The week in beer: Dec 19-25

I did my Christmas warmup at The Old Fountain (no surprise there) and focused on two breweries: brilliant newcomer Magic Rock Brewing (based in Huddersfield) and East London institution Brodie’s Brewery (in the context of the London craft brewing scene I think it’s fair to call something an institution if it’s been around since 2008).

What can I say about Magic Rock that hasn’t already been said? Meteoric rise to fame among the beer cognoscenti, a pub presence throughout the land – all thanks to their excellent, US-influenced beers. Three of their beers were on at the Old Fountain. First High Wire, their West Coast IPA (ABV 5.5), which is an excellent example of the style. It’s very fruity, with citrus and tropical notes like mango dominating and a hefty dry citrus rind bitterness at the end. Then Cannonball, their Double IPA (ABV 7.4), which is an even better, extremely well-balanced IPA: it starts off suprisingly sweet, with molasses and fruit syrup flavours, quickly giving way to some serious, sour and citrusy bitter hoppiness with a layer of tropical fruit. Cannonball also has a big brother, Human Cannonball, a 9.2 ABV Imperial IPA – the best of the Magic Rock stable (they did not have Human Cannonball on at the Old Fountain, but I’ve tried it before). It’s a cranked-up version of the Cannonball, which means even more sweet malts and even more hops – the Human Cannonball is slightly more resiny and has a faint pine needle flavour that sort of goes on top of the other sweet tropical fruits. Third and last, they also had Magic Rock’s sessioner Curious NZ on, a version of their basic pale ale sessioner Curious (both at 3.9 ABV) which uses only NZ hops (so I guess that’s what they would call a South Pacific Pale Ale these days). As a sessioner, it’s great as it packs a lot of flavour into those 3.9 – it’s more tropical and less citrusy than the Curious. It’s good, but this tasting session showed the importance of the order in which you taste things… after the High Wire and the Cannonball, Curious NZ felt a bit bland, but I’ve loved it when I’ve had it on its own!

I also had the chance to sample some beers from Brodie’s – one on tap, two on bottle (Brodie’s bottle very little of their beer – Old Fountain is one of the few places where you can reliably get bottled Brodie’s beers outside their own three flagship pubs). On tap was something I was very excited by: a collaboration brew together with my favourite London brewery The Kernel. It’s called Stella for Breakfast and it’s a 6.6 ABV breakfast stout (which means coffee stout to you and me) dominated by Stella hops. At first taste it actually has more of a cocoa flavour (bitter, dark, complex), but the coffee soon comes through (bitter, dark, roasted), followed by more cocoa/baker’s chocolate flavour. This is one of the better coffee stouts I’ve had recently but considering its relatively high ABV I was surprised by the somewhat thin mouthfeel – it lacked a bit of malt body to back all those bean flavours up. Next up was Old Street Special IPA (bottle), a 6.3 ABV Double IPA which drew inevitable comparison with the Cannonball – same sweet malty start, same fruity, citrusy hoppiness, same dry finish – but somehow more toned down. I think the issue was more with the context of the tasting than anything else – if I’d had this on its own I’m sure I would have given it full marks. The Hackney Red IPA (ABV 6.1) more than held its own, though – it featured some very subtle layering of flavours. The malt gave it a bread-and-butter body which felt classically English, but then the strong tropical fruit hops (I got a very clear mango flavour) came through and the beer ended on a surprising but very pleasant dry and slightly smoky note. A multi-faceted winner! Overall, I have to say that Brodie’s is quickly becoming a favourite – I’ve had their great Dalston Black IPA before and so far I’ve really liked every single beer I’ve had from them! Expect a dedicated Brodie’s feature in the new year.

My pre-Christmas week of course also featured some stocking-up at The Kernel. I picked up a few more bottles of the Stella for Breakfast, and sampled the new Black IPA batch (this is batch III and marked as such – the hop combination in the recipe has been changed slightly with every batch). Batch III comes in at ABV 7.4 but does not feel very boozy. This batch lacks the Simcoe hops that were integral to batch 1 and 2, and something is clearly missing – it’s still a damn fine black IPA with that characteristic mix of sweet, fudge-like malts and perfumed, flowery, fruity hops, but it ends a bit early and all the flavours feel more subdued. The Double Black IPA (ABV 9.8) is still by far the best black IPA to come out of Kernel (indeed, it is one of my favourite beers of 2011 – or even all time!), pity they’re all out at the moment! Any new batch will have to wait for two things: (1) the world-wide shortage of certain hops (like Simcoe), and (2) the Kernel brewery move which will take place in the new year – Evin and team expect to be fully up and running at their new location sometime in mid-February. This move will increase the capacity of Kernel, much to the joy of London beer fans – Kernel’s limited batches tend to run out faster than you can say Amarillo!

The rest of the week was a bit of a blur. I managed a first visit to the new BrewDog Camden bar, but I was literally only in and out (sampling their Christmas Porter on the way) as I had to press on with Christmas shopping, so a full feature will have to wait until I’ve actually spent enough time there to judge the place! Looked good, though, and you can’t fault the beer selection (duh!). I had a nice Tawny No 5 from Manchester brewers Marble, which went very well with our home-made pizza – big hop bite but light body and a clean, quick finish. My official Christmas beer was the Barrel-Aged Brrrbon ’10 (ABV 9.2) from Portland’s Widmer Brothers (acquired during my New York visit in August and cellared since), a bourbon-barrel aged version of their regular winter ale. I’m a sucker for barrel-aged beers and this one really packs some big bourbon flavours: lots of vanilla, toffee, brown sugar and oak from the barrel. The bourbon explosion sort of overshadows the rest of the beer, but I can’t really complain – I wanted barrel-aged and I got barrel-aged! It was a perfect mellow beer to end Christmas day with!

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Posted on December 26, 2011, in Feature, Review and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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