Romney Marsh Brewery – Amber Ale

Romney Marsh, ‘The Fifth Continent’, located on the Kent coastline. It boasts picturesque sand dunes; historic and wartime architecture; a national nature reserve and most importantly (some may say) it’s very own, family run brewery, suitablly named – Romney Marsh Brewery. They’re a very recent addition to the area, only established in Spring of last year but they’ve certainly started on the right foot. One of their four bottled ales reached the final of the prestigious ‘Taste of Kent’ awards. ‘Amber Ale’, no prizes for guessing what style it is, was a runner up in the 2015 ‘Best Kentish Beer’ category.

It’s pretty clear to see how it got that far, it’s an exceptional example of the style. The combination of three hop varieties, two from across the Atlantic and one from the brewery’s home county harmonise to produce a simply quaffable ale. The bottle’s label suggests drinking it only lightly chilled, so to maximise the tropical fruit taste. There’s bitterness and hints of caramel on the long finish and the head sticks around for the full duration. I’ve yet to visit their headquarters but next time I’m in the county I’m planning to pick up a refillable jug. I’ve no doubt the brewery will have continued success if their upcoming beers are as good as this 4.4% ABV Amber Ale.

Greene King – London Glory

Like them or loathe them, there’s certainly no avoiding Greene King’s massive empire. Being the leading pub retailer they own restaurant chains such as Hungry Horse, Flame Grill, Meet & Eat. As well as beer brands like Belhaven, Morland, Hardys & Hansons. Plus, with the recent aquisition of ‘Spirit’ you’re inevitably going to be forced into their beer at some stage in your drinking career.

London Glory is a new introduction into their beer repertoire; or has there just been massive rebranding? Quite honestly, I’m not absolutely sure. Either way there must has surely been a huge investment into their marketing. Self subtitled, ‘Great British Ale’ it projects a grandeur image, a bold statement to live up to. I can’t help but think it’s been produced for direct competition with Fuller’s London Pride – a favourite draught session ale amongst publicans, and a ‘go to’ beer of choice for patrons alike.

It’s attractive, clear appearance and amber colour probably puts it between 15-20 in the standard reference method. Pulled straight from cask, it contains only its natural carbonation, so not masses of head. It’s a bit boring on the taste side, no real distinct flavour jumps out. The crystal malts produce a light toffee taste and subtle cereal flavours, with a slight sweetness on the finish. For an ale that’s 4.1% ABV it’s curiously light in body and certainly not as ‘rich’ as the commercial description boasts. There’s nothing really exciting about it, it seamlessly blurs into the rest of the brewery’s catalogue, with no distinct identity between the likes of IPA, Old Speckled and Abbot.

A severe lack of personality makes it difficult to find London Glory anything more than drinkable. It’s just a beer brewed for the masses.

Brewster’s Brewery – Britannia’s Brew

‘A single measure for wine and a single measure for ale and a single measure for corn’

In 1215 the Magna Carta was sealed by John, King of England. By imposing limits on the Crown’s power, the population received greater freedom, gained civil rights and it paved the way for trial by jury. Sealed on June 15th, the great treaty includes a clause which set out fixed measures for, amongst other things, ale. It confirms beer has and will most definitely continue to play such a great part in our Kingdom’s history. 800 years later, in celebration of this Medieval marvel our country is holding it’s annual, national celebration of all things beer, ‘Beer Day Britain’. What better date to raise a pint of beer on!

Brewster’s Brewery, a company in Grantham, Lincolnshire, has produced 1,215 bottles of the brand new ‘Britannia’s Brew’, to honour this moment in history. I’ve been lucky enough to receive a complimentary bottle from the guys and girls at ‘Beer for That’, who do a marvellous job in getting people talking about beer. Tune in to Twitter at 8pm each Wednesday for an engaging #beermatch session.

Britannia’s Brew is a bottle conditioned, 5% ABV, golden ale. I felt I had to embrace the moment and drink it from a good ol’ fashioned dimpled, glass tankard – not quite pewter though. The bottle boasts British botanical ingredients, that is – Northern Irish seaweed, English rose petals and Scottish heather.

Poured slowly, causing as little disruption to the leftover yeast sediment as possible. It has lots of fine bubbles and good carbonation, but absolutely none of the frothy foam which I enjoy. It’s a darkish, golden, colour with an almost hazy appearance. It drinks with a well balanced palate of caramel and biscuit and currently being paired with some roast ox flavoured crisps. It has just a moderate bitter finish, but a slight unappetising alcohol taste. Not hugely exciting, but a pleasant experience nonetheless. Perhaps it would have been better drunk closer to its date of birth.

It’s not quite the brew of Britannia, but it’s not bad.

Oh, on another note – the Brewster’s website is just about as as easy to read and navigate as the 800 year old, Latin, parchment version of the Magna Carta – it could benefit from an update.

Brixton Brewery – Lúpulo Pale Ale

Nestled away in railway arch number 547, inside one of London’s market neighbourhoods, is Brixton’s very own brewery. A newcomer to the capital’s ever expanding craft beer scene – they’ve only been going since 2013. It’s a real compact set up; with the seating, bar, fermentation vessels and everything in between fighting for space in one area. So tight for space, in fact, that sacks of hop pellets have been forced to wait outside. Needless to say it’s a little snug for patrons, but it’s not such a bad thing. Combined with the rumble of trains overheard and a smell of fresh wort in the air, it creates a real, authentic experience.

There’s something quite satisfying about drinking beer at its very freshest. We only popped in for a swift half, but ended up with the other half of Lupulo Pale Ale soon after the first. It’s a beer ‘inspired by Mexico’. It’s name originates from ‘Humulus Lupulos’ – the scientific name for the common hop plant. This 4.5% ABV pale ale makes use of four different hops; Pilgrim, Galaxy, Citra and Falconers Flight. That means flavours from England, Australia and the US. It has very distinct grapefruit aromas and it absolutely explodes to life with fruit flavours. The bottle’s vibrant label definitely suits the beer. Interestingly, the brewery has decided to keep all their beers unrefined, meaning the isinglass is omitted so they’re fine for all you strict vegetarians and vegans. Don’t be put off because your beer isn’t as clear as others, the lacing on the glass is a thing of beauty.

It was great to see a flow of curious people rubber necking as they passed by, being encouraged in by the Brewer come Barman come Drayman. The surge in number of craft breweries in London will mean the young guns at Brixton Brewery will have to keep on their toes, but they have a right to be confident if they continue making such great beer as this.

Gentleman's Wit

Camden Town Brewery – Gentleman’s Wit

Witte, witbier, bière blanche, white or wheat; whatever you prefer to call this Belgian style beer… it certainly deserves more attention! I suppose the most obvious example that we all know and love comes from Hoegaarden, everyone’s heard of them, right? To me they’re like the Foster’s of the witte world. But it’s a shame that Average Joe, or Plain Jane for that matter, hasn’t got a lot of interest in the style. It’s not just the Belgian’s who are making it, us Brit’s are trying too. A superb example has been created by the people at Camden Town Brewery, they call it ‘Gentleman’s Wit’ – it’s absolutely delightful.

Since 2010 they’ve been located just next to Kentish Town West station, producing some fantastic craft lagers, they currently have a stout, a pale ale and this witbier. They’ve also had some clever guys busy perfecting their marketing strategy as well, resulting in a ‘hells’ of a lot of money being raised through crowd funding. It’s going towards opening a brand new, bigger brewery to increase the rate of production, which at this point they apparently can’t meet – they’re outsourcing to some guys in Belgium at the moment. You could say Jasper Cuppaidge and co. have had relative success since starting out by making beer in a pub basement.

So, the beer. Gentleman’s Wit’s mash bill is half wheat and half Pilsner malt, combined they give the finished product a light straw colour with a hazy appearance. It’s made with the addition of slow roasted lemon and bergamot, giving the beer hints of both citrus and coriander, so a slight spiciness. It’s fairly dry on the palate and light in body. Bottled, it pours with good carbonation resulting in a crisp head, even more so when dispensed from keg. I really think it benefits from being served well chilled. And I recon It would be perfectly accompanied by a couple of freshly baked, all-butter Scottish shortbread biscuits. It certainly does, and most importantly, tastes great.

BrewDog – Punk IPA

Born in 2007 from two men and a dog, in Ellon, Scotland. BrewDog have come a long way in 7 years. They now have 358 employees, 14000+ shareholders, and they operate 26 bars. In 2013 they were the fastest growing company in the UK’s eating and drinking out market. But most importantly, their beer is widely available, in supermarkets and bars alike.

If you’ve heard of them for nothing else it’s probably their controversial marketing, whether deliberate or not, it often provokes a response from watchdogs, competitors and the media. In their early days, they famously named a beer ‘Speedball’, (after the lethal mix of cocaine and heroin!) and then marketed it with ‘Class A Strong Ale’. It was soon banned by the Portman Group, to be expected I guess; nevertheless it gave them a boost in the industry; succès de scandale, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, it seems.

A definite favourite of mine is their Punk IPA, by no means a new introduction (it’s been around for years!). It’s massively successful, a popular example of this style amongst fans, available in bottle, keg and very recently (and interestingly) cans! Hopefully it’ll help lead the charge in canning instead of bottling craft beer.

Crafted with no less than 6 hop varieties… Chinook, Ahtanum, Amarillo, Cascade, Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin. They bundle together to create the initial burst of intense flavour, a wonderfully, fresh, golden taste. Considering the amount of hops used, it’s gracefully balanced and in no way overpowering. It has masses of tropical fruit flavours, which would compliment strongly flavoured food nicely. Despite it being 5.6% ABV it could easily be a session beer.  I personally think beers of this calibre benefit from being chilled well, so it’s a perfect alternative to a cold lager in the hot sun.

BrewDog is undoubtedly a brewery with a very colourful history, and certainly has the beers to match.

Guinness Golden Ale

St. James’s Gate Brewery – Guinness Golden Ale

What better way to make the most of the British sunshine than to sit in the garden and enjoy a nice, cold Guinness – their new ‘Golden Ale’ that is.

The 250 year old company has clearly been trying to grab a part of the booming real ale market. Both the West Indies and Dublin Porter hit the market recently, and an American Lager was introduced to the U.S. So, their hoping this Golden Ale is a step further to capitalising the industry. But is the brand being stretched too far?

The creator of this new addition said he hoped it would appeal to a “broad range of people” and “introduce them to premium ale”. After hearing that and drinking a bottle, I now can’t help but think the people at Guinness are mainly targeting their regular draught stout fans to try, then continue to buy it. It’s like they’ve designed it to appeal for people without the passion for craft beers. Based on the beer itself I feel seasoned ale drinkers will try this once out of curiosity but probably never again…

It’s got a rich colour, but no head. Flavours are really subtle, and borders on being quite dull and bland. It’s not as bold as the stout, it’s a little lacklustre and really didn’t evoke the happy summer feeling that so many beers of this style can. Although it’s perfectly refreshing, it just doesn’t stimulate any interest – it’s plain boring. All in all, uninspiring and no where near on par with the smattering of golden ales the UK already has to offer.

Stick with Arthur Guinness’ Irish dry stout.

Red Squirrel Brewery

New Recipes, Limited Edition and ‘Experimental’ Beers from Red Squirrel Brewing Co.

Through the wonders of social media, I heard a local brewery were introducing a new beer range into the public domain. Red Squirrel Brewing Co. have created something called – ‘Baby Squirrel Experimental’. Already a fan of their current range (Redwood and Black Lager are two of my favourites) I was quite intrigued. Chatting to the guys at the brewery tap, they say it’s a “platform to try new recipes or very limited edition brews”. Seems like an interesting idea, I’m sure you’d agree.

First on their agenda is a changed and improved recipe of their already fantastic ‘Redwood’. For anybody who’s never heard of it, it’s an American IPA and well worth a try if you ever come across it. So, the resulting beer has been bottled, and limited to very few – only 50 in fact. My iPhone calculator tells me this is just 29.063 UK pints – hopefully the people at Red Squirrel have have drunk at least half of this when tasting…?

I had to get my hands on a bottle (or three) as I’m pretty sure they would sell fairly quick. I’ve not yet opened one but I’m very much looking forward to trying it. I really like the idea and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for future Baby Squirrel creations.

Red Squirrel Brewing Co. is based in Potten End, Hertfordshire. They have a brilliant craft beer shop in Chesham, and another soon to open in Berkhamsted.

Keep up the good work guys!

Craft Beer is in the Basket!

Here’s a piece of news I found quite interesting.

Today, the UK office for national statistics (ONS) has added bottled ‘craft’ beer to its shopping basket, the stuff that it uses to measure inflation. It’s the first time craft beer has been added to the basket of goods, in it’s 70 year history. Seeing as these items represent consumer spending, this obviously means the amount of money spent on speciality ales has increased steadily in the past 12 months. And it means shelf space in supermarkets is being increased to accommodate the rise – which is great!

Food for Thought

Why has it become the norm for people to instinctively switch from a pre dinner beer to a glass of wine at the table? We all do it, as soon we leave the bar to enter the dining room, we quite naturally start to think about wine. It’s got me thinking – is it really fair?

I really believe beer can be paired with food just as well (if not better) than wine can, but it just doesn’t seem to actually be done on any where near the same scale, especially when it comes to more formal occasions. Who has ever rejected the sommelier’s wine recommendation in a fancy restaurant in favour of a bottle of pale ale or craft lager? Very few, I imagine. In fact, would the restaurant even have them

I do think it’s becoming more practised these days though. There’s lots of books being published on the subject with proper thinking involved. Restaurants and bars are marketing themselves on offering specialist bottled beer to accompany their creative food and promotions from various organisations – it all helps the cause.

Matching beer and food relies on much the same principles as with wine, they should interact with one another, compliment and contrast whilst not being overpowering. For example a clear, crisp blonde would pair well with a light chicken salad and I would drink an American IPA with a spicy curry, whereas a bottle of stout would trounce more delicate food. These are pretty simple principles really, most people are aware of them, but (as with me) anybody who refuses to drink a certain ale just because it’s not recommended alongside the food is clearly a borderline ‘snob’. I generally stick to the recommendation but believe we should drink the beer we fancy at the time… unsurprisingly it often enhances the food experience superbly.