Monday, 27 January 2014

Dissimulating Drayman: Emperor IPA

Sometime before Christmas, I made my way to the Bryanston Organic Market to seek out a gift or two for family and friends. Despite strong endorsement from people I generally trust, the market was cloying, lily-white, and about as far from a farmer's market as Makro's frozen food aisle (but without the bargains). Like Makro, the market's redemption lay in the various tipples on offer. After tasting sips of deliciously chilled white wine, I stumbled on the Drayman beer booth: an evident oasis in the mass of oppressive faux-hippie elitism.  
Gateway to Garden Gnomes
Having long hankered to taste a Drayman, I hoped their taps and cooler boxes would offer consolation for my temporary captivity while promising Pretoria's best for the discerning drinker. Although leaning towards German-style beers, I was titillated by the appearance of an India Pale Ale in their stable. Having to continue my holiday shopping elsewhere, I got in the queue with hopes of asking a few questions and scoring a few bottles. Perhaps the proprietor had been hitting the taps or was just overwhelmed by the heat and the market, but he was struggling to manage the increasingly pink, boisterous men lining up to fill their glasses. When I managed to get his attention he proved surprisingly cagey about the beers. at odds with geeky beer culture, he refused to even hint at the hops or malts being used or reveal anything about production. Put off but not deterred, I nevertheless bought a bottle of the Emperor IPA and high tailed it out of there. (The website includes no detail apart from the label, so there's no scoring details there either.)
The IPA in its plastic litre

With the holidays come and gone, I finally found a sunny Sunday afternoon suitable for a casual tasting. My first surprise was that the Emperor was only four percent alcohol, two or three percent below most IPAs and even further below an imperial IPA. Turns out I could have drank the thing and made it back from Bryanston. Indeed, you could drink it all day and still make it home on your donkey or trike.

The question is, would you want to spend your day drinking the thing. If you're after an IPA, the answer squarely lands in the 'no' column. Although the beer is hoppy and crisp, there's not a huge amount of flavour or anything distinct on the nose. In fact, while it is fresh there's no distinguishable hop profile -- no citrus, no pine, just some basic bittering.  Even for a Tuetonic IPA (including the fairly tasty and comparable Handwerk All Day IPA), this is a pretty flat offering.

If you're keen on a crisp beer and can't be bothered about labels, this is a surprisingly versatile offering. It's a bit cloudy, natural tasting and comes complete with a nice fine froth that sticks to the glass even after the beer is gone. Again, there's heavy carbonation for an IPA, but its perfectly bouncy and sharp bubbles are well suited to a crisp picnic ale. That it comes in a big, one litre plastic bottle makes it practically perfect for drinking under the sun. If you peel off the elephantine label, you could probably convince the local cop that you're downing a ginger ale.  In this election season, shedding the cute elephants might help avoid unwanted cadre attention offended by your implicit IFP support.

In conclusion, this is a fine ale shrouded in IPA clothing: simple, straightforward, and sure to quench a summer thirst.  But if you're after a hoppy beer filled with rich, floral tones, this one is not for you.