08 April 2016

Dog's life

Four recent releases from BrewDog up for scrutiny today.

A black IPA to begin. Possibly, in fact, the first BrewDog black IPA I've met. Arcade Nation is a pintable 5.2% ABV and a clear cola red colour topped by an old-ivory head. The aroma is impressive from the get-go: not massively in one's face but a very nice blend of spicy vegetal greenness, citrus zest and darker tar. The latter of these -- a burnt bitumen element -- drives the flavour with a tart lime bitterness doing little more than shouting from the back seat. It calms down after a second or two and a soft raisin and plum character is how it finishes. The glimpse behind the scenes afforded by BrewDog's recipe archive shows us that Carafa Special I with Simcoe, Citra and Amarillo is how the trick was done. This is a bold beer, in both senses of the word. Its big flavour gives your palate a firm kicking and then tries to pretend nothing happened. More cheeky than charming and not one I'd be running back to.

Ramping up the ABV to 7.4%, we have another IPA variant: Albino Squid Assassin, brewed with 8% rye and dark garnet in colour. It smells red too: I get sweet red cherries and a summery raspberry tartness. The texture is surprisingly light given the strength though there's a definite oily, possibly even syrupy, consistency. Still, it passes efficiently over the palate and doesn't get sticky or hot. And that's kind of it. There's not much hop flavour from the Chinook and Citra, but a pleasant jammy sweetness from the malt, though with little by way of rye's signature grassiness. It's a little inoffensive and boring, in fact, the aroma being far and away its best feature, and the can artwork the most exciting part. Perfectly drinkable, though, which isn't always the case with beers of this stripe. The forthcoming barrel-aged version should be more interesting.

Returning to the dark side next, it's Jet Black Heart, an oatmeal milk stout. I found it hard to believe this is a mere 4.7% ABV, pouring thickly as it does, and forming a deep beige head of the colour normally only found on much stronger, denser beers. The aroma is a warming, comforting mug of sweet hot chocolate. I can even smell the marshmallow thoughtfully put on the side. As one might expect, the texture is fantastically smooth, making me wonder why the brewery has chosen to make the draught version of this nitrokeg. But then I wonder why anyone would do something as damaging to a beer's flavour as put it on nitrokeg. The flavour does have that tasty chocolate, and a surprisingly assertive bitter finish, from the hops, I assume: Magnum and a very quiet Sorachi Ace. But the centre ground belongs to the lactose sugar and it's jarringly sweet. The sickly effect starts in the centre of the palate and then drops down the back of the throat, fighting the hops on the way. Maybe nitro can smooth this out, but the bottle is a beer which is almost brilliant but ruined by one unfortunate misstep.

A no-nonsense IPA to bring redemption in the final round: Ace of Simcoe. What used to bother me about BrewDog's IPA is Dead single-hop series was their heat and strength: I felt it didn't really allow the hops to shine through well. Ace of Simcoe is the first in a series of more modest single-hoppers pitched at 4.5% ABV. It's a lovely clear gold colour: no hop haze, or any other kind, here. The aroma is an enticing perfume, spicy and floral with a hint of rich golden syrup beneath. Tastewise it's mostly all juice: largely tangerine, with a hint of lemon and watermelon, plus an odd spark of mint right on the end. I was expecting a stronger bitterness but there's little more than a zesty buzz, and I enjoyed that about it. While certainly extremely gulpable, aided by a lovely soft carbonation, it is a little watery and though the hop finish lasts long, a bit more body would make it even better. Still, it's a very promising approach to single hopping and I look forward to seeing how Chinook, Citra and Equinox react to this bare-bones treatment.

If it's big and bold flavours you're after, the darker pair are where it's at, but in all honesty I prefer the subtler stylings of the the paler ones.