I was lucky enough to be on holiday last week in Provence. The weather was hot, the wine was excellent and the beer was cold. What more could I have wanted? Well after my tenth Kronenbourg I craved a beer with a bit more punch. So when at the intermarche I was lucky enough to stumble across some Jenlain Ambree and some La Goudale. These beers are a under appreciated style of beer called Biere de Garde.
Biere de Garde roughly translates as “beer for keeping”, historically it was brewed in winter months to a high alcohol level so that it would keep all year. It originates from French Flanders and can be seen as a French equivalent to Saison. However, stylistically it is quite a different offering with spice taking a back seat and a more rounded malty character dominating. Also, Biere de Garde tends to be stronger, with an an average ABV of 7.5%.
Sadly, this style tends to get forgotten about and very few Biere de Gardes are available in the UK. However in France, with the rise of craft beer, it is slowly rising in prominence. Typically it is sold in 75cl bottles with a Champagne cork, which has resulted in it becoming a fashionable drink, especially in Lille where it is seen as an alternative to Belgian beers.
I have been fortunate to try a few style of Biere de Garde, and for those of you who are a fan of quality Belgian beers they are a must. However they should be respected as beers in their own right not just as poorer cousins of Belgium brewing. They have a wonderful freshness and a terrifying drinkability considering their strength. Despite an often heavy malt presence on the palate they are never cloying. Also, as to be expected with French alcoholic produce, they are great with food. My Jenlain Ambree was perfect with steak and the La Goudale went perfectly with roasted cod.
So with this in mind I urge you to look out for this style of beer and try a massively underrated style of beer. Vive la difference!
Ones to try:
La Goudale: in the 14th century top beers were called “Goudale” or good ale and what was true then is true now. A golden and flavourful beer, with a long finish. Well balanced hops and a touch of spice. Perfect before a meal or with fish.
Angelus: contains 30% wheat, which makes it quite different. Wonderfully spicy, a complex and intriguing beer. For me this is best enjoyed on its own, so that all of the flavours can be enjoyed uninterrupted.
Jenlain Ambree: Brasserie Duyck,who pioneered the Jenlain brand,are the fathers of Biere de Garde. They introduced the 75cl bottle, the champagne cork and the higher alcohol content. Jenlain Ambree was the beer that implanted the style in people’s minds and livers. A copper colour in the glass, it has a robust malt nature that makes it a very satisfying drink. Perfect with your red meats or cheeses. It is very easy to love this beer!
In my opinion there are fewer greater pleasures in life than drinking a chilled glass of Riesling. Whether it is an aged one from the Mosel, giving off notes of honey and petroleum(yes, that is correct!) or a young spicy one from Alsace, it is a wine that rarely ever disappoints. Sadly, however, the joys of this grape are often lost on people. Due to its German origins, it is often confused with Liebfraumilch and instantly dismissed as a sweet, cloying and flavourless wine. Whilst it is sometimes sweet, it is never cloying and rarely flavourless. Quite simply it is the best value white wine in the world, and let me tell you why.
Riesling buds late (saving it from winter frosts) and ripens early, meaning it can be grown in many cool climates. The perfect example of this is in the Mosel, where arguably the greatest Rieslings are grown, which is on the northernmost border of wine cultivation in Europe in Western Germany. However Riesling is grown in a wide variety of places, from Alsace to Australia, this is a grape that has popped up all over the world.
Due to its appearance in many locations it has meant a variety of styles of Riesling have grown up. The dominant style is that of a dry style. Characterised by intense flavours of lime and stone fruit as well as a taut acidity, these are excellent summer wines. Australia probably makes the driest examples, with the vineyards of Clare and Eden valleys being the prominent areas of Riesling production. However if you are after dry Riesling I would either recommend Austrian ones (in particular from the Wachau), or Alsace ones. In both of these the aromas are a little more perfumed than those of Australia. Producers in particular to look out for are FX Pichler (Austria) ,Trimbach (France) or Zind Humbrecht (France).
Riesling also makes both wonderful off dry and sweet wines. Ice wine, from Canada and Germany, is one of the worlds great dessert wines for example. These styles are just as rewarding as the dry ones. Especially as off dry and sweet styles have the ability to age and develop for long periods of time due to high levels of acidity and residual sugar. For me the flavours of aged Riesling are unbeatable, with the trademark smell of petrol being the most prized aroma. You may think that this is strange, but I can assure you once you have smelt it in a wine you will seek it out in others! If looking for off dry Riesling then the wines of Germany are the best place to start, look for words such as Halb-Trocken , Spatlese and Auslese. All of these words indicate that there is a certain level of residual sugar in the wine.
That is just a quick run through of a subject I could talk about for hours, however I am going to make one more point before I let you dive into the wonderful world of Riesling. It is exceptional value! Due to being unfashionable, £10-20 will buy exceptional Riesling. Zind Humbrecht Riesling is around £14 a bottle and this is from Grand Cru vineyards! Whilst Trimbach’s top cuvée, Fredereich Emile, is only £35. When you compare this with the top Chardonnay’s and Cabernet Sauvignon’s in the world it is an absolute bargain.
So, I implore you to go out and give Riesling a chance. I promise you, it is a risk you will be glad you took as after trying it, and you may even start to wonder how you ever survived without it!
A good friend of mine is disappearing off to the states and so in order to bid him farewell I thought to fill him up with some great London beer. With this in mind, I took him to the London Fields brewery in Hackney. It was my first visit, but I knew their beers and heard excellent things about their newly revamped Tap room.
I was happy to find that the Tap Room is a lovely space to enjoy a beer. There is a big glass open front which allows a lot of light into the venue, very handy when inspecting the colour of your beer. But there was also an excellent atmosphere – music was played at an unintrusive level and there was a pleasing hum of conversation. The blank wooden walls and simple furnishings worked nicely, creating an uncluttered atmosphere in which you could enjoy your beer.
The beer was the major and enduring positive (as it should be) due to the large range available at the bar. I was happy to see that the four beers on cask; Hopster, Make Love Not War, Triangle IPA and Black Path Porter, were also available on keg. On top of this they had further keg offerings, which included regulars such as unfiltered lager and their wheat beer, as well as experimental beers such as their US Amber ale, sadly this ran out just before I arrived.
The variety was impressive and their snazzy branded half pint glasses meant you could easily taste your way around. I was also greatly pleased with the takeaway service, where you could buy most bottles for £2.50 (including some 500ml). This meant, as well as being able to leave thoroughly happy with my afternoons drinking, I left with a few brewery fresh bottles to enjoy over the coming weeks too!
I should just mention a couple of things that I would have like to see improved. Firstly, food, which is becoming a constant theme of our craft pub reviews (see our Craft Review for the most recent example). The Tap room did offer some hot food in the form of stew and soup, which, whilst it did look quite tasty, was not the type of sustaining food you want when exploring your way around the pumps. This is only a minor point, as I realise that the purpose of the Tap room is beer and not to double up as a restaurant. Secondly, they advertised gift packs for sale, which I believe are a branded glass and two bottles, however when I asked to purchase one,the member of staff did not know anything about them. This is another minor point, but I was disappointed not to come home with one.
The Beers –
London Fields Wheat Beer – I love Hefeweizen, and this did not disappoint at all. The trademark flavours of bubblegum and banana were there, however what I enjoyed most were the levels of spice. This was a spicy and vibrant wheat beer that got the afternoon off in style.
London Fields Hackney Hopster – I’ve had this a few times before, but it really is true that drinking a beer fresh from the brewery does make a difference. Made using the aromatic Motueka and Nelson Sauvin hops, the freshness of the beer really showed off the power of the aromatics that can be achieved using these hops. Citrus, grass and slight tropical fruit notes all came together and were underpinned by firm malt characters. This will be a firm favourite of mine for the forseeable future.
London Fields Love Not War – a much darker and smoother offering than the Hopster. The roasted malts really came through, with wonderful caramel flavours. There was also a pleasing stone fruit flavour which balanced the beer. It was a wonderful change of pace, and I think my favourite beer of the afternoon. I was pleased to see the effort to ensure tight balance between the hops and malt. Sometimes I feel craft brewers are too zealous with their use of hops and their desire to produce the bitterest beer they can, which means they forego balance.
London Fields Unfiltered Lager – a great way to cleanse the palate and refresh myself. Wonderful gold, with a slight haze. It was bitter, biscuity and had real bite to it. This is the kind of lager I could drink on a regular occasion. It had a long and pleasant finish and with spring beginning to appear this will become a BBQ staple.
London Fields Black Path Porter – what better way to finish the day than with a sneaky half of their Porter. A brooding brown in the glass, it was quite light bodied for a Porter. Dark chocolate was the over powering flavour, with undertones of coffee. It was very refreshing, and it’s nice to drink a dark beer that’s not cloying. I hope other brewers take note.
I cannot recommend a trip to the London Fields tap room enough. A great selection of beers and wonderful atmosphere. I took a bottle of everything I tried away with me, as well as a bottle of their 9% Black Forest Imperial Stout (will let you know what I think soon) and I look forward to drinking them all and remembering an excellent afternoon. Now I just need to hunt down one of their branded glasses….
London Field’s Taproom is open every weekend.
Whilst at work we were informed that we would be receiving a parcel of old Rioja vintages. I was not very interested at the time, but had a look through what was available to see if there were any bargains to be had. To my delight I discovered there was Gran Reserva Rioja from 1987, my birth year, and I promptly bought a case. Thus fulfilling a wish that I have had for a long time, it also got me thinking…
The act of buying a case of wine to lay down when someone is born is a well worn tradition. Phill was lucky enough to be born in an excellent vintage port year, and had a case of Cockburns Crusted Port laid down for him to enjoy when he was of age. This tradition is something I feel everyone should take part in, but unfortunately is one fraught with danger. No one wants to treasure something for 18 years only to open it and find a bottle full of vinegar. So here my thoughts on what make great options for laying down when your offspring enter this world! Or what will make a good present to yourself if you decide to buy a wine from your birth year.
Bordeaux – this is the classic option. Laying down a case of Claret is something truly special and will reap rewards if properly stored (consistent temperature and out of sunlight). The use of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape and new oak barrels mean that this is a wine that benefits from age. In theory after 18 years in the bottle it will be in peak drinking condition, especially if it is from a top vintage. The only downside of this is the price. Top age worthy Bordeaux is expensive. Chances are you are looking at £30 plus a bottle, if it is a good vintage, for a case of six or twelve you can do the maths.
I recommend buying a case of Bordeaux from the following years – 2010,2009,2005,2000,1998,1990,1989,1986
Sauternes: this is a slightly unconventional choice but one I believe should be explored more often. Firstly desert wine offers great value for money at the moment. This means you can get a case of something truly special for a reasonable sum of money. The other great thing about Sauternes is that it is not likely to get spoilt whilst ageing. Due to the high acidity and sugar levels in the wine this acts as a preservative which means you can rest easy for those 18 years knowing that the wine will not ruin, which unfortunately can happen with any red. So take a punt on Sauternes for something interesting to pass on.
I would recommend buying a case of Sauternes from the following years – 2009,2008,2007,2006,2005,1989,1983
Port: much like Bordeaux this is a traditional option, unlike Bordeaux it is great value. Like Sauternes it benefits from high sugar levels which ensure that the ageing process is unlikely to spoil the Port, however there are a few things that must be noted. Vintage Port is a style of port and it is only Vintage Port that benefits from ageing. Whilst LBV is lovely, it is made in a manner to be drunk immediately and will not benefit from any ageing. The same is true of Tawny and Ruby Port. However with its durability, any Vintage Port will make a great gift to lay down. One further point to add though, Vintage Port throws a lot of sediment. Make sure you decant it before drinking. You will experience a very bad hangover if you do not!
I would recommend buying a case of Port from the following years – 2007,2003,2000,1997,1994,1992,1991,1985
Rioja: like Sauternes, this is a bit of a left field choice, but it offers great value for money and the potential to age. Well at least I hope so, given my recent purchase! Like good red Bordeaux, Rioja is aged for significant periods in oak barrels. This allows the wine to age for long periods of time. What is also great about Rioja is you are able to buy top wines at a reasonable price. For example the Vina Ardanza from the 2001 vintage (a great Rioja vintage) scored 94 Parker points and is £20 a bottle. An equivalent bottle from Bordeaux, from a top vintage with the same Parker score would likely cost in the region of around £100 a bottle. This just goes to show what value can be had in Rioja and Spanish wine in general.
I would recommend buying a case of Rioja from the following years – 2005,2001,1995,1994,1991,1987
I should add that the above are merely suggestions, as there are many other things you could lay down that would be just as good. From Champagne, to Sherry, to German Riesling these are all wines with the capacity to benefit from a little age. Hopefully I have inspired you to set aside some money to either treat yourself or to buy for your children. A drink is something you will both benefit from on their 18th birthday!
PS – I have just had the first bottle of my case of 1987 Gran Reserva Rioja. I am pleased to report that the wine has lasted beautifully. A wonderful garnet colour in the glass, aromas of clove, tobacco and dried fruits abounded in the wine. It is everything great about aged Rioja and it showed just how brilliant aged wine can be. There are five more bottles to come and I cannot wait to open each of them if they are like this!
Due to the perils of working in retail, my better half and I have only recently celebrated Valentines Day. We decided to mark the belated occasion with a meal at Roast in Borough Market. The website looked daunting, however I had one of the best dining experiences of my life. The food was exceptional, with a reasonably priced three course set menu at £35 a head. The atmosphere was lively and there was even a Jazz band providing the background music.
Many things impressed me with their range of drinks. Firstly, their oenomatic machines meant that there was a wide range of fine wines available by the glass. This is a huge development in helping to expand the variety of wine that people are able to sample. I hope these machines become more common in restaurants. Secondly, restaurants now value a range of quality craft beers as essential to a balanced drinks menu. Beer is not an afterthought at Roast, where they have three Meantime beers in the fridge; lager, pilsner, and Yakima Red. However it was their own brand beers, brewed for them by Whitstable brewery, that impressed me the most. They had a pilsner, wheat beer, IPA and Oyster stout available. Each of them are served in a signature glass, much as you would a wine. I had a wheat beer which came in its own Champagne style glass. This helped to accent wonderful notes of bubblegum and banana. I then had the Oyster stout which came in a ceramic tankard which upfront had a good hit of coffee bitterness but then turned into a dark chocolate sweetness. Ideal with my desert.
It is a shame I could not try their IPA, given the quality of the first two, however I intend on returning to Roast in the near future. If you are looking for a special lunch or dinner then I would highly recommend Roast. Leaving aside the excellence and breadth of their wine and beer list the food was lovely and the service impeccable. I urge you all to go and enjoy the Roast experience. Ideally with one of their wheat beers!
When we were developing our taste for craft beer, the brews of Thornbridge and Sierra Nevada were instrumental in getting us hooked. Their flavourful pale ales were things of beauty in our eyes and forced us out in to the brave and exciting world of craft beer! With this in mind you can imagine our delight when we discovered that these two breweries had collaborated on a beer called Twin Peaks and that it was being launched at a special evening at Craft Beer Co. As if this was not enough, we then discovered that 19 Thornbridge offerings were going to be on tap as well as some of the brewers on hand.
It was an evening we weren’t going to miss and here are our thoughts on some of the Thornbridge beers we tried.
This is one of our favourite styles and to see Thornbridge’s version on tap was too tempting to resist. Saison is becoming the beer of the moment, seemingly everyone is now trying their hand at one and with examples like this it is easy to see why. Very crisp and refreshing, not quite as spiced as Belgium examples but a real hoppy flavour. It tasted like a British Saison not an imitation Belgian Saison and we can think of no better compliment!
Who doesn’t love a good Märzen(Oktoberfest style lager)! This is packed with wonderful toasty malt notes and just the right amount of hops are used to balance the beer. Phill had this beer the week before at Craft Beer Rising and was upset he didn’t get another half so we both went for the full pint and it did not disappoint. Whilst a standard of many US Craft breweries, we certainly hope that more in the UK follow Thornbridge’s example and experiment with this style of beer.
Twin Peaks (their collaboration with Sierra Nevada):
In one word, refreshing. Packed with citrus and a little tropical fruit, this is a really crisp style of Pale Ale. We were both impressed with its drinkability and are looking forward to downing a few more of these once the temperature increases (however this being Britain we are not holding our breath). If we were being critical though, it was almost too easy drinking – seemingly lacking a little in flavour and the body being almost too light. However we are being overly critical in saying this and hope this is the first of many collaborations between the two breweries. It is certainly the first of many pints of Twin Peaks for us.
This was another really classy take on a German beer style. A full bodied style of beer, this tipple was full of dark malty notes and sweet spice. If only we had some to hand over the Christmas period! With the spice flavours on offer it would have perfectly complimented all the desserts of the festive period. However as we shivered in the beer garden it did prove to be a thoroughly restorative beer!
This amber bitter was a pure delight. Balanced in all the right ways and full of flavour. Lots of classic citrus and toffee flavours and we even thought we detected slight hints of pine, although we were uncertain if the name was just leading us to that conclusion. We only had half a pint, however looking back on the night Mike slightly regretted not doubling it, but Phill was happy to have moved on.
The jet black colour of this Imperial Russian Stout sets the tone for it’s great smoky and chocolatey aroma. It is smokey to taste although ends with a slightly hoppy finish. It stands at 7.4% ABV which you would not expect based on how easy it is to drink thanks to its smooth texture. We would happily pick this over a Guinness most nights.
Reflecting on the night, we had a fantastic time exploring the different beers of Thornbridge, and although Craft was a great place to do this, it’s lack of proper food forced us to make an early exit. We enjoyed the large range of styles on offer, but as you can see from our choices above, we gravitated towards the continental varieties they have attempted and were impressed every time. We hope that Thornbridge open a pub in London soon – having had much success in Sheffield – so that we can enjoy their range more often.
This evening really did encourage us that the craft beer revolution is international and that British brewers are committed to producing more than just great pale ales. It was also encouraging to see how busy Craft was when they put on a special event such as this. We hope this will be the first of many such nights at Craft and look forward to hearing your thoughts on the beers we tried.
To honour the launch of this blog we decided to have a tasting evening where we sampled a selection of beers, some old favourites and some new to us! Going forward we will do some themed tastings and comparisons however for our first we are going to be a bit more haphazard.
Curious Brew; the product of Chapel Down winery. This beer is what happens when you add champagne yeast to well-chosen hops and malts. It is a refreshing new-age lager, packed with aromas of gooseberry and tropical fruit. All of these factors make it a very drinkable lager. The second bottle tempted our new found professionalism, but we resisted.
Camden Town Hells Lager; another wonderfully refreshing beer but nowhere near as aromatic as the Curious Brew. However, what it lacked in aromatics it made up for with its slight hoppiness. With an almost biscuity quality this made another favourable impression on us. Having drunk plenty of Paulaner Helles (argued by many to be the king) we are certain this is a worthy match in terms of quality.
Fruh Kolsch; another German style beer. This top fermented beer is not as popular in the UK as it is at home in Cologne, though that does leave more bottles for us. Really pleasing bitterness. Certainly a beer we hope will become more prominent and if you are looking for something better than a generic lager/Cobra for your curry then look no further than Kolsch.
Cantillon Iris; from the iconic Belgium brewery this is a dry hopped Geuze. To say it blew our socks off would be a mild understatement. It is a mouth-puckeringly sour beer. Mike loved it, Phill liked it. It is certainly a beer that is not to everyone’s taste but to say there was an abundance of flavour would be to undersell it. The bitterness from the dry hopping added an extra dimension to the traditional, almost cider like qualities of a Geuze.
Nogne Porter; every time we have tasted a Nogne beer we have been thoroughly impressed and once again they do not disappoint. A dense black colour in the glass, there was an array of dark chocolate and bitter coffee flavours on offer. Very smooth in body, the 7% abv was not felt at all. It would make an excellent beer to match with your pudding, or like us, have in its place.
Meantime Yakima Red; the combination of five different hops this is a robust beer and one that helped finish off the evening. Full bodied, and a slight toastiness accompanied some fruit flavours. It is a shame we had eaten our steaks by this point as this would have gone great with them. We are both eternally grateful to Meantime for making this a full time beer and not just a limited run!
We hope you have found the above recollections of the beers we drank useful. Let us know what your thoughts are on the beers we tried and please voice any recommendations for other beers based on them!
Camden Hells, Curious Brew Lager and Yakima Red all came from Grape Sense in Chalk Farm.
The Cantillon Iris came from Bitter Virtue in Southampton.
Fruh Kolsch and Nogne Porter came from The Vineking, Reigate.
For some time we have been quick to criticise the supermarkets. Whether it is for poor wine or beer selection or for just generally being an unpleasant place to be. However the former is now no longer the case. Whilst we would not go so far to say that they have the most exhaustive collection of beers, they have put together a more than reasonable selection of brews in recent years. Whilst we cannot speak for all of the supermarkets, Morrisons, Tesco and Waitrose all contain an interesting range of beers.
Morrisons probably has the poorest selection of the three however they have made an effort to be improve their selection of ales. On our last visit we were very impressed to see some Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted on the shelves. What we must also commend them on is the production of brief tasting notes for quite a lot of their bitters. This is something Tesco also does and if beer is going to grow and people are going to take a chance on new beers this is essential. It gives everyone the opportunity to gain an idea of what it is they are tasting for the first time. As we know all to well, providing information on your product is the key to sales!
Tesco and Waitrose though really do stand out for us. They have a good selection of bitters, with an increasing focus on local beer, for example Mike’s nearest Tesco stocks Arundel beers as well as Hogsback (which to his great cheer appear to be going national in its popularity).
However it is the growth of more international craft beers that stands out at the moment. We would be disappointed if we walked into a large supermarket where there was no Sierra Nevada or Sam Adams. On top of this beers such as Goose Island IPA, Paulaner, Duvel and Brooklyn Lager are considered essentials and are given pride of place in Tesco beer isles. And Phill still considers it a treat to find Sierra Nevada Torpedo in a supermarket near him. The massed ranks of lagers are becoming very much hidden!
To finish we want to add that it was this picture that inspired us to write this article. we were delighted to see the return of Chimay to Tesco. It had previously stocked Chimay Red however this was removed, and now after a two year absence Chimay Blue has taken its place. This is a serious beer and the symbol of it being flanked by Duvel on one side and Franziskaner on the other really shows the jump forward the supermarkets have made in the quality of their beer aisles!
Our Supermarket Picks;
Triple Karmeleit (Waitrose); I am delighted that Waitrose stock this beer. It is expensive but it is a perfect Belgian triple. A wonderful golden colour is matched by intense stone fruit and slight honey influences. Brilliant!
Goose Island Urban Wheat (Tesco); This is a really pleasing addition to Tesco’s range. A cross between a wheat beer and a pale ale. This combines the wonderful refreshing nature of wheat beer with the body and bitterness of an ale. An excellent aperitif.
Samuel Adams (Morrisson’s & others); Shepherd Neame are about to start to brew this under license so it is your last chance to buy it imported from USA. It is a great starter for people new to craft beer, it’s a lager so won’t scare many people but the flavour will still really stick with you.
Jaipur (Waitrose); This is quite possibly one of my all favourite time beers, I was almost as excited to discover it in the supermarket as to when it arrived at my local Wetherspoons. It’s an IPA which is packed with citrus and slight caramel, I can’t wait to enjoy the BBQ season with this beer.
Let us know what hidden treasure’s you’ve discovered in your local supermarket.