Bristol Beer Factory Stouts

Bristol Beer Factory's Stout Lineup
Bristol Beer Factory is a brewery that's only appeared on my radar within the past 6 months, despite being not far from where I was born and bred. After hearing good things about their beer son twitter I was glad to grab some bottles at West Country Ales after the Cheddar Brewery Beer Festival. I didn't have a chance to drink all of them at home before heading back to Northern Ireland; so decided to save their stouts for a special occasion. It being International stout day on Thursday seemed as good a reason as any!

Bristol Stout
Bristol Stout is the lowest in ABV of the bunch and modelled on a dry Irish style. My bottle was a particularly lively little number as you can see from the picture!  Black brown with caramel head, chocolate aroma, dry and roasted body, very smooth and chocolate malt finish. Its a very quaffable 4% and is certainly a beer for drinking by the pint.

Milk Stout
Milk Stout is a much sweeter interpretation, with added lactose, a sugar that ale yeast is unable to ferment leaving a sweet taste to counteract the bitterness of the chocolate malt and barley. A sweet vanilla icecream aroma from this dark brown beer with gentle carbonation, fairly sweet to taste with a touch of stewed plums and roast barley in the finish.A great beer for pairing with food, especially anything milky, think icecream and cheese (particularly blues); so perfect with sweet and savoury courses.

Ultimate Stout
Ultimate Stout is currently the highest ABV beer BBF produce at a whapping 7.7% ABV. Billed as an imperial stout this seems to me to be more of a foreign export beer, with lower bitterness levels but plenty of complexity and well disguised alcohol. Pours midnight black and aroma of coffee and chocolate. Fairly sweet and thick on the palate.

Bristol Beer Factory are currently in the midst of making their "12 stouts of Christmas" with all manner of exciting sounding combinations, chocolate stout, vanilla stout, chilli stout, raspberry stout, barrel aged stouts. These three beers are also included. They've actually just announced that they are available to pre-order and there are only 150 available. There's less than half left so you'll need to be quick! I've got mine baggsied so watch out for a further stouty blog in the New Year!

For more on Bristol Beer Factory see their blog or this great article from Will Hawkes of the Independent.

Bonus Review! 
Bristol Vintage 2011
BBF have certainly been busy little brewers recently as alongside the enjoyable Factoberfest at the end of last month and the 12 stouts of Christmas they have brewed their 1000th brew and to celebrate made a Vintage Ale which is hopefully to be the first of many. I got a chance to taste it at Cheese School yesterday. Its a complex malty little number which can only get more complex with time as the hungry little yeasty beasts chomp their way through more of the sugar. Its 6.6% and drinks like a 5% so be careful! Why not pick up a case when you order your 12 stouts?

Follow their Head brewer Chris and brewer Brett on Twitter

Update for December 2011:

12 Stouts of Christmas just arrived!

Watch this space for a blog!


I've just got back from a cheese-packed day at Cheese School in The Ethicurean and Barley Wood Walled Garden near Bristol. It was put together by Fiona Beckett and Jess Trethowan and comprised a number of cheese themed sessions.Upon arriving we made our way through the spacious gardens to the cider barn field, where 30 places had been laid out in a vintage tent. After a lovely fresh cup of coffee it was on to introductions, then it was a time to try some cheese, after all that's why we were all there!

The vintage mess tent decorated by Toast, lovely colours.    

The first session gave us a chance to hear from a selection of cheese makers about their history and their craft and, perhaps most importantly, getting a chance to try some of them. First up was Todd Trethowan and his brother Maugan who tell us the three main tenets of good cheese are unpasteurised milk, animal rennet and being handmade.

Carephilly, GWR, Old Demdike and Stichelton
 We're given a chance to try Gorwydd Caerphilly first. A crumbly creamy centre with thin mushroomy breakdown and a composty rind. They also experiment with a salt-brine washed rind cheese, Gorwydd Washed Rind (GWR) a pungent and gooey masterpiece that has recently won an award in the British Cheese Awards.

Old Demdike, a washed curd sheeps cheese is up next and we meet Tim Homewood, the cheese-maker. It has a similar scent to a gouda but much sweeter due to the use of sheep's milk. Closer to human milk its apparently easier to digest.

Joe Schnieder is up last but certainly not least with the wonderful stitchelton an unpasteurised Stilton style cheese (he's not allowed to call it stilton however as its PDO specifies pasteurised milk!) A salty and sweet fruity and creamy blue cheese, less acidic than some stilton and very quickly consumed. I made copious notes but all you need to know that if you haven't yet tried this cheese you should seek it out.

The next session is on designing a cheeseboard. We get a talk on how to put cheeses together, storage tips and  some ideas for novel cheese boards and plates. Fiona got all artistic with some sycamore leaves and we try a selection of breads from Tom Herbet from Hobbs House Bakery as well as hearing about his recipe for the ultimate cheese toasty, which leaves everyone salivating for more cheese. I don't very often host dinner parties but I certainly have plenty of ideas for cheese courses now!

Just before lunch is one of the sessions I was most looking forward to the wine vs beer "smack-down" which I will blog about later in the week as it serves a post of its own.

Piping hot Beetroot Soup
 Lunch is next, prepared fresh for everyone by the Ethicurean. We get a vivid red beetroot soup with goats curd and fresh bread. Mains is a fresh salad straight from the garden with Old Demdike, fresh pear and honey roasted walnut. Later in the afternoon with have a succulent toffee apple cheesecake made with apples grown in the Ethicurean's own orchard.

After lunch we were presented with a selection of English and French cheeses for a comparison of how technique can give completely different cheeses for a similar recipe. French cheeses are warmed to a greater extent when setting and thus are a bit more rubbery and fruity in texture than their English equivalents. My favourite of the bunch is Tunworth, a Hampshire Camembert-style cheese with earthy mushroom flavours

The we headed out into the cider barn, still fresh with the smell of ripe apples, for a demonstration of cheese making from Tim and Angela. We see two methods, both with rennet set and lactic set. Its surprisingly easy and hope to get hold of some cheese cloth to have a go myself some day soon. To finish the day we get to try some local ciders and some of the apples fresh from the orchard. We also get a good sized piece of stinking bishop, a Dorset cheese washed with perry.

Unfortunately my taxi turns up before I can try the single-varietal ciders. It'd been a cheese-filled day and I would have liked to have stayed for more but I got plenty packed in and feel I know more about cheese now, which should help me to write my monthly pairing blogs with a bit more knowledge.


Wetherspoon Festival roundup

Yesterday marked the end of the second of 2011's JD Wetherspoon beer festivals. I've just got back from a great weekend visiting the Northern Ireland Wetherspoon pubs and got a lot more beers tried. Before the festival I was sceptical about the beer line up, so how did my experiences pan out?

The Good

By far the stand-out beer for me was Adnams American Style IPA (good brewer vlog here). It pissed all over Stone's effort (which I was disappointed about) and I enjoyed it so much I managed to fit in three pints of it over the weekend. For such an unassuming amber beer it is packed full of hop flavour, with character from each of the five hop types used, perfectly balanced. I only hope Adnams make it a regular brew, hop availability permitting!

St Austell Proper Black was even better in cask-conditioned format than the afore-tasted bottle.

Bend Eclipse Cascadian Dark Ale was the best of the American efforts. Plenty of cascade hops on the nose with a balance of sweet lemon and bitter chocolate and great condition made it very moreish.

The bad
Caledonian brewery and Doug Odell got together to produce cask 90 shilling. The beer was basically pure butterscotch and not at all pleasant to drink. Conversely, some people really enjoyed this.

Taking the pith had far too much peel added making it seem like drinking washing up liquid, I'd like to see future versions with much less.

The ugly

The first third of Everards Whakatu I tried was undrinkable, horrible beer a real butterbomb. I put this down to brewery error and it was the first beer in about three years I've been unable to finish.I gave it another try back in Belfast and itwas much better, perhaps a little thin but a decent NZ-hopped session beer. It goes to show that for all the decent cellar managers Wetherspoon ha, there are still those who don't know how to look afterbeer properly

My biggest disappointment? Caledonian Cossack Imperial Russian Stout. Neither fullbodied nor complex as the tasting notes suggested. Very little hop character andtasting more like a low ABV stout than something of 6%, verydisappointing indeed.
In all theturn-outwas mediocre at best thistime around, with a couple of hidden gems that I'd drink again. I got through 30 of the 50 beers, not bad going for living in the arse end of nowhere! If you're interested in what I thought of the other beers than check the ratebeer thingummy over there --->

As  always, I'm nosy and want to  hear your thoughts on the festival selection or your reasons for avoiding if that was the case.

There are a few other festival write-ups already online. The beer monkey did a Glasgow perambulation whilst Tandelman got a chance to try a lot of beers in one night and agrees with me Re Adnams.

(I'll update this post with other links if I find any more!)



I'm sure I'm not alone amongst bloggers at having the above accusation levelled at them, but it does begin to grate. Its bad enough when friends and family who don't know my drinking habits show concern, but for random strangers to whom I have no connection to try to use it to besmirch my character is beyond the pale.

The chambers dictionary defines alcoholism as "alcoholism noun, pathol 1 a severe and potentially fatal condition caused by physical dependence on alcohol, habitual and extensive consumption of which impairs physical and mental health. 2 loosely heavy drinking habits."
an alcoholic being someone who has alcoholism. 

I certainly don't have a dependence on alcohol as I am able to go for weeks at a time without a drink. I am a social drinker (even if I smetimes have to make my own company) and  I drink beer for the taste, not for the alcohol content.Definitions of heavy vary but maybe ten beers per week does not equal heavy drinking.
So have other bloggers had to face this accusation from people who don't know any better? What have you said to them or have you just ignored it?


A new NI brewery!

BallyBlack Stout as tweeted by @mrmelish
A few days ago a friend and fellow CAMRA member Paul Malley tweeted a picture of an intriguing looking bottle. On further prodding it transpired that we were seeing the first output of a brand new brewery: Ards Brewing.
I've just chatted with brewer, joint owner and general dogsbody Charles Ballantyne about how the brewery came about and his plans for the future.

"I'm an architect by trade and business has obviously been fairly quiet for the last few years; so i was looking for another source of income. I was considering starting a bakery and shared this thought with a friend from Loughry college at a picnic after kayaking the Blackwater River."

The friend managed to persuade him that baking was far too much work, with antisocial hours to boot and suggested he try brewing.

"It was not something I had previously considered. My friend showed me the ropes for brewing full mash and I've been experimenting for the past year. I'm happy with Ballyblack now and will be looking to get it out to stockists very soon. I have another beer 'Pig Island Pale' which is almost there but just needs some tweaking."

Charles obtained the licence on the first of September and now brews once a week. All of the beers will is bottle or cask conditioned. The brewery is jointly owned by Charles, his partner and their children but he does the majority of the work. He plans to keep the business fairly small, supplying local off-licences and pubs. If all goes well he may expand to a 3-4 BBL plant in the future but he stresses that is a long way off.

"Up until now only family and friends have tried the beer, its only when people are having to pay a couple of pounds a bottle that I'll be able to workout how popular it is."

Charles has been afforded a great opportunity to gauge public reaction to his beer as Ballyblack will be available in cask at the Belfast Beer festival

"CAMRA has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works really. I was intending on keeping the brewery a secret and now its running away with me a bit. Its my first attempt at brewing for cask, I hope it turns out well! I'll be at the festival but will probably avoid the bar my beer is on as I'll be too nervous to see everyone's  reactions"

If initial feedback from local CAMRA members (who have had a chance to try the beer, lucky sods!) is anything to go by the beer will go down well indeed. 

The brewery does not currently have a web presence but there is one in the pipeline, so watch this space for further details. In the mean time if you would like to get in touch with Charles you can email him at ardsbrewing AT blackwood34 DOT plus DOT com.


A tale of three punks

Some of you may have read my excited tweet at the weekend when I found some of the old batch of Brewdog Punk IPA (6%) alongside some of the new stuff (5.6%).Of course its a few months out of date now but I decided I'd pick up a bottle or two for old times sake. I decided I'd do a comparative review of the two..is there a discernible difference or no?  (For more on the two Punks see Mark's blog here).

What else should arrive today but Sunk Punk, the new zany idea from the brewdog boys; "so why not make it a three-way?" I hear you cry...alright then, if you insist!

Three Punks itching to be opened.

Squaring Off:Punk 6 vs 5.6
First up, in the blue corner, the new comer, brash and nasally aggressive Punk 5.6! A rich caramel, mango and fruit salad jack aroma with a hint of marshmallow.Pithy and marmeladey up front with a hint of soft-rind cheese and a good bitter punch with a fairly brief and drying finish.

5.6% Punk vs 6% Punk
Rocking up in the black corner and noticeably lighter in colour is the venerable Punk 6! Certainly less forward on the nose with a slightly soapy tinge. noticably more bitter straight away but perhaps more balanced in the malt versus hops stakes, though the fresh tropical fruits of its' youth have long since faded,being replaced by a richer Duchy original shortbread with the orangey bits in. The bitterness pervades in the finish but there's plenty of malt sweetness to even it out.

Sunk Punk with lovely hand-drawn
label by the talented Johanna Bahsford

Then along comes the master, Sunk Punk @ 7.1% ABV. Noticeably darker than the other two with a good punch of tropical fruits without the sickly perfume of  Hardcore. Much more bitter than either Punk or Hardcore and maybe a hint of salt, but that’s probably the expectation of such. With no idea of what sea buck-thorn would taste like, I'm not sure if it makes its presence known in here. The pithy bitter finish that drys the mouth makes you soon ready for the next sip...

...That would be all very well if mine host hadn't clumsily thrown the majority of the drink over the kitchen side. The moral of this story being to check that the hot water is on before deciding to have a shower...or don't pour Punk whilst holding a towel. There was more than enough to review it fairly though and I have a second bottle for more leisurely consumption.
All three beers are completely different animals, with the Sunk Punk certainly being the most moreish. Is this worth the price tag(£9.99)? Perhaps not, but to be able to try this unusually fermented beer it probably was. As for which of the regular Punks is best? The newer version pips the older to the post for me, though perhaps not entirely fair due to the affects of age, which as we know is not kind to hop-forward beers.

I was first to rate this beer on rate beer and perhaps first to blog a review but I certainly look forward to reading other peoples' interpretations.

Strange Search terms

Blogger stats are really handy for optimising post labels, but every now and again you get a weird'un that links to your blog. Perhaps the strangest I've had is:
"a wolf with a shirt that has an owl eating a potato" (top Google result here)
I can only assume that my Session #55 post about the owl on Odell's double Pilsner label led them here.

Which strange search terms leads people to your blog? 

A quick thank you once again to Ghost Drinker for blogrolling me, who after twitter is by far the biggest referrer to my site. I appreciate everyone that links to my blog or re-tweets a post, let me know if I've omitted you from my reading list!

Rubies and Pearls

Most people will be aware by now that CAMRA reached the venerable age of forty this year, though its a much smaller group who are privy to another anniversary, namely CAMRA Northern Ireland's 30th. Thirty years ago to the day (17th October 1981) English ex-pats Cherry and Adrian Saunders were attending Hilden brewery's first brew-day and decided that Northern Ireland needed a branch to campaign for ale availability of what was (and still is to a large extent) a Diageo dominated pub landscape.

Since then five other breweries have opened their doors (the most recent being Ards brewing co earlier this month) and the branch membership has reached 270 members. This is still small fry compared with some of the branches on "the mainland" but we see a bigger proportion of our members at events, Saturday's anniversary bash showing interest in real ale in Northern Ireland is alive and well with almost 20% turn-out and some new faces. Many beers were supped by all (myself included, look out for my Wetherspoon beer festival round-up after next weekend's beerstravaganza) and an ample buffet provided.

Another event that sees a lot of our members congregating in one spot falls one month from today: Belfast Beer Festival 2011 will be gracing the inside of the Ulster Hall yet again and the beer and cider lists are now live on the website. Obviously the usual disclaimers apply that beers are subject to delivery but it looks like we have a good selection this year with a good showing from both local brewers and cider producers. I've reproduced the list below with links to tasting notes from the brewer's websites where possible, or ratebeer if not. Hopefully some of you can make it across, for Northern types Easyjet has just started a flight from Manchester and tickets are pretty cheap at the time of writing.


Ards Brewing Ballyblack
College Green Headless Dog
Clanconnel McGrath’s Irish Black
Clanconnel Weaver’s Gold Blonde Ale
Hilden Hilden Ale
Hilden Scullion’s Irish
Hilden Barney’s Brew
Whitewater Belfast Ale
Whitewater Belfast Black
Whitewater Clotworthy Dobbin
Whitewater Copperhead

Other beers

ACORN Gorlovka Stout
ALLGATES Twitter & Busted
ARUNDEL Autumn Old Ale
ARUNDEL Black Stallion
ATLAS Latitude
B&T Black Dragon Mild
B&T Two Brewers Bitter
BANK TOP Bank Top Dark Mild
BANK TOP Gold Digger
BLUE MONKEY 99 Red Baboons
BOWMAN Elderado
BOX STEAM Dark & Handsome Stout
BRADFIELD Farmers Blonde
BUSHY'S Old Bushy Tail
CAIRNGORM Cairngorm Gold
COACH HOUSE Blunderbus Old Porter
COACH HOUSE Innkeepers Special Reserve
CONWY Autumn Red
CONWY Welsh Pride
CORVEDALE Dark & Delicious
CORVEDALE Norman’s Pride
DARK STAR American Pale Ale
ELLAND 1872 Porter
FUZZY DUCK Tangerine Duck
GREEN JACK Orange Wheat Beer
GREEN JACK Ripper Tripel
HAWKSHEAD Hawkshead Red
HOPBACK Entire Stout
HORNBEAM Lemon Blossom
HOUSTON Killellan
HOUSTON Peter’s Well
HUMPTY DUMPTY Little Sharpie
ILKLEY Ilkley Black
LEEDS Midnight Bell
LITTLE VALLEY Hebden’s Wheat [Cloudy]
MAULDONS Black Adder
MAULDONS Micawbers Mild
MORDUE Newcastle Coffee Porter
NAYLORS Pinnacle Porter
OAKLEAF Hole Hearted
O’HANLON Firefly
O’HANLON O’Hanlons Port Stout
OLD MILL Yorkshire Porter
ORKNEY Skullsplitter
OSSETT Silver King
OTLEY Oxymoron
Rudgate Ruby Mild
SALOPIAN Golden Thread
Raspberry Blonde
Ginger Tosser
SUMMER WINE Barista Espresso Stout
THREE B’S Bee Blonde
Tackler's Tipple
Captain Smiths
TRYST Carronade IPA
VILLAGE Old Raby Ale
WELLS & YOUNGS Young’s Bitter
WELLS & YOUNGS Bombardier

WILLIAMS Ceilidh Lage
WILLIAMS Fraoch Heather Ale
WILLIAMS Midnight Sun Porter
WOLF Golden Jackal
WOLF Norfolk Lavender Honey
YORK Centurion’s Ghost

We also have a much improved cider line-up planned for this year, so much so that it will be on its own separate stillage away from the main bar.

Biddenden Cider Bushells cider
Biddenden Cider Biddendens Kentish Medium Cider
Mr Whitehead’s Equinox
Mr Whitehead’s Midnight Special Perry
Moles Black Rat Cider
Thatchers Cider Heritage Cider
Thatchers Cider Cheddar Valley Cider
Gwynt y Ddraig Two Trees Perry
Gwynt y Ddraig Haymaker
Toby’s Dry cider
DJ’s Medium cider
Broadoak Perry
Westons Cider Bounds Brand Scrumpy
Westons Cider Herefordshire Country Perry
Westons Cider Traditional Scrumpy
Westons Cider Old Rosie Scrumpy
Westons Cider Marcle Hill
Westons Cider Organic Vintage Cider


Session #56- Thanks to the Big Boys

This month the session is hosted by Reuben over at the Tale of the Ale who is a thoroughly nice chap; so you should go check out his blog. I struggled initially to think of what to write about; should I be tongue in cheek and call my post "(no) Thanks to the Big Boys?". How do you define big anyway? Is it just referring to the megalithic brewers that control a big share of the market; or do the larger family and regional brewers also count as big boys? After all, any brewer in the UK that doesn't qualify for small brewer's relief could be considered a big boy, though even the biggest regionals here aren't a patch on the size of a lot of well known American brewers.

I've decided that I can write about a large family brewer and if Reuben doesn't like it he can admonish me! So today's blog is about Fuller's (or Fuller, Smith and Turner as some people know it). With 367 pubs and national distribution of their bottled product in major supermarket chains (even here in Northern Ireland!) I think they qualify for the tag big boy.

A lot of people were disappointed when Fuller's bought George Gale and Co. of Horndean in 2005, especially when they closed down the brewery, but the Gale family were looking to sell up and better it go to a sympathetic brewer that continues to brew some of the gems of the range than to a more voracious regional who would wipe all trace of it off the map. I am disappointed that they no longer brew Butser (BBB) because that was a lovely session beer and I keep my fingers crossed in the hope it may one day be brought back again as a seasonal. The majority of former Gale's pubs remain unchanged, save for the ubiquitous London Pride and Fuller's bottle range being available in all.

So what do I want to say thank you for? A few things:

Fuller's Vintage Ale and Gale's Prize Old Ale
1) Continuing production of Gales Prize Old Ale, which requires a lot of brewery space for aging and is a bit of a niche product that pleases the beer afficinados. The 2011 bottle wasn't as sour as I remember the 2005 being but complex nonetheless. I have 2005 (brewed and bottled at Gales), 2006 (brewed at Gale's bottled at Fuller's) and 2011 (brewed and bottled at Fuller's) bottles for comparative tasting later this year.

2) The past masters series. Fullers have been going back through their archives to rediscover beers that they used to brew and recreate them. I've got a bottle of each in my parents' garage to enjoy at Christmas, but I was lucky enough to try them courtesy of BSF bottle bar manager Ian at GBBF this year.

3) The Brewers Reserve series and Vintage Ales are also excellent. I'm yet to try BR #3 but the other two were superb. I have a collection of most of the vintage Ales in my cupboard ready for supping with some carefully chosen individuals. Ask me nicely and I'll invite you along too!

4) The core range is great, with special mention for London Porter, though I've never been keen on London Pride! I did a Fullers beer tasting as a "cultural talk" with my company whilst on a training course and the availability of the beers made it easy for me to organise last minute!

So thanks John and the team for continuing to make beers that I enjoy. Favourite Fullers pub so far? The old Gales outlet, the Old House at Home in Romsey. I'm not the only one that thinks that as it was Fuller's pub of the year last year too! Certainly worth a visit if you find yourself in Hampshire.


CABPOM October: Dorset Blue Vinny & De Dolle Oerbier

I've decided to get my cheese and beer pairing up early this month as its British cheese week this week.
Dorset Blue Vinney nom nom nom
Whilst at Factoberfest I picked up some Dorset Blue Vinney. Ashamedly I have not yet tried this cheese despite having lived adjacent to the county for the first 23 years of my life (first in Somerset and then in Hampshire). A slightly less pungent cheese than stilton, it still has the ripe fruit and goaty flavours that you would associate with a blue. A word of warning, the outer rind is not edible!

Hardknott Æther Blæc nom nom nom
Looking through my beer cupboard I selected a British beer to match this British cheese: Hardknott Æther Blæc 28 y/o whisky aged. Having had the 27 y/o I was hoping this stout would be able to stand up to the cheese. In the nose it was all there, the ripe cranberries and sweet caramels would match this cheese. Together though they jarred perilously. The whisky notes (which when drinking the beer alone give a warm glow) took on an unpleasant metallic note with the cheese.

Cheese and beer double nom nom nom!

De Dolle Oerbier
Back to the cupboard then and I picked out De Dolle Oerbier, a 9% Belgian monstrosity. This was a bit of a gusher, it took me two minutes to get the lid off. When I finally got it poured it had an aroma of pineapple, fruity, yes but not quite the same as you'd find in a blue cheese. However when the two came together it was like magic on the palate. The gentle carbonation helped to scrub the sticky cheese from the palate whilst the cheese found ripe hedgerow fruit flavours in the beer that previously the yeasts' esters had hidden. The oatcakes I ate with the cheese brought out some of the malt character too making for a rounded drinking experience, with the alcohol providing a lasting warmth to brace against the oncoming winter (It may be an Indian summer in England but it certainly isn't here in Northern Ireland!).

So that's it then, cheese and beer pairing of the month is Dorset Blue Vinney and De Dolle Oerbier. I daresay another Belgian strong ale would pair equally well, but i think it needs to be a hard fruity blue, stilton wouldn't quite work and neither did the blacksticks i also tried.