Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
BrewDog, despite what you think of their zany, in your face marketing schemes you cannot hide from the fact that they brew some pretty awesome beer. Whether you love them or loathe them it’s hard to deny that Punk IPA is one of the most solid core beers on the market at the moment and Hardcore IPA is an absolute stunner that I urge hop freaks like myself to go out and try if you haven’t already done so.
Last year I decided to buy shares in BrewDog based mainly on the fact that I would get a discount at their Camden bar and from their online shop, whether or not I would make any money from them was a bit of an afterthought but in terms of a personal business decision it looks to have been a pretty solid one. BrewDog are everywhere and last week saw them steal the headlines when drinks giant Diageo attempted to cheat them out of an award that already had their name engraved on it. I won’t go into it here as this particular post is not about the BrewDog marketing machine but about their great beers however you can read this great post by Pete Brown if you want to know a little more about what happened.
IPA is alive and well, actually.
I do often wonder just how long BrewDog will be able to stick to their punk ethos especially now their beers are available in several major UK supermarkets and their brand and chain of bars seem to be growing at an exponential rate. I’m sure that one day soon a man in a very nice suit from a big multinational corporation will come knocking at BrewDog's door with a very, very large cheque and it will be interesting to see exactly what Mr. James Watt does when he sees that many zeros. If it was me I’d take the money, go into hiding until it all blows over and then build a tower to keep my money in so I could swim around in it like Scrooge McDuck. I’m not much of a punk though, I just like good beer and towers full of money.
Last year I bought BrewDogs IPA is dead four pack and found all of them bar the Nelson Sauvin really disappointing. The much lauded Sorachi Ace tasted unpleasant and medicinal and the Bramling Cross didn’t really taste of much at all. The main reason I didn’t like them was that there was almost zero malt backbone, the hops were left on their own out in a disparate wilderness and for me they just didn’t work. I thought I’d give it another go this year because I’m a bit of a glutton for punishment but as it turns out BrewDog have delivered four very exceptional beers this time around. The malt base appears to have been completely restructured and the four hops that have been chosen not only shine brilliantly but all have unique and interesting tastes that really had my palate working overtime.
I decided to start with Challenger as I expected it to be the most muted of these four hops. I had made the decision to work my way through all four bottles in a single evening but also bought a second pack so I could taste them individually at a later date in case of palate fatigue. Although Challenger was indeed the most muted and subtle of the four beers it was in no way unpleasant, in fact it was supremely drinkable. The nose was typical of many British hop varieties; earthy with notes of freshly cut grass and a hint of golden syrup from the malts. Challenger provided a really nice level of bitterness, flavours of chunky orange marmalade and caramel combined in the mouth to provide a really level, balanced taste. The finish was very dry and I found myself wanting a little bit more citric zing to appease my taste buds but all in all this is a very good IPA.
Next I jumped straight to the beer I was most excited about, Motueka. I love New Zealand hops, they have a fresh, rich, tropical flavour that just cannot be beaten and this hop did not disappoint. The nose was totally tropical, in my tasting notes I’ve described the aroma as being a bit like alcoholic Lilt or Um Bongo. The taste was a real fruit basket of guava, pineapple, mango and passion fruit flavours and the finish had a little bit of black pepper to it. As my tongue unlocked the complexities of this brew I also started to get pine and grapefruit notes but despite all these flavours bouncing around Motueka is actually surprisingly mellow and really easy to drink. Instead of assaulting your senses by being bitter and resinous Motueka lolls around gently as if it was relaxing in a hammock on a sunny New Zealand Day (apparently quite a rare thing). This beer was the best of the four, so good in fact that I would be pleased to see it as a regular edition to the BrewDog lineup, fantastic stuff.
I then decided to hop over the Tasman Sea and see what the Australian grown Galaxy hop would bring to the table. The nose had hints of freshly cut grass and an earthy quality not dissimilar to the Challenger but with more tropical and citrus fruits added into the mix. The taste was bittersweet with lemon, pine and mango combining nicely over a backbone of brown sugar. For me Galaxy seemed to work great as a bittering hop but I found the aroma a little lacking, still it was a really enjoyable IPA.
The final beer of the four is hopped with a new US grown hop simply called HBC. I’m not quite sure what this stands for but while writing down my tasting notes I decided that it was named after British actress Helena Bonham Carter who is obviously a massive craft beer fan. HBC is supremely bitter, the aroma was of big, juicy Seville oranges, lemons and breakfast grapefruit. This bitterness translates beautifully onto the tongue and notes of citrus, lychee and chunky marmalade whiz around in unison. I also detected a vinous quality not dissimilar to the one given off by Nelson Sauvin which added a sharp edge to the bitter flavour and made this my second favourite of the four close behind Motueka.
All four of these beers on their own have stunning individual qualities and unique flavours and had I bought a third pack I might have tried experimenting by blending them together. Galaxy and Challenger seem to work brilliantly as bittering hops whereas Motueka and HBC were heaped with huge, heady aromas and I could see these four hops working very well together. If anyone has tried blending these together, do get in touch an let me know how you got on!
Despite your personal opinion on the way BrewDog go about their business it is hard to deny that they produce some stunning beers and these four IPAs are no exception. They showcase a brewer that really understands the nature of hops and how to get the best out of them so if you are lucky enough to find a four pack for sale I’d advise you pick one up.