26 January 2018

Peeking over the fence

The great and the good of UK brewing in today's post, collected randomly from all over the place in recent months.

Mobile Speaker came courtesy of BrewDog as part of my Beer Geek Awards prize. It's a collaboration between Cloudwater of Manchester and Dry & Bitter of Gørløse, a double IPA placed in the de rigeur 440ml labelled can one month before I opened it. No mention is made of New England but the inclusion of oats and the JW Lees yeast is a dead giveaway, as is, of course, the orange-tan opaque colour. 30 grammes of hops per litre of beer have gone into the dry hopping, and this huge concentration certainly shows in the aroma: a heady mix of fresh garlic and sweeter mango. The first flavour I get is caraway. Mosaic isn't a headline hop, but it's on the list, so I guess this is its fault. Behind it there's a garlic burn and a substantial booze heat, which is unusual for this sort of beer, even at 8% ABV. The finish is bitter and yeasty but the body is thick enough and smooth enough to avoid it being harsh. It's still not great, however: lacking fun fruity hop character and instead being all serious and savoury. As is so often the case I want to try it after the gunk has been cleared out of it.

Possibly one of my biggest regrets was not drinking Wylam's Jakehead IPA when I was in Newcastle a few years back. I drank other stuff instead, but Jakehead was the one attracting all the buzz a few months later. It's terrible being left out of the conversation. Thankfully, it has now arrived in Ireland in bottled form so I get to have my spake.

It's the medium amber colour that all US IPA used to be. The pour was clear but surprisingly flat, leaving a crescent of impacted yeast on the bottom of the bottle. A head formed but disappeared quickly. The beer itself isn't flat at all, having a pleasingly gentle sparkle. The aroma is quite resinous, almost funky, and certainly not the bright hop colours I had been expecting. Its flavour, meanwhile, is generally bitter, showing aspirin, orange pith and a rough dry sackcloth burr. There's a growing dankness as it warms but it never quite takes over. To me this sits somewhere on the spectrum between English bitter and old-school American IPA. And to be honest I don't see what the fuss is about. England makes much better IPAs than this, across all the sub-genres.

Another Wylam next, but on tap, at Alfie Byrne's. Hickey the Rake is described as a "limonata" pale ale, though I can't find any significance for the word, beyond it being Italian for lemonade. It's certainly lemon-tasting, and pleasingly heavily textured at just 4.2% ABV, so the overall effect I got is of lemon curd. It poured perfectly clearly and was as clean tasting as it looked. When beers attempt lemon flavours, whether derived from hops or by a direct fruit addition, there's always the risk of it coming out like detergent or furniture polish. This manages to avoid all of that, thankfully.

Taking a break from the hops next, with Raindrops on Roses, a rose-petal-enhanced witbier by Thornbridge, in collaboration with homebrew competition winner Phil Sisson. Oddly, rose petals aren't listed in the ingredients, nor are any of the fruit or herb additions normally employed in this style. It looks the part, a hazy pale orange topped by handsome pillow of foam. The aroma is a summery jug of fresh lemonade: citrus muddled with sugar. The rose is very apparent on tasting. It actually tastes pink, a mix of strawberry chews, sugar-dusted Turkish delight and retro pink-iced biscuits. At the same time it isn't particularly sweet, in the heavy sugary way of some beers. It has been fermented out properly and there's a dryness to the base beer that really helps to project the floral qualities. First-rate head retention and a cuddly fluffy texture make it a very comfortable beer to sink into and relax with. I'm not saying it's not weird, because it genuinely is, but more than anything it's fun, cheeky, and maybe a little silly, yet fully infused with joy. Well done to all involved.

A swift one at The Black Sheep next: Hard Rollin' by Siren, a lactose-and-oats-infused IPA, created in collaboration, again, with Dry & Bitter. It arrived headless, a bright murky orange colour. Orange in flavour too, with the concentrated orange squash sweetness gently spiced with red cabbage and nutmeg, before gradually giving way to an acidic hop burn in the finish. There's just enough of this bitterness and spice going on in the background to prevent it becoming an all-out candy bomb, though it's still not the way I like my IPAs. While I'm not doubting the sheer quantity of hops employed, I would like them to have provided a greater complexity of flavour.

I chose this over Northern Monk's Knucklepuck, of which I had a taster. It's one of those super-savoury IPAs, loaded with caraway seed. It's clean and clear, which offered a refreshing change, but was ultimately unengaging. The fruit element of Hard Rollin', simple and all that it is, offered a more interesting prospect.

Beavertown had two special editions on tap at Underdog just before Christmas, both at curiosity-dampening prices but I decided I'd give them a punt anyway. Logistical Nightmare was first, a milk stout which didn't taste very much like a milk stout to me. It's crisp, for one thing, with a dry bite that would be better placed in a schwarzbier. There's even a wisp of smoke in the finish which I thought completely misplaced. Beyond the stylistic niggles, it's a perfectly decent glassful, if rather lacking in the complexity one might expect from a special edition beer, especially at 6.3% ABV.

At time of drinking, Beavertown's Sonoma Pride was the most expensive beer yet served at Underdog, asking €9.75 for a 33cl glass. It's a clone recipe of Russian River's Pliny the Elder double IPA, and was created as a fundraiser for fire relief in California. It arrived a luminous gold colour and smelled promisingly of juicy peaches. This flashes only briefly in the flavour, however, before being overtaken by quite a harsh set of bitter flavours including aspirin, wax and overcooked vegetables. It gets danker as it warms, almost developing a cheesy Camembert-rind taste. What it doesn't do, is taste anything like Pliny the Elder. I found it harsh, insipid and generally lacking in pop. It was surprisingly watery for 8.8% ABV too. For the price asked, this beer should have been literally awesome, but it wasn't.

Finally, a can I picked up in the January sale at Stephen Street News: Beavertown and Green Cheek's The You Zoo. The New Englandishness is very apparent here, it being a dense opaque yellow with only the faintest skim of a head. The added ingredients are yuzu fruit and oolong tea. It's a while since I last had a tea-and-yuzu beer. The IPA aspect is very much in control of the picture: a heavy dank and bitter aroma, almost metallic in its intensity, like iron-rich liver. The flavour is similarly heavy and serious: a green onion acidity and lots of yeasty fuzz. I was expecting bright, clean and zingy but it's not that at all. Half way through I was finding it sickly and difficult, this sensation doubtless enhanced by the 7.5% ABV. As it warmed and flattened, more of the citrus juice emerged, but that dirty yeast quality never quite leaves. Presumably a one-off, it's not in need of a re-brew.

Cloudwater, Wylam, Thornbridge, Siren, Northern Monk and Beavertown: that's every brewery that exists in England, right?

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