Monday 28 October 2013

Clean vs dirty

Some beers squeeze their way into the house, they’re from Sharp’s and they do more than make me think about how they taste. First of all, there’s Equinox, a 3.8% session beer with orange peel in the mix. I’m not thinking breakfast beer here though, it’s something that takes me into another space as the nose carries the delicate breeze of orange notes that occur when you dig your nail into the pith; it’s not a big orange blast, but something fine, something just there, something shimmering on the far horizon. Alongside this subtlety, there’s a corporeal sweetness from the barley, both notes combining to suggest a mythical beast along the lines of orange flavoured toffee. I would call it a clean nose, in which the constituent parts all harmonise together, Bloch’s Piano Quintet no 1 perhaps? On the palate the beer is more forthright with the ghostly oranginess and a honeyed sweetness and a cracker-like dryness in the finish that is accompanied by a zestful orange note. A complete beer, a refreshing beer and above a clean beer — where clean doesn’t mean lacking in flavour, but more that the flavours have a wholeness, a unity to them. And when the word clean appears on the scene is when I start to think about the idea of clean vs dirty beers.

Continuing on the theme here is Land Shrimp Pale Ale, famously made with woodlice, creatures I would squash without thinking about it when I was younger. This has a good carbonation, a zip and a zap of fizz when the top is popped. Hazy orange in the glass, fruit gum, orange flavoured, on the nose — not a big bazooka of aroma, but there it is, to be joined by pineapple. Mouthfeel is initially creamy, followed by a sprightly dance of carbonation, a good two-step action. Pineapple, orange and no woodlice — I don’t really know what to expect; further gulps bring forth an earthiness or is that the mind playing tricks on me? There is a good appetising dry finish with bitterness and subtle pepperiness in the background; plus a hint of chalk. There is still the cleanness of what I come to feel is the signature of Sharp’s beers.

This then brings me to think about the idea of clean vs dirty beers. I remember writing once about how Kernel’s beers were dirty and the better for it and I would say the same with Sharp’s from the clean perspective. It reminds me of something Alastair Hook said to me years ago about lager — about how he was trying to have his beers show off the flavours and aromas of the raw materials he was using. That’s the definition of a great lager. With the cleanness of the beers of Sharp’s, you also get to smell and taste the raw materials, but with the ale yeast adding that extra dimension. Clean vs dirty — it doesn’t have to be divisive.


  1. Clean and dirty are nice descriptors. I don't think that many brewers really appreciate their raw materials though, particularly the yeast. Messrs Hook and Howe seem to understand better how to pay attention to all aspects of the flavour, but a lot of the dirtier end of the spectrum seem to concentrate on hop flavours at the expense of even malt character.

  2. Excellent that he went with 'Land Shrimp'. I don't suppose you know where I can get any?