Fundamentals #39 — The Bruery Or Xata Blonde Ale

What does a traditional Spanish sweet milk beverage, über-cool Californian craft beer, and a classic Belgian-style blond ale have in common? Turns out the answer is found at the bottom of a can of beer from Anaheim’s The Bruery.

But first let’s find out what Horchata is. Because despite being a scholar of all the tasty things you can drink, I can’t honestly say I’ve ever tried it. According to that ever-reliable source, Wikipedia, Horchata is a name given to “various plant milk beverages of similar taste and appearance”, reportedly originating from the Mediterranean city of Valencia. It is commonly made with rice or tiger nuts, and is often flavoured with cinnamon or vanilla. I hear it is also rather delicious when you mix it with rum (but honestly, what isn’t?)

Horchata is immensely popular in Latin America and by juxtaposition, Southern California. According to The Bruery it also pairs very favourably with Mexican cuisine and it should come as no surprise that I reckon their beer-based interpretation would also do a pretty great job of this.

The Bruery is perhaps best known for its big, tannic, barrel aged beers – in particular, its stouts – along with its wild fermented sours. In that respect, this beer, presented in a 16oz can as opposed to a 750ml bottle, already feels like something of a departure for them. The base beer that makes up Or Xata is a strong blonde ale, weighing in at 7.2%. It features additions of rice, cinnamon, fresh vanilla and lactose in an attempt to mimic the creamy sweetness of Horchata.

My fear that this would be a sickly, sweet mess were soon abated. The beer pours a surprisingly bright shade of yellow, with a thin head dissipating in seconds. Yes there’s a little cinnamon in there, and a hint of vanilla, but never overwhelmingly so. What I also found were spicy, yeast-driven flavours that reminded me more of a classic Belgian blonde ale than anything else. The finish was also dry, leaving me with a surprisingly drinkable and, most importantly, highly enjoyable beer. An ideal pairing for your Boxing Day turkey tacos.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance beer writer, photographer and author of our award-winning Fundamentals column. He's written for numerous publications including BEER, Ferment, Good Beer Hunting and Original Gravity. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis. Pick up a can of The Bruery Or Xata in store or online while stocks last.

Fundamentals #31 — Half Acre Beer Co Tuna Extra Pale Ale

Turns out there are two kinds of Tuna available in a can. The first is an always-handy sandwich meat — perfect whipped up with an over-zealously lobbed ball of mayo, a crack of black pepper and a squeeze of lemon, before being liberally applied to thickly hewn white bread. All hail the tuna mayo sando. (OK, I admit I should probably leave the food writing to my colleague Claire Bullen.)

The other is, as you’ve probably suspected, a beer. Tuna Extra Pale Ale happens to be from one of my favourite Chicago-based breweries — Half Acre. If you haven’t heard of these folks, where’ve you been hiding? This Midwestern US brewery has been cooking up sublime beers since its inception in 2008. It’s perhaps best known for its Daisy Cutter Pale Ale — a beer that’s become a true staple amongst fine beverage appreciators in the Windy City. Half Acre’s mastery is one of creating clean, hop-forward beers just like you used to love, and Tuna is no exception to this rule.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the US, and Chicago has to be one of my favourite cities. It takes the culinary arts very seriously — this could be at a top restaurant, a local burger joint, or a brewery — whatever it makes, if you can eat or drink it, it’s gotta be world class. What I admire most about Chicago however, is how it’s able to apply to much effort to the creation of these consumables, but then present them in a laid-back, friendly way.

What I enjoyed most about the brewing scene here is how diverse it felt. There’s not as much bandwagon-hopping and imitation as I’ve seen in other beer destinations. Chicagoans do things their own way, and that often means a brewery will put a lot of effort into producing a unique take on things. This could be the hop gems of Half Acre, the crispy lagers at Dovetail, the tongue twisting mixed fermentation projects at Whiner, or the, well, whatever they want to call it at Off Color. If you love beer, you should visit Chicago as soon as you can.

Back to Tuna, though — this beer pours a bright shade of tangerine from its lovingly designed can, a head of off-white foam enticing you with aromas of barley sugar and navel orange. To taste, there is plenty more of both of these things: a touch of smooth malt sweetness to begin, and then plenty of zesty, citrus notes to clean all that up before leading to a not-too bitter finish. It’s perhaps a little one note, but at 4.7%, that’s kinda the point. Tuna is a beer to fill the fridge with and throw back when you need a hoppy hit that won’t touch the sides.

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 Half Acre Tuna while you can in store or online.

#HBBAdvent Beer 21: Two Roads Tanker Truck Sour Series - Plum Gose (US)

Two Roads says: Classic Gose sour/salty interplay with the unmistakable character of tart Italian plums (prunus cocomilia). Pinkish in color and decidedly refreshing.

We say: Plum Pudding last night, Plum Gose today - we be all about the plums. Tis the season... 

This is a well-seasoned gose (love that salt) that pours a beautiful purple. We've enjoyed all of the Two Roads releases we've had in this year, so this plummy number is a very worthy inclusion to the box. Consider it a tasty wee spritzer as we gear up for the home run to Christmas... - Jen

#HBBAdvent Beer 1: Westbrook Key Lime Pie Gose (South Carolina)

Westbrook Brewing says: You want some pie? And gose? Well here it is: Our classic gose infused with the delicious flavors of Key Lime Pie. Made extra special just for you.

We say: What a beer to kick off this year's advent calendar. Every American who visits the shop can't believe it when they see it on shelf - it's so hard to get hold of over the pond. I love sharing this sharp, salty sour with people who haven't tried it and watching them all fall in love with it. Jen and Glenn have had to stop me buying it all up. Key Lime Pie is one of my favourite beers of the year. - Jonny

Each night, we'll reveal the day's hand-picked beer from our Big Beery Advent Calendar. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter or Instagram (#HBBAdvent). Find Westbrook Key Lime Pie Gose in store or via our online shop.

Big Beery Advent Calendar - Beer 22: Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar, 5.6% (US)


Each night, we'll post a blog about the day's hand-picked beer in our Big Beery Advent Calendar - why we love the brewery, why we've chosen the beer, why we think you'll love it too. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter.

Rogue says: "A nutty twist to a traditional European Brown Ale. Dark brown in color with a hazelnut aroma, a rich nutty flavor and a smooth malty finish."

We say: Christmas in a glass! Beer does not get more festive than this. Proper special pudding beer.

Big Beery Advent Calendar - Beer 18: Brooklyn Sorachi Ace 7.2% (US)

Each night at 8pm, we'll post a blog about the day's hand-picked beer in our Big Beery Advent Calendar - why we love the brewery, why we've chosen the beer, why we think you'll love it too. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter.

Brooklyn says: "Brooklyn Sorachi Ace is a classic saison, an unfiltered golden farmhouse ale, with a clean malt flavour and the quirky Sorachi Ace hop standing front and centre. Dry-hopping releases Sorachi Ace’s bright, spicy aromatics to tickle the nose before ascending into a fine harmony between pilsner malt and playful Belgian ale yeast. Brooklyn Sorachi Ace is sunshine in a glass, a shining example of the versatility of one of the world’s most intriguing hops. This beer is a superstar at the table, and we enjoy it with seafood dishes, fresh cheeses, poultry, barbecue, and even tomato-based pasta sauces."

We say: Brooklyn is best known for its near-ubiquitous lager but this is the undisputed star of the stable. We were first introduced to this when a friend gave us a 750ml bottle and we fell instantly in love. A beer that goes with everything but tastes best on its own. A beer to toast with - a beer to toast yourself with, for having such exquisite taste.

Big Beery Advent Calendar - Beer 11: Green Flash Soul Style IPA, 6.5% (US)

Green Flash says: ”Our brewers rip-creating huge and complex double and triple IPAs at the pinnacle of craft beer enlightenment. Soul Style is their effortless and pure manifestation of the Single IPA. Citra, Simcoe, and Cascade hops are layered, allowing bright tropical waves of flavorful citrus and floral notes to break gently on the palate. Get stoked on a laid back single and ride a wave to soothe your soul.”

We say: Whoa, someone at Green Flash’s been pulling a little too hard on the peace pipe between those surf breaks… We bought this beer because it said “bright and tropical” on the label, and the label was orange. We like orange. Then we opened one and it was like opening a can of Orange Sunshine. This is such a tasty IPA - mangoes, orange blossom, so much tropical goodness you’ll be surprised it doesn’t give you a tan. We can’t think of a better way to kick off your wintry British Friday night.

Matthew Curtis's No More Heroes VI – Founders Centennial IPA

Have you ever stopped to think about how brilliant it is that we can easily pick some of the best North American craft beer in the world at our local bottle shop? Stop what you’re doing and think about it now. Yes, now. Really think about it. Think about how some of the best beer in the world is travelling 5,000 miles to sit on a shelf five minutes from your house, all because someone in America thought you might enjoy it and buy some of their beer.

It’s easy to take this for granted and it’s all too simple to say that we live in a golden age of beer consumption because to be honest, we really do. It’s not perfect, far from it and it probably never will be – but it’s only going to get better. The most important thing to do is to appreciate what’s right in front of us, right now. It’s all too easy to try something new as often as possible but sometimes it’s better to find a really tasty beer and latch on to it for a while.

American IPA is my favourite style of beer and Founders Centennial IPA is surely one of the most dependable. It’s as bright as a recently buffed copper kettle, with mellow aromas of citrus and French toast. To taste Centennial is like receiving a sliced lemon, drizzled in golden syrup and dipped in sugar-coated toasted barley, directly to the face. Unlike a lot of really modern IPA, Centennial stays true to its US roots with that big, chunky, malt flavour keeping those biting citrus notes in check. It’s great, should never be taken for granted and enjoyed as often as possible. Just stop what you’re doing for a moment and think about it.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter@totalcurtis.