Beers 52

Beer 52 is a monthly beer delivery service providing direct access to a preselected range of beer. I was kindly offered a trial "box of brew" by Brian, which I was happy to accept with the proviso I'd write as I found. The box arrived last week and here are my thoughts.
Its certainly well packaged with a double thickness cardboard box and plenty of polystyrene. It also comes with a stylish leaflet, which I'll return to later.
Unboxing the beers reveals a range of 8 beers, two from the company's native Scotland and six from further afield, with a duo from US brewery Point (brewed in the UK).

I was pleased to find a beer from Grain in the selection (which I've heard good things about from local Nate) and old favourites Oakham Citra and Top Out Staple.  It was decent, a sessionable lager like beer with some more fruity hop notes...a hybrid blonde beer if you will without the sweetness that usually accompanies these. 

Barney's Good Ordinary Pale does exactly what's expected of it, easy drinking, non-thinking bitter which is easy to finish.

There's even a brewery new to me - Church Farm. It certainly shows initial promise, with plenty of interest in the nose, bu falls flat in the taste department, not helped by the lack of carbonation...one to return to on cask perhaps.

Tickety Brew Dubbel tastes exactly as a dubbel should, with heavy sugars, fruity esters on the nose and plenty of stewed fruit and higher alcohols - exactly what I dislike about a dubbel, but if you do like dubbels then go for it!

I'm not sure why there are two from Point...they appear to feature fairly regularly in the boxes, which disappoints me as they are available in major supermarkets and from my past experience haven't been particularly flavourful (read: some were downright nasty). I was pleasantly surprised by the black ale which had the hallmarks of a decent dunkel (rather than the schwarzbeer aimed for) but the "Belgian Wit" despite looking the part tasted of raw grain steeping water and went down the sink.

Returning to the overall concept then I think it works well. There's tonnes of information on the leaflet, alongside  succinct tasting notes and the brewery ethos, there's suggested glassware, recipe and even IBU. Plenty of information for even your more avid beer geek. Well packaged and arriving quickly it certainly provides a good service - but is it good value for money? At £3 per bottle delivered its perhaps 30% more expensive than buying the equivalent bottles at your local bottleshop, but perhaps you wouldn't find all of them. I found it quite enjoyable ot knowing what would turn up at my door, but this may frustrate others.  
I certainly support their ambition to promote microbreweries What I did not enjoy was receiving mediocre beer but perhaps that's the luck of the draw. I would advise Brew52 to not feature Point brewing quite as regularly though. There's certainly plenty of more interesting beers listed on the website!

So its a service which should appeal to those new to beer and more seasoned alike. I've certainly found a few breweries that I'll be returning to. If anyone else fancies giving it a go then there's an offercode I've been given for £10 off a box. For £1.75 a bottle its surely worth a punt? Excellent value especially to Northern Ireland. Go to beer52.com and enter the following voucher code at the checkout stage. 
If you do try it out, please let me know how you find it. As for myself I may use the service every now and again if I fancy a surprise, but I think I still prefer being able to pick exactly what I'm going to get and filling up my box with 24 bottles to minimise postage cost per bottle.

Thanks to Brian and James for sending me this box to try. 


A decent Scottish lager?

There is a dearth of decent lagers in the UK, could probably count them on one hand. This applies even more so North of the border where (aside from one of my all time favourites, Harviestoun Schiehallion) there hasn't been anything worthy of note - until now that is.
But first a beer launch by a novel approach - a You Tube livecast. A chap called Fergus (the managing director of Inveralmond, the brewery in focus) introduces us to the concept "Inspiration" -  a series of beers showcasing the best styles the world has to offer, in respect of the greats if you like. Four have so far made it through the tasting stage and tonight sees the first of those released in bottle - Sunburst Bohemian Pilsner.

Involving all levels of brewery staff from Kirsty in marketing to John the van driver, nevertheless head brewer ken's fingerprints are also all over this, its his personal homage to the traditions of the Czechs. Ken's fascination with Czech language (and more lately beer) came about when his mum convinced him to sing in a production of the Bartered Bride - learning to sing Czech about bears and beers. "Strangely enough years later this is revisited...without the bears!" Ken has visited the Czech Republic in the years since, drinking Světlý Ležák in the Golden Tiger (U zlateho tygra) in Prague and the Old Brewery (Na Spilce) in Plzen.

I first met Ken at the beer blogger's conference in Edinburgh last July and he certainly knows his stuff, which came across very well during the launch. He also knows how to spin a great yarn and enjoyed many a beer with him over the course of the weekend. These stories certainly help to build a back story for the beers which all too many breweries seem to lack.

Its an all malt beer, so it needs " a reasonable amount of bitterness to balance the sweetness" (25 IBU fact fans) and a hop aroma "like the atmosphere after a thunderstorm...lightning creates ozone and its that freshness you get from this beer's aroma. Its beautiful on the nose, soft maltiness down the throat with a gentle soft lingering finish that wants you to take another sip. An absolutely perfect balance of sweetness with bitterness". Its crisp and clean on the palate due to its 10 day fermentation with Břevnovský Pivovaryeast and 8 weeks (56 days) lagering at -1°C.

 Fergus recommends oversized glasswear to allow a decent foam "I like a big head without getting my feet wet". Its about maintaining presentation and having respect for the beer. That foam also helps capture the essence of those lovely floral Saaz and Hallertauer Hersbrucker hops.  Those flavours would work well with whitefish or salmon, or perhaps as Ken recommends with a salad of fresh finely sliced courgette with plenty of lemon juice and pepper.

So, enough about the genesis, how does it taste? Clean sweet malt and fresh herbal nose gives way to medium bodied floral nettle bitterness well balanced by the malt with a dry snap in the finish inviting another gulp. A 330 ml bottle certainly wasn't enough, I'd have cracked open the second if I'd chilled it. Instead I have a bottle for another day when I may do a taste test vs Pilsner Urquell, Budvar and some others. Like Pilsner Urquell I'm sure this beer would be even better in its unpasteurised, unfiltered nefiltrovany form. I'll leave you with a Ken montage and a thought for the day “my mission whens it comes to brewing beer is to improve the human condition through the medium of brewing beer...its my way of trying to make the world a better place”. I'll drink to that, na zdraví!

Inveralmond Brewery

Disclosure: I received two free bottles of the beer, but I'll certainly buy it again if I see it.


Apples up North

Another long overdue write-up this one, especially considering I was given these by the producers themselves. Sorry Andy and Dave!

Tempted have featured on this blog before but they have undergone a re brand and consolidation into 4 regular ciders. The new labels certainly stand out on the shelf, making good use of single colour and white space.

Summer Sweet is up first 5.7% and a hazy pale greenish gold. Dusty apple loft aroma and highly fizzy carbonation, which continues long after pouring. Fairly sweet apple fruitiness, some demerara sugar, coxs apples and a spicey apple compote finish.

The dry is also the same ABV, fizzy pale gold with slightly sulphurus tart lambic like nose. Lacing of white head with steady stream of bubbles. Spiky carbonation, dry tannic apple, slightly dusty, apple lofts, horse nosebag, old hay. Apple comes through more on the nose as it warms and a residual sweetness counteracts the tanins to make a moreish drop.
Special reserve differs from the previous releases by including cider apples in the mix alongside the cookers and eaters. Still 5.7% though. Pale golden cider with medium sweetness and a dry tannic finish. More complex than the regular dry and very drinkable. Probably my favourite of the core range.
Strawberry is as you'd expect, fairly sweet but with a real strawberry flavour rather than anything cloyingly artificial as you might expect. Its a little more sessionable at 4% and hinging on bronze in colour (perhaps from the juice). Daisy was a fan too.
Finally the XL was an 8% monster barrel aged special at Belfast Beer Festival this year. Its no longer available but was such a good drop that I will share my thoughts anyway, in the hope that Davy will make another batch! Fantastic rich molasses nose on this ochre-yellow cider. Smooth with no sign of the ABV rich rum marries fantastically with dry apple pulp and caramel to produce a superb cider. I certainly contributed to it selling out by Friday night.

Kilmegan are a relatively new concern who I hadn't heard of until coming across them at the beer festival. They're the closest thing to Somerset cider I've come across so far on this island. Andy is based inDundrum, County Down
Kilmegan Dry: Pale yellow with good mix of tannins and dry apple juice, yet not astringent and very drinkable. Bottle even drier than it was on draught but effervescence actually increases the drinkability.
Pale yellow, steady stream of carbonation, light apple and floral aroma, dry cider playing well against unmistakable elderflower, not stupidly sweet like some flavoured ciders can be. Would be fantastic with food too.

Its great to see ciders of this calibre coming out of Northern Ireland, it shows we can compete with the best in Somerset, Herefordshire and elsewhere in the world.  I tried to put the idea in the producers mind of producing a collaboration for next year's Beer Festival, we'll have to wait and see if they act on it or not!


London Brewers: A Depression

The beer which alerted me to Pressure Drop was Stokey Brown, delivered via an Ales By Mail Taste of London Case (think smoky chocolate smothered fruit cake).  It sufficiently impressed to cause me to seek out others of theirs to try, reviews below. They're now at almost 30 releases and going strong and were the tenth best new brewery in the world for 2013, no mean feat when there were more than 2600 new openings last year!

Up first is Wu Gang Chops the tree, named for the Chinese legend about the man banished to the moon to chop down a tree that regrows every night for eternity. Its a "foraged herb" hefeweisse, but we're not told whats in it. Hazy burnished gold with fluffy white head collapsing to a mere lacing. Spicey, slightly tart aroma of cloves, black pepper and lemon peel. Medium body and full of flavour for its fairly diminutive strength (3.8%). Interesting peppery tingle and a woodsy sage like herbal note, slight szechwan like tongue tingle in a dry finish. Its like a grisette saison.

Builders Tea is a 4.3% porter with added tea. Dark burgundy tinged brown with rich bourbon biscuit aroma with some vinous port notes and tart elderberry. Lacing of dark head, tingle of carbonation. Full bodied, dry and earthy, burnt toast, a sweet lactose middle section then tanins kick in. Finishes pretty dry with a bit of plum jam and plenty of burnt toast.

Slightly stronger at 4.9% is Street Porter, a take on a traditional London Porter. super dark brown with fluffy muddy mocha head. Burnt roasty barley with a fruity undercurrent. Extremely dry and toasty coffee barley, long dry finish. A little one dimensional and disappointing given the delight of the Builders Tea. Will have to give it another go next time.

Finally Bosko is Pressure Drop's signature IPA weighing in at 6.5%. dark amber brown with lacing of cream head with rich sweet malt and pithy mango nose. Full body, quite creamy mouthfeel, juicy fruit forward, low bitterness, slight acridity in finish. Its competent but not in the top league of UK IPAs.
On the strength of these beers I will definitely seek out others of theirs, particularly Freiman's Dunklelweiss which sounds particularly tasty.



Tempest brewery have been quietly impressing since they came onto the scene four years ago. The Scots have being trying to keep the secret for themselves, but I've managed to get three beers from Alesela to share with you now.

Unforgiven ale is a take on the traditional Finnish beer, sahti, brewed with rye and juniper to 5.4% ABV. I've not tried an authentic sahti, but was keen to try this Scots interpretation.
Hazy mid amber on the pour, and lighter than expected perhaps. The slightly metallic smoky aroma which dissipates on warming to give some spicey notes. Full bodied with high carbonation, smoke hit at first, spicey juniper and an underlying sticky citrus rye and some sweet oakiness in the finish. Really accomplished beer, but perhaps I should have drunk it sooner to get the full smoke hit. Looks like they're currently brewing another batch though; so look out for it in good beer retailers near you soon.

Marmalade on toast (6%) was brewed as a collaboration with the Edinburgh Brewdog bar staff. It pours a hazy dark orange with lots of spicey Seville marmalade but also that odd silage note I associate with sorachi ace. Forms a pillowy beige head. Really full bodied, sweet dusty caramalt at first then plenty of orange pith. Definitely toasty but don’t get much of the ginger. It actually reminds me of Fullers ESB, which is of course no bad thing.

Finally we have Saison du pomme - an 8% gooseberry saison. Not sure why its gooseberries when pomme is French for apple! At first cereally becoming weizen like bananas and a hint of tart lactic in behind...not as expected. Fairly sprightly carbonation then something definitely Belgian in the yeast esters and a tart gooseberry note. Saison yeast most definitely dominates here. Quite light in body for its strength but it actually reminds of Dupont Avec le Bons Veux - unsurprising given its the same yeast at a similar ABV but not quite enough fruit to make it truly sing.

Bonus Review! I picked up a bottle of this years "2 Craigs" collab with Cromarty- Cone Heads from The Dalry Rd Branch of Appellation Wines. An interesting experiment using pine cones in the hop back and "dry-coning" for additional flavour alongside a beefed up grain bill, nutmeg and of course a big dose of hops. Experimentation is all well and good but how did it taste? On the nose there's loads of fresh pithy tangerine, cocoa, Zingy ginger, Belgian esters. Its full bodied, medium carbonation, sweet and zesty citrus hops, sweet milk chocolate, dry cocoa toasty finish.Seek it out for something different!


More Kinnegar

Kinnegar recently released a few more beers, here's my thoughts. As with previous beers a couple are named after local landmarks with striking single colour labels which really help them to stand out. Here's what I thought about their other regulars.

A grain that's been all the rage this year is rye, which is what Kinnegar use here in their Rustbucket. Hazy pale amber with beige lacing. Subdued spicy peach nose. Moderate carbonation, sweet, rye and hops cancel each other out leaving a suggestion of each but just ends up nondescript. Needs more aggressive hopping to counter the boisterous rye but certainly a well made beer.

Long Tongue is an interesting combination of pumpkin, ginger and rye weighing in at 5.3% it gives peach cobbler on the nose, soft squishy peaches and a spicey undercurrent.  Increasing ginger, initial stem ginger sweetness, sticky rye medium body, low carbonation, biscuity malt, peppery ginger finish. The pumpkin must contribute to that mouthfeel, overall pretty decent and balances well.

Yannaroddy is a coconut porter at 4.8% opening with rich roast barley and fruity coffee on the nose with damp pine needles underneath. Very hazy dark cola coloured with a with tan lacing. Feels fair slick on mouthfeel, probably not helped by a below average level of carbonation, but this is forgiven when the bold resinous hops and high cocoa chocolate hit. Toasted coconut joins the party towards the lengthy finish finish and dry coffee appears on warming. It leaves a fairly sweet lasting impression with rich coconut flesh lingering on. Overall a well conceived and executed beer that I hope makes the transition to regular.



Wild Things

Wild beer have come of age and so has their beer with the release of their first (spirit) barrel aged beers. Ninkasi, Wildebeest and a barley wine aged in Somerset Cider Brandy, malt whisky (a highland and Islay blended) and Marc de Bourgogne barrels respectively. All 10% ABV and available at the usual suspects.

I started with Ninkasi, one of my beers of the year for 2013. Immediately on opening you can smell the oak and boozy notes from the cider brandy barrels but the unmistakable tart apple of ninkasi is there in the background. Flavour remains much the same though body has become fuller, aided by reduced carbonation in comparison to the original but its lost some of the Belgian yeast esters which made the beer so complex in the first place. Still excellent as a beer and worth trying but I prefer the unaged version.

Now Raconteur is a new arrival. The anonymous barley wine* brewed with these barrels in mind remains hidden in the background and the Red wine parades around the palate. This is so wine-like that its almost no longer a beer. Rich molasses and sour cherry nose. Boozy grape notes and oaky vanilla. Smooth and full bodied, light carbonation, grape must, caramel, vanilla. Tonnes of port like rich vinous character...must have been a lot of wine left in there.
If wine lovers are looking for a beer that hasn't deviated much from their usual tipple then this is it. It would make an excellent pairing for dark meats and at 10% certainly has the oomph to cut through them. At about £12 for 750ml its not unreasonably priced either when compared to wine.

The Whiskebeest remains true to its parents, but becomes more rounded and hides its strength all too dangerously. Pours dark peaty brown with a light beige lacing. Whisky immediately apparent on the nose, slightly smoky but not all phenolic...something like highland park and Caol Ila?
Full bodied and thick, coffee comes first as with the original but then some warming whisky, melding seamlessly with the beer. Chocolate, toast, more coffee and sweet vanilla follow. This is barrel ageing at its best.

Three fantastic examples of barrel ageing then that I recommend you try. If I were to pick just one it would be whiskebeest, but then its my kind of beer!

*A special release of the unaged beer "zulu charlie" showed a fairly sweet, rich malt led beer with red apple, yeast esters, which could only have enhanced those red wine notes.