Thursday, 21 July 2011

Day 107, Beer 107 - Thornbridge's "Jaipur"

Today's Beer





Name – Jaipur

Brewer – Thornbridge

Classification – IPA (Which means it is now official - 'IPA' has no meaning to me any more. Read on...)

Strength – 5.9% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Gold infused grapefruit juice.

On the nose – Sharp, vivid citrus. Like grapefruit juice.

On the tongue – Grapefruit jui... Look, I'd really better skip these bits. Just bear with me and read on...

On the subject – I sometimes wonder how 'big' the world of craft beer really is when so many people I know still haven't heard of one of the mightiest and most venerated breweries in the sector. But that's precisely what Derbyshire's Thornbridge are, and a stack of major industry awards only partly explains why.

On the market – Pretty widespread and only getting wider. If your local supermarket won't, then the Internet will at The Real Ale Store.

On the whole9.5/10* (See note above)

Full Review

And so it came to pass that I finally threw in the towel.

The 'IPA Definition Towel', that is.

Basically, if today's beer is an IPA (India Pale Ale), and yet Greene King's is also an IPA, and then Meantime's is an IPA too, and Okell's is an IPA, and Fuller's is an IPA, and Brooklyn's is an IPA (albeit an 'East' IPA) as well as many others like 'Proper Job', 'Deuchars' and 'Torpedo Extra' – then I can no longer hope to explain to the proverbial Man From Mars what an IPA actually is.

An even harder thing to explain to an alien would be what makes an ale not an IPA.

I think I'd just have to casually refer to the history of the drink, talk a little about hops and ships, before asking the alien not to ask too many questions. But even if I tried my hardest, I'm sure he'd still stare at the line-up of brews I just listed feeling far more like alien than he ever did before, and who could blame the poor guy.

Usually, when dealing with such matters, many of my fellow beer bloggers like to say – 'a beer is whatever the brewery says it is.'

And perhaps therein lies the problem. An IPA is merely any beer which a brewery has decided to call an IPA.

By that reckoning I can quickly and easily understand why this golden ale entitled 'Jaipur' is in fact an IPA.

Just like Green King's traditional bitter is an IPA.

And just like Meantime's English-brewed American-inspired 'English-style ale' is an IPA.

I'm not struggling with the science here, or with the brewing process, because levels of attenuation, alcohol content, colour, texture, taste, hop varieties, malt varieties – are simply all over the place amongst the range beers currently being sold as IPA's.

It seems to me that IPA – the term 'IPA' itself as opposed to what the term IPA might actually mean – is just plain old 'trendy' these days, and this is probably best summed-up by the upcoming global event 'IPA Day.'

Boy, would that really not be a good day for the Man From Mars to show up!

So intensely en vogue are the letters 'IPA' that every brewery needs something new and exciting called an IPA on their list in order not to look out of touch. But it really does seem that just about any new brew will fit the glass IPA slipper – regardless of what this means to the poor customer stood at the bar scratching his head clean off.

Anyway, if knocking out all manner of different beers under one increasingly meaningless umbrella results in great beer being created, then I suppose it's all well and good. I mean, who really cares what an 'IPA' really is, or what a 'bitter' really is, or what the even more indefinable 'ale' really is.

If it's a good drink, it's a good drink. Right?

Well, rather fortuitously, it has quickly become pretty clear to me that Jaipur is a 'good drink'.

It's nice to be clear about something.

But to say I was surprised by the drink that came out of a bottle marked 'IPA' is something of an understatement. If the label had read 'golden ale' or 'blonde ale' or something equally out of fashion, I might have been a little less taken aback by the faint pastel yellow, highly translucent, light bodied and rather delicious alcoholic grapefruit juice which appeared before me.

There is almost no detectable trace of malt in this drink. There is no certainly no sense of balance between malt and hops. This characteristic does of course lend itself to the name IPA, as the very first India Pale Ale's did tend to be highly hopped.

But beers like this are not simply highly hopped.

In effect – they are only hopped.

That's all.

They are just epic wide-screen battles in which vast armies of certain citrus flavours attempt to conquer vast armies of certain other citrus flavours.

In previous millennia, 'balance' used to refer to the relationship between hop and malt, whereas these days it frequently refers only to the relationship between one high pitched hop and any number of even higher pitched hops. It's basically about the balance between hop, skip and jump.

Yes, there may be microscopic hints of all kinds of further flavours, but the citrus here is so mighty that only the most pedantic and determined of taste buds are going to care about – or even notice – anything else.

Hugely, unashamedly, and (as it happens) really quite hypnotically hopped is what this beer is, and I do have to say that it is among the freshest, cleanest and most dynamic taste experiences I know of within the world of alcoholic beverages. In fact, there really is something quite genuinely awe-inspiring about the impact of this drink.

But I just don't taste beer.

I certainly taste something – it's possible that I taste more than I do in most other drinks on the planet. But it's the most unceasingly delicious and exquisitely crafted alcoholic fruit drink on Earth, when what I really wanted to drink was an ale.

In the end, it's simply a personal preference thing. A straightforward 'my cup of tea' thing.

Personally, I like my 'cup of tea' to be a more well-rounded affair, and I really am growing tired of this unceasing trend toward ever more 'massive' hops.

If you are into that sort of thing, then the current beer scene must feel like the greatest thrill ride imaginable.

But for many of us, it's just kinda dull and frustrating.

My great solace is in the knowledge that fashion is fickle. I keenly await the inevitable shift away from high citrus yellow beers, and for the tide to gently roll back in favour of the nut, the biscuit, the granary loaf, and the copper hue.

Believe me, I dislike sweet, malty, soupy ales as much as anyone. These horrid beers are the very reason this hop-fuelled march began in the first place, and I thank Heaven and the likes of Thornbridge for that. But the reality is that I'm also left largely cold and unmoved by these hop-aggressive one trick ponies.

Might it not be time to start taking baby steps toward the middle ground again?

I first discovered a love of beer via the likes of Pedigree, Draught Bass and the greatly missed Museum Ale from Sam Smith.

Any brewery who reappraises, redefines and reworks these kinds of drinks would doubtless lead a whole new march of their own.

I live in hope.

In the meantime, let me end with this...

A toffee apple without toffee is not a toffee apple.

It's just an apple.

These totally hop-dominant beers nearly always bring this thought to mind.


Curmudgeon said...

I would say, of "that sort of beer", Jaipur is undoubtedly the finest.

But if it was the only beer I was ever going to drink, I'd probably prefer something else.

Steve Lamond said...

there's plenty of malt in it though to give it its high(ish) ABV.
With IPAs there are two general styles "export strength" and "home market" strength which explains the difference. Jaipur is a hop forward pale ale so fits the export strength description. Obviously the Americans tried to complicate it by adding everything to excess but if the recipe is based on an IPa then its still an IPA. Now try explaining a black "IPA" ;)

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

PC - 'Of that sort of beer' I believe you could well be right.

There are certainly contenders for the crown, but relatively few.

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

Steve - I sniggered with terror at your Black IPA description challenge!

Just the Deuchars, the Okell's and the Jaipur alone are the most unlikely stable-mates.

One thing I do find, is that few beers labelled IPA are ever bad beers. I wonder if it's unwittingly reserved as mark of excellence...

Steve Lamond said...

I'm not a fan of low ABV IPAs, think hoppy session ales much more my bag