Showing posts with label IPA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label IPA. Show all posts

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Old Friends: Starr Hill Northern Lights

Many moons ago, when Fuggled was in its infancy, Mrs Velkyal and I were still living in Prague, and a night out on the lash didn't cost me an arm and leg, a friend brought me a bottle of beer from a brewery called Starr Hill. The beer in question was simply called Pale Ale, and I wrote about it here. Fast forward a few months and Mrs V and I had made the transition across the Pond, a night out on the lash cost me an arm and a leg, and I was working for the very same Starr Hill Brewery, spending my weekends behind the bar at their tasting room.

Back then in the dim and distant days of the late noughties, I actually quite liked the occasional IPA, and given the employee perk of a pay day case of beer, I quite often drank Starr Hill's IPA, Northern Lights, and I quite liked it. Sure, I preferred Dark Starr Stout, but a pint of Northern Lights was a regular sight.Come the beginning of 2015 I decided to move on from Starr Hill and start enjoying 2 day weekends without any work, and as a result I drank less and less of their beer. When thinking about beers to include in my Old Friends series, it made sense to include some Starr Hill stuff, and Northern Lights seemed the obvious choice, so I bought a couple of 12oz bottles as part of a build your own six pack, and poured them into my imperial pint dimpled mug...


I have to admit to almost reveling in an IPA that poured as beautifully clear as Northern Lights, a light copper liquid topped with a good half inch of white foam that lingered resolutely and left a delicate lacing down the sides of the glass.


The aroma was classic American style IPA, redolent with pine resin, positively dripping with grapefruit, and just a hint of herbal dankness in the background, it was like time travel. Tastewise the citrus and pine flavours from the hops where upfront and centre, but being an East Coast IPA there was a sweet toffee note that lent an element of balance. Being a more old school IPA, the bitterness was very much there, firm, bracing, and everything a bitter beer should be, lovers of NEIPA need not apply here for sure.


With each mouthful, and a quick 4oz top up on the 20oz pint glass, the bitterness built, like the layers of hand dipped candles. With an ABV of 5.3%, Northern Lights isn't going to knock you on your arse, but the booze is well integrated and doesn't detract from the interplay of hop bitterness and malt sweetness. Northern Lights is an old school East Coast IPA, but in a good way, a bracingly bitter beer that deserves revisiting by many.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Mysteries of the East

I have been pondering what to do with this year's International Homebrew Project, especially with 70% of respondents to my little poll over in the right rail saying they would take part depending on the recipe.

As I was looking back at previous years' projects I realised that we have done several styles without ever tackling the most popular craft beer style, India Pale Ale.


That then will be the theme for this year, but don't worry I don't expect you to do a Pete Brown and traipse your homebrew on a ship from Burton to India via Brazil. I am going to avail myself of some historic IPA recipes and then run another poll to decide which one gets the nod.

If you are one of the 7 folks that said your participation was dependent on the recipe, please leave a comment on this post about whether India Pale Ale works for you.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Greene King IPA

Quite some time ago, just a few months after I started this blog, I found myself sat in a pub in England. It was Christmas day, the last time myself and my three brothers were all together, dinner was done, and things were winding down toward the evening. My eldest brother and I took a stroll to the pub at the end of his then street for a pint or two. Stood at the bar, the options were somewhat limited, so I ordered a pint of Greene King IPA. Said pint didn't last but a mouthful or two, the smell of rubber carpet underlay was so strong that I gave it up for a pint of Guinness.

A couple of weekends ago, bimbling around our local Trader Joe's, I came across bottles of The King's English IPA, which according to the label is brewed and bottled by the very same Greene King. I hadn't bothered with the back label until Mrs V and I had got home, decided we were in for the day, and I figured it was time for a pint. I had bought two bottles, and polished them off with gusto, so when Mrs V and I were at our weekly shop yesterday I got another pair to see if it would become a regular in the cellar.


As for the beer itself, it pours a deep amber, bordering on red, topped off with a firm ivory head which lingered for the duration. The dominant aroma was toffee, laced with traces of cocoa, and just a hint of spicy hop aroma floating around in the background. Tastewise, the beer is a complex balance of bready malts, which come straight to the fore, only to give way to a sweet orange bite of hops. Balance really is the key word here, balance and a drinkability that belies the 6% abv.


As I savoured the last half pint of the latest pair of bottles I wondered at that pint of Greene King IPA in the English pub, as well as the Guinness that replaced it, and thought about the fantastic beers that bigger brewers are more than able of making. This Greene King IPA is like the Foreign Extra Stout to regular Guinness, something that makes you wonder why they bother with their uninspiring flagship.


Needless to say, The King's English will indeed be something of a regular in my cellar.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What is IPA?

When I managed to screw up my first attempt at the International Homebrew Project Burton Ale I was loathe to ditch all that wort and start fresh, so I chucked in a packet of Munton's yeast and decided to see what came out.

The other day I got round to bottling both that and the batch which hit the nail squarely on the head. I say the first batch was messed up, but in reality it just had less fermentable sugar from the mash than I wanted. In reality I had a 4.5% abv pale ale with an estimated IBU rating well north of 100. When I tasted the sample I took for a gravity reading I was actually quite surprised that my tongue didn't disintegrate, it was quite nice - and I say that as an avowed advocate of balance in my beer. This got me thinking, a dangerous pastime to be sure, and so I calculated that I had the equivalent of about 2.25 lbs of hops per barrel in my beer and whisked a quick email away to Ron to see if there was any precedent in history for a relatively low gravity, super hopped up beer. I am sure you have guessed already, there is.

India Pale Ale, that darling of the modern brewing industry and victim of an almost Protestantesque ignorance of a large chunk of its own history (for those not sure what I mean, for many Protestant denominations, Church History skips from about 313 AD to the late 16th Century without covering 1300 years of doctrinal development and ecclesiastical wranglings). For many in the beer world IPA was invented in the 18th century by George Hodgson to survive the long trip India, it then disappeared entirely until the nascent American brewing scene revived it and claimed it as its own. Shame the whole premise is utter bollocks, but why let facts get in the way of a good story?

One thing that gets lost in the miasma of misinformation and mythology is that IPA lingered in British brewing for a very long time before becoming the hop bomb it is today. At the turn of the 20th Century, British brewers were still making beers that they called IPA. Indeed, Whitbread brewed, in 1902, an IPA with an Original Gravity of 'just' 1.050, an ABV of 4.9%, and 2.65 pounds of hops per barrel. I am fairly sure that if a modern brewery made such a beer, it would be lauded as 'innovative' and 'ground breaking' or some such silly nonsense.

The truth of the matter is that beer styles evolve, as we saw with the development of Burton Ale, and that a modern beer like Green King IPA is no more or less of a 'traditional' IPA than Worthington White Shield or Starr Hill's Northern Lights, they are all expressions of the same tradition, just from different parts of the timeline.

Kind of makes you wonder what's the point of style guidelines and websites that advocate the rating of beer?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Too Many Hops?

There are times when I get the feeling that I come across as being something of an anti-hop crusader. However, I prefer to think of it as being sick of the apparent notion that seems to float around the indie beer drinker world that the more hops there are in a beer, the better. The reality though is that I like beers with a firm hop bite, a nice hop flavour and a pleasing hop aroma, I like the hopping to be a distinct element of the beer, not the sole focus of the beer - and no, IPA is NOT 'all about the hops'.

Having said that, and for fear of completely contradicting myself, there are times when I think beers have, to bastardise the , 'too many hops'. By this I don't mean that a beer is 'too hoppy', whatever the hell 'hoppy' actually means anyway, but rather that some beers have such a melange of hop varieties as to effectively become a mess.

Often, though not always, such beers are in the generic world of 'pale ale' or a 'black india' version of something. When I read a list of 7 or 8 hop varieties, usually, though again not always, the high alpha varieties, I can't help but wonder at times if the beer that results would benefit from fewer hop varieties and more attention being paid to the effects of the remaining hops so they are more distinct and pleasurable when drinking.


In thinking about many of my favourite beers to drink, as opposed to sample, they tend to have a maximum of three hop varieties, though in reality the vast majority use just one or two. Take my current favourite pilsner (sorry Pilsner Urquell, you've been usurped for the time being), Port City's Downright Pilsner, which gets all 43 of its IBUs from that majestic hop, Saaz, or even my favourite IPA being brewed in Virginia today, from St George down in Hampton, with its judicious, and exclusive, use of Fuggles. From further afield, take one of my favourite stouts, Wrasslers XXXX from Ireland's Porterhouse, hopped with Galena, Nugget and East Kent Golding (which reminds me, I should stock up on this beer at some point). With all three beers the hops are noticeable without intruding on the drinking, in a sense you could say that the hops know their place.

Maybe this feeling harks back to something I mentioned in my previous post about balance being an essential part of my definition of 'good' beer. For me it is not just a case of the overall beer being balanced, but that there is balance within the elements of a beer as well, and perhaps it in the hopping that this balance is most important and most easily disrupted.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cop That!

The other day as I was looking for something entirely different, I came across an online copy of Joseph Coppinger's 'The American Practical Brewer and Tanner'. This book was eagerly sought out by Thomas Jefferson as it contains a method for malting 'Indian corn' and in 1814 Jefferson's enslaved brewer, Peter Hemings, successfully made a beer using malted corn.

Something that really jumped out at me as I read the process for malting corn was Coppinger's claim that malted corn is 'peculiarly adapted to the brewing of porter'. Coppinger goes on in later sections of the book to give three processes for brewing porter, a description of porter malt and also a section on using 'essentia bina', a colouring derived from brown sugar which I assume is similar to black treacle. Coppinger claims that porter
is a liquor of modern date, which has nearly superseded the use of brown stout, and very much encroached on the consumption of other malt liquors, till it has become the staple commodity of the English brewery, and of such consequence to the government, in point of revenue, that it may be fairly said to produce more than all the rest.
I find that comment about porter superseding brown stout very interesting, as conventional wisdom is that porter preceded stout, though of course we know that at the time 'stout' was a synonym for 'strong'. Coppinger continues that:
when well brewed, and of a proper age, is considered a wholesome and pleasant liquor, particularly when drank out of the bottle; a free use is made of it in the East and West Indies, where physicians frequently recommend the use of it in preference to Madeira wine
More things of interest there, porter was considered better when bottled, and that it was being shipped from England to the Colonies in both the Caribbean and India - where have we heard that story before? But that last phrase got me thinking, doctors prescribed it more than they did Madeira wine. We all know that the hopped up pale ales that were shipped to India underwent a process of madeirisation on their 6 month journey around the globe, so it stands to reason that porter was affected in the same way, and don't forget that more porter went to India than pale ale. It makes me think that an experiment along the lines of Martyn's IPA 'hot maturation experiment' would be fascinating!

I can see Coppinger turning up in quite a few posts over the next wee while, especially as he has a few interesting looking recipes for various types of ales from the early 19th century...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Death of IPA

Last night at our monthly homebrew club meeting, Barlow Brewing's Jamey spoke about emerging beer styles and touched on several interesting points about what constitutes a "style". One part of his presentation looked at "experimental IPAs" such as Belgian IPA, Black IPA and this year's "innovation", White IPA. I have to admit that all three of the examples are beers that I have problems enjoying, regardless of what you call them, and this got me thinking about the nature of IPA.


As you know, India Pale Ale started life as a beer for the officer class of the East Indian Company's military wing and bounced around in very warm oceans for 6 months because nobody had built the Suez Canal yet. If you aren't aware of the real history of India Pale Ale, read Martyn Cornell's superb book "Amber, Gold and Black". Actually, read the book in general, it really is a mine of fascinating information.

Through the years breweries have sold pale beers under the moniker of India Pale Ale that range widely in strength, shades of pale and perceived bitterness. IPA eventually split along national lines to become British or American style IPA, depending on the use of hops. In the hands of small indepedent brewers, IPA has become the benchmark by which the quality of a brewery is measured in some minds. Today IPA is effectively a meaningless marketing term, appended to any type of beer as long as you hop the shit out of it and make it virtually unpalatable to anyone other than the latest lupulin loony that wandered into your tasting room.

In many ways you could say that IPA is the Pilsner of the early 21st century. Misunderstood, misappropriated and abused at will by marketeers to sell hopped up beers, just as "Pilsner" has come to mean in the minds of those who know no better, a pale, flacid lager, mass produced and sold cheap in dive bars.

What then does the future hold for IPA, both as a beer and a marketing term? Will some brave soul of a brewer actually have a stab at brewing an early style IPA and letting it hot mature for 4 months so we can see what the product that so wowed the East India Company's "servants"? Will we see endless bastardisation until IPA means precisely nothing or will IPA become accepted shorthand for any beer with too many hops in it?

Friday, February 10, 2012

IPA = I Prefer Anglo

Last night as Mrs V and I sat watching White Collar, I had a craving for a beer. With the Netflix paused I ventured out to the storage room, which doubles up as my beer cellar, and wandered back in with a few bottles, including one of Samuel Smith's India Ale. The India Ale was part of a gift pack of 3 Sam Smith's brews, a few beer mats and a fine looking pint glass, a proper pint that is. The pack was part of my Christmas gift from Mrs V's parents.


As I sat with this glass of rich amber nectar, I tweeted the following:

"you know, I do actually like IPA, proper IPA that is, as in British IPA. Bitter AND Balanced!"


I realise there is a very strong possibility that I am biased, and I say this in full awareness that there are America style IPAs that I like on occasion, but I simply find a hoppy pale ale brewed with the likes of Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings far more palatable than some Pacific North West enamel stripper. Perhaps it has something to do with the extra malt body and sweetness that a lot of British IPAs have, making them less like sucking a lemon and more like a hoppy marmelade?

Over Christmas when I had Durham's delicious Bombay 106 and the inestimable Worthington White Shield, I had the same reaction, bitter yes, but nicely balanced and drinkable. Speaking about White Shield, I have it on good authority that those evil magnates that allow great beer to be brewed on their premises (I mean, really how dare they!), MolsonCoors, will be exporting it to American shores in the early summer. Keep an eye out for it!

BTW - the bag in the background has the malts for my brewday tomorrow, Bohemian Pilsner, Munich, White Wheat, Special Roast and Aromatic, to be hopped with Chinook, spiced with coriander and grapefruit peel and fermented with Wyeast Belgian Abbey II. Kind of a spiced Belgo-American Amber Ale, kind of.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Saintly Brews

When I was trying to decide which online beer shop to buy my Christmas selection from way back in the entirely too warm depths of November, I had 2 absolute must requirements. Firstly, said shop had to sell Timothy Taylor Landlord and secondly have a selection of beers from the Durham Brewery. Only Beer Ritz satisfied these needs and so they got my cash.


The first, and previously only, experience of  Durham Brewery was back in 2008 when I had a bottle of Benedictus, an 8.4% barley wine which I really enjoyed and wished I had bought more of. This time I bought a 2 bottles of three of their beers, more Benedictus, Temptation and Bombay 106.

I am not really much of one for the American versions of India Pale Ale, I find many of them to be like sucking lemons, but British style IPA is something I quite often enjoy, regardless of where they are made. Bombay 106, named for a British light infantry regiment, is a healthy 7% abv and hopped with masses of Goldings according to the advertising blurb. The Goldings are very much the star of the show here, big, hefty dollops of spice and a citrus note like Seville oranges. Backed with a firm malty body which means the hops don't run away with it all. The finish is long and dry with just a hint of sherbet in there for fun.

Benedictus was largely as I remembered it, and remember it is how it will have to remain as it has been discontinued by the brewery. A beautiful copper colour, with a thin white head, the nose is a full frontal attack of toffee, canned fruit and citrus peel, and a boozy note chucked in. The sweet caramel taste dominates the drinking, though there is enough of a hop bite to stop it from furring the arteries.

The highlight though on the drinking front was Temptation, their Imperial Stout which smashes through the doors with a big hitting 10% abv. This stuff looks like crude oil, black, inky, more than opaque it sits in the glass like a liquid black hole. The huge body it a riot of sweet malt flavours, caramel, toffee, chocolate all playing against a noticeable coffee note and the spiciness of the hops. Sitting watching the TV and sipping this was the perfect way to end the day, having had one of my mother's home cooked meals. Perfection.

I think it is fair to say that whenever I head to the UK, I will be on the look out for more of the Durham Brewery's range, in particular their new historic beer, White Stout.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale

For the 2011 iteration of my Fuggled Review, I have decided to stick with the nice, simple approach that I adopted last year. Rather than trawling through the various categories accepted by the Brewers Association for the Great American Beer Festival, I will have 3 beer awards, one each for pale, amber and dark, as well as a blog of the year selection. I will choose a "best of" from Virginia, the rest of the US and then the rest of the world for each category. So without further ado, let's see the nominations for the Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year:
The St George IPA is that most rare of beasts, an American made, British style IPA. It is hopped exclusively with Fuggles and boasting a solid malty backbone, the combination of which reminds me a Seville orange marmalade. Unfortunately there are some who think Fuggles is a "boring" hop, personally I think they have just jumped on the grapefruit/pine resin bandwagon and fail to appreciate the flavours Fuggles brings to the table. Of the various pale beers from Virginia I have drunk this year, the St George IPA has been the most consistently enjoyable, and really what else is important?


Unless you have been cowering under a cyber rock at some dim and distant IP address, you will know that I love pilsner and will go out of my way to try beers availing themselves of that appellation. When a friend of Mrs V and I came to visit us from South Carolina, I asked her to bring me some beers that we couldn't get in Virginia, including the Bohemian Brewery 1842 Pilsener. Simply put, I was in heaven as I drank it. It very definitely hit the spot and ticked all the right boxes for a Czech style lager, decoction mash, Saaz hops, 5 weeks of lagering and easy drinking. Please, please, please would someone distribute them in Virginia!

Each summer, Mrs V and I buy season tickets to either Busch Gardens or Water Country USA in Williamsburg. This year we chose Busch Gardens, and when we went down for the day we stumbled across Sünner K?lsch in their Bavarian part of the park. We sat on a bench with a bratwurst wrapped in pretzel dough and shared the cold, clean, crisp beer between us - it was perfection.

I can choose but one of these three fine libations, and so the Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year is:
  • Bohemian Brewery 1842 Pilsener
So, for the second year in a row a Czech style pilsner beer take the award, still unburdened by financial value though with a modicum of history I guess! As I said in the title of my post about the beer, Americans CAN make good pilsners, it is just a damned shame so few of them bother to do it properly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale Ales

Pale Ales, whether English, American or of the India sort, have formed a large part of my drinking this year and form a nice little juxtaposition to the situation with Pale Lagers - the first 6 months of the year saw the occassional decent Pale Ale, while the second half has been a veritable flood of the stuff. I am sure some will find it too vague to lump together the various pale ale styles into a single grouping, of course not forgetting styles like bitter here, but it works for me (minor aside, does any one else find the BJCP style guides a bit hair splity?).

From a very strong field, the following three beers stood out:

In my final month in Prague I was unemployed, having been made redundant, and was researching for my book, The Pocket Pub Guide to Prague (available very soon). On the days when Mark and I weren't sitting in various drinking holes, taking notes and pictures (which I have been setting in the text and they are fabulous!), you could often find me in Tlusta Koala just round from my flat imbibing this simply wonderful IPA. Seriously hoppy, served perhaps a tad cold but just right for the warm early summer afternoons, it was the refreshment of champions, or at least this champion of Kocour.

Recently I went on a day trip to Northern Virginia's breweries with Dan from
CVille Beer Geek (most of the breweries were disappointing to be blunt), one of the highlights of the trip though was the Kybecca bottle shop in Fredericksburg where they keep a good stock of beer. It was there that I picked up a bottle of Sierra Nevada's gorgeous Torpedo. I am discovering that I like hoppy beers which have a good malty body, Torpedo is almost its perfect expression.

Charlottesville's best bottle shop/pub/nacho place is the magnificent Beer Run (seriously, the nachos are awesome and they have Fuller's Vintage Ale for just $9.99!!!) and it was here that while waiting for Mrs Velkyal to return with her ID and for the friends we were meeting that I decided to have a swift half of the Bell's Two Hearted Ale, and I was blown away, simply a gorgeous beer full of the citrusy flavours you expect from an American made pale ale, but with a subtle spiciness behind it and that sweet maltiness that I love.

Again a difficult decision to make, and for the first time this year a Fuggled award comes across the Atlantic, but only just. The Fuggled Pale Ale of the Year is:

  1. Bell's Two Hearted Ale

One of the best discoveries of the last six months and simply good beer.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Two Countries Divided By a Common Beer Style

For those of you who are not aware of my employment, or lack thereof, situation at the moment, at weekends I work in the tasting room of the Starr Hill Brewery. On Saturdays and Sundays you are very likely to find me at the bar in the tasting room, serving samples of the brewery's range of beers to visitors, it is a job that I enjoy immensely. One of the most common questions I get asked by visitors is which of our beers is my favourite, and I am very lucky to work for a brewery whose range I genuinely enjoy. At the moment, because these things change, I have to admit that I have two favourites, we currently have a bourbon barrel aged, dry hopped barleywine available to which I am particularly partial, but from our core range, my clear favourite is Northern Lights IPA. For some time then I have been planning to get my hands on a bottle of a British IPA and do a comparison tasting of British and American IPA, that bottle arrived on Wednesday and was St Peter's India Pale Ale from Suffolk in England. As ever, I am using my variation on the Cyclops system for my tasting notes (the sooner American brewers adopt this system as well the better as far as I am concerned).



First up the English IPA, naturally as England is the home of IPA.
  • Sight - amber with a definite orange, small white head
  • Smell - bitter orange peel, faint caramel
  • Taste - sweet maltiness, spicy hops, mellow citrus
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
What a nice beer this is! Seriously, it is delicious, an excellent balance between the hops and malt, both kind of up and in your face, but neither dominating so much as to make it either sickly or like sucking lemons, there is a noticeably bitter aftertaste which I really enjoyed. A beautiful beer.



And now the American contender:
  • Sight - sparkling amber, loose white head
  • Smell - heavy grapefruit hoppiness (it's the Cascade!)
  • Taste - In your face grapefruit, smooth marmelade background
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 4/5
Damn it I love this beer, I really pity people who can't get this beer in their neck of the woods, seriously it is such a nice IPA. The thing it has for me over most IPAs in the US is that there is far more going on than just a hop bomb. Yes there is that classically American C hop, in your face, grapefruit citrus that you expect, but the malty sweetness of the body, and a subtle boozy glow, set that off perfectly. As I say to a lot of people in the tasting room, it is like hoppy marmelade. It is interesting the number of women who tell me that don't like hoppy beer, usually after they have just tried our Pale Ale, and thus don't want to try the IPA, but love it when I eventually persuade them just to try.

There really isn't much to tell these two excellent beers apart, other than the hop varieties in use. Perhaps then Northern Lights is closer to a genuine IPA than many of the hopbominations out there in the American market because it has the extra maltiness needed to balance out the big citrus flavours. My only gripe with the St Peter's is the use of a green bottle, but that is purely because my experience here so far is that green bottles don't travel as well as brown - thinking about Pilsner Urquell here for sure, so much so I have sworn not to drink it until I am again in Prague and can have it unpasteurised, it really makes such a difference.

Now if only I could find somewhere with Northern Lights as a cask conditioned ale, who happen to have a cask of St Peter's India Pale Ale, then I would be in IPA nirvana.

Monday, September 21, 2009

60 Minutes to Hop, 10 to Drink

America is full of beers that have acquired cult status, even bordering on legendary. Every time I meet with a fellow beer geek I am being recommended all manner of stuff; seemingly Colorado is home to some excellent breweries; of course California has Sierra Nevada and the Stone Brewing Company; here in Virginia we (can I say we after a couple of months?) have a slew of craft brewers; and then there are the likes of Samuel Adams and Brooklyn (who I hope make beers better than their pilsner). As is my habit before I go somewhere new, I like to do a bit of research about local beers, and I make it my intention to seek them out, one such brewer that I knew of and was keen to try their wares was the near mythical Dogfish Head. My friend Mark gave me a copy of an article about them some time ago in Prague and my interest was piqued, especially by the concept of continual hopping.

Not only had Mark given me an article about them, but another of my friend's, Jay, had mentioned that since his return from Prague, they had become one of his favourite breweries, notably the 60 Minute IPA. Thus when Jay descended from Philadelphia, he came bearing gifts - 11 bottles, and a can, of varied American craft beer, whose names now grace my Little Cellar Holdings list to the left of this site.

Now, I had certain pre-conceived notions as to what this would taste like. You know the score, American made IPA, so it will be heavy of the C-hops, lots of citrus and hoppy bite but not much of a malty sweetness to back it up. Oops, again my expectations proved to be wrong.

The colour was a beautiful clear amber, as you can see from the pictures, and the head was fairly minimal though came back to life when the glass was swished around. The nose took me aback, where was the grapefruit and orange I expected? There were nice lemon notes there, just not in the abundance I expected, the dominant smell was a sweet toffee laced with cocoa, I was intrigued. Tastewise, the hops and malt were nicely balanced, a good caramelly sweet body with the spiciness of the hops playing off it to perfection. God this was good beer, really, really good beer. Where I was expecting to be sucking lemons and making that sour drink face, this was lusciously smooth, even creamy and so dangerously easy to drink.

Quite simply a lovely beer

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dropping the baton, taking up the Challenger

I am not the kind of person to only talk about my successes, I am perfectly happy to admit my failures as well. The fact that my Copper Head Pale Ale turned out so poorly is not something for me to worry about unduly, but rather an opportunity to try and do it better next time because I am convinced that I have a good recipe in the making. Where did it go wrong? Well if I want to use the passive voice I could simply say that the yeast didn't do its thing, if I want to be honest about it, I probably failed to give the yeast good conditions in which to do its thing. Leading contenders at the moment are pitching temperature and aeration, too much and too little respectively. As you no doubt recall, I decided to bottle half the batch anyway and see what happened in the three weeks it usually takes to condition properly. So here goes.

The colour is just what I wanted, a nice rich amber which almost makes me think of breakfast marmelade. Not much head to speak of, and that which was there disappeared fairly sharpish, but the carbonation was decent. The nose is dominated by malt, which is not what I was looking for having used Amarillo hops. In fact it kind of reminds me of the smell you get from a beer soaked rug, not good but redolent with happy, if drunken, memories. Tastewise, very bland, nothing really going on at all, except for a light orangey citrus thing in the finish. The body is a rather thin, something I generally don't like in a beer, so this is not something I would happily drink. A failure for sure, but then it is only brew number 4 in my career so far, it is about time I had something bad happen - especially given the fact I have a somewhat rough and ready approach to brewing and have yet to afford some of the fancy gizmos that seem to be de rigeur.

Undeterred, I am plotting my next couple of brews, having decided to go back to really small batches of about 6.5 litres at a time so I am not throwing money and beer needlessly down the sick. One of the beers likely to be made in the next round of brew days will be an homage to Pete Brown's Hops and Glory, Challenger IPA. For some reason Northdown hops are not available in my local home brew shop, or through Northern Brewer, so I will substitute the Northdown used in his Calcutta IPA with Challenger. Obviously I won't be booking myself on a cargo ship to go to India, as tempting as that would be, but it will be aging for a few months in my storage room, ready I guess for February next year.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

6 Beers, 18 Phrases - Southend Brewery and Smokehouse

On Tuesday Mrs Velkyal and I went to Charleston, down on the coast of South Carolina - ostensibly to go and see Charleston Battery get massacred by the Houston Dynamo in the Lamar Hunt Cup, the American equivalent of the FA Cup.

As we hadn't really celebrated our first wedding anniversary on Saturday, overshadowed by some local bash as it was, we decided to have a special lunch and visited the Southend Brewery and Smokehouse, a lovely place for lunch and a sampler tray (I have a feeling they will be a big part of life here for a while), here are my thoughts.

  • Southend Blonde - pale yellow, faint citrus, thirst quencher
  • Southend Blonde Light - pale, crisp, weak
  • Seasonal Ginger Ale - amber, grapefruit (amarillo?), refreshingly tart
  • Bombay Pale Ale - light copper, citrus aplenty, hoppy marmelade
  • East Bay Brown - crimson, caramel, smooth
  • Southend Oatmeal Stout - dark drown, coffee and smoke, lusciously smooth

Overall I left the Southend Brewery with very positive feelings, afterall I had some excellent beers, the service was perfect - I can't remember the girl's name but she was everything a waitress should be, and she was on the nail in recommending the Bombay Pale Ale. Only the two blonde ales did absolutely nothing for me, perhaps blondes aren't my thing (don't tell the wife!!). The Oatmeal Stout was up there with the Sam Smith's I luxuriated in last year, high praise indeed, and this is certainly a pub I will be visiting again when I get to Charleston again, although next time I hope the real Charleston Battery turn up!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Perfecting Chaos

There are two beer styles, for want of a better term, that spring to mind when someone mentions BrewDog to me - India Pale Ale and Stout. As regular readers will know, stout has long been my favourite type of beer, but IPA is something that I have come to appreciate largely in the last year or so, since I tried Punk IPA back in October.

Like the Zeitgeist from Friday's post, Chaos Theory was one of the prototype beers BrewDog produced in the autumn of last year, and from my posting at the time, it was clearly the one I enjoyed most, noting that the:

first thing that struck me though was that this one was much darker, more of a dark amber bordering on red, although again there was a rather minimal head. As would be expected from an IPA, the nose was full of citrus, in fact it was very pungent, with a mix of Seville orange marmalade and bittersweet pink grapefruit. The contrast between bitter and sweet was to be a constant theme in the beer, the first taste being very bitter, and something of a shock if the truth be told, but subsequently it mellows out to reveal its jellied undertones. As you would expect from this style it is very hoppy and the aftertaste reminded me of drinking an excellent single malt with a nice warming afterglow. The final few mouthfuls were syrupy sweet in a way that reinforced the jelly, an excellent beer overall.

The production version was very similar to the prototype, although I got the feeling that the sweet, almost jelly like, syrupiness had been toned down a little - which made it even more drinkable. The lessening in the sweetness then served to highlight the tangy bitterness, which I really enjoyed as it made for a long finish. Interestingly, the new balance of the beer makes it smoother, and that coupled with the full body just makes this an absolute delight to drink.

Certainly the guys at BrewDog have fine tuned the prototype and created something which is packed with flavour and so drinkable that it is easy to forget the ABV is 7.1%, a really enjoyable beer, if you see it in the shops, stop yourself and buy one.

Also reviewing Chaos Theory today is Adeptus over at The Bitten Bullet, pop on over and enjoy!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Big Dogs Off the Leash

I am, it must be said, a little concerned. Fret not, the yeast hasn't died on me - in fact both fermenters have nice healthy looking krausens on them, and are bubbling away at about 40 little pops a minute. Yes, yes, yes, I know - how sad can a grown man get when he sits and counts how often his homebrew is bubbling, is there a technical term for this? The bubbling I mean, not the counting, I already know the technical term for that.

Wanting to restore some self-respect I decided that the moment had come, the moment I had been putting off and putting off, the time to open a couple of the monster BrewDog bottles that I have picked up lately. Just like Mark over on Pencil and Spoon, I have a habit of looking at bottles, deciding to drink them and then putting them back because I am not sure the occasion is right. Last night I just picked up the bottle and opened it before I could convince myself otherwise - that bottle was Hardcore IPA.


I have written elsewhere about my first run in with IPA from BrewDog, so I knew the vague neighbourhood I would be in with Hardcore, what I didn't know was just how much bigger and more in your face this one was to be. The beer pours a dark amber and the white head didn't last very long, although every time I would swirl the glass there would be a nice fresh head. The nose was sweet citrus all over the place, grapefruit mainly and lots of it, and the first taste was a bitterness explosion but backed up with a smooth, soothing, toffee like sweetness. American style IPAs are something new to me, and the more I try the more I like.


Emboldened by my impulsive opening of one big hitter, I reached in and pulled out a bottle of the 12%ABV Tokyo. I have heard great things about this beer from Evan, so my expectations were high. As a stout should be, this was a black hole - no light getting through at one, and the nose was alcoholic and roasted and peaty and like molasses (Mrs Velkyal stuck her nose in and instantly said "is this a BrewDog?" - brand recognition!), drool, drool. The first thing to strike home when I tasted it was the flavour of oak and vanilla, not surprising as it was aged on French oak chips, that coupled with the warming alcohol put me in mind of Paradox, but without the whisky element. The more I drank the more complex it became, a strong spiciness and yet a freshness in the finish which I am putting down to the cranberries. Definitely a sipping beer, one where you revel in each and every mouthful.

The only thing missing last night was being back in the Highlands, sat in a deep leather armchair while an Atlantic gale lashes the house and the peat fire glows in the hearth and the deerhound sits at my feet.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bombed and Hacked

Yesterday, after work and a couple of errands, I met up with Evan, Pivní Filosof and Rob - with whom I have shared many enjoyable drinking sessions (including the infamous finishing off of a pub's remaining Primátor Stout and wondering why it was labelled as "coffee beer"). The aim was for Evan to introduce us to the delights of the American IPA, more specifically the IPAs of the Stone Brewing Company in San Diego, also into the mix, as an example of a more straight IPA I brought along a few bottles of Belhaven Twisted Thistle.

Being completely disorganised yesterday, I didn't bring a camera with me, nor did I bring my tasting notes book, so you'll get fuller descriptions of the beer on the blogs of the other guys.

We started out with the weakest of the quartet, the Twisted Thistle, which is made with Challenger and Cascade hops and weighs in at only 5.3%. I thought it rather nice IPA, the kind of beer you could happily sup away on all night.

Next up was the Stone IPA, and this was a world apart from every standard British IPA, not to mention every Czech made American IPA I have had in Prague. Big on the hops, and it was at this point that I discovered what marijuana tastes like, apparently. I have never been one for smoking, although I love the smell of pipe smoke. I was expecting a lot more citrus and bitterness - to be honest I was expecting it to be like sucking lemons, but it was suprisingly smooth and while not a beer for a Friday night session at 6.9%ABV, it was certainly very drinkable, and one I would like to try on draught.

Following on from the standard Stone IPA was the Cali-Belique IPA, which from what I understand is basically the normal Stone IPA fermented with a Belgian yeast, hence the name. The difference that the yeast made was very pronounced, again the apparent marijuana touch was there, but this time I was reminded of the Rochefort ales, with lots of cocoa on the nose. As the four of us sat around the kitchen table, we discussed using different yeasts with the same basic ingredients and seeing what the results would be - which has me concocting all manner of plans for my homebrew when I get to the US in the summer.

The last of the Stone brews was Ruination. Evan had warned us that this would be last as the bitterness would effectively render our tastebuds redundant. Again I was expecting something quite different on the bitterness front, and found that the maltiness of the beer, despite playing second fiddle to the hops, made the beer quite smooth and refreshing.

Throughout the tasting session we all had cans of Pilsner Urquell available, so that we could compare the hoppiness of a beer we all know quite well with that of the IPAs on the table. To put it bluntly, by the time we got to the Ruination, the PU was distinctly awful, and smelt rather similar to the boiling wort at U Medvídk? last Thursday. With time winding down on our tasting session, and our tastebuds being gently soothed by Bernard ?erné, Evan decided to open a bottle of his hacked Porter. Very interesting, but I will let Evan tell the full story of this experiment when he gets round to it.

Rob and I then sloped off to Pivovarsky klub to finish off their version of an American IPA - in the interests of research naturally. In a similar vein to last Wednesday and Thursday, there really are few pleasures as worthwhile as sitting with fellow beer lovers drinking excellent beer and discussing whatever comes up.

To sum up, a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hopdaemon for the Soul

Another of the Kentish breweries I was keeping an eye open for in the shops when we were in Ashford was Hopdaemon. Started by a Kiwi with a love of English ales, I was very happy to find a few bottles sitting in the Ashford Tesco - just a quick side note, I am sure lots of people complain about the big supermarket chains dominating the market, but when they also source local products then they are to be applauded, so well done Tesco.



The Skrimshander IPA is a light orange colour, which had a thinnish white head - my brother conveniently has a nonic glass which I commandeered for the duration of our visit. Again this is a mobile picture so the quality isn't as I would like. I found the nose rather subtle, definitely citrusy but not overpoweringly so, which I liked. Drinking wise, this I enjoyed muchly - it is quite bitter and that light citrusness kind of catches the back of your throat but then gives way to a soft sweetness. The finish was very dry and coupled with a gentle carbonation makes this nice, refreshing beer.


The second of the Hopdaemon beers I got was a darker strong ale called Leviathan. When I poured this I was put in mind of Hobgoblin, especially as it was a beautiful ruby colour, there was however very little head to speak of. The nose was dominated by cocoa and an almost Christmasesque spiciness, both of which came through in the drinking. I am assuming however that something had gone awry with this bottle as I found it a bit thin in the body and it was rather flat and lifeless. A shame really because the nose had promised much.


The brewery only started production in 2001 and has already garnered a collection of local awards as well as creating waves nationally. From an artistic side, I also liked the quirkiness of the labels on the bottles and the brand names as well (a scrimshander for example is a whale bone carver - hence the picture on the label). Having thoroughly enjoyed the Skrimshander I am planning to try the rest of the range, and of course to find out if it was just a bum bottle of Leviathan (I wonder how much it would cost to get some sent to Prague?).

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a ...

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