Fresh beer is good. While there are beers that can be aged, beer is at its best when it’s released by the brewer from the brewery. There are discussions underway in the UK about what constitutes “craft” brewing, spearheaded by BrewDog, and I think that quality aspect is a central one. A craft brewery takes pride in their product to the point of not wanting to put out a sub-standard batch, or a brew that isn’t quite done. Of course, commercial pressures being what they are, this is easier said than done, and no-one wants to dump an entire brew if it’s at all avoidable.
That said, the quicker you get a brew into your hands after it’s out of the brewery, the better. Hop aromas sing and jump out of your glass. The carbonation is zingy and zesty, and if the beer is bottle-conditioned, there is no fear of yeast death contributing flavors to make the beer taste off. That’s why I, and several other people, tend to avoid imported (often American) hoppy beers unless they are explicitly the freshest they can be. Pale, hoppy beers that are old taste muted, caramelly, and grainy. If you are in the UK and have tried an American import IPA and thought it unexcitingly sweet, that’s what you’ve had.
That’s why I was especially excited to see this fact about the Sierra Nevada tap takeover at the Craft Beer Company Islington on Monday 10 March 2014:
— The Craft Beer Co. (@thecraftbeerco) March 10, 2014
Now that’s fresh. I couldn’t wait to taste Torpedo like I tasted it back in California, zesty with Citra and punchy bitterness. The Torpedo you get in the UK has, more often than not, gone through who-knows-how-many hands before ending up on your supermarket shelf.
No, it’s not environmentally friendly in the least to air-freight kegs of beer. I know that, and was paying a premium (£5.95 for a half pint of Narwhal Imperial Stout) for the privilege. But it’s a rare treat. This isn’t something that they do all the time, and neither should they. There are incredible beers being produced locally in the UK, and those should be the beers of daily consumption.
Craft Beer Company Islington was buzzing if not full when I arrived at 6pm, but soon packed to the rafters with friendly faces. It got very warm very quickly indoors, and the respite of the beer garden/smoking area was minimal thanks to outdoor heaters being on full blast. Still, it made the beer go down an absolute treat!
Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman was present, and gave a short introduction to the company and the beers, thanking everyone who had come out on a Monday night. Turns out that the beers they shipped were in fact a second lot – the first had frozen on their way over the Atlantic because the company transporting them usually deals in frozen foods! But regardless, it was heartening to hear that Sierra Nevada too insist on refrigerated transport to keep the beer as fresh as possible. Lagunitas teamed up with Adnams last year to bring beers in large refrigerated tanks (essentially, conditioning on the way!) and got them to guarantee refrigeration to the point of dispense. Sadly, the kegs and bottles of Sierra Nevada that I’ve sometimes had in the UK have suffered of that last leg problem, having been kept in a warehouse or similar in ambient temperatures for too long. More breweries insisting on it for their export beers can’t be a bad thing, though.
What did I think of the beers, then? Torpedo was amazing, a zesty thirst-quenching belter of an IPA. Narwhal on draft was a real treat, and belied its 10.2% ABV by its silky-smooth body. I had not even heard of the Two-Headed Ruthless, the double/imperial version of Ruthless Rye, but it was an incredible beer that had all its components of rye spice, hop bitterness and malt toffee sweetness both prominent and in balance at the same time. A stand-out beer, and better than regular Ruthless which I’ve always found a little bit thin and lacking in the rye spiciness.
I have to give a special mention to Fyne Ales’ Jarl that my friend Stu bought when all the Sierra Nevada beers had run out (yeah, all gone on the night). Even to my lupulin threshold shift-addled nose, thinking “yeah, I guess this beer smells nice” more often than really getting a hop hit, was singing Hallelujah at the stink of hops rising out of the pint glass. I love that feeling, and that experience is also the inspiration for the name of this blog. Things are better with more Simcoe, generally. Not that Jarl, in particular, has any.