Fundamentals #28 — Anspach & Hobday & Hawkes The Sour Graff

I’m enjoying watching the gentle loll of the modern cider revolution as it gracefully strides into view of beer lovers. Cider is unquestionably having a bit of a moment of late, and it feels like we’re at the foot of a much bigger mound when it comes to what many consider to be beers sister-beverage. For me, cider is far closer to wine, especially orchard-based, low intervention cider - pulling fruit from local orchards, and allowing it to ferment naturally as it matures into a finished product. In fact I personally feel that much of modern cider forms the perfect bridge between beer and wine.

We’ve got some work to do before cider can get to a point where it’s fussed over like so much modern beer though. One producer attempting this is Hawkes, based on Bermondsey’s Druid Street, amidst the largest feast of brewers within the capital. The fact that the cider maker is now owned by BrewDog might give you some inkling on how close to the beer drinkers table cider is at the moment - and of the cider maker's sizable ambition.

The Sour Graff is a hybrid beverage produced with Hawkes’ Druid Street neighbours Anspach & Hobday. The base beer is a Berliner Weisse, which then sees the addition of Dabinett apple juice prior to fermentation. What I particularly enjoy about this is the seeing the apple varietal get a namecheck, front and centre. In a world where hops are such a strong hook for beer enthusiasts, dangling a carrot… err, apple, like this lends the beer drinker the next rung to swing from.

I was also pleased to find such an approachable beer beneath the cap. Fans of sours will be immediately drawn to its sharp, tart quality. The apple flavour is sweet and fizzy, like a mouthful of sour-apple pop rocks, but the dry finish smoothes this out. If you can overcome the initial sharpness of how sour this beer/cider hybrid is, then you’ll find a beverage that is simple and eminently drinkable - perfect for long summer days.

Behind all of the fun this drink provides, however, is just the faintest hint of farmyard funk. Not enough to challenge, but - for those that find it - enough to perhaps pique an interest in the wider world of cider. In this respect, The Sour Graff is a great introduction to cider for those who have not yet decided if they like it or not.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. If you're quick, you'll be able to find a last bottle of The Sour Graff in store or online.

Fundamentals #27 — Fuerst Wiacek A Quick One IPA

Citra and Mosaic are my homeboys, I like hanging out with them often. I also enjoy it when they’re accompanied by pals like El Dorado, Amarillo, Nelson Sauvin and even Simcoe (although the latter sometimes feels like he may be trying a little too hard to roll with the cool kids these days). They are fundamental to the modern, hoppy, hazy pales I have spent much of my recent time obsessing over.

There’s an argument that a lot these modern beers, with their juice dialled up and the bitterness muted, are very similar in character. On the surface that much is true. But the more I delve into them, the more subtle variances I detect between them. That might be something as simple as a beer's mouthfeel, or how that beer’s specific yeast has added its own character - for better or worse.

Drinking a modern beer hopped with Citra and Mosaic can be as exciting for me as it can be refreshing, because I can still be surprised by how the flavours in that beer present themselves - be they through citrus or tropical fruits, through peach and apricot driven esters or through heady, dank, onion, pine and wild garlic. Yes I like that too.

Fuerst Wiacek - a brewery based out of Berlin, Germany, but currently with no production facility of its own - is a new one to me. The brewery describes its beers as modern and balanced and my first impression of its New England style IPA A Quick One would indicate that this statement holds true.

That depends of course on your definition of balance. If a beer with a fruit basket of tropical notes from papaya to mango to lychee that’s wrapped up in a soft, yet featherlight body with a delicate, dry yet ever-so-slightly bitter finish is your idea of balance, then this beer will almost certainly be right up your avenue.

This is an excellent modern IPA, and an exemplary use of my good friends Citra and Mosaic. I look forward to spending some more time with them should they show up in a Fuerst Wiacek beer once more.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up A Quick One in store or online.

Fundamentals #26 — North Brewing Co. Transmission IPA

One of my favourite historic pieces of music television is the clip of Joy Division performing Transmission on BBC2’s Something Else back in 1979. The performance is bookended by an interview with the band’s then manager, Tony Wilson, alongside drummer Stephen Morris. In the clip, Wilson laments how the Manchester-based band’s track doesn’t have a universal appeal, due to it being “unsettling… slightly sinister and gothic”, despite its “hypnotic melody”.

For many beer drinkers, modern beer – in particular the opaquely hazy and enticingly juicy IPAs that have shot to fame over the previous 24 months – may hold similarly unsettling qualities. Who knows what terrors may lie within a beer that will not drop bright?

By rights, with enticing, accessible juicy fruit flavours and little to no bitterness, the modern hazy IPA has all the qualities that should hold universal appeal to all beer drinkers. But the nonconformity of the style gives it that unsettling character, because it doesn’t look like what we’re told beer is supposed to look like. New England IPA is the Joy Division of modern beer, and a keen sign that we’re in the post-punk – or dare I say the post-craft – beer era.

Transmission is also the name of a hazy IPA from Leeds based North Brewing Co. The brewery’s founders Christian Townsley and John Gyngell made their name in the Yorkshire city as the founders of North Bar, which is sometimes referred to as the first craft beer bar in the UK.

North Bar has been a trendmaker and bastion within the Leeds scene since its founding in July 1997. Then, in 2015, Townsley and Gyngell decided to take the next step and launch their brewery under the same moniker. In recent months the brewery has really hit its stride and is producing some stellar beer.

Transmission is an IPA that follows the modern trend of being hazy and juicy. Flavours of mango interweave between sheets of candy sugar, which are all tied together with a subtle dry and bitter snap in the finish, something that should satisfy even the most hardened of purists. Although its appearance and flavour may be unsettling and slightly sinister to those accustomed to the traditional, its accessibility will no doubt welcome an equally high volume of people to the genre.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. We love Transmission so much that it's now a core beer at HB&B. Pick up a can in store or online.

Fundamentals #25 — Cloudwater DIPA V3 2018 & V3.1

Time can be good for IPAs. I’m not talking about cellaring your freshest beers and letting them fade away like a forgotten 90’s pop star - this is not how you make good barleywine. I’m talking about what a brewery can learn once it has had time to experiment and glean a little maturity. With experience and a combination of technological and creative know-how comes great beer. With the re-release of its V3 Double IPA and coincidental launch of an up-to-date V3.1, Manchester’s Cloudwater has done just that.

I remember when I went to the London launch of Cloudwater beers back in 2015, but I don’t remember the pales and IPAs I drank that day. Instead I remember a tasty bergamot hopfenweisse along with some soft and luxurious low-strength beers served from cask. But as pleasant as these beers were at the time, they were not to be a marker of this breweries bright future. Its foray into intensely hopped beers, inspired by the brightest starlets of the American scene such as The Veil, Treehouse and Trillium, would eventually fulfil that role.

Cloudwater’s evolving DIPA series would catapult the brewery into the light fantastic, seeing it claim accolades on both sides of the pond. And yet, none of the 13 beers in this range would showcase potent hop characteristics in the same way as the trend-breaking beers that would follow. Sure, it proved to be a worthy experiment. It helped the brewery figure out what its equipment was capable of, and what its fans wanted more of. But these beers are now a world away from the weekly-released DDH treats we’ve come to expect. So when I see folks pine for these one-off experiments, I find myself asking why that is.

This fresh release of V3 is an interesting experience, but for me this beer doesn’t represent where this brewery is at in 2018. It has that characteristic softness that is so strongly representative of what a Cloudwater beer is to me, along with flavours of ripe melon and a little honey. However the back end of V3 is one of cloying sweetness and some hot alcohol—not the bright burst of hop intensity I’ve come to expect.

V3.1 contains three times the dry hop addition as the revivified edition of V3. You could call it triple dry hopped with its 24 grams per litre to the meagre 8 grams in the older recipe. But this is the kind of beer we have now become accustomed to from Cloudwater. It’s not TDH, its perfectly normal. The newer recipe is far hazier than the previous one, but the aroma and flavour is also dramatically more intense. While its appearance is cloudy, soft, tropical notes of papaya and lychee provide the brightness, with the intensity turned up to its maximum.

This is the kind of beer I want from Cloudwater, a beer that demonstrates maturity and nuance in the same beat as it does vibrancy and intensity. I hope those nostalgic for the older version got what they wanted out of this release, but as far as I’m concerned I hope Cloudwater keep learning, keep evolving, and keep developing these righteously juicy beers.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up both V3 cans while you still, erm, can, in store or online.

Fundamentals #24 — Pressure Drop x Lost & Grounded How We Roll Belgian Chocolate Stout

Every few months I try to slow down a little and take stock of where the beer industry is right now, and how far it’s come in the past few years. Its booming evolution still shows no sign of slowing down. And just thinking about this point alone can be exhausting - especially when, like me, you’re embroiled in the whirlwind that is Beer Twitter™. However, when you put your phone down, and open a bottle of beer from one of the UK’s finest small breweries, suddenly that whirlwind stops spinning and the beer world seems to slow down - for a while at least.

Over the past year or two, I’ve noticed how far the overall quality of British beer has improved, especially from breweries which emerged within the last few years. Modern breweries are learning to invest in process, equipment, sensory training and quality control to ensure the beer in your glass is tasting better than ever before. At more than 2,000, the UK now has more breweries than anywhere else in the world bar our friends in the United States, who boast more than 6,000.

Numbers alone don’t make up a great beer culture though. In order for the UK to continue to stand up and be counted as one of the world’s most important brewing nations, quality needs to keep improving, which from what I can see is happening all around us.

Two breweries leading the charge in this respect are Bristol’s Lost and Grounded and North London’s Pressure Drop. The former launched in summer 2016, boasting an impressive German-made brewhouse that allowed the brewery exacting control over the beers it produces, be it a modern IPA or German-inspired Pilsner. The latter started its journey in Hackney in 2012, eventually expanding to its current Tottenham home in 2017. Each makes excellent beers in their own right, so you know that any collaboration between them will likely tickle your fancy.

How We Roll - a Belgian Chocolate Stout - certainly tickled mine. The beer’s relative Belgian-ness is very understated, only really evident via its voracious carbonation and exceedingly dry finish, both of which seemingly serve to enhance both the beer's chocolate flavour and its overall drinkability. This beer also skillfully avoids being too astringent, dialling the roasted quality of the stout back to let the milk chocolate flavour really shine.

How We Roll is one of those beers that comes along once in a while that I expect to be good, but is so good that it almost takes me by surprise. It shouldn’t though - instead, like many beers, it should stand up as an example of how high the quality of many brewers’ output in the UK has become. Here’s to enjoying many more beers like this one.

Fundamentals #23 — Black Iris Let The Juice Loose NEIPA

People say you can have too much of a good thing. That less is, in fact, more. Undoubtedly, there are many walks of life where this is true. Say for example if you spend less time working on that Excel spreadsheet or playing badminton, then you can spend more time down the pub, enjoying great beer. Or perhaps in the construction of a great pilsner, where the subtlety of pale malt playfully mingles with the nuance of noble hops, leading to a finished product that is perhaps greater than the sum of its parts.

Life would be boring if all we did was drink pilsner though, and badminton is a really fun way to get some exercise. When it comes to IPA, or at least IPA as we known it in the context of modern beer, you can’t have too much of a good thing. For IPA, more is more. That’s why it’s been the driving force of modern beer ever since folks like San Francisco’s Liberty Brewing decided to brew a rambunctiously bitter beer called Liberty Ale way back in 1975.

IPA is the carte blanche that brewers have used to define themselves, and in turn the industry they operate in, since the year dot. It can be bitter, it can be juicy, it can be sweet, it can be savoury, it can be dank as all hell. It can even be dark, (unless you are a Cascadian Dark Ale purist, hello to you). We can safely say that IPA as we know it now is fundamental to how we experience and enjoy beer in the modern age.

Let the Juice Loose is a New England style IPA from Nottingham’s Black Iris Brewery. Looking at how many of us enjoy our IPA in the modern beer age, this is a fantastic expression. Pouring distinctly hazy to the point of being (quite satisfyingly) turbid, your senses will almost immediately be piqued with aromas of mango, papaya and kumquat. Let the Juice Loose continues to purvey its tropical dance party of flavour when it hits your palate, with those fruit notes leading to a finish which is part dry, and part lingering stone fruit, as a hint of yeast esters give you the nod it’s time for another sip.

The hazy, juicy, New England IPA won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a fantastic gateway to those new to the style that may have previously been put off by lots of bitterness. Personally, I find that when this style is done well, it’s the kind of beer I want to drink all of the time. Except for those times I want a pilsner. Because sometimes less is more and sometimes more is more. Just like brewing, in fact.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up one of the last cans of Let The Juice Loose while you still can, in store or online.

Fundamentals #22 – Brick Brewery Kerala Stout

I love a good curry. The way the blend of spices mingle with the char of meat cooked in a Tandoori oven makes it one of my all time favourite dishes. These same ingredients in a beer? Not so much. At least that’s what I thought until I tried Kerala Stout, from Peckham’s Brick Brewery.

Brick has always been one of those London breweries that has so often flown under my radar. This might be something to do with me being a staunch North Londoner, seldom coming out of my quiet slice of urban suburbia, especially to venture south of the river (except to see my good pals at Hop Burns & Black of course). More’s the pity though, as South London has so much to offer. Not least pubs like Stormbird, The Old Nun’s Head and not forgetting Brick Brewery’s own taproom under the arches at Peckham Rye station. As a beer enthusiast you deserve giving yourself a chance to break habit once in a while, so do yourself a favour and head south once in a while.

Back to Kerala Stout then, which infuses a typically dry, dark and roasted stout with a mélange of spices and flavourings. These include cumin, cardamom, curry leaves, chillies and cinnamon. That level of spicing may sound a little overwhelming – but just like in a great curry the brewers at Brick have found a way to get these spices working together in harmony.

These flavours were a little muted when I first sipped at the beer, having just pulled the can from the fridge. Once the beer had been given a few minutes in the glass to warm, however, it really opened up. Notes of cumin and cardamom come to the fore, mingling with the cinnamon and sweetness from the darker malts to find balance, even adding a touch of what tastes like toasted coconut to the palate. At the finish is a gloriously satisfying touch of chilli burn – just the right amount so as not to overwhelm the beer.

This beer is great on its own but perhaps unsurprisingly, it really comes alive when paired with a similarly spiced dish. This is definitely a beer worth heading to South London for – don’t forget to pick up a curry while you’re there.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up some Brick Kerala Stout while you still can in store or online.

Fundamentals #21 – Siren Craft Brew Old Fashioned Barleywine

Bourbon truly is a wonderful thing. The legal guidelines a spirit must follow in order to be classed as bourbon are also incredibly strict – as should be the case in the creation of such a venerable beverage. It must be produced within the United States from a grain bill that consists of at least 51% corn. It must be aged in first use, charred oak barrels and it must be distilled to no higher than 80% alcohol, entering the barrel itself at no more than 62.5% alcohol.

As with all whisky – whiskey to our Irish and American friends – the finished product must be at least 40% alcohol by volume. However unlike other whiskies, which must be aged for at least three years and a day to earn that title, bourbon does not need to be aged for any specific length of time to earn its name. Some bourbons on the market can spend as little as three months in barrel, although anything which calls itself “straight” bourbon will have been aged for at least two years.

Like whiskey, bourbon also has a lot in common with beer. Before being distilled, the base liquid is brewed, and malted grains such as wheat, rye and barley augment the remainder of the recipe. This shared ancestry may be why, in part, why many beers fare incredibly well if they are aged in ex-bourbon casks. Enter Old Fashioned, a barleywine from the wizards at Berkshire’s Siren Craft Brewery, which aims to emulate the classic, bourbon-based cocktail.

Sweet notes of vanilla and toasted coconut are immediately apparent on the nose, as the viscous liquid snakes its way into your glass – a wide brimmed brandy-style snifter or a Teku being ideal for this particular style of beer. To taste the beer is very sweet, with flavours of barley sugar and more vanilla present from the outset. This ever-present sweetness is balanced by deep, warming notes of alcohol, with the essence of the bourbon notes imbued into this beer by the barrels it inhabited for 12 months, softening and rounding out the finished product.

If I had to ask one thing of this homage to the Old Fashioned, it would be a whisper more of the promised orange peel. Some extra citrus would really lift this beer to the next level. Despite this, it’s still a stellar effort from the Berkshire brewery. This is a beer to enjoy now, before the days begin to get longer and warmer at the end of the month. Or simply hang on to it until it starts to get colder again, and see what a bit of age might do to this beer.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Treat yourself to a bottle of Siren Old Fashioned in store or online while stocks last.

Fundamentals #20 – Small Beer

I like alcohol. Or, more pertinently I like the way it makes all the complexities in beer imbued by malt, hops, yeast, water and whatever else interact with my taste buds. The weight with which it presses flavour onto my palate is fundamental to my beer experience. This is why most of my favourite beers are IPAs in the 7% ABV range. This is my wheelhouse in which I will forever turn.

I also like the way alcohol makes me feel – it’s kind of taboo to say such a thing in beer writing, which is a shame. But this is how things are. Of course, I recommend drinking in moderation and always within your limits. But I also think it’s nice to occasionally get a three-pint buzz on. Responsibly. Always responsibly.

Of course, not everyone enjoys getting a light buzz on and there are situations where a lower alcohol alternative might be preferable for example a working lunch, or a prospective evening of operating heavy machinery. People are also being a great deal more mindful regarding their alcohol intake these days.

As a result, we’re witnessing an increase in the number of low or alcohol-free beer alternatives hit the market. Amongst these are breweries that are concentrating solely on producing lower alcohol alternatives.

The problem, however, with most no or low alcohol beers, is that they’re a bit shit. Too often I find them to be thin, insipid and lifeless interpretations of proper beer, which is why today’s beers from new London outfit Small Beer – based in London’s beating beer heart of Bermondsey – took me somewhat by surprise.

The Lager, at 2.1% poured with a tantalisingly pleasing amount of foam, giving way to snappy hop and bready malt aromas. Sure, it wasn’t quite as meaty on the palate as a pilsner at 5%, but the flavour was there and I could’ve certainly done with another bottle considering the speed at which I inhaled it. Next up was the Dark Lager at just 1%, which impressed me just as much. Plenty of robust chocolate and roasted coffee notes shored up the lack of body, making for another surprisingly satisfying beer.

I may not personally be quite converted to the trend for lower or zero alcohol beers just yet, but these impressed and I’d certainly recommend them if you’re looking for lower alcohol alternatives.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up some Small Beer in store or online.

Fundamentals #19 – Burnt Mill Ties That Bine DIPA

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have been drinking a generous share of Burnt Mill’s excellent beers lately.

At only nine months old Burnt Mill has already become one of the UK’s most talked about breweries and with good reason – it’s come out of the gate with a selection of well defined, hop forward offerings, as well as a cracking imperial stout and a mouth puckering pineapple gose. It should come as no surprise, then, that it was named as the best new English brewery  in the annual RateBeer awards last month.

Burnt Mill’s rapid rise to prominence represents a couple of important shifts in the brewing industry as I see it. First it shows that craft beers early adopters – the enthusiasts – still constantly crave the new. This can be frustrating when all you crave in beer is consistency and familiarity, but finding a balance between this and the hype is the catalyst, creating the energy that keeps beer ticking along. You might say it’s fundamental to the continued development of a maturing industry.

The other shift is that the rapid rise in popularity of breweries like Burnt Mill, along with luminaries including Verdant and DEYA, demonstrates the importance of producing quality beer from day one.

With more than 2,000 breweries in the UK market, there is no longer room for excuses (not that there ever was, brewers). There is no longer time to muddle around for a year or more getting things right. The consumer has moved too far to tolerate the below-average. It’s a market that demands the excellent and the exceptional, all of the time – reasons I think why Burnt Mill has thrived, thus far (hey, no pressure folks.)

This brings me to the Suffolk brewery’s first Double IPA, Ties That Bine, a gratuitously hopped beer produced in collaboration with hop supplier Simply Hops and yeast supplier Lallemand. The deeply golden beer reeks of sticky marmalade and freshly zested orange with plenty of melon, peach and apricot joining these aromas. It’s thick and resinous on the palate, with all those hop oils, residual sugars and plenty of weighty alcohol pressing waves of citrus and stone fruit onto your tongue.

On its surface is a West Coast IPA that could stand toe to toe with some of San Diego’s best. But there’s a little more to it than that, with Lallemand’s New England yeast strain adding stone fruit complexity to the mix. It’s a beer that’s as easy to throw back carelessly as it is to sit and muse over into the small hours. However you choose to enjoy it though, it’s likely your experience will be anything less than an immensely positive one.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a can of Burnt Mill Ties That Bine DIPA while you can.

Fundamentals #18 – Amundsen Bryggeri Dessert In A Can Pecan & Maple Pie Imperial Stout

“Check out the discus of my meniscus.” That’s what I’d probably say if I posted a picture of this beer to Instagram. That’s what all the kids are saying these days, right?

I’ll freely admit the pastry stout phenomenon has passed me by. Call me old fashioned but my favourite beers are, in general, ones that taste like beer – like malt, hops, yeast and water. I enjoy it when brewers experiment with ingredients such as fruit, spices or coffee. But I often struggle with beers that taste more like pudding (hence the term “pastry stout” for those who might not have come across it before) than they do beer. I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth, though.

What I admire about this beer is that it makes no bones about what it is. It’s literally called “Dessert In A Can”. The label notes ask why would you bother going to the length of pairing a beer with dessert when you can simply drink a beer that tastes like it. Basically, Amundsen is saying this is the beer equivalent to Head & Shoulders. Why take two into the shower? Etc.

While this beer wasn’t really my thing, I found myself discovering a soft spot for it as I enjoyed it late one Sunday evening. That might have had something to do with the face-warmingly large 11.5% ABV, undetectable behind the layers and layers of sweetness that this beer possesses. It pours like oil into the glass, rising to the rim and providing a perfect, oubliette dark silhouette in the glass. Ideal for sharing with your friends on your preferred social media platform.

Dessert In A Can’s aroma is a little like a fresh-out-the-oven crème brulée. To taste, it’s a little like drinking a homemade blend of condensed milk, maple syrup and treacle, with the sticky body coating your palate just like the aforementioned would. It’s a beer that makes no bones about what it is though, and the sweet of tooth would surely demolish a beer like this. For me, a chaser of bourbon provided the cut of alcohol I felt it needed to machete its way through all that cloying sugar, however.

It’s definitely a beer worth trying though, because is a really fun beer. You could say it puts the “fun” in “fundamental”.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a can of Amundsen's Dessert In A Can series here.

Fundamentals #17 – Lervig X Boneyard West Coast Dank IPA

My first experience of Oregon’s Boneyard Beer was one of those coincidental beer moments that flicked on a light inside my head.

As a brewery it’s known these days for stunning takes on the IPA style, pouring them at events such as the Mikkeller Beer Celebration in Copenhagen and at London’s Beavertown Extravaganza. I was completely unaware of Boneyard, however, when I was naively strolling the aisles of the 2013 Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado.

An advertised Triple IPA, named Notorius3, drew me to the brewery’s stand. Unlike the stands for nearby breweries such as Russian River and Dogfish Head, there was no line, so I was soon handing over my tasting glass for my statutory 1oz pour. It was an IPA as good as I have ever tasted – not to say it was better than anything I had tasted before, but the flavours were so precise and well defined I immediately knew this was a brewery that could make IPA better than most. It wasn’t long before they became known outside of their own state for doing just that.

And so we come to this beer, West Coast Dank. Boneyard headed to Norway to collaborate with Lervig for this one, the latter brewery known, among other things, for its excellent recent takes on the hazy, juicy New England style IPA.

However, you won’t find either of those qualities here. In fact, you can detect the sweet snap of crystal malt as soon as you pour it. There’s plenty of dank pine forest and grapefruit pith on the nose too, smoothing out that sweetness. 

West Coast Dank effortlessly leads you from notes of sugary malt loaf to flavours of citrus undercut by richly resinous pine. It’s rounded out by a characteristically dry and bitter finish, belying the beer’s 7.1% ABV and leading you straight into your next sip.

Each gulp of this beer, from the first to the last, took me right back to that beer festival in 2013. In a moment it reminded me of all the different spectrums of flavour that IPA can inhabit, whether that be dank, juicy, bitter or whatever. And these are the kind of moments that are fundamental to our beer experience.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a can of West Coast Dank in store or online.

Fundamentals #16 – Anspach & Hobday The Pfeffernüsse Saison (A Christmas Gift for You)

Hello, this is Matthew Curtis.

It is so difficult at this time to say words that would express my feelings about the beer to which you have just consumed. A beer that has been in the planning for many, many months First, let me thank all the people who worked so hard with Anspach & Hobday in the production of this beverage and in their endeavour and desire to bring something new and different to the beer of Christmas. And to the brewing industry which is so much a part of our lives.

Of course, the biggest thanks goes to you, for giving me the opportunity to relate my feelings of Christmas through the beer that I love. This intensely spiced Pfeffernüsse Saison features notes of cloves, cinnamon, biscuit and brown sugar, with the saison yeast leading way to an intensely dry finish. May you enjoy it now, or in several years time as it slowly ages towards perfection.

At this moment, I am very proud of all the brewers and on behalf of all of them, Anspach & Hobday, Hop Burns & Black and myself. May we wish you the very merriest of Christmases and the happiest of New Years. And thank you so very much for letting us spend this Christmas with you.

(With no disrespect to the artists involved to the recording of the wonderful A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector and friends. Except for Spector himself, who turned out to be a murdering bastard. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, you filthy animals.)

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up this very special festive brew in store or online.

Fundamentals #15: Wiper and True Plum Pudding Porter

Finally, it’s December. It’s time to do away with restraint and to banish sensibly measured portions. The season of indulgence is here. Stock your larders with mince pies and hefty slabs of stollen – not forgetting the brandy cream of course – and make sure there’s a few measures of pâté in the fridge just in case. It’s time to build up that all-important layer of winter blubber to make these colder months vaguely bearable. See you in January, toes.

It’s also the perfect time to break out some stronger, darker and more decadent beers. If you’re anything like me you’ll have a habit of accumulating imperial stouts and barleywines without even realising it, then forgetting about these and buying more. The great thing about many spiced Christmas beers is that they tend to age rather well, so forgetting them is not too much of a worry.

Bristol’s Wiper and True has been knocking it out of the park this year. From its Kaleidoscope Pale to its Milk Shake Milk Stout to its sublimely delicious Ambers. It’s no surprise then that its seasonal Plum Pudding Porter is a Christmas cracker.

The foundations of this beer are everything you’d expect in a great porter. There’s a hint of sweet tobacco smoke and leather on the nose, which are a precursor to notes of bitter dark chocolate that lead to a palate-cleansingly bitter finish. There’s more though - this is a Christmas beer after all, so indulgence is fundamental to its existence.

Additions of dried fruit, cinnamon and lemon zest complete the recipe, adding notes of stewed figs, winter spice and hints of lemon in the bitter finish to the already heady mélange of flavours. Drink immediately and pair with a mince pie or two, or stash it away for next year - as I said earlier, spiced beers always have a habit of evolving and improving with a little age on them.

Whenever you choose to open it though, you can be certain that it will enhance your Christmas spirit a hundredfold.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a bottle of Wiper and True Plum Pudding Porter in store or online.

Fundamentals #14 - Boon Oude Geuze (2014/2015)

You can work out how old your bottle of Boon Oude Geuze is thanks to the label affixed around its neck – it’s usually released three years after this date, which denotes the beer’s brewing season.

Around this time each year, when the temperature drops low enough, the lambic brewing season begins in Belgium’s Zenne Valley region, at the southwestern tip of Brussels. From then it will continue until temperatures once again rise above unacceptable levels for lambic brewing the following spring.

Brussels and the Zenne Valley are famous in the brewing world for the microflora the environment is home to. It harbours myriad strains of wild yeast perfect for spontaneous fermentation such as Brettanomyces Bruxellensis. The wort that lambic producers create is allowed to cool overnight in a long, shallow metal vessel known as a “koelschip”,
or “coolship” in English. As the wort cools, it’s inoculated by wild yeast before being transferred to oak barrels for fermentation.

Lambic attains its sourness not from the process of spontaneous fermentation, however. Brettanomyces gives lambic brewers the long and slow fermentation they desire, but the sourness will occur post-fermentation, taking place over a period of up to three years within its oak barrel. Moist, wort-filled barrels make an ideal home for bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, which often makes certain barrels or large oak vats known as foeders particularly prized by brewers. The heat of the summer months gives rise to all manner of undesirable bacteria however, which is why the lambic brewing season only extends from autumn to spring.

Lambic is becomingly increasingly sought after, especially brands such as Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen. This is with good reason too, as their products are superb. However I still delight in the fact that I can always pick up a bottle of Boon Oude Geuze with very little effort. The fact that it’s less hyped and produced in relatively larger quantities means that I don’t have to worry about this changing any time soon, either.

This year’s vintage reminded me of why I appreciate Boon’s lambic and geuze so much. It’s bright and complex – but not to the point of being hard to understand. Flavours of lemon juice and green apple are ever present from the point it pops in your mouth to the moment it zips down your throat.

By all means chase after the rarest and most sought after lambics you can possibly find. I’ll be here in the meantime, sipping at a Boon and not worrying too much about what should and shouldn’t be fussed over.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a bottle of Boon Oude Geuze in store or online.

Fundamentals #13 – Cloudwater x Dry & Bitter Mobile Speaker DIPA

Collaborations are vitally important to the success of the modern beer industry. Thousands of new breweries have emerged over the past decade and I believe that the relationships they develop and the skills that they learn from these encounters are fundamentally important to the success of these businesses.

I say that as someone who might be experiencing a little bit of “collab fatigue”, which I’m sure you may have felt too. Keeping up with the constant tide of new releases can, at times, be exhausting.

For many breweries, these collaborations are about more than simply making a beer together and learning from that shared experience. There are other important factors – and I mean really important stuff such as hanging out and partying together – which also need to be considered. Mobile Speaker from Manchester’s Cloudwater and Denmark’s Dry & Bitter is that sense of camaraderie condensed into liquid form.

“Collaborations are a chance to get together with people we like and whose beer we admire,” Dry & Bitter’s Søren Parker Wagner says. “The idea is often to do something that we, as brewers, really want to do and get to learn from each others way of working. This way we both get something professionally out of it while we get to hang with friends that we really like.”

“Our collaborations give us a chance to showcase the closeness we love with friends in the industry,” adds Cloudwater’s Paul Jones. “Most of the time we keep a face of professionalism and focus here at Cloudwater, when behind the scenes we have a great deal of fun and occasionally party pretty hard too.”

Mobile Speaker celebrates a little in-joke between Jones and Wagner. Both enjoy carrying a mobile Bluetooth speaker with them as they cruise from pub to bar on a night out. From personal experience I can tell you that Jones has the ability to effortlessly switch from Kenny G to Run the Jewels without so much as flinching, adding to the already-lively atmosphere as he does so.

And what of the beer itself? Well, Mobile Speaker is the kind of fuzzy yet electrically hoppy New England style DIPA that Cloudwater has built much of its reputation on. Expect intense aromas of mango that metamorphose into spikey, bright flavours of pineapple and pink grapefruit on the palate. Bitterness fans will be pleased to note that there’s plenty of that here too. This DIPA still has the ability to tell you that it’s a beer when you taste it, even though it looks like a glass of fruit juice.

In true Hop Burns & Black style, I also had to ask which of Paul and Søren’s favourite jams are currently getting airtime on their respective mobile speakers.

Søren: “Favourite jam to put on these days would probably be Super Rich Kids by Frank Ocean. Hip Hop for sure!”

Paul: “Totally depends on the crowd. It has to be something most folk within earshot will dig – with a number of the Cloudwater crew that’d often be Disclosure’s Caracal album, or Stormzy’s Shut Up. 80s classics rouse most people into song, Fetty Wap’s My Way and Trap Queen is never far down the recently played list - but neither is Avril Lavigne’s I’m With You either!”

Matthew Curtis is the UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and you can also find him on Twitter @totalcurtis. You can pick up Mobile Speaker DIPA in store or online while stocks last. Look out for our own new third anniversary collaboration with Cloudwater, HOP, which launches at our birthday party at the Brick Brewery taproom on Friday 24 November.

Fundamentals #12 – Oliver’s Cider and Perry

A year ago I wrote about how I thought British cider had something of an image problem – an opinion that not every agreed with but I still stand by it to this day.

On the one hand you have mass-produced, sweet and fizzy ciders and on the other you have very traditional scrumpy. My worry is that these represent the perception of what cider is to the majority of people – and that’s fine – yet I fear it has been preventing low intervention ciders, such as those produced by Tom Oliver, from having their “craft beer moment".

However, after spending the last year learning a lot more about cider and perry production, including a recent visit to Oliver’s Cider and Perry in Herefordshire, it feels like cider’s moment is beginning to happen. Tasting through Oliver’s range of ciders and perrys was eye opening – there’s simply a bewildering range of flavours available, which is all the more impressive considering each is made up of more or less a single ingredient, albeit different varieties of each.

These flavours are produced through a combination of maturation in oak barrels – Tom enthuses how rum barrels are his favourites, although he’ll use more or less any barrel he can get his hands on – and skillful blending. Only through constant tasting will he know when a cider is ready to be blended and packaged making the whole process more akin to wine-making than say the production of beer or mass produced ciders.

Tom has been producing cider and perry on his family farm for almost 20 years now and has built up something of a cult following – particularly in the United States thanks to its very progressive drinks market. However it really does feel like his cider is finally getting the more widespread appeal that it deserves and that as a result, low-intervention ciders like his will become ever more popular, just like craft beer did around a decade ago.

Hopefully this will lead to the discovery of other great cider makers who can sit alongside Oliver’s as the popularity of this fantastic beverage continues to grow.

Three to try:

  • Gold Rush #5 – A cider produced in collaboration with Ryan Burk of New York State’s Angry Orchard and one I think that beer lovers can easily appreciate. The balanced acidity is almost IPA-like in the way it presents itself at the back of the tongue. Expect plenty of rounded tannins, flavours of just-picked apples and funky fruit from the malolactic fermentation.
  • Yarlington Mill Medium Dry – This is the perfect entry point to low intervention cider. The Yarlington Mill apple provides a backdrop of bittersweet notes to this light and spritzy cider. Pairs incredibly well with hard cheeses such as Aged Gouda, Parmesan and Lincolnshire Poacher. [Back next week in the shop.]
  • Keeved Sweet Perry – If you think you don’t like sweet drinks then this exceptional perry will have you thinking again. A complex, yet balanced acidity leads the notes of sweet, juicy pears as this perry cascades over your palate, finishing with a sharp, lingering sweetness.

Matthew Curtis is the UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and you can also find him on Twitter @totalcurtis. Huge congratulations to Tom Oliver for being named a finalist at the BBC Food Awards this month and putting great cider on the national stage. Find the Oliver's range in store or online.

Fundamentals #11: Wild Beer Co. Rooting Around Summer BA Wild Ale

I sincerely hope you made it down to the Beavertown Extravaganza this past weekend. From where I was standing it not only felt like a special event in its own right, but a little like the UK beer scene was levelling up. It was far from a new concept in terms of a modern beer festival but both its size and the depth and breadth of the breweries pouring beer made it feel like the stakes really have been raised.

At the back of the venue my colleagues from Good Beer Hunting and I hosted a series of panel discussions over both days of the festival. One of my personal highlights was hosting Mark Tranter of Burning Sky, Averie Swanson of Jester King and bona fide cider legend Tom Oliver for a discussion about terroir in modern brewing and cider making.

Terroir is a tricky subject to get your head around when you’re talking about beer. The French word, literally meaning “of the earth” when translated, is used in winemaking to describe the sense of place imbued into vines and then grapes, giving wine a unique sense of character derived from where its grown and made. As many winemakers produce their grapes and make their wine in the same place, then aligning it with the concept of terroir is simple enough. However if a brewer is importing hops from the US, using malt from all over the UK and Europe and buying yeast from a lab in Denmark then how is beer able to share the same concept?

The answer is in beer that uses ingredients from the local environment that might be a little less obvious. That could be the wild yeasts and bacteria that inhabit the air itself, or between the grains of an oak barrel. It could be foraged ingredients taken from the land around the brewery.

In Rooting Around Summer, a tartly effervescent barrel aged sour beer from Somerset’s The Wild Beer Company, all are used to imbue a this beer with its own sense of terroir.

There’s a floral honeysuckle meets lavender note on the nose along with a faint scent of freshly zested lemon. To taste there’s a battery acid shock of lemon juice acidity, with a touch of crushed grain, leading to a bright and dry finish. If you love your sours then you will be all over this beer, if you don’t then don’t let the shock of tart flavours put you off as your palate should calibrate itself after a few sips.

Beer might not have its own terroir in the winemaking sense – however a beer like this and many others are certainly taking advantage of natural flora to add a touch of local flavour, which is fundamental to how these beers come into being.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog Total Ales, Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a bottle of Rooting Around Summer in store or online while stocks last.

Fundamentals #10 – Brew By Numbers/Hop Burns & Black 55|05 Double IPA Citra & Ella

This week has been all about London Beer City and the crazy amount of events book-ended by the London Craft Beer Festival and the Great British Beer Festival. As ever when there’s a glut of beer events pace is the trick but with so much good beer flowing this gets tougher every year.

At the heart of this year's London Beer City schedule is the Battle of the Beer Shops. The event will see a series of collaborations between a selection of London’s specialist beer retailers and some of the city’s craft breweries. At the time of writing this piece it takes place tonight, so keep an eye on your favourite social media channel to keep up with the fallout.

For their beer, the folks at HB&B have teamed up with the ever-verdant Brew by Numbers and, as they also did recently with Marble Brewery, have produced a Double IPA.

Brew by Numbers has grown increasingly deft with the production of hazy and hoppy beers over the past few months and this effort fuses US Citra and Aussie Ella hops with lemon zest to produce a citrus and tropical fruit blast wave of flavour. These fruit notes are paired with a typically soft and pillowy mouthfeel that has become the hallmark of Brew By Numbers’ beers.

I was surprised, however, to learn that the yeast that fermented out this beer was the humble Safale US-05. This fundamental is at the heart of many a great beer but with the recent trend in yeasts that produce rich, stone fruit flavours in hazy IPAs I wasn’t expecting Brew by Numbers to tell me that this was the yeast at play in this beer.

US-05 provides an exceptionally clean fermentation, meaning that it produces very low amounts of esters, which are responsible for the peach and apricot notes in a lot of modern “New England” style IPAs.

Brewers rely on clean fermenting yeasts like US-05 to let hop notes shine through, which in a beer such as this Double IPA is essential. Clean yeasts such as US-05 are often unsung heroes when it comes to beers like 55|05, so be sure to tip your glass in affection to this workhorse of a yeast strain when you enjoy this beer.

The fundamentals of beer are anything that makes up the sum of a beer’s parts. You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up some of our amazing 55|05 collab in store or online while stocks last.

Fundamentals #9 – Jester King/The Kernel Farmhouse Table Barrel Aged Blend

In beer, blending is a true art form. If you’ve ever tasted a great geuze from say 3 Fonteinen or Tilquin, or perhaps even a fantastic Flanders red from Rodenbach, then you’re tasting a beer that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

More and more breweries are investing in oak aging to further the beer experience they can offer their customers. This could involve getting used barrels from wineries or distilleries, or in some cases it could involve the use of larger oak containers called foeders. To make sure the beer that comes out of that oak tastes great, they too will have to master the fundamental art of blending.

If you ever get the chance to walk amongst the foeders at a brewery such as Rodenbach or New Belgium in the US, you should jump at the chance as it’s a pretty magical experience. If you’re lucky you might even get the opportunity to sample some unblended beer from the wood itself. This might help enlighten you as to how challenging blending the perfect beer from various components can be. The key to becoming a master blender is to be perfectly in tune with your palate, so as to achieve the perfect balance of acidity, flavour and drinkability.

To become ready for blending, beer needs time and this collaboration between London’s The Kernel and Jester King of Austin, Texas is no different. The original beer, a humble Table Beer with Citra, was brewed in April 2015. This beer was dry hopped the very same month before spending a year maturing in a steel tank with mixed cultures of yeast and bacteria taken from both The Kernel’s and Jester King’s stocks. In addition to this, some of the beer was aged in brand new – or virgin – oak barrels for 18 months. This beer was then blended back with 50% of the beer aged in steel before being refermented and allowed to mature further in the bottle.

The final blend of this beer is a living, breathing product and its character will continue to evolve in the bottle for years to come. According to the folks from The Kernel, the character from Jester King’s voracious house Brett strain dominated when the beer was packaged. However, this appeared to have calmed down in the bottle I opened, with notes of ripe berry fruit accompanied by strong flavours of vanilla from the oak, leading an incredibly dry and tannic finish.

This is an exceptional beer which blurs the boundaries between beer and wine - and that should come as no surprise considering the pedigree of its makers.

The fundamentals of beer are anything that makes up the sum of a beer’s parts. You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. We have a few bottles of the incredible Kernel/Jester King Farmhouse Table Barred Aged Blend in store or online while stocks last.