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Archive for December, 2010

Happy New Year!

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There is BrewDog everywhere now.  Their beers can be found across Europe – not only in specialist shops, but in well stocked supermarkets from Norway to Portugal.

This means that their main focus is to market their more accessible beers and to produce them in large quantities.

But they are still pushing boundaries, still collaborating with the most innovative of craft breweries around the globe.

The Basha is a collaboration with Stone Brewing, and a few months ago they released two special versions of this, both barrel aged with Scottish berries added.

My favourite of the two has black raspberries added to the beer before aging in a Highland Park cask. It has a lively carbonation. It has a solid head the color of caffe latte. The aroma is powerful, with raspberries intervowen with smoke. Lovely fruit flavour, too, clean fresh raspberries shining through the smokey whisky. A little vinegar. Dry finish.

The other version is aged with tayberries. This is more sweet and sour, the berry character is more playful. It does not have the same carbonation, meaning a heavier beer. Very pleasant sipping, but not quite the same world class as the other one.

Both are limited editions, of course. Grab them if you can.

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New horizons

Nøgne Ø has come a long way. Their beers have won awards around the globe, they try hard to keep up with demand. Their design has matured, too, their rather basic Ø is being used in new and inventive ways.

So, some of their more sophisticated beers are now being sold with more elaborate packaging, and, probably in more appropriate bottles, too. Here are three of them, all clearly related to the first two Dark Horizon beers, which were instant sell outs.

The Sweet Horizon presents itself as a dessert beer. As dessert, not with dessert, perhaps. Pitch black, low carbonation, vinous aroma with some balsamic vinegar. The nose promises cocoa and cherries, too.

I get blown away a bit from the sweetness. There is dry cocoa powder, sure, but there sure is a lot of sugar in this, I’d almost say overwhelming. Then the subtle nuances creep in, and I am seduced. Velvety chocolate. Madeira and marsala wine. Soot, liquorice and coffee. But very sugary coffee, if that is your thing.

The Dark Horizon 3 is very similar – it is essentiality the same beer with an extra bit of fermentation. A bit more chocolate and cocoa, perhaps, but there is a load of sweetness here, too. Not as balanced as the previous versions, the sugar overtakes it all. Should have had more aggressive yeast to eat some of this, IMHO.

The Red Horizon is something quite different. A very complex ber, brewed with sake yeast. Loads of sweetness, spices, slightly salty, yeast.Vermouth-like, hints of vintage port. This would be interesting to try as an aperitif. I think this is a very interesting direction to explore, let’s hope we’ll see more like this.

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Christmas scenery

I’m getting a bit tired of the cold spell now, but it is very photogenic. Here is a photo taken here in Oslo on Christmas Day.

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Just up the street from the hotel was an off-licence with the peculiar name inxs kicked. (Don’t ask me why, and don’t bother to visit their web site for anything but directions.) There seemed to be a lot of beers inside, so I decided to have a look.)

It turned out to be an Aladdin’s cave of beer. I guess there must be about 50 German beers, most of them really obscure stuff from small independent breweries. A good range of Scottish beers, too, including some of the more exclusive BrewDog stuff.

My first visit was on the Saturday evening, but then I had enough problems fitting the beers I already had into my suitcase. After our return to base on Sunday evening when our flight was cancelled, I had the opportunity to sample a few.

Proper winter beers and other lagers from breweries named Kitzmann, Kessmann and Meister. And a Devine Rebel from BrewDog/Mikkeller.

Perfect for sipping while watching A-team on dvd.

The shop is on Rodney Street if you are in the area. You even get a deposit back on the German bottles.

German beers

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On British pubs

The obituary editor of the Economist has written an elegy for the British pub. It is in their Christmas issue, and it is also available online. I’d say it is better on style than content. But it’s a good read.

There is a new book out in a few days - The Local: A History of the English Pub by Paul Jennings. I’ve ordered a copy, I’ll let you know what I think.

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As you know, we managed to get a flight home on Norwegian airlines the next evening. But it meant an extra day in Edinburgh, much of it spent in the Castle. Magnificent views – crisp air and fresh snow on the mountains and rooftops.

But there are good reasons of getting to the airport ahead of time. There are two Wetherspoon’s pubs at the airport. One before security, one airside. Both with seasonal Scottish ales and food at a better price/quality ratio than you’ll usually find at airports. The one after security even has its own house beer you won’t find anywhere else.

And if you have had enough heavy Scottish food, there is a Yo!Sushi, too.

And then we are boarding.

Merry Christmas to all my readers!

The Sir Walter Scott

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Cask and Barrel

As stated, there were several pubs close to where we stayed, so after cooking Haggis for the boys I braved the wintery conditions and went on an evening stroll.

The Barony bar is on Broughton Street, not too crowded on an early Saturday evening. The beer range included several Caledonian ales plus Black Sheep. I had a pint of Stewar Edinburgh No 3, a recreation of a classic mild.

A lovely deep copper color. A mlty beer , some spices, too – gingerbread, caramel and vanilla. Some roasted grain, too. Not over-the-top sweet, but the bitterness is certainly well hidden.

A hundred yards down the street is the Cask and Barrel, which promotes itself more actively as a real ale pub. There are about a dozen ales on tap, most of the Scottish.

Their Broughton Street is the house beer. As expected it is a very malty, sweet beer. Some hop bitterness on the tongue, a bit harsh, maybe. Not too accomplished.

The Orkney Best was a fairly standard bitter, but there was a hint of barnyard or stable in there. Appropriate in a saison, not in a british cask ale.

Smithies was next door to the pub I had visited on the previousl evening, so it was the last stop on my way back to the hotel.It was rather empty, but the clientelle seemed rowdy enough. One of them was being helped into a taxi as I arrived. I had a pint of Houston Peters Well.

Malt, a little yeast, rather lightweight. Lacks the bitter edge to make it really refresing of quaffable.

Smithies

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Tiles

We stayed at Hot-el-apartments Canon Court, close to the Botanical gardens. Our two bedroom apartment was very comfortable for four, and it is convenient to be able to cook, have a fridge for drinks and breakfast and a TV with dvd player. There are several buses into central Edinburgh, but it is only fifteen or twenty minutes walk.

There are four real ale pubs in the area, two are two minutes away, the other two less than ten minutes. There is even an off licence with an incredible range of German beers if you want some alternatives to the Scottish maltiness. I’ll get back to that.

I wonder why it’s taken me thirty years to get back to Edinburgh. It’s a beautiful city. The dark stone dominates, and it certainly has its share of churches. But the fresh snow softens the edges, and the sound of coral practices drift out of the doors.

I need to spend a week here. Museums, churches, pubs and breweries. Trying to comprehend the language. I once struggled my way through Trainspotting. The book, not the movie. That’s a challenge.

Many pubs are off limits to teenagers, others are packed with Christmas shoppers. I manage to pop into a few, but there are plenty more to try on a repeat visit.

As usual, the maps on ratebeer are good research tools, but I’d also like to recommend a guide book. Bob Steele wrote a very good guide to London pus a few years ago. Fresh this year is Edinburgh Pub Walks, which covers the city and its surroundings in a very comprehensive way, you’d probably need a month to get through all of them. I’ve said it before – CAMRA needs to wake up and do some more marketing of their publications – review copies to bloggers would be a wise place to start.

During a  lunchtime hour I visited two pubs, both recommended both for the beer range and for their beautiful interiors.

Tiles, has, well, tiles. An island bar, with everything from floor to ceiling covered with glazed tiles. Classy.

The beer is Houston Jock Frost. An hones British bitter, malty with a hint of yeast, subtle bitter finish. Nothing remotely seasonal about the flavour, but I suppose you ahve to do something to make your pump clip stand out.

The Abbotsford is close by, on a pedestrianized street. It has a classic island bar, lots of brass and mahogany. Tiles here, too, but in the ceiling. Polite service, a broad range of beers. Even hefeweisssen from the West brewery in Glasgow on tap. This is not overloaded with Christmas ornaments or tinned music. Just friendly chatter and laughs from people taking a break from their Christmas shopping.

I try a stout – Thick Black from Devon Ales. It is a very rich beer, for once the name describes the contents. Smoke, roasted grain, burned bread crust, pumpernickel. A bit of a sour edge drags it down a little, I am not convinced it is intended.

A stout at the Abbotsford

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I should have inserted a sound file here. This song was played loud and clear over and over again from the carrousel in front of the Scott memorial last week. At the same time the BBC presented the whole thing as a natural disaster. We are talking about an inch or so of snow per day, something I thought most countries in the Northern hemisphere could cope with.

The idea was to take my eldest and two of his mates away for the weekend. The ferries to Denmark and Germany were full, so I checked for cheap plane tickets, and Edinburgh turned up as an alternative. Less than two hours flight, even if it involved a few hours by train to Torp airport south of Oslo. The accommodation seemed to be good value for money, too.

We arrived fairly late on a Friday evening. There was a petrol station across the road offering snacks, the  £75 per night apartment had two bedrooms, a sitting room and a kitchen and it was warm and cozy. And my package from myBrewerytap.com was waiting. Two bottles broken, but the rest in fine shape.

It was not yet midnight GMT, so I decided to try the pub conveniently located just a hundred yards away, McLachlan’s.

It was by no means crowded, but the locals were rather friendly. I got the ususal comments about photographing my beer, so I was told to take a photo of Scott behind the bar instead.

Two cask ales on tap, bot from the local Stewart brewery.

Thrre Wise Men is their seasonal. A full malty beer, it has prunes and other dark fruit. Some hops in the finish, too, but too much on the sweet side for me.

Their Pentland IPA was mote like it. Nothing like an American IPA, but a proper well hopped bitter. It has some herbal notes, dryness in the finish, yet a smooth and highly drinkable session beer.

The others tried to drag me into the conversation, but it had been a long day, and you know the feeling when you arrive late at a party and the others have been drinking steadily for hours. I made my excuses.

McLachlans front

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