Monday, 4 August 2014

Tommy IPA

Head in a Hat Brewery


Thomas Atkins was the placeholder name used in British Army manuals when, on this day a century ago, an Australian coastal artillery battery fired the opening shot of the British Empire’s involvement in the First World War. Four years later the Atkins boys were dead in their thousands and the world was changed utterly.

Naming a beer for them is the least we can do.

Tommy IPA pours out of the bottle surprisingly watery and clear but quickly fills the glass with dusty gold, like an endless desert that somehow ruined the laws of physics by turning into a liquid. A thin white line of bubbles maintains rigid discipline. The first scent is an earthy, humid aroma; rich farmland and the darkness of well-stocked barns, and the first mouthful is dry and well-hopped and cuttingly parching.

There are strong notes of white grape, and this IPA (brewed to a 1914 vintage recipe) is certainly not the rich multifruit onslaught of, for example, Sixpoint’s Bengali Tiger. It’s a simpler, more concise taste, and quite disconnected from the “explosion at a fruit shop” nose. The taste of what the label promises as “lots and lots of hops” is obviously foremost in this formation. Tommy IPA is heavy with hops and incredibly refreshing, with a dry tang in the aftertaste almost like fried orange peel.

The texture of the taste isn’t as burly as some IPAs, comparatively watery next to some of the more gonzo double IPAs on the market, but satisfying all the same. The label text underlines the brewer’s intention to show that not all IPAs were very strong, and this beer certainly doesn’t bring with it the head-incinerating alcoholic warmth of BrewDog’s Hardcore IPA. It does taste a little stronger than its 4.2% volume, however.

By the time the beer has almost gone the glass is filled with a rich scent that matures as the glass drains, a smell that exists in a strange twilight between ripe and tarnished. The taste smooths out, losing some of its dryness, in the dying seconds of the beer’s life, and unsublty yells at the drinker that it woud be a very good idea to session it for the rest of the night.

A lingering aftertaste of orange pith remains on the senses for quite a while, with a dessicating layer of thirst lying across the tongue. It’s a tough beer to just have the one of, and is delectable with jerk chicken or a chicken Madras. The key word in its matching notes here is "chicken". You can't really go wrong.

British soldiers in WWI were rationed a bottle of stout, a bottle of porter or a tot of rum a day; IPA was off the menu and  it would have been a hard time to be a Craft Wanker. It is, however, easy to imagine young men fortifying themselves with a pint of IPA made to this recipe before boarding the “special train for Atkins”, knowing that they may not make the return journey. Easy and a little harrowing.

This is the end of my review of Tommy IPA. It's fine if you want to stop reading now, because I know that this is a beer blog, not a history website. What follows is the roll of honour from my home town's war memorial. These are Cramlington's finest, and they joined service personnel from pretty much every village, town and city in the Commonwealth and beyond in making the world a different place over four years of bloodshed and hardship, turmoil and tragedy.

Please join me in raising a glass to every man, woman, child and animal caught up in the War To End All Wars.

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