Norfolk & Beer: Walsingham

First day of a Norfolk holiday today, with posts here as and when tinternet connection holds up. Most of the afternoon was spent outside the Bull in Little Walsingham, pints of Aspalls cider (in an impressive looking glass) to drown my sorrows as the Lions lost the decisive test against the Boks. With a fair amount of fizz and no tacky aftertaste, Aspalls was a refreshing change from the usual Woodfordes/Adnams fayre that I'm used to round here.

Then, a long linger this evening by a ford over the river Stiffkey; just me, a couple of hares, a clutch of long-tailed tits, half a dozen ducklings with mother, Pete Brown's book 'Hops & Glory' and a bottle of Wissey Valley Walsingham Spice. Procured from the Walsingham Farm Shop, it's a gentle spiced ale with ginger and cloves adding zing to a well rounded bitter.

More waxing lyrical tomorrow, last orders awaits ;-)


Derbyshire Drinking; Matlock to Wirksworth

Time to get the boots mucky again. A market town with a microbrewery was the destination, a corking inn with Thornbridge beers was the waypoint. And there was even time for some lovely lager....

Slabs of sun were falling onto the Derwent Valley as the train criss-crossed its way over river and up to Matlock. Which is as good enough place as any to start the walk, particularly as it has a beer shop, a 'Spoons and a wonderful butchers. But you can't have everything - well, not at quarter to ten in the morning. The shop, Peli Beers, was shut so nosing through the window was as close as I got to bottles by the likes of Howard Town, Derventio and Spire. The 'Spoons (The Crown) offered promise too with clips for Thornbridge McConnels and Amber Imperial IPA but... yep, they were 'coming soon'. At least the butchers, Hambridges, delivered on the breakfast front; a bacon and sausage cob positively straining with juicy protein. Reluctantly, I had to pass on the the lamb & cider pie and the sage & honey sausages but did secure a pork-pie half for lunch.

From Matlock, it was a steady grind uphill towards High Tor. Behind, the town sprawls in brick and stone over the hill. Ahead, the path works its way close to the edge of the Tor, affording great views of the 400 foot vertical drop to the valley floor. I passed up on the Giddy Edge walk - the cliff face on your left, two feet of rocky path under your feet followed by several hundred feet of fresh air to your right - and zigzagged my way down through the woods and past the cable car station into Matlock Bath.

The smell of chip fat warming up, ice creams being eaten just after breakfast, arcade machines spewing loose change - Matlock Bath is like Skegness's country cousin. Once more famous as a spa town, it's now a tourist trap rammed with candy-floss-faced kids and chip-fuelled bikers on any weekend when the sun shines. I took a constitutional stroll along the river before partaking of a pint at The Riva, a pleasant place on the main road overlooking the Derwent where you can while away the hours watching domestic disputes develop amongst daytrippers as they make execrable attempts to park their Chelsea tractors. I needed a quencher so none of their malty-clack-sticking Marstons would do the job. A pint of Stella went down easily. Yes, dear topers, I'm not averse to a jar of Samlesbury's finest.

I thought I may as well let the train take the strain for the next few miles. Partly due to laziness, mainly due to me wanting to get to the next pub sooner. At least it gave me time to wolf down my pork pie half from Hambridges. Good chunky mixture of meats in here, crispy enough pastry, though perhaps not quite enough jelly. The train was on time and was busy - Derby County were playing at home and it seemed every other passenger was a Rams supporter. Never mind, eh! We can't all be cultured. Off at the second stop down the line, the wonderfully named Whatstandwell, and ready for the real slogging section of the ramble.

From the river crossing to the pub, it was a long haul uphill. It was one of those slogs over fields, a steady rise that was fairly easy going over the bare fields with boggy corners. Although the view ahead wasn't that inspiring - field, sheep, field, field, sheep - looking back eastwards there was the impressive Crich Cliff topped by the war memorial of Crich Stand. Crossing over the Midshires Way, the path still rose relentlessly westward towards the village of Alderwasley. Cutting across the edge of the village, a farm track takes weary toper legs up to this stretch's final field where a handpainted sign points the way across to the far corner and a stile into the car park of The Bear Inn.

Here was the kind of pub that weary topers dream about. Rooms with eclectic furniture were tucked away at every turn, some hidden behind curtains, some with candelabra, most with lunchtime reservations. The small bar had a clear divide with locals clustered around the wrought iron fireplace to the left, whilst tourists roamed off to the right where the blackboarded menus could be found. Those locals were landowners and landworkers; shovel-hands scooping up frothing pints and slamming down dominos with equal vigor.

And Jaipur was on. I'd heard that the Bear was a regular Thornbridge outlet and a pint of their finest hoppy, sticky-round-the-gums IPA slipped down alarmingly quickly. I was sat away from the bar, in a cubby-hole with high back settles, near enough to the kitchen to hear the pub bell rang out for service... and the local's banter about beer prices. "I remember when that would buy you two calves" said one tweeded farmer. "Aye, or a crate of Guinness!" replied his stout friend.

More Jaipur followed as I meandered through the Saturday papers. The food looked gorgeous - roast beef dinners, steak and potato pie, lamb shanks - but I'd promised myself a short liquid lunch here. Which meant I could make room for half a Halcyon; another (stonger) Thornbridge IPA with a head like hide peppered by shot; a chill-hop-hazy body hiding viscous, wincing, wonderful hops. As it was (literally) downhill all the way from here to Wirksworth, I forced myself into having another half before the final leg.

I was truly Reluctant to leave the Bear behind, especially with Thornbridge in such fine form. But that walk to Wirksworth wasn't going to get any shorter. The ribbon of road along the ridge gave great views away over to Crich Stand and the Derwent Valley, before the slow and sometimes muddy footpath descent into the town. They'd been celebrating their newly-bestowed Fairtrade status that day, but it was all rather quiet now; the market has packed up, the major's tea party had supped up. I bought two hunks of flapjack from a bakery-cum-tearoom and dreamed of fish, chips and Jaipur....

But there was a pub I fancied visiting here - in the hope of getting some Wirksworth beer. The Hope and Anchoris one of those imposing busy-market-town pubs, multi-roomed with a lounge given over to flat screen TVs screaming out a music channel that the barmaid seems to wish she was appearing on. The bar was quieter, just a few paper-readers supping slowly. A newish Wirksworth beer - Bunny Hops - was good enough with a refreshing and sustained gentle hop feel, quenching enough at the end of a good day's wandering. As the local football team turned up and the smoothflow began to, er, flow, I beat a retreat for the last bus back to Derby.

Good food, good beers and only slightly sore feet. I'll certainly be back in the summer to sample more Thornbridge in the Bear garden (couldn't resist...) and visit Wirksworth on a market day to see what Fairtrade goodies are on offer.

And I have to say... the walk was made possible by two trains and two buses all covered by a Derbyshire Wayfarer ticket. Check with your local council / transport authority to see if they do a county-wide ticket - it's a great way to toper out and about.


Gardening with the 'Dog

Plenty of gardening to do today. I used to hate it - stupid plants that die, stupid grass covered in fox shit, stupid tree that just stands there. But I grew to love it; perhaps it's the practicality, of getting dirty and expending effort after a working week of not but number crunching. Still need some motivation to spend most of the day doing it, though.

So for every gardening task completed today , I gave myself a beer reward. And there could be few finer beers to satiate a thirst and satisfy a hop craving than a clutch from Brewdog.

The hedges thickening over the path to the shed were slashed back so I could sit back and suck on a Trashy Blonde. Bedding borders were hoed over on the promise of Punk IPA after. Front borders cleared and re-edged to let How To Disappear Completely venture out the fridge. Lawns mown on the lure of Chaos Theory. And that annoying clump of grassy crap by the back door torn out to complete the day and let Hardcore IPA come out to play.

Now I'm tired enough, have interesting lumpy bits under my fingerskin and a mouthful of popping hopness. The garden looks good and the Brewdog beers have made for a damn fine afternoon. Someday, all gardening will be like this - including Brewdog variety six-packs in garden centres. Then there would be something actually worth buying there...


What Summer Saturdays Were Invented For

Warm weather. Beer garden with great views. Thornbridge beers (Jaipur and their new English Pale Ale, Hopton). Hot tuna and cheese melt. Inquisitive finches and pipits. The calmest chocolate labrador. No need for an excuse to down another pint. This is My England and I ruddy love it.


Passionate recruits

Passionate beers require passionate people involved in their production. So it's great to read that rather than resting on their laurels, two of the UK's most forward-thinking brewers continue to expand with the recruitment of passionate staff.

Award winning New Zealand homebrewer James Kemp joins Thornbridge and expands the Kiwi enclave in north Derbyshire spearheaded by brewery manager Kelly Ryan. James joins Thornbridge at a key stage in the brewery's development, bringing valuable experience of laboratory analysis from his time at Fullers. With Thornbridge investing heavily in a new brewery with expanded laboratory facilities - still unusual for a brewer of their size - James proved to be the ideal candidate to join their brewing team.

North of the border, Brewdog have appointed a commercial manager to assist in their "aggressive" plans for 2009. Des Mulcahy muscled his way onto the beer scene in 2007 as co-organiser of the awesome Beer Exposed exhibition. His business nous and unbreakable attitude will undoubtedly serve Brewdog well as they roll their beer revolution out around the world.

Do they have the passion? Well, I've met each of them fleetingly and you can see that sparkle in their eyes. With guys like these working for two of the UK's most innovative breweries, I honestly believe that our brewing scene could be on the cusp of some staggering developments that could change utterly the public perception of craft brewing. Not micro-brewing; craft brewing. Brewing with care; with dedication. And bags of passion.


Round the Rock

It was hosing it down. That gave me a day pass away from gardening, yet stopped me from watching the cricket. What's a beery boy to do...? As I was off to Nottingham to meet that splendid nest of vipers that is my sister, I thought I'd shlepp around a few pubs. And as I hadn't been to a Castle Rock pub for an age, I set myself a challenge - visit four of their pubs, have a pint of their Harvest Ale, an interesting guest, something continental on tap and a bottle from Brewdog.

My sister was buying jewellery when I met up with her. The shop had over 120 items in the window... I only know this as I had time to count them all as she faffed about inside. With the rain still lashing and the pubs opening, I shepherded her away for lunch at the Kean's Head. This single-roomed pub in the shadow of St. Mary's church has won multiple awards for its food and rightly so. Seasonal specials with an Italian twist, great snacks such as home-made scotch egg or fish-finger sandwiches... it's difficult to make up your mind. But I had to try the pie of the day - pork and peach baked with Timmermans peche. Mounds of fresh mash (little sis had the same pie with hand-cut, home-made chips) and the most surprisingly tasty red cabbage that seemed to have been cooked with something aniseedy. A pint of Harvest Pale went down a treat, too; a no-nonsense lazy lemony pale ale that's always a joy to drink.

Onward to the next pub, leaving little sis to go and look at shoes or hand cream or some other such girly stuff. I hadn't been to the Newshouse for a couple of years; having recently been voted as Nottingham CAMRA's Pub of The Year I felt I ought to pay a visit. I dripped into a quiet lounge, low-volume R&B entertaining the two punters. With framed newspapers of key historical events adorning the walls and plush banquettes all around, the lounge had a clubhouse-comfy feel to it. The beer was top notch too - Hadrian & Borders Reivers IPA may not have had the citric bite I usually like in an IPA but the creamy hop feel made for an easy-going pint.

Out into the slashing rain and flooded streets and onward to the brewery tap. Sat in the shadow of the brewery and close to the Inland Revenue offices that inspired its name, the VAT & Fiddle pub offers a range of Castle Rock beers as well as bottles from around the world. Reluctantly, I left the Brewdog in the fridge and plumped for a guest ale, Leeds Midnight Bell. This has been stunning every time I've tried it, deep fruits seeping through smooth roasty notes. Seemed a shame not to be drinking one of the brewery's own beers here, but when the guests are this good I couldn't resist.

Still siling it down as I made my way down to the Canalhouse. It's an old warehouse where barges are still mooreed inside the building (as the photo shows). To go all sepia for a moment, I remember this place when it was Nottingham's Canal Museum. And mightly boring it was. Now it's been reinvented as a booming-music bar, even on a torrentially damp Saturday with only a dozen or so people in. Just the place to drink a fizzy pint, then, so I had a Veltins. I'd seen Maisels Weiss on tap and, to be honest, I really wanted a Paulaner but that doesn't seem to be served in Castle Rock pubs anymore. I should have gone for the Maisels, mind - the Veltins was rather bubblegummy and strangely bland. Sat by the barge mooring, the slack water bulged every now and then, crisp packets and green slime sliding back and forth. I'm not sure that thirty-odd foot of stagnant canal is really a great feature for a pub to have...

One Castle Rock pub left for the day's visit, the one which for me just edges out the Kean's Head as their best in the city. A wee walk over to the north side of Nottingham, the Lincolnshire Poacher is an unassuming pub from the outside. Within, there are treasures to behold; a bar bristling with beers, a small lounge tucked away from the throng and a sizeable sun-trap patio backing onto a conservatory out the back. I'd waited until now for Brewdog as there's always a chance of having their cask beers here. I'd settle for a bottle of Punk IPA, of course. But - the horror! No Brewdog - even the bottles had been out of stock for a month! I'd seen them languishing in fridges all day; now I wanted one and was to be denied. Instead, half a Harvest Pale was drank in a huff.

At least the rain had lifted. I was tempted to go back across the city to the Kean's Head for a Brewdog bottle, but I know when to call it a day. Well, almost... wandering back for the bus I forced myself into the Bell, a pub I haven't been in since the Greene King takeover of Hardy & Hansons. A good line of of beers to, plenty of Nottingham Brewery offerings to complement the GK staples. I couldn't resist Belvoir Star, particularly as it offered all the bittery goodness of the old Shippos with the added bonus of not giving you the shits the next morning.

Castle Rock have promoted themselves as "Nottingham's Major Micro". To be honest, they're what a city needs - someone with enough muscle to invest in a pub estate that offers great dining, pre-club and easy-Sunday venues; someone that can produce regular beers of consistent quality in sufficient quality to satiate said estate; someone who can offer quality continental draught and bottles in recognition that drinkers deserve a quality choice; someone who actually cares about their customers and seeks to offer them a fair pint at a fair price. Too often, the only times I've really thought about what Castle Rock have to offer has been when I've been stuck in the middle of arse-nowhere with a choice of a cavernous Spoons or national pubco bland-taps. Thinking - I wish I was back in Nottingham. With a pint of Trammie Dodger.


The Tipping Point

When do you finally give in to beer? When to you finally think; sod this, I fancy a beer? For me, tonight, it was 1720 as I walked home from work, the sun in my hair, contemplating a bottle or three after mowing the lawns/sorting the laundry/burying the neighbour's recalcitrant cat beneath the patio. Instead, I looked over my shoulder as I approached the bus stop and rode off to the next village for lashings of beer and fish and chips.

The beer was Blue Bear Splendid Ale, light in colour and ABV, impressive malt balance, actually refreshingly malty in a season of over-fruited washy-hopped 'summer' offerings. The fish & chips was beer-battered haddock with home-made tartare sauce and proper mushy peas. The sun still, cattle lowed from the shed next door and even the sight of an insufferable cock in a droptop BMW didn't put me off (doesn't he know all the *really* insufferable cocks are driving Audi R8's this year?)

There's only one problem with tipping points... they lead to another. Another drink beckoned on my return home, my hoppy beer wasn't cold enough, so that left me with only one viable option - and the reason why I keep gin in the freezer and vermouth in the fridge. The last of today's rampant sunlight is fracturing across the buddleja globosa as I savour the killer aromatic blend that can be found only in a dry martini. On a school night. Handcart to hell has been reserved for tomorrow morning.....


Marble Ginger and 'cajun' chicken

This should have been a pairing of Manchester's finest with some ginger and coriander chicken at the weekend, but a rather, ahem, accessible bottle of chenin blanc forced its way down my gullet instead. For reasons best described as desperate, I'd also got some cajun-ish chicken pieces knocking around and was hoping that gingery beer would work well with the spicy-ish food.

From the off, let's be quite clear on one thing - I love Marble Ginger. This is the full-fat no-nonsense gingery beer of the Marble stable; they have a 4.5 percenter called, er, Ginger Marble as well but Marble Ginger is 6% and chock full of Zingiber officinale.

But not in a fiery, itchy, who-the-feck-polluted-my-beer-with-this-root-muck kind of way. It's.... refreshing. It tingles and leaves a mild heat behind. It's baby spice rather than overblown Ginger. On a hot day, this puts a smile on my face without making my tabs laugh, a balance of warmth and alcohol that counter-intuitively make it a proper quencher.

Having just spent an hour carving into a hedgerow with the Loudest Trimmer In The World Ever, my neighbours were ready to concrete my garden over and I was ready for a relaxing drink. Marble Ginger sated a thirst in sips, the natural spice warmth ensuring I didn't bolt it down.

How did it fare with the meal? OK - to be honest, the pre-prepared 'cajun' chicken wasn't going to win any authenticity awards but the mild spices of both dish and drink complemented each other pretty well. The slightly dusty tang of the chicken coating took the freshly-grated ginger feel from the beer, too much spice would perhaps have been confusing on the palate.

I reckon Marble Ginger would work with marinated lamb dishes as well. In fact, I'll be buying a few more bottles to try that pairing out sometime this summer. I buy mine from Derby's organic store Sound Bites - Marble beers being one of their popular organic beer offerings alongside the likes of Pitfield and Amber Ales. Why not ask your local organic store if they stock Marble beers - you can't beat a ginger beer that really is a beer and really does taste of ginger!


Drink Beer & Carry On!

Most of the time, Facebook is like growing a sixth finger - intriguing at first, something to play with and gossip about. Then it starts to get in the way, hinders your daily activities. Then you realise half the world seems to have a sixth finger as well, and you'd rather yours would just shrivel up and drop off. But, sometimes, something comes along that reminds you how 'virtual' communities with shared interests can surprise you with something that hadn't triggered your radar yet.

That's what happened to me with Drink Beer & Carry On, whom I found out about via a Facebook group joined by some of my beery friends. They have a premise stated simply: what to do in these trying times to not prevent pubs, the "backbone of Britain", from withering away. Their conclusion is forthright: Drink Beer & Carry On!

If you agree, you could wear your heart on your sleeve.... or that slogan on a T-shirt. Inspired by the never-issued wartime propoganda poster, 'Keep Calm & Carry On', the Eric Gill-esque fonted message and craftily-refashioned crown adorn shirts that can accommodate even the most rotundly patriotic of topers.

Take a look at their website for more info and pics of not-so-secret agents in action. They also have a Google map shows if anyone's been DB&CO near you; if not, go get yourself a shirt and join the throng. If there are already agents operating in your area, go get yourself a shirt and join the throng! No secret handshake required (unless by mutual consent).

I'm often out and about in my shirt - fellow drinkers often stop me and say they like it. So go get one while you can.

Psst... Facebook users may be able to get a 'buy one, get one free' deal. Check out the Drink Beer & Carry On Facebook group for more info.


Congrats to the Nottingham Drinker

Fantastic news - the Nottingham branch have won the CAMRA Newletter of the Year award for the second year running. This forty page, A4, full colour magazine has production values and editorial quality that puts many commercial beer magazines to shame. It's by far and away my favourite CAMRA publication (and, no, I don't write for it).

There's always plenty of news and features about local pubs and breweries. But there's articles about beer from all around the world, bottled beer, beer with food and much, much's well worth a read even if you're out of the area (or even out the country).

Here's a flavour what's in the current issue:

- trips to microbreweries in Malaysia and Sarajevo
- profiles of new breweries (Prescott) and local ones (Maypole)
- cooking with beer (chili and stout) and dining out with beer
- LocAle updates (Nottingham being pioneers of the scheme)
- bottled beer reviews (from Sheffield and Iceland - Iceland the country, not the frozen food chain...)

Special mention has to go to editor Spyke Golding's legendary 'In Praise of PUBlic Transport' feature. Complete with hand-drawn maps and full-colour photos, these are detailed pub crawls accessible by bus, train or even tram - indeed, the current issue features fifteen pubs close to the route taken by the Supertram in Sheffield).

Nottingham Drinker also features contributions from interesting and perhaps unusual persepctives. Both the local police and the local alcohol advisory service APAS provide thought-provoking articles that make a positive and constructive contrubution to the magazine.

If you're planning on visiting the city for its beer (and you really should) then the Nottingham Drinker is indispensible. It's got plenty of up-to-date gen about discounts, gigs and festivals as well as all those interesting articles.

Fortunately, you don't need to be in Nottingham to read the Drinker. Both the current and back issues are available in PDF format from the branch website.

Why not download a copy now... having read this, you need something else to do!

Direct link to the June/July issue:

Back issue index:


Keg Power!

Back in April, we had a National Cask Ales Week. Apparently. A concerted marketing effort by Cask Marque via (in the main) pubco estates to increase the sales of regionally-brewed beer. So, England expects and all that twaddle - I did what I needed to do. I went out to drink the finest keg beers I could find.

As you may have guessed, I felt ambivalent about National Cask Ales Week. It didn't involve all cask pubs as it was driven by Cask Marque; not all pubs think cold cask beer is the way to go. The marketing gets lost in its own hyperbole (if, as they say, 65% of adults haven't tried cask ale, how can it be our 'national drink'?). And as for the Saturday's world record attempt for the largest number of people giving a toast.... ".. participants don’t have to raise a glass of cask beer but can use any drink, although cask is preferable". WTF?

So I wasn't particularly surprised to see a headline saying lager was a valid part of the week's proceedings. Budvar was being offered at the The Crooked Chimney in Lemsford as a way of 'encouraging lager drinkers to give something more like a real ale a try'. Still with me? It's gets even more mind-bending: up then pops Roger Protz to say, "Not many people realise that Budvar is actually the only craft lager approved by the Campaign For Real Ale", adding that Budvar is "the only lager that's not CAMRA shy!".

I'd noticed that quote cropping up in some more stories.... then realised all the pubs in question were in the Vintage Inn group and part of Protz's quote is featured on their website.

So, let's not worry too much about all those English cask lagers, eh? Or even consider that fine Derbyshire keg lager, Moravka. But anyway - if Rog says its OK to drink keg this week, I'll go with the (smooth)flow. On Wednesday night, then, I took an amble upriver from where I work into Derby to see what non-cask delights I could find.

First stop; the Brunswick Inn. Fourteeen cask beers, half from their on-site brewery, two of them (White Feather and Triple Hop) being two of my favourite beers. But, I had a mission so I was on the Budvar. And you know what? It looked good - even the tap looked good. Clear and sparkly. Tasted refreshing. There I was, in a suit and tie, drinking lager. With out-of-towner cask-ale-drinkers almost looking down their nose at me whilst exclaiming "... they brew *this* one at the end of the corridor, you know. It's lovely and malty!". How the other half drink, dear topers...

Next door to the Alex next where there's always a few continental keg offerings. Indeed, today there was a new addition and a Reluctant Scoop for me, Duvel Groen. Which was OK-ish; dry and spicy, slight creeping sweetness. But every mouthful reminded me of just how great 'full-fat' Duvel is on draft. And at 2.40 GBP a half, I wasn't rushing back to buy another.

Ever onward upriver to the Smithfield. Now, my knowledge of keg beer here is akin to a pair of bridesmaid's knickers - scanty. And so was the selection; Carling, Guinness, Strongbow.... with a fail whale making its way up the Derwent, I had to Reluctantly drink cask. Didn't want to. Vile, living, yeast-ridden stuff. So, with a heavy heart I suffered a pint of Whim Hartington IPA. Every mouthful tasted like the last leper from hell was shitting into my mouth. Obviously.

(for the benefit of my humour-challenged readers who send me incomprehensible post comments, the above paragraph is an example of irony. Have you got your favourite crayon handy? Let's write it together - i-ron-y. Well done!)

Last stop, Royal Standard. Renowned for its generally overpriced continental keg offerings, I plumped for a glass of Schneider Weiss and took to the deserted roof terrace. With the sun slumping over the river and nascent leaves waving in the evening breeze, I sat and slurped the Schneider. And it was damn fine. Refreshing, sippable, mild spices and easy esters. I actually enjoyed it more than nearly all of the usual Derby Brewing cask fayre also on offer.

You know what? I really enjoyed that evening. Yet at the same time there was a tinge of sadness. Where's the quality keg beer brewed in the UK? Apart from Taddington's Moravka, where's the tasty UK keg lager? Where's the experimentation by major micros or regionals? Are they afraid of being accused of selling out? I know CAMRA will gripe about keg... but the queues at the foreign draft bars at the likes of Reading and GBBF tell their own (profitable) tale.

Ask if it's cask? Fair enough, but kegs don't always contain dregs...


Coffee, chocolate and beer #5; altogether now

Now then. I like coffee flavours in beer. But I also like coffee flavours in chocolate. Which one is better? There's only one non-Harry-Hill way to find out: drink 'em, eat'em, blog 'em.

Let's start with the Brewdog Coffee Imperial Stout. It pours an opaque brown washing away to black edges. A flicked wrist offers a light roast coffee/hazelnut puree aroma. So far, so promising. So, a sip: bitterness. Burnt coffee grounds. Harsh. Dry. Some longer gulps knocked the rougher edges off but there was still a resinous, off-puttingly hoppy lick to it. Even the scorched coffee got lost towards the end.

Perhaps some chocolate can redress the balance. Lindt Coffee is billed as dark but actually smells and feels milkier. Digging around showed that it was 47% chocolate, so it was actually more towards the milk end of the spectrum after all. A first nibble gave an understated coffee flavour with a grainy feel, offering just enough resistance against the tongue. Paired with the Brewdog, the beer does taste better, that slight chocolate sweetness taking the edge off the hops and letting the beer drop a gear to achieve a frothy quality.

Shit or bust time. Perhaps a hardcore chocolate can save the day. And in my collection, there was none more hardcore than Hotel Chocolat's The Purist - 100% Ecuadorian cocoa. No shine to the bar, an almost dusty aroma, rolling the first sliver around the mouth you feel pure cocoa powdering around. The first bite brings bitterness but also a surprising cream note with dusty intensity breaking in waves. Alongside the Brewdog, the beer is elevated into a different league. Coffee now climbs out of the glass, jolting into the chocolate palate in a reverse mocha moment.

Only one way to go now - Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast. I love this beer; it appears three time on my unwritten list of 'beer experiences yet to enjoy' (namely; drink more than one bottle of it to myself in a sitting, drink a bottle of it for breakfast, drink any of the Beer Geek Brunch varieties). It's so soft, the oatmeal in it working wonders to round out the body and carry the light cofee and creamy chocolate flavours. Such a stunning chocolate nose, too. It's a very easy going beer, no overloading on the palate, just enough consistant carbonation tp keep pushing out the flavours.

Alongside the Lindt bar it's... not much different. But dip some of The Purist in and you're mainlining cocoa. It's smothering your nose, dusty chocolate coats your palate, washy coffee intensifies the flavour. It's almost too flucking much. And hurrah for that - great beer and great chocolate desrves to take your taste buds to the edge and back again. A hyperreal combination.

Mucho kudos to Craig Garvie for the Brewdog Coffee Imperial Stout and to for the Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast.


Summer scooping schedule

When a toper is tired of Reluctant Scooping, he is tired of life. But I want to remix the soundtrack this summer - here's ten things I want to do beer-wise. If anyone can help me out with them, let me know.

Brew again - only this time, I'll do more cleaning and shovelling. Any microbrewers fancy a spare pair of hands for the day?

On the road - I want to be a drayman's mate, get a feel (literally) for lugging barrels around. If it's a beer I've helped to brew, even better.

Be a barman - I've never pulled a pint. What's life like on the business side of the bar? Even better if I'm pulling pints of a beer I've had a hand in brewing and delivering.... can you see the connection?

Understand cider and perry - perhaps one for the autumn but I'd love to spend some time with a cidermaker. And Mrs Reluctant, being a perry-head, would like a look-in, too.

Work at GBBF; never worked a CAMRA fest before, never been to GBBF before so there's two birds with one stone. Anyone have advice to offer a newbie on what GBBF is really like on both sides of the bar?

Have a weekend in London; Southwark pubs and Utobeer, Sam Smiths architectural gems, meet up with Bloggers and Twitterers and Ratebeerians. All without having to stagger back to St Pancreatic and plead with East Midlands Trains to let me go home, even though my cheapo pre-booked train left two hours before.

Take a European beer trip that isn't to Belgium; I love the place but I'd like to try something different. Germany? Austria? Italy sounds like it has a thriving beer scene. Any other suggestions?

Trade beers with the United States; I haven't yet dipped my toe into the water of transatlantic beer trading. If anyone has experience of this - either via a site like or off their own bat - I'd like to know. If you're Stateside and fancy trading, really do let me know!

Go fishing; no matter what fish, as long as the sun's on my back and the beers are in the cool box. To get a few people together who are keen and knowledgable about beer and fish but don't bore on about either for an afternoon. Eating beer-battered fish that evening would be a bonus.

Have a relaxing European Summer Gathering; they'll be tons of ratebeerians, pubs, brewery visits, odd bottles... I want to meet old friends and make new ones, share local and rare beers, but not feel like it's a mental-merry-go-round. Chill in Sheffield with some hoppy summer beer and a few cupcakes.

Sheezh, looks like a busy summer. But OMGWTFBBQ it should be fun.