Checking in On Wylam and Northern Monk

Last year we hatched a grand plan to try beers that other bloggers named in their Christmas 2016 Golden Pints posts. That didn’t quite come off but did prompt us, eventually, to revisit Wylam and Northern Monk.

We bought the following beers from Beer Ritz with the support of Patreon subscribers like Alec Latham and Will Jordan — thanks, folks!

  • Northern Monk Heathen, 440ml can, £4.16
  • Northern Monk Mango Lassi Heathen, 440ml can, £4.87
  • Wylam Table Beer, 330ml bottle, £2.51
  • Wylam Sweetleaf IPA, 440ml can, £4.50
  • Wylam Slack Jaw IPA, 330ml bottle, £3.12

Heathen IPA was one of the specific beers on the Golden Pints master list, described by Simon Girt (@LeedsBeerWolf) as having ‘consistent, dank, juicy appeal’. In its big, colourful can it certainly looked exciting and enticing. Pale and hazy, our first reaction was, oof, onion soup! The body is velvety and milky, even creamy, with a chewable calcium tablet quality. Beyond the onion we got weed, armpits, and the stink of overripe fruit sitting in the sun. It’s not our kind of thing, especially at 7.2% ABV, but is one of the better examples of this kind of beer we’ve encountered — as clean and precise as the style permits.

Mango Lassi IPA.
It’s near-relation, Mango Lassi Heathen, smelled much more appealing — sweet and summery, all pop art and shower gel. It contains real mango but doesn’t taste ‘flavoured’. It too is milky with a delicate yogurt acidity of such subtlety that we might even have completely imagined it based on the beer’s name. There is a lime-peel kick, too, which brings to mind beach-side cocktails. It is full of fizz and prickle and, for us, easier drinking than straight Heathen, albeit not quite as exciting or outlandish as the name promises. And, ouch, that price tag. (This one was a 2016 Golden Pints pick from the Beernomicon podcast AKA @Beernomicon.)

We should say that, overall, we feel quite warm towards Northern Monk, whose core beers are among the most reliable and best value around. If you like this type of beer, you’ll probably like these particular beers. If you don’t, they won’t convert you.

Wylam DH.

These next three weren’t on any specific Golden Pints lists but Wylam generally did well and throughout 2017 seemed to buzz away in the background, quietly impressing people, so we reckon it’s a brewery that warrants frequent check-ins.

DH Table Beer, which offered a pleasing inversion of a familiar narrative. At only 3.5% ABV and with a mere three months to run on the best before countdown we expected it to be knackered and thus earn us some ‘drink fresh’ reprimands; but, in reality, it could hardly have tasted fresher — as if they’d somehow captured and packaged a spring breeze as it passed over a field of young grass. It’s an interesting beer, too — lemony, coconutty and very dry, with a quirky Belgian yeast character that brings to mind the weakest of the Chimay’s or Elusive’s wonderful Plan-B. Perhaps the long shelf-life is explained by the high bitterness, which in turn seems to be pleasingly softened by the light haze. It is perhaps a touch too raw and rustic but what it is not is boring, or stale, or dull, or dirty. We’d drink this again.

Slackjaw IPA was, by contrast, rather a disappointment. Is it supposed to taste a touch salty, and have that faint sourness? Beyond that, even at a mere 6%, it tastes like a dark double IPA of the 2007 school in which caramel malts and hops combine to suggest strawberry jam. It was passable, certainly drinkable, and red fruit plus acidity did add up to a certain freshly-squeezed quality. We suspect age and packaging problems might have dulled its edge and will certainly give it another chance, especially if we encounter it on tap.

Finally there came Sweet Leaf, a big, modern IPA (7.4%) in a big, modern can. Yellow and cloudy it certainly looked the part and threw up a wonderful ornamental garden aroma of fleshy flowers and strange fruit. The flavour combination — green onion and sweet pineapple — didn’t quite work for us but was certainly distinctive. A bit of dirtiness in the aftertaste was also distracting. Overall, though, it would seem to be another solid example of the style of the day, and might be just the thing for palates fatigued by excesses of citrus.

Wylam, then, stay in about the same place on our mental rankings: capable of great things, but lacking the polish and reliability of, say, Thornbridge.

Patreon’s Choice #4: Boundary Brewing

This is the fourth in a series of posts with notes on beers chosen for us by our Patreon subscribers. (If you want bonus posts and to steer what we write about sign up for the price of half-a-pint per month.)

The Beer Nut (Twitter, must-read blog) suggested that we try some beers from Boundary, a brewing company based in Belfast, Northern Ireland:

They’ve been on my “Hmm, not sure” list for a while, even as their recipes get more and more ambitious. I don’t see many of their beers where I live and am curious as to how they’re getting on.

Here’s how Boundary describes itself on its website:

We are a Cooperative Brewery in Belfast owned and run by our members. Opening our doors in 2014, we are the first brewery in NI to bring together modern US styles with the more traditional Belgian/French style beers.

What this seems to mean in practice is some variation on crowdfunding whereby investors of various sizes invest in and co-own the company, in exchange for beer and parties, with the promise of interest and dividends “when it is appropriate”.

We bought our selection of their beer via Beer Ritz online and tackled them in ascending order of alcoholic strength (up the ladder) as is our usual approach.

Four beers from Boundary in their glasses.

First came the American Pale Ale at 3.5% ABV and £2.53 per 330ml bottle. Unfortunately, this was what we’d call an outright dud. There was a dab of acid, the spectre of some malt flavour, and then a long trudge through papery, saliva-like, watery nothingness. At the end we thought we detected a faint chilli-like burn that we’re fairly certain wasn’t supposed to be there. We wished for it to be more bitter, more fruity, boozier, or even sweeter — just more something.

Next came G.O.A.T. which is billed as a New England IPA at 4.8% and £2.77 per 330ml. This one, at least, had a pleasing aroma — that have-an-Outspan, electric air-freshener zap you get from Cloudwater or BrewDog takes on this style. It looked like a textbook NEIPA, too, which is to say distinctly overcast, and lurking somewhere between grey and green. The flavour was a let down, though, reminding us distinctly of the time we tried to make a German-style wheat beer with dried ale yeast. The word we kept using was dirty. We struggled to finish this one and, indeed, didn’t.

The bigger NEIPA in the set, Forever Ago, has an ABV of 6% and cost £3.13 for 330ml. This had less aroma than G.O.A.T. and was also less hazy. It had a really rough foretaste — it actually made us say, “Ugh!” — with some off-putting sourness, too. There was some apricot or mango in there but, again, not enough to drown out the bum notes or sell the beer. Perhaps this might have been better if we’d drunk it the week it was bottled but it had a best before date of August 2018 so surely shouldn’t have tasted so completely exhausted.

Finally, Export Stout at 7% cost £3.43 per 330ml and — thank goodness as we are beginning to feel mean — was very decent. A hint of acidity here works to underline a sour cherry character, which in turn harmonises with a dusty, musty dark chocolate truffle character. We might have preferred more body and sweetness but, without them, it pulls of the trick of seeming vaguely Belgian. Was there even, perhaps, a hint of Brettanomyces in action? We would generally expect a bit more from a beer at this strength and price but we enjoyed it and would certainly try other dark beers from Boundary.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 30 December 2017: Helensburgh, Hammers, Home-brewing

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in this final week of 2017.

It’s been slim pickings with the Christmas break and the ubiquity of Golden Pints (check out the hashtag on Twitter) but we found a few things to chew on. First, there’s this stream of recollection by Peter McKerry at Brew Geekery which amounts to a tour of pubs that have meant the most to him over the years:

Then it was the Clyde Bar in Helensburgh, a well-healed town on the Clyde coast, during a prolonged period of unemployment in my early 20s. I’d drop in for a few Tennent’s on ‘Giro Day’, and it was here that I witnessed taxi driver and regular, Dermot, rescue eight pence from the trough WHILE I WAS URINATING IN IT. While that event is imprinted onto my mind (it was a 5p, 2p and a 1p), it gives a false impression of the pub. It was a great live music venue, and featured in a video from purveyors of beige jock rock, Travis, if such trivia interests you.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 23 December 2017: Thornbridge, Theatre, Tinsel

This is, obviously, the last Saturday news and links round-up before Christmas, featuring theatres, hot beer and juicy IPAs.

First, a bit of news: in partnership with Pivovar (Sheffield Tap, Pivni, &c.) Derbyshire brewery Thornbridge is to open ten bars across the UK. They’re a sensible, fairly cautious bunch and this reads to us as a vote of confidence in the health of the UK craft beer scene.


The George Inn, Southwark.
Illustration from Walks In London Vol. 1, c.1896.

As part of a project on the history of British theatre Andy Kesson gives us notes on the role of inns in the days before Shakespeare:

When we think of Elizabethan London playhouses, most of us think of an amphitheatre: big, round and outdoors. Sometimes we might also think of indoor playing spaces, particularly at the Blackfriars: small, rectangular and indoors… [But inns] are rarely included in accounts of the playhouses at all. This, I’m going to suggest, would have surprised Elizabethans, who may well have considered the inns as the primary, most prestigious playing houses in town. As we shall see, figures as diverse as the Queen’s Men, Richard Tarlton’s horse and Satan himself all sought access to performance at the inns.

(Via @intoxproject/@andykesson)

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 23 December 2017: Thornbridge, Theatre, Tinsel”