Sainsbury – Great British Beer Hunt 2013

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This is the third year of this competition, but I have to confess that years 1 & 2 almost passed me by completely. It was only in the aftermath of the 2012 iteration, that I picked up on the 2 winners Mocha by Batemans (slightly sweet, but v moreish) & J W Lees’ Manchester Star – a recreated recipe of a 19th century beer initially created in collaboration with Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery, I think I still have a bottle of that lurking somewhere!

This year however, I picked up on some of the buzz via Twitter & Facebook and headed to my nearest branch.

The competition works like this. This year, over 150 bottled beers were entered in the four regional competitions (Scot/NI, North, East & West) and, through customer tasting sessions, were whittled down to five from each region. These 20 beers are then stocked across the Sainsbury estate and, via volume of sales, are further whittled down to 12 which go through to a final judging by “beer experts” (sorry, couldn’t help myself – Just can’t get over Worthington White Shield winning Champion Bottle Beer of Britain at GBBF!)

Prize for 1st place? Shelf space in over 250 stores. 2nd place? 100 stores. A significant deal for almost any Micro!

Walking in to my branch at Bolton, the beers were clearly on display and separated from the main booze aisles. Now, despite a thoroughly undeserved reputation as a bit of a lush, there was absolutely NO WAY I was going to attempt all 20 beers! So I got selective. I bought 10 or so different bottles (in varying quantities) Here’s the best of the bunch that I bought.

One further point. My usual format for listing changes here, as all the beers were bought from the one retailer and all cost the same price – a ludicrously cheap £1.50!!!

WMere Pale Label

1. Windermere PaleHawkshead Brewery (Staveley , Cumbria) – 4% abv –  Pale Ale – 500ml

Firstly (and I feel like I’m back at school here!), I misplaced my photo of the poured bottle. I did take one, honest sir……it was there this morning……

Pale as a spring morning but with the pungent aroma of autumns harvest of that beast of a hop, Citra! If you have ever had this on draught….It’s just as pale, just as hoppy. Sweet and sharp on the nose with pineapple and grapefruit, light bodied but absolutely PACKED with hoppy flavours with more grapefruit having the edge. A nice slightly sweet rich tea biscuit base allows the hops to party. Nice very dry bitter finish. Slightly boosted in strength to 4% (draught on cask being 3.5% abv) but loses none of its refreshing ability. More please!

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2 Gonny No Brew ThatWilliams Bros Brewing (Alloa, Scotland) – 3.8% abv – Pale Ale – 500ml

I thought that at this strength, that this beer might suffer in comparison. Not a bit of it! Pale and gold with a pineapple marmaladey nose. Quite full-bodied for this strength with a doughy bread base balanced by a cutting orangey bitterness. A nice fruity bittersweet finish. Nice beer at this strength.

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3. Crafty Dan – Daniel Thwaites (Blackburn, Lancashire) – 6% abv – Strong Pale Ale – 500ml

Brewed on a smaller brew kit used for Thwaites seasonal range, this is one of quite a few Thwaites beers I’ve had this year which is seriously impressive. Deep gold, abundant white foam head with an aroma of orange marmalade on warm bread. In the mouth, more slightly bitter Seville marmalade hops with a nice big biscuit malt base. Hints of warming rum or Curacao. A nice bitterness in the finish with a spicy orange tang. A Blackburn Belter!

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4. India Pale AleHarbour Brewing Company (Trekillick, North Cornwall) – 5.2% abv – IPA – 500ml

One of two Harbour beers that I bought. Not had much of their stuff, but what I have had has been impressive, but on keg. This was a bronze coloured beer full of citrus aromas. Medium bodied and really citrus fruity with gum tingling piney resins swirling around the mouth. A really nice hoppy bitter beer with sufficient malty sweetness for just the right balance – with the hops on top that is! Very tasty indeed!

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5. Porter No 6Harbour Brewing Company (Trekillick, North Cornwall) – 6.8% abv – Porter – 330ml

Just to ramp the strength back up and to introduce some shade into all this light stuff! The second from Harbour. A deep ruby, nearly black beer with a surprising raisin wine aroma (for this strength). A mouthful of caramel maltyness with a nice coffee and sweet chocolate flavouring. This was quite warming as it slipped down – again, surprisingly so at this strength point. A touch sweeter that I usually like my porters, but a truly cracking bottle!

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6. WayfarerOrkney Brewery (Cawdor, Nairnshire, Scotland) – 4.4% abv – IPA – 500ml

A really pale beer with a distinctive citrus aroma, reminiscent of bitter lemon. Balanced malt base but overlaid with cascade and amarillo hop zing, more grapefuit and lemon puckering the lips. Really refreshing beer with a dry and slightly resinous finish. First Orkney I’ve had in a while. A cracker.

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7. Infra RedHardknott Brewery (Millom, Cumbria) – 6.2% abv – Red IPA (I suppose!) – 330ml

This almost exploded as I opened it. A ruby red beer with an aroma of cough candy, spicy and slightly yeasty. Again, in the mouth, the cough candy of the crystal malt is evident, but with quite a bitter hoppy hit. Quite bitter and spicy in the finish with a spicy hop lingering.

There you go. I didn’t burden you with the ones that I didn’t quite get. The Querkus Smoked Porter was particularly disappointing and the Hunters Devon Dreamer was a bit yeasty (may have shaken and not settled to be fair)

I know that this is now a bit late in the game, but if you bought any of the above, you’d be doing yourselves a favour IMO! And, you only have until next Wednesday. What are you waiting for???

If you ask me for my favourites….I’d have to say the Crafty Dan, and the Harbour Porter. The others just being shaded, but only just! Certainly, if the Bolton stores’ sales are anything to go by, the Hawkshead Windermere Pale has been selling well. Just look at the picture at the top!

On that note…’til next time…(probably Hornbeam MTB at The Salford Arms tomorrow evening!)

Slainte!

Castlefield Area Stroll – 22/11/2012

Feeling the need to stretch my legs (and my horizons!), it was high time I left the comforting bosom of the Northern Quarter for something different. Initial consultations with the mighty Jaz (well, this IS a democracy!) settled my decision (Democracy, eh???) and Castlefield was chosen. Reasons being a) I hadn’t written about any of the bars yet, b) At least one that I hadn’t visited yet, and c) Simply because….ok?

This time, in a slight twist to the usual, we had some company (Rob, Paul and Chris)! All my companions demontrated dedication to the cause, above and beyond…..the weather was FOUL!

Being furthest away, the meeting point was The Wharf in Castlefield basin. Having never been before, it was strangely tricky to find for such a large building. What a trek!

Located in the Castlefield canal basin (among the flats and offices etc) and formerly known as Jacksons Wharf, it is a large pub on two levels and seems to do quite a bit of food trade. Tonight, not rammed busy, but we unfortunately encountered a mixed group engaged in a Golf drinking game. As The Wharf constituted the 7th hole, it was getting a tad raucous! (More of them later!!!)

With there being 4 of us at this point, a traditional “whip” seemed in order. So off to the bar for 2 pints of a ginger flavoured beer from York Brewery, a pint of Weetwood Blonde and a Hornbeam Top Hop (mine). £14.50! Average over £3.60 a pint. This is expensive, even for Manchester. However, The Wharf patently must have its market. It certainly boasts a large selection of ales, having all 12 handpumps occupied, many with beers from local micros.

(A quiet moment at The Wharf!)

For this, The Wharf is to be applauded. The Hornbeam was a nice mid-brown bitter, fragrant hops on the nose, quite hoppy flavour with a nice dry finish. An excellent start on the taste front. But £14.50……! We move on….

The Knott Bar

The Knott has been a favoured meeting point for my work associates for a number of years, owing to its excellent beers and good food. The prices are average for Town and it  is an excellent meeting spot due to its proximity to both regional rail line (Deansgate) and Metrolink (GMex). Tonight it was reasonably busy for a Thursday. This was where we met Paul. Again, our Golfing game crew were here (the 8th hole) and some of them looked as if they were considerably “over par”!

Settling down to beer selection, Jaz & I went for a Hardknott Cool Fusion. A pale beer at 4.4% abv with a hint of ginger in the nose. The beer texture was somewhat lifeless, strange given that it was dispensed via beer engine, rather than direct from cask. The beer flavour was excellent with ginger to the fore with plenty of malt balance. A fine beer.

In common with most of the better bars in Manchester, The Knott has an excellent jukebox and as much as I would have liked to settle for another and some fine music….we have to move on. The Golfing crew headed to their 9th hole The Atlas opposite The Knott. However, we were destined to walk other fairways to…..

Cask

This bar is incredibly deceptive. The entrance and the frontage is so small, you could easily walk past. I’ve been a few times and nearly missed it tonight! Jukebox going strong, with The Black Keys juxtaposed with Joy Division….works for me!

(Unlike England, all wickets intact at Cask!)

We settled down to the beer selection, 3 on tonight with Redwillow, Pictish and Facers. I opted for the Shameless from the mighty Redwillow Brewery of Macclesfield. This pale cracker is a double IPA at 5.9% abv. Aromas of hoppy apricots giving way to lovely creamy hop bitterness. I don’t know what hops Mr Mackenzie put in this, but I detected more apricot and American hoppy flavours. A lovely beer and, notwithstanding the darks that come later, the best beer of the evening for me. With beers like this, I could be brought over from The Dark Side!!! The other 4 had the Pictish Brewers Gold, which was enjoyed hugely. Cask deserves more than one pint to be drunk, but, being a ‘stroll’……..

The Britons Protection

Briton

(Pic courtesy of…ah..you can see!)

The BP is a Manchester classic old fashioned boozer. Walking through the crowded front entrance, the pub was very busy on this miserable evening (performance at The Bridgewater?)

Quick scan of the bar reveals 4 ales on, but my eyes went no further that Conwy Brewery Honey Porter. Never had a Conwy on draught (though have had some bottles). We got the beers and settled in the corridor behind the bar as the other two rooms were quite busy too. This pub is a decorative gem with all this wood and stained glass! Simply gorgeous. I could come in even if the beer was pants…which it certainly wasn’t! 3 went for the Conwy, 2 went for the Coach House Farriers Best Bitter.

The Conwy is a dark brown porter. Some honey sweetness on the nose along with the dark roasted malt. The flavour was slightly honeyed, not sweet at all with a lovely smooth texture and nice roasted taste with a slight bitterness in the finish. A really nice subtle beer. I’ll be looking out for Conwy draught products again!

With all these people in the bar it was damn HOT! I was sweating like Lee Evans in a sauna!!! We needed to get into the cool night air and (passing the Peveril – another evening, maybe) we headed to…..

The Paramount

No need for descriptives for this fine Wetherspoon emporium. Straight to the bar. DARK HEAVEN! As well as the (Elland) Paramount Porter, there was Greenfield Black 5 AND Titanic Plum Porter! I was struggling to choose. But opted for the Titanic. Plums? Tick! Roasted Malt flavours? Tick! Good value at £2.09? Hell yes! Another excellent draught beer from the ever reliable Stoke brewers. (Just waiting for some more Chocolate & Vanilla Stout on draught please!!!).

(Welcome to The Dark Side…Mwuuhhaahaa!!!)

What’s this I see? All 5 strollers drinking dark beer? Heavens to Murgatroyd!!!! The inevitable second beer in this fine hostelry was a doozy for me. Paramount Porter. 6.5% of Porter heaven. Creamy, slightly bitter, licorice and coffee roast. This is a 5 star beer at a 1 star price. £2.40!!!

Getting late. Chris, being off to Hamburg on a jolly on Friday morning, was dropped at St Peters Sq Metrolink. I fancied one more at Waterhouse, but was outvoted. Let’s just say, it got messy, buses were missed…….TAXI!

‘Til next time.

Slainte!