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!

The 2nd Leeds International Beer Festival – 06/09/2013

Leeds Town Hall

(pic : Victorianweb.org)

“Why did we ever come so far? I knew I’d seen it all before.

Tall buildings reach up in vain. Tinseltown is in the rain”

(Tinseltown In The Rain – The Blue Nile)

How I love the voice of Paul Buchanan! And, for a fully paid up Lancastrian, how I love the beautiful city of Leeds. Stunning architecture, excellent shopping (or so I’m told!) friendly people, great bars. I, it would seem, am well catered for!

It was almost a year to the day when the doors opened at Leeds Town Hall for the 1st Leeds International Beer Festival, which, from recall, was a two-day event held – almost in its entirety – within the main ballroom of the building. The festival was the first to open my eyes as to how these events can evolve into a great experience across all demographics – Young/Not so, Male/Female etc – and I loved it (see here https://beersmanchester.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/the-first-leeds-international-beer-festival-08092012/ for one of my earlier efforts!)

Having left Bolton at an unfeasibly early hour, Manchester was living up to its nickname of The Rainy City. I packed my raincoat, yet hoped that the other side of “the hill” would be somewhat brighter. Sadly, the White Rose was not in bloom today. So coat on and hood up, a brisk walk to the Town Hall was in order.

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I was aware that the festival had been expanded to 4 days. I’d also read that there would be more beers, from more breweries than last year. What I wasn’t prepared for was the sight that greeted me on approach to the magnificent Town Hall. The area around the town hall was fenced off  for access purposes. There were huts/sheds, marquees, mobile catering trucks, even a Tipi! Last year, there was ONE facility outdoors – Fish &.  All became apparent on entry. The food vendors were all outside this year.

Entering the “compound”, I got my glass and (monopoly style!) beer money/tokens from different huts outside. Ignoring the food vendors for the moment, I entered the main building to be confronted by the magnificent room above, simply stunning, with its feature at the far end, the mightily impressive pipe organ. It was immediately apparent, that there were more beer providers this year, including a substantial number from London on the London Brewers Alliance bar, featuring liquid joys from Weird Beard, Five Points, Partizan, Pressure Drop and more. More later…

However, being from the western side of those hills, my first decision was easy once I spotted a couple of pumps from Quantum. No Mr Krause this year (on MY visit at least), but I toasted him with a glass of his English Pale Ale. A hazy golden 3.9% ale with a “Saisonnesque” aroma laden with yeasty funk notes. A tad warm this, but a lovely fruity balanced pale with contrasting sweet pineapple and tart gooseberry in the mouth with a very dry, lightly bitter, finish. An excellent primer!

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The beauty of this festival (and IndyManBeerCon – its almost “sister” festival), is the opportunity to chat to the alchemists who make these fine brews. It was with this in mind, that I abandoned my usual social reserve and approached the London Brewers Alliance bar where I spotted two gentlemen sporting the latest in promotional “beer wear” fashion T-Shirts, Logan Pant from Beavertown of Hackney and Gregg Irwin from Weird Beard of Hanwell. Both nice blokes, passionate about what they do and banging out some astonishingly good beers.

Whilst chatting, a certain Mr Bailey from Hardknott of Cumbria wandered over to further discuss with Gregg what may turn into a future collaboration brew. Keep your eyes peeled for that one! A brief chat with Dave (get me, all familiar like!) revealed another really nice bloke who also loves what he does. He’s also bloody good at it. One of his beers (Infra Red) has been chosen as one of the 20 beers by Sainsbury for their annual Great British Beer Hunt (beertoday.co.uk). Wish them well with this, if successful, this may be the spark for a considerable expansion for their excellent brewery.

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Getting slightly busier by now, it was time for another beer, this time Railway Porter from the excellent Five Points Brewing Co of Hackney. I’ve had a few of their bottles from Damian O’Sheas’ excellent stall at Castlefield Market. Now for some draught on keg. A very dark brown beer which I left to warm slightly. Bitter chocolate and spicy hop nose on this, with more gentle bitter chocolate in the mouth, Nice hopping led to a dry bitter finish. Nice! I caught up with Ed from the brewery later, another top bloke taking time out to chat to customers!

Being a thoroughly sensible (some may substitute “boring” if they wish!) I stayed at the lower end of the abv scale now with Mary Jane by Ilkley Brewery at 3.5%. Another golden beer with an aroma of fresh mown grass whilst also slightly fruity. This was really refreshing and clean with some melon and kiwi hints. Nice dry finish for this which would be great beer for a session. But not the best from Ilkley today….oh no!

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(“Oh I do like to be beside….er…wait a minute…!)

Having had a brief breath of fresh air (still raining!), it was time to wander back in for a Kirkstall Pale Ale at 4% abv. Another nice juicy golden beer with a light fruity hop aroma with a flavour which, to me, seemed to feature white grape and kiwi. Another really refreshing beer with a dry and slightly bitter hoppy ending.

One of the things that stands out for me about this new breed of festivals is the friendly nature of the people that you meet. Today we met a lovely retired couple from near Skipton. Janet and Derek were their names. I sat with them at our table for most of the afternoon and the chats were a joy. Both sharing an obvious love for good beer, Janet loving her Hophead and American Pale from Darkstar and Derek swapping tasting notes (and occasional sips!). Derek and I had chats encompassing politics, craft beer (and the rather poor regard from some parts of CAMRA – making him think of lapsing his card) and a whole gamut of other stuff. One of a few things that made my day. If they read this – Thank You!

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(A class act!)

This was a slow easy drinking day. No rushing, just good conversation, good food – including the odd Scotch Egg – and superb beer. Which brings me to my beer of the day!

I had a chat with the guys at the Ilkley bar earlier, including Nick, one of the brewers. I shared my thoughts on – amongst other things – the barrel aged Speyside variant of their classic Saison, Siberia. I was then pointed in the direction of the kegged Dinner Ale, which I had previously tried in bottle and been left feeling that there was something missing – even at 3.3% abv. I had had it after something stronger, so my taste buds may have been impaired because THIS is a CRACKER!

To look at it, you’d immediately think “Lager”. It is REALLY pale. Again, being kegged, I let it warm slightly as it was quite cold. I am so glad I did. Hugely lively at the font, by the time it had warmed slightly I was getting a delicate floral aroma with fruity hints of maybe sugared lemon of tangerine. In the mouth there was a hint of perhaps elderflower before a quite zingy lemon hit me square in the mush! Quite a dry shock that but a beer that rewarded with every sip. Just goes to show that it ain’t always the abv monsters that win the day. Today, Ilkley’s David beat the Goliaths!!!

20130906_164004(A walkabout reveals some beautiful and touching memorials)

I was conscious (no…really!) that I hadn’t had a good look around the venue at all there was to offer. For instance, I didn’t venture at all into the American Craft bar (to be found en route to the – ahem – conveniences). But I did nip outside into the Micro Ham Tipi (a “pop up” from Friends of Ham – more later)

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A quick scan of the pop up bar within revealed 6 beers from the Wild Beer Co in Somerset. I had already sampled the Collab beer with Fyne Ales “Cool as a Cucumber” at the Marble fest on cask. I therefore hit up a fresh hop beer called er….”Fresh” at 5.5% abv. Another hazy golden beer (unfiltered) which was sharp, fresh and fruity with traces of mandarin. A really bitter spicy green hop resinous finish with this. Coped well with the excellent pulled pork sarnie from the Castros pop up. A really excellent mouthful.

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(It’s like a little village!)

Time was marching on and with only 30 minutes to go, it was time for something ludicrous to burn those tokens! Holy Hoppin’ Hell from Weird Beard at 9.7% abv, a Double IPA. This is a seriously BIG DIPA. Sweet malt. LOTS of sweet malt. Intensely fruity and chewy like an orange caramel toffee. Warming with lots of lingering resinous hoppiness.

Just time for a quick palate cleanser now. A casked Sambrooks Red Rye at 4.something % (last digit obscured – not my vision!!!). Ruby red beer with dark fruity nose. The bitter rye character came through with some blackberry. An excellent palate cleanser following the Holy Hoppin’ sensory slaughter!

This, my chums, is a fabulous festival of beer. Celebrating what is best about the current progressive UK beer scene in a stunning venue. with huge room to move and breathe, it feels both civilised and incredibly friendly. The brewers are approachable and generous with their time. This event has expanded beyond belief from last year and the organisers are to be applauded for the bravery in this. I feel sure that they will be rewarded today by a bumper crowd.

It’s still on. What are you waiting for???

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(All that – and a lovely glass too!)

Two things really made my day. One was the conversation and company with/of Janet and Derek as stated above. The other was meeting an old friend.

I hadn’t seen Bob in nearly 20 years. We went to college together and were buddies for quite a long while but drifted apart as you sometimes do. It sounds a cliché, but he really hadn’t changed. Still loving live music (he has always had excellent and eclectic taste) and an admirable taste in beer, it was a joy to catch up and chat – albeit, all too briefly. I do hope to get over to Leeds again soon to renew acquaintance in less time straitened circumstances.

A quick beer with Bob in both North Bar and Friends of Ham ensued, both bars being excellent with great beer and cracking funky tunage. I hope to reacquaint my self with both of them soon! Bob runs an excellent music website. If you like good tunes, check it out here.

So. All that was left was to say farewell and catch that there train back over the hill, get to Bolton, open the door and “Hi honey, I’m home!”

A truly excellent day out with friends old and new.

On that note…’til next time!

Slainte!