Beer review: Lonely Planet Travel Notes IPA

I don’t usually review beers that are not available in South Africa. I know the audience of this blog mostly resides in SA and there are probably few things more annoying than a “hey, look at this awesome beer you can’t get” type of post. But I have three good reasons to review the Travel Notes International IPA.

First of all, it’s a story of beer love. I’m sure there are other industries with awesome, welcoming, selfless people but I’ve never worked in one quite like this. The reason I got hold of this beer in the first place is because someone I have met just twice in my life (but chatted to a lot over the years on Twitter) went to the trouble not only of buying the beer but of posting it from the UK to South Africa. Gary, better known as @TheAleTrail, is a bloody good guy and one that’s indicative of what a marvellous world it would be if it were filled with nothing but beer geeks.

The reason he sent me this beer, and the other reason that I wanted to review it here is because I have been writing for Lonely Planet for the past eight years (and wanted to write for them for another ten years before that). This beer is like the (lonely) planets aligning – it’s the coming-together of pretty much everything I love: travel, beer, writing and a crapload of hops.

The beer, a murky, juicy IPA, was brewed in collaboration with Northern Monk Brewing Co. in Leeds (UK) and Fieldwork Brewing Co. (California). It has, quite possibly, the prettiest can I have ever poured a beer from. It’s perfect for travel nerds – you can play spot the country or indeed use the can as a checklist (or a wishlist). I was admiring the images and thinking “This is awesome but I would love a little more info about the beer”, when suddenly I noticed a little note in the corner of the label reading “peel here”. So I did, and there it was – a full explanation of what makes this an “International IPA”. The ingredients have been sourced from five continents: mangoes from Africa, açaí berries from South America, malted barley and wheat from Europe and hops from North America and Oceania. The same recipe was brewed at both Northern Monk and Fieldwork, with the idea being that you travel to the source to sample the limited edition beer (luckily, the Northern Monk brew managed to travel to me. I am planning a pressure campaign to get the beer brewed on the remaining continents so we can all have a taste…)

The inspiration for the beer was Lonely Planet’s Global Beer Tour, a recent book release that I just happened to contribute to. The blurb for the book describes it as “a beer travel and tasting guide, [that] explores the vibrant world of craft beer in 32 countries, from San Diego to South Africa.” I include that here to let you know that our little craft beer revolution is important enough not just to be mentioned in the book but indeed to mention on the press release. Yay us! Buy this book to plan your next trip. In fact, you could probably plan your next 10 years of travel using the book. And that would make you a spectacular individual.

Oh and of course, this is supposed to be a beer review, so here it is… The beer is superb. You can smell the hops the second you open the can, even at arm’s length. There’s a deep whiff of gooseberries and plenty of mango (from the mangoes rather than the hops I suspect). When you stick your nose deep into the glass you actually get a touch of malt – that digestive biscuity, Graham crackery heavenly malt aroma. Flavour-wise it’s like drinking freshly pressed hops – gooseberry and granadilla and of course more mango. It’s one of the juiciest beers I’ve had to date and I enjoyed it so much I finished the can without making particularly good notes.

Alas, it’s not available in South Africa, but buy the book, plan a beer trip and when you go – wherever you go – take along some bottles of local beer, some brewery caps or t-shirts or bottle openers, because a big part of beery travel is sharing the local beer love with the enthusiasts you meet along the road.


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