Tag Archive: Bitter


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.

Isle Of Arran Dark

Isle Of Arran: Dark (Scotland: Bitter: 4.3% ABV)

Visual: Dark mahogany red. Thin off white head. Clear and still body.

Nose: Chocolate cake. Roasted hazelnuts. Fresh brown bread. Slight sour cherry touch.

Body: Good bitterness and bitter chocolate. Sour dough touch. Light earthy note. Sour tang. Roasted nuts. Light cherries and fruitcake.

Finish: Bitter coffee. Earthy touch. Slight sour dough. Slight refreshing sour note. Light charring.

Conclusion: Sometimes, for all I love the big intense new wave craft beers, sometimes the old ways are the best for that moment. This is one of those times. This is a dark, malt led beer with lots of roasted notes, chocolate and coffee that almost call to the lighter end of the porter spectrum in style. Yet for all that it has the light earthiness and refreshing sour tang of a well made rounded bitter to match.

It is soothing in feel, yet with big mouth filling flavours and refreshing sour back. The contrast continues with the sweetness against the earth touch. They really have pulled out all the stops in balancing this one. There are even some fruitcake notes, lighter than you would get in an ESB style beer but still calling to that as well. This isn’t one of those beers that instantly grabs you by the face, but it does not make it any less of a good one. At 4.3% it is not quite session abv in my mind, but in these high abv days it will do in a pinch.

The quintessential soothing beer for kicking back with friends. Well worth having and well worth sharing. A show of the old beer ways done good.

Background: Third of the Arran pack that my parents gave to me as a gift. Many thanks mum and dad. It is great having a beer friendly family! This one was broken open in the vain attempt to get me to stop playing Binding Of Isaac Rebirth for a while. That game is addictive as hell. So much so that alcohol seemed the safer addiction. Go fig.

Isle Of Arran Sunset

Isle Of Arran: Sunset (Scotland: Bitter: 4.4% ABV)

Visual: Golden brown. Moderate off white head. Reasonable amount of carbonation.

Nose: Ginger spice. Lime sorbet. Digestive biscuits. Lemongrass. Strawberry.

Body: Creamy texture. Strawberry. Gingerbread and light chilli spice. Bready. Light creamy lemon. Some bitterness.

Finish: Gingerbread. Cream. Light hop bitterness. Bready. Grassy. Lightly earthy.

Conclusion: This is both a mellow and yet also slightly spicy beer. Intriguing. The main texture and taste on this one is a slightly sweetened cream. You know, nothing too out of the normal for the sweeter end of the bitter fare (Sweeter end of bitter. That always looks odd…) While it is not unusual it is well done, with some nice strawberry and sorbet notes amongst the sweetness. Nowt special, but nice.

Then, well then comes the spicy notes – not like a curry spicy, like crushed gingerbread or a ginger sponge. Warming, but in an unobtrusive way – the warmth works in a similar way to how hops would normally be used. I said “would” as the more traditional hop notes seem to be quite reined in here.

So, yeah, mellow but spicy – behind that is a fairly simple and slightly grassy beer, however overall it is pretty nice. The ginger notes are not excessive – in fact it does not push any given note excessively, yet it gives a tasty experience while it slips down so easily. Even the earthy character, so common of British hops, is held back so to be present but not intrusive.

Balanced and satisfying. Not one to rave about, but well worth easy back with.

Background: With a name like sunset I kind of expected it to be an Amber ale. I was wrong. Anyway, this was part of a set of Arran beers that my Parents brought back from Scotland. Again, many thanks. I have a fun family. Best I know the Arran brewery and distillery are not linked, apart from being on the same Island.

New Bristol 365

New Bristol: 365 (England: Bitter: 4% ABV)

Visual: Mahogany to brown. Thin toffee bubbled head that leaves suds around the rim.

Nose: Robust. Nutty. Peanuts and crushed almonds. Light earthy notes and coffee.

Body: Malt drinks. Sour tang. Dried apricot. Sour dough. Soft lime in cream. Nutty. Dry yet milky tasting coffee – kind of like coffee cake.

Finish: Earthy and soil. Bitter hops. Malt drinks and malt chocolate. Sour dough. Cream. Lime. Coffee cake.

Conclusion: Interesting, this is a beer I can respect in exactly how well it shows the strengths of the style, while also acknowledging that it really isn’t the beer for me.

The thing you get with a good cask bitter, to my mind, is a slight sourness to it that goes alongside the actual bitter characteristics – a sourness that makes it refreshing and easily drinkable. This is especially true with traditional British bitters as they tend to have earthy hop characteristics that can get heavy without that sour counterpoint.

This uses that very well, the sour dough like tang comes up against not just a robust earthy hop character, but also a mellow coffee cake backing. There is a small amount of soft citrus fruit stuck twixt the sourness and the slight creaminess of the main body. Again an element that helps drinkability.

Despite this acknowledged quality I find it not for me – the earthiness is higher than I prefer, it doesn’t go to the full on soil level, mostly, but to a point where I appreciate its quality rather than actually enjoy it as a beer.

Throughout the beer’s lifespan the sourness mellows, though it is always present, and the malt and earthiness rise in response. You also get a few, soft, hints of dried fruit rising up. It is a solid example of exactly what can be done with a bitter, and also with cask ales – it very much emphasises the points I mentioned in “container wars“.

It just isn’t really for me, so consider what I have said, and work out if you think it would be for you.

Background: For some reason rate beer lists this at 4.3% abv, maybe that is the bottled version. Anyway, I was in the Barley Mow and saw this on. Since I had been talking recently about how cask beers suit bitters very well I thought it was a good time to give it a go. I had been meaning to de a New Bristol tasting notes for a while now, and thought it best to do one while the “New” part of their name still seemed even vaguely relevant.

Hogs Back TEA

Hogs Back: TEA (England: Bitter: 4.2% ABV)

Visual: Chestnut to red. Small coffee cream coloured froth. Clear body with very little carbonation.

Nose: Liquorice. Cinnamon. Earthy hops. Toffee malt.

Body: Treacle. Cinnamon. Apple jam. Earthy hops. Toffee malt.

Finish: Earthy hops. Light bitterness. Tannins. Paprika. Light orange notes.

Conclusion: Ok. Important note one. This doesn’t taste of tea. Not that I think it was supposed to. The name is basically just an attempt to meme-jack British peoples brains to force them to buy it.

Nefarious, yes?

Thankfully it isn’t a bad beer. Otherwise it would be plain evil doing that. There is some of that earthy British hops, but they are used to back a quite sweet and fruity main body. It has quite a jelly and jam mix to it, with light apple and cinnamon in the just slightly thickened texture. The earthy hops are background that only become the main show in the restrained but bitter finish, underlining the experience. It is a good show of how to use earthy hops without them dominating the experience.

The fruit flavours are big enough that they are the foreground, and while not booming it is robust enough to take your time drinking – the good use of the malt means it seems more chewable than the texture should support.

It is like a cinnamon apple beer had while breathing in the air at a farm festival. Restrained, but not dull. Another example of the good use of intermingling that you get with traditional ale flavours compared to the sharper defined craft beer style.

A nicely fruity rustic ale, not special, but solid.

Background: Apparently Hogsback is a different brewery to Hogs Backs You learn something new every day. This beer’s name is an acronym for Traditional English Ale. Ha fucking ha ha. Anyway, this was another one of the beers that was a gift from my work colleague. Thank you very much. Drunk while listening to some of the chilled Spektrmodule music podcast. I actually don’t drink tea that often.

St Peters Organic Ale

St Peter’s: Organic Ale (England: Bitter: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Clear pale gold. Moderate, just off white, creamy head. Leaves lace rings.

Nose: Lemon. Crisp hops. Creamy. Biscuits.

Body: Smooth. Hop oils and bitterness. Pine cones. Light creamy lime. Light nut oils. Light apples and apricot.

Finish: Clean. Hop oils. Lime touch. Nut oils. Apples. Light cinnamon.

Conclusion: Why do so many British bottled ales smell almost skunked from the bottle, but fine when you pour them into a glass? I’ve seen (ok, well, smelled) this phenomenon a number of times now.

Anyway…

This is another easy going beer with a lot of charm, and also a useful example of now the more melded together flavours of the more traditional ale style can be used to great effect. The feel is lightly creamy and you mainly just get that, hop oils and nut oils. Very easy drinking and soothing but not exactly exciting. However, even in this early state I wasn’t complaining, it still used the feel to make it a satisfying ale, and one to kick back with.

Over time though those melded flavours I mentioned before came out, meshed together apple and apricot elements rose, integrated with the base to back each other up for a decent extra level of complexity. I think I have said before that this is the strength of the more tradition ales when compared to craft ale. Craft ales tend to have sharp, well defined flavours – while traditional ales tend to overlay each other and mix together, to my eyes at least. Both are perfectly good methods, but for this, something very easy to drink, that mellow mixed complexity works well.

Not overly a beer to examine despite that, but a very easy drink with a good chunk of character. Huh. I just found a good beer with “Organic” in the name. Will wonders never cease?

Background: Been a while since I had a St Peter’s beer. For any long time drinkers in the audience, is it just me or did these used to look more hip flask like? They still have a bit of that look but seem to have rounded out a bit since I first encountered the. Could just be the vagarities of memory. I like the idea of organic beers, but so many have been crap over the years that I have come to fear the word “organic” in a beers name. Anyway, this was part of a set of three ales given to me as a present from a workmate. Many thanks.

Black Sheep Ale

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

Visual: Chestnut brown. High level of carbonation in the clear body. Large, loose, off white bubbled head.

Nose: Crisp. Nutty. Dry roasted peanuts dusting.

Body: Slick hop oils and bitterness. Nutty – chestnuts. Light orange notes. Soft vanilla. Light nettles. Earthy.

Finish: Nutty. Earthy. Bitter. Turmeric. Light spice – paprika. Hop oils. Light vanilla. Light lime notes.

Conclusion: Been a while since I first had a beer from the Black Sheep brewery. Growing up a lot in Yorkshire they were one of the earliest ales I tried. Returning to it, I initially found that it did not really live up to memories. Which may have been expected. It definitely showcases the influence of the more earthy, and slightly spicy British hops. Initially it feels quite simple, with a lot of influence of slick hop oils and an accompanying rustic bitterness.

However, shortly after,about a third of the way into the glass, some soft orange and vanilla notes grew out of the malt, mixing with the spice character and making a more welcome and complex ale. It is still a bit too heavy on the earthy character, the finish is long lasting but the one note emphasis can get wearing.

It is very much calling to the more traditional earthy ales, and not bad at that, but, for me, it holds onto that one style too heavily. If it was just slightly more lightly done, I feel the more subtle notes underneath would have blended better for a much superior ale.

Still, not an unpleasant ale, and impresses more as the beer goes on, finally the more subtle notes get more of a showing near the end, mixing better as the more earthy notes withdraw.

Overall, not up to my memory of it, and a bit too earthy as you may have guessed, but solid characteristics does redeem it somewhat, especially near the end.

Background: Is that time of the year, back with the family and raiding their kindly provided beer selection. So it is time for a few of the more traditional British ales. In this case a beer from the Yorkshire Black Sheep brewery. I may be biased towards Yorkshire things. I also hold Game Of Thrones is a documentary about how honest upstanding northerners get screwed by evil untrustworthy southerners. So, yeah, bias warning. Drunk after watching the Christmas Doctor Who. The most important part of the day.

EDIT: I accidentally reviewed this one twice – fairly similar notes, but with a few differences – check out the other set of note here if you care to.

Jennings Bitter

Jennings: Bitter: Lakeland Ale (England: Bitter: 3.5% ABV)

Visual: Chestnut red. Small amount of carbonation. Off white tight bubbled froth head.

Nose: Musty. Mothballs. Crushed peanuts. Malt chocolate. Light orange. Slight wine fruitcake.

Body: Chestnut. Light acidic apple tang. Earthy hops. Slightly chalky. Slight orange zest.

Finish: Apples. Earthy hop bitterness. Malt chocolate. Malt vinegar. Chalky. Carrot cake,

Conclusion: Hmm, in these days of ultra refined smooth edged beers, where even uber hopped beers go down far too easily, you have to respect a beer that keeps that old British style of rough edges. Whether you enjoy it or not is a different question, so shall I examine that one?

It has a rough earthy hop character, a chalky bite and a very slight acidic back. They are all coarse elements, a very village pub style pint that brings massive beards and smoke stained walls to mind. That as it be, it isn’t without charm. However the charm doesn’t really come from the flavour, but more from its counter positioned style to the current trend.

For the most part it is an ultra stripped down British bitter, keeping the slight tartness needed for drinkability against the robust bitterness. You do get some elements rising out of that though, a sort of orange zestiness that mixes to create an almost carrot cake like touch in the finish. Not a huge element but much needed to keep it from rapidly becoming dull.

The last third of the beer turns again, a heavier element with fruitcake and wine touches. If anything even less present than the previous zest, but again much needed. Through it all it never really rises above that stripped down feel and so never feels special. It is a nice reminder of what rough edges can do for a bitter, this doesn’t make it a great pint, but it at least got me thinking.

Background: Last of the beers I was gifted by my colleague at work at Christmas. Again many thanks for that. Jennings is owned by Marston these days, or so a few moments googling told me. This was drunk while listening to a bit of Ulver which gave a bit of much needed relaxation.

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