Thursday, 27 February 2014 12:37

Mallinsons Nelson Sauvin

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Mallinsons Nelson SauvinMallinsons Nelson Sauvin

Bottle from High Peak Beer, Stockport, 3.8% ABV

So you think you know your hops? Not like this you don't.

Mallinsons have long made it their mission to help drinkers get familiar with each separate strain one at a time and are doing a mighty fine job of it.

Forget for one second the calling card of the modern craft obsessive. Why would you necessarily need more hops when one can do the job just as well?

From Ahtanum to Willamette, the Huddersfield brewery's single-hop series has showcased the individual characteristics inherent in each different variety without needing to smack you around the chops.

There's nothing too fussy about the beers, just a solid malt base and some well-judged hop additions, giving the flavours opportunity to shine.

As such, Mallinsons are performing a valuable service. Given the fact many modern brews are loaded with a potent combination of various hops, it can often be difficult for drinkers to break down the flavours and better understand their own tastes.

Single-hop beers make it much easier to distinguish the different hop properties and understand the nuances of each, allowing less experienced drinkers to make more informed decisions about what they are likely to enjoy in the future and why.

Mallinsons' Nelson Sauvin is a particularly good example of how this can work.

There's a lot more grain on the nose than expected and this leads to a surprisingly light aroma where white wine, peach and grapefruit are somewhat suppressed by the lingering bready malt.

But there's no ambiguity in the taste. This is all about the Nelson Sauvin.

A light, crisp body and soft breadiness are quickly overpowered by an assertive fruitiness, gooseberry and crushed white grapes gently caressing the palate before a huge lump of tart grapefruit thuds against the back of the tongue.

That grapefruit loiters with intent through a crisp, bitter finish, stripping the mouth of any remaining moisture.

Detractors may claim it lacks complexity but they'd be missing the point. It does its job perfectly.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 12:24

Recap: CAMRGB Manchester Twissup

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CAMRGB Twissup 1On February 22, 2014 I achieved my life's ambition.

It's taken 31 years to get here but never again will anyone be able to call me incapable of organising a piss-up in a brewery.

The CAMRGB Manchester Twissup saw more than 50 people from all over the country share a pint (or ten) in two breweries and three bars on a riotous, rowdy ride through the city's beer scene.

And, in all honesty, it wasn't that difficult.

When I first floated the idea of a Twissup late last year, a host of bacchanalian superheroes swooped to my aid.

Rob Hamilton and the team at Blackjack risked potential catastrophe by offering to throw open the doors of their brewery to a bunch of rabble-rousers, while the Marble Arch offered never-before-seen bottles of very special beer (more of which later).

The ever-accommodating Port Street crew teamed up with Quantum Brewing's Jay Krause to offer a first taste of the spectacularly-bearded brewer's new doppelbock, while both Font and First Chop expressed willingness, no questions asked.

So, although I'm still going to add 'piss-up in a brewery' to the major achievements on my CV, most of the credit should actually be spread elsewhere.

The incredible turnout, which included beer folk from as far afield as Dorset, also provided vindication for Simon Williams' vision of CAMRGB as an organisation run entirely by its members.

From the minute I proposed the idea of a Manchester event to him, Simon was happy for me to grasp the CAMRGB banner and run with it. And it will have been even more pleasing for him that another member-organised gathering was taking place simultaneously around London's Craft Beer Rising festival.

Beer is one of life's great unifiers - truly deserving its reputation as social lubricant - and the overwhelming support for such events bodes well for the potential of CAMRGB and the future of British beer.

Never before have I spoken to so many people in such a short space of time with such a genuine passion for promoting good beer - whether that's through convincing friends and family, sharing their thoughts in the blogosphere or making and selling the stuff.

CAMRGB Twissup 2

There were far too many great folk for me to mention them all but it was heart-warming to find the presence of people like Becky and John from Art Brew, who travelled hundreds of miles to take part even at the end of an extremely tough week.

These are the kind of people who can help to drive demand for good beer and improve standards by educating the wider population and making pubs and retailers take notice of the wide variety of microbrewed beer now available.

So, to the event itself. In hindsight, 12 noon might have been an ambitious starting time but with so many potential venues and so little time, midday drinking became almost necessary - at least that's what I told myself.

Regardless, the Marble Arch is a fantastic start point for any meander through Manchester and a poignant reminder of a proud heritage.

The striking mosaic floor provides a bed of Lancastrian roses and the glistening, glazed tiles that adorn the walls epitomise much of the city's Victorian architecture.

Put simply, this pub IS Manchester.

To reinforce that point, hometown heroes Marble call this place home, so it was only right I started out with a half from the house and the hoppy, refreshing Brew 701 hit the spot.

At this point, the pub was unfortunately packed with City fans (they're an odd breed), so it was difficult to pick out my fellow Twissupers, especially as I didn't have the slightest clue what many of them looked like.

Luckily, my mate Jonny and myself spotted fellow Manchester homebrewer Steve Dunkley before bloggers Mark (Views From the Bar)Jim (BeersManchester) and Cameron (All You Need is Beer) made themselves known, Jim even bearing the gift of an Ilkley Speyside Siberia (very much appreciated, my friend).

James from Axiom Brewing also led a small party on an adjoining table but our group remained fragmented until the Arch staff brought out what basically amounted to beer geek's cat nip.

Four bottles of imperial stout were brought to our table - a barrel-aged version of last year's anniversary stout, brewed to mark the Arch's 125th birthday - and suddenly our fellow drinkers began swarming like flies round the proverbial.

The Macc homebrew boys made themselves known and our Chester contingent were not too far behind.

The stout itself was a delight. Sweet, rich and sticky, full of coffee and dark fruits with a warming, boozy finish, it left mouths agape in wonder and desperate hands grasping for more. At 10.8%, it was also akin to pouring petrol on a bonfire that didn't need any assistance in catching light.

After this, we took a short stumble down Gould Street towards Blackjack brewery. On first glance, this looked like an unassuming industrial unit beneath a railway arch but closer examination revealed it was, in fact, some kind of boozy wonderland.

The infamous Mr Hamilton had hinted at what delights may be on offer via a Twitter teaser pic the previous evening but what greeted us went far beyond anything we could have expected.

His very own Doppelkopf made its debut on the solitary keg font - a soft, smoky pleasure - and there were three cask handpulls featuring two more Blackjack efforts, including an excellent stout, and Burning Sky's superb Saison L'Hiver.

CAMRGB Twissup 3

As if that wasn't enough, a couple more firkins were perched at the end of the bar offering Blackjack's Four of a Kind and the beautifully bold Arbor and Alechemy collab Anti-Christmas.

All of these were offered at knockdown prices and, to add to my giddiness, we were even allowed to pour them ourselves - a novelty that never wore off even after my first effort was 85% head.

One reveller enquired whether Rob would have any problem with us moving into the brewery on a permanent basis but, alas, Port Street called where we had a date with Mr Krause and his doppelbock.

I'm not sure the staff knew quite what had hit them when a swarming mass descended on the bar to shout in unison for Quantum's Interocitor, the aforementioned doppelbock, which slipped down a treat - a fruity, easy-drinking drop.

Lively conversation between brewers and beer geeks ensued and I also indulged in a delicious half of Mad Hatter's Hare of Darkness before making the move to Font, where things started to become more than a little hazy...

I remember drinking a pint - yes, that's a PINT - of Rodenbach after getting a little overexcited at seeing it on draught.

But one of the best moments of the day came when Simon bought a bottle of Arbor's Down Deeperest, which he had designed the label for, and shared it among our party. Given it stands at 12% ABV, it was probably the last thing I needed at the time but how can you resist such a delicious, unique black barleywine, rich in huge, sweet malts and pungent, earthy hops?

The answer, in case you were in any doubt, is you can't! It's one of those beers that coats the mouth with a delightful, syrupy residue, soothing you into a state of supreme serenity.

Last stop for the day was the First Chop Brewery, at the end of a troublesome trek from the city centre to Trinity Way in Salford that involved more than a few false turns.

We felt like Scott and his team of intrepid explorers when we finally arrived at the huge railway arch, equal parts brewery, New York craft beer bar and dark, underground club.

The big cheese himself, head brewer Rik Garner, was getting busy on the wheels of steel, spinning an impressive mix of soul classics that even had Messrs Hamilton and BeersManchester strutting their stuff on the dancefloor.

CAMRGB Twissup 4

If you haven't yet ventured down there, I'd heartily recommend going to one of the regular brewery socials, which usually take place on the last Saturday of each month.

Once all the drinking and dancing had become too much for me, I stuffed my face with tasty wood-fired pizza from Honest Crust on the courtyard outside and jumped in a taxi home to regale my long-suffering partner with thrilling tales of libation and lunacy.

I wasn't at my eloquent best when I described the events of the day but one thing she instantly detected was my sheer, unbridled excitement. Never before have I had the chance to drink, natter and act the fool with such a wonderfully warm, varied and interesting group of folk.

Who's for Twissup Redux later this year?

For some different views on the Twissup, read the following excellent blogs:

BeersManchester

CAMRGB

Brews Implosion

Or check out Steve Dunkley's photos here

Friday, 21 February 2014 12:31

Emelisse Aceto Balsamico

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Emelisse Aceto BalsamicoEmelisse Aceto Balsamico #1 barrel aged

Bottle from Cotteridge Wines, Birmingham, 7.5% ABV

Who could possibly think it's a good idea to drink balsamic vinegar?

When those doyens of popular music Calvin Harris and Tinie Tempah wrote their smash hit 'Drinking From the Bottle', I'm pretty sure they didn't mean a 12-year-old vintage from Modena.

It might be the perfect addition to a multitude of meals but it's not exactly the kind of thing you want to be sipping after a stressful day at work.

I've regularly scolded my partner for drowning her salad in balsamic vinegar, patronisingly reminding her that it's meant as a dressing rather than a sauce.

So, returning to my original point, how could you possibly want to drink the stuff? More to the point, why would you want to make a beer that replicates it?

Apparently, those Dutch kooks Emelisse didn't share the same reservations. And, apparently, neither did I when push came to shove, as I felt compelled to buy a bottle of this when I saw it on the shelves in Birmingham's bottled beer Mecca, Cotteridge Wines.

Perhaps I'm the ultimate 'craft' sucker but my curiosity was piqued far beyond that of the proverbial dead cat.

I suppose balsamic vinegar had always been ripe for a craft makeover. After all, it's sour and aged in all manner of wood casks, including chestnut, acacia, cherry, oak, mulberry, ash and juniper.

Nothing makes a craft brewer happier.

Joking aside, however, Emelisse actually did a decent job of making this drinkable. Granted, it's not going to become my new 'go-to' Saturday night beer but it's got a strange allure that made it a really enjoyable sipper and a fascinating take on Flemish oud bruin.

Although it certainly won't be to everyone's taste, it's a genuine feat of conceptual realisation.

Everything from the look - a beautiful deep brown colour tinged with ruby red - to the aroma and taste recreates the pleasure of good balsamic vinegar. I'm not quite sure how Emelisse did it but they've hit the nail firmly on the head.

The nose is full of rich balsamic character, sour dark fruits, grapes and redcurrant before applying a crisp apple bite on the tail.

Unsurprisingly, the taste starts sour but also packs a bold, sticky sweetness reminiscent of red berries and molasses. Sharp, sour fruit swiftly slices through the initial richness, as crushed grapes and barberry prickle the sides of the tongue and a vinous, astringent character begins to take hold.

The finish is extremely dry but laced with a residual sourness containing hints of balsamic and tart fruit, while dull oak and bread hang in the mouth.
Suddenly that bottle of vinegar in my cupboard looks a lot more appealing.

Thursday, 20 February 2014 12:18

Sierra Nevada Hoptimum

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Sierra Nevada HoptimumSierra Nevada Hoptimum

Bottle from Beermoth, Manchester, 10.4% ABV

Is this what happens when you make the hops angry?

They can be pretty feisty buggers at the best of times but they really seem to have one on them here.

Not satisfied with taking a starring role in almost every American IPA of the past 20 years, they have now declared all-out war on the tastebuds, mobilising each division to pound at the palate with furious force.

Even the beer's commercial description is worded as if it were a taunt: "A group of hop-heads and publicans challenged our Beer Camp (#19) brewers to push the extremes of whole-cone hop brewing."

You wouldn't have been at all surprised if they'd continued: so we at Sierra Nevada thought 'right, we'll show those bastards' and pistol-whipped them with the heaviest of our heavy artillery.

Bittered with whole-cone Magnum, it uses heaps more whole-cone Simcoe and a new proprietary strain for aroma and dry-hopping.

As if that wasn't enough, it's then torpedoed through whole-cone Citra and Chinook. Basically a combination of some of the biggest, baddest varieties you can find.

Hardly a surprise, then, that it smells absolutely bloody amazing. It's one of those that leaps out at you the second you pop the cap, huge resinous hop aromas instantly filling the air.

To call the aroma floral wouldn't really do it justice. It's a heady mix of pungent perfumed notes, with rose, jasmine, cedar and pine mingling to form a thick cloud that hangs in the air. There's some lychee present too and a generous glob of sticky toffee malt adds richness and depth.

It pours an attractive clear golden brown, with a small white head that leaves cobwebs of lacing down the glass.

Having been given ample warning by the aroma, nothing in the taste comes as a surprise but it's big... as big as that weird 80s film starring Tom Hanks.

A robust sweetness of caramel and honey coats the tongue, putting in the groundwork for the hops to start their assault.

Powerful pine begins pounding away, soon joined by rose, lilac and fruitier notes of orange zest and light grapefruit, with a squeeze of lime coming through at the end.

The finish is intensely bitter, befitting something that packs a powerful 100 IBU, but is held well by the heavy malt and accompanied by a reassuring warmth from the alcohol.

A mouth-numbing stickiness lasts in the mouth long after the bottle was finished but, surprisingly, my tastebuds survived intact.

Monday, 17 February 2014 13:44

Duvel Tripel Hop (2013)

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Duvel Tripel HopDuvel Tripel Hop Sorachi Ace

Bottle, 9.5% ABV

Sorachi Ace.

Those two words are enough to put an inane grin on the mugs of a thousand beer geeks and cause a thousand more to recoil in disgust.

Few issues in the world of beer are quite as divisive.

Well, perhaps apart from a discussion I overheard in the pub the other night about method of dispense - the bearded old-timer in the sandals and the beardier youngster in the plaid shirt seemed pretty heated about it anyway.

But hops are clearly far more important than that. It's about what's put in the beer, innit?

Sorachi Ace was a strain originally developed by Japanese giant Sapporo for use in its range of hugely uninspired beers but has more recently found favour with the craft crowd - almost to the extent where you ain't a craft brewer if you ain't used Sorachi.

Many laud its lemony character or liken the fresh, fragrant profile to Thai cuisine but others detest the dill flavour that frequently shines through. More still pick up coconut, bubblegum and onion or dismiss it as unpleasantly oily.

This unusually wide range of taste experience is probably the root of the 'marmite effect' but I love Sorachi Ace's bold, distinctive characteristics. There's absolutely no mistaking it in a beer.

Duvel's most recent triple hop effort must rank as one of the best recent examples of Sorachi at work.

It pours clear, light yellow with a rocky white head that leaves faint lacing all down the glass.

The aroma is clean and bright, providing a fresh breath of grass, lemon, white grape and green apple. The hops add a further fragrant dimension of lemongrass and flowers, while the yeast comes through strongly, tingling the nose with peppery spice.

The taste blends sweet, sour and spicy, in an often balanced but sometimes uneven manner.

First, subtle sweetness comes from the malt before the vivid, citrus hop flavours ring loud and clear, lemon and orange adding a fantastic juicy sourness.

Sharp tartness then develops into a vinous Sauvignon Blanc character and ultimately yields to a cutting, bitter zestiness.

Meanwhile, pepper, spice and floral notes jump around the tongue and there's a lingering creaminess, somewhat reminiscent of lemon meringue pie. The Sorachi lends a bit of oiliness to the mouthfeel but it's also highly carbonated and finishes extremely dry.

An incredibly enjoyable beer, which would surely go a long way to converting many of the Sorachi doubters.

Friday, 14 February 2014 14:02

Brasserie Saint-Germain & Nøgne Ø Rhub'IPA

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Brasserie Saint-Germain RhubIPABrasserie Saint-Germain/Nøgne Ø Rhub'IPA

Bottle from the Liquor Shop, Whitefield, 6.9% ABV

Rhubarb beer eh?

You wait ages for one and then two come along in the space of a month.

Well, to be honest, I hadn't exactly been waiting with baited breath for rhubarb beer to enter my life but still, it's a bit odd that I got to try this just weeks after sampling Ilkley's excellent Speyside Siberia - an unexpected pick up from excellent new Whitefield retailer the Liquor Shop.

But, despite their shared ingredient, the two beers are entirely different beasts.

While the rhubarb in Speyside Siberia was soft and subtle, one of many varied layers, it's far more assertive in this collaboration between Brasserie Saint-Germain andNøgne Ø, frantically flexing its muscles in a bid to steal attention from the equally hulking hops.

It looks more Belgian blonde than IPA - pouring a hazy, golden peach with a thick, fluffy white head - and the same can probably be said for the aroma and taste too. It's certainly not a resinous hop bomb and although the malt base is robust, it's more bread than caramel or toffee.

Sour stewed rhubarb cuts through the air after pouring, overpowering the odd wave of lemon and orange, but there's also a heavy yeast presence on the tail, musty spice, clove and funk hanging heavily in the background.

Immediately after the first sip, a honey sweetness oozes across the front of the palate, lightened somewhat by the sunny presence of juicy tangerine.

Slowly, a tartness begins to creep in, initially characterised by citrus zest but increasingly dominated by rhubarb as it crawls towards the back of the tongue. Ultimately, a fresh, clean sourness takes hold, not dissimilar to the sensation created by biting into a fresh gooseberry.

But, no sooner has the sourness arrived than it fades as warming spice builds and the long finish dries the mouth, leaving just a small lump of stewed rhubarb sat on the back of the tongue.

I think I might be getting a taste for this rhubarb lark.

Thursday, 13 February 2014 12:31

Ilkley Speyside Siberia

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Ilkley Speyside SiberiaIlkley Speyside Siberia

Bottle from Carrington's, Didsbury, 8.8% ABV

Siberia conjures images of stark desolation. Of cold, barren emptiness and rugged menace - nature at its most uncomplicated and least forgiving.

Given that uncompromising reputation, this beer risks bringing shame to the name.

It's neither frosty nor forbidding, rather warm, complex and inviting. More rhubarb crumble in a cosy Yorkshire farmhouse than shot of vodka in a barren wasteland.

The standard version of this particular beer failed to rouse those emotions in me but this particular batch has returned from its own, self-imposed Siberia (six months in oak whisky casks) to prove absence does make the heart grow fonder.

It's returned stronger (at 8.8% ABV compared to 5.9%) and more enigmatic, although the effects of the whisky aren't immediately evident.

It pours a hazy, golden peach with a small crackly head that disappears almost as soon as it has formed.

The aroma's instantly reassuring - indulgent and elegant yet earthy and honest. Stewed rhubarb throbs gently, at once soft and hearty, while smooth strokes of vanilla are interrupted by the odd jab of sharp citrus.

Sweet and sour mingle on the palate like yin and yang, forming an invigorating alliance that rolls across the tongue tingling and caressing as it goes.

Rhubarb stewed with honey gives way to sharper notes of gooseberry and sour apricot before a cloud of spice descends somewhere in the middle of the tongue.

This quickly lifts to reveal a long, dry finish which sweeps aside everything in its path bar the dull ache of oak and a lingering sourness.

It's a shame they only made 700 bottles of this collaboration with renowned sommALEier Melissa Cole but lucky I got one of them, so I couldn't care less about you lot.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 13:10

Beavertown Quelle Saison

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Beavertown Quelle SaisonBeavertown Quelle Saison

Bottle from the Liquor Shop, Prestwich, 4.1% ABV

Ah, the saison. A staple of the craft world for what's seemed like an eternity.

Just when you thought you'd seen them all, another pops up demanding attention. You'd have more chance keeping tabs on a litter of rabbits.

That aside, it also seems a little strange that Beavertown would choose this time of year to give birth to their latest baby. After all, the saison is more typically a child of the summer.

In fact, if it had been cracking flags when I cracked this open, it might have put an entirely different emphasis on the occasion.

Heavily hopped, with Simcoe taking a lead role, and light in the body, this would make an ideal companion for a sunny afternoon spent doing little else than lounging in the garden.

Instead, it's a little lost at the height of the British winter and failed to properly hit the spot at a time when I'm more accustomed to drinking big, brassy stouts.

It pours pale golden yellow, with a heavy haze and a thin, crackling head that recedes to leave the slightest halo of foam around the top of the beer.

The aroma is loaded full of the aforementioned Simcoe, that domineering brute of the hop world, packing in plenty of apricot, pineapple and lemon. Lurking somewhere in the background are subtle notes of spice, pepper and yeasty funk but it's clear the hops, rather than the yeast, are the stars here.

That trend continues in the tasting. The body is light and slightly watery but doesn't lack flavour and a wave of juicy tropical fruit immediately slaps against the front of the tongue.

Pineapple and ripe peach lead towards a more robust citrus character, dominated by lemon and orange peel, with a mild zesty bitterness that lasts throughout the dry finish.

But if you're waiting for the yeast to make its mark, you might end up perpetually twiddling your thumbs.

The merest hint of funk suggests this is a saison but, otherwise, it seems more like a light-bodied, hoppy pale ale, maybe unsurprising given the strength.

It's not a bad beer, just not what might be expected.

Friday, 17 January 2014 15:31

The Christmas leftovers

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Anchor Christmas Ale 2013Anchor Christmas Ale 2013

Bottle, 5.5%

Ilkley Mary Christmas

Bottle, 4.7%

Like delving in the January bargain bins for cheap Christmas tat, here's a late round-up of two leftover festive ales.

It was a story of one I expected to like, one I didn't and two that confounded initial expectations.

I've explained elsewhere on this blog that I'm not a fan of Christmas beers. In fact, I think they're generally shite.

There's just something about throwing a load of spices into one of the standard range and giving it a 'funny' festive name that doesn't sit right with me.

So Ilkley's Mary Christmas didn't seem to stand a chance - the name being a play on best-selling pale ale Mary Jane.

Anchor's Christmas Ale, on the other hand, is marked by restrained branding and a proud history, having been produced as a seasonal special for the past 39 years.

Each year, the recipe changes, so you never know what you're getting. This year, I'd rather have maintained that sense of mystery.

It poured dark brown, verging on black, with a reddish mahogany tint running through it and a big, off-white head that left gentle lacing around the glass.

Strong aromas weren't immediately present but after sticking my nose into the glass, I knew I was in for a slightly odd experience.

It mixes a dizzying number of aromas and flavours, not all of which are entirely pleasant and not all of which you'd necessarily put together.

The nose is overwhelmingly sweet and herbal, like what you'd expect from tipping all the green-topped jars from the spice rack over a pot of brandy-soaked raisins and cherries.

Strangely, I also picked up a clear scent of bubblegum, which yielded to a late waft of coca-cola punctuated by a smidgeon of chalky chocolate and cinnamon.

Upon taking my first mouthful, all I could think was 'sarsaparilla'. Now, if you've ever been to one of those Victorian recreation museums or an East End pie and mash shop (both are a window into a past time, after all), you might know what I mean.

There's a reason sarsaparilla's popularity didn't endure much past the 19th century and that's because nobody wants to drink a soft drink that tastes like a sickly sweet mix of liquorice, herbs and cough syrup.

There was simply no recovering from this bad start. The sarsaparilla morphed into root beer and cola with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg but none of these flavours could calm my angry tastebuds.

Ilkley Mary Christmas

The heavy sweetness faded but failed to mellow, instead swinging to the opposite extreme and producing an unpleasantly astringent finish dotted with black pepper.

Light notes of dried cherry and blueberry emerged late on but, by that time, it was far too late. I can only hope the 2014 version represents a return to form.

Mary Christmas, on the other hand, proved to be something of a dark horse.

Few beers genuinely surprise me these days, so it was great to be caught off-guard by something that shattered all preconceptions and allowed me to taste with a completely clear mind.

Pouring a dazzlingly clear, golden amber with a short-lived foamy head, it quickly fills the air with a strong blend of Christmas smells.

Cinnamon buns, brandy butter, demerara sugar, nutmeg and ginger snaps - it's like a list of favourite things from the Sound of Music.

Despite these heavy, often overpowering flavours, the beer is fairly light in body but it actually works as a benefit in this instance, ensuring it slips down easily rather than sticking in the throat.

Refreshing lemon and crisp grass come as a pleasant surprise, cleaning the palate for the arrival of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger biscuits. Rum and raisin joins the party fashionably late, sticking around throughout a dry, bittersweet finish.

I knew my mum was right when she told me I should never judge a book by its cover.

Thursday, 16 January 2014 13:16

Thornbridge Chiron

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Thornbridge Chiron bottleThornbridge Chiron

Keg at Old Court House, Buxton, 5% ABV

What can you say about Thornbidge that hasn't already been said?

Stalwarts of British microbrewing, perennial award-winners and drinkers' favourites - their reputation for excellence has long been established, to the point where this review might be regarded as somewhat futile.

Particularly impressive is the ability to constantly innovate while simultaneously showing respect and deference to the origins and traditions of the art. That and the sheer unerring consistency of their beers, whether bottled or draught .

Put simply, whenever you spend money on a product bearing the Thornbridge logo, you're virtually guaranteed it'll be a sound investment.

So, the point of this review is less to provide another judgement and more to shine the spotlight on an unsung hero.

Jaipur and Kipling are often the names that roll off the tongue, particularly among casual drinkers, whenever Thornbidge is mentioned and Halcyon too has cultivated a fearsome reputation.

In such assertive company, it's easy to get shunted into the background and, while well-loved, Chiron isn't as loudly heralded.

Thornbridge Chiron kegClean, fresh and thirst-quenching, it is eminently sessionable, even at a reasonably potent 5% ABV, making it one of my 'go-to' drinks during Britain's notoriously long, hot summers. But no matter what time of the year you drink it, it's just so openly enjoyable.

There's no pomp or pretence, just pleasure. The pleasure that comes from an uncomplicated, well-constructed guzzler of a beer that offers the perfect counterpoint to many of the more challenging hop monsters we're inundated with these days.

I was given a timely reminder of this fact at the Old Court House in Buxton, a cosy little pub next door to the Buxton Brewery Tap House that now carries a solid range of Thornbridge beers, making it well worth a visit after you've finished gorging yourself on Axe Edge.

During my recent visit, Bavarian pilsner Bayern was on excellent form but Chiron remained the clear stand-out.

As usual, its looks matched its taste - the crystal-clear golden liquid topped by a neat, frothy white head, which sticks around right till the death.

Floral and citrus notes intertwine in the nose to create a sensation not dissimilar to a lungful of fresh country breeze. Lemongrass, grapefruit and orange zest forge a clear path through the sinuses, while fuzzy peach and summer flowers tickle lightly.

Unsurprisingly for a Thornbridge beer, the malting is spot on, honey biscuit and fluffy brioche providing a springboard for the hops to hit impressive heights.

Piquant lemon and grapefruit mingle with apricot and peach, while sherbet fizzes on the tongue, ultimately giving way to the developing presence of tangerine zest and a crisp, bitter finish. That bitterness is far from overpowering, however, helped along by lingering floral hops, subtle yet aromatic in the aftertaste.

I've occasionally heard critics complain that Chiron lacks complexity. If that's true then I'm more than happy to forfeit complexity for something this damn drinkable.