Tuesday 18 June 2019

Not quite the Endgame yet for IPA

Captain Milkshake IPA’s
fiendish disguise as a signboard
What are you drinking? Chances are that it is an IPA. Possibly, West Coast, maybe New England or even sour, with added blueberry and peach as I (sort-of) enjoyed the other week. Even though it’s been the case for the best part of a decade or more, the IPA in all its guises is still the leading beer style at the front of the craft beer bar-top — as well as at other bars, if the amount of times I have overheard ‘what’s your IPA’ being asked in ‘normal’ pubs is any indication. There are even jokes doing the beer social media round that black IPA is making a comeback; meanwhile on the other hand last year’s sensation, Brut IPA, seems to have crashed and burned already.

I am not surprised. When I was over in Columbus, OH, in February, I was in the Elevator Brewery tap and had their Brut IPA. It was sweet, slightly champagne-like, sickly almost, whereas the ones I had tried from other breweries in 2018 were dry and rather appealing — I’m not seeing so many brewers having a go at producing one either, so perhaps it has gone the way of all flesh. Meanwhile back in the USA, as I drank the beer and considered my disappointment and recalled how someone had told me about Rose IPA, I began to mull on how IPA has splintered into so many different sub-styles, some of them as distant from what we once knew as an IPA as a Model T Ford is from the latest hybrid car (but then you could still say both are cars, of a kind). 

So far, so typically beer-flecked navel gazing and then I went to see The Avengers: Endgame. After sitting through three hours of plenty of action, with a lot of it referencing other movies in the canon, it dawned on me — the IPA style has become the beer world’s version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For those of you who don’t know your Ironman from the rag-and-bone man, the MCU is a media franchise and a shared universe that revolves around a series of superhero films, such as Ironman, Captains America and Marvel and the Black Panther. 

Some are excellent, some good and several I’d wouldn’t even watch if it was the only movie on a long transatlantic flight. The main thing is though, that they take place in this Marvel world, where Thor might pop up in an Avengers movie as much as his own and even Spiderman, who we always thought lived in his own world, makes an appearance elsewhere. 

To take the analogy further, I would argue that the first film in the franchise, Ironman, was Hollywood’s version of an American IPA and then the following sequels were representations of each different IPA. Thor perhaps was a brutish West Coast hop bomb, while Dr Strange has got to be a Milkshake IPA, style over substance; meanwhile Captain America is an uncomplicated DIPA, forceful and no messing about. 

However, there is also a fashion within Hollywood, for prequels, origin stories for the many sequels (and Marvel is not alone in being guilty of this) that are pumped out into our multiplexes. And I have a very good idea of what a prequel IPA would be about — the English style IPA, the one that seems to be forgotten about, languishing in the fleapits of beer history, often declared not to style because it doesn’t look like Sunny Delight and taste like a can of Lilt. 

There are English IPAs being made, but they seem to be far and few between. Cheshire Brewhouse’s Govinda is one of my favourites, with brewer Shane Swindells making two expressions of the beer, with each one using a different heritage malt. And of course, there’s Worthington White Shield, which I had several times on cask at the Kings Arms near Waterloo last year — this still remains an excellent beer, which I first encountered in college when a friend bought a bottle in a pub we were in and bored me rigid about the yeast in the bottle. How times change.  

The Burton link neatly takes me to the news that during May an IPA was brewed for the first time ever on Marston’s famous Burton Unions, which up until now have been used for Pedigree and various pale ales. It will be brewed by Marston’s ‘playground for brewers’ DE14, called No:1 Horninglow Street IPA, and will be 7.4% and bottle-conditioned. The beer’s raw ingredients are low-colour pale ale malts, and it will be late and dry hopped with four hop varieties, Goldings, Sovereign and the splendidly named Ernest from the UK, as well as Cascade from the USA — the latter being perhaps a nod towards modern tastes, but we must also recall that American hops were common in English breweries before the First World War. 

I for one am looking forward to trying this beer, which certainly does seem to be more of a prequel than a sequel to the IPA universe. With the release of The Avengers: Endgame, I might have had enough of the MCU for a while, as I do with each new IPA, but with No:1 Horninglow Street IPA (as well as the likes of Govinda) perhaps we are on the verge of a whole new sequel-free IPA universe being created. 

This was originally published in the current issue of Brewing & Beverage Industries Business (which can be read here), where I write a regular column. I would like to thank Chris Freer for allowing me to reproduce it. 

Monday 6 May 2019

Thornbridge’s future in 2006

I never get a press pack through the post anymore, always emails, which I rarely keep, unless I think there is something of value for future work. It didn’t used to be like that — when I started writing about beer towards the end of 1996 (What’s Brewing, a feature on Moor Beer, which of course was under a different owner and based on a farm then), I kept the majority of the press packs that came my way, including ones from brewers no longer in the game (King & Barnes) as well as ones that have changed and kept up with what has been happening in beer. 

Moving stuff around yesterday I came up on a press pack from Thornbridge around about 2006, 18 months or so after they’d started in 2004. I had visited the place sometime in 2005 and wrote something about the Hall (see below), which is where they were then brewing (with a Scottish and an Italian brewer), in my book The Big Book of Beer (bloody awful title). Given their current status (IMO) as the godfathers of the modern Brit beer scene, I find it interesting to see the direction that they seemed to be going in. Yes, there is Jaipur and St Petersburg, Wild Swan and Lord Maples, but then there is the future…which seemed to be beers made with dandelion, strawberry or herbs, all I seem to recall being grown on the estate. I wasn’t that excited to be honest, having given my heart and soul to Jaipur. These beers didn’t seem to happen and Thornbridge took the path that still excites me today, but if there’s one point I want to make here is that whenever one tries to predict the future of beer, it’s never that easy, in fact we could. be talking about various futures rather than just one. 

and here’s the extract from the book
Thornbridge Brewery, Ashford in the Water, Derbyshire
A trip to Thornbridge Brewery, based at Thornbridge Hall in the village of Ashford in the Water, is as much a visit to the land of Homes & Gardens, as it is to see and taste the fruits of John Barleycorn. The Hall boasts sweeping staircases, high-ceilinged rooms, gorgeous views over ornate gardens and windows by William Morris and Edward Byrne-Jones. It also houses a new 10-barrel brewery which has been set up by local businessman Jim Harrison (who owns the house with wife and entrepreneur Emma), along with Dave Wickett, the owner of the Fat Cat pub and its adjoining Kelham Island Brewery in Sheffield. Initially used to brew Kelham Island ales to cope with increased orders after Pale Rider’s championship title at Olympia 2004, the brewery is now producing Thornbridge’s own brews including Craven Silk, an aromatic, rich and fruity session bitter whose palate is enlivened by the addition of elderflower into the mix. The elderflower is part of Jim’s brewing plans as he hopes to use other herbs, flowers and fruits from the estate to create Thornbridge’s special beers. 

Monday 11 March 2019

On a visit to a brewery

The space/place/location is where we imagine ourselves living; imagine ourselves being part of, imagine how each morning we will look out of the window and reimagine how the day will go — the aroma of the wood smoke awakens within memories of a place that we didn’t really visit, but we feel that somewhere in our lives we were there. We mourned for the dog hit by the car, we scowled at the cat and imagined its role in our lives; we drank the beer our employees, whose names we know, but whose names we don’t really know, make, the beers that they package, the recipes they devise; we belonged and yet we didn’t. The land across which we looked towards the small white-washed chapel is not ours, the land in which the brewery is placed is not ours, but yet we feel for that one sparkling sunny Monday morning that we are part of it. We drink the saison, the dubbel, the farmhouse IPA, the wood-aged noir and we know and bask in the nuances and nourishment of the beer inside these sturdy bottles. We feel and field the flinty vinous notes, the shades of vanilla and coconut, the bitterness and the dryness and chocolate and coffee and dried fruit and wood and we grasp the nature of this brewery to which we feel for that brief morning in the middle of Ohio we felt we belonged to (and as we leave the brewery a fleet of empty yellow school buses trail along the road going from who knows where to god knows where, it was that kind of morning). 

Wednesday 6 February 2019

Belonging #earlydoors

The Craft Crow, Nottingham 

The deep sonorous tones of the church bells speak like an authoritative headmaster from the age of pain, announcing the onset of 11 o’clock in the morning, a regular, furrowed brow airburst of sound, eleven times the angel Michael with sword in hand, announcing that somewhere in this town a pub is opening for early doors. Which is how I find myself in the Crafty Crow in Nottingham, Magpie Brewery’s tap, a shining city on a hill glass of their bracing Best in front of me, figurative in the shapes the barley and the English hops make on my palate, the kind of beer that shapes the day ahead of me. 

A pint of Best, the world tilts on its axis

Thursday 31 January 2019

Belonging #Fullers

You start going to a pub, which you call your local, even though you might have to get a bus or a taxi or cycle to it, or just walk around the corner, but you start to belong. You start to get to know people, you start to get to know which ones are the bores, the ones you say hello to quickly and move on, straining to avoid talking about the news or whatever sport they like or even the weather; you get to know the ones who are drunks but quite funny until you get bored (and worried you’ll become like them and sometimes think you have become like them); you get to know the belligerent ones who dislike the fact that you might have the wrong kind of voice and haven’t lived around here long enough and that their hard-earned friends are pally with you and sometimes, much against your better judgment, you try to make friends with the belligerents and eventually do; you get to know the beer experts (and keep your mouth shut); you get to know the drinkers who like dogs, who comment on the book you are reading, who ask you what football or rugby team you support or whether you like cricket (‘sorry mate, bores the pants off me’); you get to know the wastrels, the wasted, the strait-laced, the frayed and the afraid whose eyes widen when you tell them that once upon a time on your travels you drank a 25% (or thereabouts) beer — ‘not in pints mind, gold-flecked thimbles’; you get to know the dead ones, whose photos (or sometimes boots) hang on the walls or in alcoves; you get to know who is in at which time of the day and doubtless if someone else is keeping count you are time-checked and put on the rota. 

You belong, beer and pubs make us belong, maybe not make as that sounds like a three-line whip, but beer does help us belong, in the way you tip the glass and say cheers to a complete stranger who you will never see again; or the conversation in between swigs of Gold with the man in the paint-stained overalls who hears you mention a town you (and they) used to live in; then there are the brewer’s parents who are keen on what you think of their proud prodigy’s pints; beer helps us belong, engage in confidences about sport, business, the weather, the street you live in and also agree that religion and politics have no place in the bar (unlike that loudmouth over there); you become a fixture, as immovable as that stuffed owl under a bell jar that old Cyril (remember him?) claimed to have found by the side of a road when he came back from the Korean War (or was it a stint with ENSA?). 

You belong. Beer helps us belong. 

Which is why I felt sad about Fuller Smith & Turner’s demise as an independent brewery. I’ll get over it, we get over things us adults, and after all as long as ESB, London Porter (in keg for me), Vintage Ale, the wisteria, the brewery yard across which hundreds of workers have ambled and gambled on a life in beer and that tumble-down dusty room of bound brewery archives exists I will feel I belong. But if it changes and the seas of corporate ways take the brewery into a dark sunken valley of a different landscape and a memory of what once was, I won’t belong. Until then…