Yes yes: I know I covered a gose in my previous post about pub-hopping in Newcastle, but for this concluding piece we're going even deeper into the craft.
Where better to start than BrewDog? A branch of the proliferant chain clings to the slope of Dean Street, where the city curves dramatically down to the Tyne. The marquee menu board divides the draught selection into house beers and guests, and on the BrewDog side there were two I didn't recognise so I gave them both a go.
Having asked what Deaf Mermaid is, I was, of course, given a sample. And immediately I knew it was for me. This is a very pale 5.2% ABV pale ale, a lightly hazy shade of yellow in the glass. I'm no good at playing guess-the-hop but I'd hazard that Nelson Sauvin plays a big part here: it has that fresh tropical fruit aroma that the New Zealand variety often does so well, and at the centre there's a beautiful sauvignon blanc softness without any of the catty flavours this sometimes brings. The bitterness levels are wonderfully low, yet it's not sweet either: Deaf Mermaid is all about that hop flavour. For something this happy and refreshing, the ABV is a little high, but then if you want a similar effect at lower ABV there's always Dead Pony a few taps over.
Hop Fiction is the same style at the same strength and does a lot of the same things, but exists more as a concept beer (or gimmick, if you will). No kettle hops or dry hops were used: all additions were immediately either side of the boil. You wouldn't know anything funny was going on: it's a straight-up quality pale ale, offering yet more tropical fruit vapours and, while it's a little sharper and oilier than Deaf Mermaid, it's still light enough to be refreshing, especially cold from the keg. If Deaf Mermaid is looking over its shoulder to Dead Pony, Hop Fiction is wearing some of Punk IPA's wardrobe. Both beers are worth trying but don't really offer much that you can't get from the core BrewDog range.
I neglected to mention one of the first-rate Newcastle pubs in my last post, and that's because I only paid it the briefest of flying visits. Bacchus is up towards the centre of the city so was a bit harder for me to get to. I dropped in late on my last afternoon to find it very quiet, an atmosphere that doesn't really suit the big, banking-hall-like open space. The beer selection is probably Newcastle's widest, with about a dozen each of cask and keg. I did a swift skirt around the handles and opted for Saudade, a berliner weisse brewed by two of my favourite British brewers, Siren and Fyne Ales. That's got to be a recipe for brilliance. But, sadly, it's not. There's nothing wrong with it, per se: it's an acceptable strength at 3.2% ABV, and an acceptable blurry gold colour, and there's the wheaty grain and there's the tangy vinegar. But that's it. No distinguishing marks, no interesting twist, just straight-down-the-line and by-the-book. It's refreshing, I suppose, but very very plain.
Down at the Bridge Tavern they had a cask of Siren's Odyssey 001 on the pumps. This 12.4% ABV multi-barrel-aged imperial stout had been there a while and, unsurprisingly, was moving very slowly. Happily I was able to deliver the coup de grâce and the tap ran dry just before my third was filled. It looked like a candle-holder filled with soy sauce. It smelled like vanilla-infused espresso liqueur. And it tasted heavenly. Coffee is the main feature, but as well as the oily beans and the burnt edges there's that gorgeous warming cherry fruit flavour some coffees impart. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of savoury umami, doubtless for the autolytic processes happening at the bottom of the barrel, but they simply added character. I have a lot of time for autolysis in powerhouse beers like this. One sip and any number of boring berlinerweisses are forgiven.
Back in The Free Trade Inn, just before I left, one beer caught my eye from the tall beer fridge. I remember Baby-Faced Assassin when it was a homebrew being tweeted about in hushed tones by many an industry playa. It has since grown up commercial and is now a part of the canned range from Yorkshire-based craft beer godfather Rooster. And it's still regarded by all who comment as an excellent IPA. So there was no question of me not buying a tin. It pours out a hazy pale orange and there's a mildly dank aroma but no real hop fireworks in the smell. On tasting... no, they're not there either. Instead you get lots of that crystal malt toffee effect that plagues (or used to) American IPA. It's barely even bitter. On warming there's a bit more of a resin thing going on, and some pleasant spicing, but a complete lack of zingy fun of any kind. I was surprised and disappointed. So surprised, in fact, that when I happened across a can which was a month fresher in top Newcastle offy Glug, I snapped that up to bring home and give the beer a second chance. And this one was better, certainly in the aroma where a luxurious waft of fresh mango juice met the nostrils. But it's still not terribly hop forward on tasting: dry and bitter rather than fruity, with the sticky malt still very much in control.
While in Glug, I noticed they had one of BFA's companion beers in the fridge, Fort Smith, so I took one of those home with me as well. It's a 5% ABV American-style pale ale using a mix of Citra, Chinook, Amarillo and Crystal hops (as opposed to BFA's 100% Citra). It's a mostly-clear orange-gold and smells gorgeous: the satsuma burst of Amarillo is there, alongside edgier lime but also a hard-candy sweetness. The malt is similarly front and centre as with its stablemate but the hops are working much harder: a gentle dank, juicy jaffa flesh and a subtle pinch of sugared grapefruit. It's beautifully put together, and the kicker? This is dated a month older than the first Baby-Faced Assassin can. It's just a better beer.
Newcastle has a reputation as a late-night party-hard destination for people who don't feel the cold, but there's plenty of good beer for us day folk to sip as well.
Ola Dubh - *Origin: UK | Date: 2009 | ABV: 8% | On The Beer Nut: February 2010* With the blog turning a year old tomorrow it's time to get started on a new season of ...
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