Samuel Adam’s Boston Lager

25 Jun

Name: Boston Lager
Brewery: Samuel Adams
Type: Lager
Alcohol Volume: 4.8

IBU: 35
From: Waitrose, Edgware Road
Price: £1.75
Drink: Cold
In short: One of the inescapable American greats. Also a decent lager.

Note: You might notice that I’ve added another field in the overview – IBU is essentially a measure of how bitter a beer is, with 0 being not bitter at all and 100 being as bitter as can be imagined.

American often gets some fairly bad press on this side of the Atlantic, which isn’t exactly surprising when Budweiser is one of the great stereotypical American cultural touchstones. There’s no denying that Budweiser and its light lager ilk are popular either, both here and in the states. I could go on about the American craft beer revolution of the past forty years and about how American styles have a well deserved influence in British craft brewers for quite a long time. But I could also review a widely available American lager that has far more class than a Coors or a Budweiser ever could.

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This is Samuel Adam’s Boston Lager, a dark, malty, lager that can be found in a decent proportion of American bars and supermarkets, not to mention in many British shops. It was even on offer when I bought it. Brewed by the Boston Brewing Company since its founding in 1984, it’s the flagship beer of a company that brews a variety of other seasonal beers. Along with Sierra Nevada’s IPA and Anchor Steam, it’s one of the iconic (decent) American beers and works as a good introduction into the world of American beer.

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On pouring it’s immediately noticeable that it’s a fairly dark lager, with a deep amber colouring that suggests malty flavours from the get go. It has a slightly thick and foamy mouthfeel, too, but not so much that the lager doesn’t go down perfectly and cleanly after a casual swig. The malts certainly come through in the taste, too, with slightly hoppy undertones that work to balance out the sweetness of the malts. There’s a degree of subtlety to the flavours, with some tones of citrus, but it’s an easy, and relatively uncomplicated drink to relax with after a long day doing whatever it is productive people do.

 

 

This is a rounded, balanced and perfectly drinkable lager, with just enough style to make it a more interesting experience than cracking open a Budweiser or Carling.

Schneider Weisse Unser Original

14 Jun

Name: Unser Original
Brewery: Schneider Weisse
Type: Wheat beer (German Weiss)
Alcohol Volume: 5.4
From: The Salusbury Winestore, NW6 6NN
Price: £2.75
Drink: Cold
In short: A fruity, refreshing, and gently sour wheat beer that just about hits the spot.

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I’m back in London for a few days on the job hunting warpath and therefore away from my normal suppliers of fine beers, so I decided to go on a bit of an adventure to track down something to review. By which I mean I looked on the internet, naturally, and was led to North West London’s Salusbury Winestore, just off Queen’s Park. However, I got lost on the way and ended up wandering around Kilburn for a half hour, so it still counts as an adventure.

Once in the store, which also has a good selection of European and American beers I decided to bring back a bottle of Schneider Weisse’s Under Original for review. This beer, brewed to the same recipe since the founding of the Schneider brewery in 1872 it is described as being the first brew from a brewery who describe themselves as having saved Bavarian wheat beer. It’s probably the oldest continuously brewed German wheat beer.

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An illustrious heritage. But what about the beer? Well, it’s about as quintessential as its heritage suggests. In the glass it has a dark amber colouring and the large, frothy, head that you’d expect. On a reasonably warm today like today, it’s an especially inviting and refreshing proposition, especially if you’ve been wandering around north London for a good while. This impression carries on through to the taste, which has a slightly honeyed fruity taste with a distinctly sour edge. The fruity taste is little bit indistinct, with tones of banana and a touch of spice, but it nevertheless serves the purpose of refreshment well. This is definitely a beer of the summertime too, with a sparkling and frothy texture, enhanced by the subtle influence of the unfiltered yeast and wheat in this hefeweizen. Overall, it’s wonderfully refreshing with a crisp sour edge, even if the honeyed tones of the taste are somewhat indistinct at times.

Definitely one to drink in the sun, and I’m told it goes very well with a meaty picnic, too.

The Beer Primer: Wheat Beer

9 Jun

I’ve promised myself that one day I shall actually get round to finishing the first part of my primer on ale, but the weather is sunny and when the sun is out wheat beer is always the answer. There is also the fact that writing a primer on ale is incredibly daunting, and possibly too much work for my delicate arts student constitution.

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Wheat beer is a variety of beer which is brewed with a large proportion of wheat on top of the usual malted barley, and usually top fermented to boot (top-fermenting yeast forms a foam at the top of the wort during brewing). This defines wheat beer, in the same way that warm fermentation defines ale and low temperature fermentation defines lager. Needless to say it’s just a little bit different from many of the beers I’ve yet reviewed. In general it has rather less of the hoppy bitterness of many other beers, instead often having tones of malty sweetness that lends itself to an altogether softer experience.

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I’d be tempted to say I’ve fully described wheat beer and end the primer here, but that would take away the fun of it because like any other types of beer there’s a dizzying variety of styles out there, enough to satisfy the taste of most beer lovers. Well, I say dizzying, but there are really two main types – German weissbier and witbier from the Low Countries. If you run across draught wheat beer in your local neighbourhood bar (and you probably will), it will be one of these two different styles.

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Witbier, or white beer, is probably the more readily available of the two in Britain. As the name suggests, this is a white, cloudy and, exceedingly summery type of beer, often coming with a large foamy head. I mentioned that wheat beer generally has only a lightly hopped taste and nowhere is this more apparent than in the white beer. Instead of the bitterness of hops you generally get the sweetness of the malts, as mentioned, combined with a mixture of spices and fruity flavours. The details of this mix vary from beer to beer but in the quintessential commercial white beer, Hoegaarden, the extra taste comes from a combination of coriander and orange peel enhanced with a garnish of lemon on serving. The result is very refreshing and light on the palate – at times perhaps a little too light. On the other hand, the sweetness and fruity tones of white beer are perfect if you’re perhaps not overly fond of beer but want something rather mellower than wine or spirits to pass the summer months. I’ve already mentioned Hoegaarden, but other brands are available – Colorado’s Blue Moon is probably equally popular as the draft white beer if you’re in an upscale bar. There’s also a fair variety of bottled white beers – the Milestone Wheat beer is a good example of something a little less commercial and there are more Belgian wheat beers than can be reasonably counted, and the number increases when you include the myriad seasonal varieties of white beer.

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Less popular, but still readily available, are the German weissbiers. Broadly speaking, there are also two varieties of weissbiers – the unfiltered hefeweizen and the filtered kristallweizen – but in reality you’re most likely to get hefeweizen. The difference is simply that hefeweizen is cloudy because of suspended yeast and wheat proteins in the beer on serving, whereas kristallweizen is clear. Either way weissbier is darker in colour, unspiced and just a little less sweet than white beer, but with similarly fruity and herby overtones. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to sum up the difference, I’d probably say that it tastes more beery and robust than white beer, but it nevertheless remains a summery beer. The other thing that makes weissbier distinctive is the sort of tall and tapering glass it is generally served in. Whilst this might sound like a fairly cosmetic difference, it makes the large wheat beer head look even more extravagant to the point of mild impracticality. If you’re looking for a readily available wheat beer, Erdinger is most likely to be what you’ll come across, although I’ve also seen Franziskaner and Weihenstepaner, particularly in London. But of course this is a German beer, so there are a number of fairly obscure sub-varieties that you can seek out. For example, as with German lager there are dunkel and bock varieties of weissbier, but I’ve yet to see anything beyond the standard hefe or kristallweissbier served in Britain – but seek and ye shall find.

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So, those are the two common types of wheat beer, but naturally there are some wheat beers that defy easy classification. For example, British wheat beers can be especially confusing because brewers often use a combination of the white beer style and traditional bitter – Oakham’s lovely White Dwarf is a good example of this. Then again, wheat beer isn’t a traditional British style and we do love trying to shoehorn ale into everything. Similarly there are also traditional lambic wheat beers, such as the sour (and often flavoured with syrup) Berliner Weisse. Whilst we’re on the subject of Belgian archetypal styles, there are also white fruit beers, which take the sweetness of a white beer even further – Fruli is a popular example. I’m not a massive fan, and it’s perhaps only marginally beer, but it is both popular and readily available. Finally, on a general note wheat beer is often used as an adjunct of sorts in other varieties of beer, as the above examples show, so you may find it popping up in somewhat unlikely places. But if you want a light, refreshing and satisfying brew, you often can’t do better than the two main styles.

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So, over the summer treat yourself to a wheat beer, especially if you’ve never had one. You (probably) won’t regret it.

Blue Monkey’s Silverback in the USSR

4 Jun

Name: Silverback in the USSR
Brewery: Blue Monkey
Type: Russian Imperial Stout
Alcohol Volume: 10.5
From: The Offie, Leicester
Price: £4.95
Drink: Cool
In short: The WMD they were searching for; dark, thick and strong, yet not lacking depth.

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Alcohol strength in beer can be a funny thing; an overly hopped medium strength beer can be harder to drink than a craft beer that has more alcohol that you can shake a stick at in. In essence, this is because alcohol is a component and not the be all and end all of taste – the malts, the hops and all other ingredients combine to make a single cohesive brew.

But of course the alcohol content of a brew certainly makes a big difference. Lower alcohol beers can taste watery in the same way that a high alcohol beer can be far too strong to actually enjoy.

This handily brings me on to the subject of Blue Monkey’s Silverback in the USSR. This is a Russian Imperial Stout, a variation of stout originally brewed for export to the court of the Russian Tsar in the eighteenth century. Now, to survive the long sea voyage to St. Petersburg they were brewed rather stronger than your average stout; my previous trip to the land of Imperial Stout was with Thornbridge’s 7.4% St. Petersburg. This is rather stronger, coming in at 10.5%. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s the strongest beer that I’ve sampled so this is new ground for me.

In the glass it certainly looks the part of an Imperial Stout – black to the point that I can fix my hair in the reflection on the glass itself with just a bit of a similarly dark head. On closer inspection, it has an aroma that is both slightly medicinal and chocolaty, something like a normal high strength stout but just that little bit more so.

The taste certainly doesn’t disappoint. The first impression that I got was the dark and almost treacle-like thickness of the texture which was very shortly followed by tones of liquorice and the underlying bitterness of the alcohol. It must be said that the strength of the alcohol almost overpowers the taste; the first mouthful made me recoil slightly. When this combines with the textures, this beer almost gives the impression of being more than just a liquid. But it does have a good depth of flavour, with the hints of liquorice and chocolate coming through quite distinctly. Nor is it unbalanced, as every sip certainly left me ready for another, if not another whole bottle.

Needless to say, this is one to sip slowly, perhaps whilst occupying your winter palace or whilst residing in the depths of a Siberian research facility. This is most definitely a beer of winter, as much as last week’s Partizan was a beer of summer, and much like winter you certainly wouldn’t want too much of it. Just a bottle is enough.

Partizan Bobek and Amarillo

26 May

Name: Bobek and Amarillo
Brewer: Partizan
Type: IPA
Alcohol Volume: 7.0
From: The Offie, Leicester
Price: £3.85
Drink: Cool
In short: A fruity and intensely flavoured beer that holds nothing back. To be treated with respect.

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The best way I can describe this delicious pale ale from Bermondsey microbrewers Partizan is to say that it’s striking. The tastes, the texture, even the label. All are definitely memorable, and a real treat to enjoy with the sun and, for me, the end of the academic year. I’d probably have brought it for the artwork alone, but then again I can be remarkably shallow.

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Luckily for us all, this is definitely not a shallow beer. It’s worth pointing out that the label specifically told me to pour carefully. I definitely didn’t ignore this advice, and I definitely didn’t almost swamp my laptop with delicious craft beer. So follow my example and don’t ignore that advice, because this is a beer that is probably best described as ‘active’. Or possibly a bit volcanic. The colouring has something of the tropical about it, too; a muddy-golden complexion that looks just little bit like a mildly exotic cocktail (I may be doing cocktails wrong). That said, the aroma is one that is certifiably exotic, with tones of spiced citrus immediately apparent from just a quick smell.

As you may have guessed, the taste does not disappoint. It’s immediately fruity, with strong tones of grapefruit, with just a touch of spice, and hits the tongue with an irresistible force with a touch of yeasty fizz. The strength doesn’t hide either, especially after a few sips, but nor does it dominate the hoppy flavours; it’s a beer that certainly demands respect, but in a very agreeable way. I can imagine enjoying a bottle whilst relaxing on a beach somewhere or whilst relaxing on a sunny day in the back garden. If I was pushed to sum it up, I think volcanic captures the experience pretty well.

So definitely go and seek out a bottle at your local bottle shop, sit back in the sun and treat yourself. You know you deserve it.

PS: I don’t mention hops in anything but general terms for the most part, but it’s worth pointing out that the name of the beer is actually the hops that were used in brewing the beer. If you’re interested, I’d certainly recommended doing a spot of research.

Tiger vs Pump Fiction: A Rugby Union Bitter Special

17 May

Today I’m going to be doing something different.Why? Saturday week is the final of the English Rugby Union Premiership at Twickenham, and this year it could be a particularly charged final, at least in Leicester. Why? Because not only have the Leicester Tigers made it to the final, but they’re going to be facing the Northampton Saints, making the final one big East Midlands derby.

So in the spirit of the moment, I’ll be reviewing not one but two bitters today; Leicester’s Everards Tiger, and Northants’ Hoggleys Pump Fiction, to help give you an idea of what you should be drinking come 3pm on the 25th.

Name: Tiger
Brewer: Everards
Type: Best Bitter
Alcohol Volume: 4.2
From: Morrisons, Leicester
Price: £1.99
Drink: Cool to Ambient
In short: A reliable and refreshing Best Bitter; a workhorse of beer, in the best way possible

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I think it’s fair to say that Everards is ubiquitous in Leicester, being both the local major brewery, and having a pub estate of over 160 pubs within 70 miles of Leicester. If you drink ale and spend any amount of time in Leicester pubs, it’s highly likely you’ll be drinking a fair amount of their beer.

Tiger, then, is Everards’ flagship Best Bitter and the official beer of the Leicester Tigers. Given that I live in Leicester, I can’t in good conscience omit it from a feature that mentions Rugby Union and ale in the same sentence.

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At its heart, Tiger is a quintessential Best Bitter: well-balanced pale ale of medium strength that refreshes whilst still possessing a fair degree of substance. It certainly has the right colouring; in the glass it has dark amber character and creamy head that looks exactly like an artist’s impression of a bitter.

This impression carries through into the taste – it’s neither bitter nor sweet, but balanced between the two, with a taste that lies somewhere between nutty and toffee toned. This carried with it an initially sweet aftertaste that fades into a mild and agreeable bitterness that gently coats the mouth with the taste of hops.

In essence, Tiger is the sort of beer that I’d have no problem with spending an afternoon of ruby watching with.

Name: Pump Fiction
Brewer: Hoggleys
Type: Best Bitter
Alcohol Volume: 4.5
From: The Co-Op, Clarendon Park
Price: £1.99
Drink: Cool to Ambient
In short: An aggressive bitter, with strong tones of malt and a wintery warmth.

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Pump Fiction is a rather different prospect. Granted, it might have a similar colouring; it might lean a bit more towards golden than amber, but, as with Tiger, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Best Bitter.

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On tasting, however, it’s immediately clear that this is a far meaner bitter. The smoky tones of roasted malt hit with a more aggressive force; if Tiger reminds me of autumn, Pump Fiction reminds me of winter.

Not that it isn’t balanced, mind, but it’s balanced towards the realm of bitterness, with just a hint of sweetness. Nor does it skimp on the hops, with the malt giving way to a lovely hoppy finish and a comforting warmth at the back of the mouth.

Still, comparing it with Tiger is probably a little bit unfair – the strong taste reminds me more of Everards’ Premium Bitter, Original. But perhaps a touch of strength and aggressiveness is just what you need to accompany t   he rugby.

Still I know which of the too I’ll be drinking. But, then again, I’m just a touch biased.

Oude Geuze Boon

10 May

Name: Oude Geuze Boon
Brewery: Brouwerij Boon
Type: Gueze (lambic)
Alcohol Volume: 7.0
From: The Offie, Leicester
Price: £5.95
Drink: Cold
In short: The champagne of beers, with a distinctively sharp and sour taste; perfect for sitting with on a sunny day.

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Before you read the rest of this review, I need a favour from you. It’s only a small favour, but it’s a very important one. Forget everything you know about how beer tastes, how it looks and how it feels to drink.

I need you to do this because we’ve left the realm of conventional beer and entered the strange world of lambic beer, a Belgian type of beer which really doesn’t compare to any other type of beer. It makes the rest of Belgian beer look normal, which is no mean feat. But why? Lambic beers as a whole are brewed with wild yeasts through spontaneous fermentation in the open air. That, however, isn’t the only reason that Geuze, the variant of lambic beer we’re dealing with here, is quite so different from ‘normal’ beer.  You see, a Geuze is made by blending old, fully fermented, lambics and younger lambics which haven’t actually finished fermenting, which kickstarts a second fermentation. Combined with the fact that aged hops are used to produce the lambics that are blended into a Geuze, it really is quite some distance away from a traditional lager or ale, in taste and texture.

This Geuze, produced by the Brouwerij Boon, based in the Flemish village of Lembeek is about as traditional as you can get. There are no added sweeteners, and the beers used to produce it were 100% lambic. If you want to experience a quintessential Geuze, this is most likely the one to go for.

I think I’ve laboured that this Is A Very Different Beer enough, so it’s on to the review.

This Oude Geuze is distinctive all the way down. This starts with the smell – light and sour, more wine than beer. This carries on to the gorgeous golden colouring, with a bubbling that isn’t far off of the delicacy of a sparkling wine. Not that it shares much in the way of taste with champagne, however; it’s sharp, with a definite kick to it that hits almost instantly. My first taste was the first time I’d ever had a Geuze, and it was definitely quite something. It has a sourness that comes in with the sharp kick that reminded me of a cider, but even that doesn’t quite explain how it tastes.

The taste is offset by the thickness of the texture, which has a character best described as being close to alka-seltzer and balances the almost offensive sharpness. It’s a neutraliser, but one that doesn’t damage the strength of tastes of this particular lambic. All of this is complemented by the warmth that gathers at the back of the mouth after a few slow sips. They should be slow sips too; this is a beer to enjoy at length, not just because of the expense, but because of the way that the taste and neutralising texture almost subconsciously encourages a few moments of pure leisure.

So pop out, grab the closest lambic you can find, whether a Geuze or a Kriek, and kick back in the nearest patch of sun.

It is Friday, after all.

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