17 August 2018

North-westers

Ahead of Hagstravaganza, on which more later, The White Hag released the third iteration of The Púca. This time the dry hopped lemon sour [beer] has had lime, mint and matcha added in. It's still 3.5% ABV. The glass glows a bright golden colour, like a fine cider or Riesling. I don't know from matcha, but the lime and mint are very present. I coughed from the medicinal quality of the latter and hissed at the acidic sharpness of the former. It's fun though, and tastes very like a mojito. Ice and leaves? This beer will happily take that. Really, this is flavoured beyond the point of being a beer, but it's still nice to drink.

Kinnegar joins the party with a table beer called Skinny Legs, also at 3.5% ABV. Despite the strength it's thick-looking and thick-tasting, a murky orange body leading to slick vanilla in the mouth. There's a measure of spicy yeast in the aroma, while the flavour dances between sweet orange milkshake and bitter green veg. There's no escaping the wateriness, however, a feature accentuated by the low level of fizz. As a quick hot-day quencher or a gentle-on-the-constitution sessioner, it works well, but isn't up to much else. Take it as you find it.

Carrig has been keeping the wheel turning on the specials they serve up at Bar Rua. I went along for Ryevolution, a 5.5% ABV IPA which claims to be Ireland's first 100% rye beer. I was expecting a sticky, grassy orange mess, but that couldn't be further from the reality. It's pale yellow, for a start, with a slight haze to it. I got a spritz of lemon in the foretaste, then a little bit of sharp grass, but only a brief squeak. The finish is all creamy lemon curd. Its bitter qualities do build, getting quite intense by pint's end, but no harm. This is a clean and invigorating IPA, and relatively well balanced for something that's not shy about piling on the IBUs. I've definitely had more rye-tasting beers than it, however.

Also pouring the same evening was Carrig's Raspberry Wit, 4.6% ABV and not really up to much. It's pinkish coloured and has a light raspberry sweetness in the front, followed by a dry carbonic rasp afterwards. And that's pretty much your lot: the fruit is the sum of its flavour, really, and there's none of the citrus or herbs that make witbier a worthwhile style. Maybe this was just one of those recipes that the brewer needed to get out of his system. It doesn't need to go further than the pilot kit.

Finally to Lough Gill which has also been keeping a steady stream of specials coming. Atlantic Surf is intriguingly styled as a bog myrtle saison and is 5% ABV. It's orange coloured and slightly hazy, exuding a classic saison vibe, bringing straw, pepper and herbs primarily, before finishing on a sweeter succulent melon note, offsetting the considerable dryness a little. I was half way through before I noticed the lack of novelty: nothing that could be pointed to as the bog myrtle's contribution. I didn't mind, though; this is just a great straight-up example of a saison.

What to expect, then, from the Sloe Gin Gose which followed it? This one was brewed as a collaboration with Five Points Brewery in London, is 5.2% ABV and a deep shade of orange. I didn't really understand it. My first impression was of white lemonade: that sugary sweetness that has nothing to do with actual lemons. Some light herbs come later and then just a tang of seasalt to finish. I detected a certain gin-like bitterness, but not one of your fancy gins and there's no sign of the promised sloes, or any other fruit. It's fine and refreshing overall, like many a modern gose, but that's about it.

And that's about it for this post. Time to tackle those Hagstravaganza notes, I guess.

15 August 2018

Can you taste that?

It's the bane of the beer critic's life: liver disease sensory uncertainty. Can you trust your palate when you think something's amiss, and is it worth the risk of writing it down? I have no training or qualifications in tasting beer, but I have drank a lot of them, and scribbled out at least a few words on most of that. I still make no claims that what follows is normative or objective.

I get a taste off Bog Hopper beers. It varies in intensity, but there's a consistent rubbery note in all of their beers: stale, sulphurous and generally unpleasant. It came straight to mind, unbidden, with The Biggest Boar, a Bog Hopper IPA I drank at The Brew Dock in Dublin. This is 6.8% ABV, but beyond the prodigious strength has nothing of the IPA about it. I got sweet strawberry and caramel, more like an Irish red ale, and then that rubber hit. I passed it around the table and asked my fellow drinkers what they thought. Nobody was mad into it, but none of them spotted the phenols either. Maybe it's just me.

The experiment continued with Heiferweizen at The Black Sheep. Despite the name, it's not pitched as a weissbier but as an American wheat beer -- yes, that style I recently said doesn't really exist any more. My pint arrived clear, amber and all but headless, and there wasn't anything especially wheaty about the texture: it's perhaps more full-bodied than might be expected at 4.9% ABV. My guinea pig this time was non-committal, but there was certainly nothing wildly off about the beer to him. But I got that rubbery tang again. It wasn't as pronounced as in the IPA, hanging around in the back after a jammy strawberry sweetness and a drier old-world metallic hop bite. Again the spectre of Irish red ale floated into view. Without the off-flavour this would be decent if unexciting, so that's probably how you'll find it. Just remember it's not meant to be a weissbier.

In conclusion: I dunno. I'm not in a position to warn you off Bog Hopper beers, but I do think it would be worth the brewers' while getting some proper sensory evaluation done. Actually, every brewery should probably do that regularly anyway.

13 August 2018

New on deck

A couple of weeks of travel posts mean I'm way behind in my Irish beer round-ups. Let's see what there's been in the pubs recently.

Eight Degrees dropped a new flavoured Berliner Weisse for summer, a sequel to last year's rhubarb and redcurrant one. This time it's elderflower and raspberry in the mix and the ABV has been raised slightly to 3.7%. The Black Sheep was asking €6.75 for a pint so I opted for just a half. That was enough to give me an impression of it. The raspberry is very dominant, a tart jamminess with the sort of sticky sweetness you find in raspberry-flavoured hard candy after you've sucked it a bit. Any elderflower taste has been thoroughly crushed by this. The lactic sourness dovetails neatly with the fruit, and while it's missing the dry wheatiness that makes Berliner weisse refreshing, there is enough of a tang to keep it on my good side. This is definitely more a carefree summer fruit beer than a serious-face sour one.

Staying on a vaguely wild theme, Rascals had a new barrel-aged Blueberry Saison on the go recently. It's a fun bright purple colour but with a very serious ABV of 7%, and lots of serious oak flavour too: an incense-like spiciness. This contrasts nicely with the tart berry flavours. I don't think I'd have guessed blueberry, and got more a sense of red grape and raspberry from it. Everything about this is well-integrated and complementary, and it's much less of a novelty beer than the name or description might suggest.

I wish I could say the same of their latest pale ale: Piña Colada. This is exactly what's implied by the name, an attempt to recreate the famous cocktail in beer form. They've achieved it with the addition of lactose, coconut and pineapple, and the result is something smooth, sweet and creamy, more like a lassi than a beer. There's a light lime cordial bitterness putting a bit of an edge on it, and a flavour of real fibrous pineapple flesh. Amazingly it doesn't get horribly sickly as it goes, staying clean throughout. While very much a silly summer gimmick, it's quite harmless.

From pineapples to pineappleweed, a plant I hadn't heard of until it showed up in a beer from Black's of Kinsale. Pineappleweed Botanical IPA is just 4.6% ABV, and looks like pineapple juice: an opaque hazy yellow. The aroma is very citrus, with lime and grapefruit in particular, and the flavour is bitter to match: a big punch of grapefruit again, livened with lemon zest. In short, it's a very good, classically flavoured, new world IPA, and performs particularly brilliantly at the strength. Seekers of novelty may be disappointed, however, and there's nothing much pineappley or botanical going on here.

Also getting botanical was Urban Brewing, with a new beer collaborating with its neighbour, EPIC, the Irish emigrant visitor experience. EPIC URBAN Brew is an IPA. The theme is ingredients from places Irish people emigrated to, which gave them quite a choice, really. The blurb mentions French and German grain, American hops, and lemon verbena, from Argentina. The beer is 6.7% ABV and a hazy brown colour. There's a lightly citric nose while the flavour offers a fascinating mix of spices including cinnamon and cloves. I understand the recipe also includes rye so that may be at work here. Rather than lemon, the verbena adds a piquant mintyness to the finish. It's not very IPA-like, but it's certainly an interesting and enjoyable combination.

I still have to delve into my notes from Hagstravaganza 2018, but the beers first poured there are beginning to creep out into the wider world. The Porterhouse had a new New England IPA on the go, called Slurpasaurus, and I got myself a pint of it in the Temple Bar branch. It's a beer of real contrasts, sweet and juicy at first with strong notes of peach and mango. And then a strong bitterness runs in parallel with this, an almost harsh counter-melody of grapefruit and lime. This beer isn't bothered about balance, but has bags of deliciously fresh and punchy character. The bitterness eventually wins out and provides a long acidic finish, one which, more than anything, reminds me of the Galena bite in classic Wrassler's stout. Beautiful.

Low ABV has been something of a theme in Irish brewing of late, and O Brother jumped on the bandwagon with The Freewheeler, 3% ABV earning it the description "super session IPA". It's yellow with a medium level of haze. The flavour opens on a doubly sharp combination of grapefruit and yeast, before a quick and watery finish. I think this one might be better described as a table beer, then. There's lots of fizz too, which I think would harm the sessionability of it. I felt it lacked substance, and that's not always a given at the strength. More hops, for one thing, could perhaps have brought a bit more character.

DOT's contribution to the trend is Dot Dot Hop Lager, only 3.6% ABV and showcasing the prodigal son of trendy hops, Nelson Sauvin. It pours a pure and clear golden colour, with an aroma of succulent peach and watermelon. The flavour perfectly demonstrates the dry white grape signature of Nelson, strong enough to turn to bitterer lime and guava towards the end, and laced with a slight edge of diesel. That's quite a lot of complexity for the strength, and it can't be accused of being thin or watery. DOT's switch to light, pale and hoppy is to be welcomed, but that logo still suggests barrel ageing every time I see it. Roll on winter.

But just because it's still summer doesn't mean we can't have some new dark beers too. Wicklow Wolf released a brown-coloured caramel-infused cream ale called Fierce Wolf, the third in their collaborative series, this time with Aberdeen-based Fierce Beer. It's not very fierce at all: 3.8% ABV and very dessertish, bringing a combination of soft toffee and ripe banana. The sweetness is a little nerve-jangling at first, but you get used to it. It settles down to something pleasant but quite plain after the first few mouthfuls, and then doesn't go anywhere else. It's passable, but a bit dull.

And a stout to finish off. I keep missing the annual release of Carlow Brewing and Pinta's collaboration stouts, Lublin to Dublin. For 2018 they've added Turkish coffee, and quite a lot of it, I reckon. There's loads of roast in this 6%-er, followed by chocolate and cereals. That's all fairly traditional, but there's also a strong herbal vibe of rosemary and basil, and of course the eastern spices: cloves and cinnamon carried a long way by the sweet cake-like base. It's lovely, but doesn't really taste of coffee. Just like a Turkish coffee, I guess.

That'll do for today. Some more thematically coherent Irish beer posts will follow.

10 August 2018

Late Gate update

It's over a month since I last dropped by the Open Gate Brewery to see what they were turning out these days. It was still the height of summer so I was happy to see Open Gate Summer Ale on the taps. While a weighty 5% ABV, this is exceedingly pale looking: a wan and limpid yellow. Thankfully it proved to be not at all watery, while also avoiding the greasy quality I often find in the light-coloured ales brewed here. Lemondrop, Mandarina Bavaria and Mosaic hops have given it a gentle citrus and sherbet flavour with a clean bitter finish. It would be perfectly suited to summer drinking were it not for an ABV that seemed increasingly inappropriate as I drank.

The most dramatic name of the session went to Galactic Crystal Warrior, an English-style bitter. A cask of this had just run out but the keg version still portrayed English bitter quite convincingly. Not one of the good ones though. Caramel and strong tea feature prominently, with the accent on the caramel: it's sweet first and drier later. While not bad, being neither sticky nor astringent, there isn't much going on. The name makes a promise of excitement and definitely of hops, and neither of these really materialise.

Now the Caramel Ale was astringent, which was weird. I got a sharp kick of redcurrant where I was expecting smooth dark malt, and then a metallic barb of bitterness on the end. It's a dark ruby colour and a bigger-still 6% ABV, yet the sweet smoothness implied by the badge was completely absent.

The trilogy of error finishes on Milk Stout 2018. 6.8% ABV makes it considerably stronger than the mainstream version from last year, and the original when the site first opened. And they still haven't got the style right. While it smells lovely and creamy, it tastes funky and stale: old sweat mixing with the sticky sugariness of cheap ice cream, finishing on a sour twang which clashes horribly with the lactose. This is a recipe deserving of midnight burial at a crossroads, then back to the milk stout drawing board. Again.

Redemption arrived before home time, thanks to Bulleit Boubon Barrel-Aged Stout, a 10.5% ABV black beauty. This is possibly the bourboniest bourbon barrel beer I've tasted -- vanilla by the bucketful. And that sounds awful. Adding in that it was flat and cold makes things worse, but it all worked really well. It channelled the essence of whisky into the stout cleanly, including a sour lime kick I tend to associate with Jack Daniel's. The aroma smelled of real bourbon with a non-interfering background coffee waft. Perhaps it lacks depth, but the straight up, unfussy, unapologetic rawness of it charmed me. I'd have had another if I hadn't been able to feel the alcohol already creeping into my bloodstream after one glass.

Two decent but very different beers bookending the selection on this particular evening. Hooray for diversity, I guess.

08 August 2018

Bristol odyssey

Quite a few of the pubs for which Bristol is famous won't be mentioned in this, my second post from a recent visit. My guiding principle when I went crawling was places I hadn't previously been. And which weren't too far out of my way. Before the work event for which I was in town kicked off, I took a full day to explore, guided mostly by Boak & Bailey's recommendations.

Fresh off the bus, I began in The Commercial Rooms, a grand high-ceilinged Wetherspoon in Bristol's old town. Seeking something gulpable I picked a pint of cask session IPA: Four Point Blanc, brewed at Hook Norton in collaboration with Devils Backbone. Hallertau Blanc is the signature hop and boy does it show through: a bright and quenching honeydew melon topnote. This is... I was about to say "balanced", but it's more accentuated, by dry tannins, adding an even more refreshing air of lemon tea. It's not a pint to savour, however. The charm starts to fade as it warms, the fruit giving way to a floral perfume that grows stronger and more concentrated. I didn't leave it long enough to find out how far that goes, draining the last of it so I could leave with a fond memory.

The day's real beer tourism began later at the Moor Brewery. It's an interesting taproom in that it appears to double as the brewery's front office, with orders being taken, events organised and supplies negotiated all around. Justin was entertaining a group of distributors, or possibly just potential distributors, visiting from Barcelona. If you want to know when Moor is going to be bought out, just sit in the taproom and wait for the guy with the big-brewery branded ballpoint.

It was only just gone noon so All Dayer session IPA seemed appropriate. This arrived an almost luminous orange colour, 3.5% ABV and tasting strongly of passionfruit to begin with. There was a mildly yeasty bitter twang after this, and then a watery finish which probably shouldn't have surprised me. It's sufficiently tasty given the strength, but quite one-dimensional and certainly nothing like the Founders beer echoed in the name.

Just launched was Simpils, Moor's first lager, which was enough of a novelty to get my business. It's thick and waxy -- bock-like at 5.5% ABV. There's lots of crusty bread and then a smack of nettle on the end. Like the session IPA, it's decent but unspectacular; noble pils by-the-numbers. I would have preferred lighter and crisper but that's just how I like my lagers.

Before heading off, a go of their English IPA Return of the Empire. Deep orange and low in carbonation, even from the keg, it looked well. The flavour was way off, however. Musty, funky, cheesy, earthy and dense: my least-favourite dwarves. IPA, even English ones, should be fun, and this one was a real downer. Up the Rebellion!

I bought a takeaway can of Moor's famous old ale Old Freddy Walker and left it by the powerful air conditioner in my room while I was out for the evening. This one has been around for years and has won CAMRA's Winter Beer of the Year twice. I've been very aware of it but never tried it before. It lives up to the hype, even in summer. The balance is exquisite, mixing creamy coffee and strong dark chocolate with the fruity bitterness of plums and blackcurrants, plus a sharper herbal liquorice kick. At 7.3% ABV it packs heat, but not too much, staying smooth and drinkable throughout. A recipe thoroughly out of fashion but not to be tampered with.

Back to the afternoon, and just around the corner from Moor's brewery is The Barley Mow, a pub owned by Bristol Beer Factory and among the best reputed in the city. It has a bit of a country inn feel to it, sited in a double-fronted Georgian-style house with long tables and a big fireplace inside.

I opened my tab with North to the Future by BBF themselves, a 5% ABV IPA brewed with Centennial and Denali. It poured a dazzling golden colour from the cask and smelled perfumed. The texture is a little sticky, emphasised by a honey-like flavour, and then the perfume begins to infuse into it as well, bringing a sweet note of rosewater. A savoury bitter finish brings it home on a complete about-face which still fails to improve it. It's a slightly odd beer, and not in a good way.

I switched to keg for the next one: Bristol Beer Factory's Teardrop IPA. This claims to be down-wit-da-kids double dry-hopped with New Zealand varieties. It's 5.2% ABV, a clear amber colour and has a very attractive aroma, the enticing diesel scent I get from Gewürztraminer wine. The flavour doesn't quite deliver on this, focusing more on the malt, with a stodgy porridge effect and even a sharp hit of smoke. A grassy bitterness slices unceremoniously through it, providing balance of a sort, but no subtlety. This is one of those beers that's worth a half for the aroma alone.

A quick stop in the plush King's Head for an old-time's-sake pint of Harvey's Best, then it was off to the 'burbs. The draw was The Draper's Arms, my very first micropub. It matched expectations by and large: one room with tables arrayed around the edges and beer served from a stillage in one corner. With England preparing to march to victory against Croatia in the World Cup, the house had less than its usual selection: just three beers on offer.

I began with Twisted Oak's Fallen Tree, billed as a "session amber" which is how English breweries are increasingly badging their dull brown bitters. I hope nobody's fooled. This definitely has a feel of Doom Bar about it: the same soft-biscuit cereals with just a tiny hint of peppery spice. At least it makes some sort of effort, but otherwise it's inoffensive and bland, perfect for those who want that in a beer.

L: Subtropic; R: The Usual
When Boak and Bailey arrived in, as they regularly do, they were straight into Bristol Beer Factory's Subtropic, a 4.4% ABV pale ale. It proved worthy of their enthusiasm too. This is quite a simple beer, arguably one-dimensional I would say, but the flavour is so bright and clean that it doesn't matter that there's only one: a sharply invigorating citrus punch. It gets support from a malt base that adds just the right level of density to prevent harshness but without becoming part of the flavour picture itself. This makes for very easy drinking in quantity.

Not for me, though, obviously. The line-up needed to be completed, and that meant The Usual by Milk Street, another brown bitter but not such a boring one. Light caramel meets sweet tea, flavoured gently with dark forest fruits. It's sticky on the lips and perhaps a little overclocked at 4.4% ABV, but it finished nicely clean and doesn't build on the palate. Grudgingly, I can see how the name might be apt.

An essential feature of the micropub experience is getting kicked out when it's still daylight, and so at 9.30 we moved down the street to the nearest unmicro pub, The Royal Oak. It seemed quite a large and rambling place, with multiple bars and plenty of punters as the football ended. Just the one tick for me: Beachcomber, still presented under the Gale's label but really brewed by brand owner Fuller's. It was light and fresh with plenty of lemon and grapefruit: pretty much as advertised, and about as good as a 3.7% ABV golden ale is going to get, after ten hours of drinking anyway.

The following day, with a spare hour in the early evening, I left the hotel and headed in the opposite direction from King Street, for a change. This brought me to The Three Tuns, a bright and bohemian corner pub on the north-western edge of the city centre.

I decided to go all-cask for this set, beginning on Budding, a 4.5% ABV pale ale from Stroud Brewery. This is another one of those honey-and-flowers jobs, but it develops as it goes along, bringing in a harder green bitterness, starting on celery and intensifying towards asparagus. This is enough to balance it and make it enjoyable, although on that particular afternoon it would have benefited from being a few degrees cooler.

Big Cat stout is also from Stroud, and while it's the same strength, it's much heavier going. A tarry texture carries heavy and pungent chemical-herbal flavours. I thought liquorice at first, but it's more like whatever the Satanic blend of spices and minerals that goes into Fisherman's Friend throat sweets is. I think this may be an aquired taste. While it was extremely full and flavourful, I found it just too intense.

The other brewery on the handpumps was Plain Ales, from Warminster. I began with Inntrigue, their "ruby best bitter". Another variant on "session amber ale", then. This is, indeed, well inside the boring brown bitter boundaries, though not offensively so. Crumbly oat cookie meets light treacle, finishing on a barely-there tang of metallic hops. It could be any one of a number of traditional bitters from the large regional ale breweries.

I hoped for better with Innocence golden bitter. It looked nice and clear but tasted awful. Rubbery phenols smack right into the palate from the outset, followed by stale sackcloth and a harsh gastric acidity. I've no idea if it was the way the beer was designed, or if it should have been taken off, but it made for grim drinking.

The grim drinking didn't end there either. About a day later I was homeward bound at the airport, which was thronged with rowdy holiday-makers, especially the bar. They had almost drained the beer taps completely and I would have picked a bottled local cider except I couldn't see any cold. Nothing for it but to choose something I'd been slightly curious about but knew wouldn't be up to much. That was Maltsmiths Pils, the faux-craft brand of Heineken UK which I assume is brewed at Caledonian in Edinburgh. This too tasted old and stale, as disappointing as an unexpectedly soft biscuit. But hey, at least I know now, and never have to go there again.

I do have to go back to Bristol, though, for a family event in the autumn. I might just stick to places I like, this time, instead of trying to get too adventurous.

06 August 2018

Royal progress

No sooner was I back from Manchester than it was off again to England, this time for a work gig in Bristol. I was staying around the corner from pub-centric King Street so was well able to nip over there for such swift halves as time allowed. And it's grown! Since I was last there, in 2014, it has acquired several new premises. These were high on my list to check out.

Down at the river end sits King Street Brewhouse. It seems to have been cut from the same cloth as Dublin's Porterhouses, particularly Central, in that it's a voluminous space pitched strongly towards stand-up drinking and big-screen sports. But there is a pretty onsite brewery and it looks like it fairly turns over the cask and keg beers, judging by the prevalence of topical names.

I started with Hand of God, a session IPA on cask. This is 4.1% ABV and arrived worryingly murky looking but smelling great, with bags of juicy tangerine pouring out. The flavour was a little more muted, coupled with a slightly sad watery texture -- ever the bane of this style. An excellent finish pulled it back into my good books, with a long orangey aftertaste contrasting with a biscuit sweetness. For a World Cup one-off, on balance, it's better than most.

To balance my account I went for a keg beer next: Sqornshellous Zeta IPA; 6.2% ABV and brewed with Galaxy hops, as if that wasn't obvious. The hazy orange-beige presentation didn't bother me but the strong vanilla cream and yeast flavours did. This was simultaneously too strong and too sweet. I should have stuck with the cask as that's where they seem to have got IPA hopping right.

The array of types of pubs you get on King Street impressed me last time, and it seems it keeps up with fashion because it now has one of them arcade-bars: Kong. I didn't see it as intended, being the only customer in the dim grey space early one afternoon. The beer range was impressive and included the one at the top of my one-item West Country hit-list: Lost and Grounded Keller Pils. One whole imperial pint please.

It looked the part, being a gently hazy yellow. The texture is beautifully soft too, and the flavour... well... it has plenty. I'm on record as having frequent problems with noble hops, and the more heavily hopped a beer the worse I get it. This beer gave me that in spades: a powerfully pungent mustiness, like rotten wood, and then the harshly bitter green stalks of rocket and dandelion. I'm sure it's perfectly constructed, and everything everyone else says it is, but it really didn't suit me. I feel gypped by my own tastebuds.

I paid a very quick return visit to The Beer Emporium, for just one half of Twisted Oak's Sheriff Fatman (marketing hint: name more beers after Carter USM songs and I will buy them). It's described as an American amber ale but is gold rather than amber. A very English honey sweetness is followed by a slightly German peppery sharpness, and neither is even slightly American-tasting. The texture is thick and stodgy making me very glad I only had a small measure, one over which I didn't linger. Overall, a bit R.U.B.B.I.S.H.

The constant centre of attention on King Street tends to be Small Bar, which has come up in the world since 2014, spawning its own brewery, which eventually grew up and moved out. That brewery is Left Handed Giant and it was one of theirs I ordered when I first stepped in this time. River of Darkness was actually brewed, collaboratively, at Wild Beer. The spec promises smoke, maple and chilli but the beer doesn't really deliver this. Instead it's a simple creamy and chocolatey stout, packing in flavour at 3.9% ABV. I didn't miss any of the bells or whistles.

A second and final visit happened as I was on my way to the airport. I decided I would take advantage of the intriguing range of sour beers, and also their £8 five-beer flights.

One lager made it into the mix: Summer '18 No. 1, collaborated on by Lost & Grounded, Cloudwater and Jopen. I shouldn't have been surprised to find it's another musty one, all nettles and old straw. I will lay one technical fault on it -- it's very thin, and unbalanced in bitterness as a result. Mostly, however, it was my palate's problem with noble hops at fault. Bring on the sour!

L-R: Disco, Action, Insetto, Summer, Reuben
A Left Handed Giant offering first, called Reuben Picks Raspberries. This is 3.7% ABV and is a thick pink emulsion. It looks like yoghurt and absolutely tastes like yoghurt, with real raspberry bits and a velvet texture. Like in a yoghurt the sourness is mild and understated, and not the main feature. I would definitely have liked more of an edge and less of the sugary summer fruit.

Staying pink, next up was Disco Fizz from local brewers Good Chemistry. 4.2% ABV and this time flavoured with blackcurrant. It was the best looking of the set: a rich vermilion topped by pink foam. The watery aroma didn't help, with a grainy hint of breadcrust the only thing going on. Then the flavour proved an unpleasant mix of sweat, rubber and tannins: nothing that suggests actual fruit, and no pinch of sourness either. A beer to just look at, then. Shame.

The last two on the board came from US-based gypsy brewer Stillwater Artisanal. The first went by the unlikely name of Action Bronson's 7000 which is a sour ale of 5% ABV and brewed with Muscat grapes. It's a hazy gold colour and offers a fun but scary aroma of lemon-scented gunpowder. Strap in! Oily and lush Muscat grapes are present from the start of the flavour, finishing a little quickly, but cleanly too, making it very refreshing. There's just enough of a sour edge to balance the sweetness while still allowing all of the luxurious flavour through. The aroma is still the best feature but it's an all-round class act, really.

Insetto was the final third, bright scarlet and, although brewed with plums, having the sour cherry aroma of a classic Belgian kriek. Fruit is the main flavour, and it's cherries again, to my mind. The sourness is a mere tang on the end, and there's a seasoning of Brettanomyces funk going on. It avoids being syrupy or candylike. This is subtle and classy. I wonder if it was brewed in Belgium. It feels like it was.

I mentioned I was staying nearby so I'll throw my pint at the hotel bar in here too. That was Independence by Bristol Beer Factory, on keg. This is an intensively hopped American-style pale ale at 4.6% ABV. It mixes a punchy herbal dankness with a more fun lemon candy in a way that's accessible and balanced, yet complex enough for the fussier drinker. Or this one at least. A spicy bitterness lends it a mouthwatering finish.

There's more from Bristol Beer Factory to come in the next post, and plenty of other local beers too, when I do a bit of exploring.