In our new beer & cider feature, we’ll be reviewing five of the best beers and ciders to come our way each week. First up, Susanna Forbes names five beers, five countries, from a Welsh foudre-aged sour/saison blend to four hop-free beers from Ghent. Forget five a day, think of this as your five a week
Lines Brew Co, Blackcurrant Oak
Saison/sour blend, oak foudre aged, 4.3%
It’s a rare one, so catch if you can. Tom Newman’s trademark precision and quest for pure flavours shows up beautifully in this electrifying, fresh beer. Debuting at Indy Man Beer Con (see feature in Winter Issue), this sour/saison blend spent six months in an oak foudre steeped with blackcurrants and Brett yeast. Bottle conditioned, unpasteurised.
Anything else? Newman’s brewery is powered by alternative energy and uses water from its own aquifer. Check out his fascinating beer classification system, based on seven lines, A to F. This is DE by the way.
66cl, POA: Beer Collective, Pig’s Ears, Black Jack, Real Ale Direct, linesbrewco.com
Stone, Berlin, Germany
White Ghost, Berliner Weisse (4.7%), Ripper, Pale Ale (5.7%)
Stone, the 21-year-old iconic San Diego-based brewery, spread its wings and landed in Berlin 18 months ago. James Clay has embraced distribution this side of the channel, kicking off with a pair of lively cans. First off, appropriately enough, is a Berliner Weisse, White Ghost.
Highly refreshing, there’s a light but appreciable sour tang on top of a light body with a balanced bitter finish. Ripper is altogether more bold, with trademark exuberance on the hop front. Think pineapple, orange and tart, exotic fruit, plus well-judged bitterness to close. Six different hops go into the mix, including one of the world’s newest, Mandarina Bavaria.
Anything else? For that ‘authentic’ taste, White Ghost uses a specially selected lactobacillus strain, sourced from historical Berlin cultures.
24x33cl, £35.30-£48.60; James Clay, 01422 377 560
Carlsberg, Christmas Brew, Nørdhampton, England
Spiced, seasonal Pilsner, 5%
Inspired by their Danish Tuborg colleagues with their popular Julebryg beer, the Carlsberg crew in Northampton has created Carlsberg’s first UK Christmas beer. Festive orange zest on the nose leads to a lightly spiced palate. Solely available on draught this year in Northampton, if all goes well, we might see a repeat next year.
Anything else? Part of the proceeds from sales goes to the Northamptonshire Community Foundation and its Surviving Winter Appeal.
Gruut City Brewery, Ghent, Belgium
Wit (5%), Blond (5.5%), Amber (6.5%), Bruin (7.5%)
Catching up with some earlier arrivals this autumn, here’s an interesting hop-free quartet from Belgium. The Gruut City Brewery in Ghent reverts to olden ways by using herbs and spices to flavour their beers. The malt sweetness is ever-present, as you would expect. Our favourites were the accessible Blond, with its light Rich Tea biscuit notes balanced by hints of citrus and bitterness on the close, and the Amber, where caramel notes blend with lemony citrus notes and apricots.
Anything else? Founder and master brewer Annick De Splenter draws on brewing heritage on both sides of her family.
24x33cl cans, £35.35-£36.60; James Clay, 01422 377 560
Innis & Gunn, Blood Red Sky, Perth, Scotland
Rum Barrel Red Beer, 6.8%
Expect more taste impact from Innis & Gunn’s new rum finish beer. Marrying up Jamaican rum barrels with Scottish red beer gives less overt sweetness and more dark caramel and coffee mousse on the nose, following through to vanilla and rich fruit on the palate.
Anything else? Rather than ageing the beer in the barrel, they’ve gone the other way, literally, breaking up the barrel, toasting the cut-up staves to five different ‘toast’ levels, and adding a careful blend of these different pieces.
33cl, innisandgunn.com; 0131 220 7230