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Saturday, 3 October 2015

Off Travelling Again

Český Krumlov
I won’t be blogging for the next week as I’m off to foreign parts again. I’m going back to the Czech Republic for the second time this year, taking my son and heir for a few beers and a spot of site-seeing.

The travelling is something of an indulgence, as I’ve also been to Germany and Belgium, but then, it’s not every year that one turns sixty - as I keep reminding myself!

Much as I like the place I wanted to go somewhere different to Prague, but the lad was keen to go there. A compromise ensued; with four nights in the Czech capital, followed by four in Český Krumlov. The later is situated in the far south of the country and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, but unfortunately Český Krumlov is now the number two tourist attraction, after Prague in the Czech Republic.

The town also contains the second largest castle in the country, after Prague and is described as “an outstanding example of a small central European medieval town whose architectural heritage has remained intact thanks to its peaceful evolution over more than five centuries.” Neglected and starting to fall into disrepair during communist times, the town has since been lovingly restored and has undergone something of a renaissance. It’s therefore important to see it before it becomes even more popular and totally over-run with tourists.

There’s beer in the form of the local Eggenberg Brewery, and the town is only a short bus ride away from České Budějovice, home of the world famous Budweiser Budvar Brewery. Beer aside though, it will just be good to spend some time relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere of this well preserved mediaeval gem.

An Evening at the Old House

Old House Ightham Common
 It was a rare treat for me last night, when I spent an evening at the CAMRA National Inventory-listed Old House at Ightham Common. Because of the isolated situation of the Old House, the majority of my visits to this unspoilt gem have been in daylight hours; the normal means of getting there being by bus from Tonbridge, and then a short walk down the lanes.

On this occasion, a friend’s son kindly offered to drive his father, a couple of friends and me over to Ightham Common. The reason for our visit, apart from to spend some time in this excellent pub, was that a few members from South East London CAMRA had got in touch with our branch social secretary, to say they would be visiting the Old House, and wondered if some of us would like to join them.

We arrived shortly before 8.30pm, and found the pub busy, but not quite bursting at the seams. There were three people from South East London sitting by the window, so after ordering our drinks, we grabbed some chairs and sat down and joined them. Their means of getting to the pub had been train to Borough Green, followed by a taxi to the pub. They had booked a return rip and we had done the same. This proves, as if it were necessary, that where there’s a will there’s a way to get to these isolated pubs.

We were all glad we did; the South East London contingent for the cider, and the four of us from West Kent for the beer; Dark Star Hophead, served direct from the cask, kept in a temperature-controlled room out the back. Later, some of us switched either to St Austell Tribute or Stonehenge Great Bustard. I opted for the former, but I understand from my companions that the Stonehenge was also very good.

I have written before about the Old House, which is situated to the south of Ightham village in Redwell lane. It is an attractive, part 17th Century tile-hung building, but there are few clues externally that it is actually a pub! There is no pub sign and the signboard on the right gable has faded beyond recognition! Internally there are two bars, with the main one on the left, and a much smaller bar, which looks more like someone’s front room, on the right.

It is definitely a case of “duck or grouse” in the main bar, due to the low-beamed ceiling and this is where the regulars gather and the real banter takes place. There is a large brick inglenook fireplace at the far end, which houses a roaring log fire during the winter months. We all agreed that it would be very atmospheric to visit on a cold January night, and enjoy a few pints whilst toasting our toes in front of the fire.

The Old House has limited opening hours, because owner and licensee, Nick Boulter has a full time job in the city. This means opening has to be restricted to weekday evenings and weekends. Nick's brother Richard had run the pub for 20 years prior to Nick taking over and it was the uncertainty over the succession that had called the pub's future into doubt for a while. Fortunately, things turned out fine in the end, and following some much needed renovation work, back in 2011, the Old House is well and truly back open again for business. For more details click the following link to CAMRA's National Pub Inventory website, which contains a much more detailed description of the pub.

Our respective taxis arrived shortly after 10.30pm. There were still a few regulars left in the pub, but most of the earlier crowd has vanished. It had been a good couple of hours in this classic old rural pub, with good beer, good company and pleasant and uncluttered surroundings. As Arnie once said, “I’ll be back.”

Monday, 28 September 2015

EBBC West Flanders Excursion - Part Two

De Struise Brouwers, Oostvleteren
Following on from Part One of the narration, we re-join the European Beer Bloggers on their West Flanders Excursion

Following our departure from the world-famous Abbey of Sint Sixtus at Westvleteren, our coach drove us along the winding lanes of this flat, but attractive area of West Flanders. After a detour to avoid a local cycle race, we arrived in the village of Oostvleteren, home to the now legendary De Struise Brouwers. Housed in an old school building, complete with corridors, blackboards and even the old school toilets, De Struise have acquired a reputation for pushing the boundaries of brewing. This has inevitably elevated the company to near “God-like” status amongst the beer geeks of this world thanks, in no small part, to reviews received and ratings given for their beers on sites such as Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, (see Hi-Tech Ticking). 
Corridors were never like this when I was at school!
 Quite a few of our party were understandably excited by the prospect of visiting De Struise, but I must admit that until this visit I had never heard of them. The coach deposited us outside the old school and we made our way across what must once have been the playground, to an old class room where we were met by one of the brewery partners. Unfortunately I didn’t catch his name, but he was very friendly and, whilst obviously very proud of the brewery and its achievements, he was very approachable and down to earth.

The brewery was started back in 2001, by two partners who owned an old ostrich farm. The farm had been converted into holiday accommodation for visitors to the area, and the idea was to produce distinctive regional beers to serve to the guests. Starting initially with wheat beer, the partners soon branched out by producing other styles, and since then have never really looked back.
Lessons - De Struise style

Until 2013, when they commissioned their own brewery at the “Old Schoolhouse” in Oostvleteren, De Struise functioned as a “gypsy brewer”, producing their beers at the Caulier Brewery in Hainaut, before moving in 2006, to the Deca Brewing Facility in Woesten-Vleteren in West Flanders. The company also have a shop in Bruges. De Struise are named after the old Flemish word for ostrich, which also is a contemporary slang term meaning "tough". Many of the beer labels feature ostriches, and the bird features prominently on their logo. The name “De Struise” translates roughly into English as "The Sturdy Brewers".

The on-site brewery can produce up to 1,000 litres of beer at a time which, if you’ll pardon the pun, is no small beer. The taproom has around 20 beer lines and after our host had spoken about the company’s history, and talked us through some of the beers, we were offered 8cl tasting glass samples of which ever beers we fancied.

For some people this was like being a kid in a sweet shop, but after several days of over-indulgence taking in some fairly extreme beers, the last thing I wanted was more of the same. I was actually taking notes at this stage, but although I have only written about three of the beers, I am fairly certain that I sampled more. The three I wrote down were: Havic Pilsner 4.5%; Oblis Saison 8.0%; RIP Dark Brown Porter 7.0%.

An impressive row of taps
The brewery has recently ventured into stronger and sometimes rather more extreme beers, with "barrel-aging" becoming increasingly important. As evidence of this, we saw plenty of old wine casks, stacked up in the yard. As I mentioned earlier, many of the party were in their seventh heaven here so I probably sound like a real philistine when I say I found myself yearning not for a super-strength barrel-aged imperial porter or a vanilla-oaked Chardonnay-infused Saison, but a good, a plain simple quaffing beer; something I could sit there and just enjoy, without overly challenging my taste buds, or other senses.

That statement is in no way intended as a snub, or a put-down to De Struise, who obviously produce a wide range of world class beers, but instead is more a reflection of the stage I had reached after five days of sampling, and on the whole enjoying, some of Belgium’s finest but often quite challenging beers. We were privileged to have visited De Struise Brouwers, at their “Old Schoolhouse” home, and to have been talked through some of the beers by one of the partners in the firm.

Chilling out in the old school yard
After thanking our host, and also saying goodbye to our guide, Johan from Poperinge, it was back on the coach. The combination of a warm early evening and a surfeit of strong beer was enough to send me to sleep, so it was quite a shock when one of my travelling companions shook me awake to announce it was time to get off the coach. We had reached the town of Roeselare, home to the legendary Rodenbach Brewery, and our coach was parked right outside the Eetcafe where an evening meal had been arranged for us.

I was still half asleep as we filed into the restaurant, and was not that receptive to the idea of yet more beer. I settled for a glass of water, along with a bottle of Boon Geuze, “just to be sociable”. After a fish-cake starter, we enjoyed a real tasty serving of that most traditional of Belgian dishes, Carbonade flamande. 

Suitably fed and watered, we departed the Eetcafe, and re-joined the coach for the short journey across town to the Rodenbach Brewery. I have written at length here, about our tour round this historic producer of classic Flemish Red-Brown Beers, so I won’t say anymore in this post. Suffice to say that after a late finish at Rodenbach, we were driven to the historic city of Bruges, where we were to stay the night.

A Belgian classic for dinner
It had been one of the best days out I have experienced in a long time, packing in several superlatives and, for me, some places that had been on my brewery “wish list” for ages. I’m certain I speak for all the tour participants when I give thanks to Visit Flanders, for organising the itinerary, and a special thank-you to Yannick, our ever patient, helpful and good natured guide who accompanied us every step of the way and who ensured that everything ran smoothly, and to time.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight

Unfortunately, due to other commitments, I had to miss this year’s Canterbury Food & Drink Festival. The festival, which opened on Friday 25th September, acts as the official launch of Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight. It is also the only location and occasion when all (or nearly all!) Kent Green Hop Beers are available in the same place at the same time.

All is not lost though, as there will be plenty more Kent Green Hop Beers available in local pubs and at other events after the festival. I was drinking Shepherd Neame’s version No.18 Yard, in a Maidstone pub, on Friday evening, (the opening day of the festival). I was there for a significant local CAMRA branch anniversary reunion; but more of that in a later post. I am also certain, that over the coming weeks I will come across more of these seasonal specials on the bars of various local pubs. One local pub, the Poacher & Partridge at Tudeley, is hosting its own Green Hop Beer Festival next weekend. I will try and get over, even if it’s only for a short while, as I’m flying off on the Sunday for my second visit this year to the Czech Republic. (More about that at a later date.)

The general public (but not readers of beer blogs), often wrongly believe that beer is brewed from hops whereas, as we all know, beer is brewed from malted barley (sometimes with the addition of other cereals), with hops providing the ‘seasoning’. Hops impart tanginess, bitterness and aroma, but when beers are brewed with green hops, the fact the hops are fresh and untreated means they are an unknown quantity. This combined with the influence of the weather, and other seasonal factors, on their growing period ensures the flavour of the resultant beer will be different each year. As brewers are normally at pains to ensure their beers taste the same every time, these factors add a variety and interest which would not normally be present. Because brewing with green hops can only be done during harvest, their use creates a very special beer with a truly unique flavour.

Hops are normally dried, prior to being used in brewing, in order to preserve their important flavouring characteristics, and to ensure the harvested crop lasts throughout the year. Green Hop Beer though, is made with fresh, or green, Kentish hops. The resulting beers have a characteristic fresh taste because the green hops used contain oils and other aroma compounds that are normally lost when hops are dried. The brewers make sure the hops are as fresh as possible by using them within 12 hours of being picked.

So far as taste is concerned, green-hopped beers have a definite resinous tang which is almost certainly due to the abundance of hop oils and other flavouring compounds. These are elements which are either diminished, or lost altogether during the normal drying process. There is a distinct mouth-feel to the beer, which is noticeable in the form of a slight furriness on the tongue and the roof of the mouth.

Brewing beer with freshly harvested hops has spread in recent years to other parts of the world, with a growing number of American brewers now producing what is known either as a “Wet-Hopped Beer” or a “Harvest Ale”. During my recent visit to Belgium for the Beer Bloggers’ Conference, we were given several “Fresh Hopped” beers to try. These were in bottled form, as we were a week or so away from harvest time when this year's fresh hop beers will be brewed.

These “Fresh Hop” beers were generally very good, but on our visit to Joris Cambie’s hop farm, close to the town of Poperinge in the centre of Belgium’s hop-growing region, we were told by the farmer himself that several of the bigger brewers partially dry the hops first; so that they can be used a day or two later. This isn’t really entering into the spirit of “green-hopping”, and I told Joris that such beers would not qualify as Green Hopped beers in Kent. He agreed and told us that the fresh hop beer he brews, complies in every way. Mind you with 10 hectares of the finest organic hops growing on his farm, it would be difficult for him not to be using them straight away!

Returning to England; green-hoped beers are all about the heritage and future of the country’s hop-growing industry. This isn't just about grabbing a seasonal product while you can. English hops are in desperate need of a boost. Hop acreage has dropped from a high of 71,189 acres in 1878 to around 2,500 now, and this decline has been exasperated in recent years by the increasing popularity of hops from places like America and New Zealand.

The demand for the citrus and tropical flavours imparted by these hops shows no sign of abating, and is side-lining the earthy, floral, hedgerow fruitiness of traditional English varieties. Anything which helps reverse this trend, by encouraging an interest in our home-grown varieties, has to be encouraged and is surely worth the support of every English beer drinker.

For local readers and those planning to be in Kent during the course of the next two weeks, the complete list of  Kent Green Hop beers, along with tasting notes, can be found by clicking on the link here.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

EBBC West Flanders Excursion - Part One

I felt more than a little hung-over on the post-conference Sunday morning, regretting what I knew was a bad decision to finish the previous night’s pub crawl of Brussels with a Westmalle Triple. (I’m talking about the European Beer Bloggers Conference, in case you hadn’t twigged). Still I was up sufficiently early to complete my last minute packing and to check out of the conference hotel before 9am.

The reason for the early morning departure was that I had booked on the two-day, post-conference excursion, organised by the tourist agency, Visit Flanders, and the coach was schedule to depart at 9 o’clock sharp. I said my farewells to those the new friends and acquaintances I had made, who weren’t coming on this particular trip, (there were two other excursions for delegates to attend, plus some people were just heading home), and boarded the coach.

The sun was shining as we set off through the streets of the Belgian capital, heading out towards the city ring-road and the E40 motorway. I know this road quite well, having travelled along it on a number of occasions whilst journeying to and from Cologne for a large trade-show (IDS), with some of my work colleagues. With the sun helping to lift my spirits and the increasingly flat countryside looking its best, as we drove towards Flanders, I began to feel human once more, pleased to be free of the confines of the city and looking forward to exploring this north-westerly province of Belgium in the company of my fellow Bloggers.

After 40 minutes or so, we turned off the E40 and headed off in a north-westerly direction towards the town of Leper (Ypres); the scene of so much fierce fighting during the Great War. With the sun beating down on the pleasant and peaceful countryside, it’s hard to imagine the carnage and slaughter which occurred here one hundred years ago. We skirted around Leper and before long reached the first stop on what promised to be a busy and quite beery day.

The assembled party outside the Hop Museum
The town of Poperinge is the centre of hop cultivation in Belgium, but the hops grown in the surrounding fields are all that remain of a once much more extensive industry; one which met its nemesis during the conflict of 1914-18. The town was several kilometres behind the Allied front line, and we were told it became a resting place for battle-weary troops during all too brief moments of respite away from the fighting. No doubt there were many cafés to keep the troops refreshed, and also brothels and bordellos to allow relaxation in other ways!

Our coach dropped us at the "Hop Museum Poperinge", housed in a tall 19th Century building, right in the centre of Poperinge, and we spent a pleasant hour or so being shown around the various exhibits by Johan our guide. Hop picking in Belgium was much the same as I was in England, although the drying kilns seemed a lot less sophisticated than the traditional oast houses we have back in Kent. One difference was the hops were measured by weight, rather than volume and the pickers’ were paid accordingly. This led to all sorts of sharp practices; some a lot less savoury than others, whereby coffee or certain other liquids were tipped into the baskets containing the hops, in order to increase the weight.

A suitably rustic lunch at De Stadsschaal
After the tour, we were shown into the  "De Stadsschaal" café attached to the complex for a rather tasty rustic lunch; accompanied, of course, by some equally rustic and hoppy beer: the latter in the form of Poperings Hommel Bier. Suitably refreshed, we made our way back to the coach and continued with our trip around West Flanders. Johan, our guide from the Hop Museum, joined our party, although he later “jumped ship”, when his wife picked him up when we stopped at the Struise Brouwers in Oostvleteren – more about that later.
It was only a short ride to our next stop; the De Plukker Brewery attached to the hop farm of Joris Cambie. I have written a separate post here about Joris’s farm, the organic hops he grows and the excellent beer he brews in the on-site brewery so, apart from saying that farm, farmer and brewery were all very much part of the scene in this hop-growing region of Belgium, I will not repeat myself further.

Sign at the abbey entrance
After leaving De Plukker Brouwerij, our coach headed towards one of the most famous, but also one of the most reclusive Trappist Breweries, the Abbey of Sint Sixtus at Westvleteren. Our coach pulled up in the lane outside the abbey, and many of us wandered up to the gate. The gates, however, were firmly shut, not only to protect the monk’s privacy and preserve the atmosphere of quiet contemplation which forms an essential part of any monastic community, but also to deter those individuals who drive up to the abbey hoping to purchase beer.

Beer is sold weekly, in small quantities, from the doors of the monastery itself to individual buyers after they have reserved their order by phone. Sales are limited to one order every 60 days per person per license plate and phone number, and it is a matter of “pot luck” as to which of the abbey’s three beers are available. The type and quantity of beer available for sale are only revealed when order are placed, making the whole process very secretive. As the beers have increased in popularity, the number of 24-bottle crates per car permitted has decreased. For the highly sought-after Westvleteren 12, it is now limited to just one case.

In de Vrede
Fortunately, for travellers like us there is one other official sale point for the beer, aside from the brewery itself. A short distance down the lane, and set back from the road, is the abbey-owned “In de Vrede”. This modern, barn-like structure acts as a cafe and visitor's centre, and all the Westvleteren  beers can be bought there for immediate consumption or take-away, depending on availability. However, as our visit took place on a warm and sunny late summer Sunday, the place was absolutely heaving, and there was no beer available for take-away at the shop.

Fortunately there was plenty of beer for the thirsty hordes. We managed to grab a couple of long bench tables outside and soon after a  waiter appeared to take our order. All three Sint Sixtus beers were available; namely Westvleteren Blonde (green cap), 5.8% ABV, Westvleteren 8 (blue cap), 8% ABV and Westvleteren 12 (yellow cap), 10.2% ABV.

Whilst many of my fellow travellers opted for the world-famous Westvleteren 12, (voted by Rate Beer as the “best beer in the world”), I decided to go for something lighter, in the form of the 5.8% Westvleteren Blonde. This was a deliberate choice as, however famous the12° beer might be, I did not wish to drink such a strong beer on a warm and sunny afternoon; especially as I knew there were two other brewing establishments to visit later that day, plus a dinner which invariably would include more beer! The other reason was I have never seen Westvleteren Blonde on sale anywhere else, so this seemed the perfect opportunity to acquaint myself with it.

Enjoying Westvleteren beer
I was extremely glad I did, as the beer was excellent; served as it was in a Westvleteren chalice-glass. Sitting out in the warm late summer sunshine, sipping this perfectly chilled blonde master-piece of a beer in the company of like-minded beer enthusiasts, reminded me, as it did in Franconia a few months previously, that life doesn’t get much better than moments like these.

I was reluctant to leave “In de Vrede”, and as we walked back to the coach through the large and virtually full car park, it was plain to see the obvious popularity of the Sint Sixtus “brewery tap”. I was also impressed by the amount of bikes we saw parked outside, and the number of cyclists out enjoying the late summer sunshine, but then this part of Belgium is so flat it invites itself to those who wish to explore it on two wheels.

To be continued............................................

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Bad Day at Black Rock

The news today that the world’s biggest brewing group, Anheuser-Busch InBev, has made a takeover bid for the world’s number two, SABMiller, might not have come as much of a surprise to industry analysts, as the deal has long been anticipated. A merged group would have a market value of around $275 billion at current prices.

A series of deals over the past decade have transformed AB InBev and SABMiller into the world’s two biggest brewers and the two, along with Heineken and Carlsberg,  produce half the world’s beer. If the deal goes through, the merged company would produce one third of the world's beer. A merger would combine AB InBev’s dominance of Latin America with SAB Miller's strong presence in the African market where it is dominant in 15 countries, and is represented in a further 21. Both continents are fast-growing markets.

AB InBev said it had approached
SABMiller's board about a "combination of the two companies". However, it added that there was no certainty the approach would lead to an offer or an agreement. Earlier, SABMiller said it had been informed that AB InBev was planning to make a bid, but that it had no details as yet

AB InBev and other top brewers are trying to move into new markets as they look to shrug off weakness in North America and Europe, where drinkers are increasingly moving either to craft beers, or to more traditional beers made by independent local producers. It is therefore somewhat ironic that the industry is looking to consolidate further, just as consumer tastes in beer are fragmenting.

For consumers in general the idea of such a merger is unwelcome to put it mildly, as it will inevitably lead to plant closures, culling of brands, job losses and other associated cost-savings. The knock on effect will ultimately mean less choice for the drinker and a loss of the heritage associated with any losses that occur as a result of this deal going through.

Sources: BBC News; Financial Times; Reuters.

AB InBev is the largest brewing group in the world and includes Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona amongst its brands. The group is controlled by 3G Capital, a private equity fund run by a group of Brazilian investors.

SABMiller is the world’s number two brewer and maker of more than 200 beers including Peroni, Grolsch, Pilsner Urquell and, most recently, Meantime of Greenwich.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Beer Review -

Well those good folk at have sent me yet another case of beers to review; the fourth such, totally un-solicited case I have received. I have gone on record stating that I don’t receive that many freebies, but this is becoming something of a habit!

I actually don’t like the term “freebie”, as everything has a price, and nothing in life is ever totally free. This case of beer is no exception, as in return for accepting the beers, I have agreed review them on behalf of There are eight beers in total, from various European countries, including the UK, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Norway and Spain. Here then are my thoughts on the beers.

Lervig - Lucky Jack – American Pale Ale 4.7% - brewed by the Lervig Aktiebryggeri in Stavanger, on the west coast of Norway, this Pale gold coloured beer has an intensely hoppy aroma, and hops are to the foe in the taste as well. Presented in a 330ml can, the beer is hazy as is unfiltered and un-pasteurised. Brewed using Amarillo, Chinook and Citra hops, this American Pale Ale is hop, rather than malt driven, but given its relatively low strength is quite quaffable.

Brewfist Caterpillar Pale Ale 5.8% - a collaboration brew between Brewfist of Italy and BeerHere of Denmark. Brewed using large quantities of Columbus and Moteuka hops; the latter coming from New Zealand. The inclusion of rye malt in the grist, contributes toffee and malt flavours which balance the hoppiness and give the beer body.

Amber in colour, with a slight haze, this is another very drinkable beer.

"Ferment" Beer Review
Cloudwater Grisette 3.5% -  a light and refreshing Saison-style beer brewed with a proportion of wheat and flaked oats in the grist and bittered with Perle hops. Eldorado, Willamette and Galaxy hops are added for aroma.

This very pale-coloured beer is the ideal summer beer, even though summer is now rapidly disappearing. Cloudwater Brew Co are based in Manchester, and are one of the city’s newest breweries.

Six˚ North Hopclassic Belgian IPA 6.6% - Six˚ North specialise in Belgian beers, even though they are based in North East Scotland. This beer apparently was the first brew the brewery produced, when they opened back in 2013. Pale gold in colour with plenty of juicy malt, balanced by a nice citrus-fruity bitterness. Bottle-conditioned.

Strangely enough, on my recent trip to Belgium,I was told there was no market in the country for strong, “hop bomb” IPA’s. This one obviously bucks the trend, and very nice it is too.

Brønher The Drunk Hop 4.7% - described as “large lager”, what ever that is, but this golden coloured beer is brewed with a mixture of Pilsner, Vienna and Carapils malts, and hopped with Magnum, Hallertau, Mittelfrüh, Citra, Cascade and Columbus hops.

The result an easy-drinking, malt- accented lager, brewed in the southern European style, in Alicante, Spain.

Vocation Heart & Soul 4.4% - a hoppy, session-strength IPA, brewed by Vocation Brewery, who are based in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. Packaged in an attractive, eye-catching, matt black can, this pale golden yellow beer pours with a slight haze. There are plenty of tropical frits present in the aroma and overall the beer has a fruity- hoppy taste.

A very drinkable and enjoyable beer, brewed at a sensible strength.

Beer Project Brussels Dark Sister 6.6% - a dark IPA, brewed by Brussels’s newest brewery. Dark brown to black in colour, with a nice fluffy white head, Dark Sister has fruity notes, chocolate and spices, mixed in with an underlying bitterness.

Brewed using the brewery’s Saison yeast to really bring out the spiciness, this beer ends on a dry finish. Unfortunately there wasn’t time on my recent trip to Brussels to visit the Beer Project, but several fellow beer writers did manage to make their way there and were very enthusiastic with what they saw.

Gosnells Mead 5.5% - I don’t think I’ve ever drank mead before, but I’m pleasantly surprised by this modern interpretation on this most ancient of drinks. There are floral notes in the aroma, with citrus fruit on the palate as a foil against the sweetness of the honey lurking in the background.

Brewed in Peckham of all places, by Gosnell's London Mead from just honey, water and yeast, this fresh take on mead is the perfect late summer drink.

If you fancy giving the company a try, click on the link here to their website, then enter the code BAILEYSBEER10. This will get you £10 off your first box of eight beers, making it £14 instead of the normal £24. You will receive free delivery, plus a copy of the company's new craft beer magazine, 'Ferment'.

This 24-page magazine is an excellent read in itself being packed with interesting and informative articles about craft-beer, as well as containing background information about the beers in your case. 'Ferment' has come on in leaps and bounds since the last edition I saw, with much larger pages and printed on much higher quality paper. The issue I received (No. 15), contains articles by amongst others, Mark Dredge, Melissa Cole, Matthew Curtis and the Two Thirsty Gardeners. Dare I say it, but I found it more interesting, and packed with a lot more information, than CAMRA’s flagship Beer Magazine.


If you would like to send me beers to review, please be aware that I will give a totally honest opinion of your product. If I like it, then great, but if for some reason I don’t, then I will say so.

If the beer is not to my taste, but has been brewed correctly, and is not suffering from off-flavours, then I will again be honest. I will probably say that the beer in question is a good example of the style in question, but it just doesn’t float my boat! You can’t say fairer than that!