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Brown is Back

Well, almost – because we all know it didn’t really go away. The term ‘Brown Beer’ as a disparaging one is wholly unjustified, yet seems to fit what it’s often used for so well. Brown. Dull. Ordinary. It’s always puzzled me why we don’t apply this term to US beers – where ‘Brown Ale’ is a rich, robust, rustic term that only denotes simple tastiness (such as Brooklyn Brown or Smuttnose Brown Eyed Dog). Again, I’d assume because, using the law of averages, there’s simply a lot of flavour-light, identikit Brown Beers in the UK Market.  Or is it just a natural progression from Black IPA – mixing high-alpha hops with darker, more complex malt bills? It’s one of those things that seems like such a no-brainer that you wonder why it’s not been done sooner on a similar scale.

Maybe ‘Beige’ would be a better term, because recently there’s been a bit of a resurgence in Brown beers; or rather, Brown Beers mk 2. In the past week, I’ve tried no less than three of these kinds of beer; simple, malty beers with a bit of interest in the nose.

Thornbridge’s Browne  is a showcase for Stella hops (now that’s poetic – what next  – Foster’s malt? Coors yeast? I’m being flippant, of course), and a quick jump over to Thornbridge’s excellent blog tells you what the lads were thinking. “With Browne we have created a medium intensity beer in both flavour and aroma. It has a juicy fruit and floral aroma upfront but nice hints of roasted and caramel-like aromas come through. This juicy aroma comes from the use of a single hop called Stella which we  used exclusively in the hopback – or as we know it the Hopnik and we developed this beer so that 90% of the total bitterness would come from our Hopnik addition. It is 4.3% abv with 38 IBUs of tastefully balanced bitterness”

Reading between the lines you’ve got a very straight-down-the-line beer – medium intensity, medium abv. But it’s incredibly, incredibly tasty. We sampled some in Pivo York a couple of days back and it was in perfect condition; subtle, caramel-sweet in the middle, smooth as hell but with a gorgeously floral aroma. And yes, you could drink a couple of them without tiring.

For a lighter riff on a similar theme, Thornbridge’s Kill Your Darlings  in currently doing the rounds. Vienna Lager this time, and brewed to celebrate Kid Acne’s new art show of the same name. I hope he appreciates what they’ve created done because KYD is bloody good; all burnt toffee in the body and a crisp, clean finish. I need to get some bottled so I can enjoy it Pizza and Burgers, Chops and Ribs.

Great Heck and Zak Avery recently collaborated to brew Heckstra Ordinary, a 5%abv Best Bitter. Ordinary? Brown? Well, no and yes – much like Brown it’s got a great, satisfyingly malty body, topped off with a tropical-fruit nose that just lifts everything into something else entirely (does that even make sense?). A little dryer and more bitter than Browne, it’s yet another riff on a theme that I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the months to come. Ilkley’s IXB (see previous post) is already proving to be a tasty cousin to both these two great beers, so don’t miss them if you catch them on your bar.

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.

>Thornbridge and Dark Star’s Coalition Old Ale

Brewed in 2009, Coalition Old Ale (7%abv) is the result of a collaboration between the Thornbridge and Mark Tranter from the ever-excellent Dark Star . I first tried this beer a few months back, at one of our fabled bottle-swaps, courtesy of those kind chaps Andy and James of SummerWine Brewery. As I sat and tasted mine, I was very aware of how I’d probably need another chance to try it to really form an opinion of it; I certainly wasn’t expecting the kind of beer that it actually is. Not sure why, I just expected something darker, smokier, and stronger in alcohol.

Luckily, Hopzine Rob and Baron Orm rushed to my aid, and I managed to get my hands on another bottle – and I’m glad I did. Coalition Old Ale is an exercise in subtlety; a real class act. Firstly, there’s that colour – hazy Amber, bright and…well, vibrant. Not the look of a beer dormant since 2009. The lasting, substantial head is the only giveaway to the age; slightly tobacco-hued, not quite white. The taste is softly sweet, with only the slightest hint of resinous wood (pine?) floating around underneath.
There’s a little spice – Cinnamon, perhaps – and then comes along those flavours you’d more typically associate with ‘Old Ales’; some raisin, some bitter cherry, a hint of almond. The finish ramps up the bitterness, and the beer ends up with a really satisfying Orange note, drying the palate and making it a surprisingly moreish beer. The alcohol is only gently warming, and Coalition is well worth seeking out if you can. A beer to be sipped and savoured, for sure.

>Dinner With Thornbridge

> …So last night we dined with with Thornbridge at The Cross Keys. Given how awesome the Flying Dog event was a few years back, I’ve been waiting for one of these nights to come up again, and after missing the last few, I was pleased that Thornbridge had been lined up. The staff at The Cross Keys do these events very well; pleasant, knowledgeable staff, and fantastic food. As the courses came out, we were guided along by Caolan Vaughn, one of Thornbridge’s brewers.

We kicked off the evening savouring Jaipur (or ‘Jaips’, as I have been led to believe is the correct name for it ‘on the street‘). Smoked Nidderdale Trout and Chive Mousse, nestled on a small pastry case, provided some light snackage, giving a little more sweetness to Jaipur’s (5.8%abv) wonderfully rounded, soft bitterness. I always find smoked fish a bit tricky to match beer with, and it certainly provided a little inspiration.
Tender-as-you-like-it Asparagus with a Mint Hollandaise and a Poached Egg arrived at our table next, and again the accompanying Wild Swan (3.5%) proved a simple yet effective bedfellow; lower in complexity and strength than Jaipur and working well with the subtle mint notes of the Hollandaise. I’m a fan of Wild Swan; a great quaffer when the weather gets a little warmer.
Chilled Cucumber Soup didn’t hit the mark for me; it was over-seasoned and nowhere near cold enough. Luckily, Chiron (5%abv) provided an ample distraction. Again, one of those simple-yet-perfectly-balanced Pale Ales that Thornbridge do so well, it was on excellent form; a slight Orange Zest coming in late to provide a bit of a different angle to the bitterness.
The ace in the pack was undoubtedly the Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Crushed Peas. Served with a scattering of perfectly crisp Skin, sitting on a bed of Mashed Potato and slathered in Honey and Mustard Sauce, it cried out for an excellent beer to go with it. The pork was meltingly tender, and the salty crackling and sweet-yet-piquant sauce worked wonders. Colorado Red (5.9%abv) proved to be the perfect partner for it.
This is a great, great beer. Brewed with Doug Odell, it does a Trans-Atlantic feel about it; Rich Red colour, that trademark US sweetness in the body; all toffee, hard candy and brown sugar, but finished with a really peppery, almost noble hop aroma as opposed to the citrus hop attack you almost expect. The body’s not as rich in mouthfeel as you think, and it’s incredibly easy to drink. I do feel that Odell’s beers – although generally excellent – are moderately ‘safe’ and a little ‘straight down the middle’ – and CR is a great little twist on their style, something a little different. Colorado Red and the Pork were made for each other, and it truly hit the spot. I almost don’t want to say it; but I’d really like to try CR on Keg, too.
After all that sweetness, a little Lemon Tart freshened things up; only to serve as prelude for the main dessert: Bitter Chocolate Mousse served with a Honey Biscuit, and washed down with Bracia (9%abv). I say ‘washed down’ but that’s not entirely accurate; one doesn’t ‘wash down’ Bracia. The chocolate mousse served only to enhance the rich, bitter chocolate notes of the beer, and the Honey Biscuit just put a sweet edge to that slightly smoked, slightly phenolic note that it carries. Glass-coatingly thick, Bracia put a rich, decadent end on the evening. I certainly slept well last night, and that’s high praise indeed.
Thanks to all involved for a great evening.
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