The Scoopies 2009

I've had literally some enquiries as to whether I'd be getting hopelessly drunk on New Year's Eve and presenting a vast number of meaningless awards. Ladeez en jayneteelmen - I give you, The Scoopies 2009

The Cheshire Cat Award for Most Contented Beer Moment

- sat on a pallet outside Thornbridge Hall brewery with Ian Harrison of pubsandbeer, enjoying a ham cob and a pint after enjoying a morning's brewing

Unfeasibly Good Pub of the Year award (sponsored by the Fat Cock Inn, Little Dribbling)

- The Bear Inn, Alderwasley, Derbyshire. Miles from a main road, dominoes by the fire in the bar, top quality food, nooks and crannies, beer garden overlooking Crich Stand, Thornbridge Jaipur - ticks all the boxes

The 'Maybe We Can Turn Back The Hands Of Time" award for best new Best Bitter

- not awarded due to lack of entries

The 'New Technology Baffles Pissed Old Hack' award for Most Entertaining #techfail of the year

- Me trying to blog live about Brewdog 5AM Saint at the Harlequin, Sheffield, via a steam-driven mobile phone. Proof positive that this toper can't drink and think at the same time.

The Death Of Conversation Award for Most Flagrant Misuse of Technology in a Beer Context

- myself and Dave 'Unpronounceable' Szwejkowski, sat in the Kelham Island Tavern, bitching about drinkers sat four feet away from us... by Facebook status updates.

The "I'm Not Pished, Ossifer" Award for Most Entertaining Pratfall

- Me, after only a couple of pints of BrewDog Paradox Smokehead, Derby CAMRA Winter Festival. I went to lean against a pillar; sadly, it was a poster. Fortunately, the beer escaped unharmed.

The Best At-Seat Service on an English Rail Route

- er, me again. For serving myself Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA on the way back from the GBBF. When the steward asked, "Would you care for a coffee, Sir, or are you happy with your beer?" I told him that I was *very* happy with my beer

The "Fucking Students" Award for Most Annoying Soap-Dodgers With Fat Mouths Ruining A Good Pub

- the slow drinkers in the University Arms, Sheffield. Yes, I know it's practically on campus, but FFS. Go drink shite in a union bar. I don't want to hear such tripe as "There are three things I look for in a woman...." btw - I'm imagining those things are desperation, solvency and a predilection for Rohypnol

The 'Are You Looking At My Moobs?" Award for Best Mistaken Identity Incident

- the bloke in the yellow shirt at the Platform 4 urninals, Sheffield Station, who mistook me for the actor Kevin Kennedy (Norman 'Curly' Watts of Coronation Street fame).

The 'Thank My Lucky Stars For A Transcontinental Retailer On My Doorstep' Award for Best Supermarket Beer

- Asda, for selling BrewDog Punk IPA. Often on offer. So I was able to buy it on the way to work, shove it in the fridge and then be able to enjoy it on the way home. I mean, when I got home. Honest, officer.

The Hey Nonny Nonny Award for Unexpectedly Good Morris Dancing At A Beer Event

- Pecsaetan Morris at the Thornbridge Hall Garden Party

The Life of Brian "Yes, Yes, We Are All Individuals" Award

Anyone who runs a beer blog based solely around regurgitated press releases and commenting on other blogs. Thinking is so important, Baldrick.

The 'Suspiciously Traditional Categories That Almost Match Up To The Golden Pint Awards But Fall Short Because I Can't be Arsed To Write That Much Anymore' Awards

Beer Festival of the Year: Beer, Blues and BBQ at the Coach & Horses, Dronfield. For many reasons, but mainly for Thornbridge/Epic Halcyon. And barbecued fish on a stick.

Online Retailer of the Year: - yes, they are proud suppliers of free beer to this site but I have yet to find another online retailer with such depth and breadth of stock, keen pricing and superb customer service.

Best Beer Book: Good Beer Guide Belgium. The finest vicarious beer journey of the year

Best Beer Blog: Martyn Cornell's Zythophile

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: A carry-out of cask Thornbridge Jaipur enjoyed with fish and chips from Carlo's Catch, Spondon.

Pork Pie of the year: Lanes of Leicester for the second year in a row. Not the fattest, crustiest or meatiest pie of the year, but by far and away the most moreish

Most Interesting Brewery: Hopshackle. Nigel is brewing up a quiet revolution; historic styles delivered with passion. And the 2008 Restoration is ageing supremely; another year and I reckon it'll be Trappist-beating.

Best Bottled/Cask Beer: Not telling. There's been too many where the combination of beer, place and people elevated the malt and hops onto a higher plane.

But because I'm a generous old soak, honourable mentions must go to Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, Russian River Pliny the Elder and BrewDog Hardcore (bottle); Brunswick Black Sabbath, Marble Dobber, Captain Lawrence Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA and Thornbridge Jaipur (cask)

Well, as the head gardener said to the confused bulb-holding apprentice, that's shallot. 2009 was a blast; great beers found and enjoyed with great friends old and new. 2010 has a lot to offer and some important changes here at Reluctant Scooper - keep your eyes peeled over the weekend for more gory details.

Unitl then, dear topers - drink them like you stole them. TTFN.




Their beers are often talked about by beer geeks in hushed tones; reverential, almost forming an incantation.

It's often called Westy, an unfortunate result of social inadequate's txt spk and those who can't be arsed to learn how to pronounce it.

Buying it seems to be a cross between spy novel and performance art worthy of Camden's finest; call an answering machine, leave your car registration, meet a monk at an allotted time by a gap in a wall.

If you're lucky/fortunate/well-connected, friends bring bottles over to you. If you're desperate/geeky/misguided, you pay a fortune to import a bottle (that may not even be the real deal. Ebayers beware).

I am glad to have generous friends.

So, here are beers that - surely - cannot possibly be as ball-bustingly great as the hype make them out to be. Even though still ranks the '12' as the Best Beer In The World.

My verdict?

The '8' is full of tart plums. The '12' is almost too complex for its own good. The Blond stole the show - plenty of pears and cloves and a feisty peppery-biscuit finish.

Best beers in the world? Not today. Perhaps it's because I refuse to believe the hype. Perhaps I'm rewarded for that. Perhaps I've just tasted great beer and enjoyed it; not revelled in it, not gone all misty-doe-eyed over it - just enjoyed it. Perhaps that's all you're meant to do. After all.... it's only beer.


Brewdog How To Disappear Completely

Newark; CAMRA Festival, May 2009.

New Brewdog; I am assaulted by hops, in a tent.

Then, I leave for the Lincoln CAMRA fest

"In a little while I'll be gone / The moment's already passed
Yeah it's gone / And I'm not here This isn't happening"

Lincoln; CAMRA Festival, May 2009.

I am sludged by brown beer, in a drill hall.

"This isn't happening / I'm not here / I'm not here"

Derby; my dining room table, December 2009.

Bottles bludgeon old wounds.

Strobe lights and blown speakers? Almost.

Opening the bottle and squatting three feet away, still there's a hop relentless assault. Reminds me initially of Nanny State. Make those memories go away...

No apologies to be found. No quarter asked. No quarter given. Relentless pine, discordant bitterness. Daft grapefruit. Yet - once you've puckered up, buttercup, those hops seep into your soul and you're grateful for the transfer.

It may yet be overdrawn in the hop account, though BrewDog didn't forget to settle the malt bill. Self-redeeming. Just.


The lyrics came from something Michael Stipe said to me. I rang him and said, "I cannot cope with this." And he said, "Pull the shutters down and keep saying, 'I'm not here, this is not happening'".

Thom Yorke


...Within the first couple bars of “How to Disappear Completely,” I knew I was in deep shit...

...There’s a specific satisfaction when a sad song comes on amid your own heartbreak... does take me back to the hotel room in Samoa: cool linoleum under my feet, a glass of sickly-sweet liquor on the nightstand, and the inescapable awareness that I had lost something huge...

Dan Clem

(from the ever-excellent McSweeney's)


... it just completely messes you up.

The idea came from a conversation with Scott from Hamilton's Tavern (killer beer bar in San Diego). He suggested a 4.5% session double IPA. We just made the concept a little crazier, a little more BrewDog.

James Watt

Brewdog blog


“The hoppiest beer?” Garrett asked. “It’s a fairly idiotic pursuit, like a chef saying, ‘This is the saltiest dish.’ Anyone can toss hops in a pot, but can you make it beautiful?”

New York Times


I fear that hops will always break my heart. Tease my palate. Dance on my grave. Rarely be lost.

(and Never Be Found)


The Best Pint You'll Probably Never Taste

The charred black body belies an ember glow at the glass's base; cinder-red suppressed by the very weight of beer above.

A creamy hide head, shotgun-peppered, slips into misty constellations that shift with every sip.

Escaping, an aroma of burnt cream and fresh ash, akin to roasting marshmallows too close to a bonfire; your poker-full burning just before the knees of your jeans become uncomfortably warm.

First lick, a lactic tang tempered by fruits souring in the hedge. You feel your lips retreat across your teeth before puckering enough into the second wave of recalcitrant berries.

This is a beer born just down the corridor from where I'm drinking it. To me, it's a unique moment... every time I drink it. But beer like this must be brewed all over the world.

In a tap-heavy west-coast USA bar, it's a passing seasonal soon to be nudged out by the proprietor's Next Great Thang. In an away-from-the-motorways Belgian town, it's a single barrel served on gravity, still brewed only because somebody's grandmother insists. In a broken-neon Tokyo side-street, it's a rare cask that perplexes and delights with equal measure.

In the pointy end of an English brewpub, where there are neither customers nor a fire in the grate, where passing traffic and gobshites hollering into mobile phones provide the only soundtrack, I find myself lost in a beer that within a few precious weeks will be gone, another moment lost like tears in the rain. Ephemeral, enhanced by time and place, kicking and screaming all the way down your throat.

I've just enjoyed the Best Pint You'll Probably Never Taste.

But, do you know what's really, honestly, truly, achingly great about Good Beer?


today, tomorrow, you stand every chance of drinking a beer just as good.

If you don't go topering out and about, you'll never know.

You owe it to yourself to go and find it.


A picture tells a thousand words

Have a peaceful Christmas, topers everywhere


Strong Ale along the Derwent

A long morning of pushing a broom around the driveway, shifting leaf mulch and wet moss, builds up my appetite for beer. So I fancied the ninety minute troll up the River Derwent to call by at two Derby brewpubs in search of strong ale.

The Brunswick is a given in the hunt for strong ale in winter. Usually, I'd be slavvering over a pint of Black Sabbath, unfeasibly ABV'd at 6.66%, black as a black thing that's been stuffed full of damsons and twigs and liqorice and sourness (in a good way). But this is Rambo season; Rambo being an old Everards recipe resurged at this brewpub into a deep, viscous, fruity brew. Truth be told, the first few sips were difficult, perhaps as I'd worked up a thirst and satiating it with strong ale wasn't the keenest move.

Like one of Victoria Wood's flapjack, you just need to work it around your mouth a bit. The turning fruit and itching malt works better as the beer warms. To be honest, sitting in the parlour where the only sound was the head of my pint popping and forming has been one of my finest beer moments this year.

Upriver for a palate cleanser. There's one downside to the Smithfield in Derby - when the river's running high, the pub stinks. But there's nearly always a dog in the bar that's mad as a box of frogs, great tunes on the perpetually self-selecting jukebox and at least six handpulls full of light, hoppy beer. It's unusual for me to not be drinking Whim or Oakham in here - when the alternative is BrewDog Punk IPA, perhaps I can be forgiven. Full of fat fresh fruit salad flavours. Dang tasty.

Last stop was the Flowerpot. Often tricky drinking here on a Sunday; being a popular music venue, fans may have given the beers a hammering the night before. The upside is availability of their own brews; five of theirs on today including their winter ofering, Zymosis. Vaguely golden, bitter pine to the fore, lurking alcohol with licks of old pineapple steeped in gone-off glue. More drinkable than Rambo, deceptive with its strength. In cinematic terms, it's Jason Bourne by comparison - subtle, understated.

Back home with a smile on my face and a Three Counties jacket potato to look forward to - Double Gloucester cheese, Worcestershire sauce and Herefordshire perry. Nom cubed. And a glass or four of BrewDog Zephyr to chase it down - but that'll be another story...


Down by the (Thornbridge) Riverside

One of this year's more notable beery happenings has been the opening of a new brewery for Thornbridge. From a compact and bijou setup in a disused stonemason's shed on the Thornbridge estate, the brewers now get to play in a custom-built facility just down the road in Bakewell. Sorting through some of my photos from this year, I found a few that show how the new brewhouse has developed.

Back in July, en route to the Hall for a brewday, Kelly Ryan gave us a sneak preview of the work in progress. The sheer step change from the plant at the Hall to this massively complex setup seemed audacious.

September saw the official opening. The place certainly looked good all scrubbed up - not that unmarked floors were expected to last. Looking down on the fermenters from the "crow's nest" where the brewing would be controlled, I had a gut feeling that Stefano and Kelly were finally getting the setup they'd dreamt about.

I've since been back to help out brewing a batch of Jaipur - as you sit in the control room above the mash tun and copper there's a constant background rattle of machines grinding into life, accompanied by hissing steam, the click-clack of switchgear and the all-too-often alarm as the computerised process demands attention at a critical stage of the brew.

It's all rather different from brewing on 'Old Faithful' back at the Hall:

As there's a little less for a brewer's mate to do nowadays, I caught up with some technical reading and indulged in some industrial photography. Shooting the orange glow of back-lit wort, tubs of hops and spacecraft-like vessels kept me busy.

There are more photos of Thornbridge old and new here along with some from the official opening.


Review: Good Beer Guide Belgium

The first time I went to Brugge I took a piece of card with me, on which were scribbled the names of ten beers that the tourist guides told me I should try. Those beers changed my life. The next time I go back to Belgium, I'm taking something more substantial... and it could be life changing all over again.

For nearly two decades, Tim Webb has been compiling the Good Beer Guide Belgium (GBGB) for CAMRA. Now in its sixth edition, it's widely regarded as an indispensable book for even the most casual of Belgian beer lovers. I'd have liked to put GBGB to a fit and proper test - a weekend away in Belgium with venues and beer choices shaped by the guide. That'll have to wait until next year; for now I'd suffice with a few random Belgian bottles and a steaming plate of moules frites. There's a chapter about food... I wonder what Tim Webb thinks of this classic dish?

"The cartoon version of Belgian cuisine has it that the national dish is mussels and chips..". Whoops. Still, later on in the excellent chapter, he mentions that mussels go well with an amber ale so I was forced to open up a bottle of PALM Speciale. And it was indeed a worthy pairing, the first time I'd tried the beer and found it to be clean malted and very sessionable.

Back to the book. Given that Tim Webb has produced a guide to over a thousand beers and six hundred places to drink them in, it still reads like a personable travel guide rather than a beer almanac. The book splits roughly into thirds - a detailed listing of specialist beer bars by province, an alphabetical overview of the breweries with their regular commercial beers and a heap of advice and guidance on beer styles, Belgian brewing and travel. The bar and brewery reviews are concise, pithy and not without a dose of dry humour. For some, the occasionally world-weary sarcasm may wear thin quickly, but Tim's approach makes GBGB a travelogue experience rather than a dry encyclopaedic tome.

There's also a selection of introductory articles that take a fresh look at contemporary Belgian beer issues, by the likes of brewer Frank Boon and historian Ron Pattinson. This approach, along with Tim's masterful handling of style discussion and an excellent chapter on the "art and science of creating beer" make the GBGB stand out as a truly entertaining and informative book. It's well illustrated, clearly set out, compact enough for travelling with yet still comprehensive enough to be of use.

If you're planning a trip to Belgium and want to end up drinking somewhere that doesn't just offer buckets of Jupiler, this is the book for you.

Thanks to for the review copy and a few beers to get me in a Belgique mood. They've put together a classy mixed case of Belgian beer (including the likes of Chimay, Orval and Rochefort) along with a glass and a copy of the Good Beer Guide Belgium. That'd be a great Christmas present for someone beery in your life - or even to yourself. Go on, you're worth it!


Thornbridge Jaipur: new definitions

(c.2005, traditional Derbyshire)

1. the state of merry contentment following imbibation of Jaipur IPA: "He was so Jaipured, he missed his stop and ended up in the depot".

2. the state of a cask when emptied of its last pint of Jaipur: "All gone, lads! You've drank it all in three hours! That cask's Jaipured!".

(c.2008, Horse & Groom, Derby)

delicateness of constitution the morning after an evening of over-exuberant imbibation of Jaipur IPA: "Five pints and a kebab? No wonder he looks Jaipoorly this morning"

(unknown provenace)

making one's way to a public house for the imbibation of Jaipur: "Anyone else fancy Jaipootling up to the Coach & Horses?"

(c.2007, South Yorkshire)

a search for Jaipur involving several pubs: "I'm off Jaipuring round Sheffield on Saturday". May involve an element of 'Jaipur twitching', where Jaipurers hunt for the Jaipur varieties known as Common Cask, Lesser Spotted 330ml and the very rare Greater Bottled Conditioned.


Units: they don't always add up

I recently enjoyed a long afternoon-into-evening drinking session with my colleagues. OK, it started off as our departmental Christmas meal (and, yes, I know it's only just turned December) and then turned into a moderately-sized pub crawl. There were bottles of Leffe on the table with the meal, lagers whilst playing pool and pints of dark, viscous real ale as the evening wore on. The next morning, I felt shocking. Some bastard have given me a stinker of a cold, complete with sandpapered-throat and on-fire sinuses. The booze hadn't bothered me at all.... which in turn was worrying. The volume imbibed had been fairly immoderate, to be sure. And it contained probably more alcohol units than are supposed to be good for me.

Health campaigners and the UK Government have put an increasing emphasis on alcohol units as part of their awareness raising campaigns recently. Advice from the NHS suggests that men should drink no more than between three and four units per day, each unit being equal to 8g (or 10 ml) of pure alcohol. Over eight units in a day - i.e. twice the recommended intake - is classed as binge drinking. Well, I drank four 330ml bottles of 6% beer over a period of three hours at the restaurant; apparently I was a binge drinker before we got to the first pub.

In the good old days, I seem to remember that binge drinking was when you had all of your 21 unit weekly allowance in one fell swoop. That advice changed from a weekly to a daily allowance back in 1995 as a way of persuading drinkers not to 'stockpile' their 'allowance' and then get tanked up in just one evening. In doing so, it created a recommended unit range for the first time, actually increasing the maximum number of weekly units (between 21 and 28 for men , 15 to 21 for women). Why did the government increase the recommended maximum number of weekly alcohol units by 33%? Perhaps it was recognition that the original 1987 figures were flawed.

Those limits were set out in 'A Great and Growing Evil: The Medical Consequences of Alcohol Abuse', a report by the Royal College of Physicians whose title references their submission in 1726 to the House of Commons on the same topic. Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal and member of the working party that produced the report, said the limits were borne of “a feeling that you had to say something”. However, a lack of detailed data meant it was impossible to say what was safe and what wasn't. “Those limits were really plucked out of the air," admitted Mr Smith. "They were not based on any firm evidence at all. It was a sort of intelligent guess by a committee.”

In the years that followed, unit-related research increased. In 1993 a study of 12000 middle-aged, male doctors by team at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford found that the lowest mortality rates were among those drinking between 20 and 30 units of alcohol each week. The level of drinking that produced the same risk of death as that faced by a teetotaller was 63 units a week. Within two years of this study, others had been published showing that moderate alcohol consumption gave some protection against heart disease and premature death.

The limits seemed to be confounded further by the WHO’s International Guide for Monitoring Alcohol Consumption and Related Harm, published in 2001. This set out drinking ranges that qualified people as being at low, medium or high-risk of chronic alcohol-related harm. For men, less than 35 weekly units was low-risk, 36-52.5 was medium-risk and above 53 was high-risk. Women were low-risk below 17.5 units, medium between 18 and 35 and high above 36. Note, however, that page 52 of the report makes it explicit that those levels were not intended "to be applied in advice for Low Risk drinking advice to the public".

There's plenty of debate to be had about what may be an appropriate number of alcohol units per day/week. But such debate will be rendered pointless without informed insight as to how many units there are in your tipple of choice. Only 3% of alcoholic bottles/cans have full labels showing alcohol content and units, according to the Public Accounts Committee. That's down to a voluntary code; there's no such code for non-bottled alcohol. The NHS Units website has a host of calculators and guidelines. But I'll be using a table that I lashed together (at the top of this story) that takes into account the wildly differing alcohol strengths and draught/bottle sizes that I encounter.

In the meantime, I'll be acting on two pieces of what seem to be eminently-sensible advice; ensuring I have two alcohol-free days in a week and no longer consuming alcohol close to bedtime. This reluctant scooper isn't getting any younger and it's starting to show.

The NHS Units website:

Local Alcohol Profiles for England:

Drinkaware (with interesting stuff about alcohol and sleep)


The Brewing Network

I stumbled across The Brewing Network last year when Kelly Ryan of Thornbridge was interviewed for their Sunday show. It's a series of US-based internet radio shows, based around a homebrewing topic or an interview with a beer bod. Beer geeks talking to other beer geeks about beer sounds like the kind of show that makes you want to set fire to yourself before running off the top of a tall building, but these guys are really something else. If there's a line to be crossed, they'll weave back and forth over it until you can't find the line. If there's gas to be passed, it's on the mic. If there are opinions to flaunt, they'll flaunt them. And occasionally they talk about beer.

The Sunday Show has the kind of guests that you want to kick back with, share a beer and hear their stories. A couple of weeks ago, the mighty Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin was on the show; it was great to hear the backstory of such a great beer writer. Kelly was interviewed last year, as were BrewDog. And, of course, there's the barely contained zoo that is the regular brewcasters in the studio, ably whipped into shape by the host, Justin Crossley.

When I first heard the show, I thought "Who the hell are these arseholes? When are they going to talk about beer?". Thirty minutes later, I was laughing so hard that I was chewing snot. Because the Brewing Network is all about the beer. And beer is all about having a good time.

Justin said on a recent show that bloggers can't be listening to the show because no-one was writing about it. Well, Justin, there you go. Big up to a show that brews strong and drinks them like they stole them.

The Brewing Network shows can be downloaded as podcasts. I'd start with the Sunday Session for the full-fat flavour; the recent Jay Brooks show is a goodie, Kelly staves off sleep in the Thornbridge show and snot may come out of your nose when you listen to the Not Talking About Beer Hour in the Beer and Chocolate podcast.

And, they've got a Facebook page and can be found over on Twitter too.

I've kicked in my couple of bucks a month as a Private First Class of the BN Army - if you like what your hear, go support them. Beer and co-ax cable don't grow on tree, you know.


BrewDogging; The Ones That Got Away

The idea was to try one Brewdog beer every day throughout November. Ah, the best laid plans of mice & men & reluctant scoopers. Some days yielded several (such as a Saturday lunch at the Rake bar), others saw me otherwise engaged or unavoidably detained away from the cellar.

So I'm left with a few Brewdog beers that I've yet to write about. My first thought was to drink them all last Sunday, but even my iron constitution flipped at the idea. That means at sometime in the future I'll add the write-ups for;

- Storm (the Islay IPA one)
- Tokyo and Tokyo* (the oak chipped/jasmine and cranberry stout and the one with an asterisk)
- Zephyr (the one with the pretty label)

That'll be 28 beers. It'd be cool to share those four above with someone. So, if you have an unusual Paradox and a bottle of Tactical Nuclear Penguin and you fancy the mother of all Brewdog tastings, you know what to do...


BrewDogging #24; Nanny State

Let's keep this simple. Brewdog said; "Will we legitimately go down as having invented the Imperial Mild genre in the beer splattered pages of brewing history?"


They will go down in history as the inventors of a hop tea masquerading as a beer.

Words fail me when it comes to describe this beer. Which makes for a shit review. Apologies. Suffice to say, it's just relentless hops. Let's say you enjoy a hoppy beer. This is like tasting your favourite hoppy beer. Then having a sackful of hop cones thrust down your throat, up your nose and into your soul. You will sweat hops the next morning. You could gargle charcoal but still taste the hops.

Of course, there's a whole backstory to this beer. Their point is well made. Shame the beer didn't follow suit.


BrewDogging #23; The Physics

The equation is actually simpler than as suggested on the bottle. Take just enough hops, add to crystal malted wort and let it all lay back and relax. Robust orange body, scant white head, nibbly biscuit base, keen hop edge, clean yet odd mix of hedgerow and salad bowl fruits, dry finish. I could drink this all morning/lunchtime/afternoon/evening long. Not a session beer but sessionable. And proof positive that Brewdog do know how to brew a balanced beer that can appeal to the masses.


BrewDogging #22; Paradox Smokehead

Smokehead is one of the few Islay single malts that I've never got around to trying. On the strength of this beer, aged in Smokehead casks, I'm going to have to investigate further. Sweet and smokey, clods of peat have burned out and left traces smeared across a palate stretched by supple caramel. A roastier body than other Paradoxes, it's a lean finish but one that's still sustained with wisps of smoke and chocolate.


BrewDogging #21; Paradox Islay

As a self-proclaimed Riptide lover and uber-fan of Islay malts, this ought to be a marriage made in heaven. Instead, it's an uneasy relationship - the binding energy of that base stout seems to have been lost in the ageing process, the TCP flavours are underplayed, the smoke is wafting past and not clinging to my throat, the mouthfeel is thin. Perhaps my bottle was starting to fade, though it's got another two years on its best before. Perhaps batch 015 wasn't the most full-on. Perhaps I've developed an anti-TCP gene.

Given that Brewdog revel in producing hard-hitting flavoursome ales, it seems a shame that an opportunity such as an Islay stout seems to have gone begging. This could have been full of singing whisky flavours but pulls the final knockout punch.


BrewDogging #20; Bashah

Bashah was one of my standout beers on cask at this year's Nottingham CAMRA Festival. Indeed, when it ran out on Friday afternoon, I was forced to drink something weaker and less hop-pronounced; Thornbridge Jaipur. And there are few beers that keep my away from a pint of Bakewell's finest.

There's a lot going on in the bottle; a nose of wet tar, fresh shag tobacco, chocolate with orange suddenly at odds with oily citrics. Pine sap gives way to darker raisins, squashed berries, slavvered in ginger-itching alcohol. Towards the finish, grassy hops clash with coffee and liqorice.

It's one hell of a beer. There's almost too much happening. But Bashah doesn't fall into the trap of being an over-hopped, over-hyped experimentation. I can't wait to see if those uberhops mellow with age and make a nearly-great beer into one that's pure world class.


BrewDogging #19; Punk IPA

Many things have been said about BrewDog Punk IPA:

"It's one of those IPAs that actually tastes of something."

"Punk IPA takes the edge off. Punk IPA drops me a mental gear."

"Punk IPA tastes fuckign good".

Yeah, bang to rights, guv. I said that. But the beer's so good - today I enjoyed several bottles at the Kean's Head, Nottingham - that I thought I'd say those things all over again.


BrewDogging #18; Devine Rebel Reserve

So, there I was, sat in the Rake, minding my own business with a bunch of reprobates - I mean, ratebeerians - when who should appear but Tom 'The Cad' Cadden. Not that unusual, I suppose, given that he works there. Unusual perhaps in the sense that he'd remembered where he works. And was awake. But that's another story.

The Cad came bringing gifts from Brewdog James, namely a version of Devine Rebel that had been aged further. By pixies. On ice. Or something.

Suffice to say, for me it seemed to take all the worse qualities of Devine Rebel and multiplies them; far too sweet, the whisky sickly sticky rather than slick, the general gloop demeanour clagging the palate.

Not for me, unsurprisingly.


BrewDogging #17; Eurotrash

Took a train down to London
and I drank in the Rake
Some guy down from Scotchland
Gave the table a beer
Yeah, I'd searched the world over
for my angel in gold
Yeah, I'd searched the world over
for this Eurotrash beer

Well I'd been around Borough
and I'd drank in a basement
Went back to the Market
and I drank pumpkin ale
But I'd search Borough over
for my angel of trash
I'd search Borough over
for that Eurotrash beer

Got a pint in the Rake bar
with a patchy white head
Lemon biting through sherbert
With a bittering end
Yeah, I'd searched Borough over
for this draft Trashy Blonde
And the flavour I savoured
Brewdog's Eurotrash beer

(with cringing apologies to Cracker for bludgeoning 'Eurotrash Girl')


BrewDogging #15; Devine Rebel

I have a sweet tooth. I love Mikkel's approach to brewing. I love Brewdog's approach to brewing. This is a collaborative beer with a sweet edge. So, after tasting Devine Rebel, I ought to be drooling like a slack-jawed adolescent whose just put his pinkie into the holiest of holies for the first time. Right?

Wrong. When I had this on cask back in March, I thought it was a case of 'too much too young'. Too sweet, too raw, too unbalanced, too much like feeling my precious remaining dentine was being scoured out my mouth. Now, here's a bottle nearly nine months down the line and it feels even worse. Cloudy brown, sticky sweet, cloying in the clack.

Love the idea. But Devine Rebel flops around so, makes you want to punch it in the nuts for being so ill-disciplined. There's a good beer in here, but it's struggling topush through the sickly sweet sheet wrapped around its very being. Not even close, guys. Rip it up and start again. Please.


BrewDogging #16; Movember

An unexpected bonus of my recent trip to the Rake in London was the fleeting presence of James Watt from Brewdog, clutching a bunch of bottles liberally distributed amongst the clan meet. One of those was Movember; a charity initiative that I'm involved in to, er, grow a moustache and raise funds for the support of prostrate cancer charities. Brewdog had brewed a synonymous beer for the occasion, donating 25% of the sale price to the Movember cause.

The beer itself was a mild-mannered 4.5% blend of Brewdog's 77 Lager and Trashy Blonde. And, I couldn't believe it's got butter. Well, actually, I can. Some bottles have been notoriously diacetyl-laden; sadly, this was one of them.

Looked like clarified butter. Smelled of butter. Tasted of butter.

Great sentiment, guys... but next time, perhaps brew something original. And tasty. And rested.

And, dear reader, if you're desperate enough to chuck cash at me and my sadly patchy Mo, you can make a difference by clicking through to here and donating securely by card or Paypal.



How many great pubs, bars and breweries do you know that don't have Twitter accounts? Facebook pages? Blogs? Websites, even? Why aren't they rising to the lure of new media social networking? Who can afford to ignore marketing in a 2.0 stylee?

I know several great local brewers and pubs who don't really give a stuff for internet marketing. Why not? Because they're too busy brewing/selling beer, successfully. They meet a local market demand. They're not interested in virtual fans, nor do they wish to preach to the converted.

They're known locally for their quality. Their real-life followers/friends - sorry, customers - endorse that quality via word of mouth. Word of mouth is a highly effective marketing tool. Note - word of *mouth*; not word of Tweet. Not word of Blog. Not an online recommendation too often lost in the incessant virtual din of whichever social media channel you tune in to.

I've spent the last few months trying to convince some great brewers and publicans to embrace the prospects of new media. Not for the sake of it, but because I thought their product/service was great and that they'd have an original contribution to make. A (nameless) few told be exactly what they thought of social media, in terms that would make even Frankie Boyle blush. But one experience was particularly salutary.

A rural pub, in October. Outside, it's dark, cold; rain has pushed over and will be back before closing time. Inside, the pub is busy. Diners, darts players, young bucks passing through, old salts ensconced for the evening. "Busy again!", I tell the landlord. "Aye," he says, "and your Twitter wouldn't make me any busier!".

Perhaps he's right. Perhaps it's the same with the brewer who, whilst being persuaded to blog about his exploits, replied "I'm too busy selling out all the beer I can brew". Perhaps they're blinkered by current success. But perhaps they're satisfied with managing successfully the market they've worked hard to develop, even in these straitened times.

Exposure to new media can be a chastening experience for small businesses. Think of every website you've seen that was thrown up "because everybody's doing it', only to see it gather virtual cobwebs as resources and inclination run dry. Perhaps that's why some entrepreneurial publicans and brewers are more than happy to stay away from those channels. And some of them are making it look like a smart choice. After all, just because you can blow your own trumpet, you don't have to upload it to YouTube...


The National Brewery Centre to open in Burton

Since the Bass Museum closed in 2008, Britain has been without a major museum dedicated to brewing. The establishment of a national museum of brewing featured on my wishlist this summer, so I was delighted to see that Burton-upon-Trent is getting its museum back.

The National Brewery Centre is aiming for a Spring 2010 opening at the former Coors Visitor Centre site on Horninglow Street. Planning Solutions Limited, a specialist visitor attraction firm, will operate the museum on a 25-year lease; Coors will provide the buildings and artefacts at a peppercorn rent alongside £200,000 of match funding for start-up costs and a further £100,000 per year to maintain the buildings.

There's talk of an 'interactive experience', animatronics, live actors and the return of the shire horses. Which will be fun, but not as exciting as the thirty-barrel brewery with Steve Wellington at the helm. More White and Red Shield, for sure, but (literally) room for Bass No.1 and P2 Imperial too.

Let me be clear. It shouldn't be a glitzy, sanitised attraction with a few dodgy models. It should tell the story of Britain's brewing and tell it well, complete with bells and whistles and buttons to push. But make the centrepiece a working brewery that can be seen, smelt and heard.

Congratulations to Coors for having reason and sense, and to the local action group formed by local MP Janet Dean and chaired by former college principal Keith Norris for keeping the museum reopening on the agenda. And as for Roger Protz's claim that the decision is "proof of what can be achieved by people prepared to take to the streets and rattle the cage of a global corporation"... yeah, whatever, Comrade. Coors are in a win-win situation; they don't have to fund the operation of the centre and will reap benefits from the positive PR generated over the years. Minimising capital risk whilst maximising revenue opportunity... I'd say the centre's opening was a clear victory for market forces.

I'll still take up Rog's offer of raising a beer to the news, though. Just wish it was a glass of Number One. Next year, just maybe....


BrewDogging #14; Riptide

Some say that it tastes of silken cream that's enjoyed an intimate relationship with washy coffee and sweet chocolate.

Some say that its deep-tan-turning-black body and rocky beige head belie the smoked salt speckled in the finish.

All I know is, it's not Thornbridge St.Petersburg... but its Caledonian cousin.

Riptide sweeps majestically across the palate; seemingly thinnish and under-geared but ultimately tasty and satisfying.


BrewDogging #13: Zeitgeist

There's a BrewDog beer described on its label as 'Zeitgeist in a bottle'. But it's not this one*. In fact the Zeitgeist bottle is rather un-BrewDog like, their usual iconoclasm giving way to some natty ovine illustrations.

It's a beer I had at the Nottingham beer festival last year and couldn't quite put my finger on why I liked it. And I've also enjoyed a long lunch on the stuff at my local, the landlord telling me though that he couldn't sell it as a 'black lager'. Dark beer lovers were mistrusting of lager, he said; lager drinkers were mistrusting of dark beer.

By the time I finished my fourth pint, I'd begun to work out why Zeitgeist works well - it's a just-so beer. Just sour enough to be balanced out by some slight, leafy hops. Just roasty enough to be interesting. Just light enough to be quaffable. Just different enough to leave you wanting another one.

So I was eager to try Zeitgeist from a bottle. First up was one of the prototype bottles from 2008 and I was taken aback. It had a fantastic fresh flavour, freshly singed toast and a really light body, none of that lactic sourness of the cask version. Hops were rolling onto the palate too, yet it remained a bright-tasting, well-balanced beer. The retail version felt fairly thin by comparison, still plenty of roasted notes with dry nuttiness coming through, though the lighter body seemed to whip away the flavours before they had a chance to develop.

Does Zeitgeist live up to its name? Does it embody the spirit of our time? Is it perhaps a reflection of our confused culture, one with an identity in crisis? Is the beer's true nature almost negated by labelling it? As the beer's own website puts it, is it truely a beer for those whose destiny is not "the slaughterhouse of conformity". Or is that all bollocks?

It's lager, but it isn't. It's trendy, but it isn't. It's different, but in the same BrewDog way. It's everything you want it to be without knowing exactly what you want. Perhaps it is a zeitgeist after all.

* that beer is one I haven't got around to reviewing yet. Any guesses?


BrewDogging #12; Atlantic IPA

Saturday involved a long crawl on the sherbert with friends in Birmingham. So, what better way to round out the day than beer and pizza? The latter was a cheese-smeared, mozzarella-slotted mushroom melange. The former - well, I've always thought that IPA goes well with pizza. So I had no qualms about cracking open a bottle of BrewDog Atlantic IPA.

Why this beer? Was it for the nose of oak, tobacco and dark orange? For the caramel palate warmed by alcohol and not overtaken by the dry and dusty hops? For the kick of chugging something weighing in at 8.5% at the end of the day? For revelling in the backstory of a beer brewed to a traditional recipe, aged at sea, bottled with a hand-printed label? For the kick of taking down a bottle that cost me nine quid?

Nope. I wanted Atlantic because it was there. After all, what's the point of wanting an IPA, having an IPA in the cellar and not drinking it just because you're half-pished and thinking that such 'rare' beers ought to be sipped and cogitated over?

It's beer. In the case of Atlantic, it's a well-restrained, not-life-changing, enjoy-the-moment beer. Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop once in a while - and actually drink the good shit in the cellar - you might miss it.


BrewDogging #11; 5AM Saint

(this should have been posted live from the Harlequin last Thursday: #technologyfail)

If this posting works, I'll eat my foot cheese. At the bar in the Harlequin, blogging live and wishing my thumbs were thinner. 5AM Saint starts with a now-familiar nasal hop slap; here's hoping it's not going to push in one overwrought dimension. My eyeballs are still itching on the first sip, but this is more than a one-hop pony. There's a deep set caramel malty backbone, even though the palate profile still wears those tart grapefruit hops on its sleeve (and on its lapels and all down its front).

By the end of this first pint, I've a mouth full of dry and dusty hop. I'm missing a finish. That backbone seems to have wilted under severe hop strain. After a second pint, my mouth is dryer than a dryed-up dry thing. The third pint is actually unpleasant, hops now relentless.

Balance in beer is wholly over-rated. But let's not make over-hopping as offensive as a predelection for crystal malt.


BrewDogging #10; Paradox Longrow

It's the first drink after that cold walk by the long shore; you still have salt spray on your lapels and up your nose, some old burnt hash under your fingernails from that spliff in your jacket pocket, a nub of chocolate behind that fractured filling that you keep meaning to get fixed, the morning's first coffee still stuck to the roof of your mouth, the whisky you nailed in one by the roaring log fire as your pint was being poured.

Pardox Longrow will be many things to many people; there's what it means to me.


Bottled Up: Empire Golden Warrior

It's mid-November, I've just polished off a plate of rather summery-looking baked salmon, so it's time to get the last of the golden ales out of the way. Empire Golden Warrior hails from the tropical climbs of Slaithwaite in West Yorkshire, an area crammed full of great breweries.

First impressions - thin. Zero head, low carbonation. An interesting aroma, though, with a honey-orange riff fresh from a breakfast tray. Slight anonymous spice in the background. The flavour brings on more breakfast thoughts, imagine a piece of toast sliced with a knife that's been in the honey, marmalade and butter. A thin finish, drying honey on the palate.

I thought this was going to be flabby beer but those breakfast flavours won me over. No real depth, no killer finish, but at 3.8% it'd make for a great mid-morning summer quencher. Brunch beer - it's the future. I've tasted it.

Thanks to for the beer


Dat Dere Liverpool

Mrs Reluctant is a Spandau Ballet fan. Now then, stop sniggering at the back. Shlepping over to Liverpool to see them play live gave me the perfect excuse for some Merseyside boozing. Would the beers be Gold? Or Confused? Let's Cut A Long Story Short...

With two days in town, we picked out six of the seemingly-best pubs to try. Mrs H is a wheelchair user, so level(ish) access and ground floor loos were important. I was keen on finding some decent pub grub. As for the beer - whatever was on offer would be fine. I'm always ready to scoop the unknown ;-)

Ship & Mitre

First pub we visited and possibly the best. Yards of handpumps that went untouched by me due to there being a German bottled beer festival on at the time. Standout beer was Gilden Kolsch. Sparky, helpful staff, eclectic decor, great food (by Burning Kitchen - burgers were immense). Only two regrets - should have asked them about level access (we struggled up a steep step) and we should have gone back for more beer (and Aspalls cider for Mrs H, served in a dinky Aspalls glass).

Doctor Duncan's

Flagship Cains' pub, noted as accessible in GBG but we couldn't see any obvious way in with a wheelchair. There was a rambling outdoor area to the side which may have disguised a level entrance but we saw no signs to point us in the right direction. Time was tight so we skipped this one, reluctantly. We had an appointment with Superlambbanana:

Baltic Fleet

Not listed as accessible but we thought we'd chance our arm. A wooden ramp at the front door made the bar accessible; the barman apologised though that the loos were now upstairs (or was it downstairs) - perhaps that was a recent change? An interesting pub with a ragtag of rooms, although it was rather smelly - possibly from being crammed full of concert-goers on successive evenings? That put us off having a meal in there. Great pint of Summer Ale, brewed on the premises (Wapping Brewery). Mrs H had hoped for real cider here, but there was nothing on. Only pub we visited that played the Beatles, but we won't hold that against them too much...

Philharmonic Dining Rooms

Level access, opulent architecture, mediocre beer (Harviestoun Hoptoberfest and Cains Bitter). Would have stayed longer but they couldn't serve food - problems with the gas supply. Gents loos were rather special (see below). But not impressed by bar staff storing a bike in the wheelchair loo - they're not supposed to be store cupboards!

Fly In The Loaf

Just a flying visit; we were looking for lunch after the foodfail in the Philharmonic. GBG had them listed as serving hot food; only sarnies were available. Shame, as the beers looked interesting and the whole pub was easily accessible.

Richard John Blackler (Wetherspoons)

One of those great-location Spoons; perched on a corner, plenty of natural light, easy access. Good range of festival beers on, though I passed as we were here for breakfast. And jolly decent it was. Not to say thirteen quid cheaper than what the hotel was offering. Cheaper sausage = more beer money :-)

We also tried to get in a couple of other chain pub/bars, the real issue being a lack of signage to point us towards alternative access. One bar did have a side door, unmarked, down an alley, though there was no way Mrs H could have opened it herself. Once inside, there was no obvious level route to the bar. Just a few signs would have make a difference - I shouldn't have to leave Mrs H in the street to go and find out how the hell we're supposed to get into a pub. It made us feel like our custom was too much of an inconvenience.

And whilst I'm on the subject - cobbles. Nothing wrong with ye olde pavementing, but the Albert Docks even had pedestrian crossings that we couldn't use safely, the gaps between the cobbles being wider than Mrs H's wheels. Combine that with the lack of drop kerbs and rubbish bags blocking the pavement, some of the Liverpool streets offered the worst wheelchair access we've encountered in the UK.

So, a bit of a mixed bag. At times we seemed to be going Round And Round, but perhaps that's just the Nature Of The Beast.

Do I need to sack myself - have I made too many Spandau allusions?


True ;-)


BrewDogging #9; Hardcore

Tastes of... Boxing Day fruit salad split under the Christmas tree. And rubbed with a caramel cloth.,
Smells like... fractured grapefruit stirred with a sticky hop stick
If it were a track by Radiohead it would be... Everything In Its Right Place

BrewDog love to stress their eco-credentials. So, I thought I'd do my bit for recycling. This beer review appeared some weeks ago. To be frank, I can't think of much more to say about Hardcore. It's not simply barnstorming; it's more tornado-through-the-blazing rafters.


BrewDogging #8; Bad Pixie

A long time ago, in a prototype competition far far away, BrewDog unleashed three beers. Two of them went on to be brewed regularly; the hop bomb of Chaos Theory and the none-more-black lager Zeitgeist. Tonight, I'm trying the one that got away - Bad Pixie.

Let's cut to the chase. It's a crap name; seemingly spat out of a random-title generator. Bad Pixie is only a few clicks away from Enamored Orc or Sexually Frustrated Goblin. The beer idea is better, though, a 4.7% wheat beer brewed with juniper berries and lemon peel. And when I tried one last year, I was almost impressed.

Time to insert a caveat here- this beer was released last year, it's not bottle conditioned, so it may be some distance away from BrewDog's intentions. Suffice to say, though, it poured flat as a fart. A wrist-twiddle did froth up a head, along with an aroma of slight spicy lemon and wet stainless steel.

More metallic notes through the flavour, too. Some pithy lemon, an itchy old pine whiff, all with the feel of being drank out of an old tin mug. Perhaps this was knockout in the summer. A year down the line, it's clinging on for dear life. I'd better go and drink the last one...


Two Spoons, Lloyd and Five in the Pot

Today's Sunday Shining plan; fresh coffee, Spoons brekkie, nifty couple of halves, gardening, Moto GP, afternoon nap, roast bits of duck, Top Gear repeats, Brewdog, Iain Banks book, sleep.

In actuality;

0815 Home. Bunjalung coffee. More coffee. Some Twittering.

0945 Babington Arms (Wetherspoons), Derby. Traditional breakfast (black pudding, not mushrooms) plus tea and toast. No beer.

0955 Very annoying child nearby reads out loud the ENTIRE breakfast menu. Realise, amazingly, that according to Spoons policy and common law, you're not allowed to insert the nearest fire extinguisher into pretentious children.

1005 Family of four have now spent ten minutes deciding on the combination of breakfasts to order. Clue: if all you want is breakfast and coffee, please fuck off to a cafe who will gladly serve you up some slop on a plate without hacking off potential beer drinkers.

1010 Family from hell order breakfast. I order Mordue Newcastle Coffee Porter. They ordered vegetarian sausage. At least my beer tasted of something recogniseable - sweet coffee, spots of roasted toast, fruity uplift to the finish.

1035 Standing Order (Wetherspoons), Derby. Hideous amount of ruddy-faced pee-smelling alcos mixing uncomfortably with well-heeled but slumming-it shoppers for breakfast. Lager and muffins, respectively. I have no choice to but to scoop the Burton Bridge D'aft Burton Ale. That's a ' that looks like an r. Therefore, Draft Burton Ale. But, for hideous legal reasons, it's called the former. I used to love Burton Ale so much that I drank so much of the stuff that I shat myself on Doxey Marshes. Fortunatley, I was taking it easy this time - still tastes like someone lit a match and stubbed it out on your tounge. Still fruity. Still ruddy gorgeous - like Bass with balls.

1055 Market Place, Derby. Remembrance Sunday service. There's a reason I carry my Grandad Tom's 1939-45 star with me always. He said - Never Forget. I won't.

1115 Thomas Leaper (Lloyds), Derby. And the worse three words that can be associated with a beer you really want to try... Coming Very Soon. So, no Thornbridge Pioneer today. Happy to settle for Leeds Gathering Storm (reasonably inoffensive, darkish with thin finish, some milky chocolate) and Cains Raisin Beer (superb; amber body belies soft squashy fruit aroma and sustained jammy fat fruit flavour).

1200 Flowerpot, Derby. Oakham Baja 1000 to kick off proceedings; it's a trojan Oakham. Deeperish copper that explodes with creamy pineapple. I was all set for another until I saw....

1235 Headless Zymosis. Brewed in the spring, released for winter, this is a 7.5% beer that looks pale and drinks pale until the warm alcohol-laden creamy hops kick in and start knocking seven bells out of your sensitive parts. It's like being the frog in a warming pan - Zymosis won't make you recoil on the first sip; it takes time before you realise (too late) that your knees don't work as well as they used to.

1305 More Zymosis

1355 Even more Zymosis

1445 Just one more Zymosis

1600 Apparently, it seems that I made it back to the bus via Marks & Sparks. It's time to go and warm up bits of duck and uncork an aromatic wine to go with it.

And I have to go find a BrewDog bottle to review. Although, I'm feeling rather dopey and if I sit in front of this keyboard much longer I may just ikfdsndvordsgviowed,gv iihidskvgi

Sorry. Fell asleep, face down on the damn thing.

Sometimes, the best Sunday plans are the one's that aren't planned.


BrewDogging #7; Trashy Blonde

Before you start to carp that journalistic standards are slipping chez Reluctant, let me assure you that I don't give a shit. It's Saturday, I've been out on the Thornbridge Jaipur and I've just spent ten minutes with my right hand in a chicken.

Whilst the oven warms, I've just enough time to sink a Dog and blog about it. I could tell you a story about Trashy Blonde, how I first drank it at an event called Beer Exposed and tried desperately to take a photo of the trashy blonde next to me drinking a bottle of the stuff. But that story isn't funny anymore.

Chugged straight from the bottle, I was surprised how malty this Trashy Blonde came across. Plenty very much of mango-laden passion-fruited slightly-overdone hoppiness took over and, sadly, those sweet malts were swamped. It was almost annoying at the end - I like a dollop of Amarillo as much as the next hophead, but at ABVs this low (4.1%) you need a littlebitta malt to carry the beer onward.

Now then. I have a chicken laden with lemon, cumin, ginger, garlic and coriander in the oven. I now have to go and choose a wine to go with it. That's right - beer is a wonderous thing, goes great with food.... but there are times when nothing pairs up better than a robust bottle of vino. For a statement like that, I ought to burn my membership card of the Beer Writers Guild, except that I don't seem to have paid my subs yet (sorry, Adrian).

So; Trashy Blonde. Unbalanced. Top-heavy. Promises the earth but forgets to deliver. All which make it a thoroughly blonde beer.


BrewDogging #6; Paradox Springbank

Sometimes, I get back home (after a hard day slaving in front of disaggregated statistics detailing the takeup of business support services in deprived areas of the East Midlands) and know exactly the beer that I want to open. Tonight, not a schoolnight, I fancied a full-fat lip-curling imperial stout. But not just any old impy...

The great thing about the Springbank Paradox is that is doesn't actually smell like lean spirit. It has an aroma stacked full of creamy chocolate, some toasty coconut, even a passing waft of fresh Fig Roll biscuit. All undercut by a growing stream of whisky; never overwhelming, always supportive.

Frankly, I could sit and sniff this beer all night like a big fat beer-sniffing pervert. But it deserves to be drunk. Truth be told, it's an un-nervingly thin-feeling beer; there's slight coffee and firmer chocolate, but a tad more oomph would carry this beer onward and upward. The Springbank's back into the equation at the end, but it would benefit from a maltier frame to swing from.


BrewDogging #5; Chaos Theory

Incontrovertible truths about Chaos Theory:

It is a beer brewed by BrewDog.

It was the 2008 BrewDog Prototype Challenge Winner.

It has oils escaping out the glass and up your nose.

It has athletically caramel malts.

It has a hop prickle finish that makes you swallow hard and say "please Miss, may I have another?"

It will be the last beer that I drink tonight.


Bottled Up: Quantock Sunraker

It's dark and freezing outside, bonfire smoke and crap fireworks fill the sky and I've started wearing Toasties around the house. Time for a summer beer, then.

Quantock Brewery have been around for just about two years and Sunraker was first brewed last year, winning Somerset Beer of the Festival at CAMRA Somerset's 2008 festival. It's a fantastic-looking pale gold colour, with an evaporating head and an aroma that I can't quite nail at the moment.

There's some baked lemon flavours in there, carried on a creamy palate that seems odd on the first sip but makes perfect sense several gulps later. The drying finish is punctuated by floral leftovers; still creamy, a little bready, un-nervingly satisfying.

Now I know what the aroma is - almost. It reminds me of a beer I brewed with Thornbridge called Julius; we chucked all kinds of stuff into it, but there's something herbal in the nose of Sunraker that rings a bell. Almost minty, spicy... ish.

To be honest, the creamy feel got slighly cloying towards the end. Several pints from cask, in a beer garden, on a summers day may feel different, mind....

Thanks to for the beer, which is part of their 52 Week Beer Club


BrewDogging #4; Dogma

Twenty-plus BrewDog beers that I could have picked out the box tonight and I get the one I get really dischuffed with. Arse.

Dogma is the reincarnation of Speedball, the Portman Group-bating beer of last year. The labels may have changed (see below) but the mad ingredients remain the same. There's guarana. There's Californian poppy Even kola nut and Scottish heather honey. Perhaps just a dash of leprechaun toenail shaving too. It all sounds like too much.

Now then, I've tried this on cask (at the Coach & Horses in Dronfield, one of those uber-rare guest beers amongst the Thornbridge handpulls). There, it was softly sweet with warming pepper and dulled herbal essences. Whereas every bottle I've tried has been akin to drinking an apothecary's floor sweepings that have been suspended in a caramel gloop.

How do I find it tonight? An aroma like Lockets from my old grandma's coat pocket. A surfeit of white pepper fights its way out. Plenty of caramel and honey as soon as the glass reaches my lips, but it's those waves of warming pepper that puts me off. The longer it lingers on the palate, the more sickly-sweet medicinal it becomes.

And then.... something happens. Well, it seems to after twenty minutes. The honey on the nose goes earthier, deeper honey in the flavour begins to arrest the pepper. Left to go flatter and warmer, Dogma takes on some of those rounder notes I found on cask.

Can I finish the glass? Do I want to? I'm only half way down, it's been nearly half an hour, and I honestly can't say .

In the meantime, here's a footnote (click on the pic to enlarge). The Speedball label that drew the ire of Portman is on the left; the revised Dogma one on the right. It's s shame that they didn't keep the line about it being "a light chestnut, slow motion rollercoaster of a beer".


Innis & Gunn: Barrel of fun?

Innis and Gunn have been steadily expanding their range of barrel-aged beers in the last few years. I've never been a great fan of the too-sweet Original beer in the range, but some of the specials have had a pleasant twist. The brewery sent me through a few samples; I was keen on finding out whether they could deliver a spirited finish beyond their initial sweetness.

The 6% Blonde pushed its way out of the fridge first. Now, I'm sceptical about beers that promise subtle fruity nuances whilst at the same time insisting on being served chilled. The vanilla was more to the fore here than in the Original, albeit delivering clean oak notes rather than a sweet-toothed muddle. A reasonable malt base maintained the flavour, though any hop lift was lost through the chill. There were some soft citric notes in there, but the vanilla sweetness outweighed them as the beer warmed. As a standalone beer, it didn't really stand out - but (too late) I thought it could have make for a great dessert-course beer, perhaps something caramel-laden or a good 'n chunky rice pudding.

At 7.4%, the Rum Cask Finish sounds like a beer to be enjoyed with cheese & crackers & repeats of Top Gear in front of a roaring fire. But out of the fridge, I feared it would be too cold to enjoy in such a manner. The temperature wasn't the issue, though - the sweetness and washy rum reminded me of a badly-made cocktail. Rather than warming in a spicy fashion, the rum finish seemed to have stripped the cask of astringency and delivered it alongside a dollop of sugar into the bottle. Too heavy-handed for me.

So it was with a little trepidation that I reached for the Canadian Cask version. But I was glad that I did. Seventy-one days in an unspecified Canadian whisky cask seems to have worked wonders - or perhaps it was the addition of malted rye that gave it some gorgeous toffee and raisin notes. The vanilla sweetness was suppressed, the malts balanced finer, the oak notes supportive rather than smothering. Easily the most accomplished and balanced Innis & Gunn beer I've tried.

The only downside here is that the Canadian Cask version was a limited export-only edition. Bugger. The others are available in Sainsburys, so at least I can try the Blonde again the next time I fancy a beer to go alongside a creme caramel.

Thanks to Innis & Gunn for the samples.



No, I haven't dropped a donut on the keyboard again. Movember is an annual, month-long celebration of the moustache, highlighting men’s health issues, specifically prostate cancer.

The Thornbridge guys and gals are involved in the fundraising this year, with the brewers joining in and the regulars at their pubs being persuaded to contribute too. Cat at the Coach & Horses convinced me to give in a whirl. My tache capacity may be smaller than a stunted amoeba, but I'll give anything a go for charidee.

One man dies every hour of prostate cancer in the UK; more than 35,000 men will be diagnosed this year and prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. Enough to make me think; hopefully enough to make you want to donate. Click here to donate online using your credit card, debit card or PayPal account.

PS - those ever-enterprising bods at BrewDog are taking part too, with 25% of the sale price of a Movember beer being donated to the charity. Nice one, Mo Brothers!


BrewDogging #3; 77 Lager

So, here we arrive at the latest BrewDog take on lager. Sorry, "artisan rebel pilsner". I was vaguely disappointed to start with. Rather liked those flowery notes of Hop Rocker; here it was a hidden hop whiff with a harder fruit feel up front. The lingering sweetness was there again, yet now an assertive caramel backbone flexed its way across your palate. And then the finish won me around, some lovely marmaladey hops and decent astringency.

Damn, I fancy another one now. With some hop-flower action in the aroma, I'd fancy three more. Here's hoping BrewDog don't stop their lager experimentaton here.


BrewDogging #2; Cult Lager

It's not the bastard son of Dean Friedman. It's the too-close country cousin of Hop Rocker. Cult Lager took what Hop Rocker started and buggered it up. Gone are the delicate flowers. Instead we have cardboardy malts. All rather wet, if you know what I mean (if you don't , mail me and I'll send you a diagram). Some redeeming and unexpected spice - my tasting was rather tardy in respect to its best before date, which may explain that.

But when it warmed a little, there was a four-minute window when the sweetness and light malt almost worked. Before it sluiced off down the path and joined the crap supermarket lager brigade, busy scrawling obscenities on the bins with marker pens.

Cult doesn't give lager a bad name. But it does make inappropriate gestures.


BrewDogging #1; Hop Rocker

Let's kick this Brewdog-a-day malarkey off with some lagers. After all, I truely believe that decent UK lager could be the turn-on to great tasting beer for a sizeable chunk of the drinking population.

Hop Rocker was, I think, the brewer's first foray into the lager market. Back in 2008 it was one of the beers that attracted the wrath of the Portman Group who objected to the label claim of it being "nourishing food stuff". Yeah, whatever.

But is it nourishing? Well, I found it to be nom-nom-umm. Good floral spots around the aroma, some sweetness, slight malt, underpowered finish. It's almost as if they forgot to put the drying finale in there.

Still, it gave me an excuse to buy some Hereford Hop cheese to taste alongside. The sweetness of both worked well together.

I don't want to damn with faint praise - if this was the only lager on the bar at the next wedding from hell that I attend, I'd at least have one thing to smile about. Perhaps Hop Rocker ought to be judged more as work in progress - tomorrow I'll take a look at its next incarnation


Brewdog Pimped My Kitchen

I feel sorry for the industrial metal band, Ministry. Jesus may have built their hotrod... but BrewDog pimped by kitchen.

And why would they want to go and do that? Well, I've about thirty different beers of theirs, bought, blagged and bequeathed over the last few months. So, for the whole of November I'm letting the Dogs out - one beer at a time. As you'd get heartily sick of seeing endless bottle photos, I'll do what I can to make the kitchen as punk-pimped as possible.


Bottled Up: Saffron Blonde

So, Bottled Up is back with the first offering plucked from the '52 Week Beer Club' sampler. There's four 'summer ales' in there; the clocks may have just gone back but those beers will give me the chance to splash a little liquid sunshine into the autumn months.

My memories of Saffron beers are rather hazy. I know I've had one, during my brewery-scooping phase, but I can't remember anything that set it aside from the hundreds of other pale beers from new outfits that I tried. So it was fun to get reacquainted with the Hertfordshire brewer and this cool-filtered blonde.

First aroma impressions were of baked lemon and a surprisingly light maltiness. As it warmed there were hints of runny honey coming through, but also an occasional whiff of glue. More baked lemon on the palate, though, with a soft soapy mouthfeel.

Certainly one I'd try again. Makes me want cheesecake.... and I just happen to have some in the fridge. There's serendipity for you.