Beer review – Harpoon part 1

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote about the contents of my first Beer 52 box. Several weeks on, I’ve yet to taste even one of those beers and the next box of ten beers is here already.

I never thought I’d say this, but…I have too much beer.

Very soon I’ll be merrily skipping off to volunteer at the Great British Beer Festival, so this weekend is a rare opportunity to start working on this whale of a beer-drinking task. And what better way to take on a whale than with a Harpoon?

Harpoon, Take 5

To start with, I’m cracking open Take 5: Harpoon’s session IPA.

This may be my last chance to snap beers on this windowsill, so I’m making the most of it

Immediately, I have to pause to consider the question: what exactly defines a beer as “session”?

In its broadest sense, I would argue, it has to be something you could happily drink all night: not just a couple of pints, but five or six (or seven, or…). That puts a cap in terms of alcoholic strength, sure, but how much? If you ask my dad, a session beer has to be below 4%. If you ask my friend Conor it’s somewhere between 4 and 5%, with sub-4% beers falling into the less appetising “bathwater” category. Though given what some people are paying for bathwater these days, that might be a compliment.

A session can’t just be defined by strength, however. No matter whether it weighs in at 3.6% or 4.4%, if your “session” IPA is brewed with watercress or something equally pungent, you’re not going to have a fun time drinking it all night.

Why the digression? It’s because in this instance, Harpoon has set their session beer at 4.3%. Fine for Conor, and just about within the realms of sanity for me, but there are others out there who’d call that too strong. Fortunately there’s no oddities from a flavour perspective, so Take 5 is safe on that front.

Take 5 is a beautiful amber in colour with a thick, white head that quickly fades to leave a delicate lacing on the beer’s surface. The aroma is light and refreshing: orange and melon predominate, with a hint of soap.

There’s more of that soapy alkalinity on the palate – perhaps this is what people mean when they say a beer tastes “clean”. There’s more orange, more melon, and now some pine coming through as the beer warms up in the mouth. A hint of hop bitterness arrives for the finish, but only a hint.

I find myself enjoying this beer a lot, finishing it entirely too quickly. If I were sticking to just one or two, I’d probably go for a beer with a little more flavour and body. But if I’m in for the long haul? Take 5 would be a good shout. 3/5

Harpoon, UFO Hefeweizen

Moving up a couple of notches in ABV we have this Hefeweizen. It takes a little hunting through the label and online, but I can confirm it’s another Harpoon offering.

I wonder why they’ve chosen not to make a bigger deal of Harpoon on the label, if they’re such a strong brand over in Boston?

A little lighter and cloudier than the Take 5, the Hefeweizen somehow sports less head, despite the added wheat content. The wheat isn’t shy on the nose, however, rising up with just a twist of lemon.

There’s a decent amount of bready malt on the palate, a bit like drinking Kingsmill, with more of that lemon zest sprinkled on the top. But with both the aroma and the flavour, I’m left wanting more. There’s not a huge amount going on here.

There’s a fine line between elegant simplicity and being basic and boring. Unfortunately, for me this UFO falls into the latter category. 1/5

Harpoon, IPA

At last, we can move onto Harpoon’s flagship: a “hoppy, floral, crisp” IPA.

We’ll soon see whether those adjectives on the can are appropriate or just wishful thinking

Regardless of where you sat on the session digression, this probably ain’t it. At just shy of 6% ABV, this is not a shy beer.

Harpoon’s flagship is a gorgeous, deep amber in colour. The aroma is floral, with notes of pear (perhaps pear blossom) and caramel. It starts sweet on the palate, followed by a spicy warmth and a hint of bitterness: that caramel transitioning into pine, then transforming again to a dry, bitter finish.

As a flagship, this was never going to be especially weird or experimental. What Harpoon has put forward is a solid, good-quality IPA that would have me coming back for seconds and thirds. Though I probably shouldn’t, as it’s not a session. 4/5

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