Posts Tagged ‘hop’

Beer Review: Brakspear Triple

5 November, 2009

THIS is Brakspear Triple. From ASDA in London’s Isle of Dog, it’s the first Brakspear I’ve tried. And boy, have I thrown myself into the deep-end.

Brakspear Triple bottle

You just know that it’s going to be something special. Something backed-up when you look at the neck-label.

Brakspear Triple front of neck label

On the sides of the classy “Brakspear III’ logo is an award.

Brakspear Triple award side of neck label

Brakspear Triple was “Silver Medal Winner” at “The Brewing Industry International Awards 2005”. And that raises my expectations one notch higher.

Down on the front-label, and Brakspear have taken to the trend of putting their back-label on the front.

Brakspear Triple front label

It’s not bad. You just feel that an olde roundel would fit better, if you know what I mean. Especially as it’s “Since 1779”.

The bee logo is a mystery to me. There’s probably some sort of funny story about it online, but I haven’t got that far yet. So it’ll remain a mystery for now. Unless you’re a rule-breaking reader who scrolls down.

Where a picture of some sort would normally be, you instead find a quote by the head brewer. You can tell it’s by him, because it has his unreadable signature by it. He describes Brakspear Triple thusly: “Thanks to the two fermentations in the Brakspear ‘Double Drop’ system and another in the bottle, this highly aromatic and satisfying strong beer delivers its rich flavour with subtlety and balance”.

If you’ve already spotted the big “Alc. 7.2% Vol.” and “Bottle Conditioned”, your hopes and expectations will be creeping even higher. Three very good things are leaping out at me from all of this. First, it sounds delicious. Second, it’s a bottle conditioned British ale with yeast sediment floating around, which is hard to find and turbo-charges that flavour. And third, it’s shaping up to be no compromise strong ale of the sort you don’t see enough of.

Down at the bottom of the front-label is another thing you don’t see very often. Next to the pretend stamp saying “Quality Brewing Tradition Since 1779” is a unique bottle number. I’ve got “B262633”. What do you have? Leave your number in the comments at the end of the post.

On the other side, the back-label continues on the, erm, back.

Brakspear Triple back label

No wonder some of the back-label made it onto the front. There’s not enough room for a single punctuation mark on here. In fact, having to work through it all is what put me off getting around to ‘reviewing’ this bottle in the first place.

Starting at the top (because you have to start somewhere), we get a nice and detailed little description. Plenty of ingredient names and brewing details for the beer buffs and taste descriptions for the rest of us. And it goes “Crystal, Black, and Maris Otter pale malts provide the backbone of this outstanding rich beer. Hope are added three times to provide a good balance between bitterness and fragrance. Then, bottle-conditioning allows the flavours of this beer to develop further complexity as it matures.”

All very interesting and yummy. Then comes something that elevates it even further. What you can do is use the bottle number on the front of the bottle and their website at www.brakspear-beers.co.uk to find out when the bottle was filled. To test their claim, I went to the website to investigate. I managed to avoid getting distracted by their other beers to find the Triple homepage at http://www.brakspear-beers.co.uk/brakspear2006_packaged.htm. Well I say homepage, it’s more a section half-way down the page, with a table of bottle numbers. A bit of effort reveals that this bottle was filled on the 26th of May, 2009. Interesting, but not the interactive experience that got my hopes up at the start of this paragraph. The date is also not that long ago. I’m tempted to leave it longer for it to bottle condition some more. But I won’t.

The comes the ever welcome sediment advice. This one advises that “this beer can be enjoyed cloudy, or wait for the sediment to settle and pour carefully for a clear sparkling glass”. Which shall I do? The Bavarian swirl for as much sediment as I can get. That should turn the taste dial to eleven.

Then we get to the small-print. It turns out that Brakspear is a Marston’s brand, and that it comes from Wolverhampton. That means that this bottle of Brakspear Triple needs only to be average to be possibly the best thing to come out of Wolverhampton.

Finally we get to a small group of symbols. First is the welcome sight of “CAMRA says  this is Real Ale”. Now that’s something you want on your bottle of British beer. For those that care, this 500ml bottle (why not a full pint?) at 7.2% alcoholic volume weighs in at 3.6 UK units of alcohol. That’s your whole day’s worth of units in a single bottle.

At last we reach the fun part. What does Brakspear Triple taste like? Will it be as good as I’m hoping? Should you buy it? Let’s find out.

Brakspear Triple poured into a glass

From the moment you hear ‘fft-chh’, things start going well. It’s easy to pourwith no massive head to work around. This makes swirling the bottle to get all that yeast out a piece of cake instead of the frustrating pour-wait you endure elsewhere.

In the glass, it’s a deep reddish brown that doesn’t look all that cloudy. The small head is cream-coloured and collapses to an even smaller, patchy layer, soon enough.

One of the first things to hit you is the smell. There’s simply no avoiding it. If you’re going to make a pungent beer, you better make darn sure that it smells good. And would you believe it; the brewers from Wolverhampton have done it. It smells incredibly richly. I’m noticing malty, biscuity and hoppy odours, though you can probably spot more in there.

So it looks and smells good. But what does Brakspear Triple taste like? The first sip is rich, strong and satisfying. So good, that I promptly follow with another. Gut feeling is that this is going to be every bit as no-nonsense and delicious as a strong ale should be.

A couple more civilised and noble sips, and I’m beginning to make some sense of the flavours and tastes. On the flavour side, all is straightforward. A surprisingly sweetness and maltiness take the lead here. On the aftertaste, that sweetness is balanced, perfectly I might add, by a gentle hoppy bitterness. One that finishes not into bitterness like most others, but into a smooth malty and hoppy combination.

What other words can I use to describe it? Well, rich is a good start. And full-bodied, too. You’ll know this, because it isn’t at all watery. Warm is another, which makes it a good autumn and winter beer. Not overly carbonated. Incredibly well balanced and extremely satisfying. Not particularly complex, but then it is a strong ale, so you don’t expect it to be. Like a good strong ale, it manages to be strong and satisfying at the same time as being easy to drink.

So what am I enjoying about Brakspear Triple? As you’ve no doubt have noticed, quite a lot. It deserves special kudos for being so well balanced. It’s sweet and bitter at the same time. It’s as strong as strong ale should be, yet easy to drink, even for the less adventurous. I like that it’s bottle conditioned. I like how many good ingredients are in it, all of which add up to a quality and drinkability that you notice. In fact, I’m nearly at the bottom of the glass, and wishing there was more to go.

What am I not enjoying about Brakspear Triple? I don’t like that it’s so hard to find in shops. Not picking here, it is a beer drinkers beer. Sure, it’s more accessible than any strong ale I’ve ever tried, but lager and alcopop drinkers won’t be making the switch to this one. And maybe a bit more complexity would add something. But this are tiny gripes.

To surmise, Brakspear Triple is one of the best strong ales I’ve tried. Which, admittedly, isn’t a lot. I loved it. If you are an enthusiastic beer drinker or just want a high-quality, no-nonsense ale, Brakspear Triple deserves to be on your shopping list.

Rating: 4.5

Have you tried Brakspear Triple? What did you think of it?

Leave your opinions, corrections, recommendations, places to buy and other tomfoolery here in the comments.

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Beer Review: Badger First Gold

27 August, 2008

IT’S been a while since my last British ale. My taste buds would argue that it’s been too long. To rectify this appalling state of affairs, I managed to find a couple of Badger ales hidden away in another small off-license on Bethnal Green Road. This delights me, because so far, I’ve had six different Badger/Hall & Woodhouse bottles from the Dorset brewer. And what’s more, all six have been excellent quality with masses of character. So it’s fair to say that I’m looking forward to this bottle of Badger First Gold.

The bottle and labels stick to the old Badger formula. The bottle is a dumpy brown thing. Look out for the yes “1777” and words describing them as an “Independent Family Brewer” embossed around the shoulder. That’s the sort of heritage we like to see.

The neck label tells you almost everything you need to know about what First Gold will be all about. “Single English Hop Ale” says it all. As do the small pictures of hops. Making a wild guess, this is going to have a strong hoppy taste and bitterness.

Badger First Gold neck label

The front label adds little. But then it doesn’t need to.

Badger First Gold front label

Everything on it is simple and well designed. The “First Gold” is shiny gold. Nice touch there. And the badger of the “1777 Badger” logo takes centre stage in the big illustration in the middle. Under that is the slogan “A noble character”. That could be a hint at the hoppy-ness to come.

The vital statistics are on there too. This is the regular 500 millilitre bottle. And alcoholic volume is 4%. Crikey, that’s low for an ale. Albeit not as low as their 2.5% low-alcohol Harvesters Ale.

Over on the back label, and outstanding news… the Badger “Taste Profile” chart is present!

Badger First Gold back label

For the uninitiated, let me explain this outburst of enthusiasm. Most bottles of beer have vague, marketing led descriptions of what the beer is like. Most of which bear little resemblance to what the beer is actually like. This “Tate Profile” however, rates how “Bitter”, “Sweet”, “Hoppy”, “Malty” and “Fruity” the contents is, on a scale of one to five. And in my experience of Badger’s six other bottles of ale, they’re pretty much spot-on. So what you read on the profile is what you get on the palate. A godsend if you’re browsing the shelves or websites trying to decide which one you’ll enjoy most.

So what does the “Taste Profile” say about “First Gold”?

Badger First Gold taste profile

Little if you try to read my awful photo. That would be my Neolithic  era camera phone letting me down again. But I can report that “Bitter” and “Hoppy” both rate highest with four out of five. “Malty” and “Fruity” are on three with “Sweet” on two out of five. A consistent picture of hoppy bitterness is emerging.

Reading the rest of the label, and the picture grows ever more vivid. It transpires that they use a single variety of hop for its “purity and character”. And the name of that hop is “First Gold”. They go on to describe First Gold as having a “well balanced bitterness, with hints of orange and spice”. That it is a “clean, fresh” and “distinctive” example of a country ale with English character. And that if you have a roast or a pie to drink it with, then that would be splendid.

Down to the small print, the Hall & Woodhouse address in Blandford St. Mary, Dorset is on there. As is the web address at www.badgerales.com. Which immediately redirects you to http://www.hall-woodhouse.co.uk/. A single click on which leads you through to the First Gold homepage at http://www.badgerfirstgold.co.uk/. A page that informs us that this very bottled beer won Double Gold at The Brewing Industry International Awards, Munich 2005. Good work chaps. Although I’ll leave my congratulations until I’ve finally tested it myself.

Elsewhere on the small print, we learn that this bottle has 2.0 UK units of alcohol. That means that if you’re a bloke, you can happily enjoy two bottles of First Gold. Lastly, it contains malted barley.

With all that done, I can finally open the bottle and try to answer for you some questions. Questions such as do I think it deserves two gold medals? What does it taste like? And do I think you should buy it? Let’s find out.

There was just enough head to fill my pint glass to the brim. Now, a couple of minutes later, it’s died down a bit. But, happily, there’s still a good, thick layer of creamy froth sitting atop the drink.

The colour is darker than I expected. It looks dark brown to me. For some reason I was expecting a golden amber colour like much of Badger’s other bottled ales.

It smells hoppy. No surprise there. But it also smells considerably maltier than I expected it to be. The whole combined smell is also much weaker than I expected. All the talk of hops on the labels made me brace for an overwhelmingly hoppy smell.

But how does it taste? Surprisingly, it tastes different to the super-hoppy experience I was readying myself for. The first flavours hitting my palate is…. Complex. There’s a lot of different flavours in there. So many, I’m going to need a few more gulps to make sense of it. That by itself is a good thing for an ale, in my opinion.

Half-way through now, and I’ll take a stab and describing what Badger First Gold tastes like. From the first taste, through to the aftertaste, it’s the hoppy-ness that stands out. An experience that feels like you’re drinking brambles. Very drinkable brambles that is. Enveloped by the hoppy flavour, are what I think must be the orange and spice they mentioned on the label. I would say that there’s something tangy and fruity in there that tastes a little bit of biscuits. The whole thing is rounded off by a softly lingering bitterness. None of these flavours and tastes is too strong, nor too weak as to make them hard to notice. All well balanced I’d say.

What do I like about Badger First Gold? A lot. Everything about it surprised me, which I like to have happen. The flavours and tastes are as complex and as layered as an onion. And that’s something I like. The flavours and tastes are excellent, not too strong, nor off-putting and consequently, utterly drinkable. It tastes different to other hop orientated ales, so it scores marks for distinctiveness. It’s also not at all gassy. And the quality is as fine as any bottled beer you’ll find.

What about the downsides? Well, that complex, malty, tangy bitterness won’t be to everyone’s taste. You’ve really got to enjoy strong-ish flavours and bitterness to get along with this ale. So lager drinkers might be overwhelmed by it all. Which is no bad thing. It’s also hard to find. In several months of doing these reviews, I’ve only found one small off-license selling these bottles. Lastly, it is a little on the weak side. I’d welcome a few more percentage points of alcoholic volume.

To sum up, I can see why Badger First Gold has won awards. It’s complex and tasty. Would I recommend it? If you like interesting English ales, then this is one to try. An excellent hoppy, bitter ale.

Rating: 4.25

Have you tried Badger First Gold? What did you think of it?

Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the comments box below. And check my next post for another Badger!


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