Here was a clear case of hidden in plain sight. Indeed, on reflection, the signs couldn’t have been clearer. I remember hearing of exciting new hops from a colleague who was really excited about the potential of new varieties for new beers in our innovation programme. What if we brewed a single hop beer with Nelson Sauvin? Or with Citra? Or maybe a combination of the two – dry hopping with Citra perhaps? It was 2009, yet despite of people wearing their metaphorical day-glo suits near me and waving semaphore flags right in front of my face I didn’t pick up on them. There were other priorities; other pressing matters; the business wasn’t ready for this sort of innovation.
Nature has a tendency to be persistent though and like a weed pushing through cracked mortar in order to reach light and life so these new hops have steadily, surely, forced themselves into my consciousness. And my own re-emergence into the world of artisan beers has made it easier for them to finally hit home.
I’d heard about Oakham Ales through a roundabout source; a cider maker looking for some business advice used them as benchmark for what he regarded as a quality operation. It was their beer ‘Citra’ apparently; that was the tipping point; the point of inflection, the thing that pushed them over the edge towards greatness. My friend Steve mentioned it too: it was a grand beer, which had been surprisingly and pleasingly encountered on the shelves of B&M whilst out on the hunt for stationery and discount fat balls.
Later, I found it, lurking, furtively on the top shelf of a Waitrose. A classic case of impulse purchasing this: I went out of my way to that particular store to get a new brand of fruit tea I had helped develop (Price: £2.89) and left 45 minutes on, fully signed up with a ‘My Waitrose’ card, and an aesthetically pleasing basket of expensive comestibles (Total bill: £24.14). This beer had better be bloody good, I told myself.
And my; it certainly is. For a little brewery from the smallest of counties, this is a mighty beer. It’s a single hop pale ale and pale it truly is; Pilsner-like I’d say. But it’s the aroma that hits you first – lever off the crown and there it is. The beer might be a straw-lemon colour but the smell is grapefruit and gooseberry and it fair races out to greet you. It pours with a lithe, white head that billows to formation and leaves subtle tracery down the glass. And all this sensory overload continues; a swirl of the glass reawakens the aroma; there’s an assertive but balanced bitterness all the way through from foretaste to aftertaste and all the while that pronounced fruitiness: a dryness in the beer that suggests to me brushing against a gooseberry bush when you are picking them; there’s the fruit and that green-leaf character which is so moreish, so appetising.
For once, the hype was right; here is a characterful beer, one that refreshes and rewards, that balances hop intensity with easy drinkability. I won’t miss those signs next time.
© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2014