bottled beer pubs

Brett In Unexpected Places

When is a quality control problem not a problem? When it makes a good India pale ale into a great one.

The Windjammer in the centre of Dartmouth is a funny pub — quiet on both our visits, despite friendly people behind the bar and a well-worn, cosy interior. The counter is literally ship-shape, the walls are papered with nautical charts, and the back wall is covered in at least 30-years’-worth of yacht club pennants from around the world.

What caught our eye, once we’d dismissed the house bitter and guest ale as boring-going-on-bad, were bottles of Goose Island IPA. We used to trek across London in search of it but now, it’s everywhere. But, at the Windjammer, we were offered something that swanky craft beer bars could do well to copy: a choice of bottles from the shelf (room temperature), cellar (recommended ‘for this particular beer’) or fridge.

We went with a cold one and asked for a large wine glass to go with it; it cost £4.75.

It poured hazy and, at first, we just thought it was ‘off’. It took a moment for our palates to recognise what we were tasting: Brettanomyces, plain as day.

We didn’t think we were ‘Brett-heads’ or even that we were entirely confident in spotting it in beer unless cued by packaging but this was so pronounced that there could be no mistake. It tasted like one of our Orval blending experiments, and was utterly delicious. The Brett provided a wild top note, like a Gypsy fiddler sneaking into the violin section of a symphony orchestra. Where GI IPA can sometimes, these days, seem rather on the candied side, this was bitter, lemon-pithy and bracing.

If Goose Island was still a tiny one-man-band as it was at its founding in Chicago in 1988 then this oddity might not be all that surprising, but it is now owned by AB InBev (as in Anheuser-Busch, as in Budweiser) — a company which, if nothing else, is famed for the consistency of its products and the rigour of its quality control. How could this have happened?

Our first thought was that it might not be GI IPA at all but another of the same brewery’s beers mislabelled — Matilda, maybe? — but that seems less likely than that some Brett simply got where it shouldn’t have been, migrating from one part of the brewery to another, perhaps stubbornly lingering in a pipe.

We came back for more a couple of nights later and enjoyed it just as much, perhaps all the more so for the knowledge that it was an un-repeatable experience: a few bottles of this one batch, packaged a year or so ago, are probably the only ones with this particular ‘problem’. If you want to try to find them yourself, though, look out for a best before date of 17 July 2015 and what we think is a batch number of 0947.

UPDATE 09/04/2015: Mike Siegel, Brewing Innovation Manager at Goose Island, has emailed to say: ‘The IPA you had was brewed July 17, 2014 in Chicago at our Fulton Street Brewery.  This batch was actually flagged as having an elevated micro count and held back.  After re-plating and a thorough analysis and tasting, it rechecked as clean and ready to go.  I would love to get my hands on some of these bottles to see exactly what has happened over the past nine months.’ So, not a confirmation based on a QC sample as we’d hoped for, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s impossible.

Sorry for the quality of the photo, which was snapped on a smartphone under ‘intimate’ lighting.

American beers

Memorable Beers #1: Goose Island IPA

We first tried Goose Island IPA in the Rake, probably around Christmas of 2006.

We never spend Christmas together but have always compensated with a sort of ‘office Christmas do’ a week or so before. When we lived in London, that usually meant taking a day off work, Christmas shopping for as long as we could bear it, and then chasing beer from midday onwards.

Borough Market is like the set of a Dickens adaptation at Christmas: roasting chestnuts, carols and mulled wine on the air. Expensive apples.

Were we just in a ‘peace on Earth and goodwill to all beers’ kind of mood, or was drinking that IPA really like tasting in Technicolor? We said wow a lot and marvelled at its slight haze. We may even have giggled with excitement. We declared it our favourite beer for some time thereafter.

These days, though we still enjoy it, we find GI IPA muted and too full of crystal malt — not Seville orange marmalade so much as seaside fudge.

If we write another fifty or so posts in the next twenty-five days, we’ll hit 1000 by the time we hit our fifth anniversary of blogging; as that date approaches, we are also feeling nostalgic. Hence this series. Yeah, we like round numbers — sue us.

beer reviews pubs

The Hand Bar, Falmouth

The neck of a bottle of Goose Island Pepe Nero 2011.

Confession: we acted like dicks in the Hand Bar in Falmouth. Not massively,  just a bit. When we ordered a bottle of Sharp’s Monsieur Rock, the very friendly, knowledgeable barman really wanted to tell us all about it. “Do you know the story behind this beer?” he said excitedly.

And we did smug know-all faces and said: “Yes, we do.

His face fell.

Sorry, nice barman.

Anyway, what did we make of the bar? Well, Adrian Tierney Jones has rightly compared it to the Rake and it does have similar atmosphere, even if the selection of beer is smaller and less adventurous. The phrase Shoreditch-on-sea may have come to mind at one point. Overall, we were impressed, not only by the staff, but also by the range of Belgian and American beer which is otherwise hard to find beyond Plymouth. There is no cask ale, but then that’s not their niche in the market.

Monsieur Rock itself was served too cold, we think, and we found it intriguing if not mindblowing. We got a hint of something mysterious in the aroma — fennel again? — and thought we tasted honey along with some lemon and some dusty hops. It was certainly very, very clean and refreshing.

We also tried Pepe Nero by Goose Island, which was harder work but very rewarding. It was dark brown in colour with Belgian yeast flavours right upfront, although it had more floral hops and roasted flavours than we’ve come across in many real Belgian beers. The spices tingled on the tongue. Only the body let it down. We found it a little fizzy and thin which may fit with the idea that it’s a (very dark) saison but, at 6%, we’d have liked more weight to it.

Finally, we wanted something with “silly hops” and 400lb Monkey by Left Hand fit the bill. It smelled like a stoned teenager’s foggy hatchback and the tea-like hop flavour was tongue-stripping. Was it nice? Not exactly, but it was certainly hoppy. No, we certainly can’t deny that.

American beers beer reviews Belgium

Would they be flattered?

Train journeys have certainly improved since the arrival of the Sheffield Tap and other takeaway beer places at some of Britain’s train stations.

A recent trip was enlivened by bottles of Sierra Nevada Torpedo, a delicious American IPA which is a favourite of Rake manager Glyn’s, and Goose Island Matilda.

The latter is the Chicago brewery’s attempt at a Belgian-style ale. They’d apparently like us to drink it from a “wide mouthed goblet” but, on a train, you have to make do with a little plastic glass.

On this showing, we’d say that it tastes really, really similar to Leffe Blonde, if perhaps a touch more bitter. Would Goose Island be flattered by that comparison? Probably not, though we don’t mean it as a criticism. (We’re quite partial to the odd glass of Leffe, despite its ubiquity and Big Industrial Brewing pedigree.)