Sunday, 9 November 2014

Beer Review: India Pale Ale

It's yet another IPA here, I have had a few, and I continue to enjoy the style. I was given this as a gift from m'colleague when I last visited (was it all that time ago?) and I finally got round to having it of an evening and reviewing it. It's Remembrance Sunday today and any attempt to 'do things properly' has been torn asunder by family illness, getting lost in an unfamiliar place looking for medical centres and vague guilt at having not marked Year 10 essays. The less said about the mood of the eldest fruit the better.

Tonight it is thus the turn of India Pale Ale, the imaginatively titled ale from Faversham Brewery and Shepherd Neame. I detect a certain element of escaping from the cosh of Spitfire (here), one of the better known ales and one of their least attractive offerings (though that's a tight distinction as most of their offerings are excellent) - that is, not identifying themselves with the mainstream despite being very much part of it.

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The aroma on opening was less hoppy than I was anticipating, though there was a full bouquest of fruit there with a faint citrus tang, and was instead dominated by a toffee and chocolate smell that hung in the air pleasantly around the brew. On pouring this just seemed to bubble up and remain, unmoving and benevolent, above the glass. Lovely colour and a decent head built up slowly and then had the decency to do what I like about real ale heads from bottles, namely, it dissipated and left a frothy skein across the top so it was there if you wanted it but out of the way for the serious business of drinking. Not too much carbonation but markedly moreso than had it been pulled, one of the key differences that I am now beginning to realise are between bottles and draught.

At 6.1% ABV this is a heavy one and much stronger than Thursday's Whitstable Ale (here) but there is a familial resemblance. Whereas the clear bottle of the latter allowed that golden amber to shine through and be counted the dark brown glass of this effort meant that the whole thing was given an air of mystery and dignity, as well as subtly alluding to something different and brooding. I am a bit of a fan of darker bottles as a rule and so this was not a bad thing. It also claimed on the bottle, another reason for anticipation, that Fuggles hops had been used in the brewing, something I am always 'up' for. Sure enough, that first taste revealed the veneer of the chocolate to be powerful but just the surface. Beneath that roiled the warming sensation of the Fuggles, not a little unlike HP sauce or something with a bit of pepper in it.

Anna opined that the chocolate aroma pretty much set the whole thing up from the start and made it hard to see or taste anything past that, but this was very much a mark of approval for her and not an insult. I agree that the chocolate of the malt is unexpectedly strong and not hinted at by dint of being an IPA but I think that it's just there at the beginning. The Fuggles burn through along with the yeast and the whole thing settles down to something a little smoother and more convivial after that. It's less of a dinner companion than the Milestone IPA (here) and not as domineering and obnoxious as Jaipur (link) or Dr. Hardwicke's IPA (linky), both of which I respect a great deal and enjoy, but it falls somewhere in the interesting enough not to be background but humble enough to stand a decent meal thrown at it. I very much enjoyed this one, there's a subtle hit of nut as one progresses through the bottle and the faintest tinge of woodsmoke, something I greatly enjoy in a decent ale and that Shepherd Neame have a lot of form on (see Late Red here or Up and Under here as examples but also the powerful, and lamentably unavailable for me, Thoroughbred Gold, fondly remembered here).

In short, this is very much a challenger to the Jaipur of Thornbridge in both brewing effect and label design. There's an attempt at being artisan and clever along with a well brewed IPA that attenpts to be strong whilst behaving so nicely that you'll forget the bant-ah is actually a cover for misogyny and racism. A braggart and a brawler rolled into one in the clothes of someone who you would end up calling a loveable rogue. And, because this is an ale rather than a human being, it gets away with this otherwise lamentable collection of attributes.

Enjoy with a meal on a night following rain and cold, as the evening draws in. Or else, take out chilled on a warm night as the dying sun casts long shadows over the still smoking ruin of the barbeque fire and the taste of peppered steaks hangs in the air and on your tongue. Or even in the afternoon, around a wooden table in a gastro pub discussing middle-class problems such as the failing battery or lack of connection for your phone and laughing just a little too loudly. Or even as you watch the early cricket of the season, as spring is still with us and there's a faint threat of snow all around. In short, this is an ale that will work with you rather than agin you.

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