19 December 2016

Grand crew

I ran into the team from distributor Grand Cru Beers on two consecutive nights last month, both occasions based around their role as importer of Californian beer. (They do Colorado as well, but it's nice to switch things up a bit.)

First stop was P. Mac's, packed to the rafters on a Wednesday night, where in a quiet, overlooked, section of the tap array sat Sierra Nevada Elletteria IPA. Grand Cru has been handling Ireland's Sierra Nevada since its earliest days and the guys took the brewery up on an offer to participate in the Beer Camp scheme. Beginning in 2008, Beer Camp is Sierra Nevada's annual invitational brew-a-thon for distributors, competition winners, journalists and anyone else they want to give a go on their kit. Ken from DrinkStore went as part of the delegation and claims primary responsibility for the recipe: a dark red beer of 6.4% ABV and employing rye, green cardamom, roasted orange peel and Frank Zappa (the hop, not the experimental musician). The batch they actually brewed back in spring was discarded and this is a later version, tweaked and blended by the pro brewers at Asheville.

Frank Zappa is a relative of Neomexicanus and I get a strong hint of that pedigree in Elletteria's foretaste: the same crunchy fried onion bits, with a pinch of sharp lime zest. Beyond this the base beer is smooth and full, with a balancing tannic dryness. The low bitterness allows for equilibrium between the savoury and the juicy, and I guess the cardamom and orange are making their own respective contributions there. It's complex, but drinkable enough to put away three pints when someone else is buying. Ahem. There may still be draught samples available in DrinkStore if you happen to be around that way this week.

Another day, another pub, another California-born brewery that outgrew its home state. By which I mean: Lagunitas tap takeover in 57 The Headline. I'm never quite sure where I stand with Lagunitas: there's a tendency towards hot, dense and sweet beers which I'm not into, but there's also a solid stream of zingy west-coast hop-fun running through the range as well. Fingers crossed!

I thought CitruSinensis would be a good bet. It's based on their New DogTown pale ale, which I liked, though with the ABV raised to 7.9% and the inclusion of blood oranges. Neither helps. The end result is a rather rough hazy wheat beer, with a flavour dominated by dreggy yeast fuzz. There's a pithy fruit bitterness just on the finish but it does no more than mark out the space where the hops should be. At least it doesn't taste hot, given the alcohol content.

Something lighter to follow: Censored, at a mere 6.7% ABV. Except this has that classic Lagunitas density. Badged as a "copper ale" it comes across more like a barley wine to me, revelling in a heavy syrupy feel with just an extra-sweet blackberry flavour at the front and a nowhere-near-balancing metallic bitter finish. Tough going, and I wouldn't be rushing to repeat it. A pint of properly balanced Lagunitas IPA followed and was much more enjoyable.

Last beer out was Aunt Sally, described as a "sweet tart sour mash ale". I knew I already had a bottle at home so I didn't bother with notes or photography and just quaffed the beer. The following evening I plucked out my bottle for more considered appreciation.

It's a mildy hazy yellow colour and the bacterial acidity is very apparent from the nose: not quite vinegar, but certainly heading in that direction. The hops are more pronounced in the flavour, blooming outwards after a second or two with mango and pineapple. The sourness is equally distinct: assertively tart, blending with the citrus hops to add a squeeze of lime to the package. It's 5.7% ABV but you'd never know: it's light and very drinkable, all zip and zest. To finish you get a waft of citrus pith and then it's gone. A lovely beer and one I could drink in downright heroic quantities.

Cheers to Grand Cru for the events, and all gratis beers. More sour ones please.

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