In all seriousness: Vale – Gravitas Bitter


I know.  It’s a funny name for a beer isn’t it?  Still, I can’t accuse it of frippery or frivolity with a name like that (and the label’s not least bit goofy either, so all good there)

Gravitas arrives in the glass a light yellow colour with a very nice-looking – but not long-lasting, foamy white head.

The aroma is softly malty with some vegetal hops mixed in.  This is about the right amount of hoppiness for a hoppy bitter – the aroma isn’t desperately citrussy but that’s OK, because I don’t like my bitter to remind me of a US-style IPA.

There’s a real solidity in the body of Gravitas and a lovely bitterness that seems to amplify as you go on, in some ways it’s very much like Hop Back’s Summer Lightning but just has enough bitterness to keep it out of the golden/summer ale category and squarely in the bitter category.  In the malt bill there’s a juicy fruitiness that you’d normally expect from a much darker beer, which further helps to keep the bitter style going.

A glorious earthy/citrus-hoppiness makes Gravitas a really refreshing drop – and with a lovely after-taste and lasting bitterness means it stays interesting right to the bottom of the glass.

I genuinely enjoyed it.  This is another Summer go-to beer.

Not at all X-rated: XT Brewery – “3” IPA


It was a couple of few weeks back that Eve, the boys and I decided to have a quick trip out to Kingham foodies festival – as it seemed like a reasonable thing to do on a coolish, dampish weekend morning.  The market itself was thinnish…as in there weren’t a huge amount of people visiting…and there certainly wasn’t a huge amount of people exhibiting/stall-holding, either.

In amongst the endless chintzy teapottery and fiddly-crafty doo-dahs there was – much as I hoped there’d be – a beer company.

Run by Maria and Pete from Festival spirits, their small stall was an oasis in the midst of the seen-it-before, locally-produced guinea-pig sausages and hand-woven yoghurt.  Although Maria and Pete only had three local brewers represented (Vale, XT and Malt the Brewery) they had a good range from each, so  I was happy to stop by, browse and chat for a short while before picking up a suitably hoppy offering from each of the three.

Maria said that they regularly run beer festivals, tastings and the such-like…and believe me, these three breweries are lucky to be represented by Festival Spirits.  Go visit their website and see the good work that these folks do in the community:

The first of my purchases from Maria and Pete was XT brewery’s 3 IPA…as you know, I do like a hop.  Oh yes I do…

The packaging makes the bottle seem a little austere and understated…but it’s their style, it works for them and who am I to quibble over such things.  Like all good things, it’s what’s inside that counts.

XT3 Poured out a perfect clear amber colour…which is always a little worrying as I like to see a little bit of haze i.e. evidence of MASSIVE dry-hopping, but the public gets what the public wants – and that’s clear beer.  The head was fulsome, lasting, and good-looking.

In the aroma were sweetly malty notes that were well-rounded and overlaid with a ton of vegetal/floral hops.  The aroma reminded me very much of my past efforts to brew an all-grain Goose Island IPA tribute…I rammed that to the gunwhales with Styrian Goldings and it smelt just like this.  It’s either Styrians in here or pellet hops (…he said; like he’s some sort of expert or something)

The mouth-feel was generous and nicely joined up with the well-judged and more than-adequate bitterness.  The hops bounced about nicely with the sweet malt and again I got the impression of substantial late hop additions – which is something I can only applaud.

So let’s take an objective look: it’s most definitely an IPA…not at all in the American style, but it’s doing a blimmin’ good impression of one.  It’s way bigger and bolder than any of the standard English IPAs and at 4.2% this is a session beer that’s firmly in the “I can’t believe isn’t a bigger beer” category – as it’s riotously good and has enough hop character and bitterness to make you think you’re drinking something a whole lot “bigger”

And there was me thinking it was only Adnams who can pull the old “smaller beer feeling bigger” trick:

I love the XT site as the core range of beers is broad and well-considered.  The speciality range look especially tempting too. The front page of the XT site ( is unexpected in these equality-driven times…I’m not sure I’d have the front to have half-naked (but tastefully dressed) young ladies lounging about on the opening page of my website (but in reality I’d like to…)  Is it a photo-shopped stock photo? Does she work there?  Does she even like beer?  Who knows, who cares.

I shall be keeping a very close eye on what XT are up to in future…as well as seeing what the Festival Spirit folks get up to…

Hooray for Alliteration: Batemans – B Bock


(alright, so it’s Bateman’s English B Bock…I’m allowed to take the odd liberty)

This is something that I didn’t expect to see at all…a Bock from an English brewer.  Well done, Batemans.  I’m not that familiar with Bock as a style at all, so a bit of digging about told me the following:

Bock is malt led, normally lagered, generally dark-coloured and was originally brewed by folks from Einbeck in Bavaria.  Apparently the brewers had such strong Munich accents that consumers mistook “Einbeck beer” for “Ein Bock Beer” (Bock being the German for “Billy Goat” – which would explain the goat on the label.  Eve said she only picked up the bottle for me as it had a goat on it and she’s fond of goats.)

Bock also tends to be associated with high-days and holidays such as Christmas, Easter or Lent and also has a history of being brewed by monks as a sustaining brew to be consumed during fasts

So now you know.  Anyway onto the Batemans interpretation of Bock:

Bateman’s English Bock interpretation pours out a very dark garnety brown, is strongly carbonated and has possibly the shortest-living head that I’ve ever known – before I’d even finished pouring it’d fizzled itself away.

This is powerfully malty stuff, but has enough yeast character to bring out some tasty fruity notes.  Sweetly malty and full-bodied this certainly is sustaining stuff.  I liked the fact that it was both sweetish, dryish and ever so slightly sour with an accompanying faintly vinous note…all of which go together to make B Bock both satisfying and refreshing.

Beyond the spadefuls of malt, you won’t get much in the way of after-taste as it’s not terribly bitter…but it’s true to style and that’s a plus.

I don’t know if Bock is entirely my metaphorical cup of tea, but it’s nice enough and I can see how some would dig it.  Maybe a whole crowd of you drinking it out of fuck-off great steiners and bellowing out drinking songs might make it even more enjoyable?

Eve got it from Sainsburys.  Well done to you, Sainos, for stocking stuff like this…although you’ve still singularly failed to send me anything in the way of free beer to review.

Not the odd one out: Black Sheep Brewery – Black Sheep Ale


I’m sure by now that everyone has heard the story of how the bloke that started up Black Sheep brewing is actually a member of the Theakston family and all the associated fun that went on there (

But, as I never tire of saying, we’re only here for the beer.  First off I’ll just have to say: I’ve always liked Black Sheep Ale, it’s one of those dependable standards that you can always go to when you want something that’s solid and dependable – a la Brakspear, Hook Norton, Adnams, etc.

BSA is a light hazel-brown colour with a snow-white head.  In the aroma, dryish metallic malts dominate and there’s very little hop character – but that’s neither here ‘nor there.

The taste is a solid, but delicate bitterness which leads out and pulls along a sweetly tasty malt character.  This is a solid slab of tasty ale and isn’t designed to be fancy and complex but be enjoyable, thirst quenching and refreshing.

In the aftertaste is a lasting delicious dry-creamy-sour bitterness and some echoes of sweet malt.

Excellent.  All northern beers feel so much like a reward for a hard days work to me.  and that’s a very good thing indeed.  Have some after you’ve been industrious…

A Palatial Palate Pleaser: Blenheim Palace Traditional Golden Ale

20140324_193931I like Blenheim Palace (I went to school in Woodstock, so we often used to get thrashed around the grounds of the palace on cross-country runs by our dear teachers from the Marlborough school.  Hi Mr Haynes (Clarry) – yes, you were right…I should have tried much harder in Economics lessons)

Anyway, the palace itself aside -nice, though it is- we’re here (again) for the beer.

Normally when I see branded products that are so obviously destined for the gift shop my heart sinks…invariably they’re tawdry, novelty items that are more a reminder of a place than a product that’s actually any good.

But unbelievably Blenheim Palace Traditional Ale is not too bad at all.

Poured into a glass it’s a fairly good-looking golden straw colour, is also bottle conditioned and has a delightfully sweet malt ‘n’ grains sort of aroma going on.

Let’s be clear about this…it’s not the most complex drop you’ll ever have – but it’s very drinkable and is all honeyed and tasty. Definitely a summertime drink and with a good trailing bitterness it’s a taste that you’ll want to revisit…very much like Blenheim Palace itself.

As you can see I had mine with an Indian meal (lovingly prepared by Eve) and it worked perfectly.  I’d like to see BPGA on draught in Woodstock, but that’s unlikely, I guess.

I didn’t get my bottle from the Blenheim gift shop, I actually got it from my sister’s deli in Woodstock – which is the go-to place for hampers, champers, baguettes, sandwiches, coffee and just about anything else you can think of in the eating and drinking line.

Fine Framboise: Bacchus – Framboise


Framboise and pear and apple crumble and creme fraiche. Yum.

Fruit beers are kinda divisive, aren’t they?  Ladies are supposed to love ’em and real men are supposed to really loathe ’em.  I can’t say that I subscribe to that point of view at all…especially when it’s a lovely Kriek or a Framboise.

I’ve just enjoyed a bottle of Bacchus Framboise – and it’s tasty, complex and interesting drop.  Kriek is generally a Lambic (wild fermented) beer finished on whole cherries, whilst a Framboise is the same, but finished on raspberries.

Opening any bottle of Bacchus is a bit of an event, as they’re always half-size champagne bottles, nicely wrapped in paper.

This Framboise pours a dark garnety-ruby colour with a dusky rose-coloured, off-white head.  The aroma is sweet and acetic with a real sense of “pippiness” from the raspberries – there’s also an accompanying ephemeral candyish sort of theme too. I really like it.

From the first sip you get a velvety mouth feel with a beautifully balanced tart and sweet flavour, all backed up by that extreme raspberry pippiness.  The malt is thinnish but evident, but that’s entirely what you’d expect when the yeast, Lactobacillus, Brettanomyces and all the other wild-boy funsters get together to ferment this beer right out – I’d love know what the finishing gravity is, but I bet it’s something not far off 1.000

The aftertaste is classic Lambic and fruit: pervasively bitter with tart back notes, a certain yeasty phenolic “belgianness” frames the whole thing up and also hints at a slight mustiness that you’d expect from the style.

Bacchus Framboise is altogether less sweet and certainly less frivolous feeling than the Lindemans that I tried in the US (

I think it’s a bloody marvellous refreshing drop – and also makes an entirely acceptable substitute for dessert wine.  Sainsbury’s generally stock it, but it can be pricey…but it’s often on a 2-for-1 deal.