Tuesday, 14 February 2017

vALEntine's Day

It's that time of year again when people feel a mandatory urge to proclaim their relationship status to the world and the corporate world is happy to help us do so by charging us for the privilege of buying our saccharine sweet affectional gifts. Because gifts is a thing. I am happy to report that here in the household we avoided most of the awful extremes and stuck to having an evening, ish. I plumbed for having ales that I had been collecting for a while.

Basically, I bought in some Thornbridge ales with the idea that there ought to be a floral scented IPA, a strawberry flavour thing and then some chocolate to enjoy afterwards because what is Valentine's Day without something chocolate-y to enjoy and indulge in? I would wager it is nothing. To that end I purchased and stored three likely looking ales.

My intention is to have them all and review them briefly as I go to see if I can create the perfect date night, so I'm told, in a single set of beer reviews. I am nothing if not up for pointless challenges that I set for myself involving the reviewing of ale and so I accepted my own challenge. Would you like to know more?

My last sojourn into the world of Valentine's Day was overt and a tad on the bitter side. If you wish to be bitter about Valentine's then not only do you have my encouragement and blessing but you also should click here (or here) to go to the post about ales into which you can cry. It is worth it and there are plenty of good ales there. However, I started my journey this year with the 4.5% ABV I Love You, Will U Marry Me? by Thornbridge that I picked up from my local bottle shop.

The first thing to note was the very fizzy reaction to pouring it. From the start this behaved less like an ale and more like a champagne, reminding me of other such ales like the Speciale from Brampton (click here). A big sparking head that rapidly went and was then gone to allow the very pink ale to take centre stage. It looked not a little unlike the pink champagne that one can get for this time of year and the aroma was one of strawberries atop a very dry malt. Indeed, the taste was pretty similar to this. Very dry on the tongue, straight into the bubbles and fizz, with a dry malt providing the baseline like a white wine but with a definite tingle of strawberry on the roof of the mouth and around the edges. As it slipped to a dry but still active aftertaste the strawberry merely increased so that, by the third sip, the strawberry had won the battle and now it was the dry blonde malt that was playing the supporting role. It never really lost the fizz and the activity - keeping this up throughout the brew and right to the end of the glass. I think it was a rather lovely little ale and great for those that like a bit of fruit in with their ale, like me. I can recommend this for anyone at any time of the year and even if it wasn't Valentine's I would have enjoyed this as a tipple. Clearly one to keep my eyes open for as I recall it being on draught in London last year when I was down there for training and I turned my nose up in favour of an underwhelming porter. That may have had more to do with the rather warm day than the porter though. Still, worth getting in and then waiting for in my book and it galvanised me to move onto the second offering of the evening.

Next up wasn't the floral scent. Though I shall be honest and say that I struggled to find any kind of explicit reference to such a beast in the line up of Thornbridge ales at my local bottle shop. Having already got in the 6.8% ABV Cocoa Wonderland just after the Christmas holidays it seemed that I would have to have another from the same brewery to make the trio. As it is, I went for the Wonderland as a second ale. All the better to accompany and follow the strawberries of the dessert, right?

Less activity on opening and very viscous on the pour. Indeed, it was almost quiet and seemed to suck in all the light and sound of the kitchen around it. A deep black hue with the smallest translucence of deep ruby discernible from the way it sat in my rather nice half pint glass. Decent heady aroma of chocolate as promised from this porter and a creamy white head that made me think of ice cream. This is the perfect follow-up to the strawberry starter I think and I can see why it would go well in a Valentine's selection box of ales. There is a decent amount of chocolate on the tongue and it settles briefly on the sides with a dry roasted sensation but it is thin overall and relies a lot on the almost coffee nature of the chocolate bitterness. I'll admit that this makes a good dessert ale and that the aftertaste does call to mind mousses and truffles and nice neat small chocs in a lovely heart-shaped box, but it's not the sort of chocolate assault that I think I'd fooled myself into thinking may be in the offing. It tastes like its strength, which is a good thing, and that creamy head persists and really adds to the richness of the flavour. I rather like the whole brew, to be honest, but I have others that I would go to if I wanted luxurious chocolate of the sort that I would be happy to give or receive on this corporate mandated celebration of couples. Mind you, as the ale continues to be supped the chocolate does build in intensity and I have to say that what it lacks in luxury it more than makes up for in quantity and mouthfeel. I'm a big fan of chocolate ales and this has echoes of the amazing Montezuma's Chocolate Lager (click here) in just how much chocolate they've managed to mash into here. It's pretty impressive actually. This has made me wonder if I can even manage the IPA that I saved until the last moment. We shall see!

And so it is that I came to the IPA that was supposed to stand in for flowers because that made sense with the strawberries and the chocolate. However, none of the bottles I could find offered such a sobriquet and so I went with the one that looked the most likely to achieve the goal I set. I settled upon the AM:PM at 4.5% ABV if for no other reason than it looked the part more than the other brews on offer and I couldn't find anything else.

It opened without any kind of big fuss and poured a copper hue into the wine glass I brought in to try and hide the fact that I'd run out of half pint glasses. Something told me not to reuse either of the glasses that I had used so far and I think I was right to listen to that voice. No head at all despite some attempts to create something on the pour and a huge nose of fruity clarity courtesy of the highly charged use of citra in the brewing. Definite passionfruit in the offing and it stayed around as I transported the brew to where I sit in the living room. Not much fizz in this one but instant fruit on the tongue so the whole thing is rich and juicy, dripping in flavour and moist to the taste. This is easily the least dry of the three and hits the tastebuds up with a dazzling array of tropical fruit that stops short of an Um Bongo twist or drenching you in Lilt. There's guava, so I'm told, and certainly there's a more tropical aspect to this than even the passionfruit in the nose. The bottle tells me I should be able to detect some papaya but I can't vouch for that as I have no basis for comparison. This is proper juicy fruit though, none of the dryness of other IPAs nor the grapefruit explosions of something like Elvis Juice (click here). This is sitting on a tropical beach in the summer with a glass of something orange coloured in one hand and enjoying the shade beneath the various foliage hoping that your trip won't be the one that destroys the local eco-system (I'm kidding, it won't be, but it will destroy the eco-system). This perhaps suffers a little coming so soon after the partners in crime but it holds its own as a decent sessionable IPA, as it sells itself, and it works well enough with the chocolate and strawberry that preceded it that I am prepared to overlook the fact that it is not very floral and not very Valentine's Day-esque. It will do nicely enough and I can't imagine any lady who likes her ale would knock you back for buying it as a gift. I would, however, counsel you toward the first two ales that are, in my opinion, somewhat superior.

All in all then I am no fan of the corporate behemoth of Valentine's Day and still less fond of the pressure to perform something romantic and theatrical. Luckily, my relationship is such that I am not expected, nor wished, to perform any such feats and I can indulge my ale drinking at my own pace and in my own time. All of that said, I was taken very much by the Will You... as my drink of choice (so referred to on the bottle). I can see myself getting more of the Wonderland in and storing for special occasions but not at the expense of other chocolate stouts, for example. The AM:PM is nice enough and would definitely feature in a session with IPAs. That does rather leave the winner as I Love You, Will U Marry Me? for the Valentine's Day session. Almost fitting.

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