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Sunday, 7 August 2011

St Austell Tasting

In a week of many beers, Fuggles took a night off from GBBF (just the one, mind you) and headed over to the Real Ale Shop in Twickenham.  Busman's holiday?  Well, yes, but when you like buses...  What could possibly tempt me away from Earl's Court in a week like this, you might wonder.  Well, Zeph and the crew were playing host to none other than Roger Ryman, head brewer of St Austell, for a tutored tasting, and the launch of the beer brewed in collaboration by St Austell, and the Rake in Borough.  Nuff said.

We started off with Trelawny Bitter, a session beer packed full of fruity flavour from the complex mix of 3 hops and 3 malts.  Roger then explained the importance of his relationship with the farmers who grow his barley and proudly boasted that Cornwall had some of the best barley in the country this year.  This is a theme I am hearing more and more these days.  With the growing demand of the bioethanol market and pressure on farmers to increase the yield from their fields, they need a reason to grow brewers barley.  Being able to drink a pint of Tribute and say "I grew that Barley" is not a bad one.

We then moved on to Proper Job IPA and Roger enlightened us as to the origin of the name.  Inspired by the IPAs of Portland, Oregon, Roger returned to Cornwall determined to brew a similarly strident and punchy beer.  As all westcountry folk know, a job well done is a "proper job".  Devoid of a name, the 2 barrel brew was simply labelled "proper job" IPA.  And it stuck.

Roger then talked us through one of his special brews - a Bock style lager, made with well roasted malts this lager is amber and sweet, and packs alot of flavour.  Then it was time to try the collaboration brew - Big Smoke.  A mild porter with a beautiful smoky nose and fruity palette.  But they had still saved the best til last.

Smugglers Grand Cru is a Barley wine aged in oak whisky barrels for 9 months.  The unfilitered beer is then bottled in Champagne bottles, topped up with some yeast from Camel Valley vineyards down the road.  (Incidentally, if you've never tried Camel Valley's sparkling Pinot Noir, you really should.  It beats Champagne any day).  The result is a deep and complex beer.  The aroma is fruity, with a touch of sourness (think lambic), the palette is rich, spicy and tart with a hint of the whisky coming through.

It is incredible the transformation that St Austell has undergone under Roger's care.  He has taken it from a 15,000 barrel brewery in 1999 to 70,000 barrels today.  He's not afraid to experiment with unusual styles or push the boundaries.  Every beer you try from there (even Tribute) started life in his 2 barrel microbrewery, and I'm confident we can expect many more where they came from.