Thursday, 30 September 2010

Harvest Pale v Easy Rider at The Johnson Arms

The Johnson Arms, Dunkirk, 29th September 2010

Leaving the University Park at 8pm it is a ¾ of a mile walk east to The Johnson Arms pub in Dunkirk. I enter the pub whilst talking on the phone, but as I go to the bar only a passing quick glance at the 5 different beer clips is necessary. My good comrade asks what I would like to drink and a little tap on the bar towards Kelham Island brewery’s Easy Rider starts the evening off. We take our drinks to a table in the corner away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the pub. The Johnson arms is a great place which holds many happy memories for me, as I used to live round the corner from it. If I was to describe it, friendly would be the word. Cain, Zoe and Kay who run this fine little establishment are lovely people, who are very passionate about serving great beer as well as quality simple pub grub. The patrons of the pub cover a diverse group of people, from students, to doctors at the nearby QMC, to a slightly older local cliental. The one thing that can be said about everyone in the pub is that they care about quality ale.

So back to the beer, and why was the choice so ‘Easy’?  I am from the fine (former) city of Steel and the draw to a beer from the sensational Kelham Island brewery is strong indeed! The Kelham Island brewery has been at the centre of Sheffield’s rejuvenation as possibly the finest Real Ale town in the UK.

Drink 1. A pint of Kelham Island Easy Rider (4.3%). The Kelham Island brewery is situated in the old industrial part of Sheffield by the River Don. Easy Rider is a premium strength Pale Ale brewed as an easier drinking version of Kelham’s legendary Pale Rider. On the nose you get sweetness and a hint of orange. The beer has a lovely creamy body to it and it is wonderfully drinkable. Easy Rider goes down very nicely indeed. There is a nice biscuit malt character to it combined with a great aromatic bitterness. Floral tones come from the American Willamette hops, as do lovely fruity orange flavours, which make the beer balanced to perfection.  You will not find a better drinking beer. A sensational 9/10.

Easy Rider (left) and Harvest Pale (right)

Drink 2. A pint of Castle Rock Harvest Pale (3.8%). The Castle Rock brewery is another fantastic producer of ale. Castle Rock and Kelham are certainly in my favourite few breweries. I have been a big fan of Castle Rock since my arrival in Nottingham 6 years ago. Harvest Pale is the breweries most famous beer and it was my beer of choice in Nottingham for many a year. This year Harvest Pale was crowned champion beer of Great Britain which added to some of its other prestigious awards. Harvest Pale is another Pale Ale so a comparison with Easy Rider is inevitable. The nose of Harvest Pale does not excite when compared to Easy Rider. The beer has a lighter body and a less creamy head. Once again American hops are used which give Harvest Pale a zesty nature, with grapefruit, lemon and lime tones coming through. Harvest Pale is not as smooth as Easy Rider, but it does have a nice sharpness to it. It is a very nice beer but in my opinion is not to the same standard as Easy Rider. 7.5/10.

I feel that I am a very lucky chap to be able to compare these two great beers in one night, with the company of the finest friend one could hope to find. The night was still young, so a little bit more banter and a wee bit more ale is called for. So I go to finish the night with a darker beer.

Drink 3. A half pint of Moorhouse’s Black Cat (3.4%). The Moorhouse’s brewery is based in Burnley and has a long history going back into the mid 19th century. Black Cat Mild is probably Moorhouse’s best known beer and is another Supreme Champion beer of Britain (2000). Black Cat is a very dark ale with an attractive light brown head. The nose of has nice earthy and coffee aspects to it. It has a light body which leaves malty tastes of treacle, molasses and chocolate. It is a good clean drinking beer which is surprisingly refreshing. 6.5/10.

Moorhouse's Black Cat Mild.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Types of beer

Bitters were developed towards the end of the 19th century as brewers developed beers that could be drunk after only a few days storage in cellars. Bitters originally came from pale beers, but tend to be a bronze colour due to the use of slightly darker malts. Some bitters still tend to be golden in colour (eg Nottingham Rock Bitter tasted the other night). Bitters fall in the 3.4%-3.9% alcoholic range. ‘Best’ bitters have alcoholic strengths of 4% and above and strong bitters have alcoholic levels above 5%. Best and strong bitters will have a more malty and fruity taste (the Fullers ESB I tried in the Vic is a classic example of a strong bitter).

Mild is one of the most traditional styles of beer which is currently enjoying a rejuvenation in popularity. Mild’s tend to be a very dark brown due to the heavily roasted malts. They are less hopped than bitters, but have a nutty, chocolate, coffee character to them. Mild’s are often in the 3-3.5% alcoholic range. Mild has always had a great popularity in the industrial North and Midlands of Britain. In Scotland 60/- ale is comparable to mild.

Indian Pale Ale or IPA
IPA’s were first brewed in London and Burton-upon-Trent in the early 19th century for the colonial market. The industrial revolution allowed brewers to use pale malts to make beers that were golden in colour.  IPA’s were strong in alcohol and contained high levels of hops. These characteristics helped keep the beer in good condition during the long sea journeys to Britain’s colonies. IPA’s will have alcoholic levels above 4% and will often have a very hoppy character with citrus flavours.

Pale Ale
Beers with less alcohol and hops than IPA’s were brewed for the home market and became known as Pale Ale.

Golden Ale
In the 1980’s some brewers developed this pale, hoppy beer in order to win back custom from the larger brands. Golden ales are often thirst quenching and are served cool.

Porter and Stout
Porter was a beer style developed in London in the 18th century. The name comes from the popularity of this beer style street and river porters of London. A strong porter was called stout porter which eventually got shortened to just stout. Porters and stout are very dark in colour and have a strong roasted malt character, with coffee and treacle flavours, finishing with a hoppy bitterness. The darkness in Porter comes from the use of dark malts, unlike stout which utilise roasted malted barley. Porters will tend to have a complex flavour with an alcoholic range between 4-6.5%.

Scottish beers
Traditionally Scottish beers tend to be sweeter, less hoppy and darker than English beers. The classic styles are, Light, low in strength and so-called even when dark in colour, also known as 60/-, Heavy or 70/-, Export or 80/-. These names come from the way in the 19th century that beers were invoiced according to strength using the now defunct currency of the shilling.

What is Real Ale

The term Real Ale was brought about by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) in the 1970’s as a way of distinguishing between traditional beers and mass produced “bland” beers that was being pushed by the major breweries. Real ale’s can also be known as cask-conditioned ales or cask beers.

Real ale is an unfiltered, unpasteurised beer which is conditioned (second fermentation) and served from a cask without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide. Real ale is a living product due to the second fermentation that occurs within the cask (or bottle if it is bottle-conditioned). It has a limited shelf-life and it needs to be kept at a controlled temperature and looked after in pub cellars in order for the beer to develop to its full potential. Non-real ale beers are chilled, filtered and pasteurised to make it sterile in the brewery. The removal of yeast and pasteurisation means that the beer will never have as much flavour and aroma of a real Ale.

The ingredients that go into ale include malted barley, hops, yeast and water, although sometimes ingredients such as fruits, spices and wheat are added. The sugars in the malt are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the yeast. Hops are added to add bitter, citrus and floral flavours. The use of different style hops, malts and yeast can mean that beers of with different characters can be produced.

Monday, 27 September 2010

A trip to the Victoria Hotel in Beeston

Victoria Hotel Beeston 26th Sept 2010.

7.30pm on a Sunday evening the 2 mile walk in a South-West direction starts from University Park. It is is a well trodden path which helps build up an anticipation and appetite for what awaits. As I walk into Dovecote lane I see the Victoria at the end of the road and a train pull into Beeston station next to it. The Vic is traditional 19th century station hotel opposite the old Beeston brewery. On entry to the Vic I take a right turn into the cosy taproom. The interior obviously has a ‘classic pub’ feel to it, but the walls are covered with ancient brewery paraphernalia.
                Next to the bar is the list of drinks available, which includes 13 real ales – decisions, decisions. In the end it is quite an easy decision for the first drink, as I am a big fan of the Blue Monkey brewery from nearby Ilkeston.

Drink 1. A half pint of Blue Monkey 3.6% Original. Blue Monkey started brewing in 2008 and I have always been a fan of everything they have produced. This combined with the relatively local nature of the brewery meant a half of Original was an obvious starting point for the night. Colour-wise Original has a dark amber or aged-oak look to it. It is wonderful session ale, with warming malts along chestnut tones balanced beautifully with a slight hint of citrus. It has a great length which leaves you wanting another sip immediately. Hop-wise it contains Pilgrim and Styrian Goldings.  It is an extremely satisfying drink for any occasion. A finer bitter as you will ever find. 9/10.

Drink 2. A half pint of Nottingham Rock bitter (3.8%). Wanting to keep to local breweries it was to the Nottingham brewery which is based in Radford at the back of the Plough Inn. Rock Bitter is a different beast than what most first time drinkers would expect from a bitter. Rock bitter was first brewed in the 19th century as an easy drinking ale for Nottingham factory workers. It is a light gold in colour and was a forerunner to an IPA (Indian Pale Ale) style of beer. Upon tasting the Rock Bitter is drier or greener and more bitter than the Blue Monkey Original. It has very little nose at it is first served. It is very drinkable, but doesn’t have the cosy nature that would want to make you drink it on a winter’s day sat by a roaring fire with a steak pie – what a good bitter should do. Flavour-wise, you get hints of caramel and floral notes. It is a solid easy drinking beer, but I feel it lacks character. One point to note that as the drink warmed up it improved remarkably. I feel it was served at too low a temperature. As it warmed a sweeter nose came to the fore which made it a far more enjoyable drink. 6/10.

Drink 3. A half pint of Oldershaws Regal Blonde (4.4%). The Oldershaws brewery is Grantham based  and has been running for nearly 15 years now. Regal Blonde is very light in colour with a hint of a floral nose. It is brewed with Czech German hops to make a larger style of beer. I very much liked the beer when first tasted, but was left slightly disappointed as I would have hoped for some hop excitement at the end. It is an uncomplicated larger style beer, which would be a great introduction into real ale. 5.5/10.

Drink 4. A half pint of Hopback GFB (3.5%). The Hopback breweries history goes back to 1986. I normally associate drinking beer from Hopback with my trips to the New Forrest normally within a few miles of their Downton brewery. GFB stands for Gilbert's First Brew and was first made in 1996. GFB is a very golden beer. It is blonde but with bitterness. It has that very distinctive Hopback character, which I associate with a dry finish to their beers. In GFB’s case, it comes from the use of Kent Goldings hops. The beer has an unusual slightly smoky character to it. 5/10.

Fullers ESB

Drink 5. A half pint of Fullers ESB (5.5%). ESB is a dark amber colour and has a fruity nose; most notable on the nose is prunes. On the palette dates and prunes continue with tastes of bonfire toffee to make a wonderfully complex warming bitter with hints of sweetness. The length to the beer is fabulous. It is no surprise that ESB was originally brewed in 1971 as a winter brew. At 5.5% it is not a session beer, but it is very drinkable and something that you will stick to once you have started drinking it. It also strikes me as a beer that would be wonderful to cook with, for example a rich stew.  It is a lovely unusual dark beer which has a Christmas or wintery nature to it. 8/10.