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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Strong ales for winter

Originally published in BEER November 2009.

The British have an issue with strong beer. In a beer culture centred round swilling down several pints at 4 per cent ABV or less, there’s a tendency to see higher gravities as a route to quicker inebriation. It’s not surprising, then, that British bottle conditioned strong ales are still relatively scarce. A shame, as stronger beers generally do better as real ale in a bottle than weaker ones – the danger of infection is reduced, and there’s more potential for developing complexity with age.

Of course, as anyone familiar with Belgian beer culture will know, it’s possible to enjoy strong beer responsibly by taking it slowly and in moderation. Contemplative sipping has its own rewards, so with the nights drawing in, it’s time to raise a small glass to the British brewers who offer something worth contemplating – as well as a Scandinavian visitor well worth seeking out.

Pitfield Brewery is one of the pioneers of the British microbrewing revival, and now offers a range of historical recreations at gravities that predate the ubiquity of “session strength”, such as the annually brewed Pitfield XXXX Stock Ale (10 per cent). Based on a recipe for the 1890s when stock ale meant strong beer laid down for later blending, it’s a characterful full-bodied, peppery and mouth-filling amber ale with hints of roast and smoke.

In between turning out batches of best selling Doom Bar, Sharps brewer Stuart Howe has developed some more esoteric specialities, including the appropriately named Sharps Massive Ale (10 per cent). This burgundy brew with a slight Belgian accent, hopped with Perle and Northdown, could mature for up to a decade but is already heady and complex, with cherries on the aroma, a figgy berry note on the palate and a mellow orange malty finish, tinged with vermouth and balsamic onions.

Another historical recreation is Woodfordes Norfolk Nip (8 per cent), based on a barley wine from former Norfolk brewery Steward and Patteson, closed by Watney in 1970. I’ve kept bottles of this dark ruby beer for five years and found it rich with toffee apple, custard and wine-like notes, touches of mint and olives and spicy rounded hops.

Something genuinely unusual is Thornbridge Bracia (9 per cent) from Derbyshire. It includes chestnut honey from brewer Stefano Cossi’s native Italy – along with no less than six malts, four hop varieties and roast barley. Honey is obvious on the aroma of this near-black brew, and a sweetish and cakey but extremely complex palate has lightly bittering herbs, savoury notes and peat, with a warming coffeeish finish.

No roundup of winter brews would be complete without a real imperial stout, and one of the very best I’ve tasted comes from under the flight path of Copenhagen airport, and the shadow of mighty Carlsberg. Amager Imperial Stout (10.1 per cent) is one of a number of exciting beers now emerging from Scandinavia, dark brown with chocolate, vanilla and exotic spice on the aroma, a rich chocolate palate with a petrolly note and pursing dry roast over sappy malt in the finish. 

With this post I’ve finally caught up with myself as far as my reviews in BEER are concerned — all of them are now archived, except for the most recent which are on an agreed three-month delay after publication. Hurrah!

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