Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
When Camden Town Brewery released Indian Summer Lager last year I felt as if I'd found the one beer that, if I had to, I could drink all summer long. So on my regular Friday night pit stops at the brewery bar, some lasting much longer than others, it became my go-to beer. It got to the point where I was audibly annoyed if it wasn't on tap but when it was I would barely consider drinking anything else. I watched it change with each fresh batch, sometimes at a pintable 5.4% and sometimes at a Saturday-ruining 6.4% and this one time it was even liquored back with the now defunct USA Hells (superseded by Camden Pils) but throughout this one thing was very apparent, it kept getting better.
Then, the staff at Camden started throwing a term around, 'IHL'. At first I didn't know what they were referring to but when they went to the bar they never ordered an Indian Summer, they asked for an IHL, an India Hells Lager. For me, late this summer was when my excitement for this beer started to gather pace. I'd already fallen head over heels with the prototype and the thought of having access to a beer such as this all the time filled me with glee. The first time I held a can of IHL in my hands it wasn't even the finished product, I'd just rocked up to a press night and saw it sitting on a table.
I lunged forward and cracked it open there and then. It was warm, I didn't care, it tasted incredible and at the end of that night when my fellow beer writers and other industry bods were wrapped in the warm, fuzzy embrace of alcohol I guiltily shoved as many into my backpack as I could find. The only problem was that I couldn't find very many to take, it had been the most popular beer of the evening.
Fast forward a few months and Camden Town Brewery had gone public with IHL and the wheels of the hype machine had been well and truly set in motion. To celebrate the launch of this beer they had planned a weeks worth of events in the form of a pop up at the Cob Gallery on Royal College Street in the beating heart of Camden Town itself. It might seem pompous, even arrogant to give a beer not just one night of celebration and worship but a whole week but I believe that this is a beer that is fully deserving of the absolute reverence that is being laid upon it. They even decided to call this place 'The Temple of IHL' and described the beer as 'IPA, reborn as Lager.' Importantly this was not an act of either pompousness nor arrogance, this was passion. The crowning peak of months of hard work trying to create the best beer they possibly could.
Eventually it was my turn to pay my respects at the temple. I make my way past a row of burning candles, down some stairs and then into the sepulchre itself. I draw myself up to one of several large buckets full of ice and cans and take an IHL in my hand only this time, this is the finished product, this is crunch time. The can itself is gorgeous with a giant orange IHL emblazoned as clear as day on the front of the can but this is flanked by some of the most wonderful design I've ever seen grace a sheet of aluminium. Most notably present are four British animals, a fox, a stag, a badger and a hare all dressed in robes and worshipping 'The Good Lord Lager.'
There were no glasses on hand this evening, they weren't needed. Although we were within the temple there was no need to stand on ceremony. I crack the seal and satsuma and pine resin aromas leap from the can very much like the hare pictured on its side might. I take a swig and suddenly I'm awash with flavours of peach, apricot, mango and grapefruit zest which are met by a ringing note of pine sap. Intricate layers of bitterness start to build but suddenly a dank, herbal note sucks the palate dry. What just happened? Where did that crescendo of flavour go? I want more! Well I guess I'll take another sip. Oh, looks like I need another can. Crack. Hiss. Repeat.
To call a beer a game changer is a bold thing to say in this day and age. This is the age of Pliny and Heady, of Crooked Stave and Hill Farmstead after all. You'd think that hop forward beers could no longer get any better, that they'd reached their evolutionary peak and well, I'd question that you'd be wrong. This beer is brilliant for the same reason beers like Pliny the Elder are brilliant. It's so clean that it positively sparkles and the flavours are in ultra high definition. So detailed and yet you can pick them out of the air like a ninja catches cherry blossom between his index and middle finger. Then there's that dryness, IHL is a lager through and through, completely unfiltered and unpasteurised which gives it a quality it shares with the worlds best pilsners, you just can't seem to stop drinking it. It is unlike other hoppy beers because it doesn't become cloying and overwhelm your palate.
IHL tastes like a world class IPA but drinks like a world class lager. This makes it accessible, this is a beer for all and not just a new plaything for flavour seekers who laugh in the face of increasingly bitter beers. This is beer that will demonstrate the incredible flavours of hops without ever being intimidating. IHL is to 2014 what Jaipur and Punk were to 2007. This is the evolution of beer in action and I am choosing to experience it by the case.