Beer from the Brits

With quirky graphics and names from US Westerns, UK brewers are responding to the US-style IPAs from over the pond.

A lot of American IPA beers are flooding into the UK market, some established brands like Sierra Nevada, others are interesting novelties brewed over here, like Punk IPA from Aberdeen’s Brewdog.

They declare themselves as American Style IPA and tend to imply that IPA (India Pale Ale) was created in the USA. It is really a very British invention created in the 1780s (the USA was founded 4 July, 1776) as the answer to the problem of providing beer for the British Empire in the east. It was too hot to brew in India, so what was needed was a beer that could survive the gruelling six-month journey by ship from Britain. Simplistically this is more hops, slower fermentation and higher ABV strength.

Most UK breweries, mainstream and craft, already have a traditional IPA in their range. Greene King’s IPA (Bury St Edmonds) at 3.6 per cent is their flagship brand created more than 150 years ago, which they claim is the UK’s fastest selling IPA, on draft and in bottle. “Crisp and refreshing” it says on the label, and it is. A good benchmark for the whole category.

But the growth of so-called American-style IPAs has been enough to stimulate other UK brewers to defend market share with their own versions, many adorned with quirky graphics and names straight out of US westerns.

Some are by English brewers for specific supermarkets with thinly disguised ‘own label’ offerings. Aldi, for example, has invented The Great British Brewing Co, which is actually just a collective labelling umbrella for a range of beers brewed for them by various established independent brewers, somewhat coyly referred to on the label as guest brewers. It is a pity they feel the need to make it seem there is a single brewery.

Here are a few among many to illustrate the genre.

Marston’s (Burton upon Trent) Old Empire IPA 5.7 per cent. This strength allows the beer to have great depth of flavour, malty and closer to the original brews sent to India versus the new American IPAs. Sharply refreshing on the tongue and an English ale golden-bronze colour. I bet the folk in India would have welcomed this arrival on the ship.

Wild Bill’s American IPA ranch-style label, five per cent, is brewed for Aldi by Marston’s but labelled under the invented Harper’s Brewing Co banner. This is a good beer, shiny chestnut brown, malty and subtle bitter hops.

Compare this with Land of Liberty IPA, also five per cent, which wins my vote for the best Americana graphics. Brewed for Aldi by Sadler’s Craft Ale (Stourbridge, near Birmingham) under the Great British Brewing Co banner, it is much lighter than Wild Bill’s, and is pale ginger like a lager, fresh and citrusy and slightly sweet.

You can explore Sadler’s a bit more at their Brewhouse and Barbecue venue at 74 London Road, Southampton, featuring their IPA and eight other Sadler’s beers and offering an ‘authentic American BBQ’.

Craft Gin Club

The growth of gins has stimulated a growth of gin enthusiasts and now there is a Craft Gin Club on the lines of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (Leith, Scotland). Web-based www.craftginclub.co.uk offers, for £40, a box delivered to your door with a new gin, suitable mixers and snacks. You can choose monthly or every two or three months.