05 April 2017

Northern powerhouse

One of the beers that really stood out from my trip to northern England last year was North Brewing's Sputnik, a pale ale I met late on a Saturday night at North Bar, the brewery's originating pub in Leeds. I was pleased when Sputnik and a handful of fellow North Brewing beers arrived in Dublin a few months ago and I picked up a set.

To start, Herzog, the Kölsch-style blonde ale. I got an unpleasant waft of dry cooked corn when I poured this one, like crispness gone wrong. It's a very slightly fuzzy yellow colour, topped with a thin skim of tight white foam. There's more of that corn on tasting too, blended in with an overly sweet bubblegum pinkness, cooked-cabbage acidity and and musty sackcloth rasp. You know the way good Kölsch effortlessly blends the subtle hop and grain characteristics together in a smoothly integrated whole experience? Well this is the opposite of that: blaring, conflicting flavours, fighting it out on a stage that just doesn't have room to accommodate them. It's too heavy to even be properly refreshing. Not what I was expecting from North, and adding an extra level of apprehension to the next beers.

The sequel was Transmission, which the brewery describes as a west coast IPA. It's 6.9% ABV and a murky orange colour with lots and lots of foam on top. The aroma is a wholesome jaffa orange smell, rounded out by yeast and protein and other beery bits. The flavour mixes the sharp citrus fruit with a biscuit malt quality for a sturdy, four-on-the-floor, tractor of an IPA. It shows few complexities or weird turns, just the hops you need and the malt you need, to deliver a no-nonsense IPA experience. It misses being angrily bitter, and also being bright and juicy, though there are elements of both. I guess balance is the word I'm looking for. A bit too heavy to be thirst quenching, it's nonetheless flavourful and enjoyable. Getting rid of the yeasty fuzz would improve it further, however.

Last of the set is Full Fathom 5, a 6.5% ABV coffee and coconut porter. It's a very dark black colour, topped with a dark-tan head. The aroma is mostly coffee, heavily roasted, almost to the point of smelling charred. Coffee is central to the flavour too, but sweeter than the aroma would suggest. And there's a lightness of touch to the texture which gives the whole thing the feel of an iced coffee drink: it's that sort of refreshing. The coconut is present but not very pronounced, hanging around in the background and acting more as a seasoning than a core part of the profile. Overall it's a very good big-bodied porter, with a fresh coffee bonus.

Herzog seems to have been just a blip, then. Beyond it, North are turning out some very well-constructed beers. Hopefully we'll be seeing more from their range.


  1. "Getting rid of the yeasty fuzz would improve it further, however."

    Rather than getting rid of it, too many brewers seem to think it clever to put it in. It isn't.

    1. Well, some continental styles manage quite well with it, but obviously those people are barbarians who know little of proper beer.