Beer Reviews Cromwells Hat

As it seems like winter at the moment I thought I would review a beer appropriate to cooler weather. Imagine it is winter! One of the best things about winter is winter beer – strong, full of taste and warming on a winter’s night. Over the last couple of weeks we have been fortunate to have one of the better examples down at our local pub. Cromwell’s Hat is a beer brewed to suit the season, by Springhead Brewery.


Springhead brewery began life back in 1990 and was then the smallest micro-brewery in England. It started out brewing in a small outbuilding next to the brewer’s house but, as production and demand increased, it moved to a custom built brewery on an industrial estate in Sutton on Trent, near Newark in Nottinghamshire. “Springhead” refers to a bend in the River Trent; the place where the brewery was sited.

The head brewer (Shirley Reynolds) is extremely proud of her range of beers which have built up over the years. They can be found in pubs nationwide (though more readily available in the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire areas), beer festivals and also can be purchased for drinking at home, direct from the brewery. These beers include Roaring Meg (a strong blonde ale at 5.5% ABV), Puritans Porter (a dark, tasty porter at 4.0% ABV) and Charlie’s Angel (a light coloured, fruity beer at 4.5% ABV).

You can also go and visit the brewery and tours are available – you need to contact the brewery (details at end of review) and it can take up to 40 people.


*A Bit of Background*

Springhead beers tend to take the English Civil War as the inspiration for their names. Cromwell’s Hat is no exception! The name of this particular brew refers to the occasion when Cromwell was offered the Crown of England, after Charles I was beheaded. As a politician Oliver Cromwell was more comfortable staying as Lord Protector, rather than becoming a king. Keeping his hat instead of donning the crown was his way of showing he had maintained his parliamentary principles and not taken on any Royalist ideals. Thus, the beer Cromwell’s Hat was born!

As a seasonal beer, Cromwell’s Hat is only available during November and December. It is a strong beer though and may often linger in pubs until a short while into January.

*Vital Stats*

Cromwell’s Hat weighs in at 6.0% ABV and is placed firmly in the category of a Strong Bitter. It is a winter beer, brewed using Northdown Hops, Pale Crystal Malt and with the addition of cinnamon and juniper berries for added wintry flavours.

*Look, Aroma & Texture*

Looks wise, Cromwell’s Hat is a dark brown beer with a slightly copper red tinge. The head is slightly off white in colour, medium in size and lingers for the majority of your pint. Aroma is spicy like mulled wine (the cinnamon and juniper berries really show through), combined with a slight honey sweetness, hints of blackcurrants and a smell a little like that from a glass of cola. Body is quite syrupy and full bodied, much as you would expect from a strong beer, but with a good amount of conditioning making it less heavy than some winter ales. It is quite smooth in the mouth and rich on the palate too.

*Taste Test*

Cromwell’s Hat is a nice warming beer that has a good combination of flavours you would associate with a winter or Christmas beer. Primary flavours are the sweetness of honey and a soft maltiness. This is combined with a vinous fruit flavour (a little like a deep red wine), and the spiciness of the juniper and cinnamon, which builds in strength as the pint progresses. This all leads to a short bitter/sweet finish and an aftertaste that is warming and has a spicy tingle.


Cromwell’s Hat isn’t a beer I drink regularly. This isn’t because I don’t like it though! It’s mainly down to circumstance and planning – At 6% ABV it is pretty strong, so I usually reserve it for a last long drink at the end of the night. Also, it is a seasonally produced beer, so my sampling of Cromwell’s Hat is limited to just a couple of months out of the year. It is a beer to be sipped and savoured and not a beer to be swilled and glugged down. The strength makes it an ideal beer to take your time on – this also gives you a chance to fully appreciate the flavours that build up as you drink and as the beer warms up a little. I recommend that you drink it on the warmer side of chilled, otherwise it won’t reach its full potential in terms of depth and character.

My last couple of pints of Cromwell’s Hat were enjoyed in The Industry – the pub around the corner from me. Here we paid £ 2.40 a pint for an excellent quality beer. Previously I had tried it during a trip to Springhead Brewery, where a sample of it was included in our tour. The Industry had it on the bar for about a week and we popped in on a few evenings and had one each on each occasion. I did find that as the beer got older (meaning it had been maturing in the cask down in the cellar for longer) it got even better and the flavour towards the end of the cask was much more developed and fuller. The young (less matured) beer at the beginning of the cask was still tasty, but not as balanced and strong.

I can appreciate that a few people won’t like the taste of this one. The blend of the bitter and the sweet and the mulled wine quality make for a slightly out of the ordinary flavour for a beer – this is no tasteless lager or characterless beer of the “smooth” or “creamflow” variety! It is smooth, tasty and warming, with a real taste of winter.


Springhead Fine Ales,
Old Great North Road,
NG23 6QJ
01636 821000

Beer Reviews Wild Swan

Generally I prefer stronger, darker beers. So when I came across a really pale lower gravity beer I wasn’t sure if it would have enough body and taste for me. Mind you, it was brewed by Thornbridge Hall brewery and they ARE one of the best up and coming micro-breweries I have encountered recently. It would be rude of me not to give it a chance now wouldn’t it? Two pints were duly ordered (one for me and one for my husband ~ I’m not THAT greedy) and we proceeded to give it the taste test! .and the verdict? Read on and find out!


As I mentioned Wild Swan is brewed at Thornbridge Hall Brewery, which is based in Ashford in the Water (not far from Bakewell in Derbyshire). They were set up in a converted outbuilding of this minor stately home in October 2002 and have since begun to grow into a respected and rather excellent brewery. The Hall itself was formally the home of the Longsdon family before becoming a teacher training and education centre. It is now a family home again, but it is also a very successful business.

Their beers have already, in a very short space of time, started to win awards at beer festivals and their bottled beers have been accepted by the national Real Ale in a Bottle scheme. Their core range of beers has grown since brewing began (they started off with four regular beers and some occasional specials) and consists of a massive seven regular beers. These are (in order of alcohol content) Wild Swan (the subject of this review), Lord Marples (a classic bitter at 4% ABV), Brock (a smooth, creamy stout at 4.1% ABV), Blackthorn Ale (a golden bitter ale at 4.4% ABV), Bohemia (a Czech style cask lager at 5.2% ABV), Jaipur IPA (a pale strong beer at 5.9% ABV) and St. Petersburg Stout (a VERY strong Russian style stout at 7.7% ABV).

Thornbridge beers are available in a variety of pubs in the Derbyshire and Yorkshire region and are regularly featured at beer festivals nationwide. You can also buy their bottled beers via the brewery web-site.


*Vital Stats*

Wild Swan weighs in at 3.5% ABV and is classed as a low gravity pale bitter.

*Look, Aroma & Texture*

As you have probably guessed Wild Swan is pale in colour. It is in actual fact one of the palest beers I have ever come across. Imagine an extremely light straw/pale gold colour with a slight hint of greenish yellow ~ almost like a lime cordial or a lager with lime. There is a slight almost translucent head that is made up of small bubbles and soon fades. Aroma is fresh and light with the scent of lemon hops and a small amount of fruit (grapefruit mostly). Texture is quite carbonated, light bodied and rather thin.

*Tange’s Taste Test*

After being initially put off by the extreme paleness of the beer I persevered and gave it a taste! First taste to be honest left me struck by the lack of body and I did dismiss Wild Swan has having very little taste. I had bought a full glass so I drank on and was VERY glad that I did. The flavours that come through start off very subtle but gradually develop into quite a tasty little beer. The dominant taste is the bitterness of lemon from the hops, but this is joined by grapefruit and a spicy hint of pepper (a small hint, but certainly there). As you drink it gets increasingly dry. The bitterness builds into a finish that is clean and very dry. After taste is short lived but refreshing, with that same lightness I described in the texture.


I AM glad that I kept drinking my pint of Wild Swan. Some people I know have been put off by the look of it saying that anything that resembles lime and lemon can’t make a good beer! Once again Thornbridge Hall have managed to make a lower alcohol beer tasty ~ just recently they brewed two Mild ales which, despite being a meager 2.9%, had bags of flavour and unique characters. This is just the same as Wild Swan! At only 3.5% ABV it is an excellent choice for a Session beer and would also make a good choice for a summer drink because it is nice served cool and is rather fresh and light. It is subtle and very well crafted too.

Wild Swan would also be a fine choice to tempt the lager drinker away from their tasteless fizz. It looks more like a lager than most cask beers and isn’t too malty (although there is a slight buttery flavour in the beer). I have tried it on two separate occasions and enjoyed it immensely. My first time was at Barrow Hill beer festival ~ they were co-sponsored by the brewery and a good number of their beers were on offer. The second time was at The Industry Inn, just outside Chesterfield town centre. The first time I paid 1.00 for a half pint of Wild Swan. At the Industry I got a pint and paid 2.30. This seems to be a pretty standard representation of the various prices you can pay for Wild Swan in the pubs in my area.

One thing that I must mention is that this is the least common of the Thornbridge beers I come across locally. I’m not sure whether this is because it isn’t as popular among the local licensees, who tend to favour the more popular and more standard strength beers, like Blackthorn and Lord Marples, or whether it just isn’t brewed as often. Whatever the reason it does need to be more readily available to allow drinkers to get the taste for it! I am sure that once people get past the strength and colour barrier they will start to drink it more and more.

Look out for Wild Swan and give it a try. You might even like it!


Thornbridge Country House Brewery
Thornbridge Hall
DE45 1NZ

Tel: 01629 640617

Beer Reviews Wells Bombardier

I couldn’t believe it when I noticed that I hadn’t posted a review on Bombardier Bitter. It is a regular feature in one of my local pubs and one I have drunk on MANY occasions. I think by now I am pretty qualified to offer my musings on this traditional, and rather famous, premium ale.


Bombardier Premium English Bitter is brewed by the Charles Wells Brewery. This is a family business that was founded in 1876 in Bedford and moved to the present location in 1976. The brewery, known as the Eagle Brewery, is apparently the fifth largest brewery in the UK and has been owned and run by the Wells family for five generations. They now supply getting on for 300 of their own pubs and 600 plus other outlets nationwide. They began bottling beer in 1996 and also supply beers for export abroad. You can even buy Bombardier in mini casks to drink proper beer in your own home!

Some of the beers brewed at the Eagle Brewery are Banana Bread Beer (a beer that really does taste of bananas at 5% ABV), Eagle IPA (a low gravity pale ale at 3.6% ABV) and Naked Gold (a seasonal oaty beer at 4.5% ABV).


*A Bit of Background*

Bombardier is the flagship beer for a campaign to make St George’s Day a public holiday ~ you can follow a link on the Charles Wells website to sign a petition and get involved. There is also lots of information about the different ways you can buy and drink it ~ Bombardier is a versatile drink that comes in cans, bottles and cask (they even do a smooth version.but that’s not really worthy of a mention!).

*Vital Stats*

Bombardier weighs in at 4.3% ABV and is brewed using Crystal and Pale malts, combined with a mix of Styrian Goldings and Challenger hops. The strength puts it in the category of a premium or best bitter.

*Look, Aroma & Texture*

Bombardier is an amber to copper colour, with chestnut tinges when held up to the light. It has a decent sized milky coffee coloured head that is pretty foamy and long lasting. The aroma is hoppy (not the citrus hops I normally mention, but a kind of spicy/peppery scent) and fruity (like grapes or raisins), with a balancing maltiness. Texture is quite rich, yet remains quite light on the palate. There is also a faint spicy tingle.


The first flavour I got from my first sip was malt ~ a rich malt with underlying hints of caramel and toffee. This soon blends with flavours of raisins, blackberries and other dark, rich fruits. Add to this a hoppiness that develops and becomes increasingly bitter towards the finish. This leads to an aftertaste that retains that bitterness but also brings in a hint of spices and more vine fruits. The aftertaste is quite long and combines the flavours that are present throughout ~ the final mouth feel is pretty dry and still has a burnt malt character.


It is a shame that Bombardier seems to be reaching saturation point in my local pubs. There was a time when it was quite difficult to find, but it is now everywhere. Some pubs serve it in a less than ideal state so many people’s experiences of cask Bombardier will not be a particularly memorable one (and maybe in some cases an unpleasant one).

Thankfully The Industry (a pub round the corner from my house) in Newbold, near Chesterfield, has it on as one of their long term Guest Ales at the moment. We pay 2.30 a pint for it and have found it to be well kept and rather tasty indeed.

When in good condition, and well cared for, Bombardier is an excellent example of an English Bitter. It is well balanced, full of flavour and with a good amount of body. The fruit flavours mix well with the malt and the bitter hoppiness makes it quite refreshing and dry all at the same time. I find it to be quite complex, but it definitely works well and is a drinkable beer. The alcohol content is still low enough to make it a creditable session ale too!

If your current experiences of Bombardier have been less than favourable I recommend that you persevere and seek out a good pub with a well kept cellar! I think that Bombardier is an under-rated beer that is better than most people think ~ I have enjoyed it on many occasions and would drink it again. It is quite a rich beer, so may not appeal to the lager style beer drinkers, but it has enough flavour and character for a Real Ale drinker like me.


Charles Wells Ltd
The Eagle Brewery
Havelock Street
MK40 4LU
Tel 01234 272766


Tel 01234 272766

Beer Reviews Youngs Waggledance

The beer called waggledance was developed by the Vaux brewery of Sunderland in 1995 and produced by it’s subsidiary, Ward’s of Sheffield. When these breweries closed, 4 or 5 years later, Young’s of London took over production.

Young’s has been a family brewery ever since 1831 when C.A. Young and his partner purchased the Ram Brewery in Wandsworth, London. They were the only London brewer not to switch to keg beer in the 70’s and still make some of their deliveries by horse drawn dray. Their emphasis on tradition has repaid them with countless awards for their range of beers, which these days number 12 brands.

Where does the name come from I hear you ask. Well… Waggledance is the term that’s used to describe the figure-of-eight motion that bees perform to alert other bees to a find of nectar. Hmm, that’s interesting.

It pours to a crystal clear, deep golden-amber to copper colour with moderate carbonation and a small, slightly off-white head – the retention isn’t great and the head didn’t last long but it leaves a reasonable lace nevertheless. The aroma is quite pleasant, very strong honey notes are evident as well as some sweet maltiness. There’s also a little grain to the nose and just a hint of hops.

Medium to light in body, the taste is strange. The mouthfeel has a weird, dry and grainy texture and is quite musty, overwhelming most of the malt or hop presence. From the label we’re told that Goldings and Fuggles hops are used but they’re barely noticeable. Upfront there’s some sweet malt and honey notes but these are soon overshadowed by a bitter and metallic taste. It finishes quite dry and bitter and eventually, a slight hint of honey in the aftertaste.
It smells far better than it tastes.

At 5% ABV, this beer this beer does not impress. It promises much in the aroma but singularly fails to deliver in the flavour department. I would go even further. It is quite unpleasant and – are you sitting comfortably? – I didn’t even finish my pint! To be honest though, I’m really not a big fan of the style anyway, but having said that, I was really disappointed with this offering from Young’s.
Would I drink it again? – Do bees swim in the ocean?

Perhaps I could best sum up in a Limerickerish fashion:

proxam returning from France
sampled some Young’s Waggledance
he took a long drink
poured the rest down the sink
would he buy it again?….nae chance

Beer Reviews Belhaven Burns Ale

BELHAVEN brewery is situated on the shores of the Firth of Forth in the Royal Burgh of Dunbar – about 30 miles east of Edinburgh. The brewery was founded by Benedictine monks around 1415 when – after being given land there, they found the water to be excellent for brewing beer.

The present brewery was built in 1719, and is one of the oldest in Britain. One family owned the brewery for more than 250 years. In the Seventies the business was sold to pub and hotel interests and was then owned by a succession of colourful ‘Characters’ until recently when it was the subject of a management buy-out.

For many years Belhaven also acted as a maltings: germinating and kilning the barley that is widely grown in East Lothian and the Borders and supplying not only its own brewery but also whisky distilleries. Two malting kilns from 1719 are still standing.

Burns ale pours clear and clean, to a light brown colour with hints of amber and lots of tiny bubbles rising to a light tan, big foamy head – which is long-lasting and leaves a nice lace effect on the glass. The aromas – peaty and woody with some citrus notes and a strong sweet chocolate maltiness – are very strong. There’s a musky, yeasty, bready aroma and something else that I just could not place. I asked Mrs P what she thought it smelled like and she said, “Beer.” Thanks a bunch.

It’s full bodied with good carbonation but without a hint of gassiness. On taking a sip my first thought was….WOW! It’s as luxurious as dark, Belgian chocolate and very malty. Rich and sweet, without being sickly, it’s like a liquid gateau. There is only the merest hint of floral hop flavour here. It’s an unusual ale, with bitter-sweet overtones and an earthy, woody quality in its palate. Dark? Woody? Chocolate? Gateau? – Less of a beer, more of a schwarzwaldkirschkuchen….without the cherries!

At 4.2% ABV, this one is as a smooth as velvet and literally slides down. It’s not too strong, so you can afford to sink a few before you start talking utter nonsense. It is utterly delicious. The perfect food to accompany this ale would be the traditional Burn’s Supper of haggis, neeps and tatties. Mince pies, bridies or stovies would suffice. Or why not knock yourself out,? Try it with a mealy puddin’. All the epicurean delicacies of Caledonia would surely complement this brew.

Beer Reviews Witkap Stimulo

I was looking at my photographs from our trip to Belgium and I felt the urge to review a Belgian bottled beer. This one is known by two different names ~ the one I know it by and have seen it for sale as is Witkap Pater Stimuloin some places it is exported to it is called Witkap Pater Singel. I have tried it a few times while in the Flanders region of Belgium, during visits to Ghent and Ostend for example.


Witkap Stimulo is brewed at the Brouwerij Slaghmuylder. This family owned brewery can be found in a place called Ninove, in the East Flanders region of Belgium (this is probably why I usually find it when I am in Flanders). The business began back in the 1860s and even has an old working steam engine that can be used to power the brewery. Today the brewery produces a range of beers and there is also a museum and visitor centre attached to the brewhouse. Now the Slaghmuylder Brewery is run by three cousins, who are direct descendants of the grain merchant (Emmanuel Slaghmuylder) who founded it so many years ago.

Some of the beers you may come across from this brewery include Witkap Pater Tripel (a pale golden beer at 7.5% ABV), Witkap Pater Dubbel (an amber coloured ale at 7% ABV) and Ambiorix Dubbel (a red/amber beer at 8% ABV). These beers can be found in a number of outlets in Belgium and are also exported around the world. I have also seen them for sale on various beer supply websites and mail order sellers.


*A Bit of Background*

The name Witkap Pater is actually a reference to white hoods worn by the Cistercian monks who were responsible for brewing a goodly amount of beer in Belgium ~ literally, father in a white hat. You will see a picture of the monk in question on the label pictured. This beer is brewed in the style of an Abbey beer (and was up until the 1960s referred to as a Trappist beer).

Witkap Stimulo is a bottle conditioned top fermented beer, which means it is still fermenting in the bottle and hops which “float” on the top of the brewing vessel were used during production. The export name (Singel) refers to the light density of the beer, while the Belgian name (Stimulo) refers to the invigorating effect that this beer is supposed to have.

*Vital Stats*

Stimulo weighs in at 6% ABV ~ not as strong as some Belgian beers, but definitely with a bit more kick than your average English bitter. According to the brewing notes candy sugar and extra yeast are added during bottling to allow the beer to re-ferment and continue to develop.

*Look, Aroma & Texture*

Stimulo is a light yellow/blonde coloured beer that is slightly cloudy ~ there is quite a lot of sediment in the bottom of the bottle, so the level of cloudiness and the amount the beer clears when settled varies depending on how carefully you pour (my tip is to pour slowly, leaving as much of the sediment in the bottle as you can. Then taste and see what it tastes and looks like. Afterwards, pour a little more of the sediment into your glass and see how much the look and taste is).

Once poured the beer has a light coloured frothy head that starts off large and falls slightly to leave a lacing on the glass. Aroma is quite spicy (coriander I would say), with a touch of vanilla, fruit (bananas, lemon and citrusy lemon hops) and a hint of yeast. Texture is quite carbonated giving it a bit of a “fizzy” sparkle and it is quite light bodied compared to most of the beers we tried while in Belgium ~ although there is a slight syrupy feeling in the mouth.

*Tange’s Taste Test*

Taste wise, Stimulo has a well balanced blend of hop and malt and sweet and sour flavours, with a bitter edge thrown in, making it actually quite a complex beer for something so (relatively) light. The yeastiness that was present in the aroma is the base flavour throughout, but this is complimented by other elements coming through.

I could taste a lemon/citrus, the coriander spiciness, surprisingly a hint of fruit (possibly bananas) and a slight sourness. This leads to a bitter finish that actually has a slight pepperiness (if that is really a word!). It has a refreshing aftertaste that combines the bitter with a lemon tartness that helps to wake up the palate.


Though not my favourite beer, or my first choice off the often extensive beer menus, I rather enjoyed my Witkap – Pater Stimulo. It is a beer that has a good balance, a complex range of flavours and is easy to drink. The lightness of texture makes it a good choice for a beer to have with food (what I did on the first couple of occasions). It is pleasant, if not remarkable beer, but certainly one I would recommend. I liked the way the spiciness gave it a bit of a kick and was particularly fond of the light carbonation that tingled a little on my tongue.

I have tried Stimulo on several occasions and have paid roughly 2.10 (around 1.50) for a 330ml bottle ~ a good price for a tasty little number like this. The last time I tried it was the Ostend Beerhouse (funnily enough located in Ostend) and I really enjoyed it. I drank it during a long day and it actually did help to stimulate my palate and prepare me for the drinking session that was to follow. A good beer and certainly one I will drink again ~ after all, a girl needs a bit of stimulation every now and again!


Brouwerij Slaghmuylder
Denterhoutembaan 2
Ninove, 9400
phone: +32 (0)54 33 18 31

Beer Reviews Top Banana

While in Scotland recently we had a day trip to Dumfries. After calling at their Wetherspoons for lunch we had a while to kill before the next bus back to Kirkcudbright. A quick shufty at this year’s Good Beer Guide set us on course for a nearby pub and the chance of an interesting selection of beers. We ended up in the Cavens Arms on Buccleuch Street and I ended up with a pint of beer produced in Scotland result! The beer I ended up savouring was Top Banana brewed by the Caledonian Brewery.


The Caledonian Brewery (known locally as the Caley) is based in the Slateford area of Edinburgh, Scotland. Brewing began in 1869, when the brewery was opened up by George Lorimer Jnr and Robert Clark, and was then called the Lorimer and Clark Caledonian Brewery. At this time Edinburgh was a town well known for its breweries and there were over 40 concentrated in the city which was referred to as “Aulde Reekie” because of the strong smell which the brewing produced.

When George Lorimer passed away in 1919 the brewery was taken over by the Vaux Group, who were in control until the eventual threat of closure in 1987. Thankfully there was a management takeover which kept the brewery open. This was the state of affairs until 2004, when Scottish & Newcastle purchased the brewery premises. A new Caledonian Brewery was formed and this is the one that is now a successful and thriving concern today.

Caledonian beers are a common sight in pubs nationwide, thanks mainly to the success of their Deuchars IPA, which won national acclaim when it was Awarded the title of Champion Beer of Britain in 2002. But Caley brew far more beers than just that one and, thankfully, it is now quite common to see some of their other beers on the bar. These include 80/- (a fruity red/brown beer at 4.1% ABV), XPA (a pale flavoursome beer at 4.3% ABV) and Rebus (named after the Ian Rankin character at 4.4% ABV).


*A Bit of Background*

Top Banana is part of the Caledonian seasonal beer portfolio. They have a beer for each month throughout the year. This one is actually the choice for May, but it is available after this time we drank it at the end of June. Bananas were chosen because they are apparently the Sales Director’s favourite fruit! In actual fact he hated bananas and it was all planned as a joke at his expense. It is brewed using Fairtrade bananas and was originally intended to debut at Wetherspoons pubs, before launching into the open market.

*Vital Sats*

Top Banana weighs in at 4.1% ABV and each brew is produced using around 3kg of Fairtrade bananas and a blend of hops (in this case Challenger, Pioneer, Sovereign and Bodacea).

*Look, Aroma & Texture*

Looks wise, Top Banana is a darkish golden coloured beer with a reasonably long lasting, off-white head. The aroma is quite malty, giving it a slight toasted bread smell. This is mixed with a subtle fruitiness (not surprisingly there are some banana elements there) and a little sweetness (again possibly attributed to the bananas). Texture is smooth and medium bodied, with a nice mouthfeel.

*Tange’s Taste test*

Of course there is a noticeable taste of bananas in this brew, but not nearly as much as in beers such as Charles Well’s Banana Bread Beer the bananainess (I’ve made a word up!) isn’t overpowering and it is possible to drink it if you aren’t a big fan of that particular fruit. This sweet fruit flavour is balanced nicely by the hop mix, which gives bitterness, a hint of the floral and a slight citrus taste. The underlying flavour is a soft biscuity malt that brings all the other elements together. This all leads from the sweet to a dryer finish a reasonably long lasting bitter aftertaste.


I really liked my pints of Top Banana. It is an easy to drink, mid strength beer that is well balanced and full of subtle flavours. The banana taste was there, but not so strong as to dominate or overpower the taste buds. What you do have is a good quality flavoursome and pleasant beer. Apart from the banana my favourite taste in Top Banana is the base soft malt and the slight bitter flavour that comes through towards the end. The bright golden colour is also quite appealing to the eye and on a warm sunny day in Scotland it was a very tempting looking beer indeed!

We sampled our Top Banana in The Cavens Arms in Dumfries, where we paid approximately 2.40 a pint (it wasn’t my round). I have since had it in tow of my local pubs The Market Hotel and the Portland Hotel (both in Chesterfield town centre) where we paid 2.20 for the former and 1.59 for the latter, per pint. So expect the price to vary from outlet to outlet and also from place to place. Whatever you pay though, you are assured of a tasty and refreshing pint of beer.

Don’t monkey around and pick yourself a pint of Top Banana! But do it soon before stocks run out or wait until next year and go bananas!

Caledonian Brewing Company Ltd
42 Slateford Road
EH11 1PH
0131 337 1286

Beer Reviews Anchor Steam Beer

The Anchor brewery, founded in 1896, used a unique American brewing method which was first perfected during the Californian Gold Rush days when refrigeration was not available. This method involved using bottom-fermenting lager yeasts in very shallow fermenting vessels which cooled the brew and formed a cross between an ale and a lager.
The brewery went bankrupt and was bought in 1965 by the washing machine heir, Fritz Maytag. (Perhaps with laundered money!) He maintained the traditional brewing practices, and indeed trademarked the name, and Anchor Steam Ale soon gained national recognition. It has been credited with sparking the revival of traditional brewing in the USA, I wouldn’t know about that, but it certainly is an outstanding brew.

Perhaps it was popular amongst railway workers. Or maybe it is associated with the numerous Chinese laundries of San Francisco. It could be that the brewing process involved turning the beer into steam at some point. Maybe it’s because after drinking one too many, you would be steaming.
No, none of the above. It is thought that the name was coined as a referral to the hiss escaping gases from the casks when they were tapped.

This beer pours a slightly hazy, brazen copper colour with a thinnish, off-white, fine head and decent lacing. There’s a good mix of both sweet malt and hops in the nose with earthy aromas, light caramel sweetness and some toasted malt. The hops however are somewhat more dominant. There is a clean, light fruitiness with some floral tones as well.

Full bodied and a good carbonation give this a lively and distinctive mouthfeel. The first sensation is of a smooth creaminess and a sharp bitterness with a slight lemon tang. This is a very tasty beer, full of flavour and character. There’s a hint of fruit, a highly toasted malt flavour and lots of caramel. The variety of hops used lends itself to a woody, slightly earthy hop flavour, the hop bitterness overpowering the malt sweetness. It finishes cleanly with a dry, grainy, citrus after-taste.

At 5% ABV, this is a good session beer. It’s very tasty and a real credit to the brewery. Anchor Steam Ale has the hoppy flavour of an ale but the rich toasted malt of a lager, and is much fuller in flavour than most lagers. It may be too malty for some but it is actually a good beer for exploiting the benefits of both ale and lager. When served cold it is extremely refreshing and satisfying.

Beer Reviews Black Sheep Emmerdale

I spent a couple of days in Yorkshire last November and while I was there I stopped off for a bite to eat in a village called Reeth, in Swaledale. The pub in question, The King’s Arms, served a lovely meal but what was of more concern to me was the range of fine ales on offer.
As you would expect in this part of the country, Theakston’s was well represented but so was the BLACK SHEEP BREWERY.

After the Theakston Brewery in Masham was taken over by Scottish & Newcastle, Paul Theakston – using the same traditional methods that had made Theakston’s so famous – set up the Black Sheep Brewery in the same town. Masham was once a centre of the sheep trade in the North of England, and there is still a breed of sheep called the ‘Masham’ and this could explain the name of the brewery. On the other hand, it could be that Paul Theakston, by thumbing his nose at S&N, saw himself as the ‘black sheep’ of the family.
Who knows, or indeed cares!

BLACK SHEEP pours a clear and sparkling, copper/amber colour which is topped by an impressive, creamy and fluffy, off-white head. This laces the glass beautifully and formed big lumps of foam all the way to the bottom. The aroma is a little floral with some faint metallic tones and a quite firm, citric fruitiness. There’s a bit of an earthy and herbal quality, but not much from the malt, save a light butterscotch feel.

It’s light bodied with a soft mouthfeel and a gentle carbonation. There’s a nice crisp hop bite up front with lots of tart citrus flavour…possibly grapefruit, and a hint of oily, hop resin. It turns a little more fruity – most noticeably apples and pears – and a trace of caramel malt makes an appearance in the middle alongside some faint nutty, yeasty tones. The finish is all about leafy hops with a dry, bitter finish and just a little earthy, woody flavour in the aftertaste.

At 3.8% ABV, this is a classic session ale. There are lots of flavours and aromas competing with each other but all of them are nicely balanced to give a very smooth brew. Very easy to drink, I could well imagine sinking a few of these without much difficulty.
I had this with a meal of tuna steak and steamed veg, and it complimented it nicely but I don’t think there are too many foods which wouldn’t go well with it.
An excellent example of good English bitter.

I paid around 2.50 for a pint but it’s available in most supermarkets where a 500ml bottle will cost around 1.60

Would I drink it again? – Too flocking right I would!

Beer Reviews Wychwood Pumpking

I may have mentioned it before but my local pub always has a couple of guest beers which are changed on a weekly basis. This means that without too much effort, I can sample different beers on draught on a regular basis. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re pure bowff – but what is life but a gamble.

Anyway, last night I was perusing the choices on offer when my eye was drawn towards the gruesome image of a huge and ugly, leering, grinning, evil face. (I really should drink somewhere more salubrious!) The face was of that of a pumpkin on one of the handpumps. A Halloween brew called Pumpking, no less. Now who would brew a beer specially for this time of year? Who else but those spooky little guys at the Wychwood Brewery.

Wychwood brewery started life back in 1983 as a one-man business producing 8 to 10 barrels per week. As demand grew, a much larger operation was set up on the site of an older brewery, which dated back to 1839. The Brewery now produces some 30,000 barrels a year.

The brewery uses local water from the river Windrush, English malt, hops and yeast. No additives are used and over the years the brewery has received many awards, mainly from the branches of CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale).

The brewery benefits from the fact that some, if not all of the larger supermarkets in the UK now stock a wide range of quality ales in bottles. Both Hobgoblin and Fiddler’s Elbow are extensively available across the UK in bottles and it is even relatively easy to get these brews on draught outside the Oxford area, even in darkest Scotland.

Pumpking pours to a light ruby-red, autumnal colour with a good, rocky, off-white and long lasting head with masses of lacing all the way down the glass. The aroma has a very strong, rich, fruity quality – akin to a fruit pie. There’s a definite baked apple feel and hints of vine fruit and banana with only a vague suggestion of floral hops.

It’s full-bodied with a chewy mouthfeel….very smooth with not a great deal of carbonation, it’s almost overwhelmingly fruity with a good level of sweet maltiness. This beer is more like a malt loaf than many malt loafs! I can’t help thinking of apple pie with this beer, it has to be one of the fruitiest I’ve ever tasted. It’s not until the finish that any hop flavour makes an appearance but when it does, it’s a powerful, heady, flowery kick with just the right amount of bitterness to balance the beer beautifully.

PS I couldn’t taste any pumpkin in it!

At 4.7 % ABV, you could safely drink a few of these – and I did – without talking complete nonsense – which I also did!

It’s rich and smooth and eminently drinkable and an excellent seasonal brew. Perfect to sip on while sitting beside a warming fire with some good company.

Would I drink it again? – Does Halloween stuff go on sale in the shops earlier every year?