Electric Citrus: the rise of the Juicy Banger

 

'Drink citrus fruit juice' by David Lisbona, from Flickr, under Creative Commons.
‘Drink citrus fruit juice’ by David Lisbona, from Flickr, under Creative Commons.

 

The more of them I drink, the more I realise they have something in common. Whether ale or lager, 3% or 6%, a loose new category of beer is beginning to form from the current new wave. It’s a less of a style and more of a statement of intent, and a demonstration of skill that will come to define the current crop of craft brewers in the UK.

 

In London we are blessed with a high number of breweries, true enough, but it’s the sheer number of beers available that really blows me away. As I’ve said before, the city seems to thirst for the most esoteric and newest things it can find, and it’s no different with beer. Lately though, it hasn’t been the barrel-aged saisons, imperial stouts or even the increasingly impressive range of quality lagers and finely-tuned sours being made in London that have impressed me the most.

A label I apply frequently when referring to juicily fruity, tartly bitter IPAs and pale ales is ‘Juicy Banger’. It’s been pointed out to me that it sounds like something unsavoury said on The Only Way is Essex, but I continue to use it nonetheless. It captures in two words everything I look for from my first beer of the night: a full-bodied but brightly refreshing, finely-balanced beer of big flavour yet peerless drinkability. It’s become a hallmark by which I measure a brewer. If they can brew a Juicy Banger, a beer loaded with assertive, juicy hop character but one I could happily drink all night, and by the pint, then they’re all right by me.

Beavertown’s Gamma Ray and Pressure Drop’s Pale Fire, arguably leading the field of Juicy Bangers in the capital, each have tribe-like followings. The joy with those beers, Pale Fire in particular, is trying it every time you see it, and detecting the growing ability and confidence of the brewers as they dial it in ever tighter and tighter. Gamma Ray went through a similar period of improvement, and now, as those immediately iconic cans roll out of a bigger, better brewery in Tottenham Hale, it has reached its zenith. This is key: we aren’t just brewing more beer styles, we’re brewing better beers.

It’s now got to the point where I think of Juicy Banger as a style in its own right. Perhaps as recently as a year ago, I would have simply thought of them as pale ales and IPAs, but not anymore. Not since Camden Town Brewery’s Indian Summer Lager, and its genetic successor IHL (Indian Hells Lager). Each have their roots in the same brewery’s USA Hells, but it’s those two newer beers that have for me redefined what kind of beers we can make in the UK. These aren’t just hoppy beers, they are astonishingly balanced lagers delivering the hop hit of the most accomplished IPAs. I had the pleasure of trying a few cans of IHL at a recent canned beer competition in London, ahead of its official launch in a few weeks’ time. It is hugely impressive, not only in terms of its High Definition, bright, electric citrus flavours but also its finely balanced body. It might be the best beer made in London.

More generally, it would appear that the trend for brewing the palest possible ales to showcase hops (arguably started by Thornbridge with Jaipur and Kipling, correct me if you know different, and I don’t mean ‘golden ales’) has reached a sort of logical extreme, or another, further branch on the evolutionary tree: these pale ales have become lagers. This decade’s definitive beer style, the one that we will be able to identify with certainty in 5 or 10 years time, will not be an IPA or a saison, but a pale-as-sunlight, hop-forward beer that demonstrates true brewing skill, whilst remaining accessible enough to recruit new fans of craft beer and be sunk by the pint in bars across the UK.

For the time being, this field is populated almost entirely by American Pale Ales and IPAs, but I predict others will take up the challenge implicitly laid down by Camden Town and pitch their own spin on IPA/pale ale/lager hybrids.  Several already exist: Weird Beard Citra Pilsner, Williams Bros Caesar Augustus and Adnams Jack Brand Dry Hopped lager just off the top of my head. Even Fuller’s have had a go at it in the form of Frontier. Plus, as if to prove the lines between ale and lager blurring even further, Beavertown and Camden recently brewed a collaboration lager combining the body of Camden Hells and the hopping of Gamma Ray: One Hells of A Beaver. It, needless to say, is a Juicy Banger, but astonishes me mostly because it marries the body of Hells and the hop character of Gamma Ray seamlessly. So if whether it’s an ale or a lager doesn’t really matter, how then, by current criteria, does one know a Juicy Banger? Here are some recurring factors:

Fresh – Freshness is important now more than ever before, as an increasingly connected world becomes less tolerant of delay and any potential inhibitor of flavour. As the newer craft brewers expand, it might also be that to improve freshness they sell this beer in a:

Can – It’s not perfect, or the messiah of craft beer, but the can has a lot going for it, not least the tendency to feature stunning designs that open people’s eyes to what beer can be. Whilst it’s not essential to be canned to be a Juicy Banger, it doesn’t hurt. They #can also be very good value, especially if they are sold:

Local – A criterion hand-in-hand with (but not the same as) freshness. JBs are typically enjoyed just a few miles from where they are born. Local identity is big part of enjoying these beers. Whether local or not, they absolutely have to be:

Pale – Whether lager or ale, these beers have to be golden or very pale amber. They can be hazy, even on the murky side, but they absolutely must be bright and glowing with mischief. The simplicity of the malt bill allows the brewer to show off their ability to make these beers:

Hoppy – Whatever you think of the word, it’s the most immediate and shortest descriptor of what these beers are. Typically we expect a cocktail of American hops, but other varieties are welcome, as long they help make the beer taste:

Juicy – Juiciness is more than just fruity flavours, it’s like those fruits have just been bitten into, the sweetness and acidity biting back. Juiciness demonstrates the mastery of hopping, the freshness of the flavours, and makes these beers:

Pint-able – If it isn’t in a can, or even if it is, it should be able to be bought locally on draught. Just a half or third of a pint of one of these beers makes you wish you ordered a pint.

Why do I think these beers are so important, and distinct, from existing styles? Well, I think we’re increasingly constrained by beer styles, and their names, and the criteria that sets back innovative beers in homebrewing competitions but celebrates dreary and by-the-numbers ones. American brewers are so locked into terms and categories that when they brewed lighter alcohol beers that still had huge hop bills, they called them Session IPAs. The beers seemingly couldn’t stand alone – they needed some kind of label as a crutch to justify their existence. I think, and hope, we’re moving past that, and I think specific beers are starting to become styles in their own right. That is, after all, how most beer styles tend to come about. Hopefully, history will judge this latest one by a better moniker than Juicy Banger. In any case, they are beers we need, and deserve.

#EBBC13 – Day 2 Highlights

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Read the highlights of EBBC Day 1 here.

The second day of the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2013 had a packed agenda, and featured really useful and insightful talks from some of the leading lights of beer writing. There was also the extremely exciting Live Beer Blogging event, which saw some incredible beers being poured. Below is a recap of what happened with some photos from the various sessions. As ever, you can read the in-depth coverage of EBBC13 on the Live Blog written by Sam Parker and I, built by John Read.

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Beer Blogging Around the Globe

The day opened with a panel of beer bloggers from Ireland, Poland, Norway and the USA discussing the challenges of beer blogging in their respective countries. There was really interesting explanations of the various legal difficulties that have recently cropped up in the US, such as disclosing whether samples were sent to you by breweries. This was met with what Craig Heap described as a ‘very British, quiet outrage’. Meanwhile, in Norway, brewers aren’t even allowed to use promotional images on their websites! There was an overall positive feeling to the discussion, as each panellist set out what they were most looking forward to in the future. I covered the panel’s discussion on the live blog here.

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Drinks Writing – When Every Word Counts

Susanna Forbes of DrinkBritain.com gave us some in-depth and detailed advice on improving our writing and our blogs’ effectiveness. There was really great information here, and I understand that Susannah’s presentation will be uploaded to the EBBC website for us all to enjoy. Sam covered Susannah’s talk in detail here on the live blog.

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BrewDog does Social Media

BrewDog’s in-house social media and marketing specialist Sarah Warman, formerly of agency Manifest, gave a really insightful and useful talk on the effective use of social media. We saw BrewDog’s strategy and the social media platforms they use, and Sarah was very good at identifying what works for BrewDog, and what might work for bloggers like us. Some of us even signed up to new platforms there and then! Read my live blog of Sarah’s presentation here.

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Becoming a Beer Sommelier

Beer Sommelier Sophie Atherton (whose blog is A FemAle View) hosted a double-edged talk, first discussing what a Beer Sommelier is and how it has benefited her career, and secondly hosting a beer and food matching event. There was a simple yet wonderful selection of charcuterie and cheeses provided by Vintage in Leith, and we were encouraged to find the best beer matches ourselves. The beers were the crisp and fruity Sixpenny IPA, Fuller’s classy Black Cab stout, and a slightly lifeless mini-cask of Adnams Broadside. Many noted that it was hard to find ‘excellent’ matches. However, a really interesting discussion then ensued about how all of our many different opinions prove the subjective nature of food and beer matching. Sam Parker covered the session on the live blog here.

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Live Beer Blogging

Beers from Traquair, Shepherd Neame, Inveralmond, West, Ilkley, Badger, Harviestoun, Innis & Gunn and Birra Toccalmatto were tasted, with bloggers posting and sharing their thoughts live. Sam Parker and I used our live blog to share our thoughts in real time. See the results here.

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Ilkley’s The Mayan (as modelled by Leigh Linley)

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Inveralmond Blackfriar

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Traquair Jacobite Ale

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Badger Roaming Roy Dog

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Harviestoun Ola Dubh 30th Anniversary edition (in 40 year old whisky cask, last containing 30 year old Highland Park)

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Toccalmatto Surfing Hop

Dinner provided by Williams Bros and Fyne Ales

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 Arguably the highlight of the weekend, the final dinner saw Williams Brothers and Fyne Ales go head-to-head at a sumptuous beer and food banquet. This was a non-stop delight. The starte of haggis, neeps and tatties was served with a whisky and peppercorn sauce, with matched sensationally with Williams’ Fraoch Pictish heather ale. The spicyness in both the beer and food met halfway, bridging the savoury haggis, sweet suede and potato with the soft, rounded herbal flavours in the beer. The Sanda Blonde from Fyne was too bright and citrusy to match this meal, but it did serve quite nicely as a palate cleanser or, as Gavin Frost put it, an amuse-bouche.

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The main course was double-whammy of chicken stuffed with black pudding, alongside sea bass and a sweet potato fondant. I wasn’t sure what the sauce was that came with this meal, but it was wonderfully savoury. The chicken was a little dry, but the sea bass was delicious, and went incredibly well with Fyne Ales crisp, hoppy, citric and sweet golden ale Jarl. Williams’ Citra Sitka was also served with the main course, but went best with the sweet potato fondant, where the sweetness in each boosted and the enhanced each other.

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Last but not least, for dessert we were served a traditional Scottish Cranachan, which was basically half a pint of clotted cream with raspberries, heather honey and whisky. Ours didn’t seem to have much of whisky character to it, but there was TONNES of cream, which is good if you like cream. The shortbread biscuits tasted a bit cheap, but it was overall a very indulgent dessert. For this we were served Stravaigin, a collaboration brewed saison/blonde ale from Williams and Stillwater, and Fyne Ales Superior IPA. The Stravaigin was a nice match, cutting through the cream and enhancing the fruitier aspects of the dessert. The Superior IPA didn’t really match at all, being way to overpoweringly hopped. It was just fine on its own as an after-dinner aperitif. As a competition, I think it was a score draw between Williams and Fyne. A great evening.

Afterwards, many bloggers headed back out into Edinburgh, and found themselves in the favourite venue of the weekend – the Hanging Bat (also now known as the Banging Hat). It’s a fantastic bar that any beer (or indeed gin) geek should visit. It was unseasonably hot in there, but I think all who visited the Hanging Bat would agree it captures Edinburgh beer-loving, party-hard spirit perfectly.

Cheers!

Next time in The Beer Diary – What did EBBC13 all mean, and what did we learn about the future of beer blogging in the UK and Europe?