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.
In the aroma, BrewDog won out: it smelled appealingly like one of those bags of dried tropical fruit (pineapple, mango, coconut) you get in health food shops. Most of that was coming, we think, from hops, but we’ve picked up pineapple from German wheat beers before, so perhaps the yeast played its part.
The first sips were not promising, bringing an almost overwhelming hit of TCP which might be the result of turning the natural clove character of the yeast strain ‘up to 11’. We persevered, though, and either it passed or we got used to it, at which point a moreish bitter lemon character took over.
It’s a brash beer but good fun and we’d drink it again. What it really made us long for, however, is something further along the sliding scale away from BrewDog and towards Weihenstephan, with the same level of assertive bitterness but far less hop aroma – Bitter Weizen rather than India Pale.
Cluster’s Last Stand
8.3%, 650ml, £9.73 from Beer Ritz online
In his excellent book IPA, Stone Brewing’s Mitch Steele describes Ballantine IPA as it was brewed in the 1930s – 7.4%, 60 IBUs, aged in oak vats, and dry-hopped with now-rare variety Bullion using a complex steam system to extract only the hop oils. He makes it sound delicious and underlines its place as the original big, hoppy American IPA, and a key inspiration for those 1970s and 80s craft brewers.
In 2013, Greg Koch from Stone visited Smuttynose in New Hampshire and brewed a batch of beer to Steele’s specifications, naming it Cluster’s Last Stand after an old American hop variety. This bottle is from a more recent ‘re-brew’, best before July 2015 and, at 8.3%, is stronger than any of the Ballantine recipes in Steele’s book.
The label makes no reference to the (somewhat) historic recipe, and those seeing only the names Stone and Smuttynose and the word IPA might be surprised or even disappointed by this beer, which does not have layers of delicate perfume at the top end. (Though perhaps it did the week it was brewed.) Our first impressions, in fact, were of toffee, fudge and sticky marmalade – not what many people look for in US craft beer.
The next most dominant characteristic was bitterness – an iron bar of it, slamming down on the tongue with every mouthful. It feels pleasingly austere – a beer of few words, jaw set and meaning business.
As we progressed, we detected a barely-there haunting off note in the aroma – a very faint reminder of earthy potato skins fresh from the field, or a damp cellar. That, combined with an equally faint suggestion of sherry-fication, ultimately only added to the sense of depth and maturity.
So, those sliding scales: Cluster’s Last Stand sits somewhere between the Goldings’n’Fuggles of more traditional British IPAs and the ‘whole fruit bowl’ approach more common in US-inspired brews – an under-explored space. Complex, subtly askew, old-fashioned but also refreshingly different, we suspect it might win over those who have grown weary of IPA’s attention-grabbing antics.
We liked this beer a lot: we’d pay £9.73 again, damn it, and that’s saying something.