My first love is, and will always be, wine. Weaned on it, fell for it big time as a teenager, remain intimate with it nearly every day and make a living from it. But every relationship needs a little spice and I confess that my head is often turned by the fantastically good-looking blondes and fair-headed summer ales that we have in stock. And with summer here they’re looking even more tempting than ever.
Anyone who went to the Cambridge Beer Festival in May could hardly fail to be impressed with the range of styles of beer on offer, and the innovation and sheer fun that the new breed of independent British craft breweries are having right now. Fortunately many of them bottle their finest beers meaning you can try them again and work out your real favourites.
‘Craft’ beer is a bit of a nebulous term but should mean beers made by independent breweries and not the big companies. Of course some craft breweries are getting pretty big in their own right and big breweries will want some of the growing craft market so the term will start to lose its potency. What it means to me is beer with great taste, a million miles removed from the insipid bitters and lagers of some multinational brewers. Once you go craft you’ll never go aft, or something like that. So now is a good time to sort out your blonde beer from your American Pale, your Maris Otter barley from your Riwaka Hops and find some great breweries to follow.
Craft Lager: A revolution is happening and we can be proud that British craft lager is right at its heart. Expect real tangy citrusy flavours and plenty of body with some carbonation. Perfect summer brew. Harviestoun is a brilliant Scottish brewery experimenting with ageing beers in whisky casks. However their summery Schiehallion (pronounced She-hal–i-on) craft lager has an amazing, refreshing, almost grapefruity finish, bags of bite and is gutsy as well as easy to drink. £1.80 per 33cl bottle, 4.8%
Blonde Beer: Other than being pale in colour, little defines a blonde beer but I think some slightly more fruity and sweet malt notes creep into a blonde beer than you would expect from a lager or maybe a pale ale. Harviestoun’s Bitter & Twisted really is as good as it sounds, has lemon as well as the caramelly sweetness, with some oats added to the brew for body and even a hint of pepper. Very Scottish! £1.70 per 33cl 4.2%.
American Pale: Pioneered by craft brewers in the USA using American hops, the style is generous and slightly less bitter than an IPA. The great Thornbridge Brewery makes Chiron, a 5% version that is full bodied, yet wonderfully refreshing, with a balance of citrus and biscuity malt. £3.25 per 500ml 5%
Bitter: Summery bitters like local brewery Oakham’s delicious JHB are pale and refreshingly citrusy, with just the right amount of bitter hoppiness to leave your lips smacking. A golden beer whose aroma is dominated by hops that give characteristic citrus notes. £2.20 per 500ml 4.2% Pale Ale: This term covers many types but is pale in colour for sure and should be hoppier than malty. Try Somerset’s Moor Beer Company’s So’Hop and Nor’Hop pair, made from northern and southern hemisphere hops. These have so much taste you would imagine the alcohol level would be much higher than the 4.3% they contain. Both priced at £3.25 for a whopping 660ml bottle.
Black IPA: This may not sound quite so summery but these dark ales have a strong hoppiness to balance out the more toasted malt character that gives them (and stouts, porters etc), their strong colour. London’s Beavertown brewery makes its Black Betty which is still really refreshing for a dark 7.4% IPA. £3.30 per 33cl. Keep it crafty and you’ll not go too far wrong and soon find your favourites. Cheers!