Last night my wife and I visited a new real ale pub for us, the Old New Inn in Colchester. It was a first time at that pub and our first time trying Grain Brewery beers. Introduce Grain Brewery Slate – which might just be the best porter ever produced.
I realise that’s quite a claim, especially given the competition from beers such as Old Growler, so beer with me here (yes, a deliberate typo).
Grain Brewery Slate has some serious things going on.
What the brewery say about Slate
I’m always a bit nervous about discussing brewery tasting notes. It kind of makes me feel like the brewery is telling you want you should taste, and lets be honest, taste is very subjective. There are a lot of people who will tell you they’re experts in real ale tasting, but fact is half of them are waffling.
Grain describe Slate as “A deep, dark and rich smoked porter, brewed with a complex blend of malts”.
What I say about Slate
Actually, the first thing I could taste was a subtle undertone of chocolate. If anything, the smokiness took a back seat. But the thing that struck me the most about Grain Brewery Slate was how smooth it was. I didn’t remember to get a photo of the pint (too busy raving about it!), but it had a very slight head to it which seemed to have appeared naturally, rather than because of how it was poured. Almost like the crema on a decent cup of coffee. Yes it had the malty flavours (what porter doesn’t) but this one was so complex with so many different flavours coming through; like no porter I’ve ever drunk before.
At 6% it might be a little be stronger than some might like, but with decent ABV comes great flavour. The pint was at the perfect temperature, too. Not too cold.
Grain Brewery Slate might just be the best porter ever produced
To me, this porter was perfection in a glass. It has everything I look for in a porter and more. I’m not a fan of smokey drinks, and this one was nthing to be scared of. I just can’t explained strongly enough how smooth this beer is. If you like the black stuff, you need to try this.
I’m a Real Ale drinker, so when I saw Pistonhead Full Amber Lager for sale in my local supermarket, I was intrigued. Not because it’s an ale, but because it boasts to be flavoured with Citra and Cascade hops. I love a hoppy beer, and despite Pistonhead Full Amber being labelled as a lager, I thought I’d give it a go.
Pistonhead Full Amber Lager gave me a very pleasant surprise
I wasn’t hoping for much, but ended up very surprised indeed by the 6.0% lager brewed in Sweden.
The notes for the beer describe it as a “dark, full-bodied brew” which is “dry-hopped with Citra and Cascade hops to offer a spicy citra edge”. For once, I completely agree with the description. In fact, I’d go as far to bet that if you gave a real ale snob a glass of Full Amber they’d be very unlikely to describe it as a lager.
I’m a huge fan of a real ale called ‘Citra’ produced by the brewery Oakham Ales. If you’ve ever tried Citra, imagine a more malty edge to the flavour and you’ve got Pistonhead Full Amber Lager.
Would I recommend Pistonhead Full Amber Lager?
Yes I would. Okay, so the beer comes in a can and not a bottle which will immediately upset the snobs at the Campaign for Real Ale. Full Amber definitely is not a real ale, but is as damn close as a lager is ever going to get in terms of flavour, body and strength.
I can image it being perfect for a hot summers evening with a burger in the garden, or easy carrying for an outside event. Definately a drink that is likely to be enjoyed in the warmer months.
Overall, I’m very impressed, and Full Amber will be making in to my summer drinks chiller this year.
I don’t usually like drinking Real Ale at home, mainly because the only option is bottled ale and bottled ale doesn’t have the same body as draft or gravity. Bottled ale is also much more fizzy than draft because of the conditioning process continuing inside the bottle. I don’t like fizzy ale.
It’s fair to say I was very impressed with the Adnams Broadside mini keg. My father-in-law (an ex-publican) knows a little bit about keeping ale so he had made sure that the keg was already in a cool place on the kitchen windowsill and that it had been resting for just over 24 hours. This is important as it allows any yeast in the keg to settle and ensures a clear pint. He had also ensured that he had vented the keg as per the instructions. This is also important as it allows any excess gas to escape and prevents you getting covered in beer the first time you open the tap to experience your first pint of Adnams Broadside.
I have drunk a lot of Broadside in my time (and I mean A LOT). It was the first ever draft Real Ale I tried and I immediately loved it. My local pub was once and Adnams tied pub and Broadside made a regular appearance so I often walked home with a belly full of it.
The Adnams Broadside mini keg didn’t fail to impress. The beer tasted as good as it does at the pub, albeit a little less strong. But it was a perfect compliment to Christmas and I certainly recommend it. It comes out at 4.7% ABV and each cask contains 5 litres (about 8 and a half pints) for around £18-20.
Every now-and-then, Aldi supermarket have a range of different Ales available and yesterday I discovered a new one called Spill the Beans Coffee Porter produced by Welsh brewery Brains. I love dark beers and I love coffee porters so snapped a few up, and at a quid a bottle, who wouldn’t?
I poured it in a glass and Spill the Beans Coffee Porter looked like a porter. Can’t say much more about that.
Sadly, Spill the Beans Coffee Porter just didn’t hit the spot for me. Although the flavours were balanced (and could definitely taste coffee and the promised caramel flavour) the beer just lacked body. It felt far too thin on the pallet, I’d even go as far as saying it was watery.
Also, as is often the case with bottled ale, it was far too fizzy. In fact, it was so fizzy I felt like it had been carbonated at bottling stage rather than been conditioned in the bottle (which could explain the lack of body).
Would I recommend it?
No. OK, so it’s £1 a bottle which makes Brains Spill the Beans Coffee Porter a very cheap beer, but as the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. It wasn’t bad, but compared to a real ale like Colchester Brewery’s Brazillian Coffee porter or the classic Nethergate Old Growler it was miles off. It’s a cheap drink and tastes like a cheap drink.
Shame, as if Spill the Beans had taste as good as the label looked it could have been a better all-round beer. But for me it lacked body.
There was a time when the words ‘real ale’ would make someone imagine old men sitting around a pint of bad bitter and moaning about the world. But since 2005 real ale has seen a huge resurgence and is now extremely popular. In fact, real ale is now fashionable and becoming more and more popular by the year.
Once a beverage of little understanding, real ale has become a very important part of the British pubs drinks menu with some pubs now specialising specifically in it.
A knock-on effect of this has been the opening of hundreds of microbreweries: small, privately owned breweries supplying a small amount of craft ale to local public houses. There has also been a rise in so called ‘Micropubs’: a very small, single room public house, specialising in providing quality beers.
The rise in popularity of real ale is attributed to work carried out by CAMRA as well as a huge range of different types and flavours of beers making them more marketable to beer drinker. In fact, it was CAMRA which coined the term ‘real ale’ describing it as “beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide”. As long as the beer is unfiltered, unpasteurised and still active on the yeast, it’s a real ale.
Huge variation means there’s a real ale for everyone
Unlike many mass produced lagers, real ale has a distinctive taste and there is a huge variation between them. Most people would struggling to tell you the difference between Fosters and Carlsberg but it couldn’t be more different for real ales. There are a number of methods that brewers use to produce different flavours including using different types of hops, barleys and additional flavours which might include lemon, grapefruit, berries, caramel, ginger, molasses and many other flavours. Colours will vary too, ranging for a dark stout to a light golden beer.
The huge variation in flavours available to the consumer means that there is a real ale for everyone. It may take someone a while to fully understand what they prefer, but once you understand the basics it becomes much more easier to chose an ale that suits. This means that microbrewies are constantly looking to brew new flavours and explore new brewing techniques, which in turn leaves real ale drinkers free to try different beers as they appear in their local pub.
Brewery taps (the nearest outlet for a brewery’s beers) will usually trial a beer on their own customers before releasing it to other local pubs.
What’s the difference between Real Ale and ‘cask-conditioned beer’?
Nothing. They are both the same product. Some other names might include ‘real cask ale’, ‘real beer’ and ‘naturally conditioned beer’. All are conditioned in a cask, barrel or bottle for the final stage of fermentation.
Real Ale isn’t just for men!
Real Ale isn’t just for men. In fact, in 2012 Annabel Smith became on of the first British Beer sommeliers and can often been seen on TV and heard in radio praising real ale. She is regularly appointed by brewers, pub companies and corporate organisations to arrange and host beer and food events and she also hosts tutored beer tasting sessions for a variety of clients. In between all that she is a co-founder of Dea Latis, an organisation to promote the beauty of beer to women both inside and outside the industry.
How do I get into real ale?
The best way is to visit your local real ale pub and ask for some advice. The Good Beer Guide lists thousands of pubs across the UK which serve real ale so you should be able to find one easily. If you’re a lager drinker, explain the types you like and perhaps start on a golden beer. If you’re a Guinness drinker try a stout or a porter. Most real ale drinkers will be happy to talk to you about their favourite tipple so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Some pubs will also provide a ‘taster’ so that you can try before you buy. Others will do a selection of three ales (in 3rd of a pint glasses) for the same price as a pint so that you can get an idea of the different beers available.
Another great way is to visit one of the thousands of beer festivals which are put on across the country where you will be presented with a massive range of ales to try in either half pint or full pint measures. Ask the people serving: tell them what you like (and don’t) and they’ll suggest something. In most cases they’ll let you have a free taster as well.
Finally, if you’re still struggling for confidence, why not buy some bottled ale from your shop or order a real ale tasting kit online to try at home? You’ll never get the same great taste as a draft beer pulled at the pub, but you will get some idea of what you might like to try when you eventually do get to the bar!