Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Is this IPA Fenella Fielding in a bottle?
IPA’s reinvention in the past 15 years, American craft brewery-driven and a major boost for the hop industry, a resinous, rock’n’rolling reel on the senses, made joy a common occurrence accompanied by a glass of beer to hand — Safeways 2002 (or was it 2001?), their then annual seasonal tasting of future beers, orchestrated by Glenn Payne, probably the best supermarket beer buyer ever, and I remember even now one beer writer raving, unable to keep still, pleasure playing on his pallid features like prayer flags in a gale, directing all and sundry to Goose Island IPA — one sip, a scorcher, and beer was never the same for me again. Victory IPA appeared, then Brooklyn, then nirvana. Amidst all the hoopla (imperial and Double IPAs, torpedoes, 90 minutes, 120 the same), it’s often easy to forget that British breweries have rejuvenated the style as well. And this all I was minded to recall on being sent a brace of bottles of Westerham’s take on the style, their Viceroy India Pale Ale. Lower end of the abv spectrum with 5%, but its nose still grabs and then caresses with musky, aromatic air of the hop sack (a common characteristic of Brit-IPAs perhaps?). Orange-amber in colour, it has a wilful orange marmalade nose, which in a funny way is very reminiscent of said marmalade spread on gently toasted white bread (fresh of course); there’s also the aforementioned hop sack come-hither. On the palate a deep orange Cointreau strike, hints of cherry brandy (and even almond paste), plus some mouth-warming alcohol notes — all toiling together to make my palate as happy as the proverbial Larry. The finish is long and dry with a crisp graininess. The difference from the likes of Goose Island (and Punk IPA) is there, noted and known, it being much more of a soulful beast than its brash transatlantic (or Alba) cousins. A sensuous beer then, though not backward in coming forward, a purring beast that is happy for you to drink lots before it pounces.
For younger readers, Fenella Fielding was a husky-voiced, smoky eyed British actress who enlivened the fantasies of my hormone-stricken 12-year-old self after her appearance in Carry On Screaming. My excuse: I was young and foolish, and Charlotte Rampling was yet to appear on my radar.