Tag Archives: Magic Rock

The #IcemanPour Cometh

A, or B?

Trends in the world of craft beer come and go. You may even hold the point of view that craft beer itself is a trend, of course, which is fair enough. But aside from that we have seen the rise and fall of the Black IPA, the sudden proliferation of the pint-usurping schooner, and all manner of portable travel mugs for beer (growlers, crowlers etc). There are two schools of thought about what drives these trends – some are instigated by the brewers to help push their business and grow the sector, and others are driven by public demand and are then adopted by the beermakers to satisfy that need. It’s a chicken and egg thing. But there is one very recent trend that is entirely driven by the eggs (the public). I’m talking about the #IceManPour, bro.

Some things us consumers come up with deserve time and recognition; the move to more concern about where our beer comes from, for instance. And on the flipside you have the #IceManPour. One of the strangest things to happen to the wide-eyed world of craft beer since the resurgence of the Gose, this is the modern fascination of the moment. Beer poured into a glass right to the brim, leaving zero room for foamy head. CAMRA’s ‘take it to the top’ campaign for the extreme craft generation. Where once your lips were greeted by pillowy, lip-tingling froth, now it’s a quick slurp to stop the contents of your beer from hitting your carpet instead of your tastebuds.

The #IceManPour, nailed

As with many trends these days, the #IceManPour (or #BossPour) is a bastard child of social media, having sprung from a few daredevil pourers on Instagram. Users like theiceman13 and benhur345 love nothing more than running out of room in their glassware, pushing the limits of fluid dynamics by leaving a gently convex beer surface clinging to the tops of their tekus. The rest of us look on in bemused wonder thinking that in our day something handed over like that would result in a trip back to the bar for it to be be-frothed once again. Although when the meniscus is wobbling like a week-old jelly it takes some skill to take the glass anywhere without it dribbling down the sides. As I discovered for myself.

Yes in the interest of capturing the zeitgeist/having found myself in a hotel room with nothing to do, I gamely had a go at the #IceManPour. Turns out it is a lot harder than it looks (even if the only thing it looks is like a glass of orange juice – and more on that later). The beer I sacrificed on the altar of progress was Magic Rock’s brand new 7% IPA Clairvoyance – apologies in advance to Rich, Stu and the team in Huddersfield. I don’t believe they explicitly refer to it as a New England IPA, but brewed with oats, wheat and acidulated malt it’s near enough to the style that helped push the #IceManPour along (it is fermented with Californian, not Vermont Ale yeast so isn’t 100% NE kosher).

What you will need to have a go at home

As there’s no point in having an artistic movement develop without a muse, the top-heavy pour and these specific beers now go hand in hand. Brewers are raising the mouthfeel and stone fruit elements of their IPA’s and cutting back on the bitterness and the sap-like resins, and these New England or Vermont IPA’s have taken off recently. In turn the beers have created their own sub-trend when it comes to dishing them up. I’m not sure which came first (and the IceMen also turn their hand to darker beers) but it seemed only fitting to stick to style when it came to the time to make the magic happen.

One of the keys to doing this is to pick a beer that is opaque (tick) and with very little carbonation (tick) as a continually forming head is the enemy to all #BossPourBros. Forget your pilsners. After pouring and a fair bit of slurping, the head on my Clairvoyance had reduced to a minimal lacing – but this is far, far too much for the #IceManPour so the only thing I could do was wait. Ten minutes passed, the head subsided a little more and I got a whole lot thirstier. Still bubbles. So there was only one thing for it, I was going to have to resort to some dabbing. I’ve done a few beer photoshoots with the day job so am no stranger to mopping the outside of a streaky glass with blueroll, but I’ve never delicately mopped a tiny froth from the top of a glass with looroll. That one is a first.

There’s no way you can do this without feeling like a tit

Anwyay, after a few minutes of this and careful topping up with a teaspoon – no really – I had to decant some IPA from the can into a tea cup and then spoon it onto the surface of the beer to delicately create the meniscus and get the level of the beer right on the rim of the glass – I was good to go. And was it worth it? No, not even slightly. It’s ridiculous. The whole thing took twenty minutes and I was left with something I could only drink by bending over and slurping the glass without moving it. Thankfully, a couple of goes and a quick whirl of the glass brought the head back to life and I could turn my back on the #IceManPour forever. Does it look cool, though? Am I missing out? Well, maybe.

The overall point here is that it’s a bit of fun. It’s not going to take off and become mainstream, anytime soon. But if you like pouring your beer like that and you have the patience (or a better technique than me; there were no online manuals to consult so I had to think on the fly) then good for you. Personally I love the foam on a beer, how it aids the aromas, the sensation it brings to that first sip, the buffer it provides and the way the carbonation lifts all the flavours. I don’t hate the #IceManPour – and there are a few users who really do, like this video from an almost visibly angry nowhalezbro.

But maybe the best way to respond to the #IceManPour guys is just to let them have their fun, and poke back. Like Evil Twin, who trolled them with an #IceManPour of their own, apparently using orange juice…

Doesn’t this look more appealing?

Brewery of the Year, 2014 – Magic Rock

Huddersfield’s Magic Rock have been putting out consistently highly-regarded beers ever since they started out in the Spring of 2011. That particular debut was the 7.4% IPA Cannonball, and was brewed on a kit they hadn’t performed any test brews on, lit by a boiler that had been commissioned only the day before. The resourcefulness clearly started right from the first day. After launching at the Grove at the end of June in that year (the first cask of Curious selling out in half an hour), within two days they had brewed the first batch of Human Cannonball, and within another month, won their first award. Magic Rock really came flying out of the traps – and have been on that upward trajectory ever since. 2012 saw the release of Bourbon-Barrel Bearded Lady, Clown Juice (surely their most under-rated beer to date), and the arrival of a bottling line. Last year, the twin juggernauts of Salty Kiss and Unhuman Cannonball were unleashed.

Yet, despite all these achievements, 2014 is the year when Magic Rock took that next step.

It’s because of what they’ve experienced, more than anything. The fact is, that early success led them to reach capacity almost within that same year, and many of the beers listed above were brewed in a site that they had outgrown – particularly with the arrival of the bottling line. Founder Richard Burhouse and head brewer Stuart Ross refuse to have their beers bottled off-site, as they know they can’t guarantee the quality, so everything is done in house. That’s a commendable attitude – but it requires the money, and (just as importantly) an adequately-sized house in which to operate. Right back at the start of the year, it looked as if Magic Rock were moments away from striking a deal that was sorely needed – a 16,000 square foot brewhouse and taproom, in a site near Huddersfield station.

Agonisingly, at almost the eleventh hour, the prospective landlords raised hitherto unheard of concerns about the tasting room. Following three weeks of negotiations, and after no change in outlook, Richard reluctantly pulled out of the deal. With architects and solicitor’s fees paid, and a new 50HL brewkit ordered and on the way, they suddenly had nowhere to go and nowhere to put it. To make matters worse, when the kit did eventually arrive into the UK, apparently illegal immigrants were discovered hiding amongst the shipment, and the entire lot was impounded. This is more than just simple frustration at a two-week delay in a new fermentor arriving – I’m not sure I can begin to imagine what it must have been like for Richard and the team, as these events played out.

Amazingly, as the same time as all this has been going on, Magic Rock have also produced stunning beers like Pith Head, Magic Spanner, Slapstick and Villainous (just a fantastic Vienna IPA). In April they won a World Beer Cup Gold medal for Salty Kiss – the only UK brewery to win the highest level of award this time around. They were also invited to take part in the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, What’s Brewing in Stavanger, and the Shelton Bros festival in San Diego. Most recently of all, their collaborations with Siren and Beavertown (Rule of Thirds) and Evil Twin (Pogonophobia) have ended the year on a high for many.

When thinking about the Brewery of the Year, it’s about more than just the beer. It’s a prerequisite, of course, but for a producer to stand out above the other breweries who are at the very, very top of their game at the moment (such as Siren, who were extremely close to getting the nod; and last year’s winner Buxton, putting out better and better beer). But to produce beer of the quality and imagination that they have done over the last twelve months, and to do all that against a backdrop of such upheaval, is something else. To put it in their circus parlance; for spinning that many plates without letting any fall, my brewery of the year for 2014 is Magic Rock.

Oh, and their year did eventually end on a high.



This is my last blog post before Christmas – I’ll be back just before the new year with my selections for Chris Hall’s Golden Posts, celebrating the best of beer blogging. Until then, many thanks to everyone for reading the BeerCast this year, particularly those who commented on the posts, or followed me on Twitter or Facebook. It’s been another fantastic year for British brewing, making it a pleasure to write about. Until the Golden Posts, have a very happy and beer-filled Christmas! Cheers!

Best New Beers of 2013…Magic Rock Salty Kiss

SaltyKiss2

Following the initial nomination of Harbour Aji Limon IPA yesterday, our annual look back at the most memorable new British beers continues. There are five other places to fill in the list, and for the next choice, we head off on a long north-easterly journey from Cornwall, to the county of West Yorkshire. There, on one of the roads out of Huddersfield, you’ll find Magic Rock Brewing Co. In the spring, they delivered the example of the style for 2013…



Salty Kiss (4.1%)
Magic Rock Brewery, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
(keg, March)

By my unofficial reckoning, 2010 was the year that Black IPA’s took over the UK, as our native brewers looked at Cascadian Dark Ales and re-interpreted them for the home market. Following that, 2011 was the year of ‘craft lagers’. In 2012, everyone was dipping their collective toes into the art of saisons. For this past year, one beer style above all became prevalent amongst the modern-thinking British breweries (and it wasn’t Session IPA’s, as I predicted in January) – Sours.

Now, of course sours were produced on these beer-loving islands before 01/01/2013, but to me it seems like plenty of breweries have had a go this year, or at least thought about unleashing the bugs over these past twelve months. That decision is not one to be taken lightly, as the merry microbes need to be carefully contained, lest they wreak havoc on the brewery’s regular, non-tangy offerings. Also, outside the dangerously poppable ‘craft beer bubble’ sour beers are a tough sell; they take some getting used to, to put it mildly.

Take one particular type of sour beer – Gose. A relatively low-strength wheat beer made with coriander and salt, inoculated with lactic acid bacteria, these are right at the very tip of where experimental beermaking is in 2013 – historical styles, re-interpreted by modern breweries, served by a variety of dispense methods. And Magic Rock’s Salty Kiss might just be the best. A collaboration with Anders Kissmeyer (hence the name), the original version was flavoured with gooseberries, sea buckthorn and sea salt.

I can understand why some people might not like it, but (irrespective of the final taste) why breweries make beer like this is utterly fascinating. I first tried Salty Kiss at the Hanging Bat, in the initial release, and watched people have the concept explained to them, and either go away loving it or grimly sipping their half as if it would bite them. It was fairly tart, but not as much as I was expecting (to be fair, I approached as if trying to catch a skittish spider). Green, zappy gooseberry, some tingling, pithy, sourness – and there, at the end, a whisper of salt striking across the palate. Just incredible.



Join us tomorrow for the next in our series of best new British beers of 2013, which hails from an area I know very well – Scotland. Find out then what beer it is, and who made it. As for Salty Kiss, it was so-well received, it even made the Independent – and has since been re-brewed, in lime and then pink grapefruit versions. No, really.

Will annual beer releases be the next big thing?

Unhuman3

The other day, whilst drinking the beer pictured above, a thought occurred to me. Actually, several did, one of which being that it tasted like a container of tropical fruit dropped into a burning pine forest. Another, that thanks to the rise of blogs I feel less self-conscious taking photos of beers these days (although, it’s never entirely without insecurity). The main thought, though, revolved around the desirability of this particular beverage – Magic Rock’s brand new triple IPA, Un-Human Cannonball. The thought was this – following reports of queues prior to the official launch at London’s Craft Beer Co, has one of the last bastions of Britishness fallen to American-style hype?

Un-Human Cannonball is the continually, ultra-hopped, 12% thunderbolt from Huddersfield’s finest – a natural progression from Human Cannonball, and the ‘basic’ Cannonball before it. Released this week, it is apparently intended as a one-off, annual brew – presumably because Richard and Stuart at Magic Rock use enough new season hops in it to fill the Galpharm Stadium. It must have cost them a fair bit; but at the same time has created an equivalent amount of bluster on Twitter and across the beer blogs (bottles disappearing within moments from the online shop).

All of that serves as an introduction to this:- keeping up with what’s going on in the American beer scene, I always have a wry chuckle at tales of baseball-capped, cargo-shorted US craft fans climbing over each other to get the annual release of Three Floyds Darklord, or waiting in huge lines at Russian River for the one-off Pliny the Younger. The hype that surrounds these beers is astonishing. Take Kate the Great, Portsmouth Brewing Company’s imperial stout. Released once a year, demand is so huge that people queue overnight to get hold of it (or they did; head brewer Tod Mott has recently moved on and taken Kate with him).

Last time around, Portsmouth Brewing Co issued a $2 scratch-card lottery to drinkers, so they could gamble for the right to buy a single bottle. All 10,000 tickets were sold in just over 24hrs (only 900 of which were ‘winners’), with proceeds going to local wildlife charities. Is that the way things are going here? Following the competitive interest in Un-Human Cannonball, will British drinkers camp overnight outside Craft Beer Co next year? Pitch tents in Bermondsey for Kernel’s IPA Double Citra? Descend en-masse to Chiswick and line up (politely, I’m sure) for the latest Fullers’ Vintage Series?

Would you, if that was the only way to guarantee getting these beers? I am not a beer geek, by any means, but did check Twitter regularly to look out for the appearance of Un-Human at the Hanging Bat here in Edinburgh. I couldn’t imagine lining up for hours, or having to buy a lottery scratch-card just to win the chance to buy a bottle. Mind you, if that is the way things are going, and the modern boom in British brewing (and fanboyism) continues, maybe it makes sense for brewers to feed the hype by creating ultra-rare, one-chance-only beers, and then sitting back as bleary-eyed punters frantically hover the mousefinger over ‘Add to Cart’, stabbing the F5 button every few seconds.

Maybe we’ll look back – or those who were there will, certainly – at the queue for the launch of Un-Human Cannonball and think that’s where it all started. Add a hugely-hopped or massively strong beer to the lineup, and help build the brand with an annual stramash to get hold of it. I’m surprised BrewDog haven’t already engineered this kind of situation, to be honest – they could fairly easily get a few dozen of their fans to camp out to secure rights to ‘Simcoe Asteroid Smashdown’, or something, and gain some column inches in the media. That may or may not have been the intention of Magic Rock, but they’ve done very well over the last week, certainly. Watch out for next year’s Un-Human Cannonball release…

The best IPA in Britain

AxeEdge

This is, in truth, a post I’ve wanted to write for a long while. A list – my list – of the best IPA’s in Britain. The problem is, every time I sit down and riffle through the selection of names, there are more to consider. Another one arrives seemingly every week. The demand for India Pale Ale on this, rightful, side of the Atlantic is growing at a pace comparable to the other side. Well, almost; the US craft beer scene is the standard-bearer for hop-forward IPA’s, and probably always will be. But, we’re catching up here in the UK, fittingly churning out more of our beloved style.

That s-word is one that leads to a whole host of blind alleys, each one containing a different beer expert, slowly pounding a cudgel against an open palm. This post is by no means intended to be a definitive list of IPA’s – heck, some might not even be true India Pale Ales. I’m no style expert. Nor do I enjoy constraining beers into rigid pigeonholes. However, I have used a few simple rules. These are beers I (or RateBeer/Beer Advocate) consider IPA’s – so therefore I have excluded Double/Imperials as a result. No Moor JJJ, Fyne Ales Superior IPA or Magic Rock Human Cannonball here.*

*That’s pretty much the start of the next list, I think…

Also, I’m going with fairly golden, reasonably standard IPA’s – so, likewise, there’s no place on this list for India Pale Ales that are black (Hardknott Code Black), red (Brodies Hackney Red) or those that have other grains in (Tempest RyePA) or unusual adjuncts (Kernel Suke Quto Coffee IPA). Speaking of the Bermondsey powerhouse, to stop a brewery having too many hits in the list, I’ve also taken the hard, hard step of only considering each brewery once. This prevents over-Kernalisation (something to be welcomed, on any other day).

Originally, I was just going for ten – but came up with so many alternatives I broadened the scope to twenty. In truth, I could probably have piled in even more. You may notice that the list reflects a certain style of IPA – feel free to comment on that if you’re a fan of Deuchars IPA or Sam Smith’s India Ale. I go for strong, hoppy, fresh-tasting IPA’s that make my tastebuds tingle. This list reflects that. Please feel free to disagree in the comments, or (as is inevitable) mention any that I have forgotten or neglected to include. Cheers!

 

RajIPA20. Tryst Raj IPA (5.5%)
From one of Scotland’s most under-rated brewers; one of Scotland’s most under-rated beers. When it came out around five years ago, Raj IPA announced a step change for John McGarva – until that point, session ales were his thing, either dark or light. This was his first beefy number, and on cask it still has the power to surprise, even today. Alongside the lemon and orange flavours, there’s more than a hint of earthy backbone about it – on cask, there are few IPA’s from north of the border that can match it.

 

 

 

MarbleLagonda19. Marble Lagonda (5.0%)
Here we have the first application of ‘the Kernel rule’ – with Marble’s Lagonda IPA. The Manchester concern have long dispensed golden hop bombs to the lucky locals of the Marble Arch – and there are few better beers than Lagonda to enjoy as the glowing sun filters through the windows there. Utility IPA could also be on this list, quite frankly – and if I was allowing adjuncts, Earl Grey IPA would be too (very near the top). As it is, one brewer, one IPA, and we can more than make do with the brilliant Lagonda.

 

 

 

WilliamsJoker18. Williams Brothers Joker (5.0%)
Joker is in this list for one simple reason – I was reminded recently just how good it can be. Having drunk more than my fair share of Williams Brothers’ IPA in the past, it had been registered, logged and mentally filed away. A great beer – also under-rated in Scotland – one of the best ‘no-thinkum’ beers you can stack the fridge with. However, a visit to Leith’s Vintage the other week – a charbar* part-owned by the Alloa brewers, and a pint of Joker brought back all those memories – and more. In short, it was superb. You can fly through this, nuzzled by citrus as you go.

*charbar being the modern, charcuterie-forward version of a gastropub, of course.

 

 

 

RadicalRoad17. Stewart Radical Road (6.4%)
Loanhead’s Stewart Brewing have been quietly upping the ante over the last year or so – beers such as No3 and Copper Cascade making way for black IPA’s, Belgian-style tripels, and the beer that arguably started it all – Radical Road. Brewed as a one-off, it has swiftly moved into the ‘regular’ folder for Stewart – based largely on public opinion. As their new brewery is taking shape, complete with public brewkit and growler station, their honeysuckle-edged Radical Road definitely seems to have marked the crossover point.

 

 

 

Cannonball16. Magic Rock Cannonball (7.4%)
Huddersfield’s finest were one of the easiest to include on this list – as a series of beers, their ‘Cannonball run’ has blasted into the hearts of hop-loving drinkers all over the UK. The original may have been overtaken on the geekblogs by the walloping double IPA Human Cannonball (itself surpassed by the upcoming Un-human Cannonball), but the debut India Pale Ale is one of their very best beers (and talking about Magic Rock, that’s not an easy assumption to make). But an abundance of tropical fruit and resin – what’s not to like?

 

 

 

HoxtonSpecial15. Brodies Hoxton Special IPA (6.6%)
San Diego or Portland may consider themselves IPA towns, but London is the place for our favoured beer style. Brodies are one of the city’s most prolific brewers, churning our dozens of different cask beers from their base in Walthamstow. A full-on blast of California sunshine, Hoxton Special sings out of the glass with every mouthful. Passion fruit, grapefruit, papaya and mango – as good as any hop-forward C-bomb from the Pacific Coast.

 

 

 

MeantimeIPA14. Meantime India Pale Ale (7.5%)
Staying in London for our next pick, Meantime claim to be ‘Britain’s only producer of authentic India Pale Ale’. Whether that means they are the only ones to pack Goldings and Fuggles into a beer like this, or they send it to bottle shops via Kolkata, I don’t know. But it’s a great beer – and a fantastic IPA. Greenwich’s finest have put out a lot of different lines since their India Pale Ale came out, but few better.

 

 

 

LotusIPA13. Ilkley Lotus IPA (5.6%)
Another cracker from another seriously under-rated brewery. Ilkley hit the jackpot with Lotus IPA – a fantastic mix of Cascade and Summit hops – giving a sweet, pineapple and peach flavour to the beer. Lotus is a prime example of a cask-led, session-strength brewery turning everything up, just a little, and really coming good. Of all the IPA’s on this list, Lotus is the one that would catch up with you the quickest, being supremely quaffable at 5.6%.

 

 

 

HarbourIPA12. Harbour IPA (5.0%)
Cornwall – pounding surf, pasties and fishermen with impenetrable, fixed-distance stares. As they stand, rigid, on the decks of surging trawlers, maybe they are thinking about the one that got away. Or, they could be rapt with attention on the beers they’ll be knocking back once they beach the boat and stumble up the shingle. Harbour IPA – again, since enveloped by doubles of different hoppage, is a cracking beer in cask or bottle.

 

 

 

SummitIPA11. Acorn Summit IPA (5.0%)
Barnsley’s finest knocked one halfway to Leeds with their single-hop Summit IPA, brewed (as far as I can tell) just the once. I was trying to avoid hard to find, unusual beers such as this (otherwise Rooster’s Serlo de Burgh would have to be in this list), but had to make an exception for Acorn’s Summit. I only ever saw this once, in Edinburgh on cask, and it was fabulous. Like standing on a Caribbean beach at sunrise (only with rain battering on the windows).

 

 

 

SWBDiablo10. Summer Wine Diablo (6.0%)
There can’t be a harder working pair in British brewing than Andy and James from Holmfirth’s Summer Wine. They seem to be permanently at work, double brewdays throughout the week, travelling to all ends of the country (even Scotland) for their craft. Hard work only gets you so far, of course, but the SWB guys really back it up with their creative take on modern styles. As pretentious as that sentence sounds, it’s absolutely true of Diablo – the first Summer Wine beer I ever had. I can still remember reeling in Mr Foleys, Leeds, from the grapefruit-laced right hook it delivered.

 

 

 

SouthvilleHop9. Bristol Beer Factory Southville Hop (6.5%)
Modern, hop-forward IPA’s are all about the fruit flavours, and how they interplay with the other components of the beer. The sweeter malt notes, or the punchy, bitter resin. Southville Hop (to my taste buds, at least) combines two of the most complementary of those fruit flavours – pineapple and grapefruit. Yes, it sounds like a Lilt advert – but if any brewer in the UK would be advised to release an Alco-Lilt, it would be BBF. Southville Hop is a stunner, and deservedly in the top 10 British IPA’s.

 

 

 

69IPA8. Lovibonds 69 IPA (6.9%)
Speaking of two complementary elements, the next IPA on the list features the easy marriage of Centennial and Columbus. Lovibonds 69 IPA blends the two C-hops almost perfectly, and gives a beer that would not be out of place in any Pacific hop-den – which was pretty much the intention. Lovibonds’ beers are as outspoken as their creator, Jeff Rosenmeier; 69 IPA walks the walk, and strides boldly into the resinous territory of the puckering tastebud. A revelation.

 

 

 

Halcyon7. Thornbridge Halcyon (7.7%)
So, back to the ‘Kernel rule’ and representing Thornbridge – who, had to be in this list somewhere – is the jaw-trembling Halcyon. Jaipur probably has more fans – or, it certainly used to – but Halcyon is simply stunning. It may verge into the double IPA category, but when a beer is this good, styles go out of the window (as do morning meetings the next day). Prepare that shaky-sounding phone call to the boss, and crack open another.

 

 

 

BraveNewWorld6. Tempest Brave New World (7.0%)
With India Pale Ales, I get the impression that some are made by breweries because they feel obliged – the kind of ‘oh, well, people like them so we should put one out’ mentality. Without exception, those kinds of beers become middling, and unbalanced. It’s almost as if that attitude becomes reflected in the final beer. Thankfully, there are IPA’s where you drink them and think ‘You know what? I bet this beer is the first thing this brewery wanted to make’ – Brave New World is just such a beer – I’ll wager any amount you care to mention that it’s the favourite beer of the guys in Kelso. It certainly shows in the final product.

 

 

 

GreenDevil5. Oakham Green Devil (6.0%)
Peterborough’s Oakham produce some spellbinding golden, hoppy cask beer – such as the (almost) peerless Oakham Citra. The cheerfully menacing scaly hop peers out from that pump clip, just as his horned counterpart does for Oakham Green Devil. This is one of those beers that if you ever see it on at a pub, it’s time to count the blessings and order it. Doesn’t matter what else is there – dance with that green devil and forget everything else. Without doubt, one of the best beers in the UK.

 

 

 

AKA4. Cromarty AKA IPA (6.7%)
From here on in, these beers are pretty much interchangeable depending on which I have sampled the most recently. Cromarty AKA is (in my opinion) the best IPA in Scotland, and getting on the way to taking over the whole country. Made by the most charmingly affable brewer you could ever hope to meet, in a brewery that looks out over the wind-churned whitecaps of the Cromarty Firth, AKA is the real deal. It shows exactly what the modern IPA should be about – that blend of citrus and resin on the flavour is pretty much as good as it gets. If you haven’t heard of this beer yet, you will – it’ll make Craig Middleton a household name in brewing circles.

 

 

 

GreatEastern3. Redchurch Great Eastern India Pale Ale (7.4%)
Drinking beer is (amongst other things) about discovery. Hearing about new breweries, stumbling across new pubs, and trying new beers. I remember trying Redchurch’s Great Eastern IPA for the first time, in the Holyrood 9A in Edinburgh. It reminded me of a distilled sweet shop – honeysuckle, pear drop, pithy orange zest. For such a new brewery, it’s a quite astonishing achievement. London is awash with new breweries – which is great, of course – but as the other capital’s legion of drinkers nose around, looking out these new drinking options, they need only head to Hackney for the very best.

 

 

 

KernelIPACitra2. Kernel India Pale Ale Citra (7.2%)
Well, Hackney and Bermondsey. The Kernel are unstoppable – since moving into larger premises they have continued almost unabated. The freedom they have from brewing whatever they want, with whatever hops or malt they can get hold of, is infectious. People in the food industry talk about seasonality. The Kernel do this with brewing – small batch, no fuss, get it out fresh, simple and effective. They’re the brewery BrewDog wish they could be, but never will. Evin’s original IPA Citra is still one of the beers that truly affirmed my love of modern, well-made British beer. Some bigger IPA’s have Citra piled in to such an extent, it gives a leading edge of astringency – but not this classic.

 

 

 

axe_edge2709101. Buxton Axe Edge (6.8%)
So, here we are. The best India Pale Ale in Britain comes from the Peak District – Buxton’s Axe Edge. This, to me, could be the perfect beer. High strength, to give the alcohol body, but not monstrously high that you can’t have at least a few. The mix of Amarillo, Nelson Sauvin and Citra that point to every part of the hop compass – sweet orange, vinous lime, juicy pineapple. For me, it’s mango that always seems to come out first (the most moreish of all hop flavours), building to a rich, sweet pine and caramel finish. It’s sublime, and works on cask, keg or bottle. Soon to be brewed by the newly arriving Colin Stronge – no pressure, Col – it remains the IPA by which all others should be judged. Oh, and I know the label says Double IPA, but I couldn’t put this list together without Axe Edge, pride of place at the very top.

UPDATE
Denis at Buxton confirmed to me this morning that Axe Edge has not been referred to as a ‘Double IPA’ for a while – they class it as a regular India Pale Ale…

IPA LITE to be the trend for 2013?

IPA-LITE to be the beer trend for 2013?

Simpleton1

Although our 2013 beer predictions are already in the bank, there are a few more trends I can see happening this year. Look for more arty types to brew with foraged ingredients, for example – and for more mid-sized producers to quietly open one or two pubs. Also, I think the expanding market will push more contractor breweries into taking the plunge and buying their own kit. Finally, and this is backed up by yesterday’s announcement from Magic Rock – 2013 could be the year of the low-abv kegged IPA.

For a while now, the newer generation of British breweries (I’m desperately trying to avoid that other C-word) have been piling one super hoppy Pale Ale or IPA on top of the next. Keep them coming, I say. During 2010, the established hop-pushers took their cue from the States and started putting out Black IPA’s – many of which were sensational. Most of the others were slightly hopped-up porters, but that’s semantics for you. I wondered at the time what the next IPA trend would be, and as Imperials and Double IPA’s began arriving, it looked as if the abv wars would escalate.

Now, however, things could be going the other way. To some extent, it could be seen as natural progression. You take a style, brew it, then go a bit bigger, then a different colour, then back to the first colour but make it a lot bigger, then the second colour but bigger, then add cloves at wintertime.* From there, return to the starting point, and there’s only one way to go – smaller. I’m sure people like Rich and Stu at Magic Rock give it a tad more thought than that, but after the plethora of US-style Pale Ales and IPA’s released on keg here in recent years, lowering the abv and returning to the session has a neat sense of full-circle closure about it.

* I am available for hire as a brewery consultant, incidentally

Beers like Magic Rock’s Simpleton, Kernel’s Table Beer and BrewDog Blitz all have some thought behind them, unlike many of the 2.8% duty killers that were rushed out in response to the Treasury lowering taxes on low-abv beers. They will all attract a lower rate of duty, however, so in many respects it makes sense for breweries to add a 3%er to their lineup, if they don’t have one already. If more modern, keg-forward breweries do so, and drinkers get a taste for them – IPA LITE could become the trend for 2013. Session keg, anyone?