Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A Tale of Two Cities (feat. experimental beer)

We had such a good time at the Bristol Beer Festival last year we knew we had to go back to again this year. Only this time we thought, let’s take a look at (the beer in) Bath too while we’re down that way.

Saturday 15th March was a beautiful sunny day in Bristol and after checking into our hotel room we joined our friend, Slick, in the queue where he’d been waiting for an hour already. Impatient for beer I fidgeted for the next 10 minutes until they started letting people in. During that time our other friend Neil arrived with our tickets. Phew.  And then we were seated inside and enjoying our first beer. It was important to us to sample the local breweries so I kicked off with a tasty Wiper and True Winter Rye.

Which new beer is it?
Without listing every single beer we sampled, suffice it to say that overall we had some good beers, two of which were improved by the beauty of social media. Having spotted two Art Brew beers on the list I was determined to have at least one of them. Monkey IPA, we’ve had before, but what was this ‘New Beer’? I asked the brewers via Twitter. They swiftly replied that it could be their Seville Rye. EXCITE. I went to the bar to get one but it turned out that New Beer was actually a typo for Now Beer (a golden ale). It was a perfectly clear, bright golden beer and with a well balanced bitterness, the latter being absolutely essential for my enjoyment of this style.

One of my favourite beers of the day was Dr Hardwicke, an 8.5% DIPA from Sadlers. The reason I especially wanted to try this beer was because of its description in the beer list, ‘If you don’t like hops move on swiftly!’ Why would you go to a beer festival if you don’t even like hops? I don’t get it. Anyway, when I ordered one (one third, that is) the guy serving me said he’d been warned you could 'taste the alcohol straight away'. I don’t know about alcohol but I could certainly taste some delicious hops. But that’s ok, because I like hops. I enjoyed it so much I bought the brewery tweeted the brewers to ask which hops they used. The response was rapid: Amarillo, Citra, Cascade and Chinook. No wonder it tasted so nice. :)

And then sadly we experienced a couple of less than palatable beers.  Dark Alliance from Moor/Arbor is a beer we tried last year at a bottle share. On that occasion we found the predominant flavour was burnt coffee. It was too overwhelmingly roasty for us. Other people who tried it on that occasion liked it but it just wasn’t for us. So we wondered about giving it another go on cask at the festival. In the end we didn’t have to because Neil bought a third of it and promptly handed it over for us to try. Initial aroma was stale cigarette smoke, a bit like when a heavy smoker gets on the bus after you and the smell is so strong you need to open a window. Initial flavour was an ashtray filled with water or possibly beer. That second wash of aroma after just you swallow the beer? Even more ashtray. Not saying there was anything wrong with the beer. This is just personal taste, obviously. I personally don’t like drinking a beer that resembles an ashtray. I’m sure some people would like that kind of thing. Not that I don’t like smoked beers. I really do. I tried Camden’s Flue Faker last week and enjoyed its delicate smoked character. Plus I’m a huge admirer of Beavertown’s Smog Rocket/Lord Imperial Smog, neither of which are light on smoked malts.

But the prize for least enjoyable beer of the afternoon goes to Elephant from XT. Here's its full description:

‘This may be the first and last time that you can try this one-off brew from a very experimental brewery. It was brewed only once, in collaboration with Brentwood, and is described as a “black saison” – a new style to me. Uses Wakatu and Pacific Gem hops and special Belgian saison yeast.’

Well, I spent the festive season in a whirlwind romance with Dieu du Ciel!’s Isseki Nicho. In fact, we liked that beer so much that we bought the brewery brewed our own Imperial Saison Stout last month. And we’re in good company, Andy Parker fell for this style too and recently brewed his own take on it. So if I see the words ‘dark saison’, I am there.

To begin with, it all seems to be going to plan - it smells fruity and spicy as you’d expect from a beer fermented with a Belgian saison yeast. So far, so good. But what does it taste like? Well, not a saison (dark or otherwise), it’s not dry or refreshing. Doesn’t taste like a stout or a porter – because the malts are fighting with the hops and the yeast. Doesn’t taste like a Belgian black IPA either because it’s not hop forward enough. Pretty much running out of styles one could possibly attribute to this beer now, and it doesn’t fit any of them. It’s indistinct and confused. I don’t understand this beer. It’s not a dark saison. It doesn’t work. It tastes like someone mixed a number of different beers of different styles together. It’s unpleasant. I only bought a third and even after four people have tried a couple of mouthfuls there’s still over half of it left. Nobody wants it.

I took it back to the bar. Not for a refund, simply to get rid of this thing and get a pleasant tasting beer instead. Inevitably I got into a discussion about it with the person who served me. He’s sorry I don’t like it – 'it’s an experiment, just a one-off, they won’t brew it again...' I point out that just because it was brewed as an experiment that isn't an excuse for asking people to pay for a beer that tastes unpleasant and clearly didn’t work as the style they've assigned it. We’ve drainpoured whole batches of our own brews that tasted better than Elephant because they weren’t right. We are fussy about the beer we drink. If it doesn’t taste great then we don’t want to drink it (even if we brewed it ourselves!), we wouldn’t want any of our friends to drink it and we wouldn’t want to put our name to it. I understand that it’s far more costly for a commercial brewer to dump a whole batch than it is for us homebrewers. Maybe if you can’t afford to discard something that didn't work and tastes horrible then you shouldn’t be experimenting on a commercial scale? I had another Dr Hardwicke to take the taste away and by then it was last orders.

What was so great about those toilets?
We jumped in a cab and headed to The Grain Barge. Not sure I’ve ever visited a pub on boat before. It was nice to stare out at the water. Very relaxing and tranquil. There was some sort of animal-onesie-wearing-board-game-playing stag party taking place there, whether that provoked the in depth Watership Down discussion or whether it would have occurred regardless of grown men wearing tiger suits I couldn’t possibly say. After that we hit The Three Tuns for a swift Arbor and then found ourselves in The Royal Navy Volunteer, where most of the customers were shouting about the rugby, before finally pitching up in BrewDog. Whoops. Accident. Teensy bit hazy by this point. I recall (ok, the internet told me the next morning) that I got manically excited about the aroma of the Ladies toilets. There must have been some craft catnip in there because I was giddy.

Green Emperor

Sunday we travelled to Bath for an hour of cultural appreciation with Slick in the glorious spring sunshine before heading to The Raven to meet Neil. At the Bath Brewhouse we got into a discussion about why somewhere that has Craft stamped all over it still needs to serve mainstream keg lagers. We were sat by the window and looking out onto the deck almost everyone we saw was drinking wine or pints of Heineken. I guess that explains it. Shame. Looked like they did lovely food too. And almost as importantly: high quality toilets. No craft catnip here, just the essentials (functional hand dryers, sinks, mirrors). It’s not much to ask for yet so many pubs are not fussed about decent facilities. As this was the day before St Patrick's Day we had a green beer - the house IPA, Emperor, with some 'green' in it. They wouldn't tell us how it got there. It's a weird experience drinking a green beer as your brain is telling you it will taste like Fairy Liquid but your mouth is telling you it tastes like a hoppy pale ale. Odd.

After a swift call to Independent Spirit for some bottle shopping and it was off for a late lunch at Graze before catching the train home. Really, really nice roast dinner. Great views. Added amusement was provided with the meal, when staff explained that they couldn’t sell any draught beers that weren't made by Bath Ales as that would be a conflict of interest. But they sell Heineken though, plus other fizzy yellow keg stuff. Worth visiting for the food alone though - we highly recommend you eat there if you’re in town.

1 comment:

Paul Bailey said...

"Why somewhere that has Craft stamped all over it still needs to serve mainstream keg lagers."

Sounds like they don't have the courage of their own convictions. Either that or they've got a hefty loan-tie from Heineken!