Every now and again there is a knock at the front door and my 13-year-old will look up momentarily from FIFA 12, raise his eyes heavenward and note: “That’ll be more beer, then.”
It’s true. Running a beer website one does tend to get sent the occasional sample, solicited or sometimes just a complete surprise. Lately, the build-up under the Beer Today desk has started to resemble an off-licence.
There are two things I can do. Sit at home like a sad Billy No Mates and make my way slowly through these offerings, or invite a few pals for a communal tasting.
And so, on a Saturday afternoon, I found myself in a corner of the Star, at Crowlas, courtesy of landlord and brewer extraordinaire Peter Elvin, with experienced beer bloggers and all-round nice guys Boak & Bailey, young Andre, keen to learn more of the brewer’s art, young-at-heart Derek, who is a brown beer man mainly, but open to the occasional foray into golden or dark lands, and Dave. Who likes a beer. Or two.
What follows are the selected highlights of a longish afternoon involving nigh on a couple of dozen beers. The coverage is limited by my note taking which became increasingly brief as the bottles went by. Sorry.
Oakham: Green Devil IPA (6% ABV)
Big, bold, citrus hop flavours in this IPA which, fortunately, came in a 660ml bottle, as it was probably our favourite of the afternoon. Very well balanced — there was good malt, possibly lager malt — but with good bitterness on the finish which just makes you want more.
St Austell: Royal Diamond Imperial IPA (9%)
I was in two minds about bringing this to the tasting. A numbered, 750ml bottle, one-off brew. But heck, life’s for living, beer’s for tasting, not admiring in pretty bottles. After the Green Devil IPA (above), this was a comedown in terms of hop punch, but once we got into it we liked it as much. Beautiful balance and good hop flavours. The beer had secondary fermentation in Champagne bottles from Cornwall’s famous Camel Valley winery and the light carbonation meant the flavours danced beautifully on the tongue. Just 1,000 bottles were made of this. I feel privileged.
Sharp’s Connoisseur’s range
These beers got a great reception and completely bury any thought that Sharp’s is just about world domination by Doom Bar. Brewing genius Stuart Howe was one of the pioneers of the small plant in a big brewery that seems so common now. The Connoisseur’s range comprises three very different beers that showcase the brewer’s skill perfectly.
Single Brew Reserve 2011 (4.5%)
The Czech Saaz hops give this golden beer a continental taste, indeed it reminded me quite a lot of Staurt’s 2010 Monsieur Rock collaboration with the Belgian brewer of the same name. It’s easy drinking, refreshing, with the complexity one would expect from a meeting of ale yeast with Saaz hops. We liked it a lot.
Honey Spice Tripel (10%)
Big flavours, big ABV, but very drinkable. Much in the style of a Belgian brew, the honey notes were very subtle, unlike some honey beers one comes across. At 10% ABV it’s to be savoured and treated with respect, hence the 330ml bottle. Trappist yeast gives Belgian-style authenticity and the Saaz hops are there again, this time softened a little with Styrian Goldings. Spicing is from coriander seeds, one of my favourite flavours to find in a beer, and the result is delightful, very warming and reassuring.
Quadrupel Ale (10%)
We had this toward the end of the session, which was probably just as well, even though, again, it’s in a 33oml bottle, so small rations all round. Appropriately, though, not unlike a glass of a decent port at the end of a meal. What is Quadrupel? Is it a barley wine? Is it an old ale? Yes, and so much more. It’ dark ruby, it’s warming and comforting and we loved it just as much as this year’s International Beer Challenge judges who placed it on the podium with a gold medal around its neck. Pass the cheese board.
An American brewer from Dover Delaware, one of those cheeky monkeys who think they can replicate European styles in the US. Actually, like a lot of American brewers, they’re getting pretty good at this. Sometimes they tweak, sometimes they make the flavours just too darn big, but there are success stories.
The big success from this collection was Copperhead (5.2%) which, although not described as such, had Bailey enthusing that they had nailed the altbier style. It’s certainly an all-German ingredients line-up, with Magnum, Select and Tettnang hops and Caramunich malt.
Wadworth’s Beer Kitchen collection
In fairness, this selection of beers, designed to go with food, wasn’t tasted in optimum conditions. Obviously, apart from the short-lived box of Carr’s water biscuits, we weren’t trying the beers with food, and had we done so they probably would have been chilled, rather than served at cellar temperature. However, they did show how Wadworth is branching out from its traditional real ale roots and thinking about flavours well. We agreed that most of the beers were ‘most un-Wadworthy’ although in most cases we could think of preferred interpretations of the styles. For instance, myself and Boak & Bailey had all recently been to Tap East, in London, and tried their house Coffee in the Morning, which we felt had the edge over the Beer Kitchen Espresso Stout. But I think we need to revist these with food to see them put to the test properly.
Old Worthy Scottish Pale Ale (5%)
Beer brewed on the Isle of Skye by a former distillery man with peat smoked barley is going to draw comparisons with Innis & Gunn’s well-known brews. I preferred this beer, though, for its more subtle smoky flavours. Brewery owner Nick Ravenhall is new to this industry, and this is contract brewed at Isle of Skye Brewery, but the signs look good and we’ll look forward to seeing more from Old Worthy.
Grain Brewery: Redwood (5%)
Ah, the memories, of drinking this on draught in Grain’s brewery tap, The Plough, in Norwich. It’s a super beer, reminiscent of an Irish red ale, plenty of fruity hoppy bite with a backbone of strong malt. The bottle is a good taste of Norfolk in Cornwall, but I can’t wait to get back to The Plough.
PVK: Saison (7.5%)
Belgian brewer Pierre van Klomp does what he does best. Classy Saison in minimalist packaging, perhaps a little warmer than intended (it hadn’t been cellared prior to the tasting) and with more carbonation than maybe he intended, but all the same glorious Saison in the sun, zesty and refreshing, with a little spiciness. As the brewer says: “I do not compose complicated melodies; I strike a few simple notes, with total concentration, time and again, until their sound is just so.” Can’t wait to try some of his other recipes.