Tuesday, 9 June 2015
Beer In Essex
Bottling It - Part Two: George's / Hop Monster to Mersea Island
The time has come for me to launch the second part of my journey into the bottled beer available in Essex at the moment. I'm assuming that you're already familiar with the format I'll be taking but if you'd like a reminder, or if you missed it previously, you can catch up with Part One here.
I have already been delighted by the quality and diversity of the beer bottled by Essex brewers as it is far more accomplished and interesting than most of the beer that the majority of the county's pub are able or willing to take, and hope to find some more gems in this instalment. I shall continue alphabetically as before and hope to feature examples from all the breweries that currently bottle their beer, so in this vein the next brewery is George's, or should that be Hop Monster?
If that last sentence caused you some confusion then I should explain that George's Brewery and The Hop Monster are two sides of the same coin, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde if you will, with George's being the more traditional English ale side of the business whilst Hop Monster is more outward looking face, influenced by and using hops from the US craft beer scene and beyond. Established in 2010 by Mark Mawson in Great Wakering, four miles east of Southend, the brewery is named after Mark's father, George, who introduced him to real ale when he was a teenager the first beer, Freak Show, a 4.2% Golden Ale intensely hopped with Amarillo and Cascade was brewed on 11th May 2011. Beers released under the George's banner display a knight in full armour and have names you might expect, such as Broadsword, an ESB, and Merry Gentleman, an Old Ale, whereas the Hop Monster beers have more ghoulish names, Warlock is their Black IPA, Rochford Banshee their Porter, all featuring the image of an undead character who goes by the name of Hendrix the Hop Monster. Both George's and Hop Monster beers are available in bottles, and although I've yet to find the latter I'm told they're not for the faint hearted, and the brewery has promised me some when I visit soon. I've managed to grab several armfuls of George's bottles however in order to give their beer a thorough appraisal.
I'm starting off this glut of George's with Wallasea Wench (3.6%), the beer with the most questionable name and definitely the least acceptable label art. The story behind it, so the website states, is that the name started as a bit of a joke from the manager of The Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project, Hillary Hunter, and the name stuck. For me that doesn't make it acceptable, wench is after all an archaic word for a prostitute, and although I am fully aware that the brewing industry uses this type of imagery from time to time it really is no longer socially acceptable. I will judge this beer on its merits, that is the purpose of this post, however I believe a reconsideration of the name may be in order. Pouring a light amber with a near-white head, not the golden colour of the beer shown in the glasses on the label, it has crisp caramel and pithy lemon citrus aroma. It's light in body as the abv might suggest with a good level of carbonation, and whereas it is low in bitterness but it most definitely isn't lacking in taste. Smooth to drink, there's a hint of burnt sugar flowing through the hedgerow earthiness provided by the hops. It's very refreshing and not challenging in any way which means its slips down incredibly easily, and that's certainly no bad thing. It is in the finish where the bitterness becomes most apparent, nibbling at the edges of your tongue with just the right amount of dryness to draw you back to the glass to slake your thirst once more. A beer that's equally suited to lazy sunny evenings or cold winter nights huddled round the fire, it is rather fine and I have certainly no issue with it on that score at least.
Wakering Gold (3.8%) is described as a session ale and is brewed year-round using English and American hops. This is a bottle-conditioned beer, and holding it up to the light reveals quite a lot of sediment in suspension towards the bottom, so pour carefully if you wish to avoid a muddy glass. Despite my best efforts mine poured a cloudy golden orange with a thin white head and has a dry pithy citrus aroma, slightly spicy, a smell I associate with the presence of a saison yeast. Deliciously dry over the tongue with flavours of orange peel, tangerine juice, lime zest and crushed coriander seed flood the mouth, centring themselves in the middle of the palate and leading into an arid finish, but one that's absolutely chock-full of all of that lovely citrus bitterness. I confess that this is the first time that I've had this beer, and I'm honest I was expecting a fairly generic Golden Ale rather than a dry punchy Saison-esque beer. Bottles of this are definitely going to be found regularly in my fridge this summer and I advise that you stock up too. (I have since discovered that Saison yeast was not used in the brewing of this beer, but despite my best efforts I couldn't persuade the brewery to part with any more information).
Boats and warfare, whether it be ancient or modern feature on many of the George's Brewery beers but Dreadnought (4.1%) manages to combine both of those. There is also common date that links them as HMS Dreadnought, the most advanced ship in the Royal Navy at the time, was launched on February 10th which is also Head Brewer and Managing Director Mark Mawson's birthday. There were of course many years difference between the two events, the battleship was launched in 1906, but it is certainly worthy of note and worthy of a beer. A thin white head sits atop a beer of a dark amber hue in the glass sending up an aroma of toffee mousse punctuated with dabs of peach juice and grated orange zest. It glides over the tongue with a gentle ripple of carbonation releasing a gentle but sustained fruit salad sweet flavour with hazelnut and fudge cutting through it and building in intensity as I drink and it slowly warms in my hand. The finish is fluffy hazelnut nougat chewy, delicious and comforting, bringing back childhood memories of mini milky way bars sneaked from the fridge and surreptitiously consumed in the shade of the garage on a warm summers day. I like this beer far more at my last sip that I did at my first. The flavours built wonderfully into a chocolatey sweet shop of flavours that I simply adore, and I think you might too.
Inspired by a trip to Iceland, Valhalla (4.2%) is brewed with British hops and described as "as golden as the shields that form the ceiling of Odin's Lair". In truth it's more of a burnished copper colour with a barely-there off white head and a heady wet meadow aroma with an earthy fruitiness featuring over-ripe crab apple, golden raisin and muddy grassy earth. It's bold and bitter up front, almost overwhelmingly so, before a big caramel apple sauce flavour sweeps it away, and while this fades rather quickly it re-emerges in the initial stages of the finish. There's more sharp bitterness, dry and with a grain or two of white pepper throughout the length of this beer, and although it ends drily there's a haunting flavour of Calvados that leaves me licking my lips and craving an apple brandy before bedtime. British hops often get a bit of a bad press, but when they're used this way it's very apparent just how good they are.
Broadsword (4.7%) is, as I mentioned above an ESB, brewed to resemble English ales of old, particularly those common around the end of the Second World War. It is one of George's biggest sellers, and is a beer that I have come across on many occasions up and down the county. This is a chestnut coloured beer with ruby red highlights and a thin beige head, I'm finding more chestnut in the aroma alongside a sugary lactose smell that reminds me of those small milk-bottle sweets that got me through my a-level exams. Surprisingly thin bodied with a good level of bitterness, there's more chestnut in the taste (I'm sensing a theme here) there's a hint of raspberry peeping out from behind it adding a decent level of background fruitiness which is very welcome, and rounds the beer off rather nicely. Slipping into the finish, which is a touch oily on the tongue, that lactose re-emerges but only briefly before a woody caramel, again with a little fruitiness lingers for quite some time. This may well be a taste of old England, although my limited research has been unable to ascertain if it is based on an old recipe but it is a very good beer, and one that you will find particularly pleasing you if like a good honest traditional English bitter as I know many of you do.
Many breweries thought it appropriate to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War by brewing an anniversary beer, and quite rightly so. George's Brewery were no different, except that they brewed two, donating £5 from every cask of The Fallen, and this beer Lest... (4.0%) to the Royal British Legion. Brewed using nine different malts, from England, Germany and the USA, as well as a blend of five hops, from the USA, UK, Germany and Slovenia, this promises to be an intriguing beer. It pours a chestnut amber with a creamy off-white head with the aroma of mandarin orange and peach, perhaps a twist of lime, with some tart dry white grape hovering expectantly at the back. There's a really good level of carbonation and it has quite a full mouthfeel releasing an exploding shell of pineapple, white grape, tart peach over a shallow meandering stream of caramel maltiness. The finish snaps shut rather quickly, almost as if your tasting time was up, but thankfully there's still some delicate dabs of fruity caramel lingering awhile like the fading reverberations of the guns after the armistice. You might be lucky enough to pick up a bottle or two of this as I still occasionally see it around, however the hop character is starting to fade so if you have one then best drink it soon. In three and a half years time it will be the centenary of the guns falling silent, although sadly not for the last time. I hope we see this beer again.
This space is reserved for some bottles from the Harwich Town Brewing Company. I travelled up to the brewery, the most north-easterly in Essex, only to unfortunately find it closed. Brewer Paul Mellor has promised me some beer and I plan a return trip to Harwich soon with yet another blog post to follow, so you'll just have to wait until then.
After more than a quarter of a century of home brewing, Phil Evans decided that the time was right to see if his beer would cut it in the commercial world so, in October 2013, he registered the Hope Brewery name. With a tiny quarter barrel plant producing a firkin at a time the first beer, Dark Demon, was jointly launched at the Halloween mini-festival at The Miley in Rochford and at The Welcome Club in Stanford le Hope at the end of his first month of trading. The smallest commercial brewery in Essex (with the possible exception of Watts & Co. in Colchester) brewing is currently limited to four times a week, with additional brews being squeezed in on an ad-hoc basis, but due to the popularity of the beer a new 2.5 barrel plant should hopefully (no pun intended) be online soon. Initially cask only, bottles of the beer have only recently been made available and I have four of them to get through so I'd better open the first one now.
SX Gold (4.2%) is, you probably won't be surprised to hear, a Golden Ale brewed with Marris Otter pale malt, Caramalt and torrified wheat and honey, and hopped with Saaz and Brewers Gold. Although this is far from my favourite style I am rather partial to the Brewers Gold hop, so I'm interested to see how this beer pans out. It pours a beautiful golden amber colour with an off-white head, but my beer had been over-primed and it took around ten minutes to settle with careful pouring, with glass and bottle being filled exclusively with foam at first opening. There was a definite honey aroma when the bottle was opened, but now it has settled this has been replaced with grassy pineapple, grapefruit, freshly cut peach and a twist of lime. Sharply bitter over the tongue, it fills the mouth splendidly but despite a strange space-dust like tingling on the tongue the flavours promised in the aroma are present but subdued, seemingly caught in a sticky, gooey bitterness. The finish is more defined, tasting almost exclusively of dry white grape skin and this is far more pleasant than it actually sounds. I was hoping for that spicy blackcurrant taste that I associate with the Brewers Gold hop, but the grassy Saaz has seemingly distorted it somewhat. This is still eminently drinkable, and I would make a bee-line for this if I ever saw it on cask as I think it would be a real winner.
Going a tad darker we find SX Devil (4.4%). Another beer brewed using Brewers Gold hops, this time in conjunction with Fuggles, and the addition of black and chocolate malts alongside those used in the SX Gold. Unsurprisingly this beer should not be confused with the fan-assisted PC gaming hardware case of the same name that my search engine thought I was enquiring about. It pours a bright tawny amber with a thin beige head covering its surface and has the aroma of a spicy fruit cake, thick with golden sultanas and blackcurrants. This too has a good level of vibrant carbonation and a decent mouthfeel, although it does feel a little heavy when it hits the back of the throat, but it does release loads of that Brewers Gold blackcurrant flavour, dark rich and slightly spicy, and this works really well alongside the earthiness of the Fuggles and a good level of background chocolate from the malt. The finish is smooth and lingering with plenty of that blackcurrant and chocolate, I'd venture milk chocolate here, and resonates beautifully for some time. I have to say that I enjoyed this beer a great deal, in fact I drained the glass more quickly than any beer I've written about in some time, and that should say as much as you need to know. I'll have another just to be sure.
The Olde Dog Inn, a pub that's well worth a visit if you're in the area. Despite its similar name however I think that this beer SX Demon (4.4%) may turn out to taste completely different as its list of ingredients appear to be identical to that of the SX Devil I've just finished. Seeing as there's only one way to find out its best that I get that bottle opened. This is a deep chestnut brown beer with ruby red highlights, a creamy beige head and a fruit bread aroma majoring in blackcurrant, liquorice, raisin and cherry with a twist of black pepper, it's a rather alluring smell. Notably thinner than the previous two beers, and smoother over the tongue with a light prickle of carbonation, and as the colour of the Demon is darker than the Devil, so the flavour is darker too. There's a chocolate wafer biscuit malty backbone underpinning a fig and blackcurrant fruitiness leading to a slightly tart and concentrated wine gum flavour with maybe a hint of bitter chocolate playing around the edges. I like this beer, but not quite as much as the other two and even though it's undeniably well-brewed, something that I'm coming to realise is definitely a characteristic of Hope Brewery beers, it's just not quite to my taste. Time to get the last of my quartet out of the fridge.
The final beer is the darkest of them all, at least that's what I would deduce from the name. SX Dark (4.2%) is made with chocolate and dark malts and, from the earliest Untappd check-in I could find, I think was first brewed in July-August 2014. I honestly can't find out anything more about this beer, but I suppose there's only one thing that really matters and that is what it tastes like. Pouring a deep dark brown with the faintest glow of dark amber coming from its depths, all surmounted with a creamy beige head and an aroma that's full of coffee, chocolate, blackcurrant and black cherry, so I'm guessing that the Brewers Gold hop is making an appearance here too. It's rich and luxuriant but reminds me more of a Red Ale than a Stout texture-wise. Raisin, and blackcurrant fruitiness is beautifully balanced by some delicious fruitcake malts that combine to make a quite delicious beer. It dries quite slowly, with all those flavours gently receding until it wraps itself up rather nicely indeed. This, and in fact all the beers I've had from Hope have been very accomplished, and whilst they might not be the most adventurous or ground-breaking you'll taste this year they certainly are tasty and you won't regret seeking these out one bit.
Insurance broking to brewing is not the most obvious career change but after working at Lloyds of London, Julian Hales decided to apply his organic chemistry studies to a teenage interest in making beer and open the Indian Summer Brewery in 2012. Three cask beers were produced (under the Hop & Soul name), a ruddy amber ale called Red, a Porter, and a black IPA that went by the name of Black On Blonde. Based in Saffron Walden, outlets in the local area were supplied, but it was the bottled beer, Bombay Blonde, a beer specifically designed to go with curry that was the biggest seller, and was to be found in a growing number of Indian restaurants.
It might not have escaped your notice that the above paragraph was written in the past tense as it has come to my attention that the Indian Summer Brewery ceased trading earlier this year. I did consider not reviewing this beer, the Bombay Blonde (4.5%) however it is my understanding that it can still be found accompanying curry around Saffron Walden as well as available in local off licences. It pours a bright golden colour, as you might expect, with a bright white head and a spicy lemon, ginger and honey aroma ably supported by a clean biscuit maltiness. It feels quite thin at first and there isn't a great deal of taste initially either, however this is deceptive as it suddenly becomes seemingly fuller bodied as a wave of grassy citrus flavour, tart satsuma and yellow plum, honeyed biscuit and a squeeze of lemon, fills the mouth completely. This falls away in the finish, but is instantly replaced by a white pepper and orange peel bitterness that buzzes and fizzes around for quite some time. I can actually see the spicy citrus bitterness of this beer working alongside a chicken tikka masala or cutting through the carbohydrates of an aloo gobi very well indeed. I don't know whether the brewery is closed for good or if there has been a temporary set back as this is genuinely an interesting and flavoursome beer, one based on Oakham's JHB I am led to believe. Catch it if you can.
Update: I have heard since writing my review that in fact despite ceasing production on site you will still be able to find Bombay Blonde as it will be contract brewed elsewhere. There will however be no more cask ale.
Established in 2002 by Nigel Farmer as an early retirement project, The Maldon Brewing Co. (also known as Farmer's Ales) is housed in the stable yard of the historic Blue Boar hotel in Maldon. A range of beer from the brewery can be found in the bar, all gravity dispensed and only having travelled across the yard to get there. The beers are popular and change regularly, their names often reflecting their local environment, with historic aeroplanes from Essex squadrons last year and barges moored on the nearby Blackwater estuary being featured currently. They are mainly found on cask however a number of their hand bottled beers can be bought from the brewery itself or off-licences in the Essex area.
As mentioned, all the special beers from Maldon's in 2015 celebrate the barges, some of which continue to operate under the ownership of Topsail charters, the East Coast Sailing Barge Trust and the Thames Sailing Barge Trust. Reminder (3.7%) is one of these and the second of this years series. Built in 1929 in nearby Mistley, and much of her early years were spent bringing barley from the Albert Docks in London to Brooks Maltings in Manningtree, but can now be hired for weekend cruising the East Coast with up to twelve guest being accommodated. This golden ale has a spicy citrus aroma reminding me of crushed coriander seed and tangerine juice which, alongside its slightly hazy lemony gold colour and near white head, makes for a very inviting beer. A good bitter carbonation leads to a lemony tangerine flavour that has more than a nod towards Belgian Witbier as it dries beautifully with a clean white pepper finish. This is a wonderfully refreshing beer, perfect for the summer months, perhaps enjoyed in the summer sunshine on the deck of boat such as this lazily watching the world go by. If you're having a party outdoors then make sure this beer is high on your shopping list, your guest will thank you for it.
The label on the bottle opens with the line "Maldon is unlikely to witness the Aurora Borealis, or Northern lights ...", and while that still hasn't happened, in March this year they could be witnessed as far south as Oxford. Aurora (3.9%) is named after the Aurora (also known as Super Styrian) hop, which was bred in Slovenia in the 1970s (back when it was still part of Yugoslavia) and is a cross between Northern Brewer and a wild native variety. Even though it's name would imply there is a connection with Styrian Goldings (a variant of the Fuggle hop - see below) this is not actually the case, and even though it has some similar aromatic qualities its alpha acid content, which is its source of bitterness, is nearly double that of its namesake. It pours a muddy amber brown (although I suspect that mostly down to me - this is a bottle conditioned beer after all) with a scant off white head and very little carbonation. The aroma is rather toasty at first before revealing some milk chocolate and orange peel and this develops more fully in the taste. Even though this isn't as carbonated as perhaps it should be it doesn't really matter, as the orange zest flavour that lifts it towards the finish. Sadly it doesn't have much of an ending as it peters out rather too quickly, leaving a touch of orangey chocolate that slowly fades away. I do like this beer, but not nearly half as much as the one that preceded it although that shouldn't stop you from seeing if the Aurora hop is more to your liking than it is mine.
Fuggles. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of many a craft beer lover, but should this really be the case? It is after all a truly historic hop, first released in 1875 after being cultivated by a Mr. Richard Fuggle of Kent, it was used for both bittering and aroma before falling out of favour with the introduction of varieties with a higher alpha acid content. It has had a bit of a bad press of late, due in large part to its age in a culture that is constantly embracing the new but also, certainly in some cases because of its use as a token traditional hop in many a 'traditional' bitter. You will have by now guessed that this beer, Born To Be Mild (4.7%) uses the hop exclusively in this seasonal release. First brewed in 2014 it returns this year to coincide with CAMRA's 'Mild In May' campaign and is designed to be "smooth and mature", so let's find out. Pouring a thin rich dark chocolate brown with little carbonation, its wispy creamy beige head actually makes it look rather attractive. It has a rather attractive aroma, rather like a freshly baked chocolate brownie dusted with some faintly minty icing sugar sporting a little lactose edge. As thin as you might expect this to be it does fill the mouth with a slightly oily texture, and whilst it is indeed bitter it errs more toward a burnt toast flavour than the chocolate hit I was expecting. It dries nicely from the centre of the tongue outwards but not quite completely enough leaving that oily wetness around the edges and this is where the chocolate is finally revealed, albeit with a faintly peppery edge initially. Its good but not great, and I doubt there's anything here convince the sniffy anti-Fuggle brigade otherwise.
Plough Monday is traditionally the start of the agricultural year, and falls on the first Monday after Twelfth Night, the last day of Epiphany in the Christian calendar. In Maldon this is celebrated in the traditional East-Anglian manner of singing and dancing with Molly Dancers (all male, half of which are often dressed as women) a type of Morris dancer, parading the white plough, dancing and generally making merry with blackened faces to conceal their identities. They were mainly out of work ploughmen, and the reason their faces were covered in soot, or even Maldon mud, was that if they wished to gain employment at a later date it was sometime best that their true selves were not revealed. Ploughboys (5.0%) is a stout brewed to fortify their dancing as it is itself fortified with a drop or two of Port. Thick, but not overly so, it pours a deep dark Maldon mud brown with a creamy head and a sweet thin red wine and chocolate aroma. A mouth filling tide of prickly carbonation rises with, and leaves behind, a musty boozy port-like chocolate flavour that develops a blackcurrant wine gum flavour as it progresses towards its conclusion, and it this that lingers long and sweetly to the end. I like this beer a lot, an awful lot actually but I would like it more if it wasn't for that yeasty mustiness in the taste. It has the character of beers far stronger and it could, and should rival those as all the elements are there, and more importantly they are there in the correct proportions. Sort that minor problem and I'd buy this by the bucket full.
American-style Pale Ales have been regularly copied by British brewers in recent years, but with some notable exceptions they generally straddle a thin line between an English Pale and the US East Coast version of the style. This mid-Atlantic hybrid is neither one thing nor the other, with US hops substituted for the traditional home grown varieties and, on some occasions, they can be very malt forward rather than emphasising the hop or hops. Having said this however, I must state that this is purely my observation on beers I have had and not a reflection on this bottle as I have yet to open it, and those beers are in no way bad or or any less tasty but I feel that calling them American Pale Ales is a bit of a misnomer. Essex Strong Pale (5.3%) is described as a "development of the classic IPA", brewed with El Dorado hops from the Yakima Valley in Washington State I'm hoping for some of it's big tropical fruit punch character. It pours a beautiful golden amber colour, slightly hazy (probably due to bad pouring again) and with a beautiful bright white head. It has the most gorgeous zesty lemon citrus aroma, with grapefruit, peach and pineapple also in evidence, but there's also a hint of spicy white pepper adding a touch of dryness to the mix as well. Light, with a good prickle of carbonation and refreshingly bitter over the tongue, I'm delighted that my fears have not been realised as I am hit with a wave of tropical fruit, with mango, pineapple and peach juice very much to the fore, with a solid crispbread malt backbone carrying the whole thing along. The hops have been used skilfully and to their fullest effect here as this beer is clean, crisp and beautifully hoppy, in fact everything I would expect from an American Pale Ale. This El Dorado hop is not an intense dank variety, it's light and fruity and if any of you remember BrewDog's use of this in their IPA Is Dead series in 2013 you'll be pleasantly surprised with this beer as I believe this is a far better use of the hop. The finish is dry and lemony, this really is a super beer, one I could drink an awful lot of. Where can I put in a bulk order?
My final Maldon Brewing Co. beer, Wrecked (7.0%) is their version of a German Bock style lager, and is one of the series of Buoy Beers they produce. Brewed with Tettnanger and Saaz hops, this isn't the strongest beer in regular production, that is the 7.4% The Wallet a strong Golden Ale and another of the Buoy Beers, but I felt that this one was unusual enough for a mention. Pouring a dark brown amber colour with a creamy white head, this beer has a deliciously sweet burnt sugar aroma with perhaps a hint of cinnamon it really is very inviting and certainly characteristic of the style. Smooth over the tongue, the carbonation prickles the roof of the mouth but with a very low level of bitterness. The flavour mirrors the aroma with more of that burnt sugar sweetness, but there's a molasses and fig edge to it too that is very moreish, dangerously so considering its high abv. Unsurprisingly the finish is remarkably similar too, and even though this undoubtedly a sweet beer it isn't cloyingly so and is incredibly drinkable. Overall this has been quite a mixed bag from Maldon's, and although there wasn't a bad beer among them if have to say that the first beer and the last three rose quite comfortably above the others. This is a brewery that clearly knows how to brew good beer and isn't afraid to try something different, and for those two reasons alone they should definitely be worthy of your consideration.
The last brewery in this part of the journey is the Mersea Island Brewery situated on Mersea Island on the Blackwater Estuary connected to the mainland via a causeway that floods at high tide called The Strood, and is some nine miles south-east of Colchester. Founded in 2005 as a natural diversification project on the established Mersea Island Vineyard, it is a family owned business with cask versions of there beers featuring at local pubs and beer festivals while the bottles are available from the brewery itself, selected off licences and East of England Co-Operative stores in the north Essex area.
I have three beers to choose from here, so will start of with the weakest first and see how things go. Island Yo Boy (3.9%) is described as a golden session beer, similar to an old fashioned Light Ale, it is brewed with East Anglian malt, Marris Otter and Crystal Malt in this instance, with four hops; Fuggles, Challenger, Phoenix and Cascade, providing the flavour and bitterness. All bottles are bottle conditioned, as are nearly all of the bottles in this part of the guide, and as are the vast majority of the bottles produced by Essex breweries in general. It pours the colour of golden syrup with a tight, billowing near-white head, and has the aroma of fizzy lemon and grapefruit sweets, juicy and sharp, so much so that a big sniff will make your eyes water and your nose buzz. There's also the faintest smell of grains of paradise and a back beat that reminds me of the the aroma of the Nelson Sauvin hop, fresh and vibrant. It skitters across the tongue with a rush of fizzy carbonation, bringing with it a clean, if subdued, watered-down satsuma fruitiness that's slightly sticky as it dries before it settles down into a pleasant pithy finish that's not overly bitter but stays for some time on the tip of the tongue. This is a lovely beer, with the aroma most definitely the star, but it will keep you going back for more time and again until it's all gone. Then you'll want another, just as I do now.
Island Gold (4.5%) is made using lager malt and hops, and is brewed as a lager alternative that's ideal for barbecues and summer parties, or so it says on the website. Pouring a honeyed golden amber and sporting a decent white head there wasn't much initial aroma, however I suspect I had served it a little too cold for as it warms slightly it develops a spicy, grassy, honey character akin to that of a Belgian Golden Ale. It fills the mouth with a zesty peppery carbonation full of honey and orange peel, and its dry as well, beautifully so with a crisp malt snap, and surprisingly different from the description that wasn't really giving much away. Expanding like a bubble, before bursting and fading the flavour lingers like a soapy echo, this really is astonishingly good. Two out of two so far for Mersea Island isn't bad at all, both very refreshing and refreshingly different with the last beer having the aroma take your breath away and this one filling the mouth with its golden goodness, it's time to find out what the third and final beer has in store.
The final beer of the trio, and the final beer of this part of the series promises a very different animal. Island Skippers (4.8%) is brewed with Fuggles hops and five different malts, so I'm expecting a very malt forward beer. The most traditional of the three, it is described as a Best Bitter, a once popular style but now often frowned upon as being stuck in the past. Sliding gracefully out of the bottle, this tawny coloured beer with ruby red highlights throws a creamy beige head and has a crisp, fresh aroma full of peppery salad leaves and raspberries with the faintest hint of liquorice. Like the beers before it, it fills the mouth with a dry bitter carbonation before the fruity, malty flavour slides in to take its place with some dabs of raspberry juice and damson. These are swallowed up by the dry bitterness that fades quickly, but leaves haunting echoes of chewy damson in its wake. This is another very drinkable beer, and in contrast to my initial thoughts it is remarkably similar in character to the other two, and I'm impressed that this brewery's beers have a similar feel to them, almost a terroir, but this makes much more sense when you consider that they are brewed in a vineyard by a family used to producing wine.
So ends the second part of my Essex beer journey, not quite as diverse as the first part but not far off. If I consider this particular selection as a whole then the words flavour and character spring immediately to mind. I hope that I've shown that Essex breweries have an awful lot more to offer than you might have thought, and I assure you there's plenty more to come.
I hope that you can find some of these beers, and urge you to try them if you ever come across them. I'd love to hear your thoughts of these, or indeed any beer from Essex, or in fact your opinion on the state of beer in Essex at the moment. You can leave a message in the comments section of this post, or find me on twitter at @1970sBoy Either way I'd be delighted to hear from you.