Saturday, 16 April 2016

#316: Sky High

Just as a hoppy sour led us to Buxton a few days ago, it is a hoppy sour that leads us away. This is another Scandi-Buxton collaboration, this time with gypsy brewer extraordinaire To Øl. It's brewed and bottled by To Øl at De Proef, as far as I can recall, though on Ratebeer it appears to be listed as being brewed by Buxton. Certainly, the kegged version of the beer imported to the U.S. by Shelton Bros. appears to be brewed in Derbyshire but I'm sticking to my guns and saying that this bottle is a To Øl/De Proef product, not least because of the fact that it came to the shop via Four Corners. I stand corrected; this is brewed and bottled by Buxton in Derbyshire, straight from the mouths of both horses. 

Whatever the case, it came to me bearing good news; Sky Mountain Sour is yet another successful showcase of the sort of tongue-tingling sourness and juicy citrus hop character that makes hoppy sour beer such a winning combination. It starts off with pure squeezed lemon juice - a sour stab of citric acid and, hey!, hops! Nice! There are little dabs of sweet orange and lemon congregating at the finish but this too is washed away with the scouring sourness of lemon following through. Despite how often I've used the word 'sour' so far, is that it isn't aggressively or overpoweringly sour - this is bright friendly lemon we're talking about here, not stinky vinegar. Most importantly, it's squeaky clean everywhere else, standing on a functional and pleasant wheaty, gristy base without any of the coarse drawbacks of that sort of thing. 

Another success story of the sour-hoppy arc. The perfect craft cliché? Perhaps. Should anybody care? Most certainly not.
Drink it if you see it. It's good, and it's a good deal gooder than many offerings from Scandi-Cool Tax* adherents To Øl.

*the Scandi-Cool Tax is a cool duty placed on products from Scandinavia directly proportionate to the level of coolness of the product (although, coming from Scandinavia, coolness levels are always through the roof). Whether or not the product is actually produced in a Scandinavian country is irrelevant; it is known that a phonecall from a Dane, Norwegian, Swede, Finn, or, in hard times, an Icelander, made to a brewer in any other part of the world, will activate the tax in regard to the beer(s) being produced in that brewery at the time of the phonecall. If the brewery is in Lochristi, the tax is permanently active and needs to be opted out of if a beer is being produced for a common-or-garden continental European. Nobody knows why, but we pay all the same.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

#315: Buxton

Hey, speaking of Buxton- you know where this is going.

The first of the roster is (possibly?) their flagship, Axe Edge, an IPA with an apparently intercontinental blend of hops forming its lupuline highlights. And what highlights they are.
This is a near perfect IPA for me; pungent pineapple, grapefruit and passionfruit do indeed suggest the presence of US and Southern Hemisphere varieties, at least on the nose. The palate gets a loving treatment of sharp, bittersweet tropical fruit with plenty of zest, candied peel and generally lively fruit expression on a nice, full and soft biscuity base, no doubt helped heaps by the inclusion of oats and wheat. This is squeaky clean, bright and superbly expressive stuff from Buxton.

Equally enjoyable, if not as layered an experience, is Bloc Head. This pale yellow thing is listed as a saison on Ratebeer, but the label itself tells another story altogether - a sour farmhouse pale ale is the name of the game here, and it's this version of events that's corroborated by the liquid itself. A dose of pure squeezed lemon juice shouts down just about everything else going on, so at the very least, it is sour. There's no real agrarian character to the beer, though, but for puckering, thirst quenching prowess I forgive such superfluous designation. At least it can't be argued that it is an ale, and it is pale.

Being called Red Point is reason enough for people to expect you're going to be pretty much red, but Red Point the beer is actually not as red as you'd think.
I mean, it's more or less red, but still.
The nose gets pithy, juicy, clean and sweet ripe citrus fruits, but it's all bitter to taste. Thankfully it does keep up the good citrus work, all orange and lemon and zesty to the end, but at 7.5% it gives off more heat than it should. Some contemplative pretentious swirling and warmth brings sugary tangerine to life, but the peely bitter finish never lets up. Good, but not great, and not the hoppy beer masterclass that was the Axe Edge.

Last and most certainly least is Tsar, though it comes with the heftiest price/ABV combo of the lot. This imperial stout was already over a year old by the time I opened it up but that's usually no cause for concern, even if Buxton do recommend that you drink it fresh. Still, it's well within the BBE date and come on it's a 9.5% bottle conditioned stout. 
The first sign of trouble is the ridiculously overenthusiastic effervescence, producing a head bigger than the sun. Through this, there's not a whole lot of aromatic notes to be pulled other than some faint milk chocolate, but the whole horrible shitshow shambles to life on the palate, dragging by its ankles thick tar-trails of bitter scorched coffee. From the very first sip, it's a slog. Time and patience unlock some bittersweet dark chocolate but not enough to even dream of competing with the crime scene that is the main character of this beer.
Now, unless the taster is willing to accept that their palate is the supreme, finely-tuned standard by which all flavour in the universe should be gauged (and I'm not), he or she has to take on board the information given by the producers (who we assume to know the product better than anyone) when assessing that product.
"Drink Fresh" they said, and I didn't, so I'm willing to give Buxton the benefit of the doubt and assume that this Tsar was not the Tsar I want to be tasting.

If you see the Tsar and he isn't fresh, don't do it.
Stick to the Axe Edge and everything will be OK.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

#314: Or, the Modern Prometheus

The would-be special guest star of the Lervig line-up is Trolltunga, a gooseberry sour IPA that shadows as a special guest in the Buxton roster, it being a collaboration between the two, brewed and bottled by the latter in England.

Sour IPA is sort of a two-birds-one-stone deal, combining two of beer geeks' sweetheart styles in one, and Trolltunga is evidence that that sort of Frankenstyle hybridization can work, damn it.

At the first flick of the switch, bright, sharp sparks of coppery and dank pellet hops, right from the bag, leap from the bottle. It isn't long until this is joined by trails of sour fruit, drifting to the top of the lab from the operating table below. The immediate impression on tasting is of grapefruit juice - not in the way we usually mean grapefruit when we talk about IPA, but like actual grapefruit juice - bitter, sour and tangy fleshy fruit. The citric acid on the front of this wraps around and hides much of the IPA part of the beer's DNA until, near the end, it becomes clear for a second and allows a fleeting glimpse of fresh, leafy greens through the sour patchwork of its glorious, reanimated face. Overall, the beer is much less an abomination, and much more a sour and juicy triumph.

It more than scratches an itch, even if it might upset some sections of the crowd who don't believe that anything good and sour can exist without festering barrels strung up by cobwebs, cobwebs adorned with dust and dust crawling with local ambient yeast that is just dying to spontaneously inoculate some innocent virginal liquid.

Monday, 4 April 2016

#313: Lervig

Speaking of Lervig, this bunch of bottles forms most of their available range in Ireland and, after the lacklustre showing from Lucky Jack and Hoppy Joe, they represent a marked improvement of fortunes.

We start with the Rye IPA, as I did, jumping right into the middle of the ABV spectrum on these bottles at 8.5%. It looks orange, it smells like orange skins, and it even tastes like orange; all pithy, bittersweet, pithy and juicy marmalade. In the background there;s flecks of lemongrass and, believe it or not, cumin, just hinting at an underlying spiciness, though I'm known to be suggested by the presence of rye in a beer like this. What I can say is that it's delicious, juicy, sharp, zesty stuff that doesn't show much of its 8.5%.

The White IPA came next, a style I have renewed faith in thanks to Rascal's wonderful Yankee. Where Yankee offers a bit more hoppy attack to a vaguely wit-like body, Lervig go all out with coriander and orange peel. There's a full, fluffy body with plenty of that coriander on show, with flecks of pepper and a crunchy bitterness. On top of this, the beer is incredibly fizzy, and this gets in the way of proper enjoyment. Otherwise, there's no real show of the hop profile that would contribute the IPA-ness to this beer. Ultimately, it's a big burp waiting to happen, and leaves me thirsty for Yankee.

A beer for a different occasion altogether is Konrad's Stout. The nose gets memories of Brooklyn's Black Chocolate, with rich dark chocolate mousse and crème de cassis joined by a bit of phenolic heat. Superbly rich it is in the mouth; thick slabs of malted biscuit, dark chocolate and raisiny, sugary sweetness. It's bitter in balance too, but, interestingly, there's no real roastiness to speak of - this certainly leans more comfortably toward the confected, malty sweet side of big stouts, but without falling over the edge into the sugary swamp-wastes of Dragon Stout Spitfire. Good stuff, this, and an excellent dark companion to the Rye IPA.

The bum note of the piece is the single hop showcase, Galaxy IPA - no prizes for guessing the star of the show here. Only, galaxy isn't the star of the show; the aroma immediately tells you this isn't clean and clear, but fusty and gristy. You can kid yourself that the waves of considerable bitterness are evidence of some enjoyable hop expression but that's simply not the case. This is an under-performing beer that fails to showcase much of anything, least of all its single hop.

So, there's some seriously good stuff to be found in the Lervig line-up, if you're willing to wade through some problem areas.