Hogs Back Wobble in a Bottle

Tongham’s Hogs Back Brewery are perhaps best known for their 4.2% flagship T.E.A. (Traditional English Ale), which we featured back in May last year as part of BeerCast #33, our south west England special. It came second behind St Austell Tribute, despite the fact that Tongham is in the south east (it appeared to have been stored on the wrong geographical shelf in York’s The Bottle beer shop). The fantastically named Tony Stanton-Precious and Martin Zillwood-Hunt were introduced by the editor of The Grist magazine, after the former wrote to them seeking partners for a prospective brewery. They found a site in Surrey and named their new operation after the distinctive raised ridgeline of the nearby North Downs.

Aside from the bitters and session ales, they put out some stronger, more beery offerings. A 9% barley wine (A over T; or Aromas over Tongham) tops out the list, but running behind is their winter seasonal Santa’s Wobble, at 7.5%. Released in December on cask and in bottles, it is branded as Wobble in a Bottle the other eleven months of the year, giving the bespoke Christmas Ale a wider retail window. It pours totally flat, an opaque purplish mauve colour with no rising carbonation. The aroma is very fruity indeed, with alcohol at first on the palate, leading to rich berry fruit, malts, and warmth. These rich, ripe tastes hide the alcohol on the finish and leave the malts coming through. More fruit comes out at the end – it tastes like it should be one of your five a day, and is a great antidote to these unending Scottish winter nights.

In praise of…Café Pivo, York

York is one of the best cities in Britain for a real ale mini-break, with any number of fantastic pubs that are within easy walking distance of each other. We’re big fans of several of them (see our BeerCast Pub Guide to York), particularly the Last Drop and the incomparable Blue Bell. But on our recent trips there, we’ve started frequenting another establishment more and more – Café Pivo, on Patrick Pool, just behind the Shambles. As with many alehouses in the city, it’s tucked away down a side street – the overhanging 12th Century black and white frontage no giveaway as to what’s inside. It looks tiny when you enter, the narrow downstairs bar is frequently packed – but upstairs is a roomier seating area with plenty of tables.

The key to it’s success is the range of beers on offer – indeed it recently won the 2009 Beer Range Pub of the Year in the Publican Food and Drink Awards. As a drinking city, York is packed with historic public houses serving local cask ales – Pivo offers something different (with the notable exception of Koko’s International Bar, which is very similar). As good as the locals are here, it’s a welcome change sometimes to sample other more notable brews – imported draught beers or bottles, for example. As the traditional pub trade declines, these hybrids are becoming more and more popular (see our two great Edinburgh locals Holyrood 9A and Brauhaus).

This diversification from the norm is tremendous news – at Café Pivo there are three cask ales on offer. However, they also have draught Bernard beers from the Czech Republic – including their extremely rare unfiltered pilsner (which unfortunately has never been on the rotation when I’ve been in), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and one of their seasonals on draught, plus a permanent Meantime offering. We’re massive Meantime fans here at the BeerCast, and I remember nearly fainting the first time I saw Meantime IPA and Meantime Helles next to Sierra Nevada and Duvel Green, with three cask ales from Burnley’s Moorhouses Brewery. Shouldn’t more places give their customers a choice like that?

There are some subtle issues with Pivo, mostly relating to the size of the place. It can be a tough task getting served when it’s busy, as everyone gets funnelled into a natural queue to await the barman’s attention. Having no cellar means a lot of their beers can vanish very quickly (I’ve been there four times now and only managed to have Sierra Nevada draught once). But you can dig out classics – last year we raided their fridge for imported American bottles and cans, coming up with the wonderful Caldera IPA, Odells Red Ale and Ballast Point Calico Amber Ale, not to mention the sublime Anchor Porter. You need to be lucky, however. The Caldera IPA was the barman’s personal stash he was saving, foolishly left on display with the rest of the beers on sale.

So if you’re after something of a different pace to the sedate York freehouses with their cask ales and traditional feel, Café Pivo is well worth a shot. They’ve also opened a second bar, in Sheffield – so it seems good news travels fast.

Café Pivo Website

Thoughts on Sink the Bismarck

Well, the dust seems to have settled slightly around the blogosphere following the latest announcement from Fraserburgh’s BrewDog a few days ago. I’ve been reading as many articles on the forthcoming Sink the Bismarck (41%) as I can, and have been digesting the various opinions on the Aberdeenshire twosome re-taking the strongest beer in the world title. Seeing as we’re a Scottish-based beer website, it would be remiss of us not to add to the collective murmuring. We’re big fans of BrewDog here – mostly – and have written about them on many an occasion. In fact, they have been tagged more on the BeerCast than any other brewery, which is no doubt a reflection on their forward-thinking marketing and ideas.

But have they gone too far with their latest stunt? Stunt is definately the word, James Watt has admitted they wanted to get back at the German Schorschbrau for out-trumping the 32% Tactical Nuclear Penguin with a 40% ‘Schorschbock’. You can read our thoughts on TNPenguin here, and it clearly divided opinion. Personally I liked the dark, rough smokiness but at the time wasn’t sure of the target market – which obviously holds for Sink the Bismarck. I think BrewDog are in danger of flying too close to the sun here – a Teutonic tit for tat is harmless enough (the director of Schorschbrau has said he thinks the whole thing is hilarious), provided of course it doesn’t interfere with their other beers.

BrewDog do some outstanding beers – they just seem to be pushed into the periphery by the charging press releases about TNP and now Bismarck, together with the ongoing feud with the Portman Group and the frankly embarrassing self-complaint over Tokyo*. Stick to what you do best boys, please. Atlantic IPA, Punk IPA, Trashy Blonde are all outstanding. These should be the core beers they shout about. When the mischievous glint appears in their collective eye, you end up with things like Nanny State (1.1%), or the objectionable How to Disappear Completely (3,000 IBU’s). Their collaborations with Stone have produced some interesting results – Bashah went down really well. Hopefully there’ll be more in the offing from that partnership.

The key to all this is publicity. BrewDog’s share option is due to close at 11pm tomorrow (the 19th), and at first it was really struggling. Headlines in the majority of British papers and practically every beer website (including this one, now – fashionably late as ever) can only help their cause in tempting investors. In a post on the Beer Advocate forum, James wrote that they had dispensed with any PR representation in December – so clearly they feel they’ve got the hang of this publicity thing. I wouldn’t bet against them, that’s for sure. They managed to reach their minimum target for subscribers, and hopefully will do well from the flotation. Plus they piss off the Daily Mail, which is never a bad thing.

So we’ll have to see how Sink the Bismarck does – I’d love to give it a go, but it’s £10 more expensive per bottle than even TNPenguin, so maybe a special occasion might tempt me to get the BeerCast wallet out. The name is a bit tasteless, they could have gone with any of several ways to poke fun at the Germans – but by all accounts the beer is a massive hop hit. Which I imagine it would be if they quadruple-hopped it. For me, the recent news that they are relaunching Hardcore IPA is something more enticing – their (paltry by comparison) 9% staple was re-thought after some consideration, which is great as it was pretty good beforehand. Humility and 41%abv in the same paragraph? Can only be BrewDog…

…oh, and the rivalry with Germany is set to continue – Schorschbrau MD Georg Tscheuschner has said they have a response in mind…“We’ll just brew another, stronger one,” he said. “Forty-five percent shouldn’t be a problem and we have beer enthusiasts waiting for it.” Who’s going to be first to 50%?

Sink the Bismarck Press Release

Lagerboy Speaks – JW Dundee’s Honey Brown

It’s always pleasing to Lagerboy when he gets his hands on a lager from the United States, as historically their mass-produced bilge has given US craft lagerers (if that’s a word) a bad name. Guilt by association is a wrong that Lagerboy wishes to right, when he can. Anyway, that was the reason he acquired a bottle of JW Dundee’s Honey Brown, a 4.5% “honey flavoured lager” from the High Falls Brewing Company in Rochester, New York State. Not that he was attempting to lump all of the imbalance created by Budweiser, Coors et al on a single producer, but something needs to be done, certainly. We’ve previously looked at two American lagers – Brookyln Lager and Lone Star (with wildly differing results), so a third was certainly overdue.

The bottle that Lagerboy had found seems to have been something of an older version – in June 2009 High Falls were re-named the Genesee Brewing Company, and JW Dundee’s Honey Brown became Dundee Original Honey Brown Lager. The reason for this branding shuffle was down to a change in ownership – following their 2008 sale to a New York investment group High Falls reverted to their old brewery name, the Genesee. It’s always pleasing when a brewer tips their hat towards history, and Genesee can trace theirs back to the Aqueduct Spring Brewery – first opened in 1819 (they only became High Falls in 2000). Indeed, in the late 1860’s the company was known by the rather dandyish name Reisky & Spies.

Honey beers are always going to divide opinion given the natural sweetness imparted from the added ingredient. Examples such as Wells Waggle Dance or Fuller’s Honey Dew can be relied upon to start a debate – and we sampled the latter of those two back in BeerCast #4, where it did just that. Genesee’s marketing of their honey lager almost admits as much – “…when you’re in the mood for something different…” is one of the sentences on their website. Whether this is an attempt to widen the palates of your average craft beer drinker, or an admission of the difficulty in selling the style, it’s hard to say. But you could certainly argue honey beers are a niche market.

Anyway, getting to the product – Dundee’s Honey Brown unsurprisingly pours with a luscious dark gold colour, one of the more pleasing hues Lagerboy has seen for a while. The thin pale head diminishes rapidly and the slightly sweet nose is backed up by just a touch of malt and a little hop aroma. But overall there’s not much on the nose – and not much on the taste either. The honey comes on more as it warms, but it’s never overpowering, only subtle nuances and the sweeter aftertaste expose the added ingredient. That’s almost a disappointment – you feel like you want more honey to match the syrup colour of the beer. It’s very drinkable, but maybe to appease lager fans they have dialled back the flavour slightly too much.

High Falls Brewing Company
Genesee Brewing Company

BeerCast #45 – Supermarket Sweep

Our first podcast in 2010 takes place back in our regular Edinburgh haunt, after the excitement of our BOTY Show had subsided. No 32%abv beers on offer tonight, as Grooben and MrB join Richard for a last-minute BeerCast decided on the spur of the moment. Richard dashed to Morrisons at lunchtime to come up with four beers – hence the title of the podcast (and also homage to a truly great television programme of old). First up in our aisle foraging special – Everards Tiger (4.2%) from the award-winning Leicester producer. We then move slightly south-east as we sample Wychwood’s Circle Master (4.7%), and debate it’s ‘Golden Pale Ale’ description. Our third beer is from Cumbria – Jenning’s Sneck Lifter (5.1%), and we finish on a slightly stronger note with Greene King’s vintage ale Abbot Reserve (6.5%). Stay tuned also for discussions on driving, Richard’s story about the time his Grandad almost punched Tommy Cooper, and a heartwarming tale of cross-border teen romance from MrB.

1. Everards Tiger (4.2%abv)
Everards Brewery, Leicester, Leicestershire. 500ml glass bottle

Tiger is the flagship ale from one of the East Midland’s most successful family brewers. Everard’s were established in Leicester back in 1849 when one William Everard purchased the South Street Brewery. Over the years they have expanded and developed, and today are in the hands of the fifth generation of William’s descendants. Their current home is Castle Acres in Narborough, and was purpose built to push the company into nationwide levels of production. Tiger combines Maris Otter malt with the classic British bitter combination of hops – Goldings and Fuggles.

What They Say
“A true award winning best bitter with universal appeal. Tiger Best Bitter is a classic example of getting the perfect balance between sweetness and bitterness. Crystal malt gives the beer its rounded toffee character.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Grooben – It’s not as interesting as it makes out 5
Richard – I’ve had this on cask and I liked it a lot more 5
MrB – Malty and watery with a bit of toffee 5

2. Circle Master
Wychwood Brewery, Witney, Oxfordshire. 500ml glass bottle

Wychwood are one busy brewer. Alongside their varied and expanding range of ales, they also contract brew all bottled beers put out under the Duchy Originals label, not to mention their acquisition of the troubled Brakspear. There are two brew plants at their Witney headquarters to cope with the demand, which is understandable. In 2002 (the same year they bought Brakspear), they were themselves taken over by the pithily-named Refresh UK, a subsidiary of Marstons plc. Their most popular beer is Hobgoblin, famed throughout real ale circles for it’s “…afraid you might taste something?” advertising.

What They Say
“Whole leaf target hops, naturally grown in a single garden in Kent, are added to create a beer of exceptional taste and character. The Circle Master conducts a melody of refreshing citrus and delightful malt flavour, rounded off with a spicy bittersweet finish.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – They may be stuck between two styles here 7
Grooben – There’s an extremely lingering dry aftertaste 6
MrB – Bitter and fizzy, too much like a lager 6

3. Sneck Lifter
Jennings Brewery, Cockermouth, Cumbria. 500ml glass bottle

Like Everards, Jennings are another 19th Century family brewer – they began in the village of Lorton, between the Cumbrian towns of Keswick and Cockermouth. In 1874 the Castle Brewery in the latter of those two towns was purchased, and Jenning’s moved to increase production. Cockermouth made global news in November 2009 when enormous floods caused by the rising rivers Cocker and Derwent inundated the town to a depth of eight feet. The Jennings Brewery – situated on Brewery Lane almost at the confluence of the two rivers – was also flooded, but has since re-opened for production.

What They Say
“In northern dialect sneck means door latch and a sneck lifter was a man’s last sixpence which enabled him to lift the latch of a pub door and buy himself a pint, hoping to meet friends there who might treat him to one or two more. This dark beer with a reddish tinge, derived from the use of coloured malts, perfectly balanced with specially formulated brewing sugars and English aromatic hops.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – I love the smokiness that gives way to bitter taste 8
MrB – Once the smokiness goes down the hops come out 7
Grooben – I didn’t expect it to be this complex 7

4. Abbot Reserve
Greene King plc, Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk. 500ml glass bottle

Greene King aren’t a family brewer – but they do have a history, as they claim to have started production in 1799 in the Suffolk town of Bury St Edmonds. Having a head start seemed to help, as they are now the largest British-owned brewery in the UK. Trading on the ftse stock exchange, they have helped their position by an aggressive series of acquisitions of smaller brewers – Morland, Ruddles and Ridleys have all been bought and closed, and they also own Dunbar’s own, Belhaven. We sampled their 5.0% flagship beer, Abbot Ale way back in BeerCast #4 in September 2007, where it scored 36/60 (60%).

What They Say“Abbot Reserve has an abv of 6.5% and is a perfect winter warmer on a cold night. It is a distinctive full-bodied smooth and mature beer, bursting with rich fruit cake and toffee flavours.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Grooben – A brown sugary blast, not offensive but not pleasing 5
Richard – Fruitcake taste but nothing else to give it substance
MrB – Gets far too sweet as it warms up

  • Listen to the episode here: BeerCast #45 – Supermarket Sweep
  • Subscribe to the podcasts in iTunes or our site feed

  • Panellists
    – (clockwise from top left) Richard, MrB, Grooben

    BeerCast panel verdict
    Jennings Sneck Lifter (22/30)
    Wychwood Circle Master (19/30)
    Everards Tiger (15/30)
    Greene King Abbot Reserve (14/30)

    Stay tuned for our next podcast, as our Southern studio get together for BeerCast #46 – a celebration of Mexican beer….

    Something on top, sir…?

    They say size matters – and to us Brits it certainly does with regard to beer. Those last couple of centimetres (inches if you’re old school; or fingers if you tend to peruse the spirit shelf now and again) can change the entire formula of the drink. CAMRA types will be keenly eying up the level, daring the bar staff to leave their pint a couple of sips short. Northerners will be looking for that thick creamy head we all apparently love, whilst Southerners will be hoping there’s no pesky sparkler dispensing that bubbly wastefulness. And those about to grapple with a round are hoping the surface tension holds until they can get all the pints back to their respective destinations.

    But there’s another class of people out there – that never really get taken into consideration on websites and blogs about beer. What about those that like to leave a gap at the top of the pint for a dash of something else? I’m not talking about the students battering their braincells with a ‘depthcharge’ (or Poktanju for our Korean readers). I’m referring to shandy drinkers. Even the name has developed into urban slang for someone who’s a bit soft, the stigma of ordering something weakened, something diluted. But when you think about it, is there anything wrong with asking for a dash of fruity mixer to be included? I remember my (then new) girlfriend asking for a Kronenburg tops in a classic Edinburgh real ale pub – and we’re still together. Although when it’s Kronenburg you’re diluting, I say go for it.

    Anyway, all this came up the other month when we were in a back street pub in Stirling and I overheard the conversation at the next table. A group of old soaks were discussing a mate of theirs who had developed a taste for – what has to be the most Scottish ‘thirst quencher’ I’ve ever heard of – Irn-Bru tops. So, of course, that got me thinking about how it could possibly taste. And there’s only one way to find out, of course. So I’ve been doing some digging and have come up with some mind-boggling recipes. Although they are all for another time, not for today. Instead, some actual imported bespoke Belgian ale – albeit one that resembles lager tops.

    Mystic Citron Vert (3.8%) is an unfiltered Belgian blanche flavoured with added lime juice produced by the Brouwerij Haacht (also available in Cranberry and Cherry versions). Combining the “light tingling of the lime fruits with a pleasant sweetness”, it “ends in a deliciously refreshing aftertaste.” Well, we are fans of Belgian beer here on the BeerCast. It pours a hazy yellow with a vague greenish tinge, and the overwhelming taste is sugar. It’s colossally sweet, lemons and sugar – oddly I got more lemon than lime out of it. At under 4% there was never really going to be a beery-ness to it, and as expected it tastes like diluting juice, or maybe Lemsip. It might be nicer warm, actually.

    Mystic Belgium