Tuesday 27 March 2012

Camden Town Brewery

I often over-enthuse about how I love the USA beer scene with reckless abandon, it’s not just the beer that’s got me captivated but the very vibe that runs all the way from the brewer to the consumer. When I came back from my first trip to the States, which you can read about here, I was captivated not just by the hop forward brews that were transforming my taste buds but the tap room culture that’s at the heart of the local community. In many parts of the US local craft beer nuts are encouraged to swing by the brewery for a growler refill whilst stopping for a couple of pints and a chat with passionate bar staff and down to earth brewers. They are the most popular hang outs for local workers, students and fans of craft brewed beer alike.

When I returned to the UK after my first trip to the States I not only craved a sensory barrage of hops and malt but I also wished that there were more bars that catered for my new found tastes. My wish was soon granted as bars such as the Euston Tap and the Craft Beer Company started popping up like daffodils in spring but despite these bars being excellent I still desired to feel the ‘tap room’ culture that I had observed across the pond.

This is what the bar looks like after several pints of Pale Ale
Camden Town brewery was established in 2010, by coincidence the same year I started to become an established beer nerd and I remember the first time I enjoyed Camden Town Pale ale at the Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes, since then I have followed their development closely. Now, creating the same community feel in London is quite different to creating it in a small town in northern Colorado but when I heard that Camden Town were going to build a bar and open up to their adoring public I felt that finally the UK brewing scene was catching up to it’s transatlantic cousin and sorely wished that the bar would carry the great vibe that I felt in the States.

Earlier in the month they had their debut public opening as they launched their US hopped lager ‘USA Hells’ but as I work on Saturdays I couldn’t make it down so when I saw that there would be a second opening last Friday I yelped with a little excitement and hastily emailed a bunch of friends to see if they fancied visiting with me. As chance would have it my Dad, who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado and frequents the tap room at Odell brewing with alarming regularity was also in town and in a further twist of fate one of the three guest beers that Camden Town would be tapping along with Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye PA and Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi was Odell IPA. I thought it would be an excellent chance to see how well these hyper hopped US brews fare after they have completed their trek across the Atlantic as the IPA is my Dads regular tipple, I was also wondering how he would react to the price as he is used to paying just $3.00 for a 16 ounce pint.

For the record I didn’t make any tasting notes on this trip as it was more about socialising with friends and experiencing the brewery itself than over analysing every drop of beer that slipped down my throat. I started the evening with a pint of USA Hells, now I’m not normally a lager drinker as I generally find it too gassy and lacking a bit in substance for my tastes but I was very impressed by this beer. It smells faintly of lemon juice and elderflower and this translates perfectly into the taste which is backed by a lively, refreshing lager base. It was very easy to drink and easily up their with some of the best lagers I’ve had but those zingy USA hops appeal to my personal tastes more than the peppery, earthy notes you usually get with the Saaz variety. I’d definitely sip USA hells on a hot summers day but it was a Friday night and I was ready for something a bit more robust so moved on to my old favourite Camden Town Pale Ale. I’ve had this beer on numerous occasions in both bottle and on keg but never has it tasted so fresh and flavoursome as it did this time, it smelt of lemon rind, grapefruit and a bouquet of spring blooms and tasted incredible. The malts were robust but never too sweet and the bitterness was wonderfully balanced, zesty, but not too bitter, my perfect idea of a session beer and I did indeed come back for several more pints of this later in the evening. 

I only really drink wheat beers in the hot summer sun so I skipped the Camden wheat effort and sent my Dad to the bar for a pint of Camden Ink a stout that’s served using a nitro-keg. It’s my understanding that nitrogen fuelled kegs produce smaller bubbles resulting in a creamier mouth feel than standard carbon dioxide based kegs and so Ink is not dissimilar to Guinness in appearance. The taste though, is quite a lot better, imagine if you will the roasted malt flavour of around ten pints of Guinness condensed into a single pint then dry hopped for good measure. Once you get past the beautiful smell of roasted coffee beans you get a lovely deep espresso flavour backed with burnt toast and then a long, lingering bitter grapefruit finish. It’s a beautiful beer and definitely one for stout aficionados and fans of beers such as Magic Rock ‘Dark Arts’.

Strong branding is prevalent throughout the brewery
I then moved on to the guest selection, two of which I have never tried before. My dad commented after his first sip of Modus Hoperandi that this was ‘definitely more his thing’ proving that living in the town that contains both Odell and New Belgium wrecks your palate (he also commented that earlier in the evening he had a pint of cask ale and couldn’t taste a thing!) This IPA from Ska brewing was a delight, the malt character was a lot more present than the other pale beers I had sampled this evening but unlike the roasted flavour of Ink these were much sweeter, like chewy toffee in the Ska and in the Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye PA it was like a sickly caramel and I actually found it a little too sweet for my tastes. I love the grassy, piney hop character of the Modus Hoperandi and vowed to track it down in a bottle when I’m in the States next month so that I can taste it with a fresher palate. This shouldn’t be a problem seeing as Ska brewing are also based in Colorado. I did enjoy the Ruthless but I’ve had better beers from Sierra Nevada so I’m not too fussed about trying this again.

We then made our way to the bar to get some of the holy elixir, Odell IPA. When we ordered it (my Dad refused to have a half so forked out £6.00 for a pint because ‘that’s what he usually has’) the barman commented that ‘this is the best beer we have on tonight’ and he wasn’t wrong. I don’t really feel the need to describe Odell IPA to you, it’s probably one of the best examples of an American IPA and one of the best beers being brewed at the moment, it’s pretty easy to track it down here in the UK so you have no excuse not to try some. The real test was passed when my Dad said he couldn’t really tell the difference here to how it would taste in the tap room back at Odells which is a real testament to how well hop forward beers keep in a keg as long as they are drank within a relatively short period of time.

After my half of Odell IPA I felt that it would be rude not to have another as it truly was the best beer of the evening but then I returned to the Camden Town Pale. I was initially worried that the big USA brews would have over coloured my palate but the wonderful citrus notes still cut through and so carried on drinking it until inevitable oblivion ensued. Perhaps my one complaint of the evening was that the choice of guest beer was all too similar, they were all American IPA’s and it would have been nice to have a slightly broader selection of styles to choose from.

So does Camden Town Brewery have the tap room vibe that I feel has been the missing element to the craft beer culture that’s blossoming in the UK? Yes, it has it in spades, down to the USA style pump handles, each beer listed complete with IBU and which hops have been used in the brew and although they don’t fill growlers they do have an off license so you can take some bottles home with you! The brewery officially opens up in April and I look forward to making many more visits when it does. I’d also like to give a special ‘big-up’ to Big Apple Hot Dogs for providing some fantastic food to go with some fantastic beers and congratulate Camden Town Brewery on such a successful evening, keep it up guys.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Brasserie Dupont - Saison Dupont

Not too long ago as I was working my way through a case of beers from the fantastic folk at Summer Wine Brewery I was surprised and amazed at the brilliance of their lime & coriander Saison. I liked it so much that I preferred it to their dry hopped pale ale and IPA which traditionally is my favourite style of brew and vowed to delve deeper into the world of the Saison.

Now, I’m no stranger to Belgian beer, in my youth my Dad always kept beers like Duvel in the fridge, many years ago he bought me a Chimay triple (or should that be tripel) pack for my eighteenth birthday and when dining with him in Belgian restaurants he can’t get enough of Karmeliet Tripel so its fair to say I’ve sampled a few Belgian brews over the years. Potentially it may have been due to being so used to it that I don’t, or at least didn’t find traditional European beers as exciting or challenging as the new world beers that I love and regularly over-enthuse about. I’ve vowed to change my ways since going from beer drinker to beer scribbler and I can’t think of a better place to start than with a brew that has been highly recommended to me by many, Saison Dupont.

The Summer Wine Saison was not my first foray into this style of ale but never before had one set my world alight so brightly, perhaps a sign of the continuing development of my palate perhaps? Saison Dupont is part of a range of beers produced by Brasserie Dupont who brew out of a farmhouse in Torpes, Belgium. They have been brewing at this site since 1844 but it wasn’t until 1950 that they began to exclusively specialize in top fermenting beer. This is the first beer I’ve ever tasted that has been crafted by Brasserie Dupont so I’m pretty excited to get stuck in and see if my journey into the Saison can continue to meet the high standards set by Summer Wine.

'Tis the Saison
Before drinking I allow the beer to chill for a short while in my fridge, the Brasserie Dupont website recommends that this Saison is served at around 12 degrees centigrade and I don’t have a cellar. Like all of the Dupont beers this is bottle conditioned so the beer continues to mature after it has been bottled and although I hear that Belgian yeast is actually quite palatable I take care not to disturb the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Selecting the very same Chimay glass that came with that triple pack all those years ago (at the moment its my only decent wide brimmed glass) I pour the liquid carefully at first and then with a little more joie de vivre towards the end to make sure I get a nice big frothy head as best suits this style.

In my experience Belgian beers are always quite lively and Saison Dupont is no exception and it has no trouble producing a one inch creamy white head, there is also plenty of carbonation present so that the foam has no trouble staying put. This beer has a wonderful, light golden appearance with a slight haze and produces the aroma of freshly cut grass, bailed and turning into hay in the summer sun accompanied by a whiff of orange peel. The beer is crisp and bright in the mouth but also has a wonderfully creamy body, my tasting notes say ‘light but full’ which makes no sense until you actually take another sip and it coats your tongue. The taste is of orange peel and lemon sherbert, hops and malt blended so well that you cannot tell one from the other and it becomes one glorious whole. Behind the fresh, floral flavours is an array of spicy coriander seeds and cloves, in fact the herbal quality of this beer distinctly reminds me of flavours more closely associated with Christmas but I’d rather have one of these sitting in the shade on a hot summers day.

This really is a ‘beer for the season’ and despite having so much going on it never becomes overwhelming and every flavour is balanced in perfect harmony, one never overpowering the other. Saison Dupont goes a long way to show that you don’t need to turn to new or exciting brews to find excellence but it does show that many of these new beers have a long way to go before they can exude the same class as this one.

Sunday 18 March 2012

The Durham Brewery - White Stout

Social networking is a wonderful thing when used properly and The Durham Brewery along with a savvy bunch of beer bloggers did an exceptional job of promoting White Stout a few weeks ago. The premise was simple, keen drinkers would all procure a bottle of the beer in question and then crack the top at the same time on the same day and through twitter and the hashtag #whitestout would simultaneously share their first taste of this enigmatic brew.

It was a slice of marketing brilliance that got the blogging community wagging their tongues about this beer and thanks to the way twitter connects people it significantly raised the visibility level of both the brewery and White Stout. Every beer blogger involved loved it and if you remember I had neither the beer nor the time to get involved with this event and in my envy turned to a bottle of Thornbridge Bracia which subdued any jealousy I may have felt towards my fellow drinkers. I didn’t see a single bad comment about White Stout, in fact people were gushing about how wonderful it was and so I had to obtain some, in fact having never sampled a brew by The Durham Brewery before I felt that if this beer was so good then surely the rest of the range was worth sampling too.

After the seemingly eternal wait for pay day I placed an order with the fantastic guys at beerritz.co.uk and along with some other boozy delights I had a quadruplet of ales crafted by the Durham Brewery; St. Cuthbert and Bombay 106 IPA, Temptation Imperial Stout (which I’m saving for another similar event, more on which a little later) and of course, White Stout.

Frustratingly shortly after this box of joy was delivered I was struck down with a suspected stomach ulcer, nightmare. Either way I was sworn of the booze for a week by a medical professional and with my trip to the States looming on the horizon I wanted to be in peak drinking condition so I did heed her warning, the beer went untouched and the hype monster began to grow.

Eventually the day came when my beer shackles were removed and the White Stout was freed from its chilly white prison, I’d already tried the St. Cuthbert the day before and was incredibly impressed at the bottle conditioning. It tasted as authentic as if it had come straight from a cask, no mean feat and so I knew the guys at the Durham Brewery knew what they were doing. As I let the beer get towards the suggested temperature of ten degrees centigrade I decided to look a little deeper into where the name white stout comes from. This isn’t what you would consider a stout per say but the Durham Brewery allege that before the porter brewers of London slapped the term ‘stout’ onto a strong porter it could refer to any strong or robust beer, hence ‘white stout’.

You're looking a little pale dear...
I take a look at the label before I pour the contents into my glass, it’s stuffy and old school, not to my tastes and I muse that if it wasn’t for the twitter campaign it’s unlikely I would have picked this off a shelf. A lot of the beer I drink uses very modern branding and excellent graphic design and I’m easily wooed by bright colours and a snazzy typeface.  Also as I mostly drink beer by myself at home I prefer smaller 330ml bottles as it’s a better size if you want to try a few brews in one evening but if I have to work my way through 500ml then so be it. Despite this a book should never be judged by its cover and I carefully pour the very lively amber contents of the bottle into a glass, as with the St. Cuthbert I could immediately tell that the bottle conditioning was once again excellent.

Being so lively the White Stout produced a very large bubbly, off white head and was fizzing away furiously in the glass. The nose was subtle but gave off hints of elderflower and bittersweet apples, in fact the nose was very light and did not prepare me for the wallop I was about to receive. This beer tastes huge and is most definitely robust enough to be called a stout. Bitter, spicy flavours of black pepper and grapefruit dance on the tongue backed up by an almost smoky and not at all sweet malt platform. My brain was doing somersaults desperately trying to work out this beer, it was incredibly fizzy at first and the finish was dry and almost herbal not leaving much trace on the tongue as it made its way down my gullet.

I must confess that I was so eager to get into this beer that I probably, no definitely didn’t let it warm up enough before I started drinking it but I took plenty of time over it so it was good to see it evolve as its temperature gradually increased. As it warmed it became less effervescent and developed the smooth, creamy mouthfeel that I found with the St. Cuthbert IPA, it genuinely tasted like it could have been pulled from a cask, impressive stuff. With the warmth came more booziness, a slight sweetness and a little more fruit but it still retained that dry herbal finish and left me longing for a bit more sweetness and a bit more bitterness to hide the heavy taste of alcohol.

As this was so different to what I was used to I really twisted my noggin trying to work this beer out and decided that although it was undoubtedly brilliant, it wasn’t for me. Perhaps my taste for heavily dry hopped beers has dulled my senses a little but I just found myself wanting a little more from this beer and although I thoroughly enjoyed every drop it’s not something I would rush out and buy again because it didn’t appeal to my personal tastes. That’s one wonderful thing about beer though, everyone tastes differently and with such a wide range of beers being brewed out there at the moment there is something to suit everyone’s palate. I would definitely implore fellow beer geeks to give White Stout a go because it really is something quite different and I’ve seen many of you fall head over heels in love with this brew and I’m sure many more will!

The good folk at The Durham Brewery along with the equally good folk at the Campaign for Really Good Beer have seen fit to team up and do another twitter based drinking event along the lines of #whitestout but this time called #impoff. The idea is that we hoard a load of imperial stouts before the 31st of March and then on that day at 8pm we start by cracking open a bottle of Durham Brewery Temptation and then move on to sample a plethora of beers from the Imperial Stout genre. This seems as good excuse as any to drink a load of great beer and crack open my last bottle of Magic Rock Bearded Lady, I’ll be getting involved and I hope you will be too, don’t forget to use the hashtag #impoff.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Birth of a Beer Geek

It was the summer of 2009 and I was in the middle of Hyde Park sitting next to my Dad and sipping a pint of Tuborg, the only beer available at Hard Rock Calling as we waited for Neil Young to come on stage. I was half cut, three sheets full sail into the wind and going through an apocalyptically turbulent time in my life when he turns to me and says ‘I’m moving to the USA next year.’

At the time I remember thinking ‘but what will I do without my Dad’ for about half a second before realizing that I was heading into my late twenties and was fiercely independent, ‘that’s fantastic news!’ is probably what I said but like I say, I was pissed as a wet fart and struggle to recall the details other than that Neil Young rocked.

Historic 'Old Town' Fort Collins, CO
Fast forward 11 months and I’m sitting with my sister in terminal 5 of Heathrow airport, eating a bowl of noodle soup and drinking a bottle of Asahi in a branch of Itsu before boarding our direct flight to Denver, Colorado. My Dad was completely upping sticks and shipping his entire life across the Atlantic at the bidding of his company, his old house, OUR old house had been rented out and he would be meeting us at our destination. His company was flying us out to Colorado, all expenses paid for two weeks in order to help him find a place to live and make sure he was settled. I had never been to the States before and unless this opportunity had arisen I probably wouldn’t have made my way over for some time. I wanted to see relics, ruins, wonders of the world and I hadn’t planned to visit humanities movie set until I had been to the other three corners of the world first.

We arrived in Denver late and my Dads flight was even later so the first time I drove down I25 towards this town called Fort Collins that my Dad had decided to move to I had no idea of the scenery provided by the foothills of the Rocky Mountains that we were driving past. We checked into our hotel late and thanks to jetlag I was pretty much wide awake by 3am, so was my Dad who knew I’d be awake, ‘you’ll need to get some sleep Matt, especially when we start visiting the microbreweries’ he muttered, ‘Did you know Colorado has more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the world?’

Now at this stage of my life I considered myself a real ale drinker, gone were my student days of mass lager consumption, I’d gone off the stuff mostly except when there was nothing else available and my favourites were probably something like a Deuchars IPA, London Pride or Doom Bar. I thought I knew a bit about beer, I drank a hell of a lot of it after all and I was even considering a CAMRA membership but I failed to see the benefits of the cost as I rarely, if ever visited a branch of Wetherspoons. ‘You’ll like the IPA here’ my Dad said as we walked into Old Town, the city centre of Fort Collins ‘unlike us they don’t water it down, it’s export strength and at this altitude you have to watch how much you drink!’ like many towns in Colorado, Fort Collins sits at an altitude of about 5000 feet, that’s higher than the tip of Ben Nevis, the tallest point in the UK in case you were wondering.

Fort Collins is a beautiful town, home of Colorado State University (and their college football team, the CSU Rams) and sits smack bang between the towering Rockies and the endless expanse of the high plains, I don’t work for the Colorado tourist board but you really should go there, especially if you like beer. I was probably musing about how FoCo (the affectionate abbreviation I’ve given Fort Collins) used to be a genuine frontier town full of cowboys, rangers and gold miners less than 100 years ago when we eventually settled somewhere for lunch. Outside the door to Choice City Butcher & Deli there was a laminated sign that simply read ‘Voted #9 in the world for places to drink on RateBeer.com!' Now I had not yet heard of this ‘rate beer’ but as far as I could tell that meant that this was surely the place to have lunch. Now I could probably write an entire blog about this experience alone perhaps even my sandwich alone, a Colorado Reuben with buffalo meat, it was heaven and washed down with this supremely bitter pale ale called ‘5 Barrel’ from what appeared to be the most popular local brewer ‘Odell’ I remember thinking it was great but far too bitter for my tastes, how I look back at this moment and maniacally laugh.

The remains of a tasting tray at Odell Brewing Co.
My first two week trip to Fort Collins was full of massive highs (visiting the Rocky Mountain National Park) and massive lows (Rocky Mountain Hangovers) but the one activity I enjoyed most was visiting all of these quirky breweries. The first of these was what I have now come to call my spiritual home, my own Mecca if you will; the tap room at Odell Brewing Co. I remember sitting with my Dad, we had ordered a couple of tasting trays and spent ages working our way through the different styles of beer, at this point I fell in love with beers like 90 Shilling and Levity, some of their weaker beers but with flavours far more powerful than anything I was used to back home. Their super hoppy IPA was too much, I couldn’t imagine drinking a whole pint of something so resinous and bitter (how things change), I didn’t know at this point what an IBU was but there I was being repeatedly beaten around the face by them. Later that afternoon we were joined in the tap room by some of my Dads new colleagues, we had missed that afternoons brewery tour but thankfully Bruce, one of my Dad’s new work mates knew the brewers and so took us on a personal guided tour of his own.

When I had my head in that mash tun of boiling wort which was to become a batch of IPA I did not know how pivotal this experience would be or how much I would treasure it in a few months time. I embarked on several other tours while I was there including the idiosyncratic New Belgium, North Americas third biggest craft brewer (after Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada respectively) and for the sake of comparison the gargantuan Budweiser Brewery, one of several in the States, on the outskirts of town. Here, at the end of the tour our guide asked me and my Dad why we were even there when the output of the microbreweries was so superior… turns out even the AB/InBev staff prefer micro to macro… One thing I did have to hand to the brewers of Bud is how they brew such massive quantities and yet still managed to produce beer that tastes of nothing exactly the same time after time, that’s a lot of work.

The AB Budweiser Plant in Fort Collins, CO
Despite all of this it wasn’t this initial trip that transformed me into the hop junkie I am today but was most certainly the catalyst. I left Fort Collins with a taste for beers like New Belgium Fat Tire and Coopersmiths Poudre Pale Ale and the distinct feeling that the beers I used to like were now sadly lacking. Shortly after my return to the UK I was sitting in a pub with friends nursing a pint of something like Greene King IPA and I remember thinking I had to do something and try and find out if I can get these super flavoursome American brews back into my mouth. My first step was to email New Belgium and Odell to find out if they have plans to export in the near future. New Belgium replied within hours saying that they have no plans to export outside of the United States (their loss in my humble opinion) and for some reason I heard nothing from Odell. I then started googling things like ‘American Pale Ale’ which led me first to Beer Here and my first ever online beer order. I was so desperate for a pint of something at least a little like 90 Shilling that I ordered a USA mixed case, I had so far never heard of Goose Island and had seen beers from Brooklyn, Sierra Nevada and Flying Dog in bars around London but had never had the gumption to order them when the opportunity presented itself.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was perhaps the revelation that I had been waiting for, it had been a fortnight since I had left Colorado and my palate had been craving those zesty citrus flavours on bed of sweet freshly baked bread and crushed digestive biscuits and SNPA had it in SPADES. Over the next few days I began feverishly working my way through the beers in the case, each one opening previously unlocked doors in my brain with my tongue screaming WHAT HAVE I BEEN MISSING! It was at this time I was sat at my computer, bashing down a Brooklyn EIPA when an email from the guys at Odell Brewing popped into my inbox. I don’t have the original email any more but it read something along these lines:

‘Dear Mr Curtis, sorry for the delay in replying to your email but we were not able to answer your questions until after our press launch. We’re pleased to announce that Doug Odell has recently visited England for the UK launch of our beers and that several beers in our core range are now available in the UK!’

I was alone in the studio bedsit style flat I lived in at the time but I can honestly say that I let out more than just a whimper of excitement. I had to find these beers, but where, they didn’t say where I could actually BUY them from… Thankfully minutes later I had discovered what is now one of my favourite websites; mybrewerytap.com and placed an order, perhaps against my better financial judgement but the beer held sentimental value now and I had to have some in my possession!

The beer arrived and this time things were different, there were more flavours that weren’t there when I tried them a few weeks ago in the brewery, it was perhaps the seasonal extra pale ale St. Lupulin that gave me most pleasure as it’s piney, grapefruit secrets unraveled on my tongue. My palate still had a long way to go in terms of expansion and discovery but this was the beginning, these USA beers had opened my mind to what beer could really taste like and pretty much from that point on I became a craft beer snob. I like to think that I’m a little more humble in my snobbishness now, with time comes a little wisdom and humility but I’ll be honest in saying there are probably some beers that I just won’t drink, wine has lost almost all of its appeal but port and single malt whisky is still held in high regard. Almost two years on from these events it gives me immense pleasure to see how much love folk in the UK have developed for Odell because I genuinely think they are crafting some of the finest ales in the world at the moment.

A drunk vagrant on tour at New Belguim Brewing
After I had discovered what the USA craft brewing scene had to offer it got me thinking, surely, SURELY there must be a UK craft brewing scene bubbling underground and I trawled through forums trying to find out if we were trying to match our American cousins. One name kept coming up, time and time again… Brewdog. Yes it was through the naughty schoolboys of our own craft brewing scene that I discovered the delights that the UK craft beer scene had to offer such as Thornbridge, Marble, Dark Star and pretty much everything else I have come to love to drink these days. This is probably why I bought some EFP shares, I’m a sentimental man because I wasn’t really won over by their advertising techniques. Nevertheless Punk, Hardcore and 5am Saint are some of my all time favourite beers and I will continue to thank them for introducing me to the new wave of British Brewers.

You may feel that I’ve very quickly glazed over the British segment of this post but in terms of my voyage of craft beer discovery it was just the last piece of the puzzle. Over the months after my first trip to America my palate continued to improve as I sampled beers from the likes of Mikkeller, Stone and Camden to name a mere few and they all continue to impress. In my successive trips to America I’ve completely devoured some amazing hoppy brews and visited other breweries big and small including Great Divide, Big Beaver and Equinox but have still barely scratched the surface (I’ve not been to San Diego for starters…)

On April the 4th I will make my fourth trip to what has become my favourite country, stopping in New York for four days which will include a trip to the Brooklyn Brewery. Then I’ll head out to my Dads place in Fort Collins for 10 days and high on the agenda will be my first visit to Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont and a many, many visits to what has become my Dads local watering hole, the tap room at Odell Brewing. Expect a lot of manic, excitable and daily blogging during those two heady weeks in April…

Sunday 4 March 2012

Summer Wine Brewery Mixed Case – Part 2

If you were reading earlier in the week (and why wouldn’t you have been) you will have already seen my thoughts on three beers brewed by the good folk at Summer Wine Brewery. I started on the beers that I thought would least appeal to my twisted tastes, a porter, an espresso stout and a Saison, the latter literally blowing my mind and forcing me to reconsider my opinion on this style of ale.

Now though, it is time to review three beers that are placed firmly in my ballpark because by my reckoning they will have been dry hopped to high hell and back and I’ll tell you what, I wasn’t wrong. For the record I didn’t review these beers at the same time for fear of the blight that is palate fatigue. As much as I love the overpowering flavours brought about by hop flowers I do dislike that they temporarily render me unable to taste anything else which isn’t handy when you’re trying to review a beer.

The first hop laden tonic to have the pleasure of lacing my glass is Covenant, a ‘red-hop’ style ale. Until maybe a few months ago I would have said that this style of brew was my favourite because it has a good combination of hop and malt flavours and delivers the best of both worlds but more recently I’ve found my favourite brews are generally pale ales that have had the living daylights dry hopped out of them. Covenant pours a deep amber-red colour and leaves a nice off white head, there is plenty of carbonation which is nice to see in this type of beer as I feel it helps those complex flavours work their way into your palate. It has the distinct aroma of pine needles, ground black pepper and citrus with a slight sweetness at the end. The mouth feel is lovely, Covenant has plenty of body matched with a sharp citrus bite and an almost earthy, freshly cut grass taste backed up with a malt sweetness that’s not unlike a digestive biscuit or perhaps a hob nob. This beer is ideal for fans of beers like Brewdog 5am saint or Magic Rock Rapture however if you’re a fan of something like Old Speckled Hen (you poor soul) I strongly urge you to try Covenant as I’m pretty sure it’ll set you on to the wonderfully dark path to hop addiction.

A devilish trio of ales...
Hermes is a pale ale that gives more than just a tip of a hat to our American friends across the water. Despite not being as strong as a typical IPA I was hit by a wave of lemon, grapefruit and tropical aromas as I poured it into my glass and before I had even taken my first sip I could tell that I was going to really enjoy this beer. The first think that struck me about Hermes is how well balanced the flavours are and how massive it tasted for a beer of only 5% ABV as I’m more accustomed to beers with this much going on being around the 7% mark. The flavours are predominantly bitter citrus fruits but with definite hints of more exotic flavours such as passion fruit and lychee dancing around in the background. The hops in this beer are fantastic but it is the perfect balance of the malts keeping them in check that makes this beer so drinkable. I think that out of the hoppy beers in this selection this was my favourite and this is definitely an ale that I would happily stick to all night if it was on in one of my local craft beer houses.

The final beer is Summer Wines hop monster, Diablo IPA which unsurprisingly was the beer that I was most excited about tasting and as such I made sure it was the last of the six beers in my mixed case that I got around to trying. Pouring it into the glass I did not get quite what I expected, whereas Hermes managed to produce a lovely, crisp white head Diablo failed to produce even a whisper of foam. The beer was not flat, there were plenty of bubbles whizzing about inside the glass and the nose was one of huge, bitter grapefruit but sadly this was the case with both of my bottles. Hop monster is about right when it comes to describing Diablo as the hops are big, aggressive and very immediate with the flavour of sharp grapefruit dominating from the outset like a world class test batsman. I really enjoyed this beer but I found it lacking a little in the malt department, the hops eclipsed the other elements this beer and I found myself wishing it had a little more backbone. After I had almost finished my first bottle is struck me that this beer strongly reminded me of the original recipe for Punk IPA which was a lot more bitter and less balanced than its current incarnation so if you were a fan of original recipe punk this might just be the best way to get your fix.

There is no denying that Summer Wine brewery are a serious brewing force to be reckoned with (and are lovely to deal with to boot) and I definitely have them down as one of the most innovative and knowledgeable British craft brewers about at the moment. I enjoyed all six of the beers in this selection but the three that really stood out as exceptional were Teleporter with its massive barrage of ten different malts, Hermes which is a sublimely drinkable hop forward pale ale and the absolute stand out winner was Saison which knocked me for six. Thanks to Summer Wine I’ve already been out and picked up some Saison Dupont to review at some point in the future and potentially a weekend jaunt to Belgium is on the cards later this year…

Don’t forget you can order this mixed case direct from Summer Wine from their website which I highly recommend you do.

Thursday 1 March 2012

Summer Wine Brewery Mixed Case – Part 1

It’s a pleasure and a privilege discovering a brand new brewery and when I got paid last month I ordered my first tasting case from Summer Wine Brewery in Yorkshire. More keen eyed readers among you will remember that I had problems with a courier for the umpteenth time and blogged about it a couple of weeks ago but once the case was safely in my possession I didn’t hang about and got stuck in straight away. Despite my problems I think it’s fantastic that a small craft brewery such as Summer Wine offers a door to door mail order service and I think that more breweries could benefit from offering the same. It opens up a wider world of craft ale for the discerning drinker and I would recommend that if you wanted to see what craft beer is all about then ordering a mixed case from Summer Wine would be a great place to start.

It’s been a few weeks since the case arrived and it has now been demolished in its entirety. I’ve had a the pleasure of trying two bottles of each of the beers I was sent, one just for the sake of enjoyment and with the second I analysed it as a reviewer, hastily scribbling notes in between mouthfuls. This led to the discovery that it is immeasurably more enjoyable just to drink the beer and not over examine each sip, its best just to relax and appreciate what the beer has to offer, for me at least.

A trio of craft delights from Summer Wine
The first beer in this mixed case was the lime and coriander Saison which despite for me being a self confessed hophead was the stand out beer in this selection. As a fan of IPAs and pale ales I often tend to overlook and dismiss other styles of brew but now I’m writing about the drink as well as just imbibing it I’m trying to approach other styles with a more open palate. I’m a fan of Belgian style ales but not as much as other, more modern beers and this is potentially because I was introduced to Belgian ales at a relatively young age by my Dad. As hop forward brews are still pretty new to me I generally dismiss Belgian style brews as being a bit old hat however this Saison has gone a long way towards opening my mind.

Saison is beautifully crafted and as I pour this beer straight from the fridge it fills my nostrils with hints of the lime and coriander infused into the brew. It smells like it tastes, zingy and refreshing with hints of citrus, black pepper and spicy coriander. It’s very lively in the mouth and has plenty of body and bold sugary flavours leaving a sweet trail as it slides down your throat. This beer is subtle and intense at the same time, you can gain just as much enjoyment slamming it down as you arrive home from work as you can gently savouring a glassful on a Sunday lunchtime. Beer like this is surely universally enjoyable as it has the light, refreshing qualities that appeal to a lager drinker and plenty of subtle, delicate flavours for fans of stronger ales. For me, it was the highlight of the entire case and it’s awakened something inside my beery brain, I fully intend to explore deeper into the world of the Saison in the future.

The next beer I tried is one that will divide opinion and I liken it to coffee infused chocolates that always get left until last in the sweetie tin. I’m a massive fan of both coffee and stout and so I naturally expected to thoroughly enjoy Barista espresso stout, unfortunately I’m still not sure if this is the case. It tastes as you would expect, a nice and extremely drinkable stout with lovely hints of roasted malt that drinks very easily despite its dark appearance this is followed with a massive hit of cold, bitter coffee. I wouldn’t go so far as to say as I dislike this beer because I happily drank two bottles of the stuff but I found the coffee flavour to be a little too overpowering and didn’t get to taste enough of the beer itself. I can imagine some people not being able to get on with this at all and some people loving it but I think on the whole I prefer my stout and my coffee separately. Saying that if I was in the pub and someone handed me a pint of it I wouldn’t say no… For the record this beer works well as a livener and definitely gave me caffeine induced jitters.

Next up is a beer that I was really looking forward to, Teleporter a beer that boasts a recipe laden with ten malts, brilliant. This is an excellent example of a porter, rich, full bodied and choc full of massive roasted malt flavours combined with hints of burnt sugar and molasses. Teleporter coats the palate like black treacle and doesn’t want to let go, it’s rich, sweet flavours combining really well with the slab of goats cheese I was working my way through at the time.

So far so good, two big winners and one beer that has left me sitting on the fence, come back for another look see this coming Sunday when I’ll post my thoughts on a trio of Hop Bombs from Summer Wine.