Brasserie 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.
Mikkeller Amarillo IPA
Bottle, 6.8% ABV
I've got a thing for Amarillo. In fact, I could only love it more if I were a washed-up Sheffield singer in need of some quick cash.
It's a hop that has appealed to me from the start, particularly when used for aroma and flavour, due to its intense orange and grapefruit flavoursand juicy sweetness.
So I was immediately drawn to this edition of Mikkeller's single-hop series when browsing the shelves at the excellent Cotteridge Wines in Birmingham (trust me, pay them a visit as you won't be disappointed).
Mikkeller brewed 18 different 6.8% ABV single-hop beers in the same week, using malt from the same batches, the same yeast and the same fermentation temperatures. The aim, of course, was to showcase the unique properties of each hop - a noble quest and one that helps drinkers to better understand their tastes and preferences by isolating the specific characteristics of each strain.
Surprisingly, it pours a murky burnt orange colour – almost brown in certain light – with a thick dirty orange head that quickly dissipates to leave just the slightest layer of bubbles sat tentatively atop the beer. I was expecting something a bit lighter than this but the darkness proved strangely alluring.
As expected, the aromas are beautifully pungent, encompassing orange zest, peach, pineapple and some light resinous notes. But the hop really starts to sing in the tasting, when the fruity characteristics are taken up another notch.
Delicate mandarin orange and pine get to work before powerful pink grapefruit comes charging through, throwing aside anything that dares to stand in its way.
Consequently, it's sharp and mouth-puckeringly bitter but never ruinously so, thanks to a firm undercurrent of biscuity malt that ensures the flavours flow smoothly.
A crisp finish is accompanied by a lasting bitterness that burrows into the corners of your mouth to leave a leave a constant reminder of Amarillo's vivid fruit flavours.
This is the way to make an Amarillo beer.
To Øl Blossom US Wheat Beer
Keg at Common, Manchester, 6.3% ABV
Up to this point, To Øl had been akin to a mythical beast for me.
I had heard countless tales of the Danish gypsies' incredible brewing prowess but had seen little evidence. Like the Loch Ness monster, they seemed much loved and revered despite few of my acquaintances having ever caught glimpse of their wares.
Bottles have proved hard enough to get hold enough and draught is rarer than a hen's tooth - there's been more credible sightings of Lord Lucan around Manchester.
So, on seeing the Blossom US Wheat Beer alongside Black Maria on the bar in Common, I almost fainted with a comination of shock and excitement.
On a rare sunny day in God's city, Blossom hit the spot with more accuracy than an Olympic archer.
It is brewed with a mixture of six different specially-made dried flowers, blue cornflower, hibiscus, marigold, rose flower, hawthorn flower and raspberry flowers. These flavours aren't abundantly clearn in the way you might expect but they give the beer a delicate floral taste and a sherberty zing.
The nose was incredible, a riot of vibrant fruit, tropical and citrus. The first sip unleashes lively fruit flavours, almost like a peach fromage frais, followed by more floral citrus delivered by the mixture of exotic flora and fauna.
Smooth creaminess helps it slip down quickly and a sharp citrus hops gives in a delightful thirst-quenching finish. They claim to have used 'a ton' of Simcoe, Citra, Galaxy and Amarillo hops and it shows - manna from heaven for a hop head like myself.
It is a wheat beer par excellence and only Schneider Weisse have produced anything comparable to my mind.
Mikkeller Texas Ranger
Bottle, 6.6% ABV
The description of this beer alone left me salivating like Homer Simpson in a doughnut factory.
A chipotle porter? Hmmm, OK.
Made by Mikkeller, you say? Yes, please continue.
Aged in Bourbon barrels? Oh sorry... Yeah it was just a bit of drool.
With cocoa beans and vanilla pods? I think I might need to sit down.
All that considered, I was more than happy to part with £10 for a bottle of the stuff, anticipating one of the greatest porter experiences of my life (and I'm a big fan of porter).
Unfortunately, it didn't quite hit the mark.
All the ingredients were there - it poured well with a thick, velvety mocha head and gave off aromas of rich chocolate, vanilla, oak and sweet bourbon.
Every expected element made itself known in the tasting too. Toasted malt and dark chocolate hit the palate immediately, followed by light, creamy vanilla, smoky oak and a hint of boozy bourbon. The chipotle was subtle at first but left a pleasant, lasting heat in the back of the throat.
'So what was the problem?' You may ask.
Well, the sum of those parts is a little less than should be expected. The beer lacked a little body and struggled to establish cohesion between the different flavours, leaving a few watery gaps on the palate and preventing it from fully satisfying.
That's not to say this isn't an eminently drinkable beer, just not quite the nectar of the gods I had expected. There are several other porters and stouts that would give you a bit more bang for your buck - Summer Wine's barrel-aged Kopikat for one.
Bottle, 8% ABV
For my latest post, I've gone digging in the vaults to drag out a little number I drank almost two years ago.
There are all sorts of tasting notes stashed away in numerous word documents, phone notes and emails, so I thought I'd let a few of them finally see the light of day.
Those who know me will know I'm a big fan of robust, hoppy IPAs and perhaps an even bigger fan of Orval, the Belgian classic. So when a friend told me about a beer that combined the two, my reaction, naturally, was 'hell yeah'. The hefty £11 price tag seemed miniscule when compared to the potential delights in store.
Yet I didn't quite get what I had bargained for.
That's not to say this beer disappointed - far from it. Gypsy brewers Mikkeller are well known for their eccentricities and this is another beer that has more than its fair share of quirks.
Described as a Belgian Wild Ale, it throws together British malt with American hops and Belgian Brett yeast to provide a taste that is quite unlike anything else. In that sense it is just like Orval, which similarly uses wild Brettanomyces in a manner that goes against the grain, but it would be amiss to compare the two as neither have any contemporaries.
USALive gets the juices flowing immediately after popping the top. The aroma combines light orange citrus with grassy hops and an inviting hint of spice and its appearance is a vivid burnt orange with a stunning, thick white head.
The taste certainly delivers on this early promise. Although the American hops (Tomahawk, Cascade and Amarillo) don't come through anywhere near as strong as might have been expected, they still work an absolute treat, providing flavours of zesty orange and juicy, sharp grapefruit. There is a slight bitterness but this quickly dissipates, well balanced by the sweet caramel malt and candy sugar.
That, in itself, would be enough to mark this out as a solid, drinkable beer but then the Brett leads a merry dance around your mouth, adding another dimension altogether. Earthy funkiness, spice and herbs heap several layers of complexity on top of a base that already sparked the interest.
Each sip brings out different flavours that previously may have gone unnoticed and suddenly, it's gone - leaving you confused and shell-shocked but instantly craving more. Incidentally, do get in touch if you can help with my next fix.