Adnams’ Bottled Beauties

24 08 2010

Given that I have several months worth of catching up to do I thought I would save a little space and combine a couple of posts here.

As a result of taking part in the inaugural BeerSwap I was kindly sent a bottle of Tally Ho by those nice folks at Adnams.  Then, as spring was beginning to brighten our lives, they also sent me a bottle of Spindrift.  Both of these I drank a while back so it is about time I let Sean and everyone else at Adnams what I thought of their fare.  I’ve had the odd pint of their beer on cask over the years but can’t say they are a brewery I would hunt out and have generally thought the beers to be averagely inoffensive so was interested to see what I would make of these bottles.

Tally Ho – Traditional Dark Ale, 7.2%

First things first I’d just like to say what a natty looking bottle of beer this is and one for which my photography does no favours.  It is definitely something which would draw my eye on a supermarket/off licence shelf so job well done in that regard.

This is described by Adnams as a Barley Wine style beer which has been brewed by them since 1880, although it hasn’t been bottled for about 10 years now.  I poured mine at room temperature which I always find preferable for darker beers and was rewarded with dark brown beer with hints of garnet red and a reasonable head which slowly dissipated.  The aromas coming out of the glass were wonderfully redolent of Christmas, a slight smokiness followed by spicy, sweet fruits all coming on like a freshly baked Christmas cake.

It tasted just as good, really smooth and easy drinking despite its strength.  The Christmas cake flavours were still there and these were joined by a bite of chocolate and a swig of coffee.  I imagine this would be great with a slice of said Christmas cake and some lovely crumbly cheese whilst sitting in front of a roaring fire on a cold winters evening.  However, given that this is my kind of beer, in reality I could happily drink this at any time of the year.

Adnams say that Tally Ho will mature in the bottle and will benefit from a period of laying down so it could get even better.  Now there is a project worth pursuing.

Spindrift – Refreshing English Beer, 5.0%

Here we have an even nattier looking bottle than the Tally Ho, all blue and fresh looking which again can’t help but make it stand out on the shelves.  Someone in the design department deserves a pat on the back for these.

This one I poured chilled(ish), about 20 minutes after I removed it from the fridge and was presented with a lovely golden beer with small white head.  Aroma wise we had some citrus fruits and a malty sweetness with nothing overpowering and all nicely balanced.  I’m not usually a golden ale kind of guy and tend to find them too hoppy for my palate but this went down a treat.  Flavour wise what we have here is a beautifully balanced mix of caramel sweet malts followed by a touch of hop bitterness which gives the beer just the right amount of edge.  Why anyone would choose to down a stubby of lager over this is beyond me, I loved it and have been recommending it to my friends & relatives as the summer beer of choice.

So there we go two resounding successes which I have to say has left me somewhat surprised.  As I stated previously I’ve never considered Adnams to be a go to brewery but maybe I need to reassess their draft beers the next chance I get.


Beer Swap Review – Part 2 of 2

8 02 2010

Well after an enforced lay-off due to family illness and a need to spend some time working on my MSc I’m back and can finally wrap up #beerswap.  In truth I completed this post ages ago and had thought I had posted it already…numpty.

Rebellion Red – Rebellion Brewery, Marlow

Does what it says on the tin and pours into the glass as what looks to be a fairly standard red/brown ruby ale.  The aroma is buttery, in the manner of a heavily oaked Aussie chardonnay, with a toffee apple like sweetness and some light hops to balance things off.  The first mouthful was, well, underwhelming and my first notes were ‘typical, uninspiring, ruby ale…ho-hum’.

Not a great start, eh?  But the Red was just teasing me, playing me for the fool I obviously am.  By the third or fourth mouthful I started to wonder what was going on.  Suddenly I was getting that malty, caramel coming through along with a rounded fruitiness and the hoppy bitterness of the aftertaste was cleansing my palate which was now beginning to crave the next mouthful.  I was really beginning to enjoy this.  OK, so Red isn’t the best thing I’ve ever tasted, not even close, but it was a lovely balanced ruby session ale and ultimately, especially after my first impressions, a very pleasant surprise.

Henley Dark – Lovibonds, Henley-on-Thames

And so I saved what I hoped to be the best until last.  I have for several years now been a dark ale man, so I was particularly looking forward to giving this a try.  The colour was a bit of a surprise and this was more of a deep chestnut colour rather than the black I was expecting (though not sure why I was expecting that).  The aroma was very pleasant, a smokey, caramel sweetness with some spiciness lurking in the background.  Taste wise this was also surprising, a lighter mouth feel than expected and whilst the smokiness and caramel were there the predominant flavour was a sourness not unlike unripe cherries.   This was far from unpleasant but, again, not what I was expecting and reminded me of a mild rather than a porter.  All in all an interesting bottle of beer and fine example of why you shouldn’t make presumptions about what lies within the bottle.  But was it the best of the four? Truth be told I think the one I enjoyed most, for a number of reasons, was the Rebellion Red.

So there we go four brilliant reasons why beerswap is such a damned good idea.  OK, not every bottle hit the mark for me but I really enjoyed tasting stuff I had never come across before and may never have picked up even if I had done.  I had no problems using the Collect+ service although others had a nightmare experience so maybe the postal format needs to be re-examined for future beerswaps.  Thanks have to go to Andy Mogg and Mark Dredge for organising a bunch of errant beer tweeters which must have seemed like herding cats at times, great job guys.

Finally I guess the question has to be asked ‘Would I do this again?’ Hell yes.


The Full Measure – The Bacchus

3 01 2010

So here we go.  Welcome to the first posting of our occasional feature The Full Measure, our attempt at in-depth pub reviews.  We have chosen the following format as a way of trying to structure our thoughts but I imagine we may play around with this once we’ve written a few reviews.  We’ve also included a scoring system but I’m really not sure about that and that may be the first thing to go.  We have left our rating of the drinks on offer until the end because we feel everything else has as much and in some cases more bearing on why we frequent these pubs.  Above all please remember this is just our opinion and as such should be taken with a pinch of salt and we would recommend everyone to check out the places we review for themselves.  Oh, and apologies for the length of this post.

Name (inc. Nickname): The Bacchus

Location (inc transport links): Located at the eastern end of High Bridge, a cobbled lane running between Grey Street and Pilgrim Street.  For those old enough to remember, it stands almost exactly where Phaze, Newcastle’s premier alternative clothing shop of the ‘80’s, used to be.

Approximately 0.5 miles from Central Station – about a 10 minute walk.

Nearest Metro: Monument (2-5 minute walk depending on whether you have the footwear to handle the cobbles)

Marked down only because of the cobbles, which can be deadly when wet (not great when you’ve had a few) or, so the ladies tell me, when you are wearing heels.  Some people may also find the lane a bit intimidating in the dark although it is as safe as anywhere else in town, otherwise an ideally situated, city centre pub.

Score: 9/10

Architecture: The Bacchus is a relatively new build; the old building which stood a few yards further along the lane was flattened in the name of urban regeneration about 8 years ago.  The dark green painted frontage has 3 large windows allowing views of passers by and diners in the Flat Bread Café opposite.

It looks largely unassuming from the outside and could be quite easy to miss from the ends of the lane if you didn’t know it was there.  All in all a rather lacklustre, but clean and tidy, modern exterior that gives no real clues about what to expect inside.

Again, somewhat like the external façade, the interior décor is clean, tidy and somewhat characterless.  The external doors lead into what is a medium sized, 2 room space dominated by a large ‘U’ shaped, island bar to the right.  The bar was allegedly created by the design team to look like that in the Café Royal in Edinburgh but, trust me, it doesn’t.  The area by the windows has a selection of armchairs and tables which are always popular with people watchers taking in the view of the lane and cafes opposite.

Towards the rear of the main room is a raised seated area which is often populated by those customers partaking of the food menu.  The area around the bar has a number of bar stools and a couple of tables but is largely a standing area.  There are a couple of large wooden clad pillars around the main room which have beer glass shelving around them for the standing punters.

The second smaller room is to the left of the main room, accessed though a couple of archways, and contains a mixture of sofa’s, armchairs and poufs arranged around a couple of low tables.  A wide, sweeping staircase also to the left takes you to the toilets on the first floor.

Score: 6/10

Social & Historical Context: As previously noted the Bacchus is a new build and as such you may expect it still to be finding its place in Newcastle’s drinking landscape but there is more to it than that.

Prior to its demolition the old Bacchus used to sit a little further down the lane and looked very similar to the new build only with slightly smaller windows and a splash of Rust Red paint if I remember.  The old Bacchus was one of Newcastle’s ‘Universal Pubs’ i.e. it didn’t really matter who you were or what you looked like you would be welcomed in.  Old blokes nursing bottles of Brown Ale in schooners sat next to dolly birds heading off to the Bigg Market and Rock fans preparing for a night of excess at the Mayfair, all coexisting quite happily.  It was a bit tatty around the edges and was definitely in need of a lick of paint but flattening the place was a bit excessive.

The new build doesn’t attract as diverse a crowd and doesn’t have the same social soul of the old build but, to be fair, it is only starting to make a history for itself, hence the low mark here.  Out of interest I would have scored the old build 8/10 here, largely for the social diversity of the place.

Score: 4/10

Décor: Often described as looking like the bar from an Edwardian era passenger liner the Bacchus has many admirers and a fair number of detractors.  The walls are painted in inoffensive beige and are partially clad in dark wood panelling.  The large central bar is also in a polished dark wood as are the pillars around the main room and the drinks racks behind and in the middle of the bar.  The dark wood is OK during the day and when the place is quiet but at night and if it is busy it can make the main room a bit gloomy.

The flooring is a mixture of hardwood and perhaps the most ill advised Burrberry checked carpet I’ve yet seen in a bar.  I’m not sure how many Charvers you had to skin for a flooring like this but it’s not a good look guys.  Continuing the general nautical theme pictures of ships of all type line the walls of the smaller second room.

The Bacchus looks like an upmarket boozer and certainly wouldn’t be out of place as a wine bar.  Everything is generally kept very clean and tidy although, as you may expect after a few years, the carpet is starting to look a bit careworn.

Score 7.5/10

Clientele: The punters you tend to find in the Bacchus these days are mainly a well heeled, middle aged crowd.  Sadly the old geezers with their Brown Ale seem to have disappeared and, now that the Bigg Market is no longer the place to be seen and the Mayfair is a car park, many of the younger crowd are absent too.

Given that we are talking about CAMRA’s current Tyneside pub of the year there are also fewer real ale stereotypes on view than you would imagine.  In fact looking around the bar there are far more people drinking John Smith’s/lager/wine/shorts than real ale, something I’ve noticed every time I’ve been here.  The other thing that strikes you is the number of women in the pub and they often outnumber the blokes making the Bacchus a more comfortable venue for the lone female punter.

Mostly harmless.

Score: 7/10

Atmosphere (inc music & games machines): Does this place have an atmosphere? Pretty staid and boring to be honest.  I would never describe the place as lively, even when there is a large pre-match crowd in, it just gets busy.  However it does feel safe and I’ve never been aware of or seen any trouble here.

The most annoying thing about the Bacchus is the piped music they insist on playing.  Well I say music, it’s more of a muzac drone of radio 2’s greatest hits and it is played at a volume too low to make it worthwhile but just high enough that it interferes with your conversations especially when the place gets busy…aaarrrggghhh!!!

There are 2 slot machines in the main room but thankfully they are situated on the edge of things and the volume has been turned right down.  In truth I don’t recall anyone ever playing on the things.

Score: 5/10

Staff: A bit of a mixed bag really, with some not seemingly the most knowledgeable about their beer and often more interested in chatting to each other whilst serving.  But, if you can hold their attention for a short time, they are pleasant enough.  I have, to be fair, noticed an improvement recently.

Score: 6.5/10

Food: Other than a beer/food matching event I have only ever partaken of the Sunday lunches here.  The food is generally well cooked but there have been a couple of times where the meat on my plate looked as if it had spent too long under a salamander and was a bit dried out.  This is not the place to come to if you want some nice pink beef.  That one quibble aside I would certainly recommend popping in for lunch, you get plenty of it for your money and it tastes rather lovely too.

Score: 7/10

Toilets: Upstairs, always clean and tidy.  There is also a disabled toilet on the ground floor for those who can’t manage the stairs.

Score: 8.5/10

Drinks: By far the Bacchus’s best feature has to be the range of drinks available both on draft and in the bottle.  For the real ale fan there are 8 handpumps offering quite a varied selection of beer usually including a strong ale and a dark beer.  Jarrow Rivet Catcher appears to be a constant fixture as the house beer.  There are often Brewery events run where all the beers on tap are from a single brewery which always prove to be very popular.  The beer is always kept really well and I’ve yet to have had to take a pint back.  As always I recommend you check out Phil’s excellent site to see what brews are currently available.

The Real Cider/Perry drinkers are also well catered for with a least 6 different varieties on tap from the cellar at any one time.  Again there is always a range of styles available meaning you should find something to your taste at any given visit.

As you would expect the staff are happy to give you taste of anything that catches your eye but are unsure of.  You can also request your favourite tipple to be ordered in if you have a hankering for something you may have tried elsewhere.

Bottled beer lovers have a nice selection to choose from with examples from the Continent rubbing shoulders with those from the States.  I’ve not dipped into the bottles myself but I am informed that it is one of the better selections available in Newcastle.

Wine and spirits drinkers also seem to be well served although again I have yet to try any of those on offer.  A cursory glance tells me the usual suspects are available as far as spirits are concerned and that the wine list looks to have plenty of choice available.

Score: 8.5/10

Conclusion: This has been a difficult review.  Many of you may have gathered that I have a fondness for the previous incarnation of the Bacchus and you would be right.  I freely admit here that that fondness has coloured my review, but isn’t that what this is all about? A pub has to fulfil many criteria to work its way into out hearts and those criteria are often very personal.  It’s about what makes you comfortable to sit in a room and drink with a bunch of total strangers.  At the end of the day it matters little how good the beer is if you don’t feel comfortable drinking it and that’s where I find myself with the Bacchus.

It is not a bad pub by any stretch of the imagination, far from it, and it is one of the first places I recommend to people who ask me about good pubs in Newcastle but it doesn’t do it for me.  I only tend to go in if accompanied (dragged) by a Cider Tart or if I find out about a particular beer being on which is quite sad really.  Perhaps, over time, I’ll warm to the place, but it has been a few years now and I don’t see any sign of a thaw.

Overall Score: 7/10


That Was The Year That Was…2009

2 01 2010

So another year comes to an end and those idiots in the media would have us believe we are entering a new decade.  Learn to count chaps and chapess’s, please.  The done thing in the blogosphere seems to be to list all the things that have impressed or disappointed you over the preceding year and, given that this is a blog about drinking, I guess I should be extolling the virtues of or deriding various drinks/drinking establishments.  But I’m not going to do that.

Everything we do is coloured by time and place, the emotions we feel and the influence of others.  All of which makes being objective about the events and flavours of the past year too damned hard for someone with a limited vocabulary, such as myself.  Anyway, I’m old enough to know not to trust my first impressions and to always give something a second chance no matter how strongly I may have reacted to it initially.  Sure, I’m likely to have been right first time but I’ve also been wrong often enough to give me pause for thought.

My goals for the rest of the decade are to try and discover some of the pubs that I have always considered too far away despite only being at the end of a 20 min train journey.  Revisit some of those that have failed to impress me yet in the hope that either they or I have changed and re-evaluate those which I probably take for granted at the moment.  I also need to try and broaden my palate and try some beers I would normally avoid like the plague, those with Gold, Golden, Spring, Summer or any mention of the word Hop in the name.  Not that I can ever see me stop predominantly drinking dark beers but I may just be missing out on one or two that I might find I enjoy.

I’m also going to shirk away from saying that I want to ensure that I keep this blog up to date.  The last month has shown me that there are things that can happen in my life that are far more important than writing a blog post, opening a bottle of beer or heading out to the pub.  I’m also still not sure what direction I want to take the blog.  At the moment I’m just posting this and that when it comes to my attention but I’ve stayed away from making too much comment and I think that has to change, so I may give my spleen a venting a number of times in the coming months.

And so, finally, it comes down to wishing you all a happy New Year.  May it bring all you wish for and, more importantly, all you deserve.


Beer Swap Review – Part 1 of 2

3 12 2009

Well, I thought I had better post something here after a week or so’s worth of inactivity brought on by a general feeling of yuerk! (That’s a technical, medical term…trust me I work in a hospital).  Nothing enough to stop me going to work but more than enough to reduce my functionality down to basic motor skills at all other times.  This status quo seems to have no intention of abating on its own so I’m making a concerted effort to force myself to do ‘stuff’.  Kill or cure, if you like.

So what better way to try and break this fug than with beer and, as the deadline for posting about the goodies I received fast approaches, Beer Swap beer at that.  As I have previously posted my benefactor in this wonderful, Twitter led, endeavour was Simon (AKA @WindsorBeerFest) who hails from the Windsor area or Doon South as we call it up here.  As a result I received the following brews:

Dr Hexter’s Healer – West Berkshire Brewery, Yattendon, Thatcham

This pours as a lovely caramel amber colour and caramel is what you get on the nose along with orchard fruits and pleasant, balancing hop freshness.  The fruit remains through to the tasting where the hops add a citrus edge to proceedings and the caramel, whilst still there, takes more of a back seat along with some nuttiness.  There is a bitterness to the finish which proves to be quite refreshing.  I could quite happily sit drinking this during the course of a session but it’s not something I’d actively hunt out.

Rebellion White – Rebellion Brewery, Marlow

OK, wheat beers are something of a no go area for me after some very bad experiences of plainly awful examples which raised their ugly head in Newcastle during the late ‘80’s.  So, other than the occasional bottle of Hoegaarden, I’m very much a novice with this style of beer, anyway here goes.   As expected the beer pours cloudy but it was darker than I had imagined, looking somewhat like a real cider in the glass.  Despite the bottle telling me I would be able to smell cloves I have to say, whilst they may have been there, I got more of a general, mixed spice aroma.  Taste wise, another surprise, in that there wasn’t as much of a citrus hit as I was expecting.  Rather the spiciness was to the fore, predominantly ginger and a tongue tingling pepperiness.  The citrus was there but it was rounded (almond/vanilla in there too) rather than sharp.  Ultimately I really enjoyed this and found it to be very refreshing and way better than the Hoegaarden I’d been fooling myself with.  I’ll be putting this on the wish list of supplies in time for Barbie season next year, that’s for sure and I’ll be on the lookout for other wheat beers to try too.

To be continued in part 2 where I’ll give my views on the remaining beers and the Beer Swap experience as a whole.