Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Day 157, Beer 157 - Wye Valley's "Butty Bach"

Today's Beer

Name – Butty Bach

Brewer – Wye Valley

Classification – Premium Ale

Strength – 4.5% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Caramelised, honeyed apricot.

On the nose – A whole world of malted buttery loveliness.

On the tongue – A proper classic-style bitter. Nutty, fruity, and laced with pleasing hints of British woodland foliage. Sounds great doesn't it, so why am I sobbing in the corner? (Read on...)

On the subject – Herefordshire's Wye Valley Brewery have, courtesy of this beer, brought my entire life to a crucial moment. (Read on...)

On the market – This company's reach has been increasing of late, with various supermarkets now getting the message which, obviously, is great for them. If only this could be said of so many other fabulous British breweries of similar size. I weep. Anyway, contact the brewery direct for sales info.

On the

Full Review

There ain't nothing wrong with this beer.

Now, it could be argued that opening lines such as the one you have just read are deliberately ambiguous. Sometimes, sentences of this kind in beer reviews are significant purely in terms of what they don't say.

After all, just because a brew is largely free of faults, it doesn't necessarily follow that it's overrun with plus points.

Personally, I'd say I must have imbibed hundreds of 'faultless' beers which I'd completely forgotten about seconds after they've been swallowed.

An awful beer, on the other hand, will almost never leave you alone, even if you only took a couple of sips from it over twenty years ago. This is a devastating reality which ruins not only individual evenings, but can also set back careers, break up families and end worlds.

I'm exaggerating only very slightly there, as anyone who's ever had to politely sit through an entire glassful of their mate's rubbish home-brew will know only too well.

But the far more widely experienced reality here on Earth comes in the form of that extensive bunch of beers which fall into the rather curious category of 'being perfectly pleasant.'

In fact, probably the majority of the beers we'll ever taste will fall within that catchment.

Now, given that I'm talking in these terms here today, you would be forgiven for suspecting I'm going to include Butty Bach in this pretty enormous group of ales.

Well, for a while, that's exactly what I thought was going to happen, until I took a moment to put the sampling of this beer into context, and what happened next was rather profound.

Before this beer, I had reviewed several beers which represent (in stunning fashion) the very best of what is increasingly referred to as either 'contemporary', 'new wave' or perhaps most commonly 'craft' beer.

I'm talking about beers such as Oakham's 'Green Devil IPA', Odell's '5Barrel Pale Ale', Moor's 'Revival' and Thornbridge's 'Chiron' – each of which is quite simply 'big' in its impact upon your body and soul. As is arguably the defining characteristic of craft beer, 'more is always more' with these creations, whether it be in terms of flavour, process, or the sheer amount of ingredients.

As my reviews of these beers make clear, I happen to like these brews a heck of a lot. I've welcomed all beers of 'this kind' to the party and I sincerely hope they stay until the very end.

But my response to these beers has triggered an unfortunate side effect.

When I subsequently sit back down with a beer like today's – which faithfully represents the sort of drink which got me interested in 'beer' in the first place – the closest I can get to a full-on positive reaction is nearly always the same...

“There's nothing wrong with this.”

For someone who has loved beer for so long, this is a pretty grim experience to find yourself having.

I'd really like to hear from anyone else who has faced this situation head on, either now or previously, because I'd very much like to know what can be done about it.

In the meantime, let me just say that Butty Bach, for all I know, is probably an exceptional example of a beer style I'm a little bit indifferent to right at this moment. It's got some excellent malt elements – rich and buttery, nutty, with soft caramel and granary loaf undertones – it also has a good range of fruit notes, it's woody and herbal in just the right places, it's bitter but not harsh, it's sweet but not syrupy... it really sounds like I'm talking about a very good beer here.

And I probably am.

Maybe Wye Valley could take everything this drink is already doing and simply 'ramp it up' a little, and make it come at me with a bit more conviction, perhaps even with a little bit of a swagger. But wouldn't that just be inviting the beer to cross over into the 'other' camp, thereby depriving it of the very identity it always intended to have?

I think I'm a bit confused.

I think my allegiance to all my 'old favourite' beers is probably now officially in question.

I think perhaps 'craft beer' has lot of bloody explaining to do.

For now, though, let me end like this...

Butty Bach is a very good example of a classic style English premium ale – and the significance of that conclusion is very different today to what it would have been 157 beer reviews ago.

And I honestly don't know how I feel about that...

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Day 156, Beer 156 - Odell's "5 Barrel Pale Ale"

Today's Beer

Name – 5 Barrel Pale Ale

Brewer – Odell

Classification – Yup, you guessed it, this is a pale ale!

Strength – 5.2% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Lustrous beeswax amber. Utter glory.

On the nose – Massive orange, massive dark rum-infused malt, massive smiles.

On the tongue – Boundless complexity and dynamism. Tangerine, black treacle, ginger, wildgrasses, exotic herbs and spices, and a further list of flavours as long as your arm. (Assuming your arm is around seventy miles in length.)

On the subject – Colorado based Odell's have been central players in the US 'craft beer' movement from the onset having started out long before any such concept was conceived way back in the mid 1990's. The beers they produce are among the best examples of what 'craft' really is. If you haven't yet been introduced to this distinctive new world of beer creation, I can think of few better places to start.

On the market – Tragic UK availability. I'm not kidding, it's seriously upsetting. It's hard enough finding great contemporary British beers here in Britain, but finding a great American version is about as easy as discovering Atlantis, or Valhalla, or a trustworthy car dealership. I got this sample from The Real Ale Store, and only similar specialist outlets can sell this brew to you at the present time. To those of you who currently reside in the US, I hereby transmit relentless waves of jealous rage.

On the

Full Review

Some reviews are harder to write than others.

Even for the most passionate beer aficionados (shameless geeks) it can be tricky to appear enthusiastic about a beer you found more or less coma-inducing, when perhaps the only redeeming feature of the brew was how delicious it looked in the moments before you tasted it and learned otherwise.

Fortunately, such beers are rare, making the challenge of having to write about them equally uncommon.

Terrible beers are easy to write about because they tend to make you angry, and anger has a canny knack of assisting with writing, as any sports journalists assigned to Nottingham Forest over recent years will testify.

Excellent beers, similarly, tend to stir the soul sufficiently to ensure the compilation of any subsequent appraisal is a fairly straightforward task.

However, in addition to dull beers, awful beers and generally marvellous beers, there's a certain other kind of brew which comes along only very infrequently, which can drag your mind and spirit into unpredictable territory, and transform the task of sitting down and writing into a particularly daunting task.

I'm talking about the beers you love.

Yes... those beers.

I'm talking about beers which generate primal reactions of such intensity that they can render otherwise competent brains utterly redundant.

I'm talking about beers which leave tongues tied, minds empty, typing-hands clammy, and which can lead to sentences like this one being rephrased up to twenty times before being completely deleted, only to be retyped all over again.

I'm talking about the instant favourite beers. Those which steal your heart in a single moment and never give it back to you.

Specifically, in today's case, I'm talking about a beer named '5 Barrel Pale Ale.'

Oh boy...

(Weighty pause...)

The experience of drinking this beer is so profoundly enjoyable that – even if I possessed the necessary talent to do so – I would not be fully able to share it with you here today without risking arrest on various charges of gross indecency.

I'm not even kidding.

The only reason I didn't weep with joy throughout this tasting was because my tear-ducts physically removed themselves midway through and ran off to buy a bottle of their own. These are the unbridled extremes of pleasure that we're dealing with here.

So, given the (presumed) legal limitations imposed upon me, and given that I'm actually finding it increasingly hard to see anything due to my eyeballs being without moisture (my tear-ducts have been gone a while now), I'm going to make a brief attempt to outline the key elements of this modern-day miracle.

Ridiculously vivid tropical/citrus/intergalactic fruits – chiefly mango, apricot, blood orange, grapefruit – have been perfectly aligned with soft wildgrasses, exotic spices and fresh herbs, and then let loose upon a malt base infused with the deep restrained sweetness of honey roasted nuts, French toast and molasses, which complements all those hop-derived higher notes every bit as well as wide open sea does to wide open sky. It really is on that level of 'made-to-measure' perfection that these elements are coexisting. The flavours in this beer fundamentally belong together – is the overriding impression throughout. And for this many flavours to have been so intricately and successfully assembled, reveals beyond any doubt that there are people with unusual levels of ingenuity, vision and plain old skill currently at work in the Odell's brewhouse.

The body has that quintessentially 'US craft' feel to it - with simultaneous firmness and lightness defying the laws of science and vying deliciously for your attention, the aromas are staggering in their unrelenting complexity, and the stuff even manages to look amazing.

This beer is quite simply vast.

It's a genuine craft beer beacon, illuminating the full extent of the possibilities here in this super-exciting age of contemporary beer creation.

Frustratingly though, I'll never be able to properly convey the true nature of it's impact to you because, try as I might, I just can't find the words.

That's what love can do to you.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Day 155, Beer 155 - Thornbridge's "Chiron"

Today's Beer

Name – Chiron

Brewer – Thornbridge

Classification – American Pale Ale

Strength – 5.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Deep, rich, comic malevolent laughter inducing orange amber. 

On the nose – The aromatic equivalent of an earthquake. One whiff will literally tear your house down. Apples, pears, grapefruit, nectarines, lime, black pepper, shaking walls, falling masonry...

On the tongue – A bewilderingly complex, exuberant, but refreshingly mild mannered, perhaps even 'gentle' expression of modern brewing capability.

On the subject – I think I can safely say Thornbridge is one of the best and most revered craft breweries in Britain today. Yes, I think I can safely say that. The only objections to this claim might be about my use of the word 'craft', and demands might follow about what exactly I mean by that. I will point those making such complaints in the general direction of their own backsides.

On the market – Well, given their ever enlarging reputation, the reach of Thornbridge is better than most 'craft' (yes, there it is again, just deal with it) breweries, but that really serves to illustrate my point about how poorly represented all the best contemporary UK beers are in the wider marketplace. Anyway, contact the brewery directly for sales info, or try The Real Ale Store.

On the

Full Review

Okay, there's been a certain amount of specific 'talk' about this beer lately, so let me just get right to the heart of the matter.

As many of you will know, Thornbridge brew a beer called Jaipur, which is considered a modern classic by the majority of idiots like me who enjoy beer so much that they sit down and write about it.

Comparisons between these two stable-mates have sparked quite a bit of discussion in the murky realms of beer appreciation.

So here's my contribution to the debate...

I do not prefer today's beer to Jaipur.

There, I said it.

However, upon further inspection, this declaration is far more nonsensical than it might first appear.

It's rather like saying - “I don't prefer this snowflake to that other one.”

Actually, it's even closer to saying - “The bright star up there on the left has less appeal to me than its equally twinkly neighbour”.

Now, it could be very easily argued that one snowflake is different from another, but it would take an exceptionally well made argument to successfully convince a neutral observer than one snowflake is better than the other.

Likewise, what evidence could back up a claim that the heavenly body we call Sirius twinkles more pleasingly than that which we've name Polaris? Sure, one star might appear bigger to us... but better?

I think you get my gist. 

Jaipur and Chiron are both stunning examples of their kind. Quite simply, Thornbridge have developed a habit of creating individual products that are all stellar* in their own right.

(* - Not to be confused with 'Stella', for more reasons than I could list in one lifetime.)

Indeed, in many ways these two beers are pretty similar. The are both highly hopped, underpinned with delicate savoury malt base, and chiefly characterised by a super-complex matrix of citrus, floral, tree fruit and soft spice flavour themes which drop your jaw and keep it dropped till it damn well hurts. So numerous are these two beers' similarities, that I reckon someone who's never drunk beer before might not even spot a difference. (After all, we all still know people who think 'bitter' is just 'brown lager.')

But the reality is there are a whole bunch of differences, and although I like a lot of the elements which set Chiron apart from Jaipur, there are few aspects that just don't hit my own personal 'B-spot' in the quite the same way.

It's not the flavours that (microscopically) miss the target. Oh boy no! Chiron thrills with delectable swathes of elderflower, rosewater, grapes, watermelon and mango. It's wonderfully vibrant, fresh, uplifting to the taste.

I think, if anything, it's the intensity of the overall experience which would lead me to opt for one of these beers over the other. Chiron is a subtly gentler giant, providing a slightly more 'laid back' experience throughout. That's all very well and good, and there will be folk who will instinctively vote in favour of that very quality. But for me, I just found myself wishing for something infinitesimally 'additional' from this beer. 

I wanted it to be exactly what it was – but be it a shade more.

At a considerably less potent 5.0% ABV, I did wonder if this is just the difference a slightly less robust alcohol content can make to the character of a beer. And maybe that's what also accounts for the slight sense of comparative thinness in the body which, again, is the kind of thing that suits some people more than others. Personally, with beers of this kind, I've found all kinds of consistencies can work very well, and I couldn't say that was a problem for me here.

(Incidentally, many beer writers refer to the aspect of a beer's physical characteristics as 'mouthfeel' – a term I dislike enormously and avoid using because it always makes me imagine sexually repressed dentists.)

(Don't worry, I'm seeking help...)

Look, I really am splitting hairs here. The fact is that Chiron is one of the best brews around. It really is that simple. Yes, it walks somewhat in the shadow of one of the finest beers of our time, and comparisons will always be made - but none of that is any of it's own fault.

It's an exquisitely crafted contemporary high-hopped beer, with a dazzling array of carefully assembled flavours and it's just about as rewarding as pouring liquid into your face can get.

It's another Thornbridge modern great, and you should go out and buy yourself at least one bottle of it at your very earliest convenience.

In the meantime, I'm going to continue wishing on that star just a little over to the right.

I almost convinced it twinkles better.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Day 154, Beer 154 - Williams Brothers "Joker IPA"

Today's Beer

Name – Joker IPA

Brewer – Williams Brothers

Classification – 'Contemporary' India Pale Ale. (It's about time we all started officially separating the classic style IPA's from these ultra-modern versions, don't ya think? What with them being about as similar to each other as Laurel and Hardy.)

Strength – 5.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Deep tangerine amber. Or, to state it in more technical terms - 'pretty damn lush.'

On the noseNo less lush. But surprisingly malty for a hop heavy beer, with the aromas of rich butterscotch and farmhouse loaves muscling out the far more placid scent of tropical fruits.

On the tongue – Well, well, well. What a clever beer this is. An entirely new, and distinctly 'Scottish' approach to this 'ultra-now' beer style.

On the subject – The Williams 'Brothers' are exactly that. In the final days of the last millennium, Scott and Bruce Williams decided to exploit the combative effects of sibling rivalry by turning their competitive energies outward into the wider world, and a formidable new brewery was the result. Their début beer, the astounding 'Fraoch' Heather Ale began turning heads worldwide in almost no time at all, and all manner of super-distinctive brews have since followed.

On the market – As far as the aforementioned 'Fraoch' is concerned there are no availability problems at all, but the rest of the range can take a little more finding. You could ask the boys themselves, or contact the benevolent provider of this wee bottle, The Real Ale Store.

On the

Full Review

Well, aside for being manifestly gorgeous, this is actually a fascinating beer.

Being the bold, expeditionary, innovative types that they are, Williams Bros have grabbed the concept of a contemporary, highly-hopped beer and sprinted all the way to the hills with it.

Significantly, those (metaphorical) hills weren't the mounts of just any old nation. This beer has clearly been given the good old fashioned Scottish treatment.

In very broad terms, the classic ales of Scotland are infused with a hearty malt-driven robustness, they're enriched with dark berried fruity themes, underpinned with toffee and roasted nuts, spiced up with all kinds of heathland wildflowers, and brewed with a general richness of flavour, body and alcoholic potency which is both unique and utterly delicious.

By and large then, they are enormously different beasts to the modern hop-heavy, super-citrus golden beers which are appearing in ever increasing numbers these days.

But in many ways, that very issue of 'ever increasing numbers' is becoming a tricky one for producers of contemporary highly-hopped beer. After all, how can breweries continue to find ways of making their versions stand out among this ever swelling crowd of grapefruit greats?

Well, Scott and Bruce Williams have found a pretty darn clever way. And it's one of those ultra-simple but eye-rolling ideas which head brewers everywhere must be wishing they'd thought of first.

With Joker IPA, this brewery has taken the key elements of what is (all too often) referred to as a 'hop-bomb', and thrown it together with carefully selected aspects of classic Scottish ale.

The result is every bit as remarkable as you might expect.

Big, super-high-pitched grapefruit, blood orange and apricot smack right into and fully intertwine with rugged dark hedge fruits, damson, well ripened plum, sumptuous suggestions of bracken and tree bark - there are even impossible traces of toffee and black treacle in here. It's really is the most beautiful carnage, and no two mouthfuls are ever the same.

Midway through, I did spend a moment wondering what the occasion might be in which I'd plump for one of these in place of either a more conventional modern 'hop-bomb' or a regular Scottish classic, but by the end of the bottle I was so damn miserable about not having another one to open - I figured there'll probably be a whole bunch of such occasions in the not too distant future. This is far too enjoyable to drink just once and be happy. 

By the time I'd got over the trauma of only having a single sample in my possession, I realised I'd learnt one thing for sure from discovering this beer. 

The Williams Brothers are no Jokers.

Be in no doubt.

These boys are deadly serious.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Day 153, Beer 153 - Shepherd Neame's "Christmas Ale"

Today's Beer

Name – Christmas Ale

Brewer – Shepherd Neame

Classification – Strong 'Seasonal' Ale... (Read on for 'clarification')

Strength – 7.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Sumptuous deep chestnut. Unashamedly traditional. (But appearances can deceive...)

On the nose – Fruit cake and ginger biscuit. (Fragrances can also be deceptive...)

On the tongue – A genuine surprise. Light bodied, vividly hopped, complex, dynamic and really rather wonderful. (Taste never lies.)

On the subject – Well, I think you'd better just read on for this one...

On the market – Considering Shepherd Neame's usual coverage, and considering the time of year, I'd say just close your eyes, make a wish, and it will be there.

On the

Full Review

Well, I was steadfastly determined not to review any 'Christmas' beers whatsoever this year until those insolent scoundrels at Shepherd Neame forced me into a corner by sending me a free one.

Don't you just hate it when that happens?

The simple reason why I'd (briefly) intended to avoid so-called festive beers is because of the quite baffling effect 'Yuletide' seems to have on the entire brewing industry. By and large, breweries tend to use this time of year as an opportunity to toss away the tremendous levels of respect which they've carefully generated throughout the previous 11 months by handing over responsibility for their Christmas campaign to the nearest newborn gibbon.

As an inevitable result of this handover, the end of year market becomes flooded with all manner of daftly-named, garishly-labelled bottles, most of which are filled with beers that the head brewers (who have also been temporarily replaced by infant gibbons) know will hardly be consumed after December 25th, so they really ought not to be the finest ales their company will ever produce.

This, of course, is a very cynical view and not at all an accurate representation of what truly goes on.


Whatever the realities, I just tend not to get all that excited about the beers which show up at this time of year. So it was with an air of quiet suspicion that I cracked the lid on today's beer.

Very shortly afterwards, however, my spirits began to rise.

When I say 'rise', I mean really quite significantly, and I began to believe that the suspicions I've recently been harbouring about 'Britain's Oldest Brewery' might actually be correct.

In short, I think something's happening at Shepherd Neame.

I think changes, subtle at first but increasingly evident lately, have been taking place. And if this beer alone is anything to go by – I'd say those changes are enormously positive ones.

This brewery's aforementioned claim to be 'Britain's Oldest' is one for the lawyers and historians to quibble over, but there's little doubt that these guys have been around for a heck of a long time, and they've been based all along in the very heart of the UK's very own 'Hop Mecca', more commonly known as Kent.

Tradition, then, is the byword here. And there's little doubt that Shepherd Neame continue to brew some of the most traditional feeling English ales around.

But I'll say it again, I reckon something's been happening at this brewery.

Some of their recent releases have had a markedly different feel to them. Their 'Double Stout' and 'India Pale Ale' have a very nice 'retro chic' look to them, and by all accounts they taste a lot more 'exciting' and 'interesting' than plenty of recent offerings from all the other big name firms.

This is great news this brewery, as I firmly believe the best chance the big players have of maintaining their dominant market position is to wake up – and fast – to what's been going on lately outside their castle walls.

But it's also great news for us, because brews like Christmas Ale are heralding some significant new levels of innovation and creativity, whilst also keeping the ghosts of Xmas beers past firmly very firmly at bay.

I kid you not, today's beer makes for an unspeakably gratifying experience. It's robust, but it's equally zesty and packed with vitality. It's bold, but it's equally delicate and playful. It's big, but it ain't at all overbearing – and where they hiding all 7.0% of that ABV is anyone's guess.

Lightly toasted nut and granary loaf malts stand firmly but gracefully at the base, holding aloft a dynamic swirling mass of crisp citrus, deliciously nuanced herbs, a ton of fruity twangs from the likes of apricot and pear – and a finely woven tapestry of mild spice which contains absolutely none of that bullish intensity which can needlessly ruin (for me at least) so many Christmas themed brews. These are beers, after all – not curries!

'Faversham's finest' are quite simply rewriting the Yuletide rules, and I couldn't be happier about it. There's no 'comedy' festive title here, the name couldn't possibly be less gimmicky. There's no whacky recipe mindful of its own very short shelf-life, just delicious well-balanced beer that could be enjoyed all year round. Perhaps most significantly, this is a beer that will (very cleverly) appeal to drinkers on both sides of the evolutionary divide.

The gibbons are back in the zoo.

Shepherd Neame's usual head brewer is definitely back in the building – with a head crammed full of fresh and exciting ideas.

Christmas is most definitely coming.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Day 152, Beer 152 - Moor's "Revival"

Today's Beer

Name – Revival

Brewer – Moor

Classification – Pale Ale

Strength – 4.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Deep tangerine gold. Not remotely unpleasant looking.

On the nose – Razor sharp metallic hops. Combative tropical fruits. Beaujolais 'extra' Nouveau. Properly lovely.

On the tongue – An exquisitely refined drink experience. A strong contender for 'most elegant' of all the ultra-hopped contemporary beers.

On the subject – The county of Somerset has long been almost exclusively associated with the production of cider, but thanks to the rapidly growing reputation of this highly innovative brewery, that's not the case any Moor. (Poor gags like that wouldn't be making it to publication if my editor hadn't quit. And my editor might never have quit if only I'd had the foresight to hire one in the first place. So, so many regrets...)

On the market – I already had my 'new beer availability rant' here yesterday, but I'm literally having to beat myself with rusty iron bars in order not to do so again, because today's beer is yet another modern classic that's pretty damn hard to come by. Contact the brewery for sales info, or drive yourself halfway around the world* to The Real Ale Store just like I ended up having to do.

(*Roughly 15 miles).

On the

Full Review

Without wanting to sound at all disparaging, this is probably the most 'sensible' highly-hopped modern beer I've yet come across.

Let me quickly expand on that before representatives from Moor (poorly disguised in brewery branded balaclavas) burst into my house and begin water-boarding me for hours on end with gallon after gallon of their very latest products.

(I wish.)

Let's be honest, some of the hop-heavy brews pouring with ever increasing frequency out of breweries these days can have an effect very similar to jumping stark naked into an ice bath. They are quite deliberately 'things that make you go oooooo!' (Or make you emit other, slightly less repeatable expressions to the same effect.)

They can often  again, quite deliberately  cast aside such notions as subtlety, nuance, balance and sometimes even complexity. In my opinion, one or two brews go even further by abandoning the very concept of 'taste', in all forms of that word's definition.

So it was a real pleasure to crack today's bottle and discover something that puts each of those elements neatly and firmly back into place, resulting in a beer of staggering elegance, presence and composure.

Revival, if anything, is a dignified beer.

It exudes class and superiority, and does so in a way which is utterly understated. No braggish swagger is needed here, nor indeed is there any need for aggressive branding, and this amounts to a lesson in self-awareness which a few other contemporary breweries would do very well to learn.

The flavours are beautifully composed. So crystal clear is it in its intentions, that it leaves no secrets in the mouth, allowing tropical fruits, wild grasses, floral themes and underlying pale malt savoury notes plenty of room to have their individual moment in the spotlight. To have achieved all of this at such a relatively low alcoholic strength is highly commendable in itself.

Freshness is a big factor here, too. The grapefruit, pear, watermelon and lime all zing with 'just squeezed' immediacy. As do the gentle bread and walnut notes at the other end of the scale. (Though why anyone would waste their time 'squeezing' bread is anyone's guess! - adds The Editor, having finally been hired.)

All in all, this pale ale stands as something of a statement among its hop-heavy contemporaries, reminding them all that no matter what the beer style, there'll always be room for a genuine touch of class.

Very few are as classy as this.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Day 151, Beer 151 - Salopian's "Oracle"

Today's Beer

Name – Oracle

Brewer – Salopian

Classification – Golden Ale

Strength – 4.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Pale, suspiciously hypnotic straw gold.

On the nose – Generous amounts of citrusy marvellousness. (Sometimes only made up words will do.)

On the tongue – A massive grapefruit-heavy thwack from an implausibly 'light' beer. Astounding.

On the subject – Well, there's really too much to neatly sum up here... (Read on.) 

On the market – Oh, how I tire of revealing that a fabulous beer is hard to come by! Shrewsbury based Salopian work overtime providing their own decent coverage of the western areas of England but, like so many other superb small breweries, they can only reach so far. (Will someone please tell the major supermarkets there's been a beer revolution going on for a few years now!) This rare specimen was retrieved by trained specialists at Newark's Real Ale Store.

On the

Full Review

Why aren't the majority of the best UK beers available in supermarkets?

I'm obviously not talking about the beers which are 'known as' being the best – those beers which hog the often minuscule areas set aside for 'proper beer' which come from the likes of Greene King, Badger, Marston's, Greene King and... well, Greene King. These beers are fine in themselves, many of them are more than 'fine', but nobody who follows the beer scene still believes any of these brews represent the best of what's being produced in Britain today.

In fact, most beer aficionados (one of which I hope to be when I grow up) have spent the last five years or so watching a gargantuan gulf opening up between those beers which have been sharing the crown for many decades – and those entirely different beers which really ought to be wearing it now.

But when I walk into most supermarkets, certainly those I work or live nearby, I find I'm still asking myself the same old question...

Where's all the good stuff?”

Incredibly, after a period of such ferocious evolution and creativity within the beer industry, as things stand the only way of seeing bottles of Thornbridge standing shoulder to shoulder with concoctions from Kernel, Magic Rock, Brew Dog, Marble, and any number of other 'well known' contemporary breweries – is at a specialist retailer or within the dispassionate confines of a specialist dealer's website.

I find this bizarre. It's also hugely frustrating.

Most of all though, it's plain old unacceptable.

These massively exciting beers should either be getting some of the existing 'proper beer' shelf space in big supermarkets, or preferably they should be getting a section all of their own. After all, what possible commonalities do Fursty Ferret and Bombardier share with beers such as Jaipur, 5AMSaint, or Conqueror 1075?

Beyond the fact these are all beers – what else is even remotely similar about them?

So come on ASDA, come on Tesco, Sainsbury's, and Morrisson's – aka “The Big Four” – it's time for you all to help your customers to take part in this new and exciting consumer experience. Quite apart from the public service aspect, you're also guaranteed to increase your profits massively, as an entirely new demographic suddenly adds its ever-growing ranks to your checkout lines.

I can but dream...

Until then, I'll just tell you about another fantastic beer you probably won't currently find in your local supermarket, another beer which could be greatly improving your day if only you could get your hands on it.

Oracle is actually something of a liquid surprise. At 4.0% ABV, you could be excused for expecting a beer that's light in impact as well as in alcohol content. This is very much not the case. Many breweries in the aforementioned 'contemporary proper beer' arena take great delight in demonstrating to us just how much flavour can be crammed into drinks of relatively low or 'sessionable' strength, but Salopian have clearly gone to extraordinary lengths here to create what could well be the very best example of this low booze, high taste concept.

Swathes of vivid grapefruit, kiwi, lime, pineapple, orange and gooseberry tumble over each other against a backdrop of subtle savoury biscuit, granary bread and pine nuts. It's not just the wealth of flavours, but the sheer potency of them which instantly and continuously impresses.

Light bodied, infused with a glorious sense of freshness and a stunning clarity of construction, this is a perfect summertime beer which is light enough to stick with until sundown. Here in the gloomiest depths of winter though, I found the experience every bit as gratifying.

I just wish more of us could share in the delights of beers like this without having to drive thirty miles (like I did) or searching around online only to be further restricted into making a bulk purchase.

Change is already long overdue.

Over to you, “The Big Four”.