Last week, the arrival of approximately 120 new brews from across the United States and throughout Europe forced us into an all-hands-on-deck method of making room in the fridges. Naturally, re-orienting myself with our stock became top priority, as such a hefty week of newcomers put my fridge knowledge at serious risk. (This is the silly excuse I’ve given myself to invite friends and coworkers in to share mass amounts of our latest delights.) What followed is long overdue catch ups with pals, holiday nostalgia, and the opportunity to experience breweries I haven’t seen in a long while. In a week that was very difficult to slim down my top 3, here are my best of the bunch.
SUPERSTITION MEADERY – CRYSTAL SAIL
My introduction to Superstition Meadery, one of America’s forefront mead producers, came in Copenhagen this past May, at the Mikkeller Beer Celebration. I have always sworn to never give a 5/5 rating on UnTappd, and nothing has tempted me to go back on this personal promise as much as a blackberry mead I sampled from them on the day. That first impression left me craving the opportunity to try more of their range, so seeing a delivery of 5 premium bottles and 5 canned meads and ciders from them turn up last week left me breathless. Naturally, the right thing to do on such an occasion, is to waste no time at all, and team up with a regular customer to share all 5 session offerings…
One by one, we were fantastically impressed by how effective their fruit infusions are, with each liquid tasting exactly like a bite out of the freshest available fruit it promised. ‘Crystal Sail’ was my favourite of the bunch, a sparkling session mead super-charged with mango. Incredibly light, drinkable, moreish, and refreshing. I blinked and my half of the can was gone, because after one sip, I just couldn’t put it down. Smooth as they come, brimming with mango flavour and aroma, with a honey sweet aftertaste. Testament to the fact that Superstition are worth all of the hype and notoriety they receive.
FUERST WIACEK x VITAMIN SEA – SEASCAPE
After not seeing one of my best friends for a couple of months, his brief return to London this past weekend meant squeezing a session into his busy schedule, resulting in cramming as many tasty beers as possible in a 2 hour, early afternoon window. Safe to say I got nothing done for the remainder of my Saturday, but optimistically considered it productive weekend research. The highlight of our reunion was a collaborative Double IPA between Berlin’s Fuerst Wiacek and Massachusetts-based Vitamin Sea, which is double dry-hopped with the exceptionally fruity trio of Citra, Motueka, and Loral hop strains.
Dry-hopping, for those who are unfamiliar, is a technique in which hops are added to the beer late in the brewing process, either during fermentation or conditioning. This extracts essential oils from the hops, intensifying the hop flavour and aroma in the beer, without adding extra bitterness. Fuerst Wiacek and Vitamin Sea chose to double dry-hop this year’s iteration of ‘Seascape’, opting for three incredibly citrusy hops, so you can imagine the fruity punch this brew has to it. The hop assault carried out by the brewers not only inspired fantastic fruit flavour, but also balancing hints of green, grassy hop character. Vitamin Sea’s Massachusetts roots shine here, as an outstanding example of a true New England IPA.
PINTA – TORCH
In early September, I was lucky enough to visit PINTA’s Warsaw taproom and sample their newest variety of craft brews. After a flight of assorted styles, I noticed bottles from their barrel program in their refrigerator, one of which was a delectable Bourbon barrel-aged Wild Ale conditioned on vanilla beans, my eventual standout beer of the trip. This was priced at 80 Zloty (or 15 of the King’s finest Great British pounds), which was a shock horror to my macro lager-drinking Polish mate, who hilariously attempted to stop me from paying such an abhorrent (to him) price. “Ray, put that back! You can get two 4-packs of Tyskie for cheaper than this one bottle!” Thankfully I proceeded with the purchase, and we all couldn’t have appreciated the beer, and experience there, more.
Three months on, seeing four of PINTA’s newest barrel-aged beauties appear in the fridges here gave me a flashback to my excellent time in Warsaw, and tempted me into sipping some liquid nostalgia in the form of ‘Torch’, an apple Barleywine with cinnamon and vanilla, that spent 18 months in Calvados barrels. This is a liquid Christmas candle. Aromas of caramel apple and cinnamon made this one of the better smelling beers I’ve encountered, a fragrance I’d happily purchase and burn a candle of at home. The cinnamon and apple flavours followed through just as intensely on the palate, elegantly complementing the booziness and malty sweetness characteristic of a Barleywine, making this taste near to a Christmas liqueur. One to take your time on. Sit, sip, and enjoy.