Category Archives: Beers

The beers

163. Girardin Gueuze Black Label 1882

When the lovely people behind Camberwell’s ever-magnificent Stormbird open a brand new pub in South London, you can sort of predict that Threehundredbeers will make an effort to be first on the scene.

Slightly too much of an effort in fact, as I pitched up outside the Star & Garter on opening night to find the place still to be something of a building site. Never mind, a couple of days later with the paint still drying, I was able to spend a very pleasant Sunday afternoon working through the impressive tap lineup.

And the fridge of course, because quietly minding its own business in there was a beer from the list which has not been at all easy to track down. In fact I’m not sure I recall even seeing it in Brussels. Anyway, here’s the Girardin Gueuze 1882, or “Black Label” as it’s known, for fairly self-evident reasons.

Girardin Gueuze Black Label 12882 at the Star and Garter, Bromley

Girardin are a family-run brewery based in the tiny Belgian village of Sint-Ulriks-Kapelle, and they produce two editions of their Gueuze: the White Label and this, the Black. This is the one the proper beer nerds tend to seek out, as it’s the unfiltered, unpasteurised version, bursting with delicious Lambic flavours.

It’s a complex beer, blended from 12, 18 and 24 month aged Lambics. It’s sour as befits the style, but not as brow-moisteningly so as some examples. Instead it’s zesty and citrussy yet full of soft vanilla and peach flavours and the unmistakable musty notes provided by the Brettanomyces yeast.

There are constantly extra depths to discover as you take your time over it and wish you had one of the larger bottles instead.

I shall certainly return to the Star & Garter before long and see what else we can find there. Bromley has certainly hit the jackpot now beer-wise, and I wish everyone involved in the new pub all the best.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Brouwerij Girardin, Sint-Ulriks-Kapelle, Belgium
Style: Lambic and Gueuze
Strength: 5.0% ABV
Found at: The Star & Garter, 227 High Street, Bromley, London BR1
Serving: 375ml bottle

162. Nethergate Umbel Magna

After furnishing us with the Batemans XXXB and the Hambleton Nightmare, The Crosse Keys in the City of London is becoming a valuable ally on our quest.

Conveniently enough, a recent weekend saw something of a tap takeover by Essex’s Nethergate Brewery, makers of that rather fine Old Growler I enjoyed a while ago, and of this: Nethergate Umbel Magna.

Nethergate Umbel Magna at the Crosse Keys, London

Umbel Magna is a recreation of a 1750s Porter recipe brewed with an addition of coriander to spice things up a little. It has won awards left right and centre, and I’m going to have a pint, even if it isn’t quite midday yet on a Tuesday morning.

It’s lovely stuff too, malty and chocolatey and hugely aromatic. It’s sweet and rounded at first, but with a hefty great dose of bitterness in the finish to balance things out and keep the beer hopelessly moreish. There are toasty notes alongside the chocolate sweetness too.

True to the Porter style, the body is a little lighter than a stout, while the colour is more of a deep, warm mahogany than a black. There’s a bit of booze in the nose, though perhaps that’s the early hour making me a little more sensitive than usual.

I didn’t actually know at the time that coriander was involved, and I certainly didn’t spot it, which suggests it’s contributing to the overall flavour of the beer rather than dominating proceedings, which suits me.

Either way, Umbel Magna is a cracking winter beer and one I’d happily drink again, especially at the Crosse Keys’ improbably reasonable prices. Good stuff from Nethergate once again.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Nethergate Brewery, Pentlow, Essex, England
Style: Porters and Stouts
Strength: 5.0% ABV
Found at: The Crosse Keys, Gracechurch Street, London EC3V
Serving: Cask, pint

161. Wychwood Hobgoblin

I’ve been scandalously neglecting the Threehundredbeers project recently, but I’m still here. That this beer was consumed back in March will tell you how far behind we are, and so the time has come to get things back on track.

This particular beer was consumed at the London Palladium, more specifically at one of the finest gigs I’m ever likely to attend. This was the night Glen Hansard nearly took the roof off the place with a three hour set (setlist here) including six encores, a guest appearance from Dublin poet Stephen James Smith, and even some death-defying balcony-dangling from Glen himself.

Glen Hansard poster outside the London Palladium

The choice of beers at the Palladium is, to put it politely, limited. So unless you fancy a Stella Artois (I didn’t) it’s a Hobgoblin for you tonight. Fortunately, that’s one we’ve yet to tick off The List, and doubly fortunately, it’s the stronger, 5.2% bottled version and not the watered-down cask offering.

Wychwood Hobgoblin

Furthermore, the good people at the Palladium are more than happy to let you take it to your seat while Glen makes whiskery love to your earholes with his big ginger acoustic face.

Glen Hansard onstage at the London Palladium

The beer itself is a bit of an English classic. It isn’t as strong as it used to be, even the bottled stuff, but it’s still welcome enough tonight. It’s a beautiful deep ruby colour with a small yet firm tan head, even in an idiotproof plastic pint pot. It still packs a punch at 5.2%, but that strength is well backed up by big, fat fruits and juicy malts. There’s almost a wine-like finish and it all goes down very easily indeed, especially if you’re on some sort of musical cloud nine as I clearly was by this point in proceedings.

I’ll leave you with some shakily-filmed moments from the gig. Here’s Glen taking an old Frames song up a notch. The video doesn’t quite capture the walls of the Palladium visibly shaking in response to Glen’s bassist’s thumping great bass line:

Here’s Her Mercy from the 2015 album Didn’t He Ramble:

This is the sort of thing you don’t want to see when your vertigo is already playing up from being way up in the cheap seats for the last couple of hours:

And finally an unexpected highlight of the night. This is Stephen James Smith performing perhaps his best known poem, Dublin You Are, which had about 2,500 people on the edge of their seats, hanging on his words in quiet awe:

It’s impossible to put into words how good this show was: the cameraderie and warmth and love in the room, the audience participation and the sheer spectacle of the last night of the tour. All in all, a pretty magical evening, and Hobgoblin did a fine job of accompanying it, even if I did later have to run to The Lyric for an emotion-calming pint of Magic Rock Cannonball just in time for last orders.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Wychwood Brewery, Witney, Oxfordshire, England
Style: Extra Strong Beers and Bitters
Strength: 5.2% ABV
Found at: The London Palladium, Argyll Street, London W1F
Serving: 500ml bottle

160. Woodforde’s Wherry

It’s getting rarer to find these beers by accident now we’re beyond the halfway mark. But here we are back at the Alleyn’s Head—right near my house—for a spot of dinner, and look what’s on the pumps at a mere £2.59 a pint.

Woodforde's Wherry at the Alleyn's Head, Dulwich

Woodforde’s Wherry hails from Woodbastwick, way out in Norfolk. On the face of it, it’s a pretty standard English Bitter of the type that rarely gets me excited. But this pint is in impeccable condition, as is so often the case with the cask ales here at the Alleyn’s Head.

It’s a little paler in colour than most bitters, pouring a rich copper colour with a modest off-white head. It’s as smooth as can be, too, with none of the harsh aftertaste that can plague a lot of beers of this style.

Instead, there’s a full-yet-balanced, malty body with a fruity, almost tangy, caramel sweetness and a little peppery bitterness from the English hops.

Wherry successfully packs in a great deal of flavour for its eminently sessionable 3.8% strength. I’m still not sure I’ll be going out of my way for a pint of bitter, even this one, but served in this good a condition it’s a great little beer.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Woodforde’s, Woodbastwick, Norfolk, England
Style: Bitters
Strength: 3.8% ABV
Found at: The Alleyn’s Head, Park Hall Road, London SE21
Serving: Cask, pint

159. Beavertown Black Betty

It’s time for another substitution for a discontinued beer, and it’s a bit of an old favourite of mine. This one replaces Hogs Back BSA, an English-style IPA that I fear I might have struggled to get excited about anyway.

Beavertown Black Betty at the Beavertown Brewery Taproom

You may remember London’s Beavertown from a previous substitution, the Bloody ‘Ell blood orange IPA, and may be concluding that I’m something of a fan. This is their Black IPA, named Black Betty. I’ve wanted to sneak a Black IPA in here for some time, as it’s a style I’m rather fond of, and yet it’s one that simply didn’t exist at the time The Book was written.

Whether an example of the style would have been featured anyway is open to debate. The author Roger Protz apparently is not convinced. Addressing a summit of brewers in Burton-on-Trent a couple of years ago, Protz said:

If you’re tempted, please don’t brew something called Black IPA. As the great American brewer and beer writer Garrett Oliver said on the subject: “Don’t get me started”. In other words, which part of India PALE Ale do you not understand? Black IPA is absurd and an insult to history.

Cue dozens of new wave breweries falling over themselves to brew a Black IPA and name it “Insult to History”.

Black Betty has really become the classic example of the style, and is a thing of beauty. Where better to try it than at the Beavertown Brewery itself, where the tap room is open on Saturday afternoons and into the evening.

Beavertown Brewery

The tap toom is bustling by the time I arrive, barely an hour or so after opening. But the staff are plentiful and efficient, and Threehundredbeers soon has a half pint of beer number 159 resting on a keg of Gamma Ray in front of us.

And what lovely stuff it is. What you get with a Black IPA of this quality is a giant hit of big, hoppy IPA bitterness and tropical fruit balanced out by rich, smooth and toasty chocolate and black malts.

Beavertown Black Betty packs a punch at 7.4%, and I think that’s appropriate for what is, after all, an IPA. I’ve seen weaker Black IPAs at around 5%, but they never seem to quite cut it for me.

This one does. There’s no question this is one of the finest beers being brewed in London today, and Black Betty seems to get better every time I try it, with an almost chocolate milk shake sweetness creeping in these days, and a full, smooth body to match.

A true modern classic, I reckon.

The Bar at the Beavertown Brewery Tap Room

After this it was time to work through the rest of the formidable tap lineup, sampling experimental IPAs, barrel-aged Imperial Stouts, and an Imperial Smoked Porter in short order, all in relaxed and convivial circumstances in among the fermentation vessels.

It was a grand day out, and there’s very little doubt that I’ll be returning to Beavertown before long.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Beavertown, Tottenham Hale, London N17
Style: India Pale Ales
Strength: 7.4% ABV
Found at: Beavertown Brewery Tap Room, Lockwood Industrial Park, London N17
Serving: Keg, half pint

158. Caledonian Deuchars IPA

Our time in Scotland is drawing to a close, and after a night in Aberdeen, there’s just time to break up the long trek home with a final night in Edinburgh.

This time we’ll go for something altogether more local: Caledonian Deuchars IPA is brewed just down the road to Slateford, in the shadow of Heart of Midlothian’s Tynecastle Stadium.

Caledonian Deuchars IPA at the Oxford Bar, Edinburgh

Caledonian Deuchars IPA is a beer I remember well from my years as a student in Edinburgh. I’m convinced it used to be stronger though: these days it’s an eminently sessionable 3.8%.

And where better to try it than The Oxford Bar, famed as “The Ox” of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels. Inspector Rebus is a regular here, often holding clandestine meetings in the back room, and this is his tipple of choice. When he’s not on the whisky, that is. That’s because Ian Rankin is also a regular here, and has been known to try the Deuchars IPA once or twice himself.

The Oxford Bar, Young Street, Edinburgh

Of course the Deuchars IPA is in good condition here, and served in the correct glassware, always a nice touch.

Some may dispute the labelling of this as an IPA, given its modest strength and subtle hopping, but by traditional Scottish standards it is a hoppy beer. It’s zesty and refreshing, with lemony fruit perfectly balanced out by juicy malts bearing a hint of caramel sweetness.

That’s all sat on top of a slight Burton-like saltiness from the hard local water that helped to make Edinburgh a renowned centre of brewing for many, many years.

It’s a great little pint, this one, and the sort of thing you could drink all night if push came to shove.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Caledonian Brewery, Edinburgh, Scotland
Style: India Pale Ales
Strength: 3.8% ABV
Found at: The Oxford Bar, Young Street, Edinburgh
Serving: Cask, pint

157. Abbaye des Rocs

The Threehundredbeers tour of Scotland continues. After a day out in Ellon, Aberdeenshire touring the BrewDog brewery and tasting some of their wares at the giant-dog-friendly DogTap [Edit 2022: the DogTap has been moved and enlarged], we’ll stop off for the night in Aberdeen and see what beery delights the city can offer us.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about six°north. Indeed, any bar that gets to hold a Cantillon Zwanze Day is going to be worth a little of our time. Plus it’s about 20 yards from my Premier Inn, so let’s pop in and have a look.

The Bar at six°north, Aberdeen

We’re officially in Scotland to look for Scottish beers, of course, but among six°north’s extensive menu of 313 bottles (yes, I counted them), Belgium is particularly well-represented. Here’s one I haven’t spotted on any of my trips to Brussels: a hefty 9.0% Abbey Beer from Montignies-sur-Roc, a tiny village close to the border with France.

Abbaye des Rocs at six°north, Aberdeen

We’ve already tried Abbaye dec Rocs’ Blanche des Honnelles wheat beer, but this is a very different proposition: stronger, darker and heavier, I can see the good people of Aberdeen welcoming a glass of this on a near-Arctic winter evening.

Abbaye des Rocs is a deep, rich chestnut colour, though by no means opaque. There’s very little in the way of froth, in part due to the well-trained barman’s careful pour.

The aroma is as Belgian as it gets, with those distinctive esters front and centre. Goodness me it’s rich too, and full of that roasty, bonfire toffee caramel sweetness. In fact this one probably has more in common with a Barley Wine than a typical Belgian brown.

It’s pretty easy to forget the strength, and glug away happily as the beer gets to work and keeps you warm, despite the proximity to the Arctic circle, which I haven’t actually checked on a map. But this is the furthest north that we’ve sampled any of the list so far, and it seems a fitting choice.

Good stuff then, and I can definitely recommend a visit to six°north any time you’re in town.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Brasserie de l’Abbaye des Rocs, Montignies-sur-Roc, Belgium
Style: Abbey Beers
Strength: 9.0% ABV
Found at: six°north, Littlejohn Street, Aberdeen
Serving: 330ml bottle

156. Orkney Dark Island

Threehundredbeers is still in Scotland, but a very picturesque Scotrail journey over the Forth and Tay bridges and on up the East Coast finds us in Angus to pay a long overdue visit to The Official Threehundredbeers Mother and her extravagantly-sized new German Shepherd, Kai.

I’ve brought a little something with me in my rucksack, sourced from the heaving shelves of The Beerhive back in Edinburgh. As the name suggests, Orkney Dark Island has come all the way from Stromness in the Orkneys.

Orkney Dark Island

Orkney Dark Island is certainly dark: a deep chestnut brown that appears black in most lights. There’s a small tan froth, though not a great deal of carbonation.

It’s listed in The Book as a Scottish Ale, which seems about right. It’s big and malty and very much at the sweeter end of the spectrum. But where a lot of Scottish ales can seem cloying to those accustomed to the hoppier beers from further south, this one is balanced out by toastier, almost Stout-like notes.

Dark Island goes down smoothly enough, though I’m not sure I made the right decision by choosing this as a pre-dinner beer. It’s a little too heavy for that, and perhaps better suited to keeping you warm on a cold Orcadian evening. That said, there’s a lightness to the body that makes it very gluggable indeed.

Good stuff. Back in Edinburgh I also found this one on cask at Bennets Bar, and that seemed to work well: smoother and fuller-bodied and the perfect preamble to a nice drop of malt whisky.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: The Orkney Brewery, Stromness, Orkney Islands
Style: Scottish Ales
Strength: 4.6% ABV
Found at: The Beerhive, Rodney Street, Edinburgh
Serving: 500ml bottle

155. Belhaven St. Andrews Ale

It’s Day Two in Edinburgh, and I’m rather enjoying revisiting the city that used to be my home, and learning what a great beer scene it has these days.

Threehundredbeers may not be firing on all cylinders today, though, since that Ayinger Celebrator at the Bow Bar last night led on to BrewDog Edinburgh—downstairs from a flat in which I briefly lived—and the utterly magnificent new Hanging Bat.

After a nostalgic stroll around George Square and The Meadows, I reckon I could manage a half of Belhaven St. Andrews Ale in The Albanach up on the Royal Mile.

Belhaven St. Andrews Ale at the Albanach, Edinburgh

The plan for today had actually been to hop on a train out to Dunbar and visit the Belhaven brewery, but the tour was cancelled since only one person (me) had booked a place. Apparently running this ridiculous blog does not yet carry the weight of beer-related influence I so clearly deserve.

So to make up for that, we’ll at least visit a Belhaven pub. In my day The Albanach was a swanky café bar named “EH1” or something similar, but it has staged a bit of a recovery and is now a decent, slightly localsy, boozer. I believe this is also the pub in whose cellar the skeletons were found in Ian Rankin’s Fleshmarket Close.

And conveniently enough, it has the St. Andrews Ale front and centre on the bar.

Belhaven St. Andrews Ale is a lovely looking beer, deep amber in colour and unfortunately more head than beer due to a somewhat hasty pour. It’s in good condition here though, and welcome enough after the climb up to the Royal Mile.

It’s Scottish alright: sweet and malty and lacking in any kind of hop character. Instead there’s caramel and Werther’s Originals and maybe a little bitterness at the end, unless I imagined it.

I’m initially quite pleased I stuck to a half, but whilst not enormously exciting, this one has enough going for it that I’m soon ordering another, before shambling back to my Travelodge with a chipsteak supper and a couple of nice finds from The Beerhive.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Belhaven, Dunbar, Scotland
Style: Scottish Ales
Strength: 4.9% ABV
Found at: The Albanach, High Street, Edinburgh
Serving: Cask, half pint

154. Ayinger Celebrator

There are countless Scottish beers on the list which we’ve yet to track down. It’s also long overdue that I should pay a visit to the Official Threehundredbeers Mother, who lives somewhere in the middle of Scotland that I couldn’t necessarily point to on a map. It’s time to hit the road again.

We’ll break up the journey by stopping off in Edinburgh for a couple of nights. It’ll be a nostalgic sort of visit, as I spent five penniless years in Edinburgh as a student, slightly longer ago than I’m entirely comfortable admitting to myself.

The city seems to have a thriving beer scene these days, with The Bow Bar enjoying a particularly good reputation. Where better to tick off a couple of fine Scottish ales?

The Bow Bar, Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Of course, I’ve made all of this effort to get to Scotland only to walk haplessly into the middle of the Bow Bar’s “German Bier Festival”, with the pub currently boasting a terrific tap and bottle lineup of rare and delicious German treats.

Happily enough, the bottle menu includes Ayinger Celebrator, a strong Bock-style beer from Aying in Bavaria, one I’ve struggled to find in London so far. So no complaints from me.

Ayinger Celebrator at the Bow Bar

As a Bock, this is technically a lager, although you wouldn’t know it to look at it. Celebrator pours dark and thick, with a modest tan froth, sticking to the glass as you gently swirl it around.

Maybe I’m just excited to be on holiday, but this seems to me to be lovely stuff. There is a detectable hint of lageriness in there somewhere, but it’s hidden well by rich, sinister toffee and caramel, dried fruits such as dates and raisins, and a potent, warming hit of booze.

German Bier Festival Menu at the Bow Bar

The 6.7% payload is well-integrated though. The malting is rich and sweet—enough to remind me of those Scottish ales that I came here for in the first place—and there’s a lasting, slightly smoky finish. What a complex beer this is, and one to take your time over and savour. Happy days, and a completely unexpected find for the project.

This is a great pub, too. I never drank in the Bow Bar as a student, but it’s the sort of place I’d barely leave if I lived nearby these days. Thanks, chaps.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Brauerei Aying, Aying, Germany
Style: Bocks
Strength: 6.7% ABV
Found at: The Bow Bar, Victoria Street, Edinburgh
Serving: 330ml bottle