Showing posts with label english pale ale. Show all posts
Showing posts with label english pale ale. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Going For An English

I seem to have a thing for underappreciated, and in some cases misunderstood, beer styles. There are, in my unhumble opinion, few pints that I enjoy more than an imperial nonic glass filled with mild, pilsner, or porter. I especially enjoy them when said beers are straight up versions of the style rather than some craftified wank with additional ingredients in some vain effort to be 'innovative'. Perhaps the most underappreciated and simultaneously misunderstood, at least here in the US, of my favourite beer styles is the family of bitters; ordinary, best, and extra special.

Obviously I am fortunate in many respects that my favourite local brewery, Three Notch'd, brews Bitter 42 every year. Bitter 42 is a best bitter that I designed and is inspired by my favourite pints of best from the UK, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted. Speaking of Bitter 42, if I remember rightly is should be hitting the taps again in a month or two.

Anyway, this post is about wandering around our newish Wegmans and deciding to do a comparative tasting of all the English pale ales I could lay my hands on, and that were still in date. Thus it was that I wandered out of the shop, pushing a trolley that as well as the usual groceries included the following:
Before getting into the beers, I quite often get asked by folks what the difference between an English Pale Ale and a Bitter is, to which I usually respond 'nomenclature'. If I have understood the history correctly, the breweries called the beer a pale ale while the drinkers referred to it as bitter. Simples (and if I am wrong I am sure Ron, Martyn, et al will correct me).

On to the beers then, starting with the lowest ABV....

Black Sheep Ale
  • Sight - rich orange/amber, solid half inch of ivory foam that lingers, bit of chill haze
  • Smell - oranges, honeyed toast, slight lavender
  • Taste - honey on digestive biscuits, tangerines, some spicy hop character
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
  • Notes - Slight metallic note in the finish, but generally wonderful balance, something that makes you long for a day's cricket at Headingley

St Peter's Organic Pale Ale
  • Sight - golden, thin white head, almost like a pilsner
  • Smell - little bit of funky weed straight out the gate, Jacob's Cream Crackers
  • Taste - crackers, clean hop bite, slightly vegetal
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
  • Notes - really dry finish, with bitterness that builds with drinking, resulting in a tannic tea character that's really pleasant.

Fuller's London Pride
  • Sight - dark amber/copper, half inch of cream white foam
  • Smell - that Fuller's smell, you know what I mean, orange marmelade
  • Taste - toffee and toast, slight grassiness, all wrapped up in that Fuller's flavour
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Notes - beautifully balanced, though not as enjoyable as the cask version, still bloody marvellous

Samuel Smith's Organic Pale Ale
  • Sight - deep copper, quarter inch of ivory head
  • Smell - bread, herbal hops, light citrus
  • Taste - scones fresh from the oven, dulce de leche, toffee
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Notes - smoth, almost creamy, fuller mouthfeel than the other beers
4 variations on the theme of an English pale ale, all of them very nice, though I have a clear and distinct favourite. Black Sheep Ale has long been something that I pick up in bottle shops whenever I see it, and it seems our local Wegman's has it pretty much all the time, so I'm picking it up more often now. I do wish more breweries stepped out of the mainstream and made bitter over here, not including all the overly sweet ESBs that do the rounds come autumn and Christmas time, and while bottled beer never lives up to the glories of cask, I'm glad I can get my bitter on whenever the mood strikes.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pale and Bitter Ale

If rarity were truly an indicator of the world's best beers, then in the American context, the top 100 would have a decent smattering of beers from the bitter family. Getting a well made, or even a made most of the time, ordinary, best, or extra special is almost as difficult as convincing some people that there is more to the United Kingdom than just the bit south of the Tweed.

The bitter beer family constitutes some of my favourite beers to drink, and to brew, indeed I think this year I have brewed more bitter than anything else combined. Bitter, if you have been keeping up with your beer history classes from Ron and Martyn, is also known as Pale Ale. The former being the name given to this type of beer by the 19th century consumer, the latter by the brewer.

On Monday I will be brewing even more Pale Ale. It is my birthday on Monday, and one of the benefits of the place I work is that employees can take their birthday off. However, rather being ensconced in my garage, brewing up one of my standard 2 and a half gallon brews, I will be at recently opened Three Notch'd Brewing Company. By the end of the day, or at least around mid afternoon given our starting time of 6am, we will have brewed 10 barrels of an English Pale Ale, more specifically a Best Bitter.

The beer is called Session 42, and will be the first locally brewed best bitter that I know of since moving to the US in 2009. I will share more technical details next week, when I write a bit more about the brewday itself. The beer in the picture above is of the trial batch, which other than a couple of minor fermentation issues turned out pretty close to what I was looking for...

Update: as you can read in the comments, my memory failed me, probably as I don't recall drinking it, but Blue Mountain Brewery made a Best Bitter last summer, called Straight Outta Chiswick.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale Ales

Pale Ales, whether English, American or of the India sort, have formed a large part of my drinking this year and form a nice little juxtaposition to the situation with Pale Lagers - the first 6 months of the year saw the occassional decent Pale Ale, while the second half has been a veritable flood of the stuff. I am sure some will find it too vague to lump together the various pale ale styles into a single grouping, of course not forgetting styles like bitter here, but it works for me (minor aside, does any one else find the BJCP style guides a bit hair splity?).

From a very strong field, the following three beers stood out:

In my final month in Prague I was unemployed, having been made redundant, and was researching for my book, The Pocket Pub Guide to Prague (available very soon). On the days when Mark and I weren't sitting in various drinking holes, taking notes and pictures (which I have been setting in the text and they are fabulous!), you could often find me in Tlusta Koala just round from my flat imbibing this simply wonderful IPA. Seriously hoppy, served perhaps a tad cold but just right for the warm early summer afternoons, it was the refreshment of champions, or at least this champion of Kocour.

Recently I went on a day trip to Northern Virginia's breweries with Dan from
CVille Beer Geek (most of the breweries were disappointing to be blunt), one of the highlights of the trip though was the Kybecca bottle shop in Fredericksburg where they keep a good stock of beer. It was there that I picked up a bottle of Sierra Nevada's gorgeous Torpedo. I am discovering that I like hoppy beers which have a good malty body, Torpedo is almost its perfect expression.

Charlottesville's best bottle shop/pub/nacho place is the magnificent Beer Run (seriously, the nachos are awesome and they have Fuller's Vintage Ale for just $9.99!!!) and it was here that while waiting for Mrs Velkyal to return with her ID and for the friends we were meeting that I decided to have a swift half of the Bell's Two Hearted Ale, and I was blown away, simply a gorgeous beer full of the citrusy flavours you expect from an American made pale ale, but with a subtle spiciness behind it and that sweet maltiness that I love.

Again a difficult decision to make, and for the first time this year a Fuggled award comes across the Atlantic, but only just. The Fuggled Pale Ale of the Year is:

  1. Bell's Two Hearted Ale

One of the best discoveries of the last six months and simply good beer.

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 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.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Post Work Drinks

On Friday afternoon I met up with Evan and Pivni Filosof, as I had bought them back from the UK a bottle of beer, so naturally we met up in Pivovarsky klub for a "quick beer". On tap they had the Bernard 13° dark beer, which is nicely roasted and very smooth to drink as well as Démon from Pivovar Lobkowicz, a thorougly inoffensive and unmemorable polotmávé. I also indulged in a couple of Primátor Weizens, which were lovely, especially after the flat and lifeless one I had at U Sadu a few days previously.

The drinking highlight though was discovering bottles of Paulaner Salvator in the fridge, a beer I had never tried before, although heard much about. It poured a very deep red, which I really liked, and had a slightly beige head. There was a powerful sweetness to the smell which was more than backed up in the taste - I was rather surprised at just how sweet the beer was. It was big, full bodied and syrupy in the mouth, nor syrupy in an extract kind of way, but rather full of sweetness and smoothness. I liked it alot, a hell of alot. Not a beer that I could drink plenty off in a night, but certainly one I could enjoy sitting at home watching the idiot box (well, in our circumstances, DVDs on the computer).

Eventually Mrs Velkyal turned up, having told me to just have a couple and then come home - I knew she would give in and come to the pub. I don't think that she even had her coat off and Karel, the barman that day, had brought over a bottle of Primátor English Pale Ale fresh from the fridge for her - they know what she likes.

Some places are just perfect.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sticky Toffee and Christmas Stout

I decided over the weekend to continue my beer in food experimentation, as well as to jump of the beer hacking bandwagon, as suggested by Evan Rail. Thus it was that on Friday afternoon I decided to make a "Christmas Stout" and even some beer toffee. My original plan involved buying 4 bottles of Kelt, Czech stout made by InBev's subsidiary here, Pra?ské Pivovary - probably better known as the maker of Staropramen - for the beer hacking and a bottle of Hobgoblin for the beer toffee.

My plans were immediately put to the test by the fact that when Mrs Velkyal and I went to the Cider Club to buy the Hobgoblin, I ended up spending all the spare change I had in my pocket on 2 bottles of Hobgoblin, a bottle of Black Wych stout and a bottle of Wych Craft, not to mention Mrs Velkyal's raspberry flavoured cider. At least I had the Hobgoblin, which immediately went into the little cellar in preparation for making toffee. Buying the Kelt was no problem whatsoever as my local Billa sells it.

Saturday morning arrived and I changed my plan - instead of taking up one of my carboys with 2 litres of stout, I decided to use a spare 1 litre bottle I had knocking about and keep two bottles of Kelt for something else, such as drinking them. Here are my ingredients for my Christmas Stout:
  • 2 500ml bottles Kelt stout
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 handful of cloves
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar, dissolved in a drop of boiling water

The method is very simple:
  1. Put the sugar, cinnamon and cloves in the bottle
  2. Use a funnel to pour the stout into the bottle
  3. Let the head dissipate before capping and forgetting about it for 2 months.

So yes, there is now a litre of stout infusing with the classic flavours of Christmas and hopefully preparing a lovely treat for December.

The beer toffee however was more problematic. My first problem was when the time came I was loath to use a bottle of Hobgoblin as the liquid for my toffee. Thankfully though I have Mrs Velkyal, who reminded me that in the fridge was an extra bottle of Primator English Pale Ale. The recipe I intended to use was pulled from the Wikihow website, which has loads of interesting projects, and was simplicity itself:

  • 125ml water
  • 400g sugar
  • pinch cream of tartar

So my thinking was to use a 330ml bottle of beer, and increase the sugar accordingly - giving me 1kg of sugar, and a slightly bigger pinch of cream of tartar.

The sugar dissolved nicely into the beer, however I think the pan I was using was too small as I couldn't keep the mixture on a rolling boil for fear of the sticky goo overflowing and making a right mess of the cooker. The original recipe calls for 20 minutes worth of boiling and then putting the mix in a greased tin to set, at the moment I think I have created a beer caramel sauce which will go quite nicely on top of ice cream. If there are any toffee makers out there, I would appreciate some advice on what went wrong - I have a feeling that the size of the pan played a major role, but our big pan was full of a curried cream of roast butternut squash soup I had made on Saturday.

So 1 unknown quantity in the beer hacking, and something of a dismal failure on the beer toffee front, however, I will not be deterred.

Update: As you can see I have added pictures the weekend's fun - couldn't do it yesterday as I forgot the transfer cable at home.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

From the Cloister to the Coven

A couple of days ago I came across a place selling ales from the Wychwood Brewery in Oxfordshire, available at the time of writing were Wychcraft, Circlemaster, Black Wych and the acclaimed Hobgoblin. Having to run an errand for Mrs Velkyal which put me in the vague general direction of the shop, well ok then I was in the same postal district, I endeavoured to pop by and pick up some treats. Once I had found the shop, cunningly disguised by shared floor space with a comic shop, I bought myself a bottle of each of the aforementioned beers, for just over £5. Happy days.

Last night I decided would be a good time to try out my new acquisitions, having taken them from the “little cellar” and bunged them in the fridge to get down to just the right temperature. When I have my little tasting sessions I like to go from the weaker beers all the way through to the stronger – so I started with the 4.5% ABV Wychcraft. The label describes Wychcraft as a blonde beer combining the four elements to “create a truly magical brew”. Wychcraft pours a fantastic amber colour, with a nice head that doesn’t fade too quickly and leaves some slight lacing down the glass. The first thing which hit me was a very citrusy smell, probably from the fact that this is “thrice hopped” – eventually that citrus would define itself more clearly as a combination of grapefruit, lime and marmalade, getting sweeter as time went on. There is a nice refreshing tartness to the beer, and having been hopped three times, hops are clearly at the forefront of both nose and taste. With such a citrus element to the beer it is unsurprisingly zingy on the tongue, although I found it left a slight catch in the back of my throat. In general though it is a nice refreshing beer I could happily imagine drinking in a beer garden over a Ploughman’s lunch.

Next up was the 4.7%ABV Circlemaster, an organic pale ale. Like the Wychcraft this poured amber, although the head failed quicker and left very little lacing on the glass. There was a very faint smell in general from this, touches of grass and hops but otherwise very little to get my nostrils going, almost the same with the taste, yes it was nice, but in a rather bland “at least it is better than most mass produced stuff” sense. In the mouth the overarching feel is of softness with just a touch of bitterness and yes I can imagine it being refreshing, but by the time I got two thirds of the way down it was thin and lacking in flavour, it has no staying power. The best thing about this beer was the label.

Leaving behind the lighter beers, it was time to try the Black Wych, described on the label as a “Spell Binding Stout”. I am a big fan of stouts, having been brought up by my eldest brother to think of Guinness as the height of manly drinking – thus it was no surprise that my first ever legal beer was a Guinness. These days I steer clear of the Liffey Water, say it quietly but I prefer Beamish of the mass produced Irish stouts – although I am yet to try the O’Hara Stout, but it is high on my list for stuff to try for my birthday weekend in Ireland. But I digress, back to the idyllic English countryside. Black Wych pours dark, very dark, so dark it is practically opaque – I even put it right up next to a light and couldn’t see through it. The head was the same colour as comes on an espresso in an Italian café, and boy is this stuff thick. The coffee theme continues in the nose, lots and lots of roasted coffee beans, with a subtle burnt chocolate undertone, which almost smothers a burnt caramel twist. I was excited about this one, and the first mouthful didn’t let me down, with the espresso theme of roasted bitterness bursting on to my tongue. However, it wasn’t the “velvety smooth stout” that the label promised, it is very dry, perhaps some oats would have smoothed it out. Not that it was bad, just not what I was expecting. This was a very fine pint, one that would go well with bowls of stew and open fires in the middle of winter.

Last but by no means least came the 5.2% Hobgoblin and this was the crowning glory of my evening, although I have to admit that the smell of Mrs Velkyal’s shortbread wafting from the oven put up a brave fight. Pouring it into my 600ml IKEA glass, it was deep red, when held up to the light it was like a fire ruby, and had an ivory head. The smell of this beer was sweet, reminding me of three of my favourite things in life, condensed milk (loved condensed milk sandwiches as a kid), tablet and povidla – the English translation of “plum jam” just doesn’t do povidla justice. On drinking, this was just an explosion of fruit, big juicy amounts of fruit – was about to say buttery but that is most likely the nearly ready cookies Mrs Velkyal is baking. In the mouth this was a wonderfully smooth beer, like liquid jam that had just the barest trace of bitterness. Is it obvious yet that I enjoyed this beer lots and lots?

So there we have it, four very good beers all available in Prague at decent prices.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ale goulash

On my way home from work last night I got a message from Mrs Velkyal simply saying, "what is for dinner?" - marvellous, I though to myself, I can make a meal with beer. But what to make, and which beer to use?

So here are the ingredients that went into the goulash - when I took the picture above I was planning a beef and ale stew, but it changed, and the carrots and tin of tomatoes didn't get used.

1kg stewing steak
3 red onions
2 red peppers
1 teaspoon chilli chutney
330 ml Primator English Pale Ale
0.5 litre beef stock
3 sprigs of rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Chop onions and peppers to medium thickness and fry in hot olive oil
  2. After 15 minutes add chutney and deglaze the pan
  3. Add rosemary
  4. Add floured beef, fry until browned
  5. Add beer, again deglazing the pan
  6. Add beef stock, bring to the boil
  7. Turn down the heat and simmer for 90 minutes
  8. Add salt and pepper
  9. Serve in a bowl with a bottle of ale

Monday, September 1, 2008

Not quite home brewing....

But home cooking.

Mrs Velkyal and I are both avid foodies - there is a reason for the "velky" in Velkyal, it is the Czech word for "big", and at 6'4" and 240lbs, I am certainly never going to audition well for the role of Tinkerbell.

In the past few weeks we have been playing around with all manner of recipes and dishes; being from the South of the US, Mrs Velkyal loves making southern foods, in particular biscuits. Last weekend I made my first foray in the world of goulash - a nice spicy beef stew which we polished off even though I had sworn blind I was going to take the remains for my lunch the next day. Also recent additions to the Velkyal household larder, also known as the windowsill, have been various chutneys, quite a few cakes and lots of plans.

Not wanting to be outdone by the ever graceful and talented Mrs Velkyal I put my thinking hat on and decided it was time to find out what I can do with Czech beers in food. Most of plans involve using the beers from Primator, but I will be keeping an eye on the taps at Pivovarsky Klub and pondering what options they give me. One thing I will be doing this week is a variation on Beef Guinness using instead the wonderful 19° porter from the Perstejn brewery in Pardubice, also on the drawing board will be a steak and ale pie using - assuming Mrs Velkyal hasn't drunk the entire national reserve.

Of course the scope for using beer in food is limited only to your imagination and how well you can match the flavours of the food with the flavours in the beer, for example I have just discovered a recipe for an ale chutney, for which I will bring a bottle or two of ale back from the UK when I am there in October.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...