They say…

Des de Moor
Best beer and travel writing award 2015, 2011 -- British Guild of Beer Writers Awards
Accredited Beer Sommelier
Writer of "Probably the best book about beer in London" - Londonist
"A necessity if you're a beer geek travelling to London town" - Beer Advocate
"A joy to read" - Roger Protz
"Very authoritative" - Tim Webb.
"One of the top beer writers in the UK" - Mark Dredge.
"A beer guru" - Popbitch.
Des de Moor

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From the cellar: Hoegaarden Spéciale

Hoegaarden Spéciale

Hoegaarden Spéciale

ABV: 6.5%
Origin: Hoegaarden, Vlaams-Brabant, Flanders
Website: hoegaarden.com
First published: 8 January 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. Hoegaarden Spéciale is still occasionally obtainable as a winter special, but you won’t read much about it or the other older-established brand extensions on the official website these days, just the Radler and various fruited versions.

This seasonal variation on a theme is the most recent addition to the range built around the famous spiced wheat beer from Brabant. Intended as a winter alternative, it’s still a bottle-conditioned wheat beer but it has more barley malt in proportion to unmalted wheat than its world-famous stablemate, and some of this is crystal malt, giving the result less wheat character and more of the sturdy body of a conventional ale.

It’s brewed to a slightly higher gravity, and the spicing seems much more restrained but whether this is because there are less spices or because the extra maltiness obscures them, I couldn’t say for certain. The hops, on the other hand, are more forward. The overall effect is of a considerably more conventional beer, dryer, maltier and with much more subtle hints of wheaty spiciness.

It’s not a bad beer, but in context it’s difficult to see the point of it: the other beers in the Hoegaarden range, even the easygoing Hougaerdse Das, are at least as characterful as the flagship beer – some of them arguably more so, given the growing blandness of Hoegaarden Wit under the stewardship of Interbrew. This beer, on the other hand, is easily the least characterful of the lot. It’s going to disappoint Hoegaarden fans expecting more of the same, and for those coming to the style for the first time it’ll just muddy the waters, especially given the similarity in labelling.

From the cellar: Freedom Soho Red

Freedom Brewery, ex-London, now Staffordshire.

Freedom Brewery, ex-London, now Staffordshire.

ABV: 4.4%
Origin: London WC2, England
Website: freedombrewery.com
First published: 8 January 2001

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

It’s interesting to look back at this one as the Freedom brewery, founded in 1995, played quite a pivotal role in the development of craft brewing in London and the UK. It was the second brewery, and the first in London, set up with the expertise of Alastair Hook, a rare British champion of proper lager brewing in the post-CAMRA age who went on to found Meantime.

As stated in the article, the production brewery was in Fulham, in fact just off Parsons Green and a stone’s throw from the famous White Horse pub. The Soho Brewing brewpub opened in 1998 at 41 Earlham Street, Covent Garden, originally  under separate ownership. Setting aside the sour view of the place I take below, it was also something of a pioneer, as one of the first US-inspired brewpubs in the capital. It was taken over the next year by Freedom and rebranded Freedom Earlham Street but kept the Soho name for some of its brands.

Freedom then went through various ownership changes and soon after this was written, in 2001, it moved out of London. For a while, the beers were brewed at Meantime but later in-house brewing was resumed, and Freedom is still producing ‘craft’ lagers today at Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire. The closest thing to Soho Red among its current repertoire is a US-hopped amber rye lager. Meantime still brews a very decent amber Vienna lager from time to time.

The Earlham Street operation continued as a brewpub, rebranded Zebrano in 2002 and Bünker in 2003, though the new owners’ interest in brewing dwindled and I believe no more beer was produced later than 2005, although the kit remained in place for a while longer. The site is currently a Japanese-themed restaurant by the unfortunate name of Flesh and Buns.

Freedom are best known for their Pilsener, a rare attempt to brew an authentic lager in Britain in the German style and to German standards. This beer, brewed at their Fulham site, is now fairly widely available in the UK with outlets through selected supermarkets and pubs.

The company also owns a rather trendy brewpub in a basement in Covent Garden, also called Freedom Brewery (though also known as the Soho Brewery, rather puzzlingly since it’s not in Soho at all), where a small plant brews a selection of other beers for consumption on the premises, all inspired by continental European and US models. These are all served under gas pressure but are otherwise made to high standards.

Soho Red is described as based on a pre-prohibition US dark beer – a style which, in its turn, owed much to the old Vienna style of dark lager that was brought to North America by European migrants. The relatively modest gravity is more in line with the expectations of contemporary British drinkers but this is still an attractive and flavourful beer, a deep ruby brown in colour with some head.

The nose is fairly restrained, slightly sweet and faintly hoppy, and the beer itself has a pleasant palate, malty but very much in the Germanic style with phenolic notes and some chocolate and fruit. Eventually a herbal bitterness develops and this slightly sweet beer becomes refreshingly grapefruity in the finish.

As beers of this kind are so rare in Britain, this is a welcome addition to the local repertoire — though the pub which is its principal outlet sadly seemed to me too brash, noisy and uncomfortable to enjoy it at its best.

From the cellar: Abbaye du Val-Dieu Brune

Val Dieu Brune

Val Dieu Brune

ABV: 6.5%
Origin: Aubel, Liège, Wallonia
Website: valdieu.com
First published: 6 November 2000

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. This beer is still available, though has had its ABV hiked to 8% since this was written.

One of the unusual micro-brewed specialities at 2000’s Catford Beer Festival, this beer comes from a small scale secular operation in a former monastic brewery at Aubel. It’s a very inviting strong bottle-conditioned abbey brown, with malty aromas, a chocolatey fruit palate with some phenolic complexity, and a brown sugar sweetness balanced by warming alcohol and restrained hops. The lengthy finish is also predominantly sweetish. It’s well made and distinctive, if not particularly distinguished and probably a bit oversweet for some tastes, but at this strength you’re hardly likely to guzzle it in quantity.

Welcome!

Des de Moor, London, May 2015. Pic: Luke Doyle.

Des de Moor, London, May 2015. Pic: Luke Doyle.

I’m a beer writer, tour guide, walk leader, tutored tasting host and Accredited Beer Sommelier based in London.

I’m the author of The CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer, Pubs and Bars, the award-winning definitive guide to drinking beer in London. “Probably the best book about beer in London” — Londonist. For more about the book including update information see the London page.

I’m a contributor to numerous other books, magazines and websites, including providing the UK listings for The Pocket Beer Book.

Why not join me on one of my regular brewery heritage walks or tutored tastings. Or I can provide an informal private London heritage pub walk and tasting for your group, or a tasting for your event, alongside various other beer-related services. For more see the Beer Tours page.

Elsewhere on the site are numerous blog posts and beer reviews, many of them archiving material that’s already appeared elsewhere but with some exclusive pieces. Scroll down to see the latest posts, or try these:

I also blog about walking at London underfoot: London’s walking trails under the microscope.

From the cellar: Whim Dr Johnson’s Definitive

Whim Ales, Derbyshire

Whim Ales, Derbyshire

ABV: 5%
Origin: Hartington, Derbyshire, England
Websitewww.whimales.co.uk
Date: 6 November 2000

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. Whim is still very much in business, though now just producing beer in cask and polypin. This particular beer appears to have been retired.

“The last word in fine dark ales”, claims the label, not entirely convincingly. It’s a brewery-conditioned beer, quite lively, deep amber with ruby hints and with a small but extremely long-lasting fine-grained head. The aroma is initially very hoppy but with some citric and dark fruit overtones too.

The flavour is full and quite complex, notably sweetly malty but well offset by a firm hop character that begins bitter-cherryish and develops into grapefruit in the back of the mouth for a moderately long finish. While not a spectacular pint, the beer is certainly unusual in being rather difficult to place: with its dark colour and very malty palate it has a certain Scottish character, perhaps as a tribute to the nationality of its namesake, tempting classification as an 80/-, except that its full hop character places it firmly south of the border.

And indeed the brewery is located in Buxton, Derbyshire, though the same company now owns Broughton/Greenmantle in the Scottish lowlands so perhaps the influence has percolated south. Such a classification problem seems appropriate in a beer named after a lexicographer.

From the cellar: Castelain Ch’ti Ambrée

Castelain Ch'ti Ambrée

Castelain Ch’ti Ambrée

ABV: 5.9%
Origin: Bénifontaine, Pas-de-Calais, Hauts-de-France
Website: brasseriecastelain.com
Date: 6 November 2000

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. Oh for those halcyon days when Safeway UK (since taken over by Morrisons) offered an interesting range of imported beers thanks to the late Glenn Payne. The Ch’ti range is still around, though the brune has been withdrawn, and there’s now a triple and a Christmas beer.

A fairly new line from this well-known Bière de Garde producer: the Ch’ti range, which also includes a Blonde and a Brune, is made with bottom-fermenting yeasts and pasteurised but otherwise brewed along traditional lines, emphasised by the corked Champagne bottle-style presentation.

There’s some debate about the origin of the brand name: some sources, including the label, say it’s slang for a Northerner but I’ve also heard it’s a local dialect pronunciation of c’est toi – ‘it’s you’ in the sense of ‘it suits you’. The brewery is in a former mining area but I notice the portrait of a miner that used to adorn the labels has been removed, at least for the British market, perhaps to avoid any unwelcome proletarian associations.

The beer is rubyish in colour – a very dark amber – and has a smooth but short-lived head.  The aroma starts deliciously yeasty but then develops fruity and distinctly sherryish notes. The palate is very malty and has, again, a distinctly sherryish character with a slight hint of wood. It also has a certain syrupy, brown sugar texture, rapidly lifted by very dry, smooth and slightly ashy hops with a mere hint of coffee grounds in a good, long, tangy finish. Somewhere in there is also a hint of marmite.

For a bottom-fermented beer it is notably complex and is very drinkable (especially at a gravity that’s comparatively low in this part of the world) while preserving, in its hop character, something of the northern austerity that is characteristic of the style. A good buy from your local Safeway.

From the cellar: Regenboog ‘t Smisje Honingbier

De Regenboog 't Smisje Honingbier

De Regenboog ‘t Smisje Honingbier

ABV: 6%
Origin: Assebroek (Brugge), West-Vlaanderen, Flanders
Website: www.smisje.belgianbeerboard.com
Date: 23 October 2000

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

De Regenboog (The Rainbow) was originally a printing business founded by homebrewer and beekeeper Johan Brandt. He began brewing commercially on a part-time basis in 1997 using the brand ‘t Smisje (the neighbouring house had once been a smith’s shop). In response to tightening hygiene regulations, brewing ceased at the original site in a suburb of Brugge in 2008, restarting in new premises at Mater near Oudenaarde under the name Smisje.  Despite the beekeeping background, the honey beer is no longer brewed — a shakeout of brands in 2010 saw the brewery concentrating on a much smaller number of beers.

This honey beer from ‘The Rainbow’, a very small micro near Brugge, was one of the specialities on offer at 2000’s Great British Beer Festival: the suitably artisanal trademark means ‘the little smith’ and the honey is apparently collected from the brewery’s own bees.

The beer is well-made but nothing outstanding.  It’s a cloudy amber colour, overcarbonated at first, and slightly estery with a honey and toffee fudge nose.  After scenting the honey, the dry and attenuated taste comes as surprise: there’s also toffeeish malt and orangey-plum fruit and where the honey really makes its mark is in the subtley silky texture, at least once the CO2 has settled down a bit.

The finish brings citric hops, malt and more gentle honey. Perhaps, in trying to avoid the risk of making a honey beer that’s too sweet and cloying, the brewers have erred slightly too far on the side of caution.

From the cellar: Louwaege Hapkin

Louweage Hapkin

Louweage Hapkin

ABV: 8.5%
Origin: Kortemark, West-Vlaanderen, Flanders
Date: 23 October 2000

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

The Louwaege brewery, founded in 1877, closed in 2002 when the founding family sold it to Alken-Maes; it has since been demolished and the site redeveloped as housing. Hapkin, from the nickname of an early 12th century Count of Flanders, Boudewijn VII, is the only brand to have survived, now brewed at Alken. Since 2008 it’s been part of the Heineken portfolio.

The ‘houtland’ or land of wood is a geographical region in the northeast of the province of West-Vlaanderen, so named for its extensive woodlands.

‘The blond beer from the land of wood’, announces the label of this bottle-conditioned Belgian strong blond ale, loosely in the Duvel style. It’s a much more straightforward proposition, however, than Moortgat’s finest, opting for a honeyed character rather than the dry, aromatic complexities of Duvel.

It has a thick, foaming long-lasting head, a delicate aroma of inviting Saaz hops and some estery nail-varnish hints, and a full, very honeyed, malt taste offset by a firm hop finish with grapefruit and a trace of lime.  As strong and straightforward as you might expect from a place that prides itself on its wood.

From the cellar: Carlsberg Elephant Beer

Carlsberg Elephant Beer: vintage poster

Carlsberg Elephant Beer: vintage poster

ABV: 7.2%
Origin: København, Hovedstaden, Denmark
Website: www.carlsberggroup.com
Date: 23 October 2000

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. Elephant Beer is still brewed, as it has been since 1959, though I haven’t seen it in the UK for years. I suspect the “rotting meat” I smelt was Dimethyl Sulphide (DMS).

Elephant beer is a strong, Bock-type lager named after the beasts depicted on the imposing columns of the Danish giant’s historic Copenhagen brewery. I’m not entirely convinced, however, that this example, purchased at Safeway supermarket in the UK, actually left through those gates, since although it claims to be imported, it also carries the legend ‘brewed and bottled *for* the Carlsberg breweries’.

It has a very intense, sharply herbal hop aroma with a very slightly unpleasant enzymic “rotting meat” note and a distinct whiff of alcohol.  The head is only temporary, the colour mid-golden, and it has a full and slightly fruity taste with estery nail-varnish notes and considerable bitterness, almost like a bitter liqueur.  The pronounced carbonation gives a creamy texture, and the beer dries rapidly, staying very dry to the mouth-filling herbal hop finish.

An intense beer where sweetness is well-counterbalanced by hoppy dryness but there are some unpleasant, artificial notes in there too, and at this strength it could do with a bit more character.

From the cellar: Krombacher Pils

Krombacher Pils

Krombacher Pils

ABV: 4.8%
Origin: Kreutzal, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
Website: www.krombacher.de
Date: 23 October 2000

Another review from the archive written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit. Perhaps I underestimated the fame of Krombacher, now one of Germany’s biggest independents, with roots going back to 1618 and brewing pilsner since 1890. I’d certainly be more merciful to this beer today.

From a specialist Pilsener brewery in the Rhineland, this claims to be a “pearl of nature” and it certainly tastes clean, but also rather boring. It has a very good firm head, a smooth malty aroma with a hint of slightly sweet hops (Saaz?), and a clean malt taste with an almost immediate hit of hops, mellowing out with a hint of melony fruit and then drying again in the finish to a firm back-of-the-mouth grapefruity bitterness with a touch of crisp malt.

The logic of supermarket stocking policies is puzzling — it’s a fair enough beer, but neither remarkably good nor famous, so out of all the Rhenish lagers they might have stocked, why have Safeways picked this one?