Monday, 3 July 2017

What makes an IPA?

So…. What is an IPA???

I’m going to make an assumption here, you’ve probably had an IPA… you’ve probably had several… in fact, you’ve most likely had quite a few variations of said IPA, but at what point does an IPA stop being an IPA?

Is this an IPA?
There are so many versions of ale or beer that are labelled as an IPA that have such different tastes, textures, aromas that it is becoming increasingly difficult to truly define the style.

Broadly speaking, in craft terms, an IPA can be defined as a pale coloured beer that has a heavy hop profile and a thin-medium mouthfeel. However, within the term there are now other offshoots. In the US there is a clear line between the more traditional, hoppy and resinous West Coast IPA’s and the thick, juicy, hazy East Coast (New England) IPA’s. This extends now into a newer definition, the Milkshake IPA… a beer brewed with an increasing amount of oats and lactose sugar for a thick, fruity, almost sweet taste.

Or is this an IPA?
Back in Blighty, the IPA has traditionally been of a real ale version. Flavour profiles tend to be much more malty, and can be darker in colour than the current trend of IPA’s but these are closer in style to the original Pale Ale’s that were first brewed to cater for the tastes of wealthy land owners and had a higher malt profile.

Unlike the current trends with IPA’s, the original India pale ale was developed as a beer that was brewed explicitly to age during the long voyage to India, where the strong hoppy flavours were in demand. (It was common for brewers to specifically age their pale ales for up to two years before selling, or drinking themselves).

These days of course, freshness is key and most brewers of more modern craft IPA’s (and double/triple IPA’s) would even have a consume by date on the can/bottle and even a few weeks can make all the difference to the flavour profile.

So, with such a variety of styles, flavours and textures all encompassed under the generic IPA label, is it not time perhaps for a little reclassification….. should these new Milkshake IPA’s not be called OPA’s (Oat Pale Ale) or MPA’s (Milk Pale ale, similar to the way we have Milk Stouts)

Should the hopped-up pale ales from the US all be encompassed as APA’s (American Pale Ales)

However they are presented, it is safe to say that the definition of an IPA will be forever as murky as a freshly brewed NE DIPA

Thursday, 11 May 2017

An exploration of Bristol… through beer of course

As opposed to singling out one brewer for this instalment, I’ve decided to focus on the brewery rich area of Bristol after having the pleasure of spending a day bar, bottle shop and brewery hopping around this great city

The original idea for this adventure came off the back of an invitation to visit one of my favourite up and coming breweries, Lost andGrounded, and that was my first port of call.

Located in the middle of an industrial estate about a 10-minute drive from the centre, Lost and Grounded’s journey began in 2015 with their first beers underway in 2016. They take their inspiration from the precise nature of German and Belgian brewing and add their own twist. I have already covered these guys in a previous blog post so please check it out for more details.

On this particular day, I had the honour of being shown around the facility by Head brewer Alex who took me through the process and equipment and was everything I would expect from a man who loves beer and the process of brewing beer. I couldn’t help but pick up his infectious enthusiasm, especially as I was given a special sampling of their new double IPA, Keeping up with the Joneses. Definitely keep an eye out for this one!!

Moving on from Lost and Grounded, I headed to the city centre to explore some of the amazing craft beer bars and bottle shops that Bristol had to offer.

My first stop was Brewdog Bristol on Baldwin Street, right next to the river. The bar itself, much like other Brewdog bars, is very bohemian in nature, with an offbeat, yet homely feel.
With such a huge abundance of beer available it was a little difficult to settle on what to drink so, after a few samples kindly provided by the incredibly knowledgable staff, I decided on a 4-way flight. Consisting of elvis Juice, a personal BD fave of mine, The physics amber ale, the latest Born to Die which was a real hoppy wonder, and their newest NE style Vermont IPA that was above and beyond the best of the style I have had, this perfectly set my mood for the next leg of my adventure.

Now time for a little shopping and luckily, in the vicinity of Brewdog there are a couple of good bottle shops.

First up, Brew Bristol on St. Nicholas Street. Not only a bottle shop but purveyors of home brewing supplies as well. Expecting to find some hidden gems from local breweries I was left a little disappointed to find just core beers from the likes of Northern monk, Magic Rock and Beavertown and a smattering of local brews from Moor Beer (‘Moor’ on them later) and Wiper and true. A good selection for when you want some fridge fillers but its plain to see their focus is on brewing supplies. So many choices of grains and hops one can’t help but think of the delicious concoctions one could brew up with such choice!

Leaving empty handed, I then headed south to King St. and to The Beer Emporium, a bottle shop on top of a cellar bar. This was more like it! Greeted by a wall of beer as I entered I just wasn’t sure where to look first, amongst some of the usual fair, there was a good range of local beers and some hard to find foreign offerings.

After a quick browse I decided to check out the bar down below and was struck by just how much like a prohibition era speak easy this looked, subtle lighting emphasising the curve of the ceiling and ambience you could cut with a knife. There was a huge array of different beers on tap, both local and from further afield but I settled on a half of Wiper and True Quintet IPA and got comfy.
On my way out, I couldn’t help but pick up a couple of tasty offerings from local brewers Left Handed Giant and Good chemistry and off I went again.

As the evening drew in, there was one more brewery I just had to visit, Moor Beer Co. on the edge of Barton and Lawrence Hill.
Moor Beer has been on my bucket list to visit for some time as I’d heard that their tap room was a pretty cool place to sink a few, and that’s just what I did whilst waxing lyrical with the staff about the current state of the craft industry and beer in general.
Beer wise, I knew I was in for some real treats so I started off light and worked my way up to the real beasts.

So’hop was first off the tap, a citrus pale ale brewed exclusively with southern hemisphere hops that whet the appetite for what was to come.

Next on the list was PMA – Positive Mental Attitude, a hoppy pale ale brewed with oats for a luscious mouthfeel. As well as being a delicious beer, a portion of the profits from this go to the charity Hardcore Hits Cancer! A truly worthy cause!!

Return of the Empire was up next, a modern English IPA brewed with a new, experimental hop variety called Jester. This beer is defined by its intensely hoppy, resinous flavour…. Oh, and it was bloody good!

I finished up with something special, their 2016 vintage Fusion, an 8% old ale aged in somerset cider barrels. The flavours here are intense, rich dark malts, chocolate and caramel, some sweet fruits and a thick, full body.

Alas, it was getting late, and night was closing in (as was my head at this point) so I headed back to my hotel with a generous takeout from Moor and a cool new T-shirt to boot.

My day hopping around Bristol took me to some very good, innovative breweries, some awesome bars and decent bottle shops however, the final gem of my trip was on the way out of Bristol on Brislington Hill, Love toBrew home brew supplies and off license. This small shop (and online store) was in an unassuming row of shops set back off the road that, if you didn’t know was there, you would easily miss. However, they had possibly the best selection of newly released bottles and cans and easily the best selection of local brews than any of the centrally located shops. Needless to say, after a good chat with the owner, Simon, and plenty of browsing, I left with a good box full of beer to take home.

Despite my many great stops, this was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Bristol’s craft beer scene. I didn’t get a chance to visit such great breweries as Wiper and True, Left handed giant, Goodchemistry, Bristol Beer Factory, Crane beer, Arbor or New Bristol brewery which only means I’m gonna have to go back and do this all over again……..

Friday, 7 April 2017

Time and Tide (and beer) wait for no man!!

When you are looking for the most exciting up and coming breweries in the UK, you have to look to the East…. Almost as far East as you can in the UK to the small village of Eastry in Kent. There you will find Time and Tide Brewing.

Founded on the idea of creating unique beers and experimenting with flavours that you wouldn’t think would ever work (A beetroot Hefeweizen anyone??!!), Time and Tide have managed to do what so many other smaller breweries have struggled with, creating a consistent and solid line up of beers that create all the hype for themselves and leave everyone talking about them.

Not content with just pushing out great beer, they are constantly engaging with their customers, getting and taking feedback to improve or just to engage in chatter about all things beer and it’s this presence that has enamoured them to so many in the craft community.

Below are my thoughts on the beers I’ve had so far and even a sneak peek at an as yet unreleased beer that I was very lucky to sample…….

The Kraken Coffee stout – 7.4%

'What a Kraken grasps, it does not lose, be it a longship or a leviathan'..... George R.R. Martin could not have been more right because once this this deliciously dark denizen of the deep has you he's never letting go!!! One of my all time favourite coffee stouts, The Kraken is one of those beers I can just go to over and over again.
This pours a thick, deep black with a dense beige head. Big aromas of black coffee and dark chocolate with a vanilla sweetness. Taste is pure coffee and chocolate goodness with some essence of toasted malts and molasses. There's a small amount of carbonation and a medium body. I know there have been a few tweaks to the recipe since I first had this and they've only made it better!!

The great beer dad rating - 9/10

All in Jim IPA – 5.4%

That's right..... I'm going All In....Jim!!
This is a great IPA brewed with citra, cascade, sorachi and herkules hops with an ABV of 5.4%
This pours gold with a light haze and has some nice aromas of peach, passionfruit and pine. Taste is fairly sweet with a lasting bitterness at the back but it's not overpowering. In the middle of all of that there's stone fruits and grapefruit.
This is a really good, sessionable IPA that I could easily fill the fridge with

The great beer dad rating - 8.5/10

Double stout – 9%

Lots of chocolate, coffee and roasted malt on the nose as soon as the ring was pulled. Silky smooth pour with a thick off-white head. Taste is coffee and chocolate with a good smokiness. This doesn't feel like a 9% beer and I could happily drink this through the day

The great beer dad rating - 9/10

Papa Midnight black IPL – 6.5%

This is a real enigma of a beer, as the name suggests it pours a deep black with aromas of roasted malts, herbs and grass. Taste is a delightful blend of roasted grains with citrusy hops and pine with a nice warmth at the finish. Time to embrace the darkness and let it take me.....

The great beer dad rating - 8.5/10

Domino white stout – 8.6%

We end with a very special sneak preview of Time and Tide’s 8.6% imperial white stout, Domino. This is a big beer, no doubt about it. As the name suggests it pours a very pale amber colour but the aromas are all impy stout, roasted malts, chocolate and smoke with a little sweetness. The taste follows nicely, with the same deep roasty flavours and a hoppy bitterness at the end. Lighter mouthfeel than a traditional impy stout but in no way detracts from what is a fantastic beer. Personally, I can't wait until this is released so I can get some more and especially see if ageing adds anything to the flavour

The great beer dad rating - 9/10

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Us Brits… all we do is talk about the (Wild) weather….

Come rain or shine, there’s only one weather I want to talk about… hold on to your hats as it’s gonna get wild!!

Based in Silchester, just outside Reading, Wild Weather ales is now in its fifth year producing excellent beer. Named as such by owner Mike Tempest, as a play on his surname, Wild Weather ales draws its inspiration from new world hops, German malts and all manner of styles from all over the globe.
A quick look at their current line-up will show just how many different influences there are in their brewing. From their Earl grey IPA, ‘Storm in a teacup’, to two awesome sours, ‘Damn Dead Strawberry’ and ‘Peach of a Weekend’, and to the frankly absurd yet equally brilliant collaboration with Weird Beard brew co., ‘Such a Bohr’, a kaffir lime saison/coconut stout blend.

The first thing you will notice about a Wild weather beer is the eye-catching label on the can. All the work of a local artist and punk musician known to the brewery called Mark Bell. His artwork really makes the cans stand out on the shelf and adds a touch of irreverence and fun.

Not content with producing their own stand out brews, they have branched out and collaborated with some of the UK’s other fine breweries, including the aforementioned Weird Beard Brew Co, Elusive Brewing and Bad SeedBrewery. Such collaborations have only helped Wild Weather to grow as a brewery, expand their knowledge and allowed them to experiment with new techniques and flavour combinations that might not seem so obvious.

For Wild Weather, the future is certainly bright. Expanding their brewing capacity as and when it’s needed and putting plans in place to hit the export market can only mean more great beer being available to more people… and that’s really the end game of every brewery.

Now, on to some reviews… As I’ve had the fortune to sample a good number of the current line up I’ll stick to the brews that have really stood out for me.

Such a Bohr is a kaffir lime saison coconut stout blend brewed in collaboration with Weird Beard Brew Co. and is as awesome as it sounds. This pours a thick, gooey black with a fair bit of carbonation and has so much aroma it's ridiculous, big hits of lime and coconut on the nose with some dark chocolate. The taste is incredibly complex, it starts with a citrusy bite from the lime and follows to a smooth chocolate-coconut blend with some bready malt at the back. If this had been a little less carbonated it would have been almost perfect. Even so, for a weird concept this is incredibly good!

The great beer dad rating - 8.5/10

When you need some funk in your life I can't recommend this Kwantum State kaffir lime saison enough. Another collaboration with Weird Beard Brew Co., this pours a clear golden colour with a good amount of sweetness floral notes and funk on the nose. Taste is medium sweet, quite bitter at the back with a little zestiness. Finishes with a doughy malt taste and more floral notes. I was expecting more of a citrusy vibe but the balance here is pretty spot on 

The great beer dad rating - 8/10

Damn Dead Strawberry, their strawberry lactose sour was the first of Wild Weather’s sours I had (Followed shortly by Peach of a weekend, their peach sour) and it was damn dead delicious!! First off, and the Brits among us will know, it has the aroma of a strawberry mivvi ice lolly, so much strawberry going on! Taste is as you'd expect.... strawberry but it's the very soon following sourness that really makes this. After that initial sweetness the gentle sourness just takes over and really lingers! Fantastic!!

The great beer dad rating - 8/10

Storm in a teacup earl grey IPA. This was the genesis for me, the first Wild Weather ale I had and the one that made me stand up and take notice. This Pours a deliciously hazy golden colour, aroma is full of tropical fruits and citrus. Taste is orange and lemon with just a hint of the earl grey which isn't overpowering as it can, and has been. Very nice indeed

The great beer dad rating – 9/10

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

An Odyssey to the promised land of beer

Some say that the leap into brewing is a voyage into the unknown so calling your brewery Odyssey would seem fitting.

Odyssey brew co. is a family run brewery based on the National Trust Brockhampton Estate in Hereford and takes its inspiration from the incredibly diverse US craft beer scene and their beer line up reflects that perfectly, from light, fragrant wheat beers, to hoppy pale ales through to deep, luxurious coffee stouts.

Their mantra is product before profit, something that really should be the case for a lot of breweries, and they only sell through independent retailers, bars and pubs, and through their own tap room, The Beer in Hand, in Hereford.

The US influence can be seen clearly in their current line up of released beer, with a range of hop forward IPA’s, including the fantastic San Diego Unsession IPA and Dr. Greenthumb double IPA. For those who prefer the darker side there are such delights as the imperial Hop Zombie Blood, an imperial red ale, and their Latte Stout Export (See below) that I hear may have an imperial version coming for 2017.

They have also branched out recently on the awesome collaboration beer, Honey Bee Good with the also excellent Deya Brewing, review below

The beers

Devil May Care India Pale ale – 7.4%

This was my first ever brew from Odyssey and what an epic beer it is!!!
A big, dank IPA, this pours a dark amber colour with a thin head and huge tropical fruit aromas, mainly mango and pineapple with a little malty goodness. Taste is actually a little bitter at first then straight into those thick tropical fruits, finishing quite dry with a hint of grapefruit. Honestly, this is one of the best single IPA's I have had in a while and at 7.4% it's a bit of a banger.

The great beer dad rating - 9/10

Honey Bee Good – Collaboration with Deya Brewing – 5%

Proof positive right here that brewery collaboration is a wonderful thing! Honey bee good from is a real gem. This pours a gorgeous golden colour and fills the room with big aromas of stone fruits, vanilla, sweet, sticky honey and a truck load of hops. Taste however is no way near as sweet which is a good thing in my opinion. Plenty of Hop bitterness smoothed out with those fruits and only a mild hint of that honey that just enhances it rather than overpowers. Mouthfeel is thick and luxurious, this is a proper, beery milkshake. I would happily fill my fridge with this!!

The great beer dad rating - 9/10

Latte Stout Export – 6.6%

Honestly, I can't fault this Latte stout export from, it's everything I look for in a good stout. Pours a thick, jet black with aromas of dark chocolate, smoky roasted malts, and rich milky coffee.
Flavour is just a pure copy of that amazing aroma, smooth chocolate and a lovely smokiness. Finishes with a little vanilla and some more roasted coffee. I'm gonna say it, I love this beer! At 6.6% this is just right for a big bottle that can be enjoyed at leisure 

The great beer dad rating - 10/10

Monday, 6 March 2017

Good beer is closer than you think!

For this post I’m looking a lot closer to home… about 3 miles away to be precise, at a relatively new brewery in Swindon

Now, Swindon (And Wiltshire in general) seems to be a bit of a craft beer black hole… a place where real ale reigns supreme, with only a handful of decent bottle shops to choose from for anything crafty.

So, you can imagine my surprise, and sheer joy to find, purely by chance, a craft brewer practically on my doorstep.

Old Town Craft Brewing, as the name suggests, is based in the old town area of Swindon. The area itself has gone through a bit of a renaissance and redevelopment, including the addition of a new craft beer bar and improvements in craft offerings from the local bottle shop.

Although very young, by brewery standards, Old Town Craft Brewing has been around in essence under former guises. Originally Ormskirk Brewing Company (OBC) back in 2011 and producing a style of wheat beers inspired by the German Weisse beers and more modern American HefeWeizen styles. After initial success in the North of the country, OBC was moved south to Swindon and Old Town Craft Brewing was established in 2012 with the aim to produce high quality crafted ales and fruit wines.

Throughout 2013 and into 2014, the Brewery started to embrace the idea of craft beers fully, experimenting with different techniques and flavour combinations to produce unique brews and using locally grown hops and foraged fruits and other ingredients.

At the end of 2014 and into 2015 the Brewery started its #CoHop project. Supplying local residents, business and other interested parties with hop plants for them to grow in their gardens, with the hops grown harvested and brewed into fresh new beers and then shared by the local community and beyond. This kind on project is a big step forward for a small brewer as it allows the use of the freshest possible hops and all locally, sustainably sourced and also gives a sense of connection with the local community. If you’re local and want to get involved click here.

The first time I had even heard of Old Town Craft Brewing was on a flyer for a Christmas market last year and I was immediately curious… how could a craft brewer just a fair walk away go under the radar so easily! Therefore, I took the wife and kid along to the market under the guise of ‘christmas shopping’ and lo and behold I was met with a stand full of delicious looking beer (at which point my wife twigged why I was really so keen to go).

I was lucky to have gotten there early enough to have a good chat while sampling some of their core beers, at that time two different pale ales and a porter, that I will discuss more below. At the time of the fayre, the Brewery was still operating on a small scale, producing what can only be described as nano batches for the local craft and ale bars and bottles for fayres like this. Only now, after being granted a premises license are they able to sell direct to the public from the brewery itself which will no doubt have a profound impact on their sales and allow for much easier availability.

Now, onto the important things….. the beer!!

I was lucky to have been able to pick up one of each of the three available beers at the time, these were two from their Artisan range, a green hop IPA and their Easy IPA, and one of their core beers, the Bushcraft Porter, a hand-crafted porter brewed with craft and aged hops along with some foraged fruits.

The Artisan range consists of very small batch brews, using all of the locally grown and foraged wild hops that are crafted into a wide variety of beers, from standard IPA’s to Saison/farmhouse styles, wheat beers, porters and more. The two on offer here were;

Artisan project #25, their Easy IPA brewed with 6 different hop varieties giving a big fruity punch and a nice balanced bitterness.

Artisan project #26, the 2016 variant of their green hop IPA. Using only locally grown ingredients this beer is bitter to the extreme, owing to the huge amounts of ‘green’ hops used in the brew These are fresh, unprocessed hops that need go into a brew straight from the bines with the beer needing to be drank as soon after bottling as possible for the best taste. Brewing with ‘green’ hops also means you never really know what flavour profile you might end up with, it could be grassy/herbal, decidedly bitter, or intensely fruity.
Initial favours with the bottle I had were very much like any IPA, light and fruity, but then the bitterness really kicks in. Personally, I loved that big contrast from delicate fruit sweetness to in your face bitterness. The other real plus for me is that the bitterness doesn’t linger in your mouth, meaning each sip gives that same light initial taste then transforms.

In a market place that is in danger of becoming saturated with the ever growing number of craft breweries, it’s my hope that Old Town is in there for the long haul. With a unique approach and even more unique beers they have so much to offer.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Now I know my ABC’s won’t you come and drink with me!

For this post I will be focusing on a brewery that I had seen around for a little while but only very recently had the pleasure to sample.

Alphabet Brewing Company, founded in 2014, is based in Manchester, which is fast becoming a craft beer Mecca in the UK. Their website states that their modus operandi is to make kickass beers, brewing modern styles and re-interpretations of old ones, all using the best ingredients they can get our hands on, and sold as fresh as possible. For that first part, they are definitely hitting their brief. Looking at their range there are definitely a lot of interpretations of classic beer styles (Gogglebox, a raspberry and vanilla pale ale and Flat White, reviewed below, a white breakfast stout being among them)

The second point is a little harder to define!

Whilst I know that brewers these days are incredibly tuned in to the need for the freshest possible product, and will always bottle/can and ship almost the same day, once a beer leaves the brewery that’s when things fall down. This may have been the case with the can of ‘A to the K’ oatmeal pale ale that I had (See below).

My general rule of thumb, especially for unfiltered craft beer, is that the paler it is, the sooner it should be consumed for the best flavour. For an IPA, I would normally want to be drinking it less than 4 weeks from canning/bottling. Of course, this issue lies with the fact that most breweries still do not print the production date on the can/bottle. I’ve only ever seen this on some American produced beers and, more recently, the Cloudwater DIPA’s.

A brewer can get the freshest beer possible out of the brewery but how long that beer sits in a shelf or in a dusty stock room is another thing altogether. The first review below highlights this issue for me.

Please brewers… Print the canning/bottling date on the label!

A to the K oatmeal pale ale

This was the first beer I had had from Alphabet and was, to my palate anyhow, not the freshest. This pours a relatively clear golden colour, despite being unfiltered with aromas of mild citrus and tropical fruits balanced with pale malts. So far, so good..... initial taste is quite pleasant, soft fruits, citrus and grapefruit, but it's the aftertaste that lets this down, there is an overpowering bitterness that lingers for some time on the palate. It's a very dry, earthy bitterness that might be due to the oats but I can't really say. I really don’t mind a bit of bitterness, in fact, so long as it’s well balanced it is encouraged, but this overpowers each following sip to the point that you would almost need a palate cleanser inbetween. Without that lingering bitterness, this would have been a solid 8-8.5 pale ale as the initial taste was wonderful but alas it was not to be.

the great beer dad rating - 7/10

Flat White pale breakfast stout

After having seen this floating around social media I jumped at the chance to pick this up when it was in my local shop. To quote Bones, ‘It’s a stout Jim, but not as we know it!’ As soon as I poured this, that big roasted coffee hit on the nose and the pale redish colour was a complete juxtaposition. I’ll tell it as it is, drinking this is just like knocking back a double espresso. The coffee completely dominates the flavour, which isn’t all bad for a coffee addict like me, but I would have liked some more chocolate notes and roasted malts to come through. Something else lacking was a body. This is very thin for a stout, I would have liked a more heavy mouthfeel from this style of beer but that personal taste and others may prefer the lighter variant. Overall, I actually like this. There is a huge flavour packed into this beer but the lack of complexity and the thin mouthfeel let it down a little for me.

the great beer dad rating - 7.5/10