Beer of the Week: Anspach & Hobday “The Stout Porter”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnspach & Hobday, a microbrewery in Bermondsey in south London, taps the vintage vibe of the Victorian brewing quarter where it sits in the shadow of the Shard.

This hefty, tarry stout porter recalls smokey post-industrial brewing – proper porter. It pours full fat milk thick with a light, lasting head.

Like the sort of dark chocolate you buy on a whim in artisan delicatessen, this tastes almost mouth-puckeringly cocoa-y. But it’s balanced by mellow vanilla notes. Pack in some leathery smokey fireplace-y undertones and you’ve got a smashing beer to string out the last few blustery days before the clocks change and we all start drinking pilsner.

Hops: British East Kent Golding & American Cascade

ABV: 8.5% 

Cost: £3.70 at Highbury Vinters

Bite-sized beer breaks – a new series!

Beer was the last thing on my mind when I recklessly decided to undertake a series of £100 weekend citybreaks. It was demoted to the hinterland beneath “where will I sleep?” and “will I be able to walk to and from the airport?”

These citybreaks are an attempt to prove that travel shouldn’t just be for the wealthy. Us penniless, deskbound 9-5ers should be able to break out too. My £100, all I could spare per month, would have to cover everything: flights, transport to and from the airport, accommodation, food, museum admissions… etc. Because anyone can nab cheap flights between Tuesday-Thursday, I decided to make it more difficult: each break must fall within a weekend. I returned from 36 (admittedly boozeless) hours in Gothenburg, Sweden, in late January, with five pence left in my budget. Giddy with success I reckoned that, if I could make it round one of the most expensive cities in Europe with money left over, I could afford the odd delicious half on the next holiday. Particularly when that next holiday was in Cologne. Bitesized beer breaks are super-speedy top tips for drinking on a budget in Europe. For more budget travel tips and stuff to do when you’ve only got a couple of Euro to rub together, see Liz’s columns in The Independent on Sunday (starting in April). Rhinegold Cologne in west Germany is best known in beery circles for kölsch, a phenomenally light speciality lager brewed to very specific requirements laid out by the Köln (Cologne) Brewery Association. According to the Kölsch-Konvention a beer can only be called kölsch if it fulfils strict purity requirements, among which are that it is brewed in the city, has a gravity between between 11 and 14º Plato (4.4%-5.2%), is filtered but slightly hoppy. Kölsch’s history is interlinked with that of its parent city. Just two of Cologne’s 40 breweries survived the Second World War; subsequently it fought off other popular German beers to peak at 370 million liters in 1980. Thirteen breweries in Cologne currently produce kölsch, of which we visited two of the most popular – Gaffel am Dom and Früh. Gaffel am Dom For the full (if admittedly touristy) Kölsch experience, visit Gaffel’s cavernous brewhouse in the shadow of Cologne’s magnificent cathedral (the Dom). If you just want to drink you need to head to the bar on the far side of the restaurant – tables are reserved for dining only, we discovered after about thirty minutes forlornly trying to flag down the phantom-like beer ninjas, or Köbes, who make tall, frosty glasses of the stuff appear next to you every time you finish your drink (unless you cover your glass with your coaster – top tip!). IMG_20150221_173558 The brewery was founded in 1908 by the Becker Brothers and is best known for the top-fermented Gaffel Kölsch still brewed in its cellars. DSC_1005The beer, which comes in at a mere £1.23 per 200ml glass, is crisp, fruity and breathlessly light. Because it is served in such small glasses it is always ice cold, and comes clear, pale yellow with a ghost of a head. Every new glass is recorded on your coaster, which makes this an excellent option for thrifty and thirsty travellers. As long as your maths doesn’t let you down. We got through 12 glasses over the course of one Bundesliga match, which cost us just over 20 Euro. The German guy sharing our space at the bar told us that it doesn’t count as a night out in Cologne unless you get through 22 glasses, but we were happy to chalk this one down as an evening in and have clearer heads for a Sunday morning stroll down the Rhine. FrühCentury-old Früh‘s main brewpub stands a stone’s throw from the cathedral (handily five minutes from Gaffel am Dom, if you’re time-constrained. IMG_20150222_181943Früh is much drier and more crisp than Gaffel’s slightly fruity kölsch, with a more pronounced cereal-malt taste. We stood by tables in the brewpub’s vaulted, medieval entrance and watched the phenomenally efficient workflow that goes into filling every waiter’s “garland” – a round holster – with tall, thin glasses. It pours crystal clear and slightly-straw yellow, like kölsch should. The beer is .10 cents more expensive per glass – 1.80 euro – than at Gaffel. We preferred the latter’s long, noisy beerhalls to Früh’s darker cellars – but if you’ve got time it’s definitely worth the short trek across town to compare the two. A beer tour of Cologne is eminently achievable on a budget. The booze is cheap and delicious and, thanks to the brilliant waiters and ever-updated coaster recording system, you can keep track of your budget. Food in the brewpubs we visited was also reasonable; although on one memorable occasion that was admittedly just a really, really big plate of chips. Best of the rest: If ICIP had time, we’d have liked to try Sion and Peters Brauhaus Try it at home: Thornbridge make a delicious Kölsch-style beer (they have to call it that because of the purity laws) called Tzara. Brewer Rob Lovatt talks through the process of making it in a blogpost for insidebeer.

Next time: Brno, in the Czech Republic

After that: Copenhagen in Denmark. Any tips? Tweet us @icipints or leave a comment

[Edited 26/3/15: Früh’s brewery did not survive the Second World War, as originally suggested in this article]

– ED

Loveable Rogue

It’s a dull, dark night in early January, and ICIP has been lucky enough to be invited to a special dinner at The Bull in Highgate, north London, hosted by American brewery Rogue Ales. Established in Oregon in 1988, Rogue has been one of the frontrunners of the American beer revolution, and their chunky, distinctive bottles are a common sight in fridges in beer-loving bars across London.

This dinner was to mark a visit from their Brewmaster, John Maier, a man with a beard so famous it has its own Twitter account and blog. John has been visiting the UK primarily to brew with our friends at Adnams, and the resulting Brutal IPA is going to be featured in JD Wetherspoon pubs across the country.

Rogue had taken the opportunity to host this multi-course beer and food paired spectacular while John was passing through the capital, and as we duck out of the miserable weather into the cosy confines of The Bull the bar is already buzzing with brewers, beer writers and distributors eager to see what the night has in store.

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Before we commence noshing, we start with an old favourite – Dead Guy Ale, a 6.5% maibock. With a beautiful red tint in the glass, the beer has a powerful malty nose but a hoppy finish courtesy of European Saaz and Perle that really lifts it. We’re off to a great start.

beard_beer1Next up are canapés – sesame prawns with a sweet and sour veggie garnish – accompanied by a glass of Beard Beer (5.5%), a brew with a backstory so crazy, we thought it was a joke until we had it confirmed by John himself. The legend goes that the yeast for this Belgian beer was cultivated in John’s beard. Apparently they snipped a bit off, took it to the lab, and brewed with the resulting strain. John has been growing his beard since 1978, and his yeast has certainly produced a fine vintage (sorry). It packs the classic Belgian aromas you’d expect, bready and rich, and has tart red fruit flavours. It’s a good foil for the sweet and sour Asian flavours as well as providing enough carbonation to cut through the palate-coating sauce.

rogue_farms_chipotle_aleWe take our seats for our starter, which is a fondue made with the very beer we will be enjoying next – Chipotle Ale (5.5%). This amber ale is brewed with jalapeño peppers, which, John tells us, Rogue grow themselves on their farm back in Oregon. Rogue now grow a huge amount of their own produce, and John proudly reels off a list for us – hops, barley, rye, hazelnuts, marionberries – even pumpkins, which he says they slow roast for a week in a pizza oven to caramelise them before they’re used in their Pumpkin Patch Ale. Twenty kilos of smoked chillies are added to each brew of Chipotle Ale, tied up in a bag and added to the kettle during the boil. The result is a beer with a subtly smoky nose, a big punch of maltiness and a well-judged warmth to finish. It blends fabulously with our fondue, adding a depth and richness to the cheese.

rogue_farms_oregasmic_ale2Rogue’s passion for locally-sourced ingredients is made even more apparent with their next offering – OREgasmic Ale (6.5%). This IPA is brewed exclusively using ingredients from Rogue’s home state, Oregon. John tells us that this full-bodied beer uses many hop varieties, all grown by the brewery, and that its strong malt backbone allows them to hop it hard. This, he says, stops it from becoming “so bone dry it crunches your palate”. The beer is paired with confit duck served with a waffle and maple glaze, and it works nicely. There are the familiar punchy pine and citrus notes from the US hops, but it is balanced by a slight caramel sweetness. It managed to walk the tightrope and both cuts through the fatty meat and complements the sweet waffle and glaze.

voodoo_pretzel_raspberry__chocolate1We’re a little alarmed when our hosts present us with bubblegum pink bottles of Voodoo Doughnut Pretzel, Raspberry & Chocolate Ale (5.4%). To call the packaging eye-catching would be an understatement, and as a rule we are not fans of crazily-flavoured beers. The nose doesn’t encourage us – it literally smells of jam doughnuts, and while jam doughnuts are very nice, this is not a doughnut. This is meant to be a beer. John tells us that the base for this beer is the Mocha Porter, and that it is de-hopped before the other eyebrow-raising ingredients are added. This is one of several collaborations with Oregon-based Voodoo Doughnuts, and appropriately it is being served with cinnamon doughnuts and chocolate sauce. Despite our trepidation, the beer holds its own. In the same way that it didn’t smell like beer, it certainly doesn’t taste of doughnuts or pretzels. “They wanted to add stuff like pretzels to the lauter tun,” John remembers, “and I said sure, but you’ll never be able to taste them!”. While he’s right on the baked goods front, the less sweet elements – the bitter cocoa and sharp raspberry – really do come through, and the subtly parching mouthfeel helps cut through the sweet stodginess of our dessert. We’re pleasantly surprised, and have learned yet again not to judge a beer by its bottle.

lAllegroPorterBottleNext up are our petit fours, which once again incorporate the beer they are paired with – Allegro Coffee Porter. This 7.2% Baltic Porter was added to the most delicious peanut butter and chocolate truffles we have ever eaten, and the bitterness of the toasted malt perfectly cuts through the mouth-coatingly rich treats. John tells us that strong cold-infused coffee is used – and you certainly get this both on the nose and on the palate – but there is a sweetness there too, a hint of caramel, or maybe vanilla.

xs_imperial_ipaJust when we thought the night couldn’t get much better, we’re presented with our digestif – a generous glass of XS I²PA – a seriously intense Imperial IPA clocking in at 9.5%. John tells us that this beer was dry hopped with a range of Rogue’s own US hops, which explains both the resin and pine notes and the tang of citrus on the nose. The parching hoppy bitterness you’d expect from the style is well-balanced with an almost caramel flavour from the malt. It is delicious and far too drinkable for the ABV.

Like many other breweries, there is a distinctive signature flavour detectable in all of their beers. While this is often down to the yeast a brewer favours, in this case, I think that the “Rogue” quality is all down to their use of malt, much of it home-grown. Personally, I’m really not a hophead (that’s Liz’s department), and I think what I like about Rogue’s beers so much is that all of the styles, even the hoppiest IPAs, have a strong malt backbone that balances out any excessive punch of citrus or acerbic aftertaste that ensures you can’t drink anything else all evening. I even find myself polishing off my large helping of XS I²PA despite the fact that I usually steer well clear of Imperial IPAs all together.

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Rogue are particularly known for their promotion of beer and food matching, their bottles and website providing the kind of detailed info on IBUs and attenuation you don’t often see, and they make pairing suggestions for all their beers. This is a topic that sparks plenty of discussion on our somewhat international table: we are sitting with both a Dutch and an Italian beer importer. We go on to chat at length about beer’s perceived lack of sophistication when compared to wine, why this has come about, and how this misconception can be challenged. We talk about beer’s current image, both in the UK and abroad, and how men – and women – have played a part in its history, and can change its future. It is always a pleasure to have the opportunity to socialise within the beer community, and it was particularly interesting to speak with colleagues from overseas to get a different perspective on the beer world.

We had an incredible evening – great food, top notch beer, fabulous company, and, best of all, the chance to shake hands with a true giant of the American craft beer movement.

Big thanks to Mitch and the team at The Bull, and to John, Gary and the rest of the guys at Rogue.

– PS

Christmas cheer, mistletoe and beer

2014 has shot by in a blur and unbelievably, Christmas is almost upon us once again. For us that has meant digging out the box of decorations from under the spare room bed, an almost military-scale operation of trying to plan how we are going to visit all of the family over the holiday and me considering taking out shares in the companies who make cinnamon and ground ginger. It has begun.

What we undoubtedly all need to dissipate the stress of all that shopping, baking, wrapping, cooking, planning and decorating is a nice drink. Christmas tends to be a bit of a boozy free-for-all, with a lot of the drinks usually forgotten at the back of the cabinet making an appearance – when else do you fancy a sherry mid-afternoon?! But somewhere between the champagne over breakfast and the port with your cheese in the evening as you duel over the Monopoly board, beer sometimes gets edged out of the picture.

This is a shame, because there are a huge number of breweries producing seasonal festive beers, many of which would go nicely with your Christmas pudding or a nice chunk of sharp cheddar. ICIP took it upon ourselves to sample a few of these Christmas tipples to give you some ideas.

DSC_0013Fyne Ales – “Nice” (5.2%) and “Naughty” (5.2%)
It was great to see Fyne Ales trying something a little bit different to the usual porters, stouts and barley wines on offer at this time of year, and their white IPA and black ale offer two very different drinking experiences.

We know we’re all beer geeks together here, but for the uninitiated – white IPAs are basically the lovechild of an IPA and a Belgian wit, using a wheat base and sometimes spicing. Nice poured with a light, frothy head and had a crisp, light, lemony nose with an underlying earthy hoppiness. It had an astringent mouthfeel with grapefruit and lemon peel notes (turns out it is brewed with fresh citrus peel, so no surprise there), and has a lingering bitterness which will be thanks to its smack of US hops including Citra, Galaxy and Summit. Interestingly, Mr Pip commented he was picking up an almost pilsner-like flavour, and after some research we discovered that the NZ hop Motueka, which is used in Nice, has Saaz parentage. Not just a pretty face!

On the other end of the spectrum, Naughty poured jet black with a light latte-coloured head. We got a red berry nose, which combined both the sweetness and sourness of fruits like redcurrants, and we also picked up a chocolate note. It was highly carbonated and initially had quite a dry, parching mouthfeel, a real charred punch of all the toasted malts – no less than eight different varieties were used, including black and chocolate malt. There was also a hoppy kick from the Centennial, but this gave way to a smooth chocolatey finish and sweet berry notes to match the aroma. Whilst trying to describe the flavour, Mr Pip started talking about the charred roasted peppers we had for dinner the previous evening. I had started to mock him until we discovered that Naughty has been spiked with ancho chillies. I conceded the rest of the bottle to him after that, as it turns out that anchos are known for having fruity flavour characteristics.  I’d better watch out, or he’ll have me out of a job.

DSC_0066“Holly Daze” (5%)
Fyne Ales call their seasonal dark amber ale, Holly Daze, “the antidote to Christmas”, making a point of not using any festive spicing, but instead focusing on producing “a refreshing beer to clear the palate”.  It pours deep amber with a frothy head and has a malty aroma, with a light stone fruit note and slight caramel sweetness at the back. The flavour is initially quite rich and bready but gives way to a grassy hop bitterness and a clean finish.

DSC_0059Ilkley – Mary Christmas (4.7%)
This blonde ale poured golden with a light frothy head. We got a whiff of nutmeg and cloves on the nose as well as orange peel and some bready, malty notes – a kind of marmalade on toast scenario. It had a relatively high carbonation and a rounded flavour that left a lingering citrus peel bitterness. We also picked up the festive spices again which warmed the back of the throat and also got a hint of tropical fruit, no doubt from the Australian hops used. This married well with the Caribbean rum Ilkley brewed with – a perfect pairing. Light and clean, this was a good foil to the heavier stouts and porters we tried later on.

DSC_0025By The Horns – Jolly’s Revenge (5.5%) 
This poured jet black with a creamy head, and had a complex aroma. We got coffee and caramel, and a hard-to-pin-down spiciness that reminded us of rye bread. There was also a sweetness which was reminiscent of a milk stout. It was bitter on the palate with a charred, toasted malt flavour and a quite a parching, dry mouthfeel which was no doubt the result of the addition of some US hops.

DSC_0031Hogs Back – Advent Ale (4.4%)
This ale poured with a thin head, and had an aroma of red fruit and berries which came across as quite tart – almost like cranberries or raspberries. It had a soft mouthfeel with very light carbonation and tasted quite tangy with a slight sourness that was faintly reminiscent of a fruity lambic. It had a dry finish which gave through to a liquorice sweetness, and perhaps a metallic, molasses note too. We were really impressed by Advent Ale and think this could well be the beer we stick with for most of the big day.

DSC_0035Bath Ales – Festivity (5%)
This poured thick and dark, and had a hint of ruby-red in the glass. We got a hit of rum and raisin on the nose, and also hints of caramel, biscuit and vanilla. It had a drying mouthfeel with a bitter cocoa/chocolately note giving way to charred coffee, courtesy of that roasted choc malt, but the bitterness doesn’t linger. There is a vanilla sweetness right at the finish, too. One of our favourites.

DSC_0038St Peter’s – Christmas Ale (7%)
This poured deep amber and unlike a lot of the other festive beers which went in for richer, festive flavours, this had peachy, apricot and even grape notes on the nose. There was a definite estery element there too which translated into a marzipan/cherry pit flavour when we tasted it. It had quite a creamy, smooth mouthfeel and a sharp, herbal hoppy bitterness which almost went through to medicinal towards the end.

DSC_0057Wychwood – Bah Humbug (6%)
This poured without much of a head but had an attractive burnished copper colour when held up to the light. The aroma was unmistakably of British hops – grassy and peppery, with a sour twang – with a slight spicy sweetness at the back and a breadiness from the Maris Otter malt. When we tasted it, it had quite a thin mouthfeel with high carbonation. Initially we got bitter and herbal notes which were almost citrussy or lemony, which gave way to a slight cinnamony warmth towards the finish.

harveyHarvey’s Christmas Ale (7.5%)
We’ve hit barley wine territory – this is serious, after dinner cheeseboard stuff. Harvey’s Christmas Ale poured an incredible tawny colour without a head, clear with a deep reddish hue. We got dried fruit on the nose with a hint of boozy Christmassy spirits such as brandy or rum. It had a smooth, almost oily mouthfeel with a slight, clean carbonation at the finish, and was surprisingly sweet – a treacly, iron-like tang. Despite being very rich it gave away to a dry, parching finish and a lingering bitterness which offset that heaviness. Definitely one for an after-dinner snifter.

DSC_0064Adnams – Tally Ho Ho Ho (7.2%)
Described on the bottle as “an unashamedly strong winter warmer”, we approached this one with caution. It poured deep ruby – an absolutely gorgeous colour – and had a strong aroma of tart green apples and pear drops, with a hint of raisin. The flavour is rich boozy fruitcake with a grassy hop bitterness to counterbalance the sweetness of molasses and liquorice. Smooth, velvety mouthfeel with quite a high carbonation – possibly the result of this batch being bottle conditioned with live yeast. We also loved the label, which trades the usual Tally-Ho horse and rider for Santa and Rudolph. A class act.

DSC_0060Brouwerij d’Achouffe – N’Ice Chouffe (10%)
What comes after the after-dinner snifters? A nightcap, perhaps? We’re bringing out the big guns – it wouldn’t be Christmas without some face-meltingly strong Belgian stuff. N’Ice Chouffe poured a chestnutty brown with reddish hue and a creamy head. You get dried fruit and caramel on the nose and perhaps an estery, bubblegummy note at the back. It is highly carbonated with an almost chewy mouthfeel, and has the distinctive Belgian yeast flavour profile; it is rich and boozy, with a balancing sweetness which may be the caramel character of the malt. Has a fresh, clean finish.

DSC_0068Brouwerij Huyghe – Delirium Christmas (10%)
This poured deep amber with a reddish tinge and only a thin head. We got raspberry, cherry and almond on the nose along with a punch of bubblegum and banana ester notes – all very sweet scents. It had quite a high carbonation and, initially, a silky mouthfeel which gave way to a dry finish, although curiously there was no hoppy flavour behind this. It left quite a medicinal, herbal, almost sour taste in the mouth, but this was not unpleasant, and it balanced well with the rich, Belgian yeast and marzipan flavours.

We were hugely impressed by the sheer range of festive beers out there – there is certainly something to cater for everyone’s tastes, whether you like your high-percentage barley wines, spicy porters or even lighter beers. We’d love to hear what you’re planning to crack open over Christmas – do let us know, either in the comments, on Twitter or on Facebook.

We’d like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Have a fantastic holiday, and here’s to a healthy, happy 2015 to all of you. Cheers!

– PS

Full disclosure – some of these beers were sent to us as samples, others we bought for ourselves.

Blame John… and the rest of your marketing department

This morning Melissa Cole drew our attention to this new advertising campaign by Manchester-based brewery, JW Lees.

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Screengrab taken morning of 5/11/14

Where do I begin? The assumption that only men drink beer? That women are shrieking harridans who prevent men from going out for a drink with their friends? Or that men are untrustworthy louts who lie to get their own way? You get the picture.

When I see things like this, I seriously cannot believe that we still live in a world where enough people thought this was a decent enough idea to go ahead with it. The attempt to push it on social media with a hashtag is even more offensive. Let’s spread the casual sexism and give it some real exposure. Fantastic. I know you’ve been around since the early nineteenth century, JW Lees, but what century do you think it is now?!

What baffles me the most about sexism in beer marketing is that breweries continue to alienate potential female customers. Yes, we know that there are a lot of women beer drinkers (and indeed brewers, sommeliers and writers) who will merely roll their eyes at this and move on to their next pint, but I’m not talking about them. Marketing like this solidifies the incorrect stereotype that beer is a man’s drink, and many women will continue to live in ignorance of beer’s fabulousness if we don’t remove barriers to entry. Women bombarded by this kind of bullshit may never build the confidence to go up to the bar and ask for a pint, even if they wanted to.

I #BlameJohn, and whoever else came up with this shit idea.

– PS

I’m alright, Jack: ICIP’s favourite pumpkin beers for Halloween

I freaking love Halloween. Probably because, as a kid, it was the night in the year I was allowed to watch grown-up horror movies (well, Hammer’s Dracula and The Devil Rides Out) on repeat.

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Spin on a decade or so (sob), and my love for Halloween has manifest as a disproportionate love for oft-maligned pumpkin flavoured beer.

Unlike the ubiquitous pumpkin spiced latte, which is an abomination unto caffeine, bastardising yummy coffee flavours with syrup and (probably) nuclear goo, brewing good pumpkin beer takes skill. Malt and hops and spices have to work together to showcase the admittedly pretty uninteresting gourd.

This year PSB, long a phenomena in the US, seems to have kicked off (finally) in this country, with a number of breweries launching their contenders with boozy, fancy-dress bashes, attended by a disproportionate number of people dressed as Jedi. So with no further ado…

ICIP’s top tips for Halloween tipple (sorry):

Beavertown, Stingy Jack, 7.2% abv

IMG_20141022_205650With its layers of spicy cinnamon and sweet booziness, I’d marry Stingy Jack if I could. It’s also haunted, or cursed, or something, because it causes rows among my housemates the likes of which I have never seen, even with other beers this (comparatively) strong. Downfalls this year include the price – a hefty £6-6.50 for 660ml, and the fact that you can only buy it in 660ml bottles. That renders the 7%ish beer more a solid weekend drink and less some funky pumpkin spice for a schoolnight. That said, I’ve never, ever got halfway through a bottle and wished it was over.

Camden Town Brewery, Pumpkin Spiced Lager, 5.2% abv

IMG_20141030_191217Delicious. I’m not normally a lager drinker, and was blown away by how well the format suited pumpkin spice. Without the sweet richness of an ale, the cinamonny-nutmeg-ginger goodness has a chance to shine. For me, it redeemed lager, which I normally find a bit bland (I KNOW I KNOW, I’M SORRY). Light and deeply drinkable.

 

Brewdog, PumpkinHead, 5.1% abv

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Testament to the deliciousness of PumpkinHead is the fact that I drank four bottles of it in a row during a recent houseparty, and clearly enjoyed them too much to take any arty photographs. Instead here is me dressed as a pumpkin, holding a bottle in an unflattering photograph.

Spicey without the cloying sweetness of some pumpkin beers, this is a great session drink (look how happy I am!) It’s fresher and a bit more citrus-y, but still plenty of pumpkin and spice on the nose, and a satisfying caramel pour to match with your pumpkin wig.

Elysian Brewery, Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, 5.9% abv

IMG_20141030_201738Regular readers (well, anyone who read the last post) will know that I ransacked London for this beer, which is currently on at Wetherspoons as part of their International Ale Festival. And it was worth it, particularly at a hangover-triggering £3.20 per pint. Thick, sweet mouthfeel with a boozy lingering spicey taste, my sense from speaking to ‘spoons staff is that this will roll out properly over the Halloween weekend. Snap it up while it lasts.

London Fields Brewery, Pumpkin Ale, 6% abv & Gyle 666, 5.6% abv

IMG-20141031-WA0006Less pumpkin, more Terry’s Chocolate Orange, for some reason, in LFB’s lovely pumpkin beer. Yummy and boozy, if you get it at source it’s available on cask and keg. We tried both (of course); kegged is lighter, so you get more of the toffee-chocolate, casked is a fuller, traditional pumpkiny mouthfeel. Gyle 666 is an outrageously spicy brown ale, rich and nutty with a strong (and I mean strong!) chilli kick.

Wychwood, Pumpking, 3.8% abv

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I went off Wychwood after some questionable merchandising, then stumbled across this in my local Budgens (never seen it anywhere else). Yes, it’s much lighter than some of it’s stronger rivals, but it’s a really decent cheap alternative if you want something seasonal that won’t leave you under the table. A ruby ale, it doesn’t exactly reek of pumpkin spice, but it pours a tasty, earth-y, apricot glass.

Anchor, BigLeaf Maple Autumn Red, 6% abv

download_20141030_112027“Give me something I wouldn’t pick for myself”, I said to @dwylth, resident beergenius at Bottledog Kings X. He knows that I most enjoy things that taste of 1) hops, 2) hops, 3) coffee flavoured hops and 4) alcohol, so I was intrigued when he passed me an apparently maple syrup flavoured beer from a brewery that I normally associate with American pales. And it was in a small bottle (although this could be a perspective thing given it was sat in a basket alongside Stingy Jack). But oh, man, it was good. I’ve tried to avoid using the word caramel elsewhere in this roundup, because all caramel pales to insignificance next to this beer. Floral and undeniably maple-y, this is a lovely seasonal red ale if you get sick of all the spice.

– ED

Budget brilliance: ICIP reviews Wetherspoons’ International Real Ale Festival

ICIP is coming around to Wetherspoons.

Sure, we’ve gone there for a quiet pint and wound up giving witness accounts of the bar brawls that erupted within feet of our sun-soaked boozing to the Met’s finest. But more recently, we’ve been drawn in by the promise of cut-price Punk IPA and This is Lager, tempted to stay by cans of exclusive (and delicious) Sixpoint.

Now Wetherspoons, possessed as it is of some considerable clout,  has put together a superb international festival. International offerings from Birrificio (Italy), Sixpoint and 10 Barrel (USA) and Brewmoon (NZ) – among many others – sit alongside some 40 beers from UK Brewers (among them Harviestoun, Thwaites, Adnams). The autumnal range focuses on spicey, amber-y, chewy-caramel beers, but has also – in a welcome move – made an effort to showcase beers brewed by women (five international beers and two from the UK).

Read the full list

Not only that, but in a London ‘Spoons a festival pint cost £3.20, a good pound less than one of these beers would cost in our local craft pubs, and you can get three thirds for the same price. Some of the beers are of decent craft strength (around the 6-7% mark), and will still set you back just over a quid for a third, or less than a high street coffee.

But there is a price to pay for this breadth of range, even if it’s not financial. Lows we experienced in our mammoth, four pub tasting session included some dire service, occasionally atmosphere, and a lack of coordination across pubs in an area.

For example: every bar we visited stocked Bath Ales‘ Prophecy, but nowhere could we find the elusive Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale we were so desperate to locate. Arch-rivals Nicholsons told us last year that their pub managers co-ordinate festivals so a locale isn’t saturated with the same beers – if ‘Spoons wants to attract the craft crowd, they’ll have to do the same thing.

line of beersBut all that aside, beer tasting at a Wetherspoons festival is genuinely great fun.

“…you have to engage in a Pokemon-slash-Indiana Jones-style quest as you sprint, increasingly weavily, across quadrants of London”

Unlike a static, course-of-the-weekend festival you’re armed with a mouth-watering tasting list but no guarantee you’ll find any of the beers. There’s no schedule per pub, which means that if there are certain beers you’re desperate to try you have to engage in a Pokemon-slash-Indiana Jones-style quest as you sprint, increasingly weavily, across quadrants of London, dipping into cavernous branches of ‘Spoons as quickly as you dip out again once you realise they haven’t got one of the elusive beers you circled on your tasting notes.

We started at The Crosse Keys on Gracechurch Street, which supposedly has the most taps of any Wetherspoons. A former bank, its roughly canteen-y entrance gives way to a circular bar solid with taps and a gorgeous – if somewhat hotel-receptiony – private lobby behind, where ICIP and our guest taster Miranda sank into some comfortable sofas.

IMG_20141026_150615This is where it got difficult. The taps at The Crosse Keys are all assigned a number, and – v helpfully – the beer list perpetually scrolls across big flatscreen monitors throughout the bar. When you order, you do it takeaway style – a third of 13, 18 and 25, please.

liz wetherspoonBUT: the numbers on the taps do not match the order the ales are listed in Wetherspoons tasting notes. So once you’ve chosen your next drink based on the tasting notes (or the abv, wink wink), you have to sit and watch the scroll-y screen until (if you’re lucky and they have it) the beer you want flashes up. Then you have to very quickly scribble down the number, and then later remember what the hell beer that number referred to.

It goes without saying that this raucous game of beer bingo gets more and more difficult the more you drink. Try doing that across 12 thirds.

We exhausted the circular bar at the Crosse Keys (actually, the scroll-y screen of beer bingo was replaced with an ominous warning that the pub was closing early because of “a gas fault” so we ran for it) without nailing down some ales we were desperate to try, so embarked on a brave mission across the city, taking in Hamilton Hall at Liverpool Street Station, Goodman’s Field in Aldgate and finally The White Swan in Islington, making it through 20 of the beers in total (less than half!)

IMG_20141026_160306Some of the beers were excellent, some mundane; some of the pubs were stunning, others less so. But probably the greatest testament to ‘spoons endeavour is that Miranda and I are now physically incapable of passing one without popping in to see if they’ve got any of that damn elusive pumpkin beer.

There’s bound to be one near you, so if you’ve some spare change, you’re counting pennies until the end of the month or just want something new to drink before a Halloween do, drop in any time before 2 November.

ICIP’s TOP THREE

10 Barrel O.G. IPA, 5% ABV, USA

Honey-coloured, almost lager pale ale with good lacing and a thin head. Citrus and biscuit nose. The light malt leaves loads of room for the citrus-y Australian hops, which render it hoppy but not bitter. Very drinkable.

Adnams 1659 Smoked Ruby Beer (4.7% ABV)

Pours a rich, dark ruby with a thin head. Chocolate and biscuit on the nose. Then smoke! In gusts! Wood, ash, nuts. Good long mouthfeel: the smoke dominates, but enjoyably so. “It’s like there’s a peat fire in my mouth”, said Miranda.

Wicked weedWicked Weed Freak of Nature (7.5% ABV) USA:

WHOAH. Very unusual beer, this. Sour and grassy, with tobacco notes and a hint of gooseberries. Incredibly smooth mouthfeel and lingering savoury and somewhat soapy taste, it is surprisingly and inexplicably moreish.

MIRANDA’S TOP TIPS

Brewster’s Brewers Dozen (5.5% ABV):

Very sweet on the nose – smells like candyfloss and toffee apple. Fresh tasting, with hits of lime and coriander. Good amber colour – very nice to drink.

Bath Prophecy (3.9% ABV): This is a nice light pale ale with a lot of flavours going on – on first sip you get a hit of sweet Murray Mints, followed by a nice clean pine finish.

Banks beerBank’s Botanical Beer (4.2% ABV):

This unusual beer has a very floral and perfumey aroma. There are herby notes and it has a nice mouth feel – quite soft with a hint of mango. Strong lemony finish. Very tasty. This beer has added flavours from  “Gruit”, a herb and spice blend commonly used in medieval times when ale was brewed without hops.

BEST OF THE REST

Batemans Colonel’s Whiskers, 4.3%

Somewhere between a mild and a stout, this pours a thick, impenetrable pint with a slightly off white head. Molasses and black treacle, good mouthfeel.

Moorhouse’s Black Cat Reserve, 4.6%

Pitch black. Thin off white head. On the nose nutty, roasted, smokey. Gentle first mouthful, good thick mouthfeel, winds up a bit thin but then hits you with late, palette-obliterating liquorice.

Arundel Autumn breeze, 4.6%

Red ale, very dark, notes of biscuit, honey, amber. Tastes of caramel, burnt toffee and creamy dark chocolate.

Brouwerij’t ij isa, 4.6%, Netherlands

Very light Belgian-style, with burnt piney resinous nose. Caramel, light mouthfeel, medium body

Marston's Oyster stoutMarston’s Oyster Stout, 4.1%

Has a peaty aroma and tastes mildly of coffee – quite bitter. Very dark beer with no head. Tastes creamier than it looks with mild fizz. Easy to drink but a bit bland – probably wouldn’t drink a whole pint of this.

White Horse Camarillo, 4.5%
Sweet and spicy yet light – good for a summers day and yet warming enough for a winter pint. Strong grapefruit finish. Clear with small head. Thoroughly enjoyable, slightly wheaty beer.

Ian Ramsay’s Village Elder, 3.8%, NZ

Initial aromatic hit of Parma violets and geranium, this is a well balanced beer, creamy and biscuit to star with a touch of burnt toffee that lingers. Lovely to drink. 

Heather HoneyWadsworth Heather and Honey, 5.0%

Good golden colour – quite clear. Has grassy undertones in flavour and aroma of freshly cut grass. Subtle sweetness shines through from the honey as well as slightly floral hint.

Brew Moon Antipodean Ale, 4.0%, NZ

Strong hoppy, flavour and citrusy aroma. Starts off with sweetness before leaving an unusual after taste of black tea – this is quite pleasant and cuts through the initial sweetness.

Two Birds Golden Ale, 4.4%, Australia

This ale doesn’t offer much in the way of aroma – subtle flavours of green apple and melon come through – a little bland but pleasant all the same. Good golden colour.

Abbaye Du Val-Dieu Abbaye Blonde, 6.0%, Belgium 

This is a nice, slightly cloudy pale beer. Slightly watery but fresh taste, with hint of coriander and slight sweetness of honey. Strong herby-camomile nose.

Birraficio Lambrate Ligera, 4.8%, Italy

Nice clear amber beer. Good head and lacing. Tropical nose – hints of pineapple followed by apple and sweetness of almond. Quite nice and dry.

Wetherspoons 17-day festival runs until the end of Sunday 2 November. ‘Spoons gave us vouchers to use during this tasting, but as ever, our review is completely objective.

– ED