Twelve beers of Christmas: #10

I've just realised that I've yet to christen the stein I bought during the summer from Beers Of Europe. As it's Andechs branded, the Schneider and Hacker-Pschorr can stay on the shelf and a doppelbock dunkel can come out to play.

This was the beer with which I celebrated my 1000th rating on (ah, the halcyon days of rating like a madman). My impressions then were of a belting brown beer that had a 'sweetshop medley' of flavours. It certainly looked good in the stein, a billowing head collapsing to slick wisps with bready notes wafting upward. There's a smokey edge kept in check by fresh toffee, a sweetness through dried fruits. And that sweetshop is still there for me - liqourice nibbles, Scottish caramel, sugared almonds, honeycomb....

With an assertive malt finish and just enough alcohol heat, Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel was a joy to savour alongside a huge plate of schinkenwurst sarnies. A great beer of a style that I love yet don't drink as often as I should. I'l have to keep the stein out of the cupboard and fill it up on a regular basis.

One last thing - if you haven't already seen it, check out the 'brewery tour' on the Andechs website. I think it's one of the simplist, clearest illustrations of the brewing process that I've found on the internet.


Ramblings: Derby countryside

I used to go out walking in the country every other Sunday, but the last few months have seen me shlepping between urban pubs instead. Time to knock the cow crap off my boots and revisit a favourite ramble of mine that just happens to have a couple of pubs along the way.

The circular walk between Spondon, Locko Park, Dale Abbey and Ockbrook is a 6.5 mile ramble that combines farmland footpaths and estate tracks through fields, forest and lakeside. When I lived in an apartment at Locko I put together this website that features directions; the local council also produce a leaflet (pdf) for the same route. From where I now live in Spondon, I took the footpath that drops down across sodden fields before reaching the driveway to Locko Park. This is a popular rambling spot, the byway through the private estate often bustling with walkers, horse riders and small children keen on poisoning the lake’s wildfowl with white bread. Beyond the East Gate, the track to Columbine Farm cuts through molehill-studded slopes which, in summer, will have rabbits scattering over as you approach.

Up into Ockbrook Woods, it was only a short diversion to the nearest pub in Dale Abbey. The Carpenters Arms keeps a half-decent drop of Adnams Broadside, even if it can be a tad cold at times. And that’s what I would have plumped for if it wasn’t for the surprise and delight lurking on the far pump. Blue Monkey Amber Ale, from the new-ish Ilkeston-based microbrewer, was a beer I tried on its debut at the Nottingham CAMRA festival last year. I found it light and refreshing but perhaps a little underwhelming. Today though it really hit the spot – perhaps being a little cooler helps, fairly crisp with clean fruit flavours. And unlike Broadside, it was light enough for me to have happily had another. Except a hoard of day-glo ramblers had just begun to de-boot, so I decided it was time to press on.

Back into the woods, the path climbed sharply before following contours as the Trent Valley opens out to the south. It’s a vista bookended by power stations with freshly ploughed fields falling away before you, down to ribbons of industry by the river as the misty hills of Leicestershire then rise beyond. Eventually turning through the hedgerows and into the wind, the path ran down toward Ockbrook over rough pasture and fallow land. Inquisitive horses cantered up to meet me, perhaps with forlorn hopes of a sugar lump or three.

Meeting the road that rises sharply up into the village, I thought I’d chance my arm at the Royal Oak. No-one was outside, not even hardy walkers, but the crammed car park indicated a swathe of diners inside. I dumped the boots and hoped to find a mildly exciting beer on the bar, perhaps one of their ‘regular guests’ like Whim Hartington IPA. I’d have even settled for this month’s Burton Bridge Gold Medal beer. So the sight of Cottage made my heart sink a little – I’m really not keen on much of their over-malty output, especially when I’ve been out walking. But on the far side of the bar, shining like Sirius in the murky beer firmament, there was Thornbridge Kipling.

I was happy to sit outside and watch the high clouds be blown homeward; no newspaper, no conversation, just me and my thoughts and perhaps the finest cask beer in England. Kipling is so distinctive with its hop profile and juicy grapefruit notes that even the few other Nelson Sauvin-based brews I’ve tried seem plain by comparison. A veritable fruit salad of flavours with a drying finish makes this my Martini beer – anytime, any place, anywhere.

Several pints and a creamy Stilton cob later, I found myself having to roll down my sleeves – a sure-fire sign that it’s getting a tad nippy and it was time to roll onward. It was only a twenty-minute muddy trudge back to Spondon, the sun starting to sag in a sky low-slung with now-brooding cloud. With just enough ache in the calfs and a couple of surprising beers enjoyed, I’d got my love of country rambling back. Perhaps I’ll manage a few more miles next time… as long as there’s a few more pubs too.


Twelve beers of Christmas: #9

Winter isn't the same without a massive stout to savour. The US microbrewing revolution seems to have been built on three styles: Belgian ales, hyper-hopped IPAs and super-strong stouts. So, before the decs comes down, let's try the impy that's at the top of the style tree on ratebeer - Stone Imperial Russian Stout.

This is a beer with a huge reputation. Loved by ratebeer raters, coveted by UK drinkers and now available in select outlets such as Beers Of Europe. But I've often wondered if there's more than a whiff of hype behind beers like this. A revered brewer, imposing beer style, bottles rarely imported, hard to obtain.... sometimes, these factors make average beers seem (in the eyes of some reviewers) slightly more special even when the aroma, flavour and palate don't really deliver.

And many of the American beers I've tried have been over-assertive. Even aggressive. More hops, more alcohol, more oak-barreling than is strictly necessary. So I was really hoping that Stone IRS would deliver the goods without feeling the need to turn everything up to eleven. My bottle was from Spring 2008 so there was every chance that it would pour feisty and have an alcohol-steaming feel.

Uncapped and let loose in the glass it poured pitch black, a rough laced dirty linen head eventually sheared into a spectral Rorschach blot. Certainly lots of liquorice spilling up to the nose, slashed with cracked leather and clodding earth. Coffeechoc is there and thank boggery for that - no uberhop, no sinus-streching alcohol.

And then.... smoooooothness. Part of me feels cheated- where's the blast? But the beer-sensible part of me is loving it; there's an elegance to the coffee & cigar feel, enough dryness to shave your alcohol-coated craw, berries tarry as bitterness cuts across the oleaginously enjoyable roastiness of it all.

This is impy stout restrained. And magnificent for being so.


Fest of fun: Derby CAMRA Winter 2009

The first fest of 2009 offered old favourites, new breweries, too much Paradox and a Man With Several Plans. The panto is still in full swing so Derby's topers all squeezed into the Darwin Suite for three days of fun. Unless you were that poor sod of a photographer who didn't seem to entice anyone into having their portrait taken. Is that beer cloudy? Oh no it isn't! Oh yes it is! And repeat until the bar staff call security....

Thursday night

A simple plan; get train to Derby, eat chips, join queue, rent glass, drink beer, drink beer, repeat until bored / nine o'clock / I fall over. But, as the famous quote goes; "The best laid plans of mice and men / Are shafted to boggery by National Rail's winter timetable changes". My train now ran twenty minutes later than planned, so instead I caught the Spondon Flyer into town, having first stopped off at a nearby chippy. The delightful assistant, whose name may or may not have been Samantha,was more than happy to serve me. Indeed, she smiled broadly whilst taking my sausage out of her hotbox.

The fest is held in a compact and bijou venue, the Darwin Suite of the Assembly Rooms. With limited seating in the suite and the festival's official reception taking up the 'quiet' room, I grabbed a beer and pitched up by the catering area within earshot of hot food slopping and a daft old racist ticker.

Eventually, the smell of the ticker and the sound of the food drove me back to the bar. Approaching the doors, I was greeted with a hefty cheer of "1-2-3-4!". No, not a particularly thirsty toper ordering multiple drinks. This was Verbal Warning, a punk covers band who (refreshingly for a band of their era) didn't need flashcards to help count that far. Though it was a tad depressing to find that the audience of similarly aged gents were mostly sitting down... tapping their toes.

Several beers later I was contemplating escape when I bumped into came Comrade Brian and Cycling John. Making the most of their late passes, they'd just been to see the film Che at Quad and had popped over for a drink. They forced me to stop for a few more beers (honest) so we put the world to rights by the continental bar in an ever-busier foyer.

And those beers:

The Good: Dunham Massey Chocolate Cherry Mild and the ever-sublime
Thornbridge Saint Petersburg.

The Not Bad: Dunham Massey Winter Warmer and Derventio Barbarian

The Mistaken: possibly Wirksworth Sunbeam as it certainly wasn't St Austell Tribute Extra (ruddy lovely it was, mind)

The Indifferent: Wild Walker Old Big 'ead and Great Escape (plain stuff
from a new Derby brewery; let's give them time to find their feet).

Friday night

An even-simpler plan tonight; drink Brewdog Paradox, watch Blurb. First part of the plan was executed commendably - half-pints of Smokehead were downed with metronomic regularity throughout the evening. But Blurb.... they were supposed to be on first but instead there was a shouty bloke standing in front of some bored-looking musicians. That'll be Kaiser Thiefs, then. Now, if you're going to ape Ricky Wilson it would be ideal to look like him..... STRIKE ONE! OK, at least act like him.... STRIKE TWO! But it's a tribute band so he'll probably sound like him... STRIKE THREE! YOUROUTTAHERE! Well, I was. And so were a few others. Particularly when he forgot the words.

Tonight, this place was HEAVING. The bar was four-deep, the foyer packed, even the 'quiet' room was busy (albeit those present looked like they were auditioning to fill a chair in an old people's home). Old friends were literally bumped into (Oliver with his mate Matt), Ol being naffed off that all the Jaipur had gone - it flies off bars whenever it's on, even before Thornbridge's profile-raising spot on BBC's Drink to Britain programme. Oliver reminded me to mention that I walked (i.e. fell) into a six-foot tall freestanding CAMRA poster and went for a spectacular pratfall. Cheers, Ol, I'd almost forgotten that ;-)

With my beer goggles now calibrated firmly into their 'only have eyes for Smokehead' mode, the Brewdog was starting to seep into my soul. This Paradox lived up to its name abundantly. There's plenty enough of a phenolic fright but the flavour retains Riptide's smooth vanilla and chocolate notes.

Into the sweaty maelstrom of the foyer arrived my oppo, Scott, and his wife Mary along with their friends Vicky and Matthew. Mary handed me a copy of Norfolk Nips, a CAMRA magazine. I told her that I'd always wanted to get my hands on her Nips. I'm not sure if she heard me as I didn't get the belt round the chops that such a gag usually elicits.

... meanwhile, Blurb had apparently taken to the stage. I was considering insertion into the sardine-like throng of the Darwin Suite when Oliver told me it was the same band as before... they'd just changed into tracksuits. What a swizz. Back to the Paradox and the banter, then. What that banter was, I have no precise idea, but the last hours were highlighted by the others taking some sterling photos through the bottom of a beer glass and me being unable to operate Scott's sliding telephone. I mean a telephone that slides open to reveal a keypad. Not a telephone that slides down stair banisters. Honest, Scott. (btw - did you see the photos I took on it???)

With drinks drained and late buses to catch, I weaved my way home. And went to the fridge and opened a bottle of Punk IPA. Like you do at midnight, having drank stupendous amounts of 10% stout for six hours.

Sleep fell like a sumo wrestler through a balsawood dojo.

Saturday lunchtime

The simplest plan of all today; me and the missus drink whatever the hell we want to. Accompanied by whomsoever washed up by our table in the 'quiet' room. That's 'quiet' as in no music; you still get the over-loud ticker, the grumpy non-drinking spouse and the hyperactive child who's in need of colliding with a sharp table edge in order to calm them down.

Long-time fellow festival mucker DJ Monarch aka Neil hauled himself over from deepest darkest Cheshire to share a few beers. As a five-a-side football player, striking a glut of goals recently had gone to his head - literally, as he was now sporting the rather fetching Wayne Rooney Shawn Spud hairdo. Ideal for a freezing January, Neil ;-)

He was accompanied by a couple of friends he'd met at the Great American Beer Festival last year. Who are Argentinian football league supporters. Living in Derby. Who also support Nottingham Forest. Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up even if I'd been drinking.

Rebecca tucked into a Fentimans Dandelion & Burdock early doors before enjoying some lovely local cider (Three Cats Sweet) and a fair few glasses of Dunkertons Medium perry. And she picked some random numbers for me to order beer b, which resulted in some interesting revisitations for me like John Thompson XXX bitter and the Cascade-whiff of Purity Pure UBU.

The other beers this session of real note included:

Ashover All Saints - almost-wit with just enough orange peel shavings to
lift it on the palate.

Arbor Oyster Stout - really, really smooth stout that actually had the oyster smack that many beers of this style lack

Leadmill Louisiana - proper ashen porter with a hint of smoke

Funfair Blueberry Stout - well, it's got a vineous, hedgerow edge to it; not massively blueberry but still topper toper tasty

Brunswick Regimental IPA - first tried in October 2008 at the Brunnie's
fest, this has matured enough for the hops to infuse and produce a cleaner, even drop.

Falstaff Tennent - I'm not a fan of the constant tinkering of recipes at Falstaff but if it leads to beers like this, tinker on! Bags of fresh hops on the nose, lush citrics climbing through the malt, the kind of beer that Falstaff ought to brew every year when they get the new crop US hops in.

Another great Derby Winter fest. The season has now begun, though I won't be going to as many CAMRA festivals as usual this year (no, honest, I know I've been saying that for years but this year I mean it. Probably). I'll be visiting a few favourite fests in the evenings and weekends but I'm on the lookout for a fest further away that I usually venture - let's say two hours away by train from Derby. So, if anyone could recommend a Home Counties / West Yorkshire fest of fun, let me know.

More photos on Flickr


Ramblings: Derby, Sunday, 2009

My next three months of Sundays are taken up by long country walks. So you can expect a few rambles involving rural pubs and eclectic bus services. Meanwhile, it's the last day of my Christmas holidays so I forced myself round Derby for four pints. And another one.

There's something vaguely dirty about drinking alcohol before 10am. Unless you've been caning it all night and haven't gone to bed. Or it's New Years Day and you've woken early to find a spare bottle of champers in the fridge. Or you're travelling business class. But having a pint next to a cooked breakfast seems odd even for a Reluctant Scooper like me. At least I had the common decency to wait until I'd finished my microwave-up in the Babington Arms before my first beer - and at least my breakfast wasn't just a pint of Stella like half the old soaks in there. Despite the usual panoply of beers available I don't usually succumb to booze after breakfast here, but I don't usually see Thornbridge on offer. A pint of Kipling was almost ordered before a gem was spotted - Seven Heron, brewed by Melissa Cole at Thornbridge. It's a superbly smooth drop, light malts and creamy hops, just a hint of flint amongst those fat wet fruits. It was good enough to stop me being pissed off by whoever was whistling the refrain from Nessan Dorma, over and over again, out of tune.

After a spot of shopping, a damn fine cappuchino at the Grand Cafe Caruso and a laugh around the remnants of the M&S sale, I dragged my cold bones into the Brunswick. No coal fire at 1205 so I pitched up by a lukewarm rad with a pint of Father Mike's. Velvet liquorish is a glass. Really quiet in here, mind; I could actually hear myself drinking. The odd bus passing by and a foot sticking to the bar floor were the only sounds to keep me awake. And can I just say something about shopping? Glad as I was to buy a Simon Drew calendar, why are they selling at half price, with a further 50% off at the till, only four days into a new year? And how can a set of 'gentleman's beard scissors and moustache comb' cost sixteen quid? It's a rather small pair of round-tipped scissors, as used by primary school kids, and a comb that you used to buy for your Sindy doll. Not that I ever had a Sindy doll, of course. My Action Man always preferred Barbie. Even though he had no genitals.

The long haul of literally two dozen paces plonked me into the Alex. Alan was removing the Christmas decorations and ensuring that the Abbeydale Absolution was pulling through OK. It was, so I had a pint and By Gum was it wonderful with a rich creamy melon-melange. Quiet here as well, two guys in the corner discussing the merits of fewer megapixels and the cellar cooler vibrating the table to leave pattens in my pint. Eventually though the near-silence seemed to be mocking my failure at yet another Azed crossword in the Observer so I decided to go freeze my nethers off and slope up to the 'Pot.

Rewind. Play... 'Really quiet in here'... me and the barmaid and the off-duty cook and the off-duty-cook's mate. Almost two o'clock; I wouldn't see another paying customer for over 45 minutes. At least is ensured that the cellar bar was quiet, apart from the jukebox lurching into life every fifteen minutes (no problem with that when it's the likes of 'The Prince' by Madness). Un-Reluctantly I plumped for a pint of Headless Summat Else - rather like KSA or First Bloom, more than possibly a rebadge/mix but still wonderfully citric so I don't give a tinker's tassle. Then the entertainment arrived, a charmeless nerk who regaled his mate with such pearlers as "Belgian beer is shit, it's all lager", "Brooge, it's beer city", "that festival in Hanover, er, Hamburg... I was sick as a fucking pig in there" and my personal favourite on a Bremen beer festival: "there must have been 800 beers, nearly all free". Thankfully, all too soon he had to catch his bus home, probably to edit some Wikepedia pages. I celebrated his departure with a pint of Acorn Ahtanum, a copper/red flat fart of a pint with a clean grapefruit feel with a little earthiness lurking.

Another fun Sunday - they nearly always are. Solid classics, new scoops, freezing cold pubs and a laugh somewhere along the way. If you can get into Derby on a Sunday it's well worth a trawl around - leave it until April and I'll show you around.


Twelve beers of Christmas: #8

It's been a lovely lazy Saturday. Forest beat Man City, there's toad in the hole for tea and I'm sat planning my first country walk of the year whilst enjoying a glass of Hopshackle Restoration.

My first experience of this beer was at Peterborough CAMRA festival in 2008. And damn impressive it was - bags of spiced alcohol, leather, pepper and chocolate. More impressive was that this was an English brewer taking on a Belgian style and investing enough time and care to make a wonderfully complex and satisfying beer.

When I was offered the chance to buy a case of this year's brew, I jumped at the chance. Restoration is brewed annually around February/March and then aged for six months before bottling. My bottle was quite feisty, a blossoming head thinning quickly to a drumskin-tight mushroom cover. There's a rich sugary aroma, vineous notes and crushed plums fighting past a peppery edge. Just enough carbonation delivers a soft feel with stacks of fresh malts and warming alcohol.

This was delectably easy to drink. A proper sit-by-the-fire and chill-out beer. So super soft, simply spun-sugar sweet. As good as this is now, I can't wait to try one during Christmas 2009 to see how those flavours may change.


Scoopies 2008

You know your Christmas experience is incomplete. Turkey, pudding, presents, New Year party, pools of vomit and bitter recrimination. You've had all that but you haven't had the awards ceremony that really matters. It's the Scoopies!

No obvious order, no cogent process, just me and my beers and the occasional ASBO-inducing memory.

The 'It's Just Gone' Award for Pissing Off Scoopers - Derby CAMRA

For the beer choice in the Darwin Room; if its name isn't up on the washing line it ain't on and you can't have none. Make 'em sweat! Make 'em wait! And mucho kudos for putting the Brewdog beers on for the Thursday night at last year's winter fest. Saw them, drank them, had interesting sick in my glass all along the Morledge.

The 'Aintchasickofit' award for Stupid Drinking In A Decent Ale Pub - every twonk who ordered Landlord instead of a 'house-brewed' beer at the Brunswick or the Royal Standard in Derby.

Like lager, buy lager, no problem. Like cask beer, have up to eleven other beers to choose from, still order Landlord? Please report to Pork Farms immediately - your brain has been reserved for sausagemeat.

The Jobsworth Award For Services To Ruining A Good Day On The Ale
- Trent Barton Buses

OK, not Trent per se, just the grumbly bogger who NEVER drops us off by the bus garage on the way into Derby - the garage that's next to the Smithfield pub. "I'm not supposed to stop there," he says, despite there's a bus stop / a fecking BUS GARAGE / no-one on the bus would give two shits if you stopped. May the erotic itch you experience late at night turn out to be chlamydia.

Pork Pie of the Year - Lanes of Leicester

A real shock, this one. Walter Smith's proved to be uneven, Bailey and Sons of Upper Broughton was almost superb, but Lanes takes the Scoopy for that combination of squidgy flat top and sumptuous jelly. Easily the best food at the Leicester beer festival.

Landlord of the Year - Timothy Taylor.

Only joking. It has to be Graham Yates of the Brunswick Inn, Derby. For being grumpy, engaging, caring and curmudgeonly. Usually all in the space of ten minutes. And for staying out of the brewery and letting James get on with it.

The 'OhMyGodILoveBeer!!!' Moment of the Year

Nottingham CAMRA 1st Robin Hood beer festival. Sat by the castle wall, looking out over the southern shire, drinking Potbelly Crazy Daze whilst the Castle's Union flag snapped in the sharp breeze.

Ratebeer Moment of the Year - At The Bear, Oxford Crawl

The smallest pub ever, already rammed full of diners debating whether to have peas with their sausage and mash, when a dozen or so Ratebeerians turn up. A line to the bar and out of the door was formed, pints of Hooky passed over heads already scraping against the ceiling, out into the street where we then sat by the bins as tourists took photos.

Surprisingly Good Pub of the Year - The Star, Godalming

I washed up into Guildford on a training course, a town stuffed with tepid continental lager and hilarious WAG-wannabe bars. Taking the train down to the next stop one night was a calculated gamble but, boy, did it pay off. The Star has it all; candlelight and bustle and a local's bar they didn't mind me invading. Proper perry and decent ales and the best pint of Harvey's Best that I've ever had. And those in the know drank that 'til the barrel ran dry.

Pointless Bar Snack Of The Year - Pickled Onions.

Barman! I'll have a pint of your finest balanced IPA.... and a vinegar-infused bull's gonad to complement it. There's a time and a place for pickled onions - the twelfth of never, over the nearest event horizon.

Best CAMRA festival of the year - Nottingham.

I still can't believe there was a better fest than Worcester with its paella and Blue Bear Uproar and Pictish Corn Dolly and Oz & James and Olivers Blakeney Red. But there was. The first Robin Hood Festival was - wow. I know some people had issues with the hot food, the queues, the beer availability on Saturday. But I had hot food in town, got there early and didn't go on Saturday. The full write-up is here but let's just say this: an A-Z of fantastic cask beers, fresh seafood, stunning vistas, good friends and the unalloyed joy of all those things segueing together.

Best non-CAMRA festival of the year - Barrow Hill Rail Ale.

For you poor unfortunates who haven't heard - this is a beer festival in an engine shed. You get to buy beer and go take a train ride. You get to be almost run over by reversing locos. How could it not be fun? You get to watch tickers cum in their corduroys at the sight of steaming engines and rare beers. OK, that's not exactly a ringing endorsement. This is - Abbeydale Black Mass. Bottle Brook Imperial Russian Stout. Falstaff Wilko. White Shield No.1 and P2 Imperial Stout. Those last two in the same glass. Cheers, Mes :-) For a fest chock full of high ABV beers and trip hazards, there was none better.

Best cider or perry as judged by Mrs Reluctant - Severn Sider Whisky Cask Perry Or Something Like That.

Let's face it, you can't even take what the cask end says as gospel. But my little nest of vipers loved the subtle whiskyness and the easy going perry nature - Blakeney Red, perhaps? Whatever, it made Burton Spring fest a whole lotta whiskyperry fun. (FWIW I thought Whin Hill's Browns, their blushing rose cider, was gobsmackingly wonderful. But let's not kick off a domestic)

Best bottled beer - Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast

So good that I've dared not write about it yet. Oats and coffee and chocolate doesn't even come close to describing how effortlessly superb this beer is. A proper write-up will feature in the next few weeks - when I first tried it, I was as excited as a schoolboy who'd just been touched in the gentlemen's area for the first time. Don't believe it could be this pant-expandingly good? Then don't visit to see if they have any left.

Best cask beer - Thornbridge Katipo.

I thought picking a best bottled beer was tough. There's been some WORLD CLASS cask down my gullet in 2008 - I say WORLD CLASS because sometimes we forget in Merrie England that we brew some of the best, freshest, flavoursome beers that can be had. Hobson's Mild, Bottle Bridge Double Chocolate Porter, McGivern Mild, Potbelly Crazy Daze, Pictish, Headless, Marble, Hopshackle....

But there was only one beer that made me thoroughly Reluctant and insisted that I drank it at every given opportunity. Katipo was one of those rare beers where I felt glad to be in a pub just because it was on; to buy it for total strangers, to feel my heart flutter at the sight of a pumpclip, to be evangelical with glass in hand, to sit with eyes closed and let raspberries dance on my tongue.

And the pronunciation. Car-Tea-Paw. I want a half of Car-Tea-Paw. No, Car-Tea-Paw. Well, actually, NO, its NOT called Catty-po, Cart-Heep-Pow or Katy-Poo. Honest, the brewer told me it's called.... ah, sod it. Give me half of number 344. Yes, the Catty Paws one...

To Kelly 'Tigger' Ryan - brew more. Just Brew More. Beer this good has earned the right to be brewed and drank until it bleeds out of the eyeballs of acolytes.

So, there you go. Winners are entitled to hand-inked certificates. Let me know if you want one, all you have to do is gurn for the camera and buy me beer.

And, for everyone who didn't have a pint of the unusual last year - I salute you.


Twelve beers of Christmas: #7

I'm just shagged out with all these heavyweight beers sipped out of fancy glasses. Time for a criminally underrated beer swigged straight outta the bottle. Showing me the way to Amarillo - Nils Oscar India Ale.

I had a fun time with a selection of Nils Oscar beers back in September. Their Imperial Stout was massively entertaining but tonight requires something subtler to accompany the salmon en croute. India Ale has a sublime balance, soft malts and an assertive level of Amarillo. I just love the soft carbonation, the silken feel on the palate. Pine cream notes, hops wrapped in malty pillows, an absolute dream of a beer.

For someone who likes a bastard-mad-hoppy IPA, this has no right to command my attention. But it does, and respect is earned; softly softly wins out over the overhopped monkey.

This beer and many other of its brethren can be found over at


Twelve beers of Christmas: #6

Christmas is a time for classic repeats, so here's my De Dolle Stille Nacht review from earlier this year. With those annoying 'updates' that makes it into a revised repeat, therefore a new episode. Got a problem with that? Go tell it to the judge in the morning!

Perhaps the greatest thing I can say about this beer is - 1.49 GBP a bottle.

It was in a sale somewhere. Let it be said, I am not driven by price. But when a beer this good is this cheap, WAY HEY!

Second greatest thing - liquid easter cake.

Christmas Cake. Quite clearly, I meant to say Christmas cake.

Third - the sugar has rotted my teeth and I am dribbling dentine all over this incredibly expensive keyboard.

It's not madly-sugar-candy-ADHD-inducing anymore. These were 2007 bottles, that spun-sugariness has subsided to a thick apricot tart sweetness.

Fourth - surprise and fear, fear and surprise.

This still stands. Perhaps now moreso with an aged bottle - is it still living? Have the corners been rounded off or just planed away? Something to make you go mmmmmm? Or urrrgh? Is there life on Mars? Is there life in Peckham? What's that switch over there for. Et cetera....

Fifth - the sugar subsides to a licking candy sweetness. The alcohol warms cockles but never muscles in. So, no alarms, no surprises.

Sadly, the Jesus and Mary Chain never actually recorded a track called 'Just Like Candy', so I can't quote it here in a clever-dick stylee. Even though the unborn chicken voices in my head keep telling me it must be true... pardon? The beer? Oh, it's crammed with apricots and toasted nuts and that bit in the middle of a poorly-torched creme brulee that doesn't quite caramalise and is all the better for it. And it's still effervescing.

In summary - the right side of que sera, the wrong side of brouhaha.

Do you ever get that feeling that you know you're going to do something wrong if you carry on doing what you do, but don't care, and do it anyway, and then repulse yourself when with grinding inevitability that thing happens? I've just picked my nose and rubbed snot into a semi-open wound in my hand. Strictly speaking, this is more information than you need to know. Ever.

I'm really chuffed with this beer. It's another over-inking of the HUGE tick that is - buy beers, cellar beers if they have the obvious potential for improving with age, keep your drunken mitts of said beer by hiding them somewhere you don't look/cannot reach; behind your bike/underneath your tax return/next to your wife's sanitary towels.

I'm really, really chuffed to have bought a dozen-ish bottles of this, kept six and given the rest away under strict instructions not to open until 2009. Because one of the great beer experiences for me is giving a good beer to someone who's never tasted anything quite like it before. Some will vomit. Some, with tastebuds sequestered, won't appreciate it. But spreading the love ends inevitably in another convert to the cause. Rather than a slave to the Coors.

PS - Reluctant Scooper would like to apologise for the piss-poor wordplay in the last paragraph.

PPS - this gives me the chance to say "I was more than usual pissed"; quoted from the mind-blendingly wonderful 'Bremen Nacht' by The Fall. See what I did there? This stuff doen't just throw itself together, you know?


Thornbridge Mixing #1

Take a fat man and Thornbridge beers. Mix them together. Stand well back.

Notes to self: on the next vid, look at the LENS and not the SCREEN. Don't get so pished that you can't remember the names of the beer. Don't grin like a freak at the end.


Twelve beers of Christmas: #5

I should have spent the day sorting out the Scoopies awards, but instead I decided to plough through 500 emails and then slice my hand open on the fractured neck of a bottle of fizzy stuff. So, with the blood swabbed from the laptop and a beer needed to ease my beating heart, it must be time to uncork Lost Abbey's Gift Of The Magi.

Let's dispense with my dearest darling's words of wisdom first. "It's not like potpourri" proved to be a stunningly accurate impression of the aroma, although the bulldog-licking-piss-off-a-nettle face followed by "it tastes better after a slurp of Coca Cola" doesn't somehow sum up the complexity that you feel Tomme Arthur intends with this beer.

It pours an interesting burnt orange body, with a spongy off-cream head folding like a cheap hooker who got punched in the stomach. Yes, Joey, that's the way I play poker too. There's orange peel, there's cinnamon (fair play to Mrs Reluctant, that was her first impression) but there's also an sourness (in a healthy, Belgian way) and a fair amount of Brettyness.

I had wondered about laying this down for next year - every other sip says I should have done (lose the sharpness, mellow the brett). Yet every other other sip says GREEN LIGHT GO for the fresh spice feel, raw lemon, more funk than a drummer strung out on Bolivian marching powder.

There's warmed turned earth, yesterday's pissy straw, liquid bread.... it's fun to drink but just a little, ahem, challenging on the palate. Truth be told, there are times when it feels like it's sticking in my clack a bit. Was that warm licorice? A cruel and unusual spice that's been recently relieved all over?

Having consulted the back bottle label, I now, like, totally get the Magi reference - gold beer made with some frankincense and myrrh. Yeh, the Frankenstein and Grrrr are clearly evident - WTF? I particularly liked the ratebeer review that said "I really need to smell Frankincense and Myrrh again to figure out what they are contributing here". Hint; if you've just written down seven different aromas and flavours and you're still left with something you still can't quite put your finger on, I wouldn't worry much about it. Like beeswax on an old oak table, I figure those Yemen resins are there to lift the beer to a higher plain, not to define its soul.

It's enjoyable, just not as enjoyable as I'd hoped. Rather like suffering Sunday school to join the Thursday night youth club only to find the snooker table was only half size. Yet there's a certain joy in continually topping up the glass, refunking the beer, blossoming the head, loosing an aroma that switches from fresh to dirty faster than a convent girl with a late pass.

I started off intrigued, became disillusioned and now have grudging admiration for certain aspects of its outlook. Insert your own religious allegory here.

Thanks to for the beer