A Northern Soul

Sampling the Northern Powerhouse Brew Series 2018

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So Newcastle’s Wylam Brewery decided to do its bit for the Great Exhibition of the North by coming up with the Northern Powerhouse Brew Series, a box of one-off beers produced in collaboration with eight other northern breweries. And I decided to do my bit by drinking them all.

For the background and official blurb, see here.

For my thoughts on the beers, read on.

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I purchased my box of the eight beers from the excellent Nord Bottle Shop & Tasting Room in downtown Whitley Bay (the San Diego of north east England).

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It cost £40. According to the boffins in the Bay Beer Reviews Department of  Mathematics, this works out at precisely £5 per can.  Not a bad price for hype beers in this day and age.

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I drank the beers in two equal instalments over a weekend. I divided them into what I considered to be equal halves, and drank them in what seemed to me like a sensible order, in terms of style and ABV.

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The reviews that follow are listed in the order of drinking.

 

NORTHERN POWERHOUSE BREW SERIES 006 : WYLAM x HAWKSHEAD : DDH PALE : ABV 5.0%

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Firstly: “Hawksehead”?! Who did the proof-reading for these labels? Sack them! Anyway, moving on…

Appearance: Pineapple juice.

Aroma: Pungent hoppage bursting out of the can upon opening. Once poured, the aroma dissipates a bit and becomes less intense, but has a distinct dankness about it along with a big tropicality.

Mouthfeel: Smooth, with a prickle around the edge. Pretty full-bodied.

Taste: Goes down very easily. At the start, it makes you think this is just going to have what passes these days as a fairly generic tropical fruit vibe, but it ventures into grapefruit territory and develops a piney bitterness that hangs around, alongside a dry finish.

This is a very solid pale. It doesn’t stretch any boundaries but is on-trend, is well-executed, and manages to cover all bases as far as the flavour profile is concerned. A good start to the box.

 

NORTHERN POWERHOUSE BREW SERIES 002 : WYLAM x CLOUDWATER : STRONG BROWN ALE : ABV 6.3%

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Another typo! This is hopped with “Williamette” apparently.

Appearance: Leathery dark brown. Like that old pair of shoes you don’t wear anymore but are still in the bottom of the cupboard. This does look very handsome I must say.

Aroma: On whiffing the orifice after opening the can, this smells just like a stout. Less so from the post-pour glass, which has more of a caramel plus roasty malts combo.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, pretty smooth.

Taste: Give me this blind, I’d probably guess it was a Belgian dubbel. Fairly sweet up front. Caramel leads the way. But the sweetness is quickly thwarted by a welcome dryness. I get black tea, subtle mocha, maybe some faint citrus, perhaps some dark fruits. Little in the way of bitterness.

Are brown ales, which have for some time suffered from a lack of fashionability, now making a comeback thanks to US stylings? Maybe. This one does have a traditional feel about it, and doesn’t really go out of its way to take the style in unexpected directions. Without it being overly thrill-tastic, it does show us what well made brown ales can be like.

 

NORTHERN POWERHOUSE BREW SERIES 003 : WYLAM x BLACK LODGE : MIXED FERMENTATION FARMHOUSE ALE : ABV 7.5%

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Appearance: Look at that colour! Deep gold. It’s practically glowing. Beautiful.

Aroma: A glance at the can tells you this has added apricot, peach and mango. There’s definitely plenty of apricot, a bit less peach, and some mango in the background. But there’s also a lurking wildness.

Mouthfeel: A nice spritz without being gassy.

Taste: The wildness that was lurking in the aroma becomes more prominent in the taste and complements those fruits perfectly. It’s like a Belgian Solero. Concentrated stone fruit slurpy sweetness offset by dry yeasty funkism.

Essentially a fruity saison, this is very tasty stuff. Full-on fruitiness partnered with a nice farmhouse vibe.

 

NORTHERN POWERHOUSE BREW SERIES 008 : WYLAM x BOX SOCIAL : DIPA : ABV 8.5%

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Appearance: Hop custard with a greenish tinge. Hops ahoy!

Aroma: Intense hoppage featuring orange juice, mango juice, peach juice and various other juices. But filtered through a reed bed of hops.

Mouthfeel: Smooth yet tingly. Not particularly full-bodied.

Taste: Hop attack. Sharp and cutting. Fruit without the sweetness. No fluffy gloop. Bitter.

This is not a casual easy-drinking fruitbomb, it almost offers you out. It will no doubt mature and soften with a little bit of age. But I’m drinking it now, not in the future, and right now, this is doing the business.

 

NORTHERN POWERHOUSE BREW SERIES 004 : WYLAM x THORNBRIDGE : AMERICAN WHEAT ALE : ABV 5.5%

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Aaaand… another typo! It’s not ‘Jasmin’ it’s ‘Jasmine’…

Appearance: Very Thornbridge. Straw-coloured with a bit of haze.

Aroma: Quite sweet and floral (that’ll be the jasmine), plus a mild graininess. Hints of orange.

Mouthfeel: Quite slick. The body is on the thin side of medium.

Taste: Has a foundation of cracker-like malts. You definitely get the orange, but more in the form of orange oil. There’s a surprising throatiness in the finish – surely not booze burn as this is only 5.5% ABV, and it can’t be hop burn either as it’s not exactly packed with a raw hop intensity. It’s probably just a spiciness from, well, something. I’m not really sure.

This doesn’t overly excite me, but it’s ok. Nothing wrong with it. Does remind me of a typical Thornbridge beer in many respects, which for me means very well made but perhaps a little low-key, when what I’m really after is more of a beery white-knuckle ride.

 

NORTHERN POWERHOUSE BREW SERIES 005 : WYLAM x MAGIC ROCK : FOREST FRUIT KETTLE SOUR : ABV 4.5%

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Appearance: If your urine looks like this, please consult a doctor as a matter of urgency.

Aroma: Mixed fruit jam. Or a bottle of Tesco “Cherries and Berries” cordial before any water is added. Or forest fruit compote. Take your pick.

Mouthfeel: Pretty full bodied, smooth with a background tingle.

Taste: Well, the can says it has added blackberry, blackcurrant, and raspberry (or rather “rasberry” – come on, this is getting worse!). These are all very much present and correct in the taste.  The sourness is also present and correct, and balances well against those fruits rather than dominating the beer or slapping you across the chops.

This is tasty stuff. Gets your tongue clicking against the roof of your mouth, and provides effective palate-stirring refreshment.

 

NORTHERN POWERHOUSE BREW SERIES 007 : WYLAM x NORTHERN MONK : INDIA PALE ALE : ABV 7.2%

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Appearance: Chicken stock. Or milky tea. Perhaps not the most attractive-looking beer in this box.

Aroma: Whiffed from the can, straight after opening, there was more than a hint of lighter fuel about this. Once poured however, no petro-chemicals are evident, thankfully. In fact, the aroma is not particularly bold, but has a pleasant mellow hoppiness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied. Smooth but tingly around the edges.

Taste: At first, this calls to mind one of those hit-and-miss Cloudwater DIPAs that you’re urged to drink fresh but should be put in an airing cupboard for three weeks. Three weeks in an airing cupboard might do this beer the world of good, as it does seem to have a rawness about it. But what of the flavours? There’s a pulpy tropicality in there, a big herbaciousness, and a bitter finish.

This is a little too harsh at the moment to offer optimum enjoyment levels. The Box Social DIPA was very full-on in the hop department, and I really enjoyed that one, it was challenging in a good way. This one, I suspect, just needs a little bit of time. As it goes, by the bottom of the glass, after I’d come to terms with it, I realised I was actually quite enjoying this!

 

NORTHERN POWERHOUSE BREW SERIES 001 : WYLAM x BUXTON : CHOCOLATE CHIP VANILLA IMPERIAL STOUT : ABV 10.5%

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Hang on, what’s this, another beer hopped with “Williamette” and not “Willamette”. One possible explanation for this is that the proof-reader was called Bill?

Appearance: Black and tan beautiousness. Has a cinder toffee head which looked very dense, I thought I was going to have to use a toffee hammer to get to the beer beneath. (I had a sneaky slurp of the foam: that is some seriously tasty foam!)

Aroma: Sweet milk choccyness with a nutty caramel edge. Not a million miles away from the glorious aroma of Buxton’s Yellow Belly.

Mouthfeel: Nice full-bodied creaminess.

Taste: The aroma promises a lot. On the first couple of sips I experience a slight disappointment, as all I really get is cafe latte. But it develops, it opens up. I have another look at the label. I notice it has figs, cranberries, honey and raisins in it. I search for this as I continue sipping. And yes, they are in there, albeit not thrown in your face. Then I get chocolate-covered nougat. Then I decide to let the beer sit for a while and come back a bit later to finish it off.

Of all the beers in the series, this has been the most eagerly-anticipated. I was expecting a show-stopper. Did I get one? Well, this is a quality Impy Stout, there’s no doubt about that. It ain’t no Yellow Belly, but it’s good, very good. I drank this fresh, but I’m sure it will improve further with ageing.

 

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So, that’s all the beer done. Aside from the quality of the proof-reading, I have to say I was very impressed with this box. Well worth the purchase. There are no fillers, no real duds. Some I liked more than others. Some I liked less than others. But I enjoyed drinking them all.

Finally, my personal rankings.  This is highly subjective of course, so I don’t expect anyone to agree with me!

  1. Box Social

  2. Black Lodge

  3. Buxton

  4. Hawkshead

  5. Magic Rock

  6. Cloudwater

  7. Northern Monk

  8. Thornbridge.

Go on, agree with me. Or don’t. Please yourself.

 

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