Barrel Aged Caribbean Chocoloate Cake by Siren Craft Brew

Thursday, 22 September 2016
Barrel Aged Caribbean Chocoloate Cake by Siren Craft Brew
Thursday, 22 September 2016

Beer Name: Barrel Aged Chocolate Cake

Brewer: Siren Craft Brew (Berkshire) in collaboration with Cigar City Brewing (Florida, USA)

Date Sampled: 22nd September 2016

ABV: 8.4%

Serving Type: Bottle

Location Sampled: Home

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..... alright, I know it's still only September, but it seems the festive spirit is already creeping into our home. It doesn't help that my other half loves Christmas; in fact, it is without doubt her favourite time of the year. So much so that I think her throwaway comments about it not being too early to put the Christmas tree up are only said with her tongue half in her cheek. We have already bought many of each other's stocking fillers (just to help out Santa's workload of course) and have started planning the menu for our Christmas party.

Coupled to that, shops are starting to display their decorations and in Tesco today they were making a feature of their large tubs of chocolates. I realise that by putting them out earlier they know that if people buy them now, they'll get eaten long before December rolls around and have to buy more. I know that as I've been there (I still don't like to talk about what has come to be known as Mingle Monday but suffice to say, the box of minty chocolate tastiness was supposed to be a Christmas present but failed to make it out of October).

So why have I started this beer review talking yuletide celebrations that are still over a quarter of a year away? Well, this beauty from Siren Craft Brew (in collaboration with Cigar City Brewing) is like a little bottle of Christmas.

The original Caribbean Chocolate Cake is one of Siren's seasonal specials, a tropical stout brewed with cacao nibs, cyprus wood and lactose, normally available between October and November. I hadn't tried it but had heard great things and had it on my list of beers to try this autumn.

Then last week I saw Siren post a picture on Instagram of this special edition; they'd taken the original Caribbean Chocolate Cake but aged it in bourbon barrels, specifically Jim Bean, Clermont Springs and Makers Mark barrels. I mean I love beer, but I almost love Bourbon as much, so the debit card was out and I got to ordering.

I was not to be disappointed.

From the first pour you know that this is serious business. A rich dark colour with a lovely caramel coloured head, it almost looks like fresh brewed coffee straight from a moka pot.

The nose is bold to say the least; the bourbon is there but so is sticky black treacle, port and spiced fruit. It's here that you could easily be sat with your head over the raw mix from your mum's boozy Christmas cake.

On tasting, the first mouthful almost feels like a rich red wine, but then the flavours start rushing forward. There's a scotch like peatiness along with sticky toffee pudding, dark chocolate and a hint of vanilla. Then the finish brings back the red wine punch, leaving a dryness that I'm assuming comes from the tannin in the barrels used to age this beast.

This is not a beer you'd ever describe as sessionable. It's bold, complex and, at 8.4%, is not to be taken lightly. But it is something special and I think sipped after dinner with a high quality cheese board would pretty much put this in it's element. It may taste festive but it's too good to limit to only one day a year. Siren have produced a beer that is definitely not just for Christmas.













Rule of Thirds by Siren, Magic Rock & Beavertown

Wednesday, 21 September 2016
Rule of Thirds by Siren, Magic Rock & Beavertown
Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Beer Name: Rule of Thirds

Brewer: Collaboration between Siren, Magic Rock and Beavertown

Date Sampled: 20th September 2016

ABV: 6.4%

Serving Type: Can

Location Sampled: Home

"Omne trium perfectum." The Latin idea that, particularly in writing, things that come in three are funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.

But it's not just the world of prose that can appreciate the effectiveness of a trio; Bacon, lettuce and tomato; The Bee Gees; The Three Amigos. Triumphant trifectas trumpet their way through history and the modern world.

But what about beers? Collaborations between two breweries are nothing new, but when done well, are capable of producing drinks of wonder. The annual Rainbow Project, now in it's fourth year, creates a huge amount of buzz with it's innovative pairings and showcases what can be created when breweries with different backgrounds work together.

Rule of Thirds is the first three way beer collaboration that I've tasted (is it the first ever? I have no idea) and is a partnership between three of the UK's hottest breweries. Siren, Magic Rock and Beavertown are all breweries that are doing a lot of things right and have played a massive role in the evolution of the UK craft beer scene. So when it was announced that they were working together to create something new the it generated a lot of interest.

Siren, Magic Rock and Beavertown all have flagship IPA's (Soundwave, Cannonball and Gamma Ray respectively) that stand alone as great examples of UK brewing and it's these that are thrust together in Rule of Thirds.

I think they've done a reasonable job with the branding, with the front split evenly to showcase the usual style of all three breweries. However, with the distinctive font used in the labelling, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was simply a Magic Rock beer.

The pour is a hazy amber and produces an attractive crisp-white frothy head, although this doesn't hang around long.

It has the sort of hoppy floral nose that you'd expect from a high quality IPA but there's also a lovely tropical fruit aroma tickling your nostrils, with hints of grapefruit and banana gently nudging your senses.

The grapefruit stays as you take your first zesty sip, although this soon develops into something far more bitter and traditional in flavour. Despite that bitterness, it is pretty easy drinking and I was actually a little surprised when I clocked that it was 6.4% ABV.

I'd heard mixed reviews about Rule of Thirds but approached this with an open mind and I'm glad I did. They've done a great job blending three very distinctive IPA's and, whilst what is left is far from revolutionary, I think to produce a finished product as well balanced as this is impressive work.

This beer is much more than a clever marketing ploy, it's a great example of what can be done when three top breweries work together and the end result is a very nice IPA.

Maybe three is the magic number.






Return of the Empire by Moor Beer Company

Tuesday, 20 September 2016
Return of the Empire by Moor Beer Company
Tuesday, 20 September 2016

 Beer Name: Return of the Empire

Brewer: Moor Beer Company, Bristol, England

Date Sampled: 20th September 2016

ABV: 5.7%

Serving Type: Can

Location Sampled: Home

This is the second Moor Beer that I've tried; their Illusion Black IPA (reviewed here) was a revelation and I've been looking forward to trying some more of their brews ever since. So when I saw this in the fridge at The Leopold Tavern last time I was collecting a beer haul I snapped it up.

Return of the Empire is an IPA from Moor's 'Rare Treats' range; a selection of beers which is constantly changing, often to reflect the seasons and available ingredients. Moor describe Return of the Empire as an "English IPA showcasing modern English Hops."

Like most of Moor's 'at home' offerings, Return of the Empire is "can conditioned with live yeast; unfined, unfiltered and unpasteurised." This means that it does have a hazy pour, but with the golden colouring it's like you are serving up a glass of late summer evening sunshine. It has a small head which does stay around for a while and the whole aesthetic is incredibly pleasing.

The nose is also all about summer; the floral hops are the dominant smell but there's a fresh cut grass sweetness edging through. If I closed my eyes I could almost be back playing village cricket.

On tasting the initial sweetness soon dissipates into a reassuringly traditional bitterness, but this is followed by a very natural almost minty freshness. The finish is surprisingly tart with the sort of dryness you'd normally associate with a G&T.

For me, Return of the Empire doesn't quite hit the heights that Illusion does but it's still a very solid offering. There is something very familiar about the way it tastes and feels and I guess that's the point. It takes a lot of what is great about traditional English brewing and gives it a slight modern twist.

Whilst this hasn't blown my socks off it's done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm about Moor Beer Company and I'll be seeking out some more of their offerings as soon as I can.








Albino Squid Assassin by Brewdog

Tuesday, 13 September 2016
Albino Squid Assassin by Brewdog
Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Beer Name: Albino Squid Assassin

Brewer: Brewdog, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Date Sampled: 13th September 2016

ABV: 7.4%

Serving Type: Can

Location Sampled: Home

There's no denying it; the moment I saw this can in the fridge at The Leopold Tavern there was no way that I wasn't buying it. It didn't matter who the brewer was or what style of beer was hidden inside. The second you put a gun and hand grenade toting giant squid on the tin, I'm going to be buying!

Brewdog has become a name synonymous with craft beer. Started in 2007 by two beer lovers bored by the offerings currently dominating the marketplace, they quickly grew thanks to an apparently natural flair for marketing and, more importantly, a knack for turning out top quality beer. Their story since then is one of amazing growth and success, including several crowd funding campaigns, and they currently have over 40 bars, well over 500 employees and in 2015 brewed 134000hl of beer. This ain't no microbrewery!

I will probably do a Brewdog Post soon, to include some of their more well known and easily obtainable beers, but for now, onto the squid!

Albino Squid Assassin is a Red Rye IPA that Brewdog describe as "bristling with layers of depth from a fusillade of kettle and dry hopping." It's one of their limited edition small batch beers, was released late in 2015 and it is still available on their website either in cans or in a bottle (barrel aged).

First off, the can is a thing of beauty! Designed by Joe Wilson, the depiction of the heavily armed squid is possibly the most bonkers branding I've seen on a beer yet. The graphic novel style illustration is top notch and if I thought I'd be able to convince the other half, I'd be snapping up one of the limited edition prints from the Brewdog website!

The beer pours a lovely clear rust-red with a head that has a slight terracotta hue to it.

The aroma has a lot going on; the initial malty hit has a real depth to it, conjuring images of thick tar-like black treacle being poured into a saucepan. But as that fades you're left with a linseed oil like perfume and a sulphurous note, like freshly launched fireworks.

The taste lives up to the name; this is not a beer to be taken lightly. Whilst the citrus and resin hop flavours are there at the start, it isn't long before they are pushed out of the way by everything else that is going on. The Rye brings a warm spiciness to the drink, and the malts now bring a burnt toffee hint to the occasion. There is a nod to a rich, heavily 'boozed' Christmas cake, before disappearing into a coppery aftertaste.

I'm actually caught a little bit in two minds over this beer; if I'm being honest it isn't one I'd rush back to. But that doesn't mean that it isn't a good beer. In fact, to get the flavours as well balanced as Brewdog have is nothing short of genius.

I do kind of think though that this is the point of small batch beers; it gives the brewers a chance to spread their wings, experiment with flavours and try and surprise people. You only have to head to any beer review sight and you'll find plenty of people that love Albino Squid Assassin, as well as a few who don't, but the beautiful thing about beer (one of the beautiful things) is that for every beer you find that you're not itching to drink again, there's hundreds more out there to keep trying!

So if you see a can of Albino Squid Assassin give him a try by all means, it is definitely worth trying, and it may not be around for long before it disappear to the briny depths from whence it came.








The Kraken Coffee Stout by Time and Tide

Sunday, 11 September 2016
The Kraken Coffee Stout by Time and Tide
Sunday, 11 September 2016

Beer Name: The Kraken Coffee Stout

Brewer: Time and Tide Brewing, Eastry, Kent, England

Date Sampled: 7th September 2016

ABV: 7.4%

Serving Type: Can

Location Sampled: Home

Hygge. No, I've not got something stuck in my throat. Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a Danish word that is coming to prominence across Europe and beyond and is what many people believe to be the secret behind the Danes featuring at the top of the list of the world's happiest people.

It's a word I'd come across before but was reminded of it this morning after watching Meik Wiking (pronounced Viking!) on Sunday Brunch. Wiking is the author of The Little Book of Hygge and embodies all of the woollen cosiness that seems to wrap most of Scandinavia in a permanent hug.

Hygge is an idea that you can find happiness in the moment, whether five minutes of quiet time with a mug of coffee in your favourite arm chair, or with a small a group of friends together in a cosy cabin with the wind howling outside.

Things that are consistent through experiences described as Hygge include soft lighting (candles or open fire are ideal), small cosy spaces and either time alone or with a small group of your favourite people. Helen Russell, the author of The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest People said (when talking to the BBC), "The rest of the world seems to be slowly waking up to what Danes have been wise to for generations - that having a relaxed, cosy time with friends and family, often with coffee, cake or beer, can be good for the soul."

Taking that all into consideration, and I know I'm biased, but if you roll all of these things together it could easily describe a wintery afternoon in a country pub drinking amazing beer.

So I guess right now you're wondering why on earth you're reading about Danish cosiness in a beer review? Well the answer is that if you were looking for a beer to enjoy by a fireside with a storm howling outside, you'd struggle to find much better than The Kraken by Time and Tide.

Time and Tide is a relatively young Brewery (started in 2013) who's mission is to "bring you incredible flavours that excite your palate and make you smile." Based in Kent, a county famous for it's hops, they have a range of beers that include traditional sounding IPAs and Stouts right through to "Root of All Evil," their Beetroot infused Hefe! They are creating a fair amount of buzz but when I picked up this can of The Kraken in The Leopold Tavern it was the first time I had seen any of their beers for sale down here.

Mixing stout with coffee is neither new or particularly unusual, but it is a blend that is easy to get wrong. Time and Tide have got it very right.

The Kraken's aroma is a bit of surprise. It's got an unmistakable smokiness to it but has a lovely hoppy floral note which lightens the whole mood.

The pour is a thing of beauty with a lovely mocha head which hangs around longer than expected.

It has a classic stout bitterness, with the smokiness from the nose present gently in the background. It's here however that the coffee really comes to the fore, but rather than bringing more bitterness, it has a fresh citrus thing going on, which is what you'd hope and expect with it being made with cold brew coffee.

The mouthfeel is lovely and smooth, with the subtle carbonation reminiscent of the microfoam you'd find in a skilfully brewed flat white.

Time and Tide have turned out something pretty special, and sat here drinking this amazing coffee stout on a candle-lit Sunday evening, I don't think I could feel more Hygge.















Effortless Grapefruit Session IPA by Captain Lawrence

Thursday, 8 September 2016
Effortless Grapefruit Session IPA by Captain Lawrence
Thursday, 8 September 2016

Beer Name: Effortless Grapefruit Session IPA

Brewer: Captain Lawrence Brewing, Elmsford, NY, USA

Date Sampled: 7th September 2016

ABV: 4.5%

Serving Type: Can

Location Sampled: Home

So beer with grapefruit? Who knew? I didn't, but it seems a lot of brewers are cottoning on to the idea that the slimmer's favourite breakfast fruit can partner well with ale.

Captain Lawrence Brewing, based on the East Coast of USA have a core range of six ales, including their 'normal' Effortless Session IPA and this, their Grapefruit infused version.

I had never heard of the brewery before spotting this beer in the can fridge at The Leopold Tavern in Southsea, but as we're in the final throws of a cracking summer how could I refuse a drink that features a sunglasses wearing hop on the packaging?!?

It pours a pleasing rich yellow with an aggressive, albeit slightly sticky, head.

As you inhale the aroma deeply the grapefruit hits you smack in the face; this is no subtle partnership. But that being said, its a very natural citrus aroma and is definitely appealing.

On tasting, the grapefruit continues and develops into something a little more 'pithy' in it's bitterness, however the malts that peek through here do help to balance the flavour somewhat.

The aftertaste is very tart, leaving your mouth refreshed and ready to go.

Overall I think Captain Lawrence have turned out something very drinkable; the grapefruit, whilst bold and unashamed, tastes very natural and they've clearly got a very good IPA to mix with it.

It's done a pretty good job of whetting my appetite for Grapefruit infused beers so I'll definitely be willing to give some more a go.







Neck Oil by Beavertown

Monday, 5 September 2016
Neck Oil by Beavertown
Monday, 5 September 2016

Beer Name: Neck Oil

Brewer: Beavertown, London, England

Date Sampled: 5th September 2016

ABV: 4.3%

Serving Type: Can

Location Sampled: Home

I'm starting this with a confession; this isn't really a review. I say that as I don't think you can call it a review when you know that you're about to drink one of your favourite all time beers!

Beavertown are a brewery that most UK beer lovers will be familiar with; they have got a winning combination of brilliant beers and quirky yet distinctive branding, as well as an effective social media presence (there is no denying that instagram and twitter are great friends to modern brewers).

I first tasted one of their beers in the Meat and Barrel in Southsea. At that time I was just dipping my toe into the world of Craft Beers and as I was already aware of the buzz around American Pale Ales I took on a pint of Gamma Ray. Wow! I wasn't sure what I was tasting at that time but I knew I liked it.

Since then, purely due to the diverse range of beers available, I haven't sampled too many of their other offerings. However on a recent trip to Brighton I was given a pint of Neck Oil and I was hooked. Beavertown describe it as their "every day, all day, easy drinking, go to IPA" and they've summed it up perfectly. They don't claim to have produced the most complicated or exotic beer in the world, but what they have done is created what I believe to be one of the best Session IPAs I've ever tasted.

From a can it pours a light straw colour with a small frothy head that disappears quickly. It has a floral hoppy nose and when you sip it you get a lovely malty flavour with a bitterness coming through. There is a hint of grapefruit somewhere in the background, but as opposed to some of the American Pale Ales that I've been trying recently, that grapefruit is in the background only, offering a lovely freshness to the beer that makes Neck Oil eminently drinkable.

I have a number of friends that are lager drinkers only (yep, I am still friends with them) and Neck Oil is a beer that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to them as an entry into the wonderful world of ale.











High Wire by Magic Rock Brewing

Thursday, 1 September 2016
High Wire by Magic Rock Brewing
Thursday, 1 September 2016

 Beer Name: High Wire

Brewer: Magic Rock Brewing, Hudersfield, England

Date Sampled: 1st September 2016

ABV: 5.5%

Serving Type: Can

Location Sampled: Home

So this is the second Magic Rock beer that I've sampled (my review of their Salty Kiss can be found here) and it's another can that I picked up from the Can and Bottle fridge at the Leopold Tavern in Southsea.

Once again, the design is unmistakably Magic Rock, this time with a definite Circus theme rippling through the familiar looking monsters across the front of the can.

This West Coast Style Pale Ale is part of Magic Rock's core range, comes in either cask, keg or can and should be one that you'll stumble across sooner or later if you drink in the right sort of places.

It's only lightly carbonated however, with an aggressive pour, it does produce a satisfying and enticing head and the beer itself is a cloudy orange colour.

The nose is all grapefruit; with your eyes shut you could almost be about to dive into one of those virtuous breakfasts that seem to only really exist in magazine and TV adverts.

But thankfully this isn't breakfast (if it is you probably need to ask yourself some serious questions), so rather than dipping your spoon into a piece of fruit wishing that you'd ordered the Full English, you get to drink a rather pleasing Pale Ale.

The taste continues down the same citrus path that the aroma first took you down, although there is hint of 'just-ripe pineapple' sweetness nipping at your heals, along with a suggestion of floral hoppiness.

The finish however is all grapefruit, leaving your mouth refreshed and ready for more.

It's not the most complicated beer in the world, but it doesn't need to be. It is a great representation of a West Coast Pale Ale and is another example of Magic Rock getting it right.














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