IPAs and More IPAs: Twisted Thistle and Samuel Smith's

I am working on a project which, if successful, I'll not only tell you more about, but celebrate by dancing around in mad joy. But so far the project is mainly keeping me from better blogging. It's a piece of a piece, and the part I'm working on involves IPAs. I've been trying to find examples to laud, from the US and beyond. In particular, I've been trying to find decent British IPAs--something you'd expect would be easy to do. (You'd be wrong.) I'll review them as I work my way through, so here's the first couple.

Samuel Smith's India Ale
Back when I first started drinking good beer, Tadcaster was a go-to brewery. Imports were hard to get, and nice English imports more so. I loved their oatmeal and imperial stouts, and the nut brown was nice, if sweet. The distinctively-named India Ale never called out to me, but given that it is so widely available and is, after all, an authentic English IPA, I felt I should give it another go. Sometimes a decade does wonders for a beer.

Unfortunately, this beer was a disaster. Even with the important stipulations: modern English IPAs are milder in alcohol and hop than they were in the 1800s and than they are in America. British breweries don't eschew sugar the way we do, but in some beers it's just wrong. I couldn't confirm Sam Smith's uses it here, but it certainly seemed like it. Thin, overly sweet, and harsh in that way sugar alcohol can get. I found it metallic, bordering on sour, and actively unpleasant. There was precious little hopping to be found, and what was there was tepid and undistinguished. There's some chance that part of the problem was age or travel damage, and so I hesitate to write it off completely. Still, what I found in my bottle was undrinkable. I dumped the whole thing.

Belhaven Twisted Thistle
What's the difference between a pale ale and an IPA? Descriptively, an IPA is just stronger and hoppier. Experientially, though, the IPA should give you a pop. Belhaven's isn't a muscular beer (6.1%), and it isn't super hoppy, but it has a wonderful zip to its hopping. I was surprised at the presentation--a light golden with an arctic white head and quite a bit of bead. One could mistake it for a pilsner. The aroma has a touch of diacetyl and caramel, but not so much in the way of hops. Instead, they come out on the tongue. The labels says Belhaven employs Challenger and Cascade hops, but I don't think they're US Cascades. The Challengers are obvious, but the profile is much cleaner and sharper than our pungent, funky hops. Despite the body, it's a creamy beer. Some malt tannins add to the sharpness of the hops, though there's also a touch of caramel. Given the relative paucity of assertive British IPAs, this stands out.