Jens and I had just arrived in from a long haul schlep from Heathrow to Denver – seven hours time difference between Greenwich and my favourite time zone of all – ‘Mountain Time’. Wouldn’t that be great? If all mountains shared the same time zone? From the Himalaya to the Andes, from the Urals to the Lakeland Fells, whenever you climb above 1500m you equalise with Denver, Colorado. That way, we could drive up to the Lakes or the Highlands and drink beer simultaneously with the Great American Beer Festival, although perhaps in the dark… On this occasion, sticking with current conventions, we had flown a quarter of the way around the world for this particular bout of jet lag, and we weren’t going to waste it on sleep. The tactic of course: immediately assimilate yourself by going to a bar.
We headed for Blake Street. Just one block from Coors Field (with the most excellent, but sadly closed, Sandlot Bar / Brewery) we knew there were a couple of excellent bars. Falling Rock Tap House earned the honours of slaking mutual first pint syndrome – I had a Fat Tire from New Belgium – an oldie but goodie which I perversely enjoy for its barnyard (read: cow muck) aroma, Jens something much darker (What? Than cow muck?) and inevitably featuring ancient grains or triple truck loads of hops, or something. I think Nelson Sauvin featured but my beer notebook wasn’t working at the time. More beers and a light pre-order of kickers featuring, from memory, a magical set of buffalo wings and enough ‘nar-chos’ to fatten up this week’s Christmas Turkey (Note: not ‘Natch-os’ as I requested, creating much confusion. Fortunately I didn’t request the ‘Toe-mar-to Solsa’ so we managed to navigate that tricky spot. And heaven forbid if they are ever served with ‘Tune-a’ in the footure). Anyhoo, the conversation became more animated and a heated debate opened up regarding the Cascade hop and its train – the other ‘C’ hops). In the Blue Corner – the hop heads, who appreciated when the hops were treated delicately but generally, were seeking vast quantity. In the Biney Green corner, were the Purists, appreciative of the energy and momentum created by U.S. craft brewers but a little scathing of the indelicacy of hop quantity that many craft beers boasted. ’They all taste the same – it’s just too much hop, hop, hop’ was the refrain. I was a broadly neutral voice in the debate between brewers, but at the time holding a candle to the Purists’ view. Too many glasses of beer had been unfinishable; too many face-puckeringly astringent as opposed to lime-suckingly sharp and refreshing.
Yet those who have visited these pages before will know that I appreciate American inventiveness, particularly in the sphere of Pale Ales and IPAs fed to me on the lean diet that we enjoy on these shores. Of Goose Island and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, enough has been said (quite justifiably) so I shall say no more today. But what a find the other day – one of those pleasant, out-of-the-blue surprises, that lifts your heart. And with it a touch of annoyance too – in the form of more beers in Sainsbury’s ‘Taste the Difference’ range. A Pale Ale (imaginatively entitled ‘American Pale Ale’) and also ‘Tap Room Brewing Company IPA’. It seems from the blogosphere that I was not alone in being surprised by these beers’ appearance and it was only serendipity that allowed me to spot them in store. In the midst of the big Christmas shop, with the trolley losing its agility under the weight of festive groceries, I had carefully slotted some Goose Island and Brooklyn Lager into crafty niches between the bottles of Belvoir Presses (get me!) and the once-a-year parsnips when I decided to pause awhile over the UK range (actually to see if a friend’s beer had been listed yet). My eye was drawn to two slim 330ml bottles amongst the sea of 500ml pseudo-pints. Naturally, despite the mechanically challenged trolley, I managed to engineer space for two bottles of each – the Pale Ale described as having ‘citrus aromas and malty flavours’ (no shit!) and an ABV of 5.3%; the IPA a more bullish yet still drinkable 6.3% and billed as ‘bold with spicy hop notes’. Come on down!
Well, my! What a find. The Pale Ale in particular is a little haughty starlet. Enticing you from the moment you lever (TWIST!!) off the crown. Citrus notes – sure, but also a spiciness, which I assume comes from the hops, and a body, befitting a mid 5s beer that is both delectably drinkable yet supported with chiselled broad-shoulders. The mash contains wheat as well as barley and the roundedness comes through in the mouthfeel. And my sort of beer – a come-hither-young-man aroma, multi-dimensionsal on the first sip and a lingering after taste that rolls around the taste buds gently tinkling a fading percussive melody on your tonsils with its Xylophone beaters, until the next sip is called for and your hand unfailingly answers. The IPA in comparison was a bit of a let down – a good beer, but not a great one. For a bold strength it flattered to deceive a little, drinking under its weight and creating a stewards’ enquiry from Barry McGuigan’s corner. But not a bad beer, with a bright orange colour and a dense, compact head that laced beautifully. Alas, no timpani on the tonsils this time round.
And it revived memories of the old debate in that Denver bar. U.S. craft beers – all the same? All hops and no knickers? Well not on the evidence here – the tantalising tastes enjoyed in Staffordshire of all places have me pining to go back Stateside to update the argument.
© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles, December 2012