Thursday, 4 August 2011

Day 112, Beer 112 - Belhaven's "Twisted Thistle"

Today's Beer

Name – Twisted Thistle

Brewer – Belhaven

Classification – IPA

Strength – 5.3% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Warm gold, with a 'peachy' glow.

On the nose – Strong floral tones, a subtly spiced earthiness, and fully ripened fruits.

On the tongue – A distinctly 'local' feeling Scottish IPA, with all the bonus floral sweetness that this implies.

On the subject – Now under the wing of Greene King, this brand is certainly on the march. Word is that the 'spirit' of the brewery and its beers is still nicely intact. On today's evidence, I'd say that the business is in fine shape indeed.

On the market – Decent availability on Scottish soil, and not too appalling elsewhere with the supermarkets now helping out. The brewery's own online store will see everyone right.

On the

Full Review

Over recent days, I have grown increasingly bemused by the seemingly self-destructive concept that is 'IPA Day.'

From what I can observe, it has essentially become a means of bringing together many thousands of people from all across the world in the hope that they will argue fiercely among themselves about the precise definition of a certain three word phrase.

I get the sense that nobody will ever manage to properly agree what an IPA actually is, meaning that all 'IPA Day' seems destined to become is the point in the year when all of this confusion reaches its greatest intensity.

But it's not all bad news.

Fortunately, vast numbers of very clever people are covertly using this 'global event' merely as an excuse to brew and consume all kinds of exciting new beers, so personally I'm perfectly happy for it to swing by once every year from now on, even if nobody ever manages to properly define why it does so.

But make no mistake, if 'IPA Day' is forever cursed to search without success for it's own meaning, this will be firmly linked to that equally never-ending search for a watertight definition for the elusive beer variety known as India Pale Ale.

I've shared my views on this issue before (here's a recent example) and my chief point is that 'IPA' has now been written on the labels of too many different types of beer for it to have any real meaning any more.

Bitters, premium ales, strong ales, best bitters, session ales, pale ales, amber ales, golden ales, from 3.5% ABV to 15% or even more, sweet tasting beers, dry tasting beers, floral ones, citrus ones, full bodied and light, made with this malt, or with that hop – they're all eligible for IPA status these days.

Yes - IPA's are meant to be highly hopped, but some just aren't.

No - IPA's are not meant to be sweet and malt rich, but some just are.

Some even say they are meant to be high in alcoholic strength, but many others will accuse them of being blinded by fashion and they'll produce ancient documents from dusty files labelled 'IPA Facts!'

But the greatest of all 'facts' is – none of this really matters all that much.

Among the many reason why it doesn't matter – is the fact is that breweries always seem to stick those three little letters onto beers which they are extremely proud of.

It's become a term reserved only for the finest brews.

'IPA' has basically come to mean – 'We are particularity delighted with this one'.

It's a mark of excellence.

A self-awarded gold star.

And the reality is that I've yet to try a bad beer with those letters written on it. 

In these complex modern times, where drinkers are bamboozled with ever increasing choice, these super helpful beers are there to reassure and comfort any bewildered punters by telling them - "I'm Probably Alright."

It's as good as a promise , in my experience.

Today's beer, mercifully, is no exception to this (highly scientific) theory. Twisted Thistle sits very proudly in the Belhaven range, and brings yet another set of characteristics to the IPA table.

One of the things I really like about the 'freedom of identity' which IPA's enjoy today, is that you can get regional variations on the theme, much like you can find with many pale ales and porters of today.

This one, for example, is a very 'Scottish' feeling IPA, infused with all the floral and rich fruit sweetness that you would expect from a traditional Scottish ale. Perhaps that's exactly the 'twist' that it's name refers to.

The sweetness is never heavy or overwhelming, but I did find it a little bit unrestrained at times, and wanted the hops to 'up' their dry bitterness somewhat, but these were essentially fleeting moments and the drink had thoroughly won me over by the end.

It's gratifying, pleasantly comforting, and unquestionably refreshing.

It's an autumnal heathland ramble of an IPA, which lovers of floral, fruity themes will go utterly crazy for.

It's basically yet another entirely unique interpretation of this supposedly standardised beer variety.

Ho hum...

This also happens to be the penultimate Belhaven beer on my list, and I have to say that I've been very impressed by the boldness and the vivid character of their ales. They're certainly a brewery to seek out if you haven't already.

Actually, I might just put that final review off for a while – because I sense I'm going to miss these beers.


David said...

I'm glad to see that you liked it; I've had it a few times and always thought it was decent.

I love your "I'm Probably Alright" theory, but it's been my impression that, at least in the states, IPA usually means "a lot hoppier than normal." Granted, I've also noticed an increase of breweries slapping "IPA" onto just about any style of beer as long as it hoppier or more flavorful, so maybe you're right.

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

David - The problem, in a word, is 'fashion'.

IPA has become too damn groovy for it's own good, and the poor thing is now suffocating underneath these endless versions of itself.

That's the tragic irony of IPA's cool factor. Everyone is clamouring to get numerous things called IPA on their lists, which is causing the whole concept to slowly disintegrate into nothing.

The price of success!