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

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…

Lake Brews: Coniston and Stringers

It was upon a birthday trip so fine that I made my way to the wilds of Cumbria and a walking I did go with my good lady upon my arm. Over hill, dale and even across the glittering water of Windermere did we travel in search of adventure and nourishment for our minds and bodies; the smog of London gently being lifted from our hair (and our souls) by the lake breeze.

Many miles did we wander, beautiful sights did we see, good food and drink did we imbibe, but night’s dark cloak drew in and nearing the station I was drawn to the warming lights of Booths.

I know not what called me to the beer aisle like a clarion call, but as I stood staring and blinking in the bright artificial lights my eyes settled upon a few labels. One of the names inscribed was familiar to me so I reached out and took two of its kind.

As I turned to go something stopped me; a ringing in my ears, and lo I knew my mistress waited near the magazines tapping a muddy hiking shoe, that ringing turned to words that shouted  “two is not enough!!”. It echoed around my mind and I tried to shake it knowing there may be consequences if I tarried but a moment more. Yea, before I knew it I was turning back to the glassy glow.

Hungrily I hunted the rows, there must be a reason for my return, where was it to be found? As if a curtain was suddenly lifted I spied the bold packaging, how could have I missed it before? Just gazing upon those brown bottles in their resplendent robes of blue and black edged in white; I knew one thing, I must posses them.

All four little gems travelled tucked in my case back to London town, arriving safely. It twas high time I drank the buggers…

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 14.25.28My previous knowledge of Coniston Brewery related solely to an evening tasting Britain’s Champion Beers at which I sampled their extraordinary No. 9 Barley Wine. Champ in 2012 and my favourite beer from the 2000-13 CAMRA winners. It was on that strength that I procured their Bluebird Bitter and charmingly named Old Man Ale. 

The BB at 4.2% had the look of warm amber, giving off aromas of wet fall leaves, burnt caramel and horse blanket. Sipping revealed some woodiness, iron filings, dry earth, a touch meaty, some resin but cleansing, fresh, easy drinking with a tart floral finish.

Though the name suggested it be best supped by those with more hair in their ears than on their heads; Consiton’s Old Man Ale was anything but.Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 14.25.17

In the glass it looked to me like melted brown sugar with a rich thick shaving foam head. Sniff sniff: lovely floral complexity (owing to the Challenger and Mount Hood hops), warm rye bread, hints of gingerbread spices, fruits of white peach and sweet plum with the vaguest whiff of caramel coated hazelnut.

Let me at it! A balanced 4.8%, creamy rum raisin, air dried beef, dandelion and burdock, with a clean, dry woody mushroom and sage leaf finish. Very very good and not a whisper of the war.

Completely new to me were Stringers Brewery, however their brewy base in the market town Ulverston is a place close to my heart. Some years ago, for about three weeks yours truly nested at the grade II listed Friends Meeting House while I rehearsed a play in the less memorable Barrow-in-Furness.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 14.24.43They have stopped brewing their XB (4.2%) since I drank it, apparently due to lack of traction in an otherwise overcrowded best bitter market. Which is a shame as my notes will show…

It had a rich Demerara sugar hue with a happy soapy head, then sticking my nose where it did belong my brain did the deciphering: newly cut hay, runny golden syrup, creamy banoffie pie and fresh baked pear tatin. To my lips and then… sharp clean crisp, dry mushroom, round malt and finishing in lemon pith.

Solid and tres drinkable. Bring it back.

Mercifully their Dry Stout (4.5%) is still available and damn is it good!Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 14.24.31

Staring into the abyss of my glass, a dense moonless midnight winter black topped with thin charcoal fluffy clouds. Wonderful full bodied aromas of iron rich earth, liquorice http://casinoin.us/set-back-for-the-poker-slots/, jäger herbs, fresh espresso and baked black plums battered my nostrils. Gulp: cold coffee evolving into tiramisu, some savoriness giving way to Jerusalem artichoke and finishing in dry cocoa. Concentrated and textured yet remains very fresh.

Truly as good a stout as I’ve ever had (won a few awards as well).

And that was that, was that then.

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.

 

 

Padstow Brewing Company

I actually tasted this trio of beers back in February in Cornwall while visiting my buddy Bob (the builder, I am serious) near Wadebridge. Let me take you back to January 2013 and in a chilly converted surf shower in Newquay head brewer Caron Archer was experimenting with different hop and malt combinations. Her and husband Des though new to brewing were disciples of the much lauded Dave Lang (Forge Brewery) and as winter made way for spring Caron perfected a few recipes. Padstow Brewing Company was then ready for the next step and having outgrown their “lab” moved to a Padstow industrial estate where they started brewing commercially in May 2013. Caron is the only female head brewer in Cornwall and loves playing around with dynamic flavours, while Des focusses on the more scientific side of the brewing process. I must say they make an excellent team, and I loved everything about their three offerings: from their beautifully clean simple smart packaging, to bottle shape and of course the very finely crafted beers inside.

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 16.05.42

Padstow Pale Ale 3.6%

Light amber in colour and as I raise the glass to my honker the aromas are so enticing that it takes all my willpower not to gulp it down in one. Wonderfully complex spicy lemon and fragrant green hops have me smacking my lips in anticipation. It’s super crisp, refreshing with a good bite, but balanced by a malty long zippy finish. As good a session ale as you’ll find. I could drink it by the bucket. Score – 8.5/10

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 16.05.09

Padstow Pilot 4%   

This amber bitter is a deep chestnut with a very rich mocha head. Initially, the nose is breakfast: fresh roast coffee and toast with marmite but there’s more as it moves into wet moss, then finally a whack of fresh pineapple and peppermint. Wozers! The texture is velvety with bitter coffee, salty chocolate and true to it’s coastal Cornish roots, there’s even some smoked mackerel. It finishes clean but warming and is a very classy drop. Score – 8.25/10

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 16.05.29

Padstow IPA 4.8%

Its deep amber hue gives of aromas toasted brioche, peach and floral jasmine honey. On the palate you are hit by layer after layer of grapefruit, dry pineapple, razor sharp hops ending with a mouth drying finish. Solid. For me a very complex beer that needs food: Thai green curry or seared chilli scallops would pair very nicely. Score – 7.75/10

Tasting these 3 bottles what stood out for me was the incredible diversity of aromas, flavours and textures; all the more impressive when you consider that the beers are between 3.8-4.8% ABV, which frankly shows tremendous skill on the part of Caron and Des. Padstow Brewing is a must try.

Get in touch with them here or via twitter to find out how you can get a hold of their excellent beers.

 

Little Brew Beer Review

I stumbled upon Little Brew at some beer event that I don’t recall the name of: Craft Beer Empire or Crafty Crafty Beer Beer or some such. What I do remember though is making friends with a bunch of railway signalmen (active and retired), who after the session ended invited me to a nearby pub where we all got so pissed that as I prepared to depart via my pedal bike, promptly fell flat on the pavement. Uninjured, I cycled home (do NOT drink and cycle it is very dangerous and against the law) and except for a violent emotional episode around Elephant and Castle both the Little Brews and I arrived home safe. Here’s what I thought of the beers…

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 12.02.09

Pale Ale 5.2%

Quite dark for a pale (I thought) with a nose that wasn’t giving much away. Touch earthy woody mushroom perhaps. That ho hum continued onto a palate that was dry, nutty with some chestnut. Tannins were quite drying, like an over brewed cup of tea. Hmmm.  Score- 6.25/10

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 12.01.59

Ruby Red Ale 5.6%

Deep auburn with a lovely interweaving aromas of raspberry, chocolate and super fresh mint. Full mouth flavour that was tangy, herbaceous with warming malts. The finish was long bitter cherry with a hint of worn leather. Solid. Score 7.25/10

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 12.01.46

Extra Tusks IPA 6.6%

Hazy golden sugar brown. The nose bashed you right on the face with grilled pineapple, barley sugars, green tea and tobacco. The exotic adventure continued on the palate with creamy coconut and dried pineapple that was direct, clean and sharp. The banana finish topped off the tropical fruit salad in stellar fashion. A great beer! Score 8.25/10

Little Brew is a one barrel brewery in Camden Town, but are expanding to York premises so must be doing alright. Has been awhile since I tasted the beers so they are worth another look for sure.