Having ended up at Bath Ales’ Chophouse one evening while visiting a friend in Bristol (and enjoying some fine, if slightly over-chilled, draft Gem), I’ve been looking forward to exploring the entire ranger of beers that are on offer from this brewery – especially when I realised that they’d been founded by people from the now sadly departed Smiles Brewery.
Their brewery tours sound wonderful fun, but they sadly only run mid-week so I’m unlikely to make it down there any time soon; fortunately, they sell their bottled products directly from their website so I was able to do the next best thing and bring the brewery to me.
They actually have some pretty good box offers (including a mixed case with four different beers) but what they lack is a mixed case covering their entire range. Personally, I think they’re missing an opportunity here – I’m sure I can’t be the only one who likes to be able to get a full picture of what a brewery does, and a “sampler” box would be perfect for this. Luckily, their twitter account (@BathAles) is wonderfully responsive and within minutes of me bemoaning this lack they were pointing out that they sell four-bottle ‘Variety Packs’ and are happy to put in whichever bottles you require. One quick web order later, I was the proud owner of everything they make in bottles!
Bath Ales sadly don’t bottle condition their beers; to their credit, they manage to do a pretty decent job of producing a good product nonetheless, with the over-fizziness that tends to come from the lack of bottle conditioning fairly well controlled. Upon asking, I’m told that they prefer this approach because it gives them “greater control, less chance of corruption/spoiling and more satisfied customers” – I can certainly understand the thinking, even if I disagree!
I’ve split this tasting into light and dark, so we’ll start with the lighter end of their range.
First up is Wild Hare, a 5.0% golden organic pale ale lives up to it’s tagline - golden in colour, a thin but lingering head and quite a fizzy-drink style stream of rising bubbles. Light, sweet malt on the nose, and a faint hint of hops too. In the mouth, that fizziness makes a slightly unwelcome appearance but the malt is clearly present, a dry hoppy bitterness that balances it nicely and just a hint of citrus lime. Aside from the fizz it’s a very easy drinking pale ale, tasty and refreshing and certified organic into the bargain!
Next up is Ginger Hare, a 3.9% ale which claims to be “satisfyingly spicy”. Well, I’m very fussy about my ginger beers (as regular readers will know) so let’s see! A darker gold than the Wild Hare, a very similar thin head but less obvious fizzy streamers. The nose certainly lives up to the promise on the bottle, with strong, spicy ginger overwhelming pretty much everything else. In the mouth, the ginger is much less pronounced but it’s still there, along with a good hoppy bitterness and the fizz is gentler. I think that it would be better with a little more malty sweetness; it’s not great but it’s a lot better than some ginger beers I’ve tried.
Golden Hare is next, a 4.4% full flavoured light ale. Another golden ale with a thin head, with an intriguing rich malty nose. That malt remains on tasting; I have to give Bath Ales credit, it is a much fuller flavoured ale than the colour suggests. There’s a distinct bitterness to it, but not much in the way of other hop flavours. Interesting but not quite spot on.
Finally for the lighter side, Gem. At 4.8%, perhaps Bath Ales’ best known beer and their proper session pint. Deeper amber in colour, with a rich almost toffee nose. Malt not so pronounced on tasting, but with some other interesting flavours in there – still quite dry, but sweeter than the previous beers and some earthy notes. Tasty and drinkable, if not remarkable from the bottle – while I haven’t tried them side by side I have much fonder memories of it in draft form.
On then, to the darker side with Dark Hare, a 4.0% “deliciously wholesome” stout. Pouring with a very fleeting brown head, I’m left with something that looks worryingly more like a coke than a beer – deep dark brown, with fizzy-drink bubbles streaming up the sides of the glass. It does, however, smell much better with sweet, dark malt and almost chocolaty notes. On tasting, the flavour is more one of gently roasted malt; the sweetness much less obvious and a very nice, subtle but lingering bitterness throughout. It has a rather light body for a stout, but it’s certainly delicious and to be honest, that lighter body – along with the understated sweetness – makes it go down very easily. A fine beer!
Next up, Barnstormer, a dark bitter at 4.5%. A good, deep brown colour, not as ‘cokey’ looking as the Dark Hare and the head lingers a little longer. Smells of chocolate and roasting coffee, with deep dark malt flavours coming through wonderfully in the mouth. Bigger bodied than the Dark Hare – although still relatively light – with a hoppy, slightly citrus bitterness towards the end. It really benefits from sitting the glass for a while, to allow the excess fizz die down; straight out of the bottle the fizz masks the flavours somewhat.
Finally, Festivity, Bath Ales' Christmas Porter at 5.0%. I feel slightly guilty including this one because it’s only available at Christmas – but you’ll know for next year! Another deep, dark ruby beer with sweet dark fruit on the nose; more fruit and roasted coffee on tasting, rich and well balanced and tasty. Smoother and fuller than their other darker beers, it’s a real winner. And happily, I’ve found another bottle lurking at the back of my beer cupboard!
Bath Ales can be bought directly from their own website – by the case from as little as £20.60 for 12 bottles. Even better, several of their beers are available as microcasks and ‘beer in a box’. I paid £10.50 for each four bottle variety pack.