Thursday, 28 July 2016

Beer Review: A Brace of Reviews

The adventure continues! A lovely sunny and warm day, a quiet and pleasant evening in the lodge with the view of the woodland out of the back door and the feeling that nothing is impossible. Some cycling managed both in the morning and the afternoon with the eldest and some time now to settle with my other birthday present, Rivers of London, and get some reading done. Something I've not done in a very long time indeed. Whom should my companions be for such an auspicious evening but two ales?

Of course, tonight I have the pleasure of Portcullis IPA from my father as a random not-quite-birthday-gift that was imparted last week when I went to see the Pet Shop Boys. This is only the second ale I've had from Windsor and Eton Brewery, the first being way back when I was in London last year around Easter time. And I have also plumbed for the first of two ales from a much esteemed colleague and friend at work: Gnarly Fox Lager from Hatherwood Craft Beer Company. Both of these should serve me well as I attempt to unwind and relax, let the last few days at work and the journey here fade a little and bask in the evening glow with my wife.

Would you like to know more?

First up is Portcullis IPA from Windsor and Eton Brewery, an IPA (would you have guessed it?) at 5% ABV and a rather nice bottle all told. A gift from my well-connected father.

This opens splendidly with a firework show of floral hops meeting and breaking above a deep of deep copper that shines beautifully in the light. After a long hot day I was pleased I had chilled this for as long as I had - putting it in the fridge door on arrival the night before - and thus looked forward to a rather lovely brew to accompany my sojourn through London landmarks and folklore through the eyes of a character I assume to be vaguely autistic. Good start to the novel, good start to the evening and a good start to the IPA. There's plenty of carbonation that leads to a decent, if brief, head and there's no shortage of action in the nose either - plenty of well-balanced hops vying for place on the full and floral side of the spectrum but with a hint of citrus and bitterness on the side.

The taste is as one would expect - full hops on the start with a slow descent to the middle of the brew as it roils and passes over the tongue on the way to the back of the throat. A good full IPA with plenty of pent-up taste that just increases as the whole thing warms up from the cool prison. In much the same way as the animals on Animal Farm are slow to anger but heavy in their violence such are the hops here. More Snowball than Napoleon, it has to be said, there's a measure of balance and an intellectual approximation of the nuttiness of some of the IPAs I've had, but that is no bad thing. To be brewed and sold near to the Houses of Parliament this has to be an intelligent brew that packs a punch to leave no Parliamentarian standing and so it is - after the flood it moves to a dry bitter aftertaste that is businesslike and crisp, demanding a second and maybe even a third soon afterwards.

A definite touch or Orwell about this one, well-suited to political discussion or the beginnings of anthropomorphising the hidden waterways of the capital as Nigerians, and thus a good start to the proceedings.

I was surprised to find myself moving to the Lager on offer second, Gnarly Fox Lager at 4.5% ABV and from Hatherwood Craft Beer Company but the heat of the day demanded something less dark and not amber. And I've had Hobgoblin Gold before here.

Surprisingly blonde on the nose - like it was a Belgian ale in fact rather than a craft lager - with plenty of hops action. The bottle did warn me that there were a lot of hops involved in the production of this lager and that got me wondering about the nature of lager and whether or not adding hops made it a simple ale or not. How would anyone be able to tell? Anyway, the fact the remains that this is a fragrant little number with enough going on that it could well masquerade as something else. Willow suggested that it wasn't a little unlike the IPA that I'd just finished but I'm plumbing more for the blonde end of the spectrum on account of the fact that there's less of a fireworks display than there is an evening sort of feel to it. It may just be that I'm a little more relaxed and further into the novel, but I detect a certain sedate quality to this offering. The colouring is a clear copper, rather than the almost ruby copper depth of the Portcullis with a tiny head at first.

By the time I'd taken my seat on the sofa that head had exploded somewhat, necessitating a second picture. The opening is floral hops at the beginning with a delicacy that I really didn't expect to find myself having to find words to describe from a simple lager! No, this is a delicate fusion of something like chinook and citra and fuggles or goldings. Hard to say for certain as I didn't read the bottle and now it's all the way over in the kitchen and I'm stranded on a comfortable sofa reading a book. For shame. Still, a wave of hops is broken by a barely-there, blink-and-you'll-miss-it, malt that settles like water after a drop on slow-motion or the dust after a storm into a dry an arid hop finish. It's not at all bad and does the job of quenching a thirst built up by some cycling and looking after two little'uns. There's a certain niggling quality to this aftertaste though, like a worried houseguest that stands wringing its hands despite bringing gifts as if they're unsure you'll still put them up for the night, and of course you would, even though you said and they don't want to ask because they don't want to be a bother.

In short, the sort of lager you'd take home to meet the lads and have in amongst an otherwise normal beer session. It'll surprise you by being, well, like an ale with the thirst slaying qualities that people bray about lagers (but I'm not sure I hold to). Definitely worth it if you see it.

The winner of the evening was, surprsingly, the Gnarly Fox Lager because it had such depth and just kept on giving until the end. A very good companion to my reading and well worth having again I think. Not least because of the sudden explosion of froth as it reached a higher temperature out of the fridge, one that definitely rewarded me for chilling it!

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