I’m not being flippant when I say that I don’t really know much about modern Welsh Beer. Aside from the classics – the story of Wrexham Lager, the big boys (boyos?) of Brains and the more well-known (and loved, I might add) names of Purple Moose, Waen and Otley, the first ‘new beer’ I’d had from Wales of late was the power-chord blast of Tiny Rebel Brew Co, a thoroughly modern gang who, in my opinion, still place great value on balance of flavour, despite rocking all the right notes in terms of branding and placement.
I’d been hearing things about The Celt Experience for a while – good things – but only managed to get my hands on their wares late last year when they popped up in Booths. From the striking black-and-metallic labels to the considered, tastefully brewed beers within ,the whole package shouts mystery, whilst projecting the rural, almost gothic feel that the brewery’s advertising suggests. Overall, The Celt Experience brew in three sub-ranges; Core (where these beers come from), the esoteric Shapeshifter series and Ogham; beers of a stronger, more contemplative feel. Having tasted these base beers, I hold high hopes for the rest of the range.
Golden (4.5% abv) is up first; a graceful poem to doing all the little things right. Burnished gold, the aroma comes alive with Citrus jelly undercut by fresh, herbal grassiness. The body of the beer – vital for a golden ale – has a good weight to it, rich with grain and cereal before more orange and lemon washes through to clean things up. The bitterness is robust and long-lasting, making this a pale ale with a voice – a pale ale that will please seasoned hop-heads.
Bronze (4.2% abv) lives up to its name – Copper hued and lively, with a nose like freshly-baked flapjack, all oats and honey. Before the sweetness has a chance to settle on your tongue, more of that aforementioned bitterness arrives, turning the entire pint on it’s head. Thick, creamy and bitter? Rich and refreshing? You bet. Misplaced or not, Bronze reminded me of the best Kentish ales; robust and almost stinging in hop attack. Wonderful stuff; and nice to drink something with a considered British – style hop profile, too.
Finally – and trust me, I didn’t want this tasting to end – comes Bleddyn 1075 (5.6% abv). The brewers describe it as an IPA; but I personally felt that it had more akin to true strong Pale Ales, such as Three Tun’s Cleric’s Cure or Hop Studio’s Vindhya, such was the balance of malt and hop. Semantics, perhaps – the bottom line is that Bleddyn is a fantastically balanced beer that’s not to be messed with. Amber in colour ,there’s nutty, creamily-rich biscuit again that gets hammered into oblivion by waves of Grapefruit-led bitterness, high and dry, then finishing sweet again, leaving a trace of alcohol warmth behind.
As you can probably tell, I really, really enjoyed this trio – and it’s a shame it’s taken me so long to put them up here. The Celt Experience’s beers are starting to appear on bars in Lancashire and Yorkshire, so don’t miss a chance to catch them. After all, the more we drink, the more they’ll have to make and send over, right?
Do pop over to the website; it’s one of the better ones out there and has some lovely, moody photos of the gorgeous landscape from whence these brews were….well, brewed.
I first interviewed Malcolm Bastow (who is, ostensibly, Five Towns Brewery) back in 2010; his amazing work rate – and hit rate – being the main factor to me contacting him. As it’s often mentioned in conversation about one of Yorkshire’s most cult breweries, he doesn’t actually do this full-time. But make no mistake, we’re not talking home – or cuckoo – brewing here. Five Towns is a fully-fledged brewery, with casks of delicious, delicious beer rolling down his drive and into our pubs and bars.
If you can find it, of course. Five Towns’ beers are culty, in so much as that you need to really go to certain pubs to get them often, but when you do, you make sure you have one. There’s no gimmick, no marketing, just beer. I’ve yet to come across a drinker (or brewer, to that end) who doesn’t talk in reverent tones of Malcolm’s work. Why? The beer is packed with flavour. It may be odd to hear me make such a simple statement, but, in much the same way Oakham and Bristol Beer Factory manage to do, Five Towns beers may appear simple on both the clip and description, but that only serves to lull you into a false sense of security. The beer in your glass, swirling with intent just after being poured, will give your tastebuds a workout.
Like many, I’ve been imploring him to bottle for a while, so was over the moon when not only did bottles appear recently, but my favourite (of all things, a Dunkel) was included in that range. Mango Junction (6% abv) pours a rich, burnished gold and the nose is full of sweet, dense fruit sugar – like sticking your nose into a jar of Apricot Jam (or should that be Mango Chutney?). The beer starts off smooth, then sweet with the same fruit-led profile as the nose, before drying…and drying…and drying to a big, bitter finish. It’s like a Fruit IPA, I guess – brewed with a complete lack of fanfare. And it works. It’s delicious, and I immediately wanted another one.
V2 Schneider (6% abv) blew my socks off at a beer festival a couple of years ago and it hasn’t changed one bit. Yorkshire’s only regularly produced Dunkel (and please, correct me if I’m wrong) is a complete bullseye; deep mahogany in hue, thick, luscious tan head, and plenty of obligatory banana and clove notes in the nose. Sipping reveals further complexity; some sour cherry, a little cola. It’s big, brown, boozy and complicated. Seriously good stuff. Gimme more.
So, I’m off to go buy some more. What more can you say? Sometimes the underdog, the guy who works hard cranking out beers with no bells and whistles, wins. Sure, the beer may stay local, but that just means you have to go to it, rather than let it come to you. Do the legwork, and you’ll be rewarded. I’ll say the same thing I said in 2010; Malcolm, please ditch the day job and scale up. Please!
You can read my 2010 interview here if you like. Here’sa nice article from the Wakefield Express, too. And yes, Malcolm is still working full-time! If you’re out and about, I can also heartily recommend both Niamh’s Nemesis and Peculiar Blue in particular.
Black 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.
Buxton’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.
Beavertown’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.
Finally, 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.