Name – Upham Ale
Brewer – Upham
Classification – Best Bitter
Strength – 4.0% ABV
Verdict - At A Glance
On the eye – Rich copper. Perfect carbonation.
On the nose – White bread dough. Grassy hops. Faint licorice. Nice.
On the tongue – A self described 'malty ale', but one which hop lovers would do well to try... (read on...)
On the subject – As my recent 'arrival' post described, this is a company which has every right to claim 'micro-brewery' status. Founded in 2009 in greenest Hampshire, this compact but highly dedicated team has already moved on from the essential 'local hero' level and is now making inroads much further afield. Today's beer was their first, and it's already obvious to me that beer like this was never likely to stay 'local' for long.
On the market – Whilst those 'inroads' are spreading, the brewery is busy getting an online store up and running. Whilst you're waiting for that, there's a bunch of nearby stockists – or why not just contact the brewery direct for the latest on availability.
On the whole – 8/10
On the whole – 8/10
In these increasingly hop-obsessed times, it takes an enormously confident micro-brewery to ship out bottles of beer which proudly display the words – 'classic malty ale' – upon their labels.
I can picture the eyes of many of my readers widening with bewilderment at the very sight of those oddly assembled letters.
Long time no see, eh?
In certain, more insatiably 'fashionable' areas of the contemporary craft-beer world, words like those would be enough to consign Upham Ale to the discard pile long before it's lid was ever removed.
The reason for this is fairly simple. The word 'malt' has become something of a swear-word among many of the new wave of 'cool' brewers and 'cool' beer advocates. The only exception to this is when 'malt' is being used in reference to dark beers, partly because malt is pretty hard to ignore in these cases, and partly because dark beers in themselves are currently too 'cool' for it to matter.
It always makes me smile when I hear the word 'cool' used in reference to craft beer, whether it be about companies or individuals. I mean, God bless us beer lovers, we still don't get it do we!
I wish breweries and commentators would stop fretting about being loved and admired by people who 'don't understand'. The truth is, it's us who don't understand. Most of the people we constantly refer to as being 'uneducated' in the ways of real beer are actually not ignorant at all. They just prefer other drinks. And it's not that they think craft-beer drinkers are uncool, it's just that they couldn't care less either way. In my experience, the guys who spend the most time worrying about whether or not they are 'cool' are unwittingly condemning themselves to be forever uncool simply by doing so.
“I can be cool too!” is not a very cool thing to say.
Craft-beer yells it.
All the time.
I wish we could all be a lot less image-paranoid, take some collective deep breaths, fill our glasses with what we like and enjoy ourselves. Who knows, maybe we'll look like we're having a good time and some other folks will come over and join us.
Anyway, within the predominantly uncool world of 'cool craft beer', very dark, roasty beers are currently cool - and very light, citrus-intense beers are also currently cool.
Incidentally, because this is purely about image, these beers will be 'cool' irrespective of whether they're actually nice or not. Taste comes later, after the purchase. It's called an image-based head start.
But meanwhile, all the beer territory in the middle of these two colour/taste extremes – is pretty hazardous ground at the present time.
If you absolutely must brew a beer of this 'other' kind – you know you've got to be very careful when it comes to wording it's label. One non-trendy word, served up at a particularly non-trendy time, can totally break a beer. Regardless of it's excellence.
Single words, timed right, can make or break entire industries. Right now, in the wider world of 'ale', the tide of trend is even beginning to turn against the mighty word 'cask', which had previously held the title of 'coolest word in the universe' for as long as I can recall. (For those who haven't heard – cask's arch nemesis 'keg' is now fighting back, having been off in the wilderness for many years recruiting an entirely new, seemingly unstoppable army. The glittering craft beer crown awaits the glorious victor.)
The inherent nature of fashion dictates that all presently unfashionable words will be right back in vogue before too long, but for the time being they will have to continue to feel the backlash.
But over in rural Hampshire, Upham Brewery is having none of this 'fashion' malarkey. It has brewed an ale which contains malt (as all breweries tend to do) and it's not going to kowtow to the fickle whims of the Twittering masses.
I smiled when I read that label. It was like the most delightfully timed prone middle finger to the increasingly belligerent 'hopheads', the fly-by-night fashion slaves, and the stealthy corporate puppeteers who hide in plain sight right here among us.
But shortly after I read the label, I discovered a slight problem.
Because then I actually drank the beer.
And, wouldn't you know it... it's not malty.
I mean, not really.
Certainly not enough to warrant a special mention up-front on the bottle.
However, if I'm perfectly honest – I was glad. Because they might be belligerent, but those hopheads do have a point, and it's a point I'm increasingly inclined to agree with. Beers (and by 'beers' I mean copper/amber ales of the bitter, best bitter and premium ale style) which are malt-dominant, are hardly ever as nice as those that are hop-dominant.
A big, sweeping statement?
But I'll stand by it.
I'll stand even closer beside a claim that a beer which is properly balanced between these two is the absolute ideal, but even there I would want the scales to be tipping ever so slightly in favour of humulus lupulus – whatever it's variety.
But is the beer I'm describing there anything like Upham Ale?
Well, it's actually pretty close.
The key thing to stress is that this beer (contrary to the suggestions inherent in it's own branding) is not a sweetness-heavy or syrupy beer as the word 'malty' can so easily imply in these days of impassioned anti-cereal dogma.
No, this ale is a mostly dry and zesty experience, one in which the sharp floral and fruit notes are free to flourish over and above a firm malt base, instead of being trapped below one.
And the malt itself is far more tart and astringent than sickly-sweet or honeyed. Far more ginger stem biscuit than golden syrup.
But those lively hops really don't allow you too much time to dwell on the malts. In fact, by the time the Bramley apple, the lime, the watermelon and the grapefruit have had their say, all you want to do is sit back and enjoy.
That's pretty much what I did, anyway.
This beer has been a delightful introduction to what appears to be an extremely exciting brewery.
I'm already thirsty for more.