Monday 10 August 2015

GBBF 2015: A few beers worth seeking out

The Great British Beer Festival, or GBBF, always presents an imposing array of beers, and not just from the UK, but also the US, Germany, Czech Republic and beyond. Even the most seasoned of beer drinkers is going to encounter breweries and beers that they have never seen before.

With an eye to helping folks navigate the multitude of beers that will be on offer this week, we have put together a list of a few worth seeking out.

If you want a traditional British bitter…

Acorn Barnsley Bitter is a beautiful example of the style. It hits the exact balance of toasty malts, caramel and leafy bitterness that you would want of a bitter. I’ve enjoyed this beer on cask numerous times and it is definitely one of the best in its class. 

Salopian Darwin's Origin is another stalwart. I don't think you could call it a flashy beer, but I also don't think you could fault it. The malt character is classic, while the hops, with accents of grass, hay and citrus fruits, provide a few layers of welcome complexity. Have a pint and get back to me with your thoughts.

If you want something mild...

Goacher's Real Mild Ale is one that I quite enjoyed a few years ago at GBBF. It's just a quintessential mild, with a relaxed malty foundation and mellow accents of brown sugar and dried fruits. If you enjoy milds, I cannot imagine you not liking this one.

If you want something pale, light and hoppy...

Crouch Vale Yakima Gold should be a winner. Crouch Vale does a wonderful series of low abv golden ales that showcase hops, and they have used varieties such as Amarillo, Apollo, Brewer's Gold, Citra and Palisade. This iteration with Yakima Gold is a great one, defined by strong citrusy hops and moderate bitterness, all sitting on a crispy pale malt base. Lovely stuff. 

If you want something dark...

Fyne Sublime Stout will satisfy a craving for the dark stuff. Since the first time I had this beer on cask, five years ago, it has been one of my favourite UK stouts. Weighing in at 6.8% abv, it has the depth of character you would expect and is long on gooey dark chocolate, well roasted malts, burnt wood and cocoa beans. If you’ve made it through a whole session in one piece and want a nightcap, this is a great option. 

If you want something local...

Moncada Notting Hill Amber is a good choice. Since 2011, Moncada has quietly been putting out some of the best cask ales in London, and if you've not had anything from them before then this is your chance. Their Amber is a solid beer all around, striking a healthy balance between toasty malts, caramel, oily pine and ripe citrus. It clocks in at a relatively tame 4.7%, so it definitely won't set you back capacity-wise.

If you want something big, hoppy and American…

La Cumbre Project Dank, out of New Mexico,  was one of the best beers I had at GBBF last year. At 7.5% abv, it’s hefty, and the intensity of the hop profile is a big step up from something like, say, a Barnsley Bitter. For those of you who have negative associations with the term ‘dank’, I would implore you to give this beer a shot. Don’t think about a damp cellar – think about a punchy, resinous IPA oozing with overripe citrus fruits. 

Pizza Port Hops Like Jagger is actually a new beer, so I can’t comment on it definitively, but knowing the typical quality of the hoppy beers from Pizza Port, I am optimistic. For those who aren’t familiar with Pizza Port, it is a collection of brewpubs (and a production facility) scattered around southern California. This particular beer comes from the Bressi Ranch location. In true SoCal style, Pizza Port do well by their hops, and the casks that go on offer at GBBF provide an excellent opportunity to experience this brewery's hop juice in good, fresh form.

If you want a lager…

Keesman Herren Pils is a fantastic option. It seems to be a perennial fixture on the German bar at GBBF, and for good reason. Herren Pils is, for my money and that of many others, one of the best German pilsners in the world. The beer is marked by a miraculously clean, crispy biscuit and cracker character, augmented by fresh, grassy and lightly earthy hops. It’s the type of beer where, as you drink it, you can begin to understand why Germans often drink beer by the litre.

If you want something sour...

The bottled beer selection offers many of the classic Belgian lambics, including such staples as 3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze, Cantillon Gueuze / Kriek (cherry) / Rose de Gambrinus (raspberry), and Tilquin Gueuze / Quetsche (plum). These are all phenomenal lambics, and it's a great treat for them to all be available in one place. It would be worth your while to get a bottle and split it with some friends (some of these beer will likely come in 750ml format - a good size for sharing).

So there you have it, a few good drops in an ocean of beer. There will of course be tons of other fun stuff to discover, and I look forward to the search. Good luck to you all.

Saturday 8 August 2015

Beer Tasting: Beavertown 8 Ball

This beer has come a long way. The first time I tried 8 Ball, Beavertown's rye IPA, it was on cask back in July 2012, and while I liked it then, it wasn't particularly hoppy, and the rye character was relatively muted. My notes from the time suggest that the skeleton of the beer was in place, but the fat and muscle hadn't really fully developed. It's great to see - and taste - that 8 Ball has come into its own.

The beer in front of me now is a marvel from beginning to end. It pours an attractive copper-gold with a creamy, mostly white head. The aroma exposes rye grains almost immediately, and then also some rindy orange and juicy pine. The flavor follows well, with lots of plump, ripening citrus fruits, bready caramel, some spicy rye, a bit of grassy bitterness, oily pine. It's medium bodied and the carbonation is spot on. In the finish, you get a great resinous, oily hop character, with further juicy orange and tangerine, balanced out with toasted rye bread. It's got that resinous hop character that kind of tires out your mouth but also leaves you craving more. Wonderful.

I'm not always a huge fan of rye IPAs, given that sometimes the disparate elements can be a bit incongruous. But here, the rye, citrus and pine comes together to make a beautiful beer.