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Citralogy: Fyne Ales Jarl v Oakham Citra v BrewDog IPA Is Dead Citra v Mikkeller Citra IPA

August 3, 2011 12 comments

Like my black IPA experiment recently, this post is born of finding I had accumulated a few beers of a single type and thought they were worth comparing.  In addition, this post is dedicated to Chris “Citra” King, a man unafraid to call a bandwagon a bandwagon.

Fyne Ales Jarl 3.8%

Prior knowledge:  A much-praised Scottish session ale which uses Citra.  I don’t know if it’s solely Citra-hopped, but don’t know for sure if there are other hops used and what they are.

Smell: Light, slightly bready but also lemon and slighty white-wine grapey aroma.  Kate thought she detected Nelson Sauvin, and I agree.

Appearance: Very pale straw colour, pale white head.

Taste: Quite a thin body but with a noticeable hint of oiliness in the mouthfeel.  Delicate fresh lemon citrus and grape flavours and a slightly alkaline bitterness.

Conclusion:  I got a lot more Nelson Sauvin in the flavour than Citra, but this is a really nice light session beer.  I do wonder if it’s a different experience on cask and more fuller bodied.   I’ve been told that Hawkshead’s excellent and similarly light, low ABV Citra-led Windermere Pale is not bottled, as they’re not convinced the hop flavours will hold up.  Nevertheless an accessible and sensible beer that I increasingly find myself reaching for in the fridge.

Oakham Citra 4.6%

Prior knowledge:  An early adopter of Citra in the UK.

Smell: Not huge, again a little bready and a little lemony.

Appearance: More golden colour, similarly pale white head.

Taste: More assertively bitter in a slightly chalky, grapefruity manner.  Lacking sweetness and body.

Conclusion:  The label mentions gooseberry, grapefruit and lychee in the aroma and that’s not far off in respect of the taste, at least.  Again this is a very nice beer, but not an immediately compelling mix of flavours.  Once again, I think this would most likely be a better beer on cask.

BrewDog IPA Is Dead Citra 7.5%

Prior knowledge: 75 IBU Citra-hopped IPA from BrewDog’s interesting single hop experiment “IPA Is Dead”, which involved four beers with identical IBUs and ABVs, the only difference being the type of hop used. I reviewed each of the beers after trying them at the North Bar launch night here.  On keg it wasn’t my favourite of the four, but others preferred it.

Smell: Rich sweet malty mango aroma.

Appearance: The shade is clearly that of a maltier beer, a different class to the previous session-strengthers.

Taste: Sweet sticky mango and lime taste, with a very sweet to cloying aftertaste.

Conclusion: I suspect the hops have calmed down a bit since the keg version I had in North, this bottle being a few months old now.  I think it lacked depth, but was still a very nice beer.

Mikkeller Citra IPA 6.8%

Prior knowledge:
From a much wider single-hop experiment (see Malt Jerry’s post here), I bought this little rarity from the Craft Beer Company in London.  So it cost a fortune.  88 IBU, which is a bit higher than the BrewDog, but slightly lower ABV.

Appearance:
Similar to the BrewDog.

Smell:
Surprisingly little aroma, boozy with a general maltiness and even some brine.

Taste: For 88 IBU I expected a bit more here.  I found it sweet, lightly fruity and malty, but that’s about it.

Conclusion: It’s difficult not to like a beer this sweet, but I’m not blown away.  I prefer the BrewDog, I think.

In reality I’m really comparing two different sets of beers here.  It isn’t possible to do a direct comparison between two beers, one of which is more than twice as strong as the other, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen not to simply “score” them.  If I were to draw two hypotheses from the above, and these are really just initial thoughts for further investigation, I might say this:

  1. Session-strength Citra pale ales are enjoyable from the bottle, but might well be better and more fuller-bodied from cask.
  2. Stronger IPAs might be better suited to using Citra in addition to other hops, as the experience above suggests it doesn’t, on its own, impart a sophisticated-enough range of flavours with the balance and depth to match the body.

But, as always, I could be wrong, and would appreciate your own thoughts and experiences on the topic.

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Uncommon Market: The Rake and Brew Wharf, Borough Market, Southwark

March 19, 2011 4 comments

A trip to London for work means an early start, a lot of train time and usually a fairly hectic day (or couple of days) of work when I get there, and a late finish. However every cloud has a head on it, so I decided to use the opportunity to explore the beery delights of Borough Market, which was less than a mile’s walk from my hotel near St Paul’s.

After a picturesque walk across the Millennium Footbridge that runs between St Paul’s and the Tate Modern, I followed the South bank of the Thames to London Bridge. The first place I came to that was on my list was Brew Wharf, a large, spacious, minimalist modern bar under railway arches.

It was quite busy, so I took my half of their own 1 Hundred IPA and went to stand outside. It was a malty, US-style strong (6.3% or thereabouts?) IPA, but on cask. It was quite amber and malty in the way a lot of US IPAs are, and had a nice piney, furniture polish bitterness. It was a very tasty beer indeed, but… Sacrilegious as it was to think, on this of all days (being the 40th anniversary of CAMRA) it probably would have been slightly better on keg.

I then wandered around slightly lost in an enjoyable kind of way, in the shadow of the half-built Blade-Runneresque Shard that now overlooks the street food vendors of Borough.  I popped my head into The Market Porter, a pretty, large, traditional pub with a wide selection of cask ales, but it was also a bit full for a solitary visit.  After a while I finally found The Rake, which must actually only be about 20 metres from Brew Wharf.

The tiny and neat bar had a wealth of incredible bottles, as well as two Sierra Nevadas (Bigfoot and Celebration) on keg and a few cask ales. However, I’d come here for the Kernel. I bought a bottle of Kernel Citra IPA to drink and another to take home, along with a Kernel Export Stout, a Kernel Black IPA and a can of Caldera Ashland Amber Ale, also for the bag.

I went out to the beer garden at the side (which probably more than doubles the size of the tiny pub) and sat down on a bench to enjoy what turned out to be a wonderful beer. On the Twissup people had mentioned how amazingly fresh Kernel beers taste, and on the evidence of this first one, they weren’t wrong. It was a truly lovely, refreshing, bittersweet beer, like the cool morning dew on a mango tree.

I went back to the bar for a De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis (“Hell & Damnation”), which was my first De Molen beer. The closest I’d come to De Molen before was Marble’s take on Vuur & Vlaam. Hel & Verdoemenis was a very nice imperial stout with all the warm, dark, roasted coffee flavours that lend themselves to contented contemplation. However, it was also very drinkable relative to its strength, which is well over 10%, and it probably went down a little quicker than intended.

I had sat down next to a table of gents talking in an informed way about beer and ended up being brought into the conversation. It turned out that I was sitting next the owners of The Rake and Utobeer (Richard and Mike), Nigel from the drinks importers James Clay & Sons and Gildas from Chimay’s export team. They were all very friendly and happy to talk about beer, the legend that is Jeff Pickthall, the Lake District, the interelationship between monasticism and clericalism etc. You know, the usual. I must remember that I owe Nigel a drink if I see him again.

As it was getting late and I was getting tipsy, I decided to head back to Brew Wharf, which had calmed down a bit. I sat at one of the long tables and enjoyed a plate of sausage and mash and another Kernel bottle, this time the Pale Ale South. This was another very, very nice beer, not quite as mindblowing as the Citra but with the same wonderful freshness.

I’d had a fantastic evening and enjoyed some great beer. I was only sad that Kate wasn’t here to enjoy it with me, but at the very least that gave me an excuse to come back soon with her.

As I walked back, my heavy bag clinking with local beers on my back and the huge, baroque dome of St Paul’s dome shrouded in mist looming over the river, I thought that London wouldn’t be such a bad place to live. But perhaps I wouldn’t appreciate it as much if I did.

BrewDog @ North Bar: IPA Isn’t Dead. It Just Smells Funny.

February 18, 2011 13 comments

On Wednesday night Kate and I went to North Bar for their IPA Is Dead launch night. BrewDog have released four single-hopped IPAs, all with the same level of bitterness (75 IBU) and using the same base beer, a 7.5% “mini-Hardcore”. North Bar had all four on keg and it was £7 for a taster tray, in which you got a third of each.

I was particularly interested in this project as it really serves to showcase the hops, one of which I was very familiar with (Citra) and three less so. All of the beers were relatively sweet with a light carbonation. Kate (who has a more sophisticated palate than me generally) also took some detailed tasting notes.

Citra

The Citra IPA had a strong, sweet mango nose. The taste was the fruity bitterness as expected although I think the finish was more sweet fruitiness than sharp hoppy bitterness. The slightly cloying sweetness gave an overall impression of cheap sweeties.

Sorachi Ace

The second IPA I tried had a much more subtle nose, but Kate thought it was flowery. The principal taste I got was a tingling black pepper flavour. Behind the pepper there was a lemony, herby base. As well as the lemons, Kate noticed peaches and lychees.

Bramling Cross/Bramling X

A really noticeable blackcurrant nose and a rounded, sweet, almost Ribena taste. Kate also detected a cakeyness that reminded her of blackcurrant crumble. She also noticed a slightly chalky mouthfeel.

Nelson Sauvin

I’d had Mikkeller’s Nelson Sauvin Single Hop IPA before and this came across as really quite similar. It had a sweet and sour aroma, by which I mean a smell that was both sweet and sour, rather than smelling like Chinese food.

I got a strong, sour, white winey, but really quite meaty flavour. The combination of sweetness and meatiness made me think of those tropical plants that smell like rotting meat to attract flies. Kate noted that the rotten grape and umami reminded her of the things she dislikes about white wine.

The Citra was a bit too sweet for both my and Kate’s liking without a stronger bitterness to balance it out, possibly as we’ve tried a lot of very good Citra beers recently (Summer Wine Diablo, Hawkshead Windermere Pale, O’Dell IPA).

The Bramling Cross was perhaps also a bit less to my tastes, due to the berry flavour, but was a very interesting beer. The Sorachi Ace and Nelson Sauvin were the most complex and rewarding to drink and I opted for another half of the latter.

Speaking to Rob, Matt and others there did seem to be a general consensus forming that Nelson Sauvin was the best, although Kate plumped for the Sorachi Ace, which was a close second for me.  All of them were good, interesting beers and I would be very happy to drink each of them again.  I’d buy the bottles if they turned up in Beer Ritz so I could avoid the postage.

As well as the IPA Is Dead beers we got to try some unique Alice Porter that Matt had bottle-conditioned himself, which tasted less punchy than when it was on cask but nice and rounded.  Alice Porter contains both Bramling Cross and Sorachi Ace.

I also brought along a couple of cans of new Punk IPA which I’d just received in the post. It had a really fruity nose but lacked bitterness both in the initial taste and the aftertaste: I would concur entirely with The Beer Monkey on this.

However, having not tried the new Punk in bottles or otherwise it’s difficult to know if it’s the new recipe or the canning process.  However again this is a minor niggle and I do have another 10 cans to get through, which I don’t consider a hardship.

All-in-all it was another nice, friendly night at North trying great beers and chatting to beery people I already knew and some I didn’t (Tunks, Tuff).  Again, Twissup in York in a couple of weeks looks like it’ll be great.

Things to look out for at North Bar in the coming months include a Belgian Beer Festival in March and a very exciting Thornbridge event where their core range will be available on keg!

For another take on the North Bar event see Eating Isn’t Cheating, and for a similar event at the Euston Tap see Maltjerry.

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