Good beer in Lisbon (and where to find it)

There are ever fewer decent-sized European cities left untouched by the explosion of ‘good’ beer over the past couple of years. Specialist beer bars, nano-breweries, and ‘craft extensions’ of well established brands are the name of the game from Belfast to Athens and most places in between.

I asked on Twitter a couple of weeks ago if anyone had a recommendation or two for good beer in Lisbon (or Portugal more generally) and got bugger all in return. Now, I’m not endowed with multiple-thousand followers, but a simple question like “where does a man go for a good bevvy in a city” usually gets a couple of responses. “Ah shit”, I thought (well, not really, bucketloads of decent Vinho Tinto at less than a fiver per litre isn’t the worst eventuality, is it?). Even after relatively substantial googling, I couldn’t find a “where to drink good beer in Lisbon” post other than the ever-handy Ratebeer Places page, which yielded a couple of spots to get me started. So, in a rampant return to travel/beer writing, here’s one for all you future thirsty Lisbon visitors.

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First, let’s start with a sense of realism to manage your expectations. In terms of pushing the boundaries of beer production or selection, Lisbon is not Vermont, London, Brussels or Copenhagen. “Big Beer” still has a very, very firm grip on what locals (and tourists) pour into their glasses and down their necks. Indeed, even the epitome of Lisbon’s craft culinary scene, The Time Out Mercado da Ribeira (which houses 30+ permanent stalls of the best food, wine, and spirits the city has to offer) is sponsored by local mega-brand, Super Bock, who have done a careful job of making their logo tough to avoid on each and every stand. So, in 99/100 bars in the city, asking for a cerveja will get you a short glass of Mediocre Bock or its slightly-more-palatable mate, Sagres, rather than a waiter handing you a beer list. This said, there’s a rumbling in the beery underground. Lisbon already has a fine reputation for its general drinking scene, with some of the friendliest and most-hospitable bars in Europe. So, with its great climate, affordable prices, throngs of visitors, and a nascent start-up scene (Web Summit 2016 will take place here – quite a coup for the city), I’m glad it’s not only me who thinks that Lisbon is a place primed and ready for a decent beer revolution.

 

The key players in the Lisboan good beer movement

As with all culinary/cultural sea changes, there are always a few brave trailblazers who take the jump and start building the foundations of “the new scene”. Lisbon is a city in early-pioneer mode, with visitors being able to see the beer-equivalent of the first conquistadors donning armbands and doggy-paddling towards the South American beaches from their anchored ship. Over my ten days in beautiful, bloody-hilly Lisbon, I was lucky to get to meet a couple personally and to drink the early batches of the rest.

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Let’s start with the biggest “do not miss” of this article: Dois Corvos and their fabulous taproom. This place ticks a lot of boxes: a large range of well-made beer across diverse styles, a friendly team, and housed in aesthetically beautiful surroundings. Dois Corvos also have the handy bonus of being located right by one of the public bus stops en route to the world-renowned Océanario from the city centre. A few beers, then going to stare at some massive sharks: weekday afternoons don’t get too much better.

Highlights of the Dois Corvos range were certainly the pale ales on offer: all clean, bright, juicy, and displaying an (very welcome to this drinker) aversion to crystal malt. Starburst IPA (7% ABV) was the winner, with all the zest, tang and juice you’d expect from its heavy new-world hop bill, framed perfectly by a light shortcake-like malt profile. Away from the pales, an Imperial Porter, a Chocolate Milk Stout and a beefed-up Scotch Ale all impressed, as did the prices. Happily, tasting flights and growlers-to-go are available and business seems to be flourishing. Dois Corvos is open 1-6pm Monday-Thursday, with hours extended into the later evening on Friday and Saturday. Pretty generous and extensive opening times for a small brewery taproom, you’ll agree, but as co-founder and head brewer Scott said of his team “we’re all here sweating away in the brewery every afternoon, so you guys may as well come have a drink and watch us from the bar!”

(Dois Corvos. R. Cap. Leitão 94, 1950 Lisboa, Portugal)

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View from the Dois Corvos taproom bar. The “chef’s table” experience.

 

Away from the delights of the Dois Corvos taproom, I was glad to find several other Portuguese breweries knocking out some good gear. Oitava Colina have a cracking IPA, full of grapefruit rind and proper resinous bitterness while remaining clean and light-enough in body. Although the IPA really sang in keg format, I saw bottles of this (and the rest of their core range) at plenty of restaurants/cafes even in the most touristy of areas, so they’re clearly doing something right.

As well as recently collaborating with leading Dutch outfit, De Molen, local crowd Mean Sardine have come up with a very refreshing citrus-heavy American wheat ale / Weissbier hybrid called Tarrafa and a medium-bodied sappy, sprucey Black IPA, Voragem.  Definitely worth adding to the list if you can seek them out.

Big shout out to the folks at Passarola for a pair of very decent (if a bit malt-heavy for my tastes) pales, Blind Date IPA and their eponymous IPA. Someone’s even got in on single-hop territory, with tiny outfit Cerveja Bolina nailing a catty, dank, mango-heavy (and very fashionably murky) Nelson Sauvin IPA.

The above were certainly the best of the bunch and painted a very positive picture of the incumbent brewing talent in and around Lisbon. Yes, a few other brews I tried lacked finesse or had minor flaws, but overall I’d say 70%+ of the Portuguese microbrews I sampled wouldn’t have tasted out of place in the taprooms of some of Europe’s leading brewers and none of them were complete write-offs. Not bad for somewhere that seems to be a beer desert at first glance, eh?

 

The best places to drink the good stuff in Lisbon

Hearing good things about the local beer is one thing, but what about the bar scene?

Well, happily, the more established of the decent local brews (i.e. the core ranges from Oitava Colina and Dois Corvos) are available at a surprisingly wide range of bars, cafes, and restaurants, the majority of which aren’t even trying to pretend they’re anything to do with craft beer (many places dotted around the castle and wider Alfama area, for example).

While this certainly bodes well for the future and shows that Portugal’s early craft beer pioneers are not 100% confined to a tiny niche, there are two Lisboan bars (at opposite ends of the city centre and with polar-opposite vibes), which cater for the real niche-dwelling beer enthusiasts out there.

 

Cerveteca Lisboa

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A bar clearly influenced by the new-age Nordic beer scene: light colours, open space, and minimalist design (apart from a couple of very welcome comfy couches thrown in for good measure). Cerveteca walks the walk in terms of beer selection, too, with 12 rotating taps of gear both from Portugal and further afield (with around a 50/50 ratio). When I popped in, there were a couple of great pale ales pouring from Oitava Colina and Bolina alongside the remnants of what must’ve been a mini De Molen tap takeover, with big-hitters such as Rasputin, Hel & Verdoemenis, and Vuur & Vlam all in great form (and available in 150ml pours as part of one of their 5-beer flights). Add to this a fantastic selection of well-priced bottles – including a dedicated sour and wild ale fridge – and you have a recipe for a top beer bar, regardless of location.

(Cerveteca Lisboa. Praça das Flores 62, 1200-192 Lisboa, Portugal)

LisBeer

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At the ‘other side of town’ in Alfama (just 2km as the crow flies, but you try getting that crow to walk up and down those bloody hills) we have a place with a very different aesthetic and vibe: LisBeer. More grunge than finesse, more spit-and-sawdust than Nordic-chic, but with an equally good focus on local beer. Set sprawling across the cave-like bottom floor of a Christ-knows-how-old building in the castle district, this place makes more of an imposing impression than its modern cross-town cousin. In the perennial twilight of LisBeer, lives a really great bunch of bartenders who clearly give a shit about decent beer and good service. Smiles, conversation, table service and “don’t worry guys, settle the bill when you leave” get things off to a favorable start. It’s a place in which to linger, with raucous conversation from the mix of locals and blow-ins, a good indie playlist, and pretty cheap pricing. The selection is more limited than Cerveteca (6 taps and 70-ish bottles, so more-or-less half the range), but that’s no bad thing. LisBeer seems to be really focused on pushing local stuff, with a Portuguese-only beer menu thrust into the hands of anyone approaching the bar and the aforementioned friendly staff more than willing to offer guidance to the uninformed. What stands out from the healthy-looking Portuguese beer list? Definitely worth checking out the full Mean Sardine bottle selection here, as I didn’t come across their stuff anywhere else in the city – some top beers.

(LisBeer. Beco do Arco Escuro 1, Lisboa, Portugal)

 

In summary, Lisbon’s beer landscape is in a very exciting place. There’s lots about today’s scene that reminds me of the early days of my time in Ireland in the late 2000s – when the acclaimed likes of Galway Bay, Eight Degrees, and The White Hag were all but twinkles in some entrepreneurial eyes – just when the beer scene was starting to get creative. However, while Ireland had a beer heritage for new brewers to resurrect and play around with (the country’s biggest tourist attraction is housed in a giant pint glass at St. James’ Gate, for Christ’s sake), Portugal does not. For the most part, the Portuguese mentality towards beer is uncomplicated: “it’s warm out there, I’m thirsty, I’d love a [insert your brand preference] lager”. Thus, what we’re seeing here is this new age of Portuguese indie brewers having to shop abroad and copy the works of their American, British, Belgian and Scandinavian counterparts. No bad thing, as this article hopefully confirms, but the one missing ingredient from my trip was a brew of true originality, reflecting what Portugal is all about. Maybe when I go back, someone will have whacked a batch of imperial stout in Tawny Port barrels, or will have aged a sour ale on ginjinha-soaked cherries? Or maybe some of the talented Portuguese brewers featured here have already tried the above and the results were bloody disgusting? If that’s the case, then I’ll shut up and get back to enjoying some very well executed and well-priced Portuguese pale ales, as should you…

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Golden Pints 2015

 

golden-pints

No Beermack post for 12 months. What a lazy beggar, eh?

Plenty of other good/mediocre/shite blogs out there to keep you beer loving folks occupied, so I’m not going to lose any sleep or make excuses.

But, there’s nothing like the annual draw of Golden Pints to get a man typing again, so here we go with the UK/Ireland list for 2015.

Best UKI Cask Beer

Moor Nor’Hop. Too good, they should stop it. Nowt better than a zinging, juicy almost mentholly pint of fresh Nor’Hop. Even in shite condition, it’s better than most.

Shout outs: Wylam Galaxia, Roosters YPA.

Best UKI Keg Beer

Cloudwater Double IPA. Got absolutely typewritered on this stuff at the Earl of Essex in London. Unbelievably clean and juicy, perfect carbonation, and up there with my all time favourite big hop hitters.

Shout outs: Kernel Pale Ales (all of them), Galway Bay Via Maris.

Best UKI Bottled Beer

Thornbridge Kipling. Again. Looking forward to it being in the same spot in 2016.

Shout outs: Cloudwater Lager (Summer), Siren Caribbean Chocolate Cake.

 

Best UKI Canned Beer 

Camden IHL. Even post ABInBev takeover (congrats to both companies on a good bit of business), this will be the beer that is always in the back of my fridge.

Shout outs: BrewDog Jack Hammer, Magic Rock Salty Kiss.

Best UKI Brewery

Thornbridge. Just a bloody great outfit: consistent, creative, high quality, well-priced, relatively available. All the things you want.

Shout outs: Galway Bay, Buxton, Cloudwater, Wylam, Magic Rock, The Kernel.

Best International Brewery

Cellarmaker, San Francisco. Brewers of the best range hop-forward beers on the planet, but also able to nail a really diverse set of beer styles, from barrel-aged stouts, to lagers and saison. A trip to their SF taproom should be on the bucket list of every beer lover.

Shout outs: Maine Beer Company, Other Half Brewing, Jester King, Brasserie De La Senne, Cantillon. 

Best International Beer (and my Beer of the Year, 2015)

Maine Beer Company, Dinner. The best DIPA I’ve had thus far in life. Will take some beating. A no-brainer for this year’s top spot. I even extolled its virtues over on STONCH, where some jumped-up fools had the nerve to disagree (not like STONCH readers at all, really, is it?)

Shout outs: Foundation Brewing Epiphany, all hop-forward beer from both Other Half Brewing (NYC) and Cellarmaker (SF).

 

Miscellaneous awards (festivals, branding, bars, etc.):

Best UKI Bar: Against the Grain, Dublin. 

Didn’t think I’d say this upon moving back to the UK, but AtG still takes this year’s top spot. This is much to do with the fact that Galway Bay Brewery has become a nigh-on world class brewery over the past 18 months and AtG functions as a de facto brewery tap for GBB in Dublin (with 8-10 GBB brews pouring at any given time). A lot of work has been done to stock up the fridges with a great range of bottles from around the globe, and the other 20-odd non-GBB taps are always thoughtfully curated with some real world-beaters. Great staff and vibe, as always.

Shout outs: Kings Arms, London. The Free Trade Inn, Newcastle.

Best UKI Branding: Magic Rock and Beavertown tie for first here. Fabulous branding (especially on cans) from both breweries.

Best Beer Festival: IndyManBeerCon. Peerless.

Best Retailer: Drinkstore, Dublin. Peerless. 

Best blog/Twitter/etc.: they all delight/enrage me equally depending on mood, no backslapping here.

 

Cheers and see you this time next year, if not before.

 

 

 

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Golden Pints 2014

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It’s that time of year, people. Get the tinsel out, get a bit too merry, and have a good auld bitch about what beers you loved and hated over the past 12 months. Golden Pints doesn’t really have a ‘good auld bitching’ section, so we’ll keep this towards the ‘love’ end of the spectrum…

Ireland

Best Irish Keg Beer

Galway Bay Brewery Via Maris. This is the beer we’ve been waiting for in Ireland. A fabulous mix of flavour, sessionability and value. Everything the Irish drinker was looking for in one 3.5% Table Beer. Pale, juicy, and keeping the drinker on their toes by constantly changing the nuance of its flavour with different hop profiles. And €4 per pint. All the time. I’ve drank more of this in the past few months than any other single beer – that’s a good sign.

Shout outs to: White Hag Black Boar and Eight Degrees Full Irish IPA.

Best Irish Bottled Beer

Only one winner here: Galway Bay 200 Fathoms. Back in February, this leapt onto the scene with all its whiskey-barrel-aged imperial stouty goodness and I fell in love. A truly accomplished piece of brewing with incredible depth and balance. Up there with the best Imperial Stouts I’ve had. Only 800 bottles were made…thank God I still have a couple.

Shout out to: Blacks of Kinsale Black IPA

Best Irish Cask Beer

Can I pass? Yeah, I’ll pass.

Best Overall Irish Beer:

Has to be Galway Bay’s Via Maris. I can’t rave enough about how good this is, or just how necessary getting a beer like this in the Irish scene was. Well done to the team.

Best Irish Brewery

Galway Bay. Obviously. Their quality would not be out of place anywhere in the global beer scene. And they’ve just released a dark sour ale, which is amazing. What can’t they do?

Best New Irish Brewery

The White Hag. Sligo’s new faces raced onto the scene in September, releasing a full line-up of their brews at once at the Irish beer festival in the RDS. Many of them are totally splendid. The have a masterful Imperial Stout (Black Boar), a great White IPA, and a very solid IPA. Looking forward to more great things from these guys in 2015, and to seeing how the US distro pans out.

Best Irish Beer Bar

Against the Grain, Dublin. Best selection, great service, very decent (and cheap) food. Plus it’s a Galway Bay pub, so you’re guaranteed quality even if you don’t fancy anything from the 20+ guest taps.

Shout out: Norseman, Temple Bar. A great craft beer pub – well priced and always a laugh.

Best Irish retailer

Drinkstore of Stoneybatter. Unparalleled selection and service (great online shop too).

Best Irish Importer

Praising the importer seems to be less common in Golden Pints posts, not sure why. This award goes to Grand Gru Beers. Wally, Phil and the team have had a storming year. Amazing diversity, real attention to pricing and to freshness, and plenty of end-consumer events to keep in touch with the punters. A class act all round.

International (including UK)

Best International Keg Beer

Amager/Grassroots Shadow Pictures (Skyggebilleder). A Double IPA that dreams are made of and a fantastic transatlantic collaboration. Drank at the newly opened Taphouse Copenhagen in an incredibly fresh state – juicy yet so crisp, with just enough spruce. The easiest drinking DIPA I’ve ever had. I want more.

Shout outs to:  Crooked Stave L’Brett d’Peach, Magic Rock Cannonball, Cellarmaker Christopher Riwakan.

Best International Cask Beer

Buxton Axe Edge. Had in a few locations around the country in 2014. Not many cask beers make me turn my eyes away from the keg fonts in bars, but this does. And I’m rarely disappointed.

Shout outs to: Hawkshead NZPA, Thornbridge Kipling.

Best International Bottled/Canned Beer

Beavertown/Naparbier Bone King. One of the best DIPAs I’ve ever tasted – a total revelation. Proud that this was brewed in my homeland. Indeed, this was my highest scoring brew on Ratebeer in 2014.

Shout outs to: Stone Enjoy By, Thornbridge Kipling, and Alchemist Heady Topper.

Best International Brewery

Cellarmaker, San Francisco. Holy lord this lot can brew. Open just over a year and nearly 100 different beers brewed. No bottles and only available at the Tap Room at 1150 Howard (growlers too) and a few select locations around the Bay. Some of the best beer experiences of my life have been with these guys. They’ve nailed everything from pale and hoppy to massive and chocolatey (and most stuff in between). Definitely one of the top IPA brewers in the world, zero doubt about that. A total privilege to have been able to drink here several times in 2014.

Shout outs to: Buxton (UK), The Kernel (UK), Jester King (Texas), and Brasserie Cantillon (Belgium)

Best International Bar

BierCaB, Barcelona. A total Mecca in a once good-beer-dry country. 30 great international taps, an impeccably curated bottle selection, and the best food I’ve ever eaten in a ‘proper’ beer bar. All at astonishingly reasonable prices.

Shout outs to: The Trappist, Oakland; Mikkeller and Friends, Copenhagen; Craft Beer Co, Leather Lane (London); The Free Trade Inn (Newcastle)

Best International Beer Festival

Copenhagen Beer Celebration. The best I’ve been to. Ever.

Shout out to: IndyManBeerCon, Manchester.

Miscellaneous Stuff

Best beer blogger

Aidan Sweeney, Brews International. I’m going to keep voting for him every year until people start reading his well-balanced and researched writing. He’s full of shit in real life, mind you.

Shout out to: Total Ales (Matt Curtis)

Best Beer Tweeter

@Dontdrinkbeer gives me a right laugh. In all honesty, I genuinely look forward to reading the 140 character rantings/ramblings of at least 30 of my fellow beer fans on Twitter every day. Well done all of you, pints on me.

Best of the best, of the best of the best:

Best Overall Beer of 2014 

Galway Bay Via Maris. They must’ve done something right if I’m giving this award to a 3.5% ABV table beer.

via maris

Here’s to a great 2015 – cheers to all of you!

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Keeping it fresh: Brown Paper Bag Project

Any reader of this blog will know I tend to whinge a fair bit about freshness in hop-forward beers. I bore myself with my whinging sometimes, but it’s for the best. Show me a brewer in the world who thinks their 6.5% IPA tastes better 7 months after packaging than it does after 7 days and I’ll pack this whole thing in and resign myself to a life on the shandies.

However, my whinging usually doesn’t take into account whether the hops used in the brewing-process-in-question were truly ‘fresh’. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter in my experience: totally fantastic (indeed, superior) aroma and flavour results in the world’s most lauded IPAs are more often than not driven by hop pellets or oast-house dried hops, rather than from the freshly-picked ‘wet’ hop brewing methods.

The major experience Irish consumers will have had of this latter type of ‘truly-fresh/wet’ hop ale, will be from the Sierra Nevada Southern/Northern Hemisphere Harvest brews. Tasty gear, but really, we’re all shooting ourselves in the kneecaps, as they’re being shipped thousands of miles and loitering in customs before getting into our glasses. In spite of how good the distro channels are these days, the beer you’re pouring into yourself will not be the beer the brewer intended it to be. Hence, the global lack of true ‘fresh hop’ ales (unless you’re a lucky git living close to a hop growing area, of course).

Well, if there’s one Irish brewery which has consistently shunned convention and messed around with lesser-known styles/methodology, it’s Dublin’s favourite gypsies, Brown Paper Bag Project. And yes, you’ve guessed it, they’ve gone and brewed a proper freshy.

But rather than pandering to the general palate of the modern hophead and looking to new(ish) power hops grown in the Pacific Northwest or down in the South Pacific, they’ve gone educational. They’ve gone…English.

Brown Paper Bag Project Lupe Garou

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Of course, trying to go and gypsy brew at-source with ‘wet’ hops in the South Pacific is probably more than a small Dublin brewing outfit can afford…but BPBP are still a savvy crowd. They’ve had an ongoing relationship with Ramsgate Brewery in Kent, so I suppose it didn’t take a geographical genius to realise that Ramsgate is right bang in the midst of the classic English hop growing regions. The home the globally acclaimed (but admittedly not too ‘fashionable’) East Kent Goldings hop.

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Lupe Garou comes out in a lovely bright golden hue with a wispy and lasting white head. There’s freshly-cut grass, white pepper, light lemon rind, and touch of dried cupboard-herbs on the nose, with an almost menthol character releasing itself as it warms. The taste gives wet spruce, white pepper, deeper lemon stuff, those fresh-cut-grassy notes again, and some slightly zingy spice. The malt base is simple and biscuity, with a little bit of sugary white bread dough; this is perfect as it allows the light and deeply nuanced fresh hop character to do its thing. There’s a decently spritzy medium body and no hint of the 6.5% ABV. Herby and citric bitterness to close out, while we have more of that white pepper and wet-morning-forest-stroll spruce lingering.

What a totally bloody interesting beer. I’m a guy who doesn’t give English hops the time of day for the most part…they’re just a piece of my boring-brown-bitter drinking past. But this brew makes me think.

BPBP have achieved something fantastic here: a light, summery, heavily nuanced beer that truly showcases one of the more traditional and less-celebrated hops in the world of brewing. Beers like this should be mandatory drinking for today’s crowd of self-proclaimed ‘Hop Heads’ who’ve been weaned solely on the passionfruity and piney goodness of the New World.

Lupe Garou is by no means ‘my thing’, but I like it and I find it super interesting. It’s a reminder about why I bloody love the beer scene: surprises and innovation lie in even the most traditional-seeming of places.

{I had this on keg dispense in Stoneybatter’s L. Mulligan Grocer; as far as I’m aware, this brew is draught only…so check out your local good-beer pub over the next week or two and hope it arrives}

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Buy local: Boundary Brewing

Everyone and their mother is harping on about ‘buying local’ nowadays. Thank Christ they are. Sustainable, affordable, and high-quality local produce should be at the heart of everyone’s monthly food and beverage outgoings.

It’s been a total delight to see the ‘buy local’ vibe taking hold in the industry I love in my adopted homeland over the past couple of years. Yep, the Irish artisan beer industry is going from strength to strength. Sure, it’s still tough as hell for the key stakeholders involved, but we’re getting to a point where some of our brewing talent can truly embark on long-term planning (Metalman’s new shiny canning line; Eight Degrees trying to ‘re-home’ a brewery from Mauritius; and Galway Bay moving to onehelluva bigger brewery are three examples of this in the last 6 months). Good for the punter, good for the distributors, good for the pub owners, good for bloody everyone. Class news.

Last week saw a real example of ‘buying local’ pop up from some enterprising brewing-businesspeople from Belfast. How much more local can you get than buying a stake in a brewing cooperative located on your (give-or-take a few miles) doorstep?

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Matt and the team at Boundary Brewing have some fabulous plans to make some great beer and are looking for shareholders to join their coop.

These guys know their beer (both from a drinking and brewing point of view), with Matt spending the last year or so as the brewing-brain behind the brilliant-looking app-automated pico-brewery, Brewbot. Safe hands, I’d say.

Anyway, rather than me regurgitate their plans in my own words…

CLICK THIS LINK

To hear it from the horse’s mouth/beard.

Buy-in starts at £100 and the guys are looking for £70,000 before the end of 2014 to kick it all off. At the time of writing (4th December), they are well over the halfway mark, in spite of the project going live only a couple of days ago. People seem to like the idea, and so they bloody should. They’re planning to launch their core range of three beers (session strength US pale ale, IPA, and an Export Stout) in March 2015 and have already announced a collaboration brew with the award winning Galway Bay Brewery. Sounds canny enough to me – go for it, I’d say.

Disclaimer: I’ve bought into the cooperative myself. So I’m probably biased. Who the hell cares, let’s get it up and running. 

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Long live the {Bone} King

Double IPAs. I like ’em. In my mind, when a DIPA is executed properly and is served to me in fresh enough condition, it takes some beating.

However, after doing a fair old bit of traveling and beering over the past few years, I know what I like and what I don’t within the style. Caramel booziness? No likey. Clean, crisp (some would say ‘unbalanced’ towards hop character)? Likey. I don’t care much for the much-lauded Dogfish Head 90 Minute, for example. But I’d bathe for days in Three Floyds Dreadnaught.

As I said, freshness is bloody key. So unless I’m over Stateside, I usually steer clear of American DIPAs. Thank the Lord, in that case, that the European brewing scene is getting to such a top standard that I now rarely yearn for the hoppy delights of the West Coast et al. The Kernel Double Citra, for example, is still [probably] the best ever DIPA I’ve tasted.

Sadly, Double Citra is very rarely brewed, but thankfully one of The Kernel’s London brewing peers have got in on the action (with a bit of Iberian assistance) and brewed something which is, for want of a better phrase, a totally-fucking-cracking Double India Pale Ale.

All hail the recent collaboration between Beavertown and Naparbier. All hail…

Bone King

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My assessment? In short, it’s world class.

In full: Bone King pours a hazy, murky gold – looks a little soupy. The aroma of this is astounding – peach, tangerine, mango all there in spades, with a little jazzy passionfruit. Some very lightly sticky pine in there, bit of bread dough and digestive biscuit. Taste doesn’t disappoint: loads of mango, melon, and passionfruit, deeper grapefruit citric tone to bitter it up; the OJ character is undeniable too. So bloody juicy, goodness. Pine sap rises a bit, and brings with it the light malt character – doughy stuff, light biccy notes, which frames the hops perfectly. The hop character is singing so beautifully. Insanely drinkable, no hint of booze strength (which clocks in at 8.5% ABV). Looks a bit shitty, so that’s really the only remnant of an issue I could have with it. Bit of centrifuge action would be cracking. Orange and grapefruit zest linger, nice sharp finish. Oh Lordy.

Look, this is worthy of the hype. If you like your DIPAs big, boozy and thick on the caramel or ‘balance’, then this isn’t for you. But for me, this is literally everything I want.

If Naparbier and Beavertown don’t make this a permanent fixture on their lists then I’m kicking up an almighty fuss.

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Knee Deep in Hops

There’s been a bit of a Beermack blogging lull recently; a combo of being mad busy and not having/doing anything that’s truly inspired me to crank out a blog post, I suppose.

A few things have had me on the cusp of picking up the proverbial pen…Sligo’s The White Hag Brewery making a stunning entrance to the Irish brewing scene and a trip to San Francisco’s new sour-haven The Rare Barrel, are two such examples. I’m sure I’ll get round to these at some point, as both are likely to carry on going from strength to strength.

This time, what has really got my juices flowing, is a California brewery who have been showing the world how to make 10%+ ABV hoppy beers properly. I mean properly. Fair play to you, Knee Deep Brewing Company, you’ve got me typing once again.

These guys have been going since 2010, are still pretty small (distro is only in 5 states), and know how to handle hops. To leverage lupulin. To…ah whatever, they’re doing good stuff, with these two total beauties especially:

Knee Deep Brewing Co. Simtra Triple IPA 

Simtra

Simtra is a beast of a brew. An 11.25% ABV, self-branded ‘Triple” IPA. Is that a thing? Well, if it is, this should be the benchmark by which all other pretenders are judged. Such a clear light orange pour, no murkiness, no floaty crap, it looks legit. The aroma is, unsurprisingly, a serious hop-overload: loads of dark about-to-go-off (in a good way) mango, grapefruit and pineapple, bit of ganja, some sweeter tangerine and peaches and then shitloads of pine resin; there’s a little almost-chemically booze note in there. Just to remind you not to drink this while operating heavy machinery.

In a similar fashion, Simtra’s taste bashes you all over with hops: all that dank goodness matches up to the thick pine resin. Great pithy grapefruit adds some zest and then more of that overripe mango comes through as it warms. More resin and pine needles. A very light smattering of caramel-ish sweetness comes through to help keep things a little bit sensible; none of the janky caramel crap you’d usually expect from a 10%+ ABV IPA though, this is clean as you like. The finish gives pine needles and grapefruit and that extra little bit of pure booziness that once again reminds you to take the keys out of the ignition of your combine harvester.

Knee Deep Brewing Co. Hoparillo Triple IPA

Hoparillo

Obviously, the folks at Knee Deep understood that brewing such strong beers all the time isn’t the best idea. So they’ve recently brought out what I’m calling a Session Triple IPA at just 11.1% ABV. Sure, you could plough the fields all day supping on this one.

Hoparillo bounds into your glass showcasing three incredible aroma hops: Amarillo, Mosaic, and Citra. This pours a couple of shades lighter than it’s (slightly) bigger brother, coming out as a bright clear gold. Again, no murk, no floaties..it just looks so pure and clean. Stunning juicy mango and tangerine aroma (think of a delicious fruit cup), light floral notes in there and just a hint of that big ABV. The taste gives mango (not the dank sort, more the breakfast juicy kind), melon, tangerine and some bitter grapefruit juice. Interesting floral perfumey notes get in there and actually lighten things up. There’s the lightest touch of digestive biscuit malt as the backer; to be fair, the malt has such an impressively light presence and truly lets the hops sing. The big booze is well integrated (more so than in the Simtra, I think), you can tell it’s there but it isn’t harsh. A few pine needles come out towards the end, blending with the sweeter tropical notes which linger on the tongue. Simtra’s juicier, more tropical slightly-lighter brother. Top marks.

I was lucky to drink both of these beers within two weeks of bottling date, so I really got them at their best. As the Simtra bottle clearly states “do not age”. Just don’t, it would be daft. These aren’t going to get any better with a bit of dust on them.

I’m so pleasantly surprised and impressed that two legitimately huge beers have managed to forgo the usual “bang a load of caramel malt in there” tactic we so often see. I know lots of people are mad for the caramel balance, but I’m certainly bloody not.

Simtra and Hoparillo are two terrifyingly good hoppy beers, and I thoroughly encourage you to pull all the strings you possibly can to get hold of them. Fair play to you, Knee Deep Brewing Company.

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