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Magic Rock & LA’s Farmhouse IPA

IMG_1596There’s something about the term Farmhouse that just gets me. True, I am a hopeless romantic, easily swayed by such terms – especially when it comes to beer and food. Label something rustic, homely or plain old-fashioned and I’m yours. I’m an old-fashioned soul, a Luddite, in fact. Which is why, dear reader, I picked up this bottle of Farmhouse IPA. I’m glad I did.

As the backstory on the website goes, Stuart Ross headed to the wilds of Stavanger ( I have no idea if it’s wild, by the way, it just sounds like it should be. My only previous knowledge of Stavanger is when Leeds United play pre-season games there – we have a voracious Norwegian following) to brew with locals Lervig Aktiebrygerri.  The result was this Farmhouse IPA; a typically fresh IPA dosed with Belgian and Brettanomyces yeasts.

Fast – forward a few months and I’m sitting in my garden – wholly unexpectedly – under blue skies and unseasonably warm weather, drinking it. It’s a corker – and the aroma alone elicits groans of pleasure; pale gold in colour, all lemon sherbert sweets, forest floor and that hard-to-describe in writing Bretty note. Barnyard. In a good way. Earthy. On the sip there’s champagne-like effervescence, bubbles carrying more pithy citrus and sweet, honeyed notes all the way through the sip.

The bitterness lasts and lasts, reminding you of its hoppy credentials – although it tastes nowhere near its 6% abv billing; the package is almost ethereal in weight. All in all, Magic Rock and Lervig Aktiebrygerri should be proud of what they’ve done here. It sounds simple, to dose up an IPA with Brett or other funky yeasts – but as we know, to pull it off well is another matter entirely. I wish I’d have bought a couple to lay down and compare in a little while , in fact.  If you see it about, fill your boots – spring is only around the corner, and this is when this Nordic beauty will really come into her own.

Unwinding with Windsor & Eton

023 (2)I was drinking in Leeds ages ago (getting on for early Summer last year) when I first came across Windsor & Eton. It was one of those moments of beer serendipity that I like to collect so much; discussing in one pub how I had ‘heard good things about them, but not tried them’, only to come across a refreshingly fruity pint of Knight of the Garter in the next. Thank you, Ninkasi.

Interest piqued, I picked more up as the year went on, and present my findings here. Republika (4.0%abv) really is a top-drawer lager; initially brewed with the input of Tomas Mikulica of Pivovarski Dvur. Perhaps a little darker in colour than one would expect, it packs a lot of flavour into the glass – a creamy, distinctly biscuity foundation in the body topped off with a fresh, grassy, flinty nose and a snappily crisp finish. I’ve enjoyed Republika perhaps the most since the initial taste, finding it popping up at tastings and dinners as ‘the lager offering’ – and rightly so. Good stuff.

020Where to start with Conqueror 1075? The steroid-taking older brother of Conqueror, 1075 is one of the best black IPA’s I’ve had the pleasure of tasting. It’s a gift that just keeps giving, new nuances and aspects hitting you each time you sip, or indeed from bottle to bottle. Weighing in at 7.4%abv, it pours jet-black and unleashes aromas of Cedar, Pine and deep woodsmoke as your pour, giving the nose an immensely deep, satisfying nature. The beer itself drinks way too easy, mostly due to an elegantly refined, smooth mouthfeel that takes those woody notes and cleans them up around the edges with more pine and an odd-yet-brilliant fruitness that reminds me, oddly, of parma violets. With more front that Kate Middleton on a french holiday, a touch of alcohol heat pops up at the bitter end, and you’ll be kicking yourself for only buying one when you finish the glass. I was, anyway.

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W&E are known for getting behind the Royal connotations of their name, which could turn some of the more fervent amongst you off – but do so at your peril. Windsor Knot, a 4.5% beer brewed to celebrate the marriage of William and Kate, is so much more than a novelty beer. In fact, it’s now one of their regulars, and rightly so. This amber beer is a great example of US and UK tastes coming together; massively sweet belgian-candy notes in the body, rounded out with more subtle fruit sweetness (think raisin and almond cake) and a high, bitter finish with plenty of pithy citrus rind that dries as it fades, leaving you wanting another before you’ve even swallowed.

It reminded me of super-fresh Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (a beer that I’ve found recently has gone right ‘off a cliff’ in terms of flavour) – all sweetness and hops, smooth and moreish. It’s crying out for a plate of quick-sauteed Prawns with Garlic, or some slices of sweet, smoky Chorizo. A bold, tasty beer that you shouldn’t miss out on if you haven’t caught it yet.

Finally, two ‘Jubilee’ beers. Hitting up the empirical connection, Treetops (4.4%abv), named after a safari lodge frequented by the Queen, just missed the mark for me. A stout with ‘Yams, Millet, and Sorghum’ to bring the African connection in, Treetops was just not to my taste. Very sweet, with a rough, grainy, burnt coffee nose that reminded me of the Greek coffee I drink on holiday, the body has plenty of milk chocolate swirling around but there’s an inherent graininess that I can’t escape. You know Hershey’s chocolate? Like that, to my taste. An interesting beer if you like your stouts, however.

IMG_3424Kohinoor (5%abv) is named after one of the Queen’s diamonds and comes across as a cousin to Windsor Knot; those same boiled-sweet and fruit jelly flavours abound in the body, and it’s topped off with a nose of Seville marmalade and slightly herbal, grassy notes. The whole package is lovely; tasty, full of flavour and incredibly light for the abv. I’ll be seeking this out in cask, where it enjoys a slightly lower abv.

Overall, W&E are the kind of brewery that make me want to live nearer to them to drink more of their wares; a brewery quietly going about their business with little fanfare. Reviving brewing in Windsor (according to their site, the last brewery there was Burge’s in the ’30’s.) it’s sleek, elegantly refined brewing that has a massive hit rate within their core range.

What’s In A Name?

069Beer names and styles. Something that people always feel strongly about. I’m no brewer, but I’ve played that ‘If I Owned A Brewery‘ game (although now it’s ‘If I Owned A Deli/Grillhouse/Pie Shop with a Bar In It…’) and I must admit, finding the right tone for your beer name is tough. Do you go down the route of simple descriptor, such as here , or do you hit up a local meaning for your customers to latch onto such as here? Or perhaps puns are your forte? Either way, it’s a big deal; if people don’t like saying it at the bar, then they won’t choose your beer.

Years ago things were simpler with styles, too. Now we have Cascadian things, White Stouts, Black IPA, Wheat IPA’s…the list goes on. All of which makes me especially happy when a beer is called something that nails it – to a letter. Like Arrogant Bastard. Like Human Cannonball. Like Revival…like Axe Edge.

The beer that sparked all this rumination was one birthed from Brain’s ‘Craft Brewery‘ (I know, I know…but check out the website; the beers sound lovely, to be fair – and the site’s cute, too). I’d tried a few of them before now, with varying degrees of satisfaction. Destiny (5.8% abv), brewed initially with Marverine Cole of Beer Beauty infamy, is billed as a ‘Dark Tropical IPA’ , and comes in a suitably eye-popping vibrant-pink package. Eyebrows are suitably raised.

The beer is poured.

Firstly, the aroma arrives on the air with a flourish; a really well-blended mixture of mocha and earthy cereal grain, with citrus peel bubbling underneath. Think Terry’s Chocolate Orange and you’re there. The beer itself is all roasted malt and drinking chocolate sweetness up front, but as the sip disappears down your throat a veritable fruit-basket of Mango, Strawberry and more Citrus pops up, making the whole thing incredibly fruity and refreshing. Everything is in perfect proportion, and the entire package is light yet immensely satisfying. In short, it’s a bloody good beer.

In fact, after drinking it, I take another look at the name, label and descriptor. It’s entirely, entirely right . What a fun beer.

Wharfebank IPA, SPA & Tether

When Martin Kellaway conceived Wharfebank a few years back, he had a simple aim; create a brewery that brews beers that people want to drink, get a pub or two under the banner for people to enjoy said beer and locally-sourced food in, and get those beers into people’s homes.

Having sewn up the brewery and pub angle (Wharfebank not only recently saved The Half Moon in Pool from closing, they’ve joined forces with Nottingham mainstays Castle Rock and revived York favourite The Rook and Gaskill), those bottles have finally arrived. They look great and the beer they contain is as no-nonsense and solidly tasty as you’d expect from Wharfebank.

SPA (5.8% abv) is the surprise package. Not a beer that I’ve tried on cask (is it available on cask, guys?) it’s a true Strong Pale Ale, yet manages to hide that strength behind a cloak of creamy, pale malt. That digestive-biscuit nose is supplemented by touches of peaches and apricot, and the body is sweet, round and soft. It’s a lovely beer, and the one of the group that surprised me the most.

Yorkshire IPA (5.1% abv) ploughs a similar furrow but, surprisingly, with less power. Amber in colour to SPA’s golden hue, there’s that creamy malt again (the bottles seem incredibly fresh), but backed up with a nose of Orange pith and Lemon length (is that a term? Sounds dubious…), which lasts to the finish, which is long and drying. A sessionable IPA, for sure, but a pleasant one. Again, I’ve missed this one on cask, but I’d hazard that the slight effervescence in the bottle lifts this beer up a little more than the cask version.

As someone that drinks a lot of Tether Blonde (4.1%abv) when out, I could almost taste this beer before popping the cap. Pale gold, grassy/flinty in the nose and smoothy sweet, Tether is a classic Yorkshire Pale Ale that begs to be chilled slightly and enjoyed with the likes of Calamari, Schnitzel or, hell, a packet of crisps and a football game. Alongside Saltaire’s Blonde and Leeds’s Pale, Tether is one of those Blonde ales that slakes the thirst of Yorkshiremen on a daily basis.

So – overall – a great start to bottled life for Wharfebank. I’ll be picking up more of the range, for sure.

UK IPA Rules, OK?

IPA. No other style (with exception of anything shoved in an oak barrel for 6 months) sets the mouth of the beer-geek frothing like a good, ridiculously hopped IPA. Yet, whilst preparing my ‘beers of the year’ post, I find myself most impressed with IPA’s from good ol’ Blighty.

I picked up a can of Ska Brewing’s Modus Hoperandi (6.8%abv) when the weather was warmer, and took a break from mowing the lawn to sit on my newly-shorn grass and revitalise. Modus smashed me around the jaw instead; caramel-bodied-muscle and pine-needle sinews flexing in the can, a powerful bitterness that starts the minute it hits your lips and tracks right down your throat, and a nose that contains all the grapefruit-pith and lemon-peel that you’d want. Refreshing? Chilled, yes…but half an hour later I found myself wanting another beer as my mouth was so dry. I didn’t reach for a Modus.

It also had the sheer bad luck of being drunk on the same day as Oakham’s Green Devil (6%abv), a beer that, since then. I’ve tried to get my hands on as often as possible. If I could somehow rig a pipe from Peterbrough to my kitchen to make this my ‘house beer’, then I would. Green Devil is a masterpiece.

It’s beauty lies in its drinkability; the whole package is balanced beautifully. The hop profile is married perfectly with sugars, and the dryness that one wants – demands – of an IPA – comes and goes with elegance and grace. A burnished golden hue, the nose is full of Peaches, Pineapple and sweet Strawberry notes, who stick around into the sip, adding a friend in high, lip-smacking Pink Grapefruit/Lime bitterness along the way. The body is robust and ever-so-slightly warming, letting you know that as much as it may want you to think it is, Green Devil is not really a ‘session’ beer.

Put it alongside beers such as Kernel’s Topaz and SCANNERS collaboration with Brodies, Hardknott’s English Experiment, Wold Top’s excellent Scarbrough Fair IPA and consistently classy efforts from the likes of Magic Rock and Red Willow, UK IPA seems to be in a healthy state; and I hope that beer-buyers are looking at that before reaching for expensive imports.

Beer of the Year? Perhaps. Let’s see what the rest of the year brings. They’ve got a high bar to reach.

Halcyon Days and EPA’s

Well, seeing as though it’s IPA Day (an event which was massive, massive fun last year) today, I thought it would be the perfect time to post up my thoughts on one of the best IPA’s this country produces – Thornbridge’s Halcyon. Especially seeing as though work demands mean I’ll be sequestered at home rather than enjoying one of the many events being held in pubs across Yorkshire.

You see, the problem with many IPA’s is simply lack of balance. Too sweet. Too bitter. Too thin. As a style, it has to be the most abused; a problem borne out of inexperienced brewers bowing to the hyperbole that IPA seems to create. Sure – certainly in the States – IPA has pushed brewing forward somewhat – breweries trying to outdo each other with IBU rates and creating arcane ways to get even more hops into beer. But more hops isn’t always good. Popular, yes, but IPA needs to be handled with respect.

For every harsh, overhopped IPA out there, there’s a Halcyon to balance them out. At 7.4% abv, it’s no slouch in the alcohol stakes; not that you’d guess, such is the cloak that Thornbridge have wrapped around that heat. On the nose, there’s Passion Fruit, Lychee, Strawberry and sweet, honeyed notes. This sets you up for a sickly, saccharine hit but that never comes; what you get instead is the softest, fruitiest IPA I’ve tasted in a long while, all tropical fruit, with the sharp bitterness that you now expect coming late, lemony and fresh.

Is there a more drinkable bottled UK IPA out there? Well, my love for Buxton’s Axe Edge is well-documented and for me, it’s the only one that gets close. In my humble opinion, of course. Speaking of Buxton, fresh off the success of appearing at The International Festival of Small Brewers & Cidermakers in the US last month, they’ve been invited to Borefts this year and they picked up awards at this years International Beer Challenge.

This week I tried their English Pale Ale (4.9%abv), a Pale that certainly has enough bitterness to satisfy hop-heads. Pouring pure gold with a billowy head, there’s some creamy malt in the nose, along with a sherbet-lemon note that hints at the cutting edge that this EPA possesses. The body is a little grainy, with a long, long assertive lemon/lime bitterness that finishes the beer off; making it massively refreshing. My bottle was only cellar-cool, but as it warmed in the glass, honeyed, subtle wildflower notes appeared in the nose and the body turned a little creamier. It ended up being the best of both worlds; a hearty, full-bodied pint with a distinct cutting edge. Lovely.

Good things come to those who wait, for sure. I’m sure there’s not many out there who would begrudge Buxton’s success. Entirely well deserved, lads.

Anyway, enjoy your IPA day; a quick Googling reveals there’s loads going on at breweries, pubs and bars in the UK. If you’re going out in Yorkshire, The Grove in Huddersfield look to have really upped the ante this year. Get yourself over.

Williams Bros Caesar Augustus / Durham White Stout

Probably best known for nearly winning the increasingly-more-interesting-every-year Sainsbury’s Beer Hunt this year, Caesar Augustus (4.1%abv) is Williams Brother’s latest beer; and it carries an interesting label.

Declaring itself to be a ‘Lager-IPA Hybrid’, it certainly piques curiosity. One wonders if the lagering process will ever be a friend to hops, and on the basis of this, I remain unswayed. That’s not to say it’s a bad beer – far from it, actually. It is unquestionably Golden, pleasantly spritzy and full of life, and with a decent nose of Peach and Lime. Lager? Yes, in much the same way as my old friend Monsieur Rock, although with a lot more body. Clean on the finish? Certainly, and with creamy malt in the body giving some ooomph behind all the citrus going on elsewhere – in fact, there’s plenty of character for a beer with a relatively low abv.

I just can’t find the IPA in it, that’s all.

Willams Brothers remain, in my opinion, one of the most underrated breweries in the UK – Solid, beers of quality with a questing eye for tasty one-offs like this make for a very reputable mix these days. CA is a good beer, and well-deserving of a place in the roster alongside other gems such as Joker IPA and 7 Giraffes.

Those wonderful chaps (and chapesses) at Durham created a fair old storm when they announced that they had created a White Stout. Cue discussion in the Beery world, and a serious challenge to our ideas of Stout. ‘Stout’ , they argued, ‘…Is just a term for Strong beer, and so this is a White Stout‘. Or a Golden Stout. Or Pale Stout, perhaps.

I’m quite happy to go with this, simply because I don’t know any better, and it sounds rational to me. Of course, White Stout (7.2%abv) happily backs up all the excitement with bags of flavour. It’s unmistakably strong; sweetly malty and marmalade-citrus in the body and then finishing very, very bitter with a diamond-sharp spicy edge. There’s a Belgian-esque fruity funk (pear drops?) in the nose, which gives you some idea that what lurks under that clean-as-a-cloud white head is complex and for sipping and pondering. If you like Bombay 106, then you’ll befriend White Stout.

Strip all the hype away and you’ve got another excellent strong ale from the guys who I regard as masters of that style. Twitter launches, tastings in bars and launching a beer like this is only an example of how a brewery can connect with it’s drinkers. Why not herald a new beer on all fronts, create a buzz and, yes, hype?

Thank god Durham could back it up with a tasty beer. Now, who wants to brew a Golden Porter, or Black IPA? Oh, hang on

Wensleydale Coverdale Poacher IPA

There’s a theme that I’ve returned to before about writing a beer, or a brewery off. We all do it; some of us after a couple of failed attempts; bad pints served in perhaps bad places by bad staff, leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Some of us, including myself, have sipped and drained, vowing never to buy again, cutting that brewery off without so much as a second chance.

Obviously, as I get older and (hopefully) wiser, I’m trying to curb this behaviour. Life is, as they say, too short to drink bad beer – but it’s also too short not to give second chances out.  A brewer once told me (I think it was James Farran from Summer Wine) that ‘There’s no such thing as bad beer; only bad gyles’ , and I understand that now.

Mentally, I have a little black book of breweries who crank out beer that’s either poor or not to my taste; a few years ago, this was running at about ten. Now, there’s only one who I can think of who I generally steer well clear of after repeated blown chances.

My first encounter with Wensleydale’s Coverdale Poacher was a good few years ago, both in bottle and on cask within a month of each other, and both resulted in a thin, only-slightly-refreshing beer. No real body, no real life. A lack of taste I can almost deal with; a lack of life (zest, spritz, spark, liveliness in taste, whatever you want to call it) I cannot. So, that was that.

Then, a short while ago, Wensleydale again popped up in my life, in sort-of-spooky circumstances. I was enjoying a boozy Monday night with a well-known Leeds Pub manager and a certain Spectral blogger, who, when asked what was good these days, replied ‘Wensleydale’s beers are really good at the moment’. Eyebrows were raised, advice was taken and noted.

Then- that weekend – my wife picked up a beer that was reserved for me from a highly regarded Leeds Beer retailer, and decided to cram a few more treats into my delivery; because she’s good like that.  Picking purely on her well-tested strategy of ‘Beers whose labels I don’t recognise from Leigh’s stupid Beer Cupboard‘ she happened to choose Wensleydale’s Coverdale Poacher (5%abv). When I saw it, nestling amongst the other treats like a Cuckoo’s egg, I laughed, explained the story, and cracked it open there and then.

And yes, I was an idiot. Something has changed for sure, and this could be a classic example of brewer’s evolution that Boak and Bailey spoke about of late. Clear as a bell, burnished gold, with a slightly yeasty note to the aroma underneath waves of Mango and Orange. On the sip, the body of the beer was smooth and robust – pleasantly sweet – and finish is high, dry, and bitter enough to back up its claims of IPA. At ‘only’ 5%, it’s certainly a UK interpretation of IPA rather than the US hop-bombs that are the benchmark these days; but it’s a lovely, lovely beer. It manages the required assertiveness without overpowering, and remains entirely drinkable. It’s just a drinkable, pleasurable beer. Period.

Well done, Wensleydale. You’ve proved me and my stupid ideals wrong. I’ll have another, please.

Compass Brewery’s The King’s Shipment IPA

Compass are a new one for me – and based on this bottle, I’ll be buying more from the Oxford-based brewer. At 6%abv, this IPA is firmly in the ‘UK-style’ camp; the relatively light amber colour of the beer belies a treasure trove of big, strapping flavours within. There’s plenty of marmalade-tangerine citrus on the nose, and that profile comes through in the sip – after a big, boiled-sweet hit that sits just on the right side of sweetness.

The finish is tartly sweet and juicy; only fleetingly bitter – and very moreish. Unfussy, tasty and richly satisfying, I can certainly recommend it if you’re a fan of Fuller’s Bengal Lancer and English IPA’s of that ilk. Good beer!

Reviewing their website, I must say that I like what Compass are doing; decent, non-generic flavour profiles, hints on food matching and even a couple of recipes. Their (admittedly small – but that’s no bad thing) core range sound delicious, well-thought and executed, and make me want to buy more. Simple as that – good work, guys.

The Kernel: Super Alpha Pacific Jade IPA

I’ll be honest, I’ll drink most things that come from The Kernel. They could do a range of non-alcoholic, freshly pressed fruit juice blends with Beetroot,Cassava, Durian and Garlic and I’d run my own grandfather down to get at it. Therefore, I shouldn’t need a hook such as ‘Super Alpha’ to snare me in; but goddamn, it did.

Super Alpha. Hop heaven. Hops turned up to 11. Hop-zilla. Welcome to the Hop super-highway. I chilled the bottle down ever-so-slightly, waited salivating until the time was right, then poured into a large balloon, ready to get my threshold of hops redefined. A swirl, then…

Well. That’ll teach me to judge beers – and terms – before trying them. It turns out ‘Super Alpha’ doesn’t always mean ‘amped up’ , because SAPJIPA (Hardly rolls off the tongue, does it?)  is not only a wonderful beer – it is so because of the balance. It’s so understated, despite obviously being hopped to hell. It’s that lively, vibrant Orange hue that hints at the sweet, boiled-sweet body that Kernel do so well, topped with a short-lived rocky white head. The nose confounds; herbal, sweet, earthy with the expected Citrus only coming along late. On the sip, it’s super-smooth and moreish.

Don’t be turned off by the term if you’re not the biggest hop fan. This is one majestic beer, worthy of savouring and taking your time over.

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