Reviews and events

The Session 120: Brown Beer


For this month’s Session topic, Joe Tindall who writes at The Fatal Glass of Beer has nominated a tricky subject to blog about. I say tricky, because in the discourse of modern beer ‘Brown’ has become a inexplicably maligned descriptor, and brown ale as a style is often overlooked or derided.

Brown is what your parents drank. Brown is dull and lifeless. Brown is  unfashionable, and comes in clear bottles, from brands that no longer exist as independent entities, so passé that they’ve become a joke even amongst the communities that they sprouted from. However, Brown ales are also flavourful, rich, moreish, and despite the negatives, are still one of the most satisfying styles around, even more so when brewed with care and creativity.

My original intention for this post was to find a couple of the classics, and drink them side by side with some newer examples. I quickly realised that it would be a pointless task, mainly because the likes of Newcastle Brown and Mann’s have been reduced to pointlessness by a indifferent beer market and the financial pressures of supermarket discounting.

Also, as most contemporary brown ales available are jazzed up and trend-driven, a comparison would be uneven. So instead of digging up the time capsule and finding nothing but a mouldy newspaper and a badly spelled letter, I picked up two bottles that I thought would be at distant ends of the modern Brown ale scale.


Blackjack Brewery are one of Manchester’s new wave of railway arch Brewers, nestled up in the Green Quarter on the edge of the city centre. The River is a Farmhouse Brown that is billed as ‘far from ‘brown’ as it gets’. There is certainly a extreme funk in the air as I pop the cap, and a small gush of foam – the yeast in the bottle has certainly been working away – but the liveliness still sprays out a nutty aroma that screams brown ale.

To taste, I’m getting a lot of banana esters and also a sweet toasty cocoa. The yeasty, brett-like funk gives it an edge that seems a little strange, almost distracting at first, but as a counterpoint it works. I would have liked a bit more spice, perhaps, but it’s a good concept and pretty well executed too.


Odyssey Brew Co are a new, but increasingly lauded brewery hidden away in deep countryside between Hereford and Worcester. They’ve attracted a lot of attention for their range of aggressively flavoursome beer, and this imperial oatmeal stout fits in with that ethos.

My bottle is full of vanilla, coffee and chocolate, and is thick, with a sharp boozy finish – almost akin to a bourbon aged stout. However there is also that characteristic brownness underneath, with lots of sticky caramel and a gentle bitterness. My only criticism would be that on the finish the vanilla slightly overpowers the other flavours.

To be honest, my previous Odyssey experiences didn’t leave me reeling with excitement, but this beer shows why they’ve got a lot of praise. A real hefty pudding of a beer.

With these two beers, and others I’ve tried recently – North Brewing Co’s Bulkhead and Magic Rock’s The Stooge, both excellent from cask – there is clearly life in the style amongst UK brewers, even if the parameters of the style are being ever more stretched. 

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Fridge Favourites, Reviews and events

A Pirate Life for me

David at Bier Huis in Ossett, near Wakefield stocks a wide range of great beer, mostly from the UK but with decent picks from Europe and the USA, and when I pop in I often find something I havent seen or heard of before. 

Upon my last visit I was intrigued to see a selection of beers from Pirate Life Brewing. Australian beer is a rare thing to see in the U.K outside of the usual macro suspects, and so I picked up one each of the cans on offer for an evening’s entertainment. 

The Throwback Session IPA was the first to be popped, and it poured as expected – light, golden and clear. There was a crisp, underwhelming aroma but with a sweet lemony hint. Befitting it’s name the finish was quite like a light session bitter rather than a pale, but the flavours were easy going and fruity, and the Simcoe shone through in a lightly savoury aftertaste. A thoroughly smashable easy drinker, and not quite what I expected from an Aussie brewery (I know, prejudiced stereotyping here) – I could imagine this being drunk by the pint from a  cellar cool cask.

The Pale also took my tastebuds by surprise. The aluminium cracked, the contents unleashed a big foamy whoosh into my glass, and there was a musky, piney, peppery aromatic flood. There wasnt much fruit on the nose, but lots of syrupy pineapple, and sticky malt on the tongue. Bitter and fresh, it certainly didn’t taste like it had been affected by the beer miles from Adelaide to West Yorkshite. Strongly resinous and sweet, I’d describe the Pale as Torpedo-esque, oily and thick. One to try and try again.

Following the Pale I had great expectations for the IPA. A slightly hazy amber in the glass, this is more of a typically west coast IPA, with Centennial to the fore on the aroma. On the tongue I got sherbet orange and lime, a lot less bitter than the pale, but still sweetly citric. More so than the pale, there was a now commonplace savoury aftertaste where I’d like to find a more pronounced bitterness. Not quite what I want, but I appreciate it for being more than a box ticker, and I’ll be trying this again.

I left the IIPA until the next day, as at 8.8% and 500ml, I didn’t think I would be giving it a fair trial after the other three. Similar to the Pale in colour, perhaps a shade or two darker, it was dialled up to eleven on the dank and juicy scale. There’s lots of passion fruit and mango, but with the pungent bitterness to cut through. An Double IPA that pays as much attention to the use of malt as the hops, this is thick and full but a different kind of prospect to the current run juice-like IPAs. Although I didn’t notice it at the time of purchase, due to chatting about beer, this certainly wasn’t cheap but it definitely was memorable, and given the distance travelled, volume of the can and level of quality provided it was justified. 

Many times, I’ve gone off plan and bought something exotic or unusual and been disappointed, but Pirate Life have created two good and two great beers that I’m pleased I stuck my cash on the line for. 

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Opinion and rants, Reviews and events

Session 119 – Discomfort Beer

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This post is a contribution to Beer Blogging Friday where a host volunteers to choose a topic for bloggers to write about and then collates the responses.  This time,  Alec Latham has chosen the topic of “Discomfort Beer”, and contributions are focused on beers that challenged, disgusted, or changed the opinion of the writer.

Back in about 2011, I thought I ‘knew’ about beer, mainly because I’d successfully booked a trip to Brussels in 2006 and it coincided with the annual Brussels beer weekend – not that I knew it was on. My partner and I enjoyed it so much that we roped in a few others for a return trip the year after, and the year after that.
With these repeat visits, I had chucked back what I thought at the time were exceptionally strong beers, in a rather typically cavalier youngish Brit abroad fashion. We shared and tried a list of beers that I cannot recall in much detail, and I certainly didn’t really make any attempt to learn much about them at the time. Beer was beer, even Belgian beer. We laughed at the silly outfits of the brewers at the parade, and even made some jokes about the name of some bloke called Michael Jackson sitting in a tent with a load of books he was signing.

As the quote goes ‘the past is a foreign country’, and although in this instance that was literally true, it was my last visit to the Beer weekend in 2011 that demonstrates the figurative truth behind it, and which relates to the topic for this session.

‘One Boon Gooze please’, I said as I approached Boon’s stall. ‘Ok…coming up’ said the hesitant server who had obviously dealt with plenty of oblivious tourists ordering his produce that weekend, and pulling the same mystified/disgusted expression that was to wash over my face in approximately three minutes. My last few tokens of the weekend were handed over, and I looked forward to my last beer of the festival on a Sunday afternoon that had been mercifully dry, compared to the heavy showers of the other sessions.

One swift gulp later, I was wondering what exactly it was that I’d ordered. Was this beer? It smelt like sweaty cider and cheese, and it certainly didn’t taste like what I’d come to expect from Belgian beer – sweet and strong, with or without fruit. Even the Coconut beer we made our friends order as a kind of initiation tasted more palatable than this. Still, not being a person not to finish his beer, I persisted and finished my glass. I thought ‘I’ll take a photo of this, so I don’t order it again next year’, which is the photo above.

My perceptions and reaction planted the seed of doubt in my head – what was this? Did I just not ‘get it’? And so I started looking into the brewery, and then the style of beer, and who Michael Jackson was. Five years on and I know that what I was tasting was almost certainly Boon’s Oude Gueuze, which for a novice to the style was probably the worst introduction. However, it had the effect of prompting me to expand my horizons in a way that the Blondes and Bruins and syrupy sweet Framboises didn’t.

I’m grateful that the person serving me at Boon’s stall didn’t pause to ask ‘have you had this before?’ and recommend something less challenging from another brewer. It’s been much more fun learning about beer following that uncomfortable experience

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Reviews and events

#12DaysofXmas – Day 10 – Pannepot Reserva 2012

The end is in sight, and we’ve got two barrel-aged old ales to drink before the finale on New Year’s Eve. First up is the second beer of this year’s selection from De Stuise Brewing – Pannepot Reserva.

Named after a type of fishing vessel, Struise say this pitches somewhere between a strong dark ale and a stout, and the 2012 reserva is aged on French oak barrels for 14 months.

Poured, the colour is almost as black as a Priest’s socks, and with a strong initial fizz which forms a caramel tinged head. The aroma immediately brings to mind both strong dark chocolate and tobacco. I don’t think I’ve had a beer for a while that has such a formidable sense of taste before I’ve even had a sip.
The flavour stands up to expectations, full of sweet dark fruits, coffee and bitter chocolate. There is also a delicate carbonation that gives a winey dryness, and this helps add to the sense of luxuriance that emanates from the glass. Even more so given that this was a relatively inexpensive beer.

Becky is eyeing this beer eagerly, and I’ve passed the second half of the glass over to her. ‘I’m going to try and be sensible but I’ve already had a large glass of red wine, and I’m laughing at ‘caramel tinged head’. Anyway here goes…. I am guilty of judging a beer by its label and when I go to buy my beer I very much base my initial beer buying decision on the look of the can/bottle. This bottle is the beer equivalent of those 99p classics they sell in The Works and I wouldn’t have been drawn to it had I been choosing tonight’s beer.

I know what Gareth means about the initial fizz. It’s almost like eating one of those shit cola bottles that is fizzy for one suck then you’re just into the ‘flat’ jelly. The overall flavour is delicious, almost like a combination of coffee and red wine. This beer just goes to show you should not judge a beer by its cover and I will endeavour to change my beer buying habits.’

There you go, I’m a source of constant fun in this house as you can tell. At least the beer wasn’t laughable. Another excellent bottle, looking forward to hopefully more of the same tomorrow.

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Reviews and events

#12BeersofXmas – Day 9 – Holy Oak

After a few days of eeking out a share each of a 330ml bottle, we’re back in big bottle country tonight, and the beer that I am most looking forward to of this year’s selection.

Gigantic brew out of Portland, Oregon and had their fourth birthday earlier this year, they prepared to mark the occasion by flying Magic Rock’s Nick Ziegler out in advance to brew Holy Oak – a barrel-aged kettle sour designed to mimic a whiskey sour cocktail. The collaboration must have gone well as Gigantic made the return trip to brew Special Relationship – a Manhattan cocktail-style aged beer – earlier this year.

I didn’t get round to tasting Holy Oak when it was originally released, and I also thought that I’d missed out on a bottle due to my own inaction. Luckily, Becky noted my interest and picked a bottle up, which has been sitting in our kitchen waiting for the right moment. Which is now.

A satisfying hiss accompanied the popping of the cap, which is usually a good sign, and the beer poured with a thick dense foam. The aroma is obviously max bourbon, but also sweet citrus. The sourness of the beer is pronounced but it balances the oaky bourbon by providing a sugary, tangy hit on the aftertaste. Which isn’t to say that it is overly sweet – it’s designed to ape a Whisky Sour and does so to a tee.

Even the mouthfeel is spot on – slight hints of a thick creamyness, which I would expect from egg yolk in the cocktail – and it isn’t  light, throwaway like a lot of kettle soured beers are. It’s one of those beers that demonstrates it’s creator’s methods with extra layers. I’m very impressed, not only with the end result, but also with the level of thought that must have gone into the process. I think Becky is also pretty happy with this one.

‘It used to be that when Gareth had a sour he would ask me to try it then sit tittering at the expression of disgust on my face. Now however I know if the style of beer I’m trying is a sour that it’s pretty certain I’ll love it and this is no exception. Again another boozy number on the nose and the whiskey taste definitely comes through. Not sure I could drink more that one glass of this one as it feels really strong and is certainly hitting the spot tonight. I best stop now though or I’ll have a ‘Gigantic’ hangover again tomorrow.’

It’s fair to say I’ve certainly not been disappointed with Holy Oak, I’m a bit sceptical of beers that seem to be aping a different drink, but the success of both this and Special Relationship have shown that amazing results can be achieved.

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Reviews and events

#12BeersofXmas – Day 8 – Tsjeeses

Today’s selection is another Christmas themed beer, and we’ve gone back to Belgium for a beer by De Struise. Near neighbours to the monks at Westvleteren, De Struise are renowned for creating many well regarded beers, including Pannepot (more about that later in the week).

The story behind the name of this beer is that De Struise had been brewing Christmas beers for a few years without finding a good name, until one year the head brewer tasted the latest creation and exclaimed ‘Tjeeses, what a beer’. Nice story. The label also has an interesting reason behind the character’s shades, more info here.

The beer initially pours with a bubbly head, although all carbonation rapidly dissipates. The aroma reminds me of Madeira wine, as does the deep reddish brown colour. The beer is lagered on various fruits, and I’d hazard a guess that cherries and plums would have been used, given the bittersweet flavours. The alcohol does hit post-swallow but in a good way, and the aftertaste is nutty, with a bit of vanilla. I think with a bit more carbonation this would have been truly memorable, but I’m unsure if time in the bottle would help or not. However, for a Christmas beer this is hard to beat in terms of depth and flavour.

‘Yay I’m sober so actually appreciating this lovely beer! Looking at it in the glass you’d think it was brandy rather than beer and it’s very boozy on the nose. Lovely and warming like drinking a spirit. Unfortunately because it’s so good I’ve pretty much finished it before coming to write this but if you like a strong Belgian beer this will be right up your street. Just wish we had more!’

Another well received beer overall, seems like we’re having a pretty successful #12BeersofXmas this year, here’s hoping the next few days keep up this standard.

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Reviews and events

#12BeersofXmas – Day 7 – #MashTag 15

‘Hey guys, we’re #cool! Let’s source the recipe for a #new #beer #on #Twitter #using #hashtags #and #polls’. Was my reaction at the time to the Brewdog mashtag crowd-created beer. It all seemed a bit ‘hells yeah’ and ‘totes’, even for Brewdog.

But I am a rapidly aging cynic, and even though the combination of suggestions that were chosen sometimes seemed like a bit of a dog’s dinner, I’d seen the 2015 in a beer shop and picked one up anyway. A black barley wine aged on oak chips didn’t sound too bad, after all.

Vanilla beans were also an addition to the brew and they figure strongly both on the initial aroma and dry, creamy finish. The mashtaggers also decided that the beer should have an IBU level of 100, and while this has faded, there’s still a tingly bitterness to put a full stop to the oaky, smoky heart of this full bodied barley wine.

I know Becky occasionally enjoys a barley wine and I thought this would be a slightly different proposition for her to try. ‘The few barley wine beers I’ve tried I have liked but I wouldn’t say they’re my go to beer. I have been driving for five hours today then drinking for the last six so my contribution is going to be minimal! This beer does smell lovely, definite hints of coffee and vanilla. Saying that on the first sip it made me pull my ‘yuck face’. However the warmer it got and the more I drank the more it’s grown on me. It has a warm flavour and is smooth to drink.’

So maybe #-ing a beer together on Twitter isn’t such a bad idea after all. I’m still not sure if I’d enjoy the 2016 creation, but 2015’s was delicious.

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