I awoke on New Year’s Day this year with a strange, slightly unfamiliar sensation in the pit of my stomach, one that took me a few moments to put my finger on.
It wasn’t my hangover, I was fully aware of the distress that was bringing me, having decided to venture out the previous evening despite the chaos of the pandemic still swirling. (The right call, as it turned out, the company of close friends and excellent beer proving a real tonic after a miserable few months.)
No, this was a positive feeling: optimism. Somehow, despite the relentless news cycle, it’s still there. I believe good times are on their way, both in a more general sense and in terms of beer. And it’s keeping me (somewhat) sane.
These past couple of years have been tremendously challenging for the beer industry, with pressure from all sides. With lockdowns and pubs shut for long periods of time, demand has been reduced, while pressures within the supply chain mean that the cost of staff, equipment, utilities and raw materials are all seeing big increases.
Despite all of this pressure, however, I am seeing stoicism: Breweries that, despite it all, still want to make the best beer they can and get it into your clammy hands. Just look at the years the likes of Elusive, Double Barrelled and Utopian have had as an example – relatively new small breweries making incredibly delicious beverages and seemingly thriving against all odds.
Another of these breweries is Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s Alpha Delta, founded in 2019 and already garnering awards and well-deserved local and national hype. Bursting with aromas of pithy grapefruit and lemon zest, Xevza is a hazy, hoppy pale ale in the New England style. The twist is that it uses flash-frozen, fresh whole cone Simcoe and Mosaic hops, flown in from the harvest in Yakima, the largest hop growing region in the United States.
Typically, this style of beer is made using pelletised hops that will arrive in the UK a few months after harvest. Fresh US hops tend to have a more pronounced citrus zest character and a rasping bitterness, which is used to great effect in this beer to provide a dry, satisfying finish that leaves you in anticipation of your next sip.
While I have my doubts on the long-term sustainability of flying in flash-frozen hops from North America (and wish more UK brewers would get as excited about the wonderful English fresh hops that are available at harvest here), there’s no doubting this beer is a real treat.
It’s exciting to see newer breweries like Alpha Delta hitting the ground running, and evidence, for me at least, that my optimism for the scene is not misplaced.
Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Sign up to our All Killer No Filler subscription box and you'll find incredible beers like this one every month, plus more great writing from Matthew and our food writer Claire Bullen.