#12beersofxmas Day 3 – Steamworks Brewing Co Pumpkin Ale 6.5%

I don’t know about you fellow beer fanatics but whenever I have friends who go somewhere on holiday or travel somewhere I sometimes get awesome bottle shaped presents brought back to me. My best pals little brother lives in Vancouver and he went to visit him just before Halloween and on his return he gave me a 750ml big bottle of Steamworks Brewing Co Pumpkin Ale. I never got around to drinking it at Halloween but it’s a special beer so what better time than to include it in my #12beersofxmas.

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Firstly look at that brilliant bottle artwork! If that wouldn’t attract your eye when in a bottle shop I don’t know what would! It’s printed on to the bottle so will prob keep this one along with my big La Chouffe bottles!

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Usually I would share these size bottles but I was quite greedy this time and did the whole bottle myself! It pours a slightly merky deep orange gold colour. On the nose you get hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. There is also a slight sharp metallic pumpkin smell which I find with all pumpkin beers. Taste wise you again get those lovely cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and a bit of ginger alongside the pumpkin flavours. There’s a sweet toffee sugary taste too that leaves a nice warmth in your mouth. For me the balance of all these flavours are perfect! I find pumpkin beers can sometimes be hit or miss and can be hard to get right however Steamworks Pumpkin Ale is the best pumpkin beer I have had! I am a big fan of Beavertown’s Stingy Jack but Steamworks perfect balance of all those flavours pushes itself to the top of the Halloween league!

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Looking back at those flavours though, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon it sounds christmasy and with the pumpkin flavours not being over powering in the balance of all the flavours I actually think this also works well as a Christmas beer! So maybe it’s not so strange that I’ve included this brilliant Canadian Halloween beer in my #12beersofxmas list!

#12beersofxmas Day 2 – Sint Canarus De Maeght Van Gottem 6.5%

Day 2 of #12beersofxmas and today I am bringing this unique beer to the table… I picked this up in the Wine Factory in Chingford high street a month or so back and when I first bought it I didn’t even notice the little present inside the beer bottle! Thanks to my online beer buddy Kev aka Belgian Beer Geek he warned me that the hop inside the bottle makes this beer a bit of a “gusher” when opened… A hop inside the bottle??? I went and checked the bottle and there it was a single hop flower floating at the top of the bottle, somehow I missed the main part of this beer! Craft beer fans here I introduce to you dry dry hopping!

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So with my advise that it is a bit of a gusher I opened this as slowly as I could… about 5 minutes worth of slow! And it still shot the hop out the bottle and frothed everywhere! So pours very very very frothy!!! It eventually died down and i kept a small head right till the end of the beer. It is a hazy orange pale golden colour although this has to be due it being shook up so much with the opening!

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When you put your nose to the glass its like Belgian yeast just shot up out the glass, ripped your nostrils open and said “Yeah boy I am Belgian”! Strong Belgian sweat yeast smell!

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The taste is quite grassy, fresh dank hop taste but has quite a sharp spiky bitter finish.

It is quite good… Nothing I am going to be talking to loads of people about how great it was but was nice enough. The talking point here is the hop in the bottle, which I am guessing is the whole reason the gimmick is there, to be spoken about! I guess it is fun, it is unique, it does make the taste very fresh or farm like but really when it comes down to it the main thing about this bottle hopped beer is… its a bloody pain to pour!

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#12beersofxmas Day 1 – Brouwerij De Prael Willy 11.5%

So here we go I am joining the gang of beer elves and getting involved with the #12beersofxmas… And if you are going in you got to go in big… And for me this is one of my favourite beers I have ever had!

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It’s a risky first beer because I have only had this once and it was actually in the browerij De Prael in Amsterdam and it was like love at first taste! But was it the fact I had a few beers previously that day, or the amazing atmosphere in the brewery bar or that holiday break feeling that made me love this beer so much. It was one of those beers I thought back to and just instantly loved the memory and was up there in top three best beers I have ever had, so the question is now a year or more later do I still have that love at second taste…

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Like all of De Prael’s beer Willy is named after old Dutch pop stars and Willy is from Willy Alberti and here’s big willy himself….

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De Prael’s willy is a big 11.5% quadruple. It’s a deep black colour with burnt caramel highlights that pours a nice head which quickly disappears. On your nose you get that rich plum, muscovado sugar and dried fruit… Very Christmas in fact! Taste wise this is licorice, those dries fruits again, alcohol (but a good warmth), quite sweet and has an after feel to your mouth like you get from hot spices. For those who remember those old panda licorice healthy treats think them! It’s quite similar to the feeling when drinking a red wine too so I think this would even appeal to some of our wine friends.

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The big question is, do I still feel the same way I do about this beer now as I did last year back in Amsterdam? Well it’s a big fat red santa hell yeah! This beer is gorgeous! It’s the perfect way to start this cool project and it’s a beer I hope that people get to try as I haven’t seen it about too much but if ever in Amsterdam a visit to De Prael is a must!

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ALEhouse, Riga

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When I hear Riga I used to automatically get this image in my head of big groups of stag do’s running wild in the town drinking loads of local lager and burying their heads in Latvian strippers cleavages, the truth is this previous image, for me, was utter rubbish! Firstly and thankfully my day in Riga didn’t include any stag parties secondly Riga is a slick, smart, trendy beautiful looking city. Arguably it has one of the best collections of Art Nouveau style houses in the world, which while still officially on work, I viewed up close. After seeing the sights of the new town and the old town (my favourite sight being the Sculpture of the Town Musicians of Bremen, a statue of a Rooster standing on a cat standing on a dog standing on a donkey) I said farewell to my work cruise and went solo.

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After getting a bit lost on the way and having my suitcase wheel explode in the heat (about 33 Degrees!!!) I finally found my resting spot for a few hours before I got on my bus to take me from Riga to Vilnius… the ALEhouse.

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ALEhouse is the hub of all things craft beer in Latvia and is a bottle shop and a bar all in one. As you walk inside you are greeted by a small room on the right with an impressive selection of beers covering all the big craft beer countries, a very good selection of English ales and craft beers including the bottles of Brewdog being drunk my the local and owner at the small sample bar in the shop, all the classic Belgian Beers, Mikkeller (cheaper than what it was in Denmark!), Norwegian craft beer and a very good selection of American craft beer including a few bottles that I knew were fairly rare in America let alone all the way over here in Latvia!

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If you are not instantly attracted to the shop on your right then you walk ahead through to the bar area, a L shaped room with tall tables and a medium sized bar on the right. There are 12 taps on providing a mighty fine selection of beers from around the world at a price that got the pulse racing with excitement! Beers from Rouge, Evil Twin, local Latvian brewers Malduguns, plus more and for some bizarre reason Blackthorn cider!!!! (ignore that as the rest of the pub wreaks in awesomeness!) all at prices that you would struggle to get in a Wetherspoons for your standard ales! The most expensive drink I bought was the incredible Prairie Artisan Ales and Evil Twin collaboration beer “Bible Belt” which was around £3 a half but weighed in at 13% and was so good I brought a bottle back home (I later actually had this at more than double the price in London recently)! The other prices ranged from around just less than two euros to four euros, which was a steal!

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The food was also good here and again very cheap, if you ever find yourself in any of the Baltic states you will find fried garlic rye bread, a must eat at the bar you will instantly love this garlic packed bite! It’s also interesting how the fried rye bread differs from Latvia to Estonia to Lithuania too but one things for sure we are missing a trick in England not having this sort of bar snacks!

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There was a good vibe in the ALEhouse (I am guessing the 7%+ beers helped this) and in the same way that T’Brugsch Bieratelier was the perfect place to unwind after a work trip when I was in Belgium and the Netherlands, this was perfect to unwind from my Baltic trip.

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There were also a few beer travellers visiting ALEhouse including a huge group of Americans, who much to my liking came in just as the sports channel showed a repeat of one of the best games of the world cup… Belgium vs USA, and also a guy who I spoke to for a little while. I can’t remember his name but in a true example of the saying ‘its a small world’ I got talking to a guy who works in The Exmouth Arms in London! We had a chat about a few people we had both met in the London beer scene and he gave me some advice on which beers at the bar he had tried. I have actually never been to The Exmouth Arms but it’s on my to do list very soon so hopefully I can say hello again!

Gdansk’s Brewpubs

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As mentioned in my post about Mikkeller bar I was on a Baltic cruise with work this summer (Soooo late with these posts!) and my next beer destination after Copenhagen was Gdansk.

I knew nothing about Gdansk other than it was in Poland and to be honest my knowledge of Polish beers doesn’t go too much further than the strong stuff you can buy in Leyton with the bear on the can! My only other previous experience with Polish lager was many many years ago when Wetherspoons used to sell Zywiec for 99p on a Monday night and that didn’t end too well!

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Firstly it has to be said how taken back I was by Gdansk, it was lovely! I was completely overwhelmed at what a interesting and cool place it was. We were very lucky as the time we visited was also the same time as they had the St Dominic’s Fair, a three week long yearly crafts festival that took over the town and had rows and rows of market stalls selling anything from home made clothes to the biggest bread I have ever seen and even… you can sense it coming, local beer! I didn’t get a chance to take any snaps at the time as I was actually on a walking tour but I did quickly sample a beer that I cannot remember the name but it was good (you’ll just have to take my word on it!).

I did however get a chance later to really exseprience their beers and had enough free time to sample two brewpubs!

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Brovarnia Gdansk
This huge brewery/hotel claims to have the best beer in Poland, a strong claim and it was certainly very nice dark beer that I had called Old Gdansk but without a long time researching Poland and it’s beers I cannot confirm this claim!

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On the outside this is a huge square building with not a lot of windows, you walk a few steps down into the beer halls as you walk down through the door. It’s a very German beer hall feel here with long tables and rows of chairs in front of a huge long brass bar and behind it/to the side of it you can see all the brewing equipment on show behind glass displays.

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The building itself has been around since 1690 and was originally a granary but later became a drying house, property of the government, customs office and also stored freights. The building has always been considered to be lucky as in the second world war unlike all its surroundings it was never destroyed!

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At the time I was there they only had three beers on, Brovarnia’s Gold (Hells lager), Old Gdansk Dark Beer and Wheat Beer but looking at their news letter and photos they do regional specials too, including Smoked beers, Christmas Chocolate beers and the AIPA which according to their news letter is the highest content of hop in the history of brewing… using 5 hops, Citra, Simcoe, Chinook, Tomahawk and Willamette?! I tried Old Gdansk which was a very nice deep caramel biscuit taste with a chocolate finish.

When the Spanish football team won UEFA Euro 2012 they stayed at the hotel attached to the brewery called Hotel Gdansk… Who knows they may have even provided them with the beer which fueled them onto victory!

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Browar Piwna 
Although there is no historic brewing reason to why there is a road named “beer street” it does happen to be home to a new brewpub called Browar Piwna. Browar Piwna has a more family run, independent feel compared to the big shiny Brovarnia and instead of the brewing equipment being on display behind glass walls the Mash Tun is slap bang in the middle of the pub for all to see and smell! Again the the running theme seems to be three core beers of light, dark and wheat but they also had a special on too, which brilliantly says on the menu ‘costs whatever the brewer feels like at the time’!

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The special while I was here was a very English tasting bitter which was lovely… So lovely I order a ltr of it! They seem to be adventurous in their brewing though as they had a long list of previously brewed beers including Milk Stouts, Alt, Baltic Porters and even one called Saucy Troll!

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Walking into this brewpub couldn’t be any more different to the previous, as you walk through the doors you eyes have to adapt to the neon lights surrounding the bar and there a few tables with chairs around them (most of the seating is outside). On the walk to the toilet you pass a double fridge too where there is Browar Piwna merchandise and bottles for take away orders.

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There is more to the Polish beer scene to my quick couple of hours visit (as the many craft market stalls proved in the St Dominic’s Fair) but on a quick visit I can certainly say both brewpubs are worth a visit if you happen to find yourself in Gdansk! It was interesting to exseprience the two very different drinking establishments. If I had to pick which beer I preferred I would say the English style bitter from Browar Piwna but my drinking companion preferred the Old Gdansk from Brovarnia.

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Gdansk is a beautiful city to visit and they like their beer, I will end this post on the below photo taken from inside Gdansk Town Hall… Proof to how much the Polish enjoy a good tipple is in the good old days if you wanted to be part of the guild you had to down beer in one go out of one of these bad boys……

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London Fields Texan Tea

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While my American beer buddies across the pond on Thursday 27th November were sitting down with their families about to tuck into a big turkey and talk about their thanks I was in East London walking through the doors of London Fields Brewery tap room ready to try the new addition to London Fields Brewery arsenal. Thanksgiving is an American tradition that although I feel should be kept American I don’t actually mind, unlike the embarrassing scenes we witnessed the day after on Black Friday (you can keep that one thanks America!). So it seemed fitting that on Thanksgiving I was raising a glass of American style black IPA.

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Way back in April I meant to write a review of London Fields tap room as I went there for my birthday and really enjoyed it, but like a lot of posts it has taken ages to get done or slipped through the net (must must must do some more posts) When I first visited the tap room after the first beer festival London Fields held I thought it felt unfinished to be honest. So, much to my delight, when I visited in April it felt and looked much better. With the use of hops, great art work and table decorations the wooden interior looks great. You are greeted by a huge beer menu above the bar which cannot help but grab your attention. You can usually always sample the entire core selection both on keg and hand pump which is spread over 5 hand pumps and 10 different keg beers. There is a selection of wine, cider and also there is a fridge full of other London Field beers along side some other classic beers such as a few Belgian bottles.

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I noticed the release party for their Saison a month or so back but was unable to attend. So when an email popped up while I was looking for something me and my pal could do to one evening while chatting over a few beers it was like fate that the email ended up in my inbox. The email was from London Fields and it was inviting me and it’s Facebook friends to the release night of Texan Tea, perfect!

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The Texan Tea is an updated version of their American Black Ale that I had back in April from London Fields bootleggers series (now with added stronger American hops), which happened to be both mine and my girlfriends favourite beer on that day. We arrived at the tap room bang on 6 and was given our free token to try the new beer as we entered. My half was from the hand pump and my pal went for one on keg to see how the flavours differed. It was interesting actually as I much preferred mine then my pals one from keg, mine had a warmer feel to it and you could taste that rich smokey roasted coffee/chocolate flavours, where as the one on keg I felt was missing some of them flavours but you did get a marmite like after taste which isn’t a bad thing either, just two different outcomes. Either way we both loved it and again for me it was my favourite beer of the night!

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Along with the Texan Tea I also tried Eastside Saison, one of my favourite styles of beers and the London Fields offering was a good lemony/slightly tart Saison, which would go down a treat on a hot day. Gyle 666 was my next beer, a spiced ale which went perfectly with the Stilton cheese that had be handed around the tables. Another bootleggers series beer they had on was the Marzen which again ironically I think I tried back in April too, this was an easy drinking German style beer. My friend sampled most of the selection of London Fields core beers as he had never tried any of them and he was impressed.

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The tap room quickly got busy and even when the brewery tours took place it still felt like it was packed! Unfortunately we didn’t hear when the brewery tour was starting and as we had bagged a nice little table for two to sit at we didn’t want to lose our seats! There was good food being passed around the room such as the Stilton, crisps, chicken nibbles (which unfortunately I didn’t get a look in!) and some other bits and pieces. I did treat myself to an amazing scotch egg though!

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My friend and I purchased a few bottles to take home but even when we left the party was still buzzing and very busy! It’s a good evening and a nice idea to introduce a new beer and the Texan Tea was without doubt worth a good party on Thanksgiving!

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