Colonel Williams East India Pale Ale, from Brains Brewery, is reviewed by Craig Heap.
“…This isn’t an edge of citrus, or citrus juice, this is like chewing on lemon and grapefruit rinds. Sure, sounds aggressive, but it works…”
Colonel Williams East India Pale Ale
Brains Craft Brewery
Brains Brewery, the largest regional brewery in Wales, recently established a micro-brewery alongside their main brewery in Cardiff. Chris Hall makes several decent points on the recent trend of large corporate breweries opening up craft micro-breweries, with Carlsberg as a prime case study; however, I was very pleased to learn Brains had launched this venture. It seems like the whole damn world has gone craft crazy lately, but certainly in Brains’ back garden there are suddenly several contenders to deal with, including Otley, Tomos Watkins and the Celt Experience, as well as a growing number of small, local breweries such as Untapped and Artisan. So, for my money, it seems a necessary act of survival for Brains to seek to innovate and bring out new products.
How they differ from the crass, corporate culture of, say, Carlsberg, is the way they’ve come up with their recipes. They’ve launched on an IPA theme, and instead of assuming to know what people want to drink they’ve effectively gone direct to the people who matter – the beer drinker – by asking respected beer writers to have a go. The fifth beer in the new range from the Brains Craft Brewery, Colonel Williams, was created by Martyn Connell, author of the Zythophile blog:
“…my specs for Col Williams’ EIPA were designed to give a beer that would be somewhere in the right sort of area: almost entirely Maris Otter pale malt (not actually a 19th century type, but descended from 19th century British barleys), with just a touch of coloured malt to ensure the beer wasn’t too pale; Goldings hops (that, at least, is authentic, since we know Goldings were almost certainly used in India Pale Ales in the early 1840s), used for bitterness rather than aroma (19th century IPAs shipped to India would have probably lost much of the hop aroma they ever had on the way east); well-fermented, with little sweetness; and somewhere around 5.5 per cent to 6 per cent alcohol by volume.”
It took no small effort to source a pint or two of the Colonel Williams as the new craft range from Brains sells out fast. Thankfully, with a heads up from the brewery’s press team, I tracked it down. Regrettably, unless you presently live in Cardiff, you’re unlikely to encounter this any time soon; even so, with any luck, Brains will start to roll out their craft range in bottles.
Colonel Williams EIPA is dark amber in colour, arguably even copper, with low carbonation and a narrow but firm head which remains consistent to the end, thickly lacing the glass from start to finish. There’s not much on the nose, a slight boozy warmth and noticeable malt, but no hop profile. This, I hope, is down to Martyn Connell’s efforts to recreate an authentic IPA, “IPAs shipped to India would have probably lost much of the hop aroma they ever had on the way east”.
The body is initially light and sharp, before swelling to a muscular, creamy breadth. The hint of booze on the nose is there in the first few sips and then disappears for awhile. What primarily comes through is a citric note, but like nothing else I recall having before. This isn’t an edge of citrus, or citrus juice, this is like chewing on lemon and grapefruit rinds. Sure, sounds aggressive, but it works. There’s a dryness to it, though not the puckering, astringent kind. In fleeting moments I picked up a dry, floral taste. In the lingering finish I fancied I tasted green chillies, or something spicy along those lines.
The overall effect somewhat reminded me of a decent Gin and Tonic, heavy on the botanicals, light on the tonic and crammed full of lemon slices. It’s no wonder the pie-ologists at the Goat Major pub in Cardiff created a lamb madras pie to complement the launch of Colonel Williams; it isn’t overpowering but has enough bite to complement spicy flavours.
The bitterness gradually picked up toward the end of the pint, and the boozy note returned toward the last third. Also, the notion of gently chewing on a lemon rind increased, though again not in an unpleasant way.
Colonel Williams didn’t blow my socks off, but for a beer aimed at being historically authentic, and therefore without the modern advantage of North American or New Zealand hops, it exceeded all of my expectations and genuinely impressed me. This could easily, and probably should, become a Brains staple, rather than an occasional special.