Back to Brewdog for this week’s Monster Beer. I’ve waxed lyrical on the brewery often enough, so straight onto the beer.

Brewdog Hardcore IPA

This is the slightly more accessible Hardcore IPA, at 9.2% positively lightweight for a Brewdog beer. It’s rather strangely labelled as an “explicit imperial ale” on the bottle although I’m not sure quite what makes it explicit!

It looks quite a dark gold in the glass; it’s a rich, toffee or golden syrup smelling beer with some dark fruit tones – none of the floral notes you get with some IPAs.

In the mouth, again there’s the rich sweet toffee and dates, leading into a deep, balancing hop bitterness that cuts through the sticky sweetness perfectly and leaves you with a nicely lingering but not overwhelming bitter tail.

What you don’t smell or taste is the alcohol; it’s a strong, robust beer but it really doesn’t taste anywhere close to it’s 9.2%. The sweetness gives it a thick, rich body and the hops cut that sweetness back enough to be perfectly balanced and gloriously drinkable.

It’s a properly magnificent beer; not exactly Monster material in taste but wonderful nonetheless.

 

A bit of a change this week; until now I think all my Whisky Wednesdays have been single malts but Monkey Shoulder is a little different. I’ve seen it around at various shows over the years but somehow never got around to trying it myself.

Monkey Shoulder

Monkey Shoulder is a blend of three Speyside single malts – Kininvie, Balvenie and Glenfiddich, although Monkey Shoulder themselves don’t exactly make it easy to find that out. To be fair to them, their marketing and website is clearly not aimed at single malt whisky drinkers and I suspect that their target audience aren’t all that interested in exactly which factory it comes from.

I should probably say at this stage that I’m not a single malt snob. I drink mostly single malts because they tend to be the more ‘premium’ end of the market – most blended whiskies are aimed at, shall we say, the more price sensitive end and suffer as a result. This hasn’t always been so – historically whisky was always blended; single malts started life as little more than a marketing gimmick. So the word “blended” on the bottle fills me with more curiosity than dread.

It’s an intriguing nose out of the bottle; sweet honey and a hint of grain. A splash of water actually robs it of a lot of character; the honey drops away and you’re left with little more than grain alcohol.

On tasting, it’s a little raw and uncomplicated but there are some tantalising spices lurking at the back of the disappointingly short finish. Watered, the sweetness comes out more and the rawness fades. There’s still those hints of woody spices hiding just out of reach.

It is, perhaps, telling that it’s own website suggests it’s more of a ‘cocktail whisky’ than something to savour on it’s own – maybe it needs that touch of rawness to hold it’s own as a mixer. Overall, it’s a slightly unadventurous but perfectly drinkable whisky. With a splash of water it develops into a pleasant enough dram, sweet and smooth if a little short lived for my tastes.

 

Hardknott are one of those breweries that have been on my radar – and my Twitter feed – for ages and yet somehow I’ve utterly failed to try any of their beer up to now.

A recent visit to Borough Market (and therefore Utobeer) resulted in a nice haul of monsters and among them I finally get to see if Hardknott are all they’re cracked up to be.

Hardknott Queboid

This is Queboid, their awesomely named 8.0% Belgian style Double IPA. It’s a nice rich amber in the glass, with a thin fine bubbled head that is actually slowly growing as it sits on my desk. I’m not sure I’ve seen a beer do that before.

The first thing you notice on the nose is a big sweet hit of floral hops. Under that is a rich fruitiness very reminiscent of Belgian beers – even before I’ve tasted it the beer is managing to live up to the label.

In the mouth it’s a very serious and fascinating beer. Sticky and syrupy, date fruit sweetness and a nice alcohol warmth and then before it gets all just too sweet and rich the big, deep hop bitterness kicks in and cleans your palate perfectly leaving your mouth with a lingering memory of fruit and a slowly fading bitter hit.

It is, in short, a fantastic monster and I’m even more determined to try the rest of their range now.

 

A Highland single malt today, from my “I wonder where this came from” pile – everyone has piles like that, right?!

Glenfarclas 12

I have to confess I’ve not really come across Glenfarclas before; I’m not sure that’s any criticism of the whisky – more likely that my Islay obsession has blindfolded me to a lot of other brands. On the other hand, I’m tasting with no preconceptions which is probably a good thing!

It’s a nice pale gold in the glass. The nose has a nice warmth to it, hints of old wood and biscuit. With a splash of water there’s more sweetness evident, and a hint of dark fruits.

The taste is intriguing; there’s sweetness in there and some spice too, along with a hint of rich fruit underneath. That fruit comes more to the fore with water added, with a nicely balanced, rich body that doesn’t linger too long.

It’s not my normal style of whisky, but it’s pretty tasty and I’ll certainly keep an eye open for their other expressions.

 

BrewPub

One of my big beer obsessions is exploring the ever growing London brewing scene; the London Brewers page I maintain here isn’t so much a public service as a ‘to drink’ list.

Here, we pay our first visit to a brewpub – specifically, the Bull in Highgate which has the added benefit of being the brewery geographically closest to my house!

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The Bull has been there for a very long time, but it’s only a matter of months since Dan Fox took the place over, refurbished it into a stylish space and somehow managed to cram a small, 2.5 barrel brewery – the London Brewing Company – into the corner of the kitchen.

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Ok, so it’s not going to put Fullers out of business any time soon but despite the size they aim to keep four of their own brews on tap at any one time. They also manage to sell one of the more impressive collection of craft beer from around the world – draft and bottled – that I’ve come across in a pub. This is truly a beer lovers paradise.

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It’s not all about the beer either; the half of the kitchen that isn’t filled with brewery produces some dangerously addictive food. I’m a very lazy eater and generally can’t be bothered with anything as fiddly as chicken wings but these are about the only wings to make me put in the effort to scoff the whole lot and seriously consider ordering another plateful. If only I hadn’t filled up on the awesome pulled pork sandwich as well.

But this is a brewpub, albeit with some delicious food, and I should really be talking about the beer. On our visit they had three of their beers up.

Beer Street

Beer Street is their 4.0% Best Bitter. It’s a very easy drinking, traditional session beer, sweet with a good strong hoppy bitter tail that slips down far too easily. This is their main beer that’s always available and is just about the perfect ‘house beer’.

Golden Mean

Golden Mean is a lighter in both senses, at 3.7%. Pale gold with a tantalising citrus floral nose that carries nicely into the flavour – plenty of sweetness, big floral flavours, light and refreshing with lemony fruit notes. A much more gentle bitterness underneath making it another delicious, easy drinking beer.

Galena Red

Lastly, the more autumnal Galena Red, a little stronger at 4.5%. It’s a wonderful colour in the glass but I think personally it needs a little more work; it has a nice sweet malty flavour but still has a slight tang that I can best describe as ‘worty’. It’s not a bad beer, but it suffers in comparison to the first two.

Overall, there’s a lot to love about The Bull. They produce some damn tasty beer, pair it with some tasty food that’s refreshingly different from normal pub grub fare and Dan and his team are always warm and welcoming. Despite being a couple of buses from home it manages to feel like my local; a local which happens to brew some great beer literally a few steps from the taps.

They could only really improve by relocating a couple of miles north so I could walk there!

Dan kindly covered our drinks on this lunchtime visit

 

So, back to Islay and this time to Bowmore. I was lucky enough to stay right next door to the distillery the last time we were in Islay; there are few better places to be of an evening than looking across Loch Indaal with the Bowmore distillery behind you and Bruichladdich across the water. And, of course, with a whisky in your hand!

Bowmore Mariner

Today we have Mariner, a 15 year old expression that has very much become my ‘default’ whisky of late.

The nose is full of masses of peat, with a rich vanilla to it. A splash of water brings more of a burnt wood out too.

In the mouth it’s all about the big smoke, a rich warming burn all the way down but despite that incredibly smooth. The water brings out quite a sweet tone, but still with buckets and buckets of peat smoke.

I habitually add a little water to whisky – I find it often opens out flavours that can otherwise be missed – but actually the Mariner deserves to be drunk neat. It’s not a subtle dram by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a magnificent one.

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