Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Great British Brewing Co: Land of Liberty American Style IPA

I love writing about this liquid pastime we call "Craft Beer". I've made a little money out of it and had my name on a book that was available in at least
a handful of branches of WH Smith, and I've garnered a lot of clicks in the last two and a bit years, and it's a whole lot of fun, this beer writing lark.

I've made great friends out of this racket, from my days with Rum and Reviews up until this hot minute, and I've been really touched by some folks' reactions to some of my heavier articles. 

Like a lot of people reading this article, I spend a bit of money on beer. Maybe more than a bit. 

I wouldn't be having all of this beery fun if it wasn't for me taking punts on cheap beer; line-end stock at places like B&M or Home Bargains, or mystery bottles with cryptic labels grabbed in Polish and Lithuanian shops in my home city of Newcastle. If I'd not had access to interesting, different beer at a low price I'd still probably be drinking Guinness and Fosters almost exclusively. This wouldn't have made me any less of a person but I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun as I've had in the last few years. 

This range of beers has shown itself to be accessible, tasty, well produced and satisfying. To varying degrees the beers serve as fine introductions to their respective styles but are also good beers. These are beers that sell for £1.09 a bottle, a "small change on the walk back from work" price-tag that welcomes the curious purchaser, and it's time to satisfy the final one-fifth of this purchaser's curiosity.

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Great British Brewing Co: All 4 One 4 Hop Lager

The season of unashamed lager drinking approaches, ever so slowly. There are rumours on the wind that Summer might happen this year. The rituals of purchasing shorts that actually fit us, insisting to everyone that we're definitely going to do a lot of barbeques this year, and the ceremonial beheading of goats to please the sun god are all taking place across the nation.

Lager looms over this portended season of beer gardens and being able to get away with wearing a hat. Let Hog's Back Brewery's All 4 One lager be dragged to the altar and tested, while we wait for the goat to arrive.

A playful, floral, sparkling scent is unleashed by the bottle opener. Crisp, flowery greenery. A brisk and bright meadow scent. Untamed and undisciplined wild flowers amid long grass. The scent of what we know will be a fleeting, 330ml of Summer.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Great British Brewing Co: Red Rye IPA

I don't think I ever met a rye IPA that I didn't like. India Pale Ales made with rye grains come across to me as tough and competent, a beer that in human form would have worked for a few years at the ragged edge of civilisation, then returned to a sedate urban lifestyle but never did stop carrying that Bowie knife.

Red Rye IPA (from Twickenham Fine Ales, and my first taste of this brewery's produce) promises a wilderness roam with its simple and subdued forest and mountain label art. The initial scent does not disappoint; pine, peach and apricot are all present, hiking gear strapped to their bodies in preparation for arboreal adventure.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Great British Brewing Co: Sunny Dayz Golden Ale

British Springtime is an odd beast, especially here in the North East. A climate that was good enough this morning for your correspondent to safely operate a lawnmower soon turned to "jumper on inside the house" weather. When laying out plans for drinking and writing about the five new beers that make up Aldi's craft range I had pencilled Sunny Dayz, brewed by the seemingly-very-prolific-in-recent-months Hog's Back Brewery, as my post-gardenwork refresher.

As I throw treasured photographs and the deeds to the house into the fire in an attempt to survive the icy tendrils of a resurgent Winter I wish I'd saved last night's warming coffee porter for this chill-bound evening.

That may have been a slight exaggeration. But I am wearing a jumper indoors right now. I know I'll not feel the benefit later. Please forgive me.

Friday, 22 April 2016

The Great British Brewing Co: Spill the Beans Coffee Porter

Last year the supermarket chain Lidl introduced an expanded range of beers. For weeks the promises had crackled  like lightning through the beerosphere; Lidl was going to shake things up. Lidl was going to upset the apple cart and kick ass, take names, bust chops and call cops.

After the words came the deeds, and the start was patchy and shaky. A few more real ales appeared on the shelves. Asahi made an appearance. Did Lidl always stock so many interchangeable Master Brewer's beers? 

Eventually, and happily, Lidl slipped into gear after a grinding start, and it would be a pretty snidey driving instructor to fail someone five seconds after turning the key in the ignition. Lidl's beer range got bigger, broader and better serviced. The creation of the Hatherwood Craft Beer Co. line of own brand craft beer (their words, not mine, simmer down in the back) saw some decent brews hit the Lidl shelves. Winter Warmer (brewed by Hog's Back Brewery) was a delicious, cakey seasonal brew. Green Gecko IPA, brewed by Marston's, is simply a good IPA. It's got admirable scores on Ratebeer and Untappd, but more importantly it tastes nice, smells good, and is cheap. 

Now it's Aldi's turn to roll out an own brand craft beer line, and it seems this has been done with little to no fanfare. Was this insecurity on Aldi's part? A secrecy ploy to confound and blindside Lidl? A third and even less believable reason? Aliens? 

Whatever, Aldi has released the "Great British Brewing Co." range, a gang of five beers, produced by Sadler's, Hog's Back, Brains Brewery, and Twickenham Fine Ales, and this intro has gone on long enough so here's Spill The Beans, a coffee porter from Brains.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Little Fluffy Clouds

Some beers brood. Some beers glower and smoulder, slowly sharpening their knives, polishing their teeth, staring back at the drinker a silent assurance that they won't go down without a fight. Others promise class, refinement, an experience of delectation, and others still threaten with exoticism and wild attacks on the taste sensors.

Fluffy Little Clouds, the joint work of Wylam Brewery and Mad Hatter Brewing Company, promises nothing but happiness. All is well, the label murmurs into our ear as we slip into a slumber. All is well, the pies are still flying and the clouds are completely rainless. All is well.

So disarmingly charming is the label artwork, evocative of a 1990s third-party Windows screen saver, that it knocked this reporter off balance momentarily, his guard of suspicion and at least attempted objectivity dangerously lowered. I struggled to replace my game face, and found a bottle opener in this hell zone of a kitchen.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

American India Pale Ale

Was Marks and Spencer really as tragic as I seem to remember? There was a time, I'm sure, when Marks and Spencer was daddish and button-down, a vendor of bad shirts and blue jeans, the one place in any given big-ish city where you were guaranteed to find a Panama hat if you needed one at short notice and had maybe 25 quid on you.

Maybe getting past the dreaded age of 30 makes one look at M&S with a little more relaxed detachment. Or maybe Marks and Sparks really was dull and uninspired back when your correspondent was younger, rounder, and wore band t-shirts far too much. Whatever the Cool Status of Marksies is (and I'm sure the boys in the lab are working hard to get a clear answer on this) it's undeniable that over the past couple of years their selection of own-brand beers has made waves and set high bars. And with that, it's time to open Arbor Ales' American India Pale Ale, one of the more recent additions to the M&S stable.

Tropical Bitch

I can't remember my first Flying Dog Brewery beer. I had been drinking with my beer writer colleague Chris Hall, and it was a brutal collision between the Newcastle and London desks of Rum and Reviews Magazine. Whether I had battered my head in with their Gonzo Imperial Porter, their Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA, or some other wildly named and high abv party wrecker, is a question unanswerable. Lost in time.

The brewery recently turned 25, and the limited run Tropical Bitch Belgian-Style IPA, a tropical spin on Raging Bitch, is their Birthday Beer. Once again, it is time for your correspondent to venture into Bat Country, and add another Flying Dog head-punching beer to the tally.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

The Garlic Farm's Garlic Beer

In the past I have railed against bad and cheaply made beer with odd stuff put in it. I licked shots at a chili beer that I bought in B&M Bargains, and I absolutely lit up Dead Crow Bourbon Flavoured Beer. There were no survivors.

As I turn the dark bottle of the Isle of Wight-based Garlic Farm's Garlic Beer over in my hands, reading the label's promises of complexity and artisanal brewing, the invocation of the word "craft[ing]", the fact it lists the hops used (Goldings and First Gold, nerds) and the instruction for beer lovers to "rejoice" I really don't want to blast this beer. It looks like a product made with care by people who believed in it, not something barfed out by a careless beer-o-mat in The Land That Flavour Forgot.

Then again, garlic beer sounds like something a lifelong non-drinker would pitch in a panic when asked by a brewer to suggest a creative direction. 

Take it like it's medicine, O'Toole.