FANTASICAL TALES OF VARYING ALES
Epic tales of grandeur as they transpired on the battlefield of the tongue, flowing from the cauldron of the small brown bottle. Bear with me here, I’m trying to sell to the Game of Thrones crowd. It occurs to me there might be a dollar in it, especially if I can get them drunk first. Err, and please drink responsibly.
SHEPHERD NEAME & CO. BRILLIANT ALE (Kent, England, 500ml, 5.6%)
The fairytale they tell on the label about how it got its name is probably pretty funny if you weren’t looking for an actual explanation of why it’s called that.
(Something about how the workers at the brewery when they were first making this noticed a shaft of sunlight striking the barrels or something – honestly even if you were already drunk when you read it, this literary backwash wouldn’t pass muster.)
Anyway, it’s got some body, but drinks clean, has this brittle but big hit of grain, and the nearest thing I can put to it is that it tastes very much like a lot of Kolsch’s. The intention and manufacture might have been entirely different but we ended up at the same truckstop, is how it boils down. Kolsch is lager-plus-body, with the body (but not the upfront flavour quite as much) having a white-winey quality. This is a little more salt across the palate, a little less white wine, but in the ballpark. Despite the fairytale on the label, pretty darn good in an admittedly unusual style that won’t necessarily wow everybody. (But also won’t alienate less adventurous drinkers like many craft beer styles will.) I’m comfortable with 8.5 out of 11.
PIKES PILSENER LAGER (South Australia, 4.5%)
Gets a big case of hops-drive bitter at the end of the mouthful, which shuts it right down in a good way. That’s what makes it an extremely refreshing lager, as well as a mostly pleasant one. You want it real cold. Tremendous flavour value for the alkyhol. One of the best Australian ones in this style. 9 out of 11 on the LLL “one better” scale.
TWO BIRDS GOLDEN ALE (Victoria, 4.4%)
Yeasty, beaty, big, grainy and bouncy. Kind of a little more easily drinkable than you’d think given there’s a fair bit going on, but not your utterly bakin’ backyard summer session beer. Another one with a LOT of flavour value for relatively light alcohol, which does tend to make you wonder what the many many brewers around the globe who produce more or less flavourless barley-water at similar alc/vol figures think they are up to. Not my home style, but no worse than 7.5 out of 11 beer. I think this brewer’s Sunset Ale is better.
NEGRA MODELO (Mexico, 355ml, 5.4%)
For those wanting an entry-level leg-up into the world of the frighteningly black-looking beers that drink breezily and easily like the most mild-mannered of lagers, this is probably THE one, since in terms of any porter or stout-like quality from the stuff that makes it black, you get only the lightest of ladies-handkerchief-waves from the malt in passing. It’s pleasant. You’ll almost wonder where all that 5.4 % of the alkyhol went. In the black lager style, I still think the Alhambra Negra is the one, but this is very lager-oriented, has the colour and the vague dark beer characteristic and is exceptionally easy to drink – moreso if more colderer – and I can see that some of the Johnny VB types (if they even got this adventurous) would like this one better. To me, about a 7.5 out of 11, maybe an 8 in an indulgent mood.
DRAKES 1500 DRY HOPPED PALE ALE (San Leandro, CA, USA, 355ml, 5.5%)
I misread this one, at label-in-shop stage. I expected something drier and more restrained. They were talking about a US Pale that was dry-hopped for extra piney characteristics in the flavour, like an IPA. The mistake was mine, the beer was jake, but sure had plenty going on. I eventually came to an accommodation late in the 9th round of a pitched battle. From the point of view of what I want from a beer, this one is all arse-backwards – it’s all big flavour wars of hops and malt on a more well-made but narrow base that would have been pretty drinkable without the flavour fireworks. According to the law of aver-fridges, others will probably feel the opposite. There’s quality in here and if you stick with it, this departure can be accommodated. Probably one where most won’t go for it but those that do will peg it as one of their top picks. For the good work put in that radiates through a quality (if eccentric) beer, it can’t be less than 8 out of 11, but, personally, I can’t give it more.
HAAND FYR & FLAMME IPA (Drammen, Norway, 500ml, 6.5%)
I was steered onto this as a smoky number. This reminds us that the problem with public discussion of beer – and, for that matter, food, but I’d hate to cut into Jamie Oliver’s profit margins for the year, so I’ll leave that alone – is that it sometimes comes down to a matter of taste. My idea of a smoky beer is that you open it up and someone calls the fire brigade. (Or as friend and fellow beer nut ‘LW’ puts it, “Ham in a bottle”.) “Fyr and Flamme” didn’t taste AT ALL smoky to me. It’s this brick-orange opaque thing with a ton of flavour – the malt in it is really ready to brawl with the hops, and, for an India Pale Ale, for once, the hops aren’t set up to kick your tastebuds through the back of your nose and out onto the table, so it’s a fair, and not uninteresting, fight. It’s like a cold beer soup. NOT on a hot day – not in a bazillion years. But genuinely eccentric, which is harder and harder to do in a packed craft beer market. It’s just not smoky. 8.5 out of 11 on the LLL “one better” scale.
KROMBACHER PILS (Kreuztal, Germany, 4.8%)
According to the label, the “No 1 premium beer in Germany”. Well, that’s that not particularly high-demand trivia question put to bed. Pretty pronounced mouthful of grain and malt for a lager. The edge of something a little medicinal and herbal (from the hops) isn’t real out there by the standards of some of the more peculiar German pils. It doesn’t strike me as one that is going to be an absolute down-the-neck rush at any temperature, though, and though there’s nothing really wrong with it, and you’ll find hundreds worse, it just seems to stop plenty of territory short of being outstanding in any way, at least to me. A 7.5 out of 11 type of affair.