Single Hop Tasting Session

Marks and Spencer Single Hop Collection
Recently I just happened to glance at the front cover of How to be a Beer Expert  (reviewed here) and noticed, in smaller print, under the title, the words 'a hands on guide'. That made me realise that just reading the book couldn't be expected to make anyone a beer expert. Scattered through the book there are Taste Off pages with beers suggested to showcase particular features. I decided that I needed to do some dedicated beery research to develop my knowledge and tasting skills. 

A hands on guide
The first Taste Off pages featured single hop beers so that is where I am starting. One of the beers was Hepworth Sussex Golden Ale from Marks and Spencer, and it just so happened that I was passing a Marks and Spencer food hall a couple of days later. I popped in to pick up a bottle of the Hepworth beer, only to find that they didn't have it on the shelf. What they did have though was a whole range of single hop beers, including a re-badged Oakham Citra, which was one of the beers on the Taste Off page. I ended up with six different single hop beers to taste. Feeling that a six pint session might not be the best way to learn about, and reflect on, what I was drinking, I recruited my son so that we could compare notes.

Taste Off!

Boadicea Golden Ale by Meantime Brewing Co

As you can see, the colour is a light gold and the head is sparse - it didn't last terribly long either. The aroma was grain, or cream crackers, followed by floral notes and a suggestion of hedgerow fruit, which seemed a little out of place in a golden ale. All of this was backed up in the flavour too. This was a light bodied and quite lightly carbonated beer. I'm not a great fan of golden ales, but this was pleasant enough. Although both the aroma and flavour are quite faint, they are undeniably those of an English ale. I can easily see this as a gateway beer for a non-ale drinker. 

Mosaic Pale Ale by Adnams

Mosaic is a beer that I know quite well, living, as I do, less than 15 miles form the Adnams brewery. Both the aroma and flavour were rather more intense than the Boadicea. The aroma was dominated by the hops which gave both floral and citrus notes. A bready malt was more noticeable in the flavour, whereas the citrus seemed to have faded rather into the background. I had never previously read the tasting notes for this beer, and I have to say that I didn't get the medley of different flavours and aromas described on the bottle label. However, I do have to say that, having drunk Mosaic on keg, cask and now in the bottle, I think that it is a beer that is really at its best in keg format.

Simcoe Pale Ale by Butcombe Brewery

The Simcoe was slightly darker than the previous two beers, and it had a fuller, and more long lasting, head of foam. Both the aroma and flavour were quite similar to the Mosaic, although the bready malt aroma, and citrus flavour, both seemed a little more prominent. Also like the Mosaic, I wasn't able to pick out the complexity of flavours that have been attributed to Simcoe hops - just the citrus. The bottle label stated that the flavour of the beer was bold. Frankly, I felt that it was slightly understated; even so, it was a beer that I certainly enjoyed.

Summit IPA by Allendale Brewery

The Summit was one of the paler of this set of six beers. Like the Simcoe, it had a fine head of foam. There was very little malt character in either the aroma, or flavour - probably not really surprising given how pale it was. On the other hand it did have more hop characteristic than most of the other beers sampled. In the aroma this came through quite distinctly as tangerine. In the flavour though, it had transformed, equally distinctly, into grapefruit. Another noticeable feature of this beer was the bitter aftertaste; presumably it was the most heavily hopped of these six beers. Personally I liked it quite a lot, although my son wasn't so keen - he much prefers darker beers and he isn't too keen on citrus hop flavours.

Citra IPA by Oakham Ales

Light gold colour with a decent head. Bready malt and grapefruit are both clear in the aroma. The bread continues in the flavour although the grapefruit becomes a less specific citrus. Again I couldn't pick out the lychee and gooseberry promised by the bottle label. The aftertaste is distinctly bitter as expected from the style. For a long time I had got it into my head that I didn't like Citra. Since trying it again last summer I have consistently enjoyed it and this bottle didn't let me down. 

Jester IPA by Adnams

Although Adnams is my local brewery I hadn't managed to track down this seasonal offering before - I know, I hadn't really been trying hard enough. It had a slightly darker golden hue than some of the other beers and a good head again. In common with several of the evening's beers the aroma was bready malt and a non-specific citrus. Both of these carried through to the flavour again. Although Jetser is an English hop variety is definitely has many of the characteristics that are more usually associated with American hops. There was a slight bitterness but less so than some of the other beers sampled.

In considering the whole range of beers sampled I came up with a couple of conclusions and a question or two to ponder. First of all, it is clear that I couldn't pick out the subtle nuances of aroma and flavour that were described on several of the labels, and that also feature in tasting notes on Rate Beer et al. Perhaps that is a lack of experience on my part and might develop over time and with more dedicated research. Perhaps I just don't have a sufficiently refined palate to pick out those details. Although I enjoyed all of these beers, I didn't really feel that they were as boldly hopped as they might be. They are all brewed by solid, dependable, regional breweries (as far as I am aware), and I wonder whether more 'craft'-y brweries might hop similar beers more heavily. I know that a few years ago I wasn't at all keen on citrus flavours in beer. Now I enjoy it, and I have found that beers that I used to think were overpoweringly citrussy now seem to be much tamer.

Am I a step closer to being a 'beer expert'? I don't know, but I will persevere with these taste off sessions. This one certainly wasn't a chore!


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