Never judge a beer by its label. Or at least, never judge a beer by only looking at the front of the label and not the description on the reverse. I’m claiming my mistake was an easy one to make: New Bristol Brewery’s ‘India’ features a picture of an ape in a spacesuit (no clues to beer style from that visual treat); the name ‘India’ (leading me to assume it would be an India Pale Ale); and the tagline ‘World Series Pale – 6.5%’ (reinforcing my IPA assumption).
I’ll admit it didn’t explicitly say India Pale Ale, but I poured it into my thick, glass tumbler (a favourite for IPAs) and its light, rusty and slightly cloudy colouring had me salivating with expectation for a strong, bitter brew with some intense hop flavours.
The first moment I began to think ‘something ain’t right’ was when the aroma sauntered up my nostrils, announcing to my olfactory senses that ‘I’m new round here’. And the first taste had me immediately spinning to the reverse of the bottle for an explanation of the nothing-like-an-IPA flavour.
My ignorant senses were thinking the beer contained something fragrantly spicy, maybe ginger, hopped with something lemony and a touch of herby bitterness, underpinned with a bit of malty sweetness. In fact, what I’ve been tasting is nothing of the kind: according to the brewery’s description ‘a malt bill of Munich and Caramalt gives this beer the malty backbone it requires to play off the crisp notes from the cardamom and coriander’. Coriander is a fairly well used ingredient in brewing, particularly for Belgian wheat beers, lending some crisp, lemony spice notes to beers. We use it quite a lot in home brewing. Cardamom is less common, but we did feature a beer that celebrates it in a light ale designed to accompany curries. This is now the second cardamom spice beer I’ve tried and, for me, it has a 100% success rate so far. It’s a fragrant spice, probably responsible for that gingery mis-diagnosis, and suits the slightly sweet feel of this beer.
As for that sweetness, it apparently comes from ‘generous quantities of Indian Jaggery sugar, made from the flowers of the palm.’ They’ve lost me there but, hey, it works. It’s evident that many of the flavour characteristics come from these less obvious ingredients, rather than a combination of trendy hops or any funky yeasts, and it’s great that the resulting booze is such a surprising pleasure to drink. But, above all it is still, most definitely, beer.
‘India’ is quite obviously a reference to the country of inspiration, and nothing to do with Indian Pale Ales, so now I’m intrigued to find out what the rest of the ‘world series’ offers. I still don’t know why the label features an ape in a spacesuit but I guess, like the beer, it’s unusual, unexpected, and I like it.
Brewery: New Bristol Brewery, Bristol
Beer name: India
Hops used: Perle