07 December 2018

Tick tock

Session logoThe final ever iteration of The Session happens today, and I'm seeing it out the way I'd like to be remembered: scooping furiously. The occasion was the BrewDog Collabfest where once a year each branch in the chain of bars gets together with a local brewery to create a once-off small-batch beer. The results are then distributed around all the bars, sold by the flight. It's a great opportunity to try lots of different beers, and I hadn't been expecting it when I stopped by the Bristol outlet, so it was a wonderful thing to stumble into.

My first flight began with Black Öyster from Örebro in Sweden, via the Södermalm branch. It's a stout of 5.3% ABV, smoky and slightly salty. I found it a little harsh at first, leaning heavily on its dry bitterness. It softens as it warms, however, becoming less mineral and more herbal. A good start.

I never pass an Italian grape ale and BrewDog Bologna had commissioned one from Candigeurra called Extra Brut. This is 7% ABV, bright yellow with a champagne grape aroma. The texture is smooth and there's a panoply of floral flavours on offer: lavender and elderflower being the strongest. There's very real grape too, of course, and a serious bitter hop kick to finish. An absolutely beautiful beer, this, and one deserving of wider production.

I grumbled about New Bristol Brewery on Wednesday. They had provided the hometown Collabfest beer, I Woke Up In This, a double IPA with mango and coconut. It was an opaque orange colour with an unsettling Malibu aroma. Crunchy desiccated coconut is the first and most prominent flavour, the mango barely perceptible in the background, and there's no hop character at all. This was a silly bit of fun but quite inoffensive. And at least here the beer tasted like it should.

More brut IPA? Why of course. Siren produced one called Brut Romance at 6% ABV, though they added strawberries and hibiscus to turn it rosé. Not knowing that, I got flavours of raspberry and blueberry from it, and a whole dollop of tart yoghurt. A dry enzymatic burn finished it off, leaving me again wondering how they can call this an IPA when it doesn't taste of hops. This was more like a generic fruit beer, gimmicky and offering nothing substantial.

Herself was not to be bothered with flights so got a pint. That was of Jammy Bastard, described as a raspberry white stout and coming from Crafty Devil Brewing in Cardiff. It was a murky orange colour, 5.5% ABV, and tasted more like a flavoured witbier, packed full of raspberries and with very little else. It was pleasant, though, having a lovely soft and filling texture: definitely well suited to pint drinking.

I had another chance to drop back in the following afternoon and I thought I would be picking up where I left off but was surprised to discover that, apart from the hometown beer, all of the Collabfest taps had been changed over. Wonderful service for the tickers!

BrewDog Stirling had Stirlinger Weisse, brewed by Fallen. This was 3.6% ABV and a bright orange-juice yellow colour. It wasn't very sour but it was lovely, the added passionfruit coming through freshly and clearly, the whole thing having the clean fruit qualities of a sorbet.

I wasn't going to go past the chilli and pineapple black double IPA called Prickly Heat, brewed by Black Iris of Nottingham. It turned out to be less than the sum of its parts, with a pleasant liquorice bitterness, some mild spicing and a warming chewy texture. The pineapple has got lost in there completely. It's a still a good black IPA, however, even if the far-out novelty factor is lacking.

Dry Your Ryes Mate came from Two Tribes in London, courtesy of BrewDog Angel. It's a red rye session IPA of 4.8% ABV. It looked awful in the glass, a sludgy milkshake-brown. Amazingly, the flavour is actually beautifully clean, with a fresh and zippy green bitterness. The texture is on the thin side, perhaps to be expected at that strength, but the hop flavour lasts and lasts long into the aftertaste. I don't think I've had a session IPA with rye before. The format has potential.

The dark brown fellow on the paddle is called Not Another NEBA and came from St. Hallvards Bryggeri in Oslo. New England brown ale is another new variant for me, and this one has added chilli peppers. I didn't really get much of a taste of them as it's hops all the way here again: a crisp raw-cabbage flavour. I quite liked it but it was disappointing as a brown ale, with none of the chocolate or coffee richness I wanted.

And last in this set is something purple called Something Purple by Piccolo Birrificio Clandestino in Livorno, a rather boring blackcurrant Berliner weisse which, like so many of these, just ends up tasting like a forest fruit yoghurt.

Farewell then, Bristol. And farewell to The Session. I've had a lot of fun since my first contribution in 2007, twisting what I'm writing about to fit the theme. Cheers to Jay and Stan who created it, and all the hosts and contributors over the years. I don't know what my final "beer for the road" will be, but I'll definitely be planning the next one before I've finished it.

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