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India Pale Ale

India Pale Ales, or IPAs, are experiencing an explosion of popularity at the moment. It seems no brewery’s standard list is complete without at least one IPA.

Pale ales require the use of pale malts, and the technology for producing pale malts in any commercial quantity became available during the 18th century. Pale ales had been brewed before then, the earliest known example dates to 1675, but large, commercially viable production of Pale Ale had to wait a little longer. The normal malting process is a smoky affair, leading to dark, roasty malts, but pale malts require smokeless malting, using smokeless fuels such as coke. This paler malt naturally produces a paler beer, quite different to the brown ales that were the staple of the time.

Pale Malt

The original IPAs were of high alcohol content (typically 6.5%, occasionally even higher) and were heavily hopped. Both these features helped to preserve the beer in the non-regulated temperatures of rolling sailing ships as they undertook the long journey to India, where there was a huge demand for fine quality beer.

It’s an old tale that George Hodgson of the Bow Brewery ‘invented’ India Pale Ale in the mid-eighteenth century. It’s a nice tale, but there is actually no evidence for it whatsoever, it’s just been repeated so often that it has become a factoid.* All we can say for sure is that the style developed in the late 18th – early 19th centuries. The name ‘India Pale Ale’ is first recorded in an advert in the Liverpool Mercury dated the 30th January 1835 – though that is no indication of how long the term had been used.

The experience you can expect from an IPA begins with the smell, which should be rich with hop aromas. The head should generally be white and persistent. The taste should be good and hoppy, but balanced by a sweet maltiness. Other flavours often present include citrus fruits, particularly a grapefruit pithiness.

Here are a few IPAs that I have enjoyed recently:

Acorn Conquest (5.7%) Light yellow in colour, this beer starts with a smooth opening to the taste that hints at fruit without being overtly fruity. There’s a spike of flavour in the midtaste that is slightly soapy and there’s a lingering quinine-like bitter end. Unusual and very good.

Blakemere Cosmic (6.0%) This’ll knock your socks off if you’re not careful. The smell is pure grapefruit. The mouthfeel is nice and smooth and the taste has a lot of citrus zing, particularly grapefruit. It’s very moreish, and at 6%, that’s its danger!

Redwillow Endless (3.8%) There’s that brewery again! This beer is way down the strength scale, probably too far down to be considered a true traditional IPA, but the taste is spot on. It’s bright and cheerful with lots of that grapefruit pith and bags of hops. All expertly balanced with sweet malt to provide an excellent taste sensation.

Whim Hartington IPA (4.5%) Not a standard IPA taste by any means. The hops are far less apparent here than in any of the previous beers. Overall I found this to be dominated by the sweet malt. It is smooth and refreshing with a tiny hint of cream. Very tasty.

Swale Indian Summer Pale Ale (4.2%) This beer is brewed under licence by Archers. Another very smooth ale but this time with a lasting aftertaste that dries in the mouth. Very refreshing.

BrewDog Punk IPA (6.0%) BrewDog have gone off on their own with this one. A massive hop bomb that delivers a very strong hoppy flavour and heaps of citrus pith. The mouthfeel is quite thick with a rush of thick sweetness. The aftertaste develops slowly and is really quite bitter.

BrewDog Punk IPA – one of the new breed of IPAs

BrewDog Proto Punk IPA (2011) (5.4%) The smell delivers tons of very aromatic hops (I don’t know, but I suspect these are American hops – Cascade?). The taste is much smoother than the Punk, and less abrasive, though still strongly hopped.

York IPA (5.0%) This is just as an IPA should be. It’s smooth, hoppy, zesty and refreshing.

*Factoid – a piece of information that has every attribute of a fact apart from truth.

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Posted by on 10 February, 2012 in Beer Styles, Cask Ale

 

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The Port Street Beer House, Manchester

It would be little exaggeration to say that the Port Street Beer House is a hidden gem. On the edge of Manchester’s slightly worn-out Northern Quarter, Port Street is 200 yards or so long. Not the wealthiest or poshest end of town at the best of times, on the wet and chilly day that I tramped the run-down streets of Northern Manchester it was positively grey and dismal. I knew it was here somewhere. I had read reviews about it. The reviewers raved, said it was one of the best bars not just in Manchester, but in the country. It had to be here. I tramped down to the end of the street, where it meets Great Ancoats Street. It wasn’t there. I splashed back the way I had come. There’s only one lit window on the street, but that can’t be it… Hang on… discreet lettering above a window reads ‘Port Street Beer House’. Knew it had to be here. I walked in and turned right into the main bar. Cool.

Port Street Beer House

This is one of those places that in the 1980s would have been described as ‘bijou’.. The main bar is downstairs but there is further seating upstairs, but you have to come down for your beer. The furnishings are minimalist, but comfortable. The room is small, and the amount of space available is reduced even further by large square columns holding the ceiling up. The floor is wooden and polished to within an inch of its life – no rough floorboards here. The rafters are boxed in, plastered and decorated with pumpclips. Despite this not being a new building, the interior decor suggests brand new and shiny, a deliberate statement. I approached the bar, which sported seven traditional handpumps and a couple of modern keg dispensers. Not being much of a keg man (but see below), I didn’t pay huge attention to what was on offer from them, but did note that there were several foreign beers with which I was unfamiliar.

Behind the bar was a young man with a full beard, not a common sight these days. He smiled at my bedraggled, slightly soggy appearance.

‘I’ve had a bit of a job finding you,’ I said.

‘A lot of people say that,’ he replied.

‘Have you ever considered making your sign a little larger?’ I wondered.

‘No,’ he said, ‘We like it like that.’

I knew what he meant. They like their customers to be people who actually want to be there, less so the passing trade. A little search does no harm.

I ordered a Little Valley Stoodly Stout, a new one on me. It’s black in colour and has an ABV of 4.8%. The initial taste is strangely of sweaty socks, but thankfully this settles down quite quickly. It’s rich and smooth with slightly smoky citrus notes. Roasted malt predominates, with something else, which I couldn’t quite place, but I think may have been the wheat that is also present in this beer. There’s also a distinct hop bite that makes a nice foil for the tastebuds.

For a complete contrast, I next opted for a Redwillow Endless, a 3.8% IPA. I’ve been very impressed with the Redwillow beers I have tasted so far. It’s a new brewery, only opened in 2010 and is producing some really excellent beers. I may well dedicate a blog to this brewery in the near future. The beer is a bright, pale yellow, the brightness evident even in the subdued lighting conditions in the PSBH. The taste, too, is bright – cheerful almost. Lots of grapefruit pith in here with lovely swirling hops. A tad low in alcohol for a true IPA but nevertheless excellent.

The barman had told me that beer could be served in thirds, halves, two-thirds or full pints. Very modern, but useful, especially for the more top-end alcoholic brews. My next choice was Quantum Imperial Stout with Cranberry, which I ordered in a third-pint glass. Weighing in at a hefty 8.6%, this beer clearly deserved some respect, as does a beer house that is prepared to serve it. Quantum is an even newer brewer than Redwillow, having started brewing in Stockport (just south of Manchester) in the Summer of 2011. This Imp is superb, beautifully rounded and bitter. The dark, roasted taste is capped by a mist of alcoholic vapour, tickling the back of the nose as well as the roof of the mouth. A lovely beer, though I struggled to find cranberries in there.

Quantum Imperial Stout

Intrigued by the fancy keg dispensers, I was encouraged to try something from them. I chose to go for Stone Levitation, a 4.4% IPA from across the pond, where they do things differently. This beer is no exception. At 4.4%, it isn’t really strong enough to be classed as an IPA. Nor even is it pale, being a deep, rich red colour. Putting labelling aside, this beer has a wonderfully complex taste. Behind the massive hops I could also detect coffee and something a bit dry, that made itself known especially at the end. It’s a fine beer, despite it being keg. Yes! KEG!

Stone Levitation

I found the Port Street Beer House to be almost instantly comfortable. I knew that this was my sort of place almost the moment I settled into the little settee in the back corner. It is cool, subdued, mild-mannered. Not hip and trendy in some crass way, but truly a place for those in the know who want an eclectic choice of beers and the chance to drink them in a slightly better class of establishment. Simply wonderful.

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 13 January, 2012 in Cask Ale, Pubs

 

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