Monday, December 17, 2012

What would happen if..?

As a dabbler in brewing I know what it's like: the temptation to not leave well enough alone. Sometimes, brewing experiments are born of necessity, other times it's just for the hell of it, or to prove a point. "I've proved a point" is a totally valid response to the question "Why does this taste weird?" Two commercial experiments today, from points as far away as Denmark and New Zealand.

Well, sort of. To ├śl is one of those Danish gypsy brewing operations and Ov-ral -- a collaboration with Mikkeller -- isn't actually brewed in Denmark at all. It's badged as an Imperial IPA and is 10.5% ABV, but as the name hints it's had a dose of wild yeasts added in the brewing process like Belgian Trappist classic Orval. And it presents in a fairly Orvallish fashion: a cloudy orange colour and smelling of barnyards and vinegar. The imperialised hopping comes out on tasting, with a bittersweet oily citrus pith at the front contrasting with the sour funk from the wild yeast. Think orange barley sweets dipped in manure and you're close.

Out of interest I cracked a bottle of Orval for immediate contrast and found it tasted of very little by comparison. If you like what Orval does but find it somewhat lacking in character, then this is the beer for you, and you're an idiot.

We head down under next for one from renowned Kiwi brewery Epic, new to these shores. Zythos is a pale amber coloured IPA and has the same citrus and toffee aroma of a million crystal-malt-laden American IPAs, plus a surprisingly alcoholic smell for a relatively modest 6% ABV. But while the nose is quite run-of-the-mill there's a bit more going on in the flavour. For one thing there's a big and very English hit of tannins at the front, and the first taste called to mind a cup of strong black tea more than Californian craft beer. Behind this there's more of the powerful jaffa bitterness we met in the Ov-ral, but also some lighter, more softly spoken, mandarin notes as well. It's a very decent, quite straightforward beer which doesn't try to pull off the same sort of tricks as the Dane and is the better for it.

The experimental novelty factor here lies in the hops: eschewing the more famous American varieties which are often in short supply, this is brewed with a secret blend of more accessible breeds. To be honest I think it hasn't been a complete success and it lacks the welly of a beer loaded with Citra, Simcoe or the like. But that doesn't change the fact that it's enjoyable to drink.

Today's lesson, then, is that messing about with hops is pretty safe, but with yeast it helps to know exactly what you're doing, and preferably do it in someone else's brewery. Big thanks to Richard for providing both of these.

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