MORE IPAs: Sierra Nevada Torpedo

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA

I may have stopped reading Hops & Glory now (I gave it a review, of sorts, here, see) but I’m still blaming Pete Brown for all my IPAs. Him and the American craft brewers. And the increasing number of great UK brewers who keep making great IPAs. If you all keep making IPAs, I’ll keep reading about them, and keep wanting to try them, and before I know it I’ll have turned into a hop. Or at least sweat hoppy aromas. And that would just make me want to drink IPAs even more.

Yup, if any kind of beer can ever be en vogue it’s definitely the IPA, and the trend seems to be, the hoppier the better. There’s an increasing trend round serious beer drinkers to want hops, and nowt delivers hops like an IPA. The next beer on my incredible IPA adventure is Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo, which isn’t just an IPA, it’s an EXTRA IPA. That’s an IPA-plus. What’s extra, I’m not certain, but I’m going to guess it’s hops.

This beer is just plain silly. I love it, but it’s silly. It’s just hops and hops and hops and hops and hops. And it’s great. And I wish that bottle I bought from Beer Ritz wasn’t the last bloody one. Hopefully they’ll get more in soon. I know them good folks at Vertical Drinks are trying to bring more and more American beer over here.

I guess it’s traditional for a beer review to say a little more that ‘OMG I LUV THIS! HOPS! LOL!’, which is kind of what I’ve done so far. So I’ll say some more.

This is a great beer. It’s awesomely hoppy (using whole-cone American hops) and most of the flavour you get in this beer is from the hops. Citrus, grass, pine, pineapple, maybe all hit your nose. And it’s a proper hit on your nose. You can smell it from across the room, nearly (well at least from 10cm away).

And then you drink it, and yep, that bitter piney hop flavour is all over, but, and this is the important bit, it’s well-balanced. There’s other stuff there. A sweet malty, a creamy texture, loads of grapefruit and the spicy bitter aftertaste that I swear I still got a bit of the next morning (despite my industrial flavour mouthwash). Needless to say, it’s a long finish.

By way of a disclaimer, of sorts, I kinda knew I would love this before I even tried it. Sierra Nevada are pretty reliably awesome. I love IPAs, this was, as I think I already mentioned an EXTRA!!!! IPA. What’s not to love. Maybe my preconceptions and hopes swayed me. Or maybe this is just a really great beer.

In conclusion. I love this beer, it’s dead hoppy. Which is what I like. The end.

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Book Review: Pete Brown’s ‘Hops & Glory’

Hops and Glory

Hops and Glory

I’ve been quite a fan of Pete Brown’s writing for sometime. A friend recommended that I buy Man Walks Into A Pub, so I did.  Before I’d finished that, I ordered Three Sheets To The Wind and halfway through that, I decided to go for the hattrick and order Hops & Glory before it sold out. It has now sold out.

Why do I like Brown’s writing? Easy. It’s funny. It’s informative. It’s chatty. It’s witty. He teaches you stuff about beer’s history, about drinking cultures throughout time and across the world, but it’s hardly ever dry, it’s never too tedious in its detail, but also never skims over things at such a pace that you feel you need to learn more to get at what he’s talking about.

Obviously as a beer writer and lover I’m pretty much the target audience of this book, but I believe that it could be appreciated by anyone who enjoys historic or travel books. I’ve never met Pete (although I have spoken to him over the phone before), but you can’t help but feel from his books that he’d be a great man to have a pint with. I bet everyone who reads his books feels the same way. That’s probably part of what he’s going for.

Oh yeah, in a book review you’re meant to say a  bit about what the book’s about, aren’t you? In short, it’s a travel book that sees Pete try to recreate an original IPA, down to the recipe and the journey it takes from Burton to India. It’s also a well-researched history of IPA and the East India Company. It’s also very entertaining, packed with great, well written characters, funny asides. It also makes you want to drink loads of IPAs (hence the recent IPA reviews on this blog, and the pile of bottles in my cellar).

I’d wager at least half the people who read this blog will own and will have read this book.  The other half of you should get it too. Although you’ll have to wait till it comes out in paperback in the summer.

Pete Brown‘s blog is here, and very good it is too.

Another IPA: Brooklyn East India Pale Ale

Brooklyn EIPA

I pinched this photo from the web. I hope that's ok!

Yep, that bloody Pete Brown fella is still making me thirsty for IPA. He’s currently engrossed in trawling through HSC facts and figures about alcohol consumption but I, personally, would like to see a graph showing number of copies of Hops & Glory sold, versus number of pints/bottles of IPA bought.

I know my local bars and ale emporiums will have seen a small spike since I started reading this damn book. It is a great book though and something about the way Brown describe drinks makes me thirsty for them in a way most other writers don’t quite manage. What is it about his writing? I don’t know. But it’s bloody good.

But the problem with such a good writer banging on about IPA, is that it makes it pretty pointless for me to give you some half-arsed, 100 word summary of IPA that’d just be pilfered from his book anyway. So, I’m not going to bang on anymore about the history of IPAs. So there.

So, this Brooklyn East India IPA. It’s brewed by those chaps at Brooklyn Brewery, who make reliably good, and often great beers. Their chocolate stout is a real standout stout, and their basic bogstandard bottled beer is actually anything but basic. It’s a treat.

It’s, unsurprisingly, inspired by the recipe for the beers that George Hodgson brewed to send across the world to India in the 1820s (that’s the history lesson done, kids) and uses British malt.

And this EIPA is pretty good. Yep, pretty good, but it fails to be quite great. Why? Well it kind of falls short of having real pizzaz when compared to other IPAS on the market, like Crown Brewery’s stunning Unpronounceable IPA (read more).

It pours a nice slightly golden bronze colour with a slight white head. The nose takes some real gulping before you get beyond them hops that you’d expect with an IPA then, lurking in the background is a slight caramel maltly sweetness.

Drinking though, it’s odd. First it’s hops and hops and hops, all pepper and spice, but perhaps not as many as you might expect (or want). It certainly does haven’t the attack that some other beers can boast. Underlying that, the sweetness on the nose comes back again, it’s deep and caramel and for some reason recalls a Belgian tripel for me. I think maybe my tongue was having an odd day.

Then, lurking somewhere deep down, I swear I could just get a hint of wood, maybe oak. Am I just making this up because real IPAs of the past will have spent ages in barrels? Quite possibly, perception is a funny old thing.

So what’s lacking? Maybe more hops? Maybe a more complex flavour? Or am I just getting so used to fancy experimental beers (I don’t like the term ‘extreme beers’) that I’m getting all snobby about simpler beers (but then I loved a couple of bottles of Kelham Island beers I had recently, and they weren’t odd in any way).

It’s a solid, tasty beer, but, given the choice between EIPA and some of the other IPAs out there in the big wide world, I’ll probably leave the EIPA on the shelf.

The Alcohol Industry, The Government and Pete Brown

A quick post here. As I’ve plugged before, I did a nice big article for Leeds Guide magazine on how the pub trade is suffering, using the historic market town of Otley, near Leeds, as an example and speaking to, amongst others, Greg Mulholland MP, Pete Brown and CAMRA representatives about the problems. You can read that here:

http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/feature/time-at-the-bar-1/12974

Now, if we’re dissecting the industry and the problems facing it, one can hardly ignore what Pete Brown calls the neo-prohibitionist crew. These are the people who have attentive ears in the government (or indeed are part of the government) who seem to be willfully misrepresenting facts and figures to make alcohol seem a far bigger demon in society that it actually is.

Now, I’m not a man with a head for numbers, and I’m not the kind of journalist who can read, analyse and understand all the stats being dug up. Pete Brown is though, and his blog has made fine reading this last week (provided you’re interested in the topic and can handle the numbers and graphs flying around.

Read it here: http://petebrown.blogspot.com/

IPA Craving: Thornbridge Jaipur

Jaipur on my mantlepiece

Jaipur on my mantlepiece

I recently started reading Pete Brown‘s Hops & Glory, having already read his previous two books. In the opening chapters, his rhapsodising about the glory that is Indian Pale Ale got my taste buds tingly and my thirst hankering for a taste of the oh-so bitter, peppery, citrusy blast of a good strong IPA.

Now, I’m not talking Deuchars (much as I love the stuff) but proper , strong IPAs, with a real alcoholic punch and packed full of gorgeous hops. Who cares that they were designed to be drunk in the intense heat of India, and therefore aren’t quite as warming as a nice thick stout or a rich, fruity barley wine? It might be bloody cold out, but if you’ve got a thirst for something, there’s no avoiding it.

So, I popped down to my cellar and picked out a bottle of Thornbridge’s Jaipur. Now, blogging about Jaipur seems, in some ways, a bit futile. The bloody thing has won loads of awards, has been a favourite at loads of beer festivals and has had countless words writtem about it already.

But then surely we get into this weird, obsessive world of beer blogging to share experiences of our drinking? It’s not there to show off how obscure and interesting our tastes are (or at least it’s not for me). So, then, Jaipur.

It’s bloody good. Obviously. As much fun as it would be to say, ‘it’s so overrated, blah blah’, this beer is just great. The golden pour, the floral, grape-ish nose and, best of all, that taste as you gulp it down. There’s hops and hops and hops. It’s not all overhwelming bitterness though, far from it. It’s sweet and slighty honeyed. The sweet malt flavours battle it out with the hops, creating a great sensation on the tongue.

And then, 10 minutes after your last sip, it’s still there, lurking, a long, long balanced finish. A great beer.

Thornbridge Hall

Thornbridge Hall

On a side note, while we’re here. Thornbridge Brewery must be one of the most pictaresuqe breweries there is, based in the gorgeous Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire. Surely worth a visit for the beer and the views?

Thornbridge Brewery’s website is here (careful, mind, it keeps breaking my browser).

A Trip To Belgium: the Bars and Beers

In Three Sheets To The Wind, Pete Brown decides that the Belgian people are committing some kind of massive practical joke on the rest of the world. Perceived wisdom seems to be that Belgium is a tedious country with nothing to see beyond the wonderful beauty of Bruges (if you haven’t been to Bruges, go. If you can’t afford to go, watch In Bruges, it’s very funny and makes the city look as stunning as it actually is).

This, as Pete Brown attests is very wrong. Not only are Belgian people, almost to a man (or woman) very entertaining, but their cities are fantastic and, most of all, the make the most interesting and diverse beers you can dream off (the legendary beer writer Michael Jackson wrote a great book all about the range and brilliance of Belgian beers).

My affection for Belgium brought me back to the country (via a quick trip to Lille, which is in France, but was once a part of Flanders, which is in Belgium) for the third time and coincided with drinking a fair few fantastic beers.

So, the holiday starts with leaving the Eurostar (a truly great way to travel) and arriving in Lille. This being a beer blog, I’m not going to go into detail about the architecture (partly because I can’t), the historic points of interest or the culture I’ve seen. Rather, I’m going to launch into the beer, bars and occasionally the food (the three are intrinsically linked).

So Lille, we hit a bar called Les Trois Brasseurs. It seems like a lovely little micro-brewery and brasserie (although it turns out it’s actually a small French chain with micro-breweries in most of it bars, but Lille is the original site). We start off with a tasting platter of four of their beers, before I pick out their stout (smokey, malty thick and chocolatey) and my girlfriend goes for the blond (a strong, Belgian style blond ale, crisp, simple and refreshing). We wander the streets, doing some culture and that, getting food, before returning for a 75cl bottle of their speciality beer, La Belle Province, a dark red beer which is refermented with maple syrup. It’s good, but far from stunning. An ample warm up for the treats of Belgium though.

Antwerp Train Station

Antwerp Train Station - not bad, eh?

Lille being very far North in France, and Belgium being tiny, Belgium can be travelled around at very little cost and in very little time, so we start with two nights in Antwerp (0r Antwerpen, if you’re being Flemish). Antwerp is very wealthy. They have the biggest diamond market in Europe, a fair few champagne bars and a thriving fashion scene. It’s a great city for wandering around and gawping, with magnificent squares, some amazing imposing architecture and a giant sculpture of a hand in the middle of the main shopping street (Antwerp means thrown hand, apparently).

That doesn’t mean it’s all swanky, fancy beers here though. We start our Belgian drinking at De Vagant, an old-fashioned style bar that specialises in Jenever (a kind of Belgian gin) but also stocks a good range of beers. Plus, they do hearty portions of soup and bread for a mere €3 and have a lovely old cat milling around. It’s a classic old style bar, long wooden benches, stone tiles, candles and quiet classical music piped across (all the best bars play classical music, it’s probably why drinking here is so placid with no hint of aggression). We have a couple of beers, including a sweet and dark Grimbergen, and De Konnick, a good, but unexceptional pilsner brewed in Antwerp. It’s the local brew of choice, apparently.

It’s actually surprising how many people drink pils here, instead of the richer, stronger abbey-style beers. But then if you spent every night on beers that range between 7% and 12%, your liver would struggle, I guess.

The real highlight, drinking-wise in Antwerp comes in Kulminator that night. A small, crammed smokey bar with strings of sausages flopping around the bar, two cats dancing around the window front, loads of cheese (including aged stuff from the Rochefort and Orval breweries) and shelf-upon-shelf and crate-upon-crate of beer. What’s really noticeable is the ancient, dust-laden bottles on the top shelves. See, while Kulminator do a great range of standard bottles, and some amazing draft beers (we take two very strong, dark, Christmas ales, a Stille Nacht and Bush Noel) and, most interesting of all, lots of very old beer.

The back of the menu is selling beers for beyond €30 a bottle, and it’s because they deal in vintaged bottles of beer. You can, if you ask nicely and have the cash, get 25 year old geuze, or two year old Chimay, or, just about any Belgian beer you can ever want.

An old guild building in Ghent

An old guild building in Ghent

One way to tell an especially strong beer, is a warning at the bottom of the menu that they will only sell you three of said beer. Thus was the case when we visited Ghent and Het Waterhuis Aan De Bierkant. This lovely canal-side bar (Ghent, like Bruge, is full of canals. In fact, Ghent is like a larger, more lived in Bruge. But not quite as beautiful). In this bar, one of their house beers (or Huis Biers – Flemish words often look and sound like English word spoken in a childish tone, thanks lot is “dank u well”), named Klocke Roeland – named after a bell in the city’s Belfry, the middle of three big towers in the city – is rich, strong, slightly red and full of aniseed and banana notes. It’s gorgeous, heavy and kicks in at over 11%.

In retrospect, a beer that strong wasn’t the best thing to drink before going to t’Velootje. Velootje (meaning small bicycle) is, by far, the strangest bar I have ever entered. As you reach the bar there is nothing, other than an Orval plaque, that suggest you are at a bar. The stack of bikes pilled outside the bar, the stiff door that needs a real shove to open, the long curtain than you’re then faced with, then the dim, smokey darkness, don’t scream ‘this is somewhere you would be welcome’.

As your eyes adjust to the gloom, it doesn’t get any easier to get your head round. The ceiling is full, absolutely packed, with hanging, rusting bicycles. The walls carry old beer posters and religious imagery. The tables (two long wooden tables with matching benches either side) have paper and packaging piled around them, alongside a pail holding archaic beer mats (all of them filthy) and religious artifacts and tat. In a corner an old man in shorts and sparkling tights skulks by a fire. A computer sits by him with a cat curled up nearby.

After a few minutes, the tight wearing man comes up to us. “So, you want a beer, he asks?” “Yes”, we reply. That the last option we’re given. He heads off to the back and returns with a beer called Kerst Pater, a 9% sherry-ish Christmas beer, complete with a deep, curranty flavour. We get no glass, and don’t really want to ask.

While we chat with the drunken locals (who work through Duvels and Monty Python quotes at speed), the owner approaches us. “What are your names?” he asks, and we tell him. “The police might arrive, if they do, we are friends, and you are not paying for your beer.” Ok, we nod in agreement and take his name, Leuven, for surety.

Sure enough, the police do arrive (the locals give us a mixed bag of reasons, a trouble neighbour, the open fire, the lack of fire exits and ventilation, the fact it’s an anarchist bar) and stick around for a fair while filling in forms, while we do our best to appear like friends enjoying a few beer in Leuven’s open front room.

Thankfully, the police soon leave, and we ask Leuven for one more beer. He returns with a monster that I know was 12% (my head told me that much the next morning), again with no glass. We drink it willingly, singing along with Leuven’s choice of music (60s psychedelic pop, 50s rock’n’roll, great stuff) as well as some Flemish drinking songs, and, odd enough, Abba’s ‘Thankyou For The Music’.

That’s definitely the last beer of the night. We leave our new friends and head off back to our room. “Will you be open tomorrow?” we ask. “Maybe,” he says. “I might clean”. We somewhat doubt that.

There’s one more city left, our favourite and two more bars to tell you about. Bruges, as I have already mentioned, is magnificent. Beautiful canals, nothing but gorgeous old architecture, grand town houses and old arced bridges. It’s all you could hope it would be, especially if you avoid the two bustling shopping streets and all the tourists.

The bars are good too, if you leave the obvious places and tourist traps. De Garre is, probably, the best. It’s hidden down a narrow alley between two famous old squares. You would barely notice it was there, but after one visit you’d be heading right back. The small, two floor bar is fancy, but not pretentious or too expensive. It’s rustic-feeling, with old wood tables, wonky twisted stairs and a squat bar. It’s table service done with aplomb and the real treat is their own beer Tripel Van Der Garre. A proper, powerful Belgian Tripel that, like the rest of the beers at the bar, comes complete with a small portion of tasty cheese (truly one of the best things about drinking in Belgium).

Dulle Teve in t'Bruges Beertje

Dulle Teve in t'Bruges Beertje

Perhaps the biggest draw for beers lovers though is t’Bruges Beertje (aka The Bruges Bear). You can tell the Bear is a beer-lovers haven because it has a photo of Michael Jackson (the writer) above a mantelpiece, a thick, bound beer menu and loads of people in it all drinking great Belgian beer.

Like Kulminator, there’s plenty of aged stuff here, and loads of Christmas beers too. I go for Straffe Hendrick though, a tripel beer brewed by Halve Moon brewery within the walls of Bruges. It’s actually not as great as I had hoped (having tried and enjoyed the brewery’s blond beer Bruges Zot and its dark sister on a previous visit to Belgium), strong, certainly, but lacking any distinctive flavours. Much better is the Dolle Brewer’s (literally, mad brewers) Dulle Teve (aka Mad Bitch), it packs a massive punch and comes with flavours of tropical fruits and licorice in its golden sheen.

A fellow Brit recognises us from our trip to De Garre and indulges in some serious beer one-up-manship with us. ‘Oh so you like Rodenbach? Have you tried the Gran Cru?’ ‘Yes, yes we have’ and so on. His beery tales and experiences far over shadow ours though, and we give up. His parting shot is to recommend the Christmas beer by Gouden Carolus. When he returns to our table a little later, he’s upset to see we haven’t tried his suggestion. Lucky for us, he vanishes for a moment, and returns with a glass of the stuff, a deliciously thick, malty, treacly beer that’s a perfect Christmas warmer. What a nice chap.

And with that, we bring a close to my commentary on Belgium. This is obviously nowhere near a full account of the holiday. We visited museums, churches and galleries (including an Anime exhibition in an old monastery in Ghent), saw some really famous paintings by the Belgian masters (all of them deeply religious), loads of amazing guild buildings, walked along canals, trod the streets of the city and caught up with a Belgian friend. Oh, and ate a fair bit too (plenty of cheese’n’beer, plus the obligatory soups and, best of all, a beef stew made using Leffe).

If you’ve read this and not visited Belgium before, I hope you might reconsider now.