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Thursday, 18 August 2011

Magic Rock Bottles

Magic Rock Brewing might not have been around long, but they’re already making an impact with the beers they brew. Cask and keg offerings at the awesome new Craft Beer Co and Southampton Arms in London, a funky launch at North Bar in Leeds and a generally positive buzz around the beer world – they’re out the blocks well.

I’ve enjoyed their stuff on draught, but it’s bottles I want to talk to you about today. Bottles that have some of the best branding on them that I’ve ever seen. Bottles full of delicious beer?

First up is High Wire, a 5.5% beer that calls itself a West Coast Pale Ale. The aroma is dominated by high alpha acid American hops, floral and perfumed rather than heavy and dank, they bring notes of lychee, some sappy pine and some mango. This follows through into the flavour, where it’s met with a firm malt-driven backbone of caramel and toffee. It’s generously hopped for a beer in the American pale ale style and, whilst I do think you need a decent malt body to stand up to that, I’d go so far as to say that perhaps there is too much malt character here. The body feels slightly thin – something which could be down to filtering – but the bitterness is about spot on.

High Wire’s big brother is Cannonball, a full-fledged IPA in the American style with 7.4% of its 330ml handed over to alcohol. Its aroma is juicy, juicy like you just stamped on a bowlful of very ripe satsumas and tangerines, juicy with a slight hint of sticky pine sap in the background. Flavour honours aroma with the addition of more of that malt, that caramelly, toffee malt that’s in the High Wire. There might be a bit too much of it for my personal taste here too, there’s almost the slight suggestion of a weak golden barley wine going on - just because that malt character is quite big. Bitterness is bang on again, there’s a tiny bit of alcohol burn and then a slick, oily texture that definitely doesn’t come from a fault like diacetyl, but might come from hop oils. This is good beer, very good beer. The hop profile is a little on the muddy side and, I think, lacking the clarity of hop flavour that you get in the very best American IPA’s but, nonetheless, this is good beer.

And finally Rapture, which immediately makes me think of Brewdog 5am Saint, a “Red Hop Ale” at 4.6% alcohol. The aroma is more floral in this one, cut flowers, flower petals and then dank, leafy, well ... leaves. The flavour profile is dominated by those hops; they’re painted over a canvas of crystal malt that brings a load of burnt sugar, dark toffee and even feint coffee and bitter chocolate. There’s some sweetness there but it finishes dry and, with that dryness, the crystal malt is allowed to take over, leaving some astringency. I love 5am Saint because the hop and malt is in perfectly balance, Rapture almost gets there but the crystal just becomes a bit too much for me.

You know what; there aren’t many breweries out there that make three bottled beers of this quality. To have done so within the first few months of operation, well, that’s no mean feat.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Are You Positive?

A bit of back-and-forth between HardknottDave and Tandleman has again got me thinking about blogging about bad beer and bad drinking experiences.

On one hand you can argue that the blogger should use their writing to reflect the state of the beer landscape in which they drink; it’s not all good beer out there and it’s misleading to suggest otherwise. Putting questions about the influence that bloggers even have to one side, you could argue that pubs and beer won’t improve unless the landlord or brewer is told where they’re going wrong. If you mislead a new drinker into a bad pub and they walk out thinking that that’s as good as it gets, how many come back for a second pint?

The converse argument is that you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar. If you spend your time telling people about all the bad beer you drink then your message becomes wrapped in negativity. Tweet about the three bad beers you drank whilst enjoying the three great ones silently and give the new drinker no reason to ask for beer.

For me it’s important to remember that judgement shouldn’t be cast quickly. One bad pint doesn’t make a bad pub; one bad batch doesn’t make a bad brewer. The things I tweet and the things I blog are almost always opinion based; opinion does not equal fact. Humility is important, especially when your opinion isn’t a positive one, and when you’re opinion is potentially damaging to a brewer or publican’s brand it’s important to consider how you share it.

It’s a balancing act for sure, a balancing act that I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t mastered. I want to champion beer as a great drink because I know how great it is. I want to focus on the good stuff and get other people interested in beer by sharing that with them, but I also think it’s important to be honest and for a drinker to know when something isn’t as it should be.

Personally I think it’s more effective to focus on the positive. I’m more likely to persuade people to drink beer that I describe as good than beer I complain about being bad. Generally people are pretty smart; a set of posts about great beer doesn’t necessarily mean a leap to the conclusion that bad beer is nonexistent.

What do you think?

I wrestled with whether or not to post this entry. It feels, to a certain extent, like I'm crashing someone elses argument and I'm not really keen on blogging about blogging. This is something that came up at the European Beer Bloggers Conference though, and it's something that I think is important. If the influence of the beer blogger continues to grow, so will the relevance on this issue.

Image from here.