Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Harwich Redoubt Beer Festival 2016

When you turn up to this festival with a tankard they give you a free half. This adds to the atmosphere of this circular Napoleonic fort but the organisers should probably invite a re-enactment society to come along too. Built in the early 1800s to protect the port of Harwich against the threat of invasion it is now a museum housing displays in its original rooms of guns, uniforms, and general militaria.

The festival took place on the old parade ground in the centre of the fort, where we were also treated with a live performance from Polly Haynes, a North-Essex based singer songwriter, singing bluesy songs with her acoustic guitar.

Getting here was easy, it’s a 5 minute walk from Harwich Town railway station with its connection at Manningtree and the main Norwich to London line. There’s also a bus stop right outside for anyone travelling from the Colchester direction.

I sampled 11 different beers across a range of styles, although drinking out of a pewter tankard does make it difficult to assess the colour of the beer. Let’s go through them one by one – there is no logical order, just what took my fancy at the time.

A subtle chocolate orange flavour from chocolate malt and curaçao orange peel, which isn't dominant or overpowering. There's vanilla in there too, which keeps everything nicely in balance. A thin body and subtle bittering towards the end makes for a surprisingly refreshing drink for a stout.

Very easy drinking but full-flavoured bitter honouring the fact that Nelson's body was returned to England preserved in a barrel of brandy, which was either subsequently incorporated into the sailors' ration, or surreptitiously siphoned off, depending on which historical tale you believe. In any case, brandy is added to this brew, although I'd be hard-pressed to identify it. What I do get though is plenty of hedgerow fruits, spice and liquorice.

Light and very obviously brewed with American Citra hops, this one has a kick on the palate and characteristic long-lasting grapefruit bitterness, but not an unpleasant one as there's enough tropical fruit coming from the hops to temper the overall flavour. If you like new world hops then this is for you. If you don't, then try it as a gentle-ish introduction to golden ales.

One of this brewery’s space-themed beers, Apollo has a light malty, grassy taste with lots of bitterness. I'm not sure about 'one giant step for mankind' but this is a very pleasant, unchallenging, session ale.

Brewed for the charity Global’s Make Some Noise, it tastes like there's a good mixture of hops in there, and indeed there is. Inspired by the charity’s initials there's Galaxy, Simcoe, Minstrel and Nugget. Not as easy drinking as the Apollo I'm not sure I would drink much more of this, and of all the beers I've sampled so far, it's taking the longest to go down!

Organic lemons add a subtle but unmistakable zesty finish, which results in a very drinkable and refreshing summery brew. If I can find this in bottles I’d pop them in the fridge as I would happily drink this a bit cooler.

A well balanced ale with some bitterness but not overly sweet. The brewery calls it a mild, but don’t think of it as a traditional mild – it is much lighter and fresher.

A light refreshing golden beer, with tropical fruit, citrus, and floral flavours from the use of Cascade and Amarillo hops. A very crisp and clean finish makes this a very session-able beer.

A strong but very smooth mild with a lovely chocolaty taste and an almost spicy herbal aroma.

A subtle citrus aroma follows through to sweet lemons on the palate and a bitter finish.

I’m a big fan of Colchester Brewery and I chose it as my last beer of the day. This is one of their ‘retro’ beers and is heavily malted, quite sweet, slightly earthy but entirely balanced.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Brewdog Brixton Porter

Impenetrably dark and smokey with a mouth full of coffee, vanilla and bitter chocolate flavours and a dry liquorice finish on the back of the throat. Topped off by a caramel head, Brixton Porter is a very complex 4-malt brew with the addition of 3 resinous and fruity hops from America, Australia and Britain. Although this makes it quite rich, it remains very drinkable - ideal for sitting outside on this summer evening as it starts to chill.

Try it if you see it because it’s part of Brewdog’s occasional brews range and is not always available. I was lucky enough to spot one amongst the 30 or so bottled beers on the shelf in Colchester’s Church Street Tavern. This former savings bank and latterly estate agents’ offices has been recently refurbished to a very fine standard and offers a long bar and comfortable seating on the ground floor with an excellent restaurant upstairs.

If I could wish for one thing here it would be at least one cask ale, but they do offer a good range of keg beer in addition to the bottles, so that should be enough to satisfy the discerning beer enthusiast.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Drinking Beer in Cathar Country with the Grand Bison

The Restaurant A La Patate Qui Fume in Montségur is a family run restaurant in the Ariège-Pyrénées region of France and serves top quality homemade food using ingredients sourced from local farmers and markets. My own choice for lunch was a confit duck burger.

The beer and wine is also locally sourced and I enjoyed a very refreshing CroMignonne Biere Blanche - unpasteurised, unfiltered, full of citrus and floral flavours and excellent served cold.  

You will notice from the picture that the CroMignonne was served in a Britte Grande Biere de Bretagne glass with a very attractive Puffin logo. I was very taken with the design, and the owner let me take one away with me. 

CroMignonne is one of 4 regular beers from the Grand Bison brewery, only 4 miles away in the town of Lavelanet. The name and label designs are inspired by the Great Bison, one of the largest and most famous paintings in the caves at Niaux. Later in the week I also tried the Flambeuse - an amber beer, or Biere Ambree. It had a dry liquorice bitterness to it that refreshed not dominated the palate and is a beer to take time over and savour. 

Do make a point of visiting A La Patate Qui Fume if you're ever in the area. It makes an ideal stop if you’re searching for the Holy Grail at The Château de Montségur.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Bateman's Valiant

I'm a regular visitor to the Hospital Arms in Colchester. It's an Adnams pub that always has a good range of guest beers on offer. On this occasion I was lucky enough to enjoy a pint of Bateman's Valiant (4.2 abv), a beer from this Lincolnshire family brewer's Heritage range. It is only available in June and is part of the celebration of Bateman's 140th anniversary (Valiant was first brewed in 1993).

Light amber in the glass with a thin white head, it is flat but fruity in a zesty kind of way with a clean bitter finish from the Styrian and Challenger hops. Bateman's recommend pairing Valiant with a strong Lincolnshire cheese, but I enjoyed mine with a new take on a traditional bar snack - black pudding flavour pork scratchings. 

Already a fan of the deep fried pork rind (sorry but it's the combination of crunchy skin and slightly soft nuggets of fat kept in balance by the liberal addition of salt that gets me) I was blown away by a bag of these beauties from Openshaws. Through the judicious use of 'black pudding seasoning' they have managed to imbue the crispy morsels with a more meaty flavour, and they're something I will be looking out for again.

I will also be looking out for more of Bateman's Heritage beers throughout the rest of 2015 as they seem to be releasing one a month throughout the year, each brewed according to the season. To see what you've missed so far, and to see what's coming up, take a look at their range here

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Crouch Vale Brewery's Essex Boys

I find myself in the garden of Dedham’s Sun Inn contemplating one of Crouch Vale Brewery’s regular beers - Essex Boys. For a beer with 3.8% abv it certainly packs a punch on the palate. Full of malt with a prominent hoppy bitterness that gets you at the back of the throat, this is not a subtle pint. However, Essex boys are not renowned for their subtlety so in that respect this beer lives up to its name. 

The village of Dedham, on whose High Street the Sun sits roughly half way along, is about as far away from that stereotype as you can get. Dedham is in the North-East of the county on the River Stour and the border of Essex and Suffolk. Although it can be popular with Tourists at the weekend, it’s serving very well as a refreshment stop on my circular walk in the Dedham Vale

But back to the subject of beer, of which this particular example has been going down very nicely while I've been writing this. Based in South Woodham Ferrers, this award-winning brewery is apparently the longest established in Essex. It produces a number of regular beers, of which the most well known is Brewers Gold – a previous Supreme Champion Beer of Britain and no stranger to my taste buds.

Suitably refreshed I carry on my walk over the top of the Vale towards the 14th century St Mary’s Church in Lawford, and home.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Colchester CAMRA Beer Festival at the Colchester Arts Centre

The splendour of the deconsecrated St Mary At The Walls church that is the Colchester Arts Centre makes for an impressive backdrop to the 30th anniversary of this celebration of beer. I only have a couple of hours so I pore over the list of 160 or so beers from 90 breweries.

Some of my choices have already sold out, but first up is a beer from the Dominion Brewery Company in Epping - The Few. It's a Pale Ale based on a recipe dating back to 1947 from a Cobbold Brewery book. I like this old style of Bitter, light at 3.6% and very easy drinking with enough bitterness from the hops to quench the thirst without being overpowering.

With May being CAMRA's Mild Month, I move on to Gannet Mild from the Earl Soham brewery in Debenham, Suffolk. At only 3.3% it's very light-bodied and has sweet liquorice notes. It’s an old-style Mild that might not be fashionable at the moment but certainly shows-off the Brewers’ skill. 

Mild is one of my favourite styles of ale, so I follow-up with a Dark Mild from Bishop Nick in Braintree. At 3.7% it’s more robust and chocolaty than the Gannet but still has a very pleasing bitter finish. There’s also a nice touch of smokiness on the aftertaste that kicks in half way through the first half-pint. 

Well, I'm happy to have obliged with the Mild Month theme with the Gannet and Dark Mild both giving me different takes on this unique style of beer. But before I leave the world of Milds, I would like to give honourable mention to Mighty Oak's Oscar Wilde - seek it out and give it a try - it's a former supreme beer of Britain. You won't be disappointed. 

Back to the Bitters, and a small jump to 4.1% abv for a Bath Ales’ Gem. The first thing that hits me is a pleasant malt aroma that is sweet and inviting - promising something special to come. On the palate it's finely balanced between bitter and sweet, and offers a more satisfying drink than your average Bitter. Apparently this is widely available in bottles and I will be interested to compare how it compares between cask and bottle – apparently I need to look out for a running Hare on the label.

Last up from me today, and from the Dengie Peninsula in Essex, is Wibblers' Apprentice. Also inviting on the nose with sweet malt dominating, it reveals a floral character on the palate that I wasn't expecting. I suspect this comes from the herbal qualities of the Polish Marynka hops. These are usually to be found in Pilsners but are a pleasant addition to this Bitter (3.9%).

So 5 real ales sampled today and I could have gone on to drink a lot more of any one of them (only the facts that it’s during the day and I need to take things easy at the moment stopped me). Shame I missed out on the Hog Roast though, but I have to say the announcement of the availability of “dead pig in the graveyard” did nothing to stir my appetite!