We’ve all heard of hops, but most of us have no idea what they are. They’re actually bright green, cone-shaped flowers which grow on the Humulus Lupulus plant. When added to beer different hops create different flavours and aromas. Most are grown in Germany, closely followed by the US and China. The UK is the eighth biggest producer.
Brewers usually use a blend of hops, but every so often they are so confident with a single hop that they want to showcase it. This is called single hopping. Danish brewery Mikkeller has set the benchmark for single hopping recently with a series of single hop IPAs.
The bitterness of beer is measured with the International Bittering Unit. The higher the number, the more bitter the beer is. For a gum-wrinkling bitter experience try Double Citra by London’s Kernel Brewery, which tips the IBU scales at a whopping 75 out of 100.
Double and Triple IPA
Most of us know that IPA stands for Indian Pale Ale, which is a bitter variety of beer with more fruit flavours than your local greengrocer. Double and triple IPAs are headier versions of a normal IPA – they usually have an alcoholic strength of between 7 percent and 12 percent, which is very strong for a pint of beer, so be careful. The pinnacle of the stronger IPAs is the rare Pliny the Elder, which is brewed by the Russian River Brewing Company in California and is as thick and lustrous as Alec Baldwin’s hair.
A lot of pubs offer nothing beyond Erdinger when it comes to cloudy Weiss beer (also known as wheat beer), but the Berliner Weisse is becoming fashionable among beer zealots and you will start to see it in pubs soon. It’s a bit like Champagne, in that it can only be called Berliner Weisse if it’s from the region, and it has a tart flavour. To look knowledgeable drink it with a shot of Woodruff syrup. Tastes like hedgerow – yum.
These are highly carbonated, slightly sour pale ales which were traditionally brewed during cooler months in Wallonia, a French-speaking region of Belgium, before being drunk by farm workers during the summer. The master of the class is Saison Du Pont by Brasserie Dupont, which has subtle flavours and lots of fizz. Those farm workers had good taste.
Forget Guinness. Instead adopt the drinking habits of Peter the Great, who requested dark beer be sent to him in Mother Russia from London. The capital’s breweries knew that getting it to him without it freezing would be tricky, so they simply increased the alcohol and hop content until it was approaching the consistency of tar. This super-strength stout has made a comeback recently and Durham Brewery has come up with its own example, Temptation, which is thick, syrupy and could be eaten with a spoon.
It’s time for a science lesson. When ultra-violet light shines on beer it creates chemical compounds identical to those found in skunks’ spray. This is not good. The problem is easily fixed by breweries avoiding clear glass bottles, but if you come across some don’t be afraid to tell the barman. They should offer you something different and less skunky.
Craft beer enthusiasts don’t have a good reputation, because they wear T-Shirts which say things like, ‘Does my belly look big in this?’ However, you can be enthusiastic about beer without becoming one of those people. The modern beer enthusiast can instead use the Untappd app to find local beers and pubs, write reviews and share experiences.
Savvy bars have great beer menus these days, but expensive ingredients, tiny production runs and import duties usually mean higher prices. To find something affordable use websites like Ratebeer to do some research first, but also remember this isn’t the time for necking pints – halves are completely respectable.
With more than a thousand breweries in the UK there are plenty of beers to choose from so keep your eyes open for the following: London’s Kernel, Brodies, Partizan and Beavertown; Yorkshire’s brilliant Summer Wine and Magic Rock; and the North East’s very own Anarchy Brew Co, Allendale and Tyne Bank. From across the Atlantic there are Left Hand, Sixpoint, Founders, Russian River and Oskar Blues. Yes, most of these sound like terrible punk band names, but trust us, they taste good.
Dr Phil’s Real Ale House
This mad little place just opened in Middlesbrough. It’s a shop unit that has been transformed into a real ale house by former civil servant Phil. Around 30 people can squeeze in and try the constantly changing selection of real ales, cider and perry. Roman Road, Middlesbrough
The Free Trade Inn
Sick of hearing about how great Ouseburn is? Then you’re not going to like the next sentence. Ouseburn is great. Go there and drink beer in the Free Trade Inn, an old-fashioned (rather than retro-fashioned) pub with loads of varieties and good views. St Lawrence Road, Newcastle
The Ivy House
There are stag horns and an open fire. You can imagine the rest. The pub was taken over by new management last year and is again being loved by beer drinkers due to its huge selection of drinks. It also serves really good food, which might annoy real ale loyalists. Worcester Terrace, Sunderland
The Head of Steam
The Head of Steam is a growing chain of pubs in the North East and the Durham version is hidden up a ginnel, so can be hard to find, but if you do get there it has a really interesting mix of beers (over 200 varieties in total) and good quality live music. North Road, Durham
This national chain has styled itself as a hipster hangout for modern beer lovers. They have well-informed staff and a nicely decorated historic building, but most importantly there is a gorgeous variety of beers. You’ll also see lots of tattoos here, but the friendly kind. Dean Street, Newcastle
This is a real real ale pub. It was built as cottages in the 1700s but is now an independently run pub, which has won several real ale and regional pub prizes. It has dozens of beers on offer and hosts rock nights. If you like that sort of thing. Mechanics Yard, Darlington