Something of a trend seems to be emerging this summer, that is, the trend of having sour ales when it is warm and sunny because they seem to help. This trend is not helped by such wonders as the sours that are on offer and, today, I ventured into the garden again to enjoy me a sour IPA from Mad Hatter Brewing Co., that is aptly named Orange 'n' Basil. The chap at the bottle shop recommended it highly when I was picking up the Tzatziki Sour (see here) from the same people and so I naturally picked one up the next time I was in. Combined with a quick lunch of noodles with extra spice and a feeling of invincibility, this was already shaping up to be rather nice.
Being at home more does rather allow me to branch out and try different things. And I may have been in to work to do some tidying up and I may have been stupid and spent some time doing extra marking for a pittance in order to have some money to spend rashly later in the year. However, this is not the time nor the place to be discussing any of that, it is a place to discuss beer and so would you like to join me in learning more?
This is unassuming. It is also totally without subtlety. It is called Orange 'n' Basil and the colour scheme makes great play on this as does the art work. Sure enough both orange and basil appear in the listed ingredients, though not in bold as they are not allergens, and it pours with an aroma of both oranges and basil. At once. A clear orange brew, not unlike Iron Brew of old, pours carefully and with a minimal head from the bottle. Lots of bubbles as one would expect from a sour, with a nice aspect to it in the sort of sunlight - I happened to catch a cloudy patch as I took my pictures. The air was pregnant with the sweet after-rain smell, enfolding and thick, but the ale did a surprisingly good job of jousting with that and coming out very much on top. Sure enough there is a pungent aroma of basil, all heady and thick, atop the thinner and sharper smell of oranges. Not as strong as an actual orange but it was there nevertheless. Like I say, this is not a subtle brew and this is not a subtle brewery. I think I like them.
Onto to the taste and this is lovely, actually. Opens with the basil, strangely enough, a good pungent hit that reminds me of the sort of feeling that I get with cream of tomato soup. There's the basil and there's the slight tang from the tomato, though in this case it is supplied by the sourness of the IPA rather than any fruit, and then it swirls into the centre of the mouth where it becomes thinner and more oily of the type that reminds me faintly of the Sink the Bismarck (see here) from last year. Then the orange comes through along with the sour of the malt and the spearing of the yeast from the bubbles. Here it stays a moment, the orange much more rapid and short-lived than the basil, before the basil comes back onto the tongue in the run to the back. It is a strange combination of basil and sour malt, and I would not have credited it had you tried to explain it to me. However, the experience is a positive one and it works really rather well. The bottle claims that there is a pithiness to it and they are not wrong, as the we chase to the aftertaste the tang of the orange is replaced with the pulpy dryness of the pith that I recall from the times I have ingested it in the past, backing up the thick basil and slicing through with the sour nature of the whole thing.
Unlike, say, the recent Superluminal (click here) or the, frankly, bonkers Elvis Juice (worth clicking here) the sour is not as cutting. It does not make you want to screw your face up or make you feel like you just sucked a lemon dry. It is not the sort of nuclear explosion of bitterness that one gets from those super-sour sweets, rather this is more the bitter lemon of sours, the bittering agent in the cocktails I used to have on cross-Channel ferries that weren't really cocktails but used the bitter lemon as a stand in for the bittering effect of alcohol on otherwise sweet drinks. More like the Damn Dead Strawberry (here) than the awesome Trolltunga (here) in that regard. Indeed, that bitterness sticks around even amongst the heavy herbal hit of the basil. It is not unwelcome and it does match rather remarkably well with the fullness of the basil on the tongue so that it becomes rather difficult to separate the two or even want to be separating them. The bottle further claims that this is the brewery's favourite flavour combination and, as I get through it, I can see where they are coming from.
Another one that I did not chill before having but has been stored in the dark and the cool since I got it and so unaffected by heatwaves and direct light. At 5.8% ABV this shouldn't be all that strong (says he after getting into the stronger ales since Christmas) but it does rather play that ABV at the height. It is quite strong and quick acting, I can feel the light-headedness of the alcohol almost instantly and that may be because I am drinking it rather quickly rather than taking my time and sipping. I am in no hurry, I am not under pressure to finish, but it is so lovely that I find myself keep taking sips as I go. It works well in a garden awash with scent from wild flowers, roses, peas and various types of lavender. It reminds me, in that sense, of the rather lovely Fraoch (click here) and should be a good addition to any time and pretty much any meal, though I would suggest that it is had toward the end of the meal rather than the beginning and probably best before dessert.
You can while away a few hours with a brace of these, reclining on a hammock in the garden or just sitting in your favourite comfy chair by the fire as it rains or snows outside. This does particularly well in the humid warmth but you would find it equally at home in the cold of a winter's night by a roaring fire or the bitter sunlight of early Spring, or even as the world turns red and brown and the leaves begin to fall in autumn. An all-rounder with plenty of character it would be at home in most settings and make itself the centre of attention, in a positive way, in most places. No bit part player you'll be glad to give it a main role.