Audio Beer and Cider Festival part 2

Here comes part 2 of our audio adventure into the realms of the inebriated mind. There will be more “beautiful” and “nutty” ales but also more from the reviewers which reveal some childhood tales and their state of mind!

So sit back and relax, and let a group of drinks enthusiasts struggle to convey the breadth of experience of trying their 8th pint which tastes quite a bit like their 3rd, or was it their 5th? Enjoy.

Springhead Brewery – Roaring Meg (5.5%) AND Hornbeam Brewery – Dark and Divine (4%)

Broad Oak Medium Dry Cider (6.5%)

Exmoor Ales – Exmoor Beast (6.6%)

Salopian Brewery – Shropshire Gold (3.8%)

Broad Oak Dry Cider (7.5%)

Skinner’s – Betty’s Big Sister (5.3%)


Audio Beer and Cider Festival part 1

These are the first audio posts from a group of trainee journalists at the Cardiff University Beer and Cider Festival. The posts are in chronological order, so the drinks reviews may become a little less considered as the libations flow!
Newton Court Cider (6%)
Hampshire Brewery – Penny Black Porter (4.5%)

Penderyn single malt reviews

Sticking your nose in where it does belong is the key to releasing the full flavour

If you want to approach tasting a whisky à la Oz Clarke or Jilly Goolden then stick your nose in where it belongs – the glass. Only four basic flavours can be detected by taste; bitter, sour, sweet and salt, but the human nose has more than 1000 different smell identifiers. And a single malt whisky can carry up to 400 aromas.

Penderyn Peated and Madeira single malts should be in the cabinet of every Welshman

According to those with ‘the nose’, Penderyn single malt varieties have aromas of honey, vanilla, toast, malt, smoke, nuts, flowers and fruits. But you won’t truly know until you take the plunge.

Penderyn Madeira Finished Single Malt Whisky (46%)
This single malt defines Penderyn’s house style of whisky. Matured in bourbon barrels, finished in rich Madeira wine casks and bottled at premium strength, it’s smooth, light in character and softly golden in colour.
This has an exceptionally balanced taste with an aroma of cream toffee, tropical fruits and vanilla. The vanilla follows through in the taste, along with a deliciously warming Madeira wine note.

Penderyn Sherrywood Single Malt Whisky (46%)
This is finished to impart a generous flavour of subtle complexity. Enhanced by rich tones of dry sherry, Penderyn has created a single malt which delivers the sweetness of a sherry alongside the richness and warmth of a whisky.
Sherrywood yields rich dark fruits and caramels from the dry Oloroso sherry casks. The taste begins with a kick of sweetness and gives way to refreshing dryness which persists into the finish.

Penderyn Peated Single Malt Whisky (46%)
The distillers at Penderyn swore they would never produce a peated whisky. But after a mix-up in Scotland, where they bought peated barrels from Islay, they ended up with one.
Luckily for them it proved a firm favourite among drinkers. With a beautifully sweet aromatic smokiness, this single malt gives way to refreshing citrus and green apple notes. For those who find drinking Laphroaig like inhaling a bonfire, this is the malt for you.


Penderyn distillery is producing Welsh gold

Pendetyn distillery produce only one barrel of spirit a day

Penderyn distillery produces only one barrel of spirit a day

Prized globally for its purity, Welsh gold has a history stretching back thousands of years. But, if you believe what you hear around the foothills of the Brecon Beacons, there is a new Welsh gold which is just as coveted – wysgi.

Taking its name from the old Welsh village which is its home, Penderyn is the only distillery in Wales and is producing some of the finest whisky in the world today, with each bottle carrying the initials for Aur Cymru (Welsh gold).

One of only two existing bottles of the Frongoch Whisky is held at the distillery (the other is owned by HRH Prince of Wales)

Dreamt up by a group of men gathered in a pub, Penderyn distillery began life at the dawn of the new millennium. What they created, with the help of a millionaire backer and a natural water source, is one of the most innovative distilleries in the world.

But Penderyn was not the first Welsh malt whisky to grace the world’s lips.

That honour briefly belonged to Frongoch Whisky Company, based near Bala, more than a century ago. But the burgeoning whisky company, which received the royal seal of approval from Queen Victoria, folded soon after 1900. Mystery surrounds the exact reason for the liquidation of the company but legend tells of the distiller being killed by his horse before he had told anyone else how to produce the sought after drink.

After a barren century for Welsh whisky Penderyn began distilling on September 2000, and in March 2004 guests tasted the first single malt whisky to be made anywhere in Wales for more than 100 years.

Its quality lies in its unique production method. Whereas Scottish and Irish distilleries use two or three traditional stills, Penderyn uses a unique one pot still, developed by Dr David Faraday, a direct descendent of the father of modern electricity Sir Michael Faraday.

But before you can create a malt whisky, you have to produce a malted barley wash – made by the same fermentation process as beer minus the hops.

To create this foundation of their product, Penderyn employs Cardiff brewers S.A. Brain & Co to create a malted barley wash to the distillers’ exact specifications, which arrives at the distillery at 8 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) in tankers several times a week. Every morning Penderyn charge their still with 2,500 litres of 8 per cent ABV barley wash, and by the end of the day collect back just 250 litres of  spirit at 92 per cent ABV.

The distillation cycle lasts nine hours and when the still falls silent only one cask of Penderyn spirit is produced.

Dr Farady's one pot still is a world first in distilling

Once the still has been filled, coils inside heat up and the distillation process begins. In stages, the steam created reaches a series of condensing plates, concentrating the alcohol and leaving the spirit smoother and more refined. Eventually, at 92 per cent ABV, it is drawn from the seventh plate in the still column.

Far too strong to go into a barrel, it is combined with their own natural water source located underneath the distillery to reduce it to the cask strength of 63.4 per cent ABV. It is at this strength they start off the mercurial maturation process in the barrels to convert it into a celebrated whisky. But it cannot legally be called a whisky until it has been maturing for at least three years and one day – the one day to accommodate leap years.

The barrels used to store the whisky are crucial to the final flavour and colour. Penderyn uses some of the finest Kentucky bourbon barrels in the world to begin their maturation. The wood in each cask acts like a sponge, holding up to five litres of whatever was held before, and imparts a rich flavour while removing impurities.

Dr Jim Swan, Penderyn’s master distiller and one of only five such experts in the world, noses each of Penderyn’s 3,500 barrels and only when he says it is ready will it take its final journey. The whisky is re-casked into highly prized Maderia casks to develop the whisky’s smoothness and depth of flavour. Around 8,000 whiskies are bottled a month and are sold around the world.

Distillery tour guide Nest Llewellyn, who admits disliking whisky, said despite 25,000 visitors taking the distillery tour each year some locals remain in the dark. “We have had people from America and Korea come and they know about us before they arrive and then we can have somebody from up the road who hasn’t heard of us before. It’s very strange.”

Penderyn Distillery tours (£6 adults, £4 concessions) should be booked in advance. Whisky tasting session included.


Quality cocktails at the Park House club

Quality cocktails cost. Quality cocktails cost quite a bit more when they are served in a private members club. But after your first sip in the Vanilla Rooms you’ll be glad you paid that little extra.

(Flickr pic by kenn Wilson)

Vanilla Rooms is part of the Park House private members club on Park Place and the non-members bar is the premier cocktail venue in Cardiff.

Boasting 370 bottles along the back shelf, head mixologist Christos Kyriakidis has 90 scotch whiskeys, 70 bourbons, 65 rums, 50 vodkas, 47 gins and 25 tequilas to work with when creating one of the menu’s high quality creations.

Lovers of low drink miles will find perfection in The Penderyn Club – Penderyn Madeira Welsh single malt whisky stirred with Taylor’s 20-year-old Port, vanilla syrup and Rhubarb bitters. Served short over an ice ball and garnished with an orange zest it’s a classic cocktail Wales should be proud of.

The Welsh single malt, finished in madeira casks to give it a warm caramel finish, cuts through the port and sweet vanilla syrup to deliver a boozy kick which lets you know you’re getting bang for your buck.

For the more traditional drinker The Martinez is a certified classic. The forerunner of the modern Dry Martini, it was originally made with a sweet style gin and sweet vermouth along with bitters and garnished with an orange twist.

The choice of gin is yours at Vanilla Rooms. Plymouth, Hayman’s Old Tom or Old Schiedam – all served with their complementing vermouth – are then mixed with maraschino and Boker’s bitters. This is as straight as they come, and it serves to sip rather than slurp if you want to remember just how good it tastes at the end of the night. With more than 63 cocktails on the menu, these two should help raise your spirits.

There are cheaper places to get a cocktail, but any drinker worth their salt knows a Long Island Iced Tea served with ice cubes and a straw in Browns is not how a cocktail should be drunk. For those searching cocktail nirvana, head down the steps into Vanilla Rooms and drink in the real deal.


Black Cock Inn Sunday roast

Black Cock Inn tucked away on top of Caerphilly Mountain (Flickr pic by missy & the universe)

Black Cock Inn tucked away on top of Caerphilly Mountain (Flickr pic by missy & the universe)

A pub Sunday roast can often be a disappointment. The portions never live up to a home roast and everyone prefers their mum’s roast potatoes, except your mum, who prefers anyone else cooking the roast anytime, anywhere.

Last Sunday I travelled up to Caerphilly on a gloriously sunny day and drove to the top of Caerphilly Mountain for panoramic views and a crisp breeze to blow away the horrific hangover I had given myself the night before.

Just down the road from the mountain top is the Black Cock Inn. I googled ‘Caerphilly pub’ before we left the house and the Black Cock was the first pub I came across. It looked decent on the web and my mind was in no mood for further searches.

We arrived around 12.30pm to find a large car park next to the Inn and a horse parked up outside, very Wild West. As we walked towards the pub I hoped I hadn’t chosen a turkey. We were hungry for roast and on top of a mountain. I needn’t have worried.

On arrival you find the pub has two areas. One is a small bar for drinkers and the rest of the pub is taken up by a bar and restaurant area which seemed vast when we arrived, but was soon filled up by 1pm – all good signs.

The drinkers bar was cosy and full of stripped wood and had a sleeping pub dog led by the fire. Continuing with the animal theme, the bar in the restaurant area had a bird cage in the corner with a parrot inside. Random, but interesting. The bar and restaurant continued the stripped wood theme. There is also a good-sized beer garden with a children’s play area and outside seating. I didn’t test out the kids climbing frames but may return in summer to do that.

We sat down to eat and scanned the menu. Roasts on offer were beef, pork, turkey and lamb. I opted for the beef and my friend went for the pork. When it came to ordering drinks I opted for a pint of coke, my head still throbbing at this point, but my friend went for a pint of Wye Valley Brewery’s Butty Bach (4.5%). Butty Bach means ‘little friend’ in Welsh, but in the condition I was in I couldn’t bring myself to say hello to it, let alone have a sip. So I will have to take my friend’s word for it when he sang its praises. It was Highly Commended in the Best Bitter category at the 2009 World Beer Awards, so it has pedigree.

Within 10 minutes our meals arrived. Each plate had generous portions of meat, roast and new potatoes, a Yorkshire pudding and gravy (as well as a huge gravy boat for the table). Along with our plates came a dish full of carrots, cabbage, mashed swede and another of cauliflower cheese.

My beef was delicious and tender and the accompanying vegetables were wonderful, especially the cauliflower cheese. My friend’s pork was superb by all accounts and he got some seriously crunchy crackling as well. It was a first-rate pub roast and by the end of it my hangover was a distant memory.

After such a satisfying main meal we decided to push the boat out and have a dessert as well. At £10.95 for one course or £12.95 for two courses it felt rude not too.

I chose the homemade strawberry roulade and my friend’s eye settled on the pecan pie. Along with our desserts we received a large jug of cream; this is a pub that isn’t picky with its portions. The homemade roulade was soft, unctuous and full of whipped cream and strawberry sauce. The pecan pie looked tasty but I think I made the right decision.

Throughout the meal the waitress was friendly and helpful and asked if we would like any more vegetables with our main. You don’t get that everywhere! Even with the restaurant filling up there weren’t any delays with our food or cleaning away our plates and the pub had a lively and family friendly atmosphere. Definitely worth a Sunday drive out to.

Following my own advice on the winning combination that is a pub meal, pint (admittedly it was coke this time) and a castle, we headed off to Caerphilly Castle after lunch. We parked in the car park directly opposite the impressively imposing castle and got out next to a statue of Tommy Cooper, a proud son of Caerphilly whose memorial was unveiled in 2008 by Anthony Hopkins.

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After paying our £4 entry fee we went for a postprandial walk around the impressively restored castle and moats. It is the largest Castle in Wales and second largest in Britain, after Windsor Castle, and has been used as a filming location for the BBC series, Merlin.

As we walked back to the car park I spotted a pub with astonishing views across the moat to the castle called The Courthouse, but as our parking ticket had just expired we couldn’t stop and have a pint. We may have dodged a bullet however, as its reviews on Beer in the Evening seem to show it has gone downhill a bit. Still, the outside drinking area would be a great place for a summer pint looking across to the castle.

If you fancy a change from Cardiff, make a date with the Black Cock Inn in Caerphilly. Its roasts and service won’t disappoint.

Mine’s a pint (of coke).


Pubs are underfilling pints of beer

Beer drinkers are being short-changed by up to 25p a pint because landlords don’t fill glasses to the brim.

Too much head? 5% of a pint is the legal limit (Flickr pic by waitscm)

Too much head? 5% of a pint is the legal limit (Flickr pic by waitscm)

Sunday Mirror investigators visited 25 pubs up and down the country and found more than two-thirds were serving under-filled pints of beer. Three pints served ­contained illegally small amounts of drink, with one containing just 92.4 per cent of a pint of lager.

The 1985 Weights and Measures Act says a pint of beer should be exactly a pint – 20 fluid ounces or 568ml. But industry guidelines agree a pint of beer can be 95 per cent liquid and five per cent head. Anything under that could lead to the owner being prosecuted.

The survey, carried out with Trading Standards officers, comes amid reports that struggling landlords are under pressure from pub chains to raise profits by deliberately under-filling glasses.

The Sunday Mirror admits to finding no evidence of bar staff deliberately pouring too little, but pub owners can be prosecuted if they sell pints under 95% full.

Last week the GMB union (Britain’s General Union) said the chains which own many pubs throughout the country were setting unrealistic rents based on a near 100 per return or “yield” from beer in barrels. They said this could be achieved only by serving less beer.

Mirror journalists bought two pints each in chain pubs in Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham, London and Cardiff.

At Bar Luga in Newcastle one of the pints (Estrella lager, £3.50) was 7.6% short, leaving drinkers 26p out of pocket.

At Yates’s in Harrow, West ­London, one £2.69 pint of Foster’s was 5.8% short of a full pint, short-changing the customer by 15p.

In Liverpool city centre one pint (Green King IPA, £1.75) at JD Wetherspoon’s The Fall Well was under-filled by 5.5%, or 9p.

At the other end of the scale, all the bars they checked in Birmingham city centre served 100 per cent measures while a £3.10 pint of Amstel lager at JD Wetherspoon’s Moon on the Hill in Harrow was 3 per cent over-filled. Good people of Harrow, start frequenting this pub now!

Oliver Vaulkhird, 40, owner of ­Newcastle’s Bar Luga, said: “We’re not trying to cut corners, pints look better with a head. But if people ask for it to be topped then it’s fine and we’d do that.”

But Ash Shah of Harrow trading standards said: “If you pay for a pint you deserve a pint. If you translated these shortfalls to filling your car with petrol, there would be a public outcry.”

The Campaign for Real Ale’s Jonathan Mail said: “There is a misguided view among some pub bosses that it is acceptable to serve pints that are only 95 per cent full. This is wrong and Camra is calling on the Government to clarify the law so it is clear that a pint five per cent short is not acceptable.”

Mine’s a pint (97% beer, 3% head).

Where do you stand on the issue? Are you bothered by a large head or do you think this is nitpicking in the extreme? Have your say below.