I have to admit, I was not previously a big fan of Sharp’s Brewery. Their Doom Bar seems to be everywhere and while it’s a perfectly decent beer, I’ve always found it frustrating to be stood in a London pub – surrounded by an exciting and growing collection of local breweries – only to find that the only cask on offer is from Cornwall.
This is, of course, not the fault of Sharp’s.
Their acquisition by MolsonCoors – largely driven by the phenomenal success of Doom Bar – just seemed to seal their fate in my mind. Suddenly they were no longer a craft brewer, they were part of a global “brand” monster. Nothing to see here.
Molson Coors was the “Elite Sponsor” of last month’s European Beer Bloggers Conference. They bought us all dinner on the first night, plied us with indecent quantities of beer and even covered our registration fees. It’s fair to say that without them, there wouldn’t have been a conference to attend.
Among the beers they brought along were the newly launched range of Connoisseurs Choice beers from Sharp’s; three different bottles designed to show off Head Brewer Stuart Howe’s passion for complex, crafted beer. As Kavey wasn’t drinking that evening, her bottles came home with us for a proper tasting.
No. 1 is their Quadrupel Ale, a serious beer at 10% ABV, although that’s at the low end of the scale for a true quadrupel. It’s a deep, dark ruby in the glass, with little or no head to it but some steady rising bubbles.
The nose is full of sweet, rich dried fruit from the malt, along with earthy notes from the hops and a hint of underlying alcohol.
In the mouth, it’s a little fizzy at first – once that fades the rich, syrupy sweetness comes through strongly, with buckets of dark prune fruit. The fizz, along with a fairly subtle bitter hop tail manages to clear that sticky sweetness perfectly, leaving just a very gentle, lingering alcohol heat slipping down your throat.
Sharp’s describes it as “a barley wine that thinks it’s a port” and that sums it up perfectly. It’s a touch too gassy for my taste; but that’s a minor complaint against an otherwise excellent beer.
No. 2 is the Single Brew, a more manageable 4.5% ABV beer in a larger, 500ml bottle. This beer uses a single hop – the Czech Saaz – which explains the name.
It’s a glorious golden colour in the glass with a fleeting, open bubbled head on it. The nose is light, sweet caramel blending nicely with earthy hop notes and hints of green fruit – gooseberries, perhaps.
Another fizzy one in the mouth, which quickly yields to a light, sweet body. A positively floral tang feeds nicely into a controlled bitterness and, combined with the fizz, it puts me in mind of lemon sherbert. The finish is dry and deeply refreshing.
Those Saaz hops and the fizziness give quite a lager-like feel to this beer – by which I mean a decent, craft lager rather than some bland mass-produced abomination!
No. 3 is the Honey Spice Tripel, although it’s curiously the same 10% strength as the Quadrupel. It’s an effervescent gold in the glass, looking more like a cider than a beer. The aroma is full of honey and spice (obviously!) along with some rich orange fruit and a big hit of alcohol.
In the mouth, the initial impression is all texture – there are so many bubbles on the tip of my tongue that the beer can barely reach my tastebuds. Once they dissipate there’s a sticky spiced honey hit, along with a deep bitterness that balances things out nicely. Unusually, the bitterness fades before the sweetness and the finish is surprisingly short – or perhaps it’s just that you have to wait so long for those bubbles to free up the flavours – leaving you with a fleeting glimpse of more oranges, a warming alcohol glow and a thirst for another sip.
My previous attitude did Sharp’s a huge disservice; they are clearly a brewery that know how to make some wonderful beers and I’m looking forward to exploring the rest of their range.
I may even give Doom Bar another chance – but perhaps I’ll wait until I’m in Cornwall!