Mashtun and Meow

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Italian beers from Birrificio Gjulia

Whilst Italy is not yet particularly well known in the UK for its craft beer production, there are more and more breweries now beginning to reach our shores and Gjulia is one of them. Made by Marco and Massimo Zorzettig, brothers with a family tradition which lies more in wine production than in brewing, all Gjulia's beers use malt grown on their very own land. The emphasis across the range is on sustainability, locality, and quality, which it certainly carries in absolute spades.

IPA, 5.8%
The newest release from Gjulia, created using their homegrown hops, this poured a little hazy, and we managed to work out from our very basic Italian that it's unfiltered and bottle conditioned. The vibrant aroma hits the nose full of fruit and juicy hop character. The bottle conditioning provides a beautiful carbonation that tingles along the tongue and hints towards a similar mouthfeel to a good white wine. Flavours of citrus, particularly pithy grapefruit, are vivid throughout, alongside a gently floral elderflower character. The hop flavours are bold without being out of balance, providing a pleasantly soft level of bitterness on the finish. Full-bodied, fruity and fresh.

Nostrana Organic Ale, 5%
Again slightly hazy, this blonde beer made entirely with organic ingredients was almost shimmery - gorgeous in the glass. On the nose, lightly perfumed with notes of orange blossom, delicate and dry with a tropical fruit esther character from the yeast. On the palate, there's tons of intense juicy fruits, in particular mandarin segments and passion fruit. This is coupled with a lovely crispness that is almost reminiscent of a Belgian-style pale ale. Refreshing and very elegant.





Overall, we were hugely impressed by the product coming out of Gjulia. The branding is superb and the bottles themselves look great, seemingly inspired by the Zorzettig brothers' background in winemaking. The beers can be approached in much the same way as a fine wine and worked really well with food - we went for homemade tagliatelle with smoked salmon, courgette and lemon to pair with the IPA, and pan fried pork fillets with apple and sweet potato to go alongside the Nostrana. With the growing demand for international beer that we're currently seeing in the UK, we certainly hope to see more of Birra Gjulia on these shores.

Cheers.

L&J

Disclaimer: we were kindly sent these two beers to review, however opinions are all our own. Many thanks to Birrificio Gjulia!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Barrel Aged Beers from Siren Craft Brew

Siren are one of those breweries that you just can't help but get excited about. Established in 2012 with the intention of pushing barrel ageing to the fore, Siren have quickly become renowned for their innovative brews, and clever ways of crafting complex, intriguingly good beers. The brewery even contains a specially built ageing room to accommodate the many product lines and experiment with barrelled beers.

From Siren's most recent wave of barrel aged releases, Long Forgotten Journey is a barley wine flavoured with honey and orange peel and left to sit in a Grand Marnier cask. On the nose, it's initially quite boozy (as you'd probably expect from the 10% ABV), with wafts of light citrus, and a definite sweetness which lingers beyond that. The taste itself is fragrant and sweet, with a nicely robust fresh honey flavour tempering what can often be a pretty bold beer style in the form of a barley wine. A welcome pithy bitterness comes in right at the end. Undoubtedly absolutely yummy, but it tastes a little unfinished... with a best before date of 2018 on the bottle we were left wondering if we'd cracked this open too early, or if perhaps it would have benefitted from a little longer in the barrel. All the right flavours are there, but the overall impression doesn't quite have the harmony we've come to expect from a beer that's been barrel aged.

Which leads us quite nicely on to the second of this evening's beers: Maiden 2014. Like the Long Forgotten Journey, Maiden 2014 (11.1%) began life as a barley wine, but has undergone a more complex journey to reach the bottle... a journey which has taken time. Created from a multitude of barrels, and comprising 10% last year's Maiden release, the beer is meticulously selected and blended to produce a real labour of love. Hints of sherry come through on the nose with pleasing sweetness. At first sip light and delicate, the extra time left for the flavours to develop really comes through on the palate, which becomes sumptuously rich and well balanced, reminiscent of fruit cake. A dark chocolate bitterness hovers on the roof of the mouth for an age after drinking. A very well executed beer, to be sipped on in much the same way as a fine wine.


Patience is most definitely a virtue.

Cheers,

J&L

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Great North West Homebrew Competition

It all began with a few drinks and a healthy debate about which homebrew group would win in a beer based duel. And so, organised by homebrew groups from Chester and Manchester (soon joined by others including Macclesfield and New Mills), the Great North West Homebrew Competition was born. Hosted at the super-cool BrewDog Manchester, with homebrewer and BrewDog man Tom at the helm, we arrived on a gloomy and humid Sunday morning looking forward to the proceedings.

Marking the beers were six judges - a triumverate of Jims from Salford Beer Festival, BrewDog Manchester, and our very own Mr M representing Blue Monkey, alongside Nathan from Seven Bro7hers, Duncan from TicketyBrew and Angelos from BrewDog HQ.

The judges took their seats around the top table with a sense of palpable trepidation, knowing full well that 91 homebrews were on the cards for consumption over the coming hours.

The beers, split into 6 categories, ranged in strength from 2.8% to 11% with every type of beer you can imagine making an appearance and demonstrating the sheer diversity possible.
Judges working hard
The unanimous winner of round one, the session beers, was a wonderfully refreshing Berliner-Weisse which looked akin to Fentiman's lemonade, and came in with a low ABV of 2.9%. The second bottle acted as a mid-round palate cleanser for the judges. One judge gave this a "punk" rating of 23/23, commenting "You are an artist, sir". High praise indeed for brewers Tom Lewis and Bruce Wilcox.

Next up - the "Bests", which included beverages such as a passionfruit and sage pale, witbiers and bitters. A pretty eclectic competition in this round, which was won by Dave Harrison-Ward's Lemon and Cardamom Hopfenweisse - a great combination of flavours which resulted in a delicate but tasty beer at 5.2% ABV, receiving absolutely full marks from one judge.

Strong beers came to the fore for the third round, with ABVs between 5.5% and 10.2%. Lots of barley wines and high strength saisons in this one, with some innovative combinations of ingredients such as an IPA made with Granny Smith's apples, and chardonnay soaked oak chips. David Bishop's fine example of an imperial stout (9%) took first place, with the strongest beer of the round, Peter Sidwell's barley wine "Cascadia" coming in a very close second, receiving top marks for "Knockbackability".

After a quick burger break for the increasingly rosy-cheeked judges, it was on to the IPA round. Chris Clough's "Puny Human" IPA at 5.8% took the glory for this one, praised for being utterly quaffable and having a "real nice" nose brimming with Simcoe aroma.

The most hotly contested round, stouts and porters, came next, with 19 brews battling it out. Although closely fought, the winning beer was Matt Dutton's Imperial Brett Stout, a truly fantastic imperial stout made with Brettanomyces (a wild yeast usually found on the skins of fruit) that gave some wonderfully sour notes that elevated what would otherwise still have been a great beer to a whole new level. Described as "punk as fook" on the score sheets, the judges were all impressed by the skill involved in creating a beer which took them on a journey from dark and malty to sharp and lip-smackingly good. Scoring the highest marks of the day, this beer was also the overall winner, giving some extra bragging rights to Manchester homebrew club.

Finally, an array of weird and wonderful beers were sampled for the "Anything Goes" round, from melon Scotch ales to mince pie beers. The winner of this one was Chris Clough's "Black Ash", a peppered rauchbier, smoky with a prickle of heat and really well balanced.


The day itself was a triumph - well attended, with plenty of beer chat and just the right amount of friendly competition. It's clear that the interest in craft brewing and the rise of the industry show no sign of slowing down any time soon. A handful of the beers offered are already available commercially, with brewers such as Steve (@BeerNouveau) licensing their homebrew kits, and it wouldn't surprise us if more were to follow suit, with a number of beers sampled which wouldn't be out of place alongside big-hitters such as Beavertown and Magic Rock.

Cheers,

L&J

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Wild Beer Co: Sourbeest

At the moment Wild Beer Co are one of the most innovative breweries in the UK, using techniques that are generally far more commonplace on the continent, whether it's in producing excellent saisons or delicious barrel aged sours all the while experimenting with wild yeasts to produce unique flavours seldom tasted from modern British breweries.

Sourbeest is one of a few variations of beer that all stem from one - which happens to be one of our favourite beers from last year, Wildebeest. Wildebeest itself is an 11% imperial stout flavoured with coffee, vanilla and cocoa nibs, a big drink that is best appreciated and savoured. To produce a beer like this you don't always get all the sugars first time around, so rather than feed cows with malt of such potential, the guys at Wild Beer add more hot water and start again - and lo, Sourbeest is born.

The wort is left to spontaneously ferment as it cools, giving wild yeasts and bacteria chance to make some magic. After fermentation is complete at 5.9%, the beer is barrel-aged for nine months, at which point it is bottled ready to be imbibed.

And so, on to the drinking...

This pours fairly flat with a deep ruby colour, and instantly the tart aroma comes forth. There's just a hint of the chocolate and coffee we remember so well from Wildebeest, but this is overridden by a blast of tangy dark fruits, full of cherries and blackcurrants.

It's definitely a sipper - absolutely massive on the palate, despite weighing in at under 6%. Initially sour, there's raspberries with a touch of rich balsamic vinegar, which dance on the tongue with a pleasing sharpness. As the beer disappears down the throat you definitely get much more of a feel of dark chocolate and malted coffee, a stunning twist that almost makes this feel like drinking two beers in one.

Very clever indeed.

Cheers,

L&J

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Leeds Day Out: Part 2

We'd been having a great day so far and upon arrival at Bundobust it was clear our anniversary celebrations had only just begun.

If you've not been to Bundobust yet, it's an absolute must-visit. A tiny shop front opens up into a spacious and welcoming canteen-style eatery which has a bit of a street market feel about it, the bare brick and chipboard clad walls bringing the outside in. The bar is located towards the back of the room - and what a bar. We started with a Northern Monk and Bad Seed collaboration, Salted Lime Wit, which was fragrant with rosewater, plenty of fruitiness and a salty tang to finish, and the tantalisingly fresh and vibrant Wiper and True saison.


We'd heard only good things about the food here, and couldn't wait to dive in. The menu is entirely vegetarian but even us hardened carnivores were enticed by every item. We eventually selected four little pots - the "Popcorn and Pops", chilli popcorn with miniature poppadoms in four different flavours, Onion Gobi Bhaji Bhaji, Massala Dosa (which were accompanied by a wonderfully fragrant curried lentil soup with coconut), and our favourite of the four, Bhel Puri - sort of like a bombay mix salad. Both of the beers we'd already chosen were absolutely perfect matches for the delicately spiced munch, as were our next selections - Bundobust's own Coriander Pilsner, which was crisp and refreshing, and a version of the Wiper and True saison, which had been filtered in-house through rosemary and fresh apricots which added a unique and delicious new dimension to the beer. It's also worth mentioning here that the staff at Bundobust were ace - friendly, knowledgeable, and happy to share recommendations for food and beer alike. 

Moving on, it was time for yet another new place for us - the Northern Monk Refectory. A striking building against the otherwise stark Holbeck skyline, it is also home to the Northern Monk brewery itself. A modern, industrial feel is prominent in the bar, with 20 beers on offer - a wide range of both Northern Monk and guest.


Jim started with the wonderful Faith made on the floor below. The beer itself is a US pale with bold rose and resin flavours, made with citra and then more citra. The first round also brought us Bad Seed Barrel Aged Saison, a tangy, tasty treat.

We followed up with a trio of beers; two from the host brewery and an offering from Swedish brew masterminds Mikkeller. The first was Northern Monk's 6.2% New World IPA, made with a variety of hops from around the world. From the glass emanated an enchantingly tropical aroma, with a bold body from the volume of hops added in the boil. The other two were at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of colour, both being jet black - Peated Soul from Northern Monk and Monk's Brew from Mikkeller. The bold smoke that drifted from the Peated Soul certainly appealed to our Islay whisky tastes, the warmth from the malt rich and a little unforgiving, but at the same time with dark chocolate and a warm sweetness - the roundness of the drink was glorious. The Mikkeller on the other hand was clean with a little hop bitterness, complemented by a vanilla sweetness and some dark fruits including cherries, accompanied with a slight coffee. The body itself was light and in no way tasted of the 10% ABV.

Final stop before the train home was a trip to Tapped. We couldn't resist a bit more of a nibble before the journey and had heard many good things about Big Dan's Pizza. We decided to share 'The Smokey One' topped with a lightly smoked chicken breast, grilled onions, and a deliciously sticky balsamic reduction. To accompany we had a glass of the balsamic hued Stone - Sublimely Self Righteous Ale, which was exactly what a Black IPA should be, light roasted malt flavours with a bold hoppy sensation across its nose and mouth.

We returned back to Sheffield happy and ever so slightly wobbly, with plans of a return visit already in the pipeline. Leeds has massively upped its beery game in the last couple of years and we are certainly willing participants.

Cheers,

L&J

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Isle of Arran: Distillery Tour

Set in a stunning valley just outside the small port town of Lochranza at the north point of the wonderful island of Arran, the still pretty youthful distillery of Arran sits. Since opening in 1995, the distillery has grown in capacity steadily, to the point where this year they will be producing 650,000 litres of spirit from their two stills. Yet still, this is the 6th smallest producer of whisky in Scotland.
The tour itself, which started from beside the impressive indoor waterfall in the centre of the award winning visitor centre, opened with an introduction from our charismatic bearded host Stewart, a pre-midday dram of the Arran 14 year old, and a short informative video to give a background to Arran's colourful distilling history - smugglers and household pot stills having been absolutely rife in the past! After the introduction, we moved on to the only production building in the distillery, housing everything from the grist mill right through to the spirit safe. 

As you can imagine, the smell in the building was intoxicating. Starting with 2.5 tonnes of malted barley in the mash, with 13,000 litres of water, it's undoubtedly a busy little place - continually mashing in sometimes up to 13 times a week to keep up with demand. Imported barley is used, as we learned that the proximity to the Gulf Stream means that barley grown on the island is not suitable for whisky production, as the warm climate leaves the grain low in the sugars needed for making the required alcohols. The six wash backs vary in age, again a reflection on the amount the distillery has grown over the past twenty years. The stills looked vaguely familiar to us, and we discovered that this is because they are modelled roughly on the shape of Bowmore's stills - the master distiller, James MacTaggart, having spent the first part of his whisky career there.

Back to the tasting bar, for a nip of Arran Gold - a whisky cream liqueur made with Arran 10. Not being quite Jim's thing, Laura enjoyed a duo of these! After the standard tour was finished, we stayed behind with our bewhiskered host and a couple of other visitors to taste a few more. With three choices each, we had the opportunity to taste some of the excellent finishes that the distillery has to offer...


Amarone Cask Finish - 50% 

Colour: Sparkling ruby

Nose: A wave of sugared almonds and oodles of honey gush forward initially, with lashings of sour fruits. The dry red wine cask is certainly apparent with a distinctive grape-iness that carries delicately with unsweetened cocoa.

Palate: A level of spice that was not apparent on the nose opens up on the tongue, with cinnamon and liquorice root, stewed dark fruits such as plums and cherries follow up with a prickle of spice. The cocoa from the nose evolves into a rich dark chocolate, with a little more sweetness.

Finish: The spice remains on the tongue for a good 15 seconds accompanied with a sweetness that engulfs the mouth.


Single Cask Bourbon 1999 - 58%

Colour: Polished copper

Nose: The American oak is a big part of the nose, as you would expect - the wood sings sweetly from the glass, with vanilla and an almost toffee sweetness along for the ride.

Palate: To drink it is almost creamy in texture from 15 years in the barrel, but maintains a zesty freshness reminiscent of citrus peel. Vanilla pod luxury marries beautifully with a nutty oak characteristic.

Finish: A full, fresh mouth for a short moment, that ebbs gradually away with a sweet creaminess.


Machrie Moor (Cask Strength edition) - 58.4%

Colour: Golden barley

Nose: A sweet smoke nose initially, with tropical fruits coming later. The blend is intoxicating, like chargrilled pineapple.

Palate:  Vanilla custard becomes a large part of the taste, with more BBQ'd fruit, this time bananas by the fireside. Unmistakably peat and as it's the only peated release from the distillery, this seems to be MacTaggart's homage to his Islay heritage. The ABV certainly helps to carry great waves of peat but does so beautifully, without becoming over powering.

Finish: Much like you can still smell the smoke from a BBQ days after, the peat lingers beautifully in the mouth, but with a sweet accompaniment of dark dried fruit.

Between us we also sampled the Sauternes cask finish and a Private Cask bottling for Glasgow's Whisky Club (both of which we bought bottles of, so reviews to follow!).

Afterward we were treated to a sneak peek in the warehouses, past warehouse six, the newest and last to be built on the site, to warehouse two and three which contained some of the more famous private casks, including a cask belonging to Ewan McGregor.

Finishing off with a delicious lunch at Cask cafe, a great afternoon was definitely had by all.

Cheers,

J&L

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Bruichladdich Octomore 06.3 - Islay Barley

It's Feis Ile on Islay this week, and we are so near yet so far away... spending the week on the beautiful island of Arran. In honour of Bruichladdich day, however, we thought it was only right to bring something a little bit special with us. Behold! The first Octomore to be made with 100% Islay barley. Prestigious, unique, and definitely a big hitter.


Colour: Silken amber

Nose: Although peated to 268ppm (wowza) the nose on this is initially remarkably restrained on the smoke. It's undoubtedly prominent, but beautifully balanced by a sweetness akin to proper Scottish tablet ice cream on a buttery, digestive biscuit base, with a grating of dark chocolate atop. Sweet, spicy, and ever so alluring - you can still smell the malt floor that this was born on.

Palate: So THAT'S where all those sneaky little phenols are. The 64% ABV is apparent without overpowering the dram, still allowing a multitude of beautifully balanced flavours to pour forth. There's dark and citrus fruits (a light sparkle of cloudy lemonade, with a maraschino cherry garnish), oodles of gloriously fresh tobacco, and a good dollop of vanilla clotted cream. Finally, the malt comes through at the end with a cinnamon and toffee edge.

Finish: Warms you up right down to the soles of your feet. The peat lingers, but gently mellows as time progresses to leave behind a moreishly sweet glow. Cosy from your bonnet to your slippers.

Slainte,

J&L