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.
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
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
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
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.)
The above is not an easy question to answer in 140 characters, so we thought we’d think aloud in a blog post.
If it’s in a fairly commonly available style (double IPA, imperial stout, barley wine) and therefore has plenty of competition, we might pay about £4 (drink at home) for the pleasure of ‘ticking’, and just in case it happens to be the Promised Beer.
Thereafter, unless it was better than BrewDog Hardcore IPA (£2.85), Brooklyn Chocolate Stout (£3.82) or Adnams Tally Ho (£1.83) we probably wouldn’t be in a hurry to buy it again at that price.
If it was in a rare example of a particular style, had a cult reputation, or was an attempt to recreate an historic beer, we could be talked up to £5. (We paid £9.73 for a 660ml bottle of an 8.3% clone of Ballantine IPA c.1932 yesterday, so about £4.86 per 330ml.)
3. BrewDog’s collaboration with Weihenstephan. This sounds intriguing, not least because there’s something appealing about one of the world’s oldest and most conservative brewers working with one of the most determinedly and self-consciously experimental. It shouldn’t be too hard to find, but it might require some tactical mail ordering.
5. Conwy’s Version of Dobbin’s Yakima Grande Pale Ale. Having spent all that time talking to and researching Brendan Dobbin for Brew Britannia, it would be a shame if we missed this chance to taste an approximation of his ground-breaking beer. It’s currently cask only and not distributed all that widely, though we hear there are plans to bottle it. If you see it on sale in bottles anywhere, or on cask in Cornwall, please let us know!
We spent a couple of nights this week drinking and thinking about the first batch of bottled porters in the running to be declared our go-to for this winter.
Without making any real attempt at objectivity — there were no red lightbulbs or concealed labels — we did try to hold each beer to the same standard.
First, before we got into thinking about the taste, we tried simply to react: did the first gobful turn us on?
Then we considered the extent to which it met our expectations of something with porter on the label, which is to say:
‘quaffable’, but with a bit more oomph than mild;
lighter bodied than Draught Guinness (the stout of reference); and
with flavour and aroma derived primarily from malt and sugar, rather than from hops or yeast.
The first candidates for serious consideration were all recommended as being equal to or better than Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter by our fellow beer geeks.
How did they taste?
We started with a beer we’ve known and loved for years — Fuller’s London Porter (5.4%, £17 for 8 × 500ml from their online store). First, yes, it has the wow factor: it is thrillingly good, without being angular or spiky. Smooth, but deep. It is pitch black, slightly bonfire-smoky, and pleasingly black-tea bitter. We couldn’t help compare it to its near-doppelganger from Sam Smith: Fuller’s take seems lighter-bodied, with less treacle. A bit more grown-up. We’ll double check that when we taste them together in a few weeks. It’s a contender.
Redemption Fellowship (5.1%, £2.99 per 500ml from Ales By Mail) was, by contrast, a disaster: it had almost no carbonation, and poured without a head. What’s the opposite of ‘wow factor’? We did our best to assess the flavour anyway and, rather to our surprise, found plenty to appreciate. It’s powerful tasting, slightly raw, almost too intense, and reminded us of chocolate covered coffee beans. It’s hard to judge body in a condition-free beer but it seemed appropriately middleweight. But, bearing in mind the idea here is to work out which beer to buy a case of, it‘s out of the running. We can’t afford to gamble on a box of duds.
Meantime/Marks & Spencer London Porter (5.5%, 3 for £6 in store) is another beer we know quite well. Drunk in the same session as Fuller’s, it did not come off all that well. There was no immediate spark of delight, and, at first we found it too light-bodied and almost fizzy, like Schwarzbier. (The power of suggestion, given that Meantime are best known for brewing lager?) On a superficial level, it’s red-brown translucency didn’t seem quite satisfying either. The flavour grew on us, suggesting iced coffee or even coffee cream chocolates, but it lacked depth. We’d buy it again, and ultimately enjoyed it, but as a contender for a bulk purchase? It’s out.
Where our heads are at
For better or worse, it occurs to us that Sam Smith’s and Fuller’s are at an immediate advantage in this exercise because, as the first porters we tasted, and those we’ve enjoyed most often, they define our expectations. We’ll see if some recalibration is required on the day of reckoning.
We also have spare bottles of Meantime and Redemption. They’re out of the grand final (heh!) but we’ll try to give them another go and update this post if we get ‘wow’ (or any sign of condition) on the second pass.
UPDATE 21/11/2014: Andy atRedemption emailed us to say that he’d ordered bottles of Fellowship Porter from the same source as us and confirmed that they were indeed under-conditioned. He sent us two replacement bottles from a later bottling run, the first of which we opened last night; we found the condition to be absolutely perfect.
Over-thinking beer, pubs and the meaning of craft since 2007