe as “clean, crisp and refreshing”. No mention of flavour. But then this is a lager. And all those qualities are what a good lager should have. In my opinion. And that’s what I hope Fosters’s will have. To give it the best chance possible, I’ll even try to drink it “Super Chilled at 3 C” like they recommend. Honestly, I’m completely open minded about Foster’s. I sincerely want to enjoy a good lager right now.

Sadly, Foster’s itself isn’t quite so sincere. That’s because it was brewed not in Australia, but here. By Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh. That makes it as Australian as bagpipes.

In a tiny space near the barcode are all the vital statistics. This is a small 275ml bottle. The alcoholic volume is a moderate 4%. Both of these facts together give this bottle 1.1 UK units of alcohol. That must be the smallest number of UK units of alcohol of any bottle I’ve ever tried for this blog. Astonishing. There’s a small section advising men not to exceed 4 daily units, and women, 3. But with bottles like this, you’re quite, quite safe.

So, what is the bottle of Foster’s actually like? What does it taste like? And should you buy a bottle? Time to crack it open and find out…

Foster's poured into a glass

At 275ml, it fits your half-pint glass perfectly. And, through the miracle of surface tension, the small layer of foam doesn’t overflow either. Give it a couple of minutes though, and that layer of head turns into a forlorn patch of bubbles.

The colour isn’t as pale as some cheap lagers. But then it’s never going to be Newcastle Brown, is it. All in all, a good amber hue. Just like they said it would be.

What does it smell like? It smells of pilsner style lager. It has much the same blend of malted barley in it’s odour as every other pilsner lager. Compared to some, it doesn’t smell strong. Quite light and inoffensive.

What does it taste like? A couple of gulps into this “Super Chilled” (40 minutes in my freezer ice box) Foster’s reveal a taste that’s identical to the smell. It tastes like most pilsner style lagers. That is to say, that is tastes of a blend of malted barley. And, like the smell, you can barely taste it. That makes it completely inoffensive.

A couple more gulps in, and I’m still struggling to find any tastes and flavour. If you concentrate really hard, you can just about make out a trace of malted barley. Although I could be imagining it.

Foster’s, when it’s very cold, does have some good points. For a start, it is clean, crisp and refreshing. Exactly what it advertised on the label. And those things are exactly what a lager should be. I can go better than that. This very cold bottle of Foster’s is pretty smooth. It’s not gassy. And, best of all, it doesn’t have that bittersweet “bite” that most lagers use to kick you in the throat. Yes, some of you love that “bite”, but I don’t. Which is why I think that Foster’s is easy to drink.

There are, however, one or two drawbacks. Not suffering from lager “bite”. The drinkability. They’ve come at a cost. This is one of the wateriest lagers I’ve had ina long time. It’s also one of the most tasteless. Even other lagers have more malted barley flavour than this. Only Tesco Value Lager can match this for lack of taste. And that had only 2% alcoholic volume.

How can I sum up Foster’s? I’d hate to have tried it warm. I’m guessing that having it “Super Chilled” helped it to be clean, crisp and refreshing. Sure, it has those qualities. But nothing more. This is one of the weakest, blandest lagers on the market. Totally drinkable and inoffensive; because you’re effectively drinking water.

You can buy better lager, so buy better lager. You can buy better beer than lager, so do that too. Buy Foster’s either to not offend anyone or out of habit. There is no compelling reason to drink this pretend Australian water.

Rating: 1.8

Have you tried Foster’s? Do you want to leave an angry comment? Do you agree? Whatever the case, do please leave your opinions, corrections, thoughts, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments.

Sweets Review: Tilley’s Emerald Toffees / Oatfield Emerald Chocolate Caramels

19 March, 2009

THE last bag of Tilley’s brand traditional sweets I tried was Jargonelle Pears. They were a nice, but unexciting sweet experience. Something I’m expecting to be repeated here, with a bag of Tilley’s Emerald Toffees.

Tilley's Emerald Toffees / Oatfield Chocolate Caramels front of bag

Everything worth saying about the outside was said before, when I looked at their Jargonelle Pears. That means I can skip the boring part and get straight to telling you what these Emerald Toffees taste like. Or does it?

Something is amiss on the back.

Tilley's Emerald Toffees / Oatfield Chocolate Caramels back of bag

The back is where they list the ingredients for every single one of their sweets. Except, that is, for Emerald Toffees. I’ve been up and down the alphabetical list and they are simply not there.

Does it bother me? Not even slightly. You don’t eat sweets because you’re worried about antioxidents, sucrose and sodium bicarbonate. You eat them because you want your taste buds to have a party.

If, however, you are the sort of person who does worry about such things, then you’ll want to look at the bottom right-hand corner of the bag. That’s because the full Northants address of Tilley’s Sweets Limited is printed there. As is a telephone number, fax number and email address (info@tilleyssweets.com). You can even visit the website, www.tilleyssweets.com, where you discover that Tilley’s is part of Zed Candy. Are there any independent sweet makers left in the country? Comments at the end of the post please.

In the bag, there are about twenty of these little things.CLOSE UP

Tilley's Emerald Toffees / Oatfield Chocolate Caramels open, wrapper and unwrapped

I admit it. I didn’t expect to find chocolate covered anything in the wrapper. Looking closer at each wrapper does reveal some answers. Oddly, they have Oatfield branding. Which could explain why the ingredients weren’t listed on the bag. And, although the word “Emerald” is on there, they’re also called “Chocolate Caramels”.

Actually eating them reveals yet more questions and answers. What they are, are small rectangular pieces of something caramely and toffee-ish, covered with chocolate. There’s even something almost nutty or nougat-like about the taste. The whole thing is chewy enough to give you a minute or two of chocolaty, chewy, sweetness.

What do I like about them? A lot. I like the tastes of chocolate plus all the other confectionary tastes that I’m not talented enough to identify. I like how much chewy mileage you can get out of each one. And I liked the surprise of finding something completely unexpected in the wrapper.

What don’t I like? I don’t like not knowing that they are. Are they Oatfield Emerald Chocolate Caramels and not Tilley’s Emerald Toffees? And if I had to nitpick, I would say that they’re not exciting enough. Nothing is going to fizz loudly or turn your tongue blue.

What are they all about? That’s harder to pinpoint than you’d think. We might have a rogue batch here. Have these sweets landed in the wrong bags by mistake during packing? If you know the answer, do please leave a comment at the end of the post. Whatever the case, these Emerald thing-a-ma-bobs are delicious traditional sweets. They might not have any novelty value, but they are darned nice confectionary.

Have you tried these, whatever their true identity is? Have you got any insight or answers to the profound questions raised in this piece of serious journalism? If so, then do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Wells Bombardier Burning Gold

18 March, 2009

I COULDN’T believe it either. But my local Tesco Metro is selling something interesting again. And it is a golden ale from England’s most patriotic of ale brands: Well’s Bombardier Burning Gold. That’s the same Wells that brought us the delectable Luxury Double Chocolate Stout, quirky Banana Bread Beer and sublime Bombardier Satanic Mills porter. I’m looking forward to gold in bottle shape.

Wells Bombardier Burning Gold bottle

Just look at it. You won’t mistake it for many other bottles. It’s as if someone made a gold coloured jelly in a bottle shaped mould, and then stuck some labels on. Look closely and you’ll see the Wells bottle design with the words “Independent Family Brewer” embossed around the shoulder.

Here is the front of the neck-label.

Wells Bombardier Burning Gold front of neck label

Whatever your take on English patriotism, the label ticks all the right boxes. And that’s worth celebrating because so many brewers get it wrong. Look past the “Drink of England” and the tenuous link to William Blake’s Jerusalem and you find some useful information.

They describe it as a “lively, refreshing golden ale”. Every bottle of beer should have that sort of description on the neck label. It just makes your ‘buy’ or ‘not buy’ decision in the shop so much faster.

The neck-label doesn’t end there though. It wraps around. And the back of it helpfully tells you who brewed it, bottled it, and where.

Wells Bombardier Burning Gold back of neck label

For the curious, the full name of Wells is Wells & Young’s Brewing Company Limited. And they come from Bedford. And I can’t think of anything interesting to say abut Bedford. If you can, leave a comment at the end of the post.

The front-label takes the standard Wells shield and makes it gold.

Wells Bombardier Burning Gold front label

It doesn’t say any more than it needs to say, either. The Wells name proudly sports the date 1876. Which is good. And the alcoholic volume can’t be missed. The 4.7% in Burning Gold isn’t bad. Not strong, nor weak.

Over on the back label, and Wells’ polished house style continues its gold theme.

Wells Bombardier Burning Gold back label

It goes straight into a more detailed version of the description from the neck-label. They describe it as “an instantly refreshing beer”. That the aroma is “zesty”. And that it has a “dry, crisp flavour with more than a hint of citrus on the palate and a smooth lasting finish”. Sounds yummy. When you read the back of a beer bottle in the shop, that is the sort of thing you want to read about. Not a back story involving legendary figures and ancient traditions.

The ingredients are water, malted barley, hops and yeast. In, presumably, order of proportion. And that’s good because usually, they are not. Water, if it gets a mention at all, it hidden away at the back of the list.

The web address they print on the bottle is www.bombardier.co.uk. I encourage you to visit. It’s not too Flash-heavy and far from the worst brewer website out there. The closest I could find to a homepage for Burning Gold was half a page shared with Satanic Mills. Both well worth reading about, and drinking, but surely they deserve their own obsessively detailed homepages?

The only other bit of small-print worth repeating are the UK units of alcohol. This 500ml bottle and 4.7% alcoholic volume brings it to 2.4 UK units of alcohol. That means you can have nearly two before you are in receipts of an ASBO. And, if Sir Liam Donaldson gets his way, your wallet will be nearly £1.50 pence lighter.

So, will Wells Bombardier Burning Gold be as delicious as I’m hoping it will be? What will it taste like? And should you buy it? These questions and more I shall attempt to answer for you, now…

Wells Bombardier Burning Gold poured into a glass

The colour is no surprise. It’s exactly the same dark golden hue as you saw the bottle. Not much head to speak of. There is a patchy layer of foam, but nothing to imperil your pouring. My pint glass easily contained it all.

The label promised “zesty aromas”. Does it deliver? Impressively. It smells delicious. It’s pungent enough for you to smell it easily enough, too. “Zesty” is definitely the right word for it. There’s all kinds of citrusy and plant-based smells in there. It reminds me of that lemon scented kitchen and bathroom surface cleaner. In a good, unmistakably beery way. It really does smell very nice indeed.

What does it taste like? A couple of gulps in, and it is very pleasant. The label describes the flavour as “dry” and “crisp”, “with more than a hint of citrus”. Yet again, I can’t disagree. Citrus is the main flavour. But I think the dry malty taste adds some biscuit to the blend of flavours.

I can’t disagree with the description of it having a “smooth lasting finish” either. After the flavours pass, the transition to the aftertaste really is as smooth as the service at a Swedish railway station. There is no bitter “bite” anywhere to be seen. Instead, what you get is a lightly malty and hoppy finish that lasts and lasts. You’ll struggle to know what it is you’re tasting, it is that gentle. But you’ll be happy that it’s there.

Nearly half-way through, and I’m finding a lot to like about Wells Bombardier Burning Gold. For starters, there’s enough layers to the flavour and taste to keep you thinking. Everyone of them is blended into something that tastes superb. And it does this while being smooth, crisp, light and refreshing. On top of all those things, it’s very easy to drink. Something that must reflect on the quality of the ingredients and effort that went into it. Also, unlike with some ales, you won’t feel like you’re eating a heavy meal. And, it’s not gassy, either.

However, I do have a few problems with Burning Gold. Foremost among which is what it stands for. Burning Gold seems to be yet another well made summery ale. Yet another one. Why would you choose this, over say, Morrissey Fox Blonde, Wychwood Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale or any other of the expertly made, delicious, summery ales? There’s nothing wrong with them, on their own. Just a lack of imagination when you round them up together.

Besides that, there’s not much to dislike about Wells Bombardier Burning Gold. I’m not a fan of ‘dryness’, but I’m sure a lot of you out there will love that about it. If I had to nitpick, it would be that it’s still quite hard to find. The stock in my local Tesco could vanish never to be seen again.

To sum up, Wells Bombardier Burning Gold is a delicious, high-quality, drinkable, if slightly unimaginative summery ale. If you normally only inflict cider on your body, treat it to some Burning Gold. This is an outstanding transition ale to help you bridge the flavour gap. Nothing about Burning Gold will put you off. If you’re trying to decide whether to buy it, I say yes. Burning Gold is an excellent use of your weekly drinks budget. I just wish that they had shown a tiny bit more imagination. Put some moss or coconut in and make it truly inspired.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Wells Bombardier Burning Gold? Do you work for Wells & Young’s? What did you think of this bottled ale? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, ramblings, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments. And yes, I do read every single one of them.

Snack Food Review: Wardour Pickled Sweet and Sour Gherkins

18 March, 2009

SO far on my search for the perfect pickle, results have been mixed. Cypressa Gherkins were plain. Baktat Pickled Gherkins were salty and awful. Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers on the other hand were delicious, sweet and cucumbery. Tasty, but lacking the tangy-ness that I’m looking for. So what will Wardour Pickled Sweet and Sour Gherkins taste like?

Wardour Pickled Sweet and Sour Gherkins jar

At £1.25 pence for a 670g full jar, it seems like quite good value. The jar certainly looks packed with plenty of unidentified stuff besides the gherkins.Can’t say that I’ve ever heard of “Wardour Famous Food” though. Have you?

Over on the left-hand-side of the label, and we can see all the little details that you’d want to know about what’s in the jar.

Wardour Pickled Sweet and Sour Gherkins left of label

There’s a big table full of nutrition information. While I’m going to ignore. There’s a list of ingredients too, which you should pay attention to. On the other jars of pickles, salty or sugary water was the order of the day. Wardour’s sweet and sour gherkins however have spirit vinegar and sugar as the order of the day with salt and spices behind. And that is going to make these taste different to any I’ve tried so far. Not different to plenty of others on the market mind you. You’ll see the same thing on plenty of jars on shop shelves.

For the very curious, there’s a web address on this side of the label. Oddly, it’s not wardour.com. But rather www.waissels.com. That’s because Waissel’s is an importer. Their Wardour page is at http://www.waissels.com/wardour/index.htm.

Over on the other side of the label, there’s little to report.

Wardour Pickled Sweet and Sour Gherkins right of label

As you can see.

So let’s move to the interesting bit. What do Wardous Pickled Sweet and Sour Gherkins taste like? Will they be better than the ones I’ve tried so far? Should you buy them?

Let’s find out.

Wardour Pickled Sweet and Sour Gherkins open jarWardour Pickled Sweet and Sour Gherkins on a fork

They’re the right size for your fork. They’re chewy. But the taste is something else. The main taste is sweet, like Mrs Elswood Pickled Whole Sweet Cucumbers. That was unexpected because sugar isn’t the top ingredient. But it doesn’t end there. The vinegar adds a tangy angle to the taste and rounds it off nicely. There’s also some hints of the spicy stuff that’s also in the jar.

What do I like about Wardour Pickled Sweet and Sour Gherkins? A lot. They are tasty and delicious.

What don’t I like? Not much that I can think of. I would like more tangy-ness and a little less sweetness. They are savoury snacks afterall. I could ask for the same flavour but in the form of pickled cucumbers. But those would be minor complaints.

To sum up, Wardour Pickled Sweet and Sour Gherkins are a great example of what pickles should be. Not totally perfects. They are tasty though. Well worth your purchase.

Have you tried Wardour Pickled Sweet and Sour Gherkins? What did you think of them? Got any requests, recommendations or places to buy that you want to share? Then do please leave a comment here.

Snack Food Review: Mr. Porky Pork Scratchings Seasoned Pork Rind

15 March, 2009

WHAT goes better with a bottle of ale, than a small bag of crinkly pork fragments that are as crunchy as gravel? Mr. Porky Prime Cut Scratchings made by Red Mill Snack Foods Ltd in Wednesbury, West Midlands, were inconsistent, but tasty. Here is the ubiquitous (you can find them in most corner shops) cousin of Prime Cut Scratchings, Mr. Porky Pork Scratchings. The down-to-earth, straightforward seasoned pork rind pork scratchings.

Mr. Porky Pork Scratchings front of bag

There’s not much to say about the front. It’s unmistakeably a Mr. Porky snack. They are, apparently, “Best Ever”. I’ll take their word on that. What does the back say?

Mr. Porky Pork Scratchings back of bag

No, not much different to the other Mr. Porky pork scratchings. That’s good, because it means I can whizz through what it says without dwelling on the boring small print. If you want to read absolutely everything, then read my post about Mr. Porky Prime Cut Scratchings here.

The main ingredients are, unsurprisingly, pork rind, pork fat and salt. There’s a few other things too, but, pleasingly, no E numbers. The full address of Red Mill Snack Foods Ltd is on there in case you want to write to them. But I think you should go to their fun little website at www.mrporky.co.uk instead.

There’s also a big table of Nutrition Information where you can read about how much fat and salt you’re about to consume. But you don’t want to worry yourself by reading it. Make the most of these snacks now. Quickly. Before the nanny-state bans them or slaps a tax on them.

So, what do Mr. Porky Pork Scratchings look like? What do they taste like? And should you buy them? These questions I shall answer now…

Mr. Porky Pork Scratchings open bag close up

They are smallish pieces and tiny pieces of seasoned pork rind. About the size of popcorn. They smell a little of salt and seasoning. But not very strongly.

What do they taste like? They taste of seasoning and salt. I can’t taste much pork in there, but it is there. Hiding in the background. There’s nothing strong about the way Mr. Porky Pork Scratchings taste.

They’re not very tough on the teeth either. These are crunchy with very occasional chewiness. The crunchiness isn’t hard going like some pork scratchings. Just satisfyingly crunchy.

What do I like about Mr. Porky Pork Scratchings? I like the easy to eat crunchiness compared to hard as rock other pork scratchings. The taste isn’t off-putting in anyway. Even the most timid of snackers will be able to stomache the lightly salted and seasoned Mr. Porky Pork Scratchings.

What about the downsides? Well this ubiquitous little bag is so little, that you don’t get much for your money. You’ll have finished them before you’ve even begun. If you want extreme crunchiness or taste, you won’t find it here, either.

How can I sum up Mr. Porky Pork Scratchings? Quite easily. They are simple, straight forward, adequately tasty and easy to eat. For pork scratchings that is. Almost so inoffensive, you could call them boring. No wander they are what nearly every corner shop in the land chooses to stock.

Have you tried Mr. Porky Pork Scratchings? Do you work for Red Mill? What do you think of them? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments.

Beer Review: Morrissey Fox Blonde

15 March, 2009

HERE is a bottle I’ve been dying to try. Did you watch Channel 4’s Neil Morrissey’s Risky Business? If so, you’ll already know that actor Neil Morrissey and chef mate Richard Fox achieved the impossible. Thanks to a combination of Richard’s catering expertise and Neil’s celebrity string-pulling, they bought a pub, set up a micro-brewery in a shed, and got a supermarket to stock their very own bottled blonde ale. If you missed the series, I highly recommend you watch it, so you can see the blood, sweat and beers that went into this bottle.

Morrissey Fox Blonde bottle

This one cam from my local Tesco who took until now to get a batch. It’s also a special Red Nose Day 09 edition where 25 pence per bottle goes to Comic Relief. So there’s no reason not to give Morrissey Fox Blonde a try.

Around the neck of this generic, brown bottle is one of the funnier neck labels you’ll ever see.

Morrissey Fox Blonde neck label

Look closely at the two lions on the crest. Don’t look quite right, do they? That’s because their faces are in fact, the faces of Neil Morrissey and Richard Fox. What’s more, the Richard lion is holding a knife – because he’s a chef. Obviously. And the Neil lion is holding a pint glass. Because he likes drinking ale. If the programme was anything to go by. Witty symbolism or freakishly deformed anthropomorphism? Comments in the usual place please.

Morrissey Fox Blonde front label

The front label is the one we saw Neil and Richard shoot during their programme. Except this one has them both wearing Red Noses. The idea that their creative agency came up with was to dispense with the traditional roundel. Instead drawing on their celebrity status by having photos of themselves sporting milk-moustaches from the head on their ale. It is self indulgent and traditionalists will hate it. For those reasons and for how different it looks, I like it.

At the bottom of the label, squished between the Comic Relief small print are the basics. And that’s good. Because on too many bottles, the basics are hard to find, and you’re left wandering if you’ll like it.

They describe it as “light and refreshing with a full body and flowery nose”. It’s a 500ml bottle. Just like most other bottles on the shop shelf. And it has a modest alcoholic volume of 4.2%.

The back label is equally informative. And with high-contrast white-on-black print, it’s one of the easiest to read beer labels you’ll ever see. Have a look at this.

Morrissey Fox Blonde back label

Because this is a Red Nose Day 09 version, what it says is worth reading. But you’ll have to buy the bottle to get the warm fuzzy feeling from 25 pence going to Comic Relief.

Further down are the small print details. Serious ale fans, you will like this. They have all the details you want to know. The ingredients list for example, isn’t just a summary. Morrissey Fox Blonde was made with “Finest aromatic hops, malt, barley and water”. It’s “best served larder chilled” and power “with respect”. Vague and precise, both at the same time.

Then they slip in a word about their pub: “Also available on draught from our own microbrewery at Ye Olde Punch Bowl Inn Marton cum Grafton, North Yorkshire”. If I can summon the courage to go oop north, Ye Olde Punch Bowl Inn will be a must see. Have you been? Leave a comment with your opinion in the comments at the end of the post.

Being clued up in all things publicity related, they have a website. A professional and good looking website. The address is www.morrisseyfox.co.uk. If their aim was to make me want their forthcoming seasonal brews, then they succeeded.

For those who insist on reading every last detail on a beer label, here it is. The 4.2% alcoholic volume in this 500ml bottle brings it to a reasonable 2.15 UK units alcohol. Another reason to feel virtuous is that half of the bottle is made from recycled glass.

With every last word read, you now have no excuse not to crack up the bottle. What does Morrissey Fox Blonde taste like? Will I adore it as much as Neil Morrissey and Richard Fox? The only way to find out is to do this…

Morrissey Fox Blonde poured into a glass

It looks golden and delicious. But you won’t get a milk-moustache from the head. Mostly because there isn’t one. A couple of minutes after the pour, and a slim layer is on one-half of the glass.

How does it smell? The labels described it as “flowery” with “aromatic hops”. Are they right? Yes. In a word, it smells good. Spicy hoppi-ness and flowers are what it smells of. Both together, it has an excellent smell of, erm, well, ale. It smells good and beery. Summery too.

How does it taste? A couple of gulps in, and I’m liking Morrissey Fox Blonde. The flavour is light and gentle. It tastes, mildly, of citrus, flowers and other nice, natural thing. Then, just as gently and mildly, the aftertaste comes and goes. It passes so quietly, you’ll hardly know it was there. What it leaves is the mildest of pleasant, spicy hop finishes.

The label went with “light and refreshing with a full body”. Morrissey Fox Blonde has flavour and taste, but are they strong enough to count as a “full body”? I’m not so sure. As for light and refreshing, it is certainly both of those things.

Half-way through now, so what am I enjoying about Morrissey Fox Blonde? I’m liking how easy it is. Easy on the nose. Easy to drink. You would need to be as timid as a mouse to be put off by Blonde. That’s partly because of the quality of the ingredients. You can just tell that good, natural things went into this. None of the artificial taste you get with nigh-name lagers and ciders.

What am I not enjoying about Morrissey Fox Blonde? There are a few issues. The other day I went off on a rant about the lack of imagination from small breweries. It seemed that everyone was making light ales for the two-weeks of the year that we call summer. Blonde isn’t an exception. Yes, it’s doing a few things differently, but is it all that different to other light and summery ales? Really?

Besides the big abstract issue, there are a few smaller ones. Some people will love how easy and gentle it is. It stops you from hating it. But wouldn’t it be great if it took risks with bold, unusual flavours? Throw in some pineapple, carrot and hazelnut and come up with something truly inspired. Remember, 10 people loving something is worth 100 people liking it. Besides that, it’s not particularly strong and difficult to find in shops.

To sum up, Morrissey Fox Blonde is an easily drinkable, light, summery ale made by celebrities. Even if you’ve never heard of Neil Morrissey or Richard Fox, you’ll struggle to hate Blonde. But, you’ll struggle to love it either. If it’s a sunny day or you want to get your girl into ale, Blonde is an excellent choice. If you want something off-the-wall, keep looking.

Rating: 4.05

Have you tried Morrissey Fox Blonde? Have you been to Ye Olde Punch Bowl Inn? What did you think? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy here in the comments.

Snack Food Review: John West Boneless Sardines In Tomato Sauce

10 March, 2009

THESE are my favourite tinned fish. So far. Unlike Brunswick Canadian Style Sardines, you don’t spend half an hour picking out the bones and mankey bits. And unlike John West Mackerel Fillets in Curry Sauce, they aren’t dry. So far then, John West Boneless Sardines In Tomato Sauce avoid the major pitfalls of tinned fish. But what do you think? And there’s always room for improvement. Time once again to cast a critical net into the sea of tinned fish.

John West Boneless Sardines In Tomato Sauce top of tin

The tin is quite a lot larger yet flatter than most tins of sardines and mackerel. The end result of which is that John West Boneless Sardines weigh 95g. 30g less than the mackerel fillets and 11g less than the very bony Brunswick sardines. That means about a tenth of your usual tin of sardines consists of bones and that grimy stuff you don’t want to eat.

Around the very this sides of the tin is some writing. One side informs you of how doctors recommend that you eat at least one oil-rich dish of fish a week. Imagine how useful it would be having your product recommended by doctors. That’s an endorsement that’s hard to beat. My goal is to find doctors to proclaim the health benefits of emailing me ones bank account details and passwords. I intend to use the proceeds to buy the worldwide stock of oily fish, making me the healthiest and longest living human in the world.

On another side, they say that there might still be some tiny bones in there. So be careful. That the ingredients are sardine fillets, water, concentrated tomato puree, sunflower oil, salt spice and that it may contain mustard. Then the sad news that it was produced in Portugal for John West Foods Ltd in Liverpool. If you can think of a good reason why our own fisherman and fish processors couldn’t produce this for John West, do please leave an explanation in the comments at the end of this post.

The underside of the tin is utterly packed with detail.

John West Boneless Sardines In Tomato Sauce underside of tin

There’s a recipe for Sardine Pizza. Opening instructions. The barcode. And a huge table full of nutrition information. None of which I understand. Fortunately, they’ve summarised the important bits at the bottom. This can has 156 calories and 9.5g of fat. Is that a lot? If you know the answer, leave a comment at the end of the post.

Once open, you’re met with filleted sardines. Filleted sardines that look a lot more fish-like than the filleted mackerel I tried a few weeks ago.

John West Boneless Sardines In Tomato Sauce opened tin

What’s more, if you coerce them out of the tin and into a bowl, you can see for yourself something that is recognisably fishy. Yes, you can see the skin. And yes, that is a delicious dollop of tomato sauce from the tin.

John West Boneless Sardines In Tomato Sauce in a bowl

What do they taste like? They taste of sardines in tomato sauce. Exactly what they should taste like. They crumble into easily edible chunks with little prodding from my fork. And there is zero mess or preparation. No stringy bones to uncover, attempt to remove and miss pieces of. No gunky grey manky bits to pick around. With the healthy dose of tomato sauce, these John West Boneless Sardines In Tomato Sauce aren’t dry, either.

Are there any downsides? From what I can tell, John West drew up a list of downsides to their tinned fish and produced their boneless sardines range as an answer. Because it addresses nearly everything I thought that was wrong with other tinned fish.

But there must be something. If I had to nitpick, it would be the sauce. In Tesco, there was only tomato sauce, which I have here, and sunflower oil. Fine If you’re making a sandwich, but hardly exciting. Maybe salty old sea dogs are the only people who eat tinned fish. The sort of people who don’t like exciting flavours. I don’t know. But I know that I would love to have some seriously spicy and interesting flavours to go with these perfectly prepared sardines.

How can I sum up John West Boneless Sardines In Tomato Sauce? If you want a tasty, good value, easy to eat small tin of fish, I know of no better choice. The sauce might be boring. But it’s worth it for the time you save picking out bones and other gunk you normally get. A must try choice for the lazy fish fan.

Have you tried John West Boneless Sardines? Do you work for John West? Did you like them? Got any recommendations, requests or places to buy? Then do please leave a comment here.

Beer Review: Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow

3 March, 2009

EUROPEAN wheat beers are some of the best in the world. Erdinger Weißbier and its Dunkel cousin were superb. Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc White Beer was tasty, and personal favourite Hoegaarden Belgian White Beer is a wheat beer as well. Sure, the Guinnesses have wheat in them, but they are stouts, and as comparable as apples and parsnips. All of which begs the question, where are the British wheat beers? We have the best little brewers in the world, yet many seem preoccupied with making summery pale ales for the seven days of the year when the sun shines. Where are our quirky, interesting, niche filling and delicious wheat beers?

Bravely answering the call is Oxfordshire’s Wychwood Brewery. From an off-licence on Kingsland Road in London, the only place I’ve ever seen it on sale, comes this bottle of Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow.

Wychwood Fiddler's Elbow bottle

If you don’t know what Wychwood are all about, then now would be an excellent time to read my other posts. Their style is original to put it mildly. Nowhere else will you find beer bottles adorned with artwork of characters you’d normally see on a magical quest to locate mystical crystals so that the goblins and Mr. Tumnus can live in peace. Wychwood Hobgoblin Ruby Beer is easiest to find as Tesco stock it. Wychcraft Blonde Beer is harder to find. And Circlemaster Golden Pale Ale and this one are very hard to find.

The neck label was instrumental. If it didn’t say “Wheat Brewed”, I might have passed it by. An interesting little detail like that, about the beer, is just the sort of thing a neck label should have.

Wychwood Fiddler's Elbow neck label

Down on the main front label, and it’s another Wychwood fantasy treat.

Wychwood Fiddler's Elbow front label

I’m normally a cynical misery guts about why some ales got their names. But the fabulous illustration of a little old country fellow playing a fiddle makes you forget that. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it’s even possible that he’s suffering fiddler’s elbow. Whatever that is.

There’s not much real detail on the front label roundel sadly. Only the alcoholic volume. At 4.5%, Fiddler’s Elbow is going to be reasonable. Neither strong nor weak. Hopefully the back label will answer more questions.

Wychwood Fiddler's Elbow back label

The T-shirt offer takes centre stage again. I’ve carefully saved up five Wychwood bottle tops. That means that if I post them, and a cheque for the reduced price of £6.99 pence, I can get an official Wychwood T-shirt. Because I now have five Wychwood bottle tops, expect to see a post about one of their T-shirts in the not to distant future.

Like the other Wychwood ales, we get a good, full paragraph quote from Jeremy Moss, the Head Brewer. Past experience tells me that his descriptions are spot on. That means it’s worth reading what he’s got to say.

He describes it as a “refreshing beer”. One that’s brewed with “wheat, malt & hopped with Styrian Goldings”. Always good to know what variety of hops go into an ale. Even if the name means nothing to you. He then describes it as having an “earthy hop aroma balanced by juicy malt”. I don’t know what that’s going to smell like, but I’m looking forward to finding out. He goes on to describe the flavour as “tart citric fruit” and the aftertaste as a “long quenching hoppy finish”. Sounds yummy.

The small-print is helpfully rounded up into a box. Here, you can read that this 500ml bottle of 4.5% volume drink corresponds to a Scottish Executive friendly 2.3 UK units of alcohol. They have their full Oxfordshire address in case you want to write them a letter. And a website at the usual address of www.wychwood.co.uk.

Expectations are high for Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow. How will it compare to the Continental big-names? Very well I hope. But there’s only one way to find out.

Wychwood Fiddler's Elbow poured into a glass

A pint glass turns out to be exactly the right size. Even though 500ml is less than a pint, the head fills it out completely, before settling down to a thick, frothy layer. The colour is a light, semi-opaque brown. Kind of tea or varnished chest of drawers colour. I couldn’t make out any cloudiness, or any sediment for that matter. It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any. But could mean that this isn’t a ‘live’ ale. Experts, leave your wisdom at the end of this post as usual please.

Does it have the hoppy and malty smell that Head Brewer Jeremy Moss described? A few big sniffs reveals yes. He’s right again. It’s a strong smell too. Even I could smell it. And my nose is mostly ornamental. I would describe it as smelling of a blend of spicy and citrusy hops and malt. Very ale-like.

What does it taste like? A couple of gulps in, and I’m enjoying Fiddler’s Elbow. Head Brewer, Jeremy Moss, described the flavour as “tart citric fruit” and the aftertaste as a “long quenching hoppy finish”. As usual, he’s pretty darn good at this. But then he would be. He made it.

I must admit though, I’m not really getting a citric fruit flavour. There is a teeny tiny bit of citrus flavour, but it gets swamped by the malty and hoppy aftertaste. That finish though. What an aftertaste. Usually, a bitter aftertaste is where you wince and try to convince yourself that it’s distinctive. Fiddler’s Elbow however, the citrusy, malty tastes turn into one of the best hoppy finishes out there. It tastes a little spicy. It arrives as gently as an artefact for the British Museum. Once there, it somehow stretches that taste out until next week.

What am I enjoying about Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow? I’m enjoying a lot of things about it. The flavours and tastes manage to be strong, delicate, rich and delicious, all at the same time. It’s as well made as all the Wychwood ales I’ve tried, and that makes it easy to drink. Even if you don’t normally drink ale. Fiddler’s Elbow also scores marks for being something different. It’s wheat brewed. And the taste, although I’m sure I’ve had something similar before, is not all that common. That makes it somewhat distinctive.

Nearly at the bottom of my glass now, and there are one or two issues troubling me about Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow. The first is that it’s not at all what I was expecting. Anyone expecting a beer like the big-name continental wheat beers is in for a surprise. Although it tastes great, it’s not as packed with complex layers of flavour as some ales. And that might disappoint some bottled ale fans. There’s also something rather familiar about the taste. That means it’s not as outlandishly original as I was hoping. It’s not as refreshing as the label said it would be, either. Down to the niggles, and it’s a little gassy, dry and hard to find in shops. But they are trifling complaints.

So what it Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow all about? I would describe it as an excellent example of an archetypal British ale. If you’ve got a stereotypical view of what an ale is, you’ll find a delicious example here. Nothing about it is too strong to put you off. Even if you swear by tasteless lager. I’m not sure what the wheat has added. But this is an excellent, ‘meaty’, hoppy ale. It might even surpass Wychcraft as my favourite Wychwood bottled ale. On that basis, if you can find it, treat yourself to a bottle.

Rating: 4.3

Have you tried Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow? Do you work for the Wychwood Brewery? If so, do please leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and share your places to buy with other readers.


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