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Desert Island Beers : Top Ten 11

by Helen Fri May 28th, 2010 at 02:42:23 PM EST

Following my diary about those beers we have loved and lost, it seemed only sensible to carry on and discuss my favourite beers I can rush out to enjoy today.

With two exceptions these are British beers; this is not due to nationalistic chauvinism but, however much I appreciate Czech, German and Belgian beers, I simply prefer the beer style which I first learnt to love. Also, I must note and I hope it's not bias, but four of the beers are from my own county of Essex.

And I know it's supposed to be a top 10, but ... I'm greedy

Schlenkerla : Rauschbier

So, that said, it is funny to admit that my favourite beer in the world is German. But what a beer !! The malt is smoked before brewing and the resulting flavour is just the most remarkable I know. Other breweries do smoked beer, but they seem to create a beer and then regard the fact that it's smoked as an added feature, none seem to have done as Schlenkerla and created a wonderfully balanced beer where the smokiness is an integral part of the experience.
It helps that the brewpub in Bamberg is such a wonderfully archetypal German beer hall that makes visiting it an essential pilgrimage for any discerning beer drinker.

Stone : Ruination

And the second beer on my list is American. But it is a British style IPA so it's sort of okay. IPA had become a much debased style in the UK by the 80s; beers that were supposed to have been heavily hopped to survive a long sea journey to india had had all the edges of distinction knocked from them until many were bland and tasteless pale ales.

Fortunately the Americans decided to make IPAs that were exactly what they said on the tin, heavily hopped. No, make that brutally hopped. Those first American IPAs were a revelation when they arrived here in the mid-90s. And of them all, I love Stone Ruination IPA the best. Called Ruination because once you've had one your tastebuds are ruined for tasting anything else, it is a magisterial beer,  fizzing with hop sparkle but with a wonderful underlying balance that makes it such a great drink.

In the absence of this rare visitor, I would recommend Thornbridge Jaipur IPA, BrewDog Hardcore IPA or Pictish Brewers Gold, but this a wish list so Stone it is

HopBack : Summer Lightning

Back in the mid to late 80s, a few of the newer breweries noted that British beers tended to be dark and malty, while continental beers tended to be golden and decided to try brewing beers that were lighter in colour. Some of these, such as Oakhams  JHB and Woodfordes Wherry went on to become classics in their own right, but Summer Lightning is in a class of its own. A thick golden colour, the flavour a clever balance of sweet, malt and bitterness, this is a substantial beer that, when it is in good nick, is simply head and shoulders above nearly anything else. One of the classic beers of Britain.

Nethergate : Umbel Magna

Nethergate had a reputation for brewing some lovely dark very bitter beers and also a rather good strong beer called Old Growler. But the brewer decided to experiment with other flavourings and came up with a new process for passing the hot wort through a load of coriander seeds prior to fermentation which resulted in a beer suffused with herby flavour. I have little interest in the weak and insipid Umbel ale, but the dark slightly sour flavour of Old Growler complements the herby coriander perfectly. A surprising and more-ish ale.

Crouch Vale :  Best bitter

Crouch Vale Brewers Gold may have won champion beer of Britain a couple of times, but I've always preferred the almost perfect balance of their best bitter, fruity, malty and bitter in quite the most wonderful combination. When it's good, it's pretty much as good as you're gonna get anywhere.

Brentwood : Marvellous Maple Mild

And marvellous it is too. I am fairly conservative when it comes to milds, very few brewers meet the standards I expect, so it was a delight to find the brewery nearest to me absolutely smack the ball out of the park.

Farmers : Drop of Nelsons Blood

When you do as much drinking around as I do, you can get cynical about new breweries, too many indentikit cooking bitters, too many beers utterly indistinguishable from the last one. And then you try a beer that just blows away all your woes away and makes you fall in love all over again. Such was Farmers Nelsons. A dark bitter that, like the Crouch vale from just down the road, makes the complex task of balancing fruit, malt and bitterness seem effortless. All of Farmers beers are very good indeed, but this is exceptional.

Copper Dragon : Scotts 1816

Most breweries do one type of beer well, or specialize in certain types of beer. Others couldn't brew good beer if their lives depended upon it. And a vanishingly few breweries seemingly don't know how to brew a bad beer at all, CD is one of that select group of breweries I'd trust to do anything well. I selected Scotts 1816, but I could have taken any of their range and been satisfied.

Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild

In beer terms where a brew is considered venerable if it's been going half a century, then this is a prehistoric monster. Brewed since 1921, it is certainly using a recipe at least as old again because it is a strong (in alcohol) mild (not hoppy), a style that went out of favour a century before. However, it doesn't get on this list for its curiosity value; it's here because it's an extraordinary beer. Others have taken up the mantle of brewing strong milds, but when you try the original, forget the rest, this is the best.

Hambleton Nightmare Porter

Porter is a difficult beer to get right. The beer style had died out, so nobody actually knows what it should taste like, we simply know that it is a mix in equal proportions of (strong) Mild, Stale (gueze) and Old. So I've always expected a dark malty beer with a lambic (acidy) backbite but not too much bitterness. Also, the balance of the malts should be near perfect, not too much chocolate or it gives a granular feel to the beer, not too much coffee malt or it kills the sweetness that balances the acid. This is the perfect combination

Brentwood : Chocwork Orange

Forget the punny title, just taste the beer: Wonderfully assertive dark chocolate flavours providing a bed for the orange tang. A bottle of dark chocolate orange. Gimme, gimme, gimme

McSorely's Old Ale House has been a fixture on East 7th St, New York, since 1854 brewed a Porter that was (is?) to die for.  Back when I was knocking it back in the middle to late 70s they claimed to use the same recipe and technique as on the first day they opened.

I haven't tasted it since 1979, the memory lingers.  I haven't had any other Porter to match.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri May 28th, 2010 at 11:04:27 PM EST
It wouldn't shock me if it was still great.  New York's got some seriously good brews.  And much more diverse than the Gullyvornyah brewers.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat May 29th, 2010 at 06:54:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I broke about 20 glasses one night in that place.

I still can't understand why they insist on serving beer in tiny glasses.

Walking back to the table from the bar, in the middle of a jam packed ale house, with my fingers clasping together 10 beers like thimbles, that was certainly an experience.

There's a website out there called the Beer Advocate, where beer aficionados get really into it (talk of lacing and such on the glass). A little overboard.

I always keep these four beers around the house:

Anchor Steam (San Francisco) Lager
Sierra Nevada Kellerweiss (California) Hefeweisen
Goose Island Stout (Chicago)
Brooklyn Pilsener (NY)

Occasionally, Long Trail Coffee Stout in the pint and a half bottle.


by Upstate NY on Sat May 29th, 2010 at 09:43:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey!  You kids!  Get out of my bar!!!!

In MY day they used 12oz - IIRC - glasses.  


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat May 29th, 2010 at 10:02:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, last time I was there it was late 80s early 90s and the glasses were 8 oz max.
by Upstate NY on Sat May 29th, 2010 at 10:51:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What a pain.  That means getting up and going the bar about every 15 minutes!

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon May 31st, 2010 at 01:17:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
judging by their website I get the distinct impression that they regard themselves as a tourist destination with quaint customs rather than somewhere you go for a drink. Have a couple of quick ones and then move on I'd say.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 31st, 2010 at 01:32:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Irk.  You might have nailed it.  (sigh)  I remember it as "my pub" where I could go almost any night and socialize with friends or chit-chat across the tables with other regulars.  

What song was it that had the recurrent line "my memories for sale?"  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon May 31st, 2010 at 01:46:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
8oz glasses are what ? Half a pint ? not too small but can get fiddly if you're drinking a lot.

If you drink Kolsch from Cologne you'll often get it served in tiny shot glasses, a couple of mouthfuls and it's gone. That's cos the beer goes flat very quickly, but it becomes a pain if you can't get served fast enough.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun May 30th, 2010 at 06:04:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm much more of a quantity than quality person, being a poor graduate student will do that.  So my normal brew is Natural Light (Provenance unknown, I seriously hope it didn't come off the floor) and on a good night Miller High Life, the cham- pag- ne of beers.

But I've got a couple of favorites when it comes to good stuff.

Magic Hat # 9 (Vermont)
312 (Chicago)

There's a HofbrauHaus near me, and some of their stuff is ok, but I'm much more of a fan of heavier stuff.  

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sun May 30th, 2010 at 01:41:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yea, Magic Hat #9 is a really good beer.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun May 30th, 2010 at 03:02:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sure it's been to the GBBF, but I couldn't say for certain that I've had it. I'll definitely keep an eye out this year.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun May 30th, 2010 at 06:09:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It was my first taste of micro brew and, thus, an Illumination.  As I recall, it was malty, not hoppy, thick, and little effervescence.

No doubt with chocolate overtones ...

Whatever the hell that means.


Don't know how I would like it now but at the time it was my fave drink to quaff.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon May 31st, 2010 at 01:11:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Supposedly they still make it, according to The Google.

Don't see mention of much on their website.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun May 30th, 2010 at 08:57:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yea, not exactly the most useful website I've ever seen.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 31st, 2010 at 12:33:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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