The Hoppening – Ghost Drinker’s Neurotoxin

Why are you eyeing my lemon drink?

The Hoppening 

I think I’m starting to get the hang of this beer blogging malarkey.  I let my mind wander during both my waking hours and the slightly abstract portal of my dream-state.  What seems to be a trend for me at the moment is thinking up tenuous film links with beer and for this I apologise, it’s probably just a phase I’ll grow out of.

Coincidentally, and not on his part I’m sure, I have been gifted with a bottle of beer homebrewed by a ghostly apparition and its human henchman, just in time for the Festival of the Dead.  He’s thoughtful like that.

ReSpectre the labelling

For someone with no physical form and therefore a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the ability to hold anything, it’s hardly a surprise that the Ghost Drinker is systematically selecting human hosts to see his plans through to fruition.   He is what you might call a cuckoo brewer… a dead cuckoo brewer.  He calls this practice “collaboration“, whereas the living know this better as a haunting.  But don’t worry, if he comes a’knocking he’s more Casper than Krueger.  On this occasion he selected Matt Lovatt or @Braukerl if you Tweet.  Nobody knows what happened to his last possession.

"They're here..."

At 6.66% abv this amber ale could not be called anything but a name like Poltergeist.  It looks the genuine article and the artwork reminds of the lift doors at the Overlook Hotel, aka that spooky hotel in The Shining.  What’s more, the bottle has been sealed with black wax which makes me wonder whether he is trying to keep something else other than the beer from getting out?

Upon opening the seal there is not so much a pfft as more of a presence in the room.  There are immediate aromas of peach, mango and candy, along with what I imagine is the yeast profile, a fruity, earthiness that gives it real depth.


From the dark bottle and predominantly black and white exterior comes a vibrant red beer, it’s murky appearance hiding what lies beneath.  It pours with a decent sized head which relaxes back to a thin covering before the first sip.  The bitterness hits you immediately and spares no part of your tongue.  The bitterness doesn’t really fade but there is just enough room for the fruits to come forward and balance things a little before the sweet malts come into play.  As someone who has brewed a couple of beers, I can picture Ghosty and Matt tasting the sweet wort as it ran from the copper and knowing it was going to be a good one.  As far as the bitterness goes, having taken a look a the hop bill and with an expected IBU of 77, I’m fairly sure they have achieved exactly what they set out to do.  The mouth-feel is thick and syrupy and it feels to cling to your mouth with the bitterness refusing to let you go.  It’s an extremely satisfying beer for those that like a hop kick!  I took my time with this beer and really appreciated receiving the chance to try it, cheers guys, I hope to brew something half as tasty and share the wealth.  On the basis of this beer and many others I’ve had the pleasure of trying of late, the homebrewing scene is alive and kicking out some quality, even when it’s brewed by the dead.

The write-up of their brewday and recipe is posted here.

You can also see Ghosty’s and Matt’s beer reviewed over on The Beer Prole and by CAMRGB.

Supermarket Sweep – Part 2

This is the second part in my series of posts on beers brewed for supermarkets but branded and sold as the shops range of ‘in-house’ beer.  In my last post I visited Tesco and found beer from Harviestoun, Brewdog, Huyghe and Brasserie Du Bocq in their Finest* range.  Moving onto Sainsbury’s and upon visiting one of their medium sized stores in nearby Greengates I found their Taste the Difference range.  I can’t find the information to back this up, but I think beer is a new line in their range?  (Prices correct as at 03/10/11 & all prices were introductory offers).

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Yorkshire Bitter, 500ml bottle, 5% abv, £1.41

First up and purposefully chosen as the representative of my native region. Brewed by the Black Sheep Brewery in its traditional Yorkshire Square fermenting vessels.  It is brewed using Maris Otter malt, demerara sugar and hopped with Fuggles and Goldings.  The York Press reported as recently as 26th September 2011 that the beer was hitting the shelves at 375 stores and Black Sheep are quoted as being pretty pleased with this, and rightly so.

The bottle opened with a promising fizz and pours a light amber colour and has perfect clarity, no head forms despite the lively carbonation.  Its initial smell is quite metallic but with some flowery notes coming through.  My first taste confirms the metallic qualities and it’s on the thin side too but it does have a solid bitterness and pleasant malty finish with the demerara adding a pleasant toffee flavour.  The bottle notes tell me that it should have a demerara sweetness with full malt body and citrus overtones, balanced with a long, dry refreshing Yorkshire Bitter finish.  I like that they suggest to pair it with food and they recommend a ploughman’s lunch and who is going to argue that drinking any beer with cheese, pickle, meat and bread is a bad move?  I would hazard a guess that this beer is based on their Yorkshire Square Ale.  I like this beer and I wouldn’t be disappointed if I ordered it in a pub of a Sunday afternoon.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference IPA, 500ml bottle, 5.9% abv, £1.26

Next up is an India Pale Ale brewed by Marston’s Plc.  It sells as a “classic” IPA brewed with Fuggles, Goldings and Cascade hops and of course the legendary Burton liquor.  Read Marston’s Old Empire, but in my opinion this is a very different beer.   It pours a light straw colour with light carbonation and head that disappears from the off.   It smells quite malty and fresh but no real stand out aroma.  It tastes nothing like its 5.9% abv and is quite delicate for an IPA but the flavour does build in the after-taste with bitter grapefruit and if you weren’t careful you could convince yourself you could drink this a session beer.  The bottles notes describe a delicate fresh nose with floral and citrus aromas, a traditional brew with clean, bitter hop flavour.  As with the Yorkshire Bitter they give a food pairing suggestion which in this case is spicy food and Indian dishes, quite a bold statement but I imagine you wouldn’t go far wrong taking this along to your local Indian restaurant, providing there was no corkage to pay!  All in all nothing to write home about but for £1.26 I’m not going to grumble.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Kentish Ale, 500ml bottle, 4.5% abv, £1.26

I moved on to try the Traditional Kentish Ale, brewed by Shepherd Neame.  It is bottled in their trademark embossed clear glass bottle “Britain’s Oldest Brewer – 1698”.  I’m not a fan of beer in clear glass bottles for the well documented reasons of retaining the quality and flavours intended by the Head Brewer, however Shepherd Neame seem to do more than alright with their range so I’ll move on.  Well almost, if it’s Taste the Difference, then nobody needs to shop with their eyes do they? put it in a brown bottle as the god of hops intended.  This is a pale, golden beer which is well carbonated and keeps its head for the first third of the pint, it has aromas of resinous hops and pine and has balanced hop and biscuit malt flavours with some honey coming through at the end.  As with the others the standard format bottles notes tell you what you should expect, which in this case is floral and citrusy aromas with rounded hoppy notes, smooth and fruity with crisp refreshing flavours.  The food pairing suggestion is grilled chicken, ham and mild cheeses.  It’s certainly covering a few bases but as I’m drinking it with a slightly stale pack of ready salted Hula-Hoops then I’m hardly in a position to judge.   The bottle also mentions that this beer is single hopped with Earlybird, which didn’t make any sense to me, but with a quick browse of the brewery website I now understand this to be referring to a variety of the East Kent Goldings hop usually harvested and used between March & May.  I can’t really comment on how they manage to produce this all year around (or whether they will?), but I think I am basing this on the assumption that this beer is a version of their EarlyBird Spring Hop Ale.  I bought this bottle in September.  As with the others, this beer isn’t exciting me but it’s perfectly drinkable and each to their own.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Craft Brewed Lager, 500ml bottle, 4.1% abv, £1.41

Last, but as it turns out not least in the four-region range is the Scottish Craft Brewed Lager brewed by the Harviestoun Brewery.  This beer might well have the most annoying label, wearing the ‘craft brewed’ badge proudly on it’s sleave for all to see, however it smells and tastes like a beer I would happily stock in my fridge for a party.  If you want to know what I mean by this outburst, then read Ghost Drinker’s post on Harviestoun Schiehallion and a certain label change – I agree with his sentiments.  Back to the beer. My palate tends to let me down at important moments like this when I want to recommend a beer to someone and I tend to blurt out “it’s hoppy” or “it’s malty” and I don’t get the chance to redeem myself before the conversation is steered away to discussing the weather or how that bloke with the quiff is doing on the X-Factor.  This beer pours light, like a lager, but in terms of other lagers on offer in Sainsbury’s that’s where the similarities end.  This lager smells fruity, of freshly peeled oranges, and has a sweet malty flavour and hop balance that makes it moorish and very drinkable.   It’s brewed with Celia and Cascade hops and is a combination that works well.  It’s only been in stores since 19th September 2011 so I recommend you try a bottle and don’t miss out on the opportunity to see this supplied to Sainsbury’s going forward.  In case you are interested, the standard bottle information is as follows: clean and crisp with fresh citrus notes, a dry refreshing hand-crafted lager.  Sainsbury’s recommend you enjoy this with shellfish (cooked, not a social relationship), especially lobster and mussels.  I’m not going to disagree, but I think on its own or with a pizza would do just fine.

As I was reviewing four beers in one sitting and hoping to write about them in the same evening I decided to pour half-a-pint to taste and review and then only pour the second half if I enjoyed it.  I only drank the whole bottle of one of these beers and that was the pick of the bunch – Harviestoun’s Scottish Craft Brewed Lager.

I’ll keep some thoughts back for now as I hope to write a comparative post once I have tried the offerings from each of the supermarkets, but in summary I think that Sainsbury’s are doing a great job in recognising beer as up and coming and with this range they are offering a regional selection of what I would consider as ‘entry level’ beer to their customers.  They are clearly labelled, if a little boring, but do give lots of information to anyone who likes to read about the product much the same as if you were buying their Taste the Difference lasagne or creme brule.

Having said all that, I probably wouldn’t buy any of these again in the near future, with the exception of the lager, as is the case with many beers that I buy in bottles at the moment.  I just like to move on and try something new.

(Sainsbury’s also sell a Westmoreland Ale by Jennings and a Suffolk Blonde Ale – Greene King?, neither of which were in the store I visited).

Onwards to Marks and Spencer for round 3!

Ghosty’s Red Rye Ale

 PictureJust a quick post to show my appreciation to Ghost Drinker for sharing a bottle of his maiden home brew.  It is a Red Rye Ale which was brewed in collaboration with Elland Brewery’s Head Brewer Gordon McKiernan.  More on the brew day here.In brief the recipe produced a 6.8 – 7.0% abv Red Rye Ale from a malt bill consisting of Marris Otter, Rye, Cara Red, Crystal Rye and Munich malts – with an addition of Jaggery cane sugar.  Hopped with Amarillo, Columbus and Citra.

PictureUpon opening there was an complex aroma of what I would describe as a full bodied red wine which, upon pouring, changed into a sweet / floral aroma.  It poured a crimson red and a medium creamy head (tinged red) formed.  Nice light carbonation kept the head there thoughout.  As with all of my beers I start with them colder than would be recommended and then note the changes as it warms in the glass. In this case, the beers character didn’t change much, rather the solid hop bitterness, spice, candy (from the Jaggery) and general boozyness intensified.   Loved the beer guys and hope to be able to swap more in the future!

All that’s left to say is that this Ghost is a Ghost for hire.