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Belt’s Beer Garden: To the Brit-ter End

Two hoppy English IPAs - Sonnet 43’s Fierce Panther & Vocation’s Life & Death


Continuing my journey through the UK, I have a couple more beers from England today for you. We’ll start up north with Sonnet 43 Brew House.

Sonnet 43 Brew House is located in Coxhoe, a city in north-eastern England about 20 miles south of Newcastle. They’ve been around since 2012 and are named after a sonnet written by Victorian poet Elizabeth Barret Browning, who was also from Coxhoe.

Currently they offer six core beers along with their three “Rogue Range” beers and numerous experimental brews as well.

Today I have their Fierce Panther IPA, which is from their Rogue Range of beers and features a strong hop presence. It’s basically their take on an American IPA. Fierce Panther has a nice 6.9% ABV and a 12-ounce can cost just £1.99 (or ~$2.75).

It poured a muddled copper/amber color with some nice head building up. Nearly two fingers of dense, eggshell white foam protected the liquid below and refused to leave. The bubbles very, very slowly faded away over the next few minutes, finally giving me access to the beer.

The hops sat front and center on the nose, with some nice light fruity notes, mostly stone fruit with some tropical ones mixed in as well, like grapefruit and guava. Along with the citrus were some floral and grassy notes that blended nicely with biscuity malt sweetness that backed everything up.

My first swig began with a swell of carbonation that stung my tongue and lasted for quite some time through the sip. After a moment or two of just effervescence on my tongue, the flavors finally began to break through.

It started with the hops clashing with the bready malts to create a somewhat sweet, somewhat bitter grassy flavor with some light pine and caramel behind that.

From there, the citrus began to peek through, allowing some grapefruit, mango, and guava to shine for just a moment before the next wave of flavors wiped them of my taste buds. And that next wave came quickly.

It was once again from the hops, as a resinous earthy flavor (some pine, some grass) appeared with a twinge of bitterness. From there the flavors began to fade away but, the one thing that remained was that strong bitter bite that just seemed to sit on my palate for a couple moments.

Other than that, Fierce Panther ends really cleanly. No strong aftertaste, no dryness…just some bitter hops refusing to leave.

This was a solid attempt at an American IPA but not my favorite from the UK. It had some nice moments of soft citrus and grassy notes but it just didn’t have anything really special going on.

It seemed like they just took an English IPA and added more hops in order to call it an American-style IPA. So, instead of getting more “American IPA” all that was added was more bitterness.

Not that Fierce Panther was a bad beer, not by a long shot. It was good but nothing more than that.

Up next, Vocation Brewery and one of their hoppy brews.

Vocation Brewery comes to us from Cragg Vale, England which is in central England, right between Manchester and Leeds.

They’ve been around for a few years now and offer 11 different beers, including three pilsners, a stout, and seven variations of a pale ale/IPA. Naturally, I brought home one of those seven hoppy brews.

I have their Life & Death IPA, which is made with more than six pounds of hops and nearly 90 pounds of barley per barrel! It doesn’t list which hops were used but they call it a “ballsy, US style IPA”. The can was about $3.50 (£1.99) and has a very solid 6.5% ABV.

Life & Death poured a bright orangey/straw color with about a finger of head topping the beer. The white foam quickly dispersed, leaving a small accumulation around the edge of my glass and a dusting across the top.

My first whiff of Life & Death’s aroma made me audibly go “wow”, as the beer smelled amazing. A plethora of fruits combined with some hoppy bitterness to create an amazingly floral and tropical scent. Mango, guava, pineapple, lemon, and even white-wine grapes combined with some grassy notes and sweet caramel malt.

The smell had me hooked…and I could only hope that the taste was as good as I thought it would be.

My first sip started off with very little carbonation and, instead, the flavors came bursting out across my taste buds.

Just as the smell had predicted, the taste was that of a tropical fruit salad. Mango, grapefruit, and those white-wine grapes led the way with some light melon and lemon zest lingering in the background.

This was a very light IPA, even though it clocked in at 6.5% ABV, and the malts added just the right amount of sweet caramel to add to the tropical flavors nicely.

As the tastes were coming to a close, there was an oily hop presence that coated my tongue and added a resinous citrus rind flavor and just a dash of bitterness.

That hop oil dried out my mouth some, leaving me smacking my lips for moisture after a few consecutive sips but, if that tiny dry feeling and that low-lying bitterness are the only repercussions from this beer…I’ll gladly take it!

Life & Death was quite sessionable and had a ton of great flavors. This “ballsy” American-style IPA was spot on and left me wishing I had brought back more than just one of these guys. What a well-made, tasty beer!