Archive for September, 2010

Snack Food Review: “Britains Best Pork Scratchings” “Pork Scratchings by post”

30 September, 2010

AN unusually quick review this evening. Mostly because there’s not much to say about this particular snack food. Why post at all? Because I know there are a LOT of people out there who love their pork scratchings as much as I do, which is why I picked up this enigmatic bag whilst in Cardiff recently.

“Britains Best Pork Scratchings” “Pork Scratchings by post” bag

At a stall in the temporary outdoor foot market in Cardiff Bay was a purveyor of pork scratchings. For £2 per bag, you get this large, transparent bag. The only thing to describe about it is the business card contained within.

“Britains Best Pork Scratchings” “Pork Scratchings by post” card

There you have it. Going by their pricing, what looks like good value pork scratchings by post. You have to admire the ambition of calling them “Britains Best Pork Scratchings”.

The Yahoo.co.uk email address hints at the fact that they don’t have a website. And the “quite” typo which should probably read as “Keep the old man quiet gift”, confirming that these aren’t the product of a large manufacturer.

Every single one of these packaging quirks and shortcomings can be immediately forgiven if the scratching are delicious. I’m looking for decent sized pieces, flavour and taste without excessive-salting and a generously sized bag. Well, we’re off to a flying start with that last point.

“Britains Best Pork Scratchings” “Pork Scratchings by post” close up

Here’s a photo of the first few pieces I grabbed. Hoping that they’re representative, you’ve got to say that they haven’t skimped on size. The porky and seasoned smell is not bad either, plus they’re not too greasy to the touch.

What are they like? Some pieces are hard as granite, some have soft porkiness. Seasoning, if there’s any at all, is light and I can barely taste the salt.

What do I like so far? I’m loving that they are straightforward, uncomplicated, good value pork scratching. The variety and hand-made feel are all good.

What don’t I like so far? If you’re looking for a sophisticated, seasoned snack, this isn’t for you. Some of the harder bits are also nearly as hard to chew as boiled sweets.

To sum up, these seemingly unbranded pork scratchings “by post” are good. If you like your pork scratchings to be traditional, straightforward and uncomplicated, these are for you. If you do have a dad or uncle who likes traditional pork scratching with a bottle of ale, I’ve no doubt these would be a great little gift. Now I’m going to stop eating, and save the rest of the bag for when I have a beer to enjoy them with.

Have you tried these? What did you think of them? Are you the man who made them? If so, then leave a comment below!

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Beer Review: St. George Beer

24 September, 2010

MONTHS ago, I vowed not to ‘review’ the national beers of hot countries anymore. Inevitably, once away from their home country, those beers lose what makes them special. Then I compare it to high quality ale and lager, and then people from the beer’s country of origin take it as an insult, and express their disgust in the comments section.

Sometimes however, curiosity gets the better of me. That’s exactly what happened when I found an Ethiopian shop in central London (WC1) near King’s Cross. There was no way I could miss the opportunity to try an Ethiopian beer. So, cast your eyes upon St. George Beer.

St. George Beer bottle

The bottle is generic and brown. There is only one label; the yellow one on the front. And I don’t care about those things, because it’s come all the way from East Africa and it still only cost £1.29 pence.

St. George Beer front label

The label has just enough English language for you to guess what you’re getting. The top corners for instance give the alcoholic volume as 4.5% and the contents as being 33cl. They describe it as a “Premium Lager Beer”. And, best of all, it is “Ethiopian Beer Brewed & Bottled by BGI Ethiopia”. I’m just glad it is genuinely imported.

The most confusing thing about the label is the name and logo. It has a Medieval knight, apparently engaged in dragon slaying. And it’s called St. George Beer. Why is this? None of that imagery is African. Nor is it a colonial remnant, because Ethiopia was, according to this website, never colonised.

The rest of the writing is, I assume, in the Amharic language. Translators, if you can translate what it says, leave a comment at the end of this post.

There is not, it seems any official website for this beer. But I did find a lot of questions answered about Ethiopian beer at http://www.ethiopianrestaurant.com/ethiopian_beers.html. The most shocking fact of all, being that Ethiopia has a well established brewing industry. I’m truly impressed.

With no more labels to write about, it’s time for the taste test. It doesn’t say “serve cold” anywhere, but I’m going to guess that if you’re in Ethiopia, you’d want your beer to be a touch chilly. With that in mind, this one has been in the fridge. Now let’s crack it open and try some Ethiopian beer.

St. George Beer poured into a glass

Even with the rough ride home I gave the bottle, it didn’t froth up. In fact, it was easy-peasy to pour. In my half-pint glass (which wasn’t big enough for the full 33cl), this fridge-cold St. George Beer is clear, carbonated and yellow. A thin, patchy layer of which foam sits atop the liquid.

What does St. George Beer smell like? A variation on the same malted barley formula that all Pilsner style lagers smell off. This one however, does seem to have a richness and intensity to the smell that is uncommon.

For the taste, because it’s a lager, I’m looking for a clean, crisp and refreshing character. A distinctive hoppy finish is an optional bonus. So, what does St. George Beer taste like? The first gulp went down without problem. So did the second. First impressions are that it’s going to be a solid, normal lager.

Being a lager, there’s nothing on the flavour side of the equation, but there is on the taste and aftertaste finish. With St. George Beer, the transition is smooth, but prompt and definite. You know you’ve reached the aftertaste by the malted barley taste. A taste that starts mild, but keeps on building, somehow becoming more evident with each gulp.

What am I enjoying about St. George Beer? I like how it seems to be a perfectly acceptable, honest, well made lager. Why do I think it’s well made? Because, at least whilst cold, it is pretty clean, crisp and refreshing. And it wouldn’t be those things with good ingredients. It also scores points for being all the way from Ethopia.

What don’t I like about St. George Beer? It did make me burp a lot, but that could be down to the bottle riding in my back pack on the walk and bus ride home. The main grips is that taste. It’s not quite a love it or hate it lager, but it’s nearly there. That rather intense malted barley taste won’t be for everybody. A few more touches like a hint of hoppiness would be nice too.  Still, St. George Beer is all the way from Ethopia.

How can I sum up St. George Beer? Ethopia has produced a lager and it’s perfectly fine! So it’s lacking in sophistication and you could lump it with other hot country lager beers. But come on.  It’s not from South-East Asia or South America. It’s from Ethopia in East Africa, on the doorsteps of one of the world trouble spots. It’s like Luxembourg starting a space program. I’m just impressed that it exists and that it’s perfectly drinkable.

Rating: 3

Have you tried St. George Beer? What did you think of it? Can you translate anything from the label?

Do please leave your comments, translations, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Pacifico Clara

14 September, 2010

YES, I do read your comments. That’s why, whilst browsing the shelves of the Bethnal Green Food Center, the name Pacifico rang a bell. That means I open this post with a thank you to the people who recommended Pacifico in the comments section of my reviews of Mexico’s lack-lustre big-name beers. For those of you, like me, who’d never heard of it before, here’s what it looks like. At least in its export version, Pacifico Clara form.

Pacifico Clara bottle

It’s a svelte, un-fussy, brown bottle. The big yellow label is equally straight forward.

Pacifico Clara front label

It’s yellow. So you can guess that it comes from a hot country. The only graphics are an illustration of a life ring with an anchor and what looks like a silhouette of land in the background. This compact square inch of nautical imagery leaves me baffled until I realise that Pacifico refers to the Pacific ocean.

That same poor grasp of Spanish comes in handy with the rest of the label. I’ve done enough of these labels now, to know that “Cerveza” means “beer”. That “Clara” means “clear”, hinting that there might be a dark version of this beer out there. And the slogan “La cerveza del pacific” means “The beer of the Pacific”. Unless, of course, I’m wrong, in which case, leave your correct translation in the comments section.

The vital statistics are clear enough for even me to read easily. This is a 35.5 cl, 355 ml bottle, and the alcoholic volume is an unremarkable 4.5%. Under all of this, it quickly becomes a dense block of multi-lingual small print and symbols. Because of the gold on yellow colours, this is nearly unreadable.

Fortunately, I can make out the main facts. First, it really is “Imported Beer from Mexico”. Not some domestic imitation of a Mexican beer (I can’t think of anything worse). Lastly it has 1.6 UK units of alcohol.

What;s on the back label? This is what’s on the back.

Pacifico Clara back of bottle

With that out of the way, we can get to the interesting part. Will Pacifico Clara be the best Mexican beer that I’ve tried? Let’s find out. For this test, I’ve cooled it to fridge temperature and I won’t be adding any lemon or lime. Because Pacifico Clara will almost certainly be a pilsner style lager beer, I’ll be looking for clean, crisp refreshment and ease of drinking.

Pacifico Clara poured into a glass

If you do what I did and try and pour it into a half-pint glass, the first thing you’ll notice is that 355ml won’t go. Seeing as most people will probably be swigging it from the bottle, that won’t be a problem.

In the glass, it looks like any other pilsner style lager: yellow and fizzy. This one does lack a head though with just the odd patch of white foam. Pacifico Clara doesn’t smell surprising either. The only odour I could detect was a variation of the same malted barley blend that all lagers have. Quite strong smelling too, I must say.

What does Pacifico Clara taste like? The first gulp was a, easy one. So was the second. No surprises and so far, everything much as you’d hope for from a lager from a hot country. If you’ve ever tried a pilsner style lager (you’re reading this blog, therefore you have), then you’ll know what to expect from the taste and flavour. That frees me up to focus on the minutiae that pleases the detail freaks so much.

There is no flavour. No surprise there. There’s almost no taste and aftertaste either. The transition from where the flavour would be to where the aftertaste is, is so gentle as to make you think you missed it. There’s a gentle, slight bitterness. That mild bitterness fades away to almost nothing. Then a barley-malt powered, mild bitterness pops up out of nowhere, leaving a surprisingly long finish. This is the most noticeable part of the entire gulp.

What am I enjoying about Pacifico Clara? Well it is clean, crisp and refreshing. It’s also very easy to drink. These are undeniable facts. It possesses all the qualities that a hot country lager is usually judged by. I like the straightforward honesty of the beer and the bottle. And I like the reports that it’s what the locals would probably choose.

What don’t I like about Pacifico Clara? The cleanness, crispness, refreshment and drinkability come at a price. And that price is watery-ness and lack of taste and character. If you want a thirst quenching, refreshing and drinkable beverage, tap water is an option you may want to consider instead. It would have the added benefit of being less gassy than Pacifico Clara.

To sum up, Pacifico Clara is different to the big-name Mexican beers by being a trade-off. It trades taste for drinkability. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike it for that. On a hot day, no one would complain about a cold bottle of Pacifico Clara. In a rainy, autumnal London however, there’s something seriously lacking. All of which means that Pacifico Clara is pretty good and doing what it does. Even if few of us love it for that.

The closest competitor I can think of is Aguila from nearby Colombia. That too, opted for the watery drinkability compromise. And I’m sure you can think of others.

Is Pacifico Clara my favourite Mexican beer? On a hot day in Mexico, probably. At least until I try one that I can really love. When that happens, you’ll read about it here.

Rating: 3.3

Have you tried Pacifico Clara? What did you think? Leave your translations, opinions, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Badger Cricket

5 September, 2010

THIS year’s meagre summer has made a feeble reappearance this week. Seizing the moment, I bought a bottle of one of this year’s Badger summer ales from the Hall & Woodhouse stable. This one is called Cricket, and cost an outrageous £2.29 pence from the Bethnal Green Food Center.

Badger Cricket bottle

I love Badger ales. Not only are their beers high quality and quirky, as all British ale should be, but they get how important a useful back label is. How is Hall & Woodhouse one of the only industry players who understand that value of this? How?

The neck-label gets things going marvellously.

Badger Cricket neck label

I like the summer-y yellow, and the pictures of musical notes and hops floating around. But most of all, I like that they sum it up with two simple words: “Beautifully composed.” Simply because when you’re glancing at a shop shelf full of bottles, you need something to tell you something about the character of the beer you’re looking at. From those two words, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t turn out to be a well balanced, solid all-rounder.

The sense of Summer and of fun continues on the front label.

Badger Cricket front label

There’s a jolly, if frightening image of, presumably, a cricket. Who, for some reason, is playing a fiddle, amidst a backdrop of falling leaves and hops.

Sticking with Badger conventions, the vital statistics are exactly where you expect them to be. In the corners, one can easily identify this as a 500ml bottle, and that the beer within is a moderate 4.4%.

Toward the top, they elaborate somewhat on the description, with “Harmonious Notes of Lemongrass”. Straight off, I can’t remember what lemongrass is supposed to taste of. Maybe if I shopped in Islington, I would do. For now, I am content that lemongrass sounds like the right sort of flavour to have in your summer salad or ale.

Again, sticking to Badger tradition, the back label is outstandingly helpful.

Badger Cricket back label

The ‘story’ opens by explaining the connection to crickets. No, they’re not an ingredient. Rather “the hum of crickets on a summer evening” is “the perfect background to enjoy this fresh, zingy ale”. They go on to describe it as “ well hopped with a depth of character complemented by harmonious notes of lemongrass”. Sounds lovely. They even suggest that it would go “well with barbecued Tiger prawns or a light Thai curry”.

This being a Badger, they go one step further, with their immensely helpful taste profiles. If this is the first Badger ale you’ve seen, have a look at the close-up below. They describe how it looks, smells and tastes, and rate the bitterness, sweetness, hoppiness, maltiness and fruitiness from 0 to 5.

Badger Cricket back label taste profile

The taste profile pretty much backs up the “Beatifully composed” quote. It does look like it’s going to be a fruity, balanced ale.

Down in the small-print, there’s the usual smattering of facts and warnings. For those that care, Cricket’s combination of bottle size and alcoholic volume means that it has 2.2 UK units of alcohol. The full Dorset postal address is on there, in case you want to write them a letter. And their website is given as www.badgerales.com.  A quick browse of which leads us to the homepage for Cricket at http://www.hall-woodhouse.co.uk/beers/badgerales/lemonycricket.asp on which for some reason, they refer to it as Lemony Cricket.

Does Cricket taste as good as I’m expecting it to? How close are the label descriptions to what I can taste? Let’s find out.

Badger Cricket poured into a glass

Nowhere on the bottle did it say “Serve Chilled”. Being a summer ale I took a chance on leaving it in the fridge for a while. If you know the right temperature to serve it at, leave a comment at the end.

Cricket was easy to pour. Even I was able to decant it into a pint glass with minimal glugging, leaving a patchy covering of foam, sitting atop the brew. What does Critcket look like? The taste profile describes it as “Tawny, golden brown”. I can’t disagree. That said, the word that popped into my mind was “copper”.

What does Badger Cricket smell like? The taste profile describes it as “Robust citrus hop and lemongrass”. First impressions are that it’s not a simple smell. There’s a lot of complementary odours buried in there. Which is what you want from ale. I’ll describe the smell as like that of a hedgerow. Agricultural with lots of foliage. Specifically, a zingy hoppiness. I think it smells lovely. Like a proper old ale.

What does Badger Cricket taste like? The taste profile describes it as “Malt with citrus undertones”. And of course there’s the rest of the label description and taste profile to go on. Once again, those Badger label copywriters are spot on. What you taste is exactly how they describe it. A fact that renders this review unnecessary.

That aside, first gulps of this fridge cold Cricket are that it’s easy to drink and tastier than those ciders that get all the attention at this time of year. On the flavour side of the gulp, there’s little to report. On the taste and finish side of the gulp, you feel how well balanced it is. You can taste the maltiness, hoppiness and some citrusy zing, subtly coming together. All of which leaves your mouth with a long lasting, slightly dry, bitter finish, that’s balanced in a way that makes it more palatable that it sounds. The main impressions it leaves you with is how malty, zingy, light and refreshing it is.

What am I enjoying about Badger Cricket? I’m liking how they’ve somehow managed to fuse rich, ale-like qualities, with a light, refreshing summer ale. For ages, I complained that the summer ales all stuck to the same old formula. Cricket does something different. At last! I also like the zing, the smell, and how it doesn’t make you burp,

What am I not enjoying about Badger Cricket? I want to say that it would appeal to more people if it was sweeter and fruitier. But Badger already does ales that are like that. A little more citrusy zing and a little less malt perhaps? Unless you take the view that the genius behind Cricket is that it has complex maltiness in a refreshing summer ale form. Something we call all agree on is that it is too difficult to find and the £2.29 pence I paid for it is shocking.

How can I sum up Badger Cricket? It is a proper ale, that’s also a summer ale. A niche that’s remained unfilled for too long. I’ve complained here time and again that every brewer produces nearly identical summer ales. Well, here’s the answer. It tastes malty and hoppy, and it looks the right colour. Yet it also has some zing, and it’s light, refreshing and very easy to drink. All of which scores it serious points.

Rating: 4.275

Have you tried Badger Cricket? What did you think of it?

Have you got anything to add or correct? What about your own recommendations and places to buy? Leave your comments here!


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