Spring is here! It's that weird time of the year when it's almost okay to wear sunglasses unironically, and the weather's not quite bad enough to make suicide a viable breakfast option any more, but there's still a few more weeks before the local meatheads are walking to the social club shirtless with creatine-drowned abandon.
It's a good time of the year to look at Newcastle Summer Ale and Newcastle Winter IPA, as we find ourselves just leaving one season and hoping that the other comes really, really early because we have a great gas barbecue we want to fire up.
Newcastle Winter IPA
With the crack of the cap the smoked-spice scent of this not-especially-strong IPA nevertheless fills the air around the bottle and glass quickly and with gusto. It pours a leathery red-brown, pleasantly ruddy, with a head measured in the scant millimetres.
At the first mouthful the absence of any more than the faintest, most skeletal carbonation is evident, and the first taste seems to leave a little to be desired after the explosive opening salvo of warmth and spice. When you stick those three magic letters on a beer's label it does set the drinker up for expectations of a hailstorm of alcholic bluster and spicy exoticism and Winter IPA delivers neither.
What comes in its place is a more subdued taste, as if a muted, spicy palette of IPA tastes has been wrapped in a thin but still smothering layer of caramel. It's not a bad thing, just a surprise.
The taste is pleasantly bitter and there's a dessicating catch at the back of the throat to the end of every third or fourth mouthful, making for one of those lethal drinks that are as thirst-making as they are thirst-slaking.
Instead of the explosion in a spice house (and a subsequent avalanche of flowers and oranges) that the imposing letters "IPA" promises this beer delivers a warm, cloying taste more suggestive of a European campfire than a Bengal Lancer campground.
However, after more than half of the glass is empty the spicy taste marshals itself for a resurgence! Winter IPA turns it around in the dying minutes of the game (Newcastle United won today so a football reference was inevitable, and I apologise for nothing) as if the spicy, orange peely notes (while still a little muted) are brought on from the subs bench.
With barely a finger of ale remaining at the bottom of the tulip glass (that my Last Will and Testament dictates is buried with me) the powerful aroma gets a secomd wind, filling the empty space in the glass, and the final mouthful sizzles on the tongue and senses.
Newcastle Summer Ale
Despite its "golden ale" claims Newcastle Summer Ale pours darker, a dirty bronze more than a gold. The first blow landed by this summer cooler is a jagged, sharp citric scent heavy on the lemon zest and the first taste is a refreshing tang.
The jokey text on the back label that references the beach at Whitley Bay and how generally hard Geordies are with regards to the cold could lead the drinker to expect a super clean, very simple beach beer but if you kick down the sandcastles and steal the deckchair from the label this beer is shown up for its more complex, countrified nature.
Earthy and woodsy tastes and scents feature heavily through this bitter ale, which has carbonation a little more robust than its winter counterpart. The aftertaste fills out with floral notes and a tiny hint of perhaps moss or tree bark is detectable, but in general fails to linger.
The wisp of a scent of white grapes is also there, easy enough to pin down but lasting precious little seconds on the senses before disappearing. It's a whimsical and fey little taste, pleasing to encounter but infuriating that it keeps darting off so quickly.
Above all there seems to be a warm summer wind of lemons, their peel and their zest blowing through this particular wood (because I've given up on the whole Whitley Bay beach thing now, this is a beer for Northumbrian forests during daytime, and its winter brother one for the campfires at night as the ghosts begin to circle) and the feints of grape scent from unexpected angles are a delightful counter to this lemony bluster.
The final gulp (and this was a beer that urged this reporter to heartily glug the last mouthful, and seek out a second bottle) unloads the whole proverbial apple cart, knocking out all of the flavours experienced in the journey from head to stem in one lovely cacophony.
These two Newcastle seasonals are nice bits of work, despite the IPA being not as India Pale Aley as expected, and worthy of much better local distribution than they receive, as Newcastle limited editions are notoriously hard to find in the Newcastle area!