Un-Human Cannonball

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Thursday saw the launch of Magic Rock’s Un-Human Cannonball, a limited release 12% Triple IPA that will only be available once a year (effectively making it the British version of Russian River’s limited edition Pliny the Younger, the US beer geek pin-up Triple IPA).

The launch was at Craft Beer Co in Islington, where I was pleased to find Matt Curtis of Total Ales (who photobombed my picture above so excellently), Justin Mason of Get Beer Drink Beer and met various other lovely beery people for the first time, including Chris and Emma of Crema Brewery. The pub was rammed, and their bottles of Un-Human Cannonball had already sold out hours ago. Therefore, it was our simple duty to drink as much of the keg version as was available.

I rate Cannonball and Human Cannonball as two of the best IPAs being made in the UK, and Human Cannonball was my UK draught beer of the year. I’m an enormous fan of Magic Rock’s beers, and this was why I couldn’t help but be disappointed by Un-Human.

Before I’m chased by hopheads and beaten into a fine grist, I should explain that I would still give it 4 stars out of 5. It has an enormous body, even bigger flavours, and still drinks like a 5-6% IPA. No mean feat, and a delicious beer to boot. But given it’s heritage, that’s simply not good enough.

The original Cannonball is 7.4%, floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. It is a finely-honed, explosively tasty IPA. Human Cannonball is a 9% powerhouse of toffee, tropical fruit, pith and pine, but is so damn classy, so outrageously clear, defined and crystal-like in its clarity, that its strength is merely an aspect of its flavour and not the dominating characteristic. It’s a masterpiece.

Un-Human Cannonball couldn’t have been more different. It poured like a glass of brassy, hoppy mud. Not surprising really, given that Magic Rock’s description reads like hop pornography: “We used a mountain of Centennial, Citra & Columbus whole hops in the hop back and then the most dry hopping we’ve ever attempted, with 4 monster additions of Amarillo, Centennial, Simcoe, Citra and Chinook in cold conditioning.” That’ll give it a fair old hop haze, then.

The aroma was very similar to Human Cannonball (which, along with regular Cannonball, was also available on draught that night to help with a comparison), with lots of toffee, booze, pine and tropical fruit. Each sip was a shot of citrusy hops injected straight into your tongue, covered with a sticky toffee bandage and buried in flaming, brandy-soaked hop cones. After the smoke clears, a pine forest, a cannabis factory and a mango farm grow out of your tongue. It all felt so violent, intense and lacking refinement.

So what? Isn’t that the point, you ask? Isn’t this supposed to be a ludicrous, barely palateable hop bomb of insane proportions? Maybe, but I have come to expect better from Magic Rock. How can the 9% double IPA be sublime and then the 12% version be ridiculous? Perhaps a bridge too far. I’d be interested in reading how the bottles turn out, and if they have a little more clarity after a month or two in people’s cupboards.

That said, I had to have another measure just to be thoroughly sure. After all, to me it’s still a four-star beer. I also tasted some marvellous beers from Pizza Port, and practically inhaled a pork and venison pie with the help of the outstanding original Cannonball. There may even have been an ill-advised but completely delicious bottle of Cigar City Guava Grove involved. It was a great evening, and made just as good by the people as by all the excellent beer. I can also testify to feeling positively Un-Human the following day.

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Camden Town Brewery USA Hells Party

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The Beer of The Summer.

A beer as legendary as the Holy Grail. The beer that turns a sunny day into a glorious, shiny summer day.

I tasted such a beer last year: USA Hells Unfiltered Lager from Camden Town Brewery. Its release heralded the opening of the brewery’s on-site bar, and began their tradition of hosting street food vendors and serving cool, brewery-fresh beer in classy surroundings. I thought the beer was sensational, a truly innovative fusion of clean, crisp lager and American hop razzmatazz. Then, one day, the limited run of USA Hells was no more.

I have, from time to time, heralded other beers as contenders to the crown. BrewDog’s Dead Pony Club and Kernel’s recent Saison both have what it takes, but neither compared to the crisp, schizophrenic perfection of Camden’s lager supercharged with Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, Citra and Simcoe. I was therefore understandably frantic with glee at hearing of its return. On Saturday, Camden relaunched USA Hells at the brewery bar with the help of local meatslingers Dogfather, Big Dirty Burger and O.X.. The weather varied between cloudy and mild, and wet and wild, but as ever the atmosphere at the brewery was great. A lively crowd of beer seekers mixed with local families and friends just hanging out at the brewery.

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The beer itself was just as fantastic as I remembered: at once creamy, sharp, zesty, floral, clean, smooth and sweet. But what food to pair it with? I had the Boss Hog from Dogfather Diner, which was quite frankly the best hot dog I have ever eaten. A beef frankfurter with chorizo, jalapeños, cheese, streaky bacon, marinara sauce… There are probably other things too, but I couldn’t look at the thing any longer without eating it. As a pairing, the USA Hells was excellent at stepping in to clean my palate and wipe away any heat or salt, so each delicious mouthful of the Boss Hog was as amazing as the first.

My advice to anyone in London is to get to the brewery sharpish to taste the draught and buy some bottles to save for a sunny day. Better still, you can now buy 2-pint and 4-pint “growlers” (I prefer Gentleman’s Beer Conveyance). The large ‘Senior’ model is £5 and a 4 pint fill costs £10. At that kind of price, you’d be a fool not to go back every week!

USA Hells is back. Long live the king.

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A year of beer: my Golden Pints 2012

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New year, new blog, so why am I looking back on the past 12 months? Well, it’s been one hell of a year for beer. The UK is teeming with even more new breweries, producing even more exciting beer to satisfy the most demanding of beer geeks. New pubs and bars are springing up to satisfy the growing demand for ‘craft beer’, even though nobody is entirely sure what it it is. Whatever it is, it has certainly been very good. Here are my favourites of the last year.

Best UK Draught Beer

1st – Magic Rock Human Cannonball (keg): A consistently excellent beer that is far, far, too delicious and drinkable to be 9.2%

2nd – Adnams Ghost Ship (cask): The hype about this beer made me skeptical, but after three consecutive pints I couldn’t think of a better cask beer I’d had this year.

3rd – St Austell Ruby Jack (cask): a red ale made with rye malt and buckets of hops, this is a rich, tasty beer that demands just one more pint.

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Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer

1st – Oakham Ales Green Devil IPA (bottle): The absolute showstopper of 2012. I first tasted it at GBBF, where it absolutely blew me away. The bottled version is even crisper, fresher and juicier. The best IPA being made in Britain.

2nd – Moor Revival: Stunningly refreshing, bursting with clean, hoppy flavours and only 4%. Shaming to so many beers that are stronger and taste of so much less.

3rd – Fuller’s Black Cab Stout: It might not be 18% and infused with ginger, arctic berries and uranium, but this is the best bottle of stout I’ve had this year. Magic Rock Dark Arts is superior on cask, however.

Best Overseas Draught Beer

1st – Mikkeller Texas Ranger: This chipotle-infused porter is classic Mikkeller – ambitious and cocksure, with enormous flavours precariously balanced by madness or design. Genuinely spicy and very moreish.

2nd – Flying Dog Wildeman Farmhouse IPA: If a trend develops for this delicious hybrid of saison and IPA, I will ride said trend to my destruction. The freshness of a saison coupled with the juicy bursts of citrus from American hops makes for something very special indeed.

3rd – Köstritzer Schwarzbier: A gorgeously crispy, none-more-black lager with loads of bittersweet roasted barley. Served in a towering Irish-Coffee-style handled glass, in the Carpenters Arms in Shoreditch.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer

1st – Kona Brewing Co Koko Brown Ale (bottle): Normally, including coconut in something ensures I will avoid it or hate it, but this sublimely balanced and delicious brown ale is sheer quality, through and through. I discovered it in Kris Wines and found myself praying it would still be in stock every time I returned.

2nd – Rogue Brewing Co Dry Hopped St Rogue Red Ale (bottle): Hoppy red ale to the power of ten; a sort of star-spangled 5am Saint/Rapture style red ale that deserves its swagger.

3rd – Mikkeller 19 (bottle): boasting 19 hops, this was undoubtedly Mikkeller’s ‘Spruce Goose’, and proved that the line between genius and insanity is a fine one indeed.
Best Overall Beer

Green Devil IPA – A genuinely astonishing beer that needs your immediate attention.

Best Pumpclip or Label

1st – BrewDog and Flying Dog’s International Arms Race labels. I simply can’t choose between Ralph Steadman’s Gonzo Dogfight or Joanna Basford’s beautiful Battle Owl.

2nd – Camden Town Brewery’s rebranding is bold, stylish and makes fun of style purists. Very cool.

3rd – Magic Rock Brewing Co. Seriously, just look at them.

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Best UK Brewery

There are simply far too many to choose from now, and almost every microbrewery in Britain has done something worthy of note this year. Having said that, three that have been consistently incredible this year are Magic Rock, Thornbridge and The Kernel. None of them have made a beer that wasn’t amazing.
Best Overseas Brewery

Mikkeller. You just can’t stop him.

Pub/Bar of the Year

I’ve been to so many amazing pubs and bars this year that, in choosing the best, I have to think hard about the times I’ve had there, not just the beers. Again and again, I keep recalling wonderful afternoons, evenings and nights spent in BrewDog Camden, where I am always welcomed warmly by the staff, and drink wave after wave of marvellous beers.

BrewDog seem to attract more hate with each passing month, but in the bar stakes, they are truly inspirational. They have the best staff, hands down, and every moment spent there is a pleasure.

St Austell Brewery and the Celtic Beer Festival 2012

Beer Festival of the Year

The Celtic Beer Festival at St Austell Brewery. As I blogged recently, this is an excellent and much livelier alternative to your average beer festival. Over 150 beers, focusing on Cornish, Welsh, Scottish beer, but with plenty more from around the UK and across the world, all served in the St Austell Brewery cellars with live music, lively crowds and a great atmosphere.

GBBF at Olympia was admittedly much better this year, and BrewDog’s Punk AGM was more beer festival than anything else, but the Celtic Beer Festival had a rowdy charm that really blew me away. I can’t wait to go back.

Supermarket of the Year

I live not too far from a decent-sized Waitrose, and they have really impressed me with their selection. They regularly have deals on different bottles too. There was a week or two when Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Torpedo and Goose Island IPA was on offer, and there was much rejoicing.

Independent Retailer of the Year

It simply has to be the small but mighty Kris Wines. This bewilderingly well-stocked off-license is normally populated by men in their thirties, peering in studious wonder at the incredible range of beer from around the world on offer here (“Oh look,” you say turning to your left, “there’s all of Belgium”). The owner Kris is a friendly chap too, and always happy to help you find your looking for.

Online Retailer of the Year

I haven’t really used online beer retail that much this year. Having Theatre of Wine and Kris Wines relatively close to where I live means I do most of my browsing in a shop rather than online.

Whilst BrewDog have improved over the last year, I can’t in all honesty say they are amazing.

I’m going to have to abstain from this one.

Best Beer Book or Magazine

My winner would have to be Des de Moor’s London Beer and Pub Guide, which has served me very well this year, getting me out to the parts of London I wouldn’t normally explore, and has lots of history as a bonus.

I’ve also just started reading Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont’s World Atlas of Beer, which is excellent and incredibly detailed.

Shakespeare’s Local by Pete Brown was also a great read, especially for social history buffs.

Best Beer Blog or Website

This has to be a tie between the regularly mouth-watering The Good Stuff and the grey-cell-stimulating Boak & Bailey.

I should also give an honourable mention for Pumpclip Parade, for fighting the good fight.

Best Beer Twitterer

Far too many to choose from, so I’ll simply do a Twitter-style #ff for @MelissaCole, @BroadfordBrewer and @CAMRGB, who regularly fill my timelines with beery fun and are all Good Eggs.

Also for my good colleagues @RumAndReviews – @estebansemtex, @Matt_RnR, @Stevecrotty, @generallucifer, @ruariotoole and @craigheap.

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Best Online Brewery Presence

BrewDog are still putting everyone else to shame. Every brewer should have a very different online presence certainly, but BrewDog’s is simply better. They blog regularly, use Twitter to actually engage with drinkers (instead of just retweeting praise *shudder*), and their employees are passionate envoys of beer geekdom.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year

Nothing too gastronomic or abstract – just a traditional Belgian beef carbonadde flamande I made at home in the slow cooker, with the beer marinaded in Chimay Red overnight. Naturally, another bottle or two of Chimay Red were used to wash it down. So simple, but so, so tasty.

In 2013 I’d most like to…

Visit more breweries, meet more beer tweeters in real life and drink a lot more beer from Belgium and Italy.

Open category – Worst Beer PR Email of The Year

Let’s face it, there have been a lot of contenders this year. For me, it has to be the misguided but enthusiastic efforts of the people doing PR for St Stephanus, who proudly and breathlessly lauded its completely unique selling point: that it undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Whoops.