Home Brew Review: Hellsize Park Brewing Co

Most of the world’s most celebrated microbreweries in this new golden age of beer that we are now living in actually started life not as a gleaming ready made high-tech facility or even a cobbled together kit in some grimy railway arches. They began in sheds, garages, basements, and kitchens (and in the case of the Padstow Brewing Company a disused and converted surf shower). The architects were men and women passionate about beer and the art of brewing. These enterprising folks then found the courage and support to put together enough money to “scale up” in brewer speak. Many gave up steady safe jobs to try to turn their fervour for fermentation into something bigger and in doing so, not only changed their own lives but touched and awakened thousands of others.

Which got me thinking… What if instead of simply singing the praises of established breweries, I started trying to feature the work of aspiring brewers and brewsters. Perhaps a little incentive and encouragement might be just what they need to make the big leap themselves.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 08.37.09I’ve just lied to you.

The inspiration didn’t come to me from out of the blue. Most ideas require a catalyst, a spark to ignite them; mine is called Jamie. A fellow tour guide at London Brewery Tours he generously gifted me this intriguing taught newspaper wrapped bottle with Evil Goat stridently written on it. The handy work was that of Josh Charig aka Hellsize Park Brewing Co.

 

The full name is actually Evil Goatmilk Saison as I later found out courtesy of Josh himself.

 

Now for those non-geeks out there, Saison (French for season) is a style of beer with its origins in Wallonia (French speaking Belgium). Brewed in farmhouses in the cooler months and stored for the summer it was a refreshing liquid form of payment for the thirsty field workers to drink. Today Saisons are a popular style amongst craft brewers who often add fruit, herbs or spices to the beers. They are often typified by their hazy appearance, spicy sometimes pronounced yeast nose, lively fruit and layered texture.

 

Here’s what Josh had to say when I asked him to tell me a little about himself, thus casting some light onto how I came to have this broadsheet bound chilli infused Saison in my possession.

 

Two and a half years ago, some friends and I decided to make a batch of our own beer and one drunken night we made one of those beer packs. I instantly fell in love with homebrewing and have been doing it ever since as a “serious hobby”. My wife is a farmer and gardener and we had an opportunity to live in Ireland for about 9 months where she could grow a range of plants and I could concentrate on brewing, and this is where we are now. I brew as much as I can here and am doing a lot of testing and experimenting, whether that’s trying a new technique which will increase my brewhouse efficiency or playing around with a recipe to create something I’ve never even heard of before. I’m using this opportunity to become a better brewer and make better beer.
Whilst in Ireland I’ve been keeping a brewing and beer blog the Honest Beer Guide. I’ve also been writing posts for a couple of other publications. My plan is to make the most out of my stay here in Ireland and learn as much as I can about my system, different ingredients and their effect on the beer, and how to craft the best brews. Back in London, I’m growing a few hop plants, and when my wife and I are settled back there I plan on planting more hops along with other herbs, flowers, and spices which I can use in brewing as I’d also like to make some gruit* ales. I’d even like to have a go at brewing using medieval methods!
As you will have guessed I thought Evil Goatsmilk was excellent.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 08.38.01These were my notes:

A cloudy deep amber. The nose was at first farmyard, then field yeasty but that gave way to tropical flowers and fruit. Raising up the glass up I could feel my lips bracing for the promised heat… But none came. Instead, it was dense foamy, not quite creamy yet it had a touch of pina colada about it, and as I began to explore that; the warming began. A throat nibbling, dry persistent heat. In no way unpleasant, it had the effect of making me want another sip. With each one the complex web of texture, tropical fruit and prickly heat spreading out over my entire mouth and nasal system.

More kudos came in the form of Mrs Drink n Eat who thought it was fabulous. To qualify she drinks beer from time to time preferring lager and sour beers but is certainly not a huge beer drinker. I also trust her palate immensely, as she’s not jaded like me. I love getting her take on things as she often comes up with flavours or aromas that are perhaps more peripheral or off piste.

So the Evil Goatsmilk Saison was a huge success. I wish Josh very well indeed and look forward to tasting his future endeavours.


 

Postscript : For you true nerds out there here’s a link to Josh’s recipe. Though he was keen to tell me that he used this yeast instead of the Belle Saison and omitted the fresh jalapenos.

* Gruit was the common bittering, flavouring and preservative agent for ale before hops usurped it. It was made from a mixture of different herbs such as sweet gale, mugwort, yarrow and heather.

Top Out Brewery

Last summer I was working the Edinburgh Foodies Festival and came across the stand of a brewery that was unfamiliar to me. The branding was eye-catching (has to be these days) so I inquired of the squire whether I could sample his wares. He most cordially agreed. Had he not, this story would have been much shorter.  

The brews were the work of Top Out Brewery which sits nestled between Bilston and Loanhead just south of Edinburgh and east of the mighty Pentland Hills Regional Park. I liked what I tasted (barring an elderflower ale that had gone astray in fermentation) and some months later I received a box of their beers in bottle to try in earnest.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 17.06.05Rather appropriately I started off with Schmankerl Bavarian Wheat. Schmankerl is a Bavarian term that essential means a ‘treat’ but further can refer to an appetizer or amuse bouche. Something to get the palate juiced up for the main event. Sure was inviting to the eye, all hazy summer golden with lively long lasting tadpole foam head.

Aromas of sour yellow plums, proving sourdough bread and characteristic clove studded banana with just a glimmer of white pepper. Balanced at 4.9%, beginning clean and sharp then moving to lactic rounding dry banana skin and celebrating the 70’s with piña colada on the denouement. Tasty.

Next was Staple Pale Ale (4%) which I had really enjoyed on cask at the fair. Sadly it came over a bit starchy in bottle. Very herbaceous, pithy dry and wasn’t the thirst quenching beauty I recalled. Some variation perhaps?Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 17.05.57

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 17.05.32They surely had the shit together when they brewed this batch of their Smoked Porter because it poured out glorious and lively with an ashen pancake batter head. The neb (nose) was very impressive with aromas of cocoa, smoked mackerel, mure (blackberry) liqueur, melted milk chocolate, chocolate covered blueberries and blood pudding.

That confection theme continued on the palate with dry dark cocoa, dried Highland blackberries and subtly smoked venison. It had a fresh lactic character, the feel was clean, lean and muscular with a dry espresso finish. Top notch. 

Last but not least was the Cone IPA which enchanted from the off with its pillowy-billowy meringue head. Greeting my sniffer as I raised the glass was a fine pine forest, that had some folks camping in it. Their dinner consisted of grilled pineapple, lemon meringue pie, and raw scallop. An eclectic bunch indeed.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 17.05.42Not overly boozy at 6.8% but my first sip was like a sap edged razor bite. Sharply astringent followed sticky resinous. Thankfully by the 4-5th sup it was softening, showing very dry pineapple, white grapefruit pith and seed. There was some bracing lemon zest and earthy wet tobacco. Deeper still I found passion fruit. The finale? Dry and complex, like some foreign film. Serious like. You get me?

Thanks so much to Top Out for providing the beers. They are one to keep an eye on.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Here are reviews from two esteemed colleagues The Beer Cast and Beers I’ve Known

Barre Pilsner and Weizen

Now when I say Lübbecke what comes to mind?

Perhaps a small child trying to say Rebecca for the first time?  An extremely drunken American sportscaster referring to a ferocious sack made by SF 49ers star linebacker NaVorro Bowman?

Though vaguely humourous both would be incorrect.

Now I imagine a fair few of you sharper tacks, those of you familiar with European languages would deduce that it might be a place or an attraction; owing to its giveaway pünctuation.

You of course would be right. Lübbecke is a village in northern Germany (population just shy of 26,000) nestled in the Wiehe Mountains, about an hour and a half drive west of Hanover. A small modern town centre surrounded by hills on which sit some stunningly grand squat sturdy houses. While you visit this little town that have no real attractions, you can play some free slots and drink this amazing beer. It’s not exactly mobbed with tourists, I however found myself there on a work trip last October.

For you WW2 buffs, the area was quite important for the occupying British forces after 1945. It served as an administrative hub for the British Occupation Zone authorities who worked out of the municipal buildings and were housed in the local homes.

We actually stayed and worked out of what was an old Hitler Youth training camp. A scary prospect, but long gone were any vestiges of its darker past. Run by British Army Chaplains since the early ’80’s Chruch House had a very welcoming and serene feel. Not surprising as it serves as a home of respite and sensitivity training facility for UK service personnel.

Much to my delight, the mess bar was well stocked with the local beer. Brewed by the privately owned Barre Brewery, which was a stone’s throw from where I was stood. It was a good sign. Very. Fresh. Beer. And a bargain @ €1 for a bottle.IMG_4922

With a not quite properly translated claim to fame like “city of beer fountain” being attributed to the area, the bar (sorry I couldn’t help myself) was set quite high. I ordered a bottle of “Pilsener” from the less than effusive barman and poured into my mini stein. I loved everything about that glass. Sandblasted smooth, perfectly weighted and fitting so well in my hand that it could have been made for me. Damn I miss it.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 16.55.54Now in my opinion there is something universal about great Pilsner; the first one does a Nick Cage. It’s gone in 60 seconds. Barre Pils was most certainly in that class.  

Pale yellow and a lively soapy head. The nose was classic Pils and popped with crispness, golden grain and a touch of resinous hop. Surgically precise, clean and utterly delicious.

I brought a bottle home and had it with a daunting cabbage, apple and beetroot soup. Cut through it like a razor. Ironic as that’s what that soup did to my insides. Yikes. Open a window would you dear.

I also brought home a bottle of their Weizen (wheat). Looking at it in the glass reminded me of swimming in a muddy river as a kid, an earthy brown haze cut through with shafts of dappled sunlight.

A balanced 5.4% abv with a dense milk shake foam head it pulsed with aromas of clove oil, wet banana skin and dried coriander seed. What I got on the nose replayed on my palate but as a luxurious velvet wheat whirlpool. Stuff is dangerously drinkable. I think it lasted about 8 minutes. Very tasty. Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 16.55.44

In addition to the Pils and Weizen, Barre brew a Dark, Alcohol-Free, Festbier, Maibock and an Alt. So if you ever happen to find yourself in the vicinity of Lübbecke for whatever reason, then Barre is a must try.

Israeli Craft Beer

My rather euphoric discovery of the Israeli craft beer scene was on a beautiful sunny spring afternoon in 2013. I spent several hours, chatting, eating and drinking microbrews at Beer Market in Jaffa Port, Tel Aviv.

I snagged a few local bottles to sample back in the UK and tasted them at the Stormbird with a few good beer pals. They included: Des de Moor, Richard Warmsley, Sam Hill, Mark Charlwood and the infamous Glynn Roberts.

We started things off with Shapiro Pale Ale which had been a brewery I had liked in TA. Their Pale at 5% abv was hazy and full of yeast. There was some peach, tin corn and mint with a creamy bitter texture. Just ok.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 13.29.52Next was HaDubim Kiwi (5.3%). I had met Dagan their brewer while I was at the Beer Market in Jaffa, very nice guy. His Kiwi poured hazy golden with aromas of zesty gooseberry jam. Ultra dry with tart citrus and a kiwi skin finish. Pretty good.

Numero three was from family run brewery Taybeh actually based in the West Bank. Their Amber (5.5%) despite being brewed according to the German purity laws whiffed of brewed tea and sour Gueze. We established without tasting it that it was infected. A real shame as it had travelled so far.

Our bad run continued with Alexander and their Green (6%). An IPA with an “Israeli twist” that smelt of soapy cotton wool was also infected.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 13.30.30We were due some luck and it came in the lusciously dense molasses black form of Alon Porter (5%) from Negev. Metalic aromas of copper, Lebanese spices, cayenne pepper and baked black plum. The texture of velvet, pure earthy mineral expression, roasted coffee with a long dry finish. Very very good.

Maibeerovicz was last up and their Doppelbock (7.5%) was a hazy muck brown with a Kirsh nail polish remover nose. Oh no… Sour cherry, liquorice root and peach on the palate but like all three blended up and left out on a window sill for a few days in summer. Yep it was infected with something nasty.

Perhaps I fell victim to those “Holiday Booze Blues”? Where one is sorely underwhelmed or even downright disappointed with a tipple that filled you with such pleasure in a foreign land.

That said the beers I drank in Tel Aviv were quite fresh and one cannot account for randomising factors that may haunt novice brewers in a fledgling brew scene.

Besides the superb Negev and solid Hadubim here’s hoping the next time I am able to try the rest that their beers are in better shape…

Penpont Brewery

I am a regular visitor to the wilds of Cornwall and while down for a wedding some weeks past I grabbed a few bottles from Bodmin Moor based Penpont; a brewery I had been meaning to try.

Though a special mention must go out to the lack of functioning brain cells of the staff at the Spar in Rock.

While giving custom to the aforementioned establishment I was stood at the front of the queue (can you call it a queue when it’s only you?), my arms full of essential shopping (scones, clotted cream, etc.), waiting as two people at the tills served a customer each.

One would think a simple sounding procedure and straight forward enough, ah but no. Somehow through a complex level of bumbling and mind numbing faffery I was made to wait almost 10 minutes.

Now I came very close to dumping my overpriced thimble of local strawberry jam et all and storming out in protest. But as I tried to contain my gurgling urbanite rage my eyes fell upon the booze shelves and scanning for a welcome distraction I spied the nicely packaged Cornish Arvor and Roughtor. 

Eventually, I was in fact served and left with said bottles nestled in my canvas tote.

Here’s what I thought…

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 14.16.32Cornish Arvor Amber Ale weighing in at 4% abv and getting its name from a type of boat common on the seas around north west Cornwall, is lovely bright bronze.

A thin wispy head gave off notes of kelp and sweet ripe orchard fruit.

I really enjoyed the fresh texture underlaid with stone fruit and an herbaceous finish.

Solid and very pleasant session ale which I would happily drink with roast chicken or some of Rick Stein’s (reassuringly expensive) fish and chips.

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 14.16.13Taking it’s moniker from the neolithic Rough Tor a round enclosure of stones that once formed a small ancient settlement atop the 2nd tallest hill in Cornwall on Bodmin Moor.

Roughtor is classed as a well hopped amber ale and had the look of dark leather.

Lovely thick soapy head that popping with aromas of nuts, raisin loaf, blossom honey and vegetable oil.

The palate starts creamy then finishes tart. Clean, herbaceous and dry with flavours of subtle apricot and peach then ending with savoury bay leaf.

Sitting comfortably at 4.7% avb this is a tasty www.casinoscapital.com/casino-games-guide/roulette/tips beer and one I think would go superbly with roast beef and yorkshire pud or some nice nutty hard cheeses.

So two good beers from Penpont Brewery and I have bad service to thank for it.

Every cloud…

Harviestoun: Òrach Slie, Ridge and Broken Dial

I have been fortunate enough to be on this bonnie Scottish brewery’s ‘good bloggers’ list for a few years now. The reason I know this, is that every now and then a package containing Harviestoun beer turns up unannounced; which is quite a nice thing. They have brewed some excellent beers since they started nigh on thirty years ago. The beer that put them on the map is Bitter & Twisted Blond Ale, but they are also responsible for Ola Dubh, probably one of the world’s best whisky barrel aged brews. Engineers Reserve ‘Old Engine Oil’; a beer so silky and voluptuous that the first time I tasted it, I actually felt as if I had been seduced. Finally, their Schiehallion has got to be one of the top 5 quality craft lagers in the country.

A few new (ish) releases turned up on my doorstep and here’s what I thought:

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 09.33.03Òrach Slie 6% abv

A golden ale matured in Glenfarclas whisky barrel, that pours bright Irun-Bru in colour. The nose is wet moss, wool, oak infused golden syrup. I found it rich yet easy drinking with notes of wet grain, heather, honey, sunflower oil and a tart woody tannin finish. Honestly on when I first tasted it, it didn’t send my pulse racing. That said after a month or so when I came round to trying the 3rd bottle, it was much better. The texture had improved and there was a more complex mead sweetness. A good beer, just needed a bit of time to settle down. Might even be worth laying a few down for a few months to see how they develop. 7/10

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 09.32.52The Ridge Pale Ale 5% abv

It’s pale golden (no surprise there) with aromas of grapefruit pith, proving bread, kumquat and lime marmalade. My tastebuds picked up a veritable Aladdin’s cave of flavours: creamy citrus, wasabi, dried pineapple, sticky toffee pudding and a very dry citrus seed finish. The complexity and intensity of the hopping might be a bit much for some (it left teeth marks a couple times), but is well suited to food (spicy chinese or fish and chips) but it does what it says on the can; a pale ale that sings The Star Spangled Banner with its sporran swaying. 6.75/10

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 09.32.38Broken Dial Amber Ale 4.5% abv

Pale tan held up to the light and I got whiffs of sweet malt loaf, dry apricot and cocoa. Sipping it twas the tea tannins that bit first, then I got dry chocolate, orange peel, beef consume, burnt caramel, dried leather with a peach fluff finish. Do I love it? Well no. But its a perfectly decent amber ale. 6.5/10

I was sent 24 bottles of Broken Dial and The Ridge so was able to sample many bottles over a period of time. An interesting experiment (and very generous of Harviestoun), because not only was I able to sample them after some ageing, but certain flavours and aromas were more pronounced depending on when I drank them. Giving me a broader and more detailed understanding of the beers. It also meant quite a few friends got to taste them and this is by no means scientific but most preferred The Ridge.

It was Harviestoun’s special deliveries in my early days of beer blogging that gave me confidence and belief that at least someone liked what I was doing. So a big thanks to Ewan and the team for ‘loving my work’.

*Disclaimer – I receive no remuneration beyond the beers themselves from Harviestoun and produce reviews based on my honest opinion, full in the knowledge that a negative one may land me on the ‘naughty’ list.

Hunter’s Brewery

I had my first taste of Hunter’s a few years back for the Sainsbury Great British Beer Hunt. The Devon based brewery had their Full Bore into final round of the competition that year, but sadly weren’t crowned champions. I did however pick up a few of their other bottles and reviewed their excellent Half Bore in one of my video blogs.

In February I was down at a food fair in Exeter; Hunter’s had a stand so I was able to taste a few on cask as well as being given a trio of their newer beers to take away in bottle.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 11.21.55Devon Dreamer 4.1%

Ice tea brown.

Buttery caramel & grapefruit pith nose.

Wonderfully easy drinking, creamy texture, passion fruit, clean tangy finish. Super session ale.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 11.22.12Crispy Pig 4%

Cloudy golden.

Aromas of fragrant sweet red apple and blossom honey.

Punchy dry apple skin  moving to dry savoury and firm on the mid palate. Super dry finish with notes of sweet basil. Quite more-ish. However it lacked liveliness. Perhaps it was faulty? Looked flat and hazy. Not exceptional but interesting. Good with creamy cheese or grilled pork.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 11.22.23The Royal Hunt 5.5%

Rich chestnut brown.

Raisin malt brown fresh dates on the nose.

Flat so lacks depth. Dry and malty. Some sweet prune.

A bit of mixed bag really. I tasted the Crispy Pig on cask at the stand and it was much more vibrant so knew something was up with the bottle. It’s a bit of a novelty: ale infused with apples. So worth looking out for. The Royal Hunt I would want to try again as it’s may have been faulty as well. For me Devon Dreamer was the standout. Refreshing, balanced and delicious. What more could you want?

Thanks to the folks at Hunter’s for giving me the samples and do seek out their multi award winning beers.