Category Archives: beer reviews

Pre-WWII US IPA and a Euro-Mashup

We tasted two beers from our end of 2014 wish list last night: BrewDog’s collaboration with Weihenstephan, India Pale Weizen, and a recreation of the fabled Ballantine IPA.

Well, sort of. The latter was not the recent effort released by Pabst, which we’re still desperate to try, but an entirely different beer produced as a collaboration between two US breweries, Stone and Smuttynose. Will it soon be possible to have a bar selling nothing but Ballantine clones? Possibly.

If there’s a theme to this post, it’s old meets new, and the idea of sliding scales. You’ll see what we mean.

India Pale Weizen

6.2%, 330ml, from Red Elephant, Truro; £2.60 at BrewDog’s own online store

With apologies to the ‘all that matters is the taste’ crowd, what got us interested in this beer was the idea of the Scottish upstarts BrewDog collaborating with the centuries-old German brewery Weihenstephan. Our assumption was that they would meet halfway and create the perfect beer for a pair of fence-sitters like us.

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Boak & Bailey’s Golden Pints 2014

Prompted by Andy Mogg at Beer Reviews, here are our nominations for the best bevvies, bars, book and blogs in the world of beer in 2014.

Bearing in mind that we live a long way from where the action is and haven’t been abroad, our choices are perhaps a bit parochial and conservative. In general, though we try to keep a bit of distance and remain objective, you might also want to cross-reference this lot against our disclosure page. And who knows how this list might have looked if we’d written it yesterday, or tomorrow.

Best UK Cask Beer: St Austell Proper Job

Proper Job pump clip.After much over-thinking, we decided that we wanted to recognise a beer from one of our local breweries, of which we have drunk several pints every week, usually at the Yacht Inn in Penzance, and which consistently delighted us — that is, made us say ‘Ooh!’ and ‘Ah!’ The peachy, pithy, juicy aroma gets us every time, laid over a clean, fresh-tasting beer with no rough-edges at all. Through compromise rather than design, it’s been an American-style IPA at session strength for some years, which is now apparently all the rage. We expect to drink lots more of it in 2015.

Best UK Keg Beer: Brew By Numbers Cucumber & Juniper Saison

Brew by Numbers Cucumber and Juniper Saison.At first, we struggled to think of any keg beers we’d drunk often enough to form a strong opinion — we dabbled with a lot of one-off glasses in Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol and London, but didn’t go back for seconds of many or any. Then we recalled this beer which we enjoyed back in June and liked enough to seek out for a second session. A gimmicky beer from a brewery whose beers we don’t find universally brilliant, it nonetheless knocked us for six — the beer equivalent of a classic ‘fruit cup’. (We have also found it good in bottles, but not as good as from the keg.)

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Thornbridge Tzara

Thornbridge beer bottle caps.The most convincing Kölsch you’ll taste outside Cologne and, debates over style and stylistic sub-divisions aside, one of the best lager beers around. The most impressive thing about it is the malt character — solid enough to chew on. Not flashy but classy, and a real demonstration of brewing skill. (Here’s what we said back in February.)

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Beers With a Pinch of Place

For as long as we’ve been pondering what ‘local’ means in terms of beer, we’ve also been interested in beers made with ingredients that evoke the place of their origin.

In the last year, others have crystallised that into a conversation across various blog posts and articles, of which there have been a particular flurry in recent weeks.

The idea that what is at hand — what grows in nearby fields or hedgerows — might shape the design of a beer is alluring and, frankly, rather obvious to anyone who’s ever clapped eyes on, say, bright yellow gorse flowers, or glossy rosehips. Realising that our stash contained a few beers which make a virtue of containing unusual place-specific ingredients, we decided now was a good time to taste them, with a question in mind: does this approach create tastier or at least more interesting beers?

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Beers of Convenience in London

A weekend in London meant seven hours of trains and replacement buses, 48 hours of dashing about on DLR, tube and suburban services, and another seven hours back.

Running from one bit of family business to another, our beer choices were dictated largely by convenience. Nevertheless, at Tap East dropping off books, and then again for our signing event on Saturday afternoon, we managed to drink draught beers from Wild Beer Co, Rooster’s, Ilkley, Firebrand, Burning Sky, Pig & Porter and Tap East’s own on-site brewery.

We enjoyed some more than others (Pig & Porter Honey Wheat impressed us in particular) but, based on a single serving in most cases, wouldn’t want to say too much more than that.

There was one beer, however, that tempted us away from ticking and into repeat orders: the Tap East house American Pale Ale (cask, 4.4%). It was a faintly-hazy, pale orange, fresh fruit salad of a beer with none of the raw savouriness that we’ve found off-putting in similar products from other breweries. We’re not much good at guessing hop varieties but we thought, in this case, that we might be experiencing a face full of Amarillo. The website, though, suggests Citra and Chinook. At any rate, just as vanilla tricks the senses by association, something about the hops here made the beer smell sweet, like mango juice or boiling apricot jam. It was good value, too, at not much more than £3 a pint.

* * *

Heading from the book event to a birthday party, we stopped off to pick up some bottled beer at bloody Waitrose. We say bloody Waitrose because every time we mention supermarket beer on the blog, someone will say, ‘You should try Waitrose — their selection is excellent!’ and, every time, we reply, ‘Our nearest Waitrose is in Devon, two hours away by public transport.’ But, yes, based on this visit to the branch in Westfield Stratford, Waitrose is streets ahead of the competition: Oakham Citra and Scarlet Macaw, Thornbridge Wild Swan, Meantime Porter, Meantime IPA, Crouch Vale Amarillo, and, as they say in infomercials, many, many more. They weren’t especially expensive either — c.£2.10 for most 500ml bottles.

Disclosure: we paid for our drinks on the first trip to Tap East (Friday) but got most of them on the house during the signing event (Saturday); and Boak’s little brother works behind the bar there.

One of Those Trendy Milds

On Saturday, we made the 15 minute bus trip to the Star Inn at Crowlas, home of the Penzance Brewing Co, to meet a couple of friends who’d never been before.

They’re fairly into beer but like what they like: malty bitters and porters, and definitely not anything that smells of grapefruit. It is fortunate, then, that Peter Elvin, head brewer at PZBC and landlord of the Star, has recently taken a break from brewing pale’n’hoppy golden ales to produce what we understand is his first ever dark mild.

We were, frankly, excited to see it, so starved are we of mild down here in Cornwall.

At 3.6%, it was perfect session strength. Mr Elvin being obsessive about beer clarity and vocally critical of brewers who use caramel for colouring, we weren’t surprised to find it perfectly transparent — deep conker-brown rather than black. It was surprising, however, to find that it tasted like stout-lite, with plenty of roasted grain character, and the balance more towards bitter than sweet.

But what can you usefully say about a fairly by-the-book mild? It was flavoursome, good value (£2.60 a pint), and kept out the increasing wintry chill without getting us legless.

And this might count as a ‘top tip': it was especially good alternated with pints of citrusy, fruity Potion 9, each beer making the other taste more essentially of itself by contrast.