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.

Reviews and events

#12BeersofXmas – Day 3 – Bearded Lady Grand Marnier

Day three and the Pettmans have shifted to Kent, back in town for the bulk of Christmas. I’ve bought a box o’booze and today’s selection has been momentarily chilling on the rear window sill.

Recently re-brewed, this can of Magic Rock Brewing’s Bearded Lady Grand Marnier edition has been in the can for about ten months (I think) and I’m looking forward to seeing if the chocolate orange character remains, or if this has altered.

Becky is definitely not a fan of Stout, although she has found the occasional palatable example, and still happily persists at trying anything I open. Not sure if tonight’s beer will make a breakthrough or not – on opening I get aromas of orange as expected, although the initial taste is more liquorice. The texture is thick and luxuriant, velvety smooth but interrupted on the finish with some warm boozy vapours. There’s touches of vanilla to smooth the flow from glass to gullet, and while it drinks like a 10.5%er, I’m finding it hard to sip rather than slurp. Eminently drinkable. Has it made a positive impression on she who shall not be stouted?

‘Another attempt for me to find a stout I want to take on a second date….It started with a sniff (there’s a song in there somewhere) and I thought I was going to love this one. The chocolatey orange aromas made me think this was going to  be right up my street. But alas when I had a taste it made me pull my ‘stout face’ (again I can try to find an appropriate gif). It’s probably the least offensive of the stouts I’ve tried but still not for me. I shall persist on my stout mission (impossible)’.

Is stout one of those things people either ‘get’ or not? I suppose that could be said about the majority of beer I drink. Even as a fan, I think most stout, especially the stronger end of the register, is something that has very limited appeal to casual beer drinkers. I don’t really fetishise the Impys but this is an excellent beer and something that was the potential to win over the indifferent, but not tonight.

Reviews and events

Well lit

October was a busy month across West Yorkshire (and beyond) for beery events. Tap takeovers, beer launches, and tap room social events all activated the FOMO (fear of missing out) sensors, but with a visit to this year’s IndyManBeerCon on the cards too, i had to ration my outings.

One event that I really didn’t want to miss was a rare opportunity to taste a selection of beers from Cigar City Brewing of Tampa, Florida. Whilst I’d tried the odd third here and there over the years, the lure of Jai Alai IPA and the much vaunted Hunahpu Imperial Stout on tap is a rare enough occurrence to bring out the squeaky voiced nerd on my shoulder telling me to go along.

The reason for the timing of the event was seemingly that Magic Rock had invited brewmaster Wayne Wambles over for a collaborative brew, and he had very kindly arranged for a fresh pallet of kegs and cans to be flown in. Fresh beer is always a good way to seal a cross-atlantic friendship. Mr Wambles was there to offer a few words on the beers on offer, and also to sing the praises of traditional British brewing – their Brown Ale is a homage to those of the UK, Cask beer can’t be beaten, Fish and Chips is the ideal accompaniment to good ale.


Wayne Wambles addressing his audience

Aside from gracious comments about your hosts, the best way for a guest to leave a good impression is to provide a thoughtful gift. The first of these that i tried was the much-vaunted Jai-Alai IPA. Described by Wayne as pitching up somewhere between the West-Coast and New England/Vermont/East Coast IPA, it does indeed provide identifiable elements of both – a huge aroma, stereo pineyness, hazy but not definitely not turbid, but also dank and pillowy to taste, juicy on the finish and without a cutting bitterness.

The Maduro brown ale was my next choice, and whilst Wayne discussed about how british brown ales influenced the recipe for this beer, its clear that there’s plenty of local flavour. Initially, i thought that it was crisp but traditional, and perhaps even a bit pedestrian, but the further down the glass i went, extra depths were revealed – chocolate roastiness, hints of espresso and, obviously, cigar smoke. As a standalone beer, its good, if not jaw-dropping, but pair this with a roast beef, ribs, or rich dark ganache and you’ve got a pairing of pure joy.

The only Cigar City Beer i didn’t get excited about was Ligero – a black lager whose name is a reference to a part of the tobacco leaf that gives cigars a spicy flavour. As you may have  guessed, the smoky, spiciness was reflected in the flavour of the beer – Wayne explained that he was inspired by German Schwartzbiers, and while the smoke was certainly not overpowering, it was enough for me – perhaps the contrasting sweetness of the Maduro and Jai-Alai meant my palate suffered slightly. One I’d like to give another go in a different place and time.

Having heard about the feverish demand amongst US devotees, the promise of a taste of the 2016 Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout intrigued me to say the least. Brewed once a year, the ingredients include cacao nibs, cinnamon and ancho and pasilla peppers. Personally, the inclusion of chillies in a beer is usually an instant turn-off, having drunk my way through a series of underwhelming or plain disgusting chilli beers i wasn’t expecting to enjoy Hunahpu stout as much as i did. Brewmaster Wayne discussed the beer in terms of its relation to a chocolatey Molé sauce, and the sensation of drinking this thick stout, full of dark chocolate and sweet, piquant chilli was revelatory. Ultimately, the strength of the beer was its fine balance – sweet yet warming, rich but not chewy. It was a shame that the keg kicked shortly after I finished my third, as I would have drink more of this. A lot more.

As well as the keg delights, I also picked up weeks-old cans of Jai Alai, Maduro and also Invasion pale ale to take home, which was, like Maduro, seemingly inspired by UK equivalents – dry, tantalisingly bitter, and gently aromatic . Currently, I understand that it is unlikely that there will be a wider distribution of Cigar City’s offerings in the UK, but if you see them, have a chomp.



Reviews and events

#12BeersofXmas – Day Five

imageToday has been my first day off from work of the Christmas period and it’s safe to say I’ve already indulged a bit. Christmas themed play, followed by Steak and a Pint at lunch, final Beer shop of the year and Cheese and Mince Pies for tea.

Tonight’s Beer is a more modest one than I’ve had so far this week, so hopefully i won’t be racked with indigestion tonight. Brewed for the 2014 Rainbow Project, Pogonophobia is a collaboration between Magic Rock and Evil Twin, designed as their interpretation of a Flanders Red.

Aged in Red Wine Barrels for 8 months prior to release, there’s a dry vinousness along with an oaky aroma and the requisite sour, tart finish. Mellower than, say, a Duchesse de Bourgoigne, and all the more boshable for it, I’ve finished my glass in about ten minutes. I’d like to say the extra year or so maturing in my kitchen had added a further dimension, but honestly, I thought the Beer to be well rounded and accomplished at first tasting, and should’ve bought a few more. Becky is similarly appreciative of tonight’s Beer.

“After days of some hardcore drinking I really didn’t feel like more beer tonight. However once I got my nostrils in the glass I changed my mind! I would say the smell is more wine than beer with the berry aroma. The taste is very subtle but again more fruity than beery and far too easy to drink. This one is my new favourite and my bestest – if there is a Santa he’ll be filling my stocking with Pogonophobia tonight!”

Sadly, unless Santa has an extremely comprehensive Beer cellar, he probably won’t be able to get one, so all the better we enjoyed it tonight.

Reviews and events

12 Beers of Xmas – Magic Rock Brewing Co. – Bourbon Barrel Bearded Lady

Placed just behind my beer box in the Kitchen, lurking with malevolence, appearing unlabelled in the low light, this bottle has sat biding it’s time for over a year now. Add the 10 months of barrel aging prior to bottling and we have a beer that’s well into the terrible twos. Weighing in at 660ml and 10.5% abv, this is a hefty beast and one befitting it’s name.

Without a description from me, you’re already picturing a dark brown, light proof appearance. Even held up to the overhead light, there is nothing seeping through the glass aside from the few bubbles in the wispy head. As expected, a strong, sweet, bourbon aroma rises, as well as chocolate and liquorice. Quite thin feeling initially, there is a sizzle on the tongue after a roll around the mouth, and a long finish full of caramel, vanilla and coffee beans.

This edition is the 2013 release and was aged in Wild Turkey barrels before bottling. My knowledge of Bourbon is limited, but I do recall that Wild Turkey was a favourite of Hunter S. Thompson, and there is something ‘Bat Country’ circling around this beer. Rye notes could be a characteristic inherited from barrel aging, a spiciness is definitely present.

I’m going to savour the rest of the bottle now, but I’m glad I waited this long.

Leeds Beer, Boozers and Breweries

Golden Pints 2014

Golden Pints Logo

One of the favourite times of the year as a Blog reader over the past couple of years has been Christmas, and checking out other people’s end-of-year posts. Other people’s Golden Pints is something I always make a point of seeking out and seeing so many Bloggers come up with their lists has been a good mental refresher for me of the year in Beer – highlights, remembering a great beer I might have forgotten and recommendations for new things to try.

Hopefully, my list will prompt a similar response, let me know if you agree with my selections. If you disagree, your opinion is factually incorrect….

Best UK Cask Beer High Wire – Magic Rock Brewing Company
High Wire really is my go-to Beer, one of those that if I walk into a pub and it’s on, I will invariably order a Pint. The Cask version for me is slightly preferable to Keg, if only for the contrast between the Citric, Bitter hop profile and the creamy sparkled mouthfeel that we get in the North (and even as a Southerner, I’m happy with a Sparkled Pint). Honourable Mentions go to the wonderous and mind-altering half of Beavertown Bone King I had on an unexpected lunchtime visit to Friends of Ham, and also to Kirkstall Brewery’s Black Band Porter.
Best UK Beer Keg BeerCannonball – Magic Rock Brewing Company
Predictable? Yes. Named by plenty of other bloggers for their Keg choice? Check. Do I care? No! Best Keg beer for me by far. Wonderfully consistent, increasingly, and in Leeds readily, available and a guaranteed flavour bomb. Other memorable beers include Northern Monk’s black IPA ,Dark Arches, and Summer Wine’s Pacer – a superb Pale Ale that enabled a heat-hating bloke to a relax with a Summer-y pint on a hot day.
Best Bottled/Canned BeerBottle – Wild Beer Co – Ninkasi Premier Cru
Ninkasi was my favourite Beer of 2013, and to see the Premier Cru version being launched made me initially feel a bit wary. At the time, I’d had a few Barrel-Aged or special edition version of other Beers I’d enjoyed that didn’t particularly add to the original, or felt like a sideways step into ignoring the strengths of the original version. On opening the Premier Cru, the aroma immediately dispelled any negativity. The Brett character of the original was enhanced, with a sharp apple tang but also a smooth, satisfying feel. Moreish in the extreme. For these reasons, it also gets the nod from me for Best Overall Beer.
Best Overseas Draught Beer – Freigeist Bierkultur – Salzspeicher (Raspberry)
Some Beers defy style, some seem to invent new ones and having this on tap at North Bar during their Oktoberfest was slightly mind-blowing. A sour Raspberry Porter, I felt a bit reticent to try this at first but the combination of the tart berries and roasted maltiness won me over. I only had the evening to try this and haven’t seen it anywhere since, but those three halves were a memorable experience.
Best Overseas Bottled/Canned Beer – Odell Brewing Co –  Myrcenary
A huge double IPA with an even huger aroma, this had me immediately online ordering more. I also drunk a few six-packs of Ska Euphoria over the summer, and Brewfist’s Czech Norris punnery was forgiven when I tasted an Imperial Pils that kicked more ubiquitous Italian Lagers in the Crotch and spat on their neck.
Best Collaboration Brew – Magic Rock/Lervig Farmhouse IPA
Simultaneously fresh and hoppy but also with a saisony earthy quality, this beer was an instant entry into my year’s top beers. Looking forward to seeing how this develops, I think some was kept in reserve for Barrel-aging. Runners-Up medals go to Stone/Smuttynose Cluster’s Last Stand, and Buxton/Omnipollo Stolen Fruits.
Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label – Wild Beer Co
Simple, yet distinctive – clear brand recognition and informative, yet uncluttered front labelling. Classy.
Best UK Brewery – Magic Rock Brewing Co
For a smaller brewery to produce such consistently good and innovative Beers must take such dedication and hard work. One of the strengths of Magic Rock is that they don’t rest on their laurels. With an expanded brewery on the way and a canning line being fired up, 2015 is going to be their biggest and hopefully best year yet. Along with Wild Beer Co and Summer Wine Brewing, I always scan the shelves or stock list of online or offline Beer Vendors for their products first.
Best Overseas Brewery – Odell Brewing
I think with the increasing number of US Breweries that are becoming available to Beer consumers in the UK, Odell have been slightly overshadowed for some reason in the search for the ‘new’. For me, Consistency and quality are paramount when it comes to divvying up the monthly Beer allowance and Odell almost always feature in my basket. Not only are their core beers reliable and often fresh as a daisy, their seasonal specials also seem to make the long trip East intact and loaded with flavour.
Pub/Bar of the Year – Northern Monk Refectory and Best New Brewery – Northern Monk Brewing Co
Like many in Leeds, I was hugely excited when it was announced that Northern Monk had chosen Holbeck just outside of Leeds City Centre, and even more enthused when they announced their plans included a 20-tap Refectory. Around 10 of their beers are on tap at any time, and accompanied by Grub and Grog Shop’s fancy, but not fancily priced food it is truly a Beer destination for Leeds to be proud of. Northern Monk isn’t exactly a new Brewery, having released cuckoo-brewed Beer and Collaborations previously, but with a new home and a buzz around them, it feels right for me to select them after a great year. I’ve also been encouraged by the beers I’ve tried from Atom Beers of Hull and look forward to slurping my way through more soon.
Festival of the Year – Leeds International Beer Festival
2014 was the Festival’s third year, and aside from the fact that I was the only Festival I got to, it is a worthy nominee. In the grandiose setting of Leeds Town Hall, the event felt slightly larger than the previous year’s – it certainly seemed busier and the Saturday evening session was rammed. I spent most of my time in the main hall circling the centre of the room where the Northern Monk/Kernel/Magic Rock bars were located, with an occasional foray to see outside on the Town Hall steps in the warm evening sunshine.
Supermarket of the Year – Waitrose
Enough said really, I don’t shop at Supermarkets for beer often but when we pass a Waitrose I’ll pop in for a few bottles.
Independent retailer of the year – Bierhuis
My nomination for this Category goes to Bierhuis mainly as it’s my local Beer retailer, and one with a great range of bottles at good prices. If you’re looking to sample a range of bottles from Yorkshire’s smaller micros I’d recommend here above the other shops in the area due to the sheer depth of their range in this department. They also stock a good range of Belgian and World beers, and often get one-off deliveries of Beers which I havent seen available elsewhere in West Yorks. This is probably one of the tougher categories for me to pick a sole nominee, also being a loyal customer of Beer Ritz for a good few years, and greatly appreciative of and excited to see Tall Boys opening a bottle shop in Leeds City Centre – something that was sorely lacking before.
Online Retailer of the Year – Beer Merchants/Ales by Mail
I’m going to duck this one slightly as I don’t buy beer online often, being pretty well served by the businesses above, but both Beer Merchants and Ales by Mail have been exemplary in my personal experience and both stock great ranges.
Best Beer blog or website – Boak and Bailey
Boak and Bailey don’t just write interesting and well researched articles that cover the whole spectrum of Beer and Pub related topics, they also encourage and collate efforts from other bloggers and draw attention to subjects that may have otherwise been overlooked.
Best Beer App – Twitter
My main source of info about new Beers, Breweries and Blog posts is Twitter – via the people and businesses I follow and interact with, my knowledge of the ‘scene’ and issues and news surrounding Beer has increased exponentially. Beer is nothing without people, and getting to know people and read their thoughts and opinions on Beer through Twitter has been great. The occasional paddys/meltdowns/furious rants that pop up on my timeline are also very entertaining.
Simon Johnson award for best beer Twitterer – Broadford Brewer
I’ve followed David since joining Twitter, and have been continually entertained by his timeline’s mix of Dad jokes, doodles, thoughtful blog posts and general good-egg qualities.
Best Brewery Website/Social Media – Brewdog
Slick motherhubbards doing their thing.  You like what they do or you don’t. No further explanation needed.
So, there you go, just my thoughts on what has been a good year for Beer. Much expansion planned by some of my favourites Breweries and Bars, so 2015 already looks like a year to remember.