Tag Archive: Bitter


Art Brew: Anarchist Party Bitter (England: Bitter: 7.2% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy caramel brown. Large creamy head in coffee froth form. Some suds around the edge as you drink.

Nose: Malt choc orange. Crushed peanuts. Light fresh citrus.

Body: Treacle. Malt chocolate. Walnuts. Moderate hop bitterness. Caramel. Thick. Brown bread. Prickling feel. Hop oils. Subtle peach. Creamy.

Finish: Choc orange. Good hop character and bitterness. Charring. Peanuts. Brown bread. Hop oils. Gritty. Golden syrup. Kiwi.

Conclusion: Ok, this is a no nonsense big beer. Big malt, big hops, big mouthfeel. It has a real thick caramel to treacle base with choc orange hints – the mouthfeel is really thick with even some syrupy hints amongst the character.

For the hops side, the aroma hints at more fresh notes than the body gives – it starts with moderate bitterness and builds to a mix of impressive roughness, hop oils and hop flavour. Then, over time, more subtle creamy hop flavours of peach styling comes out with a real grounding nutty character beneath that.

So, with the exception of the creamier end of the hop notes late on, this is fairly full bore all the time! It pretty much uses that higher than normal abv to create a base that can punch your taste-buds repeatedly for a good long time.

So, not subtle at all, and so doesn’t have those extra elements that makes an all time great for me, but it has that enthusiasm of a beer than is going for exuberance over fine detail and gives a full flavour assault with that. Approach with caution and enjoy the intensity.

Background: How to list this beer? It says a bitter, but the abv and hop use is a bit high for that style. Possibly English Strong Ale, as a vague catch all style. Possibly IPA with the hop use, but I am trying to avoid falling into the same trap that those red/brown/black/white IPA listings do by putting everything hoppy under IPA. Ok, sod it, I’ll use my general rule of a thumb, list it as the brewery describes it unless you have good reason to do so. So, bitter it is, with some reservations. Anyway, – Art Brew – a local Brewery and one that I have a soft spot for as it used to be tied with the Royal Oak back in the day – spent many a night drinking there. This was grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to more of Mclusky – Mcluskyisms. You will probably see that a lot in the near future – it is a massive 3 CD thing so I have a lot of tunes to get used to – lovely discordant, angry, almost surreal at times tunes.

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Kennet and Avon Brewing: Dundas Best Bitter (England: Bitter: 4.2% ABV)

Visual: Caramel brown. Very large caramel brown touched white mounded head that leaves suds.

Nose: Wheaty and peppery. Slight earthy touch. Light lime and greenery.

Body: Peppery. Lightly milky. Coriander. Solid bitterness. Brown paper. Light caramel. Light cream and orange backing ovaltine.

Finish: Coriander. Peppery. Slight sour tang. Wheaty and earthy. Moderate hop feel. Choco toffee malt drinks. Charred notes.

Conclusion: You know, on the first sip I had of this, I was ready to give it some shit. It comes in slightly light, dominated by a peppery chunk that made it seem rough edged. “Why?” I was about to whine. “Why is so hard to make a good best bitter?”

A few sips later I was instead nodding appreciatively – it is lightly earthy, and still definitely peppery, but the beer had balanced itself pretty quickly – there was now a gentle toffee sweetness backing it, but more importantly that slight sour, almost brown paper feeling backing character that makes for the more refreshing aspect of a well developed bitter. It has some grip now, where it felt light before, a slightly thicker texture that lets the hop character and moderate bitterness grab your attention without getting super intense.

So, now kind of answering my opening paragraph question, in a round about way – yes it is hard to make a good best bitter – and while this isn’t a showstopper it has a good mouthfeel, solid flavour and balances mild sweetness, good earthiness and a slight sour touch – all which combine to make it a solid beer for a session.

This, I think is what makes it so hard to do a good best bitter – here you have nothing super stand out, but everything in the right proportions. It manages to deliver a good beer and has had to do it without the crutch of being able to use high amounts of fruity hop, heavy amounts of malt, nor high bitterness. Instead it has had to use everything it can get out of restrained bitterness, malt and less showy earthy and spicy notes to give a complete experience.

It is hard because you are working with a comparatively limited selection of tools – if you push too much experimentation you lose a lot of what makes the style – and when done right it is unlike any other beer style – a very savoury experience in a lot of ways – a satisfying liquid meal of a drink. This isn’t the best of the best bitters, but it manages that and makes it a a good one.

Background: So, a quick google tells me this is gluten free. Huh, usually gluten free beers shout it more on the label, while this tucks it away on the back. Anyway …. the best bitter isn’t one that turns up very often in the new wave of beer scene, so when I saw this at Independent Spirit thought it would be cool to give it a go. Drunk while listening to more Warrenpeace – yep this was pretty much directly after doing one of the Jefferson Wood Experiment notes.

wadworth-6x

Wadworth: 6X (England: Bitter: 4.3% ABV)

Visual: Ruby brown. Creamy inch of slightly browned froth that leaves suds.

Nose: Caramel. Lemony hops. Creamy. Light turmeric and orange peel.

Body: Earthy. Caramel. Slight liquorice. Thick. Popcorn hop styling. Corn Pops cereal. Malt chocolate. Chalky over time.

Finish: Corn pops cereal. Vanilla. Earthy character. Caramel. Orange.

Conclusion: I talked recently about earthy bitters and the value thereof – this is the other way an earthy bitter can go. It doesn’t have the slight sourness I associate with a good sessionable bitter; Instead it goes for a much sweeter malt base. It goes bigger and more malty, and with that it seems it brings out more flavour from the hops as well. Some fruity lemon and orange float out from amongst the earthiness.

It is easier to get into than the Black Sheep Bitter as it has that immediate sweet hook – but without the light sourness I found that the earthiness got wearing more quickly.

It is a fairly standard beer, gets chalky over time, which can be used well, but here is again slightly wearing. So, it starts off pretty good with the sweetness and the nice fruitiness with balanced earthiness – but that earthiness and chalkiness gets a bit one note by the end.

It feels like it needs something to make the good qualities last, something normally provided by the light sourness. It doesn’t have a bad opening for a sweeter styled bitter, but can’t keep the game up. Ok, but by the end is just doing the minimum I would expect from a beer of this type.

So, not a great ale. Ok to start, even slightly good, but a rough end.

Background: Quite a quick set of notes this one – This was a beer given to me by a colleague at work – many thanks. This used to a be a regular pint in my early twenties at our local, so some fond memories. Also people keep punning its name as sick sex. Because of course they do. That is all.

black-sheep-ale

Black Sheep: Black Sheep Ale (England: Bitter: 4.4% ABV)

Visual: Yellowed brown. Clear. Still. Small grey head.

Nose: Earthy. Caramel sweetness. Palma violets. Sulphur.

Body: Slight fizzy feel. Nettles. Earthy notes and palma violets. Lightly sour. Light chalk. Soft vanilla back. Light cherries. Sticky brown envelopes

Finish: Dry roasted peanuts and chestnuts. Earthy notes. Light bitterness. Palma violets. Sticky brown envelopes. Turmeric.

Conclusion: You know, earthy bitters catch some shit. They get overlooked so much. I can see why – they aren’t bursting with tropical fruit. They don’t have huge malt sweetness to sooth. They are work-a-day beers. Not to mention they are, by definition, earthy. That is a hard sell. No one likes the idea of drinking earth, right?

The thing is, while it isn’t going to set the world alight, when done right a bitter has a slight sourness, very mild but just there, that makes it refreshing. It is why they are so good as a work-a-day pint.

This is one of those beers that does it right. It is earthy, with that slight sour refreshing note – and in a unique element for this one, matches that with a kind of palma violet cleanness to the whole thing – if that makes sense. Also, if it doesn’t make sense. It makes the earthiness feel less wearing over time, which solves what is oft a flaw of those type of bitters.

Now, it is pretty one note, a one trick pony; It never changes from that beer it is at the start, but it balances itself well – even using a slight vanilla sweetness and slight chalk grounding to polish the edges. I’m not going to rave about it as a beer – I’ve yet to run into a solidly earthy bitter that can make me rave about it. That may be your breweries challenge for 2017 if you are reading this and want to take a run at it. This does do the job though.

Not fancy, but hopefully from my meandering writing of the past few paragraphs I have shown why I’m glad beers like this exists, even if they are an oft overlooked style.

Background: Second in my “Sheep” themed tasting notes. An intentional theme. Honest. Anyway, this s part of a Christmas gift from a workmate. Many thanks! Drunk while listening to the latest Spektrmodule podcast. Black Sheep brewery is actually close to where I used to live once up North. Never visited it though. Possibly should do that one day. I am minorly biased towards the North for beers, cos I love the North, but try not to let it affect me.

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.

Purity Pure Ubu

Purity: Pure Ubu (England:Amber Ale: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Clear reddened brown. Moderate froth brown head that leaves sud rings.

Nose: Cream and milky. Light cinnamon. Shortbread. Sugar dusting. Very, very milky coffee.

Body: Light hop prickle. Milky texture. Light cream. Light toffee. Malt drinks. Slight pepper. Light lime. Very milky coffee. Flour.

Finish: Light hop character and bitterness. Milky. Pepper. Crackers. Flour. Chutney.

Conclusion: This is quite a gentle beer in some ways. For one I have used the word “light” about a billion times during the notes. It has a nice thickness of texture for a bitter/amber ale (I’m not 100% where it lies between the two styles). There is also some hop bitterness, but the main body is quite soft and milky behind that. Kind of like hopped milk. Ok, that sounds horrid. Let me try again.

It has a mild malt backing that comes across like the milkiest of milky coffees, only a smattering of bitterness to back it, but with hints of that flavour. It balances, for the most part, between milk and flour dusted white bead. That is hopped. Ok, that sounds terrible again. I’m not doing very well.

It is ok, it feels set up to be an easy drinking beer, though the hop prickle and peppery character are clues against that. I feel like I am not the target audience for this beer, it has an uncommon mix of light spice, hops and smooth main body. In fact it feels like a beer to accompany a mild curry – that is the best way I can describe it.

So, it has that style, backed by an even lighter set of citrus notes, yet despite all the times I use the word light, it does not feel weak or watery mid body. It hangs around and lasts, just the flavours are easygoing.

So, the mild curry and milk side of the beer world. Not my thing, but so carefully crafted I feel it is for a group of people who will love lit.

Just not me.

Background: Third and final beer that was a gift from a colleague at Christmas. Many thanks. I’d heard about Purity through “Oz and Hugh Raise the Bar” where the two were condescending dicks to the people there. So, I have sympathy for them if nothing else. Drunk shortly after the JD Single Barrel review with a bit of water taken to freshen the mouth. I was listening to some rage against the machine, mainly because it was alphabetically after what I had been listening to during the JD review. I am lazy.

Timothy Taylor Landlord

Timothy Taylor: Landlord (England: Bitter: 4.1% ABV)

Visual: Dark gold. Off white to brown froth head that leaves suds. Still body.

Nose: Lightly wheaty and fluffy hop character. Vanilla toffee. Greenery.

Body: Hop oils and solid bitterness. Peppery and earthy. Light vanilla. Sour dough. Cinnamon. Soft lemon. Slightly chalky. Slight dried apricot.

Finish: Fluffy earthy hop bitterness and peppery. Soft lemon.

Conclusion: I’m a bit split on this one. I am worried that I am being influenced by that fact that this was a beer I was a huge fan of way back in my early real ale drinking days. Why am I worried? Well, technically I am still enjoying drinking this very much – however I am very aware that I have criticised many beers for having similar elements to this one.

Let me explain. This is an earthy and peppery, moderately attenuated and dry pale bitter. On cask it was more sulphurous, here it has a cleaner touch. Anyway, so it isn’t doing anything too unusual for the style, and I have criticised many a beer for doing that. So, what I am trying to work out is, how much of my enjoyment is from my memories, and how much is it that it delivers itself well enough to overcome its familiar base conceit.

It really does seem to do that style just that much better than most of similar notes. The attenuation isn’t too dry and lets soft but slightly fruit sugar like apricot and lemon notes through to refresh what would otherwise be a too heavy ale. The vanilla toffee base is dried but still sweet enough to contrast the pepper. Overall it seems to match earthy weight with a refreshing character and perfectly set dry drinkable style.

So, maybe it is just the fact that you end up liking what you are accustomed to, but this feels far more than the sum of its well know parts to become the ideal of a British bottled bitter. So, there is the evidence for and against, feel free to make up your own mind, but I will continue to enjoy this old friend.

Background: This was gifted to me by a college at Christmas. Many thanks. Landlord is one I have had many times over the years, predominantly on cask. As of such it was a bit of a shock that apparently I had never done notes on it. Time to remedy that. Drunk while listening to a bit more Akala. It seems to be popular in the new wave craft scene to take the piss out of Landlord these days, which I never quite got as I have always enjoyed it.

Wagtail Ale-Next-The Sea
Wagtail: Ale-Next-The Sea (England: Bitter: 4% ABV)

Visual: Chestnut brown to toffee. Brown inch of bubbles.

Nose: Malt chocolate. Slightly nutty. Lightly floral.

Body: Nutty. Walnut cake. Moderate bitterness. Lightly earth. Coriander. Slight malt drinks.

Finish: Coffee cake. Earthy bitterness. Carrot.

Conclusion: After a mix of good bears that really show off the traditional British style, and one really weak beer that just let the side down, we then get this. A beer that is basically exactly what you would expect from a traditional British bitter, no more and no less.

This is, therefore a nutty, earthy ale; Slightly bitter – basically what a bitter is but nothing else. Ok, that is slightly harsh – there is a mild coffee and walnut cake taste to it. That is the one spin of the dice where it chances trying something just slightly different. Not much, but it is an element.

This is a hard beer to hate, but that is because it doesn’t do too much. Then again, when I say that, it is a hard beer to hate if you like bitters. People with a sweet tooth or people who hate earthy beers will not like it at all. The biggest problem is that it doesn’t give you much reason to overly like it either, it is just so very average.

So, if any other decent choice is on offer, go for that. Otherwise, if you have just Fosters and John Smiths as other options, well this aint utterly terrible like they are.

Not much more to say than that, it is, well, meh.

Background: Anyone get the feeling this time of the year is when I stock up on notes on bitters? Another of the Norfolk beers from the family. Many thanks! I kept almost adding the word “to” in the middle of the name. It just looks wrong to my eyes. Anyway, as before, drank back with the family.

Brancaster Best

Brancaster: Best (England: Bitter: 3.8% ABV)

Visual: Clear gold. High carbonation and a loose yellow white mound of a head. Leaves suds.

Nose: Sulphur and eggs. Banana sweets.

Body: Creamy. Hop oils. Lightly granite. Faint apricot. Lightly bitter. Eggs and sulphur. Faint apples.

Finish: Earthy. Smoke. Gritty bitterness. Slight lemon and lemon meringue. Concrete dust. Vanilla fudge.

Conclusion: Ok, it may just be I got a bad bottle, or maybe this was just not a well designed beer in the first place, but this beer is way too sulphurous giving a real eggy element to it. Not a good look is what I am saying. Yep, I’m opening these notes pretty harshly. The season of goodwill is over.

Beneath that egg character there is a dry and slightly gritty pale ale. The bitterness comes in akin to breathing in concrete dust and the main body feels like musty dust balls. As a self proclaimed session pale ale it feels kind of grim and harsh and working against everything it wants to be.

The bitter hop character is leaden and only in the finish do you really get hints of soft toffee and lemon that would have done a lot to even out the rest of the beer. Even here though these notes are hidden between mounds of earth and concrete slabs. There just feels to be no life to it, everything is weighed down and grey.

There are hints of promise but they are mild and easily lost in the mix. Don’t rely on them coming out is what I’m saying. All in all, and unimpressive beer I am afraid. Sorry folks, no new recommendation here.

Background: Another from the Norfolk beer case from my family over Christmas, again drunk with the family, hence a slightly different background. Many thanks as always. Not much to say on this one, new Brewery for me, drunk at home – warm inside and crappy weather outside.

Gyle 59 Freedom Hiker

Gyle 59: Freedom Hiker (England: Bitter: 3.7% ABV)

Visual: Hazy yellow. Thin loose white bubbles.

Nose: Lemon. Sulphur. Dried apricot.

Body: Dried apricot. Sulphur. Modest bitterness. Fresh lemon. Slightly thin mouthfeel, but distinctly real ale like. Lime. Vanilla.

Finish: Lime. Dry bitterness. Solid hop character and bitterness level. Lemon. Vanilla. Sugar dusting.

Conclusion: This is one of the most real ale tasting beers I have ever encountered poured from a bottle. If you had handed me a glass without me seeing the pour and said it had come from a cask I would have believed you. The loose bubbled head, the sulphur touch and the distinct mouthfeel all says cask poured to me. The closest thing to cask without being in one! You can put that in your ad copy as well mate.

Flavour wise it is a fruity one. Lots of lime, lemon and dried apricot leading into a pretty robustly bitter finish. It isn’t that the bitter kick is that big, but more that the beer is more fresh than sweet so the bitter has less to contrast it so it feels bigger. The main sweetness available is a soft vanilla base, present but something underlying the rest of the beer rather than a large element in itself.

The sweetness does rise as the beer warms though and here, more balanced, it provides a very reasonable session ale. Spot on abv, fresh flavour and just enough bitterness to wake up the taste buds without getting too heavy. There is nothing too unusual, but it works well as it walks its well trod road. How appropriate for a beer with hiker in the name

So, a good session beer, and an excellent example of real ale in a bottle, even a pretty reasonable beer in itself.

So, generally, none too shabby.

Background: Huh, just looked this up and it turns out they use Ella hops for it. Cool, I’m a big fan of those. Originally brewed for the Tolpuddle Pilgrims – the Tolpuddle Pilgrimage is thing I have just googled and rapidly decided I didn’t actually care that much anyway. Some sort of victory march, co-operative food thing. I think. Not predominantly beer related is what I am saying. Anyway, this was grabbed from Independent Spirit as I thought it was time to try a few breweries I hadn’t tried before.

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