These five beers from north London's Beavertown brewery have been around in Ireland for a few months now, causing a bit of a stir with their distinctive branding and bold flavours.
Neck Oil is a pale ale and shouldn't be confused with the much more famous Neck Oil bitter by The Whalebone brewpub in Hull. It presents as a rather sickly yellow colour, topped by a huge pillow of white foam. The aroma is quite severe: mostly pine and grapefruit though there's also the promise of some softer fruit behind it. The flavour is odd. First impression is very watery and metallic, like those low-ABV table beers that are all the rage these days, even though it's a full 4.3%. The malt is almost silent and the hops are of the intensely acidic sort, showing lots of dark green spinach and nettle. Searching hard for some lighter notes I got maybe a quiet kiss of peach or perhaps mango, but overall this is one for the IBU-chasers rather than the Lilt junkies. Sadly.
So I was apprehensive facing into Gamma Ray, another pale ale, this one slightly stronger at 5.4% ABV, with yet more busy foam wasting my time as I tried to get the bastard into a glass. It's a hazy orange colour and again smells bitter, though there's a richer dank quality to it. The flavour here is a powerful mix of spices and orange: clovey and pithy. It's better and more rounded than Neck Oil but I still get that harsh metallic edge spoiling my fun.
Pulling the tab on 8 Ball gave me a sudden blast of sweet meadow grass and flowers. It's a rye IPA and its texture is nicely full despite a mere 6.2%, with lots of wholesome haze and a respectable head over a garnet-coloured body. The hops are very much here for flavour rather than bitterness and there's a surprising amount of milk chocolate in with the caramel malt. On top of that you get sweet satsuma, floral orange blossom, and a greener weed and herb taste: fennel, eucalpytus. The balance here makes it much more to my taste than the previous two pale ales. Perhaps it's the darker beers where Beavertown really excels. Let's find out.
The inevitable black IPA is called Black Betty and I really should have learned my lesson by the time I got to it. A pyramid of ivory foam in my teku was my reward for pouring it at what I consider a normal pace. Still, the aroma went a long way to kiss and make up, being all luscious rosewater and a cheekier fresh cut-grass sharpness. Smooth milk chocolate is the centrepiece of the flavour, livened by bowers of flowers and then squirted liberally with grapefruit and lime juice. There's an odd savoury finish, a brief flash of soy sauce or shiitake. It's a fun experience, by turns soothing and invigorating. There's very little sign of the whopping 7.4% ABV and if it wasn't for the time it takes to pour I'd have been well up for another.
We finish with Smog Rocket, Beavertown's 5.4% ABV smoked porter. Nothing metallic in this black beastie. It smells of cocoa and iodine and is fabulously smooth textured. Lots of chocolate in its flavour, complemented by a powerful, but not overpowering, luxurious layer of smoke, like the pall in a Mayfair gentlemen's club. The taste isn't totally refined: there are a few bitter edges, but next to Neck Oil and Gamma Ray it's like drinking silk.
I'm surprised to find the darker, sweeter beers are my favourite out of this lot but at the same time I'm quite happy with my lupulin threshold where it is.
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