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

Friday, April 27, 2012

Simplicity

One of my favourite words is "simplicity".

Looking at the dictionary definitions, the word means:
  • the state, quality, or an instance of being simple.
  • freedom from complexity, intricacy, or division into parts: an organism of great simplicity
  • absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.; plainness: a life of simplicity
  • freedom from deceit or guile; sincerity; artlessness; naturalness: a simplicity of manner
  • lack of mental acuteness or shrewdness: Politics is not a field for simplicity about human nature
While it is true that beer can seem like an ever changing kaleidoscope of colours, flavours and aromas, beer is ultimately a very simple drink, possible to brew with just four ingredients. Given my bias toward Czech pale lagers, you can't really get much more simple and beautiful than Pilsner malt, Saaz hops, yeast and water.


I like to think that beer is the very essence of the third definition above. It is not a luxury item, there is no pretension with it, it is not an ornament to get out when vicar comes for tea, it is an integral part of life. You could call it a commodity, and indeed in many parts of Europe that's exactly what it is, along with bread, butter, and salt, it is an essential. I like that way of thinking about beer, it is the everyman drink, from lords to layabouts, the majority of people drink beer.

Many of the folks I have met as a result of beer would qualify for definition number four, good, honest, down to earth working people who enjoy pints afterwards. I remember a story about the word "sincere" which literally means, or so I recall, "without wax". A sculptor made a bust of a Roman dignitary, it might have been one of the Caesars, and accidentally broke off the nose, which he re-attached with a blob of wax. In the heat of the midday sun the wax melted and the nose fell off, revealing the sculptor's fraud. It seems to me that the people who most "get" beer are not the ones making all the noise about the latest, greatest trend in beer styles, beer cocktails or fad breweries, it's the ones in the pub drinking with their mates, or sat reading the paper, passing the time with a pint.


Perhaps then we should celebrate more of the simple beers, the Pilsners, Stouts and Pale Ales, instead of being blown about by the winds of fashion, looking for the next great thing and in doing so miss the very heart of beer.

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.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale Ales and Bitters

After years of drinking lager, it has been a pleasure to once again drink ale on a regular basis. Despite the fact that I have had some very nice ales here in the Czech Republic, most of the pale ales and bitters I have enjoyed in the last 12 months have been an integral part of my trips to the UK and Ireland.

I have enjoyed re-acquainting myself with old favourites as well as discovering stuff from breweries I had never heard of before. However, it was the newcomers that made my short list of 3 for this category (and believe me I agonized over leaving some of my favourite beers out). The three contenders for my pale ale/bitter of 2008 are:

All of the pale ales I have tried from Pivovar Varnsdorf have been excellent, whether the English Pale Ale, the American style Pale Ale or the India Pale Ale, which I first had at the Slunce ve Skle festival in Plzeň. The IPA gets the nod over the others because of the wonderful fresh citrus flavours and the fact that it is an endlessly wonderful and easy drinking ale.

I had the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale whilst in Galway last month, having heard from many people that it is the standard against which many pale ales are judged, and it is a beautifully crafted beer – one which when I am living in the States will be as permanent a fixture in my cellar as possible.

Galway Hooker was a beer that was very close to the top of my list for trying during the trip to Ireland. Again a very crisp and refreshing beer, and one which I heartily wish was available in bottles so that it could be enjoyed by more people than those very lucky souls in Galway and the few towns in Ireland where it is available on tap.

Again a very, very difficult choice, but my pale ale/bitter of the year is:

  1. Galway Hooker

Worth jumping on a plane to Ireland for.

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.

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