Tag: beer reviews

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Tokyo* Storm Warning

Right – my last post about Tokyo*. But it’s a post I have to write because I’ve done something none of the people claiming this beer will bring about the downfall of civilisation have done – I’ve tried a bottle.

There’s a familiar pattern now with any moral panic in society: you can usually depend on the fact that those linking, say, a film with violent behaviour have never seen the movie they’re condemning. People who think a record is disgusting and depraved can be relied upon to give their view without having listened to it. And clearly, those who regard Tokyo as ‘irresponsible’ haven’t had so much as a sip of it. This is obvious simply from the timing of the comments – they wouldn’t have had chance to do so before they opened their mouths to the press on the day of the beer’s launch. But it becomes more obvious once you taste the beer.
The thing to remember about Brew Dog at all times is that while they’re serious about making their beer, they regard the promotion of it as a big joke. They deliberately court controversy, and when they’re not doing that they just like to have a laugh.
Exhibit A: Tokyo*’s label copy. This is a beer that was apparently “inspired by a 1980s space invaders arcade game played in Japan’s capital. The irony of existentialism, the parody of being and the inherent contradictions of post-modernism, all so delicately conveyed by the blocky, pixelated arcade action have all been painstakingly recreated in this bottle’s contents.” So they’re taking the piss, OK?
So, to the beer.
As I took off the cap, the aroma of American hops wafted out. It poured dark ruby rather than completely black, with a tan had that disappeared instantly. Fine; you’d neither expect nor welcome too much carbonation in a beer like this. Sniffing from the glass, I was struck first by a whisky alcohol whiff. Then there was treacle and molasses, then those hops – the dry hopping has definitely added something. Then finally there’s oak – not the vanilla you’d expect, but a fresh, woody scent.
The vanilla appeared on the palate – straight away, barging to the front. This was followed by a profound alcohol burn that stripped everything else away and left my mouth buzzing. It was a shocking experience.
After this initial punch in the mouth, a second sip felt a little smoother. Cherries and chocolate joined the vanilla to give me a nostalgic mouthful of black forest gateau, with a satisfying, drying earthiness towards the end and, challenging the retro dessert theme, an aftertaste of creme brulee. Somewhere in there, the marriage of the fresh hops and the dark, treacly stout was continuously creating new flavours and associations.
I’d expected to recommend this beer as a substitute for port or sherry. But as a big fan of Islay malts, if I ever have another one this young (I’m definitely looking forward to aging this beer – it will be stunning when it mellows) I’ll drink it instead of whisky. I’d imagined sharing a bottle between two – I’d actually recommend one bottle between four.
The idea of anyone binge drinking a bottle of this beer, of knocking it back quickly, is utterly absurd. I defy anyone to drink a bottle in under an hour. You actually don’t want a full bottle of it. The argument about it containing more units than your recommended daily guideline is no more valid than it would be with a bottle of spirits. In fact a resealable bottle would be brilliant. I had no idea there would be so much coverage of this beer – the Daily Mash pisstake whose copyright I illegally infringed the other day shows they are a national news story. Well, it is silly season. But anyone linking this beer to binge drinking is quite clearly drinking, smoking or sniffing something far more potent.
Brew Dog were probably a little taken aback themselves by the reaction – they’ve responded with some excellent and thought-provoking points here. But I have one final grumble with them: to claim that this beer will actually help cure binge drinking is possibly as stupid as the reaction to it. Some of the arguments deployed to say it won’t encourage binge drinking – limited run, lack of availability etc – equally mean most people won’t get a chance to try the beer and have their expectations challenged. They’ll only see the headlines and draw their conclusions from that. And I have to admit, going back to the label copy, I definitely felt a little pixelated by the time when – against my better judgement – I sneakily finished off the bottle.
All publicity is NOT good publicity because, after Tokyo* sells out, there’s a bunch of blinkered, bigoted neo-prohibitionists who have a bit more ammo in their attack on the industry as irresponsible. This beer is not irresponsible. And the case for brewing beers like this would be much more effectively made if you simply got some of the idiots mouthing off about it to try it, and record their reactions on camera.
The world would be a much better place if there were more beers like this in it.

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This is a beer blog. Shall we talk about some beers?

I got a phone call a few weeks ago. “Hi Pete. We’re having a beer and food matching dinner, five courses with a different speciality beer matched with each. We’d like to invite you along to sit on one of the tables and just talk about beer to the guests.” How much better does it get than that? Oh hang on, what was that? “We’ll pay you for your trouble.”

And so last Monday night, deeply in love with life and wondering how, increasingly, I seem to be one of the most fortunate people in the world (to be honest, it is about time) I earned money by going to a free, beautiful dinner, and talking about beer, and drinking free beer.

But that’s not the only reason I was pleased the event was happening – the dinner was being organised by multinational brewing giant and brewer of Carling – Coors UK.

I did a bit of work with Coors about five years ago, and while we had some great conversations about beer, they guys from Coors eventually had to say, “Look, Pete, it’s great you feel so passionately about interesting beer, but the future is could lager and that’s what we’re brewing and that’s all we’re interesting in brewing.”

Since then ‘speciality beer’ (a sometimes frustrating term, because it suggests anything that’s not mainstream lager must necessarily be a bit – you know – “special”, but let’s go with it for now) has seen strong growth, admittedly from a tiny base. This has mainly been driven by Coors, with Hoegaarden and Leffe. They’re fine beers, but they could do with healthy competition from someone with similar distribution clout in the UK.

So Coors have assembled a very interesting line-up to enter the fray:

Kasteel Cru

Brewed in Alsace with champagne yeast instead of beer yeast, a light beer with a fruity character, like a sweeter lager. It has definite hints of gooseberries and lemon zest, and finishes with that biscuity champagne bite. Drink from a champagne flute, and coo at the lovely champagne style bubbles. Goes very well with seafood and classy hotel bars.


Rolf Munding is a serial entrepreneur who has done a lot of work in the Czech Republic. Over the last fifteen years he felt the quality of Czech pilsners – the real best lagers in the world – was declining. Whether or not this was due to dumbing down after being bought up by big brewing multinationals is something I can’t comment on, but which Rolf does – often, and forcefully. So he went looking for a Czech brewery of his own and found it in the town of Zatec. Zatec’s German name is Saaz, and if that rings a bell it’s because the hops grown around Saaz make it a beery Bordeaux – these are simply the finest lager hops in the world. So with a brewery in the middle of the best hops, Rolf hired one of the best Czech brewers, and they created Zatec. Now, Budweiser Budvar is rightly recognised as a superlative beer, one I and countless other have praised to the skies. It has a long heritage and global reputation. Zatec is at least as good.

Grolsch Weizen

Hmm… a wheat beer to cash in on the trend begun by Hoegaarden, brewed under the auspices of a leading UK lager brand? Haven’t we been here before with Kronenbourg Blanc? Well, no, because while I’ve got a lot of time for Kronenbourg if you find yourself drinking in a place with a limited beer selection, Kronenbourg Blanc is virtually undrinkable. I was expecting something similar from Grolsch but, oh my, was I ever wrong. Half way between a spicy, lemony Belgian wheat beer and the heady banoffee character of a German Weissbeer, Grolsch Weizen knocks spots off the competition (if we define the competition as being wheat beers that are readily available right now in the UK). A perfect summer freshener on its own, like drinking a beer sorbet, and with food it’s like Daley Thomson (when he was winning decathlons, not now). The classic beer and seafood match, with the lemony creaminess of the beer complementing the food… check. The tricky match with hot, spicy food, assertive enough not to be swamped by your favourite curry and yet clean and refreshing enough to break down the heat… check. We haven’t found a dish yet that this beer doesn’t add something to.


An old, often overlooked classic from the Belgian ale stable. Antwerp’s de Koninck is better known by British beer buffs as a classic session ale, around 5%, to be drunk cool from a chalice glass on a hot day, brown and malty and slightly chewy but clean and refreshing too. Palm is very much the same. It went wonderfully with rich red meat. It’s a difficult one – I don’t have as much to say about it, but that shouldn’t make you think it’s not as good as the others – there’s just less of a story about it. But it is interesting about what happens when you put ale in a bottle and call it Belgian – people who would never drink a pint of real ale love Palm when they try it, which to me says they would also love real ale if they would give it a chance. Which brings us to…

Worthington White Shield

Not so much a speciality beer as a beer legend, WWS is now being promoted as part of the Coors speciality range. This is an extraordinary, complex, multi-faceted beer. There’s all sorts going on in there: bags of fruit, loads of spices, a hint of freshly baked bread, some treacle, caramel and toffee, all suspended in a fine balance, with no one flavour overpowering the other. We had this with a mature, assertive cheddar and people at our table who were not really beer fans were almost swooning with pleasure.

So if you see any of these beers, check them out. You won’t be disappointed. And bearing in mind that these beers are marketed in the UK by the same folk who bring us Reef and Carling, please remember you need to reward the things they’re doing well if you want them to shift attention from the things they’re doing that are – shall we say – not making such a vital contribution to the cornucopia of flavour and character available in our pubs.