04 January 2016

Just desserts

A handful of British beers today, starting with one that caused a bit of a buzz when it appeared on draught in Against the Grain last month.

You need to take a deep breath for even the basics of Siren's Caribbean Chocolate Cake: it's a stout of 7.4% ABV, brewed collaboration with Florida's well-regarded Cigar City Brewery, and containing cacao nibs, lactose and cypress wood among the ingredients. Not part of the spec, but equally significant, is that fact that the pub was looking a staggering €7.50 a glass for this. Was it worth it? Um. It is very nice, at least once you get past an aroma that makes it smell like stale chocolate and worm-riddled wooden furniture. The texture is incredibly thick, even for the strength and Carribbean stylings. An espresso bitterness opens the flavour, softening to mocha and then adding an earthy spiciness which I'm guessing is the cypress at play. A sweet lactose tang finishes it on a high note and adds to the overall sense of decadent richness it imparts so effectively. It does pretty much everything that's advertised on the tap badge, except perhaps the cake bit. It's not like cake. It's more like eating vanilla and chocolate ice cream with a spoon made of cedar.

Back in August I was in Kensington Olympia watching the stage when Tiny Rebel's Cwtch was declared Champion Beer of Britain for 2015. There was a palpable thrill that a young, craft-oriented yoof-appeal brewery had taken a prize that has received flack over the years (unduly, in my opinion) for being all about fusty boring "traditional" beers. I'd never heard of Cwtch and took it for granted that I wouldn't be seeing any available for a while to come. And then a few months later I was poking around the shelves of DrinkStore and there, bold as the alloy of your choice, was a bottle of Cwtch, presumably brewed and distributed before it won the prize. I snapped that up though then forgot about it in the back of the fridge until a couple of weeks ago. How has it fared in the meantime?

It's a 4.6% ABV amber ale and comes in a very unCBoBish 33cl bottle. There's a softly fruity peach and nectarine aroma, though with a metallic aspirin edge to it. This transpires to be a total decoy as the flavour is much more acidic: a tangy burst of mandarin pith, leaning towards full-on grapefruit, seasoned with tingly lemon sherbet. The dark malt adds a slightly chewy toffee note, and perhaps even a slight burnt smokiness, but it's very much playing second fiddle to the hops. It's perhaps not quite as accomplished as the best American amber ales -- it lacks the soft juicy roundness they exhibit -- but it's a tasty beer and quite an unusual one for British brewing in my experience. Perhaps we'll be seeing more like this now.

To finish, one of the beers I had in mind when I awarded The Beer Market my Golden Pint for best new pub in 2015. It's brewed by Thornbridge in collaboration with Wild Beer Co. and, given its Bakewell origins, rejoices in the name of Tart. It's pale yellow and hazy, thinly textured for a 6%-er but also with a soft wheaty texture that makes up for any lack of body. The sourness is the light and salty sort you'd find in a gose and, while it's certainly centre-stage in the flavour, it shares it with a gorgeous peach and honeydew perfume. This combination does tilt a little towards bathsalts, but not too much. The end result is one of the smoothest, most thirst-quenching examples of nouveau sour I've encountered. Masterful.

More from England soon when I get around to writing about what Christmas in Shropshire brought me.

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