"How do they make us buy their beer?" asks Alan for this month's Session. "Quite easily", I'm afraid, is the answer in my case. I'll try pretty much anything once, and then proceed to bore you, the innocent reader, with what I think of it.
The brewers don't have to put much effort in to get my attention either. Recently I sprung a bottle of Marks & Spencer Southwold Winter IPA from my stash. It's brewed by Adnams, a consistent favourite English brewer of mine and I'd heard good things about it. At first sip I realised something dubious was going on: it tastes identical to Adnams Innovation, not a bad thing by any means, but there was a moment of disappointment when it occurred that I wouldn't be getting a new beer to write about. Damn you, Marks & Spencer!
Not being one to hide my disappointments, I let Twitter know and word came back from the ether -- from none other than Adnams's illustrious head brewer Fergus -- that Southwold Winter IPA is very slightly different from Innovation. Saved! Specifically, it's dry hopped in a different way. I don't know how differently, and frankly I don't care. A new tick is a new tick and the ridiculously high price that I paid in M&S is now, officially, justified.
What does Southwold Winter IPA taste like? Exactly like Innovation, as I say: fresh peaches and candied oranges. Lots of summer zest, which means the "winter" designation is a serious bum steer. Cracking beer though.
You don't even need to adjust the recipe for me to buy the beer, though I do try and avoid straight re-badges of things I already know (unless they're good, of course). An increasing number of the more, shall we say, geek-friendly breweries are turning out specials and collaborations that are simply blends of existing beers. I'm slightly bothered by this. I think it's cheating, even if it is likely to offer a taste experience quite different from the constituent beers. I tend to pick carefully among such offerings and am only likely to buy if I like the breweries and the beer genre.
At first I thought that was what De Molen and Flying Dog had done with their Bat Out of Hell collaboration. And, as a fan of both Hel & Verdoemnis and Gonzo I was quite prepared to ignore my principles and get my paws on some. But it's not a mere blend, it's a brand new brew from out of the Bodegraven windmill: score!
At the start of the pour I thought this 9.18% ABV imperial stout was totally flat: no bubbles and no head for the first few seconds. Turns out it's just so damn thick it takes ages for the carbonation to get its act together, but when it does a thick, tan-coloured, long-lasting head is the reward. The goodies keep coming with bitter, vegetal hops on the nose: a familiar aroma to anyone who knows the joy of Flying Dog Gonzo, though it's similarly lacking in stoutiness here. But while Gonzo keeps pumping the hops in the flavour, they ease off on tasting here. Instead it's much more of a classic imperial stout: the gloopy scrapings from the bottom of the coffee machine, the first cigar of the evening, one of those terribly posh bars of dark chocolate with the minimalist wrapper, and the inside of the saddler's workshop. The hops pop up again towards the end, though more as a balancing bitterness than a green vegetal flavour.
Bat Out of Hell isn't cheap: DrinkStore took nearly €18 off me for it, but I definitely got my money's worth. Brewers I trust, a style I love, fun branding and local availability: all things that will pretty much guarantee I'll be reaching for my wallet.
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