Had some beer the other day.
Back in June, at the Stockport Beer and Cider Festival, I had some beers I really liked from Ticketybrew, Conwy and Red Willow. I wasn’t so keen on the Blackjack Farmhouse Brown, which I wrote up as “Good but not actually likeable”. (On a side note, I think I’m going to avoid this kind of review in future – too charitable, or too lacking in confidence about my own opinions, or possibly both. If I don’t like what I’m drinking, I don’t think I should end up calling it ‘good’!)
I wasn’t making notes at the Chorlton Beer Festival the other weekend, although Moor Hoppiness stands out in my memory, as do a surprisingly light cherry stout from Wharfbank and two rather fine black IPAs (Blue Monkey and Brass Castle). Almost the only tasting note I did make related to the Blackjack Belgian Honey Porter, of which I wrote “???” – I remember thinking it didn’t taste of honey, or particularly Belgian, or very much like a porter (in fact it tasted quite a lot like a black IPA).
The Font are pretty reliable at the moment. I’ve had some fine Mallinson’s single-hop pale ales there lately, as well as a superb stout from Blackjack. ‘Liquorice and chocolate notes’, the pump clip said, and the pump clip was not wrong – either about the complexity of the flavour or about the subtlety. It’s a beer to sink into – one of those really big, deep, enveloping flavours. At the Font I also had Blackjack Orange Cream Beer the other day, which was little better than peculiar. It was almost still (I may have hit the end of the barrel), and slightly hazy; flavour-wise there was a definite taste of orange peel and a bit of orange fruit, fighting it out with a fairly heavy-bodied aromatic golden ale and mostly winning. If anything it was stranger, and less pleasant, than I’ve made it sound – very un-beer-like. I’ve also had some fine beer at Dulcimer over the last month or so; as well as superb beers from Ticketybrew, Celt and Siren, there was a 6% ‘white IPA’ from Blackjack which was terrific – almost good enough to persuade me that ‘white IPA’ is a thing. I saw the same beer at the Gaslamp in town but didn’t have it again (partly because it was 25% dearer) – but I was sufficiently tempted to try the Blackjack Belgian Triple on the keg fonts along the bar. It was pale, very strong and slightly sweet, but there the resemblance to Belgian triples ended; hops were strongly in evidence (both aroma and bitterness) and there was a strong, harsh alcoholic burn.
So I’ve been seeing a lot of Blackjack beers around the place recently – and a lot of different beers. In fact these six beers were in six different styles – some of them very different indeed. Some time ago (in comments on another blog) I suggested that American craft brewing suffered from the “world in miniature” tendency – like those tourist attractions where you can stroll past the Eiffel Tower on your way to the Taj Mahal, brewers seemed to work on the basis that the main qualification for brewing an Abbey tripel (say) was getting up in the morning and deciding to brew an Abbey tripel. (“And if you liked our milk stout, don’t leave without checking out our Leipziger Gose!”) What Blackjack are doing at the moment seems to exemplify this approach – and, I’m afraid, its pitfalls. For my money, only two of those beers were really successful. I’d have either the white IPA or the stout again like a shot – the stout especially; the other four I shall be avoiding.
There are obviously some talented brewers at Blackjack, and they’re doing some great stuff – for the same brewery to produce a good white IPA and a great stout is quite something, if you stop to think about it. But I wish they’d focus, and avoid spreading themselves so thin; I wish they’d just slow down.
PS An interesting couple of comments over at B&B’s, reproduced without, er, further comment.
Making 27 beers at Max production, many cycling or one timers, and selling each at top price regardless of intrinsic quality is manufactured scarcity and a hall mark of the last few years. There is an age old duty in both brewing and capitalism to maximize return and it is being honoured in a very robust manner. At least you have a CAMRA to offset the avarice with a voice for consumers. And it is effective as the lower price for cask proves.