Beer Review: Wiper and True

Beer from Wiper and True Brewing Company.

Wiper and True are a new ‘brewing company’ based in Bristol, and, for now, making their beer on the premises of various friendly breweries. Their first three beers are unashamedly and self-consciously ‘craft’ — talk of evangelism on the website, rye and blackberries in an amber ale and porter respectively, beer label copy in the style of sleeve notes by Andrew Loog Oldham c.1966, and so on.

We started with the lightest and weakest (or, rather, least strong) — ‘The Summer’ pale ale at 5.4% ABV. On cracking the bottle, we were hit with a very Moor-like bloom of hop aroma, not unlike the effect of dropping sliced oranges into steaming hot mulled wine. With effort, we coaxed a head from it — a touch more carbonation wouldn’t hurt — and tucked in, smacking our lips. Very generous hopping with varieties we don’t know well (Galaxy and Summer) hit us with apricot jam aroma up front, followed by a bitterness which developed like chilli burn, building in the mouth and throat.

We decided, finally, despite the colour and the talk of tropical fruit on the label, that it reminded us of blackcurrants or elderberries. We also thought of the syrup from a jar of stem ginger.

There was, somewhere in the middle of all that lusciousness, a touch of something stale and woody, but that we can forgive in Batch #1. (We’ve had worse from much longer established and well respected ‘craft’ breweries.)

Winter Rye amber (5.6%) as, in all honesty, less successful, with some nail-polish remover going on in the aroma; and, without a ton of hops, a plasticky tang had nowhere to hide.

Blackberry porter (6%) was rough around the edges but ultimately very likeable. With a malt bill including pale, brown, munich, crystal and black, cut across with a touch of tannic fruit dryness, it brought to mind dark chocolate with cherry liqueur, and puckering red wine. Again, though, a hint of something ‘off’, coming and going, kept us on our toes.

We’d like to try The Summer from cask at some point and look forward to trying later batches, perhaps when the lingering imperfections have been smoothed out. All in all, they go into the ‘ones to watch’ file.

A quick note on transparency: their website is very clear about where each beer was brewed and what is in them (hooray!), and they’re not shy, exactly, but, still, we’re not one hundred per cent sure who is behind W&T, or its relationship, if any, with Ashley Down.

These beers were free (gasp!) because Bailey’s little brother got them for us for Christmas. He said the people on the stall were ‘really, really nice’. If you can unpick how that might have influenced our review, let us know…

Epic Saison from Somerset

Detail of the Wild Beer Co logo.

We don’t know much about the Wild Beer Co. other than what we’ve picked up on Twitter, from their website and from other people’s blog posts, but the very idea of a brewery based in Somerset with the following philosophy blows our minds:

By adding a Wild 5th ingredient or process to our beers we are giving you a truly memorable drinking experience… Some of our beers will be aged in oak to allow the soft vanilla and rich tannins to help mature the beer, others fermented with wild yeast strains to add layers of flavour and complexity to the beer.

We are painfully aware, however, that many new generation breweries fail to live up to their own hype — though we’re not clever enough to entirely resist their allure, big ideas and nice branding aren’t everything — and so, seeing Wild Beer Co’s beer on offer in Bristol, approached with a little caution.

Thankfully, Epic Saison (5%, keg) was a triumph. First, it had that very distinctive yeast character (orange and lemon peel, exotic spices) we know from Dupont and Van Klomp, perhaps with the ‘pear drop’ channel turned up a notch; followed by a surprising, pleasing level of dry, chalky bitterness. After several days of ‘serious’ beer drinking, it was like a hard reset for the palate (© Simon H Johnson), reaching into every corner to shut down the systems before rebooting them. With steel toe-caps.

Beers like this — clean (but not too much so…), intelligently conceived, and distinctive without being silly — go some way to convincing us that homegrown ‘European-style’ beers might one day displace at least some of those weirdly cheap and usually superior imports.

We rather liked Butcombe’s flagship Bristol ‘craft beer’ pub the Colston Yard, by the way: their own Rare Breed, all but poisonous in bottles, tasted great there, and it was fascinating to watch earnest students working their way through bottles of Cantillon in a sort of inverted-macho drinking game.

It’s us, not you, Brewdog Bristol

Always the last to any party, we finally made it to a Brewdog bar on our trip to Bristol.

Shiny, new, and in the ‘organic corporate’ style pioneered by sandwich-chain Pret a Manger, it certainly isn’t a pub.

The bar staff were, to a fault, helpful and cheerful. The advice they were giving when asked was sound, too, though unfortunately laced with bright-eyed, cult-like statements such as (paraphrased) ‘Brewdog were the first to have the guts to do something different’, etc.. If the decor reminded us of Pret, then the spiel reminded us of a Hare Krishna cafe.

Beer was priced as we expected, with our favourite Punk IPA at (if we remember rightly) £4.20 for two halves, and tasted just as delicious as it does from the bottle. 5AM Saint was… what’s that phrase? ‘Liquid cardboard’?

Around us were students who’d ordered ‘whatever lager you have’, drawn, we guess, by the coolness of the bar rather than the beer; middle-aged men who wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Wenlock Arms; and parties of thirtysomethings not yet especially into beer apparently there for an experience. In case you were wondering, they’re the people who buy the super-strong beers in spirit measures at £6 a pop. From where we were sitting, they got their money’s worth, talking animatedly, swapping glasses, and finding much to marvel at: ‘It tastes just like sherry — I wouldn’t think it was beer if I didn’t know.’

It is certainly an interesting addition to the city’s beer scene and will thrive. We’ll no doubt pop in again if we’re passing (assuming we’re still welcome) but the fact is, there was no chemistry between us and this bar.

A pub with a guv’nor

The Bag of Nails pub, Bristol, photographed by Stephen Powell.
The Bag of Nails pub, Bristol, adapted from a picture in Stephen Powell’s blog post, linked below.

There are some publicans who aren’t managers or tenants merely ‘living the brand values’ for a year or two on their way somewhere else, but who are part of the pub, just as the pub is part of them.

We arrived in Bristol with a print-out of Stephen ‘Blue Giant Beer’ Powell’s very tidy pub crawl and, just as Michael Jackson’s 500 Great Beers used to be ‘The Book’, it became ‘The List’ — an authority to turn to in moments of confusion. One of the pubs on The List is the Bag of Nails in Hotwells which, along with the Three Tuns and the Grain Barge, offered a neat crawl-within-a-crawl. If we didn’t like one, we figured, we could move on to the next, finishing in the Grain Barge as a safe bet.

We approached the Bag of Nails cautiously. Luke, the guv’nor, isn’t ashamed to describe himself as ‘ranty’. Online, he occasionally gets angry at CAMRA and also at Brewdog, amongst other things. We’ll be honest: we were a little nervous — what if it was an angry pub? Then we remembered we were adults, gave ourselves a pep talk, and went for it.

We walked into the warmth and our spectacles (we are both four-eyed) fogged up as we stumbled towards the bar. As we commenced peering at the pumpclips, hoping that this atrocious hesitation wouldn’t get us thrown out, someone sitting on a high stool kindly leaned in: ‘I’d strongly recommend this one.’ We ordered a pint of that one, whatever it was, and a pint of something else, and scurried off to a free table. That is, mostly free — we were sharing it with a cat, but he didn’t seem to mind us too much.

In the cubby hole next to us were several boxes of records and a turntable. The walls were covered with admirably clear, detailed instructions on their use, only lightly peppered with the gentlest of threats: ‘Do not fuck up my records.’ After a while, the guv’nor came to change the music. We all but held our breath as he went about it, not wishing to invoke his wrath. ‘You can put the next one on when this side finishes,’ he said. It seemed, somehow, a much friendlier gesture than any ‘have a nice day’ scripted customer service speak ever does.

As the evening wore on, the crowd thinned out, and we realised for the first time that there was a tiny black kitten — as if from a Disney cartoon — prowling up and down on the bar. The guvnor was teasing it with a dangling key-ring. Perhaps not so scary after all?

We didn’t make it any further on our mini crawl and, in fact, had one more pint than we’d intended to because we were so comfy and contented. We thought it was a great pub, but not everyone will. Go and make your own mind up.

American and German-style beer in Bristol

image

It was nice to pop into the Bristol Beer Factory again. Their Acer and No 7 (pale/hoppy and darker/malty respectively) continue to impress with their powerful breadiness and sheer gulpability. Acer is one of my all time faves – it’s only 3.8% but tastes more substantial.

We also tried some good bottles. Southville Hop is an American-style IPA and extremely convincing at that. I probably prefer Acer (and my liver definitely does, as Southville is almost twice as strong) but only because Acer is so superb — there’s certainly nothing wrong with SH. Bristol Hefe is also excellent, nailing the clove and banana flavours that define the real thing but also being a little more sour and bitter than its Bavarian counterparts.

Boak