Fundamentals #53 - Augustinerbräu München Lagerbier Hell

“Are you sure?” I ask Hop Burns & Black co-owner Jen Ferguson when she shoves a familiar bottle of one of Bavaria’s very best lagers, Augustiner Helles, into my hand.

The reason for my doubt is because, by and large, the beers I review in this column are completely new to me. Such is the never-ending slew of new releases these days that I’m rarely short of something fresh and exciting to try.

Not this time, however. Today I am reviewing the all-time classic, the stalwart, old man Augustiner. One of the greatest beers on earth. A beer I buy regularly such is both its excellence and its dependability. What this does gift me with is the rare opportunity to ruminate on this particular beer’s greatness. Augustiner Helles is not usually a beer I have to put much thought into enjoying. It’s a beer that fits into almost any occasion, be it a cold bottle in the confines of a darkened London bar, a sundrenched Munich biergarten or, wherever, really. There is rarely a time when this lager is not appropriate.

What is about this beer that gives it such majesty? Why do I find it so appealing, time after time? These are some of the questions whirring through my head as I slowly, yet firmly pour the beer into my glass, ensuring I knock enough carbon dioxide out of suspension to produce the firm head of foam this beer always deserves (trust me, it enhances the hop flavour and aroma.)

But quickly I remember this is not a beer to be analysed or overthought. Sure, I could go into detail about its supple, soft breadiness, and how these delicate malt flavours are balanced by the fresh, herbaceous snap of German noble hops, followed by the tiniest twinge of acidity before a wave of bitterness brings dryness to the back of your palate. But that would do this beer an injustice. Augustiner is not a beer to bear the burden of heavy thought. It’s a beer that commands a lack of thought, as you enjoy long, deep gulps in quick succession… followed by a crack and hiss as you inevitably begin to prise the cap off your next bottle.

Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag.

Fundamentals #52 – DEYA Dust My Broom Pale Ale

52 DEYA Broom.jpg

Although my preferred taste for modern IPAs sits firmly in the West Coast camp, I am still a huge fan of the softer, juicier – and of course, hazier – iterations of the style with their origins in the north east of the United States. (Although, those who, like me, remember the days of “London Murky” back in 2012, could argue that their origins are equally rooted in Bermondsey, South London.)

Done well, a New England IPA is a thing of beauty. The mouthfeel should be pillowy and full, while the flavours should be bright and juicy, the tiniest smattering of pale malt making way for bold flavours of stone, citrus and/or tropical fruit. The finish should be dry, with perhaps the merest wisp of bitterness – the latter should never be the hallmark of this particular style, as it would clash with the juicy fruit flavours.

What they should not be is cloying, or laced with such a ferocious amount of hop particles that the beer leaves a burning sensation at the back of the throat. Sadly, many attempts I’ve tried have borne one or both of these characteristics. What I tend to find is that the ones that really capture my imagination (and have me ordering a second glass) are those which are more restrained.

This is probably why I’m such a huge fan of Steady Rolling Man, the core pale ale from Cheltenham’s DEYA Brewing Company. So much so, in fact, that it’s a must order for me whenever I see it on the bar, which, thankfully, is becoming more commonplace. Today, however, I’m faced with a can of something that ups the hop-ante somewhat. Dust My Broom is hazier, juicier and decidedly more intense than Steady.
I know this before I’ve even had a taste, as aromas of mango and orange peel jump from the glass towards my face as if they were a face-hugger from Alien searching for a host.

To taste this is as vibrant and intense as its aromas would suggest. It packs an immense punch of tropical fruit, white peach and a resinous, piney note that reminds me a little of my favoured West Coast IPAs. But this is for the most fleeting of moments, as I’m soon back in juicetown.

I’ve previously griped in this very column about how the sameyness of the New England style can get me down – there are only so many super-hazy, Citra and Mosaic-hopped beers I have time for. However, as similar as this effort from DEYA is to so many of those, I’ve all the time in the world for it, such is this hazy pale’s inherent quality.

Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Be first to read Matt’s columns when you sign up to our All Killer No Filler beer subscription box - along with Claire Bullen’s recipe and pairings, plus in-depth tasting notes, they’re included in every box…

Fundamentals #51 - 8 Wired iStout Affogato Imperial Stout

I remember the good old days, when beers were beers. I’m talking about 2012 of course, and trying iStout – the revered imperial stout from New Zealand’s 8 Wired – in a quaint Shoreditch bar that is now part of a large chain owned by a well-known Scottish multinational brewery. This was an imperial stout of stature. One that roared with malty molasses and rambunctiously bitter hops. It may have been very expensive at the time, but shared among friends it was a real treat.

We’ve always been lucky to have a small shipment of 8 Wired beers arrive in the UK every so often, all the way from Warkworth, an hour or so’s drive north of Auckland. That’s a very long way for beer to travel. 8 Wired’s hoppy IPAs, such as Hopwired, don’t fare too badly considering the 11,426 mile trip, but its sours and big stouts are not as troubled by this hardship, and so they continue to shine, endearing this brewery to many of us in the process.

I have always admired Kiwi brewers – they live in a country that grows some of the most sensational hop varieties in the world. Adding to this, cities like Auckland and Wellington have embraced them, the latter being one of my favourite beer locales in the world.

However, it’s a challenging market, mostly due to the fact that it’s quite small. At less than 5 million people, New Zealand’s entire population is almost half the size of London alone, so exporting makes sense, despite the distance. In this respect we’re fortunate to see some excellent Kiwi beer in the UK.

I’m equally fortunate today to be reviewing an updated version of 8 Wired’s iStout, this Affogato version with coffee, vanilla and milk sugar lactose. Now, I’m not a huge pastry stout fan – there are some very good examples of the style out there, but they aren’t typically for me. However, after one short sip (immediately leading to a second, deeper gulp), I was relieved to see that this version of iStout has maintained the same rambunctiousness as its predecessor.

Yes, there’s a little caramel sweetness, but this is almost instantly swept aside by an intense hit of espresso – and I’m talking Italian dark roast here, not your delicate third wave gear. This beer has no time for subtlety or nuance, this is an imperial stout just like imperial stouts used to be, albeit one that briefly lulls you into a false sense of security before coming at your palate like a wrecking ball. In a really, really good way.

Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Pick up a can of 8 Wired iStout Affogato online or in-store while stocks last, and be first to read Matt’s columns when you sign up to our All Killer No Filler beer subscription box - along with Claire Bullen’s recipe and pairings, plus in-depth tasting notes, they’re included in every box…

Fundamentals #50 – Pressure Drop A Million Filaments Sour Fruited IPA

As I type, it is June 12th. Outside, the rain is endless in its relentlessness. I have switched the heating on. This time last year we were basking in weeks of seemingly unstoppable summer heat. It would appear that we may be waiting a while for a season of similar magnitude.

However, while it may be dreich outside, my glass is filled to the brim with the all the radiance of what, supposedly, should be our warmest season: A Million Filaments, a sour IPA infused with blackberry, blackcurrant and lactose (it says milk sugar on the label but for the purposes of this review I shall call it by its true name) from Pressure Drop.

The sour, fruited IPA – often infused with lactose to balance acidity with sweetness – is the flavour of the month among the breweries who spend a lot of time on the internet. The style’s progenitor is arguably Hudson Valley Brewery, named after the valley in which its hometown of Beacon, in upper New York state, resides. Hudson Valley has taken the milkshake IPA concept pioneered by Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands, and twisted it in its own image, by adding fruit and the souring bacteria lactobacillus.

Despite these myriad layers, the sour IPA is not a beer of complexity. Instead it is a beer of joyfulness and gluggability – as is blissfully evident when you pour a can of A Million Filaments into a glass. Much like this review, it positively radiates with purpleness. It may be cold and miserable outside but I feel like I’m receiving warmth from the colour of this beer alone.

On tasting, there’s quite a lot of flavour to tie together, initially it’s soft and pillowy, not unlike a New England-style IPA. The fruit comes next, waves of sweet blackberry and tart blackcurrant, neatly tied together with a hit of sugary sweetness from the lactose – sorry, milk sugar – which make it taste like eating a cake. Finally, your palate is met with a short, sharp, prick of acidity, instantly dispelling the sweetness and priming you for another sip. It’s a weird trip, but somehow it just works.

Honestly, being relatively new to the style I wasn’t sure I would actually like it. But if you put your biases in your pocket and just accept this style of beer for what it is – a shit ton of fun – then, like me, you’ll find it highly enjoyable too.

Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Pick up a can of Pressure Drop’s A MIllion Filaments online or in-store. and be first to read Matt’s columns when you sign up to our All Killer No Filler beer subscription box - along with Claire Bullen’s recipe and pairings, plus in-depth tasting notes, they’re included in every box…

Fundamentals #49 — The Kernel Foeder Beer Centennial Hallertau Tradition

There are few things more mesmerising within a brewery than a room full of foeders (or ‘foudres’, if the brewery decides to use the French spelling instead of the Dutch). There’s real magic inside these oaken vessels, often standing several metres tall.

And that’s because there is real magic inside them: millions of wild yeasts and bacteria that nurture and mature a beer over several months or years, before it is eventually blended and packaged into something delicious for us to enjoy. Beers such as the impressive Rodenbach Grand Cru, or the equally majestic New Belgium La Folie.

In fact, if you ever get to visit either of these breweries you will understand exactly what I mean about the magic of foeders. They present very different experiences: Rodenbach’s is one of order and utility. As beautiful as the foeders here are, they exist to serve a function – that of maturing a beer to a precise consistency. At New Belgium the scene is the opposite, with foeders of various sizes, shapes, even colours. It is random and myriad. The ‘Foudre Forest’ as they call it, in Fort Collins, Colorado, is one of the true wonders of the brewing world.

It’s possible that you may have had a foeder-aged beer from a British brewery too. Perhaps from Burning Sky, the Wild Beer Co, or the subject of today’s review, London’s The Kernel. The foeder-matured beers from The Kernel you may have previously experienced would have had more in common with beers like Rodenbach or La Folie – beers with tartness, acidity and tannins; complex, structured and delicious. And while this new Foeder Beer from The Kernel is also delicious (of course it is, it’s The Kernel), it is neither tart nor particularly acidic to taste.

Instead, this beer is fermented – as opposed to matured – within a foeder. This means that it’s in the vessel for a much shorter period of time, not giving it the opportunity to pick up a great deal of character from the oak or organisms that call it home. But that’s not the intention here. This beer showcases flavours of both hop (lemon zest from Centennial and a distinguished herbaceous snap from Hallertau Tradition) and The Kernel’s house culture of yeast, mixed with Belgian yeasts.

The beer gives you a rich, estery character, making it taste very Belgian in style - think Zinnebir from Brasserie de la Senne as an example. The oak fermentation, however, adds a softness, or roundness, to the complexity of this flavour. I wouldn’t worry too much about that, however, this is a beer for chilling down and drinking outside, as we look forward to some warm summer days. I already know this is a beer I’ll be filling my fridge with in preparation for just that.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance writer, photographer and author of our award-winning Fundamentals column. He's written for publications including BEER, Ferment, Good Beer Hunting and Original Gravity. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis. Demand for The Kernel Foeder Beer has been huge - we have a small amount left at time of publication, so be quick. Be first to read Matt’s columns when you sign up to our All Killer No Filler beer subscription box - along with Claire Bullen’s recipe and pairings, plus in-depth tasting notes, they’re included in every box..

Fundamentals 48 - Brew By Numbers 85 Triple IPA Mosaic El Dorado Calypso

I’ve taken to enjoying a lot of wine recently. I’ve even gone as far as to sign up to HB&B’s Natural Wine Killers subscription club. It wasn’t long before my shelves started to groan under the weight of several bottles of exciting natural wine. A good problem to have, I admit, but I had to face facts – it was time to start opening these bottles.

For a long time, a bottle of wine to me has symbolised sharing and camaraderie. Whether it’s over dinner or simple conversation, a 750ml bottle is there to be poured and passed around, until it’s time to open the next one. The same is true of beer and cider. There’s a certain joy in sharing a big bottle from the likes of Burning Sky, or Oliver’s Cider and Perry, with friends.

However, a 440ml can doesn’t always send the same sharing message – although when you’re dealing with a 10% beer, it should. This particular beer, 85 – the latest triple IPA from London’s Brew By Numbers – despite its lofty strength, tastes like the kind of beer you want to covet rather than rationing out. Its aroma groans under the weight of intensely tropical yet slightly savoury Mosaic hops. But rather than buoying this sensation with the oft-used Citra, this beer diverts to Calypso and El Dorado, adding passion fruit, mango and guava undertones into the heady mix.

I found myself halfway through the can without realising, such was its drinkability; the gentle warmth of alcohol being the only sensation that indicated the beer’s strength. There’s a stickiness to this beer, not unlike a barleywine that’s been blended with a juicy double IPA. And this is what makes it so satisfying, it’s at once voluminous and potent before reverting back to being dry and drinkable. Soon, I realised the other half of the can had disappeared too.

Then I really felt its strength. I crushed this like so many IPAs before it, but at 10% the triple IPA would have been better shared. So be careful to take it easy with this one and share it with friends, because the delicious beer inside definitely doesn’t want you to.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance writer, photographer and author of our award-winning Fundamentals column. He's written for publications including BEER, Ferment, Good Beer Hunting and Original Gravity. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis. We have just a handful of BBNO 85 Triple IPA cans left, pick one up while you can…

Fundamentals #47 — Buxton X J. Wakefield Coral Castle Coconut Infused Imperial Stout

I haven’t forgiven Florida’s J. Wakefield Brewery for its use of what I feel was sexist branding on many of its labels, especially when its Gourdita pumpkin beer still does. So why am I reviewing Coral Castle, a coconut-infused imperial stout brewed in collaboration with Buxton, you may ask?

Perhaps it’s because I believe in second chances and the ability to move one’s position once presented with new information. And the brewery did apologise. Also, perhaps, there’s significance in that this US brewery has forged several deep friendships here in the UK, expressed through collabs with the likes of Cloudwater and Mondo, as well as Buxton. There’s a great deal you can learn through collaboration, and also if you’re not acting right, your friends should be the first to set you straight.

J. Wakefield isn’t off the hook for me yet, but Buxton deserves all the plaudits for its beers, and this one is outstanding. The condition I find myself in when drinking this beer, however, is a long way from that.

I was just in Denver for this year’s Craft Brewers Conference. While the days at CBC are filled with seminars and panel talks and looking at the canning lines whirring away in demo mode on the trade show floor, the evenings, well, they’re about studying the host city’s beer culture. It may not surprise to hear you that Denver has this in spades. And so I wake up the morning after the night before a little worse for wear, and the fear sets in. Have I missed my deadline? Is it today? Oh shit.

Thankfully I had the beer with me in my suitcase, with the intention of drinking it at a sensible time. But time, I thought, was out. So I did what any self-respecting beer writer would do, and poured the can out into one of the plastic cups in my motel room, and began making my tasting notes.

I wouldn’t normally recommend drinking an 8.5% ABV stout at 10.30am on a hangover. But with my palate morning-sharp (ish) and my other senses dulled by the previous night’s indulgence, this beer proved to be the perfect hair of the dog. It was rich, roasty and delicious, the ever-so-carefully adorned coconut adding just the right dose of playful flavour, almost vanilla and bourbon barrel-like in character.

After tasting, I grabbed my laptop to start typing up my notes, sending Hop Burns & Black’s Jen a panicked message that the copy would be with her shortly. “It doesn’t need to be in until Monday, Matt,” came the reply. Ah.

The lessons to take away from this experience are: to always write your deadlines down, that delicious beers do indeed taste delicious at any time of the day, coconut works beautifully in imperial stouts, and to never let those guilty of potentially marginalising behaviour off the hook, ever. Happy beer-drinking, everyone.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance writer, photographer and author of our award-winning Fundamentals column. He's written for publications including BEER, Ferment, Good Beer Hunting and Original Gravity. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis. We have a mere handful of Coral Castle cans left, pick one up while you can…

Fundamentals #46 – Cloudwater x The Veil Barry From Finance DIPA

Prepare yourself: the transatlantic collaborations are coming. And we’ve got Cloudwater to thank for this. Its recent Friends & Family & Beer festival brought a heap of excellent brewers together, many of them from the USA, some of whom were visiting the UK for the first time. And when brewers are in town, they collaborate. The beneficiary of this beer-y bomb cyclone? That’s you!

The resulting volume of collabs flowing in the wake of the festival can be a little overwhelming, however. Dare you try and catch them all? Don’t worry, no one’s judging you if you just want to chill out and enjoy a cold one and leave the hype well alone. Well, almost no one.

When it comes to collaborations, Cloudwater and Richmond, Virginia’s The Veil have previous. They teamed up a couple of years back to produce the devastatingly tropical triple IPA, Chubbles, which sent beer fans into raptures. They followed this up last year with yet another intensely named TIPA, creatively named Paul from Cloudwater. Cans of the latter even featured a caricature of Cloudwater founder Paul Jones, replete with beaming grin and ginger beard.

Now this dynamic duo has teamed up again to produce a beer you’ll be positively Jonesing for, the equally imaginatively named Barry from Finance. I’m not sure who Barry is, but evidently he’s a fan of fruit juice, as that is what this beer can be described as in the simplest of terms. Barry features gratuitous additions of pineapple and passion fruit, alongside orange zest for a citrus kick.

Make no mistake, this hazy yellow beer is thick as. Evidently, it’s loaded with as much fruit as your breakfast smoothie, and then some. But while it does have a lush mouthfeel, buoyed by waves of tropical fruit flavour (and not much else – not that this matters), its girthiness is met by tart, citrus flavours. Where one moment it’s full and rich, the next it’s zippy and zesty.

If you like the juice levels in your juice-grenades loaded to the max, then this is a beer for you. The person judging you for missing out on it? Well, that’s me.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance writer, photographer and author of our award-winning Fundamentals column. He's written for publications including BEER, Ferment, Good Beer Hunting and Original Gravity. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis. Pick up a can of Barry From Finance ASAP...

Fundamentals #45 — Unity x Deya 5º Of Separation Belgian Chocolate Stout

I’m going to assume if you’re reading this column that you’re pretty into beer already. If so then you’ve probably already heard of Cheltenham’s mighty DEYA. And if not, then what rock have you been hiding under?

DEYA’s flagship, Steady Rollin’ Man has become one of the most dependably consistent juicy pales on the market. It seldom disappoints. Plus it has that rare trait among foggy, yellow, hoppy beers: drinkability. Seldom do I see a keg tapped at one of my local haunts and witness all 30 litres last more than a couple of hours. Well done DEYA, you’ve created a modern classic and you should feel pretty damn smug about it.

However, you might not have heard of Southampton’s Unity Brewing Company. Like DEYA, it was founded in 2016. It brews well-hopped, opaque beers (albeit often with a Belgian inspired twist), packages them in delightfully labelled 440ml cans and has a popular, community-focused taproom. It has an ebullient, charming founder in the form of Jimmy Hatherley, something of a veteran of the London scene with stints at London Fields and Camden back in the day. He’s also a big fan of flannel shirts and math rock.

Unity also brews a killer, super smashable NEIPA called Collision. It hasn’t quite grabbed the beer-drinking public’s attention like Steady, but let me assure you it’s the kind of beer you should drink when you see it.

Imagine my delight, then, when I found out these two young stalwarts had produced a collaboration. Only, there’s no hop squash to be found here. The result of this union is a chocolate stout that draws heavily on Hatherley’s Belgian inspiration. This Pepsi-brown beer features additions of cacao nibs and black flame raisins adding further layers of complexity to the dark malts and Unity’s house strain of Belgian yeast.

However, it’s not the playful chocolate sweetness or the estery Belgique overtones that make this so satisfying. It’s the way these flavours build up steadily in unison before panning out into a dry, clean finish with just the right amount of focused hop bitterness. There’s no cloying aftertaste, there’s no volatility to the fermentation character, it’s just precise, satisfying flavour neatly wrapped up in a bow at the end. It’s a hallmark of Unity’s beers – they show off great complexity while still remaining balanced, and are always at the height of drinkability. Don’t let this Southampton brewery, or this beer, fly under your radar this year.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance writer, photographer and author of our award-winning Fundamentals column. He's written for publications including BEER, Ferment, Good Beer Hunting and Original Gravity. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis. Pick up a can of Unity x Deya 5º Of Separation Belgian Chocolate Stout while you can.

Fundamentals #44 — Zehendner Mönchsambacher Lager

The winking monk on the label of Brauerei Zehendner’s Mönchsambacher lager knows something you don’t. I’m convinced that little halo his silhouette casts on the wall behind him belies his true intentions. He may appear to be an innocent man of the cloth but he knows you’re about to get into something unexpected, something devilishly good, and I am powerless to resist his charms.

In any case, that’s certainly the impression I took after my first taste of this beguiling Franconian lager. Hailing from the town of Mönchsambach, a few miles south west of Bamberg, this is the first time I’ve come across anything from Zehendner. When HB&B’s Jen sent me an enthusiastic email singing the beer’s praises, I just had to try it. When she pointed out its rarity in this country, I became doubly interested in securing a bottle.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about German import lagers. From holding the chunky 500ml bottle in your hand (which I’m convinced are going to come back in a big way over the next year or so) to noticing the little things like the worn ridges of the many-times-recycled bottle and the small nicks on the label indicating its best before date.

Plus you get plenty of beer to enjoy. Take my advice and try building up a big head of foam in your glass with a slow pour. Don’t pour down the side of the glass, pour slow and straight, filling the glass about a third of the way up. After leaving it for a moment add another third, allowing it to settle once more, then topping up the glass, hopefully leaving you with a moussey white head of foam an inch or more thick.

What this does is release some carbonation and laces that foam with hop oils, giving this beer a wonderfully herbal bouquet of German noble hops. However, the hops are barely half the story here, as this is a Franconian lager, and the real story is about the rich, almost juicy malt character that gives Mönchsambacher a sweetness that rings like a church bell, our friend the winking monk no doubt on ringing duty.

It’s a big beer for its style at 5.5%, but it drinks easy and as such won’t last you long. And as the brewers give this beer a best before date of just six weeks, make sure you drink this fresh.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance writer, photographer and author of our award-winning Fundamentals column. He's written for publications including BEER, Ferment, Good Beer Hunting and Original Gravity. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis. Such has been the overwhelming demand for this beer - and the brevity of its mandated freshness - that we’re completely sold out. Sorry- but keep your eyes peeled for next time…

Fundamentals #43 — Signature Brew Reverb New England IPA

Long before I entered the beer industry, I wanted to be a record producer. A childish pipe dream, perhaps. But still I went to University and took a degree in sound engineering. I was even quite good at it (IMO.) But alas the call of beer led me away from the music career that could have been. Which was probably for the best really.

What studying sound engineering has never taken away from me is how it changed the way I listened to music. I don’t hear songs, I hear individual tracks. Each treated with an array of different tools to make it more pronounced, or softer, or whatever that particular sound dictates. It made me think critically about music in the same way I now think about beer – when I’m writing a review such as this at least.

One of my favourite musical treatments is reverb. The idea behind using reverb is that it creates space in your track. You can do this by recording in a bigger room, or perhaps one with a harder surface such as a bathroom (or castle, as Led Zeppelin did once). Or you can use modern digital or analogue trickery. Reverb is so powerful in that it can turn a dead sound into a lively one simply by placing it in a different sounding room. Or in its extremes, it can create cascades of endless, glorious reflection.

In my opinion, the most expert use of Reverb as a production effect exists on every track of Radiohead’s 1997 opus, OK Computer. Whether a track is drenched in lush echo, or has simply a tight, enlivening vibe, each use of Reverb is perfect. Every sound on that record is in its right place. Much like the hops in Signature Brew’s latest New England IPA, Reverb.

This beer uses deftly applied doses of Mosaic, Enigma and Simcoe hops to created layered yet balanced textures of pine, citrus and tropical fruit. And despite the intensity of this beer’s flavour, one element never dominates the others, making it astonishingly drinkable. It’s a beer to give even the most lauded producers of hazy, yellow beer a run for their money. And, much like Radiohead’s classic LP, it never becomes tiresome. Here is a beer that gets no less captivating with each repeated sip.

[Disclosure: My partner Dianne is the Assistant Manager of Signature Brew’s London Taproom.]

Matthew Curtis is a freelance 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. This beer features in our February All Killer No Filler subscription box. Get on board here.

Fundamentals #42: Yeastie Boys White Palace Brut IPL

Craft beer, for me at least, is about a few key points. Creating something exceptional, something delicious is among the most important. Innovating, whether that means pioneering a genuinely new idea or creating something special from the history books – or perhaps a hybrid of the two – is another.

For a brewer like Kim Sturdavant of California’s Social Kitchen & Brewery, his creation of the Brut IPA in 2018 should have been one of those culture defining moments. By using the enzyme amyloglucosidase to chew through complex sugars yeast weren’t interested in, he created an ultra-dry, spritzy take on the American style IPA.

It got popular, fast. And within a few months his idea was being copied by brewers as far away as Japan, New Zealand and here in the UK.

But hardly any of the brewers attempting to innovate had actually tried Sturdavant’s effort. They were simply copying his idea based on word of mouth, which these days amounts to reading about it on the internet. Where’s the innovation in that? This is not what craft beer is about, surely.

The result was a trend that spawned a thousand dreary clones. I tried to like them, I really did. But I came across far too many uninspiring, or downright insipid interpretations of the style.

The biggest kicker, however, was that Sturdavant’s idea was far from original. In fact, he was pipped to the post six years previously by none other than Roger Ryman, brewmaster at Cornwall’s St. Austell Brewery.

As it happens, Ryman was producing a dry hopped, US-inspired IPA using amyloglucosidase since 2012 in a beer called Big Job. It’s a shame that St. Austell’s gravitas was not enough to propel the trend forward back then, so we could perhaps be done with it sooner. However, Yeastie Boys might have convinced me that there’s life in the Brut trend after all.

White Palace is an IPL as opposed to an IPA, as it’s a lager, not an ale. A smattering of German Huell Melon hops in its recipe are joined by passionfruit purée and the must (a wine-making term for the juice, seeds, skins and stems from grapes) of Pinot Gris grapes. Where most Brut IPAs fall down for me is their distinct lack of flavour. I understand the style is meant to finish dry and bright but please, give me something to enjoy before I get there. And it’s here, deep in the flavour zone, where White Palace succeeds.

First there are some gloriously juicy aromatics from the Pinot Gris, which is immediately followed up by the sharp, tropical acidity of the passionfruit. It’s brief but highly enjoyable hit of flavour that works perfectly in this style – one I feel as though I could return to frequently.

If more Brut-style beers are able to replicate this kind of deliciousness, perhaps it’ll be successful after all.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance 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. This beer features in our February All Killer No Filler subscription box. Get on board here.

Fundamentals #41: North Brewing Co x Ritual Lab Triple Fruited Gose Blueberry + Apricot + Blackberry

The last time I reviewed a beer from Leeds’ North Brewing Co. I diligently – some might even say successfully – compared the New England IPA to that most visceral of musical genres, post-punk. Sometimes you just need the melancholic gratification that only racing drums and angular guitars can provide. But other times, you just wanna jam it out, endlessly. So you light up some Nag Champa (hell, feel free to light up whatever’s your preference so long as you’re sharing), stick on Can’s epic Ege Bamyasi and reach for a can of gose.

That’s right folks, gose is the Krautrock of the beer world and I’m very much here for it. Especially when your jam is triple-fruited and, well, tastes like jam.

North’s latest Triple Fruited Gose (triple fruited meaning that three different fruits have been liberally applied to this beer, in this case blueberry, apricot and blackberry) is brewed in collaboration with Italy’s Ritual Lab. The can is as striking as you’d expect from North, with their award-winning branding twisting its way around your eyeballs and into your fridge. The beer inside is no less striking, pouring cosmic purple, the foam even more vibrantly rouge than the beverage itself.

And the smell! Deep hedgerow fruits bolstered by a hint of salinity and a promise of tartness draws you in. Although sadly, this is as far as my own sensory experience of this beer was allowed to travel.

You see, I’ve decided to take a few weeks off the booze. Not because there’s anything wrong with me, but because after drinking a lot of beer in 2018 I fancied giving my body the chance to recover (and maybe shift a couple of pounds) before diving headfirst into 2019. Not wanting to let the good folks at Hop Burns & Black down, I asked my partner Dianne (who works at London brewery Signature Brew – go say hi to her at their Haggerston taproom sometime soon) to do the honours.

“Cor,” she says as effervescent layers of mauve upon violet (seriously, this beer is really purple) make their way into the glass. She’s excited that there are apricots in this beer: “Really bringing balance to the blackberry and blueberry,” she says. I am genuinely nervous for my job at this moment.

It’s fun watching her take that first sip and screwing her face up as the tart beer forces her mouth into a pucker. Sips two and three are less physically and more verbally emotive, with plenty of cooing over the beer, which, if anything, leaves Dianne wanting a little more sourness to balance the voluminous levels of fruit in this gose.

It’s a two thumbs up from her, so make sure you grab some of this one before it inevitably sells out. [ED: Sold out now, sorry! Victim of its own success.]


Matthew Curtis is a freelance 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.

Fundamentals #40: A Cautionary Christmas Tale (Ft. The Kernel Barrel Aged London 1840 Export Stout)

If you’ve ever trapped your finger in a car door. you’ll perhaps empathise with this tale of struggle and woe. It begins in East London, at Signature Brew’s new taproom, at the start of December. Was that a hint of Christmas in the air I detected? No. It was the smell of heat and spice emanating from the victims of HB&B’s latest round of Chilli Karaoke.

The premise of Chilli Karaoke is simple, yet effective. You choose a song, you sing the first few lines before being rudely interrupted by the host, at which point a Scotch Bonnet pepper is consumed and you try to finish your song. Meanwhile, your struggle provides quality entertainment for the gathered crowd. Having once taken part myself, I can honestly say this is the modern equivalent of the gladiators fighting in front of the baying masses at the Colosseum. Only with catchier tunes.

After another hilarious night, hosted by HB&B’s very own Lewis Blomfield (who, it also turns out, is a very good character comedian), our chariot (a Toyota Prius) winged us home from the Colosseum, my beers to review tucked safely under one arm.

This is where a good argument could be made for cans over bottles, as they tend not to shatter. As I turned to exit the car (parked on a slight incline), the door began to close – but I did not move the middle finger on my left hand before the door decided to shut itself. There was blood, there was profanity (told you it was just like Ancient Rome), but worse was that the shock of trapping my finger caused me to throw everything I was carrying in my other hand up in the air. I didn’t see the can and bottle hit the ground, but I sure heard them.

The shattering of glass against tarmac drowned out the dull thud of a can hitting the same surface. I watched as this precious imperial stout, which had spent months maturing in red wine and Cognac casks, trickled down my North London street, only to be washed away by the rain.

And that would’ve been the end of this review. But thankfully, like all good Christmas tales, this has a happy ending. The next morning, I went for a walk and passing a rival bottle shop, I stopped in to see if they had stock of the same beer. To my delight, they did. Popping the bottle safely into my pocket, I rushed it home, chilled it down for just under an hour, and then – very carefully – opened it.

And what did I find? Perhaps one of the most exquisite imperial stouts I’ve tried all year: Unctuous molasses and roasted barley flavours, interspersed with a tangy bouquet of juicy red wine and mouth puckering tannins. The merest hint of Cognac adding a little boozy flourish to the end of each sip. I’d say it’s so good that its fit for Caesar himself. And perfect for some extended Christmas Day drinking. Well, it is The Kernel.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance 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.

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 #38 — Braybrooke Keller Lager

The greatest thing about beer trends is that if you bang on about one for long enough then chances are it’ll eventually come true. Like many of my beer-writing, peers I’ve been long stating that the time of the lager will soon dawn once more. Only this will not be another era of mass-produced, commodity Euro-lagers. These will be beers both rooted deeply in tradition and inspired by the cutting edge, from the nuanced and delicate to the boisterous and intense.

Keller Lager, from Brit newcomer Braybrooke, leans towards the more traditional aspects of the style, inspired by the Keller beers of Franconia, to the north of Bavaria, in Germany. And if you dig into the story of this brewery a little, that soon makes an awful lot of sense. Despite being based in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, the roots of this particular brewery can be found at Mahrs Bräu in Bamberg, Germany.

Originally founded in 1611, these days Mahrs Bräu is under the supervision of brewer Stephan Michel, who is also heavily involved in the production of beer at Braybrooke, holding the title of “resident brewing guru”. This means that Braybrooke gets to take advantage of Michel’s immense brewing knowledge as it attempts to bring the classic taste of Franconian lagers to UK drinkers. In fact, Braybrooke’s flagship Keller Lager is reportedly based directly on the recipe of Mahrs Bräu’s famous Ungespundet Naturtrüb, or aU (pronounced ‘ah-ooh’) for short - which, by coincidence, happens to be one of my favourite beers.

Does Braybrooke’s Keller Lager live up to its inspiration though? Absolutely. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the most enjoyable beers I’ve tried from a new British brewery for some time. Something I love about Franconian-style lagers is the intricacy of the malt flavour, and how it supports the entire beer. In fact, it’s something I once described to fellow HB&B writer Claire Bullen in one of my more hyperbolic moments as a “crystalline lattice of pleasure”. And that’s kind of how I feel about this beer.

The malt, which is imported from Bamberg, provides a platform that is as delicate as it is bold, building pillars of biscuit and caramel on the palate which the peppery, herbal notes of noble hops seem to dance around like maypoles in spring...

Wait, I think that was another one of my moments. But in all seriousness, this is a very good lager. One that you’ll likely enjoy drinking without much thought as I did contemplating every delicious mouthful. I am already looking forward a great deal to the next time I get to enjoy this beer.

Find our beer writer Matthew Curtis on Twitter @totalcurtis.

Fundamentals #37 — Northern Monk x Lervig Dark City Devil’s Delight Imperial Stout

As summer fades and the nights draw in I, like many of you I’m sure, begin to crave darker beers again. There’s something about the bite of a northerly breeze on your cheekbones and the crunch of dead leaves underfoot that makes me long for a bar to sit at, a log fire, and a pint laced with the myriad flavours that roasted barley can provide. Bitter chocolate, roasted coffee, sweet molasses… there are certain boxes that can only be ticked by a dark, rich stout.

Last year’s Dark City beer festival in Leeds - the brainchild of Northern Monk Brewery and Richard and Bryony Brownhill of Little Leeds Beer House - was a perfect celebration of these beers. So it’s fitting as we cascade towards the winter months that the event has returned and takes place at Northern Monk’s original brewery and taproom this weekend.

My experience of last year’s event was a highly enjoyable one. The Refectory, as Northern Monk’s taproom is known, is a wonderful space to hold an event such as this, taking place over two floors within the three-storey former linen mill, around a mile from Leeds city centre.

Being presented with the darker and typically stronger beers presents you with an interesting perspective when compared to other festivals of this ilk. Instead of rushing from bar to bar, eager to try as many small pours from as many breweries as possible, I found myself taking more time with each sip, appreciating the nuance of each beer as I ambled around the venue.

To mark this years event, Northern Monk has teamed up with Norway’s Lervig Aktiebryggeri to bring you Dark City Devil’s Delight Imperial Stout. And if that sounds like a mouthful then it’s with good reason. The unctuous beer weighs in at 9% ABV and features additions of crème du cacao, vanilla, oats, dextrose and lactose, all shoring up the already hefty blow dealt by the malted barley, hops and yeast.

Initial fears that this beer would be too sweet for my own palate (which typically prefers beers on the dry and bitter side of things) were soon put aside. Yes, there’s plenty of thick, sweet flavours that aren’t unlike chugging condensed milk straight from the tin, but these are balanced by a snap of dark chocolate and a faintly bitter hop twang, bringing balance to the intensity. My only complaint is perhaps the serving size. This is a big beer to be crammed inside a relatively large 440ml can, so I advise finding a pal to split it with. I can guarantee with certainty that they’ll appreciate the gesture.

Find our beer writer Matthew Curtis on Twitter @totalcurtis.

Fundamentals #36 — Magic Rock Saucery Session IPA

I am yet to be convinced that both gluten and alcohol-free beers are as good as the real thing. One of the main reasons behind this is that I think that there are plenty of other delicious alternatives to beer within these categories. Be it low-intervention cider, or natural wine, kombucha or craft soda, there’s plenty of choice out there. But I understand why gluten and alcohol-free beers need to exist – because people love beer.

And they are getting better, for the most part. It is perhaps unfair to me to split hairs within these styles, especially as my privilege allows me to enjoy both alcohol and gluten. I tend to struggle when someone tells me that a low alcohol or GF beer is “as good as the real thing” when quite clearly it isn’t. I prefer to see such products sold on their own merits, instead of being compared to something that they are not.

Which is why this beer – Saucery from Magic Rock – took me by complete surprise. I have, in fact, been enjoying this beer whenever I see it on tap for several months. It’s an excellent, light, yet hop forward session IPA. Bursting with notes of citrus, a gentle bitterness at the back of the palate and a dry finish that leaves you rasping for your next sip, or pint. It’s a great beer.

I had no idea that it was gluten free until I received this can to review.

Magic Rock has previous when it comes to making excellent gluten free beers. Its special edition gluten free IPA, Fantasma, proved so popular that it has since become part of its core range. This is excellent news, because despite my own misgivings about GF beers, the more choice out there the better, especially when it’s of this quality. I concede, however, that not everyone wants to drink 6.5% IPA all the time (although personally, I’d be happy to.) At a far lower 3.9% ABV, Saucery makes it accessible to a far larger demographic, and that can only be a good thing.

As I continue to sip at this particular can, I become more impressed with every satisfying gulp. If you’re looking for a tasty gluten free beer then this certainly is one. But if you are just looking for a tasty beer, this also is most definitely one. Saucery, indeed.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a Magic Rock Saucery Session IPA in-store or online.

Fundamentals #35: Hammerton Crunch Peanut Butter Milk Stout

Welcome back, to what is now the award-winning Fundamentals column. The judges at this year’s North American Guild of Beer Writers Awards saw fit to grant us a bronze medal in the Best Beer Review category. Specifically, for my piece on North Transmission, in which I attempted to compare New England IPA to post punk. All in all, it seems that was a successful analogy. Many thanks to the NAGBW for bestowing us with such an honour. Or should that be honor?

Today we’re tackling another emergent beer style that, like NEIPA, generates a serious amount of hyperbole – the Pastry Stout. It’s hard to identify exactly where or when exactly this trend emerged. Surely a stern finger should be wagged in the direction of the UK’s Buxton and Sweden’s Omnipollo, who released the collaborative Yellow Belly in 2014. In the wake of the popularity of this peanut butter and biscuit imperial stout, there have been countless breweries chucking ingredients such as cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate and more into the fermenter. Omnipollo is, in fact, a serial offender within the pastry stout category.

Perhaps though, the net of blame for the emergence of this style could be cast way back to the early 90s, when a young Goose Island released its Bourbon County stout. Now, of course, this liquid is now peddled by the evil, corporate world of Big Beer™ and as such should only be handled in full HazMat gear, while disposing of it carefully. Or, if you don’t have any protective clothing, you can dispose of it by sending to my address, below.

All jokes aside, stout, like many dark beers, struggles to find popularity when it’s out of season, and sells in far smaller quantities than its pale, hoppy brethren. The great thing about these modern pastry stouts is they’ve helped darker beers get a new wave of beer drinkers excited about these styles. Getting more folk into dark beers can only be a good thing.

When it comes to North London’s Hammerton Brewery, I’m a huge fan of the dry, slightly saline Pentonville Oyster Stout. Crunch is essentially the antithesis of this. By using lactose sugars and peanut, this beer tastes a little like a Reese’s cup, only one that’s been blended into a surprisingly drinkable dark beer. And what’s most surprising is that I don’t hate it. In fact, I quite like it, as despite its sweetness it retains that most important of qualities: drinkability.

Essentially, Crunch is pudding in a can. And one that’s worth skipping dessert for.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a Loka Polly Hallertau Blanc IPA in-store or online.

Fundamentals #34 — Loka Polly Hallertau Blanc IPA

I’ve been writing for Hop Burns & Black for more than three years now, but I think this is the first time I’ve written for Jen, Glenn and the team from inside Hop Burns & Black. I know, how meta. What’s perhaps most interesting about sitting in the shop on a Friday afternoon and watching people coming in, taking with them big bags stuffed with cans for the weekend, is how much things have changed in the beer world in such a short space of time.

The cans themselves, for starters, have become an enormous deal. Three years ago the shelves would have been almost exclusively lined with bottles. Now, thanks to canning becoming more accessible, around two-thirds of the beer on the shelves is now packaged in aluminium. It’s not just the packaging that’s changed either. The beer has too. Not just in terms of style – although the New England IPA has become something of a ubiquitous feature of the modern independent bottle shop – but the brands prominent on those shelves has also transformed over time.

This is great for us drinkers too. As many brewers choose to either eschew independence in the quest for expansion, or choose to stock national supermarket chains, losing their listings with folks like HB&B in the process, so do new brewers emerge. This in turn creates a new opportunity for these young breweries to carve out a small portion of the beer market for themselves. It’s craft beer’s very own circle of life.

And it’s because of this I’ve found myself in possession of an IPA from Loka Polly – my first. I’m aware the North Wales-based brewery has been making waves among beer’s most ardent fans for a few months now, but with more than 2,000 breweries in the UK it can be challenging to keep up.

The beer in question is a fresh can of Hallertau Blanc IPA. Weighing in at 6.6% ABV, the beer pours as slick and hazy as you’d expect from a modern NEIPA. What’s interesting about this beer for me is how the typical NEIPA cocktail of Citra, Mosaic and friends has been eschewed for the German Hallertau Blanc variety – a modern breed of a the classic Hallertau Mittlefrüh noble variety, which is typically used in lager brewing.

Although the Hallertau Blanc hop maintains a herbaceous snap, it’s supplemented by a distinctively juicy note reminiscent of white peach – perfect for a modern, girthy IPA such as this one. And believe me when I say this beer is girthy. If you’re a fan of beer that’s as chewy as it is delicious, then this one’s for you. Thankfully, that heft is balanced by a dry finish, and that subtle, fresh, green note implemented thanks to the parentage of this beer’s particular hop variety. From this, I can certainly see why Loka Polly has generated so much fuss among beer’s in-crowd this year.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a Loka Polly Hallertau Blanc IPA in-store or online.