The second week of December; time for the annual look back at the most memorable new British beers of the year! 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 (even if both negatives are now easing slightly). Over the next six days, I’ll be listing our picks for the best new beers of 2013. As they are roughly in order of release, for the first selection we head all the way back to January, when a brewery from the far south of England travelled all the way up to Scotland, and brought with them an absolute classic…
Aji Limon IPA (6.8%)
Harbour Brewery, Bodmin, Cornwall
(cask/keg/bottle, limited release, January)
Favourite beer styles; usually they are set, if not in stone, then in something reasonably solid. You know what you like, after all, and when scanning a row of unfamiliar pump clips, mention of the word ‘porter’ or ‘hefeweizen’, or whatever, can often be the deciding factor. However, one of the joys of beer drinking – and drinking is fun, don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise – is discovering something unexpected. A chance half swiftly snatched on the way to somewhere else makes you re-think American pale ales. That bottle finally dug from the back of the cupboard turns the lights on to old ales. It’s great, that “Ooh, wow” moment.
Right at the start of the year, I had just exactly that, relating to my least favourite style of beer. Well, second-least, maybe (honey beers still lodge firmly at the foot of the ladder). The style in question is chilli beer. Hate them. Really, just a waste of time – brewers blending together (say) dark, roasted malts and then butchering them with Naga. Putting together a balanced pale and obliterating it with the Scovilles. I may have been unlucky up to now, but chilli beer, to me, equals unnecessary, roll around on the floor heat – like the horrendous Forstner Chili Hotbeer. Undrinkable. Pointless.
So, when Cornwall’s Harbour Brewing Company arrived in Edinburgh for a meet the brewer, toting a chilli beer – Aji Limon IPA – it was somewhere near the bottom of my ‘to do’ list. An Amarillo-hopped IPA aged in a Jack Daniels barrel with Aji chillies. Yet it was astonishing. So much more than ‘we’ll chuck it in this barrel with these chillies’ (often the ruin of many an ageing project). The sweetness of the bourbon and the fruitiness of the Aji’s were a revelation. Extremely rich, lots of mango, orangey from the Amarillo, the heat and chilliness appeared gently, building – no nuclear fireball here. One of the first chilli beers I’ve had that has true balance.
Even though January was such a long time ago, this beer still sticks in the memory – for the simple reason that it re-defined my opinion on brewing with chillies. Anything that leads you to reconsider a staunchly-held belief has to be a winner.
Rob at Hopzine managed to get hold of a bottle of Aji Limon – check out his YouTube review here. Join us tomorrow for our second best (in order of release) new British beer of 2013, which hails from the great brewing county of West Yorkshire – find out then what beer it is. Harbour went on to have a fantastic year – and although Aji Limon was extremely limited, Eddie assures me he had other chilli beers planned. On this evidence, they will definitely be ones to seek out…