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City Arms Real Ale Tasting - Dark Star Espresso and Nelson Swashbuckler

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This Saturday saw myself and the other half go down to the City Arms in the centre of Cardiff to try some of the Real Aleís that they have available. The City Arms over the last few years has gained a following amongst Real Ale lovers in the capital due to the guest Aleís they have in stock.

Along with the guest Aleís, the City Arms run events, and even a Beer Club. Only two weeks ago they held a week long American Beer Festival, where they had a range of U.S. Beers on Tap, along with a selection of U.S. bottled beers.

This afternoon they had the following guest Aleís on offer:
  • Idle Brewery - Idle Dog
  • Dark Star Brewing Company - Espresso
  • Nelson - Swashbuckler
  • Green Jack - Orange Wheat Beer (Unfortunately I did not have the time to sample this)
Pairing the first few pints, I smoked a delicious Partagas Serie D No. 4. This was slightly better than the one I smoked for my video review a few days earlier. The leather notes were here, with some coffee notes, and a tiny bit of cocoa. Scoring this Cigar, I would give this a 90.

Dark Star Brewing Company - Espresso

Well, the first beer that caught my eye was the Dark Star Brewing Company Espresso. I not sure why I was seduced into drinking this Stout as my first drink. Outside the sun was shining, the summer had briefly returned. This was not the cold November night that youíd be more inclined to drink such a warming Beer. However, I paid the bartender, and got my pint of Espresso.

First taste - wowsers! The common problem I find with any Stouts or Porters that have a coffee element, is that the coffee notes are too overpowering, leading to an unbalanced drink. However, Dark Star have the balance in the Espresso spot on. You can taste the coffee notes in this, but theyíre not right in your face. Exceptional. I like the subtle flavours. Thereís not much fruit flavours here, Espresso is in the chocolate / coffee camp and for this, the beer knows what it needs to deliver and does it very very well.

At 4.2% ABV, this isnít a strong Stout by any means, but what Dark Star are trying to offer here is an easy drinking, any time of the year Beer. When Espresso is this good, then this deserves to be offered all year round.

Espresso goes pretty well with the Partagas Serie D No. 4. The coffee notes of the Stout goes very well with the leather and coffee notes of the Cigar. Thinking about what would be the dream pairing for Dark Star Espresso, I would have to say would be the Bolivar Petit Belicosos, the 2009 Edition Limiteda. There was tons of chocolate and mocha in that Cigar. That would be a formidable pairing!

When thereís a range of Beerís to be had, whether itís my local or a Beer Festival, I seldom stick to one drink. Usually Iím onto the next Beer from a totally different Brewer. However, not this time! Dark Star Espresso wasso good I just had to have another... and another! When my time had ran out, and I needed to go home, I think I had drank four pints of Espresso in all. Good times!

Nelson - Swashbuckler

Up next was the Nelson Brewery with their Swashbuckler Ale. At 4.5% ABV this is a strong, Premium Bitter, that is bronze in colour with very little head.

When it was poured into my glass, I wasnít expecting much to be frankly honest. There wasnít much going on in the glass. There was no carbonation, or any kind of head. And it was the same with the taste. There was a good amount of hops here that gave Swashbuckler that Bitter finish, but you know what? There wasnít enough here for me to say - ďthis is damn good, Iím going to order another one!"

Rating Swashbuckler, I would have to give this a 6 out of 10. Iím looking forward however to trying this Ale again sometime soon. As I feel that this could have been a better Beer in different circumstances.

Idle Brewery - Idle Dog

The final beer sampled from their guest list was the Idle Brewery with their Idle Dog. At 4.2% ABV, this was a classic Bitter, with some fruity notes intermixed with a good jolt of malt with a good bitter finish.

However at this point, I was still thinking about Dark Star Espresso, so after this Beer I was ready to go for a final pint of the black stuff. Any other day, if Idle Dog was available anywhere else, I would have stuck with this, but the Espresso won the day. Rating Idle Dog however, I would say this was a classic, solid Bitter. Iíve tasted better, Iíve tasted much worse. Iím going to score this a 6.75 out of 10. Very good.

Anchor Brewery - Porter

To finish off the evening, I snuck in a Anchor Brewery Porter. At this point into the evening, I was a little worse for wear, so tasting notes at this point are a bit fuzzy to say the least!!

However, even from the bottle, this was one hell of a tasty Porter! Thereís some good carbonation here. I can remember this tickling the tongue! With chocolate and toffee notes, Anchor Porter had a slightly more bitter finish than the Dark Star Espresso. Rating Anchor Porter, I would give this around the same mark as Espresso. Maybe 8.25 or 8.5 out of 10.

So it was a good day.

Many beers were drank, and I got a little drunk. Hey, thatís what a day out should be right? With some good company, get yourself down to the City Arms and try some of the Beers they have available. Better than being stuck in the rut of your run of the mill Lagers, Guinness and the odd bottle of Newcastle Brown...

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  1. sbthang's Avatar
    Great review Steve.

    I too have a passion for beer and cigar pairing, and to sample these beers (especially the US porters) sounds like a real treat.

    I don't suppose any mention was made as to the ongoing availability of these beers in the UK, was there? Like good American wines, very few US beers manage to hit these shores (apart from the usual suspects...Bud, Coors, Miller etc...) but when you are able to try the non-mainstream offerings, they really do impress.

    Keep up the good work,