Fri May 28th, 2010 at 02:42:23 PM EST
Following my diary about those beers we have loved and lost, it seemed only sensible to carry on and discuss my favourite beers I can rush out to enjoy today.
With two exceptions these are British beers; this is not due to nationalistic chauvinism but, however much I appreciate Czech, German and Belgian beers, I simply prefer the beer style which I first learnt to love. Also, I must note and I hope it's not bias, but four of the beers are from my own county of Essex.
And I know it's supposed to be a top 10, but ... I'm greedy
Schlenkerla : Rauschbier
So, that said, it is funny to admit that my favourite beer in the world is German. But what a beer !! The malt is smoked before brewing and the resulting flavour is just the most remarkable I know. Other breweries do smoked beer, but they seem to create a beer and then regard the fact that it's smoked as an added feature, none seem to have done as Schlenkerla and created a wonderfully balanced beer where the smokiness is an integral part of the experience.
It helps that the brewpub in Bamberg is such a wonderfully archetypal German beer hall that makes visiting it an essential pilgrimage for any discerning beer drinker.
Stone : Ruination
And the second beer on my list is American. But it is a British style IPA so it's sort of okay. IPA had become a much debased style in the UK by the 80s; beers that were supposed to have been heavily hopped to survive a long sea journey to india had had all the edges of distinction knocked from them until many were bland and tasteless pale ales.
Fortunately the Americans decided to make IPAs that were exactly what they said on the tin, heavily hopped. No, make that brutally hopped. Those first American IPAs were a revelation when they arrived here in the mid-90s. And of them all, I love Stone Ruination IPA the best. Called Ruination because once you've had one your tastebuds are ruined for tasting anything else, it is a magisterial beer, fizzing with hop sparkle but with a wonderful underlying balance that makes it such a great drink.
In the absence of this rare visitor, I would recommend Thornbridge Jaipur IPA, BrewDog Hardcore IPA or Pictish Brewers Gold, but this a wish list so Stone it is
HopBack : Summer Lightning
Back in the mid to late 80s, a few of the newer breweries noted that British beers tended to be dark and malty, while continental beers tended to be golden and decided to try brewing beers that were lighter in colour. Some of these, such as Oakhams JHB and Woodfordes Wherry went on to become classics in their own right, but Summer Lightning is in a class of its own. A thick golden colour, the flavour a clever balance of sweet, malt and bitterness, this is a substantial beer that, when it is in good nick, is simply head and shoulders above nearly anything else. One of the classic beers of Britain.
Nethergate : Umbel Magna
Nethergate had a reputation for brewing some lovely dark very bitter beers and also a rather good strong beer called Old Growler. But the brewer decided to experiment with other flavourings and came up with a new process for passing the hot wort through a load of coriander seeds prior to fermentation which resulted in a beer suffused with herby flavour. I have little interest in the weak and insipid Umbel ale, but the dark slightly sour flavour of Old Growler complements the herby coriander perfectly. A surprising and more-ish ale.
Crouch Vale : Best bitter
Crouch Vale Brewers Gold may have won champion beer of Britain a couple of times, but I've always preferred the almost perfect balance of their best bitter, fruity, malty and bitter in quite the most wonderful combination. When it's good, it's pretty much as good as you're gonna get anywhere.
Brentwood : Marvellous Maple Mild
And marvellous it is too. I am fairly conservative when it comes to milds, very few brewers meet the standards I expect, so it was a delight to find the brewery nearest to me absolutely smack the ball out of the park.
Farmers : Drop of Nelsons Blood
When you do as much drinking around as I do, you can get cynical about new breweries, too many indentikit cooking bitters, too many beers utterly indistinguishable from the last one. And then you try a beer that just blows away all your woes away and makes you fall in love all over again. Such was Farmers Nelsons. A dark bitter that, like the Crouch vale from just down the road, makes the complex task of balancing fruit, malt and bitterness seem effortless. All of Farmers beers are very good indeed, but this is exceptional.
Copper Dragon : Scotts 1816
Most breweries do one type of beer well, or specialize in certain types of beer. Others couldn't brew good beer if their lives depended upon it. And a vanishingly few breweries seemingly don't know how to brew a bad beer at all, CD is one of that select group of breweries I'd trust to do anything well. I selected Scotts 1816, but I could have taken any of their range and been satisfied.
Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild
In beer terms where a brew is considered venerable if it's been going half a century, then this is a prehistoric monster. Brewed since 1921, it is certainly using a recipe at least as old again because it is a strong (in alcohol) mild (not hoppy), a style that went out of favour a century before. However, it doesn't get on this list for its curiosity value; it's here because it's an extraordinary beer. Others have taken up the mantle of brewing strong milds, but when you try the original, forget the rest, this is the best.
Hambleton Nightmare Porter
Porter is a difficult beer to get right. The beer style had died out, so nobody actually knows what it should taste like, we simply know that it is a mix in equal proportions of (strong) Mild, Stale (gueze) and Old. So I've always expected a dark malty beer with a lambic (acidy) backbite but not too much bitterness. Also, the balance of the malts should be near perfect, not too much chocolate or it gives a granular feel to the beer, not too much coffee malt or it kills the sweetness that balances the acid. This is the perfect combination
Brentwood : Chocwork Orange
Forget the punny title, just taste the beer: Wonderfully assertive dark chocolate flavours providing a bed for the orange tang. A bottle of dark chocolate orange. Gimme, gimme, gimme