21 February 2013

Bring the hops

I had one of my occasional impromptu tastings with Richard recently, which tend to consist of random stuff we've accumulated. There was a bit of an abiding theme with the last one, though: hops. Lots of them, in varying doses.

We started on Cumbrian Five Hop by Hawkshead, a 6% ABV pale ale with, you've guessed it, five different hop varieties. It was a strange beer. I expected something fairly bitter with lots of citrus fruit but first impressions were of heavy violet perfume in the aroma and a dense funky flavour. It lacks the zing I'd expect from conscientious hopping and there's even a vegetal tang at the end. Among the varieties used are Citra and Amarillo and I think I was able to detect a bit of a burn from the former and some juicy orange from the latter. But I couldn't match any flavour to the Bramling Cross or East Kent Goldings, though I'll put the nasty sprout tang down to the Fuggles 'cos I'm a bit of a racist that way. This beer just didn't quite cohere for me.

Along similar lines we had Nils Oscar Hop Yard: 7.3% ABV and with remarkably little aroma at all. I spotted the Simcoe funk straight away, and it's matched by an intense mouth-watering bitterness which could be the Nelson Sauvin or Cascade, though I suspect the dry-hopping with Citra may have played a role in it too. There's some lovely honeyish and tannic notes in it as well but I'd given up trying to match hops to flavours at that point. There's also Amarillo and Pacific Gem, but you figure it out. It's a lovely IPA, however, and that's all that really matters.

My contribution was a couple of Belgian IPAs I've had sitting about for too long. I had really enjoyed Troubadour's Westkust last time I was in the Netherlands so I reckoned it would be worth opening my bottle of Magma now. Tragically I think it was past its best. It's 9% ABV and has some beautiful toffee and marzipan notes, but the hop possé skipped town some months ago. I really must give this another shot when I see it fresh. The other was Belle-Fleur by De Dochter van de Korenaar, bringing us back down to 6% ABV and giving off a lovely orange grove aroma: fruity and very slightly grassy too. The initial flavour is sharp in a refreshing sort of way though I detected a bit of an oxidised sherryish tang after a moment. As it warms the intensity wanes a little though it's still nicely pithy. Not outstanding, but quite decent.

The headline act was a beer Richard expected big things of: Galaxy White IPA from the Anchorage brewery. "White IPA" is a fancy-pants Alaskan way of saying "hoppy witbier", though instead of orange peel they've opted for kumquat, and included pink peppercorns with the coriander. The hops are all, as the name suggests, Galaxy. Oh, and then they oak-aged it and infused it with Brettanomyces, making it nearly a cliché of extreme US brewing.

It pours out a fairly innocent hazy yellow: so far so witbierish. But here's the thing about citrus hops and Brett -- you get a smell like a toilet: an aroma of somewhere that was pine fresh just before the lunchtime rush and now needs the cleaner again. It took a bit of work to get beyond the initial impression, and down at the back I found some honeydew melon, white pear, and a nice roundness from the oak, but all of that had to be mentally filtered through the old sour sweaty brett funk. Pink peppercorns? Forget it; they're gone. I'd love to know how this tasted before they ruined it with the Brett, but I'm not planning to be in Anchorage any time soon.

A mixed bag to say the least, and a microcosm of why saying a beer is "hoppy" could mean anything.


  1. I think I want to try that Galaxy white IPA. I'm not moving to Alaska to be an oil worker though so I'll wait till it appears in my hands some time.

  2. Professor Pie-Tin12:26 pm

    " you get a smell like a toilet: an aroma of somewhere that was pine fresh just before the lunchtime rush and now needs the cleaner again. "

    Top quality scribbling.