Showing posts with label cyclops. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cyclops. Show all posts

Friday, October 30, 2009

Two Countries Divided By a Common Beer Style

For those of you who are not aware of my employment, or lack thereof, situation at the moment, at weekends I work in the tasting room of the Starr Hill Brewery. On Saturdays and Sundays you are very likely to find me at the bar in the tasting room, serving samples of the brewery's range of beers to visitors, it is a job that I enjoy immensely. One of the most common questions I get asked by visitors is which of our beers is my favourite, and I am very lucky to work for a brewery whose range I genuinely enjoy. At the moment, because these things change, I have to admit that I have two favourites, we currently have a bourbon barrel aged, dry hopped barleywine available to which I am particularly partial, but from our core range, my clear favourite is Northern Lights IPA. For some time then I have been planning to get my hands on a bottle of a British IPA and do a comparison tasting of British and American IPA, that bottle arrived on Wednesday and was St Peter's India Pale Ale from Suffolk in England. As ever, I am using my variation on the Cyclops system for my tasting notes (the sooner American brewers adopt this system as well the better as far as I am concerned).



First up the English IPA, naturally as England is the home of IPA.
  • Sight - amber with a definite orange, small white head
  • Smell - bitter orange peel, faint caramel
  • Taste - sweet maltiness, spicy hops, mellow citrus
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
What a nice beer this is! Seriously, it is delicious, an excellent balance between the hops and malt, both kind of up and in your face, but neither dominating so much as to make it either sickly or like sucking lemons, there is a noticeably bitter aftertaste which I really enjoyed. A beautiful beer.



And now the American contender:
  • Sight - sparkling amber, loose white head
  • Smell - heavy grapefruit hoppiness (it's the Cascade!)
  • Taste - In your face grapefruit, smooth marmelade background
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 4/5
Damn it I love this beer, I really pity people who can't get this beer in their neck of the woods, seriously it is such a nice IPA. The thing it has for me over most IPAs in the US is that there is far more going on than just a hop bomb. Yes there is that classically American C hop, in your face, grapefruit citrus that you expect, but the malty sweetness of the body, and a subtle boozy glow, set that off perfectly. As I say to a lot of people in the tasting room, it is like hoppy marmelade. It is interesting the number of women who tell me that don't like hoppy beer, usually after they have just tried our Pale Ale, and thus don't want to try the IPA, but love it when I eventually persuade them just to try.

There really isn't much to tell these two excellent beers apart, other than the hop varieties in use. Perhaps then Northern Lights is closer to a genuine IPA than many of the hopbominations out there in the American market because it has the extra maltiness needed to balance out the big citrus flavours. My only gripe with the St Peter's is the use of a green bottle, but that is purely because my experience here so far is that green bottles don't travel as well as brown - thinking about Pilsner Urquell here for sure, so much so I have sworn not to drink it until I am again in Prague and can have it unpasteurised, it really makes such a difference.

Now if only I could find somewhere with Northern Lights as a cask conditioned ale, who happen to have a cask of St Peter's India Pale Ale, then I would be in IPA nirvana.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Virginia Barleywine is for Beer and Food Lovers

The Starr Hill Brewery currently has three special beers on tap, an 8% ABV saison, a 10.3% tripel and a 10.7% barleywine. I realise I am about to commit yet another beer geek heresy, but quite often the lighter coloured Belgian style beers do nothing for me - although I have found lately that this opinion isn't as rare as I assumed, and I have been told several times in the tasting room at Starr Hill just not to mention it on Ratebeer or BeerAdvocate. Barleywine by contrast is one of my favourite styles.

The first barleywine to pass my lips was last Christmas when I had a bottle of the delightful Benedictus from the Durham Brewery. The style also features in my homebrew calendar as a beer to be brewed in November and then stored for a year in preparation of the next Thanksgiving. I, like many of our regulars coming in for a growler fill at the tasting room, was looking forward to seeing what the brewers would come with for this most venerable of styles.

The weekend when Mrs Velkyal broke her foot, trying to kick some sense into me, I bought a 1 litre bottle of barelywine home with me from work, which we duly polished off over some angel food cake with some friends. So on Saturday I refilled my bottle and decided to do a Cyclops session with the beer, as well as use a little of it in a cooking project I had been ruminating about for a while. First to the Cyclops:
  • Sight - dark copper, foamy ivory head
  • Smell - nutty, earthy, spicy hops, strongly caramel
  • Taste - very malty, toffee, nuts, alcoholic edge
  • Sweet - 4/5
  • Bitter - 3/5

This is fantastic stuff in my book, big, bold and yet so smooth and silky. Yes it is rather sweet, but the spiciness of the hops counteracts that, so it isn't cloying in my experience. There is a very noticeable alcoholic glow that hits you after about half a glass - the one in the picture is a half pint glass. As I was drinking I wanted a nice single malt to go with the beer (I wonder how it would be given the Paradox treatment?). Gorgeous, gorgeous beer.
On then to my cooking project, sticky toffee pudding with barleywine sauce, basically a study in boozy, sweet, powerful desserts. The basic cake part of the dessert was Jamie Oliver's recipe, which you can see here. The sauce though was my own little creation using:
  • a knob of unsalted butter
  • quarter pint of barleywine
  • 1 small can condensed milk
Melt the butter in a small pan, add the barleywine and bring to the boil. Once the beer has reduced by about a quarter, add the condensed milk and then stir, and stir, and stir.


Eventually you end up with a beautifully silky, rich sauce to pour over the cake, or in the case of the picture below, around the case - I was watching while I ate my dessert last night and I could help but
think Gordon Ramsay would have beeping loved it!


How could I stop at a single serving of this delight? So I didn't and had a second!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reviewing Homebrew

Up until now the only homebrew I have tried is my own, of course not including my father's efforts when I was about 11 - I did enjoy pouring half pints from the polypins! However, when my friend Saruman came over from Ireland last week he brought the following homebrew with him:
  • BitterBock
  • Dark Cerveza
  • Wheat

Saruman has recently upgraded his brewing operations from kits, which the three beers above are based on, to extract with speciality grains. At present my beers are extract with speciality grains and although I plan eventually to go all-grain, I like the ease of this method while I get the hang of the boiling and fermenting stages.

Anyway, on to Saruman's beer, which I have again used the Cyclops system for evaluating.

Bitterbock - an interesting idea where he mixed together a bitter kit and a bock kit, then fermented it with a Danstar Windsor Ale yeast.

  • sight - very dark, brown at the edges, tan head
  • smell - cocoa, citrus, floral
  • taste - bitter, crisp, dry
  • sweet - 2/5
  • bitter - 2/5

An interesting beer, almost like a lemony porter which would be, as Ron would take great ironic delight in saying, "not true to style", but still drinkable and as I put it in my notes "porter-lite" (yes Americanisms are creeping in to my world).

Dark Cerveza - again Saruman messed around with the kit, and instead of using sugar as instructed, he halved the fermentables between light and dark dry malt extract.

  • sight - dark orange. slightly off-white head
  • smell - malty, light fruit, oranges
  • taste - tangy, marmelade
  • sweet - 2/5
  • bitter - 2.5/5

On a hot summer day, a few of these straight from the cooler (more Americanisms!) would be very refreshing. I am not sure if sour is a normal thing to find in a Mexican cerveza, but it worked quite well in this beer.

The last of the beers was a wheat, which we included in our Eurovision Wheat Contest - more of which tomorrow.

  • sight - light orange, thin white head
  • smell - slightly smokey, mild citrus
  • taste - malty, quite syrupy
  • sweet - 2.5/5
  • bitter - 1/5

This was probably the weakest of the three as I felt it was somewhat flat and you could tell it was from a beer kit, however it would make a decent drink over a barbecue (random thought - can you barbecue black pudding?).

One thing that came up with each of the beers was a certain maltiness, almost sweetness, which belied the fact that the beers were made from a kit - I also found this with my EDM. I am sure than Saruman will derive greater pleasure from going to extract and speciality grains, and look forward to seeing what he comes up with.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Limelight in the Spotlight

Yesterday I finally got round to bottling the remaining car-baby of Limelight. I decided to use a bit more priming solution with this one because the couple of bottles I hd already indulged in were a bit under-carbonated and the head disappeared somewhat quickly. With bottling done with, I popped open another bottle of Limelight in order to do my official Cyclops analysis for this beer.



The bottle had been conditioning for 2 weeks and opened with a relief inducing pop, there is something about the sound of opening a bottle of your own beer and knowing that at least you got the carbonating process right! Just a quick recap, the OG of Limelight was 1.040 (that's 10° for all the Plato/Balling buffs), admittedly a little short of the style guides, but there we go. The FG for both car-babies was 1.012, which gave me an ABV of 3.8%

And the Cyclops looks like this:
  • sight - dark orange, cloudy, off-white head
  • smell - citrus fruits, spices, floral notes
  • taste - dry, crisp, citrus
  • sweet - 1/5
  • bitter - 1.5/5
The carbonation from this bottle was ok, as you can see from the head in the picture, although I thought the body was a little on the thin side - given though that my favourite beers are all big on body and flavour, it could be that this is perfectly acceptable and I just like fuller beers.
Given the lovely weather we are enjoying in Prague at the moment, and the fringe benefits that go with that, a few cold Limelights by the river would be a very refreshing prospect.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cyclops Your Own!

As an act of solidarity, and also the fact that I have gained a bit of weight lately, I am going on a two week carb fast, which regrettably includes drinking no alcohol for a fortnight. This is something I do reasonably regularly, so it isn't anything drastic or dramatic - but it was the excuse I gave myself for doing a comparative tasting of the two versions of Experimental Dark Matter.

First a quick re-cap. When I made the beer a few weeks ago, I ended up with two different original gravities in the carboys - one was 1.040 and the other was 1.052, that 10° and 13° Balling respectively if I did my calculations correctly. The reason for two different gravities I think was the rather less than scientific approach that I took. Any way, after a few days of nervous waiting, both carboys fermented away to their hearts content.

When I bottled the beers, I did so about 5 days apart because the stronger of the two was still bubbling a bit and I knew that it wouldn't harm the beer to sit for a few days more. Plus I made such a bog of bottling the first that I decided a jerry can with tap was just what the doctor, and the wife fed up with sticky tiles, ordered. I also carbonated the stronger beer slightly differently - I used more priming solution, and hoped that the bottles didn't explode.

To the beers themselves, which I will do Cyclops style, first up the 10°, which had an ABV of 4.1%.


  • Sight - light ruby, small tan head
  • Smell - smoke, molasses, bitter chocolate
  • Taste - light caramel, faint hops, slightly sour
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Personally I thought this version was a bit thin in the body, and while it tasted fine it wasn't something that I would drink several pints of, I also under-carbonated it.

Next up the 13° with a 4.8% ABV.


  • Sight - dark ruby, tight tan head
  • Smell - smoke, treacle, dark chocolate
  • Taste - burnt toffee, smoke, dark chocolate
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
This was much better, and very close to what I was trying to achieve - the body was much fuller and rounded, lacking that slightly sour tang of the 10°. Being smug, I wouldn't have been disappointed if served this in a pub.
So my first brewing experience was successful, I got something drinkable at the end of it all, and in the 13° version, something enjoyable. It is shame I only have 10 bottles in total left, and 6 of the strong one - might use the 10° for some cooking....

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.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eye, Nose and Throat Specialists

In a couple of weeks I am going to Bicester in Oxfordshire as Mrs Velkyal has a conference to attend in Oxford, and I fancied a jolly. Being a good and dutiful husband I having been looking for restaurants and the like to eat in during the days when we are in Oxford itself, the reason we are staying in Bicester is that my brother lives there and we can combine the conference with seeing some family. Being a good and dutiful drinker of beers, I have have been looking for pubs that serve real ales and traditional British food, this is also good for Mrs Velkyal as she can discover the delights of steak and ale pie, chicken in a basket and fish n' chips - honestly this is for her benefit and not to satisfy my cravings for British food.

Anyway, back on track - in the course of my searchings I have been reading a lot about the brewers in Oxfordshire and the surrounding counties, several of which I have made mental notes to try when I am there. One of the brewers I came across was Everards, who brew in Leicestershire but have a single pub in the centre of Oxford. One thing that I found particularly interesting about Everards is that they created the Cyclops Tasting Notes, which you can see below - this one describing Everards Tiger Best Bitter.


Although I have been drinking beer for nearly 15 years now, it is only in the last 3 that I have started to drink craft beers and I have to admit that sometimes I try a beer and wonder what am I supposed to be smelling and tasting - while it may taste great to me, is it what the brewer intended? That is really a secondary question, because if it tastes great then I don't give two hoots what the brewer wanted to do, what he did was good.

Being something of an anorak - I guess hunting out pubs wherever you go is the beer drinker's equivalent of standing on the platform of Crewe railway station on a wet Wednesday in October videoing trains coming and going (I have seen it done!) - I love the fact that Cyclops lists the primary malts and hops which have gone into the beer. It is more than knowing what I am drinking, it is learning to recognise the flavours of the ingredients in the beer, thus making me more knowledgable. As I am a number 5 according to the Enneagram of Personality, this is hardly surprising - I am just thankful it is beer and brewing I am fascinated with rather than the glue on the back of a stamp.

From the Cyclops description of the Tiger Best Bitter I am looking forward to hunting down the Royal Blenheim and having a swift pint. I would love to see Czech brewers adopting this system as a way of educating drinkers here.

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a ...

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