On an appropriately dark and stormy August afternoon in Dublin, The Beer Market opened the doors on its Cloudwater tap takeover. I've had mixed experiences of the Manchester brewery of the moment: some sublime beers and some confusingly awful ones. I didn't see very much Cloudwater in northern England in July so I relished the opportunity to take my time with a few of them, side-by-side.
I opened, sensibly, with Sorachi Ace Grisette, a 3.6% ABV refresher, pale yellow with an almost greenish tint, topped by a fine white mousse. The aroma leaves no question of this being one of those wan and corny watered-down saisons: there's a veritable blast of hops. And yet Sorachi Ace wasn't the first variety to spring to mind. Grapefruit and melon were the initial sensations, perhaps a product of the Belgian yeast. Only after it warmed a little did the characteristic lemon and coconut of Sorachi Ace start to come through in a big way, backed by a spicy jasmine and orange effect. So that's how it smells.
There's a very hard bitterness in the foretaste, coming to a sudden yeasty stop. It needs a moment or two for the flavours to start to coming out, and when they do it is once again not the typical Sorachi experience, being instead simultaneously peppery and citric with a honeydew sweetness and a dry mineral finish. It's nearly too complex to be refreshing and I certainly had to take my time over it. This is a very... interesting example of what can be done by mixing the light saison stylings of grisette with massive hops.
To follow, IPA Citra, 6.5% ABV and a medium hazy orange. Quite a mild aroma here: just a gentle orange and lime sherbet kick. A surprise oat cookie malt weight is the first impression on tasting, allied with a thick chewy texture. This isn't the hop firework I was expecting. The Citra sits in the background, well-mannered and just muttering quietly of orange juice and weed. There is a substantial flavour contribution from the yeast, by turns savoury with occasional fun sparks of gunpowder. But really it's not what I was expecting: no brightness, no freshness and none of what makes Citra such a popular hop.
The symptoms of hop disappointment can be treated, I understand, by the application of Cloudwater DIPA to the affected area. This is version seven in a series that comes out two-by-two every couple of months to much acclaim and forensic beer geek analysis. It's pale and cloudy, smelling innocently of white grape and lychee, with perhaps just a small hit of nail varnish remover -- unsurprising, maybe, at 9% ABV. Intensely floral hops open the flavour, then a layer fried onions and lime, finishing on a resinous and slightly soapy mix of lavender and pine. The ABV is well hidden: it's cool, smooth and worryingly easy drinking for something this strong and expensive. I'm not sure I want understated quality at €9.25 a glass: I want big hops all up in my wherever. This, while very good, doesn't seem to have the impact, or sheer fun, of the earlier version I drank.
So my equivocal view of Cloudwater remained intact after the afternoon's session. Nine beers in, I just don't see the consistent brilliance that others seem to find in their work. I've just got to keep drinking them, I guess.
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