Magical Mystery Pour #32: Gun Brewery Zamzama IPA

This is the last of the mini-series of Sussex beers from a selection suggested by Rach Smith of Look at Brew (@lookatbrew) and it’s a 6.5% IPA.

We bought our can of Zamza­ma online from South Down Cel­lars for £2.70 plus deliv­ery and it has been sat in our fridge since arriv­ing a cou­ple of months ago. Rach says:

Gun beers have become some of my favourites over the past cou­ple of years, not just among Sus­sex beers, but over­all. I think the Sus­sex spring water that’s used may help with that! The mod­ern and often cre­ative beers are fly­ing the flag for con­tem­po­rary Sus­sex brews and break­ing out of the region. This is the bold­est beer in the core range, and drinks with a huge pro­file of pineap­ple, man­go and lychee, with a spicy kick and tof­fee to round it all off.

Zamzama IPA in the glass.

It came out of the can a slight­ly hazy gold, throw­ing up a lot of entic­ing orange peel aro­ma, and with plen­ty of car­bon­a­tion. (See pho­to above.) Pour­ing what was left in the can nudged it from hazy to cloudy but didn’t seem to much change the flavour.

Rach men­tioned pineap­ple, man­go and lychee; our first gulps sug­gest­ed pas­sion fruit. But in the world of tast­ing notes, same dif­fer­ence, real­ly. Sweet, vibrant, sticky trop­i­cal fruit is the point.

We were delight­ed by how clean it tast­ed – no stal­e­ness, no card­board, not a wheel­bar­row full of mud­dy onions, just a lot of Jaf­fa Cake jel­ly and jam, bal­anced by a rye bread bit­ter­ness in the back­ground. Cans can be a lot­tery but this time it worked.

It’s per­haps more of a 2010 beer than a 2017 one – the kind of thing we remem­ber drink­ing at The Rake in Bor­ough Mar­ket in the form of expen­sive Amer­i­can imports – but that’s fine by us.

It is sweet and Ribena-like, though, and we’d per­haps like a touch more bit­ter­ness, but that’s not a fault, just a pref­er­ence.

If you like juicy, fruity, Tech­ni­col­or beers but find too many of the most fet­ed exam­ples exces­sive­ly dirty and savoury, as we do, then con­sid­er giv­ing this one a go.

We’d like to thank Rach again for choos­ing beers and pro­vid­ing notes, and apol­o­gise for hav­ing made a bit of mess of the buy­ing process. We’re going to think about who to invite next but have a few ideas bub­bling away already.

Magical Mystery Pour #31: High Weald Charcoal Burner

The second Sussex beer chosen for us by Rachael Smith (@lookatbrew) is a 4.3% ABV oatmeal stout from the High Weald brewery of East Grinstead.

We bought our 500ml bot­tle for £2.75 by mail order from South Down Cel­lars.

Rach says:

High Weald has been on the scene since 2012 and recent­ly under­went a mas­sive re-brand, which seems to have thrust the core beers forth and more into the local spot­light than ever before. This oat­meal stout is a favourite of mine on cask where it takes on a creamy char­ac­ter. It’s a great ses­sion strength brew, smooth, with all the clas­sic char­ac­ter­is­tics of choco­late, cof­fee, a touch of smoke and bal­anced sweet­ness.

We don’t advo­cate judg­ing books by their cov­ers but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a moment to appre­ci­ate a nice bit of graph­ic design.

The label for High Weald Charcoal Burner: farmer chased by Dragon.
SOURCE: High Weald web­site.

High Weald’s labels look like cov­er designs for Non­such-era XTC sin­gles and (we’d guess) were inspired by those for US brew­ery Odell’s. Print­ed on tex­tured paper, they look even nicer.

When we opened this work of art there was only a faint air-kiss of car­bon­a­tion and it looked flat as it poured. Then one of our favourite things hap­pened: a just off-white head mag­i­cal­ly mate­ri­alised out of the black body of the beer.

The beer smelled smoky, autum­nal and entic­ing.

High Weald Charcoal Burner.

The flavour was less imme­di­ate­ly impres­sive – that stale note we so often get in pack­aged beers from small brew­eries dom­i­nat­ed for the first mouth­ful or two, mut­ing the oth­er flavours so that the beer seemed almost bland. Through­out the mid­dle stretch, things improved and we start­ed to throw about words like rum and choco­late. At the very end there was anoth­er dip – it began to seem mere­ly sug­ary, like the dregs of a cup of sweet, creamy cof­fee.

 

Over­all, we felt fair­ly warm towards it. It’s a stout, of which there aren’t enough, and a decent one at that. A few tweaks would improve it, though – more body to hold the sweet­ness, or more bit­ter­ness to match the body. As it is, it remind­ed us a bit of a watered down impe­r­i­al stout. But remem­ber, we are fussy dev­ils. At any rate, we’ll cer­tain­ly try more beers from High Weald if we get the chance and (that now famil­iar catch­prase) look for­ward to try­ing this on cask one day, per­haps near an open fire.

Magical Mystery Pour #30: Long Man Best Bitter

This new season of Magical Mystery Pour, with Sussex beers chosen by Rachael Smith of Look at Brew, is one of those trendy but annoying short ones like Game of Thrones does these days.

That’s because with us mov­ing house there was a bit of a delay in order­ing the beers, and because the online store Rachael sug­gest­ed – the only one with a com­pre­hen­sive range of beers from Sus­sex – turned out to be a bit flaky. She picked five beers of which we end­ed up with three. (A fourth, from Burn­ing Sky, was deliv­ered past its best before date.)

The label for Long Man Best Bitter.

Any­way, crap­ness aside, the first beer we tast­ed was Long Man Best Bit­ter, a 4% ABV ale which cost us £2.80 for one 500ml bot­tle from South Down Cel­lars. Rach says:

I’ve picked this as it has become a sta­ple in many a Sus­sex pub (on cask of course) as the core Long Man range is becom­ing syn­ony­mous with good qual­i­ty beers at the tra­di­tion­al end of the Sus­sex brew­ing spec­trum. It’s a clas­sic ses­sion bit­ter with well bal­anced malts and bit­ter­ness, with some nut­ti­ness com­ing through. It’s well worth seek­ing out on cask, but the bot­tled ver­sion is handy to have around. Not quite Harvey’s but a fine alter­na­tive.

The beer isn’t bot­tle-con­di­tioned and was there­fore no trou­ble to pour, giv­ing us a thick, sta­ble head above a body that it feels harsh to describe as brown such was its glow. (This is why mar­ket­ing peo­ple so often resort to ‘amber’.)

Best Bitter in the glass.

The aro­ma was mut­ed but sug­gest­ed tof­fee and hot jam to Bai­ley, and a pure­ly beery, wood­land earth­i­ness to Boak.

It seemed to be miss­ing some­thing on first tast­ing – a fizz, more tof­fee, and then a watery hole. As it went down and hung around, though, a warm­ing orange mar­malade note emerged.

It’s hard to find much more to say than that. It remind­ed us of any num­ber of oth­er tra­di­tion­al bit­ters you might find in the super­mar­ket from brew­eries such as Bad­ger or But­combe, although with per­haps just a bit more oomph. Which is to say, it was a clean, bright, main­stream beer that with the right mar­ket­ing could eas­i­ly become a nation­al brand.

We can’t imag­ine going out of our way to acquire anoth­er bot­tle but we’d cer­tain­ly rec­om­mend it to friends who like nor­mal beer and, as per Rach’s sug­ges­tion, sus­pect we’d get much more of a kick out of it on cask.

 

Magical Mystery Pour #29: Round Tower Avena Stout

The final bottle chosen for us by Essex expert Justin Mason (@1970sBOY) who blogs at Get Beer, Drink Beer is a stout from Chelmsford.

We bought our 500ml bot­tle from Essex Food for £3.40. The ABV is 4.7% and the label is min­i­mal­ist to the point of plain­ness, its black and white shout­ing STOUT! from afar. Justin says:

Sit­u­at­ed a stone’s throw from the heart of Chelms­ford, Essex’s only city, Round Tow­er have been pro­duc­ing some of the tasti­est beers in the coun­ty since 2013. Unafraid of try­ing out new tech­niques or embrac­ing new styles Simon and Han­nah Tip­pler pride them­selves on the qual­i­ty of their beer, and right­ly so. Ave­na Stout, whilst nei­ther exper­i­men­tal or chal­leng­ing, is nev­er­the­less a good exam­ple of what they are capa­ble of. Roast malts up front, a creamy mid­dle and burnt-toast-like dry fin­ish make for a very sat­is­fy­ing drink, one to be enjoyed what­ev­er the weath­er or time of day.

We like stout in prin­ci­ple but real­ly strug­gle to find many exam­ples at any­thing like stan­dard pub strength that espe­cial­ly excite us. Samuel Smith Oat­meal is one that does. We had high hopes for Ave­na because it sent the right sig­nals for us: mod­ern with­out being aggres­sive­ly trendy.

The head (foam) on a glass of Avena Stout.

The moment the crown cap came off the bot­tle let out a fierce hiss and the foam start­ed to rise up to the neck. It stopped short of gush­ing but it was an anx­ious moment and the very high car­bon­a­tion made it impos­si­ble to fol­low the instruc­tion on the bot­tle to pour care­ful­ly. How­ev­er slow­ly decant­ed, how­ev­er tilt­ed the receiv­ing ves­sel, every trick­le of beer into the glass kicked up an untame­able stack of beige froth. It took sev­er­al min­utes and sev­er­al tips of the bot­tle to get the glass any­where near full. The beer being very dark meant that it was also hard to see what was hap­pen­ing with the sed­i­ment but we assume some, maybe even a lot, did escape.

The aro­ma, inso­far as there was any, was of sharp, grassy hops over a back­ground of hot met­al. It wasn’t espe­cial­ly invit­ing, but it wasn’t off-putting either.

The flavour – the real­ly impor­tant thing – struck us instant­ly as very pleas­ant. That estab­lished, we tried to work out why. It’s not, after all, as if it was per­fect – there was a cer­tain home-brew-like lack of pol­ish that stopped just short of rough­ness. There was also a rat­tling clash between the hops and malt which almost hint­ed at black IPA, only green and leafy rather than grape­fruity. If we could tweak it it might be to shift the hops back in the mix to cre­ate more bit­ter­ness and present less veg­e­ta­tion. The fizz, too, is dis­tract­ing; a beer like this is bet­ter with a cask-like soft­ness. As it is the bub­bles per­haps con­tribute to the sharp­ness that under­cuts what does work.

And that is the sweet­ness and body which, for once, real­ly does earn the cliched descrip­tion ‘creamy’. As far as we know there’s no lac­tose in here but it had a sweet milk stout char­ac­ter any­way. So many micro-brew­ery stouts are clear­ly inspired by Guin­ness where­as this sits on the oth­er side of the fam­i­ly tree with Mack­e­son– nour­ish­ing, rum and raisin, just the thing for Grand­ma in the lounge or Mum on the mater­ni­ty ward.

And that’s about all we’ve got.  As Justin sug­gests, it’s not the kind of beer you write essays about. But if you want a slight­ly skewed take on tra­di­tion­al stout, or gen­er­al­ly find stout hard-going, this could be just the thing.

Thanks, Justin – that’s been fun.

Next in this series: Rach from Look at Brew sug­gests beers from Sus­sex.

Magical Mystery Pour 28: Wibbler’s Apprentice

This is the fourth of a selection of Essex beers chosen for us by Justin Mason (@1970sBOY) and it’s a 3.9% ‘session beer’ with Polish Marynka hops.

We bought our 500ml bot­tle from Essex Food for £3 and went into this with low expec­ta­tions. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly moaned about region­al gift shop beers – the kind of thing that seems to be brewed with min­i­mal skill and con­sis­ten­cy pri­mar­i­ly to appeal to Buy Local obses­sives who pick up a bit of beer at the local owl sanc­tu­ary or farm­ers’ mar­ket – and that’s what this looks like. The label is straight out of 1998, the brew­ery name is of the forced-joc­u­lar school, and we’d nev­er heard of the brew­ery until Justin’s email which shouldn’t be a mark against it except that we’re par­tial believ­ers in the wis­dom of the hive mind and all that.

In par­tic­u­lar, as is often the case with bot­tle-con­di­tioned beers from unknown brew­eries, we assumed the worst and pre­pared for a gush­er, teatow­els at hand. Thank­ful­ly we were greet­ed by an assertive hiss with no accom­pa­ny­ing dra­ma. In the glass the beer was clear, amber, with a del­i­cate, soft-focus look about the head – very cask-like.

The ambi­ent aro­ma, which is what we’re now call­ing any­thing you can smell with­out stick­ing your nose in the glass, was pri­mar­i­ly sheer boozi­ness – quite an achieve­ment at this strength. Clos­er up, there was just a whiff of hedgerow, or bram­ble, or fruit tea.

We took a few sips, then a cou­ple of swigs, and not­ed some ups and downs in the sto­ry. First, there was a moment of con­cern – some­thing was a bit off, or stale, a card­board note – but that was soon fol­lowed by a pleas­ing essen­tial, unpre­ten­tious beer­i­ness. Of brick-built unadorned solid­i­ty. There was tof­fee, a flavour rather out of fash­ion these days, which was bal­anced against waves of round, orangey, spring-fresh hop flavour. Final­ly, there came down a steel trap of bit­ter­ness.

Apprenc­tice has a lot of flavour, a lot of body, a lot of every­thing except alco­hol, with­out being showy about it. It is old-fash­ioned and reminds us pleas­ant­ly of our days ‘sam­pling ales’, pre-blog, with Michael Jackson’s hit-list at hand. There’s a resem­blance to Bad­ger Tan­gle­foot, once a pret­ty cool beer believe it or not, if you want a point of ref­er­ence.

We grew more impressed the more we drank despite the lin­ger­ing stale note. This, we con­clud­ed, is anoth­er fun­da­men­tal­ly decent beer – the kind we real­ly like – that’s been some­what let down by the pack­ag­ing process. Still, we’d drink it again, and we’d love to try a cask ver­sion in a creaky old pub in the kind of vil­lage where the clock in the square stopped in 1923.

If you like trad, give it a go.