Category Archives: Beer styles

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.

Porter Tasting: Batch 6 — Odds and Ends

The purpose of this exercise, for those who missed the previous posts, is to find a beer that suits us, with a view to selecting finalists for a ‘taste-off’ before buying a case to see us through the winter. It’s not ‘the best’ but something much more floaty and subjective.

This is our last batch of porter tasting notes — even though people keep flagging new ones we must try, this has to end some time, if only for the sake of our sanity.

What have we learned about porter in the last few weeks? First, that it allows quite a bit of room for variation: we’ve tried some that resembled German Schwarzbiers; one or two that could easily be marketed as strong stouts; and others that were very hoppy, or smoky, or had some other left-field characteristic.

Continue reading Porter Tasting: Batch 6 — Odds and Ends

Juicy Bangers vs. the Periodic Table of IPA

Beer styles are hard work, so why don’t we sometimes talk instead about the ways in which different types of beer act on our palates and emotions, or the social functions they perform?

When Chris Hall wrote about ‘juicy bangers’™ last week, something seemed to click:

It captures in two words everything I look for from my first beer of the night: a full-bodied but brightly refreshing, finely-balanced beer of big flavour yet peerless drinkability. It’s become a hallmark by which I measure a brewer. If they can brew a Juicy Banger, a beer loaded with assertive, juicy hop character but one I could happily drink all night, and by the pint, then they’re all right by me.

Continue reading Juicy Bangers vs. the Periodic Table of IPA

Porter Tasting: Batch 3 — Guinness

The purpose of this exercise, for those who missed the previous posts, is to find a beer that suits us, with a view to selecting finalists for a ‘taste-off’ before buying a case to see us through the winter. It’s not ‘the best’ but something much more floaty and subjective.

One of the triggers for our current focus on porters was the launch by Guinness of Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter under the banner of The Brewers Project.

We’re including them in this tasting, despite the fact they’re not British, for several reasons. First and foremost, they’re our rules and we can break them if we like. Secondly, and less petulantly, the parent company is also UK-based, and the beers are being sold in mainstream stores across Britain, not only through specialist importers. Finally, there’s the significance of Guinness Porter in the story of British beer.

Guinness stopped brewing porter in the early 1970s — they had been producing a tiny amount for a dwindling Northern Ireland market — thus rendering the style temporarily extinct until it was revived by one of the first microbreweries a few years later. (Brew Britannia, Chapter Four.) So, there is a certain emotional appeal to Guinness using the word on the label of a beer, even if there’s no real difference between porter and stout, and even if, despite claims to be ‘inspired by’ recipes from 1799 and 1801 respectively, they aren’t really historic recreations.

* * *

For our tasting, we decided to throw standard bottled Guinness Original (4.2% ABV, £2.15 for 500ml at CO-OP) into the mix to check whether (a) the new Guinness porters actually taste any different and (b) just in case it turns out, within the parameters of this project, to be just what we’re looking for. It isn’t, but it really doesn’t taste bad at all: it’s quite nice. Too sweet (for Boak’s taste in particular), rather watery, and definitely lacking in wow factor, but not as grim as some critics, who are perhaps tasting the corporate structure, might have you believe.

Dublin Porter (3.8%; our bottle was sent to us by their PR people, but currently £1.50 for 500ml in supermarkets) is definitely quite different. Despite it’s lower ABV, it seems to have additional ‘oomph’, being drier and more bitter, with some milk chocolate notes where Original has only brown sugar. Only by contrast, though, not in absolute terms, and compared to the other porters we’ve tasted so far, it’s a fairly one-dimensional beer. It’s fine, tasty enough, and reasonably good value, especially if you’re after something vaguely mild-like. But it’s not a contender.

West Indies Porter (6%; pricing as above) does have a bit of star quality. In fact, it struck as almost as good as the Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter which we’re benchmarking against. It has a firm, almost chewy body, and a pleasing acid-sweet-bitter balance — black forest gateaux territory. But… Smith’s is better and weaker, at 5%. Then again, GWIP is more readily available and, for now at least, cheaper — £18 for 12 bottles as compared to £31, plus delivery. That’s not a saving to be sniffed at. (Theatrical pause, tense music.) It’s a contender and it’s going through to the final taste-off.

On balance, we’d rather Guinness put the energy and effort that’s gone into these into sprucing up their standard range — why not make Guinness Original a more distinctive product, bottle-conditioned, at a higher ABV, and give that a sexy vintage-style label?

We’ve got a few more rounds of this to go. Next up: Kernel Export and other animals.

Porter Tasting: Batch 2

UPDATE 12:35 26/09/2014: the purpose of this exercise, for those who missed the previous posts, is to find a beer that suits us, with a view to selecting finalists for a ‘taste-off’ before buying a case to see us through the winter. It’s not ‘the best’ but something much more floaty and subjective. And that’s probably not the cap from the Brew by Numbers beer in the pic above.

This week, we tasted three porters from the trendier end of the spectrum, all in 330ml bottles, and purchased from Ales by Mail.

  1. BrewDog Brixton, 5%, £2.40.
  2. Five Points Railway, 4.8%, £2.52.
  3. Brew by Numbers 03/01 Original, 6.1%, £2.80.

(We gave these three 30 minutes in the fridge before pouring and drank them from the same stemmed half-pint glasses as last time, for those who are interested in such matters.)

How do self-consciously ‘craft’ breweries approach porter? As a gap in the market, perhaps, or as a novelty — there aren’t many mainstream breweries producing beer in this style. Via American home brewing literature and its guidelines for multiple types of porter, we suspect. And maybe inspired directly by Anchor Porter, which has a quiet cult following in the UK and has done for years. It does not seem to be subjected to quite the same experiments in flavouring or hybridising as other styles — it’s usually kept fairly straight, often even with a nod to tradition.

In fact, the main difference between a ‘craft’ porter and any other seems to be the size of the servings which defied attempts at quaffing.

Five Points poured with a perfect, tight, off-white head, and had what we can only describe as a crazy (pleasant) aroma which brought to mind Angel Delight and Bailey’s Irish Cream. The first sip took us by surprise — it was subtly but distinctly yoghurt-sour, which added a pleasing complexity. Was it deliberate, or a happy mistake? Either way, it turned a bog-standard porter into something rather moreish and enjoyable. Ultimately, it’s not something we’d want to drink every day, so it isn’t a contender for the purchase of an entire case, but we’d happily buy it again.

BrewDog Brixton is a beer we’ve had before and enjoyed without being bowled over. It poured suitably oily-black. The overwhelming character is a dry ashiness, like eating a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, but, beyond that, it’s perhaps too thin for sipping, while being too much hard work to just drink. It was certainly perfectly clean and the condition was spot on. But… we were rather enjoying it by the end, and it turns out to have a kind of delayed wow factor. It’s an outside contender.

Brew by Numbers (aka BBNo) 03/01 prompted one of our fairly frequent disagreements: Boak’s immediate reaction to the aroma was, ‘Eugh! Booze and antiseptic!’ while Bailey got a pleasant whiff of vanilla. Its body was unctuous, fairly well-balanced, with a touch of acidity suggesting berries or cherries. Ultimately, though, it was rather heavy going and rough. We would not drink this again and it’s definitely not a contender. (Another of their beers, a saison with cucumber, was one of the hits of our summer.)

Next time: those Guinness porters, and some pondering on to what extent they can be considered British. (Don’t start arguing with us about this now… you’ll get your chance.) Here’s what we made of the last batch and this post explains what we’re up to. See also: The Beer o’ Clock Show’s imminent stout/porter poll.