These are strange and uncertain times. First Brexit. Now Donald J. Trump. A sleepless night was spent recently watching the improbable become reality. It was early projections from Florida – a ‘must win’ for ‘The Donald’ – which set alarm-bells ringing. At election time, the Sunshine State has an uncanny knack of often leaving a bitter aftertaste.
Seeking a brief respite from the impending result, I turned to my recent tasting notes. As it happens there’s many a beer on which I have notes taken but have not gotten around to blogging about. Marble Brewing’s Built to Fall is one such beer. Brewed in Manchester, this 5.6% abv American pale ale is part of the brewery’s ‘metal’ series and is named after a song by Trivium, a heavy metal band from Orlando. So it was a case of bitter + Florida + result = new blog post.
I knew nothing of the band but as I looked into them and the song Built to Fall in particular, I found plenty of parallels with the new world (orange) order. The song’s lyrics describe someone who’s “selfishly unaware” so “monstrous” and is built to fall. Remind you of anyone? I’d say following the election, a few fans could be found muttering: “I don’t want to hate you, but how could I not?”
The beer itself pours golden with hints of orange and it has a head that can I can best describe as the aftermath of an explosion in a candy-floss factory. Coincidentally, all of this could also be used to describe the president-elect. There is plenty of zesty and citrusy tropical fruit on the nose. It drinks smooth with a refreshing creaminess; flavours of mango predominate with a dash of pine thrown in for good measure. There is also just the right amount of bitterness in the finish.
Forget my over-worked political analogies for a second. This is an IPA named for a heavy metal band. IPA doesn’t automatically mean metal. Think Mmmhops by Hanson. Anyway, surely beers for moshers and thrashers should be closer to the darker and heavier side? Iron Maiden has followed up on the phenomenal success with Trooper by releasing a first stout, Red & Black.
Built to Fall has been delicately and deftly crafted by the brewer. It’s fresh and bitter but not overpowering and its sole connection to head-banging is perhaps only through imbibing one too many.
Or is it? I’ve learnt from a music geek (so says this beer nerd) that Trivium have toned down their more extreme edges and become more radio-friendly via slicker production. Given that, this beer sounds like it’s not wide of the mark at all.
As for US politics, we don’t know what’s going to happen over the next four years. But let’s hope that the beer produced over this period continues to be amazing, tremendous, huge, terrific and most bigly of all, great again. And that if a wall is constructed along that country’s southern border; it too finds inspiration in Trivium’s oeuvre and Marble Brewing’s beer and is built to fall.
Sadly, I’m not in Philadelphia this week for the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America®. Fortunately, I was able to visit the city last autumn. Ten years has passed since my one and only visit to the city. Regeneration has played a key role in its revival and it has become a good stop on one’s beer travels. I had less than 24 hours to take in a couple of beer destinations and see some of the sites.
Yards Brewing, now in its 22nd year, is in easy reach of downtown. It is one of those breweries that suffer unfairly from being one of the early movers on the craft beer scene. Familiarity can count against you in the craft beer movement, even one that holds “traditional” as key tenet.
It’s a short walk from the Spring Garden metro stop. The first hundred yards or so is a tiny bit sketchy but the entire area is up and coming. You’ll see just how far it’s come on when you get to North Delaware Avenue, with the condo developments. This used to be the nightclub area of the city but with close proximity to the river front, land prices are going through the roof. The vacant lots won’t be there for much longer. This part of the city has one added benefit. It comes complete with the smell of wort emanating from the brewery.
Yards Brewery focuses on traditional beer styles but they can have a twist. The branding, like its beers, reflect traditional British ales, a likely a nod to the revolutionary routes of the city. It also doesn’t hurt to compete with the British imports like Sam Smiths. The brewery operates Monday to Friday before opening up for tours on the weekends (12-4). Apparently people line up before it opens but they run every 20-25 minutes. Oh and it’s free!
It’s worth visiting due to a good tap room and getting to meet the regulars, many of whom drop in on their way home from work. The tap room offers a window into the brewery so you don’t have to be there on a Saturday to get a view of the operations. Of course, visiting brewers and beer tickers stop by. A group from nearby Conshohocken Brewing were in visiting. The tap room’s a great place to chat to the brewery staff. They can be found enjoying a post work pint at the bar but at times ducking back into the brewery to check up on things. Work never stops.
First, up was Brawler a 4.2% abv English Mild. It was rich mahogany in colour with excellent clarity. As you’d expect the aroma was malty with slight coffee and nutty aroma. As a session beer, it was smooth and almost milky in mouthfeel. Toasty with a hint of caramel roasted nuts in the finish. Next was the Extra Special Ale (6% abv). Its appearance captured the colours of Philly and Pennsylvania perfectly – copper and chestnut. Think Liberty Bell & rusting factories. I’m partial to an ESB and this beer is interesting. There’s a lot going on. Spicy, nutty, dark chocolate flavours complete with a slight, citrus bitter bite. It has a big finish building intensity of the bitter malt. I would love to try this on cask but sadly they didn’t have it on when I was visiting.
Of course, the brewery’s pale ale and IPA offering is part of the signature flight. Philadelphia Pale Ale (4.6% abv) pours an incredibly clear golden colour. The aroma is of freshly squeezed oranges, thanks to being dry-hopped with simcoe. It’s certainly easy drinking with notes of fresh tangerines in the flavour. It’s reminiscent of orange squash with a pleasant dry, bitter finish. The IPA is called IPA because let’s face it, why bother coming up with a name for it because it’s a beer style that people just ask by style rather than name. At 7% abv it falls outside the session beer category. The colour is polished brass with orange on the nose. The fruit flavours continue with a sherbet-like mouthfeel at first before being hit by a big, bitter punch. There’s a sticky sweetness and pine notes in the finish. It’s hopped with chinook and amarillo.
Of course, you’re bound to take in some of the historical sites when in the city. If you’re not in the mood to actually venture into Independence Hall, you can smooth you conscience somewhat by trying beers inspired by three founding fathers as part of the brewery’s Revolutionary Flight. These beers are inspired by historic recipes of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin.
General Washington’s Tavern Porter (7% abv) has an aroma of roast coffee and beef. It’s smooth with a smoky body before a big dark chocolate and caramel finish. There’s also a bourbon barrel-aged version, which I have yet to try. Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale on the other hand is a strong golden ale (8% abv). It pours a clear, copper colour. The aroma is of lightly toasted wheat, red fruit and spice on the nose. The flavour and finish is of spice and honey.
Poor Richards Tavern Spruce (5% abv) is apparently based on a recipe of Benjamin Franklin. Billed as a historical style, it’s brewed with molasses and local blue spruce tips. Amber in colour, there’s ginger and vinous notes on the nose. The flavour and finish is of ginger and pine; a really interesting beer. The final beer of the flight is Love Stout (5.5%) named for the City of Brotherly Love. A nitro pour, it’s almost jet black topped by a creamy head. The aroma is of powdered milk chocolate. It’s creamy, with a coffee hit in the finish. I understand there’s a variant of this beer containing 100% cacao Belgian dark chocolate.
The final flight consisted of four refreshing seasonal and small batch brews. Beginning with Hefeweizen (5.4% abv). It was 24ct gold in colour, if it was any clearer the guys on TV’s Gold Rush may finally retire. There was plenty of banana and clove on the nose. At first it comes across as a tad over-carbonated, leaving it too dry. It finishes in the opposite direction, however, with sweet banana flavours lingering long after. Saison (6.5% abv) also pours a lovely, polished gold. There’s banana, clove along with other saison yeast notes. It’s sweet, cereal with lemon and honey blending into a pleasant finish. There’s a dash of pepper and bitterness too.
Yards, like other breweries, are keen on giving back. They are passionate about supporting charities and what better way than through brewing beer. You should check out their Brew Unto Others initiative. Part of the proceeds from PYNK (5.5% abv), a tart berry ale, goes to support breast cancer research and awareness. This is a pink beer, no doubt about it. What’s better is that the colour is natural thanks to the cherries and raspberries. It’s none of that artificial colouring for green beer. It’s amber with a big splash of pink. For the aroma, think raspberry yoghurt. Upfront, there’s pleasant fresh sour cherry in the flavour before a brut, dry finish. The palate isn’t overpowered by the tartness.
The last beer of the flight was Cicada, a Belgian-style IPA brewed with local honey (8.5% abv). This bronze ale had a big Juicy Fruit aroma. It was hard to pick up the Belgian yeast aromatics; only the slightest banana esters could be detected. Drinks bitter at first, then floral and honey notes take over. There’s a warming bitter tropical fruit and herbal bitterness in the finish.
I couldn’t leave the brewery without trying Olde Bartholomew Barleywine (10.3% abv) on cask. It pours lovely, clear amber. The aroma is a wonderful medley of marzipan and grapes. It’s not overly sweet, one might say medium-dry. The flavour is penetrated by pleasant hints of fruit. It finishes dry and spicy.
I had only planned to stay an hour or so in the taproom but I was there far longer than that. As I mentioned before, the taproom has a real “local bar” vibe to it. It’s a friendly place, whether you’re from the city or just passing through. And of course, the beer is good.
It’s been a while since I had a can of Lilt. So long in fact that I don’t even know if it’s still available. All of this was sparked off by Brewdog’s Elvis Juice. It tastes a lot like Lilt, period.
One could imagine the Brewdog product development team used the following checklist. A grapefruit infused IPA with an aroma consisting largely of, you’ve guessed it, grapefruit. Box ticked. It’s refreshing, even at 6.5% abv. Box ticked. Did I mention that this beer is 6.5% abv? Box ticked. Make sure you produce a beer the “punks” will shout about. Box ticked (perhaps this one’s too easy). Use “Elvis” in the name to confuse people. Box ticked. Explore the use of fruit to substitute for high hop prices. Box ticked, or maybe I’m being unfair on that last one.
The beer’s fine. It’s certainly drinkable and the infused grapefruit gives it a vibrant, fresh aroma. Is this cheating though? Before you judge me too harshly, yes I’m more than aware that infused beers have been around for yonks – even for the IPA style. I’m just not convinced that this beer in particular works.
Beer geeks have been hyper-critical of the new wave of radler-style offerings popping up here, there and everywhere. Why should fruit-infused IPAs be treated differently? Okay, darker versions may be better but even then they play the Terry’s Chocolate Orange card. Overall, craft infused-beers do tend to be better balanced in bitterness and drinkability – Elvis Juice has a somewhat muted dry bitterness to it.
The appearance of so many fruit-infused IPAs of late merely point to the latest fad off-shoot of the overall style. Of course they’re appealing. I can see them becoming big sellers. They could even be useful in beer cocktails for those so inclined. A 3-3.5% abv or lower version could be huge, especially during the summer. Then again the neo-prohibitionist lobby could brand them in the alco-pop territory.
For me, I prefer a lot more out of a beer than this particular beer. If I want a refreshing grapefruit hit in abundance, I’d stick to the likes of San Pellegrino before moving onto beer. Brewdog certainly produce better beers than this but then again, who am I to judge this beer’s appeal.
It’s August. Where has this summer gone? Never mind the weather, it’s hard to believe the new football season is already upon us and the Rugby World Cup will kick off next month. The summer season is when I like to catch up with other sports such as cricket. Having dropped the sports package on the TV, I came across a half-season pass t the baseball, which reminded me of an appropriate beer that I recently tried.
Half Cycle is an IPA out of Indianapolis by Flat 12 Bierwerks. It’s billed as a cross-between a regular ol’ IPA and a double IPA. It’s named after a baseball term when a batter hits a single and a double in the same game. At 6% abv and weighing in at a reported 104.1 IBUs, this beer is in keeping with the baseball theme of being a big hitter. I’d have thought Indiana would be more interested in football, basketball and motor-racing than America’s favourite pastime.
The beer pours a yellowish-gold colour. It’s topped by big, frothy head, the kind you get in a coffeehouse when you need a good five minutes to find your coffee through all that foam. The aroma has melon, pineapple and other tropical fruits in abundance. Pithy grapefruit dominates the flavour. However, the body is extremely sticky and the sweetness gives it almost jelly-like characteristics. You may find yourself reaching for a spoon, purely by instinct.
There’s plenty of bitterness in the finish, which pairs nicely with this time of the year when you realise that the summer’s almost over (and the baseball too). It’s a decent beer and the tall, narrow cans would come in handy for sneaking them into sports venues over here.They should probably drop “this stuff is made by guys” from their cans at some point in the future, however. It may become too much of a distraction as the brewery grows. I will look to check out more of Flat 12’s beer range at some point in the future.
Have we reached the point when beards or at the very least not shaving for a week or so is no longer confined to the hipsters. Perhaps we’ve reached a tipping point in the way that beards used to be associated more with trade unionists than trendiness. As someone who’s averse to fashion, this was a welcome development when I found myself not shaving for a week or so. It was certainly more convenient but eventually I got fed up with it.
Having a beard is not for me. I can certainly see why a fair few brewers have them, due to the early morning starts. Or in the case of Rogue’s John Maier it can be useful to cultivate a yeast strain. Instead, I’m happy sticking with a beer or two from Weird Beard.
The brewery is yet another one of those from London that is producing interesting beers. I’ve had a few of these over the past year or so and was impressed with Fade to Black (black IPA) and Black Perle (milk coffee stout). A recent beer I had from theirs is in keeping with my brief separation from my razor, Five O’Clock Shadow.
It’s a big IPA in terms of strength. At 7% abv it tips it at the higher end of the style. It pours a hazy, copper and orange. There’s grapefruit, pineapple, mango and a hint of passion fruit on the nose. However, the tropical aromas are perhaps more reminiscent of a sweet tropical fruit syrup. On tasting, you’re hit with the carbonation first with the topical fruits notes growing in the flavour. It’s as if this beer is determined to clean the palate before appreciating every sip. A chewy, sweetness develops as you drink before leading to a bitter and warming finish. It’s a subtle reminder of the beer’s strength.
Hit the Lights is a 5.9% abv is billed as a “mixed up IPA”. It presents a golden orange colour in appearance. There’s rich orange and citrus on the nose thanks to the hop bill of Target and Aurora (bittering, flavour and dry hopping). It was slightly watery at first before a fresh fruit bitterness taking hold. The malt backbone lends a certain amount of sweetness to the flavour. There’s a sticky, bitterness to the finish that is reminiscent of a rich marmalade.
Weird Beard is a brewery that I will continue to look out for and hopefully more of their beers will find their way over here. Actually as I write this, I am reminded that a trip to London is long over-due.