No More Heroes XXXV – Thornbridge/Brooklyn/Oliver’s Serpent

This will be the last No More Heroes column I pen for Hop Burns & Black. We’ve been running this column since August 2015, which kicked off with the now defunct Fourpure Amber Ale. Our original aim was to champion beers we thought were underrated and eventually we started talking about music we loved and liked to drink along with these beers too.

That original aim went out the window pretty quickly, we just picked out beers we loved that we thought you would too – and we think we did a pretty good job of that. We even ran some pretty cool events, which included raising more than £500 for Mind – The Mental Health Charity last year.

But things change and we’re not the kind of folks to sit on our hands or rest on our laurels. We want to keep this column engaging and informative, so we’ve decided to change it up a bit. Our new column – Fundamentals - will launch in a couple of weeks' time. Its aim is to focus on a specific ingredient within a particular beer and find out what influence that has on the way you perceive its mouthfeel, flavour and aroma. I’ll also be rolling out a live version of this at the end of April, where I’ll be joined by my fellow Hop Burns & Black columnist and food sorceress Claire Bullen, so keep your eyes peeled for that one.

For now, we’ll leave you with one final, incredible beer with which we’ll toast this flaming ship as it bows gracefully over the waterfall of time. Serpent is a collaboration more than two years in the making that was born out of the minds of Thornbridge head brewer Rob Lovatt and Brooklyn Brewery’s inimitable brewmaster, Garrett Oliver.

Serpent began its life as a Belgian-style golden strong ale that was then blended with lees (leftover apple skins, yeast and byproducts from cider fermentation) donated by Herefordshire cider supremo Tom Oliver. The beer was then aged with the lees in Four Roses bourbon barrels for two years. After ageing it was artfully blended before being packaged in elegant, 750ml, Prosecco style bottles.

The resulting beer is a marvel: it can taste as simple or as complex as you wish, depending on what mood you’re in. It packs in layer upon layer of intricate flavours, recalling cider, wild yeast, vanilla, oak and bourbon. It can be enjoyed with little thought – but give it an inch of grey matter and it’ll take you several miles. It’s an incredible journey of a beer – and the time it’s had in the bottle since release, almost a year now, has merely improved it. Drink some now or hoard to drink whenever you feel it’s appropriate.

Music Pairing: The Stranglers – No More Heroes
We’d be doing this column a disservice if the last music pairing was anything other than this 1977 belter from one of the greatest bands to have ever existed, The Stranglers.

The beauty of The Stranglers is that, just like Serpent, their music can be as simple or complex as the way you feel. If you just want to enjoy the jangly punk riffs casted by Hugh Cornwell offset with the snarling bass of Jean-Jacques Burnel while banging your head, then off you go. However, delve deeper and you’ve got the complex, keyboard layers added by Dave Greenfield adding a prog-like depth to the track – one that even ardent punks love, but often refuse to associate with its long haired, bell-bottom sporting origins. It’s the perfect track to enjoy with a bottle of Serpent, whatever mood you’re in.

Find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. You can find the mighty Serpent at HB&B - get it in store or head online to get it delivered to your door.

No More Heroes XXXIV – Hop Federation Coffee Stout

I’m writing this week’s penultimate episode of No More Heroes from New Zealand, so it’s apt that this week’s beer is of Kiwi origin. I say penultimate because we’ve decided to rest this column in favour of something fresh, new and “educational” that’ll be arriving on your in front of your faces in just a few weeks' time.

Coffee is becoming an increasingly prevalent adjunct in craft beer and not just in the more obvious coffee-infused dark beers like the one I’m reviewing today. It’s also ably used in pale ales, red ales and even dry-hopped sour beers. As an ingredient, coffee can be as versatile as malt or hops, with the ability to impart flavours on a spectrum that ranges from roasted and chocolate through to floral and even herbal.

But just like hops, coffee is an extremely volatile ingredient, with the flavours it imparts dissipating quickly. So unless you’re not particularly fond of coffee, don’t hang on to beers that use it, drink them quickly before that flavour disappears.

Hop Federation, which is based in Riwaka at the top of the South Island (also in New Zealand’s famous hop growing region), uses coffee in one of the most obvious senses in this stout. It adds a serious amount of roast and poke to the herbaceous, gooseberry-tinged notes provided by the hops. This combination of ingredients binds to form a robustly satisfying and moreish beer that drinks easy despite its weighty 7% ABV.

The good news is that, thanks to the folks at Hop Burns & Black shipping it over to the UK, you don’t have to travel to New Zealand like I did to enjoy it yourself. Just make sure you drink it fresh.

Music Pairing: The Fall – Totally Wired
As well as cramming in heaps of flavour (Christ, I’ve been here 5 minutes and I’m already using the lingo), the Hop Federation Coffee Stout packs in a serious amount of caffeine. These days I’m as a much a third-wave coffee junkie as I am a craft beer enthusiast and I’m confident in my ability to chain several strong coffees in the morning. In fact, it’s a necessity.

However after 500ml of this particular beer I was buzzing. In fact you could say I was totally wired, which is as good an excuse as any to bring out this absolute belter of a record from Mark. E. Smith and the gang. Just remember: You don’t have to be weird to be wired (although take it from me, it helps).

Find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. You can find the roasty, toasty glory that is the Hop Federation Coffee Stout and more from the Hop Federation range exclusive at HB&B - get it in store or head online to get it delivered to your door.

No More Heroes XXXIII – Elusive Brewing/Wild Weather Ales Herman Toothrot

My name’s Guybrush Threepwood and I’m a mighty pirate. I’m also moderately enthusiastic about Grog – or “Craft Beer” as folks like to call it these days.

I first met award-winning homebrewer Andy Parker on Mêlée Island a few years back, way before he went pro and launched his business, Elusive Brewing, proper. We met on a crossroads at dusk where we drew blades. Boy, he could hurl insults like the best of them.

“You fight like a dairy farmer,” I yelled. “How appropriate, you fight like a cow,” was his witty riposte. Why, if it weren’t for my knowledge of the Sword Master’s insults he would have almost certainly nearly defeated me.

A few months later I was stranded on the legendary Monkey Island where once again I came across Andy, along with a hermit who went by the name of Herman Toothrot. As I recall, Andy and Herman were attempting to brew up a viciously effective batch of Grog but unfortunately they were out of both kerosene and battery acid – both key components in a good Grog recipe.

Utilising his brewing know-what, Andy instead used the only ingredients he had to hand: malted barley, wheat, yeast, North American Centennial hops and rum-soaked raisins. He named the finished beer in honour of Herman, who became a close friend of his while stranded on that godforsaken island. At the time I remember Andy remarking that the beer had mildly psychotropic properties – I’m not sure it did but then I’m convinced everyone saw that three-headed monkey.

Sadly, with there not being enough room on my ship, Herman and I left Andy on Monkey Island and I assumed he would have been taken by either the native cannibals, or perhaps the Dread Pirate, LeChuck. Thankfully, I later discovered that he survived and I was relieved to learn that he’s now brewing professionally in the town of Finchampstead, near Reading.

I was heartened to see that he’s re-brewed Herman Toothrot’s Ale in collaboration with fellow Berkshire brewery, Wild Weather Ales. In fact I’d go as far as to say it's tasting even better, with lots of spice from the Centennial hops matching the boozy sweetness from the rum-soaked fruit.

It could do with a touch more kerosene to meet my personal taste, but as a fearsome, grog-swilling pirate, my palate is more difficult to satisfy than most.

Music Pairing: The Lemonheads – My Drug Buddy
If you find yourself a little puzzled by this months instalment of NMH then, unlike Andy and myself you never spent hours and hours playing the Monkey Island video games as a kid. (It’s not too late, you can play it here.)

Since Elusive Brewing launched last year, Andy’s beers have done nothing but impress, picking up a string of well-deserved awards along the way. If you’re not convinced yet then you’re probably only a bottle of Herman Toothrot away from joining the enlightened.

This isn’t the first time Elusive has collaborated on a beer with Wild Weather. The first in the series was also named after a character from Monkey Island, Lemonhead the cannibal… Which tenuously links me to this week’s song, the blissfully chilled out My Drug Buddy from the Lemonheads. Enjoy!

Find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Get the glorious Elusive Brewing Herman Toothrot and more from the Elusive range in store or head online to get it delivered to your door.

No More Heroes XXXII – Buxton Wyoming Sheep Ranch Double IPA

Hop forward craft beers like IPAs have always followed trends. Right now that means creating beers that are full of juicy, stone fruit and tropical flavours with super low bitterness. Often these beers are highly hazy and even sometimes completely opaque, the mouthfeel is silken, similar to a German hefeweizen and the bitterness is dialed right down. These so-called “New England” or “Vermont” IPAs, due to this being an origin point of this style, are the crux of fandom in beer right now.

Five years ago, things were very different. Brewers were locked in a bitterness war, intent on brewing the most bitter beers possible, with super high IBU counts (International Bitterness Units) often boasted on the packaging. Beers such as Stone Brewing’s Ruination or Mikkeller’s 1000 IBU are great examples of this. By my reckoning, this current trend we're seeing for juicy IPAs with very low bitterness is a reaction to the bitterness wars going too far.

A primary casualty in this bitterness arms race was the humble West Coast IPA - that beloved beer which poured a deep golden colour, was completely transparent, focused on flavours of citrus and pine and left a slick trail of deliciously bitter hop resins on the palate as it glided down your throat. These were the beers that made me love IPA in the first place and a part of me worries that brewers have forgotten them as they spend their time chasing the juice whale instead.

But not Derbyshire’s Buxton Brewery. Wyoming Sheep Ranch is a Double IPA brewed just how they used to be. One sip reminded me how good this style of IPA can be and made me realise that perhaps I too have been far too invested in chasing the juice. It’s worth reminding yourself just how satisfying the resinous, bitter kick of a West Coast double IPA can be and Wyoming Sheep Ranch is as good a place as any to start.

(P.S. I went to Wyoming once and I didn’t see any sheep ranches but I did have lunch at Applebee’s and had a really nice time.)

Music Pairing: Dr. Dre feat. Eminem & Hittman – Forgot About Dre
From one West Coast banger to another - here’s a classic slice of hip hop from Dr. Dre. We forgot about West Coast IPA in a manner similar to how, in the late 90s, we forgot about Dre, so here’s a timely reminder. Now drink up and eat your vegetables.

Find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Get Buxton's excellent Wyoming Sheep Ranch and more from their range in store or head online to get it delivered to your door.

No More Heroes XXXI – Panhead Grease Monkey Old Ale

I’ll admit I struggle a little this time of year. The last dregs of the Christmas holidays have trickled down the drain and it can feel like there’s little other to look forward to than long nights and cold days. Winter is here.

While I applaud those folks who take it upon themselves to take the month off booze – some even raising money for charity, which is no bad thing – for the rest of us there is always beer. Delicious, tasty beer. Now is the time to break out those strong dark ales that have been squirreled away at the back of your beer cupboard for far too long. I’m starting with Grease Monkey, an old ale from New Zealand’s Panhead Custom Ales.

A great deal was made of Panhead’s sale to the Lion Group last year, but in my opinion it’s had zero discernable impact on the quality of its beers thus far. Its zingy, tropical fruit packed New Zealand hopped pilsner has always been a particular favourite of mine and it continues to shine.

Grease Monkey is an altogether different beast, however. This viscous, black liquid pours like an oil slick in a glass. Aromas of leather and tobacco mingle with those of molasses and burnt muscovado sugar. To taste it's toffee sweet at first but this is almost immediately followed by a slick wave of herbaceous bitterness. That tobacco note then returns in the finish to leave a pleasing dryness.

Grease Monkey is a beer that really benefits from having some time to warm a little and open up once its been poured. So maybe try giving it no more than 30 minutes in the fridge before you open it and for maximum effect pour it into a wide brimmed, bowl shaped glass. You won’t be halfway through the bottle before any winter blues you were shouldering begin to ebb away.

Music Pairing: Flyying Colours – It’s Tomorrow Now
I figured that as it’s a new year I’d turn the spotlight onto to some new music instead of relying on a classic. Spotify’s insanely good Discover Weekly algorithm has been throwing some great new music my way over the last 12 months, so it makes sense to share some of my discoveries.

Flyying Colours formed in Melbourne, Australia, back in 2011 and released their second album “Mindfullness” at the back end of last year. As a record it’s a reverb-drenched, shoegazer's dream, recalling My Bloody Valentine, And You Will Know Them By The Trail of Dead and The Cure. I’ve had the album on repeat for around the last two weeks, so here’s hoping you dig it as much as I do.

Find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Get Panhead Grease Monkey and the rest of the Panhead range exclusively to the UK at our shop or online to get it delivered to your door.

No More Heroes XXX – Titanic Plum Porter

No, this isn’t an article about a substandard action movie starring Vin Diesel, it’s the 30th edition of No More Heroes! It’s also our second Christmas edition, although I’m going to spare you from an attempt to repeat the Paul McCartney infused heroics of last year.

In fact after the hell-ride that has been 2016, I’m going to spare you from any frivolity whatsoever and get on with reviewing this week's beer, Titanic’s Plum Porter. We’re fond of championing breweries we see as new and exciting here at Hop Burns & Black and that’s because these breweries are exciting. However we’re guilty of not paying our dues to more established breweries such as Titanic, which laid its roots in Burslem, Stoke-on- Trent, back in 1985.

Plum Porter has rightly won a string of CAMRA gold medals but this is not a beer that’s just for traditionalists. For me there’s plenty going on in this beer that should satisfy even the most hardened beer geeks. For starters it’s easy drinking, despite being a robust 4.9% porter, with East Kent Goldings hops adding a herbaceous bitter note to the finish that soon has you reaching for another sip.

The real highlight of this beer, though, is the rounded tartness provided by the plum flavouring. It’s not a sticky, cloying sweetness that bites so many other flavoured beers in the arse. This is a more akin to the bittersweet flavour that you get when you suck the last chunk of fruit from a plum stone. The way it lingers makes it ideal with mellower cheeses such as Wensleydale or mature Cheddar. Something about this beer just feels cosy, which makes it a perfect beer to snuggle up with on the sofa this Christmas. The addition of a well-stocked cheese plate is mandatory.

Music Pairing: Eels - Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas
“Baby Jesus, Born to Rock!” At least so says Mark Oliver “E” Everett in what is my favourite Christmas banger of all time. It also helps that Eels are one of my favourite bands, of course. This Christmas it’s time to put all the weird shit that 2016 has thrown at us to one side, for a little while at least. So settle in with loved ones and a metric shit-ton of great booze and let's enjoy ourselves. We’re going to need a period of brief respite before 2017 inevitably gets even weirder. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everybody!

Find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. You can find Titanic's sumptuous Plum Porter in store or at our online shop to get it delivered to your door.

No More Heroes XXIX – Salopian Kashmir IPA

It’s important to remember that this column was originally started in order to champion great beers from breweries we thought were underrated. There are perhaps few more underrated breweries in the country than Shropshire’s Salopian Brewery, which has been quietly putting out some of the UK’s best pale ales and IPAs without so much of a sniff of hyperbole.

One of the greatest problems with being a beer geek is that the merest scent of a newly hyped release is enough to send our senses into overdrive. The most sought after Double IPAs and Barrel Aged Imperial Stouts somehow manage to induce a deep sense of FoMO before bottles and cans even hit the shelf. Salopian aren’t one of the UK breweries that have this effect on beer lovers, but perhaps the peace of mind the reliability of its great beers bring is something to be appreciated in itself.

Kashmir, as the name suggests, is an India Pale Ale that clocks in at 5.5% ABV. You might think that by today’s standards that’s pretty low, but thankfully Salopian provide you with 500mls of drinking enjoyment to curb any negative feeling. It’s also worth noting that this beer drinks easy and one bottle is likely not going to be enough.

The flavour is typically hop forward, with aromas of lemon rind and pine hitting the nose even before you’ve taken your first sip. The taste is altogether softer than the aroma, with zesty lemon mingling with notes of peach and nectarine. The carbonation is gentle, giving the beer a pillowy, almost cask-ale feel in the mouth. These combining factors make it very easy and enjoyable to drink, which is why I previously warned that you might need more than one bottle to hand.

Take my advice and check out Salopian, but make sure it’s a long gaze and not a passing glance.

Music Pairing: Rage Against The Machine – Wake Up
As you might have guessed from the last few columns, I’m on a bit of a 90s rock tip at the moment. As a politically charged schoolboy I used to listen to Rage Against the Machine while furiously penning letters to politicians and generally getting angry about the world. To be honest, very little has changed since then.

I’ve picked this track not just because its one of Rage’s very best songs, or that it was aptly used by the Wachowski’s at the end of The Matrix. No, I’ve picked Wake Up because that pulsing beat and searing riff ably emulates the melody of Led Zepplin’s Kashmir, which shares it’s name with this weeks beer. I’d have picked Led Zep, of course, but another brewery already has dibs on them...

Find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. You can find Salopian Kashmir and the rest of Salopian's range in store or at our online shop to get it delivered to your door.

No More Heroes XXVII – Fierce Brewing Fuego Feroz Spiced Pale Ale

Just because it’s getting colder outside doesn’t mean you should stop making margaritas. Or indeed, drinking beers that taste like them, because that’s the first thought that came to mind when I first sipped on this week’s beer. That and, “ouch.”

You see, Fuego Feroz, a pale ale from Aberdeen’s Fierce Beer Company, isn’t like other pales. In fact the label even warns that this beer is to be consumed with caution. That’s because Fuego Feroz is brewed with habanero peppers and the spicy flavour these impart is balanced by the addition of fresh lime juice.

“We actually wanted to make an all-chilli beer, so added the habaneros on their own first,” Fierce founder and brewer Dave Grant says. “However the flavour was a little dull, so we added fresh lime juice too.”

The combination might sound a little wild, and believe me when I say this is a long way from your run of the mill pale ale, but somehow it just works. On tasting the beer the chilli heat hits you like a blowtorch to the face, but habanero heat is a pleasant, savoury heat. The lime juice tempers this and add a touch of sweet, zingy balance, which mellows this beer out. It’s that lime kick that reminds me of sipping on margs in some of my favourite cocktail bars.

“Chilli and spice lovers really love it, and can’t get enough,” Grant says.

This is without a doubt a beer for chilli (and hot sauce) fans. Its similarity to a margarita also means that it pairs well with dishes such as fish tacos or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, breakfast quesadillas. Caution is advised, however, as heat levels vary from bottle to bottle and you could end up playing Russian Roulette with your palate if you’re not careful.

Music Pairing – Kurt Vile, Pretty Pimpin’
The best way to tame chilli heat is to mellow it out with something creamy. As I don’t have any natural yoghurt to hand, this sublime slice of chilled out alt-pop from Kurt Vile will have to do instead. This track features one of the most hypnotic and enjoyable pieces of guitar playing I’ve heard in years, and as it gently trundles on throughout pretty much the entire track, you’ll soon forget that the beer you’re drinking has set your mouth aflame.

Find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. You can find Fierce Beer Fuego Feroz in store or at our online shop to get it delivered to your door.

No More Heroes XXVI – Big Smoke Brew Co. Underworld Milk Stout

I must admit that, although I try to champion dark beers year-round, this year my efforts have been a little lacklustre. The problem I have is that there are just so many good pale and golden beers in circulation, that over the warmer months anything darker than a reddish-shade of amber hasn’t got much of a look in. This needs to change.

And so I find myself with a bottle of Underworld Milk Stout from Big Smoke Brew Co., who brew at The Antelope in Surbiton, Surrey. Like dark beer, I’ve not really given Big Smoke a great deal of attention since their launch in 2014 and I’m regretting that while I’m a couple of sips into Underworld, their milk stout.

I already felt enamored with this beer before I’d even cracked the cap. I’m a sucker for great branding and this is great branding. It’s distinctive, thoughtful, engaging and tells me everything I need to know about this beer. But does the quality of the package reflect the product within?

The pour and appearance is everything you’d expect from a milk stout. This dark brown beer has a pleasing translucency. It shines russet red around the edges when held up to some light and the off-white head is tight and creamy. Both of these factors indicate that I shouldn’t expect a beer that’s too heavy, and that’s exactly what I find in my glass.

To taste it has all the roasted coffee and bitter dark chocolate notes I look for in a stout, without ever being too complex. The finish is nice and dry with a slight herbaceous, bitter note from the hops. My only complaint is that if you’re going to chuck lactose in a stout then make sure that sweetness comes through. In this beer it’s a little too muted for my personal tastes, but as a stout, milk or otherwise, Underworld really shines.

 

Music Pairing: Millionaire – Body Experience Revue
A good Milk Stout is all about the balance between the sweetness from the lactose and the robustness of roasted malt but still having the drinkability that comes with being a sub 5% beer. This track from Millionaire, a band fronted by Belgian wunderkind Tim Vanhamel, formerly of Deus, has similar qualities. Sure its got some searingly heavy guitars, but without the carefully thought out synth lines and Prince-tight rhythm section it would all feel a little flabby. The combination of this criminally underrated tracks tight beats and loose riffs is ideal listening, as we officially enter stout-season.

As always, you can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at the excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Find Big Smoke Underworld Milk Stout in store or at our online shop to get it delivered to your door.

No More Heroes XXV – Tuatara Sauvinova

The memory of my first experience drinking Tuatara beer is crystal clear. It was early 2014 and I was staying with family in the town of Whangamata, near the Coromandel, on New Zealand’s North Island. I’d been without a gloriously hoppy beer for several days, having only had ubiquitous “NZ Draught” beers such as Lion Red and Double Brown available to me where we were originally staying. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these beers, other than they taste of very little, and by this point I was desperate for something more.

I headed into Whangamata Town to find something more interesting, and picked up a 12-pack of Tuatara’s Aotearoa Pale Ale, as it was the most interesting thing I could find in the bottle shop. New Zealand takes cold beer seriously - the liquor store I made my purchase from had a walk-in cold room where it stored its beer - so when I got back to our apartment the beer was already nicely chilled. I opened the box to find 12 shining lizard eyes printed on the bottle caps staring up at me. I pulled a bottle out, with ridges that model those of New Zealand's native Tuatara lizard, and cracked the top.

Few breweries have the time or resources to invest in custom bottles like these and I feared that this beer might be all style over substance. I was wrong. Aotearoa was singing with the gooseberry and passion fruit flavours of New Zealand hops. At the time it felt like the beer I had been searching for my entire life.

Today’s beer, the single-hopped Sauvinova, focuses the intense flavours of the Nelson Sauvin hop into a vibrant pale ale. The tropical and gooseberry flavours are defined in a manner that makes it easy to see why this hop took its name from the Sauvignon grapes that made New Zealand wines famous. This beer is definitely one to try, whether you're just a fan of your hop-forward pale ales, or if you’re a wine lover that’s looking for a little more complexity in your beer.

Music Pairing – Oasis: Champagne Supernova
If you weren’t at Hop Burns & Black for the latest installment of our No More Heroes live events, Manchester, So Much To Answer For, then you missed a treat. Not only did we taste through six excellent beers selected by Marble’s Head Brewer James Kemp, but we also played some of our favourite tracks by Manchester bands.

Today sees the start of IndyManBeerCon, one of my absolute favourite beer festivals. As you read this I’ll be on the train to Manchester to get involved. As a young music lover, I played a lot of Oasis, but the older I got the more I fell out with their seemingly Beatles obsessed shtick. I recently returned to their first two albums and wondered why it took me so long to listen to them again. This track, from 1995’s What’s The Story (Morning Glory) is an anthem that sits neatly alongside the euphoric New Zealand hop aromas in this week's beer.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at the excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a bottle (or more) of Tuatara Sauvinova Single-Hopped Pale Ale via our online shop and get it delivered to your door.

Manchester, So Much To Answer For

We held one of our favourite events yet at the shop on Thursday night - the latest instalment in our No More Heroes series with beer writer Matthew Curtis of Total Ales. This time we were joined by Marble head brewer James Kemp, who made the journey down from Manchester to take part in a tasting session of six of his favourite beers and a live interview for a forthcoming podcast.

The beers were terrific, the craic was strong and the topics of discussion wide and varied, with Matt and the audience grilling James on everything from murky beers ("no") to sexist beer marketing ("no") and Dobber ("I thought you weren't going to mention Dobber").

You'll be able to hear the full podcast soon at Total Ales. In the meantime, here's a photographic taster of the night. Details of the next event coming soon.

No More Heroes XXIII – The Five Points Brewing Company Pale Ale

We started No More Heroes in an effort to champion beers we considered to be underrated. Over the months since it started we may have strayed from that ethos a little, as some of the beers we’ve reviewed are ones that often receive critical acclaim. It would be small minded of us to take any of the credit for that, of course.

This week's beer, Pale Ale from Hackney’s The Five Points, is perhaps one that doesn’t get the credit it deserves, despite being one that sits and sells happily on taps and shelves all over London be it from cask, keg, bottle or can.

“Normcore” is the phrase used by The Five Points Marketing Manager, Doreen Joy Barber, when she describes how some people view their brewery. Instead of working on a myriad of expressive beer styles like many of its peers, The Five Points have focused on producing a solid, reliable and consistent core range.

But I think there’s more to it than just that. The magic of Five Points’ beers is not just that they taste great, but they do so while allowing you to switch off and enjoy. They can be uncomplicated and drinkable like the Pale Ale or brand new Pils or deep and complex like their American style IPA, Hook Island Red or London Smoke.

The Five Points manage to straddle the slowly widening gap between the UK’s traditional beer culture and its bleeding edge of craft beer. This makes them an important brewery because not only does it make them a gateway to more interesting beer styles but it also gives both the craft and traditional worlds something to enjoy. Few other breweries manage to share this common ground.

Music Pairing: Steely Dan – Do It Again (1973)
Steely Dan gets a pick here because, like Five Points Pale, ‘Do It Again’ manages to effortlessly straddle the line between skillful musicianship and seriously easy drinking. It’s also the perfect vibe for these hazy summer evenings, as the cool breeze and shorter nights of autumn gradually still roll in.

We’ll be back with our next No More Heroes Live Event at Hop Burns &; Black on Thursday September 29th. We’re excited to be hosting James Kemp from Manchester’s Marble Brewery and spinning a whole host of Manchester tunes. Full event and ticket info is coming soon, so stick it in your diaries now.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And why not get Five Points Pale Ale delivered to your door via our online shop?

No More Heroes XXII – Brouwerij Alvinne Wild West

At some point over the last few years the use of the word “sour” in beer circles has shifted from being an adjective to a noun. From gose to gueuze, sours are more popular than ever, with more and more breweries trying their hand at producing them deliberately than ever before. We’re even seeing new breweries opening that are dedicated to producing nothing but sour and bretted beers, such as Crooked Stave in the US.

But to use the word “sour” as a catch-all term for any beer that’s a little bit funky feels a little bit lazy, to me at least. Many of the world’s best sour beers such as lambic, gueuze, gose and Berliner weisse have a name that not only begins to describe the beer but also conveys a sense of place. I also feel that it’s lazy to borrow these terms that indicate a beer's provenance. If a brewer is making a spontaneously fermented, oak aged beer in California do they have the right to call his or her beer a lambic? Legally yes, but does that mean they should? I don’t believe so. The brewing industry needs to find a better way of describing the myriad genres of sour beer now in existence.

The good thing about the prevalence of sour beers however, is the increased availability of really tasty ones. Brouwerij Alvinne, out of Moen, Belgium produce some absolute corkers. In fact I was surprised when Hop Burns & Black took a generous delivery that they didn’t sell out immediately, because beer this good deserves the hype.

Wild West is as close to a core beer as Alvinne produces. It’s a subtle, nuanced tartness as opposed to a sharp and intense sour note. The low carbonation seems to allow the oak and vanilla notes imbued by the barrel to shine through, but there’s still enough carbonation to make it prickle on your tongue. When it comes to sours I prefer them straight up, as opposed to fruited variants, but the plum version of Wild West also deserves a shout out because it’s equally as superb as the “normal” version. If you like Belgian sours, then this beer will be in tune with your chakras.

Music Pairing - Run DMC, It’s Tricky
It’s tricky to get your head around sours when you first taste them. It’s even trickier for the beer industry as we attempt to define such a broad scope of flavours with a single term. What isn’t tricky is enjoying this banger from Run DMC. Ideally paired during a lively bottle share when you start bringing your lambic collection up from the cellar.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And you can get Alvinne Wild West delivered to your door via our online shop.

No More Heroes XXI – Townshend’s Flemish Stout

The first thing I remember about my early beer experiences in New Zealand is the ubiquitous New Zealand Draught. This solid, yet simple variety of draught beer from brands such as Tui, Speight’s and Lion is the first thing folks might think of when it comes to NZ beer. However, it didn’t take me long to discover that there’s much more to Kiwi beer than NZ draught. In fact, New Zealand is home to one of the most eclectic and accomplished craft brewing communities in the world.

If you’re into your Kiwi craft beer you might have heard of brands such as Tuatara, Yeastie Boys and Garage Project, perhaps even some exciting up and coming brewers (and one of my personal favourites) such as Liberty Brew Co. Today’s beer is from one of what I would call a lesser known NZ brewer, but he’s certainly no less accomplished than the ones I’ve already mentioned.

Martin Townshend founded the brewery that shares his name back in 2005, right in the heart of NZ hop country, near the town of Nelson, at the northernmost tip of the South Island. Townshend’s Flemish Stout is a limited release beer and combines the malty girth of an imperial stout, all dark chocolate and roasted coffee, with the tangy, lactic acidity of a Flemish Red such as Rodenbach Grand Cru.

It might sound a little bonkers, but that’s because it is and perhaps the most remarkable thing is that the gentle acidity does an admirable job of disguising the 9% ABV. It’s a beer to be taken in small sips, accompanied by giant slabs of strong cheese. Hop Burns and Black might well be carrying the best range of NZ beers in the UK at the moment, and this is one that’s not to be missed.

Music Pairing: Plastic Bertrand, Ca Plane Pour Moi
It would’ve been easy to recommend some excellent Kiwi music to pair with this excellent Kiwi beer, but we picked NZ band Th’ Dudes in our previous installment, so that would hardly be fair. Instead why not enjoy this bonkers sour stout with a Belgian twist by listening to a frankly bonkers Belgian. Ladies and gentlemen, Plastic Bertrand.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And you can get Townshend's Flemish Stout exclusively in the UK from HB&B, delivered to your door via our online shop.

Matthew Curtis's No More Heroes XIX – Pressure Drop Bosko IPA

Of late, I’ve really enjoyed talking about the crossover points between other culinary cultures, such as wine, cider and coffee and how they intersect with beer. The last 10 minutes of my recent Good Beer Hunting podcast interview with my friend Chris Hall of Brew by Numbers is an example of this. It’s not just between culinary cultures that these crossover points exist though. Beer merges with art, music, politics and much, much more. The wider we can make these points, the better we can support beer – the more people that enjoy great beer, the better beer gets.

Hop Burns & Black is a living example of this, with its hot sauce and vinyl offering adding something more to the value of the beer stocked on the shelves. Another recent example is the Tate Modern gallery, who are working with breweries such as Fourpure. The Bermondsey based brewery have created Switch House Pale Ale to celebrate the recent opening of the modern art gallery’s Switch House extension, widening the gate between art and beer.

Hackney’s Pressure Drop has always embraced a connection with art and this is reflected in the excellent design featured on its labels. Tribute is paid to one of my favourite artists, David Hockney, on the label for Pale Fire. Alligator Tugboat celebrates the work of East London graffiti artist Sweet Toof and today’s beer, Bosko IPA, has a label designed in tribute to the American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko.

Bosko is a great example of a British brewed American style IPA. It’s got a ton of sweet malt character that lends body and support to container loads of juicy and tropical American hops. A bitter finish laden with notes of grapefruit and pine tidies up this beer’s lingering sweetness. Bosko is a tasty East London riff on the modern, West Coast American style IPA – and somehow the great design that graces the bottle makes this even more of a complete package. If it also manages to help open the breach between the worlds of art and beer, then we’re all winners.

Music Paring: Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere
I’ve managed to get almost to the end of this article without mentioning the deep pile of political turmoil the UK landed itself in last week. In honesty I’ve not the energy left to discuss it any further so instead I’ll leave that to the wonderful David Byrne and the fantastic Talking Heads. All together now: “Well we know where we're goin'…”

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And you can get Pressure Drop Bosko delivered to your door via our online shop.

Getting Away With It with Matthew Curtis

Quick and dirty blog post to share some of the images from another terrific night at ours with the mighty Matt Curtis of Total Ales/Good Beer Hunting fame. Six terrific beers accompanied by six fantastic tracks from the wonderful world of 80s electronica. Such a good time - look out for the next one coming soon...

1 Fruh Kolsch with Electronic - Getting Away With It
2 Yeastie Boys Digital IPA with Misex - Computer Games
3 De Molen Hel et Verdoemenis Imperial Stout with Spandau Ballet - To Cut A Long Story Short
4 Mad Hatter Tzatziki Sour with OMD - Messages
5 Kernel Biere De Saison with Yazoo - Don't Go
6. Wild Beer/Beavertown Blubus Maximus with New Order - Blue Monday (12" Version)

Matthew Curtis's No More Heroes XVII – Partizan Lemongrass Saison

Some beers are just made for food. Some are even made with ingredients you’d associate with cooking as opposed to brewing. Then there are some beers that go as far as using food itself as an ingredient.

Take the boys from Northern Monk, for example. They recently teamed up with The Real Junk Food Project to brew a saison that includes leftover pastries and pears as ingredients. It sounds bonkers, but this beer is actually using ingredients that otherwise would have gone to waste. I was fortunate enough to swing by the brewery when they were making it and can’t wait to finally get a taste.

Saison is a great style to use as a blank canvas for more unusual ingredients, perhaps because of the way the dry and tangy saison yeast strain provides something for these flavours to lean on. Bermondsey’s Partizan has used the saison as its own carte blanche to go mental. Alternative variants of its saisons include a lemon and thyme infused recipe that almost tastes more like a marinade than a beer, and one that attempts to mimic the flavours of the classic negroni cocktail.

The one I’m drinking today is flavoured with lemongrass and it’s arguably one of Partizan’s best beers. The incredibly light body balances the snap of saison yeast with delicate flavours of lemongrass, which are followed by a bone-dry finish. As you’d expect it’s exceptional with food, particularly fragrantly spiced Thai curries or Vietnamese noodle soups. It’s also surprisingly decent with roast chicken as it is with hot wings in buffalo sauce.

 

Music Pairing: A Flock of Seagulls – Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)
Tonight at the shop we’re hosting the next installment of the live tasting that was inspired by these posts. Getting Away With It is our homage to some of our favourite 80s electronic tracks and a chance to enjoy some kickass beers in good company. If you’re quick you can probably still snap up a ticket.

Wishing, by the wonderful A Flock of Seagulls, made our shortlist but didn’t make it into our final six for the night. So what better way to celebrate this great track than to pair it with this eclectic saison from Partizan. I think you’ll find it works as well with this track as it does with a steaming bowl of chicken pho.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And you can get Partizan Lemongrass Saison delivered to your door via our online shop.

Matthew Curtis's No More Heroes XVI – Kew Brewing Botanic Amber

Ah Kew Gardens, one of the nicest outdoor spots you can visit in London. Sometimes visits to this green space can be gloriously relaxing, even invigorating. Other times you’re left stranded on the treetop walkway, trapped by a thousand strong throng of people as the platform sways with the weight of bodies, reminding you that the whole thing could collapse at any moment, plunging all of us to our deaths.

Most of the time it’s quite nice though. Experiences like this remind me a little of visiting the pub. Sometimes you want to walk into a crowded bar and party. But others times you just want a nice, quiet little corner and a strong enough Wi-Fi signal so that you can sit and continually refresh your preferred social media channel endlessly, without being disturbed.

The last time I visited Kew Gardens I was pleased to see Dave Scott of Kew Brewery slinging his beers at a busy Sunday market. The brewery, which was set up by Dave and his wife Rachel, hit the ground running when they launched in May 2015. The Scotts have long been local to Kew, so it was no surprise to discover that they donate 5p of every pint sold to the World Land Trust.

Kew’s beers are inspired by its locale, proudly featuring British ingredients and occasionally including a botanical twist. Botanic Amber, for example, features just a hint of juniper. The malted barley is satisfyingly prominent in this beer, providing a rounded, caramel sweetness, which is then framed by an almost strawberry-like note from First Gold hops. The juniper arrives in the finish, with a bitter snap that gently lifts this 3.8% ABV beer to the next level, adding another subtle dimension of flavour.

Whether you’re looking to party in the treetops, or just sit on your own and relax with merely the entire internet for company, Kew’s Botanic Amber makes an ideal accompaniment.

Music Pairing: Radiohead – There There (The Boney King of Nowhere)
Radiohead are perhaps the band that’s had the greatest influence on me musically and so, like all other Radiohead fans I lost my shit at the news of a new album the other week.

One of my all-time favourite ‘Head (Radio, not Talking – although that’s where the former got their name from) tracks comes from their 2003 long player Hail to the Thief. HTTF is my perfect summer album, with dark, rich tracks evoking fat, thunderstorm rain and trees heavy with leaves. So it seems the perfect track to pair with this beer from Kew. That and (spoiler alert) at the end of the video frontman Thom Yorke actually turns into a tree. Enjoy this one loud – this is Radiohead at their guitar infused best.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And you can get Kew Botanic Amber delivered to your door via our new online shop.

Matthew Curtis's No More Heroes XV – Orbit Beers Neu

“You are astronomical fans of alcohol – so welcome in” – British Sea Power, Waving Flags

It’s a tough old gig being a beer geek. First they ram it down our collective throats that there’s a hop shortage. Then a plethora of the UK’s best breweries simultaneously release a set of increasingly rambunctious double IPAs. On top of this, the UK’s best seem to be banging out consistently delicious pale ales with increasing regularity. Nightmare.

While it’s true that a lot of smaller breweries are struggling to get hold of the specific hops they want to use in their beers, consumers are having a whale of a time, with more choice than ever. That choice doesn’t always need to be an intensely perfumed, Yakima hop infused beverage though. An increasing number of UK brewers are creating riffs on classic German styles such as Kölsch, Berliner Weisse, and my current personal favourite; Altbier.

Orbit Beers, based near Kennington in South London, have a place close to my heart. Like me (and, indeed, Hop Burns & Black), their passion for beer is equalled by their passion for music – and this shines through in their branding. Their Altbier, Neu, even takes its name from the German krautrock band of the same name who, just like Altbier, emerged from the town of Düsseldorf.

Neu pours a gratifying shade of burnished copper, not unlike a classic British best bitter. Its similarities between the UK’s national beverage don’t end there either. The flavour of this beer is centered around the malt, there’s a little chewy toffee, hints of brown sugar and just a little bit of hazelnut. After this comes the march of spicy, herbal German hops, which slaps the sweetness back like the rap of a snare drum on an 80’s post punk record. The finish is dry and satisfyingly bitter, it’s one of those beers that you just don’t want to stop drinking.

You could even drink one this Saturday and celebrate/commiserate the 500th anniversary of Germany’s beer purity law, the Reinheitsgebot. This law shaped the evolution of Germany’s beer culture much like CAMRA shaped our own here in the UK, except that its 10 times older.

Music Pairing: 
Increase your enjoyment of this beer by playing British Sea Power’s anthemic Waving Flags from their 2008 long player Do You Like Rock Music? It’s basically the modern indie rock equivalent of a Bavarian drinking song. Lederhosen optional.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And you can get Orbit Neu delivered to your door via our new online shop.

Matthew Curtis's No More Heroes XIV - Howling Hops West Coast Special IPA #2

I get that people worry about the gradual Americanisation of our beer culture, I really do. The key thing to remember, for me at least, is that the beer landscape exists as it does today because of shifting, global influence over hundreds of years. These days, that influence occurs exponentially thanks to how connected we are through technology and social media. If a brewer in California releases a revolutionary beer, then the rest of the world will know about it within minutes.

As a city, London is about as multicultural as it gets and it will happily take influence from whatever inspires it. Its breweries are no different: take Howling Hops in Hackney Wick for example. In the tall tanks stacked behind the bar, you'll see beers such the Czech inspired Howling Pils and plenty of US influenced beers such as Pale Ale No. 1, and the insanely tropical and juicy West Coast Special IPA.

I've been really impressed with the Howling Hops range ever since they moved from the tiny brewery underneath The Cock Tavern on Hackney's Mare Street to their state of the art facility in Hackney Wick. West Coast Special IPA has been the stand out beer for me so far. Those juicy, tropical notes I described earlier are astonishingly bright and defined, with flavours of lychee, mango and passion fruit being the most prominent. At this beer's end is a gigantic wave of dank, piney bitterness - those West Coast credentials really hitting home. In fact I'd go as far as to say this is one of the best UK examples of the style I've tried.

But don't worry, beers like this aren't going to take our British beer heritage away from us - they're just going to sit alongside and enhance it. In fact Howling Hops' Ruby Red is a fantastic modern interpretation of a classic British beer, I insist you try this too.

Music Pairing: The Champs - Tequila
At our tasting events in store, I always like to pair the beers we serve with some great music. I decided it was high time I started doing this with these posts too. I can't think of a better track to pair with this beer than The Champs' 1958 Cuban Mambo inspired anthem, Tequila. Stick this on after a few West Coast Specials and I guarantee that you'll be dancing on a bar top, just like Peewee Herman.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And you can get Howling Hops' stunning West Coast IPA #2 delivered to your door via our new online shop.