beer reviews

Four truly exciting beers in 10 days

It was inevitable that having written about beer feeling unexciting we’d encounter a run of beer-of-the-year contenders.

First there was an Italian Pilsner at Zero Degrees in Bristol.

Bearing in mind Italian Pilsner was basically a mythical entity to us at the start of this year, it struck us as absolutely convincing.

It was extremely bitter and desert dry despite its 6.4% ABV. It had the requisite white wine quality with suggestions of elderflower and lemon.

On a warm evening, after you’ve schlepped up Christmas steps, it’s exactly the glass of lager you dream of drinking.

OK, so beer can still excite us, we’re not dead yet, we said.

Then, a few days later, we found ourselves at The Pembury Tavern in Hackney, East London, and thought, sigh, we’d better try Five Points Gold, out of grim duty.

We love some Five Points beers (Railway Porter, the sadly defunct Pils, and Pale) but don’t get on with their Best Bitter. We find it muddy and confused. Gold, we assumed, would be like that, but more watery (it’s 3.4%) and less interesting.

But, blimey, it was good. We spent quite a bit of time thinking about Boddington’s and Young’s Ordinary as they were in the past – very pale, very bitter, mysteriously alluring.

That this beer, and only this beer, was pulled through a sparkler made us wonder if it might be a deliberate homage to the North.

We pulled out some of the old shopping basket descriptors: tangerine, peach, grape… But, really, the appeal was its clarity, cleanness, and balance. A real Swiss watch of a beer, perfectly put together.

Despite the presence of cask Railway Porter, a favourite of ours, we stuck to Gold, and left the pub several hours later with just the slightest buzz on.

Lost & Grounded Landbier with sunlight glowing behind it in a taproom building.

Last Friday, as we often do, we wandered to the Lost & Grounded taproom for a couple of pints between work and tea.

It feels like most weeks there’s some new lager substyle on offer and this time it was 10 Years On Land, a Landbier brewed in collaboration with The Royal Navy Volunteer pub.

Again, we ordered it because it was new, and we felt vaguely obliged, but it was love at first slurp.

For one thing, it proves that a beer can be hazy and still somehow taste clean – or maybe fresh is the better word.

It took us back to last autumn, trolling around Nuremberg and writing one tasting note after another that said something like: “Simple, but so fresh.”

There was a bit of lemon barley water about it, some grass and crunchy grain, and a decent amount of bitterness. At 4.4% it made us think, you know what? Dinner can wait.

Finally, on Saturday, we popped out to another local taproom because we’d heard a rumour that Moor Brewing Smoked Lager might be available.

It’s not quite as magical as Schlenkerla Helles but, on draught, was certainly fresher than the bottles of Schlenkerla we get in the UK.

It’s smokier than last year, or at least struck us that way, pushed just to the edge of too much. Or, in other words, just right.

Drinking it in the sun, surrounded by the hops that grow over the fences and street signs by the brewery, we thought, perhaps, we heard the echoes of an oompah band across the industrial estate.

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Tripel-off, Semi-Final: Karmeliet vs. Lost & Grounded

It’s been on for weeks now, the gaps between games are getting longer, and your favourite was knocked out early so who cares? Yes, it’s another Tripel-Off semi-final.

The end is drawing near, though, and we’re certainly continuing to enjoy the experience.

In the past when we’ve entered into big multi-part tasting projects there have been moments when it’s felt like a chore — “We really ought to drink those three saisons we suspect are going to be rubbish, ugh…” — but not this time.

It’s tripel! We love tripel! And none of those we’ve tasted this time have been anything less than enjoyable.

We have to admit that we went into this particular match with the frank expectation that plucky Lost & Grounded would get hammered by the experienced veteran on home turf.

In the group matches Karmeliet knocked our socks off and we’ve drunk a couple more in the meantime, so impressed were we by its character. Seriously, how can a British-brewed upstart hope to challenge a Belgian original? Well…

This time, both Jess and Ray knew which beers were in play, but Ray poured and presented them without the bottles just in case there was any chance of keeping Jess guessing.

The contrast in appearance was pronounced: Karmeliet is lager-yellow with an absurdly vigorous foam, while L&G tends to a faintly hazy orange with a decent but less stable head. We wouldn’t normally use an out of focus picture but it’s good enough to give the idea:

Two tripels side by side.

(And happens to mimic the effect of drinking multiple tripels in a session.)

On tasting, though, it became apparent that Karmeliet was not going to walk this.

Jess: Well, to my surprise, I immediately prefer the Lost & Grounded. It’s rougher but just more enjoyable. It benefits from being really cold and I suspect will get rougher again as it warms up but, for now, yes, that’s my favourite. Karmeliet seems quite… insipid? It’s smoother but more bland. It’s not doing it for me.

Ray: That’s a good point about temperature. These are colder than some of the beers we’ve tasted in earlier rounds. I agree that it’s closer than I expected, but I do prefer Karmeliet. The L&G seems a bit homebrew-tripel-by-numbers, though I’d struggle to pin down any faults, as such. Maybe a bit of burnt sugar that shouldn’t be there? And, yes, Karmeliet does seem quite lager-like at this temperature, but I like that it’s less heavy going than L&G.

[A few rounds of knitting and several pages of Maigret later.]

Jess: OK, as these warm up, they’ve switched places. The L&G has definitely become a bit less fun, while the complexity we noticed in Karmeliet is re-emerging.

Ray: Agreed. So the winner is…?

Jess: Karmeliet, but Lost & Grounded stood up to it bloody well. It’s a very credible tripel. Tell you what, though — I reckon De Dolle would stamp all over both of these.

Ray: Oh, don’t say that! That means the last round was effectively the final.

Jess: I’m lobbying for a third-place play-off.

Ray: Hmm. Maybe.

So, that’s that: the final proper is Karmeliet vs. Westmalle, which we’ll try to schedule for the next week or so. In the meantime, if you’ve had chance to try any of these beers side by side, we’d be interested to hear your views.

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Tripel Off Round 1, Match 4: Lost & Grounded vs. Solvay Society

Lost & Grounded vs. Solvay Society.

This is the last of the group matches and sees two UK breweries up against each other: Lost & Grounded from here in Bristol and Solvay Society from London.

The former is a brewery with a particular focus on Continental beer styles and is perhaps best known for its Keller Pils — very much a buzz beer of the summer of 2018, despite its refreshing straightforwardness. The latter is an intriguing operation run by a Belgian and dedicated to brewing “modern beers abstracted from classic Belgian styles”.

We bought both beers from Beer Merchants via mail order:

  • Lost & Grounded Apophenia, 330ml, £3.45 per bottle, 8.8% ABV
  • Solvay Society Tritium, 330ml, £4.05, 7.5% ABV

There was no hope of anything approaching true blind tasting at this stage but, as in previous rounds, Ray poured and presented the beers to Jess without saying which was which. She’d never had either before, as far as she could recall, and certainly doesn’t know either well enough to identify them from taste.

Two glasses of golden beer.

On pouring, both had similar levels of carbonation but Solvay Society’s beer looked slightly darker in colour.

Jess: Right, well, these both smell and taste like proper tripels. I’d be surprised if both weren’t using the same yeast, and if that yeast isn’t the Westmalle strain. To be honest, they’re incredibly similar. If I have a complaint it’s that they’re both a bit on the sweet side. They’re lacking the crisp finish I love in Westmalle. They don’t have that balance of richness and bitterness that I get from the tripels I really like, although maybe that’s just how my palate is reading things today…

Ray: Fortunately, all you’ve got to do is decide which of the two you prefer.

Jess: True. Well, I have a mild preference for this one. [Lost & Grounded.] Only because it’s not quite as sweet tasting. It’s a very close thing.

Ray: I agree, they’re pretty well indistinguishable, if you ignore the difference in colour. And a bit… Well, sickly is too strong, but heavy, somehow. This one [Solvay Society] is a bit spicier, maybe, but perhaps I’m getting that impression because I know it’s advertised as a pink peppercorn and rye tripel. It’s also maybe a touch heavier, despite having a lower ABV. They’re both good beers, though — clean, bang on style.

Jess: I wouldn’t be disappointed if I’d ordered either of these in a Belgian bar.

Ray: So, my vote is for… Just, very narrowly… Lost and Grounded! Which means it’s the winner.

Next round:
  • Westmalle vs. De Dolle
  • Lost & Grounded vs. Karmeliet