The fourth annual Rainbow Project was held in September. An event where seven of the UK’s best breweries design a beer inspired by a colour of the rainbow.
2014 saw the breweries collaborate with European friends. It’s where the now infamous Buxton/Omnipollo partnership was first established. While in 2015 the British breweries were joined by American counterparts.
This year it was the turn of breweries from down under, specifically New Zealand.
Launch parties were held at Beavertown and Siren in the south. I headed to the northern launch again which returned to Magic Rock Tap in Huddersfield.
Last year was a ticket only event but this time it was simply first come first served. I worried about not getting in for weeks beforehand. Even more so on the day when I arrived over 45 minutes before opening time to find a queue already around the block.
There was plenty of room for everybody though. Despite a short wait to get in and another queue for tokens it wasn’t long before I was sat in the gorgeous late summer Huddersfield sun with a beer in my hand.
Tokens were priced at £1 each with all drinks costing either one or two tokens for a third. Meaning everything was either £6 or £9 for the equivalent of a pint.
Not ridiculous, but fairly expensive for Magic Rock Tap. And significantly more than the events at Siren and Beavertown, where all beers were £2 and some came in halves rather than thirds.
The place soon filled up and thanks to the glorious weather the atmosphere outside was fantastic.
The regular Magic Rock Tap bar was home to the seven Rainbow Project beers. Along with a few extras from themselves and a couple of the New Zealand breweries.
A second bar outside served a variety of interesting beers from the other British and New Zealand breweries involved.
I didn’t get off to a great start with the rather bland and not very sour Dry Hopped Citra Sour by Hawkshead Brewery.
But things soon picked up with Magic Rock’s Louche Cerise, a barrel aged cherry sour. And a couple from New Zealand breweries that I’d never seen before; Halo, a lovely Nelson Sauvin hopped pilsner by Liberty Brewing and BitterBitch, a big and bitter IPA from ParrotDog.
A few more followed. Including two offerings from New Zealand’s Fork Brewing; Godzone Beat, a piney and grassy NZ hopped IPA and Sourbet, a zinglingly refreshing Berlinerweisse. And Rhubarb & Ginger Saison from London’s Partizan.
Then it was time to hit some Rainbow beers.
First, The Upside Down from Magic Rock and Fork Brewing. A sour tropical wheat beer fermented with Brett Trois, a yeast strain similar to Brettanomyces. Tart, funky and super fruity. As you’d expect from a beer dry hopped with Citra, Equinox, Simcoe and Mosaic and with added mango and passionfruit juice.
Hawkshead’s collaboration with Crooked Stave was probably by favourite of last year’s Rainbow beers. So I had high hopes for their 2016 offering, Kai Moana Gose. Brewed in collaboration with perhaps the best known New Zealand brewery, Yeastie Boys.
The ’seafood gose’ is brewed with oysters and green lipped mussels as well as New Zealand hops and green gooseberries. It’s quite subtle in both sourness and saltiness. Pleasant enough but not hugely exciting.
For me the best beer by far was Black & Blue, a collaboration between Wild Beer Co and my favourite NZ brewery 8 Wired.
A barrel aged ‘raw’ sour with added black and white peppercorns. No hops or boil were used in the making of this beer and wild cultures were used to ferment before it was aged in re-charred bourbon barrels for six months.
The end result is uniquely floral, fruity and herby beer with a lip smacking sourness.
I was disappointed that Buxton were not involved this year. Not only are they my favourite UK brewery but their previous two Rainbow Project offerings are amongst the best of the series. Deep Rainbow Valley with Arizona Wilderness and of course the now legendary Yellow Belly.
Although, they were replaced by Burning Sky, which softened the blow somewhat. They were paired with Liberty Brewing Co.
The result, Descent into the Maelstrom, is a beer with no category. ‘eclectic and borderless’ they said.
On paper, a pale aged in white wine barrels with orange and grapefruit zest and dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Motueka is my kind of beer. Sadly it didn’t quite live up to it’s own description.
I mean, it wasn’t bad. It was actually really nice sat out in the sun but just didn’t stand up to Black & Blue or The Upside Down.
The remaining three Rainbow beers were much bigger so I decided to take a break and sample some of the lighter stuff the other breweries had sent over.
From New Zealand: Saison Sauvin from 8 Wired, and Los Lobos, a West Coast style New Zealand IPA by Garage Project.
And from the UK: Easy Answers, a solid IPA from Burning Sky. Followed by Parma Violet by Hawkshead. An IPA that genuinely smells and tastes like parma violet sweets. It shouldn’t work but somehow they pulled it off. Summer Citra Party, a good DIPA from Siren although not quite the Citra burst they promised.
And the beer of the day, Bearded Lady Bourbon Aged Hazelnut Dessert Edition from Magic Rock. The latest version of their incredible imperial stout. Always big, rich and super smooth, this one with the distinctive taste of boozy Nutella.
I really expected to go out on a high with the remaining Rainbow beers. But as it turned out I’d peaked too soon with Bearded Lady.
The best of the three was Beaverton and Parrotdog’s Universal Mind. An ‘Adambier’, which I must admit was a new style to me. A historic German style which is rarely brewed anymore and hasn’t been commercially for years.
I’m not entirely sure what it’s supposed to taste like. This was sweet, smokey and malty with a slight sourness. It’s definitely unusual but I quite enjoyed it. I think.
Which is more than I can say for Partizan’s Royal Ale. The weakest of the beers for sure and most disappointing for me personally as a huge barley wine fan. They promised an ‘English Barley Wine with riesling grape juice’ but it was lacking in everything that makes a good barley wine. Namely flavour, sweetness, body and ooomph.
Perhaps it’s unfair as Partizan were left to brew the beer themselves. Their New Zealand parter Panhead were bought out by a macro brewery and thus removed from the event.
I’m going to hold on to my bottle for a while and see if it improves with age.
The final beer, Backlight Banana, was a collaboration between Siren and Garage Project. A 9.2% imperial stout brewed with bananas, molasses and barrel aged coffee. Again, on paper my kind of beer. Okay, maybe except the bananas.
Not that you could taste any bananas anyway. Or any of the other flavours really. I also found it pretty weak and watery for an imperial stout.
Again, I’ll age my bottle for as long as I can to see if it helps.
My only real complaint about last years event was the lack of food options and how early they ran out.
They certainly made up for it this time with at least six different street food vendors on offer.
I ate from three of them. Starting with MeltWorks and their New York style grilled cheese sandwiches. Throughout the day I tried several of their toasties with various fillings. Including slow cooked beef brisket in BBQ sauce, slow cooked pork shoulder in cider and mustard sauce and avocado with chilli jam. Each with copious amounts of stringy melted cheese.
All were very enjoyable, particularly the two slow cooked meats. The quality of ingredients was obvious and they made the perfect beer snack.
Later in the afternoon I paid a visit to Tikk’s Thai Kitchen.
A shiny U.S style food truck serving Southern Thai street food from Thai native Tikk. There was a long wait for his food but it was well worth it. A step above your average street food for sure.
It really was fantastic.
Crispy Panko breadcrumb coated king prawns, and juicy chicken skewers with a peanut satay sauce. And my favourite, the Pad Thai was particularly good.
Authentic, fresh, vibrant and full of flavour.
After around 20 beers there’s not much better than a big dirty burger.
Luckily, that’s exactly what ‘What’s Your Beef’ do.
And they do it very well. Their ‘Fiery Bull’ was probably the best street food burger I’ve ever had.
Succulent meat in a shiny brioche bun with chorizo, Manchego cheese and smothered in chilli sauce.
Their fries were also excellent. Especially the ones ‘Loaded’ with pancetta, jalapeños, cheese sauce and garlic mayo.
All in all a great time was had.
I love Magic Rock Tap as a venue and the weather was AMAZING for the whole day. The food was better than ever before too.
And I drank some wonderful beers. Although collectively the Rainbow Project beers were not nearly as good as previous years. There was no standout world class beer like Buxton and Omnipollo’s Yellow Belly or Hawkshead and Crooked Stave’s Key Lime Tau. But four or five of the seven were very enjoyable, I’ve had a couple of them again several times since.
But the best bit was getting to taste super fresh beer from the New Zealand breweries that we never get over here otherwise.
Really the only downside was waking up the following morning with a slightly sour head and very sore arms after carrying this all the way home.
Maybe next year I’ll buy one online and get it delivered.
Date of event: 17.09.2016