Saturday, 24 November 2012

Day 150, Beer 150 - Oakham's "Green Devil IPA"

Today's Beer

Name – Green Devil IPA

Brewer – Oakham Ales

Classification – Please don't make me write 'IPA'. (Dammit!)

Strength – 6.0% ABV

Verdict - At A Glance

On the eye – A hoax. A deception. A trick. Making you believe it's just an ordinary light golden beer. Do not believe the lie.

On the nose – Not just hops, but actual hop vines. Tropical fruits and jungle foliage. All the multifarious aromas of a well stocked greenhouse. Not to mention the crushed nettles, the wildflowers, the nuclear grade citrus and the abundant fresh tears from your own eyes brought about by unbridled joy. Getting the picture?

On the tongue – Summarise? This stuff? Do me a favour!

On the subject – Many will consider this beer to be Oakham's 'big' version of their much celebrated 'Citra' IPA. It may be a lot more complicated than that in terms of how differently these two brews are created, but it's otherwise not a bad way of looking at it. If your mere human imagination can stretch far enough, try to imagine a version of Citra that is not only 'bigger' but also markedly better. Impossible concept?... Apparently not.

On the market – Hardly. Specialist outlets and the brewery itself are your only real options. This one came courtesy of The Real Ale Store.

On the

Full Review

Possibly the best contemporary, ultra-hopped beer currently on the market.

There was very little point opening this review in any other way.

Now, before any of you start slamming your pints down and protesting about how all 'contemporary ultra-hopped beers' are just one trick ponies with very little to offer beyond making peoples eyes widen in semi-acute shock – let me just say that I've slammed many a pint down in protest about that too. I 'get' that argument, and there was a time when I had more than my share of sympathy for it.

But my view has shifted considerably since then, prompted mostly by my drinking a fair old selection of these new beers, and as a result I'd say that anyone who could drink a full bottle of today's beer without coming away grinning uncontrollably – probably just hasn't wrestled with enough of these beasts yet. That's not meant in any kind of disparaging way, it's really just a recognition of the fact that many people need to acclimatise to this style of beer, one which is pretty darned extreme in a whole bunch of very deliberate ways. Ultra-hopped beers need no time whatsoever to make an impact, but they can require more time than many other brews to properly get to know.

Obviously, there will always be those drinkers who get their kicks by disliking stuff, and they'll never listen even if you get your frail old granny to ask them nicely. I reckon a fair portion of the people claiming to dislike this beer will be those who just enjoy the sensation of swimming against the popular tide.

But I fear there's also a whole bunch of people who sit much further in from the extremes who don't feel able to properly familiarise themselves with these kinds of beers due to the unfortunate fact that, over recent years, things have been getting increasingly tribal and territorial in the world of 'proper' beer. The community is even arguing these days about what to call the very stuff that they are drinking. Is it 'real ale', or is it 'craft beer', and can anyone even remember why it matters?

This 'them and us' dynamic might be a source of amusing (and, sadly, sometimes overly heated) debate on social media outlets, but it's my increasingly strong belief that it will be bad for beer in the longer term.

What I see happening is that beers like Green Devil have, in some quarters, found themselves the victims of an often intolerant campaign against the entire notion of change. It's not so much the contemporary beers themselves which invite hostility, it's the perception of difference which the beers represent. Such has been the hype surrounding the recent developments in beer experimentation, and so wide-ranging have the effects been on the type of beers now being brewed, that these new beers can be sometimes be seen as threats, whether to traditional ales themselves, or to the atmosphere which surrounds the appreciation of beer in general.

It can appear to some that the new world of faux-punk, self-reverential swagger and dubious designer-stubble has simply stormed in and usurped the old world of honest straight talk, fireside sing songs and dubious non-designer-stubble.

In reality, the two apparently opposing camps aren't actually all that different from each other, but they've both successfully convinced themselves they are – so opposing attitudes are upheld regardless. In amongst all of this pointless posturing, the saddest consequence is that both sides routinely 'pooh-pooh' and actively avoid each others preferred beer styles, when the truth of the matter is that without this perceived conflict of ideologies everyone would be sat together enjoying what is only ever just beautifully engineered beer in all manner of interesting and delicious varieties.

Anyway, in hope that it might make a difference, let me invite you to set aside any preconceptions for a few moments whilst I tell you exactly why I found Green Devil to be such a monumentally rewarding experience.

As with many of these stealth-weapon beers, the first thing you notice about it is that it looks utterly unremarkable. Once in the glass, you can't help but look back at the demonic face on the label and wonder what its connection could possibly be to this unassuming, almost placid looking light golden beverage.

The only real clues as to the hugely dynamic and potent complexity which lurks within come from the aromas. Putting an 's' on the end of the word 'aroma' has never made more sense, because there are precisely eleven billion separately identifiable themes present in the fragrance of this beer. And don't go doubting my accuracy because I counted them.

Most delicious and unique among the myriad whiffs is the smell of the vines from which the hops were plucked. That's a pretty darned incredible characteristic to find. The hops themselves also have a tremendous presence, as you might expect, but to get that additional sense of the very plants upon which the hops were grown sets a new benchmark in terms of aromatic freshness in beer. Not since maniacally sniffing the rims of 'just cracked' bottles from Liverpool Organic have I been so concious of the word 'fresh' when first discovering a new drink.

But such matters of appearance and fragrance pale into near insignificance when this stuff finally reaches your mouth.

Oh boy.

Instantaneously, the concepts of refreshment and invigoration begin scrambling for new and more emphatic ways of defining themselves, as a liquid rock-slide of zesty, sumptuous bitterness collides deliciously with every region of your tongue. It's not brutal, and I've been dismissive of the term 'hop bomb' only very recently – but the dynamism, intensity and all round clarity of the taste is wonderfully bewildering and cannot fail to raise the heart-rate of any human who is alive at the point of contact.

The usual citrus and 'high-note' fruit suspects are all present (passion-fruit, gooseberry, razor sharp pineapple among many more) but the dominant battle here is between grapefruit and blood orange, with each of these two performing ever more stylish moves on its rival only to be outclassed by an effective countermeasure every time. It's thrilling to just sit back and let them tear each other to delicious shreds.

I could try to focus on the malts, and the sense of overall balance between high notes and low, but there's obviously not a lot of that going on here – and this is what can upset many lovers of established classic ales.

But we should all just accept that these beers were never meant to do any of that. That's really the point of it all. It's a different kind of experience, for a different kind of mood, presented in a different kind of way.

Ultra-hopped beers are not here to replace our old favourites – they've simply arrived to widen our options

Standing right at the forefront of this fresh set of options is a hugely fearsome and devilish creature, whom every last one of us should be learning to love.

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