The Double IPA, is it a thing?

The early part of this year has seen some fantastic double IPAs. Some of which were seasonal brews showing their faces again, some were completely new beers, and others just didn’t quite know what they were. Or they did, except a newer, slightly different version was released before you’d even finished the last.

Now, I’m all for tweaking recipes and altering things to improve the final product, but it would seem that Cloudwater have progressed with their series of DIPAs a little quicker than everybody else; First came the original DIPA, followed swiftly by V2 and then rather rapidly by V3. V4 and V5 will soon be on their way too, but do we really need them both now?

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Picture @ThaBearded1

So far, the Cloudwater DIPA series has been very successful, and each one different to the last, but I do wonder what will happen when VMax has been reached.

Moving away from Cloudwater and on to the rest of our DIPA offerings, we have the highly anticipated Human Cannonball from Magic Rock. This yearly brew has the beer geeks mouths foaming at the prospect of getting hold of it. Fortunately for me, I was one of those lucky geeks whose overcame the mouth froth, correctly engaged my talking organ and successfully purchased this beer. I also managed to fill my sweaty palms with an Un-Human Cannonball too. This, a Triple IPA has an even bigger froth factor that will make a mess out of even the hardest of beer geeks.

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To get the most out of Human Cannonball and Un-Human Cannonball, you really should add the normal Cannonball IPA into the mix and take part in what is now known as the Cannonball Run. Not entirely like the film at all; no crazy doctors, no priests and unfortunately no 1980’s super hot girls in a Lamborghini either. But nevertheless, when drinking these ‘on the run’ you’ll see that these beers have everything in common with the two crazy Japanese guys in the Subaru. ‘Do sixty, sixty’ may well be your famous last words too, as you are propelled into hop heaven…..Or, it could be the that you end up in the pool after saying ‘I can’t see shit, can you?’

The next DIPA scored very highly on DIPA night. Not on your average Clintons sourced calendar, but on the Twitter calendar, it’s there alright. The score this beer received was 55|01. Quite a strange score that, I hear you say. Well yes, but then there’s more to the beer than just the score.

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55|01 is actually the first DIPA from Brew By Numbers. They’ve really made us wait for this, and you know what? I’m glad. No rush, no fuss and no V’s. Just a DIPA exactly the way it should be; extra everything, and a little of the BBNo magic too.

Born To Die from Brewdog may well have you thinking of Lana Del Rey, but you must stop, and stop now! Too late, it’s already dead. You spent too long thinking about Lana and now the beer is dead.

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Like all it’s predecessors it only had a short life, limited to weeks, and all the while you’ve been procrastinating about Lana, this poor beer has been gradually fading away without you even realising it. Shame on you!

As the hop fade of Born To Die was irreversible, this next beer is too. Irreversible is the DIPA from Twisted Barrel Ale, who are touted as being more folk than punk.

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Picture @Sparkyrite 

So as they sit on opposite corners of the ring, will they slog it out? Or will they embrace and just hug it out with a beardy cuddle? There might also be a rabbit thrown in for good measure. That’s not an elephant in the room, that’s a folking rabbit.

So, what do you think.  Is the DIPA a thing?

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Tapstone, Opium Wars. A beer on the silky side of hoppiness.

Brewer of, perhaps, the most interesting beer at the recent CAMRA Festival of Winter Ales in Exeter, is the Tapstone Brewing Co, and that beer is Opium Wars.  Billed as ‘An unfined dark brown beer.  Strong hop aroma and citrus flavours and a lingering finish’ it is in actual fact an oily, black IPA.  Unfortunately by the time I’d managed to get myself to the festival, this beer had run out.  However, on further investigation I discovered that the Tapstone Brewing Co is based in Chard, and I have just started a new job working out of, you’ve guessed it, Chard.  So, off I went to find the brewery and get me some of that beer.

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Chard is not a big place, and neither is the industrial estate on which the brewery is based, but could I find it?  Eventually after driving round and round for the whole of my lunch break, I saw a clue.  A white van parked outside a nondescript unit with beer casks peeking out of it’s open door.  This has to be it, and there it was.  The unit door was open so in I walked, to find James Davies, the brewer.  After a quick introduction, I was led into the business part of the brewery.  Not big either, but all the kit was there and the room smelled absolutely incredible.  I’m sure James’s nose has become accustomed to the smell, but it was a glorious dose of fruity tropical hops, and I was in heaven.

At the rear of the brewery are the two main vessels, and contained in one was the next batch Opium Wars.  Still conditioning, I was told it wouldn’t be ready for a couple of weeks.  We discussed pumps and flow rates, and agreed that I should return after said conditioning time had elapsed.

A few weeks later I returned to the brewery.  When I arrived James was casking up a new, low abv beer, called Zen Garden.  At 3.6% this is the lowest strength beer that the brewery has produced.  The aim was to create a massively hopped, light beer with a decent body.  And after a quick taste, I can confirm that it’s pretty much met that mark.

Zen Garden

We picked up from our previous conversation and began to talk oxygen and the way that it affects beer.  James’s desire to rule out any oxidation that could occur is evident when you see just how full my bottle was.  But even filled to this level James isn’t satisfied.  As in his mind, the bottle should be filled to the brim, to fully preserve all the hoppy goodness contained within and prevent any oxidation from occurring.

Now, back to the main reason for my visits, Opium Wars.  This beer never usually reaches bottles, in fact, none of Tapstone’s beer usually ever makes it into bottles.  So I have been very fortunate to be able to obtain this bottle and I am also very grateful.

Let’s start with the label.  With its simple graphics and just enough information to tell you what’s inside, it’s like what you’d expect to find on a white label promo record.  And during my record collecting days, these ‘white labels’ were the hens teeth and most collectable of all records.  I’ve still got boxes of vinyl, all doing exactly what I’m not going to do with this beer, ageing.

Opium Wars

The beer, pours a very dark brown with its grassy, roasted chocolate notes making their way around the room and deep into your nostrils.  As it’s luscious, slick, velvety body lands on your tongue, your senses are kicked into life by the light citrus, cherries and bitter chocolate contained within.  And the presence of the dark chocolate leaves behind a sublime bitter finish that just lingers, and lingers, and lingers.

This is a truly stunning example of a black IPA, it’s not just an unfined dark brown beer with a strong hop aroma, citrus flavours and a lingering finish.  No, this is much, much more than that.  The depth of the flavour and complexity are outstanding.  It’s balanced too.  The aroma hits you first and that flavour just drags you in.  Not to mention the feel of the thing.  It’s absolutely magnificent.

 

2015, my year in beer. Part two.

As it happens, the European Beer Bloggers Conference was in Brussels at the end of August, and I just had to go. But prior to that my wife had organised a surprise visit for us to Belgium earlier in August. This presented me with a bit of a dilemma. Should I really go to Belgium twice in a matter of weeks? Yes I said, and off we went.

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Learning from the visit to Budapest, I took notes at every opportunity; whatever was in my head, at any given time, I wrote down and took a photo wherever I could. And this left me with a diary of thoughts over the days of our holiday. These thoughts were expanded upon and formed the series of posts that became Saisons in the Sun.

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I loved writing these three posts, as I felt they really captured exactly what we experienced during our holiday and were a complete departure from anything I had written previously.

Whenever I read anything that Adrian Tierney-Jones has written, I get the impression that he has also written down exactly what is in his mind at that precise moment in time, and he has effortlessly transcribed those thoughts into blog posts and articles that just keep you wanting more.  It’s a fantastic way of writing and I have to say I love it.  Some of what Adrian writes is like poetry and it’s fascinating to read!

A week or so before the conference, I glanced over the list of attendees and recognised a few names of people who I followed on Twitter and whose blogs I had read. I was really looking forward to it, but I was daunted by the thought of having to write about it afterwards; as apart from the Russian Doll post, everything I’d compiled so far had been off my own back and for me.

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This fear soon went as the conference began, as during the registration period I was greeted by a fellow blogger who mentioned they had read my ramblings and said they really enjoyed reading it! This was totally unexpected, but I really appreciated it and it made me feel at home.

Looking round the room I saw two familiar faces, well the faces of two familiar names to be precise. Matthew Curtis and Chris Hall. Chris, a prolific beer writer, who, works for Brew By Numbers, had assisted me with me some information for Citra Session, so it was great to meet him and be able to thank him in person. And Matthew, well, he is a beer writing machine, who has the enviable ability to produce consistently good work, time and time again.  It was a pleasure to meet him here too.

There were so many really great people in attendance at the conference, so many in fact, that I didn’t get the chance to speak to half of them! But those who I did mange to collar were all decent people and all there for the same reason; to share their love of beer and writing about it.

Two people who really stood out over the weekend were the Irish Beer Snobs, that’s Mr & Mrs Irish Beer Snob, Wayne and Janice to be correct. The pair of them, like beer encyclopaedias, but great fun at the same time. Not that I’m saying everyone else was boring, because they weren’t, but I felt we were on the same level. And I’m sure Wayne downed a pint of the black stuff whilst nobody was looking!

Another thing that really struck me was the distances that some people had travelled to be there. I thought I’d had it bad having to get up at 4am to get into London to catch the Eurostar to Brussels, after having only five hours sleep the night before! But no, there was a certain Brazilian journalist who trumped my journey.  Another absolutely top man who was always outside smoking, so who knows what he ended up writing!!

During the conference sessions I made an incredible amount of notes in a bid to try and capture everything that had been discussed. But looking back over these, I realised that what I should have done was just pick two or three subjects and concentrated on getting as much information as possible about the chosen matter. As when I was at home, I really struggled to make any sense of what had happened over the weekend.

I knew I had to write something, but just didn’t know what to write about! Then it struck me, during Jean Hummlers outburst, he insisted that, us, as bloggers, should be more truthful about what we write and be critical about things we didn’t like or don’t agree with, just making sure that we did it in a constructive manner.

The whole weekend had been dominated by sour beers and the brewing industry in Belgium. I had some strong feelings about the sour beers I’d tried, so along came Hop Head, Sour Saint. I’m still unsure about whether publishing this was the right thing to do, but I felt I had to get it off my chest. Who knows, maybe the right sour beer could end up being my next Saison.

My second conference related post discussed contract brewing, which is a subject that a lot of writers know a fair bit about. After reading a few of the posts that other attendees had written, I decided that I would try and do something a little different and add in some non-conference material. I didn’t want my post to be a carbon copy of the conference session, so by talking to a local nano-brewery I was able to give my post a little twist. Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful is what I ended up with.

After the conference I settled back into my normal routine and wondered where to go next with my blog. It was then I discovered a new bottle shop was due to be opened in Exeter. This was quite special as up until now there really wasn’t anywhere in the City Centre that offered a decent selection of craft beer in the form of a dedicated bottle shop. As I mentioned in my post about Hops & Crafts, Whistle Wines used to be my port of call prior its closure. Even though the selection was limited to a few local breweries, the choice was good, and I paid a visit pretty much every Friday on my way home from work. It was a shame when the shop closed, but the Whistle Wine Club is still extant for the wine lovers amongst you.

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Chris Harper, of Hops & Crafts however, has done a fantastic job of filling the gap that Whistle Wines had left and I can see myself becoming one the regulars, as the shop is still on my route home from work!

On top of consuming and writing about beer, one thing that had caught my eye was beertography.  I was intrigued by this new ‘thing’ as previously, I, like many others had just placed a glass next to the beer, and snap!  But during the year and through the course of creating my blog, I had taken quite a few photos of beer.  Some of these were just a photo of the beer, but some were a bit different.  Lots of people were trying new things with beertography and I wanted a bit of this too.  Chris, @mindlesspizza is a dab hand at this, and you really must check out his efforts. His bokeh like rendering of the background is fantastic which really makes the subject stand proud.

I’d seen the floating can trick, with the can held on to the edge of the glass by the ring pull.  I even did it myself.

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But I’d yet to see somebody do it with a bottle.  So I set up this shot ready for Craft Beer Hour when Moor Beer Company were hosting and, contrary to popular belief, did not use Photoshop.  I might even do this one again but use a bottle of their Illusion instead!

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Following this I took a few more shots that weren’t just of the beer, or they were, but I still tried to add a little twist to each one.

I’d had a bottle of Buxton Brewery Two Ton for a couple of weeks and liked the sound of Wonton, Two Ton.  So took this.

Wonton Two Ton

I also managed to grab a few bottles of Yellow Belly and Yellow Belly Sundae.  For quite rare beers photos of them were everywhere, but seeing the mirror on the Sundae bottle gave me an idea.  I positioned a bottle of Yellow Belly just out of shot but captured its reflection in a carefully placed mirror to make it look as if it was preying on the Sundae.

Sundae Bloody Sundae

On top of this, Craft Beer Hour has been a fantastic thing throughout the last year.  I always enjoy grabbing an early week beer and sitting down to take part.  Craft Beer Hour has really opened my eyes to a lot of previously unknown breweries and beers.  It’s also brought a lot pot people together to talk, and share their common love of beer.  It is fantastic and I commend Tom for all his efforts in setting it up.

Further thanks has to go to Tom, for one week when the Electric Bear Brewery were due to host.  They are a fairly young brewery and their beers are currently confined to the beautiful city of Bath.  However, in the week prior to their hosting I was asked whether I’d like to play a proper part in the next Craft Beer Hour.  How could I refuse?  I loved being part of CBH and was more than happy to help.  That help involved being kindly sent a few sample beers from Electric Bear with the premise of talking about them and playing a part in CBH.

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This was fantastic, as with my electrical connections and background I had some great ideas for some photographs.  I had no idea which beers would be sent out but I knew that my workplace would play a big part in preparing for the evening.

I wanted to give each shot some relevance and a link to something beyond the beer.

Edison, their Czech style lager, is a crisp pilsner hopped with Hallertau, Perle and Saaz which ends up being a nice dry pilsner with a citrus finish.  And with Edison being the electrical link here I used an Edison style lamp as a prop for the shot.

Edison

Following this was Elemental, a session strength IPA jam packed with US hops and balanced with pale malts.

The prop here was a ceramic insulator from a high voltage substation, and before you ask, yes I do have lots of these and the one in the shot lives in our front room.

Elemental

The final beer for the evening was the truly fantastic Cherry Blackout.  Morello cherries, vanilla and dark chocolate, there is nothing about this beer that’s not to like.

Out came the candles and some cherries to complete the shot.

Cherry

To finish off my year I paid a visit to the Black Tor Brewery.  Based in the Teign Valley just outside of Exeter, they are producing some fine traditional ales in a bid to resurrect the historic name of the Gidley’s brewery.  My work brought me here to repair a water pump, well beer pump, one that transferred the beer from the copper, through the heat exchanger and into the fermenters.  The pump was duly fixed and I was offered some refreshment.

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No coffee here, just an approximate third of their beautiful Raven.  Which, hopped with all English hops, Challenger, Goldings and Fuggles, is a rather fruity and easy drinking session ale.

And that concludes my 2015.  Let’s look forward to 2016 and all the good beer that it will bring.  Cheers!

 

2015, my year in beer. Part one.

For me, 2015 started like pretty much every year before it, on January the 1st.  However, this year we were in Cardiff with friends and I was warming up for the New Year and also a visit to a Brewdog bar, funnily enough the one in Cardiff.  As you’ll know this was to be my first visit to one of their establishments and I was like a child on Christmas Eve who could not sleep with excitement.

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When we arrived, I was not disappointed either.  The whole experience was thoroughly enjoyable and it was a pleasure to go there and sample the beer.  The staff were also fantastic.  Following my visit I put hand to keyboard and wrote Hoppy Craftmas, which just ended up as another entry in my blog, which at the time I felt wasn’t really getting the response I would have liked.  Now I realised that I couldn’t expect the world to drop everything and home in on my blog overnight, after all I had only been compiling it for a few months, but I felt that I had to improve things and I really wanted them to too.

In steps Twitter.  After the visit to Brewdog, we were out and having a few drinks with some friends and the subject of my blog was mentioned.  I happened to be the only person in the room who didn’t have a Twitter account, I wasn’t that bothered about this to be honest, as I didn’t see what the fuss was about!

So, right then, my wife tweeted Brewdog and shared my blog post with them.  She received a reply almost instantly and I couldn’t believe it!  Somebody, who I’ve mentioned in my blog, is actually reading it!  Right there and then I logged on to Twitter and set up an account.  But who to follow?  I knew plenty of breweries and other beery stuff but where do you start?  The remainder of my evening and the journey home was spent with phone in hand trawling through the apparently endless list of breweries on Twitter.  This was fantastic, and I followed everybody who sprung to mind.

Later in January, my wife and I were due to go to London for her birthday, and I, being the caring husband that I am, thought I’d leave her for a few hours and go and do some drinking.  I, like so many other people, went to Bermondsey and cruised the beer  mile, on foot.  On the way over I thought, right, don’t drink too much, you have to write something afterwards.

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And write something I did, and on arrival at The Kernel, with trusty phone in one hand and a beer in the other, I set about making a few notes of what I was going through.  What I came up with was Bermondsey Arches Breweries.

However, two or three beers down, I ventured back to the bar and thought I’d take their Saison. Not really knowing much about the style and having never tried one before, I ordered.  Wow! Initially I didn’t know what to make of it, that flavour was so intense and sharp, and like none of the pales that preceded it, I almost poured it away!  I really wasn’t sure about it to be honest, which is why I didn’t include it in my piece about the visit.

Looking back, I find it strange though, because I absolutely love a Saison now and if it wasn’t for this first taste that opened my eyes to the style, I would probably never have tried more.

Back home and sat on Twitter, again, I discovered Goodbeertweets and Imdrinkingnow, great pages who people tweet and share the beer they’re drinking, fantastic idea.  It was through this that got me tweeting more about the beer that I was drinking, and sharing it in the process without having to give any of it away either!  Genius!

Brewdog were also tweeting about what people were drinking, and I tweeted them a picture of their Russian Doll set that I had bought a few weeks earlier.  The reply I received was totally unexpected.

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Originally I hadn’t intended on writing anything about these beers, but seeing as they’d asked, I will!!  And yes, my wife was in Berlin that weekend, and my Date with the Russians was on.  But I still don’t really know where the inspiration behind the idea came from!  The post just happened, and it ended up requiring hardly any editing!

Following this, I didn’t know what to write about.  And then I saw that Innis & Gunn were about to release a beer that coincided with the film Fifty Shades of Grey.  The beer was to be called 50 Shades of Green.  I have to admit now that I’m a sucker for something that would appear to be a little rare or slightly different, so I opened my wallet and bought a bottle.  I’m not going to repeat the price, but those who know, know.

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I was expecting to be blown away by this beer, but unfortunately I wasn’t, and I really craved something that I could get my teeth into.

We had a trip to Budapest booked with the same friends we spent New Year with and I couldn’t wait.  On the days leading up to the holiday we researched places to go, namely beer places, but some nice restaurants too.  I had no idea that there was any sort of craft scene in Budapest, but as it happens, there is.

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The beers I tasted here were amazing, and I felt right at home in Léhütös,  The events of our trip also spawned my next post, Budapest? But I don’t even like George Ezra! Which, done from memory was rather tricky, yet yielded a result that I was happy with.  But looking back, I knew I should have taken notes as we went.

After this, I went in search of my next topic, so bring on Citra Session.

The Citra Session

Citra containing beers are everywhere, but what I was interested in was the single hop varieties that would allow the hop to be itself.  I collected what I thought were six, single hop Citra beers, only to find that one of them was only dry hopped with Citra and contained other hops in the brewing process.  I was massively disappointed with this as Citra Star by Anarchy Brew is a fantastic little beer which offered so much flavour!  It was a shame that I couldn’t include it.

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This piece took over two months to put together and to this day has been my most viewed entry, with nearly five hundred views to date.  I felt like a minor celebrity in the days after posting; the number of favourites and retweets just kept on growing!  And a few people I spoke to were amazed I received a response from The Kernel, as they tend to shy away from social media.  But the response I got was fantastic, and I am so grateful to them and the other contributors alike.

But now I was really stuck.  Where on earth do I take my blog after this?  I felt mentally exhausted and was completely clueless about what subject to do next!

Hop Head. Sour Saint.

Sour beers; my first taste of a sour beer took place at the European Beer Bloggers Conference, and if I’m honest, I wasn’t overly impressed.

On the lead up to the conference I’d read a little about sour beers and was curious to try them and see what the fuss was all about.  I wondered whether they really had a place or were they just going to be a fad and the next cool beer to be seen drinking.

I went into the conference completely open minded and was certainly not going to refuse to try them.  But from the outset they just didn’t seem to sit right for me.  I have no problem with challenging tastes, nor with something that’s a little bit different, but the sour flavour given up by these beers was really a massive step way beyond everything I’d tasted before.

I am in no way disrespecting the brewers of these beers, as evidently they have gone to a lot of effort and expense to bring these products to the market, I’m just saying they are not to my taste.

During the conference, the issue of whether a beer can be good or bad was discussed.  The answer that was hit upon did sum it up, almost, just in a very diplomatic way stating that, really, there are no bad beers, just beers that need to find the right audience or market.  I do agree with this to a point, but to some people, there will always be bad beers.  If you come across a beer that you don’t like, then you can’t confidently and truly say that it’s a good beer, it’s just impossible.

Think of it this way, if there was no such thing as a bad beer, would we all be drinking the same, single type of beer, as there would be no need to brew anything else?

Not everybody can, should or will like sour beer.  And this choice should be respected as much as it is for the people who do like them. They’re not wrong for not liking them, it’s their choice and mine too, and here’s why;

Sour beers just do not give me what I want from a beer.  I want a beer to be enjoyable and a pleasure to drink in whatever form it may take, and unfortunately I just don’t feel that a sour beer can satisfy me in this way.  I’m not necessarily asking for something dead safe or boring, but for something that isn’t quite as outlandish or as challenging to my taste buds as a sour beer is.

I don’t want my beer to replicate a seaside supper condiment.  For me it should be inviting, satisfying, and not something that rips your mouth apart and leaves you looking like Esther Rantzen after that initial sharp draw of breath through your teeth.

Don’t get me wrong, I know sour beers do have their place, but unfortunately that place is not in my drinks cupboard.

Citra Session

Citra. Just what is it, why are so many of us infatuated with it? What makes this hop so special and constantly drooled over? Are you guilty of hunting down a beer that has the magic word on its label just to taste, well, just to taste what exactly?

The Citra hop, aka HBC 394, has been developed by the Hop Breeding Company and promises to impart ‘interesting citrus and tropical fruit characters to beer’. The hops parentage lay in Hallertau Mittelfrüh, US Tettnang, Brewer’s Gold and East Kent Golding. That may go some way in explaining the varieties of flavours you can expect to receive from the hop, but just what are those flavours?

Now the tropical fruits I get, but what is interesting citrus? I suppose if you crossed a lemon with something like a banana, that could be quite interesting, or could it?

Either way, there is no escaping just how popular the Citra hop is and pretty much every brewery has a beer that includes it. Whether it be a traditional multiple hop beer, or just a single hop variety, there is no shortage of beers available to satisfy your Citra cravings.

For now, I’m focusing on single hop beers and I have gathered together a small collection, of varying styles, that will hopefully show just exactly what it is Citra can offer when used on it’s own.

So, it’s over to the breweries.

Oakham Ales, Citra.

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This was first brewed back in 2009 after John Bryan, the production director and former head brewer at Oakham Ales, made his annual trip to the hop fields of North West America where he discovered the Citra hop. At the time Citra had never been used in the UK and only a small number of US brewers had brewed with it. Immediately after making the discovery John arranged for a quantity of the hop to be sent back to the UK to start brewing. Unable to contain his excitement, he organised for the hop to be flown home as the boat journey would have taken too long!

Such was the reception and good feedback that the beer received, it was added to their permanent range in 2010. And now, after winning many awards, this beer has definitely brought our attention to Citra, or is it the other way around? Either way, it has set the benchmark for all other single hop Citra beers.

Tasting this beer is quite special, and if you have never sampled Citra before, then it will open your eyes.

The aroma is prominent and formed of a good load of passion fruit and mango with a nice hint of citrus. It’s like chucking your nose in a fruit bowl and bringing out a beer. To taste there’s no hint of malt and the fruits carry on nicely with that citrus edge. The finish is dry and bitter, and then the malts show their face, leaving behind a slight breadiness all ready for the next expectant mouthful.

At 4.6%, you can have a great session with this and the bitterness is set just so to keep you coming back. But if you do fancy a little more, then you must seek out their Green Devil IPA. Also brewed with only Citra, this is the original Citra’s bigger brother!

Isca Ales, Citra.

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Brewed locally to me in Dawlish, Devon, this beer has had a troublesome life. It went about upsetting the locals as apparently it was too far from the norm; And I thought Devon was full of Londoners?

But this didn’t stop Isca and brewing of this beer has continued, like Brunel’s GWR, at full steam.

After Isca Ales had sampled Oakhams offering, they decided that Citra was the hop for them. Brewed using Maris Otter malt, wheat and Nottingham ale yeast, it ended up at a truly breakfastable 3.8%. This is one of the lightest Citra beers I have come across and certainly the lightest here.

The aroma is delicate, as you’d expect, but it holds itself well and the spring freshness coupled to pithy passion fruit is subtle but inviting. On the tongue it’s gently malted and the fruits really get to work leaving quite a dry finish along with a mild bitterness.

Great Heck, Citra.

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This is a pale brewed to 4.5% where bitterness and carbonation have been kept deliberately low to allow the full fruitiness of the hop to shine through. The aim of this beer was to make it taste as close as possible to the smell of sticking your head in a bag of Citra hops. Having never done that myself I can’t vouch for it’s success, but as it’s brewed using mainly pale malts, with a little touch of Munich, and an American style yeast strain, which adds little to the flavour and offers a very complete fermentation, the hop is allowed to shine without being hampered by the other ingredients.

There are no bittering hops used at all, with a small amount being added 30 minutes from end of boil, followed by a large amount at the end of the boil and another large amount being used for dry hopping.

This makes for a proper English style session beer, albeit with a strong American influence. And in the words of the brewer, when you’ve finished, you want another. And I’m afraid I’m inclined to agree with that statement!

The tasting of this beer is fairly similar to the Isca offering but the aroma is fuller and there is more of it. There is a satisfying tropical flavour with the slightest hint of nettles. It’s also quite pithy too. The beer has quite a light body but it’s far from being thin, and the fruitiness of the hop is presented cleanly with the malts staying well back.

If you think Citra is the only hop Great Heck have used for a one hop wonder, then you’d be wrong; they usually brew one to try out a new hop variety and will continue to do so each time a new hop is unveiled, just to see what it can bring to the party. And in the cases of Citra, Simcoe and Columbus the results have been so good they were brewed again!

But just brewing the same beer over and over isn’t one of Great Hecks rules; each time a beer is brewed again it’s tweaked to ensure there is continuous improvement.

Brew By Numbers, Saison Citra 01|01.

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A Citra Saison?  Interesting I hear you say.  Well, you’d be right.  This is Brew By Numbers own, modern interpretation of Belgian farmhouse ale which uses the Citra hop in a classic Saison recipe.

Both Dave & Tom, being big fans of the Saison style, explored its versatility through experimentation, and discovered it was a great blank canvas that they could enhance by using different hops, fruit, spices, tea and many more ingredients that you may not necessarily associate with beer.  And this, their first take on a Saison has been brewed to show exactly what they can achieve with this style.

The Pilsner malt, low colour Maris Otter, along with wheat malt and flaked wheat, make the base of this beer conform to the style and gives the beer a slightly hazy in glass presence with a nice pillowy head; which is characteristic of malted and unmalted grains.

The flavour profile of a French saison yeast is preferred, as it yields a nice dry and peppery finish, without too much banana. The spice and funk present in the yeast also play off well with the passionfruit and mango supplied by Citra, which itself can be quite funky; a trait that works well with the farmhouse style and unusually so for a US hop. In this case, hop pellets were the preferred tool as opposed to leaves, due to the greater flavour given up. On top of this, coriander and crushed black pepper were added to enhance the characteristics of the fruity yeast.

The strength has been determined mainly by tradition; you have to remember the origin of the Saison was to provide refreshment for farm workers when the water was less than safe.  It also aims to be refreshing and light but without the heavy alcoholic content found in some other beers of this style.

The aroma of this beer is very different to all the rest here; it’s zesty, yeasty and a little spicy too.  The appearance is exactly as previously described, although mine was a little less hazy than I was expecting.  There is the mildest hint of banana on tasting but it’s so small it doesn’t interfere with the spice and passion fruit contained within.  It’s also very yeasty and bready, which makes it feel nice and wholesome.  It’s so full of flavour, each mouthful varies slightly as the beer opens up but that just adds to the satisfaction the beer brings.  The finish is quite dry and really does lend itself to a sequel.

When it comes to single hop beers, Brew By Numbers believe they can be used as good educational tools for brewers and drinkers alike.  As quite often, the more ingredient laden the beer is, the more muddled the flavours can become and nuances that can be discovered in a single hop beer can sometimes be lost.

This Saison isn’t their only single hop beer either, Mosaic has been used in an IPA, session IPA, Tripel and also a Saison.  The scarce Nelson Sauvin is another hop that they love, and they’re also very interested in the new Noble varieties such as Hallertau Blanc.

The Kernel, Citra IPA.

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Where do you start with The Kernel? With such a concise catalogue of beer it’s hard to not find the beer you want. And their Citra IPA isn’t the only beer they’ve produced using only this hop; they also offer a table beer at 3%, a pale at 5% and this the IPA at 7%.

And there are some very good reasons for this too; they find that different characteristics of the hop are apparent in
different intensities at the different abvs. So when it comes to selecting a beer, you are offered a real choice to suit your mood, food or just whatever your preference may be!

The Kernel brew a lot of beers in this form as they often prefer the singular expression of, and essence, that you only get in single hopped beers. Pretty much every conceivable hop has been used too, so if you want an IPA or a pale with a specific hop, you’ll get it here.

All of their single hop beers have been brewed with just one goal; to smell and taste exactly like the hop by letting the hop express itself, and in this case, Citra.

Brewed with a low colour Maris Otter to provide a firm body but not interfere with the hops, a Cal Ale yeast, which is fairly neutral, is also used but takes a back seat to allow the hop to shine through. The same malt and yeast is used in all of their beers for the same reasons and also to get consistent results where the hops takes the lead.  And when I asked the brewery what they thought made this beer work, their answer was simply, Citra.

On to the tasting,

And I just happened to have a nice fresh beer which was bottled just one month before my tasting.
Darker in colour than the previous pales, the massive passion fruit aroma just leaps out of the glass and plants itself right in the depths of your nostrils. This is fantastic, and tasting is full and luscious . It’s quite sweet, but not sticky, with the fruits there in abundance and a slight bready maltyness is evident too. The finish leaves you licking your teeth to try and get every last drop! The higher abv certainly gives it a lot more presence and this is definitely one to savour, possibly.

But if this wasn’t enough, and you were looking for something a little more, lets say intense, then the Kernel have in the past brewed a Double Citra at around 9%.  Now I am yet to sample this, and I do know there is quite a demand for this beer to be brewed again, so it’s over to the Kernel to fill the void as it were….

Occasional Brewery, Citra Nocturnum.

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Now if the earlier mention of HBC 394 didn’t get your adenoids twitching, then the beer spotters amongst you will notice that this is their 19th brew, and another unique one at that.

Citra Nocturnum is a beer designed to showcase the awesomeness of the hop Citra, but in a bit of a different way, porter style rather than pale like many breweries have already done.

The malt base of the beer itself is an adaptation of a Barclay Perkins porter recipe, with the addition of Citra for bittering, flavour and aroma, followed by a double dry hopping.

And in using Maris Otter, brown, chocolate, Munich, black and crystal malts, along with US-05 yeast, the big hop flavours are backed up with a smooth roastiness after their initial impact.

I was lucky enough to obtain a few bottles of this on the same day that they arrived in the shop, again, making this one fresh beer. And it’s freshness is so visible on just the slightest crack of the top. The smell just oozes out of this on pouring. It’s quite viscous, which you’d expect for a good porter, but that intense aroma is baffling. With your eyes closed it’s a fresh bowl of fruit in a tobacconist come coffee shop; The passion fruit and tobacco aroma coupled with coffee is intriguing to say the least.

Tasting on the other hand, is just staggering. The punchiness from the hop is awesome and the deep malty flavours really add to the complexity of this beer. Never before have I sampled a porter that tastes this fresh and inviting.

Brewed to 6.7%, it has a bit more kick, but it’s not something you couldn’t still enjoy a few of.

And in case you were wondering where the name came from, Nocturnum is the Latin adjective of Noturnus.  Meaning ‘of, or belonging to the night’.  Which in the mind of the brewers, seemed pretty appropriate for a dark beer that has a little something about it, and rightly so.

The Citra Session

This has been good fun, trying all these beers and having a little Citra off. Although, as good as they are, I do often wonder why there are quite so many pales brewed.

The Porter and the Saison show that by using a little lateral thinking, Citra can be used to create a beer that truly does stand out from the rest. Don’t get me wrong, I’d happily drink all of these beers again, but it is nice to see something a little different.

But then equally, the high number of pales is largely irrelevant as they are all different, and they do have their own place.  Let me put it this way, if these beers were the results of a brewing contest where the rules were to use only the Citra hop and then have complete freedom over the rest of the ingredients; then you can now see that each brewer has interpreted the instructions in their own way and we have ended up with six unique beers.  Even though in reality one may be emulating another, they are all still different.

So to finish, I must say a massive thank you to all the breweries for their Citra beers! And thank you for providing the information that without which this post would not have been possible.

Nigel Wattam at Oakham Ales
Andy at Isca Ales
Denzil Vallance at Great Heck Brewing Company
Dave, Tom and Chris at Brew By Numbers
Evin at The Kernel Brewery
Toby & Fin at The Occasional Brewing Company

Budapest? But I don’t even like George Ezra!

Over the Easter weekend, four of us made the journey to Budapest. This is somewhere that I’ve not been to before and my only knowledge of the place has been learnt from watching the Formula 1 when it’s been to the Hungaroring. Now I could bore you with my, ahem, encyclopaedic knowledge of F1, but, in true Murray Walker style, I need to interrupt myself and talk about our holiday.

The flight over was pretty uneventful, but that didn’t stop Ryanair from blasting out a fanfare on landing. As if to say, “We made it, aren’t you lucky we survived?” Well yes, clearly, but was it really necessary?

By the time we arrived at the hotel, time had ticked on a fair way so it was straight to bed for a good nights sleep all ready for the first day!

Conveniently, our hotel was situated right next to Keleti Station, which boasts train, tram and metro services, so off we walked to our first destination which happened to be a local flea market. This ended up being presented like a typical car boot sale but without the cars. Quite a lot of local tat but strangely an awful lot of English music and DVDs; legitimate copies of course.

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One stand however did catch my eye, one that was riddled with model trains! This takes me back to my childhood, I used to love my train set. I sometimes wish I still had it all, set up in the loft, but unfortunately for me my wife has decided to turn the loft into a guest room! And now the only thing I get to keep up there, among the random boxes and Christmas decorations, is my little stash of Jaipur X, just don’t tell any guests it’s there!

Once I’d stopped reminiscing, we wandered off through City Park and found a little, well, fairly well established market next to Vajdahunyad Castle which offered some amazing looking fare! My wife had been fascinated by Chimney cake, so to keep her quiet we found a vendor and she indulged.

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A little further through the market I caught my first glimpse of Hungarian Craft Beer. It’s only about 11am, so lets get a beer.

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The choice was superb, and though the menu was partly written in English, even I struggled to choose something to quench my morning thirst. I decided on the Lehmann Haziser, a nice crisp and fruity pilsner which went down really well on the fresh but sunny morning.

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After a little more walking, the health app on my wife’s iPhone 6 is going hell for leather now, we made our way down into the more central part of Budapest. Taking the walking option was quite nice, the architecture is special and there was quite an abundance of Metro stations along our chosen route, but we strutted on.

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We suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a snow storm and couldn’t decide whether to buy a jacket, get something to eat and sit inside or remain outdoors. Common sense reigned supreme and we sat outside with some hearty food and a drink. We had stumbled across what could almost be described as a Christmas market, like we’d have at home, except this one was open when we needed it to be.

Diced pork knuckle with new potatoes and a pint of Borsodi was the order of the moment, which was immensely satisfying, and extinct just as rapidly as the snow storm that had brought us here.

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Following a rather aimless walk we stumbled across a bar called Csendes. This place has to be unique. Where else can you enjoy your drink whilst sat in a bath tub, other than at home of course. And my choice of beer; Soproni Demon. This was delicious, really smooth and malty, with a whole load of liquorice chucked into it’s deep, dark redness.

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On to the evening, and my wife, being the organised soul that she is, had found somewhere for us to partake in some supper. Sophie and Bens Bistro on Kaldy Gyiula utca was it, and on entering we were greeted like friends and shown to our seats, which we could choose, not that they were quiet, we were just given the choice instead of being told, ‘you will sit there’ and’ sit down now’

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The decor was smart and not excessive, but the choice of food on the other hand did make us stop and think for a while. So whilst we made up our minds, we ordered drinks, standard. Being the inquisitive one amongst us, I decided to opt for the drink with the most bizarre name, Rothbeer Pyromania. Even the waiter said, you do know this is a dark beer? Well I didn’t, but now I really want it. And boy did it live up to it’s name. (By this point I had clearly become adept at choosing the dark beers, and purely by chance I had picked another fantastic beer.) Beautiful copper red colour, sublime caramel and smokey, open fire-esque flavour. I was not expecting this at all. Forget the food, I’m on this all night.

But let’s not dismiss the food too quickly, the hand cut chips were truly breathtaking, and the burgers were simply to die for. This place really proves that it’s not that difficult to deliver outstanding food in the form of something as simple as burger and chips.

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The next day we decided to do some touristy stuff and headed for the funicular railway that led up to Buda Castle. Unfortunately for the iPhone we decided to use the Metro to get a little closer to our destination.

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From the top of the hill you get a superb view of both Buda and Pest; the two towns separated by the mighty Danube. Apparently we’d consumed too much alcohol by this point so coffee it was. Actually quite nice too, and feeling refreshed by our caffeine buzz we headed back down the hill and on the hunt for some lunch.

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Almost by chance we found a place called The For Sale Pub, which as it happens, isn’t. The interior of this place is interesting to say the least. Hand written notes in every conceivable language litter the walls and ceilings, and even a few cigarette packets too.

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We managed to get a table and sat for lunch. And I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen a menu with quite so many choices, well over 120 in fact. We eventually ordered, and whilst we waited, consumed the numerous monkey nuts that sat in the middle of our table. Now like any good Briton, we placed the spent shells in the candle containing bowl on the table, only to be told to throw them on the floor! Was this really the normal practice we should adopt? It seemed so, and became quite amusing just launching the shells floorwards.

Once we’d fought our way through the mountain of food that we were dealt, we found ourselves on the hunt for a dessert. The New York Cafe was the place to head, and head there we did. The approach to the Cafe was like any normal walk to an eatery. But on arrival we found ourselves gazing skywards and totally awestruck by the chandeliers and ceilings.

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We’d only come here for pudding but somehow I managed to shoehorn a beer into our appointment. Yet another dark beer, Staropramen Dark. Now this was a perfect match with the chosen chocolate dessert.

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Later that evening we headed back out for a few drinks and possibly some food. We headed back to the area around Sophie and Bens where we found quite a swanky wine bar. I had no choice but to drink some wine as that’s all they sold! I’m just glad I avoided the embarrassment of asking for a beer; after my wife asked for a cocktail I kept my mouth shut!

Next stop was a proper bar, that sold proper drinks. And I was rather intrigued by a local beer; Tavoli Galaxis. This appeared to be a single hop IPA hopped with just Galaxy. Now this, after the wine was like a breath of fresh air, and the bartender described it as a Hungarian hand crafted beer. Now this I really like. Single hop beers can really be let down by their malt content but this, this is immense. I really struggled to take it slowly, and just craved more.

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So how on earth do you follow this? Easy as it happens. We venture into what would appear to the only craft beer bar in the whole of Budapest. There may be others, but I couldn’t find them!

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Lehuto, on Hollo utca. Quite a small place, down a few stairs and fairly well tucked away. You really need to know this place is here or you’d just pass it by. Now if I said the previous bar was a proper bar, then I was wrong, Lehuto is a proper bar. It felt like a home from home, beer menu up on a chalk board and a huge bottle list on the wall.

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I was like a kid in a sweet shop, where on earth do you begin with such a choice? Well, I opted for the Zodiak Rye IPA. Not too strong and tasting was sublime. Really citrusy with a light bitterness and quite full at the same time. This was an awesome opener to what would become my evening. Following this I went for the Zodiak Rye stout. At 8.2% it looks to be quite a substantial drink, but you are greeted by a chocolatey, fruity beer that’s so easy drinking at the same time. But you daren’t spill any, it’s so viscous it would be like the Great Molasses Flood of Boston re-enacted here in Budapest!

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So how do you follow two great beers such as these? Well, the Kaltenecker Chopper IPA is exactly how I did it. Gorgeous biscuity, caramel and grassy aroma, coupled to a bread taste which is light and so smooth. For an IPA from the bottle it’s good and malty and the hops add a nice bitterness to it. This is a truly satisfying and wholesome beer.

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I could have stayed in Lehuto’s all night, but I couldn’t be selfish so we pressed on to our last bar. Again I opted for the Galaxis, but more important here was the music. The song playing was Dirty Vegas, Days Go By. I absolutely love this song, I’ve not heard it for years and it really made my night in a bizarre kind of way.

I say it was our last bar, but on the way back to the hotel we were seduced by a place, the name of which I forget, but the drink we consumed will never be forgotten. I won’t go into it too much and will just leave you with one word, Unicum…..

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Our final day was to be cut short by the fact our plane left during the afternoon, but fear not we had a place to eat lunch all pre booked. It was just a matter of finding it. Now I thought Lehuto was easy to miss but this place, Zeller, was even easier to pass by. But we’re so glad we didn’t. We lowered ourselves into the restaurant from the street via a number of stairs, and oh my were we in for a treat.

We were shown to our seat, a nice booth, by a simply perfect waitress. If I could have taken her home, I would have. She was French but living in Budapest, and the warm feeling she created inside made the walk all the more worth it. And I wasn’t the only one who felt it.

We were offered a glass of their own sparkling wine, which was similar to a Prosecco. This was absolutely delicious and the elderflower flavour was just sublime.

The food menu was concise enough to offer a good choice, but not so much that you were left struggling to decide what to eat. I opted for the fish of the day, which was salmon served with pak choy. When the food arrived it was like looking at a photograph, the presentation was perfect and the portion size was just right.

All this and they even manage to squeeze in the own brand of beer; Zeller Sor.  Advertised as Irish Red, it is in actual fact Stari Ir Voros.  This beer is beautifully buttery, caramelly and so smooth; being served in a wine glass really sets it off too.

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It’s not hard to understand why Zeller, according to Trip Advisor, is the number one restaurant in Budapest.  The whole experience from start to finish is so relaxing and enjoyable, and we found ourselves never wanting to leave.

But leave we must, and off back to the hotel we headed to pack for the journey home.

The flight home was, again, pretty uneventful, all except for the landing.  We swayed from one side to the next and came in at a fair lick.  The thrust reversers were working overtime, and we only just managed to scrub our velocity before reaching taxiing speed and making the sharp turn off the runway.

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Now I know what the fanfare is for…..