Arctic Gates is an IPA brewed with “cryo hops”, which add aroma and bitterness with no grassy, vegetal notes. No Sleep Til Bruges combines Ardennes yeast with American hops for a punchy, funky IPA with bubblegum and grapefruit flavours.
Another year, another lockdown. While before we could have had at least the prospect of a staycation, now we face the prospect of another three months at home, save for a weekly outing to the front doorstep to clap for the NHS.
As the world around me shrinks, I’ve had to fight to keep my beer horizons broad. Yes, Sainsbury’s has four-packs of Tanglefoot for £5. But when you’re not catering for a crowd, it’s worth spending a little more time and money to seek out something a little different. That doesn’t mean straying too far geographically: certainly not this week, anyway. For this week I have two exotic and exciting bottles from the Bristol Beer Factory to try.
To many, Equanot Azacca cryo hop IPA sounds more like something you’d hear a background character muttering on Star Trek than a beer.
It gets only slightly easier when you break it down. Equanot (or Ekuanot, as it’s officially known due to various trademark disputes) and Azacca are the hops BBF has used: Equanot for its bright citrus, berry aroma and Azacca for it’s refreshing, fruity, mango notes.
But what on earth are cryo hops?
The hops we use to flavour beer are actually the flowers of the hop plant. By using the whole thing, you get a mix of all the constituent parts of that flower: the lupulin, which contains aromatic and bittering alpha acids, and the bract, which holds more of the grassy, vegetal flavours. Flash-freezing hop flowers makes it easier to separate hop flowers into these constituent parts. That means lager brewers can pick out hop pellets with very little bitterness. And every other brewer under the sun can fight for the concentrated aroma and flavour in the lupulin pellets.
In theory, that means you can brew aromatic, bitter IPAs without the risk of vegetal off-flavours or having to compensate with buckets of flaked oats, as we find in most NEIPAs. I’m certain the cryo process cannot be cheap (lots of competition for liquid nitrogen from the Pfizer vaccine right now), but the results will definitely be interesting.
Arctic Gates is pale amber and ever so slightly cloudy. One might reasonably confuse it for a cloudy cider were it not for its bright, white head, though the resemblance to Old Rosie intensifies as the head fades over the course of a few minutes. The aroma, however, is unmistakably something else: there’s the barest hint of apples, yes, but also lemon zest, mango, and papaya.
The palate on this beer is more notable for what’s missing, rather than what’s there. The papaya and mango flavours remain, underlined by a solid biscuit malt sweetness. But there’s none of the bitterness or astringency you might normally expect to encounter in such a hoppy beer. Instead, the mouthfeel is smooth and light. It offers the burst of flavour you’d expect from a NEIPA without the chewy, pillowy consistency.
Arctic Gates is an extremely interesting beer, worth seeking out for its light and fruity flavour. Even if that’s not your cup of tea, you should give it a try just to experience what impact cryo hops can have.
No Sleep Til Bruges
To be sung (yelled) to the cadence of The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”:
We have Ardennes yeast with American hops
Bringing passion fruit notes and bubblegum pops
The label promises a tasty treat
But not for coeliacs because it’s made with wheat.
Dark amber in colour with a loose white head,
On the nose at first I’m picking up bread.
Strawberry, grapefruit, ginger funk,
You’d better be ready for some Belgian ale, punk.
Esters and bready malt on the tongue
With a boozy warmth to keep you going all night long.
The finish is bitter and the mouthfeel slick
Be prepared to guzzle this beer down quick.
You can get it in bottles as we can’t go to bars;
A fun novelty. Three out of five stars.