Posts Tagged ‘greene king’

Beer Review: Morland Hen’s Tooth

23 September, 2009

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

Morland Hen’s Tooth bottle

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

Morland Hen’s Tooth neck label

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

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

Morland Hen’s Tooth front label

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

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

Morland Hen’s Tooth back label

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

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

Morland Hen’s Tooth back label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.25

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

Beer Review: Ruddles County

18 June, 2009

THE hilarious yet delicious Ruddles Rhubarb is the only bottled Ruddles I’ve tried so far. That needs to change. Goodness knows what Ruddles could pull out of the bag next. So, from a shop in Bethnal Green in London’s East End, here is a £1.89 pence bottle of Ruddles County.

Ruddles County bottle

Where have I seen this shape of bottle before? You can put money on there being a familiar name on one of the labels. And, because it’s transparent, it’s like having a hunk of copper cast into the shape of a bottle.

Ruddles County neck label

The neck label isn’t what you’d call informative. With nothing more than the “Ruddles County” name, there is nothing to see here.

Ruddles County front label

It’s not very much better down on the front label, either. Yes, I love the “Ruddles” horseshoe motif. The slogan “Proper Country Ale” is exactly what you want to read on a bottle of old British ale. And the alcoholic volume of 4.7% isn’t bad. It’s not strong either, but it’s not bad. It’s just the absence of clues about the ale itself that annoy me. Hopefully the back label will have some actual information about what this beer is all about.

Ruddles County back label

A quick glace reveals that the back label of Ruddles County has all the information I want, and much more besides. They describe it as an “English Ale with a distinctive flavour of dark toffee and caramel combined with a crisp bitterness, derived from using rare Bramling Cross hops.” Sounds yummy.

Even though I know nothing about them, the addition of rare hops makes me want it even more. If you happen to know why Bramling Cross hops are so rare, leave a comment at the end of the post.

Below that we get the “story” bit that makes British ales that bit quirkier than those from the rest of the world. This ones rambles on about their horseshoe motif coming from the tradition of royalty and peers of the realm giving a horseshoe to the lord of the manor when they pass through England’s smallest county, Rutland. An idea that seems like a completely ineffective toll. Wouldn’t money have been a superior currency instead of horseshoes? That sort of small-scale thinking must be why the county of Rutland have ended up so small.

Under that is all the small print. There’s all the usual public health nonsense about recommended units of alcohol. This 500ml bottle, with its 4.7% payload weighs in at 2.4 UK units of alcohol by the way.

Under that, in very small writing is the answer to the question of why the bottle looked so familiar. The answer is that Ruddles is made by medium-sized regional brewing giant, Greene King, of Bury St, Edmunds in Suffolk. Their website is on the label too, which is www.greeneking.co.uk. To save you time, their Ruddles section is at http://www.greeneking.co.uk/launch_ruddles.htm.

So, what does Ruddles County taste like? Is it any good? And should you buy it? Time to crack it open and find out.

Ruddles County poured into a glass

Well the colour isn’t a surprise. The head is not bad. It’s nearly enough for you to forgive it for being a 500ml bottle instead of a proper pint (come on brewers, give us the pints our glasses were made for).

What does Ruddles County smell of? It smells interesting. Not strong. I’m not very good at this, but will go for words like ‘hoppy’ and ‘biscuity’. There’s probably some more odours in there too, all of which can be caught with the umbrella word ‘complex’. In short, it smells of ale.

What does Ruddles County taste like? The first sip reveals something stronger and more intense than I was expecting. The second sip is dominated by a taste of spicy hops. This if going to take a few more sips to understand.

A few more sips later, and I’m making progress. The label described the flavour as a “distinctive” one of “dark toffee and caramel”. Maybe they do. To me, they blend into something malty and biscuity. All of which is swept away by an intense rush of spicy, hoppy bitterness in a long, satisfying aftertaste. That must be where those Bramling Cross hops come into play.

What am I enjoying about Ruddles County? I like that intense hoppiness. Probably because of the Bramling Cross hops, it’s a different type of hoppiness to other hoppy ales. Instead of tasting like you’re drinking a hedgerow, it tastes like you’re drinking a hedge with dash of pepper sauce. It’s distinctive. It’s a risk taker and for that, you have to admire it. I like how well made it is. I like how clean and crisp it is.

What don’t I like about Ruddles County? Honestly, it’s hard going. If you normally drink the dark and heavy beers of the world, this won’t be a problem for you. I just happened to find it less than easy to drink. That distinctive, strong bitterness is going to put off some drinkers.

What’s the verdict on Ruddles County? It is a hoppy English ale, but different to the other hoppy ales. Those Bramling Cross hops give it an edge that the other hoppy ales don’t have. It proved too much for little old me, but some of you might love it. It’s good, but one for the adventurous drinker.

Rating: 3.7

Have you tried Ruddles County? What did you think of it? Do please leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Ridley’s Old Bob Strong Premium Ale

6 January, 2009

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

Ridley's Old Bob bottle

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

Ridley's Old Bob neck label

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

Ridley's Old Bob front label

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

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

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

Ridley's Old Bob back label

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

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

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

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

Ridley's Old Bob poured into a glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.175

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

Beer Review: Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip

16 December, 2008

OLDE TRIP but contemporary style. Having the shield label and writing on transparent labels and a transparent bottle makes this bottle of Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip look interesting. Interesting and familiar. Something about this bottle rings a bell. I’m sure I’ve seen the crown and “Estd 1799” embossed on the shoulder of another bottle.

Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip bottle

The neck label is the only bit that isn’t transparent. That makes it look out of place. It also doesn’t tell you anything about the ale within. If you’re going to stick a label around the neck of a beer bottle, use it to describe what the beer will be like. Not that I don’t mind being totally surprised by a beer. I like it. But normal people won’t.

Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip neck label

The front label is superb. It gets everything right.

Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip front label

First of all, it’s in the shape of a shield and it has old fashioned writing. If, like me, you’re looking for interesting bottles of ale, this bodes well. Under the glorious “Olde Trip” name, it then comes in with the details you want to know. First by describing itself as a “Premium Ale”. And then by giving the alcoholic volume of 4.3%.

Okay, I do like my ale to be a little stronger than that. But you can’t fault this front label. It gets to the point in a quirky way. And that’s good.

Over on the back label, we get the sort of story we’re looking for on a bottle of British ale. We also get some much needed answers to our suspicions.

Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip back label

The story is tenuous as the best of them. This one tells us how this ale has taken it’s name from “Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (AD1189)”. Apparently England’s oldest inn, at the foot of Nottingham Castle, where knights went for a drink before The Third Crusade. How charmingly politically incorrect. I’m liking this bottle more and more.

Under the story however, things start to look eerily familiar again. The sensible drinking message rings a bell. As does the malted barley symbol.

Down in the small print now and clearly displayed are the details you want to know. For instance, this 500ml bottle, with it’s 4.3% volume content weighs in at a reasonable 2.2 UK units of alcohol. Which means you can treat yourself to two bottle of Olde Trip before the government sends you a social worker.

Right at the very bottom of the label, in tiny writing is the answer to my suspicions. Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip is in fact brewed by Greene King in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. So, that explains that.

But, what will it be like? It’s a premium ale, so it could taste of just about anything. So the questions are simple ones. What will it taste like? And is it worth your money and time? Let’s crack it open and find out.

Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip poured

It fizzed right up. Even getting the glass in place swiftly couldn’t save a few drops from making an escape. I recommend playing video games until your reactions become fast enough to open this bottle.

Once safely in the glass however, it looks good. Not surprising. We knew exactly what colour it would be from the transparent glass bottle. But that dark ruby colour is most appetising.

It comes with a fairly good head, too. It didn’t froth up uncontrollably. Nor did it vanish into a few stray bubbles. Instead, it’s a creamy little layer.

What does it smell like? Rich and complex. There’s more different smells than I can make head or tail of. If pushed to stick my neck out, I’d say it smells chocolaty, roasted and fruity. Like a burnt Carbury’s Fruit & Nut. Maybe it’s because it’s been so very long since I had enjoyed an ale, but it smells wonderful. Not too strong and as complex traffic law.

Does it taste as delicious as it smells? A couple of gulps in, and first impressions are fairly good. It’s complex enough for me to need a few more gulps to make sense of the flavours. And it’s tasty enough to far for that to be an appealing challenge.

A few more gulps in, and Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip is coming into focus. What you get in a gulp first, are flavours. Frustratingly, they’re hard to decipher. They don’t last for long before they’re gone, wiped out by the aftertaste. The only flavours I’ve succeeding in identifying are something roasted and some fruit. The flavour part of Olde Trip isn’t exactly forthcoming.

What dominates a gulp of Olde Trip is the aftertaste. It rolls in purposefully and delivers it’s payload of hoppy bitterness. It’s a long lasting aftertaste too. How can I describe it? It tastes like a blend of leaves and twigs. And that, in my opinion, is what a hoppy and bitter ale should do.

Nearly at the bottom of the glass now, and I’m enjoying a few things about Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip. I like very much how complicated it is. I like how it looks and smells. I’m intrigued by the hoppy-ness that is, in the end, what Olde Trip is all about. I love how easy to drink it is. It’s not too bitter or off the wall to be off-putting. There is a lot to like about Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip.

Is there anything I’m not enjoying about Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip? Well, it made a mess on my kitchen work top. The flavours are hiding when they could elevate Olde Trip even higher by staying around for longer. It’s a little gassy and not easy to find in shops. Those however are not big complaints. The big complaint is that it doesn’t do anything new. I’ve tried hop driver ales before. This is an excellent example of one. But without those flavours being allowed to do something unique to the formula, it can’t make the final leap to greatness.

To sum up. Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip is an excellent example of an ale that gives you an interesting hoppy bitterness as an aftertaste. I thoroughly enjoyed this bottle. If you like this type of ale, then it’s worth your time and money. If you like light lager then you might not like it. I on the other hand have enjoyed ever gulp.

Rating: 4.29

Have you tried Hardys & Hansons Olde Trip? What did you think of it?
Leave your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy in the boxes below.

Beer Review: Ruddles Rhubarb

18 June, 2008

IT has been a while since the last time I tried an eccentric British ale. And that’s a shame, because my favourite ales are British, and brewed with bananas, polar bears and mermaids. So it’s with some delight that I have here a bottle of Ruddles Rhubarb.

Ruddles Rhubarb bottle

The bottle is transparent, so we get a glimpse of the strange amber liquid within. And the bottle looks familiar. There’s a crown and the date 1799 embossed on the shoulder. Where have I seen that before?

The neck label deserves some attention.

Ruddles Rhubarb neck label

The top of it shows that this is an award winner. Apparently a “best beer” in the Tesco “Drinks Awards”. Other beers and ales I’ve tried that have won the same thing have been at least very good. This bodes will for Ruddles Rhubarb.

The rest of the neck label gives us a surprising amount of information about the drink itself. They start with describing it as “An English Ale with a vanilla aroma…”. Vanilla is a new beer smell for me. I’m looking forward to it already.

Then they go on to say that it “leads to a rich flavour” balancing the “refreshing sweetness of rhubarb with the lingering bitterness of the distinctive Brambling Cross hop.” Where can I begin with all this? Well rich flavours are always welcome. I’d never have described rhubarb as having “refreshing sweetness”, but I’m thrilled to see this root vegetable making an appearance in a beer at last. Then there’s the bitterness that the Brambling Cross hops will bring. And that’s another new one for me. I don’t recall seeing that type of hop in any other beer I’ve tried to date. All in all, this is promising to be original, complex and fascinating. A flying start for Ruddles Rhubard.

Lastly from the neck label, is the alcoholic volume. And you’ve got to look very hard to see it as it’s poorly contrasting text. Some squinting reveals the volume to be 4.7%. Not as high as I’d like, but not bad.

With so much on the neck label, there’s not much to put on the front label.

Ruddles Rhubarb front label

It reminds me that this is just one of the Ruddles brand of brews. And I’d be very interested in seeing what else they have to offer. Most of the label is taken by the logo, which is a huge horseshoe shaped thing. It gives off all the right rural signals. Something reinforced by the slogan “Serious Country Ale”. As a country boy myself, I can’t argue with that.

Over to the back label, and there’s some reading to do.

Ruddles Rhubarb back label

The bulk of the writing starts by telling us that Ruddles‘ Ales originally came from Rutland. An English county with the dubious honour of being the country’s smallest. Then we’re told about the horseshoe we saw on the front label. It turns out that this has been the symbol of Rutland for more than five-hundred years. Lastly, they give us the old rumour that royalty or peers of the realm had to give the lord of the manor a horseshoe when they passed through the town of Oakham. Does that mean they have to leave a spare tire when then pass through it today?

After that, things get all rather familiar again. The message to drink sensibly by taking as much care drinking it as they do making it is good. As are the little symbols informing us that it contains malted barley and that this is “beer to die for”. But all are familiar. Which big brewing parent is it from?

For those that count such things, the UK units of alcohol are listed. This 500 millilitre bottle has 2.4 UK units of alcohol. Frustrating because you can’t have another one of these bottles without going over the recommended limit.

We still haven’t answered the question of where this comes from. And why so much of it looks familiar. Maybe the answer will be in the tiny block of text in the corner of the label. And yes, it is. The address of Ruddles Brewing is the English town of Bury St. Edmunds. Isn’t that the home town of regional brewing giant Greene King? Time to check the website they give for some confirmation on that: www.ruddles.co.uk. Within moments, and a few clicks, my suspicions are confirmed. Ruddles is part of the Greene King. And according to this page of their website (http://www.greeneking.co.uk/brands_and_brewing.htm), I will now have tried at least one bottle from all of their brands. Hooray.

Now to answer the most important questions of all. And the reason for this entire post. Is Ruddles Rhubarb any good? What does it taste like? And does it deserve the Tesco Best Beer award? Time to find out.

Ruddles Rhubarb poured into a glass

In the glass, it’s easier to see the colour. Which is an amber-ish brown. The head is good. Initially filling my pint glass, it levels out to a consistent layer of foam, sitting atop the ale.

Pouring it out of the bottle, the smell that hit me reminded me a lot of those other Greene King ales, Abbot Ale and Old Speckled Hen. But closer sniffing reveals what they promised all along… vanilla. Yes, that is what this ale smells of. A tingly, rich smell of vanilla. Unusual and outstanding.

A couple of gulps reveals the taste to be as complex as promised too. The label described tastes of refreshing rhubarb and lingering hoppy bitterness. Not being a rhubarb fan myself, it’s hard to know if that’s what I’m tasting. What I am getting is a first taste that’s slightly sweet and vegetably. And that’s followed by the biggest contrast in aftertastes I’ve ever experienced. After the lightness of the first taste, you’re hit by an onslaught of lingering bitterness. That would be the Brambling Cross hops that they mentioned at work. It is quite the most intense and sudden flavour changes and bitterness I’ve experienced. No wander you don’t see that type of hops very often.

Things I like about Ruddles Rhubarb are numerous. The vanilla smell is something else. The combination of tastes and flavours is unique. That means it’s distinctive and has more character than Boris Johnson. I like the fact that it takes massive risks with big, bold flavours instead of catering for the easily offended mass market. It isn’t very gassy. And the quality is evidenced by surprising drinkability considering the strength and flavour. At least once you’ve grown used to it.

With ale that takes such risks, there’s inevitably going to be downsides. And the flavour is as good a place to start as any. With the first few gulps, my initial reaction was “what the hell is in this drink?” And that is purely down to the intense bitterness that follows so quickly and unexpectedly from the light flavour the precedes it. I got used to it by the half-way mark, but it’s going to be too much for a lot of people. It was nearly too much for me. That makes this not one for an easy and totally enjoyable and drinkable experience.

How can I try to sum up Ruddles Rhubarb? The blend of smells and flavours is unlike anything else I’ve ever tried. And probably will ever try ever again. The flavours are bold and adventurous, with the biggest change in taste and aftertaste I’ve ever tasted. I’m amazed that such an unusual ale won the Tesco award that it did.

This is one for people who like to be challenged. Something for beer connoisseurs. Or is it? It took a while, but I grew to thoroughly like it. If you are at all interested in interesting and unusual beers, I highly recommend that you try this exceptional ale. If you can find it. For me, this is one of those ales you experience rather than simply drink.

Rating: 4.15

Have you tried Ruddles Rhubarb? What did you think of it?
Leave your opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions and recommendations here please. I look forward to hearing what you thought of this one.

Beer Review: Greene King Abbot Ale

14 May, 2008

MY previous post involved testing big-name, high-volume ale Morland Old Speckled Hen. It turned out to be better than I feared. And it turned out to be from the Greene King brewing goliaths of the South-East.

It’s with some trepidation then, that I turn my attention this time, towards that other big-name, high-volume ale Greene King Abbot Ale. You know the one, normally on the same shelf as Old Speckled Hen, pretending to be competing with it.

Greene King Abbot Ale bottle

This 500 millilitre bottle is from my local Tesco. For exactly the same premium-end price as Old Speckled Hen.

The neck label starts us off with the familiar Greene King logo. And the “1799” date either side of it. A logo that looks suspiciously similar to the Morland logo.

Greene King Abbot Ale neck label

Under the big “Abbot Ale” name is some encouraging news. It transpires that Abbot Ale was a winner in the 2005 International Beer Competition.

Down to the front label, and everything is tasteful and stylish. In a way that’s similar to Old Speckled Hen? Let your thoughts be known in the comments please.

Greene King Abbot Ale front label

At the top, we get a closer look at that Greene King logo. Didn’t we see a simple line drawn logo dividing an established date on Morland Old Speckled Hen?

The “Abbot Ale” text and red and gold logo featuring, presumably, an abbot does an excellent job of creating the right romantic image. Next to that, in poorly contrasting lettering is the alcoholic volume, which is 5%.

Under that is a sentence. The sort of sentence that long to see on any proper ale bottle. And it reads thus: “Brewed longer for a distinctive, full flavour”. How appealing is that? You would normally only see that on the most obscure, rural ales. Remember that this ale is even available in tin cans. If they truly do pull off longer brewing and strong, distinctive flavours, that is quite a feat.

Over on the back label, and things are a little different to Old Speckled Hen. But there are some similarities.

Greene King Abbot Ale back label

The little “Beer to dine for” and “Contains Malted Barley” symbols are there. As is the quaint “Please take as much care enjoying our beers as we do brewing them”. Just below that is the confirmation of the link with the rest of the Greene King empire; the names “Bury St. Edmunds” and “Suffolk”. There’s also a web address of www.abbotale.co.uk. This website though, is rather more open about its Greene King credentials.

The bulk of the back label gets down to what Abbot Ale is all about.  They describe it as “full flavoured” and “smooth”. And that it has “fruit characters”, “malty richness” and “hop balance”. Good, but vague. But they haven’t finished there. This ale has been brewed with pale crystal, and amber malts. Whatever they are.

What haven’t I covered yet? The ever popular  UK units of alcohol. A good, round 2.5 units are in this bottle. If you count such things.

In the glass, the head is smaller and vanishes quicker than with Old Speckled Hen. It’s also somewhat darker in hue, and fizzier.

Greene King Abbot Ale poured into a glass

The smell is good. Mostly of malt. But accompanied by some hints of malted barley and hops. It’s a good blend. And again, different to what I expected.

And that blend is mirrored by the flavours. The main thing that you’ll taste are those malts. Which are quickly followed by fruitiness. And by some bitterness from the hops. But that bitterness doesn’t linger for long.

Just as the label describes it. It’s rich, smooth, full flavoured and well balanced. It really is all of those things. There’s plenty of flavour, yet none dominate. It’s also very drinkable. With so little to offend, even the more timid drinker will find Abbot Ale easy to stomach.

The downsides? It’s a little gassier than O.S.H. And because of that balance, none really stand out. And that makes it less distinctive and character filled that it would like to be.

Abbot Ale is another pleasant surprise. For a big-name, high-volume ale, it’s good. But not as good as some other ales out there, big-name or otherwise. This is drinkable on its own, but the entire time, I kept feeling the need to shovel a pub meal into my mouth. Abbot Ale then, is an ale best served with a hearty plate of pub grub.

Rating: 4.15

Have you tried Abbot Ale? Or any of it’s other varieties? What did you think?
Got any corrections, additions, comments, thoughts, ideas or suggestions? Any other products you want me to “review”? Then leave a message in the usual place.

Beer Review: Greene King Export Strength IPA

2 January, 2008

Welcome to my first beer review of 2008! And we begin with the final beer I had of 2007. Unlike the incredibly complicated Innis & Gunn before it, I was looking forward to something more straightforward. Something that wouldn’t need new words to be invented just to describe it. Well that’s exactly what Green King’s IPA turned out to be…

Have a look at the bottle. Apart from the big green label, it looks unremarkable.
Bottle of Greene King Export Strength IPA
Closer inspection of the label reveals this drink to have originated from Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk. Not a place I’ve yet visited, but the name evokes the mental image of the sort of English county town in which you would want to sip a bottle of fine ale. The label also has a year on it; 1799. That’s a good thing. Heritage is a strength with rustic old ale like this one.

Greene King IPA front label

The rear label goes on to tell the story of how IPA was conceived. And helpfully, what IPA stands for. It transpires that IPA stands for India Pale Ale. Unfortunately, we are not treated to an ale that was actually brewed in India. Rather, it was exported from England to India. It goes on the explain how in 1827, a cargo including this ale was shipwrecked, salvaged, auctioned and proved popular. Green King went on to recreate the IPA taste, producing what we have here: a 500ml bottle (that’s about three quarters of a pint) at 5% volume.

Greene King IPA back label

Poured into a glass, there’s a rather disappointing thin head. This could just be a characteristic of pale ales, I haven’t had enough to be sure. Exactly as it describes on the label, the aroma is hoppy and the taste is bitter.

Greene King IPA poured into a glass

And that sums up the drink. It is a straightforward bitter. I couldn’t discern any notable difference between this and any other bitter that I’ve tried. It’s a solid, drinkable bitter, a.k.a. a pale ale. But that for me is the problem. It’s impossible to compare it to the original IPA on which it is based. And it doesn’t seem do anything exceptional or unusual. If I visit Bury St. Edmunds or any other part of Suffolk, I’ll be happy to have a pint of this. But it’s hard to find a compelling reason to recommend it to a shopper with a supermarket shelf full of choices. This is one for the pale ale/bitter fanatics.

Rating: 2.5


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