Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up...
It's a Thursday night and I'm standing on the platform at Willesden Junction station waiting what feels like several eternities for a train. I'm excitedly making a journey towards the Craft Beer Co in Angel where Huddersfield's Magic Rock, one of my favourite UK breweries, are launching their brand new triple IPA, Un-Human Cannonball. According to my super useful beer archiving application, known to most as Untappd, in the last twelve months I have drank Magic Rock Cannonball IPA more times than any other beer. Along with Thornbridge Halcyon it's simply one of the best American style India Pale Ales being brewed in the UK right now, in fact I might go as far as to say that although Halcyon is better from the bottle, Cannonball is king when it's on draught.
So what exactly is Un-Human Cannonball then? Magic Rock already brew a double IPA, a treasured beer known as Human Cannonball which is a big, boisterous and beautiful brew, Un-Human takes this concept to the next level. A single batch of Un-Human is going to be brewed once a year using the freshest, new season American hops available. The beer has a very simple malt bill but has enough hop additions throughout each and every stage of the brewing process to make mere mortals weep into their dimpled pint mugs. Another brewery have a similar concept over in the States, they're called Russian River and you might have heard of their own triple IPA, Pliny the Younger, a beer that is as revered as the sacred Ambrosia itself. Having been lucky enough to try Pliny the Younger back in February I was looking forward to seeing if this beer was to be a tribute, a clone, or a beer that proudly and independently stands atop the Yorkshire Dales screaming its Un-Human scream.
Earlier in the day a madness descended upon the beer geeks of Great Britain, it started at 9am when Magic Rock released 90 bottles for sale on their own website, these sold out within half an hour. Other websites soon followed suit, even I succumbed to the hop fever and purchased a triplet of bottles from the ever reliable Beer Ritz who decided to release their allocation at 3pm, again these sold out almost instantly. I sat at my desk and observed the madness which unfolded on twitter, as most things beer inevitably do these days and thought to myself, why all this fuss, it's just beer. The Craft Beer Co opened their doors at 4pm where there was already a queue outside, their meagre allocation of 40 bottles selling out almost instantly.
As I made my way towards Craft I remember briefly standing outside Tortilla thinking that ingesting a taco might strengthen my resolve before drinking lots of very strong beer, but with all the excitement I didn't have much of an appetite so I continued pubwards. The bar was predictably crammed when I arrived around 6.30pm but it wasn't long before I saw a few familiar faces in the throng as I queued for my third of Un-Human. The bar seemed a little under staffed for such an occasion but the people who were behind the bar were working their arses off trying to get everyone served. After about fifteen minutes of waiting I eventually made it to the bar where a whole host of Magic Rock beers were being poured on keg and cask. As well as a third of Un-Human I picked myself up a half of bog-standard Cannonball (which to be honest is about as far from bog standard as beer can get) to use as a control as I feel I know this beer like I do the back of my hand.
Un-Human at the back and regular at the front.
I retreat to the much quieter back room of the pub where I join Chris, Emma, another Chris, Justin, Andrew, Ewan and Ben (but more faces came and went as the evening went on) the beer geek forces were out in full this evening. I excuse myself while I whip out my notepad and get into this beer. Where the regular Cannonball was bright and near-transparent the Un-Human was a heady, hazy auburn-amber with a halo of super sticky foam clinging to the rim of the glass. The aroma was as sweet and sticky as the head with the dominant aroma being pine, and when I say pine we're talking about an entire forests worth, seriously this beer was very piney indeed. There was passion fruit and mango there too but it wasn't particularly easy to to detect at first but with a few vigorous swirls of the glass these aromas soon revealed themselves.
I took a sip of Cannonball before I tried the Un-Human, yep, this was Cannonball alright and it was on rude form indeed. Then I enter the world of the Un-Human and it's surprisingly well balanced. Yes there are huge gobs of pine resin coating slices of mango and acres of grapefruit and mandarin rind but it's all over a clean, relatively sparse malt backbone. Human Cannonball has a robust, sweet and bready malt base but the Un-Human dials this down in favour of letting the hops shine through and shine they do but they don't quite harmoniously break into song. The finish is bitter and astringent for a moment but this sensation doesn't linger and is soon replaced with warming alcohol gliding down the throat, this beer is 12% after all and this is incredibly well hidden until the very end of a sip.
I love it, naturally, but it's not quite perfect. I prefer it to Human Cannonball but it's the regular Cannonball that is the winner on the day for me, despite me not being able to taste it properly after the hop hammering my palate has just received. So how does it compare to Pliny, should I even bother, is there a point? It's just beer after all. Me being me, I do compare it to Pliny and yes there are similarities but the thing that struck me about Pliny is how clearly defined and easy to pick out all the flavours are. Un-Human, although delicious, doesn't quite have this harmonious clarity which is why despite being brilliant it falls short of being perfect.
What is perfect though is the setting, this wonderful pub filled with passionate, friendly people that love beer. Faces come and go around my table for the entire evening and the conversation never stalls. Glasses and bottles are constantly being passed around the table, I enjoy a stunning Venison pie and the merriment doesn't stop until it's time to go home. Although the beer was really, really good, it's the company that is the best thing about the night for me. My beer of the evening? Well it just turned out to be Thornbridge Weizenbock which I could only describe as being flawless so make of that what you will.