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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.

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2011 Review

Well, just as I’d finished drafting this post, The Golden Pints were announced for 2011. Given that I’d already done this, I’m going to post it up anyway in lieu of a Golden Pint list, with a few additions.  Anyway, I like lists, and it’s been fun running through what beers I’ve particularly enjoyed over the year. By way of a cop-out, I’m not going to rank the best beers this year, because I think they are all fantastic. What’s even more exciting is that I’m sure I’ve missed loads; which means 2012 will have to rectify that.

So, what about a Brewery of the Year? A difficult one. When I think of Breweries that made 2011, three stand out for me; Magic Rock, Buxton and Red Willow.

Given the shared experience of the people involved – both from a brewing and a retail point of view – Magic Rock would have had to have really worked hard to fail. Their relatively small core range covers every base, their pumpclips catch the eye; and their beer tastes good. When you really get into the range, the beers are deceptively simple, too. They’ve worked their arses off; doing countless Meet The Brewer nights all over the country, brewing to capacity, and even introducing a couple of new beers in Rock Star and Bearded Lady. But that Yorkshire grit and no-nonsense approach is still there. No fuss – just taste – and lots of it.

Buxton pull a similar ‘one foot in each camp’ trick but go even further. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a brewery combine fairly hop-forward, or ‘big’ beers such as Axe Edge or Tsar, and yet appeal to the average ‘pub-bound’ drinker. Buxton do this by again turning down the fuss, and just brewing tasty, tasty beer. People that know me know that I’m a Pale Ale freak, and when Moor Top emerged – just a single-hopped, simple Pale Ale – it blew me away (See also Hawkshead’s superlative Windermere Pale and NZPA). You think you’ve seen it all from a style, and then another taste comes along that make you realise that the genre is not dead. Buxton are a brewer for all camps, and one that’s already been popping up on many ‘best of’ lists already.

Finally, I have to mention RedWillow. I know how hard Toby works, and trust me, the guy is a machine. A tired, Oyster-shucking machine – but a machine nontheless. Red Willow flip the previous statements made about Buxton and MR around; simple-sounding and looking beers that reveal hidden depths and innovation when tasted. Fathomless – turns out to be an authentic Oyster Stout. Ageless – turns out to be one of the most aromatic, juicy-tropical-fruit bombs tasted all year. The awards have slowly, slowly begun to trickle in for the Macclesfield brewer, and I’m sure 2012 will only result in a bigger award cabinet being needed.

Beers of the Year

Ok. As I said above, I can’t pick one, really. Here are the ones (in no particular order) that I really enjoyed, from reasons such as taste, to simply being the right beer at the right time. If your beer is on here, then thank you for brewing such Good Stuff.

York Micklegate Porter – Magic Rock Human Cannonball, High Wire & Rapture – Maui Big Swell IPA – Rooster’s Iron Man IPA – Buxton Moor Top – Buxton Axe Edge – 8 Wired IRA – RedWillow Ageless – Sierra Nevada Juniper Black – Brodie’s Hackney Red – Rooster’s Baby Faced Assassin – Oakham Citra & Inferno – Brewdog Bramling Cross IPA – Revolutions Night Porter  & Propaganda – Hawkshead NZPA & Windermere Pale – Durham Magic IPA (Bombay 106) – Odell Mycernary – Redemption Big Chief – SummerWine Rouge-Hop – Marble Summer – Kirkstall Three Swords Pale – Raw Pacific Ghost IPA – Ilkley Smoked Witch – Cropton Yorkshire Warrior – Camden Helles – Hardknott Light Cascade – Black Isle Porter – Stroud Amber Ale – De Molen Op & Top – Five Towns Schneider V2 – Birrificio Italiano Tipopils – Williams Bros Joker IPA  – Great Northern Wheat IPA – Theakston’s Lightfoot … and the list goes on….

Of course, I’ll have missed some out. It’s impossible not to. If your beer has ended up on this blog, however, then it’s The Good Stuff, rest assured.

I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank Mark and Andy for organising the year’s Twissups, and Luke Downing at Dough Bistro and Nick and Vickie at Homage to Fromage for opening their businesses and kitchens to the possibilities of Food and Beer. Dean Pugh at Mr Foley’s remains a constant source of info and orchestrator of some excellent bottle-swap nights (and Wing nights, and NFL nights!), and IPA Day was a great (and quite drunk) event. We are very lucky indeed. Of course, all the staff at BeerRitz have been stars, as always. We are lucky to have such a place in Leeds (and we almost didn’t for a while; thanks again, Zak!)

Blogs? Well, there’s been some great blogs starting up or coming into their own in 2011. For me, Ghost Drinker and Beersay deserve special mentions, as they bring an enthusiasm and exuberance about beer onto the screen that is sometimes sorely missed from blogs. On the other side of the coin, ATJ’s and Zak’s blogs always provide food for thought from inside the industry and I’m glad they’re still churning out quality content after all these years. I appreciate how hard it can be to blog these days when juggling (a number) of jobs and when I see others doing it, it just spurs me on to quit moaning and get writing.

Finally, I’d just like to thank everyone that reads TGS, and that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a few beers with over the year. You’re a good bunch, and despite the bickering (which makes it interesting, let’s face it) I’m happy to be part of such a vibrant, varied and passionate community. Hopefully, 2012 will be an interesting year for me, and I hope to be able to contribute to UK Brewing in a way that I know many of you do, day in, day out.

Cheers!

IPA Day @ Mr Foleys: Details, Details, Details…

Well, you folks in Leeds are lucky if you love the old IPA’s. Foley’s Cask Ale House have just announced their lineup for the day (August 4th) and it’s a stormer. In Dean Pugh’s Words:

‘At Mr Foleys we will have some of the finest examples of the style from some of Britain’s best brewers. Our beers will include four keg IPAs; two from Brewdog and one each from local West Yorkshire breweries Summer Wine and Magic Rock. We will have six cask IPAs coming from Thornbridge, Buxton, Kirkstall, Roosters, Hardknott and Red Willow. If that’s not enough for you, we will have a dedicated IPA fridge serving you some of the best from America, as well as a some rarely- seen British brews.

‘Still not enough? We will have brewers or brewery representatives from every brewery mentioned above and each will be holding mini ‘meet the brewer’ segments to promote their beer to the assembled crowd. We will also have guest appearances from beer writers Zak Avery and Mark Fletcher, who will be talking you through the history of IPA, why they love the style and some of their favourite beers.

‘With all this beer we will be in need of food. Details are still being ironed out, but we are hoping to have some top quality Indian cuisine available as we feel it not only fits the history of the beer, but that beers big in bitterness and hop character are the perfect accompaniment for spicy dishes’.

So, there you go. I’ll be blogging a preview live from Foley’s during the daytime (probably in a post-GBBF state, but there you go) so if you’re still not sure about IPA, I’ll tell you where to look. Bring it on.

>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.

>The Buxton Stops Here: Buxton Brewery

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This weekend I’ve been enjoying beers from Buxton Brewery. Although still a relatively young outfit, they are brewing at capacity and quickly collecting plaudits and awards as they go. Head Brewer James Kemp used to brew for Thornbridge, and he’s clearly shown himself as a brewer with one eye on tradition, and the other on progression. What you end up with is a really strong core range of beers, with some gentle twists along the way. That’s a quality I really like in brewing.

First up was Kinder Sunset (5.0% abv), named after the Kinder area of the Peaks. Red-Mahogany in colour, there’s a complex aroma going on; slight hints of almond-cakiness topped off with a note of Pine. That Pine aspect carries on to the taste – Kinder Sunset has a digestive-biscuit body that suggests sweetness but actually finishes grassy, Piney and with an almost minty, herbal note. There’s a tart, sour-cherry notes just running under everything that makes Kinder Sunset a much more complex, refreshing beer than the ‘Traditional ale’ tag it has on the label. Lovely.
SPA (Special Pale Ale) features hop du jour Citra entirely; and in many ways you know what you’re going to get. Perfect for this kind of weather, SPA (4.1%abv) is uber-pale, with a much thinner mouthfeel that the Kinder Sunset. All that Citra gives you sharp, pithy tartness with a strong Lemon and Tangerine aroma and taste. It’s surprisingly bitter for it’s strength, too – the high bitterness hits the back of the tongue and and makes you want another sip. A long, long pale ale that hit the spot perfectly as we ate in the sun this weekend.
Stay tuned for some more Buxton madness over the next couple of days. If you want to keep up to date, you can follow Buxton on Twitter and Facebook; jump over to their blog for more details.
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