Posts Tagged ‘organic’

Beer Review: Suma Penumbra Organic Stout

20 November, 2009

BACK to beer, and this time something, hopefully, as interesting as it is expensive. For £2.69 pence from the Bethnal Green Food Center, here is a bottle of Suma Penumbra Organic Stout. Why did I choose it when they also had a bottle of Suma blonde ale which also looked good? Simple. Every little brewery has a go at a blonde-this or golden-that. If Suma are taking the risk of stout production, I’m going to applaud them by trying it.

Interesting looking bottle, isn’t it? That funny shape neck should make pouring interesting. Talking of interesting, have a look at the label. Abandoning tradition, they’ve gone for a stylish up, to the minute design on a big wrap around label. With so much black, Penumbra looks different to just about everything else on the shop shelf.

With a nod to traditional roundels, this one has a spooky photo of a half-moon. And, for some reason, the name Penumbra is in a font more at home on anarchist newsletters. If nothing else, Suma are going to corner the market in stout for emo students.

Around the edge of the ‘roundel’, we learnt that Suma is not a normal company at all, but a workers’ cooperative. That makes it the first beer I’ve tried where the brewery is managed and owned by the people that work there. It’s as if they’ve made a list of everything a normal beer is, and then set about trying to do it all differently.

The left-side of the label continues in a similar vein. They start, though, with a description. They describe it as a “Rich black stout containing chocolate malt mixed with oats and wheat, Pemumbra Organic Stout has a full and creamy roasted flavour with aromas of orange, citrus and berry”. Two reactions to that… First, it sounds delicious. Second, it sounds a bit like the excellent Young’s Luxury Double Chocolate Stout.

Then the label goes bonkers. First with a suggestion of drinking it when the moon is out. Then with a health warning you could either describe as the most public spirited yet. Or the most patronising. Suma is a cooperative, so I’ll assume they were aiming for caring public health message. At only 2.4 UK units of alcohol, there’s no reason to panic. More proof of their lefty inclination can be found littering the bottom. Penumbra Organic Stout has full organic certification and a vegan logo.  Fortunately, they also have a “CAMRA says this is Real Ale” symbol.

Next comes the list of ingredients, and you have to give them credit for detail. They could have just said ‘malted barley’ and been done with it. Instead, Suma have gone above and beyond, not just listing darn near ingredient, but denoting if it’s organic. The highlights for the beer-nerds out there are Pale Ale, Wheat, Chocolate and Crystal malts, Pacific Gem and First Gold hops and orange peel. Even I, with my miniscule knowledge of how beer is made, know that that is a lot of ingredients.

Over on the right-side of the label are what I call the ‘story’, the small-print and the vital statistics.

The highlights from the ‘story’ is that Suma comes from the Calder Valley, where they’ve bagged an ex-pat “Dutch Master Brewer”. The good news continues by learning that this is bottle conditioned beer. That spells yeast sediment and all the adding interesting-ness that comes from it. Unusually though, they recommend serving it clear, by stopping pouring when you spot yeast sediment in the neck of the bottle. That would explain the funny looking neck. It does mean you won’t have the novelty of swirling the last of the contents to get the yeast out, so drinkers who can’t stand cloudy beer will be happy.

Down to the small-print now, and there’s a postal address in case you want to write them a letter. They also have a telephone number and an email Deciphering the email address lands us at the Suma homepage at After a surprisingly tough search, I eventually tracked down the Penumbra Organic Stout homepage at It doesn’t look like Suma are set up for consumers just yet.

Lastly, those vital statistics. This is your regular 500ml bottle and the stout within has an ABV of 4.8%. Presumably that makes it a little more middle of the road than, say, the politics of the people behind Suma.

Hopes are high for Suma Penumbra Organic Stout. Will it be as quirky and interesting as the bottle is? There’s only one way to find out…

In the glass, the most expensive stout I’ve ever tried looks the part. Almost totally black, it’s topped by a thin, cream head. But ignore that. It’s the smell you should concentrate on.

What does Suma Penumbra Organic Stout smell of? The label says orange, citrus and berry. Whatever it is, it’s complex, rich and good. The sort of odours you want an expensive and interesting beer to smell of. It sort of reminds me of fruit cake or Christmas pudding, so I’ll go along with citrus and berry.

What does Suma Penumbra Organic Stout taste like? The label describes a “full and creamy roasted flavour”. Just like with the smell, my tongue on my first, and very pleasant sip can’t disagree. Packed with more malty types than I thought existed, I can’t help wondering what happened to them. And all the other ingredients. It takes a couple more sips to figure out that they didn’t disappear. Rather they’re all doing their jobs in the subtlest of ways. That makes it complex and interesting, but a challenge to try and describe.

How can I possibly describe the flavour of a stout that has more unusual ingredients than a meal prepared by Heston Blumenthal? The creamy roasted flavour is just the starting point. Unlike most other stouts and dark ales, that roasted-ness is much gentler. More like a porter. In this brew, that gives the other flavours and tastes room to breathe.

What does it all add up to? A combination of flavours and tastes that goes something like this… creamy roasted-ness with a hint of citrus and fruit. Smoothly and effortlessly followed by tastes of malt and hops. All wrapped up in a dry, understaded, rich, exceptionally well balanced and very satisfying package. You could probably write an essay on how it tastes, but that paragraph will have to do.

Half-way through the bottle, and there are a few things I’m enjoying about Suma Penumbra Organic Stout. I love how quirky and different it is. One of the things the world loves about British ales is how eccentric and full of character they are. Penumbra Organic Stout is no exception. I love how distinctive and interesting it is. I love that it manages that without being difficult to drink. It’s practically girl-friendly. I like how it smells and that it is bottle conditioned. I like how different it looks

What don’t I like about Suma Penumbra Organic Stout? I don’t like how difficult it is to find, and how expensive it is in shops that only bought in a small quantity of bottles. It’s a little gassy. And I am somewhat amazed that with all those ingredients, it doesn’t shout more strong and unexpected flavours at you. A tiny bit more risk-taking in the flavour department would be welcome by those of us who pay through the nose for unusual beers. That said, these are minor quibbles.

How can I sum up Suma Penumbra Organic Stout? It is one of the most distinctive and delicious stouts I’ve ever tried. Which, admittedly, isn’t that many. I’ll happily drink it again, though I’ll probably need a mortgage to afford another bottle. If you find it, and you can afford it, even if you don’t normally drink stout, buy a bottle of Penumbra Organic Stout. In a sentence, an interesting and satisfying drink.

Rating: 4.275

Have you tried Suma Penumbra Organic Stout? Have you tried another other Suma beer or cider? What did you think? Leave your opinions, corrections, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

Beer Review: Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale

28 January, 2009

BACK to the civilised hemisphere and to the county of Kent this time. For here is but the third bottle of Shepherd Neame that I’ve found. This one is called Whitstable Bay Organic Ale and I found it in an off-licence on Kingsland Road where the East End starts turning into North London.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale bottle

It’s a funny looking thing isn’t it? The bottle is the same bulbous shape as their excellent Bishops Finger and Spitfire Kentish ales. But for some reason, having honey-amber coloured drink in transparent glass, wrapped in matching yellow labels makes it look like the shop shelf-stacker accidentally left jars of maple syrup on the beer shelf.

The neck label sticks closely to the Shepherd Neame style.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale neck label

And that’s no bad thing. If you were “Britain’s Oldest Brewer” with a brewery dating back to “1698” in “Favershame Kent”, you’d want to shout about it too.

The front-label, again, is exactly the same shape as the ones they used for Bishops Finger and Spitfire.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale front label

What can I say about it? It’s got some pictures of small sailing boats on it. It’s a roundel design. Whitstable Bay Organic Ale is “A Modern Ale From Britain’s Oldest Brewer”, which sums up what it’s all about. And it’s very yellow.

That’s about it from the front label. It should say more about the beer to help you make up your mind while you’re in the shop. But it doesn’t. What you do instantly pick up upon however is that this is an organic foodstuff. Now, I’ve got nothing against organic ale. I’m sure that Prince Charles will be delighted with it. There’s just something a little smug about organic ales like this. Every decent bottled ale on the market should be organic by now, not just a few braggers.

If the front-label left you scratching your head about what Whitstable Bay Organic Ale is, then the back label will quell your lust for information.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale back label

Let me explain something. Normally when I take photographs of bottles and labels, they’re in portrait. That’s because bottles are normally tall, thin things. This time however, I had to go landscape to fit in this widescreen sticker.To it’s credit there is a lot of good detail in here. Yes, they have their bit about it meeting the exacting standards of the Soil Association. That they have their own well. And that it’s even approved by the Vegetarian Society. But they also have the details that you really want to know when you read a beer bottle label.

For instance, they describe Whitstable Bay as “refreshing”. Someone called Andrew Jefford apparently described it as “a deep sunset gold colour, delicate hints of hedgerow-fresh organic hops… with a tangy malty flavour”. For the very curious, elsewhere, we read that they used Target hops and barley to get it that way. How close his description is to reality, I’m looking forward to finding out. It certainly sounds tasty.

All the way over on the other corner of the back label are those all important vital statistics. Which are surrounded by more symbols than you’ve ever seen on a bottle of beer. All you need to know is that Whitstable Bay Organic Ale has a reasonable 4.5% alcoholic volume. This, in its industry standard 500ml bottle brings it to a nanny-state friendly 2.2 UK units of alcohol. If you want to know more or get in touch with them, the web address they give is A surprisingly straightforward website where you can find a page dedicated to Whitstable Bay Organic Ale at

And with all that out of the way, we can get down to the part that you clicked on this page for: the taste test. Past experience tells me that Shepherd Neame know their stuff when it comes to brewing. Hopes are high for this new addition to the organic ale market. Which, by the way, I’m opening after it’s been out of the fridge for a while, so it’s cool, not cold. Is it any good and should you buy one? Let’s find out.

Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale poured into a glass

Thanks to the transparent bottle, the colour doesn’t come as a surprise. And thanks to the sensible head, Whitstable Bay won’t froth over the top of your pint glass. It all looks very nice indeed.

It smells good too. Andrew Jefford describes it as having “delicate hints of hedgerow-fresh organic hops”. I won’t dispute that. It has a delicate smell, not a strong one. And it smells hoppy. In fact, I’ll add to that. There’s something fruity about it as well.

Fine, but what does Whitstable Bay taste like? The first two gulps are pleasant ones. A good start then. But where is the taste? Andrew Jefford promised a tangy malty flavour. I’m not convinced that that’s what’s going on. I’ve swilled a good few mouthfuls now, and I can’t discern what the flavour is, if any. I’ll describe it as being slightly malty.

What you notice most of all is the aftertaste. But even that is subdued somewhat. It leaves you with a not unpleasant bitter aftertaste that’s slightly maltier that hoppier. Tangy, yes, but not as tangy as a lot of other ales.

So the taste is a rather uninspiring bitterness. But there are plenty of very good qualities about Whitstable Bay. For starters, it’s as clean and refreshing as any bottled ale out there. Almost like a light lager or cider. I’m enjoying very much how well made it is and the quality of the ingredients. All of which make Whitstable Bay an easy ale to drink.

What am I not enjoying about Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale? It would be an order of magnitude better if it had an interesting flavour and taste. As it is, there’s little to separate it from the hundreds of other ales that happen to taste quite bitter. Besides that, the only real thing I can think of is that the bitter aftertaste will put some people off. Complaints about how hard it is to find are nitpicking.

To sum up, Whitstable Bay Organic Ale from Shepherd Neame is high quality and refreshing but let down by unimaginative taste. I can’t praise Shepherd Neame enough for how refreshing this is. But that bitter aftertaste seems like an afterthought. I liked it, and you should try it, but don’t go to the ends of the earth to get a bottle.

Rating: 3.8

Have you tried Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay Organic Ale? Then do please leave a comment here. What are your corrections, opinions, requests, recommendations and places to buy?

Beer Review: Duchy Originals Organic Ale

3 September, 2008

TODAY, I’m testing something from pro-organic, anti-GM “fanatic” and future British Monarch, Prince Charles. One of his very own Duchy Originals range, here is an expensive £2.36 pence bottle of Duchy Originals Organic Ale.

On the outside, it all looks much as you’d expect. That is to say, traditional, exclusive and expensive. And, of course, organic. From a distance, you might expect to see something like this being sold by a local farmer at a county fair. But the crest on that neck label together with that “Duchy Originals” name promptly correct your mistake.

The big front label is equally sparse, yet classy and all the better for it.

Duchy Originals Organic Ale front label

It’s almost all plain white background. But that’s easily forgiven. The whole Duchy Originals concept isn’t what you’d call loud or marketing led. Literally, within three seconds, I went from having hardly heard of Duchy Originals to immediately understanding that this is all about quality organic product. That’s how effective the front label is.

Why have lots of big graphics? Totally unnecessary when you can place a lavish illustration of some hops in the centre. And where most would have a fake crest or coat of arms as a logo, this has the real thing. It has the genuine, royal Duchy of Cornwall coat of arms. In a sea of fake heritage, this is worth something.

Under this big picture of hops is some information that will be the selling point for some people. That’s because some of the barley in this ale will have come from the Prince’s own Home Farm at Highgrove. Under that is another selling point for people who wouldn’t normally think of buying bottled ale. Charitable consumers will be delighted to learn that profits from Duchy Originals Organic Ale are donated to the Prince of Wales Charitable Foundation. Good stuff indeed.

The same can’t be said for the originality of the vital statistics. This is a 500 millilitre bottle. And the ale within is a yawn-worthy 5%.

The back label is crammed full of information. There’s almost no blank space here. And the some of the writing is tiny. So we’re not here all night, I’ll run through all the important points quickly.

Duchy Originals Organic Ale back label

They describe it as having been brewed “the traditional way”. The malt is made from Plumage Archer barley, whatever that is. And that all comes from selected organic farms, including Home Farm at Highgrove. The describe it as having a ruby colour, being rich and having a balanced bitter flavour.

Then they go off on a description of the background of Duchy Originals. For the curious, it came about in 1990 when HRH The Prince of Wales decided that organic farming was the way to go. This is happens to be one of the results. They even have a slogan to go with it: “Uncompromisingly Good Food”. Goodness knows I could do with some of that. That diet of ready meals and crisps isn’t doing me much good.

The organic credentials are not at all in doubt. There’s a great big “Organic Certification” box from the Soil Association. And there’s a line in tiny italic text saying that the organic standards aim to avoid the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. It plays on it’s organic-ness almost as much as River Cottage Stinger or Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale. But fortunately, not as loudly.

It contains barley malt. As does every other beer on the market. It’s suitable for vegetarians. And, for the terminally cautious, it contains 2.5 UK units of alcohol. They even have a very good website at Everyone is fully accounted for. Aren’t they?

There is something on the back label that is bothering me. You see, Duchy Originals came up with the recipe, but they didn’t brew it. That job came down to Oxfordshire’s Wychwood Brewery. The one and only Wychwood I’ve reviewed was the respectably drinkable Hobgoblin Ruby Beer. With them describing it as ruby in colour, I’m wandering if this won’t be almost exactly the same as Hobgoblin. It would be no bad thing if it is. But I want Duchy Originals Organic Ale to be something special. Will it be? Let’s find out.

The explosion of foam took me by surprise. I’m not sure if it was because the bottle was shaken, or if it’s supposed to froth out over the top of the bottle. Either way, it took some swift action to get what was left into the glass before my counter got covered with any more spilled beer. After all that, the head you see in the photo only lasted half a minute. As I write, it’s disappeared into a few odd groups of bubbles.

It certainly looks ruby in colour. It looks like it will be very dark and rich. The smell backs up that theory. It smells, strongly, of hops and malted barley. But the way they both blend together makes it smell like a field of mixed arable crops. Organic of course.

A couple of gulps in, and I’d forgotten just how strong and full of flavour good ale is. The flavour is malty and hoppy. And that flavour eases smoothly into a hoppy aftertaste. It is exceptionally rich. The flavour is strong. As is the bitterness which is tangy and lingering. When whole recipe seems different to a lot of other ales. It reminds me of Hobgoblin Ruby Beer so I’m going to guess that it could be what they call a Ruby style ale.

There’s a lot for the ale fan to enjoy about Duchy Originals Organic Ale. For a start, it has that distinctive ruby flavour. That blend of malted barley and hops is delicious. And the transition to the lingering hoppy bitterness is smooth. All this makes it rich, full bodied and drinkable. It ticks all the boxes then for an exemplary ale?

Not quite. At least not by my taste buds. Probably because I’m not a Ruby style fanatic, that blend of flavours seems… what’s the word? Narrow. As if it’s missing some of the unexpected oddness that makes other types of ale so interesting. Then there’s the lingering bitterness. I know a lot of you love a strong bitterness. This one is well balanced, that’s for sure. But for me, that bitterness is just a little harsh for my liking. But that is a minor niggle. As is the slight gassiness.

Overall, Duchy Originals Organic Ale is a super-high-quality ruby style ale. The flavour and taste, in fact everything to do with the recipe is strong and excellent. There are some things that weren’t to my liking, but if you like British ales and interesting beers, this is one to try. If for no other reason, then for the novelty value of this being an organic Duchy Original product with some of the ingredients possibly from Prince Charles, HRH The Prince of Wales’ very own farm. If you like your flavours to be very easy to drink though, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

Rating: 4.175

Have you tried Duchy Originals Organic Ale? Or any other drinks from the Duchy? What did you think of them?

Do please leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations below. Thank you.

Cider Review: Westons Premium Organic Cider

15 August, 2008

SINCE reading the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) web page about Real Cider, I’ve been looking out for real cider. Sadly, the shops are full of big-name, mass-produced ice-ciders. And that’s irritating. In Tesco, the closest thing I could find was this bottle of Westons Premium Organic Cider. If anyone knows just ‘Real’ this cider is, do please leave a comment at the end of the post. For now, I’m just looking forward to trying a cider that wasn’t produced on a vast scale by a company with an advertising budget of millions.

Westons Premium Organic Cider bottle

First impressions are tremendous. The plain looking labels give it a farmyard look. And the organic credentials will delight even Prince Charles. Just take a look at the neck label as a starting point.

Westons Premium Organic Cider neck label

Westons Premium Organic Cider won the “Organic Food Awards” in 2003 and 2004. That theme of being organic and natural continues on the big front label too.

Westons Premium Organic Cider front label

The front label is also about the only place on there where you’ll see any graphics. In the background is a cider apple that looks like it was plucked from a clip-art tree. If this were a big-name brand, I would knock it for that. But with such a thoroughly local cider, I just can’t bring myself.

Instead, I’ll point out that Westons were established in 1880. Giving it considerably more heritage than I first thought. Under the small word “naturally” is perhaps the most prominent use of the word “Organic” you’ve seen on a cider. So much so, it doesn’t really have a name. Just “Organic”. Something I’m sure Westons would be delighted for you to associate with their cider ever after.

All the vital statistics are at the bottom of the front label. This is a 500 millilitre bottle. And the cider within has a volume of 6.5%. A percentage point or two above the big-name ciders. And very welcome.

There’s some surprises down there too. This cider also won the “Organic Food Awards” is 1998. That brings it up to three “Organic” awards. Not bad. Unsurprisingly then, there’s a big “Soil Association” “Organic Standard” symbol on there. Just to reinforce the organic message.

The back label is what you’ll be hoping for by this point. Informative and straightforward.

Westons Premium Organic Cider back label

Apparently, the organically grown cider apples in this, stick to the strict “Organic Certification UK5” from the “Soil Association”. That’s all well and good, but what will it taste like? The label has an answer there too. This one goes with key words and phrases including “easy to drink” with a “ripe apple aroma” with a “refreshing” and “well balanced taste”. No hyperbole here. That all sounds honest enough to be true. I hope it is.

Also on the label, they recommend that it is “best served chilled”. Which I’m doing having stored it away in the fridge. Then there’s the part where they take the natural and organic theme a step beyond. That’s because Weston Premium Organic Cider is “suitable for vegetarians, vegans and coeliacs.” Vegetarians and vegans you might expect to see covered, but coeliacs? According to the charity Coeliac UK, it’s a nasty disease that means some people can’t eat gluten. Isn’t it customary to simply write “Gluten free” on packaging and labels?

For the chronically worried, the number of UK units of alcohol is 3.2. Still worried? I recommend a bottle of cider or ale to calm your nerves. That’s not the only symbol on there however. There’s also one informing us that they are a member of “The National Association of Cider Makers”. Never heard of it. But then I am an exceptionally uninformed reviewer. If there is such an association, then I’m glad that they’re part of it.

Lastly, right down at the bottom of the back label is the all important address. Important because where a beer or cider comes from is always interesting to know. Take the Asian, European and American beers that talk about authenticity, but were made just down the road for example. Fortunately, there’s no such trickery here. That’s because Westons Premium Organic Cider comes from H. Weston & Sons Ltd. in Much Marcle, Herefordshire, England. They even have a good website that avoids the Flash-frippery of the big names. The address is

Time to crack open this bottle of organic cider. I’m looking forward to this. And not entirely sure what to expect. Which is the level of mystery I want from an ale or cider.

Westons Premium Organic Cider poured into a glass

In the glass, it has a very deep apple-ish amber colour. Deeper amber than most of the big-name ciders. It’s not as fizzy as them either. I’d call it ‘lightly-sparkling’. Neither still nor fizzy.

They describe it as smelling of ripe apples. It does smell apple-y. I’d say it smells most like Gaymer ‘K’ but more natural. I like it.

A few gulps in, and it’s drier than expected. And it tastes of apples. Obviously. But much more so than the big name ice-ciders. What you notice most of all is how dry it is.

There’s plenty for the cider fan to like here. It has much more taste than the trendy ice-ciders or white-ciders. It’s at least as dry as Savanna Dry, and still manages to be easy to drink. And it’s strong and not at all gassy. This is quality stuff.

What about the downsides? Well, if I had to nitpick, I’d pick the dryness which is drier than to my taste. All the cider aficionados out there will now pipe up and tell me that’s exactly how it should be. And that my opinions are stupid piles of grime. Undeterred, I’ve got to say, it is dry.

So, what is Westons Premium Organic Cider all about? In a sentence, it’s a well made, tasty, drinkable, strong, dry cider that happens to be organic. I liked it. It does what you want a small, regional cider to do. Well worth a try if you like cider but are tired of the tasteless dross that is the mainstream.

Rating: 3.8

Have you tried Westons Premium Organic Cider? What did you think of it?
Leave your corrections, opinions and recommendations below and I look forward to reading them.

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 web address. And, also, the 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: Traditional Scottish Ales’ Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale

29 March, 2008

YET another Scottish ale. Yes, I know, you’re probably getting tired of every other review on my blog being of a Scottish beer. I’ll look at some bottles that aren’t from Scotland soon enough, but let’s see if this bottle can’t end on a high note. Bought from Tesco, this is a Traditional Scottish Ales Ltd bottle of Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Beer.
Traditional Scottish Ales Lomond Gold Blone Ale bottle

I’ll be honest with you. I thought that the brewery was called ‘Lomond’ and that ‘Traditional Scottish Ales’ was just a description. But that would be too easy. Instead it turns out that the brewer is called Traditional Scottish Ales Ltd, and that this bottle is called Lomond Gold. Is it only me who was flummoxed by this?

Traditional Scottish Ales’ Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale front label

The front label has a big silhouette of what is presumably a Scottish loch. Loch Lomond perhaps? I happen to think the whole label looks a big like those from the Orkney Brewery. Have a look at their Northern Light and Dark Island to see what I mean.

The style of the text is something I like. The deliberately warn down typeface that looks as if it has come straight from the dark ages is a very effective. It gives the impression that ancient Scottish clans might have stopped to drink blonde ale, in-between fighting each other and the Vikings.

This label also has the highest billing yet for ‘Organic’. This is definitely the new trend in beers and ales. Especially as a selling point by the smaller breweries. It’s probably something that we’ll see a lot more of in the years to come. Also there, are the 500 millilitre quantity and the unremarkable 5% ABV.

Over on the other side of the bottle, it’s clear that they have chosen to keep things simple. No long paragraphs describing the history of the brewer or origins of this brew. Just a white background, black text and some gold here and there.
Traditional Scottish Ales’ Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale back label

Very helpfully, they start the back label with ‘Tasting Notes’. These are always good fun, to see how near or far the drink actually is to them. The concise little sentence they give us is “Clean sharp and fresh tasting with a hint of citrus and a very satisfying aftertaste”. Sounds yummy.

Also warranting a emboldened line on the back label is the statement “Triple filtered for added purity”. Now that’s not something I’ve read on any other bottle. What are the benefits to filtering so many times? I’m admittedly a beer novice, so if you know, leave a comment at the end of this post.

Under the ‘Ingredients’ heading, the organic credentials are boosted further. Pure Scottish water. Organically grown malted barley and organically grown hops and yeast are all mentioned. The Organic Certification logo is on there. And that this bottle contains 2.5 of your UK units of alcohol. In case that is of any importance to you whatsoever.

Down below the barcode is the contact information. Which is interesting because it tells us that Traditional Scottish Ales Ltd are from Stirling. There’s a telephone helpline. And a web address, which at the time of writing, doesn’t work. Come on chaps. Get your website working before printing the address on the bottle. You’re bottles are being sold at Tesco now. If you care to try it yourself, you might or might not find it at Changing it to a gets things moving. So, you’ll find their website at instead.

After being poured, the ale itself is non-descript. There’s hardly any head to speak of And the colour is a subdued shade of gold. The smell is quite good though. Split roughly 70-30 of malted barley and hops. A good smell for an ale, if you ask me.
Traditional Scottish Ales’ Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale in a glass

A couple of gulps in, and I’m not sure what to make of the taste. There’s nothing that jumps out at you. It’s certainly not bad. But it is hard to figure out. This is going to take a few more gulps…

There’s a little bitterness in there. But not very much. If, like me, you don’t care for bitter, you won’t be too put off here. It’s quite clean and fresh in character. This isn’t a particularly big, heavy and daunting drink. Not too gassy either.

The aftertaste is hoppy and slightly sour. But not in a bad way. And yes, there are those hints citrus that were promised on the label. In fact, all the things promised on the label are present. Only not in the ways that I was expecting. The proportions and character of everything is different to what I was expecting. And arguably different to what the label led me to expect.

But is Lomond Gold any good? I’m sure that is it. It simply isn’t too my pernickety tastes. I’m finding it too ‘sharp’ in its bitterness. But then, that was what the label advertised. I’m sure that there will be lots of you out there, with your flat caps, pipes and walking sticks who adore the bitter and malty flavours of the ale world. The organic links will also be of great interest to the pro-museli brigade of Islington. It just isn’t for me.

This leaves me in a quandary for how to sum up Lomond Gold. Traditional Scottish Ales are a relatively new outfit. And I want to encourage new breweries. Lomond Gold will appeal to some people. But not me. I found it boring and lacking the character of the many other ales and beers out there. It does well with the clean and fresh taste and citrus hints. And that is to be applauded. But with so many awesome Scottish ales out there, this needs to try that bit harder to stand out.

Rating: 3.6

Have you tried Lomond Gold? Or any others from Traditional Scottish Ales? If so, leave your thought below.
Or any other ideas, suggestions or insults for that matter.

Beer Review: Broughton Border Gold

29 March, 2008

TESCO keep surprising, with yet more Scottish ales surfacing. And, best of all. One of them is a Broughton. If you haven’t read them already, then make your way over to my reviews of three other Broughton, and you’ll see why I’m so excited. Old Jock Ale, Black Douglas and Champion Double Ale are some of the most consistently outstanding that I’ve reviewed. Each one scoring in the 4-4.5 range. And all from the Scottish Borders Broughton Ales. This one is called Border Gold and I can hardly wait to crack open the bottle and get to the fun part.
Broughton Border Gold bottle

Much the same formula for the bottle and label has been stuck to here as with the three others, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Especially as you really must read my reviews of the other Broughton bottles. The same style of front label features a roundel, sided by illustrations of hops and the Scottish Saltaire. Inside the roundel appears to be a portrait of a female monarch. Mary Queen of Scots perhaps? As usual, it will probably be explained on the story on the other side of the bottle.
Broughton Border Gold front label

Also on the front is something that should catch your eye. An A.B.V of 6.0%. That should make that that this drink is at least strong enough. And it’s something I like about Scottish beers and ales. No compromise on the alcohol front.

Turning the bottle around and the story is where you’d expect it to be.
Broughton Border Gold story side of label

The story behind the front illustration is as tenuous as it was for their other bottles. This one revolves around legend that gold from the streams of the Yarrow Valley, somewhere near the Broughton brewery, was used to make a wedding ring. And that that wedding ring was for Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scots. A ha! My historical hunch was right. It is still an undeniably round-about way of printing her portrait on the label of a gold ale.

The second paragraph goes into some detail about the drink itself. According to the label, we can expect a golden colour. A clean and full malt flavour. And a crisp, hop after taste. As usual, it’ll be interesting to see how close that gets to reality.

Over on the other side are the small-print details and barcode. Sadly, it confirms that we’re back to a 500 millilitre bottle. No full pint of drink here unlike some beers. In a small box on this side, it also describes itself as “Organic Ale”. That’s something I’m starting to see on an increasing number of bottles from small breweries. Is that actually appealing to anyone out there?
Broughton Border Gold barcode side of label

The 6.0% volume gives this bottle 3 of your UK alcohol units. And it contains water, malted barley, hops and yeast. That’s it from the outside. Finally, time to try Border Gold.

As you can see, I head a little trouble with the head. Maybe I poured it too quickly. Or the bottle had been shaken. Or it was intended to froth up like that. But a few short minutes after this photo was taken it died down, so it wasn’t a problem.
Broughton Border Gold in a glass

The colour is dark gold. Roughly what was promised. The smell is as complex as I had hoped for. In there are hints of the malt, the barley and the hops. It’s a good mix. And not too overpowering either.

The taste is sharper than I was hoping for. Much more bitter than I was expecting. And it’s not as malty as promised on the label. What does appear as advertised is the ‘hop flower’ aftertaste. Which I found to be rather too sour for my taste.

I’m not sure what to make of Border Gold. I don’t much care for the taste. But those who like bitter probably would do. The quality is again in evidence. Even though I don’t much like the taste, it still manages to be very drinkable. This poses a challenge for the rating.

I’m going to rate this lower than any other Broughton because I couldn’t get over the taste. But it’s still a high-quality, easy to drink ale. This is one for fans of bitter flavours, I think.

Rating: 3.7

Have you tried Border Gold? What did you think?
Comments, ideas, suggestions and insults below please.

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