Thursday, 5 January 2017

Very Bad Elf

The time has come for me to end my voyage of discovery having proper ales in quick succession. It has changed the way I view ales, it really has, having so many qualitative brews so close to one another. It's... offered another perspective and made me think that maybe I should focus on having decent ales in the year ahead somehow. That's not to say I shan't still have the occasional ales of randomness, that's half the fun, but I shall be seeking more difficult to acquire ales.

In honour of the occasion, I shall be having the final Christmas ale: Very Bad Elf from Ridgeway. A suitably old sounding brewery name for this auspicious moment.

Yes, I am photographing it with all the work I've marked. Why not? Would you like to know more?

It held a lot of promise when I opened it, a good deep snick and then a slight fog from the carbonation clustering around the neck of the bottle. Despite leaving this until last quite deliberately I instantly regret it because it is also the strongest ale that came in the box at 7.5% ABV. The pour was fine but with a bit too much activity, resulting in the massive head that you see in the image, which is a shame. It meant that I had to leave it to settle a bit whilst I had my tea (soup in case you were wondering, that curry was a bit heavy last night) and watch the head recede slowly and leave a much more amenable skein of wort-like froth afterward. Bubbles continue apace but with smaller size and simply more of them than before. By now the nose had gathered from all over to observe the ritual journey up the nostrils and onto the back of the tongue to be tasted. A bit heavy on the malt with a light citrus tang somewhere buried within. More of a bitter than an IPA in that regard and lacking in the identifiable fruit department. Maybe the sort of thing I can imagine Thwaites doing, come to think of it.

In the anticipation before it hits the tongue I got an impression of faraway oranges, as though some orange grove was on the horizon and the heat-haze made it come in and out of focus, until the wave of spicy malt hit as the start of the liquid. Here the waves rush up onto the sandy shore, sucking the small stones of yeast carbonation back into the depths to leave a scoured and moist coastline, the spume crashing on the rocks of the headland near the dunes to fill the air with warm saltiness and the calling of the gulls wheeling on the updrafts. Warm and snuggly, like a good blanket on that windswept beach sometime in the spring before the heat comes in force and whilst the water is closer to the air temperature. A soft bitter in the middle warmed by the alcohol and the combination of hops, not named but I'm guessing something descended from the same ones used in Hop Garden Gold (see this link) or some other golden ale.

Nevertheless, this keeps the deep amber bitter character and flavour as the brew sloshes to the edges of the mouth and then recedes back into the iron grey sea beyond, mixing beneath the waves and with a smudge of rain in the distance making distinction twixt sea and air all but impossible. The whole thing is steeped in its own strength so that the alcohol is the main feature of the taste at this point, drying back to a slight bitter aftertaste in the same way as one's face warms when out of the wind near the Solway Firth after going bird-watching. You're glad it is warm but it is also dry and blasted as if by some sandpaper to lay down a new undercoat. It's that sort of sensation in the mouth, but as a taste rather than touch, and the throat remains pleasingly wet rather than the drying out that I would have suspected given the impressive strength of the brew.

It probably hasn't escaped your notice, dear reader, that I am very much pleasantly surprised by this brew. I think that I had convinced myself that it was going to be a strong and flavourless brew or else spiced to high heaven. After all, not all the twelve brews could be decent. And yet, that is not the case, this is a really good, warming, Christmas ale that would do for the walks that people claim to take and then post about on social media. Yes, walker's ale. Enjoyable and worth sitting with to watch a good film after finishing marking. As well as a worthy end to twelve ales of Christmas.

Enjoy best after a long walk down a northern coastline, on the west side, watching the leaden grey of the Atlantic rise and fall in the far distance. Feel the wind blast past your exposed face, carrying the salt and the sand, then enter the wooden hut to pour this, sit on a bare bench, and drink safe in the knowledge that the alcohol content alone will be enough to keep you warm and the malt character enough to keep you interested. A thoroughly enjoyable brew.

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