Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil

Harviestoun - Old Engine Oil
Before Christmas, I was pretty well stocked up on beer but then a number of people (knowing me well) gave me beery presents, meaning that my beer stash grew considerably.

Amongst the varied selection that I had amassed, one beer was really calling out for me to drink it on Christmas day. A beer that I'd heard loads about from other drinkers and bloggers but still hadn't tried; Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil.

As you pour out the beer, the aroma is incredible, a thick scent of caramel with bitter fresh coffee undertones. Colour wise, its the jet black you would expect of a porter, with a small tan head.

The flavour follows on closely from the nose. There is a sweet caramel edge from the malts which is matched by a deep smokiness and the ever present coffee and dark chocolate notes.

It has a rich, indulgent quality to it whilst having a mouthfeel that isn't too thick or heavy. The flavour gives way to an excellent bitter finish.

This is a beer to savour. As you go back in for another sip, you notice other elements coming through, such as the bitterness of the hops and slight fruity undertones. It's deep, dark and indulgent but very drinkable and not too heavy. In essence, it's an excellent beer for over the Christmas period as its flavour compliments the tastes of Christmas but its body is just light enough that you can keep drinking it.

I must admit that I am relative newcomer when it comes to dark beers. For a long time, I drank pretty much exclusively paler beers but since becoming a dark beer convert, I've been trying as many stouts and porters as possible and I have to say, this ranks as one of my favourites.

Scotland's Harviestoun have garnered themselves quite a reputation amongst beer fans and this fantastic, highly drinkable porter is a perfect demonstration of why.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Brewdog Prototypes: The Verdict

Promo shot of Brewdog prototypes
After a few days of waiting, my Brewdog prototype beers arrived. I went for three of each of the beers: a Pilsner called Nuns with a Guns, a super hoppy IPA called Jackhammer and a 10% ABV imperial Russian stout called Cocoa Psycho.

I'd been hearing mixed things about a couple of the beers, in particular Nuns with Guns which didn't seem to be getting the best reviews in some quarters. But it's always better to try for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

Whatever you think of Brewdog and their marketing strategies, it is hard to ignore them. They produce some fantastic beers and have injected a real energy into the UK brewing scene. It is of course a bit of a gimmick getting people to vote for their favourite, which will go into production throughout next year. However, it's also a nice opportunity to see where they're going as a brewery and try out some new beers before they go into full production.

It's also quite refreshing to receive them with simple white white labels bearing just the Brewdog logo, the name of the beer and the ABV and without the usual twaddle about how 'post-modern' and rebellious the beer is.

Anyway, on with the verdict...

Nuns with Guns
Nuns with Guns
4.2% ABV

This beer is a fairly low alcohol Pilsner. It pours a coppery colour with minimal head and has a very gentle and slightly underwhelming aroma with a slight fruitiness to it.

Overall, this is an utterly inoffensive lager, but it is far from their best beer. In fact, 77 lager is a much more rounded flavoursome beer. This falls short of expectations by some way. It has a slight sharpness and a bit of bite from the hops but not enough to make it stand out.

It's not a bad beer per-se, but it's just not that original or unusual and frankly Brewdog can do much better. This won't be getting my vote to go into production next year.

Jackhammer IPA
7.2% ABV

Now, we all know that Brewdog can produce a fantastic American hopped IPA, so it was with a certain level of excitement that I approached Jackhammer, which they have claimed is their bitterest to date. It also comes accompanied by some typical Brewdog silliness, stating that it's 'not for the feint hearted, elderly or French.'

It pours a clear yellow-ish brown with a small amount of head and immediately has a fantastic hoppy aroma. It's all tropical fruits and handfuls of pine needles, lovely stuff. Taste wise, Jackhammer definitely delivers on flavour. After the disappointment of Nuns with Guns, it's great to be drinking a big and bold IPA from the Brewdog boys with bags of mango and passion fruit flavour from the Centennial and Columbus hops.

The fruity upfront flavour gives way to an excellently bitter finish. This is a big and punchy beer which is designed for real hop heads.

I would be pretty happy to this go into production as I can imagine wanting to come back to it time and time again. I love powerfully hopped beers and I think they've done an excellent job with Jackhammer. However, there is one more, very different beer to go...

Cocoa Psycho
10% ABV

This is the beer that I had heard the best things about. A number of people have given it rave reviews. This 10% ABV imperial Russian stout is infused with coffee beans and aged on cocoa nibs, vanilla pods and toasted oak chips.

It pours a pitch black colour, with a two finger brown head. The aromas that are released are fantastic, all dark malts, wood smoke and bitter dark chocolate.

This is a hugely flavoursome beer. It's thick and rich with a complexity and depth to it. A definite kick of coffee comes through in the middle, alongside a touch of vanilla and treacle.

This is a truly fantastic and characterful beer. With each sip, you can notice different elements to the flavour. The high ABV gives it a warm boozy underbelly. It slips down a little bit too easily if truth be told!

I have one bottle left over, which I'm going to drink on Christmas day. This beer is an example of Brewdog do best - making highly flavoursome and engaging beers.Cocoa Psycho definitely gets my vote and I hope that it is the beer that goes into full production in 2013.

I thought it would be difficult picking a favourite from three such different beers, but in the end one was average, one was good and one was brilliant. I'm looking forward to my remaining bottle of Cocoa Psycho already!

It would be great to know your take on these three beers. Why not leave a comment below...

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Golden Pints

It's the end of the year and the time when Mark Dredge and Andy Mogg ask beer bloggers to list their favourite beers and beer related stuff from the year.
I'm pretty new to beer blogging, but I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring and pick my faves from the year, so here goes...

Best UK Draught Beer:
The Kernel Export Stout. I had this at Craft Beer Co Islington and absolutely loved it. It's a perfect dark beer - complex, deep and malty with excellent bitter dark chocolate notes. A perfect beer in the winter.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer:
London Fields Hackney Hopster. This is just a fantastic hoppy pale ale. I've come back to it a number of times. It's fresh, bright, tasty and extremely drinkable.

Best Overseas Draught Beer:
Rogue Dead Guy Ale.  I like all the Rogue beers that I've had, but I've come back to this German style Maibock time and again at The Black Heart in Camden. Their delightfully named Yellow Snow was a close second. I got into that beer when it was a guest at the Brewdog bars.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer:
Flying Dog Snake Dog. This is a fantastic little IPA with bags of character - what's not to love?

Best Overall Beer
Thornbridge Jairpur. This has been my favourite beer this year. It's massively hoppy and fresh but with a real balance of flavour.

Best Pump Clip or Label:
Tiny Rebel Hadouken. I love all their design. It's fun, fresh and different. All of Magic Rock's pump clips are great too.

Best UK Brewery:
Thornbridge. A great range of beers. Aside from Jaipur, I've enjoyed drinking Chiron, Kipling, Colorado Red and lots of others this year.

Best Overseas Brewery:
Sierra Navada. Consistently great beer.

Pub/Bar of the year:
Craft Beer Co Islington. It has the vibe of an old school pub with an incredible selection of beer. The latter goes for all their venues of course but I particularly like the feel of the Islington one.

Beer Festival of the Year:
Due to some awful planning, I missed both The Great British Beer Festival and the Indy Man Beer Convention - shocking! I've been to a few smaller local festivals that I enjoyed, but I wouldn't want to name as festival of the year.

Supermarket of the Year:  
Hmmm. I'm not a big fan of supermarkets and I tend to buy as much of my beer from independent retailers as I can. However, if I have to name one it would be Waitrose. A fantastic selection - but it is still a damn supermarket!

Independent Retailer of the Year:
Utobeer at Borough Market. They have a fantastic selection of beer and staff who are knowledgeable and really helpful.

Online Retailer of the Year:
Ales by Mail. They're the one I've used most and they have a great selection.

Best Beer Book or Magazine:
I haven't read that many, but I have enjoyed 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die by Adrian Tierney-Jones.

Best Beer Blog or Website:
Probably Beervana.

Best Beer Twitterer:
There are loads who are good. I really couldn't choose!

Best Online Brewery Presence:
Brewdog - you just can't ignore them. I know they can be a bit annoying and silly sometimes but they certainly get themselves noticed.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year:
Chickpea curry and Camden Town Pale Ale. It just really works! The right level of hoppy flavour alongside the spice. I don't like to go too big and hoppy with curries as I think massive hoppy flavours can clash with the spice, but this is great.

In 2013 I’d Most Like To:
Start home brewing. Make sure I don't screw up and miss GBBF again!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Brewdog Prototype Beers

Promotional shot of the three Brewdog prototypes
It was with a genuine sense of excitement that I ordered a box of three of each of Brewdog's new prototype beers last night: A dry hopped low ABV pilsner called Nuns with Guns, an ultra hoppy IPA called Jack Hammer and a 10% Russian Imperial Stout called Cocoa Psycho.

The three beers have been produced as part of their 'prototype challenge.' A limited batch of each beer is now available via their website. Customers have been invited to vote for their favourite and Brewdog will produce the winning beer throughout 2013.

As we all know, Brewdog are masters of promotion and of course this is a clever promotional scheme, but they do after all produce groundbreaking beers and the prospect of receiving three test beers in the post has already got my excited.

If I'm honest, I haven't disliked a single Brewdog beer that I've had. I do of course have favourites that I keep coming back to, but the thing that they are great at is producing a wide range of styles and doing each consummately. With that in mind, I think it will be difficult to pick a winner between a pilsner, an IPA and a stout.

I'm interested in trying them all, but Jack Hammer has got me really intrigued. It's a 7.2% ABV IPA and apparently the bitterest that they've ever produced. It's dry hopped with Centennial and Columbus hops and in typical Brewdog fashion comes with the warning that it's not for "the feint hearted, elderly or French!"

Once they arrive, I'll work my way through all three and write a piece about them. Say what you like about Brewdog's approach to marketing and advertising but at the end of the day, what matters is that they continue to produce innovative and exciting beers. It's great that fans have the opportunity to test three prototypes and give Brewdog themselves their verdict. Bring it on!

Craft Beer London: The App and the Book

The Craft Beer London iPhone app from Blue Crow Media
For sometime now, there have been a number of mobile apps for locating bars in the in the capital, but 'Craft Beer London,' which is curated by London based beer writer Will Hawkes is the first to focus on the capital's burgeoning craft beer scene.

It's a great time to be drinking beer in London, as the choice is  phenomenal. The city boasts two Brewdog bars, the Camden Town Brewery Bar, three Craft Beer Co bars and numerous other top drinking spots, off-licences, breweries and brew-pubs. Some of them however, are a little less obvious than others and having an app to help locate them is a great tool for the drinker who is looking to try something new.

I've had the app for a few weeks now and I've got to say, it is pretty neat. Thirsty punters can flip between looking for bars, off-licences and breweries. You can search for bars based upon name or use your location if you're out in town and can only see bars that have crap on tap.

It's already helped me locate a couple of gems. I work near Brixton, but hadn't taken in the excellent Crown and Anchor before, which has a brilliant range of beer including Dark Star, Brooklyn and often Thornbridge and others. 

The app has also made me pay attention to a few innocuous looking street corner off-licences  whose unassuming façades give nothing away of the beer bounty within!

The functionality of the app is great and it also looks really nice. It's regularly updated and at the moment has to be the best tool for tracking down down interesting beer and bars in London. 

The Craft Beer London Book, by Will Hawk on Vespertine Press
Now, if you're wanting to relax in your armchair at home and consider a possible trip to a brewpub or want to look out a location for meeting a friend, then the companion book to the app may be up your street. It's published by Vespertine Press and available here for £10, which seems like a bit of a bargain!

I can't wait to get my hands on a copy and will write a post about it when I do. The cover image and design of the book look great and if the app is anything to go by, it should be an excellent reference tool for the discerning London beer drinker.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Pig's Ear Beer and Cider Festival

Hazy Iphone photo - a few beers in!
Over the last five days, Hackney's Round Chapel has played host to Camra's 29th annual Pig's Ear Festival of Beer and Cider. I popped down on its final day yesterday, to sample a few local brews.

The first thing that hit me as I entered the Round Chapel was what a great venue for a beer festival it is. A mezzanine level runs right around the hall and provides seating for the punters, whilst the open ground floor plays host to bars and stalls right around the perimeter of the room.

Throughout the week, there has been a real diversity of beer on offer, including offerings from breweries throughout the UK and also a foreign beer stall but the real centrepiece of the event had to be the Hackney bar. 

The current resurgence in London's brewing fortunes has seen a number of fantastic little breweries pop up across East London, many of them in Hackney. London Fields, East London Brewery, Beavertown and Hackney Brewery were all represented, alongside brew-pubs such as the hugely popular Crate Brewery, Howling Hops and Tap East.

I was too late to sample beers from Crate, Howling Hops or Tap East as I went half way through the final day and they had all gone. However, I did have a lovely pale ale from East London Brewery and London Fields fresh and tasty Hackney Hopster. 

One beer that I gravitated straight towards was Redemption's Fellowship Coffee Porter. It's a well balanced, deeply flavoursome dark beer with (sorry to point out the obvious!) a bitter coffee aroma. It has hints of caramel on the palate and a distinct tang from the hops. Its clear to see why Redemption has been winning awards left, right and centre and why their founder and head brewer Andy Moffat has become one of the most revered people in London brewing circles.

These events are of course all about trying beers that you haven't come across before. With that in mind, I took a recommendation from one of the bar staff and tried a 'Hammer' from the Welsh brewery Hafod. It's strong-ish beautifully balanced pale ale with a good whack of hops. It's always good to find a new beer at a festival like this and I'll aim to seek out Hafod Hammer again in the future.

Alongside the myriad of beers, there was also a well stocked cider bar, offering a great range of proper ciders from throughout the UK. It was heartening to see how popular the traditional was cider proving, as it is on a bit of a downer at the moment, much in the same way to real ale during the seventies. 

The festival was made by the friendliness of the atmosphere. Everyone working at Pig's Ear was a volunteer and they all seemed to be having a great time. They well knowledgeable and really helpful too. East London Camra should be commended for putting on another excellent event. 

Next year, I'll try and pop down a bit earlier in the week, to take advantage of the full selection of beer before any of them start selling out. Despite the fact that quite a few beers had gone by the time I got there, the selection was still amazing. It was great to see so many people enjoying good beer and a great atmosphere in a location at the heart of London's brewing renaissance. 

Next year will be the 30th Pig's Ear Festival, I wonder what treats Camra will provide to mark the occasion?  

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Brewdog Hello My Name is Beastie

Whilst riffling through the incredible selection of beer at Borough Market’s Utobeer, I spied a couple of bottles of Brewdog’s ‘Hello My Name is Beastie.’ It’s an 8.2% IPA infused with brambles.

As soon as I saw the bottle, I had to try it. I’d wanted to see what combining blackberries with an IPA would do to the taste, since I heard about this beer. It disappeared from their online shop pretty quickly (as you’d expect with one of their limited editions) and I hadn’t found a bottle since. But then Utobeer is the place to find beers that nobody else has.

It pours a pale coppery orange colour with a hint of red and has minimal head. As soon as the beer leaves the bottle, a brilliant bitter hoppy aroma is released. There is a definite hint of forest fruits on the nose, undercut with a tang of orange peel and lemon.

The taste follows the nose and is characterised by a zesty tanginess that you would expect from the American hops in this style of IPA. Whilst it is relatively subtle, there is a clear hint of forest fruits that really does add an extra dimension to this beer.

This is a brilliantly well balanced IPA with a distinctive and cleverly crafted taste. The bitterness is underpinned with slight malty tones and a good boozy kick from its 8.2% ABV.

Hello My Name us Beastie is a typically clever beer from Brewdog. It takes a style that in many ways is the key beer in the craft beer movement and gives it an extra twist. Highly recommended if you can find a bottle kicking around somewhere!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Nøgne Ø Havrestout

Nøgne Ø Havrestout
NøgneØ are at the forefront of craft brewing in Norway. Their name translates as 'naked island' and is apparently lifted from an Ibsen quote about bleak bare islands with no vegetation.

What is clear about Nøgne Ø is that they are increasingly making waves in the UK for their exciting and flavoursome beers. Another interesting point about the company is that they are also Norway's only producer of sake.

I'd heard good thing's about 'Havrestout' before getting my hands on it. It's a sweet oatmeal stout produced in a country that isn't normally associated with dark beers. With this beer, Nøgne Ø have tried to produce a dark ale for the palates of drinkers not normally accustomed to this style.

As you pop the gap, you're greeted with a deep almost musky aroma with a bitter hint of coffee underpinned by a distinct sweetness. It pours a pitch black colour with a two finger dark brown head.

Flavour-wise, Havrestout is imbued with bitter dark chocolate and coffee notes that then give way to a distinctive sweetness from the malts. The mouthfeel is lighter than many stouts and the sweetness helps give the beer an overall accessibility that some stouts lack.

Havrestout has some richness, a real depth of flavour with the chewy malts ever present and a bitter finish provided by the hops. Nøgne Ø have definitely succeeded in producing a stout with more accessibility for people who are more accustomed to drinking lighter beers.

A number of craft beer bars and online stockists currently have their beers and they have recently been guests at the Brewdog bars too. Nøgne Ø are positioning themselves right at the heart of innovation in the international craft beer scene. Havrestout is an excellent beer and perfect for drinking in winter.

Now, in case you're wondering how to pronounce that name - here's a quick video from their head brewer who explains all...

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Kernel IPA and Tiny Rebel Hadouken

The Kernel's IPA and Tiny Rebel's Hadouken
After a long a tiring day today, I decided to grab a couple of decent beers. I wanted something punchy in the form of an IPA with a big, assertive hit of American hops.

I dropped into the Euston Tap for a quick pint of Magic Rock's wonderful pale ale High Wire, before heading to bar's fridges which are a veritable Aladdin's cave for hop heads. Amongst the superb selection of bottled beers, two stood out to me; an IPA from South London's hugely popular microbrewery The Kernel and Tiny Rebel's Hadouken. 

First up, The Kernel...

Kernel IPA – Citra, Columbus, Summit
7.4% ABV

I'd had an IPA from The Kernel before, though not likely this one. They have no core range, meaning that everything is produced in limited batches before being packaged in beautifully minimal bottles with hand stamped labels. The simplicity and authenticity of the presentation just invites you in.

The Kernel's IPA - made with Citra, Columbus and Summit hops
It pours a cloudy coppery pale orange with a small head.  As soon as the cap is popped, the strong citrus and tropical fruit aromas leap out. The immediate taste of the beer matches the nose, with a characteristic tang of lemon and a hint of mango and passion fruit.

The fruity notes begin to give way to a grassy, resiny and almost floral tang that comes from the large quantity of high alpha Columbus and Summit hops in the beer.

It has a spicy, tangy zing to it that dies back to leave you with a bitter finish. A beer of this sort is of course all about the hops, but it does have balance too. A slight sweetness comes through from the malt prior to the bitterness at the end. Having an ABV of 7.4%, this beer has a boozy warmth that underpins the complexity of the flavours coming from the three hop strains.

This is a text book example of what The Kernel do brilliantly; producing innovative, exciting and complex beers that leave you with a thirst for more.

It's no wonder that this small London brewery are making such a name for themselves with their IPAs, pales and dark beers. If you're in London of a Saturday, why not drop into their brewery and buy their beers direct?

Tiny Rebel - Hadouken
7.4% ABV

Hadouken comes from the fantastic Newport based brewery Tiny Rebel. Anyone who was playing computer games in the early 90s will know that this beer draws its name from a move in Street Fighter. It's a fitting name too as this is a gobby young upstart of an IPA. If The Kernal's packaging and presentation is minimal and sophisticated, this is the opposite. Funky cartoons adorn the scarlet label helping create an instant impression even before you pop the cap.

Hadouken is an American style IPA which also has an ABV of 7.4%. It pours a much deeper colour than The Kernel. It is of course still pale but with more of a translucency and a reddish gold tint.

Immediately the aroma has a floral edge and contains some of the citrus tang that you would hope for. However this beer certainly has a character all of its own. Where some American style IPAs can be unbalanced and purely about showcasing the hops, this has a real depth of flavour and a rounded full-bodied character.
Tiny Rebel - Hadouken

The bold tones of peach, passion fruit and the hop bitterness are underpinned by the ever present malts which help give this IPA real character. Like with The Kernel, the 7.4% ABV provides a boozy warmth that then subsides, leaving you with a dry finish.

This is a high octane beer but with body and soul to match its upfront punchy flavours.

Drinking these two beer next to each other really highlights how the US influence is helping UK breweries achieve some remarkable things. Both of these beers contain 3 varies of American hops and the same amount of alcohol but their mouthfeel and overall flavour profile, whilst having some similarities are very different.

To me, Tiny Rebel and the Kernel are prime examples of what is exciting about the UK beer scene at the moment. Both breweries are pretty new, having been founded within the last three years. It certainly will be interesting to see the direction that they go in the coming years. I personally can't wait to try more new releases in the future from the pair of them.

Both beers are available from Ales by Mail.

If you're in Newport at any point – why not check out Tiny Rebel's brewery bar?

Welcome to The Hoptimist

This is just a quick post to welcome you to my new blog. I've been interested in beer and writing for years but now I'm bringing the two together, throwing my hat into the ring and joining the world of beer blogging!

Over the last couple of years, I've written arts reviews and other posts for a number of websites including Londonist, Remote Goat and Huffington Post. It feels like the right time to combine my love of writing  with my love of beer. It's a great time to be a hop-head as craft breweries in the UK, Europe and the USA continue to push boundaries and create awesome new takes on classic beer styles. 

Exciting developments in brewing aren't just confined the the world of 'craft' beer of course, many of the UK's regional breweries such as Shepherd Neame, Adnams and Black Sheep are looking back at their history and tradition and combining it with forward thinking ideas to bring out excellent limited edition beers. 

I already have many ideas for beery blog-posts brewing up in the depths of my mind. Please pop back soon for reviews of some excellent beers and chat about stuff that I find exciting in the world of beer and brewing.