Oakleaf India Pale Ale (500ml, 5.5%)

Picture the scene: summer, 2002. I’ve recently started dating a dark-haired woman who lives in the heart of Portsmouth. A couple of baking hot streets from her flat is the Winchester Arms, a pub serving beer from the Oakleaf Brewery, only established a couple of years prior.

And what beers they were! With punnish names like Hole Hearted, Nuptu’Ale and Blake’s Heaven, and flavours that sprang out of the glass, here was a new brewery to get excited about.

The only problem with pub was the airflow – cigarette smoke tended to get distributed equitably among everyone in the pub, whether they wanted it or not. This was 009back in the days when you went outside to avoid the cigarette smoke, rather than vice versa.

Smoking in pubs? Surely that was back in Dickens’s day!

Oakleaf’s IPA is a take on the classic British beer style that made its way across the oceans to troops stationed in India in the 19th century. In the glass it’s the colour of straw, with a head that subsides after a couple of minutes to a lacy foam.

The aroma is honey and spice with a hint of something herbal, which is a bit deceptive when it comes to the taste. The sweetness is gone and in its place are a great wallop of bitter orange and black pepper. The finish is very long, dry and bitter, with a hint of those herbs coming through at the end.

It’s full-bodied, with the strength of alcohol – which seems like it should be more than 5.5% – balanced by the bitterness of the hops.

No mucking about with the classic IPA recipe – this is a big, flavoursome beer for people who worship at the altar of the hop. Thoroughly recommended.

And what of that dark-haired girl from all those years ago? Reader, I married her.

Written by Richard Salsbury

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