Saison Season Pt 2: The Herbalist

When we announced our plans to taste a bunch of UK-brewed saisons, several people told us we had to try The Herbalist, a collaboration between Magic Rock and Adnams, and so Adnams sent us some (10 litres!) in mini-casks.

We’re not sure it real­ly fits this project – it’s a one-off sea­son­al, so there’s not much point in us rec­om­mend­ing it (more on this gen­er­al issue in a future post); and it’s a draught rather than bot­tled beer. But of course we were keen to try it and, as it hap­pens, it did prompt some rel­e­vant thoughts.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Sai­son Sea­son Pt 2: The Herbal­ist”

Under-Promise, Over-Deliver

That was an idle Tweet from the pub (Wetherspoon’s) where we’d just had a pint of real ale billed as ‘rum and raisin’ from a brewery we’d never heard of.

We did­n’t expect much but it was actu­al­ly pret­ty tasty – a sol­id, fair­ly dark best bit­ter. Based on how we cod­i­fied our thoughts on expec­ta­tions back in Jan­u­ary, it was mere­ly enjoy­able but unex­pect­ed­ly so, and there­fore a pleas­ant sur­prise.

As for the men­tion of hype, we did, unfor­tu­nate­ly, have in mind Siren/Magic Rock/Beavertown Rule of Thirds. (We say ‘unfor­tu­nate­ly’ because it has become the cen­tre of some frac­tious debate between brew­ers and drinkers.) Back in Octo­ber, it was trailed thus:

The Rule of Thirds takes 1/3 of each of our indi­vid­ual recipes and process’ & promis­es to bring togeth­er the best of each of our flag­ships and come up with some­thing greater than the sum of the parts. Which is no small boast.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Under-Promise, Over-Deliv­er”

Magic Rock & Lervig Farmhouse IPA

confused_india_bound_chicken

This is the second farmhouse IPA we’ve had this year, so we’re going to start referring to ‘FIPAs’ as if they’re a ‘thing’.

Mag­ic Rock are on our list of trust­ed sup­pli­ers, and their Salty Kiss was our favourite beer of 2013. That, com­bined with rap­tur­ous com­ments from Con­nor Mur­phy and oth­ers, made us keen to track down a bot­tle of the FIPA they brewed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Nor­we­gian brew­ery Lervig dur­ing our time in Sheffield last week.

We found it just as we were leav­ing town, at the Sheffield Tap, which remains one of our favourite places to drink in the entire coun­try. One 330ml bot­tle cost £5.25 which made us wince, but was soon for­got­ten when we tast­ed it.

It was star­tling­ly good, and fan­tas­ti­cal­ly excit­ing.

Magic Rock & Lervig Farmhouse IPA.It remind­ed us of the first time we tast­ed Duv­el Triple Hop, or per­haps even of our reac­tion to our first bot­tles of Goose Island IPA going on for a decade ago: some­how brighter, shinier and loud­er than every­thing else around. It was more com­plex then a stan­dard hop-focused IPA, and less fusty than a stan­dard sai­son. Greater than the sum of its parts.

With a train to catch and one eye on the clock, we could­n’t real­ly give it the atten­tion we want­ed to, but kept say­ing ‘Wow!’ and ‘Cor!’ and, final­ly, dash­ing for our plat­form, ‘We need to get some more of that.’

Back home, we ordered four more bot­tles from Ales by Mail at £2.99 each, plus P&P. On Wednes­day night, we opened one and found it… very good indeed, but not rev­e­la­to­ry. Last night, we tried anoth­er, this time a lit­tle less chilled, and had the same reac­tion: it was deli­cious, but it did­n’t make us faint in ecsta­sy.

Over the course of a few bot­tles, we found sim­i­lar­i­ties with the Schnei­der Hopfen­weisse, with tons of ripe straw­ber­ry, banana, and can­died orange. Some­thing in the aro­ma remind­ed us of Thai food, and we even­tu­al­ly decid­ed on lemon­grass and (per­haps unsur­pris­ing­ly) corian­der. We’re sort of done with ‘pair­ing’, but it cer­tain­ly stood up to a sweaty soft-rind French cheese, with the beer gen­tly dou­bling the funk. The final impres­sion was of a long bit­ter­ness, which rides right on through all the cameo appear­ances by mem­bers of the fruit sal­ad ensem­ble.

It’s also worth not­ing that we have yet to pour it any­thing oth­er than cloudy. To us, this only made it look juici­er and more appetis­ing, but we realise not every­one has the same tol­er­ance for heavy fog.

Mag­ic Rock Lervig Farm­house IPA, on bal­ance, helps to make the case for spe­cials and one-offs, which some dis­miss as a dis­trac­tion: a beer like this can only take you by sur­prise once, but, boy, is it fun while it lasts.

A Cattle-Prod to the Taste Buds

Berliner Kindl Weisse.

Magic Rock Brewing have been in experimental mode lately, augmenting their core range of hop-driven ales with forays into the far corners of European beer styles.

Circus of Sour pump clip.While we share some of Ed’s con­cerns about British brew­ers play­ing around with styles before they’ve real­ly got to know them, Mag­ic Rock­’s Gose-style beer with grape­fruit juice (unfor­tu­nate­ly named ‘Salty Kiss’) is a front-run­ner for our beer of the year.

With that in mind, we were excit­ed to come across Cir­cus of Sour, their attempt at a Berlin­er Weisse. It isn’t flavoured with fruit and has­n’t been cross-bred with any oth­er styles: it’s a more-or-less straight up attempt at a style which scarce­ly needs any tin­ker­ing with to shock British palates. Clas­si­cal, but still quite mad to those of us brought up on brown bit­ter and Fos­ter’s.

At 3.5%, Cir­cus of Sour is a touch stronger than Berlin­er Kindl Weiss – a beer which, mere­ly by out­liv­ing its com­peti­tors, has become the stan­dard for the style. COS tast­ed much fresh­er than any bot­tled Kindl we’ve ever tried, and seemed a more vibrant shade of yel­low. It has a sher­bet, pop­ping can­dy qual­i­ty, reach­ing into the back of our mouths and tight­en­ing all the screws. Like a grown-up ver­sion of sour home-made lemon­ade, per­haps. (Oh – Pete Brown’s already said that.)

We enjoyed watch­ing our not-espe­cial­ly-beer-geeky com­pan­ions taste it. Each of them in turn expressed dis­gust, puck­er­ing their lips and scrunch­ing their eyes, as if tak­ing cough med­i­cine. Then, a moment lat­er, their eyes popped open: ‘Actu­al­ly, that’s not bad.’ The con­sen­sus was that it was sum­mery and tru­ly refresh­ing.

Could Berlin­er Weisse, then, have more main­stream appeal than our instincts might lead us to expect?

We found it on sale at the Storm­bird in Cam­ber­well, South Lon­don – a craft beer bar which we remem­ber from its days as an over­crowd­ed, DJ-led ‘style bar’ called the Funky Mon­key. Though some of the kegged US IPAs on sale seemed a bit flat and past their best, and would­n’t go out of our way to vis­it, we liked the place well enough and will cer­tain­ly pop in again if we find our­selves in the area.

The Power of a Good Pumpclip

Magic Rock brewing pumpclip

When we went to the Craft Beer Com­pa­ny with a not-espe­cial­ly-beery mate last week, we got to see the pow­er of brand­ing in action.

Faced with a vast array of pumps, slight­ly anx­ious at too much choice, and aware of the queue behind him, our chum made a snap deci­sion: he went for Mag­ic Rock Curi­ous. Why? Because the design stood out as pro­fes­sion­al, styl­ish and inter­est­ing. Because it leapt off the bar­top shout­ing: “Buy me!”

Sad­ly, there was none left, and he had to set­tle for anoth­er beer sug­gest­ed by the bar­maid. As it turned out, it was every bit as nice as Curi­ous, but we’d nev­er have known that if left to our own devices, because its pump­clip looked like some­thing from an A lev­el art port­fo­lio c.2002 – Pho­to­shop for Dum­mies, pos­terise-every­thing ama­teur hour.

Design can’t be an after­thought, because, in the cur­rent com­peti­titve cli­mate, it can mean the dif­fer­ence between a beer either sell­ing briskly or qui­et­ly turn­ing to vine­gar in its cask. We pun­ters – espe­cial­ly those of us who sim­ply drink beer rather than obsess­ing over it – are fick­le, super­fi­cial, shal­low crea­tures.