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Pandazilla Smash!

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.

Workie Class Heroes

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…

>Help Needed: What Are The Modern Classics?

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A month or so ago, I was standing at the bar of The Vic and my drinking buddy ordered a pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. Taking that eagerly-awaited first sip at the bar, he threw away the following comment: ‘Lovely.Landlord; a modern classic’
…A sentiment to which I retorted that although it’s undoubtedly a classic, the perennial Yorkshire favourite is hardly modern. Which got us to thinking: What are the modern classics? It’s a loaded question really. In my mind, unless you go for something concrete like awards won or sales, you’re always going to be looking at a matter of taste. Being a blogger (not a beer writer!) I thought I’d try to put together a list of what I thought the ‘Modern Classics’ were. It seemed like a good challenge.
So, I cracked open a beer, cracked my knuckles, and sat down to type. However, the more I rolled the idea round in my mind, the more complex this question got. Why? It’s just too broad a concept – it’s too personal.
Take for instance, Criteria: Firstly, it’s Modern. In my mind, Beers brewed in the last, say, 20 years. Awards do count, although obviously many great (again, in my opinion) beers don’t win awards. And the ‘classic’ part – well, that’s harder to pin down. My interpretation means two things: a soft spot for the beer, be it emotional or taste-wise, and the fact that I order it again and again. This last point may seem a bit frivolous, but I’m the sort of beer drinker who doesn’t order the same thing twice a lot, given the opportunity; but my logic is still personal to me. Variety and Beer-Hunting is the key to my beer-life, and that’s why the ‘Modern Classics’ are important – to underpin that variety, to give a bedrock to exploring beer. I started a list but quickly admitted defeat: it just wasn’t authoritative enough. Whilst doing this I realised how personal a list this would be, and also that there would be an unending amount of variety out there depending on who you are – even where you live.
So – here we go; in no particular order. I’ll put the tin hat on.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I’ve waxed lyrical about SNPA on too many occasions to count. My gateway beer. The bucolic country scene on the label and that vivid lime-green colour scheme are as iconic to me as the Brooklyn ‘B’ or Bass’s Red Triangle. The problem? It’s nearly 30 years old. Damn. So is it too old to be classed as ‘modern’?
Roosters Yankee. Again, my love for the Franklins knows no bounds. Yankee was the first beer that got me (and I suspect, a lot of brewers) seriously considering the possibilities of aroma. At the time it was a real oddity – a cuckoo’s egg; quietly subverting the scene around it. First brewed in 1993.
Mordue Workie Ticket. One of my favourite session beers; a wonderfully rich and fruity pint that I really could drink all night. But is it loved enough to be a ‘Modern Classic’? Probably not.
Thornbridge Jaipur IPA. Not only the first TB beer I tried, but for a while it became a bit of a poster-boy for how good UK Brewing can be. I actually prefer Halcyon, taste-wise, but Jaipur means a little more. To me, anyway. The only beer I’ve specifically attended a beer festival on the first day to try.
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout – Garrett Oliver’s first gift to the brewery. What a gift it was – still popular and and sits on its own in terms of style.
…And that was it. I’d hit a wall. The task was just too big, too mind-boggling, and – ultimately – fruitless. It’s just too personal. My mind is screaming out ‘There are more, hundreds more!’ – But I can’t access them. I’ve only even really hit upon two countries, for christ’s sake!
So, I decided to open this up – I want to know yours. I need help. I want to know your take on this subject; I’m only an enthusiast; a hobbyist and homebrewer with an urge to share my passion with those who need a nudge in the right direction. Bona Fide ‘Beer Writers’ out there have contacts, experience, and have tasted about a million more beers than I have – what’s your take? Hell, do we even need to be discussing this? BrewDog describe some of their beers as ‘Post-Modern’ – so where does that leave the ‘modern’? Retailers – if you were to put together a ‘Modern Classics’ mixed case for Christmas, what’s going in?

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.

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