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Thursday, 21 April 2011

Summer Sessions

A few beers have really caught my eye recently.

We’re experiencing unusually good weather in the South of England for this time of year. It doesn’t take much for the shorts and sunglasses to come out, nor the ever-eager Londoner that simultaneously sunbathes topless in the park whilst cowering from the chill-wind behind a tree trunk or hedgerow. It’s a funny sight, but a sight that fills you with the optimism of summer, the knowledge that those alfresco evenings and scorched afternoons aren’t far away.

Drinking habits begin to change too; the comforting warmth of a big, dark porter or stout is dethroned and refreshment becomes king. The golden ales and lager beers take over tap handles and fill fridges, offering us thirst slaking super-powers par excellence. We’re looking for beers that offer quaffability not sipability, something we can greedily chug down and draw a line under with a contented sigh and a table-bump of the pint glass.

Drinkability is a word that sparks debate; for me, when used in the context of a golden summer ale, it largely hinges on alcohol content. I don’t want to be drinking something that’ll rock me after a single pint, that’s not what I’m looking for, I want something that I can drink two or three of and still feel fine after. I want something to drink, not something to get me drunk. Extreme session beer*; a maximum of 4 percent ABV.

It’s a difficult style to brew because there’s nothing to hide behind. You get a slight off flavour in an IIPA and there’s a good chance you’ll get away with it, badly ferment an imperial stout and you can just apply a barrel-aged-bandage to cover it up. Easy. But when everything is subtle and turned down to a whisper the brewer isn’t forgiven so quickly, the slightest suggestion of a problem becomes deafening. And if that weren’t difficult enough, the window in which a balanced beer can be landed becomes increasingly narrow the smaller you go. What’s 10 IBUs when your total is around 90? But 10 IBUs when your total is 20, well that’s a different story. 5 gravity points in a 10 percent barley wine, but in a ... yeah, you get the idea.

Camden Town Brewery’s Inner City Green is one of those beers that have caught my eye. It’s one of the best beers I’ve had all year in fact. At only 3.9 percent ABV it manages to punch well above its weight; enough bitterness in the finish to balance out a subtle sweetness up front and sufficient body to carry a raft of exotic fruit flavours from the Nelson Sauvin and Southern Cross hops. Taking things even further is Redemption Trinity; a tiny ABV of only 3 percent is hidden by a massive citrus hop presence and a crisp, snappy bitterness that works to prevent the beer from ever feeling thin or watery. Old favourites in the same vein include Dark Star Hophead, Marble Pint and Thornbridge Wild Swan; but I could only ever finish with a nod towards Gadds’ Low and Behold, a beer that I simply cannot wait to try at Planet Thanet this weekend, a beer brewed in protest of continuing duty increases in the UK and the “generous” new legislation to remove duty on beers brewed at 2.8 percent ABV or below. Should be a good one!

* Yeeesss, I know. That was intentional.


Leigh said...

I think I've nailed my colours to the mast on TGS enough times to say that 'Session' should mean flavour and vibrance as much as 'drinkability.' I'm really looking forward to trying the inner-city green. And I'm with you on Wild Swan too - an underappreciated beer in the TB roster, I think. I can also recommend pretty much anything by Buxton, too. Super, flavour-packed but unfussy pales.

Richard said...

Would really love to try Inner City Green should it travel up here, or when I'm next in the other capital - sounds really good.

Good ol' Hophead - that and Fyne Ales Jarl surely the two big picks from most bloggers session lists?

Mark said...

Leigh: You need to get on that Innercity green ASAP! I think it'd be right up your street. Shame that you're probably unlikely to see it outside London.

Richard: Hophead has a special place with me, could happily drink it day after day. Ive only had Jarl at GBBF (2010) - loved it there, but wouldnt mind trying it again. Oakham JHB is another good one that I didnt mention.