20 September 2008

The British invasion

It goes without saying that the section of the European Beer Festival serving UK cask ales was called a "pavilion". They were serving cheese at one side of it, but no cucumber sandwiches. As with most of the stands, it was staffed by volunteers from the exhibiting breweries. Outside on Sunday afternoon I got chatting to a very nice chap from one of the southern English breweries who was telling me that CAMRA actually stands for "Come And Meet Real Arseholes" and that he used to gleefully burn his cardboard membership card on the way out of the Great British Beer Festival each year until the bastards switched to plastic. Someone, at least, was glad to be free of real ale tyranny for a weekend.

One particular beer drove me straight to the British Pavilion. For quite a while now I've been intrigued by the press that Thornbridge's Jaipur IPA has been getting. I was really looking forward to it and was hugely disappointed with the reality. It's a very thin, very pale (despite appearances, left) affair and is utterly one-dimensional: hopjuice of the worst kind. Should I be putting on my flameproof suit now?

Thom was insistent I try the Brakspear Triple, and I wasn't going to resist, having enjoyed their EPA very recently. This was from the bottle and is an interesting concoction. I was immediately struck by how little it resembles a Belgian tripel, but it's not typically English either. What you get is a sweet honeyish flavour with just a touch of spice, on a light ale body. Interesting, and worth further investigation.

Other light beers included Belhaven's Twisted Thistle -- a fairly hefty 5.3% ABV, but gently hopped to be dry and easy drinking. Wold Top's Falling Stone was tougher going: crisp but possessed of an off-putting sulphurous tang. I was much more impressed by Otley OG, another easy drinker, almost to the point of blandness, but with a saving lemon zest flavour. The award for quaffability, however goes to Archer's IPA. There's just enough body here to keep things interesting, but everything else is toned-down to make it eminently sinkable.

The chap from Wickwar talked a very good game, and only by agreeing that Station Porter was indeed excellent but I'd already tried it, was I able to smooth-talk him into giving me something else. He wouldn't let me go without recommending Mr Perrett's from the bottled selection so that was one of my first ports of call on Saturday. I have to say I prefer my stouts to have a bit more body than this, especially when they're sailing towards 6% ABV. However, there was a nice touch of liquorice to it, making for a pleasant experience, but still only a shadow of the full-on joy of Station Porter.

In all probability the difference in my perception of the two Wickwars is down to presence or lack of smokiness. I was therefore immediately drawn to Manx brewery Okell's and their Aile smoked porter. It's very dry and incredibly roasty with lovely back-of-the-throat flavours. Not so much smoke, however, but the quality here can't be argued with. I had great hopes for Harvey's Porter, speaking as a huge fan of their best bitter. I was disappointed though: it's an unchallenging beer with a nice touch of raisins in it, but not a whole lot going on generally. Smoke. That's what it needs...

Another one of those legendary English beers that I only get to read about on blogs is Hook Norton's Old Hooky. I liked this: very sweet, almost leaning towards marzipan notes, and a tasty elderflower character as well. Their Black Country Mild is also pretty damn good: a relatively pale shade of ruby with a superb balance of charcoal dryness and dark fruit.

Finally it was back to the bottles for some Yorkshire Stingo by Samuel Smith's. This bottle conditioned 8% ABV strong ale is wonderfully warming with big big malt notes, yet manages to avoid being any way cloying. Stonch is currently offering a chance to win some. If you happen to be in the right neck of the woods, this stuff would make it well worth trying your hand.


  1. Yum. Some lovely beers here. Brakspear Triple is one of my faves - as you suggest, a curious mixture of English and Belgian elements without really being one or the other. Old Hooky is fabulous too, haven't seen it in London for a while.

    I wish we could nail that fruity-maltiness that they both have in some of our homebrews.

  2. interesting to get your take on sone of these - the Stingo is outstanding. I enjoyed the Belhaven Twisted thistle, too.

  3. Here in the States the term IPA has come to mean one dimensional hop juice to me. I haven't had the chance to try Thonrbridge's Jaipur IPA though.

    Old Hooky is a nice drop.

    Boak White Labs WLP 023 may give you some of the fruit notes you seek. Better yet get in touch with Brewlab and tell them what your shooting for and let them provide a suggestion.

  4. Sounds nice. I always wanted to try Old Hooky after meeting someone who worked at the brewery. The way they produce beer is pretty old school. Maybe some day I'll manage to get there and tour the brewery.

  5. I've often thought you had an odd taste in beer but your dismissal of Jaipur IPA is frankly bonkers. I can only assume that you have a different set of tastebuds to most people.

  6. I most certainly do, John. It's more hygienic that way.

  7. Hmmm. I can understand you not liking Jaipur. In fact, I would have bet on it-given your (strange!) liking for all things smoked. Fair enough. However, I don't think "thin" is a description that most people would associate with it.

  8. Well, obviously I'll give it another go if I see it. But I've given Landlord a fair few chances and still don't like it.

  9. ciaran761:57 pm

    Tried the Belhave Thistle IPA at the weekend and found it a great beer.