17 June 2016

Total glam

The good people of Glamorgan Brewing Company (or their representatives) kindly shipped me over some of their bottles to try. They're not available in Ireland as far as I know, but sure Glamorgan is only across the way. Those more familiar than me with the brewing scene in Wales may remember their previous incarnation as Kite Brewery.

First to be opened was Cwrw Gorslas, which appears to be the flagship bitter, at 4.3% ABV. It's a clear copper colour with a classic nose of jaffa and biscuits. It tastes dry and fairly tannic, though what the tannins pull out of your mouth, the lightly juicy orange notes put straight back. There's a definite malt sweetness in the middle but it doesn't dominate, leaving the hops to play their thing. The label says Goldings, Challenger and Cascade are the varieties used, and they work well together, with just enough playful American citrus but also a more serious British metallic bitterness too. All-in-all a balanced and elegant beer, one that speaks of sunny afternoons in quiet pubs. Nicely done.

Beer 2 is the beautifully golden Welsh Pale, at the same strength. We trade up from Cascade to Columbus so I was expecting a bigger hop bang, but not really. There's a vague citric acidity in the aroma, but nothing really to pique one's interest. The flavour is light and clean; slightly spritzy with a tart lemon finish and some finely-spun candyfloss malt, but it lacks the substance of the previous beer. The brewer seems less comfortable in a new world vernacular and the beer lacks complexity as a result. It's a perfectly fine refreshing beer: one to drink cold and it'll hit the same places that a good lager does, but it's not an American pale ale, nor really a British bitter. Golden ale is more the sort of territory we're in here, with maybe some extra bonus bittering. Stylistic quibbles aside, I made short work of the bottle: it's certainly easy drinking.

With the Welsh Pale put away I don't know what the reasoning is behind the next beer: Craft Welsh Pale. I deliberately set them up side-by-side to see if I can taste what "craft" adds. Or takes away, indeed, since we're down to a 33cl bottle. It's another pale gold one, but at the upper limit of the set's strength range at all of 4.5% ABV. Sherbet lemons are the aroma, sliding delicately towards washing up liquid. There's definitely more of a hop flavour than the previous, though possibly not as much as would be suggested by a list containing Simcoe, Citra and Chinook. The official tasting note suggests lime, and I do get that tight green sharpness, plus a chalky mineral alkalinity, but there's also enough balancing candy malt to remind us we're just outside Swansea, not San Diego. It's fun to see a traditional British brewery take on a brash Californian hopping style, and the end result is clean and tasty, but it does seem a little gimmicky and I think I prefer the non-craft beers in their bigger bottles.

We'll keep the buzz going next with Thunderbird, another 4.5%-er, but this time an award-winning IPA. It's darker, and smells less citric than the last one. The hop combo is the same as in Cwrw Gorslas, so I guess I'm expecting something much more similar to that than to any of the more new worldy efforts. And yes, it tastes sweet and biscuity with some lovely golden syrup and honey notes. The hop flavour is muted until the finish where it flourishes outward in a burst of green bitterness. Probably the best feature is the full smoothness which makes it very easy to suck back and I'm actually a little disappointed they didn't decide to put it in a half litre bottle too: it deserves one. Aroma? Yes, there is an aroma and I found it unpleasantly cheesey, but thankfully it's easily ignored. Just focus on the mouthfeel.

Last of the lot is Jemima's Pitchfork, the only one to have a bit of a haze to it. It's a 4.4% ABV golden ale so I was expecting something safe here but they've gone all-in with the hops: Citra, Eldorado, Cascade and Bramling Cross. None of them really shines, though. I get the lime thing again, from the Citra presumably, and possibly a teeny tiny hint of Eldorado melon or mango, but the signature tastes of the others are absent without leave. It's barely bitter and, for a golden ale, the malt is really not pulling its weight as texture or flavour. Like the Welsh Pale, this is a beer with no flaws, but not a lot of distinguishing features in its favour either.

On this showing, Glamorgan appears to be a traditional British brewery with pretensions of American-style flavours. They don't quite make it, but the hybrid space they've fallen into is actually quite an enjoyable place to sink a few pints.