Tag Archives: Stewart

Battle of the Brewers IV

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Can Stewart Brewing be stopped? Apparently not, it would seem. Last night, once again, they crushed the opposition in their Battle of the Brewers challenge, this time held concurrently in Edinburgh’s Holyrood 9A and Glasgow’s Inn Deep (I can imagine the Williamsii present taking a sip of each and tutting, wistfully). Following a Balboa-esque one-two-three combo to take out the aforementioned Williams Bros, then Harviestoun, and most recently Cairngorm, Stewart were busy dancing on their heels in the ring. Enter the lumbering might of Drago Fyne Ales. Argyll’s hop-forward heavyweights may come from surroundings more beautiful than the Bilston Industrial Estate, but they certainly mean business.

The brief this time was 5% flavoured stouts, and both arrived, labelled X and Y into the Holyrood ready for the off. Also there, every beer drinker in Edinburgh, it seems. I’ve been to a few full-scale events in the Holyrood over the years, but this one was as busy as I can remember. It was great to see, so many people crammed in, drinking augmented stouts on a Thursday evening. It was especially gratifying as the ticket price went to charity, meaning that once the overall result had been announced, it was revealed that over £1000 had been raised for good causes.

As to the beers, these events are great because everyone has their own reasons for picking a favourite. Beer X I found to be like a frozen Black Forest gateaux, with a touch of the Raspberry mivvi about it (clearly, I should have had a dessert after all). There was a great switch from the sweet, then slightly tart, to the roast on the finish. Beer Y was an instant coffee hit – instant as in speed, not provenance of coffee – left a lot of deep, bitter tannin on the palate as the coffee spread throughout. Both were good, but I preferred the dimensions of Beer X, I think. So, that was where the tick went.

As it turned out, I was not alone – Beer X won the Holyrood heat, by a score of 84 to 62 (meaning just shy of 150 people were present). It was then revealed to be Stewart’s raspberry and cacao nib stout, fermented with Belgian yeast, whereas Beer Y was Fyne Ales’s cold-infused, five-varietal coffee stout. Once the Glasgow satellite linkup had been established, Steve Stewart appeared on the big screen, and finger-in-ear announced the results of the Kelvingrove jury – his beer had also triumphed there, by a score of 23 to 17. So, 107-79. Drago’s not getting to his feet after that.

By my reckoning – and I had to use a calculator to work all that out, bear in mind – in the BOTB contests so far, Stewart’s beers have totalled 284 votes, to a combined challenger tally of 180 (excluding the Cairngorm BOTB, which I missed for holiday-based reasons). Ouch. So, what next? Where do we go for Rocky V? Well, one possible direction could be to exchange brewers – put Stewart’s finest in a TBC brewery, and vice versa. Or, what about a Beer Z? A collaboration between the two breweries, as a third wheel? Or maybe the next BOTB could involve keg beers, or something? Mind you, whatever is decided, it seems as if Stewart will circle the ring slowly, and inevitably land that telling blow. What price, five in a row?



Thanks to all at Stewart Brewing for organising the latest battle, particularly Emily, and the brewers. Also, to Caroline and the team at the Holyrood for being, as ever, calm under the weight of numbers…
EDIT With shattering predictability, this post has been edited to get the maths correct. These modern calculators…

Best new beers of 2013…the best of the rest

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Last week, as is traditional for the second week of December, the BeerCast was turned over to the newcomers – the six best new British beers of 2013. They were, in my eyes (in order of release):-

Harbour Aji Limon IPA
Magic Rock Salty Kiss
Tempest Old Parochial
Fyne Ales/Wild Beer Cool as a Cucumber
Bad Seed Saison
Beavertown Stingy Jack

Of course, with twelve months of full-on beer drinking under the (gradually expanding) belt, there were plenty more that could have made the list. As we move into the final blog-posting week before Christmas, it’s time to look back at the rest of the great new British beers we were lucky enough to try, and run down some of the ones that were just as outstanding as the six mentioned last week.

Arguably the stand-out brewery in terms of individual beers that tickled my tastebuds was Alpha State – any of their offerings could easily have made the top six. In fact, it was touch and go as to whether their fantastic Sorachi Red IPA was going in, meaning it was probably the seventh-best beer I had in 2013 (there’s something for the pump clip). Their Neapolitan was also superb, one of the best home-grown dunkelweizens that has been released for a very long time, and another beer that made me reconsider a style.* Citronvand, also (which the photograph above comes from) – pretty much every Alpha State beer I managed to find, essentially.

*Well, consider a style, maybe. Been a while since I was fully versed in the lore of the dunkelweiss

Collaboration beers were, yet again, another trend of the brewing year, and although Fyne and Wild’s Cool as a Cucumber made the top six, there were a few ‘meeting of the minds’ beers that just missed out. Coal Porter, produced by Alechemy and Elixir Brewing Companies, was an absolute cracker, and the pick of BrewDog’s collabfest was also (so nearly) one of the beers of the year; the Imperial brown coconut IPA made by Arbor and the staff from BrewDog Bristol. Likewise, two stand-out dual-brewery offerings that I tried at the Thornbridge takeover of Islington’s Craft Beer Co deserve a mention; Coalition (made with Terrapin Brewing) and the fabulous Twin Peaks, co-brewed with Sierra Nevada.

Two Kernel beers really stood out (‘only two?’ I hear you ask) – the fruit-laden IPA Mosaic, and the perfectly balanced London Sour (although that might well have been released in late-2012). Elsewhere in the other capital, Camden’s Seven Hop Lager proved that golden and fizzy need not be boring – not that we needed reminding of that – and further north, Buxton’s White Wine Saison was the pick of their incredible takeover of the Hanging Bat. Also on drinking trips oop North, an otherwise disappointing trip to Friends of Ham in Leeds was rescued by Summer Wine’s Devil Loves Simcoe, and Marble’s Black Marble also stood out from a trip to the North West.

Ending in Scotland, as I am duty bound to do, four fantastic beers proved that our brewers here are as good as any in the world. Take four styles – a lager, an IPA, a Black IPA, and…er…a pink peppercorn and lychee fruit ale (file under: speciality). I don’t think you’d get four better depictions of those beer types than the following; Alechemy’s Stereotype, which was, for a lager, perfectly hopped (i.e. just enough but not too much); Stewart’s spellbinding Ka Pai IPA; Well Fired Black IPA from Tryst, which I had once, on cask, back in January; and Elixir’s taste-sensation that was Jump the Shark.

Yes, the overall winners of the new beers of the year were largely unusual and rare – a salty beer, a chilli beer, a cucumber beer, etc. Is this what modern brewing is about? Well, yes and no. Most importantly, those were all examples of beers that could have been truly awful if not thought about creatively, planned carefully, and brewed perfectly. The beers in this post today were also superb, and representative of a huge range of styles, from lagers to sours. Yet again, it’s more evidence of just what great shape the British brewing industry is in.



With that, there’s one more post to come in 2013 – our brewery of the year. Who will it be? And were there any beers that you tried this year that should have been in the above list? Let me know in the comments…

Stewart Brewing’s new home

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New breweries always have a sense of excitement around them. This is partly down to the attitudes of the people involved, of course, as they rush around with an infectious, can-do approach, creating on-the-spot solutions to the countless problems that arise (expected or not). Walking around these new facilities, you pick up on that – it’s one of the best things about visiting breweries – gauging the potential of a brewkit, and anticipating what the prospective brewers will come up with. These days, of course, most of these spaces are entirely brand-new (such as the one I’ll be writing about on Friday). But there’s the other side to that shiny, steel, coin; established breweries expanding, gaining more room, increasing in scope. One such producer are Stewart Brewing, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

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I last visited Steve, Jo and the team with a crowd of attentive/pissed-up bloggers during the European Beer Bloggers’ Conference last month. At that point, the building was up and running (it opened officially at the start of June), but there was a large, looming space where the brewkit was going to be. Since shipped from Hungary and installed, it’s a monster – a gleaming beast from which you can see the entire brewery building. As an upgrade, it boosts Stewart’s production from 10bbl to 40bbl, adds a cold liquor tank and a lauter tun (previously they just had a mash tun and kettle). Now, steam jackets allow decoction mashing – which will hopefully (to me at least) see the return of beers such as the Stewart Doppelbock.

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It’s such a difference. Chatting to Steve, he’s still at that slightly-disbelieving stage, wandering about taking it all in. Having been trading for nine years, I don’t know if they ever thought they’d get to this stage, but he can still remember the nervousness of people at a beer festival trying the first pints he ever created. You can only imagine what that must be like – and how it feels now to be forced to attend a safe-handling course to operate the glossy delivery truck with his surname emblazoned on the side (his mandated task for the day after my visit). No wonder he still puffs the cheeks out occasionally.

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Also newly-fitted, external malt silos and a grist mill, to mill grain for each brewday – no more schlepping around with sacks of malt. Even the “bloggers’ reward” – emptying the mash tun – is done with a new series of automatic blades, that sparkle the lauter tun in thirty minutes. Despite all this, Steve’s still adamant that what he does is hands-on, the switches and dials are there merely to control the process, not instigate or assess it. Opening valves and raising or lowering temperatures or pressures is very different from a total push-button system. What it does allow for is more innovation – at each stage Steve keenly told me the benefits the new additions would have to his beers, not because he was trying to justify the equipment, but purely out of excitement at what it all means.

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It’s a measure of how far they’ve come – from a small unit around the corner to a bespoke hanger with the brewery name etched on the outside in thousand-point font; you won’t get lost if you’re looking for it, that’s for sure. You can probably read it from Arthur’s Seat. The next step – brewers are never truly satisfied, after all – is to complete the 24-tap growler station and set up a bar area for outside drinking, to go along with the brewery shop. Although they were hoping this stage would have been reached a few years ago, it’s enormously impressive. With five brewers in-house, Stewart are finally set to become one of the big regionals in Scotland.

England v Scotland – the live beer challenge

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Last week, for the first time in fourteen years, England and Scotland met on the football field. To commemorate the welcome return of the home international, we thought it only right to emulate the occasion in the only way we know how – by drinking beer (and in an orderly, pre-defined, yet rapid manner). Not quite crates of Fosters in Trafalgar Square, but four English beers pitched against the very best rivals from our home turf, north of the border.

It was down to me to select the Scottish beers, and BeerCast Paul was delegated to pick up four from England. As we both originally hail from south of the border, for balance we invited BeerCaster Stu along, a ukulele-playing Scotland fan from Zambia (no, really). As for the beers, there were no rules other than one for each of the vague styles of ‘golden’, ‘amber’, ‘IPA’ and ‘dark’ – with identities revealed at the end of each round.

Would the beer score emulate the football result…?

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First Half, Round 1 (Golden) Fyne Ales Jarl v Dark Star Sunburst

As Stu lays out a passable ‘Flower of Scotland’ on the ukulele, the night ahead seems even longer. Yet, thankfully, the beers arrive and the first matchup begins. Although they both look invitingly golden, each with a mere suggestion of haze, the flavours are very different. One is noticeably sharper, with more lemon and grapefruit, whereas the other is milder and peachy. Even if I hadn’t seen them poured, I’d have picked which was which in a moment, so it comes down to personal preference. As Stuart concludes “the peachy one is more mellow, it’s smoother – I prefer that to the bitter one”. As the voting comes in, England take the first round, with a 2-1 victory.

Eng 1 Sco 0 [Dark Star Sunburst]

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First Half, Round 2 (Amber) Luckie Scotoberfest v Harbour Amber

In real life, the football is turning into an old-fashioned ding-dong encounter, with goals flying in at each end – punctuated by throaty yelps from the room with the telly in. Pouring in the kitchen, I only saw about half the game, but the delivery man from Sitara Spice timed perfectly with the second round of beers, right before half-time. For England, Cornwall’s Harbour Brewery, facing off against the pride of Fife, Luckie Ales. I selected Scotoberfest as the German influence could have helped the Scotland team in case of a penalty shootout, but it wasn’t needed as a) friendlies don’t go to penalties, and b) the Harbour had unfortunately picked up an infection. So three votes for Luckie.

Eng 1 Sco 1 [Harbour Amber o.g.]

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Second Half, Round 1 (IPA) Stewart Radical Road v Wild Beer Madness IPA

With the half-time beer scores tied, curry finished, and England leading 2-1 in the actual football, both second halves started. It was certainly all to play for. Recovering from the disappointment of the infection-related amber round, the English team (i.e. Paul) fielded a hugely strong hand in Wild Beer Co’s Madness IPA. Up against it, Stewart Brewing’s Radical Road – two big-hitting, hop-forward IPA’s. It was hugely close – the Madness was fantastic, sweet, sticky and resinous, with a huge rich fruitiness to it. The Radical Road tasted like a liquidised Fruit Salad. It really could have gone either way, but in the end all three votes went to the same beer – the one from Stewart Brewing. Scotland take the lead (but not in the football).

Eng 1 Sco 2 [Stewart Radical Road]

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Second Half, Round 2 (Dark) Tempest Old Parochial v Camden/Odell Versus Baltic Porter

Could England come back to force a draw, as they took the lead in real life? The heavyweights were rolled out at the end – for Scotland, Kelso’s finest Tempest Brewing Co and their 10% barrel-aged Imperial Scotch Ale, Old Parochial (or ‘Old PArochil’ as I typed, the emotion clearly getting to me). For England, Camden’s 7% Baltic porter brewed with Odell – cries of ‘Ringer!’ silenced on the lips as the flavours of both came out. Stunning stuff, the latter was hugely roasty, with chocolate, coffee and a fabulous balance, whereas the former positively thrummed with soft, rounded whisky, caramel and umami. Again, voting was tight, but there were nods of acceptance as Scotland that prevailed once more, with a 2-1 vote.

Eng 1 Sco 3 [Tempest Old Parochial]

So, there you have it. Scotland lose the football 3-2, but win the beer match 3-1. Gordon Strachan and the boys can draw some comfort in that, I think. Rather amusingly, the national team’s next game is against Belgium – they couldn’t…could they?

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…

Best new beers of 2012…the best of the rest

Last week, we turned the BeerCast over to the newcomers – the six best new British beers of 2012. Of course, with twelve months of full-on beer drinking under our (gradually expanding) belts, there were plenty more that could have made the list. As we move into the final blog-posting week before Christmas, it’s time to look back at the rest of the great new British beers we were lucky enough to try, and run down some of the ones that were just as outstanding as the six we mentioned last week.



Back in January we named Tempest Brewing Co as the Scottish brewer to watch, and over the course of the year, they didn’t disappoint. Released back in February, Cresta Black had a huge amount of flavour at 4% (possibly due to the added walnut power bars), and they then followed it with the 8% Double Cresta. Their all-rye beer World of Pain still causes wincing from Gavin and Allan, but it was (to us drinkers, at least) utterly worth it. Tempest are currently looking for larger premises near to their converted Kelso dairy, and when they get a larger facility sorted – look out.

We have a rough rule of thumb – referred to around BeerCast HQ as ‘the Kernel rule’ that only a single beer from each brewery gets into our top six.* So, step forward Marble Earl Grey IPA, Roosters Londinium, and pretty much every other beer Craig Middleton made up in Cromarty. Rogue Wave, Red Rocker – both sit alongside AKA IPA as the very best you can get hold of at the moment. I don’t want to pre-empt our 2013 breweries to watch post, but I’ll give you three guesses who we’re picking for next year.

*Ironically this year, not a single Kernel beer did actually make it – but their Table Beer is an absolute treat, and the pick of their many, many, full-on IPA’s released in 2012 was surely their IPA Double Citra.

It wouldn’t be a best new beers feature without mention of Summer Wine or Magic Rock. They both have that brewing gift – augmented by skill, forethought and a huge amount of hard work. You could pretty much name any of their beers from the last twelve months, but I particularly enjoyed two of the lesser-praised SW beers – Half-Wit and Mokko Milk Stout, the latter being the best representation of the style I’ve had for a long time. As for Magic Rock, it was Clown Juice, the ‘India Wit’, that really sticks out – just superb.

Finally, heading back to Scotland, other picks from the year in hops would have to include Fyne Ales Superior IPA (which was – in every respect), and Stewart Brewing Radical Road – a modern classic, and one which spurred them on to producing a great Black IPA. This year’s SRAF saw me drink a lot of Spey Valley’s Spey Stout – the pick of the festival – but the beer that so nearly made it into last week’s top six is that pictured above – Alechemy Five Sisters. As good an amber ale as you can find, anywhere.



Well, that’s a lot of beer – and I didn’t even get to mention Redchurch’s Great Eastern IPA. There were other things I haven’t touched on – so join us on Wednesday as we talk about the brewery who made the leap in 2012 into becoming, hands-down, the best in Scotland. Find out who (and how) then, and let us know in your comments other great new British beers you enjoyed in 2012 – or stablemates of those we’ve mentioned that we should have included!