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Wagtail Brewery Best Bittern

Wagtail Brewery: Best Bittern (England: Bitter: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Toffee hued body. Moderate off white creamy head. Some sud edges around the glass as you drink the beer.

Nose: Toffee. Sour dough. Dried fruit sugars. Creamy. Crushed hard sweets.

Body: Moderate bitterness. Tart apples. Bubblegum. Dried fruit sugars. Sour dough. Brown envelopes and gum. Very slightly sour. Moderate earthiness. Light bitty orange juice.

Finish: Gummed envelopes. Earthy bitterness. Solid remaining flavour. Sweet orange air. Soil. Bubblegum. Dried apricot. Malt drinks. Toffee.

Conclusion: Going a bit traditional with this beer. A moderately earthy English style bitter with that slight sour refreshing backing and robust but not heavy bitterness. It balances the earthy notes with the restrained toffee sweetness and apricot fruit sugars that make up the base, to prevent the soil character becoming dominant. There is nothing heavy, everything is just keeping it in that drinkable mid range.

The oddest characteristic it comes out with is a slight bubblegum character and an accompanying cloying touch of sour dough – it gives a bit more of a savoury twist in the depths of the beer.

So, overall it is well put together – the fruity notes sweeten and fresh the occasional soil notes as they should and you end up with something that may not be out of the ordinary, but it hits its marks well.

Frankly, while not a showstopper, I am enjoying it – though I do wonder if it would work as well on cask? A lot of what makes this work is the carefully and clearly defined elements – casks are good at blended notes together to give extra subtlety but less clarity, which I feel would hurt this beer.

Any which way, as a bottle this is a polished job in what can often be a dull earthy best bitter style. A beer that matches expectations very well but does not exceed them.

Background: Been back up north again, and again the family have been so kind as to provide me with some beers. Many thanks! Another bird themed beer from Wagtail brewery here which I drank while listening to some of The Pixies. Can still remember when I first heard The Pixies back at Uni. Blew my mind. Also everyone apart from me was high as balls, but that was a different matter.

Brewdog Ace Of Chinook

Brewdog: Ace Of Chinook (Scotland: Session IPA: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellow. Middling carbonation. Large white creamy bubbled head. White suds left afterwards.

Nose: Crisp hops. Sweet vanilla. Pine needles. Pineapple. Fresh.

Body: Tart grapes. Sweet grape juice. Vanilla toffee and custard. Slightly thin late on.

Finish: White grapes. Vanilla. Light pineapple. Shortbread. Light peppermint. Light greenery.

Conclusion: I nearly passed on this one. Nearly. I am glad I didn’t. Session IPAs are rarely my thing, and the last “Ace of” beer really didn’t grab me. However they seem to have got past that and honed this one in nicely.

While a slight bit thin late on, this seems to have solved a lot of the usual session IPA issues. The base has a moderate sweet backing, the greenery – while present – is far from the dominant note. It becomes drying only in the finish, but avoids cardboard like notes and for the rest of the beer it gives a good solid base for the hops to express themselves.

The hops delivery is straightforward – straight up fresh grapes and light pine needles, there is some hop bitterness but generally more on that tart and fresh flavours, less on the bitter kick.

It fits what a session IPA should do – lots of flavour, easy drinking and without too many harsh notes. Beavertown still have my favourite session IPA with Neck Oil, but this gives me new hope for the “Ace of” range and is an enjoyable beer in itself.

A nice suprise.

Background: I am generally not a fan of session IPAs, I am far from an unbiased actor on Brewdog. So, that is the whole bias thing out of the way. This was grabbed directly from Brewdog’s online store. Drunk while listening to Some Television Villain in preparation to go see them live again. They are currently gigging around the Bath and Bristol area – check them out if you can!

Fantome India Red Ale

Fantome: India Red Ale (Belgium: Saison: 8% ABV)

Visual: Deep cloudy bruised apricot. Massive off white, lace leaving loose bubbled head.

Nose: Coriander. Lemon. Carrot. Lightly minty menthol. Peppermint and crushed mint leaves. Paprika. Light strawberry. Orange crème.

Body: Strawberry sweetness. Custard. Orange crème. Light hop character. Smooth. Prickle in the middle. Toffee. Earthy notes. Dried orange fruit sugars.

Finish: Malt chocolate. Toffee. Custard. Custard hop character. Some greenery. Solid hop bitterness and character. Sour dough. Earthy notes. Resin.

Conclusion: Apparently, at least best I can tell, this beer does not use spice in the ingredients. Instead all the spice seeming flavours must be coming from the hops, yep, as you may have guessed already, this is spicy as heck. Odd, no?

On top of that it is a fair mixed up beer. For all it is called an India Red Ale it actually has a hell of a lot of saison influence – from the soft custard hop styling of Saison Dupont, to the lime notes of Fantome’s own spring Saison, to the traditional earthy rustic saison styled base. A lot going on there. From the red side of India Red Ale we get an amber ale set of calls mid body which develop into some strawberry sweetness and chocolate toffee malt notes near the end.

As for the India part of the name? Well, it leans close to Belgium IPA in the smoothness, but the hop bitterness is only really a thing in the earthy bitter finish. Then again, India gets appended to pretty much any high hop ale these days, even some lagers, so having the high bitterness is not automatically needed I guess. That however is a rant for another day.

Early on the beer is a bit rough and greenery led, with an odd menthol character, but as the late end sweetness rises it manages to balance itself out, more or less. At that point in this, high abv, bottle it seems closer to the spicy, Belgian IPA character that its name calls to. Still a bit greenery and resin led, but far more recognisable.

Overall a bit rough around the edges Amber Ale IPA Saison mash up – not the best, but there is hardly a dull moment.

Background: A hard one to pick a beer style for this one is. It is listed as an India Red Ale, which would make me think an IPA variant, so list under IPA, ratebeer calls it the ever helpful “Belgian Strong Ale”. For me, it seems closest to a Saison, so lacking any other definitive call, and knowing Fantome’s reputation with Saisons, I’m going with Saision. Seriously, Fantome does awesome saisons. Incidentally some places has this thing’s name abbreviated as IRA, which for seem reason they don’t seem to call it that in the UK. I wonder why… Anyway, drunk while listening to many Meets Metal tracks, with Flashdance Meets Metal being the standout one. This beer was grabbed from Brewdog’s Guest Beer selection. Warning, this is a frothy beer – The beer was rushing out and I desperately shoved the cork back in while I shoved the bottle neck into the glass to pour.

Wild Beer Co Smoke 'N' Barrels Spring

Wild Beer Co: Smoke ‘N’ Barrels: Spring (England: Smoked: 4% ABV)

Visual: Pale grain. Large white bubbled head. Some carbonation.

Nose: Blue cheese. Wet wood. Hickory smoke. Perfume. Barbecue pits.

Body: Lime notes. Soft cheese. Smoked beef. Sage stuffing. Dried cherry pocked biscuits. Light syrup sweetness. Vanilla.

Finish: Wood chips. Paprika. Sage and onion. Beef stew. Light treacle. Vanilla. Smoke.

Conclusion: This gets oh so much right – it tastes like a mix between breathing in aromatic burning wood smoke, blue cheese, sage stuffing and smoked beef. That is a hell of a set for a smoked lager, no?

It is big and chewy feeling, despite the fact that the lager textured does not deviate much from expectations of a base lager – the wealth of flavour provides the weight which the texture does not.

In fact, for all the joy this beer brings, all the herbs and big smoke, it could actually probably do with a bit of a drier, and slightly less intrusive base. Now this is just me being picky, the base is pretty well done, but every now and then the sweetness rises from the normal smooth vanilla note level to a more treacle and syrup level and that additional sweetness breaks the wonderful savoury grip that the beer has on your tastebuds which is a pity.

Now that is just a minor point on how I feel the already good beer can be improved on. As for the rest of the beer? I love this – it has a wonderful use of the wood to create a medley of barbecue smoke notes in the mouth. Also it is wonderfully low abv for such a flavoursome beer – and the lager style makes it very manageable to drink despite the big flavours. This is one I could keep on for a while. Even better, the smoke is flavoursome rather than just ashed as hell – it mixes with the herbs and spice to create a wonderfully rich mix.

It is far from the most intense for smoke, so if that is the appeal for you, then this is not the one to go for. However for smoked backed flavour this is great, a few minor tweaks and it is ready to be a classic. Looking forwards to the next one.

Background: I’m a big fan of Wild Beer Co, and this smoked lager sounded pretty interesting. It is the spring entry in a range of smoked beers – this one using cherry and oak along with rosemary and sage. This was grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to, yet again, the excellent David Bowie album Black Star”

Wensleydale - Semer Water

Wensleydale: Semer Water (England: Golden Ale: 4.1% ABV)

Visual: Pale lemon juice to grain. Creamy white head. The body is mildly hazy and the head leaves lots of suds.

Nose: Lemon curd. Creamy. Light cinnamon. Light sulphur.

Body: Mild lime. Lightly creamy feel and flavour. Cinnamon. Light white sugar. Mild creamy lemon. Slightly thin up front.

Finish: Creamy. Peppery. Lemon cream air. Mild bitterness and hop character. Light sulphur. Lime. Slightly dry – dry biscuits.

Conclusion: It is time for another beer, sampled in the field! In this case, in reasonable closeness to the Yorkshire fields. Time to break open a bit of the local cask real ales again.

This seems to aim at the gentle and session end of the ale scale, with lemon and lime notes, any tartness there would be muted by a creamy style making this soothing rather than sharp. The beer feels slightly more attenuated than I would expect for a golden ale, it is creamy mid body but heads out to a quite dry feeling finish. Tellingly the finish is where it lets the mild bitter character play after being absent for most of the rest of the beer.

For the main part this is a a reasonable, lemon pushing, British Cask ale style, golden ale – though the finish reminds me of the milder hop take on an APA which makes me think that the dry character of the finish is done a bit too heavily. If the beer had been just slightly more easily going on the way out it would have helped the overall feel a lot.

Still, the body, which is slightly light up front, is soon helped by the real ale character – giving a nice weight without high abv or a too thick character, and backed by a light amount of sulphur.

So, still a nice enough beer, gentle and easy to drink, even quite refreshing. It could do with a bit of work, for example a less dry finish and a bit more body in the early moments, but not bad for a wee session, though not one that overly stands out.

Background: Drunk on cask up north at the Bolton Arms in Leyburn, just a very short drive from the brewery. Was back with the family for a while so decided to grab a local cask ale while I could. I’ve had Wensleydale beers while visiting the family before, but I think this is the first time I ever did notes on one. The parents very kindly let me be an antisocial git while I did the notes. Many thanks. Also the beer’s name sounds kind of like semen water. Which amused me. Because I am childish. In other reviews my mother sampled it and said, and I quote “Yuck”. She is not a fan of real ale so that may be a bias on her review.

Boon Old Geuze Boon Black Label

Boon: Old Geuze Boon: Black Label (Belgium: Geuze Lambic: 7% ABV)

Visual: Clear banana yellow. Huge solid white bubbled head. Large carbonation.

Nose: Crisp. Wheaty. Fresh cut apples. Mild earthy spice. Tart white grapes. Fresh cooked pizza dough base.

Body: Very tart. Sharp lemon. Froths up easily. Lime notes. Oats. Solid mouthfeel. Light banana custard and pineapple. Grapefruit. Peach syrup.

Finish: Lemon juice. Slight meringue. Light oak. Lime juice. Apricot. Dry white wine. Oats. Apples. Grapefruit.

Conclusion: Juicy. Tropical juicy. You know, considering that this is the driest boon yet, or so the bottle says, this has a fruity character that is absolutely pounding. It starts out with lemon and lime notes and builds to pineapple and grapefruit burst – that lambic character means that it ends up mixing pure fruit juice with dry white wine like character.

What surprises me is that, dry as the beer is, it does not feel drying. There is no teeth tingle, nor those mouth puckering notes that a real dry acidic lambic can bring – no back of the throat acidic feel here. In a way it feels like a lambic equivalent of restorative beverage for invalids and convalescents – the highly attenuated body means that it mostly gets out of the way and lets the fruit explode.

This is good, very good – the base feels like a dry white wine but without any acidity or harshness, the fruit feels like the tartest of tropical fruit hop explosion – choosing the lambic base means that there isn’t any real sweet influence from the malt base intruding so you get everything very clean and fresh. Best of all it is very easy to drink for a lambic, As long as you are happy with tart flavours then dealing with the acidity is a cakewalk.

Beyond the fruit, at that base, there s a recognisable lambic character – Light earthy spice, oat character, and even some very understated sweet notes – it is hugely attenuated but they don’t let that become its defining characteristic – instead you get a masterpiece of lambic balance.

I am very impressed.

Background: The cork exploded out of this one – I was a mere two twists of the corkscrew and it popped out so hard that it took my hand and the entire corkscrew with it a good half foot up. Strangely, after that the beer did not froth up and out. Still, hell of a lot of force in there. On the pour it took a few attempts to get one that was not entirely froth. It is lively on the pour. Drunk while listening to some Madness – had seen Suggs do his life story recently and was in a retro mood. This had been grabbed from Independent Spirit.

Adelphi The Glover 14 Year

Adelphi: The Glover: 14 Year (Scottish and Japanese Blended Malt Whisky: 14 Year: 44.3% ABV)

Visual: Yellowed deep gold.

Viscosity: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Smoke. Dried apricots and almonds. Thick. Vanilla. Apples. Water brings out pears and cinnamon.

Body: Very smooth texture, but noticeable alcohol. Malt chocolate, smoke and charring. Apricot slices. Dried beef slices. Intense peach syrup sweetness and stewed fruit. Coal dust. Water adds apples and cinnamon, beef broth and a steam beer texture. Tropical fruit. Treacle. More water adds vanilla toffee.

Finish: Smoke and ash. Malt chocolate. Steam beer air. Cinnamon. Toffee and stewed fruit. Water adds treacle, still an alcohol air. More water adds beef broth and vanilla toffee.

Conclusion: This is a very odd one to do notes on, as I had to return a few times more than usual. The experience when I first tried on the bottle opening, when I tried when doing notes, and when I tried post doing notes but before putting up the notes, all were different experiences. So I drank a bit more and did a few more sets of notes, and this is the final conclusion.

This is a very thick whisky – Now it does have a bit higher abv than usual, but from the mouthfeel I would have guessed that this was a cask strength. Thankfully, while it does have a noticeable alcohol character, it isn’t near the usual cask strength fire and what it does have is easily muted by water.

It punches with smoke from the aroma onwards, but not in what would be the more expected peaty, meaty way of whiskeys such as Ardbeg. This has drier smoke with a coal dust style character that is simultaneously lower intensity but despite that harsher in the impact due to the dryness. This is one of the elements that seemed to vary a lot however, there is always some element of the character but it seemed very variable depending on circumstances.

That is not the most notable characteristic though – the unusual character that really comes out is as the originally smooth mouthfeel expands out into a strange, almost steam beer styled, slightly gas cooker styled, feel. It reminds me of an old whisky I had tried that had been direct heated rather that indirect heated at distillation. I am unsure if that is what caused the characteristic here – I know some Japanese distilleries go very old school and traditional on making their whisky. Any which way it gives a very distinct character.

Initially the whisky was dominated by full and harsh coal notes, water lets it soften to green fruit and apricot slices that come out backed treacle sweetness. The whisky it is still led by that gas cooked air and can be harsh coal backed, though these element seemed to come and go in the varied tastings. The sweetness matches the intensity of the harshness when it is there, but does not reduce the impact. When the harshness is not present you instead get a huge stewed fruit sweetness pushing forth in its place.

When it still has those harsh notes it feels slightly too all intense, all the time for me. The thing people oft forget about Laphroaig and Ardbeg is that for all their intensity, they have sweetness contrast or moments of release. Thankfully in the majority of my samples the harsh notes gave way to that stewed fruit, still intense but providing that touch of contrast.

Now that is not to say that there is not a lot else going on, as you can see from the notes there are cinnamon and apples mix – pear notes that remind me of Hakushu whisky, though it is not unique to that distillery. It is well made and smooth, especially with water, and remains smooth even with the harsh flavours when they are present, but it doesn’t always mesh.

I admire its mix of odd and even possible nigh unique characteristics, when it works it is good – the mix of smoke, steam beer character and stewed fruit is a journey. It possibly doesn’t need to be as thick as it is all the time, it can get wearing – especially when the harsher notes are there. As a whisky it is a tad unreliable, hence needing multiple returns, but when it is on it is very distinct and pretty good.

Background: 1,500 notes, and I have been holding this one since the beginning of the year for the special occasion – grabbed from The Tasting Rooms on recommendation, this is a blend of Japanese and Scottish Malt whisky and one of 1,500 bottles. Well, 1,500 bottles this release. I’m sure they will do another release. As a fan of both countries’ whisky this sounded fascinating. So, for music, did I go for J-pop, anime soundtracks, taiko drumming to reflect Japan? Bagpipes, Scottish Punk, or such for Scotland? No, I went for “Heck”, because it reminds me of their absolutely mental live gigs which are basically riots with music. Hey, my blog, my choice. Been a fun 1,500 notes and here is looking forwards to 1,500 more – thanks for reading, commenting, and, until next time – enjoy your drink!

Brewdog Abstrakt AB20

Brewdog: Abstrakt: AB20 (Scotland: American Strong Ale: 14.2% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown, though reddened if held to the light. Loose fizzy off white bubbled head that has a short lifespan.

Nose: Milky coffee. Coffee cream. Coffee beans. Light bourbon. Roasted character. Rum.

Body: Milky coffee. Toffee liqueur. Liqueur soaked cake sponge. Chocolate liqueur. Caramel. Spicy rum, Condensed cream.

Finish: Coffee liqueur. Condensed cream. Light roasted character. Port and mulled wine. Milky coffee. Cake sponge. Bitter chocolate. Fruitcake.

Conclusion: Ok, I could have saved a lot of effort in writing the notes above if I had just written “Tiramisu” for half the notes. However, since the beer is described as a tribute to tiramisu I kind of felt like that would be cheating.

This opens up with pretty much all the coffee – sweet, roasted, whole beans, creamy, it just has layers of coffee aroma wafting out of the glass. The body that follows is what really makes this hit peak tiramisu – lots of cream and liqueur soaked sponge notes now mix with the coffee.

It is interesting to compare this to the Ilkley/Brewdog Westwood Stout which also had a very tiramisu style character This is a darker beer, heavier, with lots of port, red wine and cherries making for a heady heavy base for the tiramisu to work from, more spirit and wine dominated.

By comparison the Ilkley white stout is comparatively more easy drinking,if only comparatively, smoother and more of the white chocolate notes. This is instead one of the dark decadent beers. It feels like it has more of a beer character to back up the tiramisu concept. Feels somewhat like a ramped up ESB to English Strong Ale fruity beer style. This never forgets that it is a beer at its base – albeit, at this strength, a strongly spirit influenced one.

So, unless the base concept wildly disagrees with you – say that you don’t like tiramisu, or you don’t like strong spirity beers, if you don’t like the idea of a tiramisu beer – if none of these apply, then this is a lovely dessert style beer for you.

Background: This was designed to be inspired by the Tiramisu dessert – it is a mix of rum aged Paradox Imperial Stout and milk Barley Wine made with oats and coffee beans. As of such I had pretty much no idea which beer style to shove it under. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beer. Drunk while listening to more of The Algorithm: Brute Force.

Wiper and True Wheat Beer White

Wiper and True: Wheat Beer: White (England: Wheat Ale: 4.4% ABV)

Visual: Pale hazy lemon juice with large white mounded froth head. Moderate carbonation. The head leaves lace.

Nose: Jiff lemon. Key lime and fresh wheat character.

Body: Lightly earthy. Light lime and key lime pie mix. Kiwi. Pepper. Wheaty. Empty middle. Sulphur. Apricot. Soft lemon.

Finish: Earthy notes and bitterness. Wheaty. Light salt character. Kiwi. Sulphur. Apricot.

Conclusion: You know, if I had salt I would add a few grains to this. Chris from Independent Spirit has mentioned several times that it can help with weak mid body beers. I have never tested it but trust his knowledge on such things. Unfortunately I don’t currently have any salt. Yes I am a freak. I just don’t actually use salt that much so never have any in. Probably for the best for tasting note purposes. Adding extra bits may be cheating.

Anyway, as you may have guessed from the above, this has a thin middle. A pity as the aroma, though simple, promised a lovely mix of wheat character and green fruit hops. I mean, that is, in fact, the body you kind of get, backed by earthy and spicy notes – however most of the notes are very lightly done, and the body is slightly thin, which means that the earthy, simple wheat body dominates. I was hoping the loss of the other notes was due to excessive coolness, but I have given the beer plenty of time to warm and to no avail.

It really is just a case that the fruit notes of the aroma are there but too weak to do any good. It does feel like just a small raise in intensity would shove the whole beer from bad to decent or better. It doesn’t have to be super intense, just a a modest raise.

So, a rare beer from Wiper and True that I don’t like and in general a weak beer, so not that much to say here. It is sulphurous and earthy and even feels a tad watery, combine that with a slight salt note in the finish and it occasionally tastes slightly sweaty. So, not a good beer, very much not a good beer.

Ah well, no company bats 100%.

Background: I’m a big fan of Wiper and True, so much so I refer to them as “The Kernel of the west country” – not tried any of their wheat beers before. Was glad to get to use the wheat ale glass again – it is probably the least used of the three beer style designed glasses I was given at Christmas by craft beer sis. Drunk while listening to various Miracle Of Sound tracks.

Smokehead Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Smokehead: Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Islay Single Malt Scottish Whisky:43% ABV)

Visual: Light gold.

Viscosity: Mostly slow thin streaks.

Nose: Smoked beef and peppercorn. The aroma can be detected at massive distance. Medicinal notes. Dumplings and beef broth. Barley. Lots of smoke. Touch of honey. Water dries and brings out slightly harsher notes.

Body: Smooth. Golden syrup and vanilla. Massive peat and smoke. Light charring. Vanilla custard slices. Light medicinal notes and noticeable alcohol. Icing. Toffee. Light cherries. Water mutes alcohol, brings out raisins, Madeira and sherry trifle. More fruity.

Finish: Honey. Charred notes. Barbecued beef. Icing sugar. Vanilla custard. Seaweed. Water brings out Madeira cake, light rum spice, and sherry trifle.

Conclusion: It is often overlooked how sweet Islay whisky can be. They are well known for hitting hard and fast with big notes – here that is definitely true with smoked beef, peat smoke and peppercorn. There is small medicinal notes, but not heavily on that side – this leans much more on the smoke side of things, also eschewing the salted character than an Islay can have to concentrate more on the smoke.

The thing is, if you are used to those strong flavours then you realise that there is huge golden syrup and vanilla custard sweetness behind the smoke. The massive notes are a significant contrast which makes for a surprisingly smooth yet intense whisky. Frankly, even without water this is very easy to recommend.

Water refines it even more, it drops the few alcohol notes and brings out what I would guess to be the sherry barrel ageing influence. There is cherries and raisins, lightly spicy and sherry trifle notes – it goes from nearly no sherry influence to being dominated by it in a heartbeat. It is like two whiskies in one.

So, at any price point this is excellent – peat juice delivered against a vanilla sweet backdrop or sherry trifle sweetness – smooth, intense and delicious. At the 35 to 40 quid mark it often goes for? This is an absolute steal. A great value Islay whisky showing that the words “Great value” don’t have to be damning with faint praise.

Background: I tried the 18 year Smokehead a while back, but realised I had never done notes on the standard bottling – so here it is. Grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to David Bowie’s haunting final album.

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