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”.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Day 150, Beer 150 - Oakham's "Green Devil IPA"

Today's Beer

Name – Green Devil IPA

Brewer – Oakham Ales

Classification – Please don't make me write 'IPA'. (Dammit!)

Strength – 6.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – A hoax. A deception. A trick. Making you believe it's just an ordinary light golden beer. Do not believe the lie.

On the nose – Not just hops, but actual hop vines. Tropical fruits and jungle foliage. All the multifarious aromas of a well stocked greenhouse. Not to mention the crushed nettles, the wildflowers, the nuclear grade citrus and the abundant fresh tears from your own eyes brought about by unbridled joy. Getting the picture?

On the tongue – Summarise? This stuff? Do me a favour!

On the subject – Many will consider this beer to be Oakham's 'big' version of their much celebrated 'Citra' IPA. It may be a lot more complicated than that in terms of how differently these two brews are created, but it's otherwise not a bad way of looking at it. If your mere human imagination can stretch far enough, try to imagine a version of Citra that is not only 'bigger' but also markedly better. Impossible concept?... Apparently not.

On the market – Hardly. Specialist outlets and the brewery itself are your only real options. This one came courtesy of The Real Ale Store.

On the

Full Review

Possibly the best contemporary, ultra-hopped beer currently on the market.

There was very little point opening this review in any other way.

Now, before any of you start slamming your pints down and protesting about how all 'contemporary ultra-hopped beers' are just one trick ponies with very little to offer beyond making peoples eyes widen in semi-acute shock – let me just say that I've slammed many a pint down in protest about that too. I 'get' that argument, and there was a time when I had more than my share of sympathy for it.

But my view has shifted considerably since then, prompted mostly by my drinking a fair old selection of these new beers, and as a result I'd say that anyone who could drink a full bottle of today's beer without coming away grinning uncontrollably – probably just hasn't wrestled with enough of these beasts yet. That's not meant in any kind of disparaging way, it's really just a recognition of the fact that many people need to acclimatise to this style of beer, one which is pretty darned extreme in a whole bunch of very deliberate ways. Ultra-hopped beers need no time whatsoever to make an impact, but they can require more time than many other brews to properly get to know.

Obviously, there will always be those drinkers who get their kicks by disliking stuff, and they'll never listen even if you get your frail old granny to ask them nicely. I reckon a fair portion of the people claiming to dislike this beer will be those who just enjoy the sensation of swimming against the popular tide.

But I fear there's also a whole bunch of people who sit much further in from the extremes who don't feel able to properly familiarise themselves with these kinds of beers due to the unfortunate fact that, over recent years, things have been getting increasingly tribal and territorial in the world of 'proper' beer. The community is even arguing these days about what to call the very stuff that they are drinking. Is it 'real ale', or is it 'craft beer', and can anyone even remember why it matters?

This 'them and us' dynamic might be a source of amusing (and, sadly, sometimes overly heated) debate on social media outlets, but it's my increasingly strong belief that it will be bad for beer in the longer term.

What I see happening is that beers like Green Devil have, in some quarters, found themselves the victims of an often intolerant campaign against the entire notion of change. It's not so much the contemporary beers themselves which invite hostility, it's the perception of difference which the beers represent. Such has been the hype surrounding the recent developments in beer experimentation, and so wide-ranging have the effects been on the type of beers now being brewed, that these new beers can be sometimes be seen as threats, whether to traditional ales themselves, or to the atmosphere which surrounds the appreciation of beer in general.

It can appear to some that the new world of faux-punk, self-reverential swagger and dubious designer-stubble has simply stormed in and usurped the old world of honest straight talk, fireside sing songs and dubious non-designer-stubble.

In reality, the two apparently opposing camps aren't actually all that different from each other, but they've both successfully convinced themselves they are – so opposing attitudes are upheld regardless. In amongst all of this pointless posturing, the saddest consequence is that both sides routinely 'pooh-pooh' and actively avoid each others preferred beer styles, when the truth of the matter is that without this perceived conflict of ideologies everyone would be sat together enjoying what is only ever just beautifully engineered beer in all manner of interesting and delicious varieties.

Anyway, in hope that it might make a difference, let me invite you to set aside any preconceptions for a few moments whilst I tell you exactly why I found Green Devil to be such a monumentally rewarding experience.

As with many of these stealth-weapon beers, the first thing you notice about it is that it looks utterly unremarkable. Once in the glass, you can't help but look back at the demonic face on the label and wonder what its connection could possibly be to this unassuming, almost placid looking light golden beverage.

The only real clues as to the hugely dynamic and potent complexity which lurks within come from the aromas. Putting an 's' on the end of the word 'aroma' has never made more sense, because there are precisely eleven billion separately identifiable themes present in the fragrance of this beer. And don't go doubting my accuracy because I counted them.

Most delicious and unique among the myriad whiffs is the smell of the vines from which the hops were plucked. That's a pretty darned incredible characteristic to find. The hops themselves also have a tremendous presence, as you might expect, but to get that additional sense of the very plants upon which the hops were grown sets a new benchmark in terms of aromatic freshness in beer. Not since maniacally sniffing the rims of 'just cracked' bottles from Liverpool Organic have I been so concious of the word 'fresh' when first discovering a new drink.

But such matters of appearance and fragrance pale into near insignificance when this stuff finally reaches your mouth.

Oh boy.

Instantaneously, the concepts of refreshment and invigoration begin scrambling for new and more emphatic ways of defining themselves, as a liquid rock-slide of zesty, sumptuous bitterness collides deliciously with every region of your tongue. It's not brutal, and I've been dismissive of the term 'hop bomb' only very recently – but the dynamism, intensity and all round clarity of the taste is wonderfully bewildering and cannot fail to raise the heart-rate of any human who is alive at the point of contact.

The usual citrus and 'high-note' fruit suspects are all present (passion-fruit, gooseberry, razor sharp pineapple among many more) but the dominant battle here is between grapefruit and blood orange, with each of these two performing ever more stylish moves on its rival only to be outclassed by an effective countermeasure every time. It's thrilling to just sit back and let them tear each other to delicious shreds.

I could try to focus on the malts, and the sense of overall balance between high notes and low, but there's obviously not a lot of that going on here – and this is what can upset many lovers of established classic ales.

But we should all just accept that these beers were never meant to do any of that. That's really the point of it all. It's a different kind of experience, for a different kind of mood, presented in a different kind of way.

Ultra-hopped beers are not here to replace our old favourites – they've simply arrived to widen our options

Standing right at the forefront of this fresh set of options is a hugely fearsome and devilish creature, whom every last one of us should be learning to love.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Day 149, Beer 149 - Blue Monkey's "Black Howler"

Today's Beer

Name – Black Howler

Brewer – Blue Monkey

Classification – Black IPA

Strength – 5.9% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Satan's blood. In a good way.

On the nose – Citrus infused licorice, Tabasco-heavy Bloody Mary, and raw fear.

On the tongue – A toasty, spicy, juicy instant classic.

On the subject – Just like me, Blue Monkey Brewery was born in Nottingham in 2008. (Yes, I am in fact a four year old, as my ex-wife will be more than happy to confirm.) This 'local connection' filled me a certain amount of trepidation as I was very keen not to have to find fault with a company of such extraordinarily noble birth. Turns out I needn't have worried...

On the market – Considering the number of awards this company have collected over recent years, I expect national coverage to rise rapidly, but some searching may be needed for now. This one came from TheReal Ale Store.

On the

Full Review

I love Black IPA's.

Now, obviously, there's every chance that such a dangerously generalised claim will come back to haunt me some day soon, perhaps when some of the less gifted breweries start 'having a go' at them and failing catastrophically – but the happy fact is that every company that's produced a Black IPA thus far has done so with tremendous success, and the delicious result of all this fevered experimentation is that the benchmark definition of this young beer style is transforming all the time.

It's a kind of supersonic evolution we're witnessing, with new interpretations on the essential 'theme' of this style (rich complex dark beer meets ultra-hopped light-bodied beer) hitting the shelves like dark matter bullets shot from some extra-dimensional realm.

To be clear about it – within the world that might be called 'cutting edge craft beer' Black IPA's have gone from non-existence to near domination in little over a year, and no serious contender for the (dubious) prize of 'coolest brewery' can afford to be without at least one of these beers in their portfolio.

And this brings us neatly to Blue Monkey Brewery. Already a certain contender for Kings of Cool with their standard range alone, these guys have made their claim even stronger by releasing a smaller selection of more experimental 'rare and one-off' brews under a totally separate label which they've named 'Endangered Species'. Black Howler is one of these.

So damn cool are these beers – that you won't even find them on the brewery's official website! Not even a mention. When a company starts denying the very existence of one of its own products, you just know you are stepping into the higher realms of serious bloody cool.

But of course none of this necessarily means that today's beer will actually be any good. As many of us who follow 'beer' learn more and more each day – any company's insistence on 'being cool' tells us nothing whatsoever about the quality of the products which lie behind the branding. In fact these days, a well trained beer-buying eye can detect the tell-tale signs of enforced cool and use it as a handy warning. 'Contains Toxic Self Awareness. Avoid Contact With Lips.'

Let's face it, brewery's can fail embarrassingly badly when they try to combine serious attempts at brewing beer with serious attempts at looking cool. Anyone can tell you that any serious attempt at looking cool is self defeating because the whole point of cool is that it's achieved without effort. There's obviously no better example of the self-defeating effects of coolness overkill than that of Brew Dog, a company whose genuinely excellent beers now have to enjoyed in secret by most serious minded drinkers.

So are Blue Monkey about to join Brew Dog in that murky territory where exemplary brewing talent inexplicably gives way to unrestrained vanity?

Well, not on this evidence, and that's not because Black Howler isn't a good enough beer in the first place – because believe me it is – it's simply because there are very clear signs that any vanity is being kept firmly at bay here. Firstly, the marketing of this range seems to be based on a genuine curiosity about the 'possibilities' of beer creation (they simply don't brew enough of these to be secretly fleecing us) and secondly because this great beer has been brewed and brought to market entirely without my knowledge. Brew Dog would never – ever – allow that to happen!

Black Howler is then – in marketing terms at least – a quiet beer. It's part of this brewery's exploration of the further reaches of beer experience, which people can chose to explore too if they so happen to come across it. In other words – it's actually pretty cool.

And it tastes pretty cool too. Lots of subtle spices, dark berried fruit, powerful licorice, toasted granary bread, glorious high reaching citrus (the key 'trick' of any good Black), roast chestnuts, char-grilled Cobra venom (I'd put money on it!) – this thing is just packed with all kinds of light-bodied zings, twangs and thwacks that keep you guessing (hence the Cobra venom), smiling, and of course sipping in equal amounts.

There's a fabulously ruthless bitterness in the finish which, to my taste at least, eventually leads to the licorice element lingering too long all by itself when I'd have liked some of the other complementary flavour themes to have stuck around longer with it, but that's me getting very picky considering the wealth of delicious positives.

This brew makes it clear to me that Blue Monkey are a force to be reckoned with. They are striding with impressive confidence across the new world of beer creativity, and finding some seriously impressive recipes along the way.

To my mind, that's exactly what contemporary brewing is all about.

When companies create products as unique and enjoyable as this one, those products need no further assistance to become cool.

When its brewed as expertly as this – beer is born cool. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Day 148, Beer 148 - Windsor & Eton's "Canberra"

Today's Beer

Name – Canberra

Brewer – Windsor & Eton

Classification – Commonwealth Ale (Confused? Read on...)

Strength – 4.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Deep, lustrous chestnut. Like some gloriously implausible rum and molasses cocktail.

On the nose – Good God! Big hops with equal treacle (which should be a band name) underscored with delicious smoky liquorice (which definitely should not be a band name).

On the tongue – Rich, rewarding and complex with fabulously zesty hops, all kinds of complimentary sub-flavours and an overall punch far greater than its strength ought to allow.

On the subject – This is the final beer of three brewed by Windsor & Eton to commemorate ‘Jubilee 2012’, and it’s arguable they've saved the very best for last. (See one of them reviewed here, and trust me that the other was totally ace.)

On the market – Another ‘grab it while you can’ beer arrives on The Bottled Beer Year, with the safest bet of doing so being to purchase from the brewery direct.

On the whole9/10

Full Review

As the inevitable 'end of year reviews' begin to clog up every last media outlet over the coming weeks, much will be said about what has been (in any UK-linked territory at least) the 50th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s time spent having to shake hands with unwell, poorly paid taxpayers – otherwise known as The Diamond Jubilee.

What might not be mentioned during all this dewy-eyed hullabaloo – not nearly as much as it should be, at least – is the relatively small contribution made to these festivities by a certain UK brewery, in the form of three enormously lovely (and even more enormously diverse) commemorative beers.

Long before this year-long national party had started, the magicians at Windsor & Eton had been quietly impressing me and thousands of other ale fundamentalists with an ever growing roster of astonishing beers, each of which manages to combine cutting edge characteristics and flavour themes with an equally immediate sense of tradition – an elusive little trick which few other breweries ever quite manage to pull off.

Uniquely, Canberra is called a ‘Commonwealth Ale’, and whilst that’s probably just the brewery entering into the spirit of their own idea and having a bit of fun with the royal theme, it’s also perfectly fitting that they should essentially invent an entirely new beer style for this brew because in my experience there just ain’t nothing like it currently available on the open market.

From the moment of contact with the lips this stuff begins racing around the full flavour spectrum like the proverbial bat out of Berkshire, and before you can properly identify any specific notes – it’s already begun firing barrages of new tastes at you as though it genuinely intends to kill you.

And this pleasantly aggressive characteristic is one of the things that most impresses about Canberra. After you remind yourself of the relatively benign alcohol content (4.0% ABV),  you realise it beggars belief how they've managed to empower this drink with such a wealth of robust flavours as well as its almost menacing sense of inner might.

Specifically, the flavours at play here are spiced orange citrus, ginger cake, green figs, fennel, restrained cocoa, delicate traces of maple syrup – and the malts underpin all of this with a super-unique roasted nut, char-grilled tree sap kind of a twang which, frankly, leaves you wanting to sit the hell down and contemplate the inside of your own mouth for a good old while.

This really is a genuinely dynamic and hugely rewarding concoction.

All in all, this three beer salute to the British monarch has been imbued with a majesty every bit as grand as the one it was intended to reflect. The only difference being that this Windsor brewery has taken just a few short years to generate the same glorious heritage which a certain other local resident needed half a century to acquire.

An exaggeration?

Sip it and see.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Day 147, Beer 147 - Thwaites 'Triple C'

Today's Beer

Name – Triple C

Brewer – Thwaites

Classification – Blonde Ale

Strength – 4.4% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – Brooding orange amber. Eye-catching carbonation makes for the only (microscopic) blot on this beer's copybook.

On the nose – Understated citrus hops. You might even say 'stealth' hops, given the true scale of what lies beneath...

On the tongue – Traffic-stopping, jaw-dropping citrus, yet not without some sense of restraint. Vivid, dynamic, and utterly delicious.

On the subjectThwaites have been an established part of the cosy beer landscape in Britain for a good old while now, so this ultra-modern brew came to me as the most welcome shock. The reality is that an 'internal revolution' has been underway at the brewery for quite a while now, making for a portfolio of beers which hints at something of a split personality. Half their range is proudly traditional, whilst the other half swaggers around like it couldn't give a monkey's about such tedious things as 'heritage'. This beer is from the latter half of that spilt personality, and I can reveal that the substance behind that 'swagger' is nothing less than diamond hard.

On the market – Fairly strong national presence, with the likes of Morrison's stocking this and plenty more from Thwaites' borderline-schizophrenic output.

On the

Full Review

Does the following statement apply to you?

"Since discovering the new wave of massively hopped beers, I find all my old favourites boring."

If your answer is 'Yes' you are by no means alone, as this sort of sentiment represents a growing phenomenon in the beer loving world which, left unacknowledged, could eventually pose a significant problem for the beer industry.

That 'problem' is essentially described as follows. Those of us who are brazen enough to consider ourselves 'clued up' about the contemporary beer scene will inevitably have sampled a number of the so-called 'hop bomb' beers which dominate the output of the modern 'craft beer' market – but many of us have subsequently found that going back to our established favourites after discovering these new beers can be an alarmingly unrewarding experience.

It's a fairly straightforward, one-way-street type of a scenario. Once you've experienced a bottle of Thornbridge's 'Jaipur', going back to buying bottles of Badger's 'Golden Champion' seems a fairly pointless endeavour.

Similarly, a glass of BrewDog's '5AMSaint' served straight from your own fridge reduces the enjoyment of shop bought Marston's 'Pedigree' by around 73.6%. Roughly speaking.

Of course I'm being ridiculously unscientific here, but although my point may be crudely put – I'm absolutely certain that the essential core of this argument is dangerously near the knuckle. And it's an argument more and more people are having to grudgingly admit.

The best 'contemporary craft' beers make the best 'old classics' taste dull.

And that statement comes from a guy who once said he'd happily die before saying anything remotely like it.

The truth which I've since had to accept is now crystal clear to me. Once you've seen the world through the prism of cutting edge craft brewed beer, it's difficult to imagine how you could ever look at it in any other way.

The comforting news, perhaps, is that the beer world is so vast, complex and enduring that any permanent shift is never going to be quite as straightforward as I'm making it seem. It's very likely that those old favourites of ours will win back a lot of the ground they might initially appear to have lost forever. Like with many aspects of life, it's really just a matter of letting new and exciting things have their moment, before they too take their place in our established experience base and thereby become every bit as boring as every other thing we've grown used to.

But for those of you still caught in the delicious glare of those 'new wave beer' headlights, today's brew is likely to become a mainstay in your fridge for a good old while.

In short, Triple C is everything a 'hop head' could wish for.

Tellingly, the widely lauded Cascade hop variety has been added at every stage of the brewing process (which happens to be three times, giving us the 'Triple' and the 'C'). The result being that this beer engulfs you with repeated swathes of vivid grapefruit, gooseberry, lime, orange peel and Bramley apple, each of which is pitched just at that mesmerising point at one extreme of the taste spectrum where any fruit sweetness inherent in the citrus begins to cross the impossible line into an almost salty bitterness, leaving your taste buds in a frenzied state of delicious bewilderment, grasping desperately at explanations as to what might be causing this glorious feeling to occur to them.

It's a massively rewarding first few sips, and it only gets better.

I want to make something absolutely clear though. This may be a hop-heavy brew, but it's certainly no 'bomb.'

'Hop bomb' is a widely used expression for beers such as this, and it's a phrase I dislike because it tends to imply that little of what happens to the drinker was a specifically targeted experience brought about by those who created the drink in the first place. Bombs, after all, are among the messiest weapons humans ever conceived of and their outcomes, once triggered, are fairly arbitrary. 'Bomb' really says very little about the enormous levels of skill found in most brewhouses these days.

If we absolutely must use multiple-casualty-devices to describe the experience of drinking a beer (snore) then Triple C has to be far closer to a 'guided-missile' than a mere explosive. It knows exactly where it's going, and it hits that target with devastating accuracy each and every time.

So, having established that there is a distinctly modern, hop-lead feel to this beer, I should add that Triple C has very little of that aforementioned new beer 'swagger'. Thwaites have been careful to keep this brew's 'traditionalist' feet sufficiently on the ground to appeal to that other (ever shrinking) section of the beer loving community whose inhabitants steadfastly refuse to be dazzled by the twinkly lights of 'so-called progress.' The sense of balance hasn't been entirely flung out of the equation as can happen with more aggressive beers of this kind – and just enough savoury biscuit malt has been left in play to keep the old guard from reaching for their torches and pitchforks.

On reflection, perhaps that's actually the best thing about this monumentally likeable drink. It has been so brilliantly conceived, so expertly brewed and so carefully brought to market in these deceptively unassuming bottles – that I don't think anyone who claims to like beer could possibly find any aspect of it not to like.

In fact, I'm now feeling so emboldened by my own super-confident rhetoric, I hereby urge everyone of legal age to go out immediately and buy one.

Trust me, there's no tastier way to work on your swagger.