30 August 2010

"Trust me, I'm a brewer"

We all, I'm sure, have our own little pre-conceived notions about beer, beer drinking and beer quality. There are brewing practices, ingredients, dispense methods that we will trust implicitly or decry the evils of, even if our views are not shared by everyone else. It's all part of the wonderful complexity and diversity of beer and beer culture. Statements beginning "Everybody knows..." are rare among the cultured zythophiles.

I can trace one of my beer scruples to the bottle of Pliny the Elder that Chris brought me a while back. The label stresses, multiple times in multiple ways, that it's a beer for drinking fresh and should in no circumstances be aged. Since the flavour profile is built around fresh hop flavours, that's understandable: it's something I've noticed in dry-hopped beers I've made myself, that after a couple of months the fresh and fruity hops zing starts to fade and, eventually, disappear leaving just the bitterness behind.

So I was a little conflicted when Hardknott Dave gave me a bottle of Infra Red. Like the Granite and Æther Blæc he also generously proffered, the label suggests that it's most likely to keep improving after the best-before is past. But unlike a barley wine or imperial stout, dry-hopped IPAs -- of which Infra Red is one -- depend on the delicate young hop oils to define themselves and give you the proper hop buzz you're after.

So what to do? This is my one bottle and I'm not likely to see another in the foreseeable future. Take the brewer's word for it or trust my instinct? The latter prevailed: Granite and Æther Blæc have been consigned to the darkest corner of the cellar; but Infra Red I drank.

It's a big ol' bugger, easy to pour slowly, leaving the sediment behind and giving a lovely clear dark amber body topped by a healthy layer of froth which lasts all the way to the end. And I could smell the dry hops at arm's length. On first sip the heavy body fools you into thinking this is going to be a malt-driven beer, but instead of a toffee follow-up there's a smack of those fresh and zingy grapefruit hop flavours. It's very brief, though, and the aftertaste is altogether more firmly bitter in a way I'd associate with English hops more than American. It lasts for ages too, thanks to the tongue-coating texture, and doesn't turn harsh as it fades. Maybe a teensy bit metallic, but I think that's just something to which I'm especially sensitive.

Did I make the right decision? Yes, I think so. This beer is definitely robust enough to survive a long time in storage, and it will undoubtedly change radically during this. But that brief flash of fresh hops will vanish and I wouldn't be at all sure it'll be replaced by anything as tasty.

My recommendation on Infra Red is drink 'em if you got 'em. Anyone who likes their beer big and bitter should be all over this. Trust me on that.