30 August 2017


O the flurry and the scurry when new Whiplash beer drops. Two more arrived last week and I found myself hassling Carlos, beer guru at Fresh in Smithfield, to get the boxes open and make sure they rang in at the till.

First out was little Suckerpin, a Berliner weisse with Lemondrop hops and a bijou 3.3% ABV. The aroma is fresh and lemony, if a little hand-wipe-esque, while also intimating a sharp sourness lurking beneath the surface. This doesn't really materialise on sipping, however. In classic Berliner style it's smooth and grainy, softly textured with a decent body, and the flavour has a gentle mineral salinity, more like you'd find in a straight gose. There's a background tartness but that seems to be as much from the super-citric hopping as any lactic bacteria culture. Anyone looking for a Púca-like sour kick will be disappointed, but I like the balance, the cleanness, and the emphasis on hops.

Its companion is the third tall can of double IPA from Whiplash, following the excellent Surrender to the Void and the sublime Saturate. This is Drone Logic, 8% ABV, a hazy (but not murky) orange colour, and depending on Simcoe for its hopping. It smells fantastically juicy, like fresh-squeezed jaffas, with maybe a lightly green dankness to the side. Once again the flavour performs a sneaky bit of bait-and-switch, emphasising the resinous bitterness and leaving the juice still present, but relegated. The finish introduces a new savoury character that confused me: part smoke, part eucalyptus. It doesn't really fit with either the bitterness or the juice and really detracts from the whole picture. I found myself trying to cling on to the orange flavour as it passed fleetingly across my palate on every sip. So this is nearly a great beer but in the final assessment just slips into the too-hot-too-harsh bracket, along with most of the world's other DIPAs.

Hop fruit giveth, and hop fruit taketh away. Neither beers were quite what I was expecting but both gave me plenty to think about.

28 August 2017

Liverpool by daylight

I spent a busy couple of days at a work gig in Liverpool last month. Staying in the docks area I just had time to sneak out for a handful of bevvies in the nearby hostelries. I've been to most of the places mentioned here previously, though in several cases not since my first visit back in 2009. However, there was one brand new pub to take a look at.

I suspect that The Dead Crafty Beer Company is a direct result of the BrewDogification of British pubs. It's a small corner bar, high ceilinged and brightly illuminated through tall plate-glass windows. The interior décor runs big on bare brick and stripped wood, for that vaguely shabby Brooklyn speakeasy effect. It all felt very familiar. From a sizeable all-keg offering of beers I'd never heard of there was much to explore.

I began with Berried Alive, from Glen Affric Brewery, just across the Mersey in Birkenhead. I probably should have heeded the warning in the description: "mixed berry lager". There's lots of sticky jam about this, and it really detracts from what I'd say is a perfectly decent 4% ABV pils underneath. It's just about refreshing, but doesn't offer enough to justify the £6/pint (pro rata) asking price.

Just time for one more, so an audition was necessary. How about Tired Eyes by Chapter Brewing? A 5.3% ABV witbier with honey and chamomile sounded intriguing, but a taster revealed it to taste of cinnamon mouthwash. Nope.

So instead I went with Reverberate, by Danish brewer Alefarm, though produced at the Warpigs brewpub in Copenhagen. The beige custard appearance revealed it to be in the New England style, as did the creamy texture. But there's an unpleasant yeast bite in the flavour, coupled with a big alcohol burn (it's only 6.8% ABV) that covers up the good bits of the Citra and Mosaic hops, leaving only the pith. It's a sharp, angular beer that feels rough and unfinished, which this style, despite the emphasis on freshness, should not. There was an extra kick in the teeth when it warmed up a little and began tasting of Camembert as well. I'm no murk-dodger, but this ain't good murk.

Dead Crafty seems to have a fairly high churn on the beer lines, so maybe I just got unlucky with my choices on that particular day. I felt I'd done with the kegged fancy stuff for the evening, however.

Right across the street is the legendary Liverpool boozer The Ship & Mitre, a roomy and busy pub donutted around a central bar bristling with taps of all sorts. The addition of an onsite brewery is new since I was last here, so I needed to try what that had to offer.

To begin, Sublime: a 3.8% ABV golden ale, £1.45 for the half. My pennies counted out and the beer taken back to my seat, I found it a surprisingly heavy offering, a pale gold with the golden syrup weight and sweetness of a medium strong middle-European lager. By way of complexity there's a husky dry sackcloth thing, and some white pepper spice, but it's crying out for some proper hopping. Introduce a wallop of Saaz and it could be a real winner.

I moved up next to the 4.2% ABV bitter Level. I was not expecting the wholesome oaty biscuit flavour from this dark copper job, but I really enjoyed it. It's not at all bitter, but is instead smooth and relaxing, with no loud noises or sharp edges. I had been eyeing up a mild on the bar for later, but this delivered a lot of what good mild does, right down to a light dusting of chocolate. It was all a little disconcerting to begin with, but very comfortable drinking thereafter.

A stout comes next, middle-of-the-road at 4.5% ABV but Silhouette is very distinctive in its flavour, piling in wintery herbs and liquorice. There's a huge roasted bitterness as well, which combines with the greenness to create a roasted courgette or green pepper flavour. It does begin to unravel later on, when the cleanness gets swamped by a marmite-ish autolytic note, one which leaves a lingering savoury film in the mouth. I don't know if that's deliberate or a brewing flaw, but I could have done without it. Still an impressively complex session stout, and a definite step sideways from the usual.

Top of the line is Radiant, another golden ale, this time at 5% ABV, and here's that quality lager effect. The golden syrup is back, with a floral honey complexity and a proper green blast of noble hops. The density, and even some alcohol heat, does make it less drinkable than I'd ideally like, but it's certainly no boring British attempt at aping continental lager in Real Ale form, as too many golden ales tend to be: this one has real character.

And so back to that mild I mentioned. It's Shefford Plum Mild, from sturdy Bedfordshire ale-maker Banks & Taylor. It's a perfect black colour, just turning to ruby at the edges and topped by a thick tan head. The first sip was a shock, and I thought for a moment it was off or infected, but that's just the strongly tannic bitterness of real plums. Yes, the fruit is part of the design but I felt it spoiled my enjoyment of the classic softly-spoken mild underneath. That level of fruiting requires a much bigger beer to carry it, I think.