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.

 

 

Brixton Brewery

I love supporting local businesses in my hood of SE London. I also love good beer so you can imagine my delight as I gazed upon the chilling bottles of Brixton Brewery in the beer fridge at that cave of drinky delights Market Row Wines.

I snapped four bottles to try. The names were proudly Brixtonian, but did the beer behind those dazzling labels express the vibrant complex nature of this most iconic London neighbourhood?

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.25I kicked off with Windrush Stout (5%) and found the nose of this dense black ale quite intoxicating. Freshly roasted coffee, ripe blackberries, toasted chestnut, rich in iron with a savoury meatiness. It slipped down very nicely and I loved the fresh clean quality it had in my mouth. As well as some of the notes from the nose there was bubble coffee, earthy minerals and a beautifully balanced lean bitter finish. Very easy drinking, yet fine. Quite delicious.

Next was Reliance Pale Ale (4.2%) which smelled of tropical fruit sweets, white melon and toast. My first sip I found to twang of TCP, it was tart with a sharp malt bite and finished dry pithy grapefruit. Very medicinal and not quite to my taste.Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.46

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.37But they were back on song again with their flagship session Effra Ale (4.5%). Mouth watering peach, caramel and rich malty bread invaded my nostrils. Tasting it, what really impressed me was its rich texture of toasted cornmeal but there were also some Jäger herbs with a firm dry mango finish. Very tasty.

To round off the quartet was Electric IPA (6.5%) whose nose sang to me of bright sweet pineapple, candied grapefruit and pasties fresh from the oven. The mouthful was creamy sweet papaya, pithy pink grapefruit with a dry peppery rocket finish. Quite good indeed.Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.54

Brixton Brewery began to ferment 3 years ago as an idea in the hop addled minds of neighbours and passionate homebrewers Jez and Mike as they drank in the previous incarnation of The Craft Beer Co SW4. Putting their plan into action took about two years and saw them team up with head brewer Dominic whose CV boasts names like Brewdog, Kelham Island and Sierra Nevada. Despite not being wild about the Reliance Pale Ale I felt each beer possessed its own distinct personality and expressed some of that joie de vivre that makes Brixton such a vibrant and engaging place. Here’s hoping that Jez, Mike and Dominic can maintain their solid start and build on some very well brewed beers.

I’m a big fan of fellow blogger Leigh Linely’s writing (I also like that his initials repeat, like mine) and regularly read his  The Good Stuff” blog. Here’s a link to his recent Brixton Brewery Review.

Great minds Leigh; I thought the Windrush Stout was the pick of the bunch as well.