June 1, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Twenty-Six)

(View previous instalments here)

It will be no surprise to you that all of these beers come from this month’s AFBeerClub box.

Athletic Brewing Co – Run Wild IPA

This beer has a delightful deep honey colour, and a smell that is sweet and hoppy and very inviting. It’s a little cloudy, and has a decent head that persists nicely. The flavour is quite sharp and a bit grapefruity. It all feels very deliberate and intentional and executed with precision.

Athletic Brewing Co – Upside Dawn Golden

Another beer from the Athletic brewery, this has a rich deep orange colour, and again is slightly cloudy. The head is small but calm, there’s no furious fizzing occurring beneath it. The aroma has a hint of honey and a little hoppiness. I’m in two minds about the flavour, in that I find it a little dull and lacking in ooomph, which makes me feel uninclined to buy it again, buuuuut it’s such an easy drinking beer that when I consider some of the other beers that I’ve given top marks to, it feels like it would be terribly inconsistent of me to not put this among them.

Fungtn – Lions Mane IPA

This beer is quite lively, with a somewhat vigorous head. It’s got a robust smell with a really compelling earth maltiness. The flavour is bold too, uncompromising and tangy, in a considered and rounded way. This is a very aley kind of ale, and is a marketplace where so many alcohol-free beers seem to be leaning towards the “hops hops hops” approach, is a refreshing change.

Lowtide – Brune DMC

As you can tell from the photo, this beer emerged from the can brimming with vigour, and nearly made a bit of a mess. This beer smells and tastes as dark as it looks, with a little nuttiness in both the aroma and flavour. There is a slight tartness here that feels a bit out of place, but on the whole this is, like the Lion’s Mane, a really great alcohol free beer for those who fancy something a bit darker. And, like that, we have our first clean sweep in this series so far.

I’m spoiled, I really am.

May 21, 2021

Cooking alphabetically around the world Part 2

Our first tour took us sporadically through some of the letters twixt A and L, with occasional photographs of the actual food, as the outstandingly elegant Dr Pockless and I took on the task of cooking through the alphabet. We pick up ostensibly halfway through the alphabet, and will in the next post be filling in some of those missing letters. As we dig in to these next few letters, it turns out that almost everywhere has a national dish that consists mainly of chicken and rice; this made me wonder about the feasibility of doing this project again, but only making chicken and rice dishes.

M: Mexican Huevos Rancheros

Ideally I’d have made this in a large fying pan; my options were a small frying pan, a larger buckled frying pan, a wok, or a casserole dish. I went for the casserole dish, which meant my sauce was deeper than perhaps it should have been. We used a Jamie Oliver recipe, and as you know Señor Oliver is known best for an inauthentic paella, so perhaps this was a terrible choice. Furthermore one doesn’t really need much of a recipe for this, it’s fried up peppers and onions with tomato and chorizo, and eggs on top cooked in the heat of the sauce. Personally I think peppers stewed slowly in passata is a heavenly thing, but Bernard ferociously disagrees, so it was toast and soup for him again, poor neglected wee scrap.

N: Nepalese Chicken Curry

A few years ago while Bernard still did karate, Pete and I took the opportunity to continue our walk along the Basingstoke Canal. It was not such a nice day as this one, and we ended up dripping all over the floor of a Nepalese restaurant in Aldershot. What did we eat? Chicken and rice. So despite this recipe being from Sainsbury, I feel I can attest to it being somewhat like what I remembered from that wet wet day, but with fewer small bones. I added the peas because I was craving vegetables.

O: Omani Dhokri

As I approached the O/P/Q quandary, it became clear that our options were narrowing. Both Oman and Qatar claimed a chicken and rice dish called Machboos; there wasn’t much else for Qatar, so for Oman I had to pick the only other dish that really seemed doable, with the bonus that it wasn’t chicken and rice, and featured an interesting dumpling. Dhokri is a Lawati lamb and dumpling stew, and the dumplings are little flour/salt dough things more like nokedli than gnocchi, in my opinion. I thought they were slightly underdone, but Bernard thought they were one of the best things he’s ever eaten. All this rich cookery adventure and his favourite thing is the dumplings. Typical.

P: Peruvian Arroz Chaufa

Peruvian cuisine is heavily influenced by Peru’s Chinese population, and this is a version of fried rice not dissimilar to a dish I already cook reasonably often. However the egg was scrambled separately (I did this in the microwave), and the meat was chicken rather than bacon; and this is how I will be cooking fried rice from now on. There was a huge quantity of it, and the leftovers were extremely good as lunchtime burritos the next day.
Doctor Pockless eschewed the fried rice, in fact eschewed Peru altogether, and made a really nice Pakistani aubergine curry, which I tried for me and Pete a few days later. Bernard made himself some sushi that night.

Q: Qatari Machboos
It turns out that Dr P eschewed Peru for a good reason, which was that he intended to cheatingly use its indigenous name Quechua for ‘Q’ week. I stuck to the rules and made the Machboos, which is a bit of a generic Middle Eastern chicken and rice dish, but unquestionably delicious. There’s no photo; all that remained was just about enough for a very peppery burrito the next day. We’ll put pretty much anything in a burrito, in this house.

R: Russian Beef Stroganoff

It was hard to choose a recipe for beef stroganoff, but happily The Guardian had done a good review of lots of recipes, and developed “the perfect” one. Controversially, this involves cooking the steak whole and then slicing it, which actually works well for me as I’d rather handle cooked meat than raw. I’m always happy to come back to the sharp and sour flavours of central/eastern europe. The meat and mushrooms were juicy, and there was a good amount of the delicious sauce. If you do cook this recipe, look out for the bit where you rest the raw seasoned steak for an hour before cooking, and spend 30 minutes on the onions.

I promised we would end up with meatballs, however I’m scheduling this post the week before ‘S’ so in fact we will start the next post in Sweden, as well as back-filling some of those missing letters. Bernard and I have researched an Angolan chicken and rice dish, and there will be some sort of curry from Bangladesh, if I can choose a recipe, which is currently challenging me. Suggestions gratefully received.

May 20, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Twenty-Five)

(View previous instalments here)

As is so often the case, I have this month’s AFBeerClub box to thank for some of these beers. I’m struggling to keep up with the reviews, and have even started entertaining the notion of only writing reviews for selected beers. But for now, let’s try to keep doing all of them.

West Berkshire Brewery Solo Peach Ale

This beer has a delightful golden colour, and a head that dissipates very quickly leaving a steady rolling bubblage as it carbonates away to itself for an indeterminate period. It has a lovely smell, with a precisely delicate hint of peach. That said, all of that subtlety gets lost in the mouth, and it just sits there fizzing away on your tongue like popping candy.

Doom Bar Zero

When I discovered that there was an alcohol-free Doom Bar variant, my interest was piqued. Once upon a time I counted Doom Bar as one of my favourite beers, up until the point where every shit pub started carrying it so that they could say “hey, we don’t just have four different lagers, we have real ale too!” and the name started to conjure up expectations of disappointment. But let’s not let that ruin our excitement.

This claims to be an amber ale but as you can see, it’s dark as the night. The smell carries that thick, sweet, cloying current of wortiness as is so common in attempts to do an alcohol-free beer of this nature. What little head was captured in this photo was gone a few seconds later, but it continued to bubble away. I was expecting the taste of it to be another wortfest, but was pleased that there was very little of that in the flavour. In fact, the flavour was quite peculiar and unbeery. Turning the drink over on my tongue, I came to the conclusion that the flavour of this actually reminded me more of a sort of unsweetened cola than a beer. Absolutely baffling. Will I order it again? At this time, we just can’t say for certain.

Sainsbury’s Pilsner Zero Alcohol

With the exception of the Aldi “Hop Foundry” range (reviewed here), this is the first supermarket own-brand alcohol-free beer I’ve come across. It has the colour of apple juice, and weirdly smells a bit like it too. The head was gone fairly quickly, but the beer still had some bubbles in it, which seems to be becoming a recurring theme in this post. The flavour is sharp and acidic, again not doing anything to discourage those comparisons with apple juice. I could probably tolerate this beer again, but I don’t think I’d actively seek it out. Apple juice is cheaper.

Infinite Best Bitter

The Infinite Session American Pale Ale was one of the first alcohol-free beers I reviewed, and has been an enduring staple in my stash, that I’ve returned to again and again. One of the things I’ve noticed, since I switched to alcohol-free beer, is that the type of beer I drink has changed a lot. I used to tend towards drinking darker beers, but these are harder to translate to alcohol-free, which means that I now favour IPAs and wheat beers, as there are better pickings in this department. I’m constantly on the prowl for an alcohol-free bitter that can keep up with its alcoholic brethren. Will this beer meet the test?

It’s fairly dark and very cloudy. The smell is passable, though a little on the worty side, no surprise there. The flavour is actually quite pleasant, though if you close your eyes it actually feels more like drinking a watery stout than a bitter. So, in conclusion: solid effort, but not the breakthrough I was hoping for.

Nøgne Ø Svart/Hvit Milkstout

One of the things I really dig about the monthly beer box is how there’s always some weird unpronounceable stuff from Norway or somewhere like that, which must be really hard to stumble upon by accident, but the curator of that beer box goes out of his way to find these little gems and share them with us.

This stout is thick and dark and viscous, with a sweet caramel-like smell, and hints of coffee and chocolate. The flavour is absolutely immense. It’s rich, heavenly, smooth and succulently balanced. This is a superb milkstout, and blasts its way right to the top of the “fool your friends” list. Put this alongside Big Drop Arctic Beach, Lowtide Who Let The Bees Stout and Tiny Rebel Space Cake, and what you’ve got right there is a list of 4 immaculate yet diverse alcohol-free stouts that will keep you warm for the rest of your life.

May 19, 2021

Cooking alphabetically around the world

I entirely and completely owe the inspiration for this post and the last five months of cookery to my brother the honourable gourmand Dr Pockless, who didn’t fight me when I stole the idea, cooked up by him and his own friends who I don’t even know, to cook food from a different country each week, following the alphabet around the world. You’ll remember how grey and groundhogdaylike January was, relentless never-ending lockdown and rain. There were very few highlights, and initially I enjoyed this on a purely vicarious level as he made some sort of Armenian okra curry, and experimented with Burmese gram flour tofu. However by week three he was posting photos of a delicious-looking jerk chicken dish from a Caribbean recipe, and I decided that I actually wanted a piece of this, and not in any sort of metaphorical sense.

Clearly this is going to have to be a series of posts, and perhaps you too will participate vicariously, drooling from time to time but sticking with pizza; I will however share the recipes in case you too want to take your armchair travels into the kitchen. I never did get on board with Armenia or Burma, and I’m also currently missing G, J and K. The rules are quite relaxed; you don’t have to cook the same dish or even the same country, and sometimes you have to look sideways to find the right country for the letter (Quechua instead of Qatar, you know who you are). So this won’t be an orderly tour through the alphabet, by any means.
Continue reading

May 2, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Twenty-Four)

(View previous instalments here)

As is so often the case, I have this month’s AFBeerClub box to thank for these beers.

Omnipollo Nyponsoppa

This is a pale ale brewed with rosehips which flows in a viscous and creamy fashion, and appears orange and opaque in the glass. The smell is sickeningly fruity, a bit like tomato juice, of which I am not a big fan. The flavour is similarly, and I’m not going to beat about the bush here, revolting. Surprisingly, I actually managed to finish this, but only by sipping at it slowly over the course of an entire evening.

Mikkeller Weird Weather

I often find Mikkeller beers to be very non-beery which leaves me feeling a bit confused and disappointed, but this one smells like a really robust and pleasingly familiar IPA. It’s quite hazy and pale to look at, and the flavour is absolutely heavenly. It’s quite a bit smoother and creamier than I was expecting from the smell, and it’s an absolute masterpiece.

Ridgeside “Nothing But The Rain v.7”

This beer tumbled out of the can with rather a lot of head, though not so much that it was in danger of making a mess. It’s cloudy with a pleasant and slightly lemony smell. The head dissipated very quickly leaving it looking a bit flat. The drink tastes good, smooth and balanced, and that little lemony hint is quite invigorating. For me, this is the right level of sourness for a pale ale.

Drynks Smashed Lager

This lager has a medium colour and a very small head which disappeared very quickly to nothing. The smell is inviting, and puts me in mind of Brooklyn Special Effects, which is another alcohol free lager which I’ve returned to again and again. The flavour of this beer is excellent, with one or two slightly strange aspects to it, but on the whole this is an incredibly mouthwatering and more-ish beer which honestly I could just quaff and quaff and quaff all night long.

April 14, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Twenty-Three)

(View previous instalments here)

As always, these are some of the beers in the monthly AFBeerClub box.

Stride “On Track” Pale Lager

I wasn’t terribly taken with the Stride pale ale in the previous instalment, so didn’t have high expectations for this one. It has a nice deep colour and a small head, and the smell has a nice bold fruitiness. The flavour was fairly unpleasant to my taste though, I found it to be rough and very sour. Can not recommend.

Rothaus Tannen Zäpfle

This has a good head, though the smell is a bit sour and acidic, to the point that it actually reminds me more of a strong cider. It’s quite sour to the taste as well, and the flavour has a very pilsyness to it. On the whole it’s not really to my taste, however I can appreciate that it’s a flavour with depth and complexity, and to those who like this sort of thing, it’s probably a very well-crafted example.

Venture “Point Five”

This beer had quite an odd behaviour when I removed the cap. It was very lively indeed, to the point that it would have overflowed if I had not acted quickly. As I poured it, the head came out in two distinct phases – there was an initial, conventional, fairly thin head, and then as I upended the bottle there was a sort of creamy yoghurty after-head that took a long time to drain out of the bottle. Most curious. The head does linger nicely. The smell of this beer is very inviting, it’s delicate and smooth and floral. The flavour, you’ll be pleased to know, lives up to the invitation. It’s easy to drink, and hoppy but not excessively so. I detected an aftertaste that didn’t quite seem to fit the whole pattern, but it was not so obnoxious that it could spoil what is otherwise a delicious and well-balanced beer that I think could earn a very broad appeal amongst ale drinkers of all inclinations.

  • Comments: 3
  • Via a conversation with Gordon McLean on LinkedIn, I found myself thinking about my old bl... - Clare Sudbery
  • Thank you, that's very kind of you, though I'm sure I can't be the only one who's publishi... - Pete
  • These reviews continue to be excellent and informative. I may be biased as, obviously, the... - swisslet
April 3, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Twenty-Two)

(View previous instalments here)

Another box from AFBeerClub, and more new beers (plus a couple that I’ve had before, of course)!

Stride Pale Ale

This looks good out of the can, a robust beerish colour and a fairly sweet smell with a little tang of antiseptic. However, I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the flavour. I found it to be a bit thin and watery with some of that old metallic fizziness. I didn’t detect much in the way of classic beery flavours, be that hops or malt or anything from that stable. It’s not hideously unpleasant, I just found it to be a bit boring. And crap.

Big Drop “Arctic Beach”

This is a coconut stout. Now, normally I would save something like this for last, but because this is from Big Drop, who so often disappoint me, those normal rules do not apply, so I decided to get this one out of the way early. It comes in a large can – at this point in my notes I scribbled down “to prolong the torture”, which gives you an idea of how low my expectations were. It looks, and smells, alright – it reminds me of their hazelnut porter, which is one that I definitely did like.

With the first sip – by god that tastes amazing. It’s perhaps a little thin, but the flavours are bold, and the coconut element is pitched exactly right – there’s enough there that it comes through, but not so much that it dominates and the drink stops tasting like a beer and starts tasting like coconut syrup. This is such an incredibly delicious stout that it makes me consider trying the regular Big Drop Stout again, in case they’ve changed their recipe to be anything like as good as this.

Sambrooks “Stand Easy”

This is an IPA that pours with a very lively, thick and creamy head. The aroma is superb, a very inviting and smooth floral hoppiness. The flavour sadly doesn’t quite live up to the promise, it’s got some rough edges and is a little tart and sharp. That said, the beer is on the whole very easy to drink, and does more than enough to hold its own against the other beers that I’ve awarded…

March 19, 2021

Alcohol-Free Beers (Part Twenty-One)

(View previous instalments here)

This month’s selection box from AFBeerClub contains six new alcohol-free beers for me to review, and two I’ve had before. Here’s the last three reviews before the next box arrives.

Mikkeller “Henry and His Science”

There’s something about the artwork on Mikkeller beers that I find deeply disturbing. They put me in mind of childrens books from some tiny European country where they eat the kind of food that would make any sane person retch. But I should not let that affect my judgement of the beer, and indeed I will not. This beer is pale and slightly cloudy, with a very fruity, citrusy, tropical, ever-so-slightly-tangy aroma. The flavour has a little more edge to it than the smell would lead you to believe, and the end result is a very tropical drink that falls somewhere on the line between Lilt and Um Bongo, which is a drink that I’m surprised to see is still made today, considering how the entire marketing campaign was pretty much based around casual racism. So if you want a fizzy tropical drink, you’ll love this. If you want a beer, then perhaps not.

Northern Monk “Holy Faith”

Holy Faith is a hazy pale ale which comes in a nice big can. It pours with a lovely head which sadly dissipates quite quickly. The smell is fruity but with a hint of that idiosyncratic smell that you only find in a carpet shop – you know the one. It tastes okay, but all that sharpness and fizziness buries any more delicate qualities that may exist, and it ends up feeling a bit one-dimensional.

Lowtide “Who Let The Bees Stout”

As always, I save the stout for the end. This is a honeycomb and chocolate stout. The pour is very promising – a decent viscosity, black as night, with a creamy head. The smell has a strong whiff of honey, which is what we’re hoping for. The honeyness is there in the flavour too, along with a sweetness that reminds me ever so slightly of childrens cough syrup. All in all, these curious flavours are present at a relatively subtle level, which is good. Too much could be overwhelming, but in this case they just lend a little degree of curiosity which means that this is actually a beer that you could drink a few of in a row without getting bored or exhausted.

This monthly subscription box has been brilliant in terms of introducing me to new alcohol-free beers. I do also maintain a stockpile of “old favourites” for when I don’t fancy trying something new. It’s been a while since I’ve needed to replenish this stockpile, but I did have to do so recently. I bought six each of the following all-time favourites, from the usual Wise Bartender, of course:

  • Bristol Clear Head (review)
  • Brutal “A Ship Full Of IPA” (review)
  • Drop Bear Bonfire Stout (review)
  • Infinite Session American Pale Ale (review)
  • Nirvana Stout (review)
  • Signature Brew Lo-Fi (review)
  • Tiny Rebel Space Cake (review)
  • Clausthaler Unfiltered (review)
  • Erdinger (review)