- minute forty four -

Movies, Craft Beer and Geek Stuff

In the minds of the uninitiated public, modern craft beer tends to be synonymous with lofty ABVs. I’m sure this is probably to do with all the press generated by beers like BrewDog’s Tokyo*, an 18.2% stout or even their End of History coming in at 55% (at one time the world’s strongest beer). While it’s true that the craft beer world features some really boozy delights, and indeed some of the best ones are 7% and up, there’s a lot to be said about low-ABV “session” ales that are becoming more and more popular. It seems like pretty much every craft brewery is now releasing at least one beer in the 3-5% range to fit this purpose.

As someone who enjoys a session I welcome these beers with open arms. Recently I went to an all day BBQ and took six bottles of BrewDog’s Dead Pony Club (3.8%) and drank them over the course of about 7 hours and at the end of the evening I was still sharp as a tack. I thought this was great, especially when I compared it to a night in one of BrewDog’s bars I had recently where my session went something like Magic Rock Cannonball (7.4%), Stone Ruination (8.2%), Evil Twin Yang (10%), Clown Shoes Galactica (8%) and BrewDog Jack Hammer (7.2%). While I enjoyed all those beers, and the night out, I could barely stand up straight and I felt like I’d been hit by a train the next day. Now I’m over 30, hangovers are fucking brutal. Session ales to the rescue.

Session ale

It’s not as easy as making a beer with a low ABV, though. Typically a low ABV means use of less malt which means less sugar for the yeast to convert into alcohol. A trade off in this respect is a loss of flavour and loss of body. It’s all well and good having a session on beers that won’t get you black-out drunk but if they taste like crap then you’re gonna have a bad time. So you think, okay, hops! Add loads of hops and you’ll make up for the lack of flavour, and a lot of breweries are doing this and doing it well. BrewDog’s Dead Pony Club strikes a great balance in this regard giving you buckets of punchy citrus hop character without blotting out everything else. They’ve cleverly used darker malts than you’d find on a regular pale ale to get more bang for your buck in the malt flavour department as well. Hopping the shit out of the beer is a tricky thing though and it can be done wrong. Flying Dog’s Easy IPA (4.7%) is an example of this. That beer has almost no malt character and blows your face off with super-dry hop flavour that leaves your mouth feeling like a bucket of sand after two bottles. While I’ve not tried it, I’ve heard on good authority that Stone’s Go-To IPA (4.7%) suffers this same fate.

Something that all session ales suffer with, though is a lack of body. Higher alcohol gives the beer a presence and a mouthfeel that you just don’t find in session ales. They tend to be thin and the flavours don’t linger on the palette like you’d hope. There is probably something to be said about adding things to the beer to try to eliminate this. The addition of fruit or even oats to give a creaminess would probably help but for purists like me that kind of thing probably won’t go over all too well. It’s pretty much something that goes with the territory.

So all in all, I love the idea of session ales but I haven’t tried all that many that blow me away. As the trend develops and breweries try new things I’m excited to see how that changes. I’ll leave you with my top three best session ales so you can at least have the best of what is available.


3. Stone Levitation (4.4%) – Deliciously fruity amber ale that has a nice acidity which is reminiscent of Cherry Coke.

2. Founders All Day IPA (4.7%) – No nonsense American IPA flavour profile with a refreshing bitterness and brisk carbonation.

1. BrewDog Dead Pony Club (3.8%) – Grapefruit hop bomb with an uncompromising west coast bitterness.


So yeah, go out and have a session on these beers and have your hop craving satisfied without the next day (or in my case two days) being ruined by a crippling hangover.


Brewery: Buxton Brewery
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
ABV: 13.6%
Serving: 330ml Bottle

After trying a Buxton beer for the first time just this year (High Tor India Red Ale, in case you’re interested), they have rocketed up in my estimations and have become a contender for my favourite brewery of all. Head Brewer Colin Stronge is a hop-wrangler of the highest order and is churning out great beers with uncompromising, aggressive flavour and unrivaled quality. This time I’m drinking a bottle of Double Axe, which is a double version of their insanely good Axe Edge IPA. When I say double, I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. There is double the malt, double the hops and, craziest of all, double the ABV. This beer weighs in at a colossal 13.6% ABV, easily the strongest double IPA I’ve ever had and only 0.4% weaker than the mighty Anarchist Alchemist TIPA by BrewDog. There’s nothing about this beer that I didn’t like the sound of. As soon as they hit the online shop, I pulled the trigger.

The beer pours slightly darker than Axe Edge with a slightly hazy glowing copper colour. It looks just like you’d want a DIPA to look and just begs for you to dive right in. There was half a finger of white head which vanished almost instantly because of the high ABV. Carbonation was mid to low, again because of the high ABV this was always going to take a hit.

Double Axe

The aroma is sweet juicy tinned fruit like mandarins, peaches and pears. There’s a very ripe grapefruit note there as well. There is also some subtle pine, candied peel and dried apricot. It smells about as good as any double IPA I’ve had. The real surprise on the nose was the lack of much alcohol. It was nearly undetectable among all those sweet citrus and stone fruit notes. At most, it smelled like a 5-6% beer. You can definitely tell this is Axe Edge’s big brother. It has everything that beer has but just… riper. Like two oranges from the same tree but two weeks apart.

Flavour is again dominated by syrupy sweet tinned citrus fruits. I also picked up a very slight medicinal licorice note that wasn’t really bad but not really my cup of tea. The malt backbone is immense here. you get rich, sweet digestive biscuit and sweet pretzel. You really taste all that extra malt. The one disappointing thing in the flavour was the lack of anything sharp to fight against that sweetness leaving the over all flavour ever so slightly dull on the palette. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t as sweet as Williams Double Joker but it’s along those lines. For that reason, I think that Buxton’s Wyoming Sheep Ranch still holds the crown as the UK’s best double IPA in my opinion. As well as all that fruit, you do taste that alcohol on the palette. It’s not a shit load, though, no more than a really good red wine.

The body and mouthfeel are massive! The beer is almost viscous because of all that malt. It coats your mouth like a great single malt whiskey would and leaves a really nice citrus peel bitterness in the finish. All in all, a fantastic DIPA with all the great characteristics of Axe Edge but cranked up to 11 but falling just short of the amazing Wyoming Sheep Ranch.

Verdict: 4.5/5

Brewery: Flying Dog (USA)
Style: Session IPA
ABV: 4.7%
Serving: 355ml Bottle

I’m a big fan of Flying Dog, more so than a lot of other beer writers are. I’ve had Snake Dog IPA, Underdog lager, Raging Bitch Belgian IPA, Doggie Style Pale Ale and even their Oyster Stout, Pearl Necklace and I have to say, for me, there isn’t a bad one in that selection. So when I saw that they released a session IPA, I was pretty excited to see what they did with the style. Found this in my local bottle shop and really well priced so I grabbed one.


Brewery: Williams Brothers (Scotland)
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
ABV: 8.3%
Serving: 330ml Bottle

Williams Bros. brewery is a name which you may have come across in supermarkets in recent years with their March of the Penguins stout and IPA/Lager Hybrid Caesar Augustus. This is just the tip of the iceberg. A visit to their website reveals the true size of their range and also some of the really inventive things they’re doing with their beer. I picked up a bottle of their Scottish Style Double IPA, Double Joker on a trip to my local bottle shop. I’ve tasted this before, on keg at a BrewDog bar and remember really enjoying it so I couldn’t not review a bottle.


Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.
Style: Amber Ale
ABV: 4.4%
Serving: 355ml Bottle

I’m pretty stoked that we are starting to see availability of a lot more Stone beers in the UK. Bottle shops now regularly stock a pretty healthy range and BrewDog even managed to get a shipment of their ridiculously fresh Enjoy BY 08.16.14 to sell in their bars. Up until now, my only experience of the brewery has been of their sensational IPAs (Stone IPA, Ruination and the Enjoy By) so on a recent trip to my local bottle shop, Hopology, I picked up a couple of their other styles to try out. First up, their session amber ale; Levitation.


Brewery: Stone Brewing Co. (USA) / Magic Rock Brewing (England) / BrewDog (Scotland)
Style: Saison – Pale Ale Hybrid
ABV: 5%
Serving: Pint – Keg

I’ve had some fantastic collab beers during the course of my craft beer journey so far. I’ve also had some rubbish ones. More often than not though, I find them to be simply mediocre. Often these mediocre brews are simply two beers from different breweries mixed together and, more often than not they aren’t as good as either of the component beers on their own. Prefect example is the BrewDog/Mikkeller collab I Hardcore You which is a mixture of BrewDog’s Hardcore IPA and Mikkeller’s I Beat yoU. Both of those beers are better on their own. When breweries come together and brew something unique, however, that’s when things get interesting. One of the best beers I’ve ever had is the BrewDog/8Wired collab DogWired which is a hoppy imperial pilsner that just rocked! When I heard about Magic Stone Dog; a menage a trois of awesome between three of my all time favourite breweries, I had to get some of that action so on Saturday I stopped in my local BrewDog bar and had a pint.


I should start this by saying I don’t normally review restaurants. In fact, this will be my first attempt so sorry if it’s not great, I’m just trying something new. Since opening a few weeks back, there have been mixed reviews of Derby’s new gourmet burger restaurant The Forge. Opened by seasoned (pun intended) restaurateur Brad Worley, The Forge promises great artisan burgers made from locally sourced, top quality ingredients served in a non-formal, relaxed atmosphere. Well that sounded just my cup of tea so I had to check it out.


Brewery: 8 Wired
Style: American IPA
ABV: 7.3%
Serving: 500ml Bottle

I got myself a little bit of something special to drink on International IPA Day in the form of a bottle of revered New Zealand brewery 8Wired’s Hopwired IPA. I’ve only ever had one 8Wired beer before – mainly because they can be pretty expensive due to having to be shipped half way around the world – which was their India Red Ale, Tall Poppy. That was a phenomenal red ale, possibly the best I’ve ever had, so needless to say I was psyched to try Hopwired.


Brewery: Stone
Style: Imperial/Double IPA
ABV: 9.4%
Serving: 650ml Bottle

A few times a year legendary California brewery Stone produce a beer with one specific purpose; to make it into peoples’ hands and into their glasses in as brief a window as possible. They take this so seriously that, as well as only giving the beer a 35 day shelf life, they emblazoned this shelf life on the label in the form of the beer’s name “Enjoy By..”


Brewery: Mikkeller
Style: Imperial/Double IPA
ABV: 8.9%
Serving: 330ml Bottle

I bought this bottle at my local BrewDog bar after having the outstanding Nelson Sauvin version of it. I also recently discovered how good a single hop Simcoe beer can bee when I tried the Kernel Simcoe IPA a few weeks back. With both of those things in mind, I had high hopes for this beer. Not only that, I’ve held Mikkeller in very high regard ever since first trying their I Beat yoU imerial IPA last year.