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Tastings

  • A flea's hat and an otter's pocket...

    OddBeers Logo

    On paper, this box looked very interesting. Some familiar names, some new, a wealth of pales of varying styles and a couple of swerve-balls.

    The weather was almost warm enough to set foot outdoors without succumbing immediately to exposure, which is good enough for an Englishman to fire up the BBQ. With the grill loaded, the nuts decanted form bag to bowl and the tunes set to 'chill', we began...

    Overall, a good box ranging from average to sublime. Here are some bullet points for ease of digestion.

    • Scottish breweries seem to be killing it. Cromarty's 'Man Overboard' was exceptional
    • The Anchor Chilli Dark Lager is proof that gimmick led beers can enchant

    Notes from the Editor:

    The vast majority of our craft beer is small production and sourced locally. The reviewed beers are not always available in all of our stores, however, we have put a guide to availability under each review. Please use our store finder to locate your nearest branch and call ahead to guarantee stock is available.


    Cromarty Brewing Co. Man Overboard Double IPA
    This one came out a deep, cloudy, orange colour with a thin, white, lacing head.

    The smell's clean, uncomplicated and lightly citrusy - favouring the orange end of the spectrum as opposed to the yellow/green end.

    Wow! This is full bodied, with moderate, yet tight carbonation. The flavour is equally impressive; this reasonably sweet, malty gem has accents of tangerine, peach and mango.

    James Beer Score
    A good dose of caramel up front. Good depth, sweet over bitter.

    Score 4.5
    Matt Score
    A full on malty backbone holding up an array of fruits.

    Beer Score 4.5
    Availability: Scotland stores, Blackheath Beer Store


    Victory Headwaters Ale

    This was aggressively fizzy, I thought it might take the French polish off the dining room table, but I just about managed to get it in the glass before it geysered itself everywhere. The resulting pour left a big, foamy off-white head atop a clear amber liquid.

    Aromas of fresh, piney hops gives way to caramel, biscuit, malt and a hint of candied orange. It smells pretty good.

    Feels nice in the mouth, medium body, low to moderate carbonation. Flavour is fairly light, bittersweet with a dry, earthy finish.

    James Beer Score
    Very drinkable, a decent session ale.Beer Score 3.5
    Mat Beer Score
    Very hoppy, tasty and easy to drink. Smelt like a brewery.

    Beer Score 3.5
    Availability: Blackheath Beer Store, Aberdeen stores, Chorlton branch


    Five Points Brewing Company IPA
    I tend to like these bold, strong IPA's so...

    It looks suspiciously murky, like rusty water. It has a short-ish, off-white foamy head, which didn't hang around.

    The smell was a cocktail of sweetness - citrus, passionfruit and maybe a fleas hats worth of banana - and a bitter, earthy quality. The underlying earthy odour incongruous with the sweeter notes.

    Medium bodied with low to medium carbonation, on point for an IPA I'd say.

    It tastes much like it smells, there's a little citrus, a little passionfruit, a soupçon of banana, which tails off into a piney, bitter finish.

    James Beer Score
    This is just a little bitter for my palate, a solid IPA for those who like the bitter end of the spectrum.

    Beer Score 3
    Matt Beer Score
    Very bitter and it lingers, good if you like that sort of thing.

    Beer Score 3
    Availability: London stores


    Five Points Brewing Company XPA
    Admittedly I had to look up 'XPA' because...what is it? Apparently it's something like an American Pale or an IPA, and something like an exercise in marketing.

    Whether XPA exists or not, this beer does and it's hazy, straw-yellow liquid with a short white head that laces the glass.

    It smells mostly citric, lightly tropical, slightly malty and rightly hoppy.

    It felt a little like soda water, a little too watery in the body. It's a little malty, a decent showing of citrusy hops with a dry-ish finish. It's not quite as juicy and fruity as the marketing spiel implied, a little thin with a medium bitter finish.

    James Beer Score
    Not bad, a little too light to write home about, but a decent bet for a session.

    Beer Score 3
    Matt Beer Score
    Nice tropical fruit aroma. I would session this.

    Beer Score 3
    Availability: London stores


    Brauerei Heller Lagerbier
    Let's get this out of the way, it is a truly awful label. Looks like a stock Word template for a German style beer. I'm sure it's awesome though.

    As a Helles should be, it's golden and frothy in appearance. It has a pleasant scent, mildly sweet and floral with an Otter's pockets worth of smoke.

    Light on body with tight carbonation, there is however, a reasonable depth of flavour...for a lighter beer style. Clean grains, malt, not too sweet, not too bitter.

    James Beer Score
    Indicative of the style, really good session beer.

    Beer Score 3.5
    Matt Beer Score
    Good nose, not a big flavour, but what's there is good.

    Beer Score 3.5
    Availability: Blackheath Beer Store, Edinburgh stores, Aberdeen stores and our London Bridge and Chorlton branches


    Stewarts Brewing
    A deep copper coloured pour, with a short lasting thin, white head.

    The aromas of fresh, grassy hops against floral notes make this smell like a rainbow's end bathing a spring meadow in colourful glory as the birds flutter and sing. Not really of course, that would be horribly trite, unlike this beer, which smells fresh.

    It feels thick and full with low carbonation resulting in a smooth and full beer, rather than watery. The flavour has candied citrus peel, clean grains, a little yeast, sharp and bitter grapefruit, and a slight metallic quality. It's an interesting journey, starting sweet and ending quite dry and bitter.

    James Beer Score
    Not for a session, but this is interesting and complex.

    Beer Score 3.5
    Matt Beer Score
    A mix of bittersweet fruits and biscuit malts. I liked it a lot.

    Beer Score 4
    Availability: Aberdeen and Glasgow stores


    Weird Beard Brew Co. Mariana Trench Pale AleSuspiciously cloudy and yellorange in colour with a slight, white fluffy head.

    It smells pretty tasty, a good showing of fresh and floral hops, bitter pine resin and citrus fruits.

    It has tight carbonation, but not so fizzy you'd struggle to discern the beer's character. I thought this beer was really well balanced, the fragrant, piney hops and sweet malt working in tandem for a flavourful citrus and tropical, fruity ale. Not too bitter.

    James Beer Score
    Fresh floral hop odour. Light, but pleasing. A fine and tasty ale.

    Beer Score 4
    Matt Beer Score
    Sets the standard for a good, drinkable APA without impressing too much.

    Beer Score 3.5
    Availability: London stores

     


    Remember, ale's well that ends well. Until next time.

    James.

     

     

     

     

     

  • Fancy an OddBeer...?

    OddBeers Logo


    IntroducingJames-1.0

    "In the recent past, premier grape-juice peddlers Oddbins, offered up - by way of competition - the role of beer blogger, in exchange for a Twitter application. 'Erudite, well-travelled beerhemouth seeks savvy, customer-focused retailer to taste beer and review for #OddbinsBeer' was my winning tweet and golden ticket to the special sauce, hand-selected by Oddbins' own merchants of gold standard no-no juice.

    I should state at this point, that I am not a professional taster. I have no background in competitive tasting. I have never taken a course in beer tasting. What I do have is an appreciation of well-made things by passionate enthusiasts rather than cynical businessmen. In beer terms, this means I would usually avoid the flavourless, filtered fizzy water created on an industrial scale by corporate robots. It means that I enjoy complex flavours brought about by studying the process, ingredients and endless experimentation."

    "...and just to make sure James doesn't disappear up his own back cavity in a pompously grandiloquent celebration of hipster beers, I, being Matt, James' buddy has been forced to drink, opine and say "shut up" when he uses words like 'mouthfeel'."

    So, let's get going then. Here are the wondrous delights of Box Numero Uno...


    Notes from the Editor:

    The vast majority of our craft beer is small production and sourced locally. The reviewed beers are not always available in all of our stores, however, we have put a guide to availability under each review. Please use our store finder to locate your nearest branch and call ahead to guarantee stock is available.


    CampervanMutiny

    Well, this is as black as Donald Trump's heart, but fizzier than you'd expect, with a short-lived biscuit coloured head. Unfortunately Mr Trump's biscuit coloured head isn't as short-lived...

    It smells a little like cola, coffee and chocolate. I tried really hard to get the hint of coconut mentioned on the label, but I just didn't smell any.

    It would benefit from a little less fizz and a slightly fuller body, but it's smoky, roasted malts play well with the sweet chocolate. By now, I'm (or at least I've talked myself into) tasting coconut. This is what happens when I read the label before tasting. Overall, it's good. Not as full bodied as some, which actually makes it a going concern for a session.

    Jamesforscore

    I would tear through these pretty quickly. Not one you'd labour over.

    3.5

    Mattforscore

    A fine milk stout. This is fast becoming my favourite style of beer.

    4

    Availability: Scotland stores only


    OddbinsNo8

    This is the latest in a growing line of fine collaborative brews with some of the finest independent breweries. This hazy, light gold effort, despite discernible effervescence, was headless like the horseman. Maybe the...ahem...bartender was to blame.

    This, rather oddly, smells like cured ham. Not entirely of course. The smoked wood comes through loud and clear with a smattering of grains. I'm hungry. I'm getting some cheese from the fridge.

    The flavour comprises of sweet bread, smoked malts, biscuit, caramel and stewed apples. The smoky quality is less a whiff as promised, but abundant and strong. The yeast does cut through the mix a bit and it goes really well with Gruyere.

    Jamesforscore

    Have it with cheese or cured meat. Then again, have everything with cheese.

    3.5

    Mattforscore

    For better or worse, you get exactly what's written on the label, oak-smoked and blonde. Best paired with food.

    3

    Availability: All stores


    ChadlingtonGoldenAle

    Pretty uninspired presentation, but we're here to judge the beer, not the bottle. In the glass it's a nice deep amber colour with a small, lacing white head. Not overly bubbly, a bit like me in the morning.

    It's a little toffee-like on the nose, with a subtle showing of citrusy hops.

    It lacks body, feeling very watery in the mouth. It tastes malty, with a dry bitter finish. Not really fruity, not hoppy, a little tobacco maybe. A reasonable amber ale but nothing too much to recommend going out of your way for.

    Jamesforscore

    Not bad, but instantly forgettable.

    2.5

    Mattforscore

    Not tasty enough for me.

    2.5

    Availability: Oxford branch only


    MondoAllCaps

    Colour me unexcited at the prospect of a Pilsner, though I should mention that the Tempest Brewing 'Easy Livin Pils' is awesome...

    It pours a clear, light golden colour with a fast receding white head. It looks a lot like...a Pilsner.

    My nose tells me of its light, gently floral odour, with an otters pockets worth of washing up liquid. If the taste is a disaster, maybe I'll hand it to a woman from the 50's and demand she do the washing up.

    Thankfully, this is a decent pilsner. A little fruitier than average, it's bright, refreshing and not too heavily carbonated. An ever so slightly oily body, with a mouse's earlobes worth of washing up liquid. Certainly not enough to mar the experience.

    Jamesforscore

    Drink this all day long at a festival, that's an order.

    3.5

    Mattforscore

    I'd happily have this again.

    4

    Availability: London stores only


    Beavertown8Ball

    The trademark comic book Beavertown weirdness adorns the hipster 330ml can. What comes out of the can is a cloudy, rich amber brew with a large, foamy, off-white head.

    It smells good. There's tropical fruit, a bit of citrus and caramel malts. Matt's not so sure on the smell, he thinks it's minerally and a bit like you're down wind from a sewage outlet emptying into the sea. I heartily disagree. Also, Matt's fired.

    The flavour is a good balance of sweet and bitter. A good showing of malt, like a sweet bread. It lingers a little, but the tail is caramelised hops with a light to moderate bitterness, so...stay as long as you like.

    Jamesforscore

    I could session this. Dangerous at 6.2%.

    4

    Mattforscore

    Big flavour, trailing bitterness but good balance.

    3.5

    Availability: All stores


    WimbledonGold

    Oh dear, it looks like a kidney patients sample. I wonder if I should drink it out of a bag, using a catheter as a straw?

    The smell is all over the place, and as evasive and unknowable as a latter day Howard Hughes. I smelled, at different times, caramel, sherbet (though this fades after a while), grass, rubber, fish. This is a real nasal curve ball for me. A smelly blind spot.

    The taste fairs better. It's yeasty rather than hoppy, with subtle straw notes. She's a blonde with a good body on her, foamy, filling.

    Jamesforscore

    A decent, helles style. Perfectly alright.

    3.5

    Mattforscore

    I like it. It's nice. (Yeah, thanks for that deep insight - James).

    4

    Availability: West London stores only


    Remember, ale's well that ends well. Until next time.

    James.

  • The Real Spirit of Christmas

    Christmas Eve at Oddbins is doing exactly what Christmas Eve should do at Oddbins. The Liverpool store is thronged beyond all known laws of physics, and a sweet-natured queue snakes from the counter to the back of the shop and round on itself to the front door. Who in their right mind would think this was a good time to get the tasting samples out?

    CW-Gin

    "Ello darli-er, good afternoon madam!" But of course. Hello, Crazy Chimp. "I see you're feasting your minces on our gins, I've got a lovely one here you'll enjoy. You're not driving, are you? Oh, good, there you are, Christopher Wren Gin from the City of London Distillery. Mmm, nice palate, liquorice and oranges going on there, very Christmassy. Handsome bottle too, looks just like St. Paul's Cathedral. So that's two masterpieces with Wren's name for the price of one! Tell you what, I'll let you enjoy it in peace while I go and pop one under the counter for you..." And he scuttles away on his knuckles, to charm somebody else.

    Crazy-Banner

    At the end of the counter, a whisky lover is being told things by a chimp who has a slight smell of old books and a charming aura of forgotten academia. "...and Masataka Taketsuru, who established the distillery in 1934," instructs Curious Chimp, "was the first Japanese person to study whisky-making at Glasgow University. His Nikka From The Barrel is decidedly high in alcohol - 51.4%! But rather than merely making it hot, the extra abv adds depth, weight and richness, don't you think? Orange peel, cedar, woody spice - true decadence and indulgence, 50cl of Christmas. And the packaging? So stylish. If Blue Note was a distillery instead of a jazz label, they'd have made things that looked like this. Give me a bottle of this and a Horace Silver CD and I'll happily come and make Christmas dinner for you. As long as it's nut roast!"

    Nikka

    In the corner of the room, a roguish chimp is telling a group of rum aficionados about the time he and his old chum Shifty had to flee to Venezuela in a borrowed Jaguar. Crafty Chimp is no stranger "...heh, heh, heh, and no sooner had she finished peeling my banana than in walks her brother - turns out he was the bloody ambassador!"

    Crafty-Banner

    "That's one diplomatic incident I won't be returning to in a hurry, I can tell you, but this Diplomatico Exclusiva rum really is something you can go back to without a forged passport. It has the kind of gravitas that could get a chap out of any scrape - brown sugar and liquorice underneath delicious dried fruit peel and toffee characters - and it rather lends itself to be taken neat. Drunk au naturel, so to speak. Which takes me back rather neatly to the ambassador's sister..."

    Exclusiva

    Wandering around the shop with an empty bottle of Brockman's Gin and a beautific smile is Loveable Chimp. He is trying to get people to smell his empty bottle, and though he hasn't quite got them in the palm of his hand, he isn't giving a monkey's. It's Christmas Eve and his family and friends are all in the one place, and they are in their element, helping to choose gifts and treats for his beloved regulars, and everybody is in the very best of heart and humour. He is surrounded by people and chimps who are giving a shit this Christmas, and this, he muses as his smile grows even wider, is the true spirit of the season.

    Brockmans

    Although, that Nikka whisky was pretty decent, it has to be said...

    Thanks to all of you for another extraordinary year. Merry Christmas! x

  • Chimps Tea Party

    The door looks like it could lead into any pantry. And it does, sort of. A few square feet of crockery, cutlery, non-perishable foods, general kitchen clutter pushed out of the way into one small room. But what's down that little winding staircase at the end? Darkness, perhaps danger, a world of adventure? As our eyes adjust, we can make out wood, glass, a stillness perhaps eternally undisturbed, a sense that the place can get on quietly with its work without our help. As our ears attune to subliminal Gregorian chant, we fumble around the wall until we find an ancient Bakelite switch, and...

    Snazzy-Banner

    ...welcome to Snazzy's wine cellar! The chant gives way to the Ronettes singing Sleigh Ride, and strings of flashing Christmas lights adorn row upon row, rack upon rack of wines, a bottle encyclopedia of every vinous fascination, a cornucopia of Dionysian ecstasy! And certain gaps suggest that Snazzy is at home, dot dot dot...

    A chimp's tea party is a different thing altogether when Snazzy is hosting it. His guests are nonplussed, having brought along bananas, party blowers, a great many custard pies and even some tea. Instead, Snazzy has laid on some of their favourite wines from their time at Oddbins and they are swirling, sniffing and slurping. And these are truly fabulous wines. While they have all tried any number of wonders from Oddbins' glittering range, Snazzy has gone for the ones we'd normally save for a special occasion. Like a Christmas gathering!

    Notorious-Banner

    Notorious is enthused by a bottle of Gaja Dragomis Barolo"What I like about a good Barolo is that it will age for 20 years, even more, but if you open it now and let it breathe for a good while, it still delivers a profoundly rewarding wine experience. Oh my soul, herbs, spices, berries all coming together on the palate to give you what amounts to a delicatessen in a bottle. Made from the Nebbiolo grape, by the way, which is so named from the Nebbia, an October mist which used to herald the beginning of the harvest. They're rather more scientific nowadays." The other chimps are impressed by Notorious' fondness, unaware that his knowledge stems from time spent with a protective Sicilian family who had looked after him during a couple of, let's say, sensitive months.

    Barolo

    Crazy is enamoured of the Man O' War Dreadnought Syrah"This is from a world class winery, this is, 150 acres over a big spread of plots on Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay. Some of the steepest land in the area, giving the grapes a whole load of sunshine but with a cool breeze from the sea so they don't get too ripe and lose their unique character. Another savoury, Christmas dinner-type wine, with a blueberry and pepper vibe, stylistically not too far from a Northern Rhône masterpiece." What Crazy doesn't tell them is that he was drawn to the wine because "Dreadnought" sounded like his unstoppable approach to his social life.

    Dreadnought

    Snazzy himself is absorbed by a Chardonnay, World's End "Rebel Rebel" from California's Napa Valley. During the afternoon he has been asked once or twice how he funds his lavish lifestyle, breezily replying "oh, friends in high places, you know. And a couple on low places, just in case...". Right now, however, he is utterly consumed. "Now here's a winemaker for you," he announces to the diminishing attention of his friends. "Jonathan Maltus, played a big part in the Garagiste movement of the 1990's. Hugely impressive CV - Château Teyssier in Saint-Emilion, where you can also find his benchmark wine 'Le Dome', and now this." His eyes screw shut in a growing transport of vinous delight. "So complex yet so vibrant, pineapple and even pear drops on the nose, a crisp palate with the merest smidgen of oak, and that finish, it's still going on, it's, it's..." 

    Rebel

    He looks to the end of the table for approval and elaboration, an appropriate end to his rhapsody. "S'alright, I s'pose," concludes Outspoken. Snazzy looks at him as his face crumbles with disappointment. As his friends try to suppress their laughter, a custard pie hits him on the back of the head. Turning, unwisely, to see where it came from, two more hit him on either side of his face. The table falls into screeching, party blower uproar as Loveable pours a pot of cold tea down the front of Snazzy's trousers, and as he tries to back off he falls over a banana skin.

    Chimpmas has arrived.

  • The Chimpossible Dream

    Outspoken Chimp is sitting with friends watching himself on a video for the umpteenth time. The video concerns the seasonal takeover of a chain of wine stores by a bunch of likeable, if unruly chimps, and Outspoken has convinced himself and all around him that he is by far the star of the show. A former tabloid journalist, he has a great flair for persuading people to believe the clearly improbable. As another bottle of Girouette Sauvignon Blanc is passed around, the rather surprising finale takes him back to his journalistic heyday.

    Girouette-Sauvignon-Blanc

    'MUST WE FLING THIS FILTH AT OUR POP KIDS?' blared a headline in the Sunday People, back in the punk era, above a hysterical piece that accused the New Musical Express of covering the new music's attendant hysteria in tones verging on the hysterical. Even by tabloid standards, this was award-winning gobbledegook! Not to be outdone, Outspoken swung straight on to the bandwagon. Picking randomly on Mancunian no-hopers, Primate Scream, the Daily Spud's front page article 'PUNK ROCK DRUG HOUNDS BEAT UP VICAR' carried nothing to substantiate its headline, but seethed with enough ill-conceived outrage to drive the band's record sales through the roof. Outspoken subsequently left Grub Street behind, making the trek to Manchester to work as the band's PR. Tied up in the boot of their Austin Allegro, by his own account...

    Outspoken-Banner

    The band went from strength to strength, or at least from stunt to stunt, until their singer, Passionate Chimp, began to feel restless. The sincerity with which he dealt with the band's subject matter - creationism, species-ism, dodgy Clint Eastwood films - was beyond reproach, but he was wishing the audience would show their approval with something other than phlegm. Maybe they could leave flowers at the front of the stage, like they did for Barbra Streisand, or a bottle of deliciously elegant wine like Domaine Condamine Syrah-Mourvèdre, or even throw their...ahem, that's quite enough now...

    Syrah-Mourvedre

    On a night off in the middle of a tour, he wanders into a cabaret club in Liverpool. A listless turn has the audience tapping their toes politely while eating chicken in a basket and gazing into glasses of Vin Tres Ordinaire. During the interval, Passionate Chimp takes the stage and starts cautiously to sing 'The Way We Were', an evolutionary favourite. The bouncers move to throw him off until they notice that people are paying attention. He glides into '(They Long To Be) Close To You', an anti-creationism classic, and people are looking fondly into each other's eyes and swaying gently while they push the boat out with some Anxo Albarino.

    Anxo-Martin

    By 'Ape-ril In Paris', the original act has packed up and wobbled home, having drowned his mediocrity with Kavalan Concert Master Taiwanese whisky; and as Passionate brings the house down with 'Lover Come Back To Me', the man with the bucket of 'roses for the lady' has sold out completely, the whole lot piled up at the front of the stage! The audience are on their feet, grown men are in tears and the club is in uproar, and as Passionate Chimp gathers up the flowers, buried among them he sees - yes! - underwear! A Littlewoods panty girdle with a phone number written on it in lipstick. Passionate hasn't been here an hour and already he has arrived!

    Passionate-Banner

    Making notes in a dark corner stands Outspoken himself. Even he has never convinced so many people so unequivocally of his own greatness. He mooches over to a man in a sheepskin coat, his hands bedecked with sovereign rings, and starts making arrangements.

    Is this the end for Primate Scream? Will Tom Jones be dethroned by a chimpanzee? Will our hero dial the number on the Littlewoods passion killers? Tune in next week, and in the meantime keep the heat turned up with a bottle of La Multa Garnacha, a hot blooded continental with a powerful body that you won't want to share with anybody else!

    La-Multa

  • THE PALATE HEROES

    Steve Saunders

    Oddbins customers have been swirling, staring at, sniffing, slurping, spitting, swallowing and smiling at wines in the name of The Palate for four years, in a bid to be crowned the nation’s finest amateur wine taster. But who are the people who have made it all the way to the top – to wine tasting glory? Where do they come from and what makes them tick? Well, as we approach Round Two this weekend (July 25/26), we thought now would be a good time to look at these wine tasting demi gods and the wines they chose for Oddbins upon being crowned ‘The Palate’.

    Fran Evans

    The woman, nay, the legend, who first fought her way to Palate glory is Fran Evans. So, what do you need to know about Fran? Well, Fran is lovely to a fault, unassuming and – hitherto – highly doubtful of her ability to taste wine. The sustainability officer from north London had no wine education and thought, therefore, that she wouldn’t be much cop in The Palate. However, as judge Peter Richards, of Saturday Kitchen fame, said on Fran’s win, “It was important that it wasn't about having an encyclopaedic knowledge, but about raw talent. That's why Fran was such a worthy winner." Hear hear! A curious and marvellous twist in Fran’s tale is that, as part of the spoils of her win, she was asked to choose a wine (blind) for us to stock on our shelves. The wine that she chose was a La Closerie des Lys Chardonnay – a grape variety that Fran professed to not really liking before the competition – which is testament to the power of The Palate over preconceptions…

    Chloe Dickson

    Our next winner, Chloe Dickson, could not be more different to Fran. Where Fran is diffident, Chloe is assured. Where Fran is untrained, Chloe has attended courses. But Chloe’s win was by no means a fait accompli. She was up against stiff competition and it was the creativity that she brought to her descriptions that really set her apart from the other Finalists. In her food and wine matching presentation, Chloe’s said that the wine’s ‘acidic qualities really cut through the oiliness of the fish – it was just like they were holding hands walking down the street. My mouth was like ‘yeah, bring it on’.” Woop woop! Down with starched collars and orthodox wine blathering! Up with flavours holding hands and walking down the street! We like. The former music executive said The Palate has changed her life – and indeed she has gone on to become a retail sommelier. Go Chloe! The wine she chose was, to our eternal delight, Portuguese, and a belter at that. Discover Manz Platónico, an unctuous red from Cheleiros, here.

    Steve Saunders

    So far, so female. That was until 2014, when Bristolian Steve Saunders sauntered into the equation. Peter Richards was just beginning to get worried that a man would never win the title of The Palate, but Steve changed all that. If ever there was a more smiley man, we’ve yet to meet him. Steve loves wine and, like Chloe, had some experience but was looking to ‘go professional’ and make a living out of it. Given that the number of entrants rose from 5,000 in 2012 to a staggering 21,000 in 2014, Steve’s achievement is seriously impressive. For the judges – Peter and his wife Suzie, Sarah Ahmed and Oddbins Buyer Ana Sapungiu – their reason for choosing Steve was his clear as a bell communication. Steve is to wine speak what Brian Cox is to physics. He just makes it sound so easy! And Steve’s wine? As with Chloe’s Platónico, Steve’s choice comes from a country that we are increasingly excited about; Romania. Get to know Prince Stirbey Negru de Dragasani here.

  • NATURAL BORN SPIRITS

    Nature, eh, not in any hurry, is it? Worth the wait, though, especially if there's a beautifully-crafted spirit at the end of it, and we have four of them on free tasting in all of our stores this weekend (July11/12). They've all waited patiently for Mother Nature (and the odd distilling genius) to tell them when they're just right, and meanwhile they've breathed deeply of the character of their surroundings, be that the salt and iodine of Scotland's northern coast or the sweetly embracing tropical warmth of Guyana.

    The spirits are described below and, so you don't just have to take our word for it, we've included some rave press reviews from around Oddbins' geographical spread, which are in no way fictional.

    Mike - Whisky Blog June 2015 - Glengoyne

    Glengoyne 10 Year Old, £34

    This enjoys the slowest distillation of all Scotch whiskies, with malt dried by air alone rather than peat fire. It prompted no less a response than this, from Merseyside drink doyenne Keith Haslet of the Greasby Flagpole: ‘Soft, with a peat-free subtlety and a spicy, green fruit quality that would push it into apple curry territory, if there were such a thing.’ Er, cheers, Keith.

    Old Pulteney 10 Year Old, £33

    From the village of Wick, right up at the top of mainland Scotland, comes this neatly priced single malt, intense yet approachable, with a delicious salty tang on the finish. Typing feverishly in the online organ The Twickenham Hipster, Peregrine Tashwax advises us: "You can just see it, a perfectly singed gourmet stoat burger, served on a seasoned malting shovel drizzled with Pashley chain lube. There'd be smoothness and there'd be saltiness, and they'd both be well matched by an eggcup of this bourbon-tinged, coastal-crafted beauty." Which is high praise indeed! Apparently.

    Mike - Whisky Blog June 2015 - El Dorado

    El Dorado 12 Year Old, £38

    Aged in ex-bourbon casks and made in three different stills, this Demerara Rum from Guyana is a classic example of El Dorado's smooth, mellow, sweet and utterly delicious style. It’s no surprise it is festooned with medals, then. Dave ‘Ebeneezer’ Claypole was quite beside himself in the Ladbroke Mango, to wit: "A dash of this feller, a spot of Bacardi, a couple of glugs of lime and pineapple, sling on a sprig of mint and a couple of the old Chuck Berries and trust me, my boy, you are in Zombie Heaven!" And we couldn't have put it better than that. Or even similar to it.

    Balblair 2003, £43

    Whisky-making has gone on at Balblair, on the Dornoch Firth, since 1790. Instead of ageing for a pre-defined length of time, Distillery Manager John MacDonald bottles the whiskies when he considers them to be ready, so they are labelled with the year in which they were laid down to age. Murdo McHammer, Head of Applied Dissolution in Edinburgh's Poleaxe University, wrote in the Bruntsfield Gallant: "Delicious! A lovely mixture of orange and apricot, offset with a little creamy toffee," adding "my idea of a good, rounded dinner!"

  • PUT YOUR PALATE TO THE TEST

    Like a pretentiousness-seeking missile that annihilates wine snobbery whenever it is deployed, The Palate has shown thousands of people over the past four years that wine tasting is easy and it is for everybody.

    The Palate 2015

    Like wine but are sure that your friend with the Master of Wine qualification/impressive wine cellar/bragging arrogance is much better qualified to talk about it? Yeah, that’s not true. Come to The Palate at any of our shops this weekend (27/28) and we’ll show you that anyone with a tongue in their mouth can use it to taste wine – and to talk about it, too.

    Did we mention that, as well as the chance to win the title of The Palate 2015, you can win: a wine holiday to South Africa; a long weekend in Italy; a day course at the Raymond Blanc Cookery School; wine prizes totalling £3,000; much free wine; and the chance to pick a wine for us to list nationwide? Now that’s something to brag about.

  • BEER TASTINGS AHOY

    When it comes to beer, as with many things in life, it’s nice to explore different styles in detail, but then it can also be fascinating to gather up different styles and see how they all compare. So, that is what we have served up in our shops this weekend (May 16/17) – a buffet of beery goodness, featuring: two different styles of lager from a bigger producer; two similar styles in a Pale Ale and IPA (both local to your local shop); and a cider for good measure.

    Celia Lager

    Celia Lager (4.5%, £2.65) – T‘int right, t’int fair, t‘int fit, t’int proper that people who love beer should have to suffer from fatigue and other unpleasant complaints after enjoying a brew. Enter stage left Celia, a tasty, crisp, gently malty (and organic) lager that delivers flavour without the bother – a timely tipple for Coeliac Awareness week. Brewed with local Saaz hops and Moldavian Malt, it is the only pilsner in the world made with the benefit of being gluten-free with all natural carbonation.

    Celia Dark Lager (5.7%, £2.65) – ‘Tis a bit of a rare thing, dark lager, and its colour comes from the dark malts used in the brewing process. This one (which is also gluten-free and organic) is a beguiling mahogany colour and combines the rich, mellow flavours of the malt with the crisp, refreshing Žatec hops to produce a balanced end result.

    Local beer

    Two ‘mystery’ local brews – your local Oddbins will also be putting on a Pale Ale and an IPA of their choice. Although Pale Ales tend to be gentler and lighter in style and IPAs err on the hoppier, higher alcohol side, the possibilities, as someone once said, are endless. It’s time to see how local brews fare against the big boys.

    Angry Orchard Cider (5%, £2.25) – but you might be more of a straw-chewing, cider-lover, so we’ve included this new, friendly chappy of a cider (despite the name, it is not a red-faced Phil Mitchell-type). No, this young American is crisply refreshing, with a slightly sweet, ripe apple flavour that is hard to resist. As we say, nothing like Phil Mitchell.

    But don’t take our word for it – come on down, get familiar with them and make your own minds up.

  • THE ALTERNATIVE POLLS WINNERS - IT COULD BE YOOUU

    We may sometimes come across as (wine-loving) misanthropic nihilists but right now, in the words of our Glorious Leader Dave, we feel bloody lively. *Rolls sleeves up, strides on to the stage and grabs the mic*. Because, though the polling stations may be smelly sports halls, guarded by kind yet stern citizens who may actually kill you if you transgress electoral rules, the majority of this country will be heading out to vote today. Save a bit of light vote rigging, there is nothing more that politicians can do to sway the outcome of the election. However, before you go on your merry way, we at Oddbins would like to announce (da da daaaa) the winner of our recent Alternative Polls, in which we put five Rhône Valley reds on tasting and secretly assigned the wines to a political party. Using the lesser-known Single Tasty Vote (STV) system, we have crunched the numbers and the winner is…

    Arnesque CNDP

    … no-one! OK we should explain that. In true political style, we may have misled you last week, as not all five wines represented a political party (as Lucy Powell MP quite rightly says, just because we carved our pledges in stone, it doesn't mean we might not break them). Domaine de l’Arnesque Châteauneuf-du-Pape (£24) was our bluff card – and it is also our winner, with 35% of the vote. But if it doesn’t stand for a political party, what does it stand for? Well, it stands for everything that we think a political leader should be. It is a solid wine with charisma and substance that shines out like a beacon for the people – and wouldn’t be seen near a bacon sandwich. Like the cross-key emblem of this famous southern Rhône wine, our dream PM is identifiable and assertive and has all the bottle that you could hope for. YES.

    Parties

    That’s the dream. But what of the other four wines? Well, blow us down with a feather if we haven’t got a result that would seem to match pollsters' predictions (which is no surprise, as our methods were empirical and perfect). We have got four wines with a similar proportion of the vote, whose characters may not have the voting magnetism of Châteauneuf du Pape, but have legions of loyal fans nonetheless. Without further ado, the results for the UK (well, anywhere near an Oddbins) are:

    Labour – 19%
    Conservative – 17%
    Liberal Democrats – 14%
    SNP – 14%
    Spoilt ballots – 1% (some people struggle aiming in the spittoon)

    NB whilst they are serious contenders, we have not included UKIP in these results. This is because Oddbins does not have any shops in UKIP strongholds (quelle surprise… sorry Nigel, we mean ‘what a surprise’), so it would be unfair to include them with such a handicap.

    Rick Blaine

    The eagle-eyed among you will have noted that we haven’t yet told you which wines represent which parties – and that’s because we’re a bit like Bisto: we save the best ‘til last (yeah, we just said that). We are leaving it to you to link the following wines, with their cunningly subtle allusions to Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and the SNP, to these parties:

    Reserve de Fleur Côtes du Rhône (£8.50) – this wine Unites people in admiration of it – you could say it’s the rose of the Rhône.
    Domaine de l’Arnesque Côtes du Rhône (£9.50) – fruity and mellow, this wine can lend support to a surprising range of main dishes.
    Vidal-Fleury Ventoux (£9) – Ventoux may be an unassuming appellation - you could say it's the ‘quiet man’ of the Rhône - but it is supported by some rich, rich, rich flavours.
    Colombo Le Vent Rouge Côtes du Rhône (£10) – this is a slick wine with deep reserves of flavour. Although it doesn’t work with salmon…do try it with sturgeon.

    But we find that voting is such thirsty work, so the first five people to email alternative.polls@oddbins.com with each wine’s affiliated party will win a mixed case of Alternative Polls wines. Now that’s what we call a result.

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