Jeff Evans is back with the first beer review of 2024

WYE VALLEY BUTTY BACH RESERVE, 5.8%

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Wye Valley’s popular best bitter Butty Bach, the Herefordshire brewery has produced this upscaled version for the bottle and very good it is too. Just like the regular 4.5% abv version, it’s a beer that slips down remarkably easy. 

The malt is lightly fudgy in character and the hops bring a mellow orange note, but there’s also what I describe as an “old-fashioned beery taste”. That takes me back to the days when I would find my dad’s leftover bottles and surreptitiously squeeze out the last few drops to find out what all the fuss was about. 

Considering the extra strength, there is absolutely no trace of intrusive warmth or alcoholic notes and the finish is crowned by a lingering tang of classic English hops.

TWO TRIBES MAGIC, 3.5%

London brewery Two Tribes has produced a beer that proves you don’t have to sacrifice quality or flavour when producing a lower strength, low-carb beer (only 2.25g of carbohydrates in every 33cl can, if that’s important to you. By comparison, Carlsberg, with the same abv, has 7.8g for the same amount). 

Magic is a crisp and clean US session IPA with a greenish-golden colour. The aroma is full and enticing with grapefruit, passion fruit and orange notes billowing from the glass. The taste is very lean and cracker dry, much as expected, but with zingy citrus hops bouncing across the palate. Crucially, those hops are not too bitter or pungent, given the delicacy of the malt base and the restrained sweetness. Nice job.

WIMBLEDON BELGIAN IPA, 5.6%

The latest beer in Wimbledon’s Specials range is this enjoyable IPA with a Belgian twist. The use of a Belgian yeast delivers an array of funky, spicy esters which add an intriguing contrast to the more typical pine and citrus fruit notes of the IPA hops. 

Bitter almonds, marmalade and tangy pine are the leading flavours on the palate, which is drier than expected. The finish is even drier, which makes the beer seem ultimately fairly thin, but also draws you back in for another sip and allows you to appreciate the sweeter elements in the taste that aren’t so obvious first time around. 

Also, there’s only a whisper of warmth running through the beer, which demonstrates how well the brewers have handled the strength, allowing esters to tease the palate without killing the tastebuds with alcohol.

GREENE KING STRONG SUFFOLK, 6%

One of Britain’s great historic bottled beers is back, if only for a limited time. What was once the jewel in Greene King’s crown for some drinkers has not been on sale since 2018, but now the company has decided to show the world what it has been missing. 

Strong Suffolk is a link back to the days when beers were aged and blended, when tart, sour notes from “stale” beer were softened out by the addition of fresh, young beer. The old beer in this case is known as 5X. It is brewed to 12% abv and left to age in oak vats. It is then blended with a fresh beer called BPA to create this deep ruby ale which, at one point, may have offended some palates with its tart balsamic fruitiness but which, in a time when acidic sour beers are all the rage, seems rather gentle by comparison. 

Also in there is caramel, cakey maltiness, raisins, red berries, tangy oak, then toffee in the finish. This is a beer too good to confine to the history books.