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A Dark Quartet

IMG_0079Black IPA: Booming a few years ago, only to recede ever-so-slightly when Saison usurped it at the head of every brewer’s experimentation list. I’m not mocking here at all – it’s had genuinely been a while since I’d tried a really good Black IPA – and then recently, as happens, a few landed in my lap. I do like the style, to be honest, and when done well the balance between dark grain and bitter hop can be a mesmerising one; either cancelling each other out in harmonious fashion or seemingly amplifying the effects of both.

First up, Salopian Vertigo (7.2% abv); a beer I was very much looking forward to tasting after experiencing such ephiphany with Darwin’s Origin a few months back. What stands out for me the most is the unexpected in Vertigo; the sugary, fruity notes in the nose that remind me of a cut strawberry, the undertow of sticky pine reminding you there’s hops in those woods. A body of Licqourice and molasses follows, with rising bitterness at the end of the sip that manages to wrap its arms around both the citrsussy cut of Orange Peel and the drying bitterness of espresso coffee and roasted malt. It’s another home run from Salopian all right; not all about hops and in excellent condition too.

018Buxton’s Imperial Black IPA (7.5%abv) is a whisker stronger in terms of alcohol and yet feels like a bruiser compared to Vertigo, swaggering into the ring and delivering a knockout blow to a promising young fighter, just to remind him who’s boss. It’s a much more straight-ahead beer, too – but no less wonderful for it; deep, biscuit-and-bread roasted malt in the body, laced with bitter chocolate and boiled sweets. The finish is another stroll in that pine forest, put-your-head-in-the-hopsack deal; sticky, green and – when fresh, as I’ve had the pleasure of tasting this  – incredibly vibrant. Another quality beer from the boys from Buxton.

IMG_3419Beavertown’s Black Betty (7.4%abv) again illustrates how a beer with a similar abv can feel so different; it’s much lighter in mouthfeel than the Imperial Black IPA. Tasty and moreish, it’s sweet and silky in the body, slightly oily (in a good way) and with a more ‘woodshop’ aroma than the usual coffee – which does appear, although in a muted fashion. There’s pine, of course – that seems to the theme for this tasting – alongside a big citrus punch at the finish. It doesn’t dry out the palate, and you’d probably want more than one; which I often find to be the acid test for Black IPA’s.

IMG_0261Finally, we have a beer that was sent to me earlier in the month; one of collaboration. Hackney’s Sebright Arms have been working with Redchurch Brewery and local artist Pure Evil to create, well, Pure Evil Black IPA. Coming in at 8% abv, its the strongest of the lot and it shows; it’s big and incredibly bitter – perhaps a little too bitter for me, to be honest. The aroma, however, is pungent and fresh with grassy, minty, herbal hops, with an undertow of Parma Violets in amongst that roasted, flapjacky (is that a word?) malt that’s not unpleasant at all. That Parma Violet note pops up again in the sip, before being obliterated by an espresso rasp and high, rising bitterness.

Like you BIPA’s big and bitter? This is your man – although it’s a one-off, I’m afraid. Still, I like the spirit in which the beer was born, which is the main reason I accepted a sample. The Sebright appears to be building a community around it through beer and food, and that brings a smile to my face.


Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball: A Purple Reign

Damn. They’ve done it again.

Ok, we all know what MR are capable of; but Magic 8 Ball (7%abv) is quite simply, a symphony. This little Purple monster lulls you into fanboy-with-rabies hand-claps at the sheer sight of the spangly label, but even this level of foreplay doesn’t quite prepare you for what hides within.

Close your eyes and inhale. Go on, sniff that beer. You’re looking at a tight, tan head  – cookie-crumb brown and filled with explosions of aroma. Peach, Mango, sweet, sugary Strawberry and Grapefruit are all hanging out in there, positively leaping out of the glass and up your nose. You can practically hear their screams as they ride that rollercoaster upwards into your Brain; a one – way white-knuckle ride.

Sipping the beer (because no matter how much you want to, don’t gulp it!), there’s only the slightest hint of fruit; it’s all about rasping coffee-notes; high, dry, freshly green and moreish. Pair the rich, juicy body with the aroma that out-pale-ales-some-pale-ales and you’ve got a winner.

Ok, I haven’t been entirely serious with my hyperbolic tasting notes. But I assure you, this is a serious beer; seriously good, seriously fruity and with serious taste. Balance in abundance; richly rewarding in terms of the malts involved and relative warmth of the abv; yet entirely refreshing and feather-light, too.  The Best Black IPA out there? Well, the sort of person I am would stop me from making such definitive statements about any beer (because if you reached perfection, then you’ve reached the end of the journey) but it’s up there, for sure. Seriously, seriously good.

>Lightside/DarkSide: St Austell Proper Job & Proper Black

It’s taken me a while to post this up; I just had to wait to do a side-by-side comparison when a brewer makes a light and dark version of the same beer. St Austell, that Cornish bedrock of the eponymous Tribute, have always had a few secret weapons up their sleeve; Admiral’s Ale is a fantastically complex drop, and you’ll find a secret fan club for Proper Job.

What makes Proper Job (5.5%abv) a little special is the fact that it’s almost unashamedly non-commercial; a truly English IPA that manages to be both tasty and assertive enough to satisfy traditionalists and hop-heads alike. There’s smooth, wheaty malt, sure, but over the top there’s a marmalade-heavy juiciness; and on top of that richness comes zingy grapefruit notes both in the aroma and the taste. The bitterness is, as the label states for a change, powerful, and supremely rising in it’s assertiveness. This is not a crowd-pleaser; Proper Job manages to tread that line between mainstream and ‘different’ very well indeed.

Proper Black (6%abv) arrived to very little fanfare when the world was going crazy for Black IPA; and again, there’s a great balance here. Tasting the two side-by-side almost makes me want the same beer but different colours (even the label is a negative version of the original), but Proper Black manages to be even more assertive, if you ask me. Black as night, the body of the beer is massively different to it’s lighter sister. Massive roasted notes, milk chocolate, drying coffee (Latte? Espresso?) give the beer a full yet rounded body; and all those bitter-end-of-the-scale flavours give PB a dry, dry finish. To counter this, the hop profile seems almost twice a big as PJ; Grapefruit upon Grapefruit upon Orange pith. Big, Brash and Powerful; Proper Black is one beer not to be messed with.
Whilst we are on the Black IPA channel, Buxton’s wonderful Black Rocks is on at North Bar this weekend, alongside Moor Top, Kinder Sunset and the awesome Axe Edge IPA. Put this alongside Proper Job and you’ve got a very different prospect: BR is much, much fruitier; tropical fruits, Lychee and Strawberry dominate, and the body of the beer is light enough to lift those up but roasty enough to make sure you know it’s a dark beer. Fruity, Smooth and with a real depth, Black Rocks is one of the most balanced, drinkable BIPA’s I’ve tried.

>More Bang For Your Buxton: Buxton Brewery Pt2

> Ok, ok, enough with the puns. Time to crack on with more Buxton appreciation. Axe Edge (6.8%abv) is now an award winner – it picked up ‘Best Strong Ale’ in this years Bradford Beer Festival, which goes some in way in boosting the image of tastes of us Northern Folk. To be honest, it would only have been a matter of time before it did scoop a plaudit, simply because it’s a great beer. The hop profile tells you all you need to know; it’s like a great big tropical fruit juice party in the top of the glass courtesy of loads of Amarillo, Citra and Nelson Sauvin. Lychee, Mango, Strawberry, Grapefruit and sweet Orange dominate the nose, and yet despite it’s heft in terms of abv, the sip is deceptively light, with only a slight warming alchohol note coming through late on. It’s well balanced and fruity, refreshing and substantial; a great beer simply. The bottle I tried contained some really fresh beer too – the best aroma on a beer I’ve tried since these.

Axe Edge’s little brother, Moor Top (3.6%abv) is a corker too. Again, the boundaries of ‘Pale Ale’ lead you to believe you’ve tried them all, but along comes another one that just knocks you over and makes you appreciate simple, yet tasty beers. Straw pale in colour, the nose is pure Grapefruit, as you’d expect for a Chinook-hopped beer. The body is smooth and light, although it finishes crisp and with a surprisingly high, late, Grapefruit/Lemon bitterness. As with the other pales, Moor Top is a long, long beer and I could happily drink about 6 of them in the sun. Gimme More.

This is my first set of Buxton Ales, and they’ve really been a pleasure to drink. As a person, I like the juxtapostition of complex flavours, but carried out well so that each element stands out; Buxton certainly tick that box. Easy drinking, light beers with complex noses are the way to go with Pale Ale, and Axe Edge and Moor Top will probably go on to do great things. Buxton’s latest Beer, Black Rocks, is garnering interest too (as you can see from the comments in Part 1 below), and the lads are brewing at full capacity, which is always good to see. Keep an eye out.
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