My Top Ten Beers

(As of October 2013)

People often ask me what my favourite beer is. It’s a tricky question but I really should have a better response than my usual non-commital mutterings about real ale and bitter.

I’ve drunk so many beers of such varied sytles over the last few years, it’s thoroughly impossible to compare a 9% Belgian trappist ale to a subtle 3.5% English mild. So, to come up with my top ten list I’ve simply asked myself which ten beers, across the various styles, I find it impossible to resist if I spot them in a pub.

Finally, I should also make an apology to wheat beer which fails to make an appearance on the list. Wheat beers are often full of really interesting flavours (phenolic flavours like apricot, bananas, cloves and TCP) and can be amazing matched with food. But it appears that I’m not a massive fan at the moment. I will be tackling wheat beers in my homebrewing at some point and perhaps that will rejuvinate my love of them. (Technically I think the Fruli is actually a wheat beer but that doesn’t really count!)

1. Butcombe Bitter, Butcombe Brewery, Somerset, bitter, cask, 4%

Butcombe BitterI love this beer. For me it’s absolutely the perfect pint. A golden ale, smooth and almost buttery. Just enough bitterness and hints of toffee popcorn flavours. It’s my favourite sytle of beer too – a bitter. Hence being my current number one.

If you see a cask of this in your local buy a pint and then drink it all night.  Then call me and I’ll come and drink it with you.

Butcombe also do a bottled version at 4.5%. A bit more alcoholic and, as you would expect from something in a bottle, it’s rather more fizzy that its cask conditioned brother. It is also delicious (and I think available at Waitrose) but nothing beats the refreshing, light perfection of a cask conditioned bitter.

2. Junction, Sambrooks Brewery, Battersea, bitter, cask, 4.5%

JunctionSambrooks Brewery plays a big part in my journey towards total beer and brewing obsession. I went on a brewery tour back in 2010 (as part of my stag/hen do) and suddenly realised that brewing was remarkably similar to homebrewing, just bigger. It spurred me on to homebrew more and more and I’ve enjoyed drinking Sambrooks beers ever since.

Junction is my favourite (though Wandle is very tasty too). It’s a bit fruity and a little bit spicy. Lovely British hops aromas. It’s beautifully balanced and frightfully English.

3. Bitter & Twisted, Harviestoun Brewery, Clackmannanshire, pale ale, bottle, 4.2%   bittertwisted

This a lovely balanced bright pale ale and definitely one of my favourite bottled beers. It’s golden, clear and bright. It’s citrusy and bitter and very nicely balanced, a bit spicy and amazingly flavoursome for a 4.2% ale. I could drink this all day.

It’s made at the Harviestoun Brewery in Scotland. They make a whole load of delicious beers so keep an eye out for them. The Ola Dubh is quite spectacular and one of the most grown up beers I’ve tasted.

4. Fraoch, William Brothers Brewing Co, Alloa, heather ale, bottle, 5%

fraochAnother Scottish beer makes it into my top ten. This is a heather ale – an ancient sytle of beer. In theory the Scottish picts were making beer flavoured with heather in the late Iron Age.  Hops didn’t reach the UK until much later.

This beer is a pale golden colour and bright with a delicate floral spicy aroma. There are hints of honey and slight grassiness in taste with a dry (white wine-like) finish. There are no hops used in this beer, just sweet gale and flowering heather instead. It really is great with food – seafood, salads etc. Interesting and delicious.

5. Black Isle Organic Porter, Black Isle Brewery Co, Ross-shire, porter, keg, 4.6%BlackIslePorter

More scottish beer. This porter has really grown on me. When I first tried it I thought it was a tasty porter. As I’ve drunk more of it over the last couple of years I’ve really come to love it’s creamy, rich and bitter taste.  It’s very dark with a pale creamy head. It’s smooth with a hint of coffee and absolutely marvelous with a steak and pepper sauce.

I went to the brewery last year and was delighted with an instant (and free) tour around the premises. They are based in the middle of an organic farm (owned by the same family as the brewery) and brew using their own malt.

6. Guinness Original, Diageo, St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin, stout, keg, 4.1%guinness

This is a bit of a contraversial one and is by far the biggest selling beer on my top ten list. Guinness makes it into my top ten because 1) I really like drinking it, and 2) it’s has single-handedly kept a beer style other than pale lager alive in the international world of beer.

Guinness has a distinctive and lingering bitterness from lots of roasted barley (i.e. unmalted barley). This adds flavour and colour but it doesn’t add any sugar to the wort, and hence no alcohol to the beer. What you get is a surprisingly light stout. The added nitrogen during the dispensing process adds smoothness and apparent body. Guinness have found that magic combination of a really flavoursome beer which is light enough to drink several pints.

7. Budweiser Budvar Dark Lager, Budweiser, Budweis Brewery, Czech Republic, dark lager, bottle, 4.7%

budvar_darkLagerAnother dark beer but interestingly this is actually a lager. There is no reason why lagers can’t be dark (the lager versus ale thing i about the type of yeast you use rather than the type of malt), but because the vast majority of beer drunk in the world is pale lager – aka a pilsner.

This beer is interesting, and takes a bit of getting used to. It’s smooth, creamy and bitter and has a hint of smokeyness. You get some coffee flavours from the dark malt but the traditional lager hops (saaz) mean it’s rather different to a dark ale. A bit like liquidised tiramisu! Great with a choclate pudding

8. Delirium Tremens, Huyghe Brewery, Belgium, pale ale, keg, 9%

delerium-tremensThis was voted as the best beer in the world at some point – I can’t remember when. And it is pretty good stuff. Especially if you ever spot it on tap in a pub. Give it a go (a half pint though) .

It’s a deep golden colour, bright with not much head. This is amazingly light, subtle and delicate for a 9% beer. It’s scarily easy to drink and really delicious. Citrus, maltiness and spice are all there. It tastes very Belgian. Lovely stuff.

9. Strawberry Fruli, Huyghe Brewery, Belgium, fruit beer, keg, 4.7%Fruli

My guity pleasure. It’s not for everyone as it’s really quite sweet and more like a pudding than a beer. It’s cloudy pink and thick. Very strawberryey and sweet. I love a half pint of this beer. It’s full of really sweet fruitiness with a sour twang coming through in the aftertaste.

10. Timmermans Kriek, Timmermans Brewery, kriek, bottle, 4%

timmermanKriek

Another fruit beer, though this is way less sweet than the Fruli. A kriek is made with cherries and lambic fermentation – that is, using the yeasts occuring naturally in the air. They have big flat open topped fermentation tanks and simply let the whole thing go of.  The off cherries are incredibly sour as you might expect. The old sour beer is blended with younger sweeter beer and you end up with a fruit beer that is deliciously sour but fruity and delicious.

This beer is deep red and clear with a pink frothy head. It smells of cherry sweets, light and cherry flavours – good sourness. Less sweet, less pink and less cherryey than Lindemans kriek. Great with dark chocolate.

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