Malt is a too-often under-appreciated ingredient in our favourite beers. More often than not hops will take centre stage, even for beers with far more complex grain-bills than they have hop additions (Black IPA, anyone?).
Yeast too can often pull the rug from under it, especially in wild and sour beers, and more recently in the brewing world’s obsession with Kveik, a wide range of farmhouse yeasts indigenous to Norway that are now conveniently available to the modern brewer in packet form.
When this column began a few years ago, we decided to call it Fundamentals because we wanted it to highlight the importance of the ingredients within beer as well as the beer itself. It’s been fun watching this idea evolve, because I’ve learned that there’s a lot more that’s fundamental to our favourite beers than the elements it’s composed of. The pubs, the people, the deliciousness. It’s all key.
But for this beer, which by now barely feels like it needs it needs an introduction due to the hype surrounding it online, I want to go back to the start. The fundamentals of Fundamentals, if you will. This new Helles from Bristol lager-maestro’s Lost and Grounded is a masterclass in both flavour and drinkability. And at the centre of that is some of the most structured and nuanced positioning of malt I’ve ever tasted in a British-made beer.
One thing I love to remind people of these days is that beer is grown in the ground. Hops and malt – be the latter barley, wheat, oats or one of many other grains used in beer making – are produced by farmers. By better understanding beer's connection to agriculture, it becomes more interesting, more engaging and more relevant. I find this is easier to do with malt than it is hops because the latter is predominantly about bold flavours for a great many people. We talk about citrus, tropical fruit or whatever, but don’t always tie that back to the fact it came from the dirt, tied to a trellis with a piece of string.
There’s something more romantic about the agriculture of malt – barley especially. The golden, long-eared heads, packed with juicy grains, gently blowing in a late summer breeze, kissed by sunlight... It’s a beautiful picture, and one I can visualise with remarkable simplicity after just a faint whiff of this Helles. To taste, it’s light and gentle; biscuit-sweet with a peppery crack of hops that never take centre stage. It finishes dry with a hint of sweetness dropping below the skyline like an orange and caramel-tinged sunset.
This lager is all about the barley, and it is magnificent. One to order by the caseload.
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.