From hoppy lagers to exotic fruit beers via IPA, stout and brown ale, Adam Lechmere recommends the finest brews going
This tasting was held under technical conditions at the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in London. Out of 37 beers, most were either highly recommended or outstanding – with Brew By Numbers Saison standing supreme. We found excellence in every category, with some old favourites (Hoegaarden, Hobgoblin) showing beautifully. There’s something here for every occasion – complex sipping beers, food beers, no-nonsense session beers, aged beers and fruit beers…beers for summer, and for when the wind is howling, the snow outrageous, and the fire roars in the grate. Above all, this tasting proves that beer can hold its own against wine for any occasion and with any meal.
Steve Curtis, technical manager, IBD
Shane MacNamara, Senior Technical Officer, IBD
Rupert Ponsonby, beer expert and brewer
Robin Brown, managing director, Columbus Travel Media
Adam Lechmere, editor, worldtravelguide.net
The beers are rated on the 20-point scale, where 19 = Exceptional, 18 = Outstanding, 17 = Highly Recommended, 16 = Recommended, and 15 = Commended.
Brew by Numbers Saison 5.5%, London, England
A really lovely mouthful with an early blast of lemon and hibiscus after a yeasty nose. The palate is dense and tight, the fruit restrained but very present, hints of white pepper and white flowers at the end. Tried again at the Wigmore at the Langham (in London), beautifully cold in a pewter tankard. Very, very good.
Hop Stuff, Unfiltered Pils, 5% London
Bitter almond nose, great mouthfeel and very fine sour finish. Delicate, sophisticated and complex.
Hobgoblin Legendary Ruby, 5.2%, England
Sweet burnt caramel nose, then dandelion and burdock on the palate, freshened with citrus. Full, dense, balanced with fine body, toffee sweetness and bracing bitterness. Very, very good.
Styrian, Fuggles and Goldings
Westmalle Tripel, Belgium 9.5%
Extraordinary. Full and bright with fine white mousse. Full of exotic tropical fruit, hoppy and creamy on the palate with wonderful lingering length. Try with barbecued steak.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, 5.1%, Germany
A historic smoked beer (from the website): “Bamberg’s speciality, a dark, bottom fermented smokebeer, brewed with Original Schlenkerla Smokemalt from the Schlenkerla maltings and tapped according to old tradition directly from the gravity-fed oakwood cask in the historical brewery tavern.” Wonderful delicacy on the nose, a fresh aroma reminiscent of peat-smoked salmon, then malty sweetness on the palate along with pretty powerful savoury smokiness. Fascinating and delicious, absolutely of its region.
Pilsner Urquell Czech, 4.4%
Nice spicy, hoppy nose, slightly soapy, made with low-bitterness Saaz hops, not flashy but very classic session beer.
Longboard Island Lager Hawaii 4.6%, USA
Full and floral nose, even perfumed, sweet palate with good sharp acidity and nice body. Fresh finish.
Paolozzi, Edinburgh Beer Factory, Helles lager 5.2 %, Scotland
Nutty nose with hints of caramel and topnote of straw. Tight palate, consistent throughout leading to a fine dry finish. Accomplished, not flashy but full of low-key interest.
Schneider Weisse Tap 7, 5.4%, Germany
Bananas and cloves on the nose, then more cloves on the palate. Lip-smackingly fresh palate with a good bitter finish, a complex, end-of-the-evening beer. Held up very well with Mr Trotter’s Triple Cooked Pork Scratchings.
Hoegaarden, 4.9%, Belgium
The ubiquitous behemoth of the late 90s. Far more elegant than I remember – fine citrus/strawberry nose. The palate has exotic spice and fine acidity, and the finish is dry.
Fuller’s, Oliver’s Island, 4.5%, England
Bright and intense on the nose, and equally so on the palate, with a sweet, fresh, mown-grass vibe and lifted finish. A really charming summer ale. Ponsonby: “Neither a juvenile nor a grandee”.
St Austell, Tribute, 4.2%, Cornwall, England
Fine delicate mouthfeel with creamy butterscotch, the mid-palate slightly bland at first but it picks up to deliver a lovely bitter finish.
Maris Otter, Cornish Gold and Fuggles.
Mr Trotter’s Chestnut ale 4%, England, Cascade and Bramling hops
Rupert Ponsonby makes this along with Prince Charles’s stepson Tom Parker Bowles, and food writer Matthew Fort. It’s actually brewed with chestnuts from the Ardeche. Spicy, bitter, dark and brooding but leavened by lifted honey notes and a toothsome bitter finish. Unsurprisingly this goes very well with Mr Trotter’s Great British Pork Cracklings.
Fullers ESB 5.9%, London, England
Bright, fresh and sweet and a fizz that makes your tongue tingle. Full of life – a beer that puts a smile on your face. Wonderful length.
Sam Smith’s Nut Brown Ale 5%, England
Bright and fresh with nuts and chocolate, dark autumn fruits. Delicious.
India Pale Ale
William Worthington’s White Shield, 5.6%, England
A venerable classic. Full and sweet with nice round mouthfeel, good body, fine acidity and really superb length. Everything in place, and with its tannic edge and acidity it will age. Very fine.
Goose Island IPA, 5.9%, USA
Seems unexciting on the early palate but then the acidity kicks in and you notice the bright, lifted fruit and the grown-up character. A fine food beer.
Hook Norton Flagship IPA, 5.3%m, Oxfordshire, England
Really lovely nose with vibrant fruity notes, vibrancy repeated on the palate. Lots to like: a crowd-pleaser.
Kernel Export India Porter 5.9%, London, England
From highly-reputed brewery in Bermondsey, south-east London. Very fine coffee/malty nose. The palate is smooth, elegantly bitter with excellent weight.
Brew by Numbers, Tripel Ella Hop, 9.5%, London, England
From the highly-regarded Bermondsey brewery. Lovely golden colour, sweet and dense on the palate with fine tart acidity, some tropical fruit and berries, lingering finish with slight and interesting farmyard notes. Very good.
Liefmans Oud Bruin 5%, Belgium
Aromas of rotted bark and balsamic vinegar, sour lemon palate, balanced and with a dose of acidity that bespeaks long ageing potential. Try with sizzling prawns and garlic.
Coniston Brewery No. 9 Barley Wine, 8.5%, Coniston, England
Goldings hops. Fine hoppy nose, then honeyed, caramel palate, sweet and lovely, some Christmas fruit, then herby marijuana notes and a hint of Christmas spirit. As the brewery suggests, best enjoyed by a roaring fire with snow on the ground.
Beavertown, Gamma Ray (can), London, 5.4%
Eye-catching artwork on the can, and lots to like on the inside. A sweet hoppy, fresh hay nose leads to a bitter mid-palate still with that lifted sweetness and a bitter finish.
Scotney Bitter (Westerham Brewery; National Trust), 4.3%, England
Evocative nutty nose, then a palate that’s bright, sweet and dense with honeyed notes. Excellent with Mr Trotter’s Pork Scratchings.
Doom Bar, Sharp’s Brewery, 4.3%, Cornwall, England
There are very few corners of the country where you can’t find the distinctive ‘wave’ label of Doom Bar. It’s everywhere, and it’s utterly dependable. Good fresh hay and marijuana nose, the palate delicate to the point of blandness, everything in its place with no peaks and troughs.
As Ponsonby says, “it might lack character but it’s a supremely clever beer.”
Beavertown Smog Rocket (can), 5.4%, London, England
Beavertown tells us this fine porter was inspired by the Industrial Revolution – and the great London smogs. It’s made with nine different malts including the smoked German Rauchmaltz – it’s smoky, dense, chocolatey, with an expressive malty sweetness at the finish. Try with robust barbecued meats.
Liefmans Kriek, 6% (2012 bottling), Belgium
Made with natural yeast and cherries – served at La Gavroche with chocolate pudding. A powerful fruity nose leads to great gouts of cherry on the palate, the fruitiness then mitigated by very good acidity and tannin. Balanced and fresh, try with fruit tarts or (à la Gavroche) chocolate pudding.
Boon Kriek, cherry, Belgium, 4.5%
Tart, with fine acidity and loads of cherry fruit. Great sweetness on the plalate set off by the acidity and good mousse. This is a preeminent food beer – try with pork belly or ceviche.
Duvel Tripel Hop Belgium, 9.5%, Saaz, Styrian Goldings
Very fine amber hue, superb palate with balanced acidity and bracing dryness leading to a lovely grapefruit/citrus finish. As complex as a good wine, demanding food – try with robust cold chicken dishes.
Duvel, Belgium 8.5%
Dense and fruity. Everything in lower key here, this is a more commercial, approachable beer, easy on the palate, not over-complex but very drinkable.
Geuze Mariage Parfait 2012 8%, Lembeek, Belgium
Five years old. Sweet, oxidised and very complex with a hint of iron chains in the mouthfeel. The palate has citrus, apple and pear notes, some grassy aromas. Good finish, elegant, slightly rotted. Still viable.
Staropramen, Czech 5%
Weedy, hoppy nose, flavour drops off in the mid-palate and barely recovers, slightly oxidised, unsatisfying.
Newcastle Brown, 4.7%, England
Wonderful Newky Brown, so evocative of teenage binges; those nutty aromas plunge me straight back to the 1970s and evenings redolent of vomit and Brut aftershave. Unfortunately it doesn’t hold up. The nose is fine, even elegant, but the palate is thin, fishy, and full of holes. “You just feel it’s been made with cheap ingredients,” Ponsonby says.
Goose Island 312 Wheat Ale, 4.2%, Chicago, USA
Complex, wheaty, grassy nose full of summer scents. Disappointing palate, flat and metallic leading to a flat finish. This could be a batch problem.
India Pale Ale
Shipyard IPA, 5%, USA
Oh dear. The fresh cut-grass nose is promising but the palate drops into a black hole. Little flavour and no length. Ponsonby: “good for Mexican restaurants to quell the power of your chilli.”
Guinness, 4.2%, Dublin, Ireland
Guiness is famously inconsistent depending on whether it’s draught, bottled or canned, and whether you’re drinking it in Dublin, or London, or anywhere else in the world. This, from the can, is expressive on the nose, roasted and malty, but the palate is flat, dull and uninspiring.
Anspach and Hobday, Passionfruit Berliner Weisse, 3.6% London, England
One of this London brewery’s experimental kegs. Fine, citrussy and dry with very delicate passionfruit flavours. The acidity overwhelms though. Unsuccessful.