Sunday, 12 October 2014

A Birthday Bevy of Beers

No, not my birthday. But there was a birthday bash round our way and it happened to be in our house. Naturally, I bought in ales, and at a cheap price too. They seem relatively new and this seemed as good an excuse as any to have more than one ale on an evening and then to blog about them afterward. A new brewery for me to try too! Box Steam Brewery, as it happens, which was quite disappointing to some of the party guests who were hoping that the BSB proudly displayed on the bottles was a reference to Back Street Boys, whom I believe were back, alright?

From our living room come morning.

Obviously, with a selection known as Criminales I was going to pick them up (and at 89p a pop!) but I'll confess to being a middle-class snob of the highest order as I pronounced it like it was hispanic. On reflection, it's less 'crim-in-ah-lez' and more 'crim-in-ails', I'll probably be hard pushed not to refer to them as the former in my head however.

Would you like to know more?

First up was Gangster, a "mighty IPA" weighing in at 5.4% ABV with a fiery red label.
This was had with company as we embarked upon playing board games, Absolute Balderdash to the initiated, and so it promised to be a good companion. It smelled reasonably hoppy and I was able to work out, with some satisfaction, that this particular brew had been dry hopped. Possibly bramley cross, possibly goldings, difficult for me to tell (and that should tell you all you need to know about my lack of beer tasting chops). It poured well enough, though I got the feeling that one wrong move would land you with a froth so deep that diving parties may be required to get to the ale beneath. The head did stick around too, long out-staying its welcome. That said, the taste was good enough. Plenty of initial hops, citrus and bitter in bouquet and on the tongue, giving way to a decent enough malt. That malt really carried the ale, suggesting that this is an attempt to bring in the lager drinker to real ale, no bad aim. However, the ending bitter notes were lost in the malt and the aftertaste was thus a little lacklustre.

By the end of the evening I could safely say this was the best of the bunch and easily the most repeatable. Enjoy in a busy evening, when focusing on taste isn't really your aim, maybe with a good film and a good take out (this was had alone) that may or may not have strong flavours. A good background ale that surfaces enough to make itself known but is humble enough to know when to get out of the way and let things happen without it. Sessionable.

Second on the roster was Robber, "powerfully hopped", at 4.9% ABV and in fetching blue.
Of the three, this was the one that I had been looking forward to. I like me some good hops and nice flavours. It poured almost straw and rapidly beefed up to become copper. Same strange head as the first effort and another example of having to be careful not to over-do it. Same froth effect that hung around and a distinct lack of cream. This is a good thing, so far as I am concerned, but I do rather suspect that the head is a little too manufactured for my tastes. Anyway, this ought to have had something of an aroma. It did have some citrus notes and there was more than malt in the air, and not much malt, but it was a little disappointing. Certainly it failed in light of, say, Milestone IPA (here) or, well, any of the actual hoppy brews I've had recently. It was tame, another effort to capture people who claim to dislike hops with something that sounded edgier than it was. A brief flicker of some hops, mainly bitter, on opening and then a quick malt allied with the spice of a pretty decent yeast and then some bittering notes toward the end that erred on the side of light citrus (think orange rather than lemon) before a very swift final fade.

Easily the most disappointing to me, it remained a decent enough ale to accompany the game without overpowering the playing of it. Much more background than its stable mate and suited to a birthday bash as it doesn't make you sit up and take notice. Passable ale with enough character to avoid being awful, and certainly another ale to fit a session rather than take centre stage. In fact, there is nothing wrong with this save for a lack of adventure. I have been spoiled by some really clever little ales of late, stuff that deserves attention on its own, this is a good accompanying ale.

Finally we came to Fraudster, "warming golen ale", at 4.4% ABV and in green clothing.
This one was the final confirmation about the manufactured nature of the head. Nevertheless, it had a nice enough bouquet to it and, coming after the requisite game of twister, it was possibly in the right place. As the weakest on offer I suspect it suffered from being last. Also, a comrade was having some Champion from Badger which I thought I'd had before, but apparently not. Anyway, the point of this was the aroma. Badger ales have consistently promised more than they delivered with some really excellent smells (peach from Golden Glory - link; fruity fullness from Hopping Hare - link; and the just plain interesting Fursty Ferret - here) but little actual depth due to the enormous amount of sweeteners that they place in the ale itself. This was very apparent with the much more mundane, and thus vaguely hoppy, taste of Fraudster. Indeed, despite coming last and being a bit wet, this may have been the ale that had the best time of it on the evening as it came out superior to something that was a little more well known.

Again, an ale to session with and to have in the background so that there's something pleasant to taste and a bit interesting rather than relying on something a bit mainstream and crappy. Smooth enough to survive being married with curry or spicy pizza but with enough yeast flavour to stand being teamed with something blander and more filling. Heady enough to mix it with the birthday buzz and cut'n'thrust of company but same-y enough to remain unremarkable. This would actually do well in putting a feeling of quality on proceedings were you to supply a bar for a big party - notable enough to be memorable, but unremarkable enough to avoid beer bores such as myself dominating conversation with allusions to tastes and comparisons.

In short, they do very well at being ales one has with company who aren't normally ale drinkers. Good to share, as you won't feel that selfish pang that your best ale is being squandered on others and good to just quaff. Not naff, not brilliant, but enough there to make a difference. And, for 89p, bloody good bargain and very qualitative. Don't pay over the odds but, if you see these, they might be worth a try. I know I shall be buying more.

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