Words - Matthew Curtis, Photos - Dianne Tanner
Off licence chain Oddbins has teamed up with Oxfordshire based brewery Compass to produce a brand new pale ale that will be exclusive to their shelves. This isn't the first time the well known bottle shop have collaborated on a beer. Last Christmas they produced Oddbins No. 1 at East London Brewery, a heavily spiced seasonal ale that I cast my thoughts on here along with a bunch of other festive brews.
Thankfully those winter months are well behind us and hopefully we've a long hot summer to look forward to, so Oddbins and Compass have brought us a Kölsch style ale to enjoy in the Sun. Based on a style of beer that originates from Cologne, Germany, Oddbins No. 2 fuses a carefully selected blend of pale malts with noble Tettnang hops in their homage to these sessionable German ales. The twist is that about a fifth of the malt was smoked by the Upton Smokery, also of Oxfordshire. This malt was gently smoked for twenty four hours over Beech and I was curious to see what dimension this would add to the beer.
There is definitely a hint of sweet smoke emanating from this pale, golden hued ale along with aromas of honey and red berries. In the glass this beer appears quite light and gentle but true to the Kölsch style its mouth feel is rounded and full bodied. Those red berry aromas are more distinctive on the palate, subtle notes of raspberry and cranberry intermingle with a dash of honey. There's quite a lot going on for such a subtly flavoured beer so it's very satisfying when that sweet smoke kicks in. It lifts and lightens everything up before drying the palate as the hops leave a grassy, bitter finish. It really works.
This is a really well made beer and it would be an ideal pairing with barbecued meat, it's made for the summer. My only problem is the way it's presented to the customer as a 'pale ale'. Oddbins are doing wonders for craft beer in the mainstream, they're making it more accessible and easily available. So much so that they now stock almost 300 different bottled beers across their branches and craft beer accounts for 50% of their beer sales. My problem is that the friendly and educated staff at Oddbins are the perfect people to sell a style of beer that people might not have heard of.
Say this beer was labelled as a 'Kölsch style beer' and the customer queries what that means. 'Oh this is great!' enthuses the staff member 'It's a style of beer from Cologne that's brewed like an ale but conditioned like a lager so it's like a hybrid of both, plus there's a sweet smoky twist in this that actually makes it more refreshing.'
To me the words 'pale ale' speak of a beer that's brewed for the taste of its hops and in this beer they really take a back seat to the light malts, fruity yeast esters and that drying sweet smoke. People (and by this I mean normal people not beer geeks) are ready to be challenged by new beer styles and this was a perfect opportunity to do just that. However knowing how great the knowledge and service is at my local branch it's probably an opportunity the staff will take anyway. There's more to come from Oddbins too with more brewing collaborations in the pipeline and an ever increasing range of great beer. It's nice to see a company so heavily involved in the wine trade really getting good beer.
Oddbins No. 2 is available now and costs £2.65 for a 500ml bottle. This beer was sent to me for free but I don't think that's influenced my opinion of it, thanks to Oddbins for the sample.