Thursday, 27 March 2008

JDW Delivers. A bit!

I decided that this being Day One of the much trumpeted Wetherspoon's "International Real Ale Festival" that I'd do my shopping in nearby Heywood and try a couple of the festival ales on the way home. Well Morrison's did what it says on the tin. They had all the groceries I wanted and plenty that I didn't. I nipped into Lidl for my cornflakes - try them - they are better than Kellogg's by far (what other blog gives you such good food tips?) and then crossed the road to the Edwin Waugh, one of the more pubby JDWs around. It was bedecked in Beer Festival posters and banners. The staff were in beer festival T-Shirts. Alas there was NO festival beer! None! They were selling the usual stuff at festival prices and did have festival beers conditioning. No" they couldn't say what they were, but NO festival beer! Unbelievable!

Wind on. I went to Rochdale. The Regal Moon had four on. I wasn't interested in Jennings or Wadworth on this visit, as far more seductive brews were on offer. My eye alighted on two that I, to use a ticking expression, "needed". JDW have commissioned two brews for foreign brewers to brew over here and here they both were, Yo-Ho Tokyo Black and Stone California Double IPA. Two halves were swiftly ordered. OK not swiftly, this is JDW!

Now I wouldn't normally do full tasting notes, but this time I will. Both deserve it, as both are magnificent beers! The Tokyo Black is very black indeed with a dense tan head. The nose is liquorice with hints of espresso coffee. The taste is dry, complex and full bodied with roast malt, bitter chocolate and faint balancing dark cake fruits. There is little real hop presence until a silky smooth, subtle, hop edged, coal dust finish with some lingering bitterness. A really good beer and very, very moreish.

Now for the Double IPA. This is light, golden-brown in colour with a white, lasting head. Nose is pungent pine resin hops in great abundance. The first sip bowls you over with astonishing palate coating centennial hops and a slight floral edge from the Simco hops also used. The malt backbone needs to be strong to carry this and it is. But this is a hop attack from start to finish and you know it. It is like sticking your head in a hop pocket and tying the ends up. Pine, grapefruit and a wonderful body make you almost swoon with pleasure. The beer drinks beautifully, with little evidence of its strength, through to a long, surprisingly clean, hoppy, bitter, resinous finish. This is a marvellous hop monster with considerable balance and poise. It belies its strength and is a tribute to the brewer. The IBUs (a measure of bitterness) must be off the scale!

Of course I had to have two more halves and did. They were even better and to give the Regal Moon its due, all my beer was served at the peak of cask conditioning and at just the right temperature.

That's it. Go get some and tell me if you agree!


Nigel said...

I've just had the Tokyo Black at the Castle in the Air next to the Trafford Centre and it is, as you say, a fine beer. I was very pleasantly surprised.

I was less surprised by the Cain's Bock which was dull; nothing particularly wrong with it but nothing special, either.

I was going to try Hyde's Harum Scarum next but it had run out. A customer service tip, Wetherspoons: when the ale's run out, TURN THE PUMP CLIP ROUND! Shouting intentional, I'm afraid.

Stonch said...

I've made a personal policy decision not to bother with this festival, despite the temptations offered by whacky crossbreed brews.

Previously I've always tolerated the dismal, soul-sapping atmosphere of Spoons pubs when these festivals are on, but no more. It just isn't worth it.

Ted said...

I went along to the Crosse Keys in the city (that London) last night and I'm afraid the Double IPA left me unimpressed - I do like a lot of hoppiness and this is a big beer but I felt it was cloying and not particularly pleasant drinking.

The Tokyo Black was off but as Nigel says, they don't turn the pump clips around.

Wetherspoons never fail to annoy me - the duty managers seemed to spend more time trying to please what I suspect were the beer-writing glitterati (Stonch can maybe confirm?) instead of dealing with those waiting to be served.

The staff were f***ing useless - more than 50% of the time I had to ask for a full-pint - given with bad grace and once topped up with a different beer entirely!

And what about real cider? None available for her indoors so I get her a bottle of Westons. You have to ask for a glass as they seem to assume that we're all chavs who drink out fo bottles and then they insist on filling it with ice.

Apologies for the rant - I suspect Tim Martin has good intentions but too many of their pubs are manned by f**kwits...

Tandleman said...


Wetherspoon's faults are well known. I use them as a "distress purchase" when there is unlikely to be anything better around, or when they do beer festivals which might just get me an unusual beer or two.

You have to take them or leave them on that basis I think and when you go, accept what goes with it, or like Stonch, vote with your feet or have a rant. He might well be cutting off his nose to spite his face here, but at least he is sticking to his principles about JDW. If you can't stand them as much as he clearly can't, it is the right thing to do. He is though missing out on a treat or two that most beery types would make an effort for. Lees Mild for one Stonch, although it is now renamed Brewer's Dark. But hey, why drink beer that you can't normally get?

I don't agree that the Stone is cloying. It clearly isn't. Sorry, but I'm sticking my neck out on this one. It is not an easy beer to drink on some fronts but it isn't meant to be! I'd need to try your sample before I'd change my mind on this in any way.

Stonch said...

Ted, yes there was a launch party at the Crosse Keys for press, brewers etc, although that was Weds. I decided not to go... see policy decision above. I'm pleased Spoons provide some decent volume business for micros (although they play hard ball with price), but I hate their outlets (I hesitate to call them pubs).

Stonch said...

But hey, why drink beer that you can't normally get?

Oh, I do. I just choose to do it in nice places, not badly run, depressing, drinking barns full of alkies. There's a reason Wetherspoons is cheap - and you get what you pay for.

Tandleman said...

A beer man has to suffer for his art sometimes.

Stonch said...

I disagree! There are too many good pubs to waste time on Spoons.

Tandleman said...

Pubs yes - beers no - well not in London anyway. It would maybe be a good argument here,as Manchester is more or less a permanent beer festival. Some of the London Spoons aren't so bad in any event. They tend not to have the same underclass you get in smaller towns and cities!

Tyson said...

Stones is definitely not cloying. An amazing beer-pity I could only stay for two pints of it.

Anonymous said...

I have been to all four Wetherpoons in Nottingham city centre this weekend looking for these two beers without success. I don't think I'm going to be able to try them, which is annoying because I was really looking forward to the Stone IPA.

archiText said...

Most of the comments on Wetherspoons seem to me both snobbish and ignorant. There are awful ‘spoons, but also some very good ones.

They have done more for real ale over the last 10 years than CAMRA—and, yes, I am a member and active in my local branch.

This festival is the most impressive yet. The Stone California Double IPA is one of the best beers I’ve ever had, with an incredibly lavish use of spicy American hops (which is what makes US microbrewing so special). As a speculative attempt to recreate a traditional India Pale Ale it beats my previous all-time fave, Thornbridge Jaipur IPA (5.9%), brewed at a country hise in Derbyshire by an Italian/Scottish combo.

Also recommended at the festival:
Yo-Ho Tokyo Black
Namyslow Original Plum Beer
Greene King Abbot Reserve (6.5%)
(An Abbot with very big balls.... A cross between today's decent-but-not-the beer-it-was (5%) Abbot and the much richer and fruitier (4.8%) beer that first took my alenal virginity at The Cambridge Arms in Cambridge in 1974)
Phoenix Black Bee
(one of my favourite subgenres—a honey porter—from a Manchester brewery I rate)
Oakham JHB
(not exactly a rarity in Wetherspoons but still a masterpiece at 3.8% thanks to the American Mount Hood hops. In fact you could easily imagine Stone California Double IPA and JHB coming from the same brewery)
Skinners Heligan Honey
(there are better honey beers—mainly from Enville—but this is a decent effort)
Thwaites Wainwrights
(whatever happened to the wonderful Daniel’s Hammer?)
Ringwood 78
(but there are much better Ringwood beers like Old Thumper)
Saltaire Amarillo Gold
(a wheat beer hopped with just American Amarillo hops. You may get the impression that I have a thing about yankee hops….)
Cains Bock Beer
(a Munich lager from Scouseland)
Harviestoun Old Engine Oil
(the pump clip says ‘viscous, chocolaty, bitter’ and it is)
Orkney Dark Island
(an old favourite from Orkney)
Titanic Last Porter Call
(more like a strong mild—too sweet to be a porter)
Jennings Sneck Lifter
(great name, always a treat)
Mauldens Black Adder
(its blond sister—White Adder—is possibly more distinctive)
Freeminer Shakemantle
(a ginger minger. A bit heavy on the ginger but distinctive. I'm not a fan of this genre. Predictable, Dark Star do an impeccably subtle version under the name of Fusion which doesn't shout ginger)

Underwhelmed by examples of:
Lees Brewer's Dark
Elgood's Old Wagg (second tasting)
Okell's Dr Okell's Eastern Spice (three tastings)
Caledonian Chocolate Drop
(with real chocolate. Combined with an ordinary 3.8% ale it just doesn't work—unlike Youngs Double Chocolate Stout where the bitterness of the roasted malt and the sweetness of the chocolate perfectly balance one another)
Robinsons Top Tipple
(Stockport sewage)
Theakston Black Bull Bitter
Everards Sunchaser
(no discernible flavour—all this beer needs is an advertising agency and a huge budget and it could take over the world)
Hook Norton 303AD
(snoresille—shame when the new Hooky Gold is so good)
Nethergate April Fool
(I’m not fooled—mine’s a pint of Old Growler)
Hampshire Ironside
(would be improved by the addition of iron filings)
Hydes Trojan Horse
(Manc muck)
Ecaussines Cookie Beer
(Belgian beer with cinnamon—disgusting. JUST SAY NO!)
Marstons Pedigree Six
(a 6% Pedigree which tastes like ordinary Pedigree)

Tandleman said...

Thanks for the comprehensive text. I am disappointed you didn't like the Lees. Was it served with or without a sparkler?