A bicycle made for brew – part two

By Liz Dodd

Click here to read part one of our beery bike ride


Westvleteren to Roeselare

I lay still inside a horse shed in a Belgian field and listened to the apocalyptic gale outside. It was Wednesday morning and we had 20 miles to ride from Westvleteren, where we’d stopped to try The Best Beer in the World, to Roeselare, home of Rodenbach beer.

We were confident that the day’s ride would be hastened by a tailwind: the asbestos that had come loose from the shack in the night scuttled right in the wind; right is always east if you’re standing up; and we were cycling due east.

After a leisurely breakfast at the Westvleteren bar (Donkerstraat 13;+32 57 40 03 77) we cycled ten minutes into a grinding headwind that no one could have forseen, and that was to dog us for the entire ride, before giving up at a deeply weird but endearing bar in Groen Erf, where locals tried to divert us to a cheese museum. Caffeinated, we made it at least six minutes more before being lured, Odysseus-like, into a local bike shop where, dogged by numbness in my right hand since Dover I bought a pair of handlebar extensions and insisted on fitting them on the roadside.

We entered Roeselare through its admittedly depressing suburbs, in my case about a foot closer to the ground thanks to my oddly rotating handlebars, to discover that Rodenbach Brewery (Spanjestraat 133; +32 51 24 28 36) was closed for a corporate event. Rodenbach offers tours of its brewery for those better prepared than I; email info@rodenbach.be in advance to arrange. 

Luckily the unassuming Cafe Krottegem (Koornstraat 80, Roeselare), two minutes away, turned out to be the bar of choice for the brewers themselves, who were so touched that we’d cycled from London to try their beer that they bought us glass after glass of fresh Rodenbach.

My dad always told me that Rodenbach is the best beer in the world. A Flanders Red Ale, it is quite breathtakingly sour, and tastes like all the cherries in the world have been pulverized into it. But that’s an illusion: the beer’s distinctive fruitiness comes from its distinctive, mixed fermentation, which includes the souring bacteria that result from oak-aging. It’s also blended: the Original mixes ¾ old with ¼ young beer; the Grand Cru has over half old beer; and the Vintage is unblended. At a recent tasting session at the Kings Arms in Bethnal Green, east London, Rodenbach’s brewmaster, Rudi Ghequire, described it as the missing link between wine and beer, which sums it up nicely.


We stayed the night in De Bonte Os Hotel & Tower (Sint-Hubrechtsstraat 14, 8800 Roeselare; +32 51 24 02 15; about £51 for a double), a cyclist-friendly hotel opposite the train station. The current owner, who built the tower, is so proud of it that he has installed both a panoramic elevator and a large neon sign that flashes: Hotel – AND TOWER! This is enormously useful when you stagger home after spending a night sampling the local hooch, as we did at Petrouska, a snug brasserie on the fringe of Roselare’s market square where the beer menu is longer than the food menu. The Kasteel Donker, pictured above being thieved by Miranda, was a particular favourite (Stationsplein 4, 8800 Roeselare; +32 51 20 25 95).

Roeselare to Bruges

Like hungover Rapunzels we stared down at Roselare from our tower-top room the following morning and tried to pick out the route we’d take to Bruges, about 22 miles. Once it split off from the busy N37 the ride was glorious, dancing around spacious forests on the run into Oostkamp. We were at our campsite – Camping Memling (Veltemweg 109, 8310 Brugge; +32 50 35 58 45; about £20 for a pitch per night) – by 3pm, our rattled bones across Bruges’ cobbled streets and beneath its famous belfry by five. 


Which, conveniently, is the point in the afternoon when The Trappist (Kuipersstraat 33; +32 475 45 50 66), a central cellar bar that specialises in craft and local beer, opens. Its lovely staff, simultaneously delighted that we had cycled there and horrified, on realising how much we intended to drink, that we might cycle anywhere else, turned me on to Straffe Hendrick, an intensely rich Belgian quad rolling with flavours of oak, berry and chocolate (11 per cent).


We bumped back through Bruges to Lidl and picked up some bottles to drink while we cooked gnocchi on our beer can stove, which turned out to actually just be some small potatoes that we doggedly cooked for 30 minutes (all our meths) in the hopes that they would transform into gnocchi, then mashed up with tomato puree  (“It’s like an Italian hash!”) before passing out to the gentle hooting of owls in the surrounding forest.

Bruges – Holland – Dunkirk

It was over lunch at a Greek restaurant in Holland that we realised we had just two days to cover the miles to Dunkirk that had taken us a week riding east.

We’d biked to Sluis, on the border, on our day off. With our baggage left behind in the tent we flew across the strange and misty plains around Bruges – all wild but punctuated by perfectly ordered trees – then hugged the wide canal through pretty Damme to the third country on our tour. We had time for one last, great night – in, unoriginally, The Trappist again – before hunkering down for the longest ride of the holiday: 50 straight miles along the coast to the Bray Dunes, a few miles outside Dunkirk.


And what a day it was. We set a ferocious pace along the quiet canal that wound northbound from Bruges to the coast, hanging onto the drafts of the scores of roadbike racers, then lunched at a brasserie in Oostend that, like much of that grand, aging seaside town, felt like a location for an Agatha Christie novel. Dodging pedestrians, we followed miles of promenade to France, where Google Maps’ route petered out amid the sand dunes as the sun set.

Our campsite turned out to be a trailer park; abandoned except for detuned radios crackling static from behind locked doors like something out of Silent Hill.


Dunkirk – London

I hesitate to recommend the route Google Maps sent us from Dunkirk to the ferry port, in part because it insistently led us across half-built bridges, and because it is so utterly forsaken and remote that you feel quite sure you will never see a ferry again in your life virtually until you ride straight into one.

But the bleak chemical plants we wound through had their own strange, Gotham City-like beauty, and, hell, it was better than the motorway. We watched Scotland crush France in the Six Nations as we edged across The Channel; then fought our way back to London amid endless rail replacement buses.

It was dark when I arrived home, 250 miles down, bruised and bumped, sleep-deprived, and atop a bicycle that looked like a mangled cross between a tank and a reindeer. Outside in the night the wind and the foxes barked and snow threatened. I’d never considered myself much of an outdoorswoman, but had Miranda not cycled on to Hackney with the tent strapped to her bike, I might very well have zipped up my fleece and joined them.


A bicycle made for brew: from London to Holland via beer

By Liz Dodd

Covered in mud, bleeding from thorn scratches, and with pins and needles shooting along the suffocated nerves in my hands, I sat back in a French ditch and brushed melting hail from the can of beer I’d brought with me in my bicycle pannier from London.

It promptly exploded, probably because shortly beforehand I’d thrown the pannier, bike and myself down a sheer embankment to escape the motorway I’d cycled along since Dunkirk ferry port. When best friend Miranda and I decided to embark on our first foreign cycle tour, to pin it to our favourite Belgian breweries, and to wild camp along the way, we’d expected more Sideways and less Saving Private Ryan.

Before we set off a few people said to me how much they wanted to do a beer tour of Belgium by bike. The country’s excellent cycling infrastructure and sublime beer make perfect sleeping bag fellows. And after we’d ironed out the creases and got into the rhythm of touring, it was glorious – even in March’s freezing conditions.

Our route took us the 250 miles from Aylesford in Kent to Sluis in Holland and back again, with stops at some wonderful Real Ale pubs on this side of The Channel; and on the other, Westvlteren to try the best beer in the world, Rodenbach’s brewery to try more of the best beer in the world, and the beer halls of Bruges.

I’ve included a map in case anyone else wants to recreate the trip or try a leg themselves. Miranda and I are not pro-cyclists (I commute about 100 miles a week by bike), as you’ll quickly realise, although we are pro-drinkers, and we didn’t find this ride a struggle at all. After we’d figured out how to use a compass and what the French sign for “motorway” was.

For details on our bikes and gear scroll to the end

Aylesford to Thurnham (6.8 miles)

An immediate hiccough as we got tired after six miles and stopped for the morning/afternoon/night/following morning in the absolutely glorious Black Horse Inn (Thurnham, Maidstone ME14 3LD; 01622 737185; around £80 for a double)


Sat alongside the Pilgrim’s Way, which I’m sure is a lovely cycle path in summer but is muddy Hades in winter, its 18th century bar was thick with the smell of woodsmoke and the hop bundles that covered the ceiling.

A better place to neck pints of session ale, amend your ferry booking and rain down curses upon Google Maps I could not imagine. Onwards!

Thurnham to Dover (39 miles, with pushing)


Refreshed (ok, hungover) we blithely forged on along the Pilgrim’s Way, which shortly turned out to be a BMX track and No Way whatsoever. We escaped to the peaks and troughs of the A20 across a field whose primary crop was bicycle-clogging clods of clay, then on to the roaring fires and well-kept pints of the White Hart pub in Hythe (71 High St, Hythe CT21 5AJ; 01303 238304).


A race along the seafront through Folkestone brought us to the suburbs of Dover and the foot of the White Cliffs, where I took a wrong turn then insisted we climb a strange iron staircase to the start of a 300ft trail up the cliffside.

Friends, I will gloss over this part, except to say that I had gone so totally insane by the time I had dragged my 40kg of bicycle and equipment slipping and sliding to the top of that fucking cliff in the rain and the dark that I survived only by singing “you are my lucky, lucky star” over and over again like Ripley in Alien. Then amended the ferry booking.

Once you have sensibly taken the road up the hill, and not the mud slide, make sure to visit The Royal Oak (Capel-le-Ferne, Kent, CT18 7HY; 01303 244787). A wonderful little pub at the top of Dover Hill, which we cycled blindly into after scaling Dover Mountain and setting up camp in a nearby field, the staff are friendly, the darts are loud, and the ale Real and very well kept. It’s also mindbendingly cheap (£2.40 a pint) and serves £2.50 lunches.

Dover to Dunkirk (15 miles, plus motorway) (and ferry)

Dawn broke as rudely as the frost on our tent and we rolled downhill to Dover, where M got a puncture and it transpired we hadn’t booked the second bike onto our much amended ferry. No matter! After an administrative kerfuffle, three minutes to sail’o’clock found us crunching full-speed up the ramp to supportive cheers from the Dfds crew, and into a nook between the parked HGVs.


We entered Dunkerque on the motorway. A non-driver, I mistook the hard shoulder for a cycle path, and spent seven miles waving to horn-bashing lorry drivers before I realised M, behind me, was not, in fact, whooping for joy, but was actually screaming: “we’re on the bloody motorway”.

Around three miles later the cycle lane shoulder folded into itself over a bridge ahead (“FUCKING STOP!”) and, faced with either the SOS phone or a steep drop into a farmer’s field, we opted to fling our luggage, bikes and selves down the embankment into what transpired to be a river. On its banks, in a hailstorm, we failed to dry and sat enjoying the cans of Purity‘s new black ale, Saddle Black, which I’d brought with us for – er – just such an occasion.

Testament to the greatness of this beer, which was conceived on a bike trip hopefully better planned than our own, was how much we enjoyed it in our sticky trench. A nutty, pitch-dark ale, it rolled dark fruit and coffee; thick like a stout but lifted by a bit of fizz (although that might have something to do with rolling down an embankment) and zingy hops.


Dunkirk to St Sixtus Abbey (22 miles)

I don’t know whether it was the night in a hostel in Dunkirk that revived us, the novelty of better weather or the sudden, luxuriant cycling infrastructure, but we gambled into Belgium alongside quiet fields, dipping into farm shops for supplies and gaffa-taping baguettes to our cross bars.


St Sixtus Abbey (Donkerstraat 12, 8640 Vleteren, Belgium; 00 32 70 21 00 45), one of six Trappist breweries in Belgium (the others being Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort and Westmalle), and home to The Best Beer in the World, Westvleteren 12, sits among copses in flat Flanders fields. It’s well signposted and, far from being the crumbling, Gothic artifice I’d imagined, is tucked behind tall redbrick walls accented with white statuettes. The visitors’ centre (where the bar and shop are) is sharp and clean and glossy; it serves the monks’ beers and snacks including abbey cheese.

Of course, we went straight for the WV 12. We’d almost hoped that it wouldn’t be the best beer in the world, that we’d hipster ourselves out of enjoying it. But oh, it’s good. So good it invented its own class of beer – the Abt, or darker, quadrupel – and still dominates the league tables for that style. It’s rich and sweet but not overpowering; bursting with Christmas fruit and spices and chocolate; but so well-balanced it leaves you with just a ghost of mouthfeel and a massive thirst for more.

Which is unfortunate, because it’s 10 per cent and the abbey is in the middle of nowhere amid poorly lit country roads. Be warned: if you drive there nominate a designated driver and then buy them a whole case of the WV12 (which you can buy in the gift shop and supposedly nowhere else in the world) to make up.

In the interests of JOURNALISM we drank our fill of the 12 then camped (passed out under some tarp) in a nearby animal shed thing. We woke with dawn to shake the tent free of some asbestos that had fallen on it in the night and set off for Roeselare – home to Rodenbach.

(Coming in part two: Rodenbach; In Bruges)


Gear Geekery

Liz (I) rode a 2011 Ridgeback Speed hybrid (really!), with handlebar extensions, handbuilt wheels from The London Cycle Workshop (Mavic rims, Deore hubs and 36 spokes); a Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre on the back and mystery tyre on the front; a Tourtec pannier rack (rear) and two 20L Ortlieb panniers. She slept in a Wenger Chasseral sleeping bag, on a Neo Air X-Lite women’s Thermarest, inside a Vango Banshee 300 tent. With cooking gear (meths, a single Trangia pan, an Aeropress and a beer can stove) and clothes (merino everything) I reckon I was carrying 15-20kg plus bike.


Miranda rode a Marin Muirwoods MTB with a Tortec Expedition Pannier rear rack, two Altura Arran 36L Panniers and handle bar extensions. She slept in a Snugpak Softie 9 Hawk bag on a Thermarest Prolite Plus, also inside the Vango Banshee 300.


Singapore Swing: craft beer in Asia

by Emma Nobes

With the high ceilings, exposed ventilation shafts, tell-tale handwritten chalkboards and seventies-inspired artworks you would be mistaken for thinking that you had just stepped into any old east London brewery. Except we aren’t in east London and this isn’t any old brewery; we are nearly 7,000 miles away on the little island that is Singapore.

Singapore, just off the coast of Malaysia, is renowned for many things; cleanliness, the chewing gum ban and Formula One spring to mind. But craft beer is not one of them. Recently, however, things have started to change. Singapore’s 2015 Beerfest Asia saw 30,000 beer lovers tasting over 400 beers, including leading players in the Asian beer industry like Singha Beer (Thailand) and San Miguel (Philippines), as well as lesser-known artisanal craft beers from countries like Japan, New Zealand and Italy. Originally set up seven years ago to raise awareness of the beer industry in Singapore, the four-day festival grows from strength to strength each year. The festival doesn’t have the raucous singing and dancing to folk music that one would expect in Europe, but it has its own vibe, and people here are beginning to take beer seriously.

The Little Island Brewing Company has spotted this growing market and knows its clientele. Hidden in the eastern end of Singapore, we found the brewery by accident at the end of a 20km post Christmas-indulgence cycle ride. Ten old-school tanks brew blends on site that contain no additives and patrons serve themselves with a top-up card, an Oyster card for beer, if you will. The six offerings work on a rotation system and, sadly, when we visited three had already sold out. This will, hopefully, not be a constant complaint and is merely a sign of the immediate popularity of the place, particularly over the Christmas and New Year period, in the six short months that it has been open.


Golden Ale was one of these three to be unavailable, but employee, brewmaster and all round nice guy Greg was kind enough to let me have a little taste of what was left in the barrel. Initial hints of peppermint were quickly followed by grapefruit undertones. “This stuff will not touch the sides on a hot sunny day”, said Greg. I agreed. Born to Scottish parents in Dubai, he grew up just down the road in Changi and has worked here for a month. He “came for the food and stayed for the beer”. A professional brewer, he asked for a job and has been enjoying the life of the Little Island Brewing Company ever since. His enthusiasm speaks volumes and his love for his craft and for his team clearly spills over into the customer experience.


A full pint of Oh Yeah, Singapore Pale Ale gives a certain sharpness that prickles the tongue ever so slightly. The overall fruitiness certainly wets the palette in this tropical climate and is most welcome when considering the brewery’s location; unless you live nearby, you will need to cycle here via the East Cost Park/Changi Beach coastline or grab a taxi. The full-bodied Ruby Tuesday, on the other hand, is maltier, darker and has real depth. Its powerful flavour packs a good punch.

I am sorry to say that, on this occasion, I was unable to try the final offering that was available; my responsibilities as Parent overtook my interests as Beer Drinker and I did have to cycle the 20km of coastline home slightly tipsy with a tired two-year old in the child seat of my bike. Before leaving, however, we did sample the kitchen’s offerings. Often when the beer is great, the food menu leaves a lot to be desired and it is a rare thing that an establishment achieves both. But, with its onsite smoker and locally-caught fish battered with whatever light beer is on rotation, the Little Island Brewing Company is making a good effort. Husband and Toddler finished off the meaty fish and chips before I even had a look in. I ordered the vegetarian bruschetta, which had a little too much mozzarella and lemon for my liking, but the bread was thick and the garnish was full and fresh.


In a country where restaurants and drinking holes close down as quickly as they open, I truly hope that this one gains the recognition that it deserves. Little Island Brewing Company will be partnering, alongside fellow national microbreweries, Singapore’s first ever craft beer festival CRAFT Singapore 2016 in March, which will do a lot to bolster the industry in Singapore, as well as their trade. The Little Island Brewing Company is one of the few craft beer brewers in Singapore and they have clearly put a lot of thought into building the business – as one would hope when discussing something as serious as beer. This is certainly a niche, for the moment at least, and one that Singapore is craving.

Emma Nobes is a writer and former Londoner, who now lives in Singapore with her husband and daughter.


Little Island Brewing Company is at 6 Changi Village Rd, Singapore 509907; +65 6543 9100. Open 12-12.

Beer in the USA: best of the bottles

By Liz Dodd

One of my favourite things about the US that I noticed during my all-to-brief trip this month was the wide availability of great, bottled craft beer. Pop-art IPAs and strange, fusion stouts dotted the fridges of supermarkets, off-licenses and gas stations. Historians and PNWesterners will be able to tell me whether this is because the US has been onto craft beer longer, but wandering the booze aisles of Walmart and Costco was (generally) way more rewarding than in most UK supermarkets.

I have but one gripe: America, why are your bottles so big??! The range is probably different at specialist shops, but in supermarkets I struggled to find bottles smaller than 750ml in big stores. That’s ideal for an evening-long drink, but given most beers came in at the 6-8% mark, it meant I couldn’t really get through more than one a night. Was I shopping in the wrong places?

All the beers reviewed came from major US supermarkets in and around Bellingham in NW Washington.


1) Breakbeat Series IPA, Elysian Brewery, Trader Joes
I loved this beer so much I sought out the brewery in Seattle. A lively hop bomb, it pours the golden orange of the Fall leaves.

It’s spicy, herbal and orange on the nose, and tastes lush and full-bodied, with grounding citrus and hop oil to dial it back to refreshing.



2) Sriracha hot stout, Rogue Brewery, Costco

How could you not buy this beer? I loved Sriracha before it was cool, and admittedly this beer does little more than a chilli stout usually does (tastes like stout! But spicy!), but that’s no bad thing.

The real, lingering chilli kick perforates the bitter chocolate of the blackened malt, leaving a sinkable stout that doesn’t taste its 5.7% abv.


3) Sleigh’r, Ninkasi Brewing Company, Safeways

IMG_20151204_174045The metal-punnage! The label! This dark double alt from neighbouring Oregon sits atop a sweet, burned sugar malt.

It’s that malt that makes the beer – it’s nutty and sweet, with raisin and a hint of dried cherry. Light enough to stay in the background, but with a robust caramel taste, this beer would go really well with a roast dinner. Like Christmas. Topical beer klaxon!


4) Monk’s Uncle Tripel, Pike, Safeways

This psychedelic riff on a Tripel is a gorgeous, silky sweet play on the Belgian style, rolling in herbs and ripe fruit. It pours a cloudy orange with a delicate, white head. With plenty of funky depth from the yeast and juicy fruit from the hops, this is a lovely beer to savour – slowly, BECAUSE IT’S A WHOPPING 9 PER CENT.



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Beer on tour: pushing boundaries in the USA

Boundary Bay brewery, Washington

By Liz Dodd

Between the blue skies and snow puffed mountain peaks, it’s been a breath catching cold week in the USA’s Pacific Northwest, where I’ve been earning my keep this week on Cowboy’s Girlfriend’s horse farm.


Washington state – like much of the US – seems to be awash with craft breweries. It’s Nirvana out here for a hophead like me (ha! accidental Seattle pun!). Short on time, I took local advice and headed to Boundary Bay, a multi-award-winning brewery in Bellingham, northern Washington.

This laid-back, sometime-grunge and sometime-artisan bar and bistro is typical of its trendy hometown. It attracts the town’s own brand of be-Conversed hipster – hamsters, short for Bellinghamster, I’m told – and has an outstanding menu with plenty of Vegan/Veggie options, free hot, local cider and a line of t-shirts.


A stone’s throw from the Pacific, the independent brewery is nautical-themed, with huge tranches of wood and big, bold paintings of the nearby drydock. It opened in 1995 and sits in a restored 1922 warehouse in the centre of town. The brewery prides itself on bolstering the local economy and community groups. Last year it was named Washington’s 2014 Small Philanthropic Business of the Year.

Most importantly, the beer is superb. With just an evening to get to know the range, I opted for a 6-shot board, which came with a handy cheat sheet.


All the beers were beautifully balanced, and came just as fresh as you’d expect with the taproom next door.

Here’s a guide to the full range.

My top tips, if you’re lucky enough to be in the area:

IMG_20151130_194234Best Bitter ESB: I’m not generally a fan of bitter (I know, what kind of British beer drinker am I?), but this lovely orange-gold, crystal clear beer was delicious. Some citrus from the subtle hopping, but mostly a smooth, light caramel.

Amber: I’d call this a thick glass of mahogany rather than amber. Warmed, it’s got a lovely, floral aroma, all sugar sweet and marshmallow.

Scotch: Very well balanced, with a whiskey malt finish. The sweet, liqeur-ness is balanced by juicy citrus hops, burned caramel and orange zest.

Oatmeal stout: Soft, rounded, pitch black beer. Gloriously smooth and full-bodied, it tastes like it smells – like strong coffee and dark chocolate.

This is my first time in the US and I wish I had longer to go beer exploring (beerploring!). So far, the US craft scene is everything I’d been promised. Stay tuned for a Best of the Bottles round-up.

Boundary Bay brewery is at 1107 RAILROAD AVE, BELLINGHAM, WA 98225





Thorny Issue: tasting notes for Hop & Barley magazine

By Liz Dodd

I was lucky enough to contribute tasting notes on Thornbridge’s core range for the current edition of Hop and Barley, a beautiful, coffee-table-worthy mag about beer and brewing. Check out this quarter’s edition here, and read the tasting notes – which H&B have very kindly allowed me to reproduce here – below.

From Hop and Barley Vol 5

As part of our continued celebration of their tenth anniversary, this edition of the tasting notes features a selection from the core Thornbridge range.  Spanning the lifetime of the brewery, the six beers reflect both the eclecticism and quality from the past decade.  From the Jaipur IPA which has become synonymous with the brewery, to the more recent and highly-admired series of classic continental styles, each demonstrates the breadth of the brewery’s talent.


American Pale Ale


From the outset this beer glows warm, amber red and generous, with a thick and lasting, creamy head.  Its American hops really sing on the nose, where tumbling notes of juicy pineapple, nectarine and orange, with some piney resin, just top the underlying caramel, golden-syrup sweetness of the malt.  That balance tastes like chunky thick-cut marmalade, tart but sweetly jammy.  It’s remarkably full-bodied for a beer just on the dangerous side of session-strength, thanks to the toasty, creamy notes from the malt.  The hops win out eventually and leave a pleasant, grapefruit-y hoppy zing, with a touch of burnt caramel.  Overall, a great British take on the American classic; a rich session ale that’s complex and fresh enough not to tire of, but not so strong you’ll regret ordering it by the pint.

WildRaven2Wild Raven

Black IPA


A goth beer by name and nature, this chunky, completely midnight-black beer pours thick and tarry with a thin, off white-head.  If the colour makes you recall a stout, the nose quickly disillusions: there’s a little bit of the dark chocolate, coffee and smoky tobacco notes you’d expect, but they’re quietened by the fruity earthiness of the hops.  In a similar way, there’s rich black coffee on the palate, but also a subtle fruitiness, even a sweet cream, and some tropical fruits.  Overall, it’s a well balanced black IPA – the chocolate malt isn’t sacrificed for the punchy hops, and vice-versa.  This carries through in its mouthfeel, which is delicate, and the aftertaste of bitterness and burnt nuts, with a metallic tint at the very end.  It’s edging towards strength at 6.6%, so Thornbridge impresses here by pulling off a good balance of hop and roasty malt.




The Derbyshire brewery’s popular foray into the crowded IPA market is a gateway beer; flavourful in a way that’s approachable, but lacking the big alcohol punch and lingering hop oils that would ensnare hardened hop heads.  It pours soft, yellow gold, a straw-like hay colour that hints at the grassy herbals you encounter on the nose.  Once the light, creamy head has cleared, a fresh, almost coriander, aroma emerges; yes, the standard New World hops are present in sweet citrus, but there’s an underlying, enjoyable savoury note.  It tastes fresh and grassy, with lemon verbena and grapefruit, but that mouth-puckering bitterness is somewhat deflated by its decidedly medium mouthfeel and a little too much caramel.  There is some lingering pithy zing, but, at a lower ABV, the American Pale actually packs more punch.  All in all, a great intro to IPA for someone used to rounder ales.


Smoked Bock


A lovely optical illusion of a beer, Bambergs glossy haze and moderate head mean that its artful smokiness catches you completely by surprise.  This is an autumnal beer: its colours are the glowing reds, rubies, oranges and ambers of hearths and bonfire embers.  Which is appropriate, because on the nose this reveals waves and billows of smoke – courtesy of its 100% beechwood smoked malt.  At once complex, Lapsang Souchong, smoky and tea-like, the underlying boozy sweetness nods towards peaty Islay whisky and spicy rum.  The smokiness largely dissipates in your mouth to leave a deliciously complex aniseed, with subtle impressions of smoky ham and cheese, and a full-bodied, burnt toffee-ish malt.  The rich, harvest festival flavours linger; the legacy of the whisky notes emerge as a long warmth, while the aniseed becomes cloves and the burnt sugar, orangey caramel.  It’s almost Christmas-like, a great cold weather beer to enjoy with fireworks and toffee apples.


Köln Style Beer


Crystal clear with just a hint of straw gold against strong light, this beer glows like a Chardonnay and pours exactly like a beer that emulates Cologne’s famous top-fermented, lagered beer should.  The head – white, ghostly and soft – dissipates quickly.  But its subtle appearance belies a powerful nose, which is fruity and grassy without being too perfumed.  Those fruit aromas carry through to the palate, where an initial sweetness outlasts fairly heavy carbonation and gives way to pear drops.  It’s a little too sweet for the style – Cologne’s best Kölsch is so balanced and subtle that its sweetness dissipates like a crisp, dry white wine, whereas Thornbridge’s offering lingers to a honeyed, mead-y finish, with a touch of hay.  But ice cold, this is still a crisp, dry beer that would work beautifully paired with fish or white meat.


Imperial IPA


Gloriously, lazily hazy and honey-coloured, Thornbridge’s Double IPA is a dangerously well-balanced, strong beer.  For hop addicts, it might just be too balanced, with the gloriously vivid hops that should shine through an IIPA somewhat watered down – perhaps by the malt.  But for everyone else, the ripe, pungent, lychee aroma promises, and delivers, all the citrus kick you could want.  It’s woody and fruity on the nose, with hints of wild flowers and an underlying, complicated savouriness. Those fruits overwhelm the palate, but the lushness of the mango, melon and papaya lingers well. There’s some bitter hop oil left on the palate afterwards, but with a lovely astringency that’s citrusy and palate cleansing – dangerously un-cloying and drinkable for a beer that’s lurching cheerfully towards 8%.


Alternative altbier: Anspach and Hobday’s Oktoberfest range

By Liz Dodd

Oktoberfest. The smell of smokey sausages hangs in the air. People with lederhosen compare altbier and rauchbier. Meanwhile, a few metres away, double decker buses roar up and down Upper Street.

The annual German beer celebration is observed slightly differently in Islington, as we discovered earlier this month at local craft pub The Hop and Berry. Less dancing on tables, more ironic dominoes on table.

Here local (well, Bermondsey-based) brewers Anspach and Hobday are launching their six-strong range of German style beers. It’s just in time for Oktoberfest, and good news for anyone disappointed by the sudden closure of London’s official Oktoberfest allegedly due to inadequate staffing.

The brewery admits it’s taken some liberties. “We’ve bastardised some of it,” admits Paul Anspach who, true to his Germanic heritage, is wearing lederhosen. “In Germany, Oktoberfest is a family festival. We haven’t got helter skelter,” he points out, accurately.

He and Jack (Hobday) tell us they relished the chance to brew the six beers – a rauchbier, a hefeweizen, a Bavarian IPA, an altbier, a Berliner weiss and a golden rachbier. “It’s nice to make the classic styles. It was like going back to the recipe book,” Jack explains.


I dove straight in with the 7 per cent golden rauch (it had been a tough week, alright?) It’s savoury and smokey, like a Rauch should be, and lifted by its hazy floral nose. Its cousin, the straight Rauchbier, had the same caramell-y smoke, with rolling coffee notes.

IMG_20150930_204340On to the Hefeweizen, which is creamy, herbal and deliciously smooth. Cut its vanilla-banana wheat notes by with the Berliner Weiss, a gloriously sour, refreshing fizz with groves of tropical fruit.

We finish with the Bavarian IPA, which is hoppy, bitter and very drinkable, and the altbier, which glows an amber red and tastes of smoke and toast. A great autumnal beer, and a great way to dip a toe into the great German tradition.

With just a couple of kegs of each left, it’s worth sorting a trip to the Anspach and Hobday brewery tap as soon as possible. Some of the most popular – like the Hefe, Alt and Rauch – might appear again as keg specials.