Friday, October 30, 2009

Two Countries Divided By a Common Beer Style

For those of you who are not aware of my employment, or lack thereof, situation at the moment, at weekends I work in the tasting room of the Starr Hill Brewery. On Saturdays and Sundays you are very likely to find me at the bar in the tasting room, serving samples of the brewery's range of beers to visitors, it is a job that I enjoy immensely. One of the most common questions I get asked by visitors is which of our beers is my favourite, and I am very lucky to work for a brewery whose range I genuinely enjoy. At the moment, because these things change, I have to admit that I have two favourites, we currently have a bourbon barrel aged, dry hopped barleywine available to which I am particularly partial, but from our core range, my clear favourite is Northern Lights IPA. For some time then I have been planning to get my hands on a bottle of a British IPA and do a comparison tasting of British and American IPA, that bottle arrived on Wednesday and was St Peter's India Pale Ale from Suffolk in England. As ever, I am using my variation on the Cyclops system for my tasting notes (the sooner American brewers adopt this system as well the better as far as I am concerned).



First up the English IPA, naturally as England is the home of IPA.
  • Sight - amber with a definite orange, small white head
  • Smell - bitter orange peel, faint caramel
  • Taste - sweet maltiness, spicy hops, mellow citrus
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
What a nice beer this is! Seriously, it is delicious, an excellent balance between the hops and malt, both kind of up and in your face, but neither dominating so much as to make it either sickly or like sucking lemons, there is a noticeably bitter aftertaste which I really enjoyed. A beautiful beer.



And now the American contender:
  • Sight - sparkling amber, loose white head
  • Smell - heavy grapefruit hoppiness (it's the Cascade!)
  • Taste - In your face grapefruit, smooth marmelade background
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 4/5
Damn it I love this beer, I really pity people who can't get this beer in their neck of the woods, seriously it is such a nice IPA. The thing it has for me over most IPAs in the US is that there is far more going on than just a hop bomb. Yes there is that classically American C hop, in your face, grapefruit citrus that you expect, but the malty sweetness of the body, and a subtle boozy glow, set that off perfectly. As I say to a lot of people in the tasting room, it is like hoppy marmelade. It is interesting the number of women who tell me that don't like hoppy beer, usually after they have just tried our Pale Ale, and thus don't want to try the IPA, but love it when I eventually persuade them just to try.

There really isn't much to tell these two excellent beers apart, other than the hop varieties in use. Perhaps then Northern Lights is closer to a genuine IPA than many of the hopbominations out there in the American market because it has the extra maltiness needed to balance out the big citrus flavours. My only gripe with the St Peter's is the use of a green bottle, but that is purely because my experience here so far is that green bottles don't travel as well as brown - thinking about Pilsner Urquell here for sure, so much so I have sworn not to drink it until I am again in Prague and can have it unpasteurised, it really makes such a difference.

Now if only I could find somewhere with Northern Lights as a cask conditioned ale, who happen to have a cask of St Peter's India Pale Ale, then I would be in IPA nirvana.

7 comments:

  1. Good write!

    I don't know if it'll be possible for you. But it would be nice to see a comparative tasting like this with a wider range of "classic" IPA's from each country.

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  2. I am planning a comparison soon between Ireland's best bottled stout and America's most award winning stout as well.

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  3. I love IPAs and this one is my favorite:
    http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/220/52077

    Smells and tastes like a bag of fresh american hops.

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  4. I have a bottle of that in storage I believe!

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  5. This looks like it could be the start of an interesting series. St Peter's bottled beers are generally pretty crap, I've come to think, but it's all a matter of taste, isn't it?

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  6. One might think, from a lot of your pictures that you are promoting Lovibonds :D

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  7. Didn't we already have this discussion? The Lovibonds glass is the perfect size for the bottles that beer generally comes in over here - I can't imagine taking pictures of half full pint glasses.

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