The Durham Brewery White Stout

I don’t really go in for reviewing beer myself any more, I gave it a go and decided that I got more from reading other people’s thoughts.  But now and then something fun comes along, usually through Twitter, and when The Durham Brewery announced a hashtag (#whitestout) beer tasting I thought I’d get involved.  Having already commented on the White Stout concept I’ll just cut to the chase.  More details on the event here.

Billed as a Pale Stout, it was unsurprising that a pale golden beer emerged from the shadows of the bottle.  I didn’t have to waste valuable time agonising over the concept as I had already read what Sean (the brewer) had intended when making what some might call an oxymoronic beer.  In my mind it stays clear of bold claims and it is the chatter surrounding it that has been cleverly harnessed to make the most of its assets.

The bottle opens with a pop and a quick sniff reveals a strange aroma of straw and what I could only describe as the Jelly Belly Bean toasted marshmallow flavour (yes I know a flavour is not a smell).  It pours with crystal clarity and is a lively little so and so.  A billowing head forms and then settles, but didn’t go anywhere until I drained the last mouthful. The aromas in the glass were subdued, and as I read over and again on Twitter, the beer definitely changes with temperature.  I started from chilled.  The flavours were still pronounced, with biscuit malt and grapefruit/lemon bitterness and only later realised that they were subdued by the cold.  Over the next 30 minutes as it warmed a little, the aroma released more of the fruity hops and as one person described it as “Haribo-esque” character.  I’d agree with this, but would also say that it had a more grown up Belgian candy sugar quality to it.  The malts were coming through as musty and or damp, but I kept coming back to the toasted marshmallow jelly bean flavour.  The last third of the glass really started to show the beers true colours (no pun intended).  The alcohol was heavy and refusing to let anything else stand up to be counted.  I broke out the mature cheddar and can report that it saved the beer at this point in its transformation.

I must say that I enjoyed the beer cold and would buy it should I see it in the pubs, but I’d definitely want some cheese to go with it if I was having more than a refreshing quick-half.  Thanks to the brewery manager Elly (@durhambreweryel) and Sean (@dbrewersean) for the beers, and to those who helped coordinate, for an enjoyable and light-hearted interlude to my evening.  Keep up the good work!

Hardknott Queboid

Mercurial Millom Mashing

As part of the implementation of my new Local Policy on High Strength Beer Duty, and until further notice from my brain, I can now only drink beer over 7.5% abv between the hours of 10pm and 6am.  I am also keen to support Beersay‘s hash-tag movement (#7point5) and promote the good clean fun associated with special beer…I said special beer, not Special Brew!

First up, Hardknott Queboid.  An 8.0% abv Belgian style double IPA.  I’ve drunk my fair share of Hardknott beer, mainly in the comfort of my own home, and have enjoyed them all to date.  They have recently made Queboid available in 330ml bottles, my chosen vessel on this occasion, although I was civilised enough to decant it to a glass.  I did not pair this beer with food, music or anti-social behaviour,  I just drank it while watching the coal burn in my stove.  I am the epitome of rock n’ roll.  As I shut my eyes and ears to the world around me I transported myself to Bruges, sat in the warm sun and knowing that my only real worry is making it back to the docks and boarding the correct ferry.

For a beer that hails from an area of Cumbria better known for its proud history of iron-ore mining and sausage making, the charm and relaxed ambience synonymous with Belgium is present in each sip.  While “Belgian IPA is still [deemed to be] very much a style in development“, I’m reassured that brewing still has a voice and I’m more than happy to keep trying these creations.

It pours an orange-amber colour and retains a Belgian-style head! While being hoppier than a true Belgian beer, it’s fruity yeast aroma and generous malty midriff lead to a reasonably sweet finish, reminding you that it is not meant to be true to any ‘style’, more a beer with split personalities.

Queboid lies outside the norm, hence it is not called Cuboid.  It’s mix of fruity Belgian yeast, India Pale Ale robustness and West Coast American hoppery make it multi-faceted without being a puzzle that doesn’t bore you to tears [see Rubik’s Cube].  Keep up the good work Hardknott!

Point Break – Duty on High Strength Beers


Updated 14/10/11

Please sign this petition  – ‘Drop the October Beer Tax’.

N.B. Please enjoy this post responsibly.  The UK Chief Blogging Officers (CBOs) recommend that men should not regularly read more than 3–4 blog posts a day and women should not regularly read more than 2–3 blog posts a day.  ‘Regularly’ means reading every day or most days of the week.  You should also take a break for 48 hours after a heavy session to let your body recover.

The High Strength Beer Duty (HSBD) was introduced on 1st October 2011  (i.e. beer exceeding 7.5% abv (alcohol by volume) which is either produced in or exported into the UK), has got most of us that have an interest in beer and the welfare of the brewing industry riled.  I’m no exception.  It’s not a blogging line when I say I was chatting to a friend about this in the pub the other day.  It was a conversation which touched on many of the negative connotations  associated  with beer and beer drinkers.  No, not the connotations we see banded about to draw social divides between beer drinkers but the general bad press and overarching opinion of the government down, that drinking is fundamentally flawed (except from the tax revenue of course!).   You may have seen the blogs which focus on the brewers perspective, those working in independent retailers, and from a largely unified blogging fraternity including a Twitter ‘hash-tag’ collective (#7point5) over on Beersay and a piece for The Independent written by Will Hawkes.  Before getting on with life after 7.5, I wanted to add something hopefully a little different and from the heart of someone who can’t quite believe they have been taxed yet again.  If you feel the same, then write it down.  If you don’t like reading someone else’s rantings, then this probably isn’t for you.

It would be remiss of me to write what I’m about to write without acknowledging the valid points made by health professionals, social commentators and most importantly family members and circles of friends who are devastated by the undeniable effects of drinking alcohol too frequently and ultimately becoming dependent.  It can and does destroy lives.  However, it is so often the case that alcohol is only one of the contributing factors to the situation a ‘problem drinker’ may find themselves in.  Life is complex.  Furthermore, a problem drinker can mean so many different things.  Parts of the mass media and politicians, in general, would have us believe that our streets are lost and we are gripped by anti-social behaviour stemming from the consumption of cheap booze.  We see the footage on any given satellite, cable or free-view channel through one of the many extreme A&E/police/ambulance documentaries, and while there is no doubt in my mind that alcohol is a direct cause of the human and financial cost which burdens the tax payer, it is also my opinion that the governments reduction of the argument to the most simplistic form will reap  simplistic returns.  Quite simply, trying to disrupt the supply i.e. the ability to buy, and availability of, a product to meet the needs of a ‘problem drinker’ is far from understanding the issue.  There are many ways by which people who are dependent on any given substance will meet their needs.   See the governments full rationale for new duty measures here.  However, in summary and from the same document.

Policy objective:

The purpose of the measure is to tackle problem drinking by encouraging the industry to produce, and drinkers to consume, lower strength beers.

The new high strength beer duty is intended to impact on those “super strength” lagers associated with problem drinking. The reduced rate for lower strength beer will help to give responsible drinkers a wider choice of products.”

I am a man of 33 years and consider myself to be ‘doing ok’ and therefore a useful commodity to any government in power.  There are many like me.  Oh and I am a beer enthusiast.  Yet, despite my attempts to lead a “responible” life, my choice to buy alcohol of varying abv is being compromised by what appears to be a naive policy decision which is generally thought to be levelled at park bench or ‘shopping precinct’ drinkers.  Well guess what, these guys don’t drink every type or brand of alcoholic drink available in todays diverse market. Shocked? I’m not.   We have good reason to believe that these people are only buying mass-produced, cheap, high abv, low quality drinks from supermarkets, off-licences and some public houses.  They certainly do not find themselves enjoying a 330ml bottle of Russian Imperial Stout priced at £5, a bumper 750ml bottle of  India Pale Ale costing £8.99 or indeed a 500ml bottle of Barley Wine retailing at £10.99.  They might like to, but they cannot afford it, so they choose what the market has to offer them.   What is the governments solution to the problem drinker who has loopy-juice on tap? It is to sanction them along with the people who are so far removed from this chaotic world that you would need to recommission NASA’s ‘Endeavour’ to have any chance of reaching them. While we are all potentially only one pay check away from falling on hard times, it does not seem reasonable or logical to take a comedy sized brush and paint every Tom, Dick and Harry with tar and start a pillow fight.

I know that my knowledge on this subject is limited and that there are far reaching socio-political and economic factors which I can’t possibly know about to be able to comment on, but from where I’m standing, the tax hike on beer (yes just beer) that is brewed to an abv equal to, or above 7.5% is ludicrous.  There appears to be  some monumental legislative skimming-across both the route cause of, and the solutions to, the problems associated with alcohol misuse.  Maybe, even in the cash-strapped times our country finds itself in, we and our government should be more interested in addressing this ethically rather than apathetically. For the government to dress this up as positive action on alcohol misuse while they basically ‘look the other way’ is double-standards.  You cannot help a ‘problem drinker’ by limiting the availability of one contributing factor to their problems.  Real solutions may be expensive and extremely complicated, but this is purely a dismal attempt by the government to appear to be putting a ‘democratic’ foot down in response to this hot topic!

And breathe… and to lighten things up with yet another tenuous film link (a habit of mine).. . for Johnny Utah read:  ‘Craft Brewer’ or ‘Craft Drinker’ and I’ll let you use your imagination for the rest:

Johnny Utah:  Okay. I get it. This is where you tell me that ‘locals rule’, and that Yuppie insects like me shouldn’t be surfing the break, right?

Bunker Weiss: [smiling] Nope.

Surf Gang: That would be a waste of time…

Lupton “Warchild” Pittman: We’re just gonna f@ck you up!”

P.s. to those at the HM Treasury and anyone else who contributed to this legislation.  It may come as a shock to you that I can also buy enough ‘low’ or ‘mid-strength’ beer with the same budget and still be a problem drinker, or If I was to be a tad more cynical about this, then what’s stopping me buying any number of cheap alternatives to alcohol to help me forget my troubled life?

P.p.s. I’m not clever enough or close enough to the industry to understand what this change in duty really means to breweries in general, and specifically those breweries who have grafted for a piece of the market based on innovation and in creating beers that excite enthusiasts as well as enticing new ‘real ale’, ‘craft beer’ drinkers.  As far as I can see this change in duty is a clear message that beer brewers can still be creative, but with both hands tied behind their back.  Oh and us ‘responsible-drinkers’, and I use the term loosely, I guess we should just politely look at the floor and be grateful.  In part, I do believe that the governments intention is to use high strength beer duty to impact on those “super strength” lagers associated with problem drinking.  However, once again, the government seem to have turned up with their wrecking-ball to pick-the-lock.

Joking aside and in absolute seriousness:  Drink Aware.

I’m not the only person talking about this, check these out too:

Beersay – #7point5

Hardknott – Low abv, low duty, low IQ

Magic Rock Brew Co – New tax on high strength beers

Ghost Drinker – 1 week till judgement day

Beer Merchants – Today my job changed

Beersay – 7point5

Will Hawkes (The Independent) – Beer, the bitter taste of bad legislation

The Beer Boy (Zak Avery) – Higher strength beer duty, my view

The Beercast – Big beer month

Pdtnc – An open letter to my MP/MEPS on beer tax

It’s Just the Beer Talking (Jeff Pickthall) – Clutching at straws for a silver lining

Real Ale Reviews – High Strength Beer Idiotry

Moor Beer –  You can make a difference

Moor Beer – The rudest 4 letters hsbd

Gadds Beer Shop – Brewing betrayed

James Clay – High abv

Buntingford Brewery –

Wort ‘n’ All (The BlackIsle Boy) – High Strength Beer Rant

Taste Sensations (Dave Lozman) – Octoberfest? Octobertax Hike More Like It!

Buxton Beauties


Craft beer brewed in Buxton, in the Derbyshire Peak District
It’s always a little awkward when you find yourself waxing lyrical about a particular beer.  I’ve noticed that some people view this kind of feedback with suspicion, or at worst with an air of contempt that there may be an ulterior motive.  But having considered the fall-out from such declarations, I have decided that the only thing one can do is to proudly stick a hand-in-the-air and shout it out loud!A couple of months ago I was made aware of the Buxton Brewery.  Now, it’s no longer a secret that these guys are turning out some fantastic beers and they have received some well deserved applause from many.   But once in a while there is a beer, or in this case a brewery, which makes me pay a little more attention.  It’s not the marketing as I’m yet to see anything other than what I see on Twitter, and it’s not that the bottles jumping off the shelf, as with the greatest respect the labeling is standard and tells you what you need to know with no unnecessary frilly-bits.  The reason I mention this, is that there is a case for selecting a beer based purely on its looks and there are a few breweries that commission artists or other creative types to design their range of labels (check out Ghost Drinker’s blog on ‘Detour to Beer Art’ or Real Ale Reviews ‘Like Trousers, Like Brain!’ for an insight into the importance of label design).  Well in the case of Buxton, it appears to me that there is no emphasis on the look of the bottle and they are letting the beer and its growing reputation speak for itself.  Having said that, if you read the bottles you may well be swayed by their liberal utilisation of big American and New Zealand hops.  So it’s not the marketing; the packaging or indeed due to a personal connection with this brewery; it is the beer that maketh me doth my cap to their excellent ale and the honest brand they continue to grow.  Bravo!


So, onto the beer.  I’ve said this before, but for anyone who hasn’t read it, I’m not a ‘beer reviewer’, I was not gifted with the tools necessary to reverse-engineer each beer I taste and inform the good people what they are missing out on.  I am an enthusiast and a beer drinker, an enthusiastic beer drinker if you will, and I either like the beer or will choose not to drink it again and move on.  However I have, and will if asked again, dabbled with reviewing beers, but in this case I won’t attempt it.  But having chewed the ear of the local bottle shop owner to stock Buxton’s beers, I felt it only proper to buy some and report back.  From the full range available I selected: Moor Top, Buxton Spa, Axe Edge, Black Rocks and Buxton Gold.  You can find reviews for Black Rocks on HopZine & The Beer Prole, so I won’t mention much other than it is a 5.5% abv Black IPA with predominantly blackcurrant, liquorice and grapefruit flavours.  The Buxton Spa is a 4.1% abv Special Pale Ale and the bottle I had was really fresh; lively and had really impressive hop aromas.  The showcasing of Citra in this beer brings a whack of citrus on the nose and juicy tropical flavours and I’m told that it’s propped up with Columbus, Amarillo and Nelson Sauvin.  In my opinion it is on a par with their Axe Edge Double IPA, but is obviously much thinner in the mouth and much less boozy.  I think Buxton Spa makes for a great session beer!

4.1% abv Special Pale Ale

Buxton Gold is described as a Golden Ale and in comparison to the Spa has a noticeably bigger mouth-feel and its 5.2% abv is reassuringly warming.  Again, a huge hop presence, this time through Amarillo, Liberty and Nelson Sauvin.  One thing with these beers is the strength and freshness of the aroma.  I think this may be due to the fact that I have bought them so soon after they have been brewed and are quite possibly at their best?  Finally, and I would say my favourite of the bunch, is Axe Edge, a Double IPA weighing in at 6.8% abv.  I was lucky enough to try this at Mr Foleys on cask as part of last weeks International IPA Day celebrations, and it did not disappoint!

Picture It was Axe Edge that introduced me to their beer, which is probably a little unusual as I would guess that a standard bitter or pale ale would usually be the first beer you might try as a way of introduction, followed by specialty beers or stronger niche varieties like the Double IPA.  For it’s mighty 6.8% it does not wield any destructive sharp edges, it is smooth and rounded and delivers more of a pleasant bludgeoning.  In short, I love it and its complex flavours and it goes straight onto my list of ‘beers of the year’.   So, if you haven’t already tried Buxton Brewery’s offerings then I would encourage you to do so.  In my opinion they are a shining ‘broad-spectrum (400-700nm) photon emitting’ example to any budding brewers!  Follow @kempicus if you want to read what’s what in the brewery, and @BuxtonBrewery for general info and banter.  Keep up the good work guys!

If you want to read more about Buxton Beers then it is testament to them that they have also been enjoyed and blogged about by: Are You Tasting the Pith, Reluctant Scooper and The Good Stuff, and you can find links to these via Eating Isn’t Cheating.

More links to Buxton reviews Beersay, HopZine.

Meet the brewer JK – James Kemp – Beer Reviews.

Thanks for reading!