Further Reading #2: Understanding IPA

We’d love to be able to buy a reference anthology of great writing on the subject of IPA. This post, a manifestation of wishful thinking, is the next best thing.

There is also an idea that when peo­ple ask for advice on where to read about the his­to­ry and cul­ture of IPA, which hap­pens from time to time, we can just point them here.

Hope­ful­ly, this series of links, in rough­ly this order, pro­vides the out­line of a nar­ra­tive with­out too many details and diver­sions.

It’s aimed at learn­ers, or peo­ple after a refresh­er, but we hope even jad­ed vet­er­ans will find a cou­ple of items they’ve missed.

Where we have been able to iden­ti­fy free-to-access sources we’ve pro­vid­ed links and in the cas­es of mate­r­i­al you have to pay for we’ve tried to sug­gest free alter­na­tives.

This one feels like more of a work in progress than the lager list. If you can sug­gest sub­stan­tial, solid­ly researched arti­cles that fill in gaps then let us know either in the com­ments or by email.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Fur­ther Read­ing #2: Under­stand­ing IPA

News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 April 2018: Beer Duty, Beavertown, Baudelaire

Here’s all the writing about beer from the past week that most engaged, informed or entertained us, from the Fall of the Craft Beer Empire to Gamma Ray in Waitrose.

Well, most of the past week – we wrote this post at break­fast time on Fri­day and sched­uled it to post, so if any­thing excit­ing hap­pened on Fri­day after­noon, we prob­a­bly missed it. We are now on hol­i­day for a week and a bit which means no round-up next week­end. If you want a fix of links in the mean­time check out Stan Hierony­mus’s Mon­day post and Alan McLeod’s on Thurs­day.

Adapt­ed from ‘The End is Nigh’ by Jason Cartwright on FLICKR, CC BY 2.0

We’ll start with a piece by Pete Brown which prods at the kind of would-be sen­sa­tion­al news sto­ry based on a piece of research you have to pay to read in full:

Have you noticed a decline in the demand for craft beer? Why do you think this is?”

I stared at the ques­tion, cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance mak­ing me feel momen­tar­i­ly floaty.… The rea­son I was con­fused is that it hasn’t hap­pened – not yet. When I got these ques­tions, I’d just deliv­ered the keynote speech to the SIBA con­fer­ence. To write it, I’d had to do a lot of dig­ging. I’d dis­cov­ered that craft beer vol­ume increased by 23 per cent last year, and that ana­lysts are pre­dict­ing con­tin­ued growth until at least 2021. I’d learned that busi­ness lead­ers in the food and bev­er­age indus­try had named craft beer the most impor­tant trend across the whole of food and drink – com­fort­ably ahead of low alco­hol drinks, arti­san cof­fee and craft spir­its – for the fifth year run­ning.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 14 April 2018: Beer Duty, Beaver­town, Baude­laire”

Two Jacksonian Scholars Debate NEIPA

In the impos­ing Inner Tem­ple of Beer Writ­ers’ Hall in the City of Lon­don two schol­ars sit beneath a vast por­trait of the Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jack­son, who died in 2007. They wear Guild robes and are sur­round­ed by leather-bound vol­umes. A small group of acolytes sits near­by, wait­ing for the debate to begin. On her throne the Grand Imbiber, who every­body had thought asleep, clears her throat: “What might the Mas­ter–” She salutes the por­trait of MBHJ, dip­ping her eyes respect­ful­ly. “–have made of this ‘NEIPA’, one won­ders?” The schol­ars reflect for a moment and then open their books, scan­ning the pages with their fin­gers.

The NEIPA, or New Eng­land India Pale Ale, is defined by its hazi­ness, is it not? And Jack­son wrote, “The pos­si­bil­i­ty of hazy beer is only one of the dif­fi­cul­ties encoun­tered when work­ing with new­ly har­vest­ed bar­ley and hops.” [1] If haze is char­ac­terised as a dif­fi­cul­ty, we can con­clude with cer­tain­ty that NEIPA would dis­please him.

No. It is clear that his sug­ges­tion here was that haze would be a dif­fi­cul­ty for those par­tic­u­lar brew­ers, brew­ing that par­tic­u­lar beer. Did he not also write of Coop­er’s, the bot­tle-con­di­tioned Aus­tralian pale ale, “Sparkling or opaque, It would enliv­en the most Boy­cott­ian innings”? And did he not also call it “a ‘whole­food’ of the beer world”? [2]

When read­ing the sacred texts we must always remem­ber the Mas­ter’s love of irony. The pas­sage you quote qui­et­ly mocks fad­dish young drinkers and their “more clum­sy” pour­ing tech­nique; it by no means marks approval of their pref­er­ence. “Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, sed­i­ment­ed beers.… should be poured with­out the sed­i­ment”, he wrote on anoth­er occa­sion, when asked direct­ly whether yeast should be mixed with beer. [3]

Again, you treat His words as a blunt tool. Who was more aware of the vari­a­tions between beer styles, and beer cul­tures, than Jack­son? He did not use the word “gen­er­al­ly” care­less­ly – this was no com­mand­ment! He had no objec­tion to cloudy or hazy beer in the right con­text – approv­ing com­ments of Ger­man and Bel­gian wheat beers appears abound – but I will con­cede that a con­cern is evi­dent in His words when describ­ing the min­gling of dis­tinct beer cul­tures.

You refer, of course, to his com­ments on Eng­lish cask wheat beers? [4]

Quite so. But he does not con­demn or deny, only observes: “Doubt about the will­ing­ness of British drinkers to accept cloudy beer remains the biggest wor­ry of brew­ers mak­ing this style.” He does not say that British-style beers ought to be clear, only that they gen­er­al­ly are. This might be inter­pret­ed as a crit­i­cism, espe­cial­ly of old­er peo­ple, set in their ways – “the young, pre­fer the hazy ver­sions of wheat beer”.

Illustration: Micheal Jackson peers from behind his glasses.

Or not. He was him­self old when this was writ­ten and, as I have already point­ed out, viewed the crazes of the young with scep­ti­cism. I detect noth­ing in his writ­ing on Young’s Wheat Beer to sug­gest whole­heart­ed delight and, indeed, detect between-the-lines a lack of faith in the very idea.

Ah, as so often he presents us with a mir­ror reflect­ing our own prej­u­dices. We know, at least, that he believed it was pos­si­ble for “yeast… to add a lit­tle tex­ture, but no bite”. [5]

Though we are told the haze of an NEIPA is not gen­er­al­ly the prod­uct of sus­pend­ed yeast, but hop mat­ter, aren’t we? Appear­ance aside, what of the flavour? He insist­ed, always, that India Pale Ale should be “above aver­age in… hop bit­ter­ness”, but NEIPAs are char­ac­terised by low bit­ter­ness. This would have been a black mark against them in his eyes.

But NEIPA is not IPA. Per­haps he might have ques­tioned the ter­mi­nol­o­gy, but that does not mean he would have dis­put­ed the right of the style to exist, or dis­liked the beers that fall with­in it. He pre­ferred man­go las­si to beer with cur­ry, I men­tion as an aside [6], and once laud­ed a beer with elder­flower essence. [7]

I con­tend that he was essen­tial­ly con­ser­v­a­tive, nonethe­less. When asked to choose his top ten Amer­i­can beers he picked pil­sner, dort­munder, impe­r­i­al stout, Bel­gian-style beers, steam beer… [8] He plead­ed for authen­tic­i­ty in IPA and porter, not rein­ven­tion. When what might have been seen as new styles emerged, such as gold­en ale, he was able to embrace them only by con­nect­ing them to the tra­di­tions of the past. [9]

And yet he was among the first to notice and laud the extreme beers of Sam Cala­gione! [10]

Laud? Again I detect more inter­est then admi­ra­tion in his words – the atti­tude of an observ­er at a cir­cus freak­show.

The Grand Imbiber ris­es from the throne, staff aloft, and the schol­ars fall silent.

I believe we have heard enough. Here is my judge­ment: there is noth­ing in his teach­ings to sug­gest that NEIPA would dis­please the Mas­ter, and much to sug­gest that it would have intrigued him. Whether it, or any indi­vid­ual exam­ple there­in, would have delight­ed him, we can­not pre­sume to say. Cer­tain­ly the Mas­ter would nev­er have pub­licly denounced NEIPA, even had he felt it in his heart, for first among his teach­ings was this: “If I can find some­thing good to say about a beer, I do… If I despise a beer, why find room for it?” [11]

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.