There’s always a bit of a buzz when the new kid on the block rolls into town. In beer terms (in the Irish market at least) that buzz is usually created by the promise of a soon-to-arrive shipment of IPA from the good old US of A. I’m usually the bloke at the forefront of this buzz as I can never get my hands on enough hoppy beer…but I’ve started to realise that it’s often such a bloody let down.
Case in point – last summer saw a good few of Ireland’s beer-head crowd getting all worked up about an incoming shipment of Southern Tier beers (the IPA and 2IPA). We’d heard so much about the brewery, big old Ratebeer scores were checked out and passed around, a few of the well-traveled amongst us attested that, yes, Southern Tier IPA is shit hot. But then they arrived. Six bloody months old on the day they reached our shores. SIX! Regardless of what BBE dates say, you want to be drinking your IPAs well before the six month mark – I heard a brewer once say that hoppy beers start to die as soon as the cap on the bottle is sealed. Hop aroma and flavour dissipates at a rapid pace – Christ, I know a couple of Americans who don’t touch IPAs that are more than a month old (although they’re admittedly on the madder end of the beer nerd spectrum).
So, on a recent trip to the UK, the realisation hit me that – maybe, just maybe – the mindset of sodding off all imported American IPAs completely could be just around the corner. Why? Because the UK is brewing some legitimately world class American-inspired IPAs, that’s why.
Take these two for starters:
The Kernel India Pale Ale
London’s The Kernel has been receiving praise from all quarters for some time now – and rightly so. These guys have pushed UK IPA brewing to a new level of quality, brewing small batches of beer with the best hops available to them and insisting that they’re drunk as fresh as possible. Most weeks they release at least one IPA with a new hop-combo. They even have PLEASE DRINK FRESH in big letters on the bottle labels – and you damn well shouldn’t argue with big letters. The above IPA was a joy: full of juicy tangerine, crisp limey citrus, soft peach, and a big whack of Um Bongo tropical fruit juice (blast from the past, eh?). The malt body is perfect – no sticky caramel, just biscuity, doughy pale malts that let the huge hop profile shine. Stunning stuff.
Wild Beer Co. Madness IPA
Next comes a beauty from Somerset’s Wild Beer Co. Their Madness IPA is a massively heady tropical fruit cocktail – loads of crazy lychee stuff happening alongside some sweet yet tangy orange sherbet. There’s citrus and pine resin in the taste, which gives a cracking amount of bitterness that lingers for absolute yonks. Again, the malt body lets these wonderful hops do their thing. There’s nothing wrong with this at all. It’s a total corker. Just YES.
Now, I know, I know, any importers reading this will be thinking ‘we don’t have a chance, these breweries’ production is too small’. I get that. But the above two beers are merely a brief example of what the UK IPA scene has become – there are cracking hoppy beers being brewed in every part of the country, from Buxton’s Axe Edge to Magic Rock’s Cannonball, via BrewDog’s Jack Hammer. There are literally too many brilliant UK IPAs to name off hand.
Ireland is fortunate to get some great (and usually fresh) hoppy stuff from the likes of Moor, Bristol Beer Factory, Thornbridge, and Adnams, but I can’t help feeling that importers should be looking at more breweries around the UK. The possibility of getting IPAs from UK brewhouse to Irish bar tap in less than a month is a mouthwatering one, especially given that we’re used to seeing Sierra Nevada’s Christmas Special Celebration ‘fresh hop’ (!) IPA on tap in bloody July.
Food for thought, at least.