Showing posts with label wychwood brewery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wychwood brewery. Show all posts

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber and Dark Ales

This category is something of a catch all for those beers which don't really fit in the world of Pale Ale or in Stouts and Porters, and as such the beers presented here are all rather different from each other,

Without further ado then, the three contenders for Amber and Dark Ale of the Year are as follows:
I guess some would claim that the Henley Amber belonged in the Pale Ale category, but as it is a shade or two more red than most pale ales I chucked it into this category. To my mind, the work Jeff is doing at Lovibond's is as impressive as the likes of BrewDog. Sure he doesn't engage in strange marketing practices, but boy does he know how to make a great range of beers. Henley Amber is crisp, refreshing and with a long, lingering finish it is one of the best sessions beers I have had this year.

Hobgoblin is one of those beers that I simply adore and will drink whenever I have the opportunity, whether on cask or from the bottle, I am always left satisfied by the toffee sweetness and the smooth drinking of this wonderful beer. Best of all, it was readily available in Prague when I was there, and many a bottle shop in this neck of the woods have it as well. You really can't go wrong with Hobgoblin.

The beer that turned my head to traditionally crafted ales, Bishop's Finger is everything a strong English ale should be, full of Kentish hops, caramel flavours in the background and obscenely easy to drink - you are probably seeing a theme here, I like beers that are easy to drink rather than "extreme" beers which I tend to think of as "pivni penis envy" (pivni is the adjectival form of "beer" in Czech). Whenever I have a bottle of Bishop's Finger I wish I was sat in the beer garden of a Shepherd Neame pub near my brother's place in Ashford, listening to the test match and idling away the day.

Anyway, back to the cold reality of Charlottesville in December and expecting over a foot of snow today. The Fuggled Amber and Dark Ale of the Year is:
  1. Lovibond's Henley Amber
As I said earlier, drinkability is one of my big watch words when it comes to choosing beers to rave about, and Henley Amber is precisely that, a beer you could spend all evening downing with mates in the pub and then walk home. The good people of Henley-on-Thames are very lucky to have such a fantastic brewer on their doorstep and should acquaint themselves with Jeff's wears as soon as possible.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Things I Didn't Expect

I think the technical phrase for the jolly little surprises that come your way in life when you cross the ocean to take up a new life is "culture shock". I have been having it in spades in the last couple of weeks, and in almost every possible situation; pleasant immigration officers at Atlanta airport (those of you who have dealt with the Czech Foreign Police will no doubt know to what I refer); shops with nine million flavours of yogurt, but only one plain white; churches as ubiquitous as pubs in Prague; the feeling of not really being so "velky" after all; the list could go on and on.

A couple of things though stick in my mind, I will deal with the negative first off. Yesterday Mrs V and I went to her aunt's for dinner, as they don't drink we obviously weren't going to buy a bottle of vino as a gift, so in to Walmart we jaunted for a bunch of flowers. Walmart is another culture shock after 10 years of soul destroying Tesco - the variety of almost everything available is mind boggling at times, and the fact that someone packs your shopping bags for you and wishes you a pleasant day, a welcome change from the sour cashier in the Tesco on Narodni asking if you have a note smaller than 200k?, the near equivalent of $10.

The nasty shock though is Walmart's new alcohol sales policy - anyone who looks under the age of 40 must provide ID in order to walk away with their favourite tipple. Thankfully I keep a form of ID on me, but I find it remarkable that for 19 years after coming of age, people will be required to prove they are legally allowed to buy alcohol. No doubt Walmart and many of their ilk will cite insurance policies and the inevitable criminal prosecutions that would follow selling alcohol to minors, but if you are going to have such a ridiculous policy, why make someone who is clearly over 21 produce ID like some wannabe under-age booze baron? What happened to innocent until proven guilty, to trusting people to use their discretion?

The positive shock though was on going to to see what lovely crafty beer goodness they had, and seeing beers from a raft of my favourite British brewers; BrewDog and Wychwood to name but two. But on one aisle I found several Czech lagers that I hadn't expected to see in a million years, including ?atec, B.B. Burgerbrau (from the original brewery in Budweis! hint: it isn't Budvar) and Staropramen. Happily though, Budvar seems to be quite readily available, so when I have the urge to drink a good lager again I know I can get hold of something worthwhile.

Perverse as it may sound, I was actually quite glad to see the presence of Staropramen in the USA as it allows me to do a couple of taste tastings comparing the worst of Czech mainstream lager with the mainstream lagers here, the likes of Budweiser, Miller and Coors - masochistic I am sure, but certainly worth it for interest's and comedy's sake.

Friday, February 13, 2009

To Bee or not to Bee?

Tandleman recently commented on his distaste for honey beers, and so it was with his post in mind that I opened up my bottles of Wychwood BeeWyched last night, having discovered that just the one Hobgoblin wouldn't suffice. Actually, the one Hobgoblin and 2 BeeWycheds didn't suffice either, so I had a Paulaner hefe-weissbier and a M?nchshof Urtypisches Schwarzbier as well.

BeeWyched is a pale ale which is made with FairTrade honey and pours a dark amber, topped off with a fluffy cream head. The nose was mostly sweet, but not overpoweringly so, a light maltiness came through as did subtle citrus notes. The first taste is very much that of a pale ale, but slowly the sweetness of the honey asserts itself, but without becoming too much and cloying. I was worried that it would suffer from the same thin body as the Belhaven Fruit Beer, but it was actually rather robust and velvety. Overall a nice beer, one which Mrs Velkyal rather enjoyed and has asked me to go back to Cider Club today in the hope that they have more - does Primátor English Pale Ale have competition?

I only made a few mental notes about and the Paulaner hefe-weissbier - a supremely yummy beer, overflowing in all the clove and banana goodness you expect from a bavaria wheat beer as well as buckets of citrus that makes it hugely refreshing. The M?nchshof was also very nice, lots of toffee, caramel and fruit with a bitterness which cuts through it all to make it one delightful beer to drink.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, tomorrow is brew day - so hopefully on Monday I will have pictures and what not of the first Velky Ale!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Fuggled Review of the Year - Beer of the Year

So there we have it, my overview of the year. I have left out many excellent beers, many beers which I hope to try again before too long. That list includes many new beers to me, such as:

And of course a number of favourites that I will buy regularly:

To choose my favourite beer from 2008 is an exceptionally difficult task, and I do so in full awareness that I am being entirely subjective. My beer of the year is thus the one that has given me the most pleasure, the most instruction in all that a beer can beer and the most inspiration as to what I can do with my own beer making. As such, my beer of the year is more than just a drink of the year, it is also a reflection on the brewery which has in many ways defined my beer drinking in the last year.

Therefore my beer of the year, and by extension my brewery of the year is:

  1. Pivovar Varnsdorf for their Kocour V3.

Flying the face of your culture is always fraught with danger and laden with potential booby traps. Flying the face of Czech brewing culture and tradition is like voting Conservative in Scotland. Well done the guys (and most especially the breweress) for being true to their stated aim of not being boring.

May you prosper in 2009, and far beyond.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Beer Fantasies

I am currently on one of my fortnights of no booze and carbs, also known as the South Beach Diet phase 1. This is really not being helped by the fact that I have 4 bottles of Primátor, of various types and strengths, sitting in my fridge. However, after the over-indulgence of Oxford it is necessary to shed the 10lbs I gained in my research efforts. It is important though to point out that not all that weight can be attributed to beer. I am sure a fair whack of it came from eating what I lovingly referred to as my "slab", mainly because I can't remember what it is called in English. Basically it is a biscuit base with a caramel centre and chocolate topping. Sheer food naughtiness, but worth every last crumb - it was about the size of an A4 piece of paper and I ate it over the few days we were there. Also on the list of illicit delights we pigged out on were Krispy Kreme doughnuts, decent Chinese food, pies, cornish pasties and various other snacks picked up in Marks and Spencer or Sainsbury's. Naturally they were mostly washed down with a bottle or two of ale - I am thinking in particular here of the Fuller's 1845 I thoroughly enjoyed.

Talking of Fuller's, I read today on Zythophile about their Reserve beer which is aged in whisky oak barrels before having a limited bottling of 25,000. This got me fantasising about the possibilities of combining their Vintage Ale range with the Reserve concept - labelled obviously as Vintage Reserve, has a nice ring to it - as would a Wychwood beer called Old Crone!

So instead of drinking beers, I am planning what beers to buy for Christmas - the whole Velkyal clan is getting together in Kent this year for the first entire family Christamas celebration since, well actually not sure when, more than 10 years at least. So the beer has to be good, all suggestions welcome, and if anyone wants to give me a bottle of Vintage Ale or Reserve as a pressie, feel free.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Away From It All

Down a small lane called Friar’s Entry, Far From the Madding Crowd certainly lives up to its name and was the first of the varied pubs I visited during my trip to Oxford. Having bought myself an Iain Banks book to read, I pitched up just after opening time and immediately felt right at home. This is a pub as pubs should be in my book, no fancy décor, plain dark wooden furniture and an unobtrusive bar. The reason I wanted to visit this pub was because I had read that it was the only free house in the centre of Oxford. For those unaware of British parlance, a free house is one that is not tied to any particular brewer and thus free to sell what they want, and in emails to the landlord I had learnt that they rotate a range of ales from the smaller brewers, mostly local.

My first choice of pint was simplicity in itself, Hobgoblin on draught is not something that I have a chance to have very often, so having ordered my pint, taken it to a table, realized that the leather sofa was too soft to write clearly and moved to another table, I started on my mission to try all the beers available that day. According to the blackboard beside the bar, this was a 4.5% ABV, in bottles it is 5.2%, and poured the same dark russet into a tulip glass. I will come to the issue of head in a moment. The nose was unmistakably Hobgoblin, toffee sweetness just imploring you to drink, and like the bottled variant it was smooth, malty, full bodied and with a nice clean bitter aftertaste that relieves it the burden of being cloying.

At this point there was just myself, an older lady having a half pint reading her paper and a couple of barstaff. I have got used to table service in the Czech Republic but I still prefer going to the bar – I am also a fan of sitting at the bar of my regular haunts – and so up I went to get pint number 2, Brakspear Bitter. I loved the colour if the Brakspear, dark amber with an off-white head. On giving it a good sniff it was slighty bready and laced with bananas. The first mouthful was a delight, very smooth and creamy with a refreshing bitterness. But then strange things started to happen, it started to smell vaguely of rubber tyres, oak and even whisky. The problem was a lack of consistency within the pint, one minute there was a strange smell and then the next it was gone. I found that towards the end of the pint it had become stale, reminding me of digestive biscuits that go soft.

As the lunchtime crowd came in, and I reached chapter 3 of my book, I noticed that Far From the Madding Crowds attracts a wonderfully diverse clientele – but a very friendly one. Eventually I was to get chatting with a guy called Frank who was a regular, as well as a very educated guy with whom I shared a good three hour discussion that ranged across educational theory, religious history and textual criticism. My third pint was to be the first of several beers from brewers I had never heard of, in this case it was Shingle Bay from the Quercus Brewery in Dorset. This was paler than the previous couple of pints, being an almost lageresque sparkling golden colour, with a nose that was citrusy and kind of reminded me of sweet and sour sauce. Drinking it though left me about three quid poorer and not much more inspired, it is not a bad beer, but rather just nothing special, not something to turn your nose up, but note something to chase across hill and dale for.

Carrying on my mission, I indulged in the sweet honey tasting Wold Gold from the Wold Top Brewery as well as the somewhat bland and syrupy Elsie Mo from Castle Rock, which is shown above. As the afternoon wore on I found that I was developing a stuffy nose and thus smelling much of anything was becoming difficult. However, that clogged up feeling didn’t stop me from enjoying a lovely pint of No Angel from the Clark’s Brewery, which weighs in at 4% ABV. It is quickly becoming apparent to me that I am a fan of the darker ales, so I was delighted at the dark copper of the No Angel, even though once again there was a thin head – coming to that bit! I would love to tell you what it smelt like but by this point it could have smelt like a miner’s sweaty undies and I would have been none the wiser as my nose was thoroughly blocked. However the wonderful maltiness and gentle bitterness struck a fantastic balance that had me scribbling furiously that this was quite simply the “perfect bitter”, if you will excuse the awful pun, No Angel was certainly divine! (Apologies, but I am sure we have all done similar.)

Which brings me to my one constant gripe about drinking in England at the weekend, and perhaps people will bear with me as I am used to the Czech attitude to head on beer. I will just come straight out and say it, head for me is an important and integral part of having a beer. I am quite happy to lose a meagre half-inch of beer in order to have a better-looking pint – after all, how a beer looks is essential for its enjoyment. I have seen campaign posters for having pints taken , but this just seems to be backward thinking in my book. I worry about people who insist on getting their full extra half-inch of beer at the expense of a better looking pint – does it add to the enjoyment, do the extra few drops get you buzzed quicker, or are you just a moaning minny with nothing better to do that fill the drip trays of the UK? Getting a full pint of beer is all well and good, but instead of looking like a right tight arsed git and saying to some harassed barmaid, “could you top it up love”, how about campaigning for the use of bigger glasses so everyone is happy. Get a full pint and have a better-looking beer.

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.

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...