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Essays and Alcoholisms: Working With The Grain – A Girvan Trip

Enjoying Whisky

Single Grain. It’s a term that has been popping up on the outskirts of my whisky hunting experiences over the past few years. From the first few encounters at whisky shows, to rare special releases, to highly recommended bottlings being pressed into my hands at local pubs – a lot has happened to make me look again at what has oft been considered as the weaker end of the blending mix. A lot that has really shaken up my preconceptions. What I have never had though is that story, the bit of ”Useless Knowledge” that, as Bertrand Russell pointed out, is not useless but in fact an integral part in increasing our enjoyment, in adding context to an experience and making it feel all the more.

All of which is a very circumloquacious way of saying I was recently invited by Anonymous Artists to head up to the Girvan Distillery for a tour, some tastings, and some background on the whole enterprise. Which is also a good a point as any to bring up the full disclosure that they covered cost of transport, accommodation, food, whisky, etc for the trip. As always I will try my best to be unbiased, but feel full disclosure is important as, well, unlike gamergate I actually do believe in ethics in journalism and don’t just use it as a term to harass people with. I also made sure before the trip I could write whatever I wanted, and was given no hassle at all, for which I thank them

So, where to start? I think one thing that captured the two aspects of the trip, and defined them well was a comment from Kevin Abrook (William Grant & Sons’ Global Whisky Specialist) who lead the tastings and much of the experience, a comment I shall paraphrase here. The difference in Single Malt to Single Grain comes down to a perception of craft and romance on the side of the Single Malts, and engineering and science on the side of Single Grain. The idea that the single grain is taking the adaptability and customisation of the column stills and using them to fine tune the spirit to their needs.

However, as I mentioned in the opening, I am a sucker for the useless knowledge, the context and, yes – the romance – which despite that statement turned out not to be absent from the history of the grain. So, if you will indulge me my foibles, it is there I shall start,

A Scientific Romance.

We have a tale, with larger than life characters, Charles Gordon as the first, starting back in 1963. He was getting into a bit of hot water due to promoting and delivering Glenfiddich single malt for export, rather than keeping it as somewhat of an old boys club hidden away in Scotland. This was a less than popular action at the time and does remind me exactly how recent the availability, and thus the public image of primacy of the single malt really is.

Thankfully this was long past the days of the *ahem* disagreements over distilleries getting officially licensed, days where distillery owners were known to, for example, walk around with a pair of loaded pistols for self defence from angry unlicensed distilleries. However, due to this new little disagreement the grain distilleries were threatening to cut off the access to grain spirit needed for the far more successful and profitable blends. So he decided to build his own. In nine months. And managed it. Which is pretty darn impressive. It took Charles Gordon wheeling around everywhere on his bike, bothering the heck out of people, and generally being a nuisance – but it worked.

Now, here traditionally there would be some shots at how that wouldn’t work today, about health and safety gone mad. Etc, etc. However I’m a tad of a lefty, proud supporter of unions and worker rights, and will point out that I’m fairly sure that the much maligned health and safety is one of the reasons why Britain, nigh uniquely, managed to build its Olympic stadium without a workplace fatality.

So, it is the next part that really amused me.

You see Christmas is kind of a big deal for the family, and the first spirit flowed on Christmas day. Charles Gordon walked amongst those workers he has been harassing and pushing the past nine months, buoyed by the joyous emotions that flowed from them. Emotions brought on by the work done, or so he thought. But he noticed that they were all looking up, and the emotions, the happiness was linked to this up looking. Because, you see, they had welded his damn bike that he had harassed them on to the top of a still.

It warms the bitter cockles of my heart that does and is exactly the kind of tale that could come to mind while having a dram, and raising it to their efforts. It’s that kind of background and tale I had never got before from the grain side of production, which has always disappeared between the impression of a mass industrial monolithic imagery. Speaking of that the distillery itself was a bit of an eye opener.

Distillery Days

We’re all whisky geeks here, right? There is a a good chance you have seen a diagram of a column still in one of our many whisky books. There is also a good chance we have seen a malt distillery, and kind of imagine a column still to be around the same size. Turns out I was wrong in that image, this thing is massive. A mass of steal pipes, tanks, walkways and of course the three apps (as the column stills are called) themselves (App 1 being the old original still, app 4 the first of the new multi-pressure distillation/vacuum distillation stills from 1992. App5 being the newest and effectively a more up to date version of app 4. App 3 I believe was fire damaged and app 2 retired).

Looking at the thing I am put in the mind of half way between what you would find on a Necromunda gaming table and in a mid 90’s console cyberpunk platform game level. Ok those last two references may have lent more towards the geek than the whisky but my point stands.

Cyberpunk future

It’s all computer controlled from a gentle and warm coloured office in the midst of the variable weather we encountered over the weekend. However despite the very comprehensive control I still do not envy the task that they had the first weekend app 4 went online. The entire thing was set up in 1992 with the help of Finnish experts, and the first spirit run came out over the weekend, when the Finnish experts were not available and, this being the early 90s, mobile phones were not particularly common. The spirit came out too light. The system is set up so higher temperatures make for heavier spirit – more of the heavier elements can rise, lower temperatures give a lighter spirit as only the lighter elements are caught. The whole vacuum distillation allows for the spirit to be produced at lower temperatures, which lets them aim for a lighter spirit with less of the tainting compounds and sulphur.

Or so is the plan, on that day, with no one to help, it was coming out too light and they basically had to kick an unknowns system around and experiment to try and get the spirit they wanted. I’m a tech geek and what this said to me is they had to experiment on a live system which they weren’t trained in. Or as we call it in the business – brown trousers time. They did it, and got it to the 84 degrees they now use. So did it work, do we have a light, smooth fruity whisky? Well we are getting ahead of ourselves – I’ll be talking about the whisky later, and there will be a bunch of tasting notes during the week to let you know how it all worked out. Well to my mind anyway.

The imagery of the distillery site itself was very different to what I imagined. The heart of it is those Blade Runneresque stills, and the place is busy with wheat packed trucks rolling back and forth, depositing quite remarkable amounts of that wheat out to keep the hungry column stills running. That is however only one part of the near square mile (and expanding) of a site that holds two point one million casks, and mere moments walk from that industrial mass is the equally loud, but far lower tech home to one of the few cooperages adjacent to a distillery. A place where used wine, port, sherry and bourbon barrels are given a new life as they are taken apart and assembled by hand.

Girvan Cooperage

Not far from that are the many silent resting places of barrels of whisky ageing in the dark. Barrels head out from here to many distilleries and return home filled with many different spirits ready to wait out the years before they are bottled, including, interestingly enough the first ever casks of Ailsa Bay – held just out of reach, taunting us. So here were have tradition and technology hand in hand, though it turns out there may be turmoil in the future. Bourbon casks, or in fact many casks, are getting harder and harder to source. Girvan currently mainly relies on first fill American White Oak, but the problem extends to all whiskys. Experiments are in hand to try and find new woods that can be used for ageing, but any which way it may be an interesting future for our beloved spirit.

Before we left the site, one more fact caused a smile to return to my face after those worrying words. Why this site was picked, from two available choices. There was a deal made back in the early days that for thirty years the distillery could be provided with a thousand gallons of water a year for one pence. As a tight Yorkshireman I must say I approve.

The Spirit In The Shell

So, since single grain has been described as “engineering and science”, Girvan’s Master Distiller John Ross gave us a thorough run through of the process. I have reproduced the diagram drawn in photo format below. Congratulations, you are all now experts.

John Ross and the science of Girvan

Ok, you want more don’t you? Drat.

While the columns themselves are an industrial stainless steal, the old distiller favourite – copper, is woven through inside as “Sacrifice” rods that quickly wear away and are replaced, but provide the needed cleansing. The real heart of the process is the still plates, of which there are 20 in the analyser, 40 in the rectifier – allowing the production of a much cleaner and fruitier grain spirit, or so they say.

Due to the efficiency of the process it turns out the spirit at a far higher than normal 94% abv
and goes into oak at 70% rather than 60% for single malt. During the trip we were given a chance to try some of the standard 42.6% make spirit, but also the 94% version. I was encouraged to dip my finger in the stronger spirit and plant it on my tongue. When this did not numb my tongue to expectations I took a few sips of this raw spirit. Which may explain most of my behaviour that night….

Flavour wise? All I’m saying is that there is a reason they bottle at 42.6..whew.

A nice few notes humanise the spirit even here, the site turns out 5 MW of energy, with 4.5 of that going to keeping the distillery running, but 0.5 MW is exported to the grid. Except in some hard winters instead it was used to power the local area and help it through to Spring.

On top of that, despite all the controls, all the engineering – the final test is still a nosing panel, every day, deciding of this batch of spirit will go forwards. There is still some romance lingering as a ghost in the shell.

Away On The Whisky Range.

So, with a humanised, romanticised, expounded upon and laid to rest journey of a spirit, we finally get to what all of us have been waiting for. The spirit itself. Well I say the spirit itself, the actual tasting notes will be coming during the coming week – here is just a few musings on the choices made for the range of single grain whiskies available. Very notable is that the light clean spirit has been combined with American oak as a sole choice. Now, there are apparently sherry barrel aged Girvan expressions, however most are tightly tucked away for the family’s sole use. Though Dave Alcock of Whisky Dramalista pointed out that some, rare, independent bottlings have slipped the net.

This intrigues me – with such light character and such evident oak influence on the whisky, it would be fascinating to see the influence of other woods and finishes on the distinctly different spirit. I can however see why they would not go that way for their initial range. Single Grain still has a lot of work to do in the public eye to gain acceptance, and it is best to push the strong points before trying to add the flourishes..

Which is as a good point as any to consider that range. Again each bottling has its own little bit of humanising history. The make spirit – the uncommon sight of a soon to be whisky in the nude, the non age statement no 4 apps – in slight contrast to its name actually a mix of the new 4 and 5 apps spirit, and a show of the technological force brought to the fray. The 25 Year, a call to history and to the working of old No 1 Apps. Remember what I said about No 1Apps? What, you didn’t realise there was a test? The higher temperate for running means a heavier spirit, soothed by the length of time in the oak. The 30 year, again at its age from No1 Apps, but this from the last years that they used maize instead of wheat. It reminds me of a Glenlivet I tried either end of when the changed from direct to indirect heating – a chance to see the change of character brought on. Finally the cask strength. Which is cask strength. Ok – I kind of ran out of steam on that last one, but I nearly had theme going there.

Girvan Range

What I did forget to ask, and what has intrigued me for a while is – can you do a peated single grain? Peat comes in from drying the malt, and only about 10% of the ingredients is malt, albeit especially potent malt to fuel the fermentation. Would that be enough to add peat notes if tried? Would anyone except a nutcase like me even want to try? With such a fight to establish Single Grain as a worthy rival to Single Malt I doubt we will find out any time soon, as now is not a time when mad experiments such as that are likely to pay off, but if we do see Single Grain rise up and be accepted I would be intrigued to see what experiments come out. For as much as I have enjoyed the spirits I have tried this weekend they are, understandably, keeping to where they are strongest and not shifting wildly in what they express.

Then again, as mentioned before – wood is getting harder to find. Who knows what inventions necessity shall mother?

So, I come away from the weekend with the feeling of Single Grain humanised to my eyes, given context and filled with that not-actually-useless, useless knowledge that adds so much to an experience.

Hopefully I have managed to share some of that with you.

Until next time, enjoy your drink!

Boston Beer Co Samuel Adams Barrel Aged Collection Tetravis

Boston Beer Co: Samuel Adams: Barrel Aged Collection: Tetravis (USA: Quadrupel: 10.2% ABV)

Visual: Cherry red to brown. Thin brown head. Hazy mid body.

Nose: Figs. Raisins. Brandy cream. Tart cherries. Port. Rum fudge. Light sweet crushed nuts.

Body: Very smooth. Warming. Cinnamon sticks. Raisins. Liquorice. Brandy cream. Sherbety touch as it froths up. Fig rolls. Christmas pudding. Brown sugar. Cherries.

Finish: Liquorice. Figs. Malt chocolate drinks and malt loaf. Vanilla. Slight spice. Brandy cream. Nutty notes. Marzipan. Slight Belgian esters.

Conclusion: Quads really deserve a few years on them before they can be correctly judged I feel. When tried young they tend to have a light fizzy feel to them from the carbonation, when what they really need is that thicker, still, stodgy pudding affair that they become after a year or two.

So, I , of course am having this one young. Leave me alone, I can be a hypocrite if I want. Also, I guess I really should judge a beer on it’s base experience before tinkering with ageing. I guess.

Anyway, Belgian style quads! The Christmas pudding of beers, and this is so very much that. Figs, brandy cream, cherries, port, cinnamon sticks – Let’s face it with all this level of Christmas style it is almost demanding you age one up at least until the 25th of Dec for a real winter warmer.

While it does have some of the smoother character I associate with American interpretations of Belgian ales, this has far more than normal of those lovely rough edged gem characteristics and I heartily approve. These are backed up by some dry spice notes that add a rough underline to the sweet figgy body.

As a standard quad this is towards the higher end of the quality spectrum, not the top, but nicely placed. There doesn’t seem to be a vast amount extra from the oak ageing – a slight sickly sweet vanilla note which seems to be the trend of this collection, but little else. A slight disappointment there, but the ale is already high quality as it is. With the spice, dark fruit, brown sugar and malt drink notes it is already packed enough.

On the downsides? Well there is room for a bit more of the Belgian esters and character, and it could do with a bit thicker body and less fizz, which may come with ageing. However overall it is a very good beer. I would still go with the Rocheforts and Westvleterens of this world as a first choice, but that very well defined Christmas character would earn it a place come tail end of the year.

Background: So, I’ve been enjoying the “Barrel Aged Collection”, so I decided to head back to Independent Spirit to see if they had any left. And walked out with this, the barrel aged quad of the group. I really do dig Quadrupels, so was interested to see how this would play out. This was drunk with friends, which at the abv was probably for the best.

Brewdog Hello My Name Is Little Ingrid

Brewdog: Hello My Name Is Little Ingrid (Scotland: Session IPA: 4.4% ABV)

Visual: Browned gold. Moderate off white head. Clear body with some carbonation.

Nose: Musty hops. Tart berries. Loganberry. Toffee and digestives.

Body: Prickly. Turmeric. Some bitterness. Brown bread. Light kiwi. Tart sour berries. Moderate prickly hops and bitterness. Dry. Toasted teacakes.

Finish: Brown bread. Turmeric. Tart gooseberries. Bitter hops. Earthy. Peppery touch. toasted teacakes. Toffee.

Conclusion: There are session IPAs out there I like. Honest. Despite the style’s stupid name there are ones I highly enjoy and would recommend. This is not one of them.

OK, bit of a bad start there. May have put some of you off. Let’s work on this. For all I would not recommend this overall, it does have the base elements down pat. The texture is nicely thick, especially considering the lower abv. They have the bitterness level racked in just right so to give a kick but still leave room so you could drink more. All the workman elements are locked down. However that is it. The part where it should shine is instead where we start hitting issues.

The hops feel slightly earthy, with a distinct lack of the huge amount of fruit that the hop load described should be capable of turning out, the added berries give some tart notes which are pleasant but without a real heft to them. If the hop flavour was up to the job then the berries would back it up well, on its own it can’t do much against the base bitterness.

A much weaker beer than grown up Ingrid, and not just in abv. I think if they want to do this again in the future with other of the “Hello My Name Is” series then they really need to rework the recipe as this is not it. It delivers about the very base of what I would expect from an IPA but little more.

Background: So, I enjoyed Hello My Name Is Ingrid – a cloudberry infused double IPA, when it first came out – and later batches have gone from good to awesome. This is the session IPA take on the idea. Session IPA .. still sounds wrong as a term.. anyway. I think this is intended as a Sweden only release in bottles, but I could be wrong. As you may guess from the fact I am writing this, that is not 100% strict. Anyway, as always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers. Drunk with a bit of Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables in the background. Always up for a bit of old school punk, and it seems to suit Brewdog beers for me.

Huyghe Delirium Deliria

Huyghe: Delirium: Deliria (Belgium: Belgian Strong Ale: 8.5% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellow with a chunk of carbonation and a massive mounded white head that leaves lots of suds and lace.

Nose: Wheaty. Palma violets. Light bitterness. Dried raspberries. Carrot.

Body: Palma violets. Good bitterness. Lemon. Cane sugar and candy floss. Crisp. Light potato character. Carrot and coriander. Vanilla.

Finish: Good bitterness. Vanilla. Celery. Candyfloss. Light potatoes. Coriander. Wheat.

Conclusion: A balanced Delirium beer. Huh, I did not expect to say that, Ever. Seriously – I have a love for Delirium Tremens (How have I never got around to doing a tasting note for that beer?), but they do tend to be a bit mental.

This is closer to a traditional Belgian ale than most of the Delirium range – in fact the influence of wheat like and spice notes makes me think of a bit of a Wit beer, but poured over a heavier Belgian blond style base. Now, like a lot of Delirium beers, it is an energetic wee one. You get a massive head, so take care pouring, but below that it is far less bubblegum styled and more a mix of cane sugars and spice.

As a beer it is nicely balanced (I still feel weird writing that) with good crisp bitterness, light sweetness, good spice and all over a lemon freshness. Yet it has just enough alcohol weight to add a bit of heft to that blond + wit combination I mentioned earlier.

Like many a beer its biggest flaw and its biggest feature are one and the same. It isn’t mental as hell. While I can appreciate the fact that it is solid, smooth and balanced to within an inch of its life I find that without the rough edge gem characteristics I associate with Belgian ales it feels like it is playing slightly safe to me.

Still a very well made beer, and for a lot of you reading this I’m sure you are thinking this is your thing. For me, well Belgium is overflowing with awesome beers, so this kind of gets lost in the shuffle, but that is more on my tastes than it. A technically highly proficient beer that just doesn’t quite catch my imagination.

Background: A variant on Delirium Tremens brewed by a team of women. Well, cool, I’m all for anything that helps break down the oft male dominated brewing scene. I will say though that I did raise an eyebrow at the bottle being pink. Possible the team picked it, in which case cool, their choice. But I did raise an eyebrow. Then again, Delirium Tremens’ colour scheme is pretty pink anyway, so I could just be being a tad over sensitive to cues that aren’t actually there. Anyway, this is the 2013 edition, a limited edition release which I picked up from Independent Spirit. Drunk while listening to Miracle of Sound’s Metal Up. A seriously fun metal album.

Isle Of Arran Blond

Isle Of Arran: Blond (Scotland: Golden Ale: 5% ABV)

Visual: Clear pale gold. Thin white dash of a head that leaves sud traces. No carbonation shown in the body.

Nose: Crisp bitterness. Cream. Lime and lemon. Popcorn. Hops. Raspberry pavolva.

Body: Crisp bitterness. Lemon fresh and zesty. Prickles of hops. Cream. Lime jelly. Toffee touch.

Finish: Lemon. Light bitterness and hop prickle. Cream. Crisp. Peach touch. Malt biscuits. Toffee. Slightly musty.

Conclusion: You know, I don’t think I have had a traditional style blond ale for while. I could be wrong though. I often am. Drinking does horrid things to the memory.

That said, this puts me in mind of that beer I drank many year ago – Summer Lightning – though this has a more forthright bitter character. Despite the increased bitterness it shares a similar ease of drinking and a well done citrus character.

The package is one that I always find to my taste when I find a beer that goes that way and, while it doesn’t quite reach the summer thirst quenching heights of Summer Lightning it is very refreshing. Its problem for me is that the end comes in slightly musty, and the citrus and cream body – while fun – is far from complex. I will say however that for something with such creamy flavours it does manage an impressive dry note for the texture which stops it getting sickly. Overall, between the crisp hop kick and light citrus freshness is doesn’t fail to be pleasing.

A very solid enjoyable blond beer – nowt out of the normal for the style, but a solid take on it.

Background: The second beer from the Arran gift pack my family kindly brought back from Scotland for me. Many thanks. I have tried the blond a few times before over the years but never got around to reviewing until now. This was drunk while listening to the FLCL soundtrack. Because FLCL. I need no other reason.

Beavertown Skull King Double IPA

Beavertown: Skull King Double IPA (England: IIPA: 8.7% ABV)

Visual: Slightly cloudy apricot. Large off white bubbles head. No visible carbonation.

Nose: Pine. Floral. Resin. Grapefruit. Good bitterness. Dried pineapple. Digestives. Dried passion fruit.

Body: Bitter. Kumquat. Passon fruit. Kiwi. New York style cheesecake. Quite dry. Some fruit sugars. Frothy mouthfeel.

Finish: Kiwi. Bitterness. Grapes. Hop oils. Bready. Slight gritty touch.

Conclusion: Oh, hello, another very dry IIPA, following quickly on the heels of Restorative beverage for invalids and convalescents. Is this starting a trend? I can but hope. This one really keeps to a low level of sweetness for an IIPA, there are some fruit sugars but I didn’t get any of the expected big toffee or similar backbone. Interesting.

This does provide something a bit different – from the understated, more floral and pine nose, to the dry and solid dry fruit body, to the bready hop oil finish. This shows a side to IIPAs less used, the lack of sweetness also means that it needs a less intense bitterness against that backbone to create a much larger impression on the mouth due to the lack of contrast.

This feels closer to the more traditional IIPA style than the sweeter IIPA tradition, despite its higher abv. It reminds me a bit of Pliny The Elder in that regard.

Overall it takes everything and delivers it a more restrained way. Still intense, but there is a muted edge to the flavours, a grounded feel – everything dry or drying.

I like what it is doing, and if I hadn’t had “Restorative beverage…” first I would probably be even more impressed. As is, I prefer Restorative as it just nails it better. Still, this is the more different beer and I like that it keeps away from expectations. This really doesn’t follow the trend of the style and I respect it for that.

Background: Grabbed from one of the few available at Independent Spirit! thanks guys! This is the first ever canned double IPA in the UK, or so I am told. Beavertown have been solid so far, and I need to get around to reviewing their neck oil session IPA. Also my friend lives near their brewery and keeps taunting me with the fact he regularly gets to try their beers. Anyway, they have made the can a bit more textured here, which combined with the cool image on it gives a great first impression. Drunk while listening to some Anthrax – Worship Music. A big beer deserves some big music.

Brewdog Abstrakt AB 18

Brewdog: Abstrakt: AB 18 (Scotland: American Strong Ale: 11.8% ABV)

Visual: Black. Thin browned head that doesn’t last long apart from some few islands. Still main body.

Nose: Thick. Shortbread. Vanilla. Black liquorice. Blueberry pie. Salted toffee. Toasted crumpets and toasted teacakes.

Body: Liquorice. Salted toffee. Blended whisky. Lightly oaken. Low level bitterness. Sour berry touch. Light earthy note. Malt chocolate. Red wine. Crumpets. Blackberry and blueberry.

Finish: Gooseberry. Liquorice. Salted toffee. Slight dry dustiness. Malt drinks. Alcohol air. Spiced red wine.

Conclusion: I do like an interesting brown ale. They are hard to find though, and probably even harder to make. This makes an interesting beer definitely, unfortunately pretty much everything that makes it a brown ale is lost in the process. It makes for a fun beer, but it doesn’t manage the far harder task of making an exceptional brown ale.

There are hints of malt chocolate drinks, but it is basically just a base – there are some good uses of liquorice as well, which is normally a hard sell for me but works here. I think it could be because of the tartness and spicy red wine notes, which means that the liquorice comes in as a dry back. However that is about it from the brown ale, there are no interesting takes on the base style. This means that the beer is going to live or die on its use of the special ingredients.

So, the special element – well you get touches of spicy red wine accentuated by tart berry characteristics There is quite the alcohol air to it, which actually helps here for once – giving a drying contrast to the tart fruit.

However, in the end it is a bunch of additions with no real base to add to – fun, oh yes fun, but when you get down to any beer…. Ok that would be a lie, many beers can be made competent with barrel ageing, berries and the like – but if they have nothing to build on then they aren’t really taking advantage of the opportunities brewing gives.

That doesn’t make it bad, it does make it spirity, spicy and berry filled but not in any way balanced or well integrated. A bit of a missed opportunity, but not a bad experience.

Background: Ok, Brewdog call this an Imperial Brown Ale (Specifically barrel aged with berries)- however as I mentioned in the notes I didn’t get much of the brown ale style, so I am happy to go with rate beer’s description of American Strong Ale. Broken open the day after the election results, as, yes, I was still miffed. As a result this was drunk while listening to some Against Me! Black Crosses. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers.

Saint-Germain Nøgne Ø Rhub’IPA

Saint-Germain: Nøgne Ø: Rhub’IPA (France: IPA: 6.9% ABV)

Visual: Clear at first glance, but if held up light then the light reflects off light sediment within. Large white crisp bubbled head. Some carbonation.

Nose: Floral. Dry lemon. Light crisp bitterness. Lightly wheaty. Pineapple.

Body: Light tartness and bitterness mix. Subtle rhubarb that rises as time goes on. Pineapple. Slight granite edged base. Sweet peach syrup taste and texture.

Finish: Sugared rhubarb pie. Moderate bitter hops. Grapefruit touch. Dry unleavened bread. Lemon. Dried apricot and peach.

Conclusion: I have always been a sucker for a good stick of rhubarb, all the way back to my young ‘un days. My love of IPAs, well that came later – but it is still a long time allegiance.


Rhubarb IPA anyone?

Well, it does have rhubarb and IPA – the tartness of the rhubarb working better with the hops here than the similar concept grapefruit IPA “You taste better when you are scared“. Here the rhubarb is a subtle but definite presence, and the bitterness also has a solid but not excessive kick. Even better, either from the hops, or from the mixing of the different elements, there seems to be a nice range of tart flavours – grapefruit and pineapple standing out, with some small fruit sugar sweetness behind. It isn’t the most efficient melding of flavours, but considering there is little out there like this for comparison, it works the rough edged bits well.

Now, under that, the base ale doesn’t work quite as well – there is a dry, kind of unleavened bread character- it isn’t too heavy mid body but works its way out into the finish where it doesn’t quite work. Maybe this was needed as a base for the other elements to work, but it feels out of place here and unnecessarily rough – it draws attention away from the better front elements.

Now it doesn’t ruin the beer – and the peach syrup sweetness does help keep it at bay for some of the time, but it is a flaw, and a consequence that can come with doing something a bit unusual. So, yeah, it is an element that reduces this to just a fun odd beer rather than a high quality one. Don’t get me wrong, I am charmed by this and its tart to hop balance but on the technical scale it is far from a perfect 6.0.

Still, have fun with it – sometimes you don’t need perfection and a good old try will take you far enough.

Background: A brewery from France I had only run into as part of a Welsh collaboration beer, oh and Nøgne Ø. So a blend of new and exciting and old reliable. A good balance. I grabbed this from Independent Spirit as the idea of an IPA made with rhubarb juice intrigued me – I love rhubarb. I drank it election day as I saw the result predictions as by that point I needed a brew to commiserate. Ah well. Drunk while listening to the Gunflower’s New EP, and Miracle Of Sound’s Metal Up. Both punk and metal awesomeness. Oh, also I love the little swing tops that the use for the bottle. They are so darn neat.

Brewdog IPA Is Dead Chinook

Brewdog: IPA Is Dead: Chinook (Scotland: IPA: 7.2% ABV)

Visual: Clear yellow gold. Some carbonation. Half inch of yellowed froth.

Nose: Good hop oils and resin. Crisp hops. Kiwi. Lime jelly. Moderate bitterness. Toffee. Slightly musty.

Body: Good bitterness. Smooth texture. Slight woodiness – pine needles. Creamy texture. Moss. Light dried apricot. Kiwi.

Finish: Bitterness and prickly hops. Grassy and slight earthy notes. Moss. Light apricot.

Conclusion: Of all the American hops I have run into, this seems to be the most “No nonsense”, and also the hop that most overwhelms the malt base.

About ninety percent of the beer seems to be just a clean kick of hops – resin, oils, bitterness, this mossy feeling of hop greenery. You know, hops. Good bitterness and really feels at the organic and greenery end of the spectrum.

Now, digression time. Yes I know that is unusual for me. This does however remind me of a discussion I had with a coaster enthusiast from America. He mentioned how he preferred British beers as (and I am paraphrasing as it was a while back) all American beer taste of apricot and peach. Now I think he is being a tad harsh on American beers, but it comes to mind as here, behind all that hop greenery is .. yes … some dried apricot notes. Maybe he was on to something.

Digression on a digression. I still owe that guy massively for helping out when my mate ended up in hospital. If you read this – seriously many thanks – you rock!

Digression over. As a single hop beer this is kind of single minded. Very much an assault of the rawer characteristics, but even as that I enjoy it. The intensity from the hops means that the traditional, drier, take of this years IPA Is Dead base is night unnoticeable.

As a hop it provides a backbone to other, more subtle and bright, hops. As a beer in itself it is impressive in energy and assault if not range. A good end to this year’s set.

Background: Last of the 2015 run on Brewdog’s single hop series. This one a USA hop. This year’s run has been pretty good, second only to the original run in my eyes for overall quality. Drunk while listening to Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell album. Because .. erm, both USA? Yeah, I’m sure that works. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers.

Wild Beer Co Zintuki

Wild Beer Co: Zintuki (England: Sour Beer: 7.3% ABV)

Visual: Hazy lemon juice. Large white bubbled head. Good amount of carbonation.

Nose: Clean hops. Sugar dusting. Lightly wheaty. Raspberry pavlova. Smooth lemon. Slightly bready.

Body: Tart. Sharp apples. Moderate bitterness. Sour grapes. Rustic back and texture. Spritzer. Lightly peppery.

Finish: Dried apricot. Oily fish skin touch, barley. Some bitterness and clean hop character.

Conclusion: Ninkasi is one of my favourite beers – it is just mind blowing, and changes what you think can be done with beer – Thankfully here that saison and almost wine like character from Ninkasi survives intact, but here merged to make a more sour and tart beer. So, this then Ninkasi and something else – that must be even better right? That’s what “and” means, right? More.

Well no, but it is pretty cool. So far I’ve basically just described a blend of Ninkasi and Wild Goose Chase – because, well, that is what the beer is. What more do you want from me?

Well, ok it does have some quirks of its own – probably resulting from the unexpected reactions from blending the two. There is a slight fish meat and fish oil character near the end, and a slight pepper with it. That sounds bad? Actually it isn’t here – it is a savoury touch in an otherwise sour and fresh beer, something that gives a call to the more rustic saison notes and gives a more mellow feel under the tartness.

I’ve not seen that element in either of the base beers, so I guess it must come from the interactions of the two – the taste buds reacting to the contrast. very interesting. You know, for science. It feels almost like the beer is providing its own food notes to complement itself.

So we have a blend of a great beer, a good beer, and a few of its own quirks. Some of the elements I love in Njnkasi have been lost in the meanwhile – it isn’t as big or rounded as that beer, though make no mistake – that beer’s character rules the roost – but in the end you get a beer that can stand up on it’s two beer legs.

Very nice.

Background: Zintuki, half Wild Goose Chase, half Ninkasi. Well maybe not half – I didn’t check the exact proportions. Anyway, I loved Ninkasi, and liked Wild Goose Chase – and I’m a big fan of Wild Beer Co. I can’t think of anyone in the UK who is doing more to use and experiment with the sour beer scene. Anyway, so yep, big hope of joy going into this – this was picked up from my Wild Beer addiction supplier – Independent Spirit.


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