The first beer in our fifth round of Magical Mystery Pour beer tastings is Verdant Headband pale ale, chosen for us by Rebecca Pate (@rpate) of Brewing East.
Here’s a quick recap of what Magical Mystery Pour is all about and how it works: we ask a fellow blogger, Tweeter or otherwise interesting person to suggest five or six beers they think we ought to try, and try them. We buy them with our own money which is why our only restriction is that altogether they shouldn’t cost an absolute fortune, and we should be able to buy them all from one online retailer. The idea is that this will get us out of our comfort zone and nudge us to try beers we might not necessarily be drawn to ourselves, or make us reconsider beers we’ve encountered in the past.
This time, we screwed up. Rebecca chose a selection from Honest Brew but we didn’t get round to ordering them all immediately which meant that, to get the full set, we actually had to place three online orders at different retailers. But it’s fine – we now have a very well-stocked beer cupboard, overflowing with old favourites and other things that caught our eye.
The first beer we tackled from Rebecca’s list is from a Cornish brewery based near beer-geek destination Falmouth. We’ve tried Verdant’s beers on draught a few times and been impressed – they’re full-blown big-city-type craft beers (def 2) of the kind not often found this side of Bristol, with haze and hefty helpings of hops.
This beer was hard-won – we had to hunt around until we found a single can on offer at Beer Hawk (taken over by AB-InBev at around this time last year) at £2.49 for 330ml. It has 5.5% alcohol by volume (ABV).
Verdant are new to me, but I’ve been lapping up their beers over the past couple of months. Their pales are notable for being intensely fruity and sessionable. This is one of the breweries that I’m happy to try anything from right now because I’m yet to be disappointed (knock on wood). I was drawn to them originally by their bright, eye-catching and well designed cans. They began to accumulate accolades from several respected beer bloggers and writers, but in this instance, I was already convinced by the quality of Verdant’s range before I read anything about them. It really goes to show how great branding and artwork are critical to make a brewery stand apart these days. After all, it makes it easier to select something at random when raiding a bottle shop’s fridges. This beer encapsulates my favourite qualities of a good, solid pale: big tropical aromas of mangoes and other fruits such as papaya and pineapple, with a nice crisp citrus flavour on the palate and a refreshing bitter finish that lingers, then seduces the drinker back for another sip.
We found it impossible to pour clear despite being careful, and despite leaving what felt like an inch or so of beer in the can. The first 100ml was clear and then it turned hazy, finally ending up completely cloudy. The can – which is, as Rebecca says, very cool-looking – accurately advertises the colour of the beer, which is to say, vibrant orange. The head was huge, but didn’t stick around long enough to point a camera at. (See above.)
The aroma was bright, perky, sweet-shop fruity, like Robinson’s orange squash. Very appetising – this, they have nailed.
The flavour, unfortunately, landed with a clang. It seemed to us to be mostly bitterness of the hard, pithy variety, almost in medicinal quinine territory. We found ourselves wanting some of the sweetness promised by the smell and the soft-drink design of the can – there was some fruitiness evident but more like a slice bobbing in tonic than the tropical smoothie riot we’d been expecting.
There were more problems in the finish: a smack of muddy root vegetables, followed by a persistent stale note that didn’t go away. (Or that we didn’t get used to.) We’re not yeast-phobes but that’s what we’re blaming for the former, and the latter we’re going to put down to oxygen being where oxygen shouldn’t at some point in the packaging process.
Broadly speaking, this beer struck us as a dead ringer for the Beavertown style, by which we remain generally unconvinced. We read ‘pale ale’ and think clean, sharp flavours – easy-drinking without being bland. But this type of beer delivers something funkier and arguably more complex, so we’re almost bound to feel disappointed. It seems odd that we cut such variable beers as Spingo Middle so much slack but perhaps that’s because they never signal modern or clean – it’s a wonder if they’re drinkable, frankly – whereas this feels rustic when we don’t think it should be.
We’re not writing Verdant off on the basis of a single can, of course – the memory of those very good draught beers lingers, and the good opinion of Rebecca and others keeps them on the must-try list – but this was not a hit.