The Heart of Darkness – Warming Beers For Winter (a.k.a. Bottled Ales – November 2013 Pt 3!)

1385318340020(A small – yet perfectly formed – haul from @TheAleManMcr, coming soon to a publication near you!)

If you have followed my sozzled ramblings for any length of time, you’ll know that my heart is – generally – given over to the darker side of beer. In winter, that becomes even more so. The only variation is that Milds tend to be pushed slightly aside whilst I reach for those heavier, more potent and maltier brews, Porters, Stouts and their steroid abusing children, Imperial Stouts.

There really is something that warms the cockles and makes me feel seasonal about these (mostly) black beers. Maybe it’s the roasted malt, perhaps it’s the chocolate or maybe (in more extreme cases) it’s just the bloody alcohol! Whatever it is, when the chill winds start to blow, it’s for these magnificent roasty wee beasties that I yearn.

Whilst I was thinking of committing my darker thoughts to a blog post, a blogger that I follow (Glenn Johnson) got in first, read his posts here. Whilst reading it, I gathered my thoughts and rooted through the stash. I had been storing a few just for this time of year and it was time to break them out! Spoiler alert though, a beer in this list that is likely to finish in my Top 3 bottles. Dark beers, who’d have thought!!!

If you have ever read one of these before, you will know what is comes next!……The format remains….

1. The Beer, 2. The Brewer, 3. The Strength, 4. The beer style, 5. The Price & Size (including discount, eg: for CAMRA membership, where applicable – if I can remember the price of course!). 6. Where from,  and, If a website for the vendor exists, the hyperlink to the shop / brewer website, just in case you are inspired enough by my ramblings to make a purchase! Here goes… We’ll do this one, in ascending order of ABV shall we?

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1. Railway PorterFive Points Brewing Co (Hackney, E. London) – 4.8% abv – Porter – £3.50 (330ml) – The Ale Man (Urban Market – Greengate, Salford)

I like Five Points beers. Starting commercial brewing only 8 months ago in Hackney, they came to my attention on a visit to Damian O’Shea’s stall, which was then at Castlefield Market (He does a few now, including – this weekend – at Spinningfields in Manchester, go say Hello!). First beer I tried was a trial brew of a Red Rye ale (Which I think may have become their “Hook Island Red”), it was superb. The Pale Ale soon followed, easily as good. Now I’ve been waiting to try this, having recently had an exceptional (cask conditioned) pint at Font in Chorlton recently.

A black beer with a lovely creamy tan head and a chocolate & coffee aroma. A lovely smooth, creamy, full-bodied mouthful, initially smooth and chocolaty, then  a bitter chocolate hit and then a lovely and slightly bitter roasted coffee leading to a nice earthy bitterness. The chocolate and coffee merge into a smooth mocha which slouched awhile in the aftertaste. Easily as good as on cask. Lovely.

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2. Manifesto – Revolutions Brew Co (Castleford, W Yorkshire) – 6% abv – Stout – Mixed case (500ml) – Direct from the Brewers

I know that I reviewed this beer earlier this year, but another review seemed inevitable when I discovered this buried in the stash. And ’tis the season……..

Black as sin with a tan coloured head and a dark chocolate and slightly smoky roasted aroma. Full bodied and creamily smooth , with firstly, dark and seductive bitter chocolate, then overlaid with a  lively espresso, then a light smoky note. Very dry and bitter with the smokiness intensifying and a warming feeling with maybe a rum note. Just the beer for a cold winters evening  in a nice cosy Manchester pub. This is simply a bloody delightful stout. Possibly the best I’ve had in bottle.

I have just noticed that Revolutions have a batch ready in cask. Come ON Manchester! There HAS to be a pub to bring some over here!!!
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3. Mud City StoutSadlers Ales (Stourbridge, W Midlands) – 6.6% abv – Stout – £1.49 (500ml) – Home Bargains, Farnworth

Now and again, you can come across some absolute BARGAINS in “bargain” shops. For instance, B&M Bargains stock Citra by Oakham at £1.79, however, when I saw THIS puppy at THAT price Atilla got more in the trolley than she bargained for!

A really deep ruby coloured beer that was as close to black as it could be with another tan cream head but with an aroma reminding me of molasses and dark rum with a sweet vanilla note. Full-bodied and creamy smooth. A little sweetish vanilla upfront more than balanced with a following bitter chocolate and cocoa flavour that followed and blended with it and gave a nice slight warmth. A big malty beer this, comforting with that vanilla sweetness and big chocolate flavours leading to a gentle bitter finish. Really impressive, shame I have never seen it on draught.

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4. Ola Dubh 16 – Harviestoun Brewery (Alva, Clackmannanshire, Scotland) – 8% abv – Whisky Barrel-Aged Porter – Mixed Case – Mail Order from the Brewery

One that has been left for a while this. Part of a Fathers Day gift from my youngest 2 kids, I was chuffed to bits when it arrived, the pack included two each of this, Ola Dubh 12, & 18 , Engineers Reserve and 4 Old Engine Oil. Dark paradise!

Based on Old Engine Oil, one of my favourite Porters. Poured black with a creamy tan head and an aroma mingling dark chocolate, leather and fresh tobacco. Really full-bodied with chocolate, a swish of peaty whisky and a distinctive nutty note that brought to mind brazil nuts (my favourite!) and a lightly burnt buttered toast. The finish was nutty and smoky lifted slightly with some grassy herby notes. My notes finished with the words “bloody lovely stuff”. Just about sums it up!

My arch-nemesis tells me (whenever I mention this beer) that he has been privileged to have this beer in cask conditioned form. You could REALLY fall out with someone!

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5. Smoked Imperial Treacle StoutQuantum Brewing Company (Stockport, Gtr Manchester) – 9.1% abv – Imperial Stout – £5.15 –  (500ml)The Liquor Shop (Whitefield, N Manchester)

A collaboration beer with the crew behind The IndyManBeerCon that was available cask conditioned at that festival. I had my first taste there and it was simply stunning. Treacly, gooey, bitter, fruity…it was a siren of a beer and it well and truly had me smashed upon its rocks! I was surprised to hear of it in bottled form, thinking (mistakenly, obviously) that it was a festival “one-off”. Glad it’s not!

I thank Raj at The Liquor Shop for stashing a couple for me (BTW – Bear in mind that Raj discounts 10% for 12 and 15% for 24 bottles). A pitch black beer with a beige head and a gentle smoked aroma mixed with something more delicate, yet elusive, a floral character perhaps. In the mouth though….Ooooohhhh! Wasn’t sure if Jay had brewed this or if it was refined, it was THAT viscous! Dark chocolate, burnt toffee and warming port wine were my first notes, then a building smokiness with that floral note coming through in the mouth as well as well as a woody note. Really warming beer with a surprisingly resinous finish cutting through. With 5 different hops and 8 (EIGHT) different malts, this is a BIG beer. It’s also bloody brilliant. A dark monster from the evil genius that is Mr Jay Krause!

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6. WildebeestThe Wild Beer Company (Evercreech, Somerset) – 11% abv – Imperial Stout – £8 (330ml) – The Colston Yard (Bristol) (Try Beermoth in Manchester)

This had been stashed since July, when I found myself in Bristol on a training course. Stashed for cold nights like these.

No light comes from this beer, it’s like a boozy black hole. What tan coloured head that there was quickly dissipated but it had a big espresso aroma with a hint of sweet vanilla. Described as an Imperial Espresso Chocolate Vanilla Stout. In that respect, this is a Ronseal beer as it gives you loads of those flavours. In the first oily mouthful I could get each of those tastes. Dense, oily and sticky with bitter espresso and chocolate and something a little fruitier, maybe a hint of blackberry. This was a lovely warming sleeping draught of a beer with a surprisingly big grassy bitter finish. Warning. NOT one to have as the first beer of the evening!

Well, that’s it for now…maybe some paler beers next!

On that note….’til next time….

Slainte!

A Bristol Stroll (or two!) 08-09/07/2013

I’m not overly fond of working away. Bit of a “home bird” really. But when the boss asked me to spend a few days in Bristol, I remembered how long it had been since I’d last been. 11 years. The drinking was THAT bad back then, that I spent a whole night in a Walkabout drinking Steinlager on a 2 for 1 special. Grim doesn’t do it justice.

Obviously, things would have improved. After all, I’ve enjoyed the delights of breweries like Arbor, Bristol Beer Factory, RCH etc up here. So the pubs must be better than the sham Aussie theme bar, right?

Well, I’d picked up a few tips from beery folks like Glenn Johnson (fellow blogger) and Karen from The Evening Star in Brighton, via Twitter, so on with the walking shoes!

Now then. I was staying nearly 10 miles north of the city, near the M5, so public transport was essential. Luckily, there were 2 buses into the city stopping right outside my hotel, so, rather hot and bothered in near 30c temperatures, I embarked on the single most uncomfortable bus journey I’ve ever been on. Bloody hell, I needed a pint when I got to town!

Now, Glenn writes a good blog. I’ve never met the chap (something I would love to rectify!), but I trust his judgement. So when he recommended me The Barley Mow http://beer-writings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/a-mini-bristol-pub-crawl.html I paid attention. And made it my first port of call. And got lost. TWICE!

Having disembarked the No 1 bus near Temple Meads Station, I asked a few people waiting for another bus for directions. Nobody had a clue! Out with the google maps. A good 10 minute walk behind Temple Meads (and across a rickety-feeling metal clad bridge) located on Barton Road is…..

The Barley Mow

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Oh but I was thirsty when I got here! Lovely cool feeling pub. Lots of blue painted panelling inside this single roomed venue, with tables both out front and in a rear beer garden (fairly busy in the sun). On the bar were 8 handpumps with offerings from Bristol Beer Factory (It’s one of their pubs), Arbor, Moor and some from further afield including Marble and Alechemy. I was hot (very) and thirsty (VERY!).  I wanted something pale and refreshing, Being a BBF pub, I chose Independence. A 4.6% abv US style Pale Ale. Copper coloured and refreshingly hoppy. A damn tasty beer to cool me down.

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(A fine selection)

Now. One of the other reasons I came here. Glenn told me about the juicy burger that he had. As well as being thirsty, I was also more than a tad peckish, being a bit past my tea-time. Cheeseburger, a side of patatas bravas and a pint of Moor Rypa (a collaboration with Beavertown of London.)

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(Yum!)

The burger was lovely and juicy, with a lovely dollop of melted cheese and a generous scoop of sautéed red onions. Really juicy and tasty. Cheers Glenn! The Moor went well with the burger, quite a spicy and hoppy rye ale at 4% abv. Actually, as far as I can remember, this may have been my first Moor on cask! Damn tasty.

The bar staff were really friendly too, so, being mellowed by the beers and the indie musical backdrop (low volume), I allowed myself to be talked into a half of BBF Southville Hop on keg at 6.5% abv (there were about 8 craft kegged offerings too!). Coming in a BBF chalice 1/2  pint glass. This was pale and gorgeously, assertively hoppy but smooth with it. Lovely beer.

(I won’t mention the 3 bottles of BBF Bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout eh? No, I’ll keep that to myself!)

One of the bar staff had a boyfriend from Chorley and we had a bit of a chat. I took the opportunity to ask directions back to Debenhams (to locate my bus stop). Armed with the knowledge, I set off to locates my bus stop, fully intending another bar. I then found myself catastrophically lost! I must have walked for about an hour before I figured out where I was (yes, yes, I KNOW I was in Bristol!). All hopes of another bar evaporated . Always tomorrow, eh?

The next day, I took precautions. I got an early lift into the city, located my bus stop and left a trail of breadcrumbs! Walking past the Bristol outpost of the Aberdonian hype merchants (incidentally, REALLY well located by the river!), I crossed the Avon in search of some casked pleasures. Taking the first right after the river, then a left, I was soon on (the rather narrow) Thomas Lane, where I found….

The Seven Stars

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By this time, I was again hot, bothered and thirsty. I liked the look of this place before I walked in. Tucked away on a narrow connecting street with tables nestling on the lane in the shade of St Thomas Church. The pub was single roomed in an L shape with the unusual sight of a pool table to the rear. I plonked myself down at a table before I checked the beers. Traditional freehouse this, nary a sniff of craft keg, but a superb 12 ales to be chosen from.

My choice was from a brewery I had never previously tried, Cavendish Stout by Shardlow Brewery from Derbyshire. Nice dark brown, malty body with a slightly sweet finish I thought, given the flavour and the transparency, I’d have it as more of a sweetish poster than a stout. Did the job though! A mini beer fest was on at the pub with beers from Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, nice idea.

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Being in the mood for something more…pale and hoppy now, I spied two from Oakham – Green Devil and Tranquility. On the basis that I’d had the Green Devil, I opted for the Tranquility at 6.5% abv. But hold on! Is that an Imperial Russian Stout? Trotsky from Potbelly Brewery at 7.5% abv. A half of each seemed in order!

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First, the Oakham. Really hoppy this, pale gold, lots of grapefruit citrus hops. Nice bitter finish too with a good bit of juicy malt for balance. The Trotsky was black, spicy and winey. Lots of roasted malt with more than a hint of licorice in the spice. Bittersweet finish. Nice, but ill-advised at this stage! Again, nice bar staff and friendly chatty regulars who seemed to know their beer. Given the lack of food, I asked for directions to another pub, Cornubia, which were freely given. Nice friendly pub.

Cornubia

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A hidden gem tucked away behind offices on Temple Street. A few tables on decking outside this single roomed pub – again, L shaped. Some quirky items dotted about, including what looked like an empty parrot cage! Friendly staff again. I was faced with a fine choice of beers, including 3 from Fyne in Scotland. I chose a Fyne Maverick, a dark bitter at 4.2% abv. Nice and bitter without being as assertively hopped as the Jarls and Avalanches. Slightly maltier than I expected, but quite refreshing for a dark beer! Good eclectic tunage in here, from Lynyrd Skynyrd, through Sly Stone to The Carpenters!

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(They may have sold an ale or two in Cornubia!)

This is obviously a pub that serves a wide variety of ales. The walls were simply covered in pump clips! Nice hand made pork pie in here too with some “interesting” chutneys. Including one called “Devon inferno”. Well, I had to! (And it was as hot as the pie was meaty!)

Just the one in here, didn’t want to be caught out with the buses again. One more bar to try too! Walking straight back over the river, past the aforementioned Brewdog, a straight line took me back to Rupert Street. Hmmm….where is this pub……what’s with those damned steps……?

I started to remember something from all those years ago. These “Christmas Steps” looked very steep and awfully familiar! I hauled myself up. Facing me was Zero Degrees, a relatively recent Bristol feature, but I turned right along (and up) Colston Street to….

Colston Yard

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Ever had that Deja Vu feeling? I’ve been here before. But it never looked like this! Last time I came here was over 10 years ago. It was then the Smiles’ Brewery Tap and a much smaller pub. Now, it’s owned by the equally local Butcombe Brewery. On approach, I noted the shaded tables outside, I needed to cool down again!

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Quite contemporary inside with olives and reds. Some leather pouffe style seats alongside the regular tables. Without being a multi-roomed affair, there were a few distinctly separated areas within this bar. 5 ales. 3 from Butcombe and two from Everards. With the “when in Rome” maxim to the fore, I went for a Matthew Pale Ale at 3.8% abv. I was glad that I did! Fresh, fruity (Amarillo) and refreshingly hoppy, what a nice light pint!

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Nice food as well. Notwithstanding that my first choices weren’t available, a Vegetarian tapas platter more than did the trick! Some seriously interesting bottles in here with local Wild Beer Co well represented (I picked up an 11% Wildebeest!). On another evening I would have been tempted by a bottle of Alaskan Smoked porter, but, on this occasion, I went for a half of something lighter.

That was the Beach House Pilsner from Old Dominion Brewery of Dover, Delaware in the US of A. Like a cross between Urquell and our very own Black Jack Lager, fruity/floral, golden crisp and refreshing.

Really nice bar this. For which I thank Karen Wickham profusely!

I fancied a relatively early night, so I (sh)ambled toward those “Christmas Steps”…remember, all downhill from here….!

20130709_193538(down, down, down…)

Back next week. Maybe the Meat tapas platter next time!

On that note….’til next time!

Slainte!