27 December 2017

Most urbane

I noted, about a month ago, that things were on the up at Urban Brewing. I've been keeping an eye on progress since then and am pleased to report that matters continue to advance. I have a total of nine new beers to report on today: that's the way to brewpub properly.

First to cross my path was the Wee Heavy, one of those makey-uppy BJCP styles that are popular abroad but rarely seen here. It arrived (in the middle there) looking like a stout: black with a nitrogenated head. There's a fair amount of roast in the flavour too, but it's definitely not a stout. Toffee is the main act, sweet but clean and not cloying. There's no off-putting alcohol heat, presumably due to the modest 6.4% ABV. It would be quite plain fare except for the smack of bitter liquorice in the finish which adds interest and intrigue. This maybe lacks the warming qualities that might be expected, but on the other hand they were serving it by the pint so pitching for drinkability was probably the smarter move.

Upping the alcohol slightly we come to Writer's Bock at 6.7% ABV, on the right. It's another mostly-clean one -- lagered, I assume -- though there's a headachey phenolic twang running through it. The centre mixes mild caramel with the green veg of noble hops. The coppery colour ill-fits it for the German heller bock style, but I think that's the purported style. It certainly doesn't fit the dunkler bock or Dutch autumn bock moulds. One to just drink and not worry about sub-style niceties, I guess. I enjoyed it, overall.

Third in this trilogy, to the left of the picture, is a Mandarin & Juniper Pale Ale. "Loads of both" say my notes, matter-of-factly. There's a big and sweet juicy jaffa element, and a bitterer, herbal flavour from the juniper berries to balance it. The botanical side is so pronounced I'd swear there's rosemary in it too, but that appears to be just my imagination. I like the mix of boldness and balance in this, as well as the quaffable 4.5% ABV. Very nicely done.

Some proper hops next (hopefully), and Eureka! Pale Ale. This one is a little watery, the flavour showing some Sorachi-style orange pith, building to become bitterer resins. It's predominantly dry, which does help the hops come to the fore, unencumbered by malt, though that does reduce the overall character. I appreciate that it's just 4.6% ABV but I tend to want bigger and bolder from single-hop beers like this. As-is, it seems to be designed much more as a fire-and-forget quaffer.

The appearance of a Pine Needle Saison had me high-tailing down the quays for a try. This is an easy-going 4.8% ABV, hazy yellow in colour with a smooth texture and low carbonation. It's dry and funky, like clean straw with just a very mild wintergreen spicing in the finish, though only if you go looking for it. Like a needle in a hayloft... There's something else a bit strange lurking in the flavour that I couldn't put my finger on: not quite chlorine and not quite salt; strange but not upsetting. Overall it's another enjoyable one, the farmyard characteristic being its best and most distinct feature. Those needle foragers could have saved themselves some time, or worked harder, I guess.

Looking almost identical but very different under the bonnet was the Strawberries & Cream Cream Ale. The words "cream ale" always put me on high alert for grainy cheap-tasting beer. This one, however, uses the basic style as a launchpad for its massive strawberry flavour. The intensity is such that I'm genuinely surprised the beer isn't pink. The first hint of what was to come was the powerful aroma, sweet and concentrated, like tinned strawberries. The flavour unfolds along these lines with a kind of '80s fakeness. Think Angel Delight or the Birdseye Sweet Trolley. A soft texture adds to the lurid cheesecake effect, finishing with a crisp grainy bite before it gets sticky or unpleasant. It's a very silly beer but I really liked it. The Urban brewers seem to have more fun with fruit than any other ingredient.

My next visit was just a couple of weeks ago, when the Christmas crowds were beginning to fill the place out. I started with Nutcracker. Quite an involved recipe is touted for this hazelnut brown ale, claiming cinnamon, honey, clove and coriander. Almost all of that gets lost, leaving just a pleasantly herbal vibe: bitter and piney; the coriander adding that signature soapy note it likes to ruin beers with. This isn't ruined, however. The headline nuttiness is present from the beginning, if rather more like chewy roasted chestnut than hazelnut. The ABV is a manageable 5.3% and while it could stand to be a bit more complex, it's not the messy confection that this sort too often are.

A Belgian Dubbel followed. It's remarkably pale: more a bright orange colour than typically brown. The scaled-back 6.5% ABV is not unrelated, I'm sure. It does taste properly dark, however, full of sweet and chewy toffee and fudge. Where ripe dark fruit should be there's a nondescript Belgian ester quality, turning a little unpleasantly to marker pens. It doesn't upset the overall picture, however. This is another very decent dark and drinkable one.

And I thought I was done at that point. But early last week they announced another new addition and off I went for a sup. This was the alluringly-titled Rooibos Wheat and I'll be honest: I thought this one would be pink. It's not though, more an orangey-beige colour, harking back to the murky Urban brews of yestermonth. The texture matches the look, being creamy with a lacing of vanilla. It's basically a weissbier at its core, highly gassy with a flavour centring on banana, though there's a more interesting seam of strawberry around the edges, plus a sweet and mildly eggy meringue or flip quality. It works quite well and I definitely wouldn't classify the opaqueness as a flaw here. At the same time I probably wouldn't drink more than one, and that as a dessert.

2018 should be an interesting one at Urban, with yet more recipes and hopefully the fruits of its basement barrel ageing programme coming up the stairs. I'll be there when they do.

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