Friday, January 30, 2009

Dashed Hopes

On our way back to Prague after the Christmas holidays we had several hours to kill in Paris before getting our afternoon flight. We knew fine well what we would do come midday, a trip to the Frog and British Library pub just round the corner from the Bibliothèque nationale de France was in order. For the few hours before that we wandered around the Natural History Museum, mainly to escape the biting cold and because they had an exhibition of whales.

We first went to the Frog and British Library in December 2007, again on our way back from France to Prague, having been to the Frog and Rosbif in Bordeaux a week earlier. The Bordeaux version of the chain had made a good impression on us, decent beer, nice food and excellent staff. I recalled the Frog and British Library being ok, again decent beer, good food and friendly staff, the only bum note had been their lager, which would give Budweiser a run for its money in the bland beer stakes.

What a difference then a year makes, a year in which I have learnt a lot about beer, thanks largely to the input of people such as Evan Rail, and the fact that I am a voracious reader and have a head full of things I didn't know back in 2007. I am assuming here that the Frog and Rosbif chain didn't tamper with its recipes over the course of the year.

First up was the chain's oldest brand, In Seine, which they describe as a "clean, hoppy bitter". It is certainly hoppy, with very noitceable citrus notes, and I guess it is refreshing, but it is very thin bodied and not at all "more-ish" as they claim. It certainly looks nice, a golden amber with a rich foamy head, although served somewhat cold, but looks are deceptive. One pint of this was more than enough, and the name of the beer is probably the best place to put this.

Suitably disappointed, I decided to change tack and have something on the dark side to go with my fish and chips. I choose their Dark de Triomphe, a Guinness clone which while dark does have touches of ruby around the edges, and was topped off with a loose head, and once again it was too damned cold - why? I have drunk a fair amount of stout this year, and what a disappointment it was to stick my nose into the glass and smell virtually nothing. No, I didn't have a cold, I could smell virtually nada - perhaps a hint of Tesco Value instant coffee, but nothing else. Again the body was thin and insipid, although there were some roasted malt flavours, but this was basically dull and lifeless, and I refused point blank to finish the pint.

Thom over at the Black Cat Brewery also visited one of the Frog pubs in Paris when there on honeymoon, his comments are in the same ball park as mine.

In fairness though, the fish and chips was good - but that is not enough to make me want to go back next time I am in Paris, whenever that will be.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Three Word Challenge - Part Deux

Yesterday's Three Word Challenge seemed to go down well, so I thought I'd do it again, except this time to be stricter and not use words like "very or "really".

Traquair House Ale - crimson, toffee, silky

Timothy Taylor Landlord - amber, citrus, oranges

Durham Brewery Benedictus - honey, bitter, velvet

Old Luxters Farmhouse Barn Ale - orange, spicy, strong

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Three Word Challenge

Describing beers in three words, allowing for use of very, really, etc , obviously entirely subjective.
Burton Bridge Santa's Christmas Porter - Black, lifeless, bland

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil - Very dark, beautifully smooth, fantastic

Atlas Latitude - Golden, soft, classic

O'Hanlon's Goodwill Bitter - Amber, spicy, marmelade

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eau Canada!

Some countries are inextricably linked with beer; Belgium, Britain and the Czech Republic for example. Other countries bring to mind wine; France, Australia and Argentina. Others are linked with spirits; Ireland, Russia and Poland. One country I had never thought of in connection with alcohol at all was Canada. That was until I saw beers from Unibroue in the L’Eclerc in La Souterraine. A quick text message to Beer Culture’s Evan Rail for his opinion of them and one of each available was soon in the shopping trolley.

Starting with the least alcoholic of the three, the 7.7%ABV Eau Bénite pours a dark gold with a big frothy head and lots of lovely bubbles. The nose was full of fruit and spice, and at the same time somewhat musty. Taste wise, the Eau Bénite continues the fruity theme from the nose, sweetened with honey and gingery spiciness. This beer put me in mind of the La Goudale I had enjoyed earlier in the holiday, although with a fuller body and a smooth softness in the throat.

Slightly stronger at 8%ABV, Maudite pours dark brown with a big cream head which hung around doggedly. The nose was dominated by licorice and gingerbread, the perfect Christmas aroma! The taste though was rather surprising, lots and lots of caramel, backed up by cloves – almost like a light Christmas pudding, with a very subtle bitterness underscoring the sweetness. Despite the somewhat hefty kick of alcohol, Maudite is very smooth and was like drinking liquid fudge.

Last up came the big hitting 9%ABV La Fin du Monde. What a magnificent beer this is, light amber and a thin white head, with a floral nose and touches of clove and banana. This was somewhat similar to the Eau Bénite but bigger, with a more pronounced fruitiness and refreshing spiciness. Again, given its ABV, this was a superbly smooth beer and not at all harsh.

Not only were the beers excellent, the labels were very well conceived and executed – including on the back of the Maudite a recommendation of the type of glass to use – hence using one of my dad’s brandy snifters. I have learnt that Unibroue have a somewhat extensive range of beers, which I trust will be easier to find in the USA - rather than relying on a random meeting in France - so a quick plea to my Canadian readers, please let me know what other treasures you guys have been keeping hidden!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Stout at Heart

I am a stout man, take that whatever way you will – those of you who have met me will know the truth in those words. But here I am talking about beer styles, and I am a stout man. I have mentioned elsewhere that my first legal beer on Guinness, and I have retained a love of the black stuff since then. This no doubt explains why I was happy to note on Saturday that my local Billa now stocks Primátor Stout and the reason stouts from Hook Norton, Bradfield, BrewDog and O’Hanlon’s formed the backbone of my Christmas beer list.

So far, touch wood, I am yet to have a bum beer from Hook Norton. Their Double Stout was a beer I had looked for in various off-licenses and shops in the Oxford area, all in vain – so naturally it was ordered from BeerRitz. Not a great picture to be sure, but even opening the bottle was to get a burst of roasted coffee aroma, once poured the roasted nature of the nose was dominant, suggesting a full flavour to come. The beer itself was pitch black with a loose off-white head. Coffee was also the major flavour in the beer, although smoothed out by a velvety chocolate. Not overly bitter, full-bodied and beautifully smooth, this was lovely stuff.

The guys up at the Bradfield Brewery have been a Beer Hero of the Week, so when I saw them available on the BeerRitz website I knew I wanted to try their stout. Again the picture is not great – sometimes I get good pics on the mobile, but there we go. The nose was certainly lighter than the Hook Norton, though still abounding in coffee and cocoa – both of which continued on into the taste, although there was a subtle caramel flavour in the background I really liked. This is very much a classic stout, with a silky smooth mouthfeel that makes it a very pleasurable pint.

I have no qualms in admitting that I am a fan of BrewDog, having thoroughly enjoyed their Paradox Smokehead, Punk IPA and Chaos Theory. Rip Tide is their 8%ABV Imperial Stout, which poured as black as a stout should be with a good stout head. This being a stout the nose was coffee and chocolate, this being a BrewDog stout they were there in abundance. As I said when writing about Paradox, this was big and bold, dominated by roasted coffee. Despite being a big hitter on the alcohol front, this was surprisingly easy to drink.

The O’Hanlon’s Port Stout caught my eye because it brings together two of my favourite alcoholic drinks – I love a glass of port and a wedge on Stilton. The Port Stout pours a very very dark red, bordering on black but not quite getting there, the head was frothy and light brown. Where I was expecting coffee and chocolate on the nose, there was wine, although coffee notes did eventually sneak through. The syrupiness of wine was the prime feature of drinking this stout, but I was surprised to find that the sweetness wasn’t cloying at at, in fact it was almost like drinking a Guinness with a dash of port chucked in – the intention I am sure, and certainly a hit in my books – if this is available in the States, I can see a Christmas tradition starting.

Talking of our impending move to the States, from reading Beer, oh Beer, it would certainly seem that the US craft brew scene love their stouts – a land flowing with coffee and chocolate must truly be the promised land of plenty.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Beer Hero of the Week

Firstly let me thank Knut Albert for blogging about this, you can read the full story here.

When I read the Knut's post then there was no way on the planet that this week's Beer Hero was going to be anyone other than Aage Pedersen.

Telling an 86 year old man that he can't have a beer with his dinner is ridiculous, so well done to Mr Pedersen for standing up to the authorities.

So yes, ladies and gents this week's Beer Hero is Aage Pedersen.

Enjoy your beer with your dinner!

A Rebel Yell

As I said yesterday, my brother is a top bloke (just in case my other brothers or parents are reading this, they are all top people). Not only did he hunt out beer from the Lovibond Brewery near where he works, but he also found some other beers I had never heard of, and as well as that he remembered how much I enjoyed Young's Bitter when we were in the King's Arms in Oxford and got me a bottle of that too. You really can't ask for much more can you? Apart from forcibly converting his son from supporting Arsenal that is.

Thus it was that I found myself with a couple of beers from the Rebellion Beer Company in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. First up was the Rebellion Blonde. I have read a lot lately about how blonde ales are the ideal drink to give your lager drinking mates in an effort to open their eyes to the joys of good beer. Rebellion Blonde takes that concept and runs with it. Made with both lager malt and malt used for making bitter, the result is a drink which is great cold, and also not bad when it warms up. The beer itself is golden and with a nice amount of carbonation, although the head did disappear somewhat quickly. The nose was an orchestra of fruit, with apples and bananas very much to the fore, as the drinking went on I thought I could notice touches of tea as well. And what a nice beer it is to drink as well, there is a nice spiciness to it as well as it being rather light and summery, the only downer being that the longer it sits it kind of loses something and becomes lifeless. Still, a very nice beer to have on hand, well chilled in barbecue season.

Moving on to Rebellion Red, a dark red ale which has a creamy head and is brewed with amber, crystal and roasted malts, as well as three types of hop. My nose is definitely getting better, with it picking up distinct citrus notes, a full on spiciness and a foral freshness from the Cascade, Fuggles and East Kent Goldings respectively. I admit I allowed myself a smug moment when I read the back label and was right. As for the taste, there was plenty of toffee and rich maltiness, balanced out by a slight tartness and a dry finish. On a cold winter afternoon in the Haute-Vienne, this was a lovely pick-me-up.

Another couple of beers which have made me want to try the rest of their range, in bottle they also do a Belgian style witbier and a Bohemian pilsner. The brewery also has a range of draught ales with some hilarious names, especially the monthly ales for 2009 with a financial theme, although they only deliver within a 30 mile radius from Marlow - I wonder if a quick trip to my brother could be organised before moving to the States?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Regal Thing

Henley-on-Thames is one of those places that many people will have heard of, mainly because of the famous Regatta. One of the various places I have lived in was quite close to Henley and I still remember going on a school trip to the area and being told about the various legends of the white hart, including a story about Richard II and his huntsman called Herne. Henley also happens to be where my elder brother works, and is the home of the Lovibonds Brewery - well it had to be done really didn't it? So I duly asked my brother to pick up a couple of bottles for me, and being the top bloke he is, he turned up for Christmas with a bag of goodies - not just Lovibonds stuff either, but we'll get there in due time.

So on to the beers themselves, first up was the Henley Amber. Doing my Rolf Harris impression here, can you guess what colour it was? Quite right, it was amber, with a loose white head that threatened to disappear but then clung around doggedly. Described as a premium pale ale, it was certainly very refershing and nicely hoppy and with a long bitter finish which was just a delight. With the merest hint of sweetness in the background, and a light carbonation, I could happily drink this beer all day long, and at 3.4%ABV would drink many! Mrs Velkyal also heartily approved of it, pointing out that it was very similar to her beloved Primátor English Pale Ale.

One of my aims over Christmas was to try as many porters as I could lay my hands on as it is style I really want to understand and get to grips with. Lovibonds' porter is Henley Dark, and dark it is, pouring a very deep ruby colour topped with a big fluffy head. The nose was great, smokey coffee all over the place. Again this a grand beer to drink, the coffee wasn't overpowering, the body was smooth, velvety and laced with chocolate, and there was excellent dry bitterness with just set everything off nicely. Again I would happily sit in a pub all night drinking this, preferably near a roaring log fire and with an Irish wolfhound at my feet.

I have a very minor gripe, and it is a gripe I have made about many beers, but half a pint of these beers is simply not enough! Especially when talking about beers with the kind of ABV that makes them ideal for drinking pint after pint over an extended period of time.

I discovered Lovibonds when reading comments on Stonch's blog - I am a big fan of Web 2.0 and like to read the conversations that go on. The comments in response to this post were discussing the relative merits of cask ale over kegged, and Lovibonds' owner, pointed out that the incredibly diverse world of American craft brew uses primarily kegs, so the whole idea that cask is good and keg is bad was a pile of outdated pants.

So if you are in the Henley area, you can find these lovely beers at any of these places. I strongly recommend you try them.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nautical, nautical!

The third Kentish brewery whose beers I found in Ashford was the Nelson Brewing Company from Chatham, which is whether my brother used to live - back in the dark and distant days when I thought Gambrinus was the mutts nuts of beer.

As you would expect from a brewer in Chatham, once home a major Royal Navy dockyard, their beer have a nautical theme, with names such as Friggin in the Riggin and Purser's Pussy Porter - which are the beers I picked up in Macknade Fine Foods.

To be honest I have a somewhat limited memory of the Friggin in the Riggin, I drank it on Christmas Day itself and was already fairly well on my way to it being a merry Christmas, and my notes bare more than a passing resemblance to Sumerian. One think I noted quite strong was that it was somewhat sour and tart in the finish, and being a bit fizzy had me puckering up - and not for a kiss under the mistletoe.

Infinitely more legible are my notes about the Purser's Pussy Porter, although this time the picture was pretty dreadful, hence I have left it off here. The beer is a very dark red colour and has a head like you would expect on an espresso, and it vanished rather quickly. The nose made me think of stout more than anything, with lots of coffee and subtle hints of cocoa. The chocolate really came through in the drinking, though I was suprised that it tasted similar to a Hershy bar, again with a tart soutness, which while not unpleasant wasn't something I really relished.

I am not sure if the sourness of both beers was intended, but it didn't make me want to pour the beers down the plug, so I guess it isn't a bad thing.

The brewery, in keeping with the nautical heritage of the area, as well as their own moniker, have a fun way with branding and quite broad range of brews with names such as Nelson's Blood and Shiver M'Timbers. As with the Hopdaemon and Ramsgate Brewery beers I enjoyed over the holiday, I hope to try the full range at some point in the future, and if anyone can help me on the sour front, please do so.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hopdaemon for the Soul

Another of the Kentish breweries I was keeping an eye open for in the shops when we were in Ashford was Hopdaemon. Started by a Kiwi with a love of English ales, I was very happy to find a few bottles sitting in the Ashford Tesco - just a quick side note, I am sure lots of people complain about the big supermarket chains dominating the market, but when they also source local products then they are to be applauded, so well done Tesco.

The Skrimshander IPA is a light orange colour, which had a thinnish white head - my brother conveniently has a nonic glass which I commandeered for the duration of our visit. Again this is a mobile picture so the quality isn't as I would like. I found the nose rather subtle, definitely citrusy but not overpoweringly so, which I liked. Drinking wise, this I enjoyed muchly - it is quite bitter and that light citrusness kind of catches the back of your throat but then gives way to a soft sweetness. The finish was very dry and coupled with a gentle carbonation makes this nice, refreshing beer.

The second of the Hopdaemon beers I got was a darker strong ale called Leviathan. When I poured this I was put in mind of Hobgoblin, especially as it was a beautiful ruby colour, there was however very little head to speak of. The nose was dominated by cocoa and an almost Christmasesque spiciness, both of which came through in the drinking. I am assuming however that something had gone awry with this bottle as I found it a bit thin in the body and it was rather flat and lifeless. A shame really because the nose had promised much.

The brewery only started production in 2001 and has already garnered a collection of local awards as well as creating waves nationally. From an artistic side, I also liked the quirkiness of the labels on the bottles and the brand names as well (a scrimshander for example is a whale bone carver - hence the picture on the label). Having thoroughly enjoyed the Skrimshander I am planning to try the rest of the range, and of course to find out if it was just a bum bottle of Leviathan (I wonder how much it would cost to get some sent to Prague?).

Monday, January 19, 2009

East Kent Gold

On those rare occasions when I get to the UK my beer priority is to try whatever local brews I can get my hands on, as I did when I was in Oxford last October. As I have no doubt mentioned, my eldest brother lives in Kent – the garden of England, and famed for its hops, so I guess the beer there has an advantage. I have enjoyed many a pint of Shepherd Neame’s various offerings, thus I decided it was time to discover some of the smaller independent brewers that call Kent home.

Thankfully, the Sainsbury's in Ashford, and a small shop called Macknade Fine Foods, both stock locally made ales, and so I got my hands on some bottles from the Ramsgate Brewery (their website is under construction).

The Ramsgate Brewery sell their beers under the brand name Gadds'. From their range I had the No. 3 and Faithful Dogbolter, both of which are bottle conditioned. The No. 3 is a strong pale ale, with an ABV of 5% that pours a light amber with a rocky white head and a fair amount of fizz. Admittedly the picture isn’t great, as mobile pictures are wont to be. The nose was rather citrusy, but also very spicy, with slight floral notes, as you would expect from East Kent Goldings and Fuggles. Beneath the vibrant bitterness of the beer is a very gentle toffee sweetness, which smoothes out the beer, making it is deliciously refreshing.

Faithful Dogbolter is a dark porter, with an ABV of 5.6%, that is a beautiful ruby colour and has a slightly beige head which disappeared rather quickly. I had a slight stuffy nose and couldn’t detect much at all when I tried to smell the beer, perhaps a touch roasty, but little beyond that. Taste wise though this was quite simply lovely, velvety coffee laced with milk chocolate – like a Galaxy bar from when I was a kid. Like the No. 3, the bitterness of this beer is held in balance with sweet smoothness of the finish. A really lovely beer.

If these beers are representative of the entire Ramsgate Brewery range, I look forward to the day when I get back to Kent and can try these again, as well as try the other beers these guys make.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Beer Hero of the Week

I read the Guardian, mainly because their International version is the only easily obtainable English language daily - the international version is printed juts down the road in Frankfurt, so that helps.

This week their wine "expert" had a pop at the craft beer industry, and has quite properly been derided on many of the blogs I read whenever they are updated. Thus I want to make my Beer Heros of the Week the following bloggers, whose posts I particularly enjoyed:

Well said gents.

Primátor Stout Update 2

Thanks for this information from Pivní Filosof.

Primátor Stout can be bought at the Billa on Korunní in Prague 3 - see the map:

The Billa is just on the corner of Korunní and Sobetecká.

The price is 18.90kč per bottle, plus 3kč for the bottle itself - so essentially 22kč for very nice stout.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Freezing Wipers

We got off the Channel Tunnel and headed north east, toward Belgium. Having spent 4 days in the UK (yes I will get to those beers soon), seeing the whole family together for Christmas for the first time since the days of Liverpool winning all and sundry, it was nice to get back to the continent.

We were heading towards Belgium for a very specific reason, to reach the Menin Gate in time for the sounding of the Last Post at 8 o'clock. The Menin Gate is in the little town of Ieper, a town which during the Great War was right on the front line and was practically destroyed. The town is probably better known by its French name, Ypres, and by people who loved history at school as Wipers. This part of Belgium has for my family quite some resonance because we are a military family, and it was in this area that my great-grandfather, an Old Contemptible, fought between 1914 and 1916 until he had his heel blown off and was invalided out of the army.

The gate is inscribed with the names of 34,984 soldiers from the various countries of the then British Empire who died in one of the battles for Ieper but have no known grave, and marks the starting point of the journey to the front line. It is a very sobering place. The Last Post has sounded here almost every night since 1927, and with our two minutes silence done we headed south to Lille for the night, despite the fact that we were returning to Ieper the following morning, to see more Great War sites and visit the excellent In Flanders Fields exhibition in the Cloth Hall.

There is nothing more likely to give you a craving for a drink than seeing how carelessly lives were thrown away trying to re-create the battle tactics of the medieval era without taking into account machine guns, grenades and mustard gas. So we went to find a bar that was open, needing not only a drink but also to get warm - it was freezing in Flanders.

The cafe we went to had an almost dizzying array of beer, all on tap, and just wanting to get something down I ordered a Primus Pils, from the Brouwerij Haacht. I wasn't expecting anything special, but it was certainly a very nice and easily drinkable lager, and a rather natty glass. Golden with a fluffy head, a medium body and just a touch of bitterness made this a drink which barely touched the back of my throat but did the job.

As I tend to drink quicker than most people I know, I had time for a second while Mrs Velkyal and my parents finished off their drinks. Not recognising a single name on the menu, I plumped for another Haacht product, Tongerlo Christmas, an abbey ale which is very similar to Leffe but slightly more drinkable. Only one thing suprised me with the Tongerlo and that was that it was served with a small piece of Tongerlo cheese, as you can see in the picture.

I didn't take extensive notes of the beers I had in Ieper, just a few jotted words on my mobile. One thing that I did notice in the town was the range of beers available, most prominently was SAS Pils, which I found an ironic name given the town's history. It may have been the most fleeting of trips to Belgium and certainly not one which exposed me to the great names of the beer scene there - but it whetted my appetite to visit again and find out what else is available. And if it is not considered crass, to raise a glass to those fallen "lions led by donkeys".

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sudden Death!

I would imagine that for most people, when asked the question “what is beer?”, the majority would say something along the lines of “a drink made from grain, hops, water and yeast” – obviously this was what the writers of the Reinheitsgebot had in mind when they set forth the rules for beer brewing in Bavaria and then later on throughout Germany.
Somebody forgot to tell the Belgians, and thank goodness for that. In particular somebody forgot to tell the makers of fruit beers – random unrelated point, why do people bother with alcopops when fruit beer exists? When on a French shop shelf I saw bottles of a Kriek called Mort Subite, my first thought was “is this the kriek from Brussels which I have read about?” – simple answer, yes it is. Chuck a couple in the basket and walk briskly away trying not to think about the strange looks from locals because your basket is full of booze and none of it wine.

Mort Subite was to be my drink of choice for that night’s dinner – my parents’ preference for white wine tends more toward the sweet side, which is not really my thing, I like something on the dry side of Arizona. Mrs Velkyal was cooking that night, playing with her belated birthday present, a pasta roller – home-made ravioli in a cream sauce for dinner then.

Back to the beer, and just popping open the cork was to be rushed with the fragrance of cherries. No messing around here then, fruit by name, fruit by nature. As you can see from the picture, it is a very red beer, and the head was distinctly pink. Guess what it smelt like, erm yes cherries, but also like the powdered sherbert that I loved as a kid. Tastewise it was a revelation – I was expecting a sweet cloying flavour, but au contraire this was tart and acidic balanced out with a sweetness in the aftertaste, and as I did expect lots of fruitiness. The body was smooth and velvety and boy does this go well with creamy pasta!
Magnificent is quite simply the only word that would do this beer justice. I can imagine sitting on a veranda during a balmy Southern summer with this for refreshment and being very happy with my lot in life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Not A Big Dog

Until recently Belgian Trappist ales were the kind of beer which either cost an arm and a leg at Pivovarský klub, or necessitated a trip to the cheese shop and spending reasonably equal amounts of money on beer and cheese – my other major food weakness is extra mature Cheddar cheese. However, while I was away on holiday, I got an sms from Evan to tell that the world had gone crazy and our local Billa now stocked the likes of Orval, Rochefort and Westmalle.

One beer which they don’t stock at any of the above is St Bernardus Prior 8, an Abbey Ale which was another new beer to me, and part of the culture shock of being in L’Eclerc in La Souterraine wanting to meet their beer buyer – he is doing a good job!

In many ways this beer was pretty much as I expected, being a Belgian Abbey Ale and having an “8” in the title, immediately made me think of the Rochefort 8, and indeed it pours a similar cloudy brown although with a more frothy head, tinged with beige. The nose was malty, with touches of cocoa. The maltiness of the nose came through again in the sweetness of the beer, although the body was on the thinner side of the Rochefort, which while not reaching the heights of those august ales is no bad thing.

The world of Abbey Ale is becoming one I will be trying to explore as much as possible in the next few months and, given my soft spot for Gottschalk from Želiv, hopefully not just brews from Belgium.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cyclops Website

I have mentioned the Cyclops tasting notes system before, and personally I use a variant of it when writing my own notes about the beers I try.

Developed by Everards in Leicestershire, they now have a website showing all the brewers using the system, as well as listing their beers with the notes.

A useful resource indeed.

Good Gard!

I have mentioned previous that I wasn’t really expecting to find a lot of French beer worth drinking during the Christmas period, and was expecting to have to buy whatever Belgian beers were available. However, I knew I would be making an exception for a beer from Les Brasseurs de Gayant called La Goudale, which comes in corked 0.75 litre bottles as you can see above.

Mrs Velkyal and I spent Christmas 2007 at my parents’ place as well, and this was one of the beers I tried, and enjoyed. Given that my knowledge of beer and brewing have increased exponentially in the last 12 months, I was keen to get hold of some and re-appraise it in light the acquired knowledge.
Having learned that the only beer glass my parents possess is the Hoegaarden one in the pictures, I poured myself half a bottle. Although the picture doesn’t really show it very well, the beer pours a rich golden colour with a huge foamy white head, which the picture does show rather well. The beer is also quite bubbly, sustaining the head so that it never fully disappears. The nose is rather hoppy, with plenty of grassy, floral notes, as well as touches of over ripe bananas and cloves, without realizing it I was drinking a wheat beer – confirmed by checking the ingredients in my French-English dictionary. Having an ABV of 7.2% this was one of the stronger wheat beers I have had, however it was very smooth and the alcohol only kicking in with a warming glow once it was some way down my throat.

One of the conversations which come up regularly on the Czech beer blogging scene, in particular over on Beer Culture, is the use of labels in order to inform and educate the drinker. I quite like La Goudale’s labels, in particular the back label, which explains the origins of the name – in this case dating from the 14th century and well made bieres being known in Flanders as Goudale, Goudalle or later on Good Ale.
This is a beer that I very much like, and whenever we make it to France is on my shopping list.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Beer Hero of the Week

I read this on the BBC this morning.

Perhaps CAMRA could sponsor a scheme to revive this ancient craft so inter-twined with the concept of real ale?

Update - I changed the title and decided to make Alastair Simms my Beer Hero of the Week, for single-handedly keeping alive a traditional part of the beer scene.

A Business Model?

I am now one week into my annual month off the booze, although that doesn't stretch to month away from pubs - how would I watch Liverpool overwise? Mind you the beer in Zlata is so comically bad at times that I know I could take a lifetime vow of abstinence and go there everyday without fear of temptation (for those interested, they sell Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell - some of my mates have switched to Urquell as a result of the Gambrinus).

I have been told several times that I should just drink non-alcoholic beer for the month, but that feels like cheating to me. So I sit in the pub with a coffee and a mineral water, while I tell friends what beers to drink - and feel sickly jealous inside, despite being beatifically serene on the outside. This was especially true on Monday as a friend was getting stuck into her second Hukvaldy 14° polotmávé. Even more so last night when in U Slovanské Lípy introducing a friend to the delights of Kout na Šumavě.

Things seem to be going well for the guys at U Slovanské Lípy, the place was doing a very brisk trade - I would say the place was about 75% full. Seeing as though it is only about a 15 minute walk home, I decided to brave the cold (it was about -15º Celsius I believe) and conduct a little experiment. I had a quick gander through the window of evey pub I went by. Every other pub on the way home through Žižkov, Prague's pub central, was practically deserted - barely a soul out "enjoying" Gambrinus, Staropramen, Braník or Stella.

Could there be a correlation here? Excellent beer at good prices makes a pub a place people want to visit regardless of the time of year. I still marvel at times that the magnficent 10º pale lager costs 20kč ($1, £0.70, €0.76) for a half litre of loveliness.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

More French Discoveries

Over the Christmas holiday we did a lot of travelling. Not only flying from Prague to Paris, and then getting the train to La Souterraine (I love the fact that my parents live near a town called "underground"), but a few days after arriving we drove from their place to Ashford in Kent to spend the actual Christmas period with my eldest brother.

Obviously getting from France to the UK means crossing the Channel, which means sitting around in the Eurotunnel waiting zone for your letter to be called. A quick aside, when I had just left university and was engaged to a Polish girl, I always looked forward to arriving in Calais and getting the ferry. After 18 hours on a bus, the thought of 2 hours fresh air and stretchy leg time was great - the Chunnel, whilst quicker just isn't as pleasurable as the old ferries.

As we had arrived with plenty of time, we popped into the huge shopping mall just next to the terminal - to pass some time basically, and for me to buy a case of something worth drinking so that I could guarantee I could enjoy my beers from BeerRitz with minimum interference. I later discovered that the only brother of mine who drinks beer regularly was on antibiotics and thus off the booze. Trying to decide what to get was a nightmare - one brother drinks mainly wine and only occassionally a beer; when asked whether he preferred ale or lager, the response was "depends". Another of the brethren (there are 4 of us, and no sisters!) was not fussed "as long as it isn't too strong", and the third will drink most things as long as they are vodka. So I bought a case of Budvar - can't go wrong with the only mass produced Czech lager worth drinking.

By the time we got to the terminal I was getting tetchy, I wanted a beer. Straight to the bar I went, and plumped for a beer called Wel Scotch from the Brasseries Kronenburg. As you can see from the picture it is a nice copper colour with a somewhat thin head. The nose had tinges of whisky, not surprising really as it is made with peat smoked whisky malt, as used in the water of life. Slightly sweet, with a very nice bitter twang and the smokiness of the malt just coming through at the end - this was nice, really nice. France seems to do a fair few beers using distiller's malt, which usually leave me cold but this I could happily drink regularly. I have one criticism, look at the picture - I don't like my beer in plastic pots, but there we go.

With Christmas over and done with, a bit of a chronological jump I know, we headed back to France, spent an age looking for our hotel in Lille and then the next morning toured various World War I related sites before turning south. Our stop for the night was to be in Peronne, a small town that sits right on the river Somme, and is surrounded by some of the most humbling places I have ever been, including Thiepval.

Our hotel for the night was a Campanile, when we walked into the restaurant for dinner my heart leapt because on the board was written "bières régionales". The local beer available was Colvert from La Brasserie de Clerck, a 7%ABV blonde beer whose name translates as Mallard. Boy was this nice, golden amber a big foamy head and a distinct citrus nose. Citrus was very much the dominant theme here, thus the beer was very refreshing and surprisingly light given the alcohol content. I thought the body was a touch on the thin side. I must say though, I loved the glass that came with it - I was tempted to nick it, but somehow knew I would never get it back to Prague in one piece.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Petite Bière

First of all a confession, I wasn’t expecting to discover too much decent beer in the area in which my parents live. However, my pre-holiday research unearthed about 9 microbreweries in the Haut Limousin, so all hope had not been abandoned. I also knew that given the collection of Brits living the area, the mini-market in the nearest village sold Shepherd Neame’s excellent Spitfire, as well as Young’s Bombardier. My major hope for local craft brew lay in the fact that my parents had planned to take Mrs Velkyal and I to the final day of the Limoges Christmas market.

At the market was a stall for La Brasserie du Haut Limousin, a craft brewery operated by Monsieur and Madame Martialot from a town called Folles. For €15 I picked up the natty little wooden carrier with 5 types of beer as shown in the picture above, with the brand name La Lemovice. I drank the beers over several days, beginning with the 6.5%ABV Blonde. The bumpf I picked up with the beers told me that this beer is thrice hopped, in common with the Wychwood Wychcraft, and the nose was certainly very hoppy, in particular abounding in floral and spicy notes. There was also a very distinct whiff of yeast coming from this cloudy golden beer that had a quickly disappearing white head. Taste wise it was very smooth with banana and lemon flavours, I know that may sound odd. The blonde is a very nice easy drinking beer and I can certainly see why it was awarded a Fourquet d’Argent in 2008.

A few days later I dipped back into the wooden carrier and pulled out the Biere de Noel, a cloudy dark brown beer which, given the look and smell of it, I wasn’t expecting great things from. The nose was again dominated by yeast, although hints of ginger came through as well. The beer itself was rather sweet with a slightly spicy feel to it and yet the 8%ABV was strangely absent, it really didn’t feel like an alcoholic drink. Even Mrs Velkyal said that it “tastes like a soda”. This was an ok beer really, I assume there was a portion of wheat in the grist – but given that there was practically no information on the label I can’t say for sure, having said that I liked the label design in general.

Of the other three beers in the set, the Ambree was the pick of the bunch – sitting between the Biere de Noel and the Blonde yet boasting a zoiglesque nose. The cuvee special was to be blunt most definitely not my thing, and so it found its way down the drain rather quickly. Likewise the dark La Gueule Noire du Limousin was not really my cup of tea as it was distinctly sour – not sure if that was by design or otherwise.

Probably the most interesting thing from the Brasserie du Haut Limousin was the advertising leaflet I picked up, which not only contained information about the brewery and its beers but also about the history of brewing in the Limousin region of France. It was also interesting that all the beers are top fermented, and then bottle conditioned – hence the cloudiness of them all. I was also taken with the fact that the brewery only uses regional ingredients in its production, making it truly a local craft brew.

These guys are a very small operation, only 300 litres a week and they have no website, so sorry for the lack of links to them.

Get Your Coat Love

I have said it plenty of times on here as well as my various socials, I am an abysmal beer tourist. You see, I have this tendency to find a ...