An evening of German mulled cider, Somerset Pomona and Somerset Ice Cider
It’s been over a year since my last post but it certainly hasn’t been an uneventful time: I’ve put out my sacroiliac joint, had a nasty cycling accident with significant concussion, and couldn’t stand, walk or even sit down for much of that time. The blog was the last thing on my mind.
Anyway, one consequence of my enforced rest is that I’ve been thinking hard about the future of the blog. More about that soon but for now I thought I’d announce my return with a quick post looking at some interesting apple-based booze I’ve consumed over the holiday period.
Despite the seemingly unassailable wave of “innovation” among beers and brewers today, I’m often left missing the buzz of sampling for the first time the native beer traditions of lands near and far, experiences which continue to inspire and fuel my relationship with John Barleycorn today.
Back then descriptions in books, mainly those by pioneering “Beer Hunter” Michael Jackson, sparked my enthusiasm and over time, often with considerable effort, I came to try most of the world’s “traditional” beers, however obscure, often at source. Every discovery brought fresh revelation and sometimes disappointment but each helped broaden my knowledge and appreciation of the brewer’s art, in all its forms.
It’s taken me a while to track them down but I’ve been keen to sample the new Guinness Dublin Porter (3.8% ABV) and Guinness West Indies Porter (6% ABV) since their announcement in September.
Why, you may ask, bother seeking out products of a global drinks giant that appears to have more interest in its own mythology than (seemingly) with the quality end of the beer market? Let me explain.
Guinness is a beer and brewery I’ve long had a fascination with, despite rarely choosing to drink the black stuff unless I’m cut off from more appealing alternatives. To some extent this interest goes back to my early beer drinking days when Guinness Extra was one of only five bottle-conditioned beers in the UK, as well being a (then) rare dry stout.
The brewery’s Guinness Foreign Extra Stout also held a special place in beer drinkers’ hearts as arguably the last link to the giant porter brewers of old, the St. James’s Gate brewery in Dublin dating to 1759 as writ large on every Guinness label.
Chelmsford Summer Beer and Cider Festival has become a bit of a favourite of mine over the past few years since its move to spacious accommodation in Admiral’s Park. One of the highlights of the event is increasingly the cider and perry bar, which this year excelled itself by offering over 100 traditional ciders, perries and pyders (mixed cider and perry) from all over the UK, including products of three producers in Northern Ireland.
A weekend at Dramboree 2014 on the shores of Loch Lomond in early July sampling a wide array of mainly Scotch whiskies had me thinking about the spirit, its drinkers, the event and my own relationship with uisge beatha.
While this isn’t meant as a “review” of Dramboree a few words of explanation are probably useful. Inspired in part by the Dutch Maltstock, Dramboree is an informal gathering in Scotland (at least so far) of whisky enthusiasts and aficionados (around 60 this year) intended to foster new friendships, share whisky stories, discover new drams, learn a little, and this year – if the mood took – the opportunity to take a “loony dook” in the less than tepid waters of the loch.
One of my haul of Belgian ales acquired from Belgiuminabox late last year, La Vermontoise (6%) is notable in my selection for being a collaboration, on this occasion between Brasserie de Blaugies near Dour, Hainault, in spitting distance of the French border, and Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro, Vermont.
Writing before Christmas on the joys of sour beer, and the importance of Belgium in their survival and revival, inspired me to top up my reserves. Earlier research had led me to Belgiuminabox.com, an online retailer based in Antwerp. The experience was a memorable one, the drinking likely to be even more so.
Run by beer aficionado Kurt Verblest, Belgiuminabox offers a near unassailable selection of Belgian classics and rarities at prices rarely seen this side of the English Channel, if they ever appear at all, and with the inclination and ability to ship worldwide.
My final entry in this rather random series of posts (and only a couple of weeks after 12th night!) is a 1974 half bottle of Ardbeg 23 Vintage 1974, 23 Years Old, cas nos. 606-609 (43% ABV) from independent bottler Signatory (nowadays owner of Edradour).
I acquired this probably 13 or 14 years ago from the Aladdin’s cave that is J. Wadsworth in St. Ives, Cambridgeshire. This was a time when I’d recently discovered Ardbeg and interesting older bottlings – especially from pre-1977 when Ardbeg had its own floor maltings – were becoming scarce.
With Christmas duties and the inevitable post festive lurgy out of the way it’s finally on to number eleven and an excuse to uncork another of my stash. This time the peatiest whisky in the world, namely Islay distillery Bruichladdich’s Octomore. Or more specifically Octomore 4.2 Comus (61% ABV), with final maturation in a cask that previously held rich, sweet, Botrytis-enriched Sauternes wine.
From my oldest whisky to my newest. Thursday December 5th marked the commercial debut of the first two whiskies from Southwold, Suffolk-based Adnams Copper House Distillery, the third English distillery to successfully bring its own whisky to market since the revival in making uisge beatha south of the border. (Adnams follows St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk’s English Whisky Company and the “Hicks & Healey” cooperation between St. Austell Brewery and Healey’s Cyder Farm in Cornwall.)