It’s the second week of December – and that means our annual look back at the most memorable new British beers is here again. Every year in this introduction I write how the UK brewing scene is defying the recession and the taxman, and every year our brewers make it more true. Over the next six days, we’ll be listing our picks for the best new beers of 2012. We’ll be going roughly in order of release – so for the first selection, we head all the way back to January, when a brewery from the Peak District entered the crowded market of black IPA’s – but came out with a classic…
Imperial Black (7.5%)
Buxton Brewery, Buxton, Derbyshire
(500ml bottle, released January)
There may not be a beer more of the moment than a 7.5% black IPA. Admittedly, the flurry of releases has quietened a little since the deluge of 2010 – but even a couple of years on, hoppy Cascadian porters are proving as popular as ever. As befits a somewhat bastard style, the various incarnations of Black IPA’s can be very different – some brewers go for the BJCP-friendly ‘eyes closed, can you tell the colour?’ version, whereas others bring out the malt bill and let you taste the roastier properties. Indeed, I’ve had some that weren’t even black. As we always say, however, styles are there to be blurred.
Alcohol by volume is similarly open to interpretation – some BIPA’s come in around the 5% mark, whereas others surge upwards into the DBIPA category (or IBIPA, BIIPA, or any other random assemblage of near-meaningless initials). Buxton’s Imperial Black dips a toe in that inky water, and the abv of 7.5% is no accident. We spoke to Director Geoff Quinn at their hugely successful Stockbridge Tap takeover in June (at which, we tried Imperial Black on cask. It was sublime) – he told us that they had deliberately pitched the beer at 7.5% to stiff the treasury on their raised duty windfall (where beers over that percentage are liable to an increased rate).
So, a beer of a style and alcoholic percentage both of the moment. That should have come as no surprise – Buxton are one of the most thoughtful breweries around, and this also reflects in their lineup as a whole, balancing their stronger beers (such as the outstanding Tsar) with classic session ales (such as the Bitter, Spa and recently discontinued Best). Imperial Black is beautifully balanced in itself – being properly hoppy on the nose, masses of tropical fruit and citrus, with a smooth, dark roast flavour. Rich fruit, with some alcohol, and then bitter coffee on the end.
In short, it’s as good a beer as I’ve had for a long time. Fellow blogger Barl Fire came to a similar conclusion – and I’ll bet we weren’t the only ones drinking Imperial Black at the start of the year, and making mental notes for the best-of end of year lists. Well, maybe that was just me. Imperial Black was a great way to start 2012 – and immediate proof that the year was going to yield some very good beer indeed.
Join us tomorrow for our second best new British beer of 2012, which hails from the great brewing county of North Yorkshire – find out then what beer it is. Buxton went on to have a fantastic year – and our discovery of Axe Edge (as well as Tsar on cask) in Edinburgh only underlined how good this brewery is.