I’ve known of Summer Wine Brewery for a long time, but I’ve never actually got around to trying their beer. They’ve clearly taken the same course in hyperbole as That Scottish Brewery, describing themselves as producing “evolutionary craft beer”.
No, I don’t know what that means either.
This is Maelstrom, their wonderfully monstrous 9.0% ABV Double IPA. It’s a rather orangey colour in the glass, with a fleeting head on it.
The nose is full of citrus floral hops and the sweetness of tropical fruit and overripe peaches; the alcohol is clearly present, but subtle. Somehow it puts me in mind of a madeira wine.
The first thing that hits your mouth is a deep, deep pine resin bitterness… and the second thing too. Buried underneath that avalanche of hops is quite a light, fruity sweetness – something that wouldn’t be out of place in a pale ale.
The gentle sweetness would be swallowed whole by the hops, if it weren’t for the alcohol which then comes into play. Not strong or burning, it joins forces with the surprisingly light fruit to drag the hops back from the brink and just – just – manages to stop them from becoming overwhelming.
You get just a hint of alcohol heat at the back of your throat right at the finish, and then you’re left with an echo of that hop assault loitering on the edges of your tongue.
In some senses, this is everything that an IPA is “supposed” to be, if you believe the (largely discredited) history: it’s seriously strong and it’s heavily hopped. At the same time, it’s unlike what I’d expect in a Double IPA because, despite that strength, it lacks the body and the syrupy sweetness.
That’s no bad thing. I like my expectations to be confounded. I’m halfway down the glass and I still can’t quite decide if it’s magnificently balanced or just too light. But that’s not stopping me from taking sip after sip.
Evolutionary Craft? I’ve no idea, but it’s bloody nice and marvellously monstrous.