Patreon’s Choice: De Molen Not For Sale Ale — Craft Lager

Not for Sale Ale -- Craft Lager

We asked our Patreon subscribers to suggest some beers for us to taste and Chris Gooch chose this one: “I’m dying to know what the De Molen Not for Sale Ale is like. An initiative that deserves a lot of support.”

The initiative he mentions started in Sweden and is dedicated to tackling human trafficking and modern slavery. One hundred per cent of the profits from this beer, brewed in the Netherlands, go to the Not for Sale campaign. We bought our bottles from Honest Brew at a quite reasonable £2.89 per 330ml, plus delivery.

It’s a hazy yellow beer with high carbonation. The aroma is a back-and-forth of straightforward citrus hop and pungent, funky, overripe fruit. There’s perhaps a bit of vegetable or leafy herb in there, too.

It tastes of green apple, orange pith and brown bread, before seguing into the kind of bitterness that hangs around, feeding back on itself until there’s no bandwidth left.

We liked it a lot, with only some very slight nitpicking reservations about those vegetal notes. It’s bright, full of flavour and character, and quite distinctive. If we had to compare it to another beer it would be the single-hop Cascade ale brewed by Castle Rock for M&S a few years ago (and, what do you know, De Molen does use Cascade in this beer) except it’s quirkier and dirtier, in the best possible sense.

Is it a lager? In technical terms, no. It’s even less like lager than our experiments in brewing Helles with Goldings and Maris Otter — more fruity and funky, in fact, than many packaged and pacified British ales. But in terms of how you might use it? Yes, it fits in the lager slot. It tastes great cold, bites at the back of the throat, doesn’t demand your full attention, and tastes primarily of malt and hops. And, at 4.7% ABV, you could probably tackle a few in a row if you had the taste.

We’d definitely buy this again even if 100 per cent of the profits were going into somebody’s pocket. It’s our kind of beer.

QUICK ONE: Greene King Heritage Beers Pt. 2

Illustration: Victoriana.

A couple of weeks ago we tried Greene King’s ‘Heritage’ beers and gave them what we thought was a quite clearly caveated thumbs-up. But maybe the caveats need to be bigger in future.

Commenting on Facebook, one passerby disagreed bluntly with our assessment, adding: “Saying something is the best Greene King have made isn’t really saying much either.” And, yes, that’s sort of the point we wanted to get across, in our weaselly way. We certainly weren’t saying that Greene King is now our favourite brewery, or that these are contenders for beers of the year. Greene King’s marketing department read it correctly and wisely omitted that line when they used us to blurb the products.

Still, when we tried the pale ale again a few days later it tasted no less impressive, and we’ve seen some positive reactions from others on social media, often along the same lines: people who aren’t normally Greene King boosters, who were prepared to be let down, conceding that these are a step up.

Meanwhile, Greene King’s use of the word ‘heritage’ niggled with Steve Dunkley from Manchester brewery Beer Nouveau. We met Steve once and have followed him on social media for years and what is clear is that he’s the sort of bloke who does things properly, if he’s going to do them at all. Accordingly, his own historic recreations are painstaking to the nth degree, and he is clearly uneasy about the Greene King’s efforts and others of their ilk.

He argues that beers with HERITAGE on the label ought to use both a historic recipe and heritage ingredients; otherwise they are merely ‘inspired by’ or, worse, just normal beers in fancy clothing. We wouldn’t disagree with that, fundamentally. Transparency and clarity are important and consumers shouldn’t have to undertake their own detective work to establish that a product they’re buying is what the packaging implies. But these Greene King beers, we think, are pretty clear that they’re ‘inspired by’ in the explanatory copy. We underlined that in our review, too.

Another point that’s been made to us by brewer Shane Swindells, both directly and elsewhere, including in the comments on our review, is that these beers don’t really express Chevallier malt character. We wouldn’t know about that because we’ve not had chance to try many beers made with Chevallier but his suggestion that GK might have used this specialist product in rather sparing amounts purely for the sake of the label doesn’t seem unlikely, now we reflect on it. Shane makes a couple of heritage malt beers himself which he tells us do express the malt character to an almost challenging degree in case you want to investigate further.

All this has helped us clarify something, anyway: interested as we are in full-on, serious historic recreations, we also just want to see more old-fashioned beers. We’re sure there’s room in the market for both Heritage with a capital H and inspired-bys, and the beers that will be displaced by inspired-bys aren’t Shane and Steve’s — they’re the dull bottled bitters and diminished big brands of the late 20th century that coast by on goodwill, nostalgia and inoffensiveness. If GK’s experiments with heritage beers translate into a bump in bitterness and a change in character for some of their mainline products, that’ll be a good outcome.

The GK Heritage beers got discounted pretty swiftly by Tesco, though, so perhaps the world outside the beerosphere didn’t agree with our assessment. In which case, it’s likely nothing much will change at all.

Yes, Greene King — More of This

For some years now we’ve been repeating one message: old family brewers should be focusing on their heritage, not trying to keep up with BrewDog. So we were delighted to hear that Greene King has upped its historic beer game.

Their new limited edition bottled heritage range doesn’t quite approach the full-on authenticity of Fuller’s Past Masters series being, as far as we can tell, only vaguely ‘inspired by’ archive recipes rather than painstakingly recreating them. What is notable is their use of a once near-extinct variety of malting barley, Chevallier, the revival of which you can read about here:

Starting a few years ago with only a handful of seeds, by 2013 half a tonne was available for brewing…. Now the 2015 harvest is nudging 200 tonnes and there’s Chevallier malt aplenty. With another 15 tonnes reserved for seed, the expectation is that similar harvests will be possible in future years…. “People that have tasted it say that it has a very rich, malty flavour. We’ve had comments back from the States such as, ‘It’s the most aromatic malt that I’ve ever brewed with.’ … There’s a perception of a difference, of richer maltiness.”

We bought one bottle of each of Greene King’s heritage beers at our local Tesco supermarket for £2.49 each. That’s a touch pricier than many bog standard supermarket ales but then the bottles are full-pint sized and the beers are both relatively strong.

Suffolk Pale Ale at 5% ABV knocked our socks off. We found it vigorously bitter, almost too much so, with a remarkable freshness that suggests the pop of just ripe gooseberries. (It’s bottle-conditioned which perhaps helps.) It has a beautiful aroma which is hard to pin down — a certain sappiness might be the way to describe it, with some suggestion of fresh-baked bread. There’s nothing of the new world about it though the use of German hops (obvious once you read the label) offer a subtle twist, herbal rather than fruity. If you can’t bothered to brew one of the 19th century pale ale recipes from Ron Pattinson’s book this is a decent substitute. It’s delicious, thought provoking, and perhaps the best Greene King beer we’ve ever tasted. In fact, it’s one of the best beers we’ve come across in recent months.

Vintage Fine Ale at 6.5% less brilliant but it’s still very much a step in the right direction for Greene King. Deep red-brown in colour it has a distinct autumnal feel. On the plus side there were the various facets of richness — golden syrup, Christmas pudding and plums. The only things holding it back were a husky stale note (which we suspect might disappear with a few months ageing) and the fact that Fuller’s already makes similar but better beers in this style. On the whole, though, we liked it and would — indeed probably will — buy it again.

Let’s hope these sell well, that the Pale Ale becomes a regular, and that there are more heritage beers to come. But, seriously, when do we get the funk? Bring out the nip bottles of 5X and let’s get some blending going.

Checking in On Wylam and Northern Monk

Last year we hatched a grand plan to try beers that other bloggers named in their Christmas 2016 Golden Pints posts. That didn’t quite come off but did prompt us, eventually, to revisit Wylam and Northern Monk.

We bought the following beers from Beer Ritz with the support of Patreon subscribers like Alec Latham and Will Jordan — thanks, folks!

  • Northern Monk Heathen, 440ml can, £4.16
  • Northern Monk Mango Lassi Heathen, 440ml can, £4.87
  • Wylam Table Beer, 330ml bottle, £2.51
  • Wylam Sweetleaf IPA, 440ml can, £4.50
  • Wylam Slack Jaw IPA, 330ml bottle, £3.12

Heathen IPA was one of the specific beers on the Golden Pints master list, described by Simon Girt (@LeedsBeerWolf) as having ‘consistent, dank, juicy appeal’. In its big, colourful can it certainly looked exciting and enticing. Pale and hazy, our first reaction was, oof, onion soup! The body is velvety and milky, even creamy, with a chewable calcium tablet quality. Beyond the onion we got weed, armpits, and the stink of overripe fruit sitting in the sun. It’s not our kind of thing, especially at 7.2% ABV, but is one of the better examples of this kind of beer we’ve encountered — as clean and precise as the style permits.

Mango Lassi IPA.
It’s near-relation, Mango Lassi Heathen, smelled much more appealing — sweet and summery, all pop art and shower gel. It contains real mango but doesn’t taste ‘flavoured’. It too is milky with a delicate yogurt acidity of such subtlety that we might even have completely imagined it based on the beer’s name. There is a lime-peel kick, too, which brings to mind beach-side cocktails. It is full of fizz and prickle and, for us, easier drinking than straight Heathen, albeit not quite as exciting or outlandish as the name promises. And, ouch, that price tag. (This one was a 2016 Golden Pints pick from the Beernomicon podcast AKA @Beernomicon.)

We should say that, overall, we feel quite warm towards Northern Monk, whose core beers are among the most reliable and best value around. If you like this type of beer, you’ll probably like these particular beers. If you don’t, they won’t convert you.

Wylam DH.

These next three weren’t on any specific Golden Pints lists but Wylam generally did well and throughout 2017 seemed to buzz away in the background, quietly impressing people, so we reckon it’s a brewery that warrants frequent check-ins.

DH Table Beer, which offered a pleasing inversion of a familiar narrative. At only 3.5% ABV and with a mere three months to run on the best before countdown we expected it to be knackered and thus earn us some ‘drink fresh’ reprimands; but, in reality, it could hardly have tasted fresher — as if they’d somehow captured and packaged a spring breeze as it passed over a field of young grass. It’s an interesting beer, too — lemony, coconutty and very dry, with a quirky Belgian yeast character that brings to mind the weakest of the Chimay’s or Elusive’s wonderful Plan-B. Perhaps the long shelf-life is explained by the high bitterness, which in turn seems to be pleasingly softened by the light haze. It is perhaps a touch too raw and rustic but what it is not is boring, or stale, or dull, or dirty. We’d drink this again.

Slackjaw IPA was, by contrast, rather a disappointment. Is it supposed to taste a touch salty, and have that faint sourness? Beyond that, even at a mere 6%, it tastes like a dark double IPA of the 2007 school in which caramel malts and hops combine to suggest strawberry jam. It was passable, certainly drinkable, and red fruit plus acidity did add up to a certain freshly-squeezed quality. We suspect age and packaging problems might have dulled its edge and will certainly give it another chance, especially if we encounter it on tap.

Finally there came Sweet Leaf, a big, modern IPA (7.4%) in a big, modern can. Yellow and cloudy it certainly looked the part and threw up a wonderful ornamental garden aroma of fleshy flowers and strange fruit. The flavour combination — green onion and sweet pineapple — didn’t quite work for us but was certainly distinctive. A bit of dirtiness in the aftertaste was also distracting. Overall, though, it would seem to be another solid example of the style of the day, and might be just the thing for palates fatigued by excesses of citrus.

Wylam, then, stay in about the same place on our mental rankings: capable of great things, but lacking the polish and reliability of, say, Thornbridge.

Patreon’s Choice #4: Boundary Brewing

This is the fourth in a series of posts with notes on beers chosen for us by our Patreon subscribers. (If you want bonus posts and to steer what we write about sign up for the price of half-a-pint per month.)

The Beer Nut (Twitter, must-read blog) suggested that we try some beers from Boundary, a brewing company based in Belfast, Northern Ireland:

They’ve been on my “Hmm, not sure” list for a while, even as their recipes get more and more ambitious. I don’t see many of their beers where I live and am curious as to how they’re getting on.

Here’s how Boundary describes itself on its website:

We are a Cooperative Brewery in Belfast owned and run by our members. Opening our doors in 2014, we are the first brewery in NI to bring together modern US styles with the more traditional Belgian/French style beers.

What this seems to mean in practice is some variation on crowdfunding whereby investors of various sizes invest in and co-own the company, in exchange for beer and parties, with the promise of interest and dividends “when it is appropriate”.

We bought our selection of their beer via Beer Ritz online and tackled them in ascending order of alcoholic strength (up the ladder) as is our usual approach.

Four beers from Boundary in their glasses.

First came the American Pale Ale at 3.5% ABV and £2.53 per 330ml bottle. Unfortunately, this was what we’d call an outright dud. There was a dab of acid, the spectre of some malt flavour, and then a long trudge through papery, saliva-like, watery nothingness. At the end we thought we detected a faint chilli-like burn that we’re fairly certain wasn’t supposed to be there. We wished for it to be more bitter, more fruity, boozier, or even sweeter — just more something.

Next came G.O.A.T. which is billed as a New England IPA at 4.8% and £2.77 per 330ml. This one, at least, had a pleasing aroma — that have-an-Outspan, electric air-freshener zap you get from Cloudwater or BrewDog takes on this style. It looked like a textbook NEIPA, too, which is to say distinctly overcast, and lurking somewhere between grey and green. The flavour was a let down, though, reminding us distinctly of the time we tried to make a German-style wheat beer with dried ale yeast. The word we kept using was dirty. We struggled to finish this one and, indeed, didn’t.

The bigger NEIPA in the set, Forever Ago, has an ABV of 6% and cost £3.13 for 330ml. This had less aroma than G.O.A.T. and was also less hazy. It had a really rough foretaste — it actually made us say, “Ugh!” — with some off-putting sourness, too. There was some apricot or mango in there but, again, not enough to drown out the bum notes or sell the beer. Perhaps this might have been better if we’d drunk it the week it was bottled but it had a best before date of August 2018 so surely shouldn’t have tasted so completely exhausted.

Finally, Export Stout at 7% cost £3.43 per 330ml and — thank goodness as we are beginning to feel mean — was very decent. A hint of acidity here works to underline a sour cherry character, which in turn harmonises with a dusty, musty dark chocolate truffle character. We might have preferred more body and sweetness but, without them, it pulls of the trick of seeming vaguely Belgian. Was there even, perhaps, a hint of Brettanomyces in action? We would generally expect a bit more from a beer at this strength and price but we enjoyed it and would certainly try other dark beers from Boundary.