After my gushing piece about northern monkeys Mordue a while back, I hassled the guys to make sure I got a bottle of Rob Millichamp’s Pandazilla (made under Rob’s small-batch brewing banner of Panda Frog) at the earliest opportunity. I don’t do that sort of thing often, but what I’d heard of it was so positive, it was just bugging me. I had to have it.
Being nice boys, they sent some down in a delivery to North Bar, and I jumped in the GoodStuffMobile the very next day to crack it open. I also didn’t want Matt and co to drink it, which was another factor in my haste!
Anyway – unleashing Pandazilla (which, for some reason, I want to keep pronouncing like Manzanilla) made me realise that I’d not had a Black IPA in ages. Funny how quickly some phases pass; although I hope it doesn’t disappear entirely. When done right, the balance of dark malt and lupulin-loaded hops can be sublime; when handled badly the style crashes and burns. It can stomp all over your tongue like the mutant Panda on this label crushing Tokyo.
Pandazilla (7%abv) gets things right because it leans a little more toward malt – making it a hopped dark ale rather than balls-out IPA, if that makes sense. Beneath a mocha-hued head there’s an almost stone-fruit, peaches and cream note in the nose, all light and fresh, but the body is full of Coffee grounds, Almond cake, red fruits and Blackcurrant jam. The finish is long and raspingly dry, as you’d like. The beer was incredibly fresh and vibrant and – most importantly – a pleasure to drink.
Rob Millichamp says Pandazilla is about ‘…Imagination, fun, passion and a streak of rebellion’, brewing limited edition runs of beer when he can get a window at Mordue. Both Mordue and Rob deserve credit for allowing themselves to have fun, take a little time off every once in a while, and re-aquaint themselves with things that brewing at its best can be; imagination, fun and passion.
You can follow Rob’s Beer Quest here. If in Newcastle, keep an eye out for Panda Frog’s creations – you lucky, lucky people.
Whether you like it or not, Beer is full of trends. As with fashion, music and film, you choose what you want to take from trends; you either see something as innovative and vital to the forwarding of the cause, or you take the cynic’s view and dismiss it all as flashes in the pan, as unwelcome distraction from the real issue. Class, as they say, is permanent.
As a drinker, I’ve got one foot in each camp (there’s a surprise, I hear you all groan). I enjoy the coming and going of trends, be it flavours (remember the ‘Saison Boom’ of mid-2011?) or packaging (opening those first cans, sniffing the beer for traces of metal, and realising it’s all bollocks and the beer just tastes good*). But what keeps me smiling through the changing seasons of beer are little islands of class, breweries that you will just drink anytime and who, by and large, probably don’t get as much credit as they should. (Tandleman wrote an excellent piece on this here).
One such brewery for me is Mordue; who at once seem both faithful and exotic – despite only being ‘up the road’ in Tyneside we see a poor amount of their beer here in Yorkshire. So when I do see Workie Ticket or the substantial IPA on the bar, that’s me set for the night.
Tasty, tasty, beers – simple as that. It may surprise you, but Workie Ticket (4.5%abv) is a long-time favourite of mine. It’s just the sheer heft of it; the unashamedly brown colour of it, the mouthful of toffee-lollipop malt that you get from it. Almond and Cherry Bakewell Tart all say hello, before finishing in a fruity, earthy bramble-bush finish that’s pleasantly crisp. This is brown beer with life, brown beer with elan, brown beer with hidden depths.
A quick hop to their website illustrates the sheer range of beers that the lads at Mordue try their hands at. Newcastle Coffee Porter is one to seek out; supremely drinkable and moreish. Radgie Gadgie (4.8%abv), brightly amber, ploughs a similar furrow to Workie Ticket; all biscuit and flowery aroma, but then – bam – a raspingly dry finish that’s high and sharp cleans everything up. A surprise package, for sure. These are beers that are packed with flavour, strong and stout.
Brewer Rob Millichamp writes the Rob’s Beer Quest blog (link on the right), where you can track his adventures with offshoot Panda Frog Brewery. He’s a lovely chap and a bloody good brewer. And as we all know, good brewing transcends trends. There’s a lot to be said for a solid core range of all hits and no misses, clean, modern branding without fanfare and – perhaps most importantly – consistency.
*I’m not suggesting the Canning is a trend, by the way. It’s here to stay, in a big way – trust me. But when it appeared, it was sooo shiny and new…
The only essence of the ‘Modern Classic’ that I was happy with was this; An enduring quality. If you look at classic literature or music (the only other two things I’m take an interest in), what makes , say, F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, or Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ so great is that they have a quality that endures through trends, fads or time. You can listen to them or read them now and be moved, years after their inception. Truly great beer will always cut through these factors.
So that’s the question I throw out to you all in this virtual taproom that blogging is. Let me know your thoughts – I’m genuinely interested.