I picked up this collection of beers from Neath Ales at last year’s Abergavenny Food Festival; I always have my eye open for small local breweries at such events that I might otherwise have never encountered and Abergavenny was pleasantly productive.
We start with Green Bullet, a 6.0% IPA – named for the New Zealand hops used in the beer. It’s a nice, honey colour in the glass with little head to be seen. The nose is sweet golden syrup, with some citrus floral notes from the generous hopping.
Medium bodied in the mouth, with more of a fizz than the head may suggest. A sweet start, which is quickly complemented by a very distinct resin bitterness that manages to leave the sweetness alone – you’re left with a very curious taste of honey sweetness and the hops doing battle in your mouth. I can’t quite decide if I love the taste but I do love being surprised by something I’ve not tasted in a beer before.
Next we have Gold, a 5.0% pale ale. It’s similar to the Green Bullet in the glass; a pale colour, with little in the way of head on it. The nose is simpler; quite a rich sweetness, a touch of caramel and just a whiff of fruit to it.
In the mouth, it’s quite rich – a decent sweetness, and a real plum-like fruitiness. Coming through towards the end is a nice, strong hop bitter kick to wash away that sweetness and leave your mouth wanting more. A very drinkable ale.
On to Abbey Ale, a 4.2% beer. It’s an enticing deep amber, with the same absence of much head. The nose is delicious; rich, coffee and some lurking toffee.
There’s a nice medium body in the mouth; that coffee is still there, and a warm, round sweetness that fades nicely into a gentle but lingering bitter tail. Loving it.
Firebrick is another 4.2% ale, apparently made to mark the fact that the silica firebrick was invented in Neath, in 1821. It’s a nice copper colour in the glass, although once again headless. There’s a sweet caramel nose, along with some quite dark almost blackcurrant notes.
It’s quite rich in the mouth, if a little thin in the body. Those blackcurrent notes come through again, leading into quite a tannic, lingering bitter tail. It actually leaves my lips feeling actively dry, which may not be to everyone’s tastes but I rather like it. Another one I’m glad I have two bottles of in the cupboard.
And finally, Black – Neath’s 5.5% stout. Deep, dark brown in the glass, it has a plenty of rich espresso on the nose – tantalising, but not quite “outrageous amount of hops” the bottle promises.
The taste is something seriously good though; rich, almost treacle-like sweetness that carries with it a generous, almost creamy body. You also get some nice dark fruits coming through; black cherries perhaps. The roasted malt and the hops then blend beautifully to lead you to a gentle but very long bitter tail that is perfectly balanced with that sweet start.
Neath make a lot about their love of hops on their website; there’s certainly some generous hopping going on but ‘decadent’? Hardly. But for all that, they make some mighty tasty ales – definitely one to watch.