Monday, November 28, 2011

Beer style of the week; Winter Warmers

Week 41

We’re not quite ready for the roaring fireplace and flannel Long Johns, but there is a nip in the air. Jack Frost visits most mornings and sleety rain nibbles at the extremities. Time for the Winter Warmers!

The Brits have relied upon sweet, malty brews to sooth the chill for centuries. Full-bodied and generally with subdued, yet balanced hops, the Winter Warmers are easy drinkers. No need for the heavy winter parka when your favorite sweater will do.

An odd reality about the style is that it’s not actually a “style” per say, but a kind of beer. Winter Warmers can come in the form of an Ale or a Lager. As mentioned earlier they are malty brews, with just enough hops to keep the sweetness in check. Good Warmers should range in ABV from around 5.2% - 7.7%. The color should be a deep, rich amber to a dark mahogany. Some brewers may add a little seasonal spices, but the spiciness should be subdued and never over-the-top.

So what’s the difference between a Winter Warmer and a Christmas Ale? I’d say without firm conviction, yet from vigilant observation, that the difference lies in the hoppiness and/or spiciness. Christmas Ales tend to lean towards the style range of full-bodied strong Pale Ales with some spruce-like and/or piney hop characteristics. Think Christmas Trees. There are also Biere Noel (Belgian Christmas Ales) to consider. These two styles will be profiled separately in weeks 44 and 45 respectively.

Land of Origin

Young’s Winter Warmer – Wells Young LTD – Bedford, England – 5% ABV

This tan/oxblood Winter brew is topped by a fast fading beige head with sliding lace. The aroma is of caramel malt, fresh hops and pears. Sweet barley malt is almost oily slick. Full bitter tea-like and lightly citrus hops and berries. So creamy smooth rich and molasses-like sweet. Complex and pleasing from beginning to end. This is a low ABV Winter Warmer and barely fits the style, but it IS very tasty!

Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale – Tadcaster, England – 6% ABV

Winter Welcome is one of England's best representations of the winter brew styles. Full bodied (almost syrupy). This ale is so velvetty smooth and well rounded, it’s difficult not to guzzle it down. Good thing for the large bottles! The tea-like hops with a hint of citrus bitterness are noticeable early in the glass, but sort of fades under the rich malt, but that's cool, this is a quality malt, cherry sweet, roasted especially for the holidays.

New England

Smuttynose Winter Ale – Smuttynose Brewing – Portsmouth, NH – 5.1% ABV

12 oz. brown bottle. Freshness date stamped and etched.
Served in a standard pint glass.
This brew is listed as a Dubbel, but I think it fits very nicely in the Winter Warmer family.
It pours an orange-hued amber color with a medium-sized off-white head and loads of sticking lace.
The immediate smell that comes to mind is fruit cake. A whiff of malted milk balls follows, then a little citrusy and mixed fruit after that.
A tastes are in line with the aromas if you allow for a fairly strong taste of buttery caramel.
Speaking of buttery, the mouthfeel is slick and velvety.
You can really down these beat feet fast!

I would welcome a semi-Imperial version of this brew. Maybe something in the 6-6.5% range. Just a thought...

Geary’s Winter Ale – DL Geary’s Brewing – Portland, Maine – 6% ABV

No freshness date. It pours a nice clear amber with a fast fading soft white head and minimal lacing. The aroma is an even mix of doughy malt and floral hops.

Sweet caramel and fresh bread comes through in the malt. A good herbal quality lasts throughout.

There are grapefruity, light tea-like and some lemony sour bitterness, tempered by a bit of sweetness.

A faint taste of tart green apples is noticed.

I think Geary's may want to rename a few of their styles. This should be a mild Winter IPA and Geary's Hampshire Special (though now a year-round brew) should be their Winter style...IMHO.

Must try

Jubilale – Deschutes Brewery – Bend, Oregon – 6.7% ABV

Full Sail Wassail – Full Sail Brewing - Hood River, Oregon – 7% ABV

Bring on the cold weather! And Cheers!

Quote: “He that drinketh strong beer and goes to bed right mellow, lives as he ought to live and dies a hearty fellow” - Anonymous

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This old New England Beer Examiner examines the new Old London Pubs VI

Dirty Dicks – 202 Bishopsgate, EC2M-4NR – 020-7283-5888 -

This Wells/Young’s operated pub is located just opposite the Liverpool Tube exit on Bishopsgate, look slightly left across the street and you’ll see a portrait of old Dirty Dick hanging over a canopied, flowerbox–draped, dual brass lanterned entry to the pub by the same name.

On an ominous note; According to legend, as written in CAMRA’s London Pub Walks, the original pub was named after Nathaniel Bentley, whose bride-to-be died on the eve of their wedding. The poor grieving man locked the room he had prepared for the feast and let himself, his pub and his cats go to rot. Dickens was inspired to create the character of Miss Havisham, in “Great Expectations” based on this sad affair. Where the name, ‘Dirty Dick’ fits in is unclear to me.

An even more foreboding sign of things to come are felt (and smelled) as you approach the entry and find a designated smoking area under the overhang, because to enter the joint you must pass through an ominous cloud of choking smoke. And unfortunately, this smoke trails in behind you and stays in the air. Allowance of this smoking area is certainly a bad thing for anyone planning to experience the aroma and taste of the cask-conditioned ales. Very bad!

Once you’re at the end of the bar, and as far away from the nauseous fumes as possible, you will have the pleasure of taking in an authentic-looking pub with wide wooden floors and thick post and beam timber framed wood work. The long and straight brass plated bar has around 10 tap handles and 3 cask pumps.

A friendly mix of locals from all ethnicities and income brackets hang together and chat like long-lost friends. Near the entryway, a few electronic arcade machines emit frenzied banging, ringing, shooting and action noises associated with such games.

There are 3 levels. The top level balcony is more of a gallery of odd relics and memorabilia, including what appears to be the mummified remains of one of Mr. Bentley’s cats. The cellar is more of a traditional restaurant setting.

The Tribute and Bombardier Ales were in tip top shape. I wished the smoke would cease pouring in, but it never did let up and we were forced to pay up and escape.

This COULD be a MUST visit London Pub, and it is if you happen to be a smoker and/or are into video arcade games.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Beer Style of the Week – The One of a Kind Beer (The Bastards) Cranberry Beers

Week 40

They get you thinking about Thanksgiving, those tart little red bog berries. And big, hearty warming ales may get your Thanksgiving beer drinking mojo working... but, Cranberry Beer? Some ingredients, as far out as they may seem work very well in a brew vat…but Cranberry Beer? Producers of cranberry-based beverages have known for years, the best way to get people to drink cranberry juice is to alter the formula by adding sweeteners and/or mellow juices. So it’s logical to suppose the best way to get a beer-lover to ingest cranberries is to add some to their beer.

When you think about it, Cranberry Beer certainly fits the idea of brewing in New England much like Blueberry or Pumpkin beers, but I doubt Cranberry Beers will ever reach the popularity level of those other fruit and/or vegetable beers. None the less, we should encourage the two Boston brewers who provide us one more holiday beer style option by drinking some.

Which leads to this question; why don’t they just name this novel concoction, Cranbeery?

Harpoon Grateful Harvest Cranberry Ale – Harpoon Brewing – Windsor, Vermont – 5.9% ABV

12 brown bottle. Freshness date stamped on neck. Served in a SA Perfect pint glass.

Pours an orange-hued amber color with a fast-fading off-white, pink-tinted head.

The smell at first pour is of dried hops. A smell of cranberry sauce floats in carried on a bready malt foundation.

The flavors are a bit conflicting at first. Citrusy and resinous hop bitterness runs parallel to the tartness of the cranberry puree. Alas, the flavors begin the blend a bit as it warms. The mild malt backbone is revealed, yet never asserts itself. A bit of honey-like sweetness rolls forward and lies beneath. It's pretty good!

I expected to be disappointed, but am instead fairly pleased.

I enjoyed a gingersnap cookie with this beer!

Samuel Adams Cranberry Lambic – Boston Beer Company – 5.9% ABV

12 oz. bottle. Freshness date notched on label. Served in a SA perfect pint glass.
Note: I first sampled this beer about 8 years ago and was repulsed at just how overly-tart and acidic it was. It was instant indigestion. It took 3 Tums to quell the acid reflux.
Now, I cautiously try it once more. I do believe it has changed. Not my taste buds...the beer.
It pours a cloudy rust color with a pink-hued beige head, along with a fair amount of sticky lacing.
A smell of citrus and cranberries waft up at first pour. A smell of Wheaties is followed by a lightly pungent clovey yeasty aroma.
Tastes of cranberries (surprise!) and orange zest dominate early. The flavors evolve into citrus-dominated fruit cup with a taste of lightly sweetened Farina. An astringent acidic/sourness is noticed in the aftertaste, though not as bad as I remembered it.
The mouthfeel is a bit off-putting. There's a raspy, dryness to it which creates a desperate need for a water wash down.
As bad as that may sound, it's not really. In fact, it's pretty good in an unusual way.

Cranberry Beer is an oddball beer that you need to approach with an open mind. It will pair very nicely with your turkey dinner or the inevitable turkey sandwiches with all the fixins’ later in the evening.

Next week: The Big Beers cometh.


Quote: To his students on drinking beer…“Yes I said, try tastin’ it. Don’t look so damned surprised. It won’t poison you and you’ll learn to enjoy it for its own sake” – Ruthven Todd (1914-1978)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Beer style of the week; Old Ale

Week 39

Oh boy, where to begin…While “Old Ale” is indeed a specific beer style, there are various interpretations and theories about what the style actually is and where it originated. Some say its origins are tied to “Stock Ales”, an aged sharper, stronger version of a Mild Ale. Barkeeps in the 1800s are said to have added portions of strong “Old Ale” to a fresh Mild Ale, creating a hybrid custom-tailored ale to the customer’s liking. Another theory, keeping more in line with modern brewing, claim that the style is created by adding aged ale (with living yeast) to a Stock Ale in the secondary fermentation. The result is a full (not heavy) body. It’s a stronger, darker, somewhat fruity, tarter, and sometimes slightly more acidic and/or sour ale. The smell and distant taste of green hard wood is not uncommon to the style.

Many Old Ales today, are barrel-aged in Scotch or other hard liquor wooden vessels. The alcohol by volume (ABV) levels varies greatly within the Old Ale style range (from 4% - 13% ABV). In recent years some brewers have taken liberty with the style’s name and have created super strong ales that probably are more related to Barley Wines or American or English Strong Ales. Some might argue there is no difference between a Barley Wine and an Old Ale, and they would be wrong. The part about adding a living aged ale to a Stock Ale in the fermentation gives it its unique style.

This week we’ll try to focus on winter-warming ales of 5.7% ABV and up that have maintained the basic Old Ale characteristics listed above.

From the land of origin

Theakston Old Peculiar – TR Theakston LTD – Yorkshire, England – 5.7% ABV

Served in a nonic tumbler. This root beer colored beauty maintains a full beige head and a bit of trailing lace. The aroma is malty and tea-like. The rich malt has a caramel sweetness. Sharp citrus bitterness and tea-like hops are in abundance. The rich independent flavors begin the meld towards the end of the glass. Creamy and nearly oily, this brew goes down with a nice velvety smoothness.

Fuller Vintage Ale – Fuller, Smith and Turner PLC – London, England – 8.5% ABV

I drank the 2010 over the holidays last year and swore to myself I would wait a full year until popping this one open...oh well. It pours a lovely orange-tinted amber with a small but lasting beige head on top and small trails of sticky lace.

Creamy caramel, hops, cut hay and a near perfect rummy alcohol aroma lasts a fair amount of time.

The full and rich malt body has flavors of toffee and rum cake. The hops are in abundance! Citrus and tea-like bitterness are quite noticeable. A slight metallic background adds a welcome additional edginess. The warming alcohol is in total harmony.

The mouthfeel has an almost perfect extra virgin olive oil and buttery finish to it.

It's velvety smooth, with a decadent richness one comes to associate and compare to a fine sherry.

Gale’s Prize Old Ale – George Gale & Co. LTD – Hampshire, England – 9% ABV

2005 This one pours a muddy old leather color with just a few medium-sized bubbles floating on top. No lace.

A sherry-like aroma is noticed as it’s being poured. A sweet malt and light alcohol smell follows. Just a faint smell of spent motor oil (is it my imagination?) can be detected with some concentration. A light smell and taste of maple syrup emerges.

A fairly sweet malt body releases tastes of pears, figs, brown bread, and again, sherry. A faint woody aroma lasts throughout.

A mild lemony bitterness and a taste of strong tea come together quite nicely. A taste of wild tart berries peek through as it warms, as does a dose a caramel sweetness.

I feel this brew may be a year or two past its prime as I’m finding the structure of the body seems to be wearing down. A somewhat salty flavor begins to intrude and the flavors and tastes are separating instead of blending harmoniously. This is probably the classic representation of all Old Ales.

West Coast Classic

Old Stock Ale – North Coast Brewing – Fort Bragg, California – 11.7% ABV

My, my this is a potent brew!

It pours an old, worn leathery brown with a thin beige head. A sweet toffee aroma and big warming alcohol fuminess is quite noticeable throughout the glass. A light citrus and mild coffee aroma are also constantly in the background. Pronounced toffee, coffee with cream and milk chocolate blend nicely with grapefruit and lemon zest bitterness. Flavors of pear brandy and a peppery spiciness mingle within the woody alcoholic and creamy bodied compound. This is a beautifully crafted beer in the "extreme" class.

New England

Ipswich Winter Ale – Mercury Brewing Co. Ipswich, Massachusetts – 6.2% ABV

It pours a cloudy honey amber with a fast fading off-white head. A big whiff of fresh hops followed by sweet malt fades in a matter of seconds. Not as malty as many winter brews, but slightly maltier than pale ales. Lightly sweet caramel and biscuity. Highly hopped with a sharp, edged citrus bitterness and slight metallic bite. A lightly fruity and orange zest taste is revealed as the glass warms. A touch of warming alcohol finishes.

Mayflower Thanksgiving Ale – Mayflower Brewing – Plymouth, Massachusetts

Served in a nonic tumbler at BBC Pembroke.
Pours an orange-hued walnut color with a firm 1" beige head, along with loads of lacing.
Smells of sour dough and rye bread blend with a deep aroma of dried malt. Citrusy and resinous hops follow, as does some spruce notes. A light warming rum alcohol fuminess pulls through.
The flavors mirror the aromas in every way. Flavors of fruit cup soaked in vodka come to mind. A mild sour tartness inches through in the background.
This reminds me of Fuller's Vintage Ale, one of my favorite Old Ales. A side by side tasting will be interesting.

Must Try

Ola Dubh Special Reserve 16 – Harviestoun Brewery – Alva, Scotland – 8% ABV

Good Old Ales go very well with strong cheeses, hard salamis, a low-flamed fireplace and happily sleeping pet…or wife at your side.


Quote: “For a quart of ale is a dish for a king" - William Shakespeare ‘A Winter’s Tale’

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mayflower Brewing release party

Really enjoyed the Mayflower IPA on cask and Thanksgiving Ale on tap at BBC Pembroke last night. The Turkey Sliders were awesome. Goodness!

Friday, November 11, 2011

This Old New England Beer Examiner examines the new Old London Pubs IV

This Old New England Beer Examiner examines the new Old London Pubs IV

This is a series of my impressions of the very highest rated London Pubs according to CAMRA, Cask Marque, Time Out London and (along with some other very pleasant surprises along the way)

See part one for the criteria for a New Old Pub;

Porterhouse – 21 Maiden Lane Covent Garden London

This 3 level Dublin-based pub is one of the largest boozers, area-wise, that I’ve had the pleasure to visit during my on-going London Pub Crawl series. It was awarded the CAMRA/English Heritage award for conversion to pub use in 2002.

Neatly tucked away on narrow Maiden Lane, you first come upon a large garden patio (smokers paradise) preceding the fancy pants double-door entrance. The doors lead to a dramatically vast interior anchored by an immense wooden L bar. It’s sort of like stepping inside a massive old wooden ship that a band of flamboyant, beer-loving pirates invaded, and then decorated.

The stairway down to the left leads to the basement level where the restrooms (more on them later), TVs and an entertainment stage are the focus. To the left of the bar, a wide stairway leads to a quite foyer nook halfway up the stairs. The top level provides you a more spacious seating area. Extensive (and expensive) wood and brass-trimmed brewery-related piping and plating run throughout. Even the hanging light fixtures are brass-trimmed. A very cool brass clock hangs over the upstairs balcony and can be viewed from most any place in the top floors. The wall nooks and windows are lined with Porterhouse beer bottles and knick knacks. It must be a bitch to keep clean!

It’s a bit cluttered. I’m trying to spy the tap handles, but all the little doodads and bric-a-brac catch my eyes, forcing me once again to concentrate on the task at hand…deciding which beer to try next.

The seating choices are varied enough to suite any individual or group needs. Hang out near the bar on simple wooden stools, or relax upon cushioned leather armchairs and/or coach-style benches, or just stand around gawking, beer in hand. Choice is yours. Enjoy your surroundings early in the day, before the after work crowd arrives…unless you enjoy mob scenes. In that case, arrive at 7pm (1900) on a Friday night.

The on tap selections are brewed mostly by Porterhouse and poured under pressure. There are always a couple of “Real” ales and guest beers (Erdinger on this day) available. I can highly recommend the Plain Porter and the Turner’s Sticklebract Bitter on cask. Lovely stuff! There are plenty of bottled selections from the wonderful world of Beerdom plus a solid selection of wines and mixed drinks for the folks not very interested this article.

The food menu is fairly extensive. A mix of pizza, burgers, fish & chips, standard Irish and gastro-pub food is available. The best option might be the fresh Rock Oysters. ½ dozen for 7 pounds is a very fair deal by London standards.

Now to the restrooms as promised; My wife felt a little uncomfortable going to the lady’s room because a group of guys were hanging out by the door. We’re sure they meant no harm, but creating a little separation between the restrooms and the lounge area would be smart.

All-in-all, an interesting pub with a bounty of very good beers to try.

Place Porterhouse on your ‘Should’ visit London Pub list.


Quote: “For every wound, a balm. For every sorrow, cheer. For every storm, a calm.

For every thirst, a beer” – Unknown Irish Author