Monday, 30 June 2008

Magificent Seven #5: Dark Ruby Mild

Sarah Hughes
Sarah Hughes Brewery
Tel: 01902 883380

Mild is a little like Doctor Who pre-2005: despite its long heritage and past popularity, it became mocked, overlooked and finally cancelled as more shiny imports stole its audience. It too suffered its own version of the ‘Sylvester McCoy years’ as the strong but lightly hopped pre-Great War drink slipped from its position as pre-eminent ale to a shadow of its former self when DORA and WW1 saw the alcohol reduced. But this dark and fruity pint is brewed from a Victorian recipe, so its mellow maltiness and port-like richness hides real complexity and longevity that should make the style ripe for a Russell T-type revival. Although, being dark, rich and complex, instead of merely bombastic, it’s more like the superior work of Stephen Moffat.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Magificent Seven #4: Nutty Niki

Moor Beer Company

If it was ordered from a menu with more pages than an LA drug-dealer during the Oscars; if it came in a slender bottle wrapped in waxed paper and accompanied by a novelty glass; if it wasn’t called Nutty Niki… If it was, did and wasn’t then this beer would be huge. But it isn’t because, instead of being the product of monastic Belgian brothers, this wheat beer was created by a Californian who has relocated to a life on the Somerset levels. So while this hazy wit hints at Hoegarten, its English hops give it a life and a freshness beyond the boldness of the crushed coriander seeds, whole nutmegs and giant cinnamon quills. It would be a wonderful summer pint – if Moor didn’t brew it for winter only.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Magificent Seven #3: Milk Stout

Bristol Beer Factory

The name alone has probably already conjured up the mental image of two hair-netted old puffins hunched over a shared bottle of super-sweet Mackeson's. But this recreation of an Ashton Gate brewery original should change the way you think about this unfashionable drink. For a start, at 4.5% it’s strong enough to deter the post-chapel coffin-dodgers, even if the added milk sugars (lactose) do add a surprisingly sweet aroma and aftertaste. But cutting against any sugariness is the warmth and depth of roasted barley, which not only gives the drink a slightly burnt final note but also adds to the glorious opaque colour and dark swirls that corkscrew inside the glass. A pint worth blowing your pension on.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Magificent Seven #2: Jaipur


Describing this beer evidently isn’t easy – famed food, critic Matthew Fort managed 600 words on it for The Guardian without ever actually mentioning what it tastes like. And taste is something it has more than enough of.

First of all, it’s an IPA (Indian Pale Ale) and IPAs tend towards being boozy and hoppy. Well, when I say ‘tend towards’ I mean in the way that Max Mosley ‘tended towards’ those nice German lasses.

And hops dominate these golden-hued beers, not as is often apocryphally claimed to preserve them for the long journey to the subcontinent, but to give them their trademark refreshing citrus edge. But this particular example of the style is the Pan Galactic Gargleblaster of IPAs. Not only do the hops give you the hit of lemon, you also get the gold brick to wrap it around and use to smash your brains out. However, unlike Douglas Adams’ creation, at least there’s no olive balanced on the top.

So whereas other IPAs are mildly invigorating, Jaipur launches a mini D-Day on your tongue, where the hops lead a frontal attack backed by a barrage of alcohol. Some claim to notice pineapple and grapefruit amid this citrus assault, but that could be the alcohol talking, and in a thick, hefty beer like this it does plenty of that. This particular ale also makes a terrible snakebite, but we won’t dwell on that evening for reasons of decency, amnesia and temporary blindness.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Magificent Seven #1: Marble Ginger

Marble Brewery

With all the bludgeoning subtlety of an online debate and much of the same raw fury, this is a ginger beer that leaves lips tingling and taste buds cauterised. Instead of using the gentle flavour of the root to compliment the beer, Marble have chucked in the whole stem to create a clenched fist of a drink. And it is brilliant. While other gingers are condemned to seem watery and weak, this pint reeks of peppery heat, raw power and tonsillar fisticuffs. But it’s also simplistic, limited and rather boring after a single pint. Now that is brewing genius, and commercial suicide.

The Magnificent Seven

35 years old. That, according to Greene King’s clipboard-men, is the age that the average British male settles on his ‘usual’. Perhaps the elastic of a birthday party-hat restricts blood flow to the brain or he catches the Reaper’s eye over the punch bowl but, either way, this is the momentous age at which the compound creature settles down to drinking monogamy. From this moment on he forsakes all other beer brands in favour of the familiar, until that one bottle has to be prized from his cold, dead fingers – or cirrhosis of the liver sets in, whichever comes first.

But the depressing part of this news is that this unquestioning commitment to one drink for forty years is apparently based on a sampling of just seven different brands. Seven beers? That hardly seems enough to see you through a heavy Friday or a weekend break in Brussels, let alone the 4.39 stag nights that each average British male endures before his 35th birthday. (Probably. Based on a sample of one average British male, who left stag party number five rather early.)

Take a quick sample of the big sellers in off-licences – or a glance in the hedges, canals and gutters of the nation – and the names form a litany of mediocrity that owes more to the test-tube than the brewer’s art: Stella, Carling, Foster's, Carlsberg, Budweiser, Carlsberg Export, Kronenbourg 1664.

So in the hope of opening a nation’s eyes (even if I have to use the lid-lifting Ludovico Technique from A Clockwork Orange), I will offer over the next few days seven other examples of beer styles that might prove a little more inspiring, exciting or, in one or two cases, mildly terrifying.