Thornbridge Raven Black IPA vs. Jon’s home-brewed “Troublemaker” Cascadian Dark Ale

20140122_191844Troublemaker on the left, Raven on the right.  Colour isn’t everything, though…

Then, methought, the aroma grew denser – perfumed by an unseen censer
enriched by sensuous malt and hop that knocked me to the tufted floor
“Raven!” I cried, “Thy God has lent thee and courtesy of Westholme Stores has sent thee”
“Respite; respite and nepenthe from memory of beers that bore!”
“Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget those beers of yore!”
Quoth the Raven “Evermore…”


…once he slows down from the 2,000 or so RPM that he must have achieved in his grave, I hope that Edgar Allen Poe can find it in what remains of his – by now dusty – heart to accept my sincere apologies.

I got to try Thornbridge Raven Black IPA last night – which was exciting, but as if that wasn’t exciting enough, I also ran it up against my own Troublemaker CDA just to see if my handiwork was anywhere near the mark:


Raven: Deepest garnet when help up to the light, and blackest black when not.  A fabulous creamy head

Troublemaker: Miraculously, bang-on for colour and head.  Promising…


Raven: An avalanche of dank hops teeter on the edge of a long drop into darkly enticing malts.  Perfectly balanced on the knife edge between hops and malt.  Revelatory.

Troublemaker: Hops nowhere near as prominent as Raven.  Dark malts win out by a country mile.  This is where the lack of things like a hop-back or hop-rocket show-up.  Needs way more hop aroma.

Taste and Mouth-feel

Raven: Resinous, dank and vivid hop flavours explode over a dark malt undercurrent.  A solid malt body with a nice 6.6% ABV contributes to a decent mouth-feel whilst a satisfying bitterness provides air-cover for further random attacks of hop flavour through the swallow.

Troublemaker: Some Cascade hoppiness vies with -and probably loses out to, if I’m honest- a roast malt background.  The hop flavour fades quite quickly to be replaced with that nice, but certainly not to style, dark malt.  A decent-enough bitterness prevails at the swallow and offers a few glimpses of the residual hoppiness.  At 5.3% I also think it’s a bit thin and needs an extra 1% heft.

Raven has definitely shown me what needs to change in the Troublemaker recipe: a ton more hops, a longer hop stand and way more dry-hopping.  It also needs more bitterness and a more alcohol.  But saying all of that, it’s eminently drinkable – although clearly not a Black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale.   Maybe I’ve invented a new style: Indian Dark Porter?

But, holy cow, black IPA is where it’s at; I’m liking it a lot and Raven is excellent and very much a beer that I’ll be returning to -and trying to brew myself- again and again.

Wild Raven:


Wychwood Brewery: Hobgoblin


Here’s another beer from another of my local breweries.  Wychwood are the folks we must thank for saving and reviving the old Brakspear brewery name and line of beers.  I’d buy Wychwood beer on the strength of that alone, so it’s something of a bonus that their own beers are very nice indeed too.

Hobgoblin is without doubt a very poular beer and appears to be available nationwide.  I’ve also heard from folks in Ohio, USA, that they get it from time-to-time…

Hobgoblin pours a very deep garnety-brown and is clear as a bell, albeit very dark in colour.  The carbonation is strong and healthy.

Aroma-wise it’s strongly malty with a touch of sulphury-mineral earthiness. I think it’s probably crystal malt that makes up the bulk of the aroma.

The taste is deeply malty, with a theme of red berry fruits and an excellent malt-sweetness.  Hobgoblin isn’t desperately bitter, but the lovely lingering fruitiness coupled with a dryish finish more than makes up for that.

The alcohol is just about detectable but doesn’t poke out – being content to simply bed down and contribute to the other flavours.

All-an-all a good solid mouthful of beer.  No wonder Hobgoblin sells so well.

(Argh!  Flash Attack!  Please stop putting so much flash on your site, Wychwood.  I was virtually convulsing after a minute of looking at it.  The above link should be minus the flash, I hope.)

Oxfordshire Ales: Marshmellow


You know how I’m always banging on about how brewers should make an effort to make their beers stand out a bit?  Well here’s a prime example of how Oxfordshire Ales have managed to do just that.

I’ve no idea whether this was a conscious effort, or whether it was just a serendipitous incident that occurred during a test batch – either way it’s resulted in a beer that’s just different enough to stand out from the crowd.

Marsh Mellow comes out of the bottle a wholesome russett-brown colour, looking every inch an autumnal sort of beer.  The head is thinnish and hangs about a bit, rather than just fizzling away.

The nose is decently malty, with some notes background notes of wood, there’s also the slightest bit of hop flavour too.

Now we get to the interesting part – the taste…which is sweetly malty and almost perfumed, but not a perfume that I normally associate with hops. The weird thing is that the taste does vaguely me of marshmallows, this being further enhanced by the odd, rounded softness in the mouth-feel.

If pushed to provide a theory I reckon it’s down to residual dextrins – brought about by a higher-than-normal mashing temperature, maybe combined with a “different” sort of yeast strain…and maybe even an elevated fermentation temperature or an open ferment.  I’ve no idea, really.  Intention or accident, it’s nothing if not distinct.

The finish is strongly malty with a satisfying dryness, a faint,residual sourish note and not a trace of that original perfumed type flavour, which reinforces (in my mind) the theory about dextrins, higher temperatures, etc.

Very different, very interesting. Try it see what you think.  Note also that Oxfordshire Ales are based in Marsh Gibbon (near Bicester) – so that at least partly explains the name…

Pete Brown’s Blog Post on Wassail Weekend

This post from Pete Brown goes to illustrate all that’s great about England and the weird old customs that we still cherish.  Marvellous stuff: