Posts Tagged ‘England’

Beer Review: Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter

16 June, 2009

BACK to normal this post, and I begin with an apology. So far, I’ve enjoyed Wells’ outstanding Satanic Mills and tasty Burning Gold Bombardier bottled beers. But managed to completely overlook the much easier to find English Premium Bitter. I don’t normally go for straight-up bitters as they’re usually uninteresting, but the ubiquity and patriotism of English Premium Bitter means it must be tried. And, of course, it fills a gaping hole in my coverage of the Wells’ splendid Bombardier range. So here it is. A bottle of Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter. Bought for £1.99 pence from a shop on Bethnal Green Road in London’s East End.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter bottle

Looking as solid as an old English oak tree, Wells choose their bottles well. What’s more, they’ve been learning what you should do with the neck label. Brewers, take note, they have put useful information on it. Have a look at this.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter front of neck label

Well, okay, on closer inspection it’s more marketing speak than useful information. But it’s a start. Does “burnished copper ale” mean anything to anyone reading? If so, leave a comment at the end of the post.

The front label keeps things simple, traditional and English.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter front label

What more can you say about it? It’s a shield in the design of St George’s Cross. The middle keeps things simple. It has the “Wells” logo with the words “Brewers Since 1876” which is a long time ago, but not a very long time ago. Under that are the banners and crest saying “Bombardier” “English” “Premium Bitter”. Under which is that all imported alcoholic volume. 5.2% alcoholic volume makes it strong, but not very strong.

What of the back? The neck label is again the place to start.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter back of neck label

It looks like a lot of information until you realise that it’s the same piece of information in many languages. All you need to know is that it was brewed by “Wells & Young’s Brewing Company Limited, Bedford, UK, MK40 4LU.” So there you have it. Interesting beers from a boring place.

The back label proper is where the real detail lies.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter back label

They open with a description so informative and concise, I don’t need to paraphrase. Instead, here it is in full: “Our own natural mineral water, the ripest English Fuggles hops and crushed Crystal malt deliver this experience of England in a glass. Peppery aromas give way to the perfect balance of malty richness, tangy hops and sultana fruit on the palate, with a long, soft spicy finish”.

Mouth watering stuff. And, remarkably informative and concise. Not like the marketing speak and dearth of facts we normally put up with. Well done Wells.

Under that is the list of ingredients. And it’s good new again. It’s the full thing, not the one or two ingredients you usually get. Nothing too out of the ordinary apart from two E numbers. Now they’re not welcome. British ale is supposed to be as natural as a hedge covered in brambles. For the curious, the list is “Water, Malted Barley, Sugar, Hops, Yeast, Colour E150C, Stabiliser E405.”

Under all the uninteresting small print are a few bits of miscellany. The web address is www.bombardier.co.uk. And, with an alcoholic volume of 5.2% and a 500ml bottle (why not a full pint?), Bombardier English Premium Bitter weighs in at 2.6 UK units of alcohol.

With that out of the way, we get to the fun bit. What does Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter actually taste like? Is it any good and should you buy it? Let’s find out.

Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter poured into a glass

Frustratingly, this English Premium Bitter fails to fill my English pint glass. The blotchy head doesn’t improve matters either. But the “burnished copper” thing starts to make sense. The photo might not show it, but it’s the colour of copper that hasn’t been cleaned in a few years.

What does Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter smell of? It’s not a smell hat fills the room. Hold your nose over the glass however, and you’re rewarded with a luscious smell of hops. The label described the smell as “peppery”. There’s certainly something giving it an edge.

What does Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter taste of? The first two gulps are nice ones. And ones that tell me this is to be sipped, not gulped. First impression is that there’s not a whole lot of flavour or taste. It’s there, only being a little more subtle than your typical English football fan.

A few more sips, and I’m making some sense of Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter. The label described things like “malty richness, tangy hops and sultana fruit” and a “soft spicy finish”. I think it’s got most of those things, but less of them than you’d expect. There is a mildly fruity taste, but blink and you’d miss it. The aftertaste is soft and gentle, but with such a long, lingering finish, you don’t miss it as easily. I’m going to describe it as malty, biscuity and hoppy.

As for bitterness, the whole flavour and taste experience is so soft and gentle, I’m amazed it’s even called a “Bitter”.  Admittedly, I don’t know much about beer, but if, like me, you were expecting an onslaught of taste and bitterness, Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter will come as a surprise.

What do I like about Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter? I like how well it’s packaged. I like the subtlety of flavours and taste. I like how that subtlety was such a surprise. I like how easy to drink it is; and how much of a surprise that drinkability is. And, like the other Bombardiers, it is very well made with some excellent ingredients.

What don’t I like about Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter? I don’t like my English Premium Bitter to adopt a Euro 500ml and failing to fill a pint glass. Personal preference here, but I was hoping for flavour and taste that the human tongue could detect. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, it is still better than most lagers, but the labels built up hopes of more. Lastly, those E numbers. Is quality ale supposed to have E numbers? Experts, do please leave your thoughts in the comments at the end of the post.

To sum up, Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter is a surprisingly soft and gentle bitter that’s nearly as easy to drink as lager. I think some people might call it a “session ale” for those reasons. It reminds me of Fuller’s London Pride and Marston’s Pedigree. If you want a drinkable ale, but don’t want a summery taste or to feel like you’re easting it, this is the one to choose.

Rating: 3.8

Have you tried Wells Bombardier English Premium Bitter? Can you answer any of the numerous questions raised in the ‘review’? Do please leave your answers, opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Fuller’s 1845

4 September, 2008

FULLER’S do seem to make very good bottled ales. Fuller’s London Pride Premium Ale was very good and their ESB Champion Ale was outstanding. I was excited then, to find a bottle of Fuller’s 1845 in a west-London shop.

This one looks special. I’m hoping that it is. Time to look closer and figure out what makes it so special.

The bottle itself doesn’t give anything away. That’s because it’s the same black bottle they use for every other beer. That means it has embossed upon it, phrases like “Family Brewery”. And “Estd 1845″. Maybe that’s a clue as to the origins of the name? Lets read on.

The neck label is always a good place to start. As well as the griffin bearing Fuller’s of Chiswick logo is a clue. And the words “Matured for 100 days” is it. That sounds impressive and significant to me. But I want more facts. What will the big front roundel reveal?

Fuller’s 1845 front label

Quite a lot by the look of it. The gold border says “Celebrating 150 Years of Brewing Excellence”. And around the bottom part of the border, we’re informed that this is an “Award Winning Strong Ale”. Both of those facts are things that I like. Especially as there aren’t nearly enough strong bottled ales out there.

Inside the roundel, the year “1845″ takes centre stage, as does the Fuller’s Griffin Brewery of Chiswick logo. But, also catching your eye is that “100 days”. Printed right on the front is “Bottle Conditioned Ale Matured to Perfection for 100 Days”. That’s more time than any other I’ve seen. It even puts the magnificent Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer’s 77 days in the shade. In a world where everything is manufactured in colossal quantities, and as rapidly as can be gotten away with, 100 days of brewing is stupendous. That, together with the live-ness from the bottle conditioning and the 6.3% alcoholic volume are going to make this a formidable ale. I hope your mouth is watering at the thought of this, too.

The back label is tall, and full of very small writing.

Fuller’s 1845 back label

But it quickly starts offering more reasons for you to like this bottled ale. In one of the corners, a little symbol tells us that “CAMRA says this is Real Ale”. Which is reassuring. In the big block of writing, they tell us that “1845″ was first made in 1995, and has since won lots of awards, including “two gold medals at the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival”. You just know that those guys know their beer, so those are two awards that mean something. Not like the so-called medals festooning some continental bottles.

They then go on to talk about the “fruit cake aroma”. That it is “complex, yet smooth” with “mellow flavours”, all of which are attributed to the mind blowing length of time they leave it to mature for, and the Amber Malt and Goldings hops. They also suggest that it goes well with rich food like game. Sadly, my spaghetti bolognaise ready meal will have to do. Interestingly, they say that you should really keep the bottle stored upright in a cool dark place, and pour it carefully. My one out of three isn’t bad. At least I kept it cool.

Quickly rushing through the small print now because I want to try this drink. It was brewed by Fuller Smith & Turner at the Griffin Brewery. As usual, the full London address is there if you want to get in touch. They’re keen to let you know about their other beers and ale club at their website, which is www.fullers.co.uk. It contains malted barley, and this 500 millilitre bottle, at a strong 6.3% comes in at 3.2 UK units of alcohol. Which is more than most. You won’t need much before you start feeling the effects.

Did I miss anything? I hope not because I want to open it. What will it be like? How will it compare to other strong ales? Do I think you should buy it? It’s time to find out.

With all the advice on the label to treat it as carefully as Nitroglycerine, I was surprised to find it had almost no head at all. Moments after the photo, all that was left was a patch of bubbles, and some around the rim. All that careful pouring for nothing.

It certainly looks substantial enough. It’s a very dark brown. But a shade lighter than stout or dark ale.

It smells potent too. Put your nose anywhere near the top of the glass, and you’ll see what I mean. It has an intense smell of… something. The label says “fruit cake”. To me, it smells, intensely of malted barley and lots of other things. Two things are certain; it smells intense and complex.

But how does it taste? A couple of gulps into this deep, thick ale, and it tastes just like how it smells. That is to say, intense and complex. To try and start from the beginning, what are the flavours? That’s very hard to say without sounding like a wine taster. It’s sort of biscuity, malty, hoppy and other things besides. It’s complex, and interwoven so tightly, I’m having trouble identifying any of it.

If I can’t describe the flavour, what about the aftertaste? It’s much the same. Those flavours blend smoothly into a hoppy, bitter aftertaste that lingers for a while.

If I can’t describe the flavour or the taste, can I at least describe the character of the drink? Now that I can do. Fuller’s 1845 sums up what full-bodied, richly flavoured and all-round delicious ales should be about. I’m about half-way through now, and that flavour and taste is still no clearer to me. That’s the sort of complexity you want from an ale. It’s not only as rich as fruit cake, but smooth too. The flavours are strong, but never too strong. You can even describe them as “mellow” like the label does. And they change seamlessly into the hoppy, bitter, aftertaste. None of them ever seem too strong. And you certainly can’t accuse it of being weak. Lastly, I’ve hardly burped at all, so you can’t even level the complaint of gassiness.

Are there downsides? I like a beer to take risks in the pursuit of greatness. That’s exactly what 1845 does. But doing so inevitably incurs problems. That hoppy bitterness does come in gently, but it ‘balloons’ before easing off and lingering. Lots of you will like the way it does that, but it was a bit strong for poor old me. And that strong bitterness is going to be too much for a lot of other people too. Then there’s the flavour and taste itself. It feels like it’s been sanded and polished so much, there’s little sign of the barley and hop flavours you get elsewhere. Lastly, you’ve got the problems of finding, and affording such an exclusive bottle. I got it purely by chance.

To sum up, Fuller’s 1845 is excellent. If you like strong, interesting ales, you will probably enjoy this. It offers virtually everything. Theo whole experience reminds me a lot of the other strong ales out there. Have a look for Broughton Old Jock, Maximus Strong Premium Ale and Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale for something vaguely similar if you can’t find 1845 sold anywhere near you. Not for the faint hearted, and not the strongest either, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Rating: 4.25

Have you tried Fuller’s 1845? What did you think of it?

Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the comments boxes below.

Beer Review: Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale

2 May, 2008

Shepherd Neame’s Bishops Finger which I reviewed a few days ago wasn’t bad. In fact, it was pretty good, but it didn’t hit the spot for me. So it’s with a mixture of caution and optimism that I reach for a bottle of its sister beer, Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale.

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale bottle

A lot of the bottle and labelling design is the same as for Bishops Finger. So to avoid repeating myself, now would be a great time for you to read that review now, if you haven’t done so already. Go. Do it now. This post won’t be going anywhere while you do…

The shape of the bottle is the same. The neck label has the same, reassuring “1698″ heritage and it’s origins in Faversham, Kent.

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale bottle neck

The main front label is a little different

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale front label

The “Shepherd Neame” name, and the funny symbol in-between the text “Since” and “1698″ stay. But the peculiar purple style of Bishops Finger is replaced by a good, patriotic red, white and blue colour scheme. The “Spitfire” name jumps out at you. It’s neatly surrounded by the proudly displayed description that it is “Premium”. And not only that, it is also a “Kentish Ale”.

I’m rarely a fan of slogans. Usually they’re an incomplete pun. Or they’re so uninspired that they’ve received less thought than council planning application. But Spitfire’s slogan of “The Bottle of Britain” managed to raise a smile even from me. Good play on words chaps.

The big, wide, rear label is again divided into two sides. One of which has the small print details. The other has a story the length of a medium-sized encyclopaedia.

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale back label

Starting with the small print, this beer, like its sister, Bishops Finger, has EU Protected Geographical Indication. This means you won’t find, say, the French, selling their own Spitfire Kentish Ale. Why we need the European Union’s help to protect our own food and drink remains a mystery. Surely that would be like getting Enron board members to decide who knows your bank account pin number.

The other main small-print details are that this is a 500 millilitre bottle. Its contents have a alcoholic volume of 4.7% which translates to 2.2 UK units of alcohol for this bottle. For such a patriotically themed ale, making it a full British pint would have been the right thing to do instead of a Euro-half-litre. What do you think?

Over on the story side, we learn that this ale has only been going since 1990. Not well established then, by anyone’s standards. It goes on to say that it was brewed to celebrate the Battle of Britain, which played out in the skies over Kent, fifty years before-hand.

The story goes on to praise the Spitfire aircraft. About how it was designed by R J Mitchell. About how it was essential to victory in one of the Second World-War’s defining moments. And about how Shepherd Neame keep the spirit alive with advertising and fundraising for veterans’ charities. All very good.

As with Bishops Finger, Andrew Jefford turns up on the back label again, describing what the drink will be like. He describes the colour as “deep amber”. And smell as being of “tangy malt”. And the tastes and flavours as being of “spicy hops” with a “complex finish”.

Lastly, the postal address in Faversham, Kent, England, is on there. As is the web address of http://www.shepherdneame.co.uk/. And now, it’s time to see if Spitfire is any good.

In the glass, the colour is indeed a deep amber. It also has a good, consistent, yet not excessive head.

Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale poured into a glass

The smell is mostly of malt. Whether I’d call it “tangy malt”, I’m not sure. There’s definitely a layer of something spicy or fruity on top of the malty smell. I’d go with calling it “malty and hoppy” in its smell. And I like it.

After a few gulps, the taste, as I see it goes like this… The first thing to hit you is the bitterness. Then you notice the maltiness. And that gets swiftly followed by a hoppy-sour after taste that lingers in the back of your mouth. But does so in a tingly, tangy way.

There’s no doubting that this is an excellent example of what ale is all about. It has lots of strong, complex flavours. It has them arranged in a way that surprises you. And it’s easy to drink.

There are one or two drawbacks however. While, over the course of a few glugs warmed to Spitfire’s big, bold flavours, they won’t be to everyone’s tastes. The initial bitterness will be a big hurdle for some people. And there’s the body. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by live beers with yeast floating around or darker ales that have the consistency of crude oil. But the flipside to its ease of drinkability is that there is something very slightly watery in its lightness. Besides these, it is a little on the gassy side. But these are minor drawbacks.

Spitfire doesn’t apologise for being a bold, flavourful, premium quality Kentish ale. It’s an ale, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. If, like me, you love your ales to be bursting with flavours and patriotism, Spitfire is worth your time and money. Some of you will adore these qualities, others will find it a bit too much. I grew to really enjoy Spitfire, but its strength of bitter-maltiness means I won’t drink a lot of it very often.

Rating: 4.05

Have you tried Spitfire? What did you think?
Got any corrections, criticisms, ideas or requests? Then leave a comment now.

Beer Review: Gaymer White Star White Cider

1 May, 2008

SURELY not every white cider on the market can be made by Gaymer? After reviewing first Diamond White and then Ice Dragon, both of which were mediocre and both turned out to be from the Gaymer Cider Company. In the same way as the rather good K, the Gaymer name was carefully hidden away. Will that be the case with my next can of strong, white cider? Will this one be better than the rest? I doubt it.

Gaymer White Star White Cider can

This can, like Ice Dragon, has a unique look, all of its own. This one goes for a white, silver and blue colour scheme. That together with the Apple Macintosh font gives it a sci-fi feel. I quite like it, I must say.

Beneath the large, “White Star” logo are the basics. It describes itself as “White Cider”. Confirms that this is a 500 millilitre can. But, I’m pleased to say, without that ridiculous claim to have been 440 millilitres in the past. Ice Dragon and the cheap super-strength lagers, I’m looking at you. Instead, this one boasts of being a “Big Value Half Litre”. Also down at the bottom of the can we learn that it has 7.5%. The exact same volume as Diamond White and Ice Dragon. A clue to it’s origin perhaps?

Turn the can around enough times and you reach the details side of the can. Again, for a can of white cider, devoid of much in the way of real details.

Gaymer White Star White Cider details side of can

We get all the familiar details like “Serve Chilled”. And “White Cider”. And “With sugar and sweetener. And “Contains Sulphites”. If someone can explain what a sulphite is, I would be very grateful.

The usual UK units of alcohol symbol is on there. And I can report that is 3.8 UK units of alcohol.

But… who made White Star? Surely Gaymer can’t be behind yet another white cider? Lets read the postal address and find out…

I don’t know whether to be surprised at this or not. But it IS the Gaymer Cider Co who are behind White Star. The same outfit from Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England, who were behind the identically uninspiring Diamond White and Ice Dragon, and the very good K. If this is going to be a re-run of the past two days, then it’s not looking good. Time to find out if my fears of another disappointment are well founded…

Poured into a glass, and it looks identical to its stable mates. It’s just as pale and fizzy as they are.

Gaymer White Star White Cider poured into a glass

It smells just as much of synthetic apples as they did, too. And, I’m sad to report, that it tastes as mediocre as they did. Yes it does taste mildly of apples. And it is moderately refreshing and easy to drink. But, there’s barely any apple-y taste and none of that lingering refreshment that you expect from a cider.

In short, White Star is just as disappointing as Diamond White and Ice Dragon. In fact, I’d be surprised if they weren’t identical, and simply packaged differently.

I’m not sure if what I’ve had this week has been a true cross-section of white ciders. Or if other manufacturers produce white ciders. If they do, I’d be interested to know how they compare. So if you’ve had a white cider from someone other than Gaymer, leave a comment at the end of this post.

If the three white ciders I’ve reviewed do sum-up what the category is all about, then I’m not impressed. They have no taste. They’re not a refreshing as other ciders. They are the lagers of the cider world. In the same way that lagers offer a fraction of the flavour, body and character of beers and ales; white ciders have only some of the flavour and refreshment of proper ciders.

If you like the apple-y taste and refreshment of ciders, look elsewhere. You wont find it with a white cider. I certainly didn’t.

Rating: 2.95

Have you tried White Star or a white cider from anyone that is no Gaymer? If so, then leave a comment with your thoughts, corrections, suggestions and recommendations.

Beer Review: Gaymer Ice Dragon Extra Strength White Cider

30 April, 2008

YESTERDAY’S introduction to strong, white cider in the form of Gaymer Diamond White wasn’t great. It wasn’t as delicious, nor as strong as Gaymer’s other strong cider, K. What I need to try are more white ciders. Which brings me to the next in my strong, white cider round-up, Gaymer Ice Dragon.

Gaymer Ice Dragon Extra Strength White Cider can

This tall, 500 millilitre can was purchased from my local off-licence for very little money. It used to be 440 milliltres. But they’ve used the old trick of adding 13.5% to make it the same gigantic size as the other alcoholics favourites.

The front of the can doesn’t give away who made it. Just like K and Diamond White, whoever is behind is keen to hide their name. And they do it well. What with the unusual, mostly blue colour scheme and red dragon logo, it stands out.

Under the solid blue and “Ice Dragon” logo, is a frosted, icey snow flake blue background. On top of which, are the basics. Namely the description of “White Cider”. A pill shaped red blob telling us that this has the typical 7.5% volume. And the words “Extra Strength”. In case you didn’t know that 7.5% alcohol volume is quite a lot for a cider. I like the way this can looks. It’s too colourful and cheerful be an alcoholics choice. Instead, it looks to be trying to be the student party cider of choice.

Turn the can around enough times, and you reach the details side of the can. Everything, or at least the details they decide to give you, are here. All in high-contrast and readably sized lettering. Thank goodness for that. After a few weeks of needing to squint to read the labels, its good to have things printed clearly and in a readable size.

Gaymer Ice Dragon Extra Strength White Cider details side of can

It may be readable. But that doesn’t mean that there’s much to read. From the top, it starts with the uninspired “Serve Chilled”. Under that, we learn that this has 3.8 UK units of alcohol. Which if you didn’t know, is a lot. You really wouldn’t want more than that amount each day.

Under that is the terse description and ingredients of “White Cider with Sugar and Sweetener Contains Sulphites”. Maybe they’re supposed to be two or more different sentences? With nothing else even approaching a sentence printed on the can, you’ll have to look elsewhere for reading material while drinking Dragon Ice.

Like Diamond White and K, the manufacturer isn’t madly keen on being identified. You have to find the postal address to find out that this is, once again, the output of one Gaymer Cider Company. The same one, of Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England who hid behind Diamond White and K. Are we going to discover that every white cider brand out there is owned by these chaps?

As for what to expect, I’m guessing that it will be a lot like Diamond White. Why shouldn’t it be? It’s white cider and it’s from the same company. Either way, it’s time to find out.

Poured into a glass, and first impressions are that it’s identical to Diamond White. It’s just as fizzy and just as pale.

Gaymer Ice Dragon Extra Strength White Cider poured into a glass

The smell is almost exactly the same, too. That is to say, it smells of synthetic apples. All in all, not a great start.

A couple of gulps in however, and it does start to redeem itself. It does taste a little more of apples that did Diamond White. And that refreshing apple aftertaste seems to stay a little longer. On the other hand, it could just be my imagination, and it’s no different at all. There isn’t much in it. It’s still very very similar.

It’s just as light, easy to drink and quite refreshing. But on the other hand, it hasn’t got much taste. Or the apple-y refreshment that you expect from cider.

If you asked me to recommend either Diamond White or Ice Dragon over one another, I would be hard pressed to come up with a winner. They’re both equally cheap, tasteless and strong.

If you are a student who is trying to decide whether to buy Diamond White or Ice Dragon, pick either. Or pick the cheapest. Or pick something else entirely. K is about as cheap, stronger and tastier. Or pick a beer, spirit or wine instead. There aren’t many reasons to recommend this.

As a consequence, it scores exactly the same mark as yesterday’s white cider.

Rating: 2.95

Have you tried Ice Dragon or any other of Gaymer’s many ciders? What did you think?
As usual, recommendations, ideas, suggestions and corrections in the comments box please.
Check back tomorrow for my next white cider review. How much worse can they get? Or will the next one surprise us all?

Beer Review: Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale

28 April, 2008

THIS one has been in my sights for a while. Regularly stocked at Tesco, this is a modestly priced bottle from a fairly local brewer in Kent.

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale bottle

What with the large, wide base, and long thin neck, the bottles from this brewer stand out on the shelf. It’s the giraffe of beer bottles. It’s also completely transparent glass, revealing the dark liquid within.

The neck label looks very promising indeed. We all know that age and heritage are no guarantees of quality. But it’s still nice to know that it’s from a brewer that can trace its history back to a Mesolithic tribe. This one doesn’t go quite that far, back, but it does claim to be Britain’s oldest brewer. And that counts for something.

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale neck label

The date “1698″ is proudly displayed. As is an “Over 300 Years” banner running across it. Underneath that, is the nearly as prominently named origin of Faversham, Kent.

The main front label keeps things simple and traditional. And purple. It’s an unusual colour scheme, but purple is the colour scheme of Biships Finger. Fortunately, it doesn’t detract too much. The text is stylised, yet readable. The 1698 date is proudly displayed again

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale front label

But what is that text across the top of the label? The text “Shepherd Neame” is unusual. But with no other indication of the brewers identity, Shepherd Neame is, presumably, it. On the bottom part of the roundel, we’re told that this is “Kentish Strong Ale”. Strong ales are good ales in my book. How the Kentish origin changes that, is something I’m looking forward to discovering.

On the other side of the bottle is a long with label. And that label is split between the ‘story’ text and the small print details.

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale back label

The ‘story’ opens by telling us that the original Bishops Finger was a Kentish signpost, pointing the way to Canterbury. And that this particular ale dates back to 1958. Apparently celebrating the end of malt rationing. An essential ingredient if you intend to brew your ale strongly.

Then the eccentricity of Shepherd Neame kicks in. Bizarrely, Bishops Finger is produced according to a “Charter”. This stipulates that it may only be brewed on Friday’s, by the Head Brewer with local, Kentish barley malt, hops and water from their well. Crikey. What the benefits of this are, I’m not entirely certain, but I hope it’s reflected in the taste and drinkability.

The last of the paragraphs of small, white text talks about the fact that this is the first beer in the UK to have been awarded Protective Geographical Indication status by the EU. And that’s important. It means nothing else can claim to be a Kentish strong ale. In the same way that only genuine Champaign can use that name, and not any old sparkling white wine. And that gives Bishops Finger points for being distinctive.

The paragraph on the back label continues with a description of the beer by someone called Andrew Jefford. Whoever he is, he describes Bishops Finger as having “fruit notes”, “roasted malts” and a “lingering” “orange finish”. How true all of that is, we’ll discover soon enough.

This side of the back label ends with the slogan “At 5.4% it’s near the knuckle”. Do you get it? Near the knuckle and it’s called Bishops Finger? Side splitting. There’s also a web address printed just under that in utterly minute writing. www.shepherdneame.co.uk takes you to a decent company website.

Over on the small print side are the basics. Above the barcode are proof that this is indeed a 500 ml bottle. That is has a 5.4% volume that provides 2.7 of your UK units of alcohol. Importantly, and unusually, there’s also the small logo proving that this beer has Protected Geographical Indication status. The Faversham, Kent, postal address of Shepherd Neame Ltd is on there. The ultra-brief ingredients is a little unusual though. Most give the chief ingredient as being “malted-barley”. Not Bishops Finger though. That would be much to normal. This goes with “Contains Barley Malt”. And with that out of the way, we can finally see what this beer is actually like.

Coming from a transparent glass bottle, the colour wasn’t much of a surprise. It’s as dark brown as it looked on the shop shelf. It also has a pleasingly thick head. And one that stays around after it’s been in the glass for a couple of seconds.

Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale poured into a glass

The smell is good too. In a word, it smells of quality ale. The rich smell of malt and hops is delightful.

A couple of gulps down, and the first tastes to hit me were of bitterness. And, sadly, rather more bitterness than I care for. Andrew Jefford described this as having fruity, malty, orangey tastes and flavours. Well the malt is definitely there. Working with the hoppiness, it gives it a rich, strong bitter character. I’m not so sure about the fruits however. I’m not picking them up, but that’s not to say that they aren’t in there. Your name just needs to be Andrew Jefford for you to notice them.

Nearly half-way through, and I’m delighted to report that this beer has not yet been decapitated. That is to say, it still has its head, which I’m pleased to see. The bitter and sour aftertaste really does stay with you, too.

Working through this strong ale, and it clearly has plenty of pluses. It has rich, strong flavours. These give it a full-body and escape from the weak, watery beers and lagers I’ve endured over the last few days. The proportions of everything that’s in it is unusual enough to score it marks for character and distinctiveness. And, importantly, it’s quite drinkable.

It’s not without its minuses however. It’s not quite as distinctive and different as the label leads me to hope it would be. It’s a little on the gassy side. It’s not terribly complex in the make-up of its flavours. And that rich, strong, lingering bitterness. Some of you out there. In fact, probably a lot of you reading will adore that about it. Me however, found it made Bishops Finger less palatable and accessible. And, ultimately, not as interesting or easily drinkable as it could be.

To sum up, Bishops Finger is a high-quality strong ale. It’s got a rich, deep, bitter taste, distinctiveness and a good history behind it. But, it’s not unusual, interesting or drinkable enough for it to score very highly. This is one for people who like their bitters. The quality was in abundance – just not to my tastes.

Rating: 3.6

Have you tried Bishops Finger? Or any others of the Shepherd Neame brewery?
What did you think? And recommendations?
Comments, corrections, ideas and insults in the little comments box below please. And thank you for reading.

Beer Review: Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale

26 April, 2008

IT HAS been a while since I last tried a pale ale. Greene King IPA was the last pale ale that I remember testing. So it’s about time for another. Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale will provide just that. Not that I knew that this was a pale ale when I picked up this bottle.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale bottle

The neck label proudly boasts that this is the “Official Beer of England”. The England Cricket Board coat of arms hints at some sort of sponsorship deal with the tedious and baffling pastime. And resolving my confusion about how any beer can be officially assigned to the English peoples.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale neck label

The main front label, like yesterday’s, is a fine piece of traditional imagery.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale front label

The logo roundel is tasteful. The logo of what looks like beer barrels are appropriate. The banner with the “Pedigree” name is the right proportion. And the ECB stamp is a sensitive promotional device. Unusually however, there’s no mention of the alcoholic volume.

Over on the back label, and everything is a mixture of black, white and red.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale back label

Most prominent of which is the red banner cutting through the middle. This has the Marston’s “Don’t Compromise” slogan. Straight to the point, but unoriginal. How about “Compromise In Order to Reach Agreements” or “Don’t Cooperate”.

The top of the back label opens with what I call the “story”. This one talks about 170 years of uncompromising excellence. It then goes on to say that it is brewed in Oak casks of Burton Unions in Burton Upon Trent. Also, tucked away in this little paragraph, they let slip that this is a Pale Ale. Why it’s hidden away is anyone’s guess.

Underneath the “story” section we get something that looks familiar. Not seen since the back labels of Badger beers, this Marston’s has a little grid and chart describing the taste! Fantastic addition here, chaps. These make it so much easier to know if you’ll like it or not before you buy it.

This take on the grid and chart sees the thing divided up into “Style” which comprises “See”, “Smell” and “Taste” subsections. And into “Bitter” and “Sweet” indicators. All of which shouldn’t need any further explanation by me. The “Style” row is the first place where we learn that this has an ABV of only 4.5%. Pedigree is clearly going to have to work hard in the flavour department to make up for that shortfall.

For “See” they describe the colour as “Golden Brown”. For “Smell” they’ve gone with “Burton Sulphur” whatever that is. And for “Taste”, they have the keywords of “Dry, Biscuity, Malt, Spicy, Hop”. The “Bitter” and “Sweet” indicators which use little pictures of hops and sugar cubes respectively both have two and a half out of five. Balance is clearly the intended order of the day with Pedigree.

Beneath this and the slogan banner, we get into the small print. This kicks off with the web address at www.marstonsdontcompromise.com. Like we’ve seen at least once before, this 500 millilitre bottle is made lighter by using less glass in order to please the eco-mentalists. The postal address of Marston’s Brewery in Burton Upon Trent, England is on there. As is a very detailed box outlining the recommended daily units of alcohol for men and women. Neither of which is exceeded by the 2.3 units in this bottle.

In the glass, it looks the promised shade of golden brown. But there’s a disappointingly absent head.

Marston’s Pedigree Exceptional Premium Ale poured into a glass

The label describes the smell as being of “Burton Sulphur”. I’m not sure if that’s what I’m smelling or not. I’d call it a faint smell of malted barley and an even fainter hint of hops.

A few gulps in and I can report that the “Bitter” and “Sweet” part of the label is about right. They are indeed balanced, in so far as neither are much in evidence. It’s hard to know what you’re tasting apart from the faintly bitter/sour hoppiness. I’m having difficulty finding any of the buscuity, spicy maltiness promised on the label.

And it doesn’t get much better in those other important characteristics either. It doesn’t have an awful lot of body. In fact, you could call it somewhat watery. It’s also not particularly complex for an ale. You could go as far as to call it boring. But then it is a pale ale, so perhaps that’s normal. If you think this is normal for a pale ale, do please leave a comment at the end of this post.

Marston’s Pedigree isn’t without merit however. There is still a lot to like about it. It’s not very gassy. It’s very easy to drink. And the tastes and flavours are almost totally inoffensive. I’ve had coffees that are harder to drink than this ale. This is one of those beers that would go well with a pub meal with friends and relatives.

I know a lot of you will love its lack of strong, complex flavours. But that’s why I can’t rate it highly. Maybe this means that pale ales just aren’t for me outside of the pub meal with friends and relatives scenario. Try it if a pleasant, inoffensive pale ale appeals to you.

Rating: 3.25

Have you tried Marston’s Pedigree or any others of the Marston’s range? Got any ideas, suggestions, recommendations, disagreements, corrections, advice or insults? Then leave a comment now!

Beer Review: Fuller’s London Pride Premium Ale

25 April, 2008

HAVING lived in London for a few months, it’s about time I tried the local ale. And here it is: Fuller’s London Pride Outstanding Premium Ale.

Fuller's London Pride bottle

One of the things I like about this traditionally shaped bottle is the number of words embossed on the glass. The coat of arms logo, established date of 1845 and “Independent Family Brewers” are all raised on the surface of the bottle. That’s the most I’ve yet seen. But I would like to see a bottle that only has that type of print. No printed or painted labels, just raised lettering. Are there any out there that do that?

Back to the real world, and the neck label needs a magnifying glass to see properly.

Fuller's London Pride neck label

Central of which is the Fuller’s coat of arms logo. Something that throughout the outside of the bottle, always mentions its home at the Griffin Brewery in Chiswick, West London. Can anyone confirm if that is the one that you pass while driving into London from the M4 motorway?

The neck label also says that this is award winning. There are also some little pictures of medals with the words “Voted Britain’s Best” to back up that assertion. Sadly, no actual awards get named.

The main front label is a picture of tradition. There’s a big red shield, on which are the logo, a picture of some hops and the basic facts.

Fuller's London Pride front label

It’s not overcrowded. And it doesn’t push any boundaries. You could say that it’s unoriginal. But when it comes to ales, that doesn’t matter very much. The most important detail on the front is the alcohol volume, which for London Pride is only 4.7%. And that’s lower than most of the beers and ales that I’ve tried recently.

Over on the back of the bottle, the rear label is a big red rectangle with lots of small white text.

Fuller's London Pride back label

Fairly prominent is the famous slogan “Whatever You Do, Take Pride”. Famous because it’s recently been on the side of a good number of London taxis.

The first chunk of small white text goes on describing what London Pride is all about. Not the intangible emotion of pride in London, but the more relevant topic of what this ale is like. They describe it as having a distinctive malty base, balanced by hop flavours. They also say that they use Target, Challenger and Northdown varieties of hop. None of which I understand the significance of. If you know why these are good, do please leave a message at the end of this post.

They go on to say that this is a surprisingly complex beer considering its strength. By which I think they mean that even though it’s weak, it will still taste good. They also say that this is the UK’s number one premium ale. Is that number one in a competition? Or number one in sales? That would be odd, as I don’t remember seeing it on sale anywhere else in the UK.

On the back label in the white text, they go on to mention their other beers. Their website at www.fullers.co.uk and their Fine Ale Club. The small print begins shortly after with the Chiswick, London, postal address for Fuller Smith & Turner Plc. Other pieces of small print in three of the four corners of the label include the UK units of alcohol, which are 2.4 in this case. The 4.7% alcohol volume. And that this is a 500 millilitre bottle.

With all that chatter out of the way, I’m looking forward to seeing if I can take pride, in London Pride.

In the glass, the colour is a dark gold. There’s a modest head too. But the head swiftly vanished which was disappointing.

Fuller's London Pride poured into a glass

The smell is invitingly complex though. Even I was able to smell a fantastic blend of malty, hops and… is that a hint of something fruity in there? It is a very nice blend of smells. I wasn’t expecting it to smell this good.

A couple of gulps in though, and I’m undecided. It seems too watery and bitter. This will need a few more gulps to figure out.

A few more gulps in, and yes, the taste is mostly one of bitterness. Presumably the end result of all those hop varieties. But it does have some complexity. There are some other tastes and flavours in there if you look hard enough. The label mentions a malty base, which does seem to be in evidence. Even if not to the fore. And thinking about what I called a fruitiness to the smell, I could be wrong, but is that coming from the hop varieties? That’s because I’m picking up hints of something arable in there, and the hops are the only things I can think of that link all these things together.

Other things on the credit side are that it’s not gassy. In fact, it’s almost still. Which, I’m tempted to put on the debit side, but won’t. They have also done a good job of squeezing maximum taste complexity from minimum volume. It’s also quite drinkable. This is one of those I think would go well with a pub meal with friends.

But over on the debit side, it can’t escape the accusation of being a little weak and watery. It just lacks the body that I expect an ale to have. Still, it has won lots of awards from people who know more than I do. What do you think? Am I looking at London Pride in the wrong way? Or am I right?

To summarise, London Pride is good. It smells good. It tastes as hoppy as anything I tested so far. But with that, comes the drawbacks of bitterness. And it’s lacking in strength and body. Some people will like those things. But for me, they mean that it doesn’t quite cut it. Even so, it’s good enough to make me want to try the rest of the Fuller’s range.

Rating: 3.2

Have you tried Fuller’s London Pride or any other Fuller’s beers? What did you think?
Comments, ideas, suggestions, corrections, explanations and insults in the comments box below please.

Beer Review: Strongbow Super

24 April, 2008

TIME for another strong cider. Recently, the only other strong cider I’ve reviewed was K from Gaymer which weighed in at 8.4% volume. This one is Strongbow Super from the HP Bulmer Ltd empire, and comes in at 7.5%. It’s about the same price and just as easy to buy as K, which raises the question: will it be 0.9% better tasting?

Strongbow Super can

Like most of the very strong lagers and ciders, this can doesn’t list packaging as one of its strengths. Most of it is taken up with that large and monochrome image of the famous Strongbow warrior image. Apart from the name, and very prominent red “Super” and the little text “Extra Strong Dry Cider”, there’s not much else to mention.

Rotate the can around however, and you can find the small print squashed into a tiny strip down the can. And even this is intercepted by one of the illustrations of an arrow.

Strongbow Super barcode side of can

Besides the barcode, perhaps the most noticeable thing on there is the 3.8 UK units of alcohol. Being the socially responsible purveyors of low price strong cider that they are, they also include the maximum recommended daily units for men and women. Four for men and three for women in case you were wandering.

As well as the Hereford, England, postal address address for HP Bulmer Ltd, there’s also a careline number. Plus there an email address of strongbow@bulmers.co.uk.

There’s also a little description on there telling us that this will be a “Strong Dry Cider With Sugar And Sweetener”. And that it “Contains Sulpher Dioxide”. Whatever that is. There’s little else to say about this 500 millilitre can. The only way to say anything more, will be to drink it.

In the glass, and it’s a very deep, dark yellow. Roughly the same shade as mid morning pee.

Strongbow Super poured into a glass

It has an equally strong, if better smelling odour about it, though. A little different to the very strong apple-y smell of K, but still mouth-watering for any cider fan.

A couple of gulps in, and immediately, there’s something different to the taste compared to K. Where K was sweet, Strongbow Super is dry. And to me, that makes it less drinkable.

It’s no disaster by any means. It’s still very easy to drink considering how strong it is. And the apple-y taste and refreshment that cider is all about are still there.

But a few more gulps in, and surprisingly, I’m not finding it as nice as I was expecting. Aside from the dryness that makes some bitterness and sourness come to the surface, there is something else to make me think twice about it. Yes it’s refreshing. Compared to a stout. But there are beers out there that are more refreshing. And this, being a cider should surpass them all in levels of refreshment. But it doesn’t.

In short then, Strongbow Super wasn’t as good as I had been hoping. Compared to K, it’s not as strong and its dry quality makes it less drinkable. As least to my taste buds. I’m almost certain that some of you out there will prefer the fact that it’s dry enough to rescue the south of England from a medium-sized flood. But I didn’t. Which is why I’m only giving it…

Rating: 2.9

Strongbow Super isn’t the only 7.5% cider out there though. Close to it on the off-licence shelf is something called Diamond White. It’ll be interesting to see if that can do any better.

Have you tried Strongbow Super or any other strong ciders? What did you think? Got any recommendations or any you think should be avoided?
Then leave a comment in the little box below.

Beer Review: Young’s Waggle Dance

23 April, 2008

HERE is a bottle, and a category of beer that has long intrigued me: Young’s Waggle Dance. And it’s a honey beer. Yes, I’m confused by what that means, too. But apparently there are other honey beers out there. This one looks as good a place as any to start with honey beers.

It’s from the Wells & Young’s English brewing empire. The same one that brought us the excellent Wells Bombardier Satanic Mills and the above average Young’s London and Champion beers. Expectations are high-ish, then for this 500 millilitre bottle regularly stocked by Tesco.

Young’s Waggle Dance bottle

The first thing you notice is the honey coloured theme. The transparent glass bottle lets you glimpse liquid of a colour you would normally associate with a different supermarket shelf entirely. The temptation at this point would be to fill the labels with pictures of bees, beehives or beekeepers. But Young’s go and so something quite unexpected.

The neck label doesn’t do anything at all. Absolutely nothing. There’s some honey yellow shades and some wavy lines, but that’s it.

Young\'s Waggle Dance neck label

But the main front label goes for a photo of a woman dancing. Seriously. See for yourself.

Young’s Waggle Dance front label

Another thing that strikes me about the front label is how much of it is simply blank, yellow coloured space. Apart, that is, from a tiny, lone picture of a bee. Above that, and the dancer, there is the very prominent “Waggle Dance” name. Maybe the woman pictured is dancing the Waggle?

Reading on… The rest of the front has the important details such as the 5% volume. Which I’m pleased to see. The Young’s established date of 1831 is also there. And above the main title is the description “a Light & Refreshing Honey Beer”. Sounds delicious.

Turning the bottle around and restraint is again in evidence on the back label. No pictures of dancers, bees or anything.

Young’s Waggle Dance back label

Instead, there’s a paragraph of background and the usual small print. This time, the background story is really worth reading. If for no other reason, than to explain what this Waggle Dance business is all about. And Young’s open the story with perhaps the best sentence you could have on a beer bottle… “Unusual name, unusual beer”. Tell me even you wouldn’t want to read on after that?

It goes on to explain that the Waggle Dance is something a bee does in a bee hive, to tell the other bees about a source of nectar. A sort of communication through expressive dance.

Furthermore, Waggle Dance is brewed with “a touch of honey” which gives it the taste it has. And that it has a “healthy dose of hops” to provide bitterness, giving a “delicate flavour”.

All very feminine. Which leads me to a theory. That Waggle Dance is aimed at the woman drinker. The picture of the dancer on the front. The warm colour. The choice of words on the label. It’s all painting a picture. And that picture is carrying a handbag.

Also tucked away on the back label are the small print details. That this has 2.5 UK units of alcohol. That it was brewed and bottled in Bedford, England. And that the web addresses that matter are www.youngsathome.co.uk and www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk. Both of which go to very professional websites.

Will my theory hold true? Will the honey taste be noticeable? And is Waggle Dance any good? Time to find out.

In the glass, you can see that it’s a good dark golden colour. And that it comes topped by a nice frothy head.

Young’s Waggle Dance poured into a glass

But while I was pouring, what struck me was the smell. It really is quite strong. And quite pleasant. To me, it smells like yeast and hops. But I’m notoriously bad a judging smells. Are yeast and hops what I’m smelling here? Or is it something else? If you think you know what Waggle Dance smells of, leave a comment at the end of this post.

A couple of gulps in and the first thing I’m noticing is the hoppy bitterness. So far, that’s all I’m noticing. It’s both the fore and aftertaste. It’s also rather gassy.

Further in, and the smoothness and quality are starting to shine through. This is not going to be difficult to drink quickly. I’m not sure if it’s my imagination, but I am now starting to detect that very slight hint of honey sweetness, buried deep beneath the hoppy bitterness.

About half way through now, and I’m starting to enjoy this Waggle Dance honey beer concept. It’s bitter, but it’s not hard going. And if you look hard, it’s balanced by a little bit of sweetness. Whether it’s sweet or fruity enough to satisfy the tastes of female drinkers though, I’m not sure. So girls, if you’ve tried this beer, leave a comment on what you thought of it.

If it were up to me, I’d add a whole lot more honey inspired sweetness. Not being a huge fan of bitterness, I think a very sweet beer would be an excellent niche filler. As it is, I’m awarding some extra marks for originality. Because even though there are some other honey beers out there, it’s hard to call them mainstream yet. But I’m taking some away because it could go a lot further.

Overall, Waggle Dance is another above average beer from Young’s. It does something somewhat unusual. It packages it in an inspired way. And it’s very drinkable. But at the end of the day, it’s another mostly bitter tasting beer.

Rating: 3.85

If you’ve tried Waggle Dance, leave a comment! If you’ve tried any other honey beers, leave a comment on what they were and what you thought of them.
Any other suggestions or ideas for the blog are also very welcome.

Beer Review: Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer

16 April, 2008

THIS one got my attention as soon as I saw it on the shelves of my local Tesco. That’s because it is Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer.

Young\'s Champion Live Golden Beer bottle

First it got my attention because I enjoyed Young’s Special London Ale. Secondly, it got my attention because of the big mentions of “Champion” and “Live” on the front. “Champion” hints at the winning of prizes. Always a good thing. And “Live” and “Bottled Conditioned” beer are always my favourites. In fact, I’ve yet to try a live or bottled conditioned beer I’ve not enjoyed. And that means that you’ll probably enjoy them too. But will Young’s Champion reaffirm or disappoint? I’m looking forward to finding out.

The neck label is where you’ll find a surprising amount of marketing. Or should I say background to the Ram Brewery. It’s also got a reassuringly large “Bottle Conditioned” on it. If it were up to me, that whole Ram Brewery text on the neck label would be replaced by a list of the virtues of bottle conditioning. Maybe one day, eh?

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer neck label

The front label keeps things simple, yet stylish. Lots of sweeping lines dominate this one. And the result is quite different to Special London Ale. Which, by the way, I recommend you read now, so I don’t have to repeat myself over all the little details. The Ram logo is in tact again. But this time, the word “Champion” takes centre-stage, plus a small illustration of hops. The 5% volume is on there, but tucked away in a corner so you need to be looking for it. The colour scheme is light and bright, but looks a bit odd on the dark glass of the bottle.

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer front label

Over on the back, the layout is much the same as with the Special London Ale. The CAMRA logo is on there. As is the symbol telling you that this 500 millilitre bottle has 2.5 UK units of alcohol. And what’s that I see? Amazingly, this is the first time that I’ve bought a recently stocked bottle from Tesco, only to discover that it has passed its “Consume By” date. I didn’t realise it in the shop, but no it’s clear as day. This went ‘off’ after the 31st of January 2008. Outstanding cock-up, Tesco. Readers; check the date on your bottle before you put it in your shopping basket. Or live on the edge. Like me.

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer back label

The correct procedure here would be to return this bottle and obtain a refund or replacement. But having come this far, I don’t want to turn back. Just how bad can it get in those few weeks? That’s what I want to know. So, in the name of investigating blogging, let’s push on.

The story part of the back label describes Young’s Champion as “light-golden”, with a “full-flavour” and “refreshing bite”. It uses “malted barley” and “Styrian hops” for a “well-rounded floral flavour” with “hints of fruit” and a “dry, hoppy bitterness”. Again, they suggest serving cool, pouring gently to keep the yeast in the bottle. And that the website of this Wandsworth based London brewer is at www.youngsathome.co.uk.

Time to open the bottle to see a few things. One: if I’m poisoned from out of date beer. And two: if Young’s Champion is as good as I’m hoping it will be.

In the glass, there’s a good frothy head. But it’s controllable, staying within the pint glass. It’s light golden and it looks like none of the yeast sediment made its way in there. That said, it is still fairly opaque.

Young’s Champion Live Golden Beer in a glass

Like the good live bottles I’ve tried before it, the smell is good. Definitely above average. That yeasty, malty, hoppy smell is mouth-watering.

A couple of gulps in, and I’m not dead from this out-of-date bottle. But I am enjoying the make-up of the flavours here. None of which really dominate, and thus making it a very inoffensive experience. The malted barley and hoppy, bitter aftertaste are most noticeable. And yes, as you work through it, you do begin to notice a tiny floral hint, as promised by the label.

This is turning out to be a well-balanced and well-rounded beer. It’s also easy to drink. And that’s important, as it makes this bottle of beer even more accessible to the casual drinker. Like you. And let’s be honest here, me too.

It’s also fairly crisp and refreshing. This isn’t a big heavy drink at all. But it isn’t the lightest and most refreshing out there either.

If I had to level a criticism at Young’s Champion, it would be that it’s too inoffensive. It’s not the yeasty, malty explosion of taste that I adore. And you could even describe it as being ever so slightly watery. But then this calls itself a beer rather than an ale, so it can get away with that up to a point.

This bottle may be a few weeks out of date, but that didn’t stop me from liking it. If you want a decent live bottled beer, try it. If you want a tasty, refreshing, quite strong beer with little to complain about, try it. If you want a live beer but are too squeamish about bits floating in it, try it. There’s no bits of yeast sediment if you pour carefully. If you want a big, heavy, strongly flavoured brew that scares away teenagers, have an ale instead. This won’t quite satisfy you. I however liked Young’s Champion, so you might to.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Young’s Champion? What did you think?
Or if you’ve got any suggestions for other good live beers, or ones to avoid, leave a comment!

Beer Review: Sole Bay Brewery – Adnams Broadside Strong Original

12 April, 2008

TESCO have a new range of bottled beers in stock. So it’s my solemn duty to review every last one of them. This one is Adnams Broadside Strong Original. It’s from the Sole Bay Brewery from Southwold, Suffolk, England. And it costs slightly above average for a 500 millilitre bottle.

Adnams Broadside bottle

The dark glass and background label give this bottle a stylish dark look. I think it looks like a small bottle of rum or some other spirit. It looks good.

The little neck label has a small illustration of some sort of sword wielding warrior and the slogan “Beer From The Coast”. Something that turns up again and again, including embossed on the glass at the bottom of the bottle.

Adnams Broadside neck label

The front label uses colour to good effect. Even if all the words are a little jumbled up. The Adnams name is orientated one way. The Broadside name another. And there’s the reference Solebay and 1672. It’s not immediately clear if Adnams or Solebay (or should that be Sole Bay?) are the brewer. What does get my attention is the picture of a ship. And the 6.3% volume. Which makes this a strong ale. And I like strong ales. That’s actually why I chose this beer over others on the shelf.

Adnams Broadside front label

Over on the back label, and the nautical theme continues. The little story tells us that Broadside commemorates a 1672 navel battle with the Dutch Republic, just off the Southwold coast. Presumably, that’s the time in history when the Dutch decided that wars weren’t their thing, and turned their attention to tulips and soft drugs instead.

Adnams Broadside back label

Keeping things to the point, the label continues with a short description of what to expect from this beer. This includes mentions of “fruit cake aromas, almonds and conserved fruit”. The language might be different to what’s on most beer bottles, but I think it means that this will have plenty of complex, fruity flavours.

The web addresses listed include www.adnams.co.uk and www.beerfromthecoast.co.uk. Both of which work, and take you to some very professional and informative parts of the Adnams empire. That’s an improvement over the addresses given on some ale bottles out there.

One interesting addition is on the little red bar at the bottle of the rear label. It turns out that this is the lightest 500 millilitre beer bottle in the UK. And that is because light glass has been used. Which it transpires is better for the environment. George Monbiot will be pleased.

Also on the small print, this 500 millilitre bottle has 3.2 UK units of alcohol. And has the slogan “Remember, you can have too much of a good thing”. Very responsible. I’d suggest that something similar be printed on the cans of high-strength lager, but you couldn’t call them a “good thing”. Adnams on the other hand, call a beer to “savour”, so let’s see if they’re right.

Adnams Broadside in a glass

I thought I had poured carefully. As you can see, the head disagreed by frothing up, held together only by surface tension. And that was with stopping and starting, letting it settle every so often. Still, it soon settled down enough to drink. Be warned if you try to pour from the bottle yourself. Broadside needs time and care.

Apart from the head, a couple of other things struck me. First was the colour. This is much darker than I was expecting. It looks more like a stout. This is partly backed up by the other thing that struck me. The smell. The label describes the aroma as being like a rich fruit cake. I’d describe it as smelling like the rich malts you find in stouts. It is very rich smelling indeed. But what does it taste like?

The first gulp leaves me thinking “what is that?” It does have that deep, rich, malty flavour of a stout. But the aftertaste, or should that be aftertastes, go beyond that. This is going need a few more gulps to understand…

A few more gulps in, I think I’m cracked it. The aftertaste is where you’ll find all those fruits and things mentioned on the label. That makes this an unusual beer. The first tastes and flavours are like that of a stout. But it’s more than that. After those flavours, it changes to the fruity and hoppy flavours that you’d find in an ale.

This is a very strong flavoured brew. Full-bodied and with lots of character are some of the jargon terms that get used for this kind of beer. It is somewhat gassy, but it is smooth and easy to drink. The quality is much in evidence.

The flip side of this is that it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. In fact, I’m still unsure whether to love it or hate it myself. If you like stout, you’d be insane not to try this. If you like ales with lots of complex flavours. Or if you like beers and ales with lots of fruit, then by all means give Broadside a go. But be prepared for the possibility that you’ll find it to be just too much.

Personally, I’m going to rate it as above average. It’s got quality in spades. Flavours and taste combinations that I previously hadn’t thought possible. And originality. But it’s just too stout-like and inaccessible for me. And will be for other people to. It’s an excellent half-a-litre, but I wouldn’t open another bottle straight after it. I would however be eager to try other beers carrying the Adnams name to see if the positives carry-over.

Rating: 4.025

Have you tried Adnams Broadside? Or anything else by Adnams?
What did you think of it?
Comments in the comments box please.

Beer Review: Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale

4 April, 2008

ALL too soon, we reach the end of our second round up of Hall & Woodhouse brewed ales. If you haven’t read my reviews of their other brews yet, then here’s your chance to catch up. Brace yourself, they’ve built up a vast range of bottles:

Badger Original Ale, Badger Golden Glory Ale, Badger Golden Champion Ale, Badger Harvesters Ale and River Cottage Stinger.

Hall & Woodhouse do traditional ales very well, but that they aren’t afraid to try new things and throw in the unexpected. But will that be the case with Badger Blandford Fly?
Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale bottle

On the outside the Badger style is much in evidence. And as usual, the neck label is the place to start.

This one goes with a little sentence that describes it as “An unusually refreshing premium ale subtly spiced for EXTRA BITE”. Their capitalisation. Not mine. Which hints at what will make this refreshing ale, stand out from the crowd.
Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale neck label

Down on the main front label everything looks rustic and traditional. And that background. Does it remind you of bees wax? Or wallpaper?
Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale front label

Onto the roundel, and all the details are where they should be. It’s not overcrowded. And I happen to think it all looks quite attractive. The old Badger 1777 logo makes a more prominent reappearance this time. And the little illustration of a Blandford fly inbetween the words “Subtly” and “Spiced” hint at a story behind it. The 5.2% volume is on there. And besides the mentions of Hall & Woodhouse and Blandford St. Mary, Dorset; there’s not much to report from the front. Apart from the symmetry. Maybe that’s why it looks just right?

Around on the back label, things are straightforward again. Accompanied by some little illustrations of flys buzzing around, it starts with a concise description of what this ale is all about. As well as aiming to be a refreshing premium ale, it also has spicy ginger overtones and a warming character. The spicy ginger must be what gives it that “EXTRA BITE” mentioned on the front.
Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale back label

Those of you wanting a story to go with your ale won’t be disappointed. This one goes with that of the Blandford Fly of Dorset’s River Stour. You see where they got the name for this ale? It transpires that the fly in question has a habit of biting people. And that custom was; ginger would provide an antidote. Which would explain the name and idea behind this ale. Okay, it’s a tenuous link, but it’s better than some of the stories on beer bottles.

The invaluable ‘Taste Profile’ chart is always worth a look. Especially with Blandford Fly. This is the first time that I’ve seen one element of it rate as a five and another rate as a zero. In pole position this time with five out of five, is ‘Sweet’. ‘Bitter’ and ‘Fruity’ both receive three. ‘Malty’ has two. But ‘Hoppy’ isn’t even on the chart. According to this chart, Blandford Fly will be sweet, fruity and not even slightly hoppy. I can’t wait to find out what that’s going to be like.

But unfortunately there’s the small print to get through. Which I happen to know that some of you out there do like to know. So let’s plough through them quickly in order to get to the fun part of the review… The Blandford St. Mary, Dorset address is on there. So to is the www.badgerales.com web address. This is a 500 millilitre bottle, so the 5.2% volume gives it 2.6 UK units of alcohol. And it contains malted barley. That’s the dry part of the review out of the way. Now, time to find out what Blandford Fly is really all about.

Once in the glass, there’s more head than I’ve become used to from Badger. It’s surprisingly frothy. But. It does make the 500 millilitre bottle completely fill the pint glass.
Badger Blandford Fly Premium Ale poured

This has one of the most distinctive smells I’ve yet witnessed. You can smell the ginger. And it is as unexpected as you’d imagine. Even after reading the label. You just don’t expect to smell it from an ale. Unusual and a good start.

Within one gulp, you can tell this is exactly as advertised on the label and the ‘Taste Profile’. The first taste you get is one of sweetness. Quickly followed by bitterness and fruitiness. Followed by an aftertaste of ginger. And that, is the sting of the Blandford Fly.

Some, if not most ales, need the entire bottle to figure out. But this gets straight to the point. And I have to say, I like it. And not just the being polite, acknowledging the quality, half-heartedly liking it. Blandford Fly is excellent. It’s easy to drink. Quite refreshing. Not too gassy. And it has that unusual ginger ‘sting’ that adds the most important quality. Difference. And I love beers that do something different.

The downsides. That ginger flavour is strong and won’t be to everyone’s tastes. So it won’t please everyone. You couldn’t describe it as ‘inoffensive’.

To try and sum up then; Blandford Fly is a Marmite of an ale. You’ll either love it or hate. I happen find it outstanding. And as it’s my blog, it gets a high rating. If you like unusual beers and ales, this is well worth the risk.

Rating: 4.35

If you’ve tried Blandford Fly, I’d be interested know if you liked it as much as I did. Or if you didn’t.

If you’ve got any suggestions of your own for ginger flavoured ales, or anything else you want me to review, leave a comment in the box below.

Beer Review: Hall & Woodhouse River Cottage Stinger

3 April, 2008

ONE of the more unusual innovations to come out of Hall & Woodhouse, is this: River Cottage Stinger.
River Cottage Stinger bottle

From the same Dorset brewer that brought us Badger Golden Glory Ale and yesterday’s low-alcohol Badger Harvesters Ale. Jettisoning the rule book, Hall & Woodhouse appear to be on an innovation binge with this 500 millilitre bottle. The bottle shape and shapes of the labels look the same as the Badger range, but as far as I can tell, that’s where the similarities end.

The bottle top is green with a ‘River Cottage‘ logo atop it. The neck label alludes to something unusual indeed with “Tongue Tingling Ale” surrounded what look like… no it can’t be… are those nettles?
Hall & Woodhouse River Cottage Stinger neck label

The plot thickens on the main front label.
Hall & Woodhouse River Cottage Stinger front label

In place of the usual badger logo is the “River Cottage” one. But under the large, green, stylized “Stinger” text, I’m glad to see the old badger still makes an appearance. An appearance from foliage that looks like… nettles. There they are again. A reassuring and disconcerting illustration. But one that makes you want to read on.

Under the illustration is the biggest mention I’ve yet seen of Hall & Woodhouse on the front of one of their bottles. “Brewed by Hall & Woodhouse” wasn’t on the front of their other bottles. Presumably because this one is more of a River Cottage ale than a Badger ale.

Next there’s a very stylised description of “using organic nettles hand-picked in Dorset”. That explains it. This is made from organic nettles. As for the hand-picking part, all I can think is, I hope they had plenty of dock leaves to hand. If you don’t know what I mean, that’s because you are a townie. You have my sympathies.

Also on the front is a respectable 4.5% volume.

Over on the back label, and the River Cottage connection becomes clear. There’s a photo and extensive quote from Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall. You know, the celebrity chef, author and journalist from Channel 4′s River Cottage series of programmes. At first, his involvement with an ale, organic or otherwise baffled me. That was until I learnt that his River Cottage is in Dorset, and thus, the link to Hall & Woodhouse became clear.
Hall & Woodhouse River Cottage Stinger back label

At this point, I must confess that I’ve never watched more than a few odd minutes of Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall’s television programmes. I’ve seen enough to get the gist that he likes the back-to-nature ways of cooking. And that’s something I respect. But anything more than a few minutes at a time and I’m afraid I might start voting Liberal Democrat.

Back to the label, and I’m delighted to see the little ‘Taste Profile’ chart has made in tact to this bottle. Albeit, minus the ‘See’, ‘Smell’ and ‘Taste’ additions from Harvester Ale. With this one, ‘Malty’ and ‘Fruity’ come out top with four out of five. And ‘Sweet’, ‘Bitter’ and ‘Hoppy’ are three, two and one out of five respectively. Something tells me that this is going to be distinctive.

The main text on the back label is actually a gigantic quote from H F-W himself. To summarise, he wanted to create an organic beer. And sums up Stinger with words like “delicious”, “refreshing”, “West Country character”, “depth”, “slightly spicy” “light bitterness” and “subtle tingle that comes from the nettles”. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly intrigued at this stage.

Among the usual small-print details, there’s one little symbol that makes it’s presence know. And that is the Soil Association Organic Standard mark. Yet again, we’re seeing another ale making a deal about being organic. This really does seem to be the next big thing.

Of the other small-print that may or may not interest you, is the little symbol telling us that this bottle has 2.3 of your UK units of alcohol. That is contains malted barley. The H & W address in Blandford St. Mary, Dorset, England. The www.badgerales.com web address. And, also, the www.rivercottage.net web address.

Enough chatter. Let’s see if this strange and unusual drink is actually any good.

Once safely in the glass, the first thing that surprised me was the colour. I was half hoping for an outrageous nettle green colour. But alas, it’s a straightforward light gold. And one with a predictable, thin head.
Hall & Woodhouse River Cottage Stinger poured

It does smell a little different however. And… I don’t know how to describe it. It smells kind of fruity and a little malty. But not in any ways that I’ve smelt it before. It’s not overpowering, and quite pleasant. I like beers that do something different, so in terms of smell, Stinger is doing well so far.

Only smell isn’t the most important part. Flavour, taste and drinkability are. So let’s get drinking. And my first impressions are good. Excellent in fact. A couple of gulps in, and this has a full, proper ale taste. Regardless of the unusual way in which it was made. Only I’m having some difficulty figuring out what it is that I’m tasting. Let’s compare it against Hugh’s description…

Yes, it is refreshing. Not the most refreshing ever, but served cool, it ticks that box. It’s got that character and depth that made me love the other Badger ales so much. So, if like me, you like your ale to be a complex blend of stuff, then you’ll probably get on well with Stinger too. Hugh also describes a light bitterness, with a spicy tingle. The light bitterness is definitely there. And it’s one of the lightest bitternesses I’ve seen for a long time. And it comes with hardly any bad aftertaste. So if you don’t like bitterness, you’re fairly safe with Stinger. As for the spicy tingle, I can’t quite find it on my taste buds. I’m getting a tiny hint of something tingly, buried in the blend. But the nettle-like sting isn’t much in evidence.

Over half of the way through now, and Stinger is proving to be a very enjoyable, and easily-drinkable ale. Easier to drink than even yesterday’s low-alcohol Harvesters Ale. This is turning out to be quite different to what I was expecting.

Stinger seems to be avoiding the downsides of being very hoppy. While being a little of the bitter, arable side of the flavour spectrum. Not greatly so, mind. And that I think, could be the weakness. It’s just not as unusual as I hoped it would be. Not that I expected nettle leaves to be floating in the bottle. But more of a nettle flavour would have helped Stinger stand out. And as a fan of homemade nettle soup, I can vouch for the tastiness of nettles.

To sum up then. What Stinger is tuning out to be, is a not an outlandish, new-age inspired eco-drink. But rather a quality, mild, drinkable ale with a nice taste. If you can find it stocked, I’d say it’s worth your time.

Rating: 4

Have you tried Harvester? What did you think of it?
The comments box is below. You know what to do…

Beer Review: Badger Harvesters Ale

2 April, 2008

LOW-ALCOHOL beer. What is the point? To me, something always seemed disingenuous and suspicious about low-alcohol beers and lagers. In the same way that ‘edutainment’ computer games would try to cover up learning with fun. Or Open University documentaries would try to disguise facts with a garnishing of entertainment. Whenever you consumed them, you would always have that suspicion that you were being manipulated into being ‘good’.

Realising this, yet still wanting new markets, the big brewers scratched their heads and did a spot of innovating. Most notably, Carling with their “mid-strength” 2% volume, C2 launch in 2006, aimed at the so-called ‘metrosexual’ man who wants a “proper pint” without getting drunk.

While I haven’t reviewed C2, I did review Tesco Value Lager. Which is also 2%. And a taste-less, pointless waste of time. And that, I suspect, is true of most low or mid-alcohol lagers. But… what about low-alcohol ale? Could that be the answer? Could it be a genuine, tasty, full-bodied beer for the health conscious socialite?

To answer this question, I have here a bottle of Hall & Woodhouse’s Badger Harvesters Ale. This comes from the same brewer as Badger Original Ale, Badger Golden Glory Ale and Badger Golden Champion Ale, whom insisted that I try a few more of their beers. So, let’s take a closer look at Badger Harvesters Ale.
Badger Harvesters Ale bottle

And one of the first things that grabs your attention is the little label on the neck of the bottle. And it’s a label I’ve been seeing a lot of recently.
Badger Harvesters Ale neck label

Broughton Double Champion Ale and Ridgeway Blue both have them, and Harvesters Ale joins them as a 2008 winner in the Tesco Drinks Awards. This time, in the category of ‘Lower & No Alcohol’. From my experience with those two other Tesco award winners, they tend to pick good drinks. So my expectations are going up. Albeit from a low starting point.

The big front label is a distinct variation on the Badger theme.
Badger Harvesters Ale front label

The entire design shouts, or rather whispers “take it easy”. The soft yellowy colours and the little picture of, presumably a harvester, relaxing under a tree paint a picture of pre-industrial rural bliss. Look a little closer and you’ll also notice the stylised ‘Harvesters’ logo has an arable touch to the letter ‘H’. There are also some simple pictures of birds, one of which is placed like an apostrophe above the logo. Or is it supposed to be Harvester’s and not Harvesters?

Standing out prominently is it’s own corner is “ALC 2.5% VOL”. And that could be key. It’s 0.5% higher than some of those awful medium-strength lagers. Over on the other corner, Harvesters is described as “refreshing” and “well-hopped” and as having a “lighter touch”. I hope all of that proves to be true.

Around to the back label, and I’m delighted to see the taste profile. And this label has made some additions to it.
Badger Harvesters Ale back label

The main part of that godsend of a chart gives ‘Sweet’ the highest of them all, with ‘Bitter’, ‘Hoppy’ and ‘Fruity’ all in joint second place. ‘Malty’ is the lowest.

The additions come in the form on three little boxes next to it. ‘See’, ‘Smell’ and ‘Taste’ all have their little icons, and, as you’d expect, give us yet more of an insight. Under ‘See’ we have “Light golden brown”. Under ‘Smell’, it is “Light and hoppy with grape undertones”. And for ‘Taste’, is tells us to expect “Medium bitterness & sweetness”.

I happen to think that these little boxes and the taste profile are terrific ideas. They give you an idea of whether you’ll like it or not, when you’re in the shop. And it gives me something to judge it by when it comes to my own taste test.

As with the other Badger ales, this one comes with a story behind it. This one revolves around the ale given by landowners to labourers at harvest time. And how, to avoid the calamity of drunken labours failing to do the harvest, less potent ales were sought. And that this is just such an ale. Light, yet supposedly not comprised in the things that matter.

There’s also all the small print you expect. That this is a 500 millilitre bottle. The Hall & Woodhouse Ltd. address in Blandford, Dorset, England. And www.badgerales.com web address. That this contains malted barley and sulphites. The fact that this only has 1.3 UK units of alcohol. And a few more details that don’t make it onto most other bottles. There’s a small table listing the recommended daily maximum of alcohol units; 3-4 for men and 2-3 for women. Also, next to the usual ‘drink responsibly’ message and recycle symbols, there’s one indicating that pregnant women should not drink. This takes corporate social responsibility to the next level.

But is it any good. We’re about to find out…

Well, it’s a golden brown colour. As described on the label. It’s topped off by a creamy and consistent head. As for the smell, it is as mildly hoppy as hinted at by the label. I’m not so sure about those grape undertones however. Although there’s a hint of something citrus in there if you sniff it hard enough.
Badger Harvesters Ale in a glass

The label described the taste as having medium bitterness and sweetness. A couple of gulps in, and I’m undecided about it. It is bitter. A little too much so for my personal taste. And leaves a hoppy aftertaste. But the sweet fruitiness. And the rich, complex flavours that make ales so good just weren’t as much in evidence as I had hoped.

On the other hand, it is refreshing. Not too gassy. And importantly, it’s also quite easy to drink.

While this is much much better than the watery Tesco Value Lager, it doesn’t quite deliver the full ale experience minus the alcohol. That said, it does get pretty darn close. If I were having a beer with a meal during a lunch break at work, this would be the right thing to have. It sets the standard for low-alcohol ales. By and large, it accomplishes what it sets out to do. Even though it didn’t really do it for me.

Rating: 3.15

Have you tried Badger Harvesters Ale?

Or do you have any recommendations of your own for low-alcohol beers?
Comments, ideas, suggestions and insults below please.

Beer Review: Young’s Special London Ale

31 March, 2008

FROM Oxfordshire, we take the short journey to Wandsworth, London with Young’s Special London Ale. This one was from my local Tesco, where I also noticed a Young’s Bitter. But since I don’t much care for bitters, that would have been a pointless choice. So here we are with something that does very tasty indeed.
Young’s Special London Ale bottle

The shape and colour look good. This bottle stands out in the crowd on the shelf. Then your eye gets drawn to the label on the neck.
Young’s Special London Ale neck label

Above the identification that this comes from The Ram Brewery is an award. Apparently, this is a ‘Bottle Conditioned Beer’. Like yesterday’s good Ridgeway Blue, and the outstanding Hoegaarden. It also happens to have won the ‘Silver Medal’ in 2004 by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale. What surprises me is that a second-place prize is used to market it. But the knowledge that people much more knowledgeable than I am like this bottle. Plus the fact that it is bottle conditioned, get me salivating, and no longer worrying about what got the gold medal.

The front label does what you’d expect of a London Ale. The silhouette of the London skyline is good. If touristy. The Ram Brewery logo appears to feature one, or is that two rams? It’s a good piece of design, but looks out of place on the blue and black colour scheme of the label.
Young’s Special London Ale front label

Another thing that grabs your attention on the front is the alcohol volume. Which is a surprisingly high 6.4%. That might put some of you off, but I like my beers and ales not to comprise on strength. That and the bottle conditioning are raising those expectations. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint.

The rear label fits everything important onto a small, but readable little label.
Young’s Special London Ale back label

And Young’s start the label by not letting up on those expectations. They tell us that it won those awards by being strong, but very drinkable. There’s the “CAMRA says this is Real Ale” logo. Which, although it doesn’t mean that much, is still a nice addition.

The label goes on the tell us what it will be like to drink. Here are some of the words they use: “malty richness”, “huge amounts of hops”, “balanced”, “aromatic”, “dry” and “fruity flavour”. Wow. That is a lot to take in. Let’s see… Malty can be good. If it’s the right type. Hoppy can be good if it doesn’t leave a bad aftertaste. Balanced; that’s only used to describe beers I’ve enjoyed, so I’m glad to see that word in there. Fruitiness is almost always a good addition. Not sure what to make of the “dry”-ness at this stage, though.

Young’s go on to suggest gentle pouring. And that leaving the yeast sediment safely in the bottle is what they think is best. I’ll do my best, but I can’t guarantee that enthusiasm won’t get the better of me.

Also on there are the brewers’ Wandsworth address. Their www.youngsathome.co.uk website. Which works. And that this 500 millilitre bottle has 3.2 of your UK units of alcohol. Enough of this prattle. It’s time to pour. Very very gently.

The first thing that surprised me was the head. The instructions to pour gently made me expect that it would suffer from an uncontrollably frothy head that would spill over the glass and flood my flat. What I got was a thin and patchy head.
Young’s Special London Ale in a glass

The colour is cloudy dark-gold. It really is cloudy in there. Much more opaque than most other gold coloured brews. That must be the yeast doing its job.

The smell is pretty good. Maybe 70:30 of hops to malt. No sign of those fruits though.

The first gulp tells you that this is going to be nice and smooth. Not very gassy. And full of flavours. If only I could tell what they were. This is going to take a few more gulps to figure out.

Just like the smell, I’d say the flavour is split between the hops and the malt. With the hops managing to dominate. Time to check how accurate the label was… “Malty richness” is there. “Huge amounts of hops” are present, I’d say. “Balance” is harder to judge. All I know is that this is turning out to be quite drinkable. So I’ll say ‘yes’ and hope that it is. If you can explain in layman’s terms what “balance” is all about, by all means leave a message in the comments at the end of this post.

“Aromatic” is true. It smells like an ale should. Is it “dry”? It has a mild bitterness and sour aftertaste. Not in an off-putting way. But I’ll say ‘yes’, it is “dry”. “Fruity flavour” however, I can’t detect at all. Maybe someone with taste buds that haven’t been dulled by Pot Noodles will be capable of noticing the fruitiness. I however, could not.

Fortunately, this is one strong ale. And that makes the promises on the label; correct or otherwise; as irrelevant as a Zimbabwean vote count. This is an easily-drinkable, hop tasting, strong ale. You would have to be very averse to bitterness not to enjoy this one. By the end of the bottle, I’d very happy crack open another.

It is no surprise then, that a quick glance at their website reveals that the Young’s brewing company, is in fact part of Well’s & Young’s. The parent behind the excellent Bombardier Satanic Mills. I’m delighted to report that there’s been no compromise with Special London Ale. It is largely deserving of its award winning status. If I had to nitpick, I’d say that the bitter flavour might put some people off. But I enjoyed this bottle. If you like good, cloudy, strong ales, you’ll probably like this too.

Rating: 4.2

Have you tried Young’s Special London Ale?
Disagree with my rating? Want to pick up on the many mistakes I made?
Or want to share your ramblings, thought or suggestions?
Then leave a message in the little box below.

Beer Review: Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue

30 March, 2008

SOUTH of the border this time for a bottle of beer from Oxford. This one is called Blue and it’s from Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire.
Ridgeway Blue bottle

I usually ignore the neck label when in the shop, so it wasn’t until I got home that I noticed this…
Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue neck label

It turns out that this won ‘best beer’ at the Tesco ‘brewing awards’. That makes this the second I’ve tried, with Broughton Champion Double Ale was the first Tesco winner I tried. And very good it was too. This upshot of which is that I now have higher than usual expectations going into this one.

The front label is round. And features mainly blue text. I’d describe what the illustration is of. But I can’t tell what it’s supposed to be. Can you?
Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue front label

The bottom edge of the label has their address. The full address. Post code and everything. And that’s unusual, as the address normally goes on the back label. It does prove that this one comes from South Stoke in Oxfordshire however. Also down there, in tiny writing is “Alc 5% vol.” It’s so small, you’d think they were trying to hide that fact.

Either side of the roundel are a couple of facts. On the left, it says “whole leaf hops”. And on the right, “maris otter malt”. How that will affect the taste, we’ll find out soon enough. If you think you can explain what it means, do by all means leave a comment at the end of the post.

The first thing that jumps out at you on the back label is the “CAMRA says this is real ale”. That’s not something I’ve seen on any other bottle I’ve reviewed so far, and it’s a welcome sight. Always good to know that the Campaign for Real Ale gives it’s approval to something, so that clueless drinkers, like me, can enjoy with one less thing to worry about.
Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue back label

Ridgeway open the rear label with some marketing speak about sharing this bottle or drinking it at a barbeque. Fortunately, they have some useful advice in there too, in the form of a description of what the drink will be like. As always, that’s immensely helpful, as it gives me something with which to judge the success of the drink. This one includes words such as “distinctively hoppy”, “lively” and “refreshing”.

They also suggest “drinking cold”. Whether they mean that the bottle should be cold, or that you should drink while feeling cold is unclear. Assuming they mean that the bottle is the one that should be cold, the include a nice touch underneath it in brackets saying that it’s not compulsory. I like that sort of touch.

The, the label goes on to explain something really rather interesting. And something I’ve met before without realising it. You see, Ridgeway helpfully explain what “Bottle Conditioned” is all about. It turns out, that live yeast sediment goes into the bottle, so that it can ferment some more while it waits for you to open it. And that all Ridgeway beers are bottles that way because it makes the flavour “brighter” and “fresher”. I’m not sure about those two adjectives, but I do know that Hoegaarden does something similar, and that it is one of the best I’ve ever had. And yes, looking closely into the bottle, you can see some of that yeast sediment. There go my expectations up a few more notches. Not just for Blue but for all Ridgeway bottles.

Down to the small print, and this is a moderately priced, 500 millilitre bottle from my local Tesco. It contains malted barley. And the web address given on the bottle is www.ridgewaybrewery.co.uk. Which doesn’t work. Why do so many bottles feature web addresses that are wrong or go to sites that aren’t there? Come on chaps. You’re making bottles of beer for Tesco now. Not just for the county fair.

In a glass, it has a thin head. And yes, while pouring, a small lump of that yeast sediment plopped in. The colour is a cloudy dark gold. And the smell is… quite nice. It smells almost citrusy. But I could be wrong about that. There’s definitely something ‘clean’ and ‘fresh’ about the way it smells. You’ll also pick up hints of the malt, hops and yeast that are in there too, if you sniff hard enough.
Ridgeway Brewing of Oxfordshire Blue in a glass

First thing that hits me is the smoothness. Then the light and palatable bitterness. And a taste and aftertaste of hops and yeast. If you don’t have ale very often, and want to try something that typifies the entire category of drink, this is looking like a good choice.

What else can I say about it? Well, it’s not to gassy. It’s easy to drink, being inoffensive to all but the most beer averse taste buds. And you needn’t worry about the sediment. This is not like drinking orange juice with bits, if that’s something that worries you. Instead, it’s more a smooth cranberry juice, of a beer. Refreshing, but with a sharp bitterness.

Towards the end of the bottle, and I’m growing to quite like Blue. It’s something you’d probably have with a pub meal. But it’s nor without its problems. I like ales to have character and complexity. But Blue is lacking both. The tastes and flavours are straightforward. It does what it does, very well, but ‘best beer’ award winning? I’m not entirely sure.

I liked Ridgeway Blue enough to want to try Ridgeway‘s other bottles. In fact, I will definitely be looking out for them on the shelves. This is a good, decent, quality, solid ale. But it just couldn’t reach my lofty expectations. It’s still worth your money trying though.

Rating: 3.5

Have you tried Ridgeway Blue or any other Ridgeway beers? Let the world know your thoughts and opinions in the comment box below.
Also any ideas for what you think I should review next.


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