Sunday, 24 August 2014

Major Oaks

It's a cultural exchange... sort of. I visited a friend of mine who lives close to the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest and took along some of what I considered to be the best the local breweries could offer and some cheap offer beer from a local supermarket. We watched Doctor Who, YouTube videos, Commando and went walking in the woods. Not in remotely that order. By dint of having halves we demolished quite an ensemble of ale. I should point out that my companion for the evening, having served at numerous beer festivals, now tends to make pronouncements like "that's good beer" when pressed for opinions and not a lot else. He likes to frustrate reviewers and pedants. I fall under both categories.

So, journey with me now into the evening of men lost to fate. We left mainstream politics and entered the Sherwood Zone. Ahem, I mean, yes, click to read further of the evening!

Behind me here is a grandfather clock, to my
right there is a French chaise longe and...
Just go and have a look.
We actually opened proceedings in the Dog and Duck, which defies explanation, with a half of Theakston's Old Peculiar. I've had this before but, apparently, I never reviewed it here. There is some debate about whether this is better on tap or in a bottle and I have to say that there's really no comparison, it is good in either and very different. On tap I can report a creamier overall texture, less harsh spice from the yeast and a lovely dark and brooding colour in the glass. In the environment of the Dog and Duck, which is an explosion of late Edwardian, Victorian, 1920s and cruise ship stylings (with a reclining gold buddha festooned with fairy lights for good measure) - that works surprisingly well - and after an hour and a half hike to get there, it was most welcome. For a diversion meant to take "no longer than half an hour" according to my drinking companion, it was well worth it. And so was the ale. Not really a review for this one, given the situation and the fact that I had forgotten to bring anything on which to make notes, but a decent start. This was about lunchtime-ish, sometime around 2pm. The rest of the proceedings took place between here and midnight.

Beer 1: 1302 4% ABV Pale Ale from Brampton Brewery.
This was a hoppy and fruity beginning to the main deal. On opening there was a satisfying whisp of carbon dioxide and less fizz than one might expect. The aroma had fruit in it, but it was hard to place effectively. Certainly it was what one might term 'full-bodied' if it were a wine and that was maintained into the taste as well. Surprisingly, for a pale ale, this was amber in colour and had a vigorous head that was short lived. Like the last effort from this brewery, the Speciale (here) this had an element of Belgian cream hiding beneath the very British exterior and it remained in the background through the taste as it went through hops, fruity hops and malt and ended in a drier note toward the end. It was stronger than it ought to be at 4% ABV and quite heavy for a pale ale.

Beer 2: Dizzy Blonde, Robinson's: 3.8% ABV Blonde Ale.
I've reviewed this before, but it was a long time ago, and it was on special offer. After having some blonde ale again recently I was minded of how much I used to enjoy some Trashy Blonde from Brewdog but I can't get that any more, so this will have to do. There's a dry and yeasty aroma from the beginning, as one would expect, and the colouring is definitely toward the amber end of the spectrum. A good fizz to it, not overpowering or too forced, but definitely artificially produced with little bottle conditioning. It lacks the quality of the 1302 but nevertheless provided a good follow-on. Dry and hoppy taste to it, couldn't rightly place any particular fruit flavours, but hoppy overall. Hops and malt are well balanced on the tongue but lacks the dash of hops that I like in blondes and in ale overall. Smooth overall feeling to it as we turned to YouTube for entertainment (here it was Epic Rap Battles that my drinking colleague had never seen before) but not a threat to the overall running order I don't think. He, of course, pronounced "It's alright, that. Tasty. Like it".

Beer 3: Barbarian, a 5.5% ABV Stout from Derventio.
Another local, this one, and one that I've had my eye on so I was glad when the bottle was declared worthy of being had next. This was during Cinema Sins and Honest Trailers too. It was a good call. Whilst drinking this we reflected on the merits of Conan and Schwarzenegger in general. We decided to watch Commando after the evening's entertainment. The ale did as you would expect from a stout. Little fuss on opening or pouring (though I did end up with a pretty huge head for some reason). There was a strong smell of chocolate and dark malt on the nose. Heavier than Oyster Stout (here) and a complete departure from the previous ales. Put me in mind of cabernet sauvignon from my wine days as the taste had a biscuit opener leading to an almost licquorice feel, though not as sweet - more like chewing the root. Molasses make the texture, though lacks the viscosity of Guinness or Murphy's. Surprisingly watery, in fact, but not a criticism of it overall. Definitely deserves the name and was a bit of a big hitter. My companion's take was "this is... good" but with a surprised note to his proclamation, so I'd chalk it up as a success there too.

Beer 4: Barnsley Brewery's It's Ale Over: a Ruby ale at 4.2% ABV.
Obviously brewed to cash in the world cup and, predictably, on offer in my local supermarket as a result. On opening we were both struck by the fact that we almost couldn't tell it was a ruby ale - it smelt like a stout - and the colouring was dark and brooding rather than the Red and White promised by the bottle. There was none of the chocolate tones one smells on stouts, however, and none of the depth or strength of Broadside (here). Indeed, it's taste was more like a strong IPA despite the spice of the yeast and the colour that was presented. The hops take a back seat to the malt on the tongue and the lasting impression is of a shade or a wisp, something ephemeral and uncatchable. Not poetically good, but certainly serviceable. Not quite dark enough to qualify as a Dark ale like Wild Raven (here) and reminds me more of work-a-day ales like Traditional English Ales. Indeed, there's a nuttiness to this that took me a while to pin down. "Eh, it's not bad..." pronounced my colleague and we retired to watch Doctor Who.

If I may take a moment, I thought Capaldi made a good Doctor and it didn't seem to matter that I'd missed a few seasons lately for no real reason. I found it nicely paced with none of the huge plotline developing stuff people appear to have been stung by in things like the Silence arc. Nice story, mostly self-contained, with Capaldi managing to channel enough Malcolm Tucker into his acting to keep me grinning like a loon when he was on. Perhaps every line given to the lesbian couple didn't need to reference the fact that they were lesbians - I'm a big boy, I can remember that fact and still view them as characters - but apart from that irksome foible, it was a good episode.

Beer 5: Berry Bad Bucket-Brewed Birthday Beer, uh, my house. 7+% ABV, Raspberry Beer.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that this gathered a head and worked well out of the bottles I had decanted it into. The sugar conditioning had done a good job here and the sediments weren't too bad - meaning nearly the whole thing could be poured without having to let the glasses settle afterward. It tasted mainly of malt and there was a faint, but by no means shy, raspberry taste about it. Colour is very amber with a copper edge and a slight reddening if one holds it to the light. "Good beer" intoned my colleague approvingly, checking that I had brought more to leave behind. I took this as a compliment (he did indeed ensure he kept some to have later) and thus must assume that, whilst unlikely to trouble some of the top ales, it's good enough to have of an evening.

Beer 6: The Mild Side, Nutbrook Brewery, a lovely Mild at 3.6% ABV.
When I first had this, I recall being very taken by it and so I was glad that this was next. The Death Star decal made us think of Star Wars and the Robot Chicken pastiches. In the meantime it wasn't a bad accompaniment to Commando and so was pleasant to have. Easily the most hoppy of the evening with a definite hit of citrus to it. Here was the depth and the adventure that had been missing so far, apart from maybe the Barbarian, and the taste did not disappoint. Starts with a fruity little hops flavour before the malt hurries it along and then fades to a milky mild flavour as an aftertaste. We had eaten some Chinese by this point, I'd has spicy noodles again, and this was an almost perfect follow-on to that. I was very glad that this was as good as I had remembered! A deep and nutty colour that got an approving noise or two from my colleague.

Beer 7: Distiller's Cask Range, Theakston, 6.5% ABV. Amber?
By this point in the evening even Commando  was running down. Arnie had dispatched several hundred racist stereotypes and was about to get the girl he'd uttered maybe five lines to in the film. My colleague produced two special brews he'd picked up in Masham a few months ago and saved for this occasion. This was the first. A brew made in the barrels that had previously held Speyside whiskey. It was certainly an education. No slouch at this strength, it poured chestnutty and clear with a definite smell of the whiskey hanging in the air. There were hops there too, but they were very much in the background and thus impossible to identify beyond acknowledging that they were there. Taste was good too, a citrus tang on the roast nuts of the whiskey and the smoothness of the malt to make it all slip down. Fiery but in a satisfying way, I can see this being of singular use on a dark and cold night. Very rich, I shall be seeking out a way of getting hold of some of this all to myself. I've visited Masham maybe thirty times and never managed to get to either of their breweries, this told me that was an error!

Beer 8: Imperial Russian Stout, Black Sheep. 8.5% ABV Stout.
Oh God there's a mirror!
Nice aroma from this limited edition brew that one can only get at the brewery. It carried the same tale as the Imperial Russian Stout from Courage (here) and the same rich aroma persisted. Definite chocolate tones and plenty of the licquorice making a come back from the Barbarian earlier - almost like a rich and heavy red wine. This is one to have with steak and gravy at a sumptuous meal but, as the last of the evening, it served us well. My colleague was impressed and I can see why, the taste was strong and difficult to adequately define ane explain, all the more given that this was our eighth ale of the evening and ninth drink overall. Compounded by the fact that the home brew had been a pint. Nevertheless, there was a burning warmth at the back of the throat and the malt provided the opening burst of taste that was then consumed by the burnt chocolate of the stout. A good amount of treacle to the texture and consistency but it does not beat the Imperial Russian Stout from Christmas even though it was a good one on which to end the evening.

Final scores were as follows:
My colleague pronounced his top three, in no particular order, to be The Mild Side, Distiller's Cask Range and, somewhat surprisingly, the Berry Bad Bucket-Brewed Birthday Beer. This left me rather pleased but semi-embarrassed!
My own top three, also in no particular order, were The Mild Side, Barbarian and the Imperial Russian Stout. Though, in retrospect, I might place the Distiller's Cask Range above the Imperial Russian Stout.

It was a very good evening all in all, and the ales were very nice too. I can see 1302 making a comeback, as well as those listed above, in individual reviews when and if I can get hold of them.

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