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Friday, 2 July 2010

Premium Bond

The Drake, 1 Lynedoch Street, G3 6EE
Bond No.9, Commercial Street, Leith, EH6 6LX

Apropos my previous piece on Bier Halle and foreign beers, these days your average pub will stock far more than just one lager, one heavy, one stout, one guest ale and one cider.This is not surprising in the light of globalisation and the fact that sales of premium bottled beers are growing quicker than any other area of the industry.

On a recent sampling trip I took in a few new beers on the block...

Newcomer bar The Drake had been on my to-do list for a wee while so I began there. The Drake sits in the basement on the corner of Woodlands Road and Lynedoch Street in a site that has seen many failures. The new venture has more of a chance of succeeding than most of the previous occupants especially with its imaginative use of a small space behind the building creating a cosy little beer garden. The Drake will, I’m sure, feature fully in this blog soon.

Another reason for visiting this bar was their stocking of Mahou, a beer from Madrid. The Classic Mahou on sale here is light, too light really. A clean finish perhaps but not enough clout. It pales in comparison with other Spanish similar imports such as Cruzcampo or Estrella Damn.

As the West End Festival was in full flow I headed next to its epicentre, Ashton Lane. Brel was the place I had in mind, Belgium one of the top three or four countries for brewing. But walking along the lane I noticed an acquaintance sitting outside the Ubiquitous Chip. Our conversation only lasted five minutes – something I said? – but as he made to leave I decided to go inside.

As is their want in The Chip, mini-notices pinned on the wall advertised their latest deal and/or suggestion. Guest beers in this case. From North America. Moosehead was first. Yes, it is a Canadian beer, brewed in the east of that mammoth nation but, my US-centric friends, that does qualify as North America. Moosehead Lager has a golden appearance, is of the easy-drinking variety of lagers and is reminiscent of massive-selling brands such as Rolling Rock. However, Moosehead surpasses most in terms of smoothness and has a subtle finish of more depth than the popular brands from the American Midwest.

Samuel Adams brewery of Boston is one of the more renowned craft beer makers in the States. After the Moosehead I needed a contrast and luckily Adam’s Boston lager was next on the offers list. Its hometown reminded me of a holiday in New York and Massachusetts in the nineties. Choice in all things from pizza to pancakes is essential to American consumers and beer was no different. The best example of this was our visit to a large bar on a party strip near Fenway Park, home of the Boston Redsox. This pub had its own mini-brewery within the walls, the pipes and barrels exposed to our fascination. Somebody handed me a huge menu filled with fruit beers, pale ales, brown ales etc. As I read I heard one of my companions ask for a... lager. Variety is lost on some people.

Since then even humble Glasgow has got in on the on-site microbrewery act with the Clockwork Beer Company on the south side and West brewery and bar/restaurant by Glasgow Green.

The Boston Lager I sampled in the Chip was dark in appearance and malty in taste. It held more interest to the palate than the Moosehead and remained longer after the liquid was drained. The one drawback was the grainy feel ever-present in the mouth.

Also on their list of offers was a P&T, port and tonic. I didn’t have time to sample it that night but from deep in my memory or notes is a reference to white port & tonic being a fresh summer drink best garnished with lemon. The drink can also be varied with the use of soda instead of tonic. Some mixologists would never countenance such a combination of port, wishing instead to recommend a chilled white port as a summer aperitif. This in itself is an interesting counterpoint to a tawny port served with cheese after the meal or accompanying a decent cigar.

A few days later I popped in to The Belle in Hillhead, seeking draught Brooklyn. This comes from the renowned brewery of the same name, whose raison d’être in its founding twenty years ago was to wrestle brewing eminence back to New York from the afore-mentioned Midwest. The Belle also offers draught Sagres and Anchor Steam Beer alongside more common varieties. At £4 a pint Brooklyn needs to be savoured so I took it outside to the quiet of the smoking area.

The pint pours nicely, the head settling quickly. There is quite a sparkle to the traditional amber, the bubbles continuing long into the sup. My un-tutored nose detected a fruitiness- unsurprising in that Brooklyn’s intention was to develop their versions of Belgian and other European beers – and if pressed would say there’s a hint of grape there. The taste verges on the acidic and delivers more fruit to the palate than, for example, a Hobgoblin (from the Wychwood brewery in Oxfordshire) I tried the night before. The Brooklyn is less bitter and less salty than the Hobgoblin also. While searching for more flavours I admired the good deposit left on the side of the glass and noticed the yeasty finish which was too much for my digestion. The hints that I had detected at last resolved themselves into a burnt orange, quite a surprising but tasty outcome. However, the chalky feeling on the roof of my mouth lowered the satisfaction levels.

High on my agenda for future tastings is draught Blue Moon, a white beer from Colorado. I believe it is sometimes served with orange, an anathema to some beer-heads but I’ll go with an open mind. Only two bars are serving the keg version of Blue Moon, one of them Bond No.9 in Leith. This sophisticated hangout characterised by dark wood, stone and judicious use of leather aims to promote the premium drinking experience; alcohol savoured not guzzled. This ethos and its style allow it to serve the notorious Absinthe without being accused of being on the same level as a smack dealer. Quite some feat.

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