08 February 2016

Blind justice

And so, before January had even slinked away, the 2016 beer festival calendar got under way at Franciscan Well in Cork. Irish cask beer has been central to this bijou affair in the brewpub yard since its inception in 2011 but this year the service was 100% cask, which was fun. Beoir, with the organisers' co-operation, took the opportunity to hold a competition to judge and declare Ireland's best cask beer. I had intended to do no more than heckle the tasting panel while I worked along the taps but ended up roped into a bit of judging as well. This did mean that I got to taste several new beers blind, which is of course how beer ought to be evaluated. I took my own notes as I went and matched them to their names at the end. My team, also including future pro-brewers Barry and Brendan, was allocated dark beers for the most part.

Black's World's End
World's End imperial stout by Black's of Kinsale was not part of our line-up for some reason, but I snaffled some from the other end of the table when I heard loud disagreements about it. It ended up taking second prize overall so consensus was that it was great. I was one of the dissenters, however. The first sip is unquestionably beautiful: thick and strong and luscious with a silky, warming hot chocolate effect. But within seconds it turns and finishes stale, reminding me very specifically of that awful brown substance which passes for chocolate in the USA. Nobody wants to drink a Hershey bar. I never cease to be amazed that anyone wants to eat one either, mind. Perhaps the dispense is to blame and the sample I got was oxidised -- I'd certainly be happy to try it again bottled. But on the day it just rubbed my palate up the wrong way.

In general, I'm a fan of stout on cask. I imagine they're difficult to mess up and the smoothness and complexity that cask lends really suits the style. So I was surprised by how poor I found most of the regular-strength stouts. 9 White Deer's Lón Dubh, for instance, tasted powerfully of caramel wafer biscuits, while also being unforgiveably thin. The cask-exclusive West Cork Brewery -- who ended up taking the top prize for their Roaring Ruby red ale -- also had Stout x Stout West in contention. There's cinnamon and chocolate in this, but not enough of one and too much of the other. The cinnamon is overpowering and it ends up tasting sweetly medicinal: mouthwash to me; syrup-of-figs to Brendan. A dash of molasses and a hint of chocolate do nothing to balance the mess.

Torc Kingdom Porter
Things get a little better when the sweetness is dialled back. Torc's Kingdom Porter, tasted later once judging had ended, goes all-out for dryness with a big black-malt roast kick and finishes on a scouring sharp grain husk. It's pretty severe, though the cask texture does help round it a little. I don't think they've got the recipe wrong, but you need to like your porters ashen to enjoy this.

Late last year O Brother had a popular coffee stout doing the rounds. I didn't get to try it, but I'm assuming that No Joe at this event was a coffeeless version of the same. A vanilla and chocolate aroma opens it but it switches unexpectedly on tasting to quite a green bitterness. A little harsh, perhaps, but still pleasant for sipping.

For reasons known only to head steward Kellie, we got one ale in our set, which turned out to be Winter Solstice by Killarney Brewing. It proved a rather dull red-brown job, low on both aroma and flavour though harshly yeast-bitten and with an unpleasant alcoholic heat. I could see what the brewers were going for within the coppery winter warmer genre, but this didn't work for me.

Best of the bunch was Dungarvan's Coffee & Oatmeal Stout, but of the new beers Yellow Belly's Rosehip Schwarzbier impressed me most. In no way does it resemble a schwarzbier, however, so it was deducted a token couple of points on stylistic grounds, though that didn't prevent it from going on and taking the best lager award. It smells simply of bananas and is light bodied, fitting the modest 4.5% ABV. And it tastes pink: a strongly floral perfume melding with dark chocolate, coming out like those old-fashioned raspberry ruffle sweets, but with a tart edge to aid drinkability. Silly, but fun.

We'll stay with Yellow Belly as we move out to more beers I didn't get served blind. Yellow Belly Brown Porter was a late addition to the line-up on Saturday afternoon, when it looked like supplies were in danger of running out. This is also very tasty, but doesn't really match the style accorded to it. There's a lovely sweet and spicy pipe tobacco flavour with smooth fruit sherbet and then a cheeky smack of lime on the finish. Great drinking, but you need to watch out for the stealth 7.5% ABV.

Also brewed at Yellow Belly, but under head brewer Declan's own marque, was Otterbank Pine Needle Berliner. There's barely any sour tang in this murky orange 4.9%-er, nor anything I'd pick out as pine needle, but there is a huge expanse of tropical fruit juice. It's a bit one-dimensional that way, though refreshing when cold. I probably shouldn't have sat over it so long since an unpleasant chlorophenol note is your reward for letting it get any way warm.

Metalman fulfilled the "strange brews" part of the festival brief thanks to an accident in their brewery involving their Equinox wheat lager. The result is Spring, with added lemon peel, thyme and pink peppercorn, and still a lager despite what the pumpclip says. It's another light and refreshing quencher, the peppercorns giving it a subtle aftershave spice while the citrus adds a kind of lemon-and-lime 7-Up shandy effect. This manages to deliver all the fun of odd fruits and spices without them dominating the underlying beer. Perhaps more summer than spring, but I could definitely quaff a lot of it.

And finally for this year, Torc India Pale Ale No. 1, a belter at 7.2% ABV but very drinkable with the soft and cool cask texture. And tasting clean, before you ask, despite that haze. The styling seems very English to me, in the best possible sense: all spicy orange marmalade spread thick on wholegrain toast. You don't get many beers of this sort produced in Ireland, it has the makings of a future classic and I'm not sure the series needs any revised sequels.

There was time for a couple of swift ones on the way back to the train so I dropped in to The Bierhaus, knowing they were serving Wired from Trouble Brewing. This 5.9% ABV oatmeal IPA is a scaled-down version of last year's Hardwired double IPA. It's an attractive red-gold and tastes like another Trouble classic: big grapefruit and seriously resinous weedy hops, though I guess some of that full mouthfeel is provided by the oatmeal. It's a welcome bigger brother to Graffiti and I'd be happy if it became a regular feature, especially now that Galway Bay is halting production of its own oatmeal IPA.

I followed it, perhaps inadvisedly, with another IPA. Cork city's own Cotton Ball has brewed one with blood orange and called it Another Bloody IPA. I found it heavy and quite malt forward from the bottle, but that could have been down to my wired palate. There is a citrus element to the taste but it's muted: more sherbet than pith. It's decent, but not terribly exciting and doesn't really stack up against the like of Beavertown's Bloody Ell.

With that, it was time to grab some train beers and head back to Dublin. Well done to all the competition winners and congratulations to Franciscan Well for another great festival. I'm still slightly spooked that Ireland seems to produce better pale beers on cask than dark, but I'll just have to live with that.

05 February 2016

Chill out

Session logo"Snowed in" is the topic Jon Abernathy has chosen for this month's Session, raising the perennial controversy over when winter ends and spring begins. Ireland persists with the daftly optimistic notion that 1st February is the beginning of spring, which is, of course, nonsense. Look outside if you don't believe me. Does that look like spring to you?

Anyway, to 57 The Headline again, on a chilly, damp January evening. The draw was the Christmas special beer from Connemara's Independent Brewing: a Barley Wine presented in two different barrel-aged forms, one in Jack Daniels casks, the other in an unspecified type of brandy. I failed to secure any bottles of it but fortunately the pub had commissioned a 20L keg of each.

Surprise no. 1 was how pale it is: almost golden. Kevin the brewer happened to be on hand to explain that it's a 100% pale malt grist. First for the taste test was the Brandy version and I didn't get much barrel character from it. Kevin said it was much more apparent as it came out of the conditioner but admitted that it seems to have disappeared here. There was a certain rich fruitiness to the aroma which could have been the spirit at work, but I quickly began treating this as though it were an unaged version, enjoying the heavy warmth and sharp grown-up bitterness. Very much in the style of an English strong ale, I thought, though it turns out the hops are a mix of Magnum and Willamette. Go figure. It's an enjoyable winter sipper without much by way of novelty enhancements.

All the enhancements are present in the Bourbon edition, however. A big vanilla bang right at the outset and then a tang of classic JD sourness which goes a long way to cover the bittering effect of the hops. Thankfully the warming properties of the base beer remain intact and aren't boosted past the point of comfort. The end result is a beer that's heavily bourboned but at 8.1% ABV has all the heft required to counterbalance it.

A taster of each was enough before I reverted to a sessionable pint of Graffiti. Our host asks "Imagine you were snowed in at a cabin in the mountains for the winter. What one beer would you want with you?" If I'm honest that's more likely to be the session beer than any of the strong ones. Big winter beers are OK for a short while but they do tend to leave me hankering for something sunnier soon afterwards. Now where has spring got to?

03 February 2016


I'm aware of the risk that this blog may turn into What I Drank At 57 The Headline but, for better or worse, that's where I encounter a lot of new beers these days, and often ones that aren't even on the pub's stock list.

For example, I spent an enjoyable afternoon recently, chatting beer with fellow enthusiasts Dorothy, Simon and Andrew for a radio documentary Andrew's missus Laura is making. At the end, the guys produced a bottle of Allagash Curieux for the table. It's a looong time since I last drank any Allagash beer so I was keen to find out how they'd been getting along while my attention has been elsewhere.

In keeping with the name, it's something you don't see very often: a bourbon-aged tripel. Tripels, in this writer's opinion, are all about the freshness and spices. I was a bit sceptical as to whether wood-ageing might improve one. It started pleasantly enough with bitter yet juicy melon rind and orange pith. "Coconut" is one of the descriptors on the label and yes, I get that too. But after these initial treats from the base beer, in sweeps the blaring raw oak from the barrel, coating everything in a thick layer of whisky and vanilla. The bourbon doesn't spoil things completely but it does dirty up what I suspect is quite a decent Belgian-style beer underneath. Still, it's always nice to try something different -- thanks Laura and Andrew!

Meanwhile, proprietor Geoff has been collecting beer from all over, including this sample bottle of Celtic Warrior from Cavan-based Hyland Brewing, though the beer itself is brewed at the Craftworks brewery in Dublin. Like a lot of the pale ales coming from Irish start-ups these days, it's designed to be accessible: a sessionable 4.5% ABV, copper orange in colour and balancing a bitterness that's no more than marmalade level with a lightly sugary malt stickiness.

The recipe designer seems to have aimed for -- and succeeded at -- something inoffensive, though personally I don't see how anyone could be offended by the gorgeous hoppy high notes you find in the next-level Irish pale ales like Eight Degrees Grand Stretch, Trouble Graffiti and White Hag Little Fawn: I think I speak for the entirety of Ireland's drinking public when I say that the nation's basic pale ales should be more like these. If you're in Cavan, though, I reckon Celtic Warrior is still a lifesaver. Baby steps. For now.

01 February 2016

Dis und dat

I got these Distelhäuser beers from Barry a shamefully long time ago and they were at the front of the queue when I began an overdue clear-out of my beer fridge recently.

Starting with Distel Blond, a 5.1%-er with the unusual distinction of being a top-fermented German ale. Unkonventionell, as the label helpfully puts it. It's a very pale gold in the glass, topped by a happy and bright blanket of froth. The aroma speaks of moist white fruit: pear, lychee and white peach -- juicy but with a sterner note of acetone or gasoline. The texture is light, verging on watery, with the space filled by carbonic fizz. But the fruit still pokes through on the flavour, with the malt adding a tasty burst of sherbet to it, finishing on a sauvignon-blanc-like light citrus. National stereotypes being what they are, I had expected something serious and husky here, but it's not. It's a joyous celebration of malts and hops which I'd say makes for ideal summer drinking. And much as I love quality lager I'm sure this makes a welcome change from them.

Suitably impressed I move on to the next one: an IPA with a cavalcade of top hops: Amarillo! Centennial! Cascade! Simcoe! And, er, First Gold, which was presumably on special offer. Lucky Hop is rose-gold and there's more of that lychee-and-petrol effect in the aroma, as well as an eye-watering marker-pen burn from a very obvious 7.7% ABV. It tastes quite plain to begin with but after a second the hops arrive bringing a heat with the bitterness. It's as thick as the foregoing beer is thin, rather syrupy in fact, and mixing that up with the green acid hop burn makes for an intense, but not necessarily enjoyable, experience. It calms down on the finish and you get your lychees back, which is nice. But this scores low on the drinkability scale. All those hops and I don't think any are lucky. Next!

Back down to earth with 5.5% ABV Black Pearl porter. Proper black, with a brown trim when held up to a strong light, and smelling pleasingly liquoricey. Liquorice in the taste as well, but much more besides: luxurious high-cocoa chocolate, exotic smoke, even more exotic gunpowder, vanilla, rosewater, zinc and wrapping up on a dry burnt note. Phwoar! The texture is that of a much stronger beer: not quite syrup but distinctly unctuous. I'm very impressed by this. Maybe I'd like a bit more sweet floral character, and the metallic burnt bit upsets an otherwise perfect smoothness, but if more breweries were turning out medium-strength porters like this we'd all be drinking them.

A tough act to follow for the big finish: Loch Ness stout is the same strength and more or less the same colour, though the head is darker, greyer even. Its aroma is a sweet and bready fudge cake and the texture lovely and smooth, mouth-coating velvet like some sort of platonic ideal of stout. The flavour is a lot simpler, however. Sweet chocolate is the bulk of it, backed by a yeast kick that's almost Belgian in its spiciness. It's another very well made beer, even if it doesn't have half the bells and whistles of the porter.

I'm thoroughly impressed by this showing from Distelhäuser, the IPA notwithstanding. You can bleat all you want about the craft movement trying to tear down what makes German beer great, but the quality of these ones, and the dark ones in particular, is equal to the best of classic Belgian and British brewing. They deserve a wider audience, if any importers reading have a gap in their portfolio for German porter and stout.

28 January 2016

Brewpub roulette

I've mentioned before that micronations are a bit of a fascination for me. A week in Nice over New Year left plenty of time for the short train trip eastwards to Monaco, a barely-there principality clinging to the side of the mountains which sweep down to the Med. Just before they get there, however, there's a yacht-filled harbour and among the quayside clubs and bars is Brasserie de Monaco, the country's only producer of beer. Inside, it's a typically stylish nightclub, all low leather seating and mood lightning. Somewhere to drink cocktails and be seen. But where you might expect to see the DJ box there's a shiny chrome brewkit, and by the malty smells emanating from it when I walked in, it's very much in active use.

Pils and Bière de Noël
Three beers were available and we sat outside to work through them in the last of the winter sun. Pils de Monaco is 5.2% ABV and very obviously unfiltered, presenting a cloudy orange colour. It still tastes nicely clean, however, with a refreshing lemon spritz in the foretaste and a bit of a waxy kick on the end. With no yeast fuzz or husky grainsack it's a clear cut above many a brewpub's lager. There's substance to the style at this place.

In place of the usual Ambrée, the brewery was serving Bière de Noël, a dark spiced 7%-er which presented as a murky brown colour and smelled of coffee roast. It tastes surprisingly dry, with a touch of milk chocolate and just a light dusting of the Christmas spices. While sweet it's not cloying, having that in common with good milk stout, and it certainly hides its strength very adeptly. Decent stuff.

So there had to be a clanger and it's the witbier, Blanche de Monaco. 4.8% ABV and looking the part: the right sort of hazy pale yellow. The description says it uses native Monegasque oranges, which is actually quite impressive, given how much farming generally gets done in Monaco. But... the flavour just isn't there. You get a little hint of jasmine spice at the front, but once that's gone there's nothing behind it but a hollow wateriness and a yucky tang of soap. Maybe the coriander needs upped, maybe the yeast needs changed, but this is not a good example of a witbier and is definitely a rank below its brethern.

So you needn't go rushing to Monte Carlo for the beer, but I can imagine a few rounds of that pils going down very nicely of a warm afternoon.

25 January 2016

A week in Provence

The annual New Year jaunt was to Nice last time round, in search of some Mediterranean sunshine and arty culture but not really for beer. Which of course is not to say some beer didn't cross my path during my week on the Côte d'Azur.

Nice itself has one brewery, La Brasserie Artisanale de Nice, based in an unassuming shop unit not far from the centre of town. There's no tap room but it does open for a few hours each day for off sales, as long as you don't mind interrupting the labelling or packing work going on. I came away with the three core beers plus two seasonals.

I began working through them with Blùna, a witbier. There was lots of sediment in the bottle and lots of fizz as it poured, the fine white mousse on top stayed for the duration of drinking it -- possibly because of the oatmeal listed among the ingredients. First impressions of smelling and tasting were of something not quite right: a strong lactic quality, exactly like spoiled milk. It needs a few minutes for the coriander herb flavour to start taking the edge off this but it never quite dispels the unpleasantness, and neither do the more subtle sparks of black pepper and lemon juice. I don't know whether it's a production flaw or just a bad recipe, but I was not off to a good start.

To follow, a 5% ABV blonde called Zytha, brewed using grains of paradise and, oddly, chickpeas. The aroma is a lovely waft of exotic fruit, all mango and passionfruit, and that's the main element of the flavour too, with just a slight incense spicing from the grains. The body is a little thin for the strength, though a mineral softness helps it avoid outright wateriness. It would be nice to know what the hops are but I'm guessing some sort of tropical power combo involving Mosaic, Nelson or Equinox: it's very much that sort of New-World-inspired juicy pale ale rather than anything like your typical French blonde, and so much the better for that.

No hop ambiguity in the third member of the brewery's core range: Hopstock is described as both an ambrée and a Cascade pale ale. It's certainly amber -- a hazy dark red colour. A spiced toffee aroma promises hops but keeps them on the down-low. The texture is heavy and chewy, accentuated by a flavour that's big on chocolate and caramel. There's a floral rosewater fruitiness but that's as far as the Cascade goes: you get no real bitterness, just a sharp metallic tang on the end which may be more down to the yeast floaters than anything else. It's definitely a bit rough-and-ready, in need of a polish.

I brought the specials home with me and first out was Cougourdoun, the brewery's take on a pumpkin beer, utilising courge de Nice ("winter squash" in English, apparently) plus ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. It's the last of these which really leaps out of the murky red-brown beer on tasting, though the aroma is sweeter and fruitier, suggesting pumpkin flesh to me. It's quite refreshing to find nutmeg and cinnamon as mere background players in a beer like this. The cloves are bright and fresh and chewy, imparting all their oiliness which goes some way to offset an irritating thinness in a beer which should feel bigger at 5.5% ABV. Enough fruity sweetness comes through to create a lovely apple pie effect. Sure, it suffers from the usual one-dimensionality of these autumn spiced ales but I found it enjoyable drinking nonetheless.

Last up from Brasserie Artisanale de Nice is Calèna, their Christmas seasonal. This is a chocolate milk stout, once again incorporating cinnamon and ginger, plus added clementine zest. The aroma shows the spices to a certain extent plus a little bit of cacao bitterness. It tastes clean with a touch of chocolate and no more than a dusting of spice. There's a milky texture and a creamy residue is left on the palate after swallowing. While a sharper sweetness is present I could not say whether this is the cinnamon or the fruit: my guess is that any clementine influence has been buried completely. Overall it's another well-balanced and drinkable beer, despite the complexity of the recipe. The brewer has shown great restraint in both the addition of the flavourings and keeping the ABV down at a cool 5.5% when there must have been a temptation to ramp it up.

Not far from the brewery there's a tiny off licence called Brune Rousse Houblon with an excellent selection of French and international beers. A few very interesting rarities from Canada's Dieu du Ciel! caught my eye but I figured that they probably wouldn't have been in the best shape so left them in favour of an all-French selection.

Microbrasserie Lou Soulèu is based around the coast in Antibes. The first one I tried from them was a blonde ale called Pretty Nice. It pours very murky with a desultory head and tastes quite dirty too, rather like a homebrewish unfiltered pils. Saaz and Perle are listed on the label so at least some of the lagerlike quality must be down to them. There's a slight peachiness as well which could be the American contingent, Willamette, at work. I was expecting Franco-Belgian hot esters as well but they're mercifully absent. Overall, a rough and ready sort of beer. A bit of cleaning up would do it the power of good.

Its companion is an "American IPA" called Riviera Connection. A faint puff of gas as the cap came off immediately told me that this was one for the carbonation dodgers, and sure enough almost no head forms on pouring. The body is a clear amber and it doesn't smell of much due in part, I'd say, to the lack of gas pushing out the aroma. The flavour is interesting: a bone-dry hop acidity, almost acrid but not quite. Beside this there's the lightly fruited toffee more usually found in amber ale, a wisp of smoke and crunch of fresh cabbage. This would be superb if it wasn't for the flatness making it seem tired and stale, which it isn't. A craft work in progress, I think.

Moving out to other regions, there's a more pleasing fizz and pale colour about St Glinglin Houblon by Brasserie Artesienne, though a lot of yeasty grit is visible in the bottle awaiting the unwary pourer. It smells of fresh bitter citrus, like fine French lemonade. There's lots of cheery lemon sherbet sweets in the flavour, plus sparks of herb and spice and a nicely oily hop-resin finish. Everything about it is bright and fresh and clean, showing how important local is if you're going to insist on making this sort of hop-forward ale. The bottle had travelled almost the full length of France but you get the idea. 6% ABV lends it a certain robustness but it's not heavy or any way hot. A convincing west coaster from Northern France.

The St Rieul brewery is in Picardy and its Grand Cru is a 9% ABV tripel. It looks innocent enough: the cloudy orange colour of many a good spicy tripel, but the flavour is a blaring mess, at once overly sweet, jarringly bitter and hot hot hot. There's a sickly blast of peach nectar and lurid mixed-fruit breakfast juice hitched to a biting edge of orange and lemon pith, and though you might expect some kind of citrus harmony from this it doesn't balance at all. It finishes on an acrid burnt plastic note which does complement the alcoholic vapours but not in a good way. This is very hard drinking and something of a penance to get through.

Brasserie Saint Germain is further north again, near Lille, and makes beers under the Page 24 brand. Page 24 Stout is badged as being Irish-style though is only 3.9% ABV. It was a bugger to pour, piling up masses of tan-coloured foam and refusing to settle down. When I finally got my face near it I got a fairly intensely dry burnt aroma followed by an extremely burnt flavour. This tastes of charcoal, like it has been thoroughly incinerated. I swear there's even dry charred flakes of ash in the texture. It's a difficult beer to drink, unbalanced and unrelenting, and not what any stout -- Irish, French or otherwise -- should be about.

So I was wary when I approached Page 24 IPA. This one wasn't keen on forming a head at all and took a bit of coaxing to raise some foam. It looks pretty in the glass, though: the classic bright copper of an American-style IPA. The label's promise of aromatic hops isn't fronting: a sniff delivers juicy mango and a sharper resin, the sort of smell that would be perfectly at home in a whopper double IPA and is an extra bonus at just 4.9% ABV here. It's not as much of a sensation on tasting, though it is very nice. Instead of tropical fruit there's more of a spicy gunpowder flavour, tailing off to orangey sherbet. This effect is heightened by that low carbonation and I really felt that it did need a bit more fizz to bring the hop flavours to life. There are some lovely thirst-quenching tannins too, but the flatness causes an unsettling lemon tea effect. I like lemon tea but I don't necessarily want to be reminded of that by my IPA. Something of a curate's egg, this, but there's definitely potential for greatness.

Cuvée d'Oscar, to finish, is short on branding information, only that it's brewed at Proef in Belgium for someone called Craig Allan, and I can see his signature on the oil-painting label artwork. The tech specs are more forthcoming and we're told it's a 7.5% ABV dark wheat beer, dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin. Nothing wheaty about the lacklustre head, however, which is just as well as I only had a small glass to hand. It's a murky brown colour and smells fruity and spicy, all sherbet and grapefruit zest. The flavour blends a slightly astringent citric bitterness with softer caramel from the dark malts for a sort of chocolate candybar studded with dried orange peel effect. Unusual, but very interesting. It's rare for a dark wheat beer to hold my attention for any length of time though that may be because nobody's thought of dumping a load of Nelson into one before. I approve.

As well as wandering around Nice, Antibes and Cannes, there was also a side-trip to Monaco, which actually has a brewery you can drink in! My report on that follows next.

21 January 2016

Shropshire drops

Not far from where I spent Christmas in the Shropshire countryside is the Red Lion pub in the village of Longden Common. It's as pleasant a country inn as you could wish for: ceiling beams, an open fire, hearty food and so on. And there's the added bonus of The Shropshire Brewer producing beer in an adjoining building.

Sawn Off and The Golden Arrow
Three of the house beers were pouring on cask when I dropped by on the night before Christmas Eve. My first was The Golden Arrow, a 3.8% ABV pale ale. The fingerprints of burtonisation are all over this, with the slightly farty aroma and spicy, sulphurous, vaguely cabbagey element in the flavour. It's smooth for all that; light without being watery and delicately hopped though very much going for edgy bitterness over fruit notes. A simple and decent house beer, really.

All the dials get turned up for Spire Dancer, though it's only a little bit stronger at 4.2% ABV. This is a darker shade of gold with rich golden syrup malt notes, shading even towards candy sugar, and green waxy bitterness. The texture is heavy too, and more than anything this beer reminds me of German pale bock. I'd have reverted straight back to the Golden Arrow, but there was one beer left to try.

Sawn Off is a traditional brown bitter and gets to work quickly with the caramel and chocolate, both in the aroma and flavour. Though enticing to begin with it gets overly sweet very quickly. Definitely not a beer to stick with either.

I suppose I should consider myself lucky that there was one beer to my taste available on the night. Other Shropshire Brewer beers are available.

Off round the backroads a different way there's The Bridges, a pub owned by the Three Tuns Brewery. I started my brief visit here with a pint of Cleric's Cure IPA, a golden 5%-er. It has a little in common with Spire Dancer in that it's a heavy, waxy sort of ale, but it also had a delicious kick of spicy sandalwood in its flavour profile that helps prevent the palate getting overwhelmed.

I followed it with a swift pint of Three Tuns Stout which is one of those very sweet ones, putting me immediately in mind of the Arthurstown one I reviewed recently: it has the same sort of treacle pudding effect. The texture is beautifully light which makes it very easy to drink despite that slight stickiness.

Before leaving I got a taste of the Three Tuns winter seasonal XXXXXXX (that's seven of them), a 9.5% ABV winter warmer with, according to the pumpclip, added coffee, chocolate and cognac. It's not as crazy as that spec suggests, though the dark gold beer is extremely thick and definitely not one to drink in a hurry. It's smooth and, while I couldn't detect any coffee or chocolate, there is a little bit of a brandy kick in amongst the very beery warmth. It seems odd to say a beer like this is subtle and balanced, but this one is.

Finally to Salopian Brewery and I didn't get any of their beers on draught but picked up a couple of bottles of their prestige range at the Beer Me Up Scotty stall in Shrewsbury Market Hall. Very little information is supplied on the bottles, but they look nice. The first was Midnight Express, presumably a stout of some sort. There's an annoying ice-cream-float head that meant it took ages to get into a pint glass, but that did give me time to appreciate the aroma: a gorgeous spicy green hoppiness suggesting black IPA rather than stout, perhaps. In keeping with the somewhat gloopy texture, the stiff head is a handsome dark tan colour. Unsurprisingly, hops are at heart of the beer's flavour: bitter cabbage and then a livelier lemon sherbet and grapefruit zest. A little bit of sweet café crème brings the darkness to the taste, but only briefly. Tongue-tingling citrus is how it finishes. While thick, it's also smooth so very drinkable, and packs a lot of complexity into 5.2% ABV. Stout, porter or black IPA, this is a masterfully designed beer.

The next one, Boomerang, also started out unpromisingly. Only 33cl to pour here and it looked a bit tired and flat: a murky yellow with a white skim of head. The yeast doesn't get much of a look-in past the hops, however: there's a strong, almost sickly, bang of tropical breakfast juice. If anything, the sharp yeast edge gives it a bit of balance, introducing a grown-up rind element to the kiddie juicebox. At 6.9% ABV I was expecting some heat but it's surprisingly light and zippy. It would be nice to try a cleaner draught version of this but it's certainly interesting and tasty as-is.

That's all from this trip to England. I spent 12 hours at home before heading off on the next excursion, which I'll cover next week.