Thursday, 1 January 2015

Hoppy New Beer for 2015!

Yes, yes, I already used this title back last year. And, I think, last year there was no beer review in it but a promise to brew more ale in 2014. I have singularly failed in that regard, brewing only a raspberry effort that was either passably nice or evil consigned to the sink depending on who you spoke to.

However, there is a beer review this time around as we had company up and I shared a few ales. Only three (ha, only) but they were good and I am glad that I had them with company. Before I get to them and the inevitable line-break though, may I offer all you readers a happy New Year? I hope that the blank pages of the year ahead are well and truly taken to use by your good selves, that you mar, mark, stain and scribble all over them with some abandon and happiness. We are never entitled to be happy or even ever have it guaranteed, but we can seek it out and enjoy it. Sucking the marrow from the bones of life. Whatever your religious flavour (mine is Church of England) or lack thereof may you have a year that is worthy of you. The kind of year that you will look back on with some satisfaction even if living it can sometimes be difficult and hard.

Now, onto the reviews. It was an odd mix of ales that were tried as Willow's cousin and husband were up. He's tasted ales with me before, here, and it seemed to make an impression. Much discussion of ales has followed and they were good enough to bring some of the ales that they knew I liked, that they had enjoyed and that I had raved about. So it was that we tried two of those and something that I've spotted about the communities I frequent.

Would you like to know more?

This could quite easily become something of a tradition. Last year we had some games and Willow and her cousin ended up singing on SingStar at the tops of their voices. As a consequence it was mainly wine on offer, though I suspect that we demurred on tasting, and then we retired to bed. This year was a different occasion as Willow is still feeling under the weather (and, at least, we know that it's not life-threatening and that she's likely to be in pain for a while yet) so my drinking partner and I did indeed take to the ales in amongst having a decent Chinese meal and watching silly youtube videos.

Our first tipple of the evening was the delectable Proper Job by St. Austell - at 5.5% ABV this was always a dangerous one to begin a session with, but it is a nice ale and very hoppy, there's no way to complain. I have reviewed it previously here. Still, an excellent start to the evening despite being a big one. It has retained the lovely smell of hops - tropical and citrus mingling nicely in the nose - with that deep copper colour. As an opener to the evening it effectively cleansed the palate and being shared between two people did mean that there was less of a big hit. My drinking partner was also impressed by the way this one worked. Short on the aftertaste, big on the malt beneath those bittering hops that dominate without ruining the flavour. Set the mood nicely and did a good job of reminding me why I liked it in the first place. In one sense it was somewhat sad to start with this as it meant that I couldn't keep it for my own-some, but in another it was brilliant to be able to share it with someone and compare notes. Our notes suggested that this was a good choice.

Next up was had after the Chinese had been munched. For reference I had some Tom Yum Seafood Soup followed by a Beef, Chicken and Pork Chow Mein in the house style. Very nice indeed and very savoury, very unlike my usual spicy choices for such a meal, and thus setting quite the smokey and deep flavour in the mouth for the remaining ales.

So it was that we moved on to Innis and Gunn's Original, at 6.6% ABV. It was going to be the kind of night that had hard hitting ales. I was intrigued by this and had bought a big bottle specially for the occasion. The colour was good, a nice copper to it, and the smell was hoppy without being a hop-head ale like some of the others I enjoy. There was none of the adventure of Wild Raven (here) for example or the frothy loveliness of Hop Bomb (here). Equally, there was something on the edge of smell that I rather liked, full of promise. First taste was much softer than I was expecting. It was round and plump and deep. Malt initially and then there was a definite oak to it. Like licking an oak plank before it's been treated, just fresh cut from the wood. This sounds silly, but it's the same sort of thing - it's the smell of the woodland or chipped oak but in taste format. And they aren't joking about the vanilla, I was shocked at how mild it was in the original taste, though it built with time, beneath some quite pedestrian hopping and that round and soft malt. It was like a beer marshmallow, and I mean that as a compliment. The aftertaste was phenomenal, it kept on going. Growing better as time passed. It starts with a definite wallop of vanilla and then rolls around with the oak and the malt for a while, letting the vanilla grow in strength in comparison to the rest as you breathe through. For this strength ale it can take being sipped for a long time, and that's how this went. Hurrying through this would not only have been unseemly it would have been insulting to the ale. I really liked this one, perhaps you can tell?

Finally we finished with Wainwright, from Thwaites, to try and obviate the performance the last time we tried it together (here), itself a shame given the quite positive experience of it I had here. Coming after the above, this was actually something of a tall order. Nevertheless, at 4.1% ABV, it was a solid way to end the ale-tasting portion of the evening. I ought to have got in some Speciale (here) to cap the evening now that I think of it, but the energetic golden colour of the Wainwright did the job nicely enough. The flavour paled a little after the Original but it held up over several tentative sips and slowly brought back the contented feeling that it managed the first time round. A pleasant fizz both on opening and on the tongue is followed by some light hopping, mainly the citrus that the bottle promises, harsh in the context of the evening but doing a good job of fighting back the inevitable dehydration that such things produce. Indeed, as a cap to the Chinese meal from earlier and the last ale of the evening I think it has found its niche for the discerning drinkers that we weren't. Indeed, it did very well in that regard and played a pleasant fiddle to take us to within spitting distance of the coming of the New Year. However, by that point we were all too tired and retired to bed early for a change.

This left plenty of good ales untouched, but that just means that I shall be reviewing them another time. Unfortunately that means that some good ones, like Late Red, shall probably now be relegated to non-review status unless I get truly bored. the upshot of the ales is that I shall be seeking out more Innis and Gunn to try again, I was very impressed!

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