Friday, 7 May 2010

Naturally Selected

As a Geordie I am naturally inclined to hate anything with any relation to Sunderland. But I have to say it, Sunderland has a couple of good breweries, the main one being the Darwin brewery. But sadly I can't say we see much of Darwin's beers in Northumberland. But they spring up here and there to Tyneside pubgoers.

Now many people outside of the brewing industry are probably unfamiliar with the importance of this particular brewer and its sister company Brewlab ltd. Brewlab provide laboratory analysis, and research to the craft brewers of the North East. Acting almost like a guardian angel to the little guys who can't afford an in house laboratory, helping problem solve anomalies like infections or finding out a brewers hop isomerization efficiency. This means the brewer can know how much hop to use to achieve a desired bitterness. Further Brewlab provide training courses up to diploma level for those wishing to enter the brewing industry. In fact numerous brewers across the nation started their journey at Brewlab. And my impressions are that Darwin are not afraid to bring out the creations of Brewlab students as specials. In fact I remember a particularly fascinating smoked wheat beer available at last year's Leyburn beer festival, and the story goes that Darwin's famous Rolling Hitch IPA was developed by a student.

The former brewer (yes I have his autograph) and Brewlab mastermind is Dr Keith Thomas who is also a lecturer in microbiology at the University of Sunderland. At the recent Leyburn festival I managed to catch up with Keith and pick up some bottles of Darwin beer and a glass. The bottles obtained, Original Flag Porter and Imperial Ale appear to be historical recreations of 1800s style beers. Those familiar with the Meantime brewery beer range and some examples from Dogfish Head in the States will know this kind of thing has been done before so it was interesting to get Darwin's take on historic beers.

Original Flag Porter 5.5%.

According to the bottle this beer is a recreation of a traditional 1850s style porter using yeast recovered from an 1825 shipwreck in the English channel. The beer itself pours deep brown, almost black with mahogany hue. From the glass we get aromas of woody blackcurrant, almond, winter fruit and dark chocolate. The palate is then medium to light in body with a slight slick oily texture, not as weighty as other historical Porter recreations I have tried. Then you get plenty of matured fruit and creamy plain chocolate over a slight (but not unpleasant) sour note. Burnt grain and blackcurrant notes then came back in the finish.

For some reason I felt something rather raw and authentic about this porter. It's pleasant enough, but out of all the historical recreations of porter I have had this seems to possess a kind of mysterious authenticity, like you can close your eyes and imagine your back in the 1800s quaffing this from a pewter tankard. But whether or not this does taste like an 1850s porter, we will probably never know. But I suppose that's all part of the mystery and magic or recreating old beers.

Imperial Ale 7.2%.

The picture of the tall ship on the front of bottle hints at a reference to the history of India pale ale. Brewed to a 1890 Northern recipe with a Yorkshire yeast. But to be honest this took me by surprise. From the description I was expecting something earthy and raw, a hardcore traditional British beer. Pours a hazy deep orangey bronze with distinct yeasty marmalade and peach like ester notes to the aroma with a touch of phenol. This one is relatively full bodied with a rounded creamy, yeasty, bready texture with a dominant apricot and tangerine like sweetness and a touch of caramelised malt. This finish remains a little rich but noticeably still sweet in nature with a slight warming brandy-like note. Hops don't seem to play much of a role here. Tasted blind this could almost be mistaken for some kind eccentric Belgian creation. An interesting and flavourful drinking experience though.


Ed said...

They sound excellent Rob.

Barm said...

Pitfield used to brew Flag Porter, didn't they? What's the connection?

Leigh said...

Rob - firstly, thanks for dropping by and love the blog - been a fan of Blonde for ages...secondly, I loooove Flag Porter. Really, I do. Lush. From what I read, it was brewed by Darwin at one point - didn't they resurrect it? Happy to be put straight if not!!

Rob said...

OK. From the history books it is apparent that Dr Keith formulated the beer and resurrected it with the help of Whitbread. It was first brewed at a London based micro before Elgood’s of Wisbeck took it on. After that Darwin brewed it. What I assume is that Keith’s research and development of the beer took place before he was involved in Darwin.

Cheers for the complements Leigh your blog is good too. If I ever decide to get the confidence to cook a proper meal without letting my wife do it I shall be looking at those posts of yours.

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