17 July 2014

Downsizing flavour

In general, I'm quite well-disposed to the craftification of the English regional breweries. It gave us Shepherd Neame in brown glass bottles and the lovely looking Revisionist range by Marston's. But I was disappointed to see Thwaites brewery being a casualty of the upheaval, shutting down its main operation and effectively becoming a microbrewery, with the main range of beers contracted out, for a while at least. I wasn't the only one to regard it as a poor decision.

The new Thwaites brand has been given the cringeworthy name of "Crafty Dan". There are three in the initial range. The first I tried is 13 Guns, 5.5% ABV: a US-style IPA bragging of "an intense hit of hops". Quite a big promise there. It pours dark amber with very little head and smells pleasantly of grapefruit and toffee. So far so unintense. It's very fizzy, a busy insistent sparkle and despite what the label says, the malt is driving the flavour: fruitcake and sherbet with maybe a little bit of an acidic burn. Even if it wasn't for the outrageous claim on the label I doubt I'd like this much.

Putting that disappointment aside, we turn to Triple C, a golden ale of 5.3% ABV boasting of Chinook, Citra and Centennial "for hop heads only". What could possibly go wrong with that? It's darker than I'd expect from something labelled a golden ale, but that's OK, and even pouring at arm's length I can smell the familiar herbal piquancy of Citra hops. A closer sniff confirms it but adds a distinct underlying whiff of toffeeish crystal malt too. And once again it's the malt in control: caramel and a bit of milk chocolate given little more than a spicing from the high-alpha hops. The flavour profile is probably closer to what you'd expect from an American amber ale, which again is no bad thing, but some distance from the promises made on that label. By the time it warms any way the hops have faded completely.

I took it as a relief that the final one of the set doesn't brag about how hoppy it is. Big Ben is a 5.8% ABV brown ale, and a rather pale one at that, showing distinctly red around the edges. "A bitter-sweet resonance" reads the strapline, and yes, I can detect the presence of a decent amount of hops in the aroma: some bitter citrus is mixed in with the caramel. The carbonation is pleasantly gentle and it's not overwhelmingly sweet or any way sticky. Instead there's a kind of candystore sherbet and fruit chews, with a slightly metallic dryness in the finish being the only grown-up feature. It's a little thin, especially given the strength, but overall it's decently drinkable in the way a brown ale should be.

Viewed from the front, you can't tell these beers come from Thwaites at all. Since none of them have the beatings of, say, Indus or Lancaster Bomber I do hope this all-craft-and-no-trousers model isn't going to be adopted by other English breweries currently turning out beers with not a damn thing wrong with them.


  1. I have had the Triple C, and rated it "meh" on the scale of things, I haven my fridge the 13 Guns which has a label on it saying something like "one of the top 100 beers you must drink" which I why I brought it and in some misguided way thought I'd save for a better day.

    Or tomorrow having read that.

  2. I'm sure 13 Guns used to be paler than that. They sent me some cans, which I enjoyed, but were also much darker than I remembered the beer being.

    1. Blimey. That's pretty damn dark for something calling itself an IPA.