I've not had the best run of luck with English IPAs of late. I couldn't stomach the Fuller's one at all (though have not yet had the pleasure of their new and very much admired Bengal Lancer). Samuel Smith's was better but I still couldn't shake that harsh, rather metallic, bitter sensation that I get from these styles. Is there anything out there that has the beatings of Proper Job or White Shield?
Ask anyone who knows anything about English beer and they'll probably tell you "Thornbridge Jaipur", most likely followed by some sort of "duh" noise. I've seen this beer on sale once, at the British Pavilion of the European Beer Festival in 2008. I was thoroughly underwhelmed by it: thin, sharp and characterless. I'm perfectly willing, as always, to give it another go but the opportunity never presented itself. Until, out of the goodness of his heart and to shut me up, Mark from Real Ale Reviews sent a bottle to me in the post.
Immediately, I knew this was going to be a different experience. The aroma from Jaipur is fantastic: lots of those peachy, sherbety hop flavours that I enjoy in American IPAs, but this isn't a simple clone of a west coast hop bomb. On tasting, the citric punch is missing. Instead there are nice soft melons and peaches, plus lively orange flavours which are zesty though not any way sharp or aggressive. Indeed, it's one of the least assertive IPAs I've met. There's a bit of a bum note on the end however, where a soapy off-flavour creeps in and spoils things. I think I've got a better sense of the beer now, but also that it has to be tried on cask to get a proper feel for it. I'm still reluctant to put it in my tiny pantheon of good English IPAs. Sorry Mark.
I didn't think I'd be putting St Peter's India Pale Ale in the pantheon either. Ken in DrinkStore told me the bottle was something of an antique, having been taken in by him as a refugee from another off licence, one with a less-discerning clientele. The best-before date had rubbed off some time previously and the hard-wearing label had a definite frayed look to it. This, along with the green glass of the bottle, meant I was not expecting the fresh hops of a mint condition IPA.
But it was wonderful. Fantastically full-bodied for 5.5% ABV with a base of delicious toffee malt. It's not fresh and fruity, but spicy and complex, giving out exotic undertones of sandalwood and incense. And yet, like all the St Peter's beers, it remains incredibly drinkable throughout: all gone in under ten minutes. If this is what St Peter's IPA is like after months of ill-treatment and harsh lighting I can only imagine how good it must be fresh.
I'd also forgotten how great the St Peter's beers are generally. Whatever happened to them? They used to be everywhere.