Sunday, 12 May 2019

Nothing says Brutal quite like an English IPA

If there’s one thing big brewers are good at, it’s spotting an opportunity in the market. This of course is why they almost all have subsidiaries producing and/or distributing craft-type beers. Sweden’s biggest brewer, Spendrups, is no exception: if you’ve tried the Pistonhead lagers that you’ll find now in most big UK supermarkets, you’ve already met its beer – or rather, the beer of its crafty offshoot, Brutal Brewing.

Sweden's best-selling IPA
Brutal has quite a few more beers on the Swedish market though, and has decided that the time is right to also bring some of those to the UK, with a big launch at Craft Beer Rising earlier this year. The flagship of its range is the appropriately-named A Ship Full of IPA – I’m told this is now “the best-selling IPA in Sweden” – and it is in my glass right now, courtesy of Brutal’s UK distributor Proof Drinks.

Also coming to the UK are the non-alcoholic version of Ship Full – as predicted last year, n/a beers are growing in popularity – plus three or four others. Some that I’ve bought and drunk in Sweden are not coming over though, for whatever reason.

So, what of the beers? Ship Full is a 5.8% IPA in the deep brown malty-toasty English mould, but brought up to date East Coast-style with a decent wodge of New World hops, including American Cascade and Amarillo, and Australian Galaxy. It’s dry-bitter with fruity notes over toasted toffee-malt sweetness, and is very drinkable, even if it’s not so very different from many other brown IPAs.

Also coming over is Hale to Nothing, a 4.5% English Pale Ale. This has light citrus notes reminiscent of lime or lemongrass, and it’s simple and quite light, drinking more like a lager than an ale. Then there’s 5.1% Cirrus Cloudy Lager, which again is drinkable and pleasantly aromatic, but a little dull on the palate, and 3.5% Session Pale Ale, which I’ve not yet tried.

The complete UK range
Incidentally, the Session Pale Ale is one of several 3.5% beers that Brutal sells in Sweden – 3.5% is the maximum that supermarkets there are allowed to sell. For anything stronger, you have to go to one of the state alcohol monopoly shops, Vinmonopolet, which have much more restricted opening hours. One other at 3.5% that I tried in Sweden was Brutal’s hoppy lager Sir-Taste-a-Lot, whose name would risk falling foul of Trades Descriptions laws here, as it doesn’t – although it does smell nicely hoppy.

So, what to make of Brutal Brewing? The beers are well-made and very approachable, as you’d expect given their pedigree. I wouldn’t seek them out, but I’d be quite happy to be offered Ship Full, Hale or Cirrus again (I still think their best though is Pistonhead Full Amber, which is a lovely interpretation of a Vienna amber lager).

Overall they are, as you’d probably also expect, safe bets and far from brutal. There’s nothing here to attract the aficionado, but equally there’s nothing to frighten the horses. This is 'crafty beer' – craft for the mainstream, with any real brutality smoothed off by the marketing people.

Sure, it’s bad for smaller brewers because it sets people’s price expectations at macro levels – the big brewers can always produce and sell more cheaply. But even craft beer fans may want to keep something decent yet safe in, whether for uncomplicated evenings or when there’s guests over. And of course for some drinkers, crafty beer might just be the gateway that opens the door to a world of wonderment. Here’s hoping.

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