A Year in Beer – December

Despite the Janathon-inspired increase in output on this blog, I have been a little remiss in releasing the latest installment of my Year in Beer challenge. So with no further delays, and to literally no clamouring whatsoever from my readership, here is what I was drinking in December.

At the risk of sounding a little like Gregg Wallace (he presents Masterchef and tends to shout a bit), December’s Year in Beer entry is all about flavour. Sorry. ALL ABOUT FLAVOUR!

Week 12 – Windsor & Eton Conqueror IPA

The first thing to say about this beer is that it smells amazing. Popping the cap off of the bottle the smell of the hops hits you. All through this pint I couldn’t help but stick my nose in the glass to take a good, long inhalation of the aroma of the beer.

The second thing that struck me came when I poured it. It looks like a glass of coke.

Windsor & Eton Conqueror

It certainly isn’t a pint of coke though. It is a strong, dry beer with a lot of roasted flavours. According to the brewery website, Conqueror is “brewed with a blend of 5 malts with Summit and Cascade hops producing a combination of roasted flavours and fresh pine hop aroma.”

Even from my novice’s vantage point the name “Cascade” still immediately jumps out. For anyone who has ever drunk Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or any of its followers, the Cascade hop is central to that big, bold American pale ale style. Turning to my new beer bible (The Brewmaster’s Table) I find that the Cascade hop was bred as a cross between the English Fuggle hop and a wild American hop. The resulting hop has “almost twice the aromatic compounds contained in the English variety”.

In short, and to come full circle, this beer smells amazing.

Week 13 – Crouch Vale Essex Boys

The write-up in the Independent’s Top 50 list describes a beer with “aromas of fruit cake, fudge, straw and burnt caramel” and, to my surprise, I could certainly smell fudge in this beer. It may seem at first as though that wouldn’t be a good smell in a beer, but it is. Trust me.

This is a best bitter and has a nice malty aroma. Taste-wise, I found it quite dry, with a bitter finish and something like burnt fruitcake in there somewhere. All in all, a very nice pint of bitter to drink.

Crouch Vale Essex Boys

Crouch Vale make a couple of appearances on this list and, if you have a spare minute or two, their website is good for a chuckle. Their second Top 50 beer will be along in January’s entry.

Week 14 – Young’s Bitter

By this point in December, I had worked my way sufficiently through The Brewmaster’s Table to be itching to start combining beers and food. If the book is to be believed, some of the combinations can be extraordinary.

At the same time, I was working within certain limitations. I haven’t yet sourced all of the beers on the list, for example, and we only had a certain amount of things in the fridge and cupboards. I didn’t have complete freedom, therefore, to make any combination I wished. However, I did have all of the ingredients for a simple, if successful pairing.

Young's Bitter

This bitter has a nice golden orange colour, with oranges coming through in the aroma. It is also very easy to drink. After melting some cheddar onto some nice, tasty bread I settled down with the pint and my dinner. It was, perhaps, not my healthiest evening. The bitterness of the beer worked nicely in clearing any lingering taste from the melted cheese and the dry finish then tidied up the bitterness nicely, leaving me ready for the next bite of cheese on toast.

The guide suggests that an IPA is probably a better match for a good cheddar but, working within the limitations of what was available, this seemed to work rather well from where I was sat.

Week 15 – Freedom Organic Dark Lager

If last week was successful, this week was a triumph. It helped that we were eating one of my favourite dinners: salmon with pea, mint and bacon. After cooking the bacon, you pan fry the salmon on one side and then place on a baking tray with the peas, the bacon, some mint and a little bit of stock. That goes into the oven and comes out tasting, and smelling, delicious.

Step 1

Step 2The beer this week was the first lager I had tried from the list. A dunkel lager, or dark lager, this had a definite “lager” smell when I opened the bottle. As accustomed as we are to the big brands of lager, this was a little off-putting; I’m not a fan of the generic pilsners available in the pubs and supermarkets. Luckily a deeper, toffee aroma followed closely behind.

Freedom Dark Lager

The beer has a slight sweetness and a refreshing taste. I found hints of coffee and chocolate, slightly like a coffee cream. On its own it’s a really tasty beer. It also works really well with the food: the fried fish, the sweetness of the peas and the saltiness of the bacon all playing around with the sweetness of the lager.

All of which is a long way of saying that it was a cracking pint to have with a fish supper and I would heartily recommend it.



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