Despite the fact there are so many genuinely delicious and often ambitious beers released by Aussie brewers every week – or perhaps because they arrive so often – it's rare to come across one that feels like an event. But even more than a decade after its debut, when it marked Hargreaves Hill's comeback after their original brewery was destroyed in the Black Saturday fires, The Phoenix 2023 feels very much like an event beer. Certainly, the elements are there: who else brews an imperial red ale, let alone one that comes in just 500 numbered and weighty as 750ml bottles, which have been dipped in wax for the final coup de grâce?
So, welcome back, old friend. What have you got for us this time around? Something that feels very much like a festive brew that just happens to appear months out from the festive season (unless you're a Christmas in July person, of course). There's the sticky toffee of toffee apples, the marmaladesque citrus rind meets dark berries and slow-building, boozy warmth of a mulled drink, the fruity spices of a German nachtmarket, the syrupy sweetness of a brandy snap... Although designed to be cellared if that's your thing, this year’s vintage feels particularly ready right now: balanced and rewarding with a deep bitterness buried within.
It's part of a heavy-hitting one-two combo from Hargreaves Hill too. Double ESB does just what it says on the tin: doubling up on their flagship ESB and its melding of new world hops with the sort of malt bill found in a traditional English bitter. Those with sharp memories might recall a similar release last year, but that one was aged in barrels; this one is pure as the driven, well, 8 percent ABV Double ESB.
The crystal and chocolate malts take control in a beer that retains the same clear, deep copper hue of the original(s) while delivering chewy toffee / beer nuts / raisins aplenty in a manner that has me imagining the love child of an old ale and an altbier*. The hops come across as spicy more than anything overtly fruity on the nose, before delivering a streak of passionfruit and pineapple through the toffee to taste.
*It only occurred to me while posting this to socials that altbier means old beer. Not sure why I felt I needed to return to the writeup to mention this, but there you go: it's done now.
Published August 4, 2023 2023-08-04 00:00:00