Arbor, Blue Sky Drinking – 4.4 %, £2.99
ARBOR Ales have been steadily making a name for themselves, as well as operating the much-loved Three Tuns in their native Bristol, for a good while now.
Not satisfied with brewing a core range of beers, they’ve often been a hotbed of invention; their array of single-hop ales for one, and the ever entertaining, and often delicious, Freestyle Friday range of beers, where a new recipe or idea is tried out in the brewhouse each Friday.
This week’s beer, however, is one of their core range; a bitter brewed exclusively with British malts and hops.
Nothing imported, no exotic hop varieties or ingredients.
Pouring a deep blood-orange red, with copper highlights, it very much looks the part. The nose is a dusty, dry affair with cocoa, straw, and chestnuts wafting invitingly from the glass. As it is drunk, the first impression is a surge of nutty, biscuit malt flavours that fill the mouth before fading to a much lighter, clean finish; this is not a buttery, cloying bitter, but something much more refined.
The finish is grassy, with a real punch of orange pith to it that works in tandem with the nutty malt to mount a substantial bitter parting shot. Light bodied and peppery, Blue Sky Drinking is an excellent session bitter, and a good point of entry for the uninitiated – for those already hooked on the good stuff, keep an eye on their Freestyle Friday and other brews.
Recommended by Michael Bates, Trembling Madness, 48 Stonegate, York Twitter: @tremblingmad
Hardknott (Cumbria), Azimuth 5.8 per cent/ £2.25
IN 2005, Hardknott head brewer Dave Bailey transformed the Woolpack Inn into a brewpub.
When he realised his beer was both popular and delicious, he decided to hang up the bar towel and take up the malt shovel full time.
This is, of course, an excellent thing because in collaboration with his partner in crime Ann, Hardknott has become quite popular around the country, and even exports some beer these days, releasing a steady stream of flavourful, imaginative brews in a wide variety of styles.
Azimuth, its first ‘proper’ IPA (although it also regularly brews a red IPA, Infra Red, and a Belgian variant called Queboid) is not a ridiculous hop bomb. We’ll get that out of the way here; if you’re after a roundhouse kick of aroma, or a blitzkrieg of bitterness, it just isn’t here, but you shouldn’t pass Azimuth over because of this.
Pouring a golden copper with a loose, titanium white head, a refreshing, delicate aroma of crisp russet apples and quinces finishes with a nudge of apricots and nectarines. Light and dry on the palate, with an initial burst of pear sweetness, a woody, drying bitterness soon spreads across the tongue. There’s a touch of lemongrass and black pepper here too, playing across the blanket of pine laid down in the finish. It’s not an endurance test, it’s a delicate, complex, and ultimately drinkable take on a style that many brewers have tried, and failed, to achieve.
Recommended by Michael Bates, Trembling Madness, 48 Stonegate, York
Emelisse (NL), Herfstbok: 6.5 per cent, £3.25
EMELISSE aren’t quite as new to our store as some, in fact we’ve sold their range since late 2012.
However, in that time their popularity has risen and the quality of their beers has only improved.
They regularly release a range of contemporary and traditional Continental styles, including Belgian blondes, saisons, and dubbels, and they’re jointly responsible for the sensational Earl Grey IPA in collaboration with Marble brewery, so you’d be foolish to disregard this Dutch outfit.
The bok, however, is a style very much in the Dutch psyche; not only do most breweries (yes, even the big boys like Amstel and Grolsch) produce at least one seasonal bok, but the style is so widely appreciated that an annual festival is held in Amsterdam dedicated to showcasing bokbiers from across the nation.
Herftsbok is a strong, nutty lager, pouring a stunning, bright mahogany with a steady tan head. It looks beautiful in the glass and releases a nutty, wheat-bran aroma with walnut and raisin notes that is divine.
Full bodied, with a bright, spritzy carbonation, the initial taste is a sweet bonfire toffee hit that gradually subsides to reveal coffee, all-bran, dried bananas and treacle before an even, neutral bitterness cleanses the palate. A substantial and hearty lager, ideal for blustery days and cold, dark evenings.
• Recommended by Michael Bates, Trembling Madness, 48 Stonegate, York, YO1 8AS
Dark Star, Six Hop - 6.5%, £3.75
Dark Star, once a small brewery based at the fantastic Evening Star pub near Brighton rail station, have always been the ‘Thornbridge of the South’ in our books. They have established themselves with a range of well-crafted traditional ales and also moved toward keg and centrifuged/filtered bottle products.
This does mean, of course, that a lot of their beer is no longer real ale by CAMRA’s definition, for better or worse, but they are still pretty darn good.
Six Hop is ordinarily a seasonal release in cask, but it’s now part of the brewery’s line of bottled beers – six additions of six hop varieties in a 6.5% India Pale Ale.
Pouring a brilliantly clear burnt copper – it’s pretty obvious this has been filtered – however it also immediately apparent that the hop aroma has not been diminished by this process.
An overwhelming cascade of dried apricots is dusted with pine needles and coconut, with only a nudge of caramel maltiness initially apparent.
The flavour is led by a tangerine and apricot jam, with a thick coating of marzipan. As this hoppy overture begins to fade a treacle toffee maltiness comes through drying out into a resinous pine bitterness.
Despite being inspired by American India Pale Ales the bitterness is soft, tempered by the solid malt backbone. This makes Six Hop rich and hoppy, while remaining perfectly balanced.
As recommended by The House of Trembling Madness, York
Gjulia Sud, Italy - 8.0%, £5.55
If you were asked to name a nice beer from Italy that isn’t some form of lager, most people would probably be rather stumped.
The good news is, however, that of late there have been quite a few nice breweries setting up shop or expanding their market all over the world of late, and Italy is no exception: Brewfist have been exporting their craft beers for a while now, as have Toccalmatto, and let’s not forget Birra del Borgo.
More recently, however, we have managed to procure some of Gjulia’s craft ales, named for the points of the compass; Sud is the brewery’s eight per cent stout, so naturally I started there.
Sud pours a chocolate brown with garnet highlights, there’s no head to speak of but there’s a wonderful marshmallow-chocolate aroma that puts me in the mood for a Tunnock’s teacake.
As it opens up a bit more, you get edges of banoffee pie, coupled with an accent of sharp raspberry sweetness.
The first thing to strike me is that it’s very light-bodied for a stout; this, coupled with the sweet fudge, pecan pie flavour, tinged with a suggestion of smoke, liquorice, and nutmeg in the finish, put me much more in mind of a Belgian dubbel.
This would work wonderfully for those who enjoy their Belgian beers, though if you’re a fan of ultra-heavy stouts I’d look elsewhere.
If we ignore the brewery’s classification of this beer it’s certainly good in its own right.
Reviewed by House of Trembling Madness, Stonegate
Weird Beard, Something Something Dark Side, London (9%, £3.90)
So, Weird Beard’s an odd name for a brewery, and Something Something Dark Side is an odd name for a beer. But then, Weird Beard have a penchant for making weird beer, and they have beards.
Their beer isn’t Brewdog weird – there’s no rum-soaked otters’-nose barrel-aged IPAs here. The experimentation comes about more in just making beer that’s different.
Something Something Dark Side is not a black IPA – it’s too full bodied. Nor is it an imperial stout – it’s far too hoppy and aromatic for that. It’s just... somewhere in-between. It’s also lovely.
It pours black, very, very black indeed, with a thick mocha head. A miasma of raw hop cones, grapefruit, and mint-chocolate creeps out of the glass, gradually mellowing into a more level pine nose.
One taste and things get even more complex – orange and apricots give way to marjoram and a rich, almost-savoury gravy and fresh mint mid-section, before black pepper, dried ginger, and a substantial (though not too abrasive) bitterness closes proceedings.
Something Something Dark Side is rich, unctuous, and doesn’t sit comfortably within any one style, and it’s this sort of delightfully different beer that makes Weird Beard’s beer so enjoyable, even if it might not please everyone.
For those who don’t want to drink something this heavy, dark, and strong, their Camden Beard is also fantastic; a wonderfully refreshing hopfenweisse with an expansive aromatic quality that’s impossible to fault. Great stuff indeed.
Review by our head beer guru Michael Bates
Buxton Brewery Gold - 5.2%, £2.25
Buxton Brewery has been going from strength to strength of late, its success partly evinced by a much-needed rebranding and the installation of a new brewkit.
It has been putting out a range of flavourful, expertly crafted ales for a good while now.
Exciting collaborative and limited edition beers made with specialist techniques (as in the Tsar Bomba and Sky Mountain Sour ales) have kept things exciting in that time, but recently an old favourite returned to the fold: Buxton Gold has resurfaced, always a disastrously drinkable beer, and one that I’m more than happy to see on the shelf once again.
Pouring golden orange, with a delicate white head, the aroma is reminiscent of fresh grapes, juicy plums, and fragrant straw.
Binding it all together is an overarching sharp citrus note suggesting the beer that follows is going to be aromatic and refreshing, and certainly hop-forward like much of Buxton’s portfolio.
The flavour takes a slightly different turn however; there is throughout a gentle hop aroma that fills the mouth with the first sip, but this soon subsides, allowing a rich caramel maltiness to develop.
A light bitterness provides a considered counterpoint to the sweet finish, which ensures that every draught taken is satisfying yet refreshing.
A versatile beer indeed, that drinks dangerously like a session ale without skimping on the good stuff.
As recommended by Michael Bates of Trembling Madness, Stonegate, York
Duvel Moortgat, Tripel Hop 2013 - 9.5%, £3.90
Duvel Moortgat have, perhaps wisely, been keeping an eye on the rise of American craft beer’s influence throughout the beer world.
This is necessary to ensure that their flagship brand remains vital and interesting for those beer-geeks who like to seek out every last permutation and special edition of a beer (I confess to sometimes being guilty of that).
This year’s vintage acts as a showcase for the lemongrass love-or-loathe hop Sorachi Ace in the context of a Belgian ale – it might well convert a few people, who knows?
Duvel Tripel Hop pours a delightful, hazy lemon-yellow with a voluminous white head oozing out of the glass. The aroma has a distinctive mango/catty savour, like many highly-hopped American IPAs, but without the abrasive pine or lemony sharpness that can be a little much at times. The pepper and spice lent by Duvel’s yeast and noble hop content add a delicate contrast and provide some welcome complexity.
The body is light with a zesty carbonation, complemented wonderfully by the lemon and honey combination of malted barley and Sorachi Ace’s signature flavour.
A touch of nutmeg and clove from the yeast adds creaminess, preventing Tripel Hop running bone-dry on the palate. Instead it remains refreshing, with a lovely mango-sorbet finish punctuated by a tingle of cut grass and black pepper in the finish.
Not the most direct showcase for Sorachi Ace, but proof positive of its versatility and its delicacy when handled with care – even Sorachi-haters will find it hard to find fault here.
By Michael Bates, Trembling Madness in Stonegate, York
Redchurch Brewery, Hackney Gold - 5.5%, £2.40
SNEAKING in just before Christmas, among all the novelty beers, came a few crates from the Redchurch Brewery – yet another one of those new breweries in London that seem to crop up every month or two with a range of delicious new beers.
And since we’re all a little ‘over’ drinking after New Year’s Eve demolished our desire to indulge, we’ll aim for something a little lighter.
Hackney Gold is, well for one, far from gold in colour – a deep brooding amber with flashes of red at the edges and a thick oatmeal head. The aroma it gives off is simply delightful: a dry bed of walnuts, pecans, and cereal grains are punched throughout with flashes of vibrant citrus hops.
The taste makes good on the aroma’s promise – an even, medium-bodied ale with a tendency toward the sweet. There’s a distinctive pepper and nut flavour, perhaps rye, that takes charge of proceedings, before what might be a small amount of chocolate malt smooths things over with a velvety pass over the palate.
The hops wait for the finish to make themselves known; dry herbaceous cascade (or some relative) provides an even, somewhat-intense bitterness, that dries the palate out.
So it might not be a golden ale, lying closer to the hoppy amber ale region, but Redchurch have made an excellent first impression with this – for something lighter and hoppier, the Bethnal pale is also fantastic. Bravo Redchurch.
• As recommended by Michael Bates of Trembling Madness, Stonegate, York
Brewfist, Italy Heimdall 7.6%, £3.15 per bottle
BREWFIST are one of an increasing number of contemporary ale producers that are making their way on to our shelves (and glasses, of course) from Italy.
As well as producing some fine pale ales, porters, and India pale ales, this producer from Codogno recently sent over some Heimdall: a weirdly Norse-themed beer brewed in the style of a Belgian saison. Not only that, for aroma, it is hopped liberally with Australian galaxy hops while maintaining a very modest bitterness.
The name and Viking on the label aside, it’s all very promising stuff.
It pours a bright straw colour with golden highlights and a very fluffy head; the aroma is of clementines and peaches and some characteristic saison spice: a promising start. Sweet for a saison, though not excessively so, peach is the leading flavour: soft and fruity, with a touch of apricot and almonds leading towards a dry, lightly bitter finish.
Overall, the body is moderate to light, with a lively carbonation that perfectly offsets the initial sweetness and drives the aroma home.
Definitely best served chilled and drunk fresh; I’d suggest getting your hands on this one sooner rather than later.
What exactly this beer has to do with Scandinavians, however, remains a mystery.
As recommended by Michael Bates of Trembling Madness, Stonegate, York
Ilkley Brewery, Mary Christmas - 4.7%; £2.85
ILKLEY Brewery are a wonderful local bunch, whose range of beers comprises both session ales with local flavour (see Mary Jane, and Joshua Jane, of Ilkley Moor fame) and some more experimental gems.
The Mayan, a chipotle and chocolate stout, was a recent special, and very special it was too, and Siberia, their one-off rhubarb saison was so delicious it’s been promoted to the status of core brew.
At Christmas, a festive beer with a pun in the name was required, and having Mary Jane and Stout Mary in the roster already, Ilkley had it perhaps a touch easier than some when it came to naming Mary Christmas.
A light golden ale ‘infused’ with Caribbean rum (although whether this is poured in following fermentation or through the addition of rum-soaked oak or similar isn’t certain), but there is a touch of honey-sweet rum in the aroma. Drying cut grass, bitter botanicals and tarragon play about the nose atop a pleasing malty background.
The flavour is surprisingly dry, far closer to a lager than a boozy Christmas beer, giving peach and spiced rum off in equal measure. Richly perfumed, there’s a suggestion of cascade or similar American hops in the long bitter finish, complimented by pine nuts and a clean crisp body.
• Recommended by Micheal Bates of The House Of Trembling Madness
Nogne O, Norway – Underlig Jul; 6.5%; £5.70
Nogne O are one of Norway’s best-known real ale breweries outside of their native land. In fact as a brewery they export far more beer than they sell to the domestic market – perhaps in part due to the extraordinary tax applied to Norwegian alcoholic beverages.
Ironically enough, their wares are much cheaper in the UK than at home; a fact that vexes Norwegian visitors to the Trembling Madness every now and then, causing some to fill their suitcases up before returning home (if £5.70 a bottle sounds “a bit much”, in Norway this bottle would be two to three times this price – if you can find it on sale).
Underlig Jul is a light, sweet porter spiced with cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and all the other Christmas spices you can think of. This is pretty self-evident on opening, with fresh bountiful spices leaping out of the glass at the most cursory of nudges. The body is relatively light, making for easy drinking, and the prickly carbonation prevents any sense of over-indulgence that bogs down a lot of recklessly sweet Christmas ales.
The spices and malty ale combine to create an intense, bitter chocolate and gingerbread beer, with flourishes of botanical cola and liquorice. Easy drinking, yet complex, sweet and spicy – Underlig Jul is certainly my favourite Christmas beer, and is brilliant at cutting through the rich food that reigns supreme during the festive season, especially those covered in gravy, or Christmas pudding.
• Recommended by Michael Bates of The House of Trembling Madness, Stonegate, York.
Brewdog, Hoppy Christmas - 7.2%, £3.10
WELL, Brewdog plumped for the simplest Christmas pun it seems, and get a D for seasonal beer naming as a result, but have they put a bit more effort into the beer itself?
Well, thankfully the answer is yes. Rather than settling on a winter warmer of some sort, everyone’s most loved/ hated/apathy-inducing Scottish brewers have released a 7.2 per cent India pale ale hopped heavily to provide something light and fruity to cut through even the richest Christmas foods.
Hoppy Christmas pours golden straw, crystal clear (no bottle-conditioning from Brewdog) beneath a tight, white head.
The aroma is full-on Simcoe hops; bursting with pine, papaya, candied grapefruit, and a musky, almost savoury, chestnut-paté note.
The flavour takes this lead and races off into the distance – juicy mandarins, a candy-floss sweetness, and a sharp lemon tartness in the finish create an intense aromatic mouthful, and yet oddly the finish is not particularly bitter.
Yes, there is bitterness, but Hoppy Christmas is almost approachable, maybe even drinkable– it’s all about the flavour here, rather than some puerile boast about bitterness units.
It’s not been my favourite beer of the season (Nogne O’s Underlig Jul almost always wins this one, I’m afraid) but for a beer so atypical of the Christmas-cash-ins that flood the market every year, this one deserves to be tried. It’s not only an exception to the norm, it’s also a genuinely good beer.
• Recommended by Michael Bates of The House of Trembling Madness, Stonegate, York.
Ska Brewing, USA Vernal Minthe Stout - 5.8% (£2.70, 355ml can)
Ska Brewing are an American company located in California, perhaps best known in the UK for their India pale ale Modus Hoperandi, a deliciously hop-forward ale, however we recently received some more of their wares in-store, including this intriguing stout.
Now, yes it is in a can, but unlike those cheap plastic lagers the cans used by some UK, and many US, craft breweries tend to be filtered less aggressively, rarely pasteurised, and sometimes even retain their yeast sediment.
They’re easier to transport, light-tight so the beer cannot possibly be damaged by sunlight, and chill much quicker; perfect for when you need a beer sooner rather than later.
Vernal Minthe Stout is a robust stout brewed with cacao nibs and vanilla, nothing too ‘out there’ so far, and dosed generously with spearmint and peppermint. Pouring a deep chocolate brown, with a thick tan head, you’d struggle to not notice the mint: a strong aroma of wheetos and spearmint gum hits the nose immediately, with some underlying buttermilk crumpets suggesting the beer’s richness that lies beneath the adjuncts.
Light-bodied with a pleasing soft carbonation, this beer starts sweet, think after-eight mints to begin with, until the cacao’s bitterness and the roasted malts combine to give a suggestion of liquorice and tobacco. The overall impression is not dissimilar to menthol snuff; minty tobacco, at once revitalising and stimulating, coupled with a slight tang in the finish.
Recommended by Michael Bates
Bristol Beer Factory, Bristletoe, 5.5%, £2.85
Full points to the Bristol Beer Factory team in the 'forced pun' category; when you've got a word like 'Bristol' to work with, it's quite impressive that they managed to come up with anything at all.
Bristletoe is, the brewery say, a dark Christmas ale brewed with an emphasis on malt flavours, using a Belgian strain of yeast to really push those fruity, spicy esters to the fore.
Throwing a load of raisins into the brew pretty much cements this one in the 'fruity brown ale' category, with some coriander and ginger bringing the Christmas cheer to the party.
Pouring a hazy chestnut, a quickly dissipating butterscotch head gives off a flurry of peppery yeast esters, and oddly something reminiscent of thyme or marjoram rather than coriander and ginger. More herbal than spiced and fruity on the nose, then, but pleasing nonetheless.
Sweet tangerine and chocolate flavours give way to buttered rum, and raisin fudge. Medium-bodied, yet almost dry in the finish, the lasting impression is of vanilla ice-cream, touched by a slight fructose sourness.
Almost refreshing compared to all the richer, heavier, high ABV Christmas beers most brewers push out at this time of year.
Be sure to give this brew a go if you fancy a festive one that can be easily enjoyed without sacrificing character.
Recommended by Michael Bates, Trembling Madness, 48 Stonegate, York, YO1 8AS
Brass Castle’s Wallop (7.7%) comes in a gorgeous plump 750ml bottle with a wax seal on the cap. Retailing at £7.65 it's a great present for someone special, it's a limited edition with only 277 bottled, each bottle has a handwritten batch number on.
We are lucky to have a few left so hurry before the weekend and you may be able own one of these amazing beers . It's a traditional Stingo-style beer, brewed with treacle, made to a classic Yorkshire recipe in a traditional copper vessel and oak-aged in a port cask for 6 months. It’s a great beer on which to end a dark Winter night.
Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus - 14%, 330ml, £4.95
What is there left to say about Samichlaus, really? It's been something of a mainstay in most good bottle shops and world beer bars for a long time indeed, and chances are that if you're reading this, you've probably tried it.
Once the world's strongest beer, this 14 per cent Doppelbok is brewed just once a year on the December 6, then fermented slowly for ten months or so making it lagered in the truest sense of the term.
Rather than creating a clean dry beer, however, the result is a sweet, complex ale with a rich flavour reminiscent of dried fruit and toffee apples.
Because of this, we've teamed up with the award winning Ye Olde Pie and Sausage Shop on The Shambles (who make the pub's speciality sausages) to create a limited run of Samichlaus sausages, to be enjoyed with a beer.
Pouring a glowing chestnut, with red highlights, and no head to speak of, Samichlaus smells, frankly, like pear drops and acetone. It won't win anyone over on scent alone, sadly, but the flavour is incredible: sweet, dark treacle, walnuts, bananas, a swelling of alcohol warmth and a tangy, burnt-toffee finish.
As the bottle says, this would work fantastically well with rich fruity puddings, hearty savoury dishes, or as in our case, in some hand-made locally produced sausages.
Recommended by Michael Bates, Trembling Madness, Stonegate, York.
Beavertown Brewing, London – Black Betty,
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