Ale to the King.

Edinburgh's quality beer and ale review and culture site.

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Brew at the Bog Special: The Spirited Dog

Ale to the King is a big and unashamed fan of Brewdog. These Fraserburgh latter-day pioneers of beer have arrived on the market like a like a bull made of sledgehammers in a china-cabinet. I wouldn’t be afraid to say this company are one of the driving forces that helped reinvent the craft beer scene as fashionable, edgy and sexy.

Its with little surprise the company have rapidly gone from strength to strength since the first time I became aware of them. Unusually it wasn’t in the local off-license or supermarket I saw their wares, but on tele, being drunk in Prince’s Street Gardens by Oz Clarke, James May, James Watt and Martin Dickie on the fantastic Oz and James Drink to Britain (please bring it back!).

Since this relatively early following of them I’ve seen their range grow in size yet impressively maintain its quality, their stock appear in more and more establishments, to opening their own bars all over the British isles. And yet somehow, they still maintain their spirit of small, feisty, rebelliousness.

So their next move comes as something unexpected. In these financially hard times putting their names behind a brand new festival may seem foolhardy, especially on something which is traditionally quite costly for something that often lasts only a day or two; without doubt the biggest events like Download and Glastonbury, with ticket prices over £200, will be feeling the pinch at the moment. Had Brew at the Bog been a shambling mess or worse, an unattended failure, Brewdog’s name would have gone down with it. The heavy branding no doubt adds an instant recognition, but with that comes a risk. As it turns out, it was a wise move. The organisers clearly knew what they were doing.

But then, come to think of it, that’s a characteristically Brewdog thing to do.

Its this kind of spirit that embodies the craft beer scene at the moment; defiant, revering innovation and bravery over reserve and safety, self-assured and with plenty of cochonnes. Craft beer is a link to our shared British history; one we should all be proud of as a symbol of determination and innovation, and its this determination and innovation which it needs to grow, like Brewdog, from strength to strength.

Brew at the Bog Special: Intro

Ale to the King is a relative newcomer to the festival scene, having only tackled the mighty metal worship of Download and the wonderful Wickerman Festival before. During my inaugural five days of camping and music at the former however, I knew straight away that I would be a big fan of festivals, and the latter confirmed it wouldn’t matter if they were big or small. So the drive from Edinburgh to Bogbain Farm, just outside of Inverness, was filled with no small amount of excitement as I made my way up to the very first Brew at the Bog Festival.

I’ll be covering various aspects of the festival, mainly on Ale to the King with other coverage on Culture Bomb.

But first, time for a Brewdog; its like going through my notes on a sensory level. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Bar Review: Brewdog Bar, Cowgate, Edinburgh

by Louise Boyd

Name
: Brewdog Bar Edinburgh
Location: 143 Cowgate, Edinburgh

It seems only right that my guest post for AletotheKing features the very spot where my love affair with ale first began.

Beers Selection: The selection of beer is vast – not just encompassing Brewdog’s own impressive array of quirky, experimental brews – but the fridges are also brimming with tasty beer and cider offerings from far and wide. There’s always something new to try on tap too, with special limited edition Brewdog incarnations and other guest beers on tap – it’s a great place to sample something out of the ordinary.

My personal favourites include the fruity, easy drinking Punk IPA for summertime refreshment or the blacker than treacle Rip Tide stout (it’s strong stuff mind!).

Atmosphere: It took some time for Rob to convince me to accompany him to the Brewdog bar, I mean it’s on the Cowgate for goodness sake. But this funky little place is a far cry from the raucous hen and stag venues which surround it.

After a boozy afternoon in the Sheep’s Heid we stumbled in here for that all important ‘one for the road’, and I must say despite my reservations I was very pleasantly surprised.

Staff: The bar staff are laid back, approachable and confident in their beer knowledge.

Décor: Gone are the sticky carpets of the previous miserable karaoke dive and in its place are cool greys, metal, bricks and big, comfy leather sofas.

The best thing about Brewdog bar, aside from the amazing range of beer, are the little extras which make the bar somewhere you want to hang out with friends. From the board games to beer books to chalk boards offering friendly advice – ‘Don’t remember the song? Play air guitar!’

Louise Boyd runs the brilliant food blog Hungry WeaselYou can follow her on Twitter.

Pub Review: Victoria Bar, Leith, Edinburgh

Name: Victoria Bar
Location:  265 Leith Walk, Edinburgh

Beers Selection: Not great, limited to a mainstream selection, albeit one that wants to project an image of alternativeness.  The usual faux-alternate brands are here; Amstel, Hefferveisen, Weissbrau, Duechers, Guiness. The house wines, both red and white are good but the bar lacks rotational, guest, or frankly, any great beers. In Edinbugh this kind of establishment should at least have something by Brewdog or Black Isle  if it wants to market itself as a quality drinking hole but it falls down badly here.

Atmosphere: In this case Victoria Bar  is marvellous. This place has a stunning atmosphere. Very bubbly as the place is whenever Ale to the King been , it has a lot of different facets. There seems to be a few age groups here, from the more mature students to the bulk of the crowd which is mid-twenties to people into their early 30s. Everyone has the same mentality though; lively yet unobtrusive.

Staff
: Unfailingly friendly. These people seem to be always pleasant, swift and immediate. They have a relaxed manner which is more than welcoming. Its a homely, fashionable youthful crew.

Decor: What can Ale to the King say other than very, very good? The front/bar end of the establishment has an old world charm about it with very nice old fashioned windows. This is mixed with a Victoriana-cum-70s aesthetic, if that makes any sense.
There’s a small area just to the right behind the bar that’s covered in beautifully lit, charmingly done fairy lights. Sadly right next to them is the toilets.

Up a couple of stairs is a lovely area where sofas wrap the back wall. This is nicely complemented by rope lights  lining these; cheesy yes, but in its own way charming. The roof, strewn with fairy lights, add something extra.  The place has a low-lit sexy atmosphere.

Victoria is a fine bar, the decor, the atmoshere, the ambience. It would be brilliant if they had a better range of good beer.

A good hang out.

Review: Delirium Christmas – Aledvent Calendbeer 24

Beer: Delirium Christmas
Brewery: Delirium
Type: Belgian Strong Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc:  10% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 24 

The end is in sight and the big Two Five of Christmas day approaches. But many people say Christmas Eve is more fun than the day itself. Not exactly Ale to the King‘s view but one that’s entirely understandable, especially given the excellent Delirium Christmas. The bottle is exciting enough itself, with a beautiful and fun label that utterly reflects the brewery at first glance while also gives it a very unique Christmas spin. I’ve always been a fan of Delirium bottles, with their grey speckled glass and pink elephant and this version does them proud.

As soon as you release the bottle cap you’re struck immediately with a hit of very ripe, soft banana to begin with but then you get a an absolutely delicious and unique ice cream soda. I’ve never detected that in a beer before while I’ve been properly tasting but its a sensation I hope crops up much more often. Beyond that there’s also a nice sublte note of shredded wheat.

On the taste the entire thing is dominated again by that delicious soft banana and there’s some great fizz that stays with the beer all the way to the end, which is a real sign of quality.

Into specifics however the foretaste has a nice, bitter tang of Copella apple juice that seems particular to that brand. The mid-taste begins as nettles which morphs into the tingle of warm spiced cider. Its a Christmas taste that’s very particular to the season, particularly the kind served in the cold of a German market, but is rarely replicated in a festive beer and its an unexpected treat here. As the after-taste matures it becomes a pleasingly sweet sensation.

The colour is also very appealing as well, a rich, hearty ochre-red that pours not just cloudy but has globulized tiny floating particles of yeast that pepper the entire drink and never float to the bottom. The head is a tan, off-white and quickly dissipates, but the floating globules are the mesmeric show that’s almost magical; how apt for Christmas.

This is a lovely treat and one you should pick up when you can.

Review: Gordon Xmas – Aledvent Calendbeer 23

Beer: Gordon Xmas
Brewery: Anthony Martin
Type:  Belgian Strong Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 8.8% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 23

Interesting one this. Gordon Xmas isn’t the most Belgian of names. No surprise, Anthony Martin isn’t a Belgian brewery; however this Belgian style beer was brewed for a British company in Benelux, an economic union area of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.   A belgian style strong ale, brewed for a British company, in an area defined by economics as the province of three European countries.

The nose is great, very obvious and blatant; a very pure bonfire toffee that’s very sweet and smoky. You can smell the charcoal too, like its a home-made version of the sweet eaten as you breathe in the fumes from the bonfire. Its a cliché but its a very sugar and spice smell.

Ale to the King has seen this before in similar kinds of beers, a foretaste that’s hard to describe as anything other than coca-cola. The drinker wants to search harder but what’s obvious is obvious; its a matter that comes down to how it doesn’t dance across the tongue. Now usually this is an admirable trait in a beer, but here the fact it doesn’t work that way. In fact it works in its favour; the flavours come very clear and what’s more intriguing is that its a beer you can hold at various stages of taste. Even more so that its a strong beer at 8.8%; the yeast doesn’t fizz along your tongue yet its powerful stuff.

On the mid-taste, which you can hold in that stage for much longer than the fore-taste by perhaps sheer viscosity, and it is a very viscous beer, there’s clear spiced nuts. But its also got an elusive something extra which Ale to the King can only put down as a little dried apricot.

The after-taste is way easier to detect; in fact it practically shouts at you; dry almonds in a sticky sweet, viscous texture form. It holds your mouth such is its thickness and lingers with great sweetness.

The colour is a nicely tempting dark bronze while the head a quickly dissipating creamy white. This is a fine beer and Ale to the King would recommend it to absolutely everyone.

Review: Christmas Porter – Aledvent Calendbeer 22

Beer: Christmas Porter
Brewery:  Brewdog
Type: Porter
Served: Bottled
Alc: 6.2% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer: 22

Ale to the King has had a run in with a Brewdog Christmas beer in the past and compared to its regular output it didn’t come off too well and was less of a Christmas cracker than a damp sprout.

This one’s colour reflects the cacao element of the ingredients, that make up the three advertised extra special additives along with chilli  and festive spices. The festive spices speak for themselves, but the chilli? Who knows. Because its Christmas I suppose, that’s why. The head is white but dissipates quickly.

The nose is surprisingly light for a beer of these ingredients and strength with a definite overriding vanilla tone.  You won’t pick much up on the fore-taste however; its annoyingly nothingy and can only really muster the taste of celery. On the mid-taste the taster will initially get a strange minty sensation but later on down the drink those festive spices you’d find in a cheap mulledwine reveal themselves.

On the after-taste the chilli does manifest itself nicely and quite powerfully and sets the tongue abuzz in a way a perhaps more fizzy, yeasty flavour should have done earlier. To spend a little longer lingering on the taste one will find the spices more resemble that of a curry, or tumeric. It’d be quite a nice experience but one can’t help feeling it betrays the festive spirit its trying to convey.

Its very admirable to try and mix it up a bit in that way in a limited edition, but am I just a stick in the mud by thinking experimentation is good, but if it veers so far away from something so explicitly Christmas, has it missed its own point?

Indeed this seems to be another case of too many chefs spoiling the pot as with Brewdog’s other festive beer reviewed this season. Thinking about it a couple of recent releases seem to have been made just for the sake of it to capitalize upon their meteoric rise to success; is our beloved Brewdog losing the plot and letting success go to its head?

It remains to be seen, but its the festive season, the season of forgiveness and the season to go a bit crazy, so despite this rather poor showing Ale to the King will let Brewdog have its moments of madness.

Review: Santa’s Swallie – Aldevent Calendbeer 21

Beer: Santa’s Swallie
Brewery:  The Inveralmond Brewery
Type: Scottish Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 4.3% Vol
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 21

Santa’s Swallie is this reviewer’s birthday beer, so lets hope it  The Inveralmond Brewery’s ale gives me a nice surprise instead of a let down.

Its a much paler beer than those of late on the Aledvent Calendbeer and the colour of lightish amber and the white, steadily dissipating head reflect this. It also got a noticeably sweet head, with a strong flavour of sugared almonds.

This is a beer that doesn’t want to reveal itself too fast and on first tastes has that sweetness of very ripe apricots walking all over the flavour. But once you give it a little explore there’s a few flavours to be had in between this initial blandness. There’s a bitterness on the foretaste, one of bitter lime drink without any gin. The mid-taste is one of the kind of wheat-grass one gets in those health drinks and for this reviewer to compare it to that isn’t a shining commendation.

The after-taste is just somewhat stale and I hate to say this but reminiscent of mainstream, claggy lager. Its a good job this reviewer’s birthday presents have been so damn good this year, because this ends a run of some very good beers with something that’s not just disappointing but a downright bad beer. To be fair the label does reek of ‘Christmas cash in beer’ and doesn’t seem at all like a quality brew and the beer only confirms that. If you want a happy Christmas its best stay away from this particular brew.

Review: Gouden Carolus Christmas – Aledvent Calendbeer 20

Beer: Gouden Carolus Christmas
Brewery: Brouwerij Het Anker
Type: Belgian Strong Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 10.5% Vol
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 20

Well if Ale to the King thought it was on good ground with last nights 9% beer (this reviewer invariably prefers the taste of higher content beers) then we could be on for a winner with  Gouden Carolus Christmas from Brouwerij Het Anker, weighing in at a potent 10.5%. Yes, we’re in double figures now,  a scary place to be, but don’t we all like to step outside our comfort zone a little at Christmas?

This is a very dark brew, night on black; like an incredibly old, antique varnished wood. The head is pale off-white and dissipates quickly.

The nose smells of licorice, freshly split sapling and frankly alcohol. Perhaps a little too much on the latter part, but perhaps that’s my social predjudice of things smelling overtly of alcohol being considered tramp-fuel.

On the taste things are comparatively straight forward. Nothing hits you straight away and that’s perhaps because the yeast isn’t overly active and doesn’t make any taste dance across your tongue. The alcohol is fairly settled in and thus doesn’t kick you in the teeth like a lot newly infused cheap ‘supers’ and ‘extras’.

Its because the beer has a very simple taste. The fore taste is a very simple heavily salted butter note which matures into a very potent root beer profile. It merges rather unceremoniously into a very straight forward resin on the mid taste. On the after taste you get licorice. Some have said this is a the definitive taste of the beer but I think there’s a little more to it than that.

You’re left searching for something else, looking for something beyond these three flavours but you don’t really notice the alcohol until further down the drink. And that’s the trick. Its like hiding in plain sight, you totally bypass the alcohol through looking so hard and so its allowed to work its magic subtly, unnoticed. Its an undercurrent than runs through the entire beer, affecting and altering each of the three flavours without you noticing it.

Its almost like the beer is performing a magic trick which you don’t notice before you really examine it. Is it a great tasting beer? No. Good, yes, certainly. But that’s not what’s to be appreciated here. What’s to be really appreciated is the magic that Brouwerij Het Anker have pulled for Christmas time, just like Father Christmas.

Review: Cuvee de Noel – Aledvent Calendbeer 19

Beer: Cuvee de Noel
Brewery: St. Feuillien
Type:  Belgian Strong Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 9% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 19

Its been an up and down few ales during Aledvent Calendbeer recently, but we’re firmly back on track with this festive treat. Its a promising 9% on the old fashioned bottle, but I’ll come to this later.

Its a very satisfying drink to pour, the smell hits you as you drop it into a pint glass, the nose immediately hitting yours and a very dense foamy head bubbling up a light yellow/amber; this colour, for this reviewer, is nearly always a good sign. You can smell the yeast working away as well mixed in with the banana and butterscotch notes; from this you can tell this is beer that lays it on thick with a trowel from a brewery that clearly knows what its doing.

The colour itself is a rick chestnutty brown and the persistant head you’ll notice after a moment or so starts to be speckled with dense dots of dark orange.

As soon as you taste it that yeast comes in to play again, so much so its almost prickly to the tongue; its a fantastic sensation. You can really taste the yeast on the foretaste as well, giving it a very coca-cola style hit of sweetness. This sweetness follows on through to the mid-taste of caramel. The after-taste then melds this into a butterscotch that dominates the mouth a long time after the taste. It holds on fantastically and actually gums the lips a little. Its deliciously sickly and the whole thing tastes like a coke float. But its that strong, 9% punch of alcohol that really works the magic here, really offsetting and contradicting the sweetness.

This is a fine beer and the first I believe I’ve tried from this brewery; I’ll definitely be checking more out from the makers of this in the coming year.

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