Thursday, 27 March 2014 12:40

Marston's Revisionist range

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Marstons Revisionist rangeMarston's Revisionist range

Oh dear, that word again.

That most divisive and least descriptive of adjectives, which has nevertheless become common parlance in the world of beer.

Of course, I'm talking about 'craft'.

Made popular in America - where a wave of new microbreweries identified a pressing need to distinguish their products from those of the dominant lager breweries in an uneducated market - it has since embarked on a programme of world domination.

In fairly loose terms, it's intended to describe beer made in small batches, where a commitment to quality, proper process and, perhaps, innovation are all central to the producer's ethos.

Does Marston's Revisionist range fit these criteria? It could probably be argued that it does, yet use of the word 'craft' on the bottles still feels jarring.

The difficulty in this country is that, unlike America, we have a strong, unbroken brewing tradition spanning hundreds of centuries.

In the States, a whole host of long-standing breweries were wiped out by Prohibition but here, there are a number of traditional brewers who may, at one point or another, have justifiably claimed to be craft.

Marston's fall into that category - even if the company is now a plc and the largest producer of cask ale in the world - but their use of the word still seems like a cynical attempt to cash in on a market trend.

The fact the Revisionist range has been produced exclusively for Tesco appears to support that argument.

But, all that aside, this development could still be viewed positively as a chance to introduce a range of bold, modern styles to the masses at an affordable price (four for £6 at the time of writing). Craft lite, if you will.

The range includes a dry-hopped lager, a US rye beer, a Pacific red ale, a saison, a steam beer, a wheat beer and a black IPA, most of which will be fairly unfamiliar to your average supermarket drinker.

Each includes a description of the process surrounding its creation from the viewpoint of the respective brewmaster and a prominent neck label boasts of the strains it is dry-hopped with.

Choosing a beer based on the hops used is another concept that will likely be foreign to your typical supermarket drinker, so allowing these new customers to understand the flavours provided by different varieties should be a good thing.

The problem is, however, the 'craft lite' tag fits these beers so well, they aren't exactly a powerful - or, indeed, accurate - showcase for the styles they're supposed to represent.

 

Marstons Revisionist RyeRye Pale Ale, 4.3% ABV

The rye ale is a microcosm of this problem.

I got pretty excited about the prospect of buying a rye beer hopped with Citra and Amarillo from my local supermarket for just £1.50 but quickly realised the error of my ways.

Instead of rye's peppery spice or brassy citrus from the hops, I was greeted by an aroma and taste that seemed strangely familiar, yet utterly incongruous.

I sniffed and sipped until it finally hit me. "It's... no, it can't be... no, it is... it's Pedigree."

That might be a slight exaggeration but I do reckon I would have been able to identify the brewery in a blind tasting.

The aroma is almost non-existent, nuttiness masking a slight whiff of orange hidden well underneath, and the taste isn't much better.

The merest hint of spice, a touch of almond and vague orange notes hanging in the finish are all obscured by the domineering nutty, caramel malt. It's dry, astringent and fairly unpleasant, deserving to be poured down the drain simply for getting the style so wrong.

Where was the Citra? Where was the Amarillo? Why did I fool myself into expecting different?

 

Red Ale, 4.2% ABVMarstons Revisionist Red

The red ale was similarly underwhelming, if not as outwardly undrinkable.

Malt once more dominates the aroma, this time a heavy biscuity cloud threatening to drown out the citrus notes that face a desperate struggle for survival.

There is, at least, more joy to be found in the taste, which leads off with thick caramel that gradually morphs into a ever-so-slightly sticky, resinous hop character.

A musty, blueberry-like fruitiness mingles with nutty malt until a squeeze of tangerine adds a much-needed dose of fresh juiciness.

This develops into a sharp zestiness that runs throughout a mildly bitter finish, with lingering biscuity notes hanging in the background.

But the vivid citrus and tropical fruit flavours you might expect from New World hops are nowhere to be seen, causing me to lose interest by the time I'd sunk half a pint.

It's fairly inoffensive but, at the same time, pretty hard going.

 

Marstons Revisionist LagerLager, 5% ABV

The two beers I expected to enjoy the least were the two that confounded expectations, starting with the lager, which has been dry-hopped with Admiral and Bodicea.

Unsurprisingly, it pales in comparison to some of the better British lagers produced in recent years, Thornbridge's Bayern being a particularly good example.

But it's clean and drinkable, packing in plenty more flavour than your typical supermarket shelf-fillers.

The aroma is fresh and bright, lemon, orange and light floral notes skipping across a solid grain base.

It's a similar story in the taste, a glob of orange marmalade rolling quickly across the front of the tongue and elderflower tingling delicately before it cuts crisp across the palate.

The dry finish delivers a dose of zesty bitterness and leaves a pleasant, biscuity aftertaste hanging in the back of the mouth.

It's unspectacular and did seem to take on a unappealing acetaldehyde, green apple taste the warmer it got but remains a solid option for a reasonably cheap mainstream lager.

 

Saison, 5% ABVMarstons Revisionist Saison

The saison was the other that exceeded my admittedly low expectations and proved to be the most enjoyable of the bunch I tried.

Still, it suffers from the same problem as the rest in that it's far too meek and mild, like a saison at about 60% strength rather than a typical showcase of the style.

The aroma is dominated by the expected yeast esters, although they're particularly soft, faint banana and clove mingling with candied orange while fresh dough hovers in the background.

After taking a sip, a drizzling of herbal honey coats the front of the tongue and there's a squeeze of tart citrus fruit before light notes of banana and spice begin to come through.

A soft peppery buzz tickles the tongue but its spread is halted by the dry finish, which contains a lingering citrus bitterness and a throbbing bready sweetness.

It becomes too sweet throughout the course of a whole 500ml bottle but at least gives casual drinkers an introduction to a style which is underrepresented on supermarket shelves.

Ultimately, I wouldn't make an effort to drink any of the Revisionist range regularly and I doubt I'll even buy them again.

I'd be delighted if the range helped to wean drinkers away from bland lager towards the new wave of microbrewed British beer but I just can't escape the thought this is more cynical ploy than genuine attempt to educate.

As a side note, I'd recommend leaving these beers to warm slightly before drinking, as the already muted flavours are even more subdued when drunk straight from the fridge.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014 13:10

Quantum & Elixir Brew Co Elixium

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Quantum Elixir ElixiumQuantum & Elixir Brew Co Elixium

Bottle from the Liquor Shop, Whitefield, 5.9% ABV

I'll own up now. When I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon to support Elixir Brew Co in their recent trademark tussle with Everards, I hadn't even tried their beer.

For all I knew, I could've been supporting a producer of brown, twiggy blandness or murky, bitter foulness. How did I know their beer was worth saving?

Ultimately, we were all motivated by the desire to see a small business survive in the face of heavy-handed corporate tactics from a larger organisation, regardless of anything else. It's just a happy coincidence that Elixir does indeed appear to produce excellent beer too.

My first experience of the Scottish nano - a collaboration with the ever-reliable Quantum Brewing Company - came just days after it had all kicked off online and far exceeded any expectations I might have harboured.

Elixium is a smoked porter with a twist, namely that the hops, rather than the malt, provide the smokiness.

Now, I've discussed the possibility of smoked hops in the past but only when a 'chilled out' friend of mine regaled me with excited chatter about their similarity to a particular illegal plant.

What I don't recall is coming across a beer where one of the hop additions has been wood-smoked prior to use.

In this case, they have been smoked with Beechwood and added at the dry hop stage, giving this beer a lovely clean, soft smokiness that doesn't overwhelm the other flavours.

I'd had a bottle of Beavertown's Smog Rocket - possibly Britain's most lauded modern smoked porter - just a week prior and Elixium easily matched up. In fact, I'd say it is better, such is the cleanness and clarity of the different flavours, distinct yet still dovetailing perfectly.

It pours black as night with a thick, murky brown head. A truly menacing dark destroyer that weaves together an intoxicating mix of complementary and conflicting aromas.

Rich malt initially hangs heavy in the nose, chocolate, coffee and roasted malt combining richness with a crisp bitterness.

This, in itself, would be enough but you're taken by surprise when a hoppy, citrus breeze drifts through before fresh tobacco leaf and smoked cheese tickle lightly at the tail-end.

The taste combines similar elements and remains extremely well-defined and balanced throughout.

It's bitter and slightly tannic throughout, with notes of chalky, dark chocolate particularly well pronounced at first and a good amount of roasted malt thrown in too.

These flavours aren't allowed to linger too long before a superb citrus tang swipes straight across the palate, momentarily cleaning it before a glob of melted dark chocolate slowly settles in the mouth.

The smoke comes through late, a light tickle of heated wood chips drifting through the back of the mouth to leave a peppery buzz and a dry, bitter finish.

Friday, 21 March 2014 13:36

Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio

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Cantillon Gueuze 100 Lambic BioCantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio

Bottle from Beer Hawk, 5% ABV

The first time I tried gueuze, I hated it.

Couldn't understand the face-crumpling sourness, the rough, coarse earthiness or the tight, prickly champagne fizz.

None of it seemed to come together in a way that pleased my palate or even one that vaguely resembled my typical understanding of beer.

Call me uncultured or ignorant if you like but it was an experience akin to my first ever pint, when I'd sat choking down a pint of Guinness as a young teen because, basically, that's what I was supposed to do.

I mean, what kind of Mancunian Irishman would I be if I didn't throw copious amounts of the black stuff down my neck? And what kind of beer geek would I be if I didn't sip my way through a bottle of gueuze while nodding with smug satisfaction?

Although I recovered from that unsure start to appreciate the complexity, subtlety and uniqueness inherent in gueuze, it is still difficult to articulate exactly what makes it so good.

I've tried explaining its appeal but people usually switch off somewhere between vinegar and barnyard funk. Most of them probably think the latter is a song from James Brown's country and western phase.

Words just don't do it justice because, on paper at least, the different flavours don't seem to mix particularly well. Or belong in a drink at all for that matter.

For me, enlightenment came in the form of a bottle of Boon Oude Geuze on a summer's day. Perhaps it was the haze of an unusually warm Manchester evening or the fact I'd endured a particularly testing day at work but, suddenly, it felt like a rare indulgence.

The flavours are, at times, jarring and challenging, yet equally intriguing, invigorating and satisfying. Like free jazz for the tastebuds.

My preferences have since developed further and few breweries encapsulate the essence of gueuze quite like Cantillon.

Each bottle feels somehow historic, as if they've managed to capture the spirit of time-honoured craftsmanship and the magic of spontaneous fermentation in one neat package.

It isn't a polished production-line beer, rather a wild, living, evolving product that's always full of surprises.

Upon popping the cork, aromas of crisp apple and young apricot escape the bottle and pouring reveals further layers of white wine vinegar, hay and earthy funk. There's a tantalising hint of Calvados lurking somewhere in there too, carried by a breeze of alcohol freshness.

The taste is deliciously tart and sweet at first, soured apples causing the mouth to water in an explosion of juicy excitement.

Lip-smacking lemon juice washes across the palate before notes of vinegar and oak slowly but surely assert themselves, growing and multiplying alongside a strong astringency.

As the mouth loses moisture, earthiness and grass come to the fore, accompanied by a phenolic character that's almost medicinal in its nature, reminiscent of homemade root beer.

The taste of vinegar lasts throughout a never-ending, arid finish, which also combines lemon zest with a fresh vinous character and a beautiful, warm breadiness that leaves a sweet must in the back of the mouth.

There's simply nothing like it.

Thursday, 20 March 2014 12:01

Celt Ogham Willow

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Celt Ogham WillowCelt Ogham Willow

Bottle from Beer Hawk, 8.8% ABV

Celt seems to have come out of nowhere.

Although the brewery has been in operation since 2007, I hadn't even set eyes on any of their beers before receiving a bottle of Bronze in my Beer Hawk beer club last year.

That tasty bitter piqued my interest but the lack of ready suppliers up north meant I had to wait several months before expanding my knowledge of this intriguing Welsh brewery.

When I finally got hold of a bottle of Ogham Willow I didn't know what to expect and it damn near blew my head clean off.

This is a beast of a beer. A big, hefty IPA that simply does not fuck around.

It delivers all the flavours you'd expect from the style and then goes one step further, offering the richness, complexity and opulence of a barley wine.

As such, its uniqueness is its main strength, making this an experience you won't quickly forget.

Clear golden with a tight white head, it gives off strong, skunky aromas of resin, pine and citrus, with a thick vein of caramel running through the middle. More layers are revealed the longer you inhale, sticky pineapple boiled sweets, apricot and dull notes of cedar and oak hanging heavily at the back of the nose.

The taste is led by thick toffee, which oozes slowly across the palate to create a solid base for the assertive hop flavours that follow.

A quick squeeze of lemon cuts through the sweetness but juicy citrus mutates into bold, resinous hops that are so chewy and glutinous you'd swear there were bits stuck between your teeth. Simultaneously, herbs, mango and pink grapefruit skip lightly across the tongue before the domineering finish begins to set in.

The sweetness of vanilla and honey segues into a powerful, pithy bitterness, while the chest and throat are warmed by a growing alcohol heat.

It's an indulgence worthy of your complete, undivided attention. So light some candles, dim the lights and put on some Barry White, you're going to be there for a while.

Friday, 14 March 2014 09:55

Redwell India Pale Ale

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Redwell IPARedwell IPA

Keg at The Font, Chorlton, 6% ABV

This stuff might not give you wings but have a few and you'll feel like you're flying.

It's an uplifting IPA that lands a hefty hop punch without once falling off balance or letting its drinkability suffer.

As such, it's not necessarily unique but a strong, enjoyable representation of the style and one I would have no problem returning to time and again.

Before I could appreciate it, however, I was forced to fight off the strong urge to drop a shot of Jagermeister in the glass. My subconscious also seemed to suggest mixing the beer with a double vodka, which was more than a little odd but perhaps just stemmed from confusion about what I had ordered.

Once this minor crisis had been averted, frisky, fresh aromas of grapefruit, orange and mango greeted me as I lifted the glass towards my mouth. A hint of pine also crept through, all underpinned by assertive cereal malt.

Soft toffee holds the taste together, flowing steadily beneath a series of refreshing hop bursts, pink grapefruit and navel orange providing a tart, juicy sweetness.

Resin and pine also loiter, swirling with the toffee to form a thick, sticky mixture, until biting orange rind swipes clean the heavier flavours.

The finish is bittersweet, combining pithy bitterness and lingering notes of citric juiciness with toffee and the background throb of biscuity malt to maintain an easy-drinking balance right until the end.

It's fair to say, I'm glad a certain energy drink manufacturer failed in its nefarious plot to have this beer banished from the face of the earth.

Rumour also has it Redwell recently struck a distribution deal to send more of their beer up north, so it will be interesting to see what the rest of their range has to offer.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014 12:13

Bad Seed & Northern Monk Salted Lemon Wit

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Bad Seed Northern Monk Salted Lemon WitBad Seed & Northern Monk Salted Lemon Wit

Bottle from the Liquor Shop, Whitefield, 7.4% ABV

This is one of those beers I hate to love.

Once the monthly beer ration has been acquired, sorted and catalogued, the allocated funds completely exhausted, there's always one special that threatens to push me into the red. Not to mention pushing me into a downward spiral of debate and discord with my long-suffering partner.

Once Raj at Whitefield's beer tardis, the Liquor Shop, told me about this collaboration from Bad Seed and Northern Monk, my fragile will power was instantly eroded.
The need to experience a salted lemon wit just seemed far more pressing than the need to balance the books.

And, to be honest, financial instability has never tasted so good. Plus, it paired beautifully with the Super Noodle butties I was forced to eat seven days straight.
It's just such an easy beer to drink. Totally unique yet outwardly enjoyable, soft and agreeable rather than dense and complicated.

All of this is expressed through its appearance, an inviting, slightly hazy golden amber liquid topped by a fluffy, persistent white head.

The aroma is dominated by a heavy cloud of fresh dough and buttered brioche, which hangs tantalisingly in the nostrils, followed by fragrant lemongrass and topped with a sprinkling of salt.

The taste combines sweet, salty and doughy with the aplomb of a chocolate-covered pretzel. Your brain's telling you it shouldn't work but your tastebuds are telling you something entirely different.

Upfront breadiness fades to leave a mouthful of sweet, juicy candied lemon peel. After chewing on this for a couple of seconds, sweet becomes tart and the salt adds a prickly edge.

That breadiness continues to throb away, however, notes of cookie dough, ginger snaps and spice building into a long, dry finished that finds terrific balance between sweet and salty.

Well worth the money, whatever the consequences, and another feather in the cap for both Bad Seed and Northern Monk. These Yorkshire rascals are ones to keep an eye on in the coming years.

Friday, 07 March 2014 16:45

The British beer boom: quantity over quality?

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Pint of beerThe brewing boom continues to resonate across Britain, its force producing an unstoppable wave of positivity and promise.

New breweries are popping up on a weekly basis and 'craft' has infiltrated the mainstream consciousness - so much so that it's even become a prominent fixture in Wetherspoons.

Between 2011 and 2013, 502 microbreweries opened for business compared to just 248 during the previous three-year period, a trend that has raised genuine hope for a seismic shift in the market akin to that which has taken place in America.

This brewing fervour is matched only by the clamour for new and exciting beers from a passionate tribe of devotees, each of them desperate to try the next big thing in order to participate in the shared experience.

This perfect storm has resulted in a greater selection and variety of beer than ever before, yet the overall effect on the industry is a lot more difficult to quantify.

Diversity and choice are undoubtedly positives but it's also important to bear in mind the old adage 'quality not quantity'.

With so many nascent breweries now in operation, it's fair to say there's been a net decrease in experience throughout the brewing trade and, given the appeal of craft, there has been an increase in those keen to cash in on demand.

That's not to say the boom has been bad for beer but the current state of flux has caused quality to waver over the last couple of years.

Consequently, a new, negative vocabulary has begun to penetrate the positivity, with phrases such as 'London murky' encapsulating the perceived lack of quality control practised by some new breweries.

On the one hand, this could be seen as damaging to the reputation of small-batch beer in the wider market but, on the other, it could be viewed as an unavoidable side-effect of a huge growth in choice.

Either way, the industry as a whole must concern itself with how best to maintain recent success.

"Whether the recent boom has been a good or a bad thing for the industry depends on which perspective you look at it," says Rob Lovatt, brewmaster at Thornbridge, which has grown to become one of the biggest craft breweries in the UK since its establishment in 2005.

"It’s been good for the overall brewing industry as I think it’s shaken up the market somewhat. Beer is definitely making a revival in the UK as it did in the US. When you take a look across the pond and see the market share craft brewers have taken from big brewers, then it makes everyone up their game.

"In the last few years, regional brewers like Brains and Adnams have started to produce more interesting, American-style craft beer, which can only mean better quality and choice for the customer.

"But we need to recognise how far behind the curve we are in terms of quality when compared to the craft brewers in the States. I don't think, on the whole, the quality of craft beer in the UK is as good as it could be.

"Poor quality beer isn't good for the consumer or the industry. However, given time and investment in equipment and skill sets then things will improve. There must have been a period in the US when the craft beer wasn’t as good as it is today."

 

Old brewing kit 2The struggle to make ends meet

Yet investment isn't always easy to come by and this has perhaps been the biggest reason why certain products have hit the market before they were ready to face public scrutiny.

Given the tight margins faced by those at the nano end of the industry, there is intense pressure not to waste a drop. Even if an experiment doesn't quite go to plan, the beer might have to go to market simply to cover costs.

It is also difficult to justify investment in equipment designed to improve brewery processes, such as bottling lines, meaning many newcomers are forced to get by using only rudimentary equipment. In the circumstances, do we need to accept that more smaller operations will mean more mistakes?

Sam Smith, one third of Pressure Drop Brewing, is well aware of the difficulties faced at this end of the spectrum. The Hackney brewery has graduated from a 50-litre, single-vessel Braumeister kit to five-barrel brewery in less than two years and was named 10th best new brewery in the world in RateBeer's 2013 awards.

Although quality has evidently not been an issue for Pressure Drop, Sam believes the occasional flaw is a price worth paying for the ability to regularly discover exciting new beer.

He says, "On balance, the brewery boom has been good for the industry. All it means for beer drinkers is more choice.

"While I appreciate that quality can vary, the fact remains that nobody is forced to buy or drink anything they don’t like. People who like lambic beers are free to drink those, people who like Heineken are free to drink that, people who want a different beer every time are able to experiment as much as they please.

"For a start, most new breweries are producing tiny quantities of beer in relative terms. Also, quality is subjective and is up to the individual to decide.

"Personally I would prefer to take my chances and come across the odd flaw in beers I drink, while stumbling on great beers from time to time, than to drink the same things all the time and be assured of perfect consistency. But each to their own."

 

timothy taylor landlordA downside to improved choice?

It's impossible to argue that the growth in choice has been a bad thing for the discerning drinker but what about the potential damage to consumer confidence caused by below-par beers?

The issue becomes more complicated when it is considered the general public will be far less understanding than enthusiasts when it comes to flawed beer and lasting impressions of an entire industry could be formed on the basis of one bad experience.

Whatever criticisms are thrown at the big brewers, they are nothing if not consistent and consumers will keep returning to their products because, in the main, they know exactly what they are getting.

The same can be said of many traditional family brewers. Timothy Taylor, for example, produces a core range of five beers that rarely slip below expected standards, providing a positive example for the new breed of microbreweries of what can be achieved on a smaller scale.

Quality is key if small-batch beer is to continue stealing market share from the mainstream brands in order to expand availability and variety in a sustainable manner.

America leads the way in that respect - where craft beer is predicted to represent 15% of the entire beer market by 2020 - but Rob believes upstart British brewers would be better served focusing less on their Stateside cousins and paying more heed to native traditions, particularly in terms of dispense.

He says, "It’s what these guys are striving to produce that's the issue. Cask beer really suits breweries on a budget, as the packaging is easy and the beer is drunk extremely fresh.

"However, does the new breed of craft brewers want to make cask beer? No, they see it as boring, old school and unhip. They want to copy the Americans and make IPA, saisons, wheat beers etcetera but, unfortunately, there are limitations when trying to produce beers like this on a budget, particularly in the format they want to package the beer in.

"Often it would be better to stick to cask beer or key kegs. Work on getting the right yeast count, the CO2 level, think about the styles that suit keg dispense and, if they must bottle, make sure the customer gets it as fresh as possible.

"Oxygen is the enemy of beer, it's imperative after the initial aeration of wort that its ingress is limited as much as possible, particularly during packaging.  Decent bottling machines, capable of packaging beer with a low oxygen count, aren't cheap.

"You only have to look at the guys who are producing the best beer in the States like Lagunitas, Brooklyn, Oscar Blues, Russian River, Sierra, Firestone - they will all be packaging their beer on Krones or KHS fillers and have their DO2 levels down well below 50ppb.

"Many of the smaller, new breweries in the UK will be bottling beer by hand. This will invariably result in massively high oxygen levels and the beer will literally fall apart in weeks."

 

Pressure Drop bottlesDedicated followers of fashion

There is also a suggestion many new breweries are too fad-driven when it comes to recipe development.

In recent years, the market has been awash with saisons, yet it could be claimed that few have done justice to the style by paying respect to its history. As such, the criticism is that some brewers have attempted to jump straight into experimentation without first mastering their trade.

This is clearly an issue for the credibility of small-batch beer but the likes of Pressure Drop and fellow newcomers Siren Craft have shown how consistency can be successfully meshed with innovation to ensure quality doesn't suffer.

In Pressure Drop's case, their core range includes a pale ale, American-style IPA, a brown ale and a traditional London porter. This is supplemented by two beers that showcase the brewers' personalities a little more - a foraged herb hefeweisse and a smoked dunkelweiss, each perfected through extensive testing on a smaller kit tailor-made for that particular style.

Sam believes Pressure Drop are far from unique, however, and argues that the majority of new brewers are driven by similarly good intentions.

He says, "Most brewers I know are striving all the time to make the best beer they can and most of the people coming into this business are doing it because they want to make great beer.

"Beer drinkers are free to be as discerning as they like, or not. As a beer drinker myself I don’t have a problem with lack of quality – there are plenty of beers around that I like and plenty that I love. The beers I don’t like, I don’t buy.

"I think there is plenty of room for more growth in small-batch beer. The market share is still tiny. None of us can predict the future, but I always think the best way to judge how things are going is to take a look around.

"Is the number of people buying local or micro-brewed beer growing, or declining? Likewise are the sales of micro-breweries growing or declining? How are large corporations responding? From what I see day-to-day this is still something that is growing – how much, no one can say."

 

Education the key to progression

This kind of passion is abundantly clear in the words and actions of many upstart breweries but, at the same time, there must be a happy medium to be found between rapid expansion and maintenance of quality standards.

Perhaps the onus is on the industry itself to become more self-policing, for more experienced brewers to work with newcomers in a bid to lift overall standards and improve the reputation of small-batch beer in relation to mainstream brands.

Perhaps, also, responsibility lies with bloggers, writers and journalists - myself included - to be more critical where necessary and improve their own skills to ensure they can properly identify off-flavours such as yeast bite, diacetyl and acetaldehyde.

Ultimately, education is crucial both within the industry and the wider consumer sphere if current momentum is to be maintained in the long-term.

And in that sense, the responsibility lies with all of us to ensure proper understanding of this thing we love.

Wednesday, 05 March 2014 12:43

Augustiner Edelstoff

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Augustiner EdelstoffAugustiner Edelstoff

Bottle from the Beer Hawk, 5.6% ABV

I'm not a big lager drinker. Never have been. More of a skinny stout drinker if you must insist on assigning labels.

It's not that I actively dislike lager, more that I never bother to seek it out and very rarely choose it over other styles.

All of this can probably be traced back to my first proper drinking experience. Having purchased an incredibly unconvincing fake ID from a company advertising in the back pages of FHM, I headed down to my local offy and bought 24 cans of Stella - that being the obvious choice for an uninitiated drinker to ease themselves into a whole new world of wonders.

Splitting these with two friends, I proceeded to drink my entire share and spent the following day throwing up gallons of malty bile.

Consequently, that sparked my move to bitter and mild, although I dressed this up as the choice of a mature drinker rather than a fool who had scared himself off drinking anything higher than 4.5% ABV.

Given that history, it's perhaps unsurprising I developed a slight aversion to lager but there are certain forces in this world powerful enough to break even the most deep-set prejudice. For me, that force was Augustiner Edelstoff.

Given a bottle of this by a friend many years ago, it became the first lager I could stomach more than one pint of after my earlier 'experience'.

The aroma's not much to get excited about - musty grain, sweet malt and a light grassiness doing little to properly arouse the senses - but it's just so damn drinkable.

Sweeter, stronger and fruitier than Augustiner's standard Helles, it is also prettier to look at, sparkly clear golden liquid topped by a tight, frothy white head.
It is clean, sharp and dry, an initial strong, biscuity malt mellowing to leave behind a lasting breadiness. There's a lovely splash of citrus and just enough grassy hop, contributing to a bittersweet finish.

Malt dominates the aftertaste, filling the mouth with a pleasant bready flavour, but it's also clean enough to be seriously refreshing.

The kind of beer you'd be happy to knock back after a hard day at work and one that should soften the heart of even the most devoted anti-lager activist.

Tuesday, 04 March 2014 12:11

Fourpure IPA and Oatmeal Stout

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Fourpure IPAFourpure IPA, 6.5% ABV

Fourpure Oatmeal Stout, 5.1% ABV

Bottle from the Liquor Shop, Prestwich

You can't move for breweries in Bermondsey these days.

Kernel, Partizan and Brew By Numbers have all successfully strolled the well-trodden path that's now being followed by Fourpure.

However, based on this initial evidence, the youngest of the bunch still hasn't hit its stride as it attempts to keep up with the neighbours.

Set up by brothers Dan and Tom Lowe late last year, Fourpure boasts an attractively-branded core range inspired by the team's travels around the world.

The IPA is influenced by Oregon - that hop head's paradise where the streets are lined with lupulin - yet wasn't able to deliver a high enough dosage of dank, resinous hops to calm my rampant craving.

They're in there somewhere, I'm sure of it. They were just far too muted for the style.

It's a shame because this beer certainly looked the part, pouring a deep, brownish amber that's dazzlingly clear and topped by just a slither of off-white foam.

The aroma completely escaped the clutches of those hop overlords Cascade, Centennial and Chinook, instead providing a faint whiff of malt, chestnut, cedar and marzipan.

And instead of sticking tongue to the roof of the mouth like a dog eating toffee, it feels too light bodied on first sip.

It's initially crisp and slightly watery, although the malt character quickly builds, providing a base of toffee, chestnut and crunchy biscuit.

The hops arrive late to the party but only deliver a light coating of sticky pine and spruce without any of the chewiness. All too soon, they're gone, replaced by a dry finish that holds a light bitterness and crisp grassiness.

Freshness appears to be the major problem. As with any microbrewed IPA, it is essential the brewer ensures the product will be consumed by the customer as fresh as it needs to be but the weak hop character suggests that wasn't the case here.

The London-inspired Oatmeal Stout was better but still failed to properly capture my imagination. It did all the right things but didn't do any of them with quite enough oomph for my liking.

A burnt edge of roasted malt dominates the aroma, with smooth milk chocolate and coffee mingling underneath and the odd whiff of tobacco occasionally grasping for attention.

So far, so good yet the taste never quite gets where it wants to go, no matter how hard it tries.

Over-caramelised sugar and wholemeal toast meld in a pleasing combination of sweet, bitter and grainy flavours before tobacco, dark chocolate and black coffee begin to creep across the palate.

But the body is too light to carry the different elements and there's not enough of the creaminess you'd expect from a proper indulgent oatmeal stout.

The late onset of earthy, spicy, almost resinous hops is a neat counterpoint to the dominant malt character but the finish lacks richness to round off the bitterness.

Both beers have characteristics I really enjoyed, there was just a feeling that neither is quite there yet.

Friday, 28 February 2014 14:58

Moor Hoppiness

Written by

OurBeersHoppinessMoor Hoppiness

Keg at Font, Chorlton, 6.7% ABV

Is this the UK's best IPA?

If it's not, I challenge you to find one that's consistently better.

Axe Edge is ruinously brilliant too and Cannonball ranks among my favourite beers in any style but Hoppiness is the one I keep coming back to.

I'm not usually one for drinking the same beer time and time again, partly because I get bored easily but mainly because my limited funds are best invested in exploring the vast swathes of beers I still haven't tried yet.

But, from the first time I tried a bottle of Hoppiness, I knew this would be no fleeting love affair, no meaningless flirtation on a boozy night out. Three years later we're still going strong, even if we don't see anywhere near enough of each other.

When our paths do cross, time stops. Nothing else really seems to matter when you've got Hoppiness in your hand and your stomach, so you can imagine how happy it's made me to see it pop up semi-regularly in Chorlton's excellent Font Bar.

Moor Hoppiness

It pours an almost luminescent golden orange, which is clouded by that reassuring Moor haze. There's been a lot of chatter about clear beer of late but a translucent glass of Hoppiness would be as off-putting as a can of pop without any fizz - in this case the haze is synonymous with taste.

The aroma immediately sparks vivid memories of the little, white paper bags I would pick up from the corner shop as a kid, full of pineapple cubes and toffee bonbons. It's thick and heavy, delivering waves of grapefruit and passion fruit after the initial sweetness, followed by a waft of pine.

Each of these elements follows through into the taste, measured with unerring precision to ensure tremendous balance throughout.

Sweet caramel rolls across the front of the tongue before clusters of fuzzy tropical fruit explode in sequence, pineapple, passion fruit and mango letting you know you're onto a very good thing.

Lively sherbet tickles the tongue until the bold citrus of grapefruit and blood orange slices right across the palate, leading to a dry finish that's full of pithy bitterness and lingering notes of resin.

It's at the kind of strength that allows it to be both drinkable and full in the mouth. In short, it's bloody incredible.