Brews by Country

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Brewhive Range - Edinburgh, Scotland

After a fairly lengthy hiatus (in writing, that is; not beering) which had been causing people to lose sleep throughout the beerosphere, I'm back with a review of a different sort (sighs of relief all round). As it happens, I have a very good reason for this hiatus which I'll go into in agonising detail in a future post, but for now, on with our selection for today...

On a balmy August morning I was fortunate enough to have a fairly weighty package turn up on my doorstep courtesy of Brewhive, a newly launched, online-only beer distributor based in Edinburgh, Scotland. "Hop inside!" it instructed me to do on the lid, and I hopped my way into the box like an excitable bunny opening a box of pellets. Hop pellets.

After releasing the beers from their hive (well, five beers and a cider, I was surprised to see) it soon becomes clear that Brewhive have taken a more utilitarian than decorative approach, their labels reserving more space for ingredients and tasting notes than imagery for imagery's sake. Pushing to highlight the beer's characteristics on the front of the label in this way, it seems as if someone with an OCD at Brewhive HQ might be trying a bit too hard make this an educational experience which the drinker will either appreciate or find a tad excessive.  

Saying that, it's clear from their website that their aim is to appeal to fine diners and wine drinkers, showing them that beer in all its varieties has at least as much to offer in the way of complexity as wine, a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. It does raise the question, though, of whether the brews themselves live up to the description they're given (and before we get there, I have to warn you of a highly questionable choice of glassware which was sadly unavoidable at the time).

The role of Blonde Brew is filled by the German Magnum Lager (4%), "magnum" having nothing to do with a frozen treat on a stick nor a firearm, but referring to the hop used which is known for the floral and fruity characteristics it normally imparts. The label describes its bittering qualities as subtle, a monumental understatement in this case, with a chronic lack of depth and not to mention a level of carbonation unthinkably low for a lager. With the lager style being the most popular globally and being in the grip of the big corporate giants, any small-batch interpretation needs something to set itself apart and differentiate itself from the cheap and cheerful, mainstream, mass produced stuff so accessible to us all, and if Blonde Brew manages to pull that off then I'm afraid it does so for entirely the wrong reasons. 

How does the Pale Brew fare? English Endeavour I.P.A. (4%) is an easy going IPA with a bitter citrus aftertaste and hints of lime and grapefruit as promised from the Endeavour hops. This bottle was fairly low on the carbonation too, but for a top-fermented brew I can forgive that. Don't go expecting the brash, in-your-face flavours of an American IPA; this is its low-key, understated, slightly annoyingly over-polite English cousin: a fresh, sessionable sipper for a hot summer's day. With current trends going in favour of much bolder flavoured IPA's, it seems that Brewhive are making a dogged attempt at reclaiming the title for their mission of "teasing the taste buds rather than annihilating them". But is it the job of the 21st century India Pale Ale to tease the taste buds? I dare say it's not. 

Seemingly hoping to leave no taste uncatered for, Brewhive have thrown its Apple Irish Cider (5%) into the mix. Cider, for anyone not sure about this, is not beer. I haven't drunk cider out of choice since my palate matured past the awkward beer-averse phase most of us go through in our teen years, but I'll never shy away from one if the circumstances call for it. With a lovely pinkish colour, it's attractive in the glass. It has a good level of carbonation with a sweet flavour and dry mouthfeel, without the stale, farmy aftertaste you get from some ciders. I don't know if it says more about the Cider Brew or the previous two beers, but this came out easily as my favourite so far.

Not for long, though. The Dark Brew, Chocolate Malt Porter (4.1%) is described in words that always send my taste buds into a salivating frenzy. Bitter roasted malts come through in abundance, along with chocolate, coffee and treacle flavours, some of which aren't mentioned on the label, but all of which are welcome components in anything with the words chocolate, malt or porter. Liquorice was faintly present; vanilla I can't say I picked up on, not that it matters unless that was something on the label that got you particularly excited. Either way, its rich flavours wash over the tongue in a gloriously smooth and full bodied liquid, ending with a medium dry finish.
The back of the label recommends trying this out with cheddar, and with a block in my fridge ready to roar I’d be foolish to let such an opportunity pass me by, let alone to see this bottle’s lifespan end without having been given the chance to dance around my mouth in harmony with one of its closest friends. The saltiness of the cheddar balances the bitterness of the roasted malts to enhance Dark Brew's chocolatey qualities as well as the creaminess of the cheese. The Dark Brew's mellow character makes it very quaffable and ideal for a nice indulgent treat, whether amped up with a block of cheddar or not.

Overall, while I'm grateful to Brewhive for introducing me to their range, I would suggest their beers belong less alongside wine drinkers and their dinner and more in gift selection boxes. Although the brewers seem to have made the conscious effort to go for subtle flavours, in doing so they're hardly fulfilling the aim of showcasing the complexities that hops and malts have to offer, and in my view are needlessly worried about overpowering accompanying dishes. Not only can rich, powerfully hopped beers be matched with food superbly, but let's face it, there'll be more chance of punters quietly knocking these back with a bowl of cheesy puffs than a plate of seared scallops.

You'll find more information on Brewhive's beers (and cider) at 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Crafty Dan 13 Guns American IPA (5.5%) - Thwaites Brewery, Lancashire, England

Barely a week has passed since my craft-beer-in-a-cannie virginity was taken and I can't help but go back for more, this time from another English brewery that's embraced the craft beer drinking community's new-found appreciation for cans, a brewery that's not only remained a family brewery for two hundred years, but has caught up with recent craft beer trends with astonishing nimbleness, whilst at the same time retaining its heritage with its core range of classic, traditional ales. It's managed this by opening a craft microbrewery in 2011, giving rise to its Crafty Dan range, one beer from which I took a particularly close look at.
Lancashire within England

The refined looking can design pictures a cannon with six cannonballs, perhaps representing each blast you can expect from the whopping six hops used. With a new trend for extravagant artwork taking hold, I like to think of Thwaites' more understated approach as a statement of another kind, a sophisticated bucking of the trend.

The beer pours a gorgeous dark amber with an off-white head that settles to a perfectly compact, puffy cushion.

The intense hit of hops promised on the can is delivered as soon as your nose swoops in, with resinous pine and tropical mango aromas presenting an unmistakable New World character.

One swig brings another big wash of juicy pine and mango flavours, joined by some citrusy lemon and lime notes, as well as grapefruit to add some bitterness, balanced by an undercurrent of caramel biscuit sweetness. The contrasting qualities of six intense hops with four kinds of malt make for a rich and complex flavour that at the same time remains astonishingly balanced and highly quaffable.

Full-bodied and well-rounded with a medium-dry finish, 13 Guns is fresh, intense, fruity and clean. At the same time it delivers on big New World flavours but opts for sophistication over brashness, being in-your-face yet staying effortlessly classy, keeping the measured character of a beer whose recipe tastes like it's been devised with extreme precision. Crafty Dan has proven to be one masterful son of a gun.

Appearance: 5/5
Aroma: 4.5/5
Flavour: 5/5
Mouthfeel: 4/5
Overall rating: 9/10

Thwaites Brewery
Twitter: @Daniel_Thwaites
Facebook: CraftyDanMicro

Cwtch (4.6%) - Tiny Rebel Brewing Co, Newport, Wales

Tiny Rebel, founded in 2012, is among the newer breweries that have shown their gusto for the recent craft beer revolution by sporting outlandish and original label designs like the dark-humoured, psychedelic one on Cwtch (which is pronounced /kʊtʃ/ and is a Welsh word that means "cuddle", something the neglected teddy bear that seems to have lost his way in life pictured on the bottle is in severe need of).

Described as a "Welsh red ale" on the bottle, Cwtch pours more of a brown-amber colour, but held up to the light it can be seen glowing in all its ruby-red glory. A small, off-white head fizzles gently until it settles to a thin layer, but grows a good finger-width high once the glass is swirled around in preparation for some whiffing action.

The aroma is a pungent one packed full of bold New World hops, with citrusy and tropical characteristics of pine and mango. If you sniff around for long enough, which I tend to do to my beers like a deranged dog hoping to find one last treat, some crystal malts start to ooze through as well.
Monmouthshire within Wales

The juicy pine and mango hop flavours are just as bold on the tongue, met with an equally bold caramel malt backing, both working together like two different coloured cans of spray paint let loose to create a harmonious work of art on an unsuspecting urban wall. 

Despite the flavour frenzy that takes place in your mouth, Cwtch manages to stay extremely drinkable, dare I say moreish, with a thick, juicy mouthfeel leading to a long, dry finish tipping in favour of bitterness and an aftertaste just a fraction too stale for my palate. This is a rebellious brew indeed, reminiscent of an IPA but calling itself a WRA (Welsh red ale) and gives a whole new, even more exciting meaning to the sentence "Gimme a cwtch". 

Iechyd da!*

Appearance 3.5/5
Aroma 4.5/5
Flavour 4/5
Mouthfeel 3.5/5
Overall 7.5/10


Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Sierra Nevada Porter (5.6%) - Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., California, USA

I don't think there's any style of beer I don't like (although I may eat my words when I get round to reviewing the lambic that's been lurking in my beer crate for almost a year) but even though I see no reason why all beer styles can't be enjoyed all year round, I do tend to seek out light, refreshing beers in the summer and leave darker, more wholesome beers to the colder months (which represents about 90% of the British year), leaving porters and stouts to the very darkest depths of winter. So what to do when it's pushing 30 degrees and a box of lovingly pre-selected beers lands on your doorstep containing a porter? Well, just get on with it, of course.

It's worth pointing out first of all to any UK-based readers that Sierra Nevada Brewing Company has been part of the craft beer revolution since 1980. No newcomers are these, then, but veterans that have been bucking the trend long before the UK jumped on the beery bandwagon, and what better brewery to choose for this blog's first American beer review!

The label has the classic-looking design of a beverage you might have found in a Wild Western saloon and the bottle itself is the iconic shape unique to Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. As probably the sexiest kind of beer in terms of appearance, there's a certain level of expectation I'm sure everyone has when pouring a porter. Sierra Nevada Porter pours a deep, rich colour that allows only a ruby-treacle light to glow through faintly, crowned by a thick, fluffy off-white head that leaves behind some spectacular lacing.

Sticking your nose into the glass brings rich roasted malt aromas with hints of coffee, with an added freshness from the whole-cone hops. Somehow a creaminess can be picked up through the nose alone, that almost gives the sensation of smelling a milky coffee.

The roasted qualities picked up on the nose are back in full force on the tongue, along with a bitter chocolatey, bittersweet, burnt toffee flavour. There are hints of berries in there too, as well as a unique juicy resinous quality that I'm not used to getting from a porter but that rounds the flavour off marvellously. 

Medium-bodied and creamy but with a dry, crisp finish, this porter has a drinkability that can even be enjoyed at the height of an English summer, and its perfectly balanced flavour and remarkably fresh, hoppy finish will undoubtedly make this a winner for porter fans. Anyone on the garden fence about porters so far, prepare to be shoved off it!

Appearance 5/5
Aroma 3/5
Flavour 4.5/5
Mouthfeel 4/5
Overall 8/10

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Session IPA (4.2%) - Fourpure Brewing Co, London, England

One of the best things about being known within your circle of friends and family as a beer obsessive is that people know exactly what to get you for your birthday. Being presented with a large crate of previously unencountered small-batch craft beers does have its problems, though, such as demanding masses of self-restraint. Still, a year older and wiser, I should be able to pace myself sensibly. We'll see how that goes.

London within England

This entry marks the first time I've sampled a small-batch beer out of a can. There's a certain buzz around cans at the moment, widely being trumpeted as having benefits of keeping the beer fresh, fully protecting it against air and light and locking in the flavours of all the lovingly added hops. I've always had more of an appreciation for the bottle-conditioned stuff myself, but I'm up for trying new things and what better brewery to lose my craft beer cannie virginity to than the UK's first brewery to can all their beers from the start?

The can itself has a faint backdrop of the New York skyline, where this particular brew was inspired from. The sides of the can are lined with a malted barley pattern, like some kind of grainy skyscraper.

Session IPA pours a murky golden-amber colour, giving it the appearance of a soup you just want to slurp up. It has a small, bubbling head that leaves a clean glass (a tulip glass, as suggested by them) on its way down.

The aroma is of a wonderful smooth, floral nature with notes of lychee, becoming more pronounced as the beer warms up, which it's well worth giving it the chance to do.

More of those lychee flavours come through in the flavour with a zesty tangerine citrus note to add some bitterness. The big hop flavours complement each other nicely, creating a complex but harmonious character.

With a relatively smooth mouthfeel as you enjoy the fruity lychee qualities, this medium-bodied beer in contrast has a very dry finish which is well suited to it as an IPA, making it crisp and refreshing over all. Extremely quaffable and at 4.2% ABV, Session IPA does a fine job of fulfilling its purpose as an easy-drinking sessionable IPA (and craft-beer-in-a-can virginity taker).

Appearance 3.5/5
Aroma 3.5/5
Flavour 4.5/5
Mouthfeel 4/5
Overall rating 8/10

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Frigate Golden Bitter (3.8%) - Irving & Co. Brewers Ltd., Hampshire, England

Somewhere above the overcast skies of my little corner of England summer is upon us and yet I still have obscene numbers of beers left that were given to me for Christmas. Determined to get through them before they reach their best-by date, I valiantly plough through...

Today's offering is from the English coastal city of Portsmouth, Hampshire, and as part of a gift set, ironically bought a short journey away in France (made by eurotunnel on this occasion, not frigate) it came in a weeny 275ml bottle, which I assume (and hope) isn't the norm for this brewery, but for the purposes of a gift set I totally understand the choice of sample size, if it was their choice at all.

The label shows an enormous warship with the backdrop of Portsmouth's iconic Spinnaker tower, seagulls flying overhead in a hazy golden sunset, hinting at the colour of the beer inside. The back of the label suggests being careful to leave the sediment inside the bottle as you pour, but no amount of caution seems to prevent its hazy appearance and anyway, why would you want to? The sediment was kind enough to keep the golden liquid alive in the bottle, the least we can do is let it join the party.

Hampshire within England
The aroma is of a sweet citrusy nature, evoking sweet tangerine segments with some faint honey notes, with only the slightest hint of a grapefruit bitterness that provides a gentle contrast.

Pale and crystal malts battle their way to the frontline of your palate, firing sweet biscuit notes and toasted flavours in every direction to achieve overall dominance. Contrary to its description as a bitter, the surviving hops bring mainly the sweet character of candied citrus fruits, complementing rather than counteracting the malts. Once everything's settled down, some fresh herbal, almost minty notes bring some balance, ending with a black tea note that brings a dry finish to an otherwise smooth mouthfeel.

For a 3.8% beer, Frigate delivers an impressive level of complexity with its interesting combination of Sovereign and Boadicea hops, and a frigate-load of flavour even if it's short-lived from a cruelly small 275ml bottle.

Appearance 4/5
Aroma 4/5
Flavour 4/5
Mouthfeel 3/5
Overall rating 7.5/10

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

N’Ice Chouffe (10%) - Brasserie d’Achouffe, Luxembourg Province, Belgium

With the spring months well under way here in Blighty, it seems distateful, nay, downright perverse to post a detailed description of my experience with a Christmas beer. But experiences are to be shared, and share this I will.

The label shows a wintry scene with two of the brewery's trademark gnomes warming up by a camp fire outside in the snow, carrying hops and barley. They seem ready to sling the hops and barley into the fire: arguably not the best use for two key ingredients to the best beverage in the world, but I suppose even Chouffe gnomes will do what they can to stay warm. Then again, they could equally be fighting to rescue the grain and hop plants from the flames. Yes, valiant gnomes, we'll stick with that version of events.

N'Ice Chouffe pours pitch black, allowing some shades of deep ruby red to glow through when up against the light. The brewery's own curvaceous and reflective tulip glass does the beer's appearance full justice, showing off the lively carbonation that rises quickly from the bulbous black body to form the superb, bubbling off-white head that pushes up past the base of the lip.

The glass trapping the aroma magnificently, at first whiff my impression is that it smells unmistakeably Belgian with herbal clove aromas coming through. A rich chocolate and crystal malt backing brings out a toffee tinge alongside some forest fruits.

Things intensify by the camp fire with a super rich flavour of sweet brown "candi" sugar and lots of grassy, herbal notes all coming at you at once. The carbonation helps to cut through the intense sweetness, but for me doesn't go far enough to stop it from being too cloying. Finally, a big alcoholic burn reminds you what happens when a gnome gets his beard too close to a camp fire.

As a seasonal brew, N'Ice Chouffe leaves no doubt that it was conceived as a winter warmer (despite the reference to "ice" in the name). However, with such a burny and intense character it doesn't sit so N'Icely on the palate.

Appearance 4/5
Aroma 3.5/5
Flavour 3/5
Mouthfeel 2/5

Overall rating 6.5/10

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Page 24 Bière de Noël (6.9%) - Brasserie St. Germain, Nord-Pas-de Calais region, France

A few weeks into the New Year and still a few Christmas brews left, I'm faced with the choice of ploughing through them before the winter months are up or putting them aside for next year. Of course, I opt for the former.

Page 24 Bière de Noël pours a dark chestnut colour with bubbles rising lazily to a surface topped with a modest off-white head.

My first aromatic experience was an alarming but undeniable whiff of soy sauce through the bottle neck. Double-taking to make sure I hadn't picked up the wrong bottle and going in for more, I was delightfully confused to be getting more of the same.

The aromas are more complex once swished around the glass, sweet toffee and rich treacle dominating with notes of dark forest fruits. Although not as pungent the soy sauce remains present, but this time accompanied by tart apples and spirity, alcoholic notes that were slightly overbearing even for 6.9% ABV.

Not feeling optimistic at this point, I go in for the kill. I'm happy to get more dark forest fruits with bags of chocolate and caramel malt, this time with a lingering and persistent butterscotch after taste, which might be enjoyable if I could be certain it was supposed to be there and not the unintended consequence of diacetyl.

The texture is smooth with the addition of a slight malty graininess, developing into a sticky, cloying warmth.

With plenty going on to pique my curiosity from start to finish, I left this beer with the overall impression that its many characteristics don't necessarily complement each other and frankly, aren't that enjoyable.

Its full-bodied richness, intensity and warmth are good qualities to have in a Christmas beer, but however chaleureuse it might be, whether it's conviviale I'm not so sure.

Appearance 3/5
Aroma 2/5
Flavour 2/5
Mouthfeel 3/5
Summary 5/10

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Gordon Xmas (8.8%) - John Martin Brewery, Brabant Province, Belgium

Since discovering how easily accessible continental Europe is by car early last year, it's been difficult to stay away, especially knowing there's a whole other world of beer just a few hours' drive away. Having the possibility of loading up the back of the car is an added bonus, but this inevitably leads to a beery backlog that takes time to clear. That's partly why two weeks into January I'm still drinking Christmas beers and will be for some time to come.

I was surprised to find out that this Belgian brewery was founded by an Englishman, John Martin (although the clue is in the name, you could say) and has remained a family-run business since 1909, now in the hands of grandson Anthony. Gordon Xmas was created in the 1930's as the very first purpose-brewed seasonal Christmas beer, starting what would become a beery tradition we should all be grateful for. To make things even more interesting, the Gordon range is named after an ancient Scottish clan, making this a Scottish-inspired, English-brewed, Belgium-based ale (which I purchased in France).

I picked up this festive-looking bottle in a Calais bottle shop and must confess that I'd hesitated at the sight of the label, which looks like a 1970's movie poster, but in the spirit of Christmas and because I had a few euros of pocket money left to spend, I scooped it into my basket anyway. 

The beer pours a lovely dark amber turning to a ruby red under certain light, with a tan head that holds its own.

As soon as the snowy cap comes off, a pungent, rich caramel aroma shoots out. More of the caramels are present once poured into the glass, with hints of candied fruit that create a flavour similar to a fruitcake, accompanied by a dusty, floral soapiness.

The intensity of flavour exceeds expectations, with sickly sweet caramel malt and sweet, candied fruits coating the palate, followed by the minutest hint of a nutty finish and a warming alcohol burn. 

The medium carbonation coupled with the intensity made it overwhelming to begin with, which I found eased the flatter it became (yes, that's how long I spent on it). Even so, with nothing to cut through the bold, malty flavours, it's slightly too cloying for my liking.

Gordon Xmas is full-bodied, intense, rich and indulgent making it a great choice at Christmas. However, being in need of some balance I would steer clear of rich and indulgent foods while you're supping it.

Appearance 4.5/5
Aroma 2.5/5
Flavour 3/5
Mouthfeel 2/5

Overall Rating 6/10

Brewery Information

Friday, 9 January 2015

Blessed Thistle (4.5%) - Cairngorm Brewery Company, Highland, Scotland

One of the biggest problems with being so strongly inclined to fill my suitcase as much as possible with bottles of beer when returning from a holiday is of course the measly baggage allowance that simply wasn't decided with me in mind. This normally leads to impulsive additions to my beerhaul once I've passed security at the airport terminal, regardless of the suddenly inflated costs. That's what happened when I connected at Glasgow on a flight from Stornoway to Heathrow - with little else to keep me busy there I had dangerous amounts of time to kill in the beer section of the tourist shop, and kill it I did.

One of the beers I subsequently adopted was Blessed Thistle from the Scottish Highlands. Not exactly local to Glasgow, but a beer that used Scotland's national emblem as an ingredient, one I'd never tasted nor seen being brewed with before, filled me with too much excitement to let it pass me by.

On a 500ml bottle (the size I like) the label displays the Cairngorm brewery with the backdrop of a deep red sunset. And, of course, an enormous thistle. 

As promised on the label, it pours a gorgeous reddish-brown (turning redder or browner depending on the light) and has a good head that holds on its way down, leaving some good lacing behind.

The aroma is of floral gums, that soapy tasting sweet we all remember and love, with a roasted, malty undercurrent. There's an extra herbal quality in there that I’d never smelt the likes of before in a beer: surely the thistle at play. Adding a herbal tea character, it's very pleasant and works so very well.

The flavour introduces roasted, biscuity and nutty flavours that linger on. At the same time refreshing fruity and floral notes wash over the malty base leaving a subtle floral gums after taste. As the herbal seasoning comes through, the hints of ginger mentioned on the label make themselves known.

It has a medium body and a fairly dry finish which works well with the roasted, nutty flavours.

Presenting me with something unlike anything I'd tasted before, I was more than pleasantly surprised by Blessed Thistle. Even at an inflated airport tourist shop price, its complex yet balanced, different and drinkable nature with bags of Scottish character made it worth every penny, living up to its description of a "unique thistle beer". Next time, I'm bringing a bigger holdall.
Appearance 5/5
Aroma 4.5/5
Flavour 4.5/5
Mouthfeel 3/5
Overall rating 8.5/10

Brewery information
Twitter: @cairngormbrew