Sunday, 25 September 2016

A Weekend of Ales

This week is the time I can make it official - we are getting another addition to the family in the form of a small human some time in April. Scan at the beginning of the week confirmed that it was not a Velociraptor (which is a shame if you ask me) and that it had the normal expected complement of limbs and features for a 12 week old foetus. Announcement of this garnered ales from my colleague and friend at work who shall remain nameless but awesome and thus I had some Yorkshire love in the form of light and frothy beer. Add in a swift trip to my favourite local (the Burnt Pig, you can find many references to them by clicking here) and you have the makings of a good weekend with much ale, why not? I even have an excuse.

As usual, there is still time to bail out, and much of this entry consists of re-reviews rather than new ales, so there's a dash of Midlands and the South thrown in for good measure. Would you like to know more?

The first ales were had on the Friday evening after a second visit to the Tap Room in Duffield - alas, I was driving and so was unable to partake of some rather good ales on offer. It's got waiter service, plenty of selection, it's own bottles (though the brewery is at Calke Abbey) and some really rather nice pies (with wholegrain mustard). I can sense I shall have to pop up via bus at some point to sample their wares properly, maybe next time I patronise Matlock Bath or Belper way. Anyway, a good pie there and some good company set the scene for an evening of relaxation and ale once back home.

The first up of the evening was Ilkley Pale Ale from the Ilkley Brewery at 4.2% ABV that I last had sometime last year (see this link) when it was a gift from my Leeds host.
This poured with good colour, perhaps shown better in this image, and with a decent amount of head. A cool night with the car plugged in to charge meant that I didn't need to chill it beforehand and the steady carbonation was something nice and friendly, as one would expect from a Yorkshire brew. Nice citrus hops on the nose, a slight tang, and there was something of the malt there. Plenty of hops on the tongue, hitting higher than the 4.2% advertised in my opinion, and with a bed of decent malt that rolls it over the tongue and gives it a full feeling. Not as filling as a stout nor as creamy as some of the ambers you can get these days, but there's more to it than some of the pales I've had recently too, which is something that I can get behind. Nice run through the main part of the taste with a topping of decent hops riding that malt, a bit on the thin side, like a rodeo clown but with some panache and aplomb. This is good drinking ale and accompanied my impromptu sit to fiddle on the internets rather than do anything of note. It would go well with something meaty and dry - well, as dry as good meat gets - or maybe something cheesy and melted, like mozzarella or Lancashire rather than cheddar or Stilton. Nice, dry aftertaste that was a bit more of a blonde than a pale but I'm not complaining and the whole thing was rather charming to have slowly rather than necking it back. Not a massive hop hit, nor a malty one but far an away something decent to have so avoiding being thin and boring. You can get this most places and it's a good one just to have in.

Second up was my first revisit of Golden Sheep from Black Sheep Brewery since January 2013 (see this link) at 4.7% ABV. I was not impressed back then.
First thing to note is the brand new jacket and the rather different colour of this ale once in the glass. Lass golden and more coppery than the first time I had it and I suspect something of a modified recipe based on the aroma alone. There's a greater blast of yeast in there as a fiery underbelly of the muted hops, but little extra malt. There was more of a head this time and the hops were as light but the spice that I reported round the edges last time had magnified somewhat. This time, and maybe it was because it followed the pale from earlier, there was much more made of the yeast. Not just spearing through on the carbonation but accompanying the hops like a chaperone. Much as I was expecting this to get annoying it actually got rather nice after the initial look of askance. I maintain that this is a Parmesan cheese style of ale and I maintain that it would be good in a brace, as I believe was proved this evening when I teamed it with the pale! As it went second it could go a little harder and sure enough the extra strength benefited from going second, though it kept those hops and yeast heavy on each taste right the way through to the end, leaving the kind of aftertaste that would go well with a mustard and pork pie - oddly enough. Alas, by this point, the mustard and pork pie from Duffield was but a distant memory. Nice enough, not as disappointing as I remember it, and a good drinking ale. I suspect it won't replace my love of stout though, but it fit the darker evening and was sensible enough that I could nip out to unplug the car and shut the door without any issues.

Third in this bevy of rather esoteric reviews was the half I grabbed in my local on the way back from shopping. This was Planchette Porter from Full Mash at 4.8% ABV.
When I nip out to the local Morrison's I have to walk past my local and I stop in to see what they have on the bar, I know, it's a terrible thing to have to do when shopping. Invariably I end up stopping in on the way home for a half. Today was no exception, this little porter looked good and a fellow patron showed me their glass happily - announcing that it was dark but not so thick and dark that it put him off. Not a stout fan then. But the aroma of this was quite something, there was something there that put me in mind of cheese again, but this time more as an accompaniment. It would go well with some Stilton or other blue cheese. It doesn't smell anything like the cheese, but it made me want to buy some. Smooth and creamy on the tongue it had a bit of the carbonation one would expect but also enough of a thickness of malt that it wasn't the thin disappointment of the Powerhouse Porter I had in London back earlier in the year. There was a mustiness to the pint and it was pulled in such a way that the head was persistent without being annoying or getting in the way. It tasted around its ABV and so was exactly what it said it would be. I liked the play of the malt around the middle of the taste and the fact that the aftertaste was enough to be noticed without ruining the further tastes, a really delicate balancing act. As a further endorsement it allowed me to get home without feeling like I'd knocked it back - which, given that is mostly what I did, is quite a feat. It's not Plum Porter from Titanic but I'd have a hard time making a decision if both were on and I only had the pennies to have one. Obviously if I had enough I'd have one of each. In short, a nice cap on the ales of the weekend and I'm glad I tried it.

Finally, I brought out the T.E.A. from Hog's Back Brewery that I have had in the fridge for the best part of a month. 4.2% ABV and an amber. See this link for the last time.
Back when I had this on holiday I was rather unimpressed. However, we'd been out on a walk and fed ducks, then I had mowed the lawn so I felt like I had actually done some work for a change. Man work no less. Thus an ale was the natural end point. This opened with nary a snifter of carbonation as it had been chilled for so long (sometime before having the Hop Garden Gold) and then settled swiftly with a full malt aroma topped with a citrus stab of hops. It's definitely fuggles with the spice on the edge and on the tongue it was most satisfying after some actual physical labour. The spice of the fuggles and the feel of the malt in the middle of the taste allow for the citrus to do its quenching work after a blast of bitterness on the opening and then there's a soft malty bed that allows the whole thing to slip to a rather dry aftertaste. This works well in the cool sunshine of the garden buffeted by light autumnal winds. There's definitely a taste journey here with a crisp overview of the ale and enough strength in the 4.2% ABV to prevent it dying in the breeze. Not a savouring ale or owt special but it does well in the garden and allows me to feel like I earned something. It's a proper drinking ale, like most of those in this review, and is the sort of thing one would have a few of or as a staple on the end of a week, as I believe is how it is sold and drunk in pubs down south, so there's that. Basically, I get why it didn't impress me first time around and why it worked this time round.

Winner, if such a thing is possible, was the Planchette Porter but it was an unfair contest. The bottled ales aren't really meant to be world beaters, they are drinking ales to have at home and, preferably, with company. Decent, forgiving, and potentially good with a meal. The Porter was more of a social affair that could be had without sharing, it was designed to be had in a pub setting, with friendly publicans and a big pork pie on a platter with some mustard and pork scratchings. That's why it wins, it was had in its natural habitat and went well.

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