It's weird being blasé about the presence of Thornbridge, but the Derbyshire brewer seems like the staid establishment option in this company. Not that's there's anything wrong with their beer, of course. Bamberg caused a bit of a fuss when it was on. As the name sort-of implies, this is a rauchbier, and not the half-hearted variety. Don't be deceived by the pale amber colour, this is a very hefty lager, chewy and sweet as befits a bock. They've used smoked malt as the base so it completely dominates the flavour, and the aroma too: sweet and tangy on the nose; rich and meaty in the taste. It's perhaps not quite as clean-finishing as the real thing and there's a tiny bit of a plasticky burr, but it certainly doesn't leave the smokeheads wanting.
Also from the Thornbridge not-so-subtle playbook is Cocoa Wonderland. The vital statistics are that this is a 6.8% ABV porter with added chocolate, but all you really need to know is that it tastes like they just melted Mars bars into the brew kettle and kegged the result. The beer element is somewhat lost and it becomes tough going once the novelty wears off, but this is to chocolate what Thornbridge Bamberg is to smoke: laid on thick with no apology offered.
|Quality company: Oblivious & Tale of Ale|
Next to it was Crowbar, only 8.5% ABV so a little light for an imperial stout, I thought. It's plenty heavy, however: thickly textured but also dry with strong burnt notes. This was matured in Islay casks and the peaty phenols are very present, all TCP and plasticine. As befits the name, this beer is not subtle.
We need a cleanser after that and Brew By Numbers 01|01 is just the ticket. This saison is an inviting hazy witbier yellow and was served beautifully cold. There's not much aroma, just slight citrus and yeasty esters and it tastes of fresh lemon with mild white pepper underlying it, plus some denser oily air-freshener for added seriousness. More than anything it tastes like summer, and seems ideal for al fresco refreshment. Definitely one of the best of the new wave saisons I've tasted.
The final two beers for the moment are Spanish. Edge in Barcelona brews Padrino porter. I found it rather thin and quite harshly dry. What should be a luxurious smooth chocolate flavour comes across as artificial and cheap. Padrino looks good on paper but the recipe doesn't quite gel together properly. Much more enjoyable was Napar Pale Ale by Naparbier from near Pamplona. Just 4.3% ABV but exploding with fresh hop resins and juicy mandarin, backed by a substantial sweet malt base. This manages to pull off all the moves that much bigger beers make, and without even calling itself a "session IPA". Well worth seeking out.
Doubtless you'll be seeing more of those stemmed glasses and numbered taps in the background of pictures on future posts.