Friday, July 30, 2010

All American Monsters of Hop - A Welcome Addition?

The excitement over the arrival of the first draft American craft beer at The Grove has underlined amongst other things just how far tastes have changed in recent years. This craving for more and more bitter, resinous, astringent pale ales is like a runaway train - and you do have to wonder just how much track remains. In terms of strength it seems the sky's the limit, as BrewDog's ABV record fixation has proved, but what about the practicalities. Are these stupendous monster beers salable; do they actually have a following, or will it be a case of us self-proclaimed hopheads having a half then doing a runner!

I know gimmicky is the wrong word to describe something that's quite obviously been lovingly fashioned with much care and no small amount of craftsmanship, but with an alcoholic content that could put an elephant to sleep, this is sadly only ever going to be an occasional diversion - for me anyway. Having just sampled my first Stone Ruination IPA this side of the pond, I have to say that whilst I did enjoy it, never in a million years is it going to get me hooked or change my drinking habits for that matter.

And this 7.7% debutant, priced at a whopping £5.50 a pint incidentally, is a baby compared to what's coming, namely Sierra Navada Bigfoot and Dogfish Head's 90 Minute IPA, both apparently only just short of 10%! Now whilst the town will be full of students desperate to show off their drinking prowess come September - at least until the money runs out - you do have to wonder who this expensive, head-cracking stuff will seriously appeal to.

I mean we've all been drinking American hopped beer for a long time now, and the aromas and flavours suit the British brewing style very well. Fantastic ranges of single hop beers have bought a new appreciation for pale ale and as a result a generation of converts are helping turn the tide back in favour of our cask heritage. Every brewery, pretty much without exception, has jumped on the band wagon to a greater or lesser extent, with an increasing number concentrating on the newer hop varieties to the exclusion of all else. And in many pubs these days, finding a beer untainted by ingredients from the States or New Zealand, can often be hard work.

We already have the taste then, but without the strength. Now to my way of thinking that should be game over/job done. Can anyone honestly consider them anything other than a bit of a novelty, especially when sat on the same bar as Thornbridge Jaipur and BrewDog Punk IPA? Is it really necessary, or even appropriate to showcase these beers? Well yes, of course it is, and though I shalln't be making a habit of staggering home after less than an hour in the pub, I am nevertheless hugely appreciative of getting the opportunity to try them - but then I'm not the one trying to sell them. I just hope in all seriousness that this isn't a gamble too far by The Grove and that the curious will come from far and wide to give this latest initiative a try. Only time will tell, and I guess if it doesn't work out, it may all be a distant memory by Christmas.

In the meantime much praise goes to Ian Hayes and his enthusiastic (to say the least!) staff for continuing to push the envelope (as our American cousins might put it) by bringing us some of the finest beers from around the world, and of course for providing Huddersfield's demanding drinkers with what amounts to an on-going year round festival, whilst waiting for everyone else to organise theirs! It goes without saying that if I could be granted a renewable liver, I might easily end up spending my entire beer budget at The Grove, working my way through the endless bottled range and back again before pouring myself down the hill to bed each evening. Realistically, I know I'll be back to my usual few halves of the somewhat less exotic this time tomorrow and wondering just what all the fuss was about!


Brian said...

Very well put Will.

Ruination has turned over well the 2 days it has been on, a number have come especially to try it and had more than one half. We attract many 'hop-heads' due to our regular Jaipur, Thornbridge and Brewdog and they have mostly given it a go and loved it. It won't sell as fast as a cask ale, but that is the advantage of Keg. It has negative conotations but the Americans, and the rest of europe, appreciate it's use as a sealed container to maintain a beers life well beyond that of cask. But either way, the true test is, of course, to see how the American stock sells in a few weeks once the hype calms.

The American range is never going to appeal regularly to the average ale drinker, even the average hop-head, why pay 2.75 when you can have a pint of Jaipur for less. But. The American craft scene is very much in demand at the moment, as well as being relatively hard to get hold of beyond a few standard breweries and a selection of their beers. I think I could count on one hand the number of bars in Yorkshire stocking a range equal to what the Grove is now stocking, and i know for a fact we're cheaper than most. There is a market willing to pay the premium for these beers. Publicity to the right areas is key at the moment. Beer-related Blogs such as yourselves could be vital, I read many and garner most of my knowledge from them as a result, and I'm far from the only one.

It's another finger in the numerous pies we cover anyway, and we are trying to provide the beers our customers want (which perhaps has been one of a few grumbles in the past!) hence the regular Thornbridge, Brewdog, Marble etc. We'll still be doing our best to keep the local ale suppers happy! (Brand new Marble beer - 1727, 3.9% Pale ale - when doors open tomorrow, 2 new Thornbridge in the pipeline! ;) )

I'm confident this venture will be a success, and the numbers tucking into bottles tonight (Ask Tara about Green Flash's Imperial IPA!) bodes well. Just gotta keep it rolling!

Apologies if I've rambled, but I've been doing a little quality testing of the latest stock...

Timbo said...

I am glad Will blogged this, I was about to but he has put it far more eloquently that I would have done, and Brian's comments also sum up what I would have said..Drinking is all about choice, what we drink and what we are prepared to pay for the privilege.. and no one can complain that the Grove doesn't give us choice !! Will be interested to try it, and know of some who will drink a lot of it, but don't think it will drag me away from my love of British beer..its just something else to try to give me a more rounded view of beer..and that cannot be a bad thing..