Bitterness is one of the most enjoyable, and most crucial, elements in beer. In my opinion, anyway.
When implemented correctly, bitterness sends a signal to your brain, telling you that what you’re drinking is refreshing, creating an impulse response motivating you to take another sip. If that bitterness is in perfect balance, then once your glass is empty, you’ll head to the bar and ask for another glass of whatever you just finished. It’s more powerful than any sales tactic or marketing scheme breweries can come up with.
Brewers have known this for a long time, too. Bitter beer sells. Or at least it did until the softer, sweeter modern generation of hazy IPAs came along over the past decade or so and ruined things for everyone. And while I enjoy these from time to time, it’s bitterness that always pulls me back, especially when accompanied by the fresh citrus zest and tropical fruit depth found in some of my favourite North American hop varieties.
Simcoe is one such variety, which at its best is dripping with juicy flavours of mango and pink grapefruit. The team at Suffolk’s Burnt Mill are masters of conveying both bitterness and the fruit punch of US hop flavours, which is why they’re making some of the best West Coast-style IPAs at the moment. Get The Onyx is yet more proof of this and a reminder that I (and, indeed, all of us) should be drinking more Burnt Mill beers.
I understand, though, that bitterness can be off putting, especially to those less accustomed to it. There was a time before the haze craze when brewers would try to brew the most bitter beers they could and drinkers would challenge themselves to enjoy it – and if we didn’t, we would pretend anyway. However, a true West Coast IPA isn’t about overt bitterness at all. It’s about balance; using sweet biscuit and caramel malts to soften the edges and enhance the fruitiness of the hops.
This is exactly what this IPA does, luring you in with the softest lick of sweetness before delivering a fruit basket to your front door. The bitterness in the finish lingers just long enough before it disappears, leaving you thinking, “I’ll have another one of those.” And believe me, you will want another.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.