Having visited this year’s CAMRA Great British Beer Festival as a guest of The Beer Hawk who were sponsors of the British Bottle Bar, I decided to get a hold of their CAMRA GBBF mixed case.
Fifteen bottles of CAMRA award winning beer to work through.
It’s been an interesting, though not wholly rewarding journey.
I was surprised at just how many dark beers are included as I was expecting bottle after bottle of homogenous Golden Ale.
Some of the beer I have had before and some of them were new to me.
Some of the beer has been very good, some of it very poor indeed, but in general it has left me with the same feeling I had after my day at GBBF 2013, and that is that I enjoyed the American and European beer far more than the English cask ales that I tried, and that there is so much more to British beer these days than Worthington’s White Shield (though I do like a bottle now and again).
With that said, on the whole this isn’t a bad way to spend a few evenings.
Here’s what you get in the box:
*The reviews that have been published before this article are marked with an asterisk.
Marble Brewery Lagonda IPA (5%)*
In a single mouthful this has become one of my
favourite Marble beers.
Lagonda pours a honeyed gold with a feisty white foamy head and smells of sweet shop sherbet, sunny citrus fruits and caramel.
I really like the malts here, they’re almost squidgy in their chewy toffee richness, and they have a big surprise in the shape of a hefty clove kick that takes you off guard and makes you have a good look at your glass as you realise what’s going on.
The hops are all about the sharp bitterness you want from a good IPA, with lemon rind and lychee dryness, a load of thick kiwi flesh and the almost clichéd sugar sprinkled grapefruit.
The finish here is full of chewy penny sweets and sherbet sparkle and that clove edge keeps popping back up to surprise and delight.
Spire Brewery Sgt. Pepper Stout (5.5%)
This is bad.
Award winning it may be, but it’s not good.
Pouring a decent purple brown, it looks OK, but there is next to no aroma whatsoever.
There’s an alright prickle from the black pepper, but other than that this is a beer that tastes almost sour.
You get none of the big comforting chocolate or coffee or even biscuit you might want from a stout.
Just a slightly bilious sourness.
I poured it down the sink and felt better for doing so.
Harvey’s Imperial Extra Double Stout (9%)*
Pouring an impenetrable black with only the merest suggestion of a head, this bottle conditioned imperial stout reeks of port and sherry and fruit compote.
It’s quite difficult to break the flavours down in this, it’s almost so complex as to become one big single flavour all of its own.
Or perhaps I’m being lazy.
Let’s have a go.
There’s treacle, thick as tar and black as pitch treacle, beefy yeast ripeness, massive fruit punch and booze that takes your breath away.
Definitely not a beer for the feint hearted, the sherry and port aromas continue into the flavour.
I’ve been looking around the label for notice of this beer being aged in wood but can’t see anything, but the fact is that there’s a damp oak and rum flavour that one would often associate with a beer aged in that way.
There could well be some hops in here too, but they have no individual presence as such, instead they just add a good bitterness to the overall boozy black sexiness of this brilliant little bottle of beer.
Stewart Brewery St. Giles (5%)*
I’ve no idea why, but I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like this beer and as a result it’s sat waiting to be tried for ages.
I was wrong.
I often am.
Because in actual fact St. Giles is a rather decent Scotch Ale that sits a nice ruby red in my glass and smells of potato cakes, bran and prunes.
The malt is big and round and packed with stewed red fruit, toffee and pancakes, and the hops are crunchy and red and autumnal, and give a nice leafy foliage feel to the dry, slightly sweet finish.
All in all, pretty good.
Hopshackle Restoration (9%)*
Hopshackle, a small brewery based in Bedford, are making some remarkable beer.
They do a range of “historic” ales based on old recipes and/or using old techniques.
The beer I have here is Restoration and it’s based on Belgian strong ale recipes.
What I can say?
This is a truly extraordinary beer.
Intense pudding fruits, rum & raisin in dark chocolate that you can almost chew, giving way to thick rich malted biscuits, bitter tamarind and orange peel punch.
And to top it all off there’s a tender floral hop to end.
Hang on to your hats, here comes a bit of a cliché.
Hopshackle say they make historic ales.
Certainly this is good enough to go down in history.
Worthington’s White Shield (5.6%)*
As every beer drinker in the world will know, Worthington’s is a trademark of Coors.
But does that make this a bad beer?
Absolutely not, this is a terrific English IPA.
It pours a lovely deep amber with a head that stays with you and grips your glass.
The smell is proper beery goodness, biscuity, fruity, and with a background yeast meatiness.
Taking a mouthful you get a really satisfying bran heavy baked biscuit malt along with a slightly Christmassy spice which is really delightful.
You’re also given a terrific hit of toffee and a finish that’s absolutely full of orange rind and cloves, lemon juice, elderflower dryness and a delicious bitter end.
Yet more proof, if more proof were needed, that an enormous industrial brewer can make a fabulous beer if they really want to.
St. Austell Brewery Proper Job (5.5%)*
What a super bottle of beer this is.
In your glass you have a delicious looking copper orange beer with a light head.
The smell is full of hedgerow after the rain, orange rind and a pinch of yeast.
The beer feels good in your mouth, thick and chewy, but fizzy and fresh.
You get a really good malt full of all the best bits of eating a Daim Bar, caramel, almonds, a hint of salted chocolate.
It’s biscuity and malty and satisfying and yet that’s just the backbone for the hopping.
Oh man, the hopping is big and angry, fiery and fun.
Spiky black pepper corns, crushed and mixed with lemon rind and grapefruit.
The hops bring out a lovely green hazelnut dryness that you’ll instantly recognise if you’ve ever been playing “up the woods” as a child and tried eating what you see squirrels eat.
It’s delicious but extremely dry, rubbing all the moisture from your mouth and leaving you puckered in the most pleasurable way.
I could go on, but I won’t.
Suffice to say, Proper Job is a proper job.
Beowulf Brewing Co. Dragon Smoke Stout (5.3%)
This is the kind of Stout I like.
It’s thick and deep and satisfying, but also as dry as a bone.
Dragon Smoke pours a dense black with a big fat foamy head and smells of wood chip, charcoal and burned toffee.
This is a beer that’s all about its malting.
Earthy, dry, smoky like a garden bonfire on damp grass, the flavours are warm and moist.
Lots of nutty fresh tobacco pouches and cchocolate coffee beans as well as green sappy hazelnuts and leaf mulch.
Yes, this is the kind of Stout I like.
Big, bold, luxurious, Beaowulf’s Dragon Smoke is very good indeed.
Well & Young’s Brewery Co. Ltd. Special London Ale (6.4%)
I’m not sure what to say about this.
I’d guess that most people know it already.
Do most people like it?
It’s a multi-award winner, but how long ago?
You see, to me Young’s Special London Ale tastes dated.
It tastes of twenty plus years ago when the most exciting “Real Ale” was simply over four and a half percent.
Is that being a bit mean?
Special London Ale is OK, but nothing more than OK.
The malts are sweet and sticky toffee and walnuts, and the hops are lawn clippings and garden borders.
What I don’t like is the quite severe alcohol burn.
And it really is a burn rather than a warmth in your chest, and I find it unpleasant.
Higher ABV’s can be done far better than this.
Conwy Brewery Clogwyn Gold (4%)
I have now had three beer from Conwy and they’ve all been terrible.
This one is by far the worst.
It smells of watery lemon juice and the slightest hint of straw, and the flavour pretty much follows suit.
It’s almost as if it has been made without enough ingredients, the malts are vapid, watery and bland, just hinting at honey and biscuits, and the hops have had a look at the brew kit and decided to go elsewhere.
In fact I couldn’t face finishing it and so two thirds went down the sink.
Marble Brewery Chocolate Marble (5.5%)
In the past I have found Marble in bottles to be a really mixed bag.
They’re either really great or flat and bad.
This is the first Marble beer I have found that’s simply OK.
It’s a Stout with lots of chocolate malt in it and to that end it does what it claims to.
The smell is chocolate raisins and the beer looks pretty decent in my glass.
Taking a swig you get chocolate, red fruit, some Victoria sponge cake and digestive biscuit crumbs.
And there’s a handful of hops, but nothing extraordinary, only lightly bitter leafiness and a touch of garden flowers.
Chocolate Marble does what it says it will and it’s not bad, but that’s about it.
Stewart Brewing Embra (5%)
This may be my favourite beer in this collection.
It’s certainly right up there.
Embra is an Amber Ale with a very nice dry finish.
It pours a lovely rich amber with a smell that’s more boozy than I expected, all white rum, cola bottles and honey.
The malts have a good apple and pear body, lots of biscuits and some gooey, burned toffee.
There’s a slice of Jamaica Ginger Cake too, and some singed Golden Syrup.
Embra’s hops are crunchy, leafy, hedgerow brittle twigs and pine nuts.
All this leads to a really satisfyingly bitter finish that’s long and dry.
All in all, an easy drinking beer that’s packed with interesting things.
Neath Ales Black (5.5%)
Neath Ales’ Black isn’t a bad beer, but it’s nowhere near as good as its label suggests.
It states, “Superb dark malt flavour is balanced by a refreshing hop bitterness and an outrageous amount of aroma hops.”
Outrageous is a dangerous word.
And “outrageous” is pushing it.
Black smells OK, mainly liquorice and damson jam, both of which I would associate with malting.
So wheres this outrageous hop stench?
Not here, that’s where.
Taking a swig you get a decent burned wholemeal toast, chocolate and honey form the malts, lots of woody dryness and then a bitter green hop kick that leads to a nice crisp finish.
All in all a decent, if a little flat Porter, but using words like outrageous as descriptors is always going to be a dangerous game to play, and in the case of Neath’s Black it’s a game that’s been lost.
O’Hanlon’s Brewery Original Port Stout (4.8%)
Now this I like.
There’s a lovely fresh apple juice and red berry pulp aroma.
I don’t taste the Port in here so much as feel the tannins as they dry my tongue like a good Merlot or, um, Port might.
And then there’s chocolate and coffee and lots of stewed fruit with star anise and tamarind all wrapped up in plums and damson skins, rich and red and nicely bitter.
Right at the back there’s a decent biscuit, cereal bar nuttiness and a good sweet caramel stickiness.
But it’s the refreshingly clean orchard leaves and apple cores making everything bright and fresh that lifts this above the ordinary.
Very good indeed.
Source: The Beer Hawk