12 August 2013

An American weird beer in London

Cheers to Derek for the heads-up that The White Horse in Parson's Green were staging their annual American beer festival on the weekend I was in London last month. It was a scorching hot day and the pub was packed downstairs, with more spillover from the busy Parson's Green Fair than dedicated festival-goers, I'd say. But upstairs was quieter and, most importantly, had the air con on full blast, so was much more civilised.

The first beer to catch my eye on the listing was Flying Dog's Green Tea Imperial Stout. I mean, why is this the first time I've seen one of these? It all seems so obvious. It didn't disappoint when it arrived, either. A typical sticky waft of caramel dominated the aroma and it hit all the sweet roasty notes you would expect from an imperial stout, but right at the heart of it there's a fantastic grassy complexity from the green tea. Rather than the bitter taste you often get from a cup of green tea, it has the aromatic herbal flavour from dry green teabags. I'd say it's pretty tough to get anything subtle boiled into a powerhouse style like imperial stout at 10% ABV, but this works wonderfully well to counteract the heavy stickiness.

IPAs abounded, of course. I took the opportunity to try Lagunitas IPA, a California brewery rarely spoken of in anything other than reverential tones. It (left of picture) arrived a dark orange colour topped by an ivory head. Though I'm assured that the White Horse takes immense pains to source fresh beer for its festival, this seemed to be severely lacking in the hop department, being largely about the toffee. A hint of smoke adds to its character but it did leave me feeling somewhat disappointed.

Next to it is Ska Brewing's Modus Hoperandi: 6.8% ABV and clearer than the Lagunitas, but just as orange. The aroma is properly hoppy: heavy and resinous, with an odd tang of chlorine in it too, for some reason. There's the expected pungency from the hops and obvious toffee as well, but it felt a little brew-by-numbers to me: nothing that separates it from a thousand other very similar American IPAs.

I decided to finish on something a little more local, opting for a Lovibonds Dirty 69 black IPA. Red-brown rather than black and perfumed with some beautifully enticing floral aromas. It's a trap, though: on first sip the bitterness kicks in, delivering an almost burning harsh smack. The bad cop is followed quickly by the good one: some softer and sweeter rosewater and lavender candy, but it doesn't last long and the finish is uncompromisingly bitter. I'm sure it has its fans, but just too bitter for my tastes.

While I'm on the subject of UK-brewed US-style beers, at the JD Wetherspoon in Gatwick I lucked out by finding Firestone Walker American Independence on cask. This was put together by Matt Brynildson of California's Firestone Walker at the Adnams brewery in Suffolk. It's 5% ABV, so nicely quaffable -- a late call for the flight allowed time for two in quick succession. It's another rich dark orange affair, heavily textured with tangy pithiness to the fore in its flavour and lots of resinous dank. Marijuana marmalade: what's not to like? A satisfying jaffa sweetness finishes it off. I've had some absolute stinkers at the Gatwick Wetherspoon in the past but this really would have taken the edge off a long delay.

Further support here, perhaps, for Alex's thesis that making great beer locally trumps fancy imports almost every time. The UK just needs to get its green tea imperial stout on the go.

10 comments:

  1. Interesting that your Lagunitas wasn't in the best of shape - they've been pretty vocal about the painstaking process they undertake to get it to british bars in fresh condition: refrigerated container from the brewery direct to Adnams' refrigerated units, before being driven direct to stockists. Plus, I do love that you kicked off the session with a 10% Imp Stout - good on you chap.

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    1. Well no, I kicked off the session in Kernel some hours previously. Which might explain why the Lagunitas tasted wonky to me.

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  2. i've enjoyed jasmine and earl grey IPAs in the UK; so a green tea impy stout would be great to try!

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  3. American Independence is tasty alright, didn't like Modus Hoperandi myself either. Kernel is one of the best in the city I'd say!

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  4. Gary Gillman1:15 pm

    They all sound true to form except the Lagunitas, the journey may have affected it.

    That green tea taste is the American hop at work IMO. Many strong stouts here have an English taste but it makes sense to send a distinctively regional one to a showcase for the beers.

    The orange colour is interesting. From Day One of the craft renaissance, the pale ales were all mostly like that! Must be the types of malting barleys used on the West Coast initially. Sierra Nevada's ales typify the style. (However, old photos of Bass and other English pale ales disclose a similar colour).

    I agree that locally brewed versions can easily attain the style (whereas in my experience the reverse has never been, or rarely, true). Personally, I think these beers are not better than classic English bitter but when something is in "everybody wants some" as Van Halen sang...

    Gary



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    1. I'm pretty sure the green tea taste is from the cold-steeped green tea, Gary.

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    2. Gary Gillman5:29 pm

      Clearly that is part of it but I'd think the minty charateristic American hops are a big part of it. I'll write further when I try it, should be a few weeks!

      Gary

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  5. I tried Dirty 69 once and wasn't impressed. Some keg beers come to life when they've warmed up a bit - usually about halfway down the glass, frustratingly - but that one never quite did; I was waiting for something to happen all the way down. Light, drinkable, mildly interesting flavour, faintly interesting aroma, six point how much? I suspect it'd be a much more interesting proposition on cask, but I suppose we'll never know.

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  6. Every time I come to London, I make a point of drinking only British beer, and local brews as far as possible. We're developing a great beer culture here in the states, with great local beers if you live in the right place (like in Austin, Texas where I am), and I think it's great that there are events like beer fests where interesting imports are available in both the US and the UK. But I'm always surprised by the number of Britons--ones my age, under 30--whose go-to beers are things like Blue Moon and Sierra Nevada. There's such a HUGE variety of unimported beer at their fingertips for the tasting!

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  7. Anonymous4:46 pm

    Surprised you didn't like Modus. I disagree that it's indistinguishable from other AIPAs, Modus is far more piney, skunky and earthy than the bright grapefruit/mango/apricot tropical tang of typical West Coast stuff. It's a benchmark Colorado IPA for many here in the States. I have noticed that many AIPAs here lose their hop character very rapidly, they don't taste nearly as good after even a couple of weeks. I suspect you may have had a less-than-perfect serving. This further bolsters your (and my) number one rule in selecting beers: drink local. Re: Lagunitas, excellent brewery but I agree their IPA is nothing special. Some of the varieties of "Little Sumpin'" are extraordinary (especially the Brett-enhanced "Wild"), they do a lot of fantastic barrel-aged stuff and their seasonals and one-offs are generally outstanding.

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