Category Archives: Reviews

Christmas cheer, mistletoe and beer

2014 has shot by in a blur and unbelievably, Christmas is almost upon us once again. For us that has meant digging out the box of decorations from under the spare room bed, an almost military-scale operation of trying to plan how we are going to visit all of the family over the holiday and me considering taking out shares in the companies who make cinnamon and ground ginger. It has begun.

What we undoubtedly all need to dissipate the stress of all that shopping, baking, wrapping, cooking, planning and decorating is a nice drink. Christmas tends to be a bit of a boozy free-for-all, with a lot of the drinks usually forgotten at the back of the cabinet making an appearance – when else do you fancy a sherry mid-afternoon?! But somewhere between the champagne over breakfast and the port with your cheese in the evening as you duel over the Monopoly board, beer sometimes gets edged out of the picture.

This is a shame, because there are a huge number of breweries producing seasonal festive beers, many of which would go nicely with your Christmas pudding or a nice chunk of sharp cheddar. ICIP took it upon ourselves to sample a few of these Christmas tipples to give you some ideas.

DSC_0013Fyne Ales – “Nice” (5.2%) and “Naughty” (5.2%)
It was great to see Fyne Ales trying something a little bit different to the usual porters, stouts and barley wines on offer at this time of year, and their white IPA and black ale offer two very different drinking experiences.

We know we’re all beer geeks together here, but for the uninitiated – white IPAs are basically the lovechild of an IPA and a Belgian wit, using a wheat base and sometimes spicing. Nice poured with a light, frothy head and had a crisp, light, lemony nose with an underlying earthy hoppiness. It had an astringent mouthfeel with grapefruit and lemon peel notes (turns out it is brewed with fresh citrus peel, so no surprise there), and has a lingering bitterness which will be thanks to its smack of US hops including Citra, Galaxy and Summit. Interestingly, Mr Pip commented he was picking up an almost pilsner-like flavour, and after some research we discovered that the NZ hop Motueka, which is used in Nice, has Saaz parentage. Not just a pretty face!

On the other end of the spectrum, Naughty poured jet black with a light latte-coloured head. We got a red berry nose, which combined both the sweetness and sourness of fruits like redcurrants, and we also picked up a chocolate note. It was highly carbonated and initially had quite a dry, parching mouthfeel, a real charred punch of all the toasted malts – no less than eight different varieties were used, including black and chocolate malt. There was also a hoppy kick from the Centennial, but this gave way to a smooth chocolatey finish and sweet berry notes to match the aroma. Whilst trying to describe the flavour, Mr Pip started talking about the charred roasted peppers we had for dinner the previous evening. I had started to mock him until we discovered that Naughty has been spiked with ancho chillies. I conceded the rest of the bottle to him after that, as it turns out that anchos are known for having fruity flavour characteristics.  I’d better watch out, or he’ll have me out of a job.

DSC_0066“Holly Daze” (5%)
Fyne Ales call their seasonal dark amber ale, Holly Daze, “the antidote to Christmas”, making a point of not using any festive spicing, but instead focusing on producing “a refreshing beer to clear the palate”.  It pours deep amber with a frothy head and has a malty aroma, with a light stone fruit note and slight caramel sweetness at the back. The flavour is initially quite rich and bready but gives way to a grassy hop bitterness and a clean finish.

DSC_0059Ilkley – Mary Christmas (4.7%)
This blonde ale poured golden with a light frothy head. We got a whiff of nutmeg and cloves on the nose as well as orange peel and some bready, malty notes – a kind of marmalade on toast scenario. It had a relatively high carbonation and a rounded flavour that left a lingering citrus peel bitterness. We also picked up the festive spices again which warmed the back of the throat and also got a hint of tropical fruit, no doubt from the Australian hops used. This married well with the Caribbean rum Ilkley brewed with – a perfect pairing. Light and clean, this was a good foil to the heavier stouts and porters we tried later on.

DSC_0025By The Horns – Jolly’s Revenge (5.5%) 
This poured jet black with a creamy head, and had a complex aroma. We got coffee and caramel, and a hard-to-pin-down spiciness that reminded us of rye bread. There was also a sweetness which was reminiscent of a milk stout. It was bitter on the palate with a charred, toasted malt flavour and a quite a parching, dry mouthfeel which was no doubt the result of the addition of some US hops.

DSC_0031Hogs Back – Advent Ale (4.4%)
This ale poured with a thin head, and had an aroma of red fruit and berries which came across as quite tart – almost like cranberries or raspberries. It had a soft mouthfeel with very light carbonation and tasted quite tangy with a slight sourness that was faintly reminiscent of a fruity lambic. It had a dry finish which gave through to a liquorice sweetness, and perhaps a metallic, molasses note too. We were really impressed by Advent Ale and think this could well be the beer we stick with for most of the big day.

DSC_0035Bath Ales – Festivity (5%)
This poured thick and dark, and had a hint of ruby-red in the glass. We got a hit of rum and raisin on the nose, and also hints of caramel, biscuit and vanilla. It had a drying mouthfeel with a bitter cocoa/chocolately note giving way to charred coffee, courtesy of that roasted choc malt, but the bitterness doesn’t linger. There is a vanilla sweetness right at the finish, too. One of our favourites.

DSC_0038St Peter’s – Christmas Ale (7%)
This poured deep amber and unlike a lot of the other festive beers which went in for richer, festive flavours, this had peachy, apricot and even grape notes on the nose. There was a definite estery element there too which translated into a marzipan/cherry pit flavour when we tasted it. It had quite a creamy, smooth mouthfeel and a sharp, herbal hoppy bitterness which almost went through to medicinal towards the end.

DSC_0057Wychwood – Bah Humbug (6%)
This poured without much of a head but had an attractive burnished copper colour when held up to the light. The aroma was unmistakably of British hops – grassy and peppery, with a sour twang – with a slight spicy sweetness at the back and a breadiness from the Maris Otter malt. When we tasted it, it had quite a thin mouthfeel with high carbonation. Initially we got bitter and herbal notes which were almost citrussy or lemony, which gave way to a slight cinnamony warmth towards the finish.

harveyHarvey’s Christmas Ale (7.5%)
We’ve hit barley wine territory – this is serious, after dinner cheeseboard stuff. Harvey’s Christmas Ale poured an incredible tawny colour without a head, clear with a deep reddish hue. We got dried fruit on the nose with a hint of boozy Christmassy spirits such as brandy or rum. It had a smooth, almost oily mouthfeel with a slight, clean carbonation at the finish, and was surprisingly sweet – a treacly, iron-like tang. Despite being very rich it gave away to a dry, parching finish and a lingering bitterness which offset that heaviness. Definitely one for an after-dinner snifter.

DSC_0064Adnams – Tally Ho Ho Ho (7.2%)
Described on the bottle as “an unashamedly strong winter warmer”, we approached this one with caution. It poured deep ruby – an absolutely gorgeous colour – and had a strong aroma of tart green apples and pear drops, with a hint of raisin. The flavour is rich boozy fruitcake with a grassy hop bitterness to counterbalance the sweetness of molasses and liquorice. Smooth, velvety mouthfeel with quite a high carbonation – possibly the result of this batch being bottle conditioned with live yeast. We also loved the label, which trades the usual Tally-Ho horse and rider for Santa and Rudolph. A class act.

DSC_0060Brouwerij d’Achouffe – N’Ice Chouffe (10%)
What comes after the after-dinner snifters? A nightcap, perhaps? We’re bringing out the big guns – it wouldn’t be Christmas without some face-meltingly strong Belgian stuff. N’Ice Chouffe poured a chestnutty brown with reddish hue and a creamy head. You get dried fruit and caramel on the nose and perhaps an estery, bubblegummy note at the back. It is highly carbonated with an almost chewy mouthfeel, and has the distinctive Belgian yeast flavour profile; it is rich and boozy, with a balancing sweetness which may be the caramel character of the malt. Has a fresh, clean finish.

DSC_0068Brouwerij Huyghe – Delirium Christmas (10%)
This poured deep amber with a reddish tinge and only a thin head. We got raspberry, cherry and almond on the nose along with a punch of bubblegum and banana ester notes – all very sweet scents. It had quite a high carbonation and, initially, a silky mouthfeel which gave way to a dry finish, although curiously there was no hoppy flavour behind this. It left quite a medicinal, herbal, almost sour taste in the mouth, but this was not unpleasant, and it balanced well with the rich, Belgian yeast and marzipan flavours.

We were hugely impressed by the sheer range of festive beers out there – there is certainly something to cater for everyone’s tastes, whether you like your high-percentage barley wines, spicy porters or even lighter beers. We’d love to hear what you’re planning to crack open over Christmas – do let us know, either in the comments, on Twitter or on Facebook.

We’d like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Have a fantastic holiday, and here’s to a healthy, happy 2015 to all of you. Cheers!

– PS

Full disclosure – some of these beers were sent to us as samples, others we bought for ourselves.

I’m alright, Jack: ICIP’s favourite pumpkin beers for Halloween

I freaking love Halloween. Probably because, as a kid, it was the night in the year I was allowed to watch grown-up horror movies (well, Hammer’s Dracula and The Devil Rides Out) on repeat.

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Spin on a decade or so (sob), and my love for Halloween has manifest as a disproportionate love for oft-maligned pumpkin flavoured beer.

Unlike the ubiquitous pumpkin spiced latte, which is an abomination unto caffeine, bastardising yummy coffee flavours with syrup and (probably) nuclear goo, brewing good pumpkin beer takes skill. Malt and hops and spices have to work together to showcase the admittedly pretty uninteresting gourd.

This year PSB, long a phenomena in the US, seems to have kicked off (finally) in this country, with a number of breweries launching their contenders with boozy, fancy-dress bashes, attended by a disproportionate number of people dressed as Jedi. So with no further ado…

ICIP’s top tips for Halloween tipple (sorry):

Beavertown, Stingy Jack, 7.2% abv

IMG_20141022_205650With its layers of spicy cinnamon and sweet booziness, I’d marry Stingy Jack if I could. It’s also haunted, or cursed, or something, because it causes rows among my housemates the likes of which I have never seen, even with other beers this (comparatively) strong. Downfalls this year include the price – a hefty £6-6.50 for 660ml, and the fact that you can only buy it in 660ml bottles. That renders the 7%ish beer more a solid weekend drink and less some funky pumpkin spice for a schoolnight. That said, I’ve never, ever got halfway through a bottle and wished it was over.

Camden Town Brewery, Pumpkin Spiced Lager, 5.2% abv

IMG_20141030_191217Delicious. I’m not normally a lager drinker, and was blown away by how well the format suited pumpkin spice. Without the sweet richness of an ale, the cinamonny-nutmeg-ginger goodness has a chance to shine. For me, it redeemed lager, which I normally find a bit bland (I KNOW I KNOW, I’M SORRY). Light and deeply drinkable.

 

Brewdog, PumpkinHead, 5.1% abv

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Testament to the deliciousness of PumpkinHead is the fact that I drank four bottles of it in a row during a recent houseparty, and clearly enjoyed them too much to take any arty photographs. Instead here is me dressed as a pumpkin, holding a bottle in an unflattering photograph.

Spicey without the cloying sweetness of some pumpkin beers, this is a great session drink (look how happy I am!) It’s fresher and a bit more citrus-y, but still plenty of pumpkin and spice on the nose, and a satisfying caramel pour to match with your pumpkin wig.

Elysian Brewery, Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, 5.9% abv

IMG_20141030_201738Regular readers (well, anyone who read the last post) will know that I ransacked London for this beer, which is currently on at Wetherspoons as part of their International Ale Festival. And it was worth it, particularly at a hangover-triggering £3.20 per pint. Thick, sweet mouthfeel with a boozy lingering spicey taste, my sense from speaking to ‘spoons staff is that this will roll out properly over the Halloween weekend. Snap it up while it lasts.

London Fields Brewery, Pumpkin Ale, 6% abv & Gyle 666, 5.6% abv

IMG-20141031-WA0006Less pumpkin, more Terry’s Chocolate Orange, for some reason, in LFB’s lovely pumpkin beer. Yummy and boozy, if you get it at source it’s available on cask and keg. We tried both (of course); kegged is lighter, so you get more of the toffee-chocolate, casked is a fuller, traditional pumpkiny mouthfeel. Gyle 666 is an outrageously spicy brown ale, rich and nutty with a strong (and I mean strong!) chilli kick.

Wychwood, Pumpking, 3.8% abv

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I went off Wychwood after some questionable merchandising, then stumbled across this in my local Budgens (never seen it anywhere else). Yes, it’s much lighter than some of it’s stronger rivals, but it’s a really decent cheap alternative if you want something seasonal that won’t leave you under the table. A ruby ale, it doesn’t exactly reek of pumpkin spice, but it pours a tasty, earth-y, apricot glass.

Anchor, BigLeaf Maple Autumn Red, 6% abv

download_20141030_112027“Give me something I wouldn’t pick for myself”, I said to @dwylth, resident beergenius at Bottledog Kings X. He knows that I most enjoy things that taste of 1) hops, 2) hops, 3) coffee flavoured hops and 4) alcohol, so I was intrigued when he passed me an apparently maple syrup flavoured beer from a brewery that I normally associate with American pales. And it was in a small bottle (although this could be a perspective thing given it was sat in a basket alongside Stingy Jack). But oh, man, it was good. I’ve tried to avoid using the word caramel elsewhere in this roundup, because all caramel pales to insignificance next to this beer. Floral and undeniably maple-y, this is a lovely seasonal red ale if you get sick of all the spice.

– ED

Brewhouse, in the middle of our street

We get it ripped out of us here in Islington. People make fun of our biodegradable yoga mats, our bespoke tofu and our eco-friendly soap nuts. Yes, we love our green initiatives as much as we love our hummus. So where better to open up a pub where the booze travels beer-millimetres, instead of beer miles, from tank to tankard?

In fact – why not open two?

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That’s exactly what Simon Bunn and Kris Gumbrell, the team who pioneered street-level brewing at The Lamb in Chiswick and The Botanist in Kew, intend to do. They opened London’s first Brewhouse pub at the Angel this week, with a second planned for Upper Street, about a ten minute walk away, in 2015.

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ICIP is used to our craft bars being stuffed into tiny converted local boozers, so we were blown away, when we visited Brew House in Angel on its pre-opening opening night, by the sheer size of the joint. So blown away, in fact, that the magnificently conceived interior gave us pause: was there something of the chain about this enormous craft bar? Don’t get us wrong, we loved the atmosphere, but was it a bit too themed? Quaint, reclaimed and bespoke: diners and drinkers can huddle into street-level wooden booths or perch around enormous tables. “Tables” doesn’t do them justice: the enormous, circular tabletops are actually glass-topped wedges of hops and barley. Staring down at them through your crystal-clear pint, you could hardly get closer to the roots of your drink.

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Except you can: because look up, and you’re seated in the middle of the magic. Right in the brewery. Like its predecessors in Portsmouth and Dorchester, the Brew House’s core range of original beers are all brewed in open view – and this is what takes it above and beyond your average well-funded craft initiative.

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Having your kit bang in the middle of the bar is a lovely concept  – and, as we found out in conversation with head brewer Pete Hughes, it’s much more than just decoration. Here, Pete brews Brew House Islington’s core beers on site, often at night, three times a week.

And what a core range.

Arc Angel, a 3.6% English bitter, poured a mouth-puckering pint that mellowed into a British classic. Dominated by (we think!) Goldings and Fuggle hops, it would sit well alongside anything from the Fullers range. “A nice dad beer”, ICIP decided.

Myddleton, a 4.5% blonde IMG_20141002_211739ale, with its bright white, lasting head and sweet, banana-and-clove aroma, was a lovely Belgian-style brew.

Spandau B, the pub’s 4% session IPA, was so popular it ran out by 9’o’clock. One of our favourites, its floral, Mosaic and Amarillo dry-hop packed more punch than we expected from its (relatively) low ABV.

Watchmaker‘s deep caramel colour gave it away as a deliciously easy-drinking amber ale; this strong, 5.5% bitter was smooth, well-balanced and surprisingly sweet.

Finally ICIP was a huge fan of Black Swan, a black IPA, with mouthfuls of roasted nuts and enough fizz not to taste overwhelmingly chocolate-y or smooth.

(The menu promises a couple more that we didn’t get to try – Britton, a 5% American brown, and Chaplin, a 6% IPA.)

These were early days for Brew House: while this, the core range, will remain mostly the same, two of the pub’s eight taps will be dedicated to seasonal and special beers when it opens to the public. At the moment these include Suffragette Ninja (this could become ICIP’s signature beer), a 4% milk stout, a spicy winter beer called Vlad and a smoked porter. The Angel pub will continue to be dedicated to cask beers – its sister on Upper Street will handle the kegged side of business.

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“They gave me complete freedom,” says brewer Pete Hughes, of the core range. A man who has literally just landed his dream job, he dreams big: of pressurised vats to brew lager in, of specialised and novelty brews. Which is what you want in a head-brewer, really. Chairman of the London Home Brewers, Pete worked in construction and brewed at home before a friend suggested he apply for the Brew House gig.

IMG_20141002_204003“Really I’m just a home-brewer who’s been allowed an outlet for my hobby,” he tells us.

And what an outlet: “If we wanted to brew something crazy we’d do it,” he promises, when I wonder if the range might include some riskier numbers. “They’re [owners Simon and Kris] more adventurous than I am. I’ve had some impractical requests!”

The beers are totally handmade, he explains, making the set up much closer to homebrewing. This is something Brew House looks set to capitalise on: for £99 you can buy a Brewing Experience Day, which includes a crack at the various pieces of kit, a tasting, lunch and a 5litre keg to take home, and for an undisclosed sum you can commission your very own beer.

“This can be as diverse and darlingly difference as chamomile flowers, lavender or even horseradish,” the press release promises. But don’t get too nuts because the minimum buy is 750 pints, and even ICIP isn’t sure it could get through 750 pints of horseradish beer.

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ICIP walked in ever-so-slightly worried and walked out converted. Our corner of north London is stuffed with great craft beer pubs, and normal pubs, and we wondered where this would fit in.

Lovely beer-loving Brew House spokeswoman Su-Lin Ong painted us an attractive picture of an Islington crawl, taking in the Hops and Glory, the Earl of Essex, the two Brew Houses and the local branch of Craft.

Even the ladies' loos were a beery work of art.

Even the ladies’ loos were a beery work of art

We might not survive that, but we’ll certainly be back to the Angel brewpub. Yes, it has all the trimmings: good food (high on the manifesto), acres of space and a well-thought out theme. But more importantly, at its heart is a passionate home brewer. And he won’t even be working behind the scenes – he, his brew kit and his beers, take centre stage.

Brew House Islington opened on Monday 6 October. You can find it next to Angel tube, on the corner of City Road and Torrens Street.

– ED

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What the right hand is doing: Left Hand re-launches in the UK

Between Brits brewing American-style beer and Americans brewing British-style beer, it was only a matter of time before Americans started brewing British-style American beer and selling it to Brits and the whole system collapsed in on itself in a multidimensional paradox.

Responsible for this rupture in the beer time continuum is Left Hand, a 25-year-old Colorado-based brewer whose broad range (which includes stouts and “English-style” IPAs and PAs) has gone down a storm in the US. Now, thanks to some ambitious expansion plans, it plans to renew its presence here in the UK.

Interested to see what the other side of the Atlantic thought our brewing-style looked like and determined to write a review that didn’t put “coals” “to” and “Newcastle” in the sentence you might expect, ICIP headed over to LH’s UK launch, at Mother Kelly’s in Bethnal Green, London.

IMG_20140904_192424Surely, we thought as we studied the menu and carefully DID NOT LOOK DOWN AT THE OTHER NON-LH BEERS BECAUSE WE ARE WEAK AND WOULD HAVE ORDERED THEM, having TWO milk stouts called basically the same thing is a bit excessive.

But oh, my beery friends, they were not the same thing at all. For here, at MK’s, ICIP discovered the power of “nitro”.

I have little-to-no grasp of the scientific theory, but in a weird and misshapen nutshell: when you “carbonate” beer with nitrogen, you make it taste creamier, like Guinness. Because nitrogen is largely insoluble in liquid, a higher proportion of nitrogen in beer means you can keep it at high pressure but with less CO2 absorbed, making it feel less fizzy and more creamy and giving it that all-important creamy head. A piece of tap equipment in bars called a restrictor plate forces the beer through tiny holes as its poured to give it a bubbly, carbonated effect and head, with a much smoother mouth feel. Nitro is a big thing in the US – bars and brewers quibble over the proportion of nitrogen to CO2 – although, arguably, it’s something Stout brewers like Guinness have been on top of for years. Making it even more ironic that Guinness was launching its craft-beer style beer on the same night LH launched it’s, er, Guinness-style craft beer.

Anyway! As a loather of excessive carbonation (like, any carbonation, really, because I don’t want nasty stinging bubbles popping all over my lovely hoppy mouth), I think this is brilliant and we should all be early adopters. Left Hand – and this sounds like black freakin’ magic to me – has even invented nitro-bottles, with the added power of something to do with widgets. The whole process (tap and bottled) is shrouded in secrecy. In addition, the beers are truly described as being ON NITRO!, which makes drinking them sound like some kind of exciting new technology for Formula One.

IMG_20140904_192944Crucially, exacting science (a side-by-side comparison facilitated by MK’s lovely staff) revealed an astonishing difference between the nitro- and non-nitro- Milk Stout on offer. Hand on heart, the Nitro tasted like Guinness straight out of a Dublin tap. It was well-balanced, with strong notes of mocha, chocolate and coffee that tasted so natural in the smoother pour. While the non-nitro Milk Stout had nothing to be ashamed of, you’d need some good reasons to opt for it in a market already saturated by chocolate stout, chilli stout, stout-y stout, stoat-y stout, etc.

Meanwhile we had it on good authority from those that know (London’s bestest beeriest Twitterati) that awesome results could be achieved by mixing a half of nitro and a half of non-nitro. Punks.

IMG_20140904_195811While disappointed that we couldn’t get it (or indeed everything else in our lives) “on nitro”, we consoled ourselves with our regular favourite, IPA. LH’s 400 Pound Monkey (an English style IPA!) was totally session-able, a gentle backdrop of US hops giving way to a smooth, easy drink. We were quite surprised to discover the beer was 6.8 per cent – it tasted about 5, and lacked the big, sweet mouthfeel you associate with IPA at that stronger end of the scale.

It’ll be interesting to see how this works out: everything about this IPA is approachable. You could easily drink a pint or three, and it could be a great way into IPA for someone not so keen on hop bombs. But at 7% it might prove a more difficult way out of eg. the pub door after a few pints. LH risk losing the 7%-craft-drinkers market over flavour, and the ale-happy session drinker on strength.

IMG_20140904_194314Stranger Pale Ale was another approachable, quaffable pint. A bit too fizzy for us – but then everything for the rest of our lives will be unless it comes ON NITRO! – it had a British, biscuit-y base that could have come straight from Fullers’ cook books.

Black Jack Porter (6.8%), described as an English style Porter, was a solid, coffee-ish porter, stronger than it tasted but full-bodied and chocolate-y.

Left Hand deserves to do well here, their range a friendly and diverse lot that could slip as easily into your village local as a branch of Craft. It’s really interesting to taste an American take on an English take on an American beer (wait, what?!), and the brewery has done a great job of taking the best of the US and packaging it for a classic British palate.

IMG_20140904_201405But – LH needs to know that British tastes have changed, and beer-fans are as keen as their American cousins for big flavours and innovation. A quick glance at LH’s website reveals some one-offs – like Beer Week Sauce, a kegged Porter brewed with Ethiopian coffee, a Tripel and a limited edition double IPA – that ICIP would love to get our hands on. We hope LH’s expansion will, in time, extend to these special editions.

Meanwhile, ICIP would like to throw our weight behind a new campaign for a nitro pump absolutely everywhere for everything. Our favourite smoked porters and IPAs, sure, but also perhaps sandwiches and lasagnes. If you need us, we’ll be ON NITRO!

Left Hand will be available at Beer Hawk, Whole Foods, Barworks craft bars and more.

-LD

“Mine’s a pint of the Black Stuff.” “You can’t drink a pint of Bovril!”

As the craft beer boom has gained momentum and the number of new breweries has grown seemingly by the hour, many older, more established breweries have attempted to get in on the act by launching their own speciality brews. It’s hard to think of a more iconic brewer than Guinness, so when ICIP heard that they were launching two new beers as part of their new “Brewers Project”, we had to give them a taste.

DSC_0004Established in 1759, Guinness has a long history and is arguably the most recognisable beer brand in the world, sold in 150 countries worldwide and selling a staggering 10 million pints of their trademark stout daily. The brewery has recently begun operating a microbrewery at their St James’s Gate site in Dublin in order to allow brewers to “explore new recipes, reinterpret old ones and colaborate freely to bring exciting beers to life”. These new releases are the first brews to make it into mainstream production, and Guinness has chosen to keep it in the family – both beers are porters, and both have roots in Guinness’s long, rich history.

DSC_0001The branding for the beers reflects this historical theme, with a muted colour scheme and vintage fonts that really stand apart from Guinness’s usual minimalist, much more modern lettering and logo. It’s an attractive conceit; these are gorgeous-looking bottles, both very much with their own character.

DSC_0003The first of the beers, Dublin Porter (3.8%) is based on an entry in the Guinness brewers diary from 1796 and is made to recreate a “working man’s beer”, to be enjoyed after a long day at work. The beer pours without much of a head, and what froth it did generate dissipated quickly. We noticed that it was much lighter in colour than the other beer, and, indeed, original Guinness, almost appearing a deep, ruby red when held up to the light.

We didn’t get much on the nose for this one – maybe just a whisper of that familiar toasty, almost acrid porter aroma. The bottle makes a point of emphasising the smoothness of the beer, which is certainly noticable – but as a result it has quite a thin mouthfeel. The slight malty sweetness gives way to a dry, bitter finish but this does not linger. With the low ABV, one can see that this is very much meant as a session beer.

DSC_0002We were much more keen on the second of the beers, West Indies Porter (6%). This was based on a recipe from 1801 which was designed to travel on long sea voyages to the Caribbean and beyond, with a higher hop content to preserve the product.

The beer had a much bigger and longer lasting head, with more lacing in the glass. We got a lot more coffee and chocolate on the nose and found it a lot more full-bodied, with a rich and chewier mouthfeel. We could taste more of that roasted, toffee-like flavour and were left with a lingering, dry coffee aftertaste. The higher ABV and increased hop usage really pays off here in both aroma and flavour.

Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease on the Dublin brewery in 1759, and the company is keen to point out that they are only 255 years into their tenancy. They promise further innovation as their new project develops, and we look forward to seeing what they cook up next.

Full disclosure – we were sent samples of these beers.

– PS

Great British Beer Festival 2014 – festival report

I’ll admit it – I am pretty anally retentive. A worrywart. An Order Muppet. I plan everything in advance. I’ve always got a pen. I love to make lists and – more importantly – tick off said lists (mmm).

So, when I was handed my pint glass and programme for this year’s GBBF, and staggered into the barrel-vaulted spectacle that is London Olympia, panic began to set in.

DSC_0219So many beers. So. Many. Beers. The completist in me started nervous twitching as I struggled to accept that no amount of planning or tactics would allow me to drink over 900 different beers, ciders and perries in just five hours.

DSC_0226Luckily, my neuroticism was immediately soothed by Mark Payne, Off-Trade Sales Manager from St Austell, who offered me my first drink of the day at a pleasantly numbing 7.2%. This was Big Job Double IPA, big brother to their popular IPA, Proper Job (clocking in at a more sedate 4.5%). A fantastic burnished caramel colour, this heavy hitter is hopped with Citra and Centennial, and has a lightness which belies its high ABV. Mark told us that they use Cornish Gold malt and attenuate it until nearly all the sugar is gone, allowing those hops to really sing. It’s a good start.

Next, we made the mistake of visiting the USA cask beers bar. I say “mistake”, because once we’d checked out the list of available brews, there was a serious danger that we would never leave, and we’d only been at the festival about fifteen minutes.

Surrounded by a huge throng of beer fans, this bar was perhaps one of the most popular of the festival, and for good reason. The sheer variety of beers on offer was outstanding – everything from a 4% wheat to a whopping 9.3% Imperial IPA – and we started off with a Franklin’s Psychedelic Smokehouse (5.3%), a smoked, sour ale. It poured light with a seriously smoky nose, like getting a delicious faceful of BBQ and bacon, but then shocked the palate with a light, zinging acidity.

DSC_0241Next we went for something at the other end of the scale – a dark, rich Left Hand Milk Stout (6%). We’re usually sceptical of milk stouts because we’re frankly evangelical about Bristol Beer Factory’s take on the style. But this impressed us mightily. Hopped with Magnum and US Goldings, this stout was incredibly smooth and seemed to stealth its way down your gullet, leaving a strong, cocoa-nib bitterness behind. Dreamy.

Promising ourselves “one for the road” before we headed off to… uh… the other 21 bars, we went for a Buckland Brewery Ginger Pale Ale (5%), brewed with macerated ginger. A deep coppery colour, this promised a lot on the nose but didn’t quite deliver on taste, although we got a pleasant ginger tingle lingering at the back of the throat.

We did finally tear ourselves away from the delights of the good old US of A… here are some of our other festival highlights.

DSC_0250I was confronted with an offer I couldn’t refuse when I spotted Kissingate Brewery’s Black Cherry Mild (4.3%). I had initially made fun of this beer in my GBBF preview post, saying that it was the kind of gimmicky fruit concoction I would select when already inebriated, only to find that it was rubbish. I then found out that it had won numerous awards, and, having tried it, I now see that I should eat not only my words but also my notebook, pen and GBBF souvenir pint glass. It was delicious – smelled like a bowl of fresh cherries but had no cloying sweetness, just a rich, smooth mouthfeel and a really nice dry finish. Just goes to show that no matter how much beer you try, there will always be something to surprise you!

DSC_0256When we fancied something lighter, we were drawn to a beer by Jo C’s Norfolk Brewery – Norfolk Kiwi (3.8%). The brewery was established by Jo Coubrough and this beer is a tribute to her husband Chris, a native New Zealander. It uses locally-grown Maris Otter and a mixture of British and New Zealand hops, giving a tropical, zesty punch despite the modest ABV. Refreshing and extremely quaffable.

DSC_0268We couldn’t pass up on an offering from Bristol Beer Factory. We first discovered this gem of a brewery on a cottage break to the West Country in 2011, when we popped into a beer festival at The Tobacco Factory. This was when we fell in love with their Milk Stout in particular, but their other beers have never disappointed and we hadn’t had the opportunity to try the 3.8% Nova pale ale before. This beer has a light malt base (Maris Otter, CaraPils and wheat malt) providing a perfect, subtle backdrop for the hops, coming through zesty and fresh with a grapefruit tang.

DSC_0262It was nostalgia that initially encouraged us to give Exe Valley Brewery’s Winter Glow (6%) a try – Mr Pip and I are Exeter University alumni. This is a traditional old ale, and usually the brewery’s winter seasonal. While we weren’t entirely sure why it had showed up at a beer festival in the middle of August, we enjoyed the rich, dried fruit and malty nose and the dry bitterness after the 6% punch. Hope that we spot it around once the nights draw in a bit to enjoy it in its proper environment!

After a pork roll to soak it all up and much wandering, sampling and poring over our programme, we decide to visit to the cider and perry bar, which we often end up neglecting. Since our trip to Stocks Farm earlier in the year and being introduced to the wonders of cider, we felt we needed to at least try a couple.

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We begin with an offering from Lancashire, Dove Syke Cider’s Ribble Valley Gold. This comes in at 6.5% and is described as “medium dry” on CAMRA’s scale. It is delicious – no cloying sweetness, but not too acidic either. Encouraged, we persevere with a taste of Oliver’s Yarlington Mill (also 6.5%), which had a little more sweetness than the Ribble Valley but not to the point of excess – it still had a good level of dryness to round out the flavour. We enjoyed chatting to one of the CAMRA volunteers (complete with pirate hat) on the cider bar about the different varieties on offer and were very grateful for his recommendations and tasters. Cider is still a bit of an undiscovered country for us but we’re certainly going to continue our exploration of it in future!

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We have to fight through the crowds to get near enough to hear the announcement of the Champion Beers of Britain competition. With eight categories as well as an overall “Supreme Champion”, there are too many winners to list here, but special ICIP claps on the back must go to our friends at Oakham Ales who took Gold in the Golden Ales category as well as Silver in the Supreme Champion contest for Citra (4.2%), and also the guys at Sambrook’s who took joint Bronze in the Bitters category for Wandle (3.8%).

DSC_0287The results of the Supreme Champion contest were announced by Bruce Dickinson of rock band Iron Maiden – an avowed real ale fan who has brewed his own successful beer with Robinson’s Brewery – Trooper (4.7%). The announcement of first place in this year’s competition – Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker (4%) – is met with some consternation by the crowd. “Did he just say Timmy Taylor’s?” someone asks behind us, while the chap to our right goes with a more forceful “Timothy Taylor’s? Fuck off!” As the crowd disperses, we hear another festival-goer commenting to a friend “it’s average at best”. It’s obviously a controversial decision. We haven’t tried Boltmaker so we can’t comment, but we’ll be keeping our eyes open for it in future to see what we think.

DSC_0243The atmosphere at the festival was characteristically jolly, and although the gender ratio is still way, way off (still the only place in the universe with no queue in the ladies’ toilet!), we spotted plenty of women enjoying their beer and there was thankfully no sign of the sexist poster seller that so disappointed us last year. We did slightly question the choice of the “circus” theme (lots of strongmen etc vs scantily-clad female acrobats strewn across the branding) which still made it all feel a bit masculine… but let’s face it, I look frickin’ distinguished with a moustache.

Overall then – a great day with some top notch beers. It was fantastic to see such a broad range of different styles and countries represented, and there really was something for everyone. There are up and down sides to attending on Trade Day – the entire programme is still available, for example, but you don’t get the added fun of talks and signings by the pros or live music. But that wasn’t going to spoil our day.

Being the pernickety fusspot I am, I am already looking ahead to next year and working out my tactics. If I attended for all five days of the festival next time, that’s just… 180 beers a day… which is just… er… 60 pints, if I drink thirds…

I’ll get back to you next August.

– PS

You can read our review of last year’s festival here, and also take a look at our investigation into women’s attitudes towards beer and festivals here. Check out more pictures from the event on our Facebook page.

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Pork Choc – Montezuma’s and Hogs Back Brewery launch Chocolate Lager

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Regular ICIP readers will already know that my love of beer is matched by my love of chocolate. I actually have a chocolate cupboard at home (I’m not even joking). Being the chocoholic that I am, I am on the mailing list for Montezuma’s, the Sussex-based chocolatiers, and you can find several of their products in my Special Chocolate Cupboard. So when an email pinged through advertising a collaborative beer with Hogs Back Brewery – a Chocolate Lager – I could barely believe my luck.

Hogs Back Brewery, who you may know for their bitter, T.E.A (Traditional English Ale, 4.2%), have spent 6 months working with Montezuma’s to create this new beer. “For ages I thought there were too many mainstream, unimaginative chocolate/alcohol combinations,” says David Pattinson, Head of Sales at Hogs Back. “Simon and Helen Patterson at Montezuma’s felt the same, so we decided we would create something new and hopefully innovative to take chocolate and alcohol in a different direction. I didn’t have to push them too hard…”

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What immediately surprised us about the beer was the choice of style. We’re used to chocolatey notes in stouts and porters, but not in a lager. “We haven’t ended up quite where we expected – you would intuitively think a dark chocolate beer would be dark – this isn’t, and that makes it quite intriguing,” says Rupert Thompson, owner of the brewery. So what made them decide to go with this flavouring in a lighter beer? “We sat around a table with the Montezuma’s team, and the old beer guys amongst us were wondering which of our dark beers would it be,” says David. “Then they asked why we couldn’t try the lager. We did, were staggered by how well the hop lifts the chocolate. After that, the decision was made and we cracked on with production.”

Apparently chocolate can cause problems when brewing – you can’t add it directly to the beer when you brew because of the fat content. So the brewery infused the beer with Montezuma’s Lordy Lord chocolate – 70% dark choccy with cacao nibs – by maceration and gentle extraction. “Our base beer is our Hogstar Lager, which is infused with the nibs and chocolate from Lordy Lord,” says David. “Exactly when Miles (Chesterman, Head Brewer at Hogs Back) adds the infusion is something he would need to tell you, but I suspect he’d have to kill you first.”

DSC_0794Hogstar is itself a relatively new addition to Hogs Back’s repertoire. Well-known for their traditional range, the 4.5% lager was a bit of a departure from their usual style, and was launched late last year. It is brewed with five different hops to bring out both bitterness and aroma, as well as lager malts, a hint of crystal malt and botanical extracts. It is then matured for over a month, during which time the lager’s flavours deepen and develop. It is unusual for modern commercial lagers to be matured like this, although of course, this is the traditional way that this style was made. It is unpasteurised and the carbonation develops naturally.

The beer pours clear and golden, perhaps a shade darker than you would expect, and the quality of the lager shines through when you taste it. The brewery describes it as ‘a light, fresh, refreshing beer carrying a rich but well balanced chocolate and hop flavour, evident both on the nose and on the palette’. We got huge hits of cocoa on the nose, a sweetness that was reminiscent of soft fruits and berries. Mr Pip likened it to cherry hot chocolate. But underneath that sweetness was that distinctive pilsner hoppy sourness that promised more than a gimicky flavoured beer.

Our previous experiences with chocolate-flavoured beers have been pretty bad (Hotel Chocolat, we are looking at you), but Chocolate Lager finally soothed my chocolatey beer nightmares. It tastes nothing like you’d expect after such a rich and sweet nose. The beer has light carbonation and has the crisp, fresh feel that you’d hope for from a lager, with a clean mouthfeel. There is a decent hit of bitterness across the back of the tongue but also a delicate and subtle sweet cocoa aftertaste which complements the bitterness rather than making you feel like you’re swilling a syrupy soft drink. It really is delicious.

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“As projects go, beer and chocolate is probably about as good as it gets!” says Simon Pattinson, co-founder of Montezuma’s. “This is one of the few chocolate lagers in the world and definitely a challenge to perceived wisdom, but give it a go and be prepared to open your mind to a lager that flies in the face of convention!” The interesting pairing could also lend itself to food and beer matching, as Rupert suggests: “Chocolate puddings are notoriously difficult to complement with wines but could work very well if this lager were added to dessert menus”.

Has the success of this collaboration whetted the brewery’s appetite for further chocolatey brews? “I hope we can do something else; reactions to this beer have been so good even at this early stage,” says David. “Personally I fancy having a crack at our Barley Wine (A Over T or Aromas Over Tongham, 9%) to see if we can marry a very complex rich beer with a chocolate and look at tackling something almost like a liqueur.”

The beer is available from the Hogs Back webshop and their brewery shop in Tongham, Surrey. Making the most of the Father’s Day present-buying rush, Montezuma’s is selling the beer on their website as part of nifty gift sets which include the Lordy Lord chocolate. Frankly, the “Happy Father’s Day” labels emblazoned all over these is not deterring us from buying them all for ourselves. Not in the slightest.

Want more beer and chocolate? Check out our coverage of the Dea Latis beer and chocolate matching event, which includes Montezuma’s Peeling Amorous chocolate.

– PS