Posts Tagged ‘bottle conditioned’

Beer Review: Young’s Kew Gold

11 December, 2009

THE Bethnal Green Food Center has been useful lately. Over the last few weeks, they’ve sold more bottle conditioned British ales than I knew existed. Here is my most recent purchase. A £1.99 pence bottle of Young’s Kew Gold.

This is the same Young’s that brought us Special London Ale and Luxury Double Chocolate Stout. And part of the same Wells & Young’s behind Banana Bread Beer and Bombardier Satanic Mills. As such, hopes are high and the bottle looks very familiar.

Why do I like bottle conditioned ales? Who wants yeast floating around in their drink? Simple. It turbo-charges the flavour, and it’s divisive. And that makes for interesting comments at the end of this post.

Back to this particular bottle, and the neck-label is where a lot of the detail lives.

It informs us that it was “inspired by hops grown at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.” And that some of the money from each sale of this bottle, goes to support Kew. I like that fact, because it muddies the waters for people who like to take a moral stand on beer.

Lastly, they describe it as “Light, golden & full-flavoured with a refreshing bite.” And that it is “Perfect with grilled marinated chicken or pasta”. That all sounds very run-of-the-mill for an ale. Where’s the quirkiness and imagination?

The small-print lives on the back of the neck-label.

And it’s almost identical to the small-print on every other Wells & Young’s bottle of beer. Is has their full, Bedford postal address. It has their web address of www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk. But this one has one more. Because of the Kew connection, it also has the address of www.kew.org. If you want to know about the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, it is a very good website, indeed. I’ll have to re-visit it when I stop being young.

With the neck-label done, it’s onwards and downwards to the front-label.

Although, frankly, there’s not much reason to look down here. It’s pleasant and green looking. There’s a simple picture of a bunch of hops. And the live, bottle conditioning is the main marketing point. “Bottle Conditioned Ale” takes pride of place above the Young’s 1831 rams head logo.

Along the bottom of the label is the main selling point: “Matured live in the bottle for a fresher taste”. Along with the vital statistics either side. That this is a typical 500ml bottle (why not a proper pint?) with a modest 4.8% alcoholic volume.

Next is the back-label. Again, much the same as the back-labels for most other Wells & Young’s beer, so I won’t waste your time by going through every tiny detail.

Helpfully, the back-label opens with a bit more detail. Their choice of words for the benefits of bottle conditioning are that it’s for a “fresher taste”. They talk about how you can pour it slowly if you don’t want it cloudy. How you should store it upright. And that it’s best served between 10 and 12 degree Celsius. By chance, that’s exactly how chilly my flat is.

Sadly, it’s nowhere near strong enough to help me get over the cold of my flat. At a moderate 4.8% alcoholic volume, and in a standard 500ml bottle, Kew Gold comes in at 2.4 UK units of alcohol.

The only other details worth mentioning are the ingredients. Well, maybe not. But here they are anyway: “natural mineral water, malted barley, hops, yeast”. Nothing suspicious. Just good, normal, ale ingredients.

So, what does Young’s Kew Gold taste like? Will I like it? And will I think you should buy it? Will the yeasty goodness be worth it? Let’s find out.

It poured easily enough. Certainly much easier than the European wheat beers. It wasn’t cloudy at all until I gave the bottle the old Bavarian-swirl near the bottle. That ‘livened’ up the glass. All without overflowing it.

True to the label description, the hue is golden. The head quickly collapsed to a network of white patches. It’s cloudy, but not overly opaque and looks well carbonated.

What does Young’s Kew Gold? Smell of? Not that much, and not very strongly. You need to give it a good sniff to detect that it’s all hops. A couple more sniffs, and you realise that it smells good, in a pleasant, hoppy way. Fruity, spicy and a bit malty are the words I’ll go with on the smell.

What does Young’s Kew Gold taste like? The first gulp started easily enough. As soon as the aftertaste kicks in, your mouth is swamped by the hoppiest taste I’ve had out of a bottle. And that brought with it that familiar hoppy bitterness. It still caught me off-guard.

A few more sips and I’m starting to make some sense of the flavours and tastes in Young’s Kew Gold. On the flavour side of the equation, there’s not much to say. It’s got a light, savoury, slightly leading bitterness. No flavours really stand out. At least none that my tongue was aware of.

The aftertaste is what Young’s Kew Gold is all about. It has a very full, hoppy, agricultural taste. At first, I was overwhelmed by it and the bitterness, but a third of the way through now, I’m not so sure. It’s turned into a light, smooth and strangely refreshing beverage. Almost a complete 180 degree from where it was on that first gulp.

Nearing half-way through, and what am I enjoying about Young’s Kew Gold? A admit it. I wasn’t expecting any surprises when I cracked it open. So I’m genuinely happy to have had a couple. I like how immensely hoppy it tastes at first. I like how that will put off the less intrepid beer drinkers, meaning you’re in an exclusive club if you’ve got this far. It also scores it points for distinctiveness. I very much like how easy it is to get used to it, and how well it becomes drinkable and smooth. I like how it’s taken the light and refreshing summery ale and put a very hoppy twist in it. And I like how it gives money to the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew, even though I’d rather experience mild electrocution than learn about foliage.

What aren’t I enjoying about Young’s Kew Gold? That massive, initial hoppiness isn’t going to win it any lager or alco-pop friends. Personally, I’d like more interesting flavours, not just pure hoppiness. With such a hoppy beer, it would be good if the labels told us what hops and malts they used in the brew. It’s a little on the gassy side. It’s expensive and hard to find. And, here, now, in a cold flat, in winter, it’s just not right. Summer, or at least spring, is where Young’s Kew Gold belongs.

To sum up, Young’s Kew Gold is one of the hoppiest tasting ales I’ve ever tried. Do I like it? Yes, but despite myself. I didn’t want to, but it’s grown on me. Was the bottle conditioning worth it? For the distinctive, hoppy quality, yes. Should you buy it? In the right season, if you like strong, hoppy ale, if you can find it and afford it, then yes. Definitely.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Young’s Kew Gold? What did you think of it? Leave your comments, corrections, opinions and places to buy, here in the comments

Beer Review: Morland Hen’s Tooth

23 September, 2009

THE next bottle from ASDA is the stronger and more upmarket cousin to above-average, mass-market bottled ale, Morland Old Speckled Hen. It’s called Morland Hen’s Tooth, and it looks familiar. That same bottle has turned up here, here, here and a thousand other places, all easily traceable back to Suffolk’s Greene King. Meaning, what we have here is Greene King Morland Hen’s Tooth. It should be at least above-average then.

Morland Hen’s Tooth bottle

Besides the overly familiar bottle, it looks good. Copper is a good colour to see inside your transparent glass bottle. They have gone an unusual route with the labels though. Not a bad route, just a different one. What they’ve done is put the important bits on the front and all the small-print on the back. And I think it works well.

Morland Hen’s Tooth neck label

For starters, this is what you normally find on the back of a bottle. But instead, it’s up here on the neck label. They describe it as a “fine ale” that “matures in its bottle producing a richer and more distinctive character”. Then they move onto the taste with “a warming blend of fruit and malt flavours are followed by a smooth finish”.

Sounds delicious. But “matures in it’s bottle”? That would mean it has yeast still in the bottle, making it cloudy. Something you hardly ever find in British ales. Look at the bottom of the bottle however and yes, that is yeast sitting on the bottom. That means it truly is maturing in the bottle, and it gets my hopes up even more that this is going to be something special. Bad news for those that hate cloudy beer though.

Morland Hen’s Tooth front label

The front-label takes the quirky-ness even further with two paragraphs muddled into one another. One of them describes it tersely as “A bottle conditioned strong ale” with a correspondingly strong alcoholic volume of 6.5%. The other one describes the same things that you read on the neck label, only this time ending with a quote from the head brewer that ends with “a combination of flavour and character that’s as rare as a Hen’s Tooth”. I’ve never read a label so difficult to describe. Let me know what you think of it, in the comments at the end of this post.

Over on the back-label, and it’s a business as usual mass of multilingual small-print.

Morland Hen’s Tooth back label

I won’t bore you with all the details, so these are the highlights. At 6.5% alcoholic volume, this disappointingly un-Pint sized 50cl bottle weighs in at 3.3 UK units of alcohol before the nanny-state starts wagging its finger. They also have the complete Suffolk postal address, in case you want to send them a letter.

So, what does Morland Hen’s Tooth actually taste of? Is it any good and should you buy it? There’s only one way to find out.

Morland Hen’s Tooth back label

I opted for a Bavarian-swirl to get the yeast out for that full flavour punch. Several actually. The head exploded when I tried to pour leading to a cycle of swirl, pour, wait for the head to collapse and repeat. Clearly I was doing it wrong. If you know the right way to pour Hen’s Tooth, leave a comment at the end of this post.

Once finally in the glass, it looks ok. The head is cream coloured and a thin layer of bubbles. The liquid is a cloudy amber-red colour. Although I’m sure you could get rid of the cloudiness if you wanted to by pouring it differently. Oh, and it doesn’t look carbonated at all.

What does Morland Hen’s Tooth smell like? A couple of sniffs, and all I can think of are Greene King’s other bottles of ale. It’s not a pungent odour. Quite mild really. A kind of malty, slightly spicy-hoppy smell. Maybe a hint of dry fruit. It smells of Autumn. Some smell of Christmas or Summer. This smells of Autumn.

What does this room temperature Morland Hen’s Tooth taste like? The first sip is a slow and civilised experience that reminds you that you’re drinking a strong ale. You just can’t hide from the strong ale taste, even though, at 6.5%, it’s at the low end of the strong ale spectrum. How do they fit such an onslaught of flavour and taste into such a low alcoholic volume? My guess is that the yeast somehow turbo-charges it.

Three slow sips in, and I’m starting to figure out Morland Hen’s Tooth. The flavour is mild. So mild that it’s hard to tell what it is. A couple more sips and I think it’s dry, biscuity malt and fruitiness. Bitterness and some saltiness also hit you right away.

The aftertaste is where Morland Hen’s Tooth comes alive. It is incredibly rich, warming, full-bodied and smooth leading to a very dry, long, bitter finish. The immense horse power of that finish was a lot to take onboard at first, but now, after about seven sips, I’m warming to it. Or it’s warming me to it. One of the two.

What am I enjoying about Morland Hen’s Tooth? I love the intense taste. I love the fun and novelty of having yeast floating around in the bottle to make your poured glass cloudy, or clear, whichever you choose. I like that the flavours and tastes blend well. I like how it’s a drink to be sipped in a slow, civilised fashion. And I like that it’s not too gassy. Not burp free, but it could be worse.

What don’t I like about Morland Hen’s Tooth? Sure, the flavours and tastes dominated by malt and fruit are nice enough, but it feels like it’s missing something. Complexity, layers of interesting-ness and some sweetness for a start. Then, the whole time, I kept thinking, this is Morland Old Speckled Hen with a loud exhaust and even louder stereo fitted. And that looses it some marks for originality and distinctiveness. And there’s the packaging. The quirky and contemporary design would be superb on a trendy summer brew, but it’s all wrong for this warming, civilised, autumnal brew. It’s like putting Helen Mirran in denim mini-skirt and tee-shirt.

So sum up, Morland Hen’s Tooth is tasty, high quality and optionally cloudy way of enjoying a fairly strong ale. If you liked Greene King’s other ales, particularly Morland Old Speckled hen, then Hen’s Tooth is definitely Worth your time and money. If you’re looking for something to help you wind down after a hard day at work this Autumn, this is a great choice. If you like your strong ale to be strong in the alcoholic sense or quirky and unusual, then you can probably find a better choice on the supermarket shelf. In a sentence, very good but not special enough.

Rating: 4.25

Have you tried Morland Hen’s Tooth? What did you think of it? Got any corrections, facts, places to buy or opinions? Any recommendations or suggestions for what I should look out for next review? Then leave a comment in the boxes below.


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