The Brown Paper Bag Project went viral with the launch of their new beer a couple of weeks ago, releasing it anonymously and under wraps ahead of a simultaneous Twitter-based blind tasting. This is the third from the Dublin-based gypsy brewing operation, following the Belgian-style dark ale and the English brown ale, both, putting a unique spin on their respective genres. The only clue on picking up the bottle was the dense cloudiness of the beer apparent through the glass. My first thought was that we're most likely back in Belgium again.
Tasting day rolled around and the Belgian theory held up well when the beer was poured: masses of foam over a hazy orange body and an intense fizz from the bottle conditioning. The aroma is very yeast-driven, offering the signature spice and funk of a Belgian blonde or pale ale, with exciting lime marmalade and ripe peach overtones from the hops.
Unfortunately the hops go a bit AWOL on tasting. For one thing it takes a lot of work to get past the intense prickly fizz. Some vigorous swirling was required to knock the gas out and offset some of the extreme dryness that is the beer's opening gambit. Behind this there's definitely still a strong citrus presence but also a beautiful dose of tannins, the sort you get in quality English bitter, enhanced by a big chewy mouthfeel. After swallowing there's a delicious lingering orange oil flavour.
The brewers gradually disclosed the details of its production: pale malt, Vienna and wheat in the grain bill; hopped with Magnum and Amarillo to 38 IBUs plus Cascade dry; and the big shock for me is that a neutral American ale yeast was used. It is unmistakably Belgian, something I had always marked down 100% down to the yeast used. Brewer Brian explained that it's standard practice in Belgium -- where this was indeed brewed -- to condition bottled beer in a "warme kamer" at 25°C, to bring out that fruity funk. You live and learn.
And finally the big reveal, introducing Doxie to the world. A trifling 5.4% ABV but tasting much stronger to me. It's also badged as a "Blonde Wheat Ale" which isn't terribly informative and does nothing to express the complexity of what's inside the bottle. It's also a bit of a stretch to call it a blonde. "Belgian Pale Ale" would be my recommended designation, not a million miles from the likes of De Ranke XX Bitter, as observed by Richard on the night.
This is the first time I've said I think a Brown Paper Bag Project product needed more hops but I would really like to see the lighter fruit notes brought out more in this. Perhaps the draught version carries it off better. Still, a damn interesting beer, as we've come to expect from the brand.
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