Croydon Craft Beer Festival

 

Well, Croydon had its first craft beer festival last weekend and I went along late Saturday afternoon to check it out.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.17.48Braithwaite Hall is a very impressive venue and had the feel of a grand old university library with its stained glass and towering rows books. However unlike the ales on show, there were some doubts as to the books authenticity.

The room was full and buzzing, a nice mixed crowd of friendly looking beer enthusiasts. Good start.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.17.37The first thing that struck me as approached the tables behind which stood the casks of beer I hoped to try was the alarming amount of them that held signs that said “Sorry this cask is unavailable”. Of the 31 the beers they started with on Friday night more than half were off.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.17.20Undaunted I ordered a couple halves of The Cronx Kotchin Nektar. They weren’t bad, Nektar just edging Kotchin, they were session-able, but nothing to write home about. Bexley’s Kent Green Hop was my beer of the session, showing some nice bite and tropical fruit. Yet it didn’t particularly excite me.

What followed was an average Peckham Coal Line Porter from Brick, an undrinkable acrid Entire from Cronx, which I traded for limp but inoffensive Oatmeal Stout from Hop Stuff and ended with a tepid ok-ish Red Ale by Bexley. Now temperature isn’t as big an issue with cask beer as keg, but my feeling was all the beers could have been a shade cooler.

What bugged me the most was the beers in the main lacked vibrancy and vitality. Real ale is a living beverage, and the best stuff expresses charm, character and most importantly it has to make me want another sip. Most of the beers I tasted failed to do that.

Now I know I may be harder to please, but seems the organisers fell victim to first beer fest folly; not ordering enough beer. Of course, they didn’t want to lose money so playing it safe seemed to make sense but with so many beers off for such a short festival. Disappointing.

I got chatting to some other punters and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. The lack of beers didn’t appear to be a problem though they weren’t ooing and ahhing over anything either.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.18.00Speaking to one of the organisers he admitted they could have done better, but overall the event was a huge success with plans already in the works for more events next year.

The bottle/can bar had some good stuff and was doing a decent trade, but I had come for the cask and as another beer ran out I decided to call time. A good thing too because as I later found out they had run dry by 7pm. Three hours before the fest ended!

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.28.06Luckily BRGR & Beer @ Matthew’s Yard were hosting Fourpure and Gypsy Hill pop-up stylee to celebrate CCBF. It’s an idea they should consider making a permanent fixture. There’s plenty of space and how cool would it be for a rotating residency of London’s best and brightest brewers supporting the solid line of bottles by BRGR & Beer?

I had really nice chats with Neil at Fourpure (am loving their Amercian Brown) and Mike at Gypsy Hill, the latter being in my opinion the most improved brewery in London at the moment (and one of my favorites along with Beavertown).

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In rather reserved style after halves of Fourpure’s decent Red Rye IPA and GH’s sublime Hepcat Session IPA, I called it a night.

Now if I’d been there on the opening night of Croydon’s first craft beer festival it may have been a more enjoyable experience for me.

However, I get the feeling that this experiment wasn’t geared for geeks like me. Perhaps it was more about giving the people of Croydon (& Southest London) a taste of something new. Engaging a fledgling audience of curious imbibers who had tired of the same old same old and were simply seeking better beer.

Despite running out of the aforementioned ales (a cardinal sin to some) the organisers can feel confident that they probably achieved that.

Craft Beer Rising 2015

It was my first time to this yearly London event but before I even walked in the door I decided to focus only on breweries whose beers were totally new to me. Was I taking a risk skipping the likes of Beavertown, Wild Beer, Camden Town and Thornbridge for those brews less tweeted? Are was I to be rewarded for seeking out some of those ales less supped?

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.17.03Things got off to a roaring start with a Catalonian import that goes by Beer Cat. Conceived of and created by ex Londoner and former criminal lawyer Peter Bonner in the Cava producing region of Penedes near Barcelona with their four offerings on keg full of diversity, vibrancy and packed with character. I kicked off with Pa i Roses Wheat Beer, infused with lime zest and coriander. Lager in appearance; textured yet bracingly fresh, with hits of tart lime but never cloying, sticky or banana bombed. A beauty of a bbq beer, sunshine in a glass.

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The Further WestCoast IPA lived up to the name; nice complexity of citrus and dry hop but not too much bite. Black Irish is a very grown up and accomplished stout, dry cocoa, bitter coffee, but velvety in body and supremely clean.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.16.52The beer of the day and most certainly slotting into my “top twenty most delicious beers I have ever drank” is their flagship Barcelona Blonde. Crisp and refreshing but packed with some of the juiciest tropical fruits I have yet sampled. My taste buds were literally dancing the Fandango. But never was the beer sweet or the esters too overpowering. A pale ale of the highest order.

Currently only imported into the UK by Instill Drinks in the bottle at the time of writing, but they are working on trying to get kegs to market here.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Peter and his cool Beer Cats will be one of the breweries to watch this year. Really. Tremendous. Beers.

On the advice of a few fine folks I swung over to Elgood’s Brewery to sample their sour beers and blow me down, they’re good! Classic Belgian Lambic in their execution, they are not for the faint of heart. Tart as hell, but so many layers of complexity and refreshing in the extreme. My favorite of the Coolship range trio of Blonde, Fruit and Dark Sour had to be the Fruit. Raspberries and blackberries bouncing around my mouth as if I have just picked them, but all the sugar is gone and you are left with a long lingering sensation as if you’ve sprayed your gob with a heady berry du toilette.

I was fascinated by their decadent QE Apple and Vanilla Wheat Beer. It managed to be utterly indulgent and rich but somehow finished clean. A real beauty.

My only criticism is that the branding looked very slapdash. Perhaps it was only temporary? At any rate, packaging is absolutely vital these days with so many edgy labels and pump clips clawing at your eyes for attention. Elgoods Sours and QE range deserve to look as good as they taste.

Another brewery whose labels could do with a rethink is Bear Hug Brewing. The brewing/storage practice could do with some fine tuning as well though their flagship Hibernation White IPA was pretty good. Best of the lot was however was Himalayan Red Rye whose texture and complexity left me feeling somewhat charmed.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.18.02There was a quite good Amarillo Mild from Hop Stuff Brewery in Woolwich and I enjoyed chatting with Alix their sales manager.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.17.44Really liked the ethos of The Beer Collective. In an ever competitive market, Niki (director at King Beer, as well as one of the founders of TBC) explained how bringing breweries together under one distribution hub was making life easier for the four strong members of the Sussex based group. Along with King were very eco-focused Bedlam Brewery, Uckfield’s 360° Brewing Company and Brighton based brewpub Laine’s Brewing. Tasted stuff from most of them and they’re making pretty decent beers.

A shout out must go to Little Jack Horner’s for it’s blindingly good sausage rolls and other assorted pastry wrapped delicacies. My classic pork and sage hit the spot as I was flagging.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.18.34I finished up tasting a couple beers from Yorkshire’s Wharfe Bank Brewery and in the process met a minor beer blogger hero of mine in Leigh “LeighGoodStuff” Linley. I have enjoyed reading his blogs and tweets the past few years so was good to finally meet the man. He quit his regular job last year to become brand manager at WBB where another twitter comrade, Tyler Kiley is head brewer.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 10.28.34I liked (but didn’t love) the couple of beers I tasted at the stand but I did very much enjoy the Black Geld Black IPA in bottle that Leigh gave me to take away. It was a web of aromas and it took my nose some time to pick out the maple syrup, pecan pie, boysenberry, iron-rich soil, and marmite. Then on the palate there was burnt toast, walnut, earthy black pudding, savoury dry herbs and faint molasses finish. It wanted some food but really grew on me. Good effort Tyler and not too boozy at 6.5%. (Image is a screengrab, courtesy of Wharfe Bank website as I seemed to have misplaced my photo).

It was a great day out and by forcing myself to try unknown/untasted breweries I gave my mind and palate a broader education as well. It’s getting way too easy to just gorge on ones favorite rockstar breweries these days.

So the next time you are at a festival, why not try to make some new discoveries for yourself.

You just might like it.