Brews by Country

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Old Tongham Tasty (6%) - Hogs Back Brewery, Surrey, England

Having tried a Hogs Back beer that I don't remember making a lasting impression on me I thought twice before picking this one up, but I knew I'd made the right decision seconds after pouring it from the bottle. Old Tongham Tasty has been brewed since shortly after the brewery was founded in 1992, and the brewers describe the flavour of this strong, dark ale as 'a festival of fun on your tongue' on the front and 'a festival of different tastes on the tongue' on the back. They're bold statements to make on the bottle, and not ones I could ignore easily. These, along with the delightful purple and green label were enough to prompt me to slip one into my shopping basket. Would it live up to expectations? 

Where colour was concerned, I had no expectations. Described as a 'dark ale' it could have been dark amber, ruby or brown, but instead it pours a colour so dark it looks like it could distort the space around it, pulling surrounding objects in at the speed of light before swallowing them up with a gurgling sound. The only colour barely visible is around the very edges of the glass where it just about manages to glow a deep red if you shine a bright light at it, but this could just be a result of the light waves approaching the liquid becoming longer as the darkness forces time to slow down. As for the head, the coffee-coloured foam rises about half a finger before fizzling down swiftly.

I didn't find the aroma all that pungent, but it's interesting: you can make out some dark chocolate, rum and raisin, port and plums. It's a bit like a fruit and nut chocolate bar on the nose.

The flavour, though, is where it really starts happening. It's malts galore: toasted nuts, dark chocolate, licorice, coffee and treacle, with a charred and bitter aftertaste. The maltiness is unsurprising given the four different malts used, of pale, crystal, chocolate and wheat varieties, all bringing their own unique character and sensation up and down the tongue. It's a deep, rich and bitter flavour that doesn't budge for a good while, and the rich flavours are complemented by some herbal notes from the Fuggles hops that are added at several stages of the process, bringing with them a lot of depth. As this one lingers on the tongue, all these flavours repeat themselves on some kind of tasty loop in various combinations as you breathe out, adding yet another dimension.

Surrey within England
The thick mouthfeel suits the flavour wonderfully, and has just the right amount of carbonation to offset it, along with a medium-dry finish.

It turns out Hogs Back really aren't being OTT when they refer to this as 'a festival of different tastes on the tongue'. It's deep, bold and complex yet not overpowering, and includes some lighter flavours in there too. In fact, there's so much going on that you can't even taste the 6% alcohol, making it surprisingly drinkable. Old Tongham Tasty is a festival of fun I'll happily come back to this winter.

Beer Belly's rating:
Appearance 4/5
Aroma 3/5
Flavour 4/5
Mouthfeel 5/5
Total 8/10

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Late Red (4.5%) - Shepherd Neame Brewery, Kent, England

We're about to leave the autumn months behind so I had to grab this one while it was still on the shelves. Late Red from "Britain's oldest brewer", Shepherd Neame in Faversham, Kent, is a seasonal autumn ale available from September to November. Full of auburn and copper colours on the label, it pictures hops dangling in the late autumn sunset, hinting at what flavours might lie inside.

The clear, characteristically Shepherd Neame-shaped bottle allows a good view of the wonderfully deep amber-ruby liquid inside, although we all know what that could mean: light strike.

It looks just as good in the glass, although the fizzy, off-white head doesn't amount to much and quickly fizzles into nothing.

Nosing about for some aroma, I pick up on berries, something roasted and a hint of toffee along with some hoppy citrus and a slightly herbal aroma from the Cascade and local East Kent Goldings hops, although the aromas are faint and hard to pin down.

Kent within England
Once I dive in the flavours become clearer, with a bittersweet mouthful of sweet toasted malts swishing around with herbal, floral and peppery flavours finishing with a dry and bitter aftertaste. Although complex in nature, I can't help feeling the flavours are a bit too diluted and accompanied by an unpleasant taste of soap (and that's not my fault - I gave the glass a good rinsing).

Late Red started off promising but the more it warmed up, the less I got on with it. Instead of bringing out the character, which is what a warmer temperature should do, it made me wonder if among those crisp autumn leaves a few had been blown out of a gutter.

The crisp, toasted, floral nature of Late Red makes it impressively fitting for this time of year, but if I pick one up again it will have to be chilled enough to mask some of the less welcome flavours.
Beer Belly's rating:
Appearance 3/5
Aroma 3/5
Flavour 2/5
Mouthfeel 2/5
Total 5/10

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Hobgoblin (5.2%) - Wychwood Brewery, Oxfordshire, England (Hallowe'en Edition)

With Halloween only a matter of days ago how could I opt for any beer other than the one that labels itself the "unofficial beer of Halloween"? In fact, the new orange label on the Hobgoblin I picked up at the supermarket convinced me I'd found a seasonal brew from Wychwood that I hadn't laid hands on before. Only when I got round to tasting it did I realise that I'd sampled many of these crafty goblins before, under their usual guise of a dark blue label. Would this be a trick or a treat?

Hobgoblin pours a mystical, dark ruby red, a frothy head bubbling up to the brim of the glass before calming down slowly, leaving no trace around the edges. A mischievous brew indeed.

I picked up some chocolate malt as well as rum and raisin from the faint aroma that lurked in the glass. I got no trace of hops from the aroma in the Halloween version, although its regular counterpart gave me the faintest hint of citrus. Probably for no reason other than that I'd not long released the Halloween bottle from the fridge.

Oxfordshire within England

The flavour is complex yet balanced, rich yet refreshing: dark berries, toasted nuts, burnt toffee and a hint of dark chocolate were complemented by herbal and peppery notes which lingered on. This, coupled with the smooth texture and medium dry finish, paves the way for a very moreish brew.

At the stronger end of the scale with 5.2%, there's still, amazingly, barely any trace of an alcoholic flavour. This makes it a cheeky session beer that you'll happily stick with all night, even if that night ends sooner than you expected! 

Beer Belly's rating:
Appearance 4/5
Aroma 3/5
Flavour 4/5
Mouthfeel 4/5
Total 7.5/10

Have you dared try the Hobgoblin from Wychwood Brewery? What do you think? Leave your comments and rating below!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Boondoggle (5%) - Ringwood Brewery, Hampshire, England

"Down here in the New Forest," it says on the back of the label, "we call carefree, lazy days, 'Boondoggle days'". This beer from Ringwood brewery, situated just outside the New Forest in Hampshire has been conceived as just the excuse you need for a pint on those lazy, summer days (if an excuse is really what you needed). The free-living wild boar pictured chilling out on the bottle's golden-yellow label says it all.

Described as a blonde ale on the label, Boondoggle is probably darker than you'd expect. The colour of the label implies it will be a pilsneresque sparkly gold, but in reality what pours out is the kind of amber you're used to seeing from, well, an amber ale. The head is bright white, a little on the thin side and doesn't take long to disperse into a patchy layer with islands of small bubbles.

When I popped off the cap I was struck by the yeasty, bready aroma but once the first waft was out of the way mainly delicate hoppy, floral and herbal notes remained thanks to the First Gold and Fuggles hops. A combination of the yeast and citrus fruits with hints of marmalade remind me of a lemon drizzle cake; a combination I'm happy to try by all means.

Hampshire within England
Take a swig and you're presented with a thick and chewy liquid, smooth all but for the spicy tingling sensation on the back of the tongue which leaves a mildly dry finish, creating a moreish texture overall. The fruity flavour alternates nicely between sweet malts and bitter citrus, the bitter aftertaste becoming sweet and nutty when you exhale. It's interesting yet easy-going and certainly a fine candidate for a lazy summer session. Act with caution on a particularly warm day though, as the 5% ABV will make its presence felt!

Beer Belly's Rating:
Appearance 4/5
Aroma 3/5
Mouthfeel 4/5
Flavour 4/5
Total 7.5/10 

Have you tried Boondoggle from Ringwood Brewery? What do you think? Leave your comments and rating below!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Fursty Ferret (4.4%) - Badger Brewery, Dorset, England

Fursty Ferret from Badger, originally the product of the Gribble Inn in West Sussex, was the most popular beer at its original brew-pub and has been in the hands of Badger since 1991. The label tells a playful story of "inquisitive ferrets sneaking to the back door to sneekily sample the local brew", depicting the scene on the front of the bottle. Stories aside, the back of the label also includes some helpful information on what flavours to expect, as well as a suggested food pairing of West Country cheddar or indulgent pork pies and mustard. That sounds like a winning combination to me, but I'll reserve judgement until I've tasted what's in the bottle.

Fursty Ferret looks enticing on the shelves as Badger has taken the strange decision to use clear bottles. Allowing light to infiltrate the bottle will almost certainly put the beer at a high risk of developing a skunky odour, but who can resist when the light shining through makes the seductive golden amber liquid sitting behind the label lined with bits of shiny, reflective gold foil look so bright and sparkly? If not the colour, then the tactile bottle embossed with little leaves blowing in the wind will be enough to charm you into putting it in your basket.

The beer looks equally as appetising when you crack off the cap and pour it into your glass. A foamy, bubbly head gradually fades to a thin, patchy layer with a fair amount sticking to the glass on the way down.

You get a clue as to what Fursty's aroma is going to be like as soon as you release the cap, with a waft of it leaking out as soon as it gets the chance. There's nothing subtle about its aroma when you move in closer, with a sweet bread and honey aroma combined with a lightly spiced, mildly bitter citrus nose, along with a faint cooked vegetal smell of cabbage and celery which comes out the more you sniff around for it. Could these be the signs of a lightstruck brew? There's also a slightly spirity, alcoholic smell that reveals itself gradually. I don't find the aroma overly appetising, but its unique qualities pique my curiosity to find out more, and suddenly I feel like an inquisitive ferret peering into a barrel.

Dorset within England
Sometimes the taste of a strong-scented beer can be an anticlimax when it turns out not to be anywhere near as flavourful as you were led to believe, but Fursty Ferret packs as much of a punch in the taste as the smell. The rich maltiness is even more pronounced in the taste, leaving a sweet, bready aftertaste with hints of honey and burnt toffee which linger for a long while afterwards, coming back at you over and over again when you exhale. It attempts some balance with a mild peppery bitterness, but remains powerfully sweet and malty on the whole and hops are hardly anywhere to be found. 

It claims to be FURST quenching, but I don't find it refreshing or balanced enough to be able to achieve that. Its mildly carbonated, smooth, medium body does make it easy to get down, but I can't imagine the overpoweringly sweet flavours doing much to quench my thirst, although it does leave you with a pleasant warming sensation. It's certainly different and interesting, and not a passive beer that leaves you to make all the effort. This will definitely be one for you if you're crazy about malty flavours, and worth a try for the experience, but I wouldn't recommend it as a thirst quencher and think the suggested cheddar and pork pie accompaniment would be more than even the most self-indulgent ferret could handle.

Beer Belly's rating:
Appearance 3/5
Aroma 1/5
Flavour 2/5
Mouthfeel 4/5
Total 5/10

What do you think of Fursty Ferret from Badger Brewery? Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments and rating below!