23 October 2017

Hypetrain USA

I left off on Thursday talking about the special exclusive American beers that the Brewers Association brought to the Irish Craft Beer Festival last month. The following day I was away to London for Beavertown's Extravaganza and, unsurprisingly, American beer featured heavily in my day there too.

The festival itself was held in the gargantuan industrial space of The Printworks in Rotherhithe, spread over three-and-bit halls with a host of breweries from the USA, UK and elsewhere, each pouring two beers at a time in dinky 100ml serves. The unusual feature was that the beer was all-inclusive, so no messing around with tokens or cash. The system worked quite well, I thought. The heavily hyped breweries had large queues, but there was no obligation to drink those, and the lines did move fast in any case. Kick-off was at 3pm and it was only around 7 that I started seeing some mild staggering, smashed glasses and collapsing benches. The crowd began to thin out shortly afterwards as the bars started running out of beer, and the party had reached its natural conclusion by the 10pm closing. I had some 30 new beers and ciders under my belt at this stage and felt I'd achieved my money's worth.

I wasn't looking closely, but I suspect the consistently longest queue of the day was at Trillium. I figured it was worth a go, and got in line early, first arming myself with sustenance for the journey. That was in the form of Dragon Mask, a 12% ABV imperial stout from San Diego's Modern Times. And jolly nice it was too: a suptuous mix of chocolate and coconut, warming all the way down like a mug of mocha on a cold day.

At the top of the queue they were pouring Trillium's Port Point Pale Ale. It ticks a lot of the New England boxes in a fairly perfunctory way: the milky yellow colour, a background vanilla sweetness and then lots of garlic bouncing around up front. All very familiar and not particularly special. The ABV is up at 6.6% ABV though the texture is unforgivably watery for that. It was fine but I wasn't getting back in line for another.

Other Half also attracted queues, though a fair bit shorter than Trillium's. Mylar Bags was much more to my taste despite being a double IPA. It really helped that it didn't taste anything like its 8.8% ABV, but also that the garlicky hops blend with a cleaner and lighter minty herbal kick. The base is candy-sweet but the hopping is well able to balance it and gives it a superbly long finish. Yes it's another one of those murky yellow American savoury IPAs, and a little one-dimensional with it, but it does what it sets out to do quite beautifully.

And amazingly there was an even better double IPA than that: Ca$h Only from San Francisco's Cellarmaker. The ABV goes up to 9.1% and there's a luxurious smoothness to the whole thing, loads of dank oils but no heat, no acid: none of the things that generally turn me off the style. Despite the name it's pure understated class. I've no idea how they achieved it.

It was funny to see the US breweries who would have had serious geeks queuing around the block five or ten years ago twidding their thumbs while waiting for customers. Maybe I just caught Three Floyds in a quiet moment. Their Battle of Charro II imperial IPA with Brettanomyces and cherries was a bit of a disaster. 10.8% ABV and heavily sweet with a cloying perfume quality, it began tasting of throat lozenges and eventually turned to cough medicine. Everything on this would need to be dialled way back to make it drinkable, but maybe the lesson is not to mess about with IPA as if it's a stout.