One of the things that I’ve been rather pleased about in recent years is the explosion of London brewers. It used to be a small circle of folks I’d never heard of along with Fuller’s and Youngs, but since the latter’s departure to the countryside things have started getting interesting and the small names have been getting bigger. Last year a group of London based brewers, the London Brewers Alliance, (for a very inclusive value of London) got together to put on a showcase of their wares and I, in classic fashion, missed it. This year was not going to go down the same path and I grabbed myself a ticket to their Saturday afternoon event, which had moved a couple of doors down into the Mezzanine at Vinopolis.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect and was rather pleased to be confronted by a much fuller room than I assumed would be possible. I’ve been out of the beer loop a bit for the last few months and missed a second explosion of brewers – a good third of the stands in the hall were from people I’d either not heard of or merely heard rumour of. Unfortunately this did mean I got a bit drunk and I apologise now to all the various brewers I tried to hug or waxed incomprehensibly at about how great beer was.
We started with drinking buddy Mr Rich’s most local brewery – Windsor & Eton. I’ve tried one of their dark beers before and I stuck with that plan by going for their Conqueror Black IPA. Moments after asking for it I realised that the evening might end up on a beery slide as it was not their regular 5% version but instead their normally-made-for-bottling-but-we-stuck-a-bit-in-kegs-to-see-what-would-happen 7.4% Conqueror 1075. They only filled seven casks and they brought one along to the show. I’m a big fan of black IPAs, although I find that generally they become hoppy dark beers or dark IPAs, rarely balancing in the middle, and this one was close but still on the hoppy dark beer side of things – sweet but coffee-like, with lots of burned sugar and a tasty green bitterness. Mr Rich was much more sensible and went for the first beer that they’d brewed – Guardsman. It’s a deliberately bitter best bitter, with a very traditional recipe bolstered by the addition of a lot of British hops. It was quite tasty, although bitter enough that you wouldn’t want to drink too many unless you’re a big hop head. It had a big grapefruity body backed up by lots of grain but not a lot of sweetness. They’ve been brewing since April 2010 (with the Guardsman going on sale on April 23rd, a mere month and a half after they started building out the brewery) and they’ve already started playing around with cask aging, strong ales, light ales and various other popular styles – definitely one to keep an eye on.
We then moved on to The Kernel, certain in the knowledge that they’d get a bit mobbed when the room started to fill up and not wanting to miss out on their beer. I continued my foolish dark beer choices with a half of Export Stout from the cask. I’ve tried it before from bottle and haven’t yet had a chance to try any of the Kernel beers from keg or casks so was keen to have a go. It was big and stouty, with lots of chocolate and dark chocolate malt, but also quite flat – when I showed brewer Evin my beer while starting my less-drunken lyrical waxing he was quite shocked that it was his beer, as it was meant to be a lot more carbonated, as it is in bottles. I didn’t care, as it was a great savoury chocolate milk of a beer. Rich went for the Citra IPA, which I’ve tried a couple of times and have always been very impressed by. Instead of its normal bottle delivery it instead came from a pressurised keg, although one that looked slightly on the homemade side and more like a 1940s fire extinguisher than a beer barrel. That doesn’t matter at all, though, as the beer was incredible – like drinking slightly bittered pineapple juice. Citra is great at producing tropical fruit flavours in beer and this was a lesson in how to do it right – my beer of the year so far. It was lucky we got there when we did as the temperamental keg started getting upset shortly afterwards and no more Citra appeared until much later.
We then skipped over to the other side of the hall to try out some beer from the East London Brewing company. Unfortunately I made my first faux-pas of the evening, confusing them with the also recently opened London Fields Brewery (who weren’t at the showcase). Luckily brewery manager (and head brewer, and delivery boy, and…) Stuart Lascelles is a nice chap who didn’t take it personally, especially as there weren’t any brewers near them when they started building this summer but now already have a few neighbours – they’re based off the Lea Bridge road in E10 and have only been up and running for a few months. They’ve got a brace of beers so Rich and I went for one of each. I had the Pale Ale, which was very floral with perfumed tea leaves, green herbs and lots of bitterness – really tasty, but again one that might get a bit much after a couple of pints. Rich went for Foundation, which was similar but without quite so much bitterness, an excellent session beer that at 4.2% won’t hurt you too much.
At this point I was already getting lazy so we just shifted one stand along to Redemption, one of the London microbrewing pioneers and home to thoroughly nice chap Andy Moffat. I visited the brewery last year and have been keeping an eye out for new beers ever since, and they had three that I’d not tried on the stand. I went for a Big Chief and having tried Andy’s more traditional beers a few times was surprised to find it to be the most modern American style beer that I tried all night, although the name made more sense after tasting. It had lots of red fruit, balanced leafy hops and tropical fruit leapt out of the glass as it warmed up – very tasty. Rich went for the Hopspur which I didn’t write any notes for, mainly because I really wasn’t a fan. I’d tried it before and assumed that it hadn’t been kept all that well, but it seems that it wasn’t really for me.
We then continued the easy circuit of the room and visited The Botanist, a brewpub in Kew that I’d not realised was there, despite being a bus ride down the road from my flat. The main draw on the stand before trying the beer was their bright pink painted kegs, which drew us in even before we knew who they were. I went for a half of the Kew Green, a fruity wheat beer that I described as a ‘very British Fruli’. It had strawberry and wheat with a balanced sweetness, but very little finish – the flavour just died in a slightly disappointing manner. Rich went for the 391, his first dark beer and my first beer with pretty much unreadable notes. From what I can make out (pieced together with my rubbish memory) it was dark and malty with a bit of an unfermented mash tang in the mix, and was quite nice. Having looked at the pub’s menu I see a fact finding trip in my future.
Barely moving we turned to the next table, occupied by the Ha’penny Brewing Company and Chris Penny (one half the brewing team, completed by Gavin Happé, hence the brewery’s name). I had a pint of their London Stone, a great sweet and sour beer with a nice chunk of malt down the middle, a nice contrast after the run of fruit and hops that I’d just had. The brewery is one of those that I unkindly think of being ‘not really London’ (although as I live on the western edge I should probably just keep quiet) and is on the Essex borders in Ilford. They seem to get out to lots of beer festivals so hopefully I’ll be able to have another go soon.
The next table round was a particularly new brewery – Moncada. Their website claims that they’re not up and running yet, but the beers on show demonstrate that they’ve got something working at least. They’re based at the Kensal Green end of Ladbroke Grove which I think makes them my closest brewery (beating Fuller’s and maybe even The Botanist) so out of loyalty I’ll have to keep an eye on their beers, because I wasn’t too keen on first taste. I tried their Bitter, which reminded me a bit of my one and only brewing experiment – it didn’t brew enough so there was a lot of unfermented wort in the brew, which this one seemed to have a bit of – yeasty and not quite there. I also tried the Amber, which had a fantastic nose of spiced fruit that wasn’t backed up by the quite light and boring body. I’m on the mailing list now, though, and will definitely have to get out and have another go when they’re officially up and running.
It was getting quite crowded by this time and I caught the eye of a chap with a satchel full of shiny bags who was weaving through the throng. ‘Would you like some Pork Scratchings?’ he inquired, not understanding quite what he had done. At the best of times I am a pork product addict, but after a couple of beverages I dream of burying my face in bags of fried pig and his appearance was perfectly timed. There seems to be no web presence for Crilly’s Chillis and my memory is shaky at the best of times, but I think the man with the sack o’scratchings was Mr Crilly and if so I offer him congratulations – they were excellent. Just the right amount of saltiness, more chewy fat than mass produced fare (a good thing), but still good and crunchy. Underneath all of that there was a little tingle of chilli, just the right amount to justify them being included in what I hope is a range of snacks from Crilly’s. Edit: It seems that rather than Mr Crilly (who is on Twitter) it was the excellent Mr Doug Bumpby who I met. Also, Crillys Chillis do have a website – Google’s not picked it up, but it’s the fairly obvious http://www.crillyschillis.com. It’s not quite up and running yet, but keep an eye out…
Pork need temporarily sated I wandered over to the Brew Wharf stand where I was offered a beer that my notes just list as 6 New Zealand Hops. I think it must be an evolution of their regular New Zealand Pale ale, but with even more hop varieties in the mix. However, with so many different hops flavours around they seemed to cancel each other out leaving a crisp and biscuity ale with a nice slab of citrus. I’d heard that Brew Wharf had started brewing but I haven’t visited since they opened, when they had a lot of Meantime beers on but none of their own that I remember – I will be returning on the strength of the NZ PA alone. Its proximity to TWE Vinopolis and Borough Market doesn’t hurt either.
The evening was definitely starting to move towards a close at this point, with the crowd getting obviously drunker and my beer token supply replenished thanks to a nice chap who declared that noone should have to buy beer that day. I decided to grab a pint of the one beer that I most probably wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else – the London Brewers Alliance Collaborative IPA, brewed together by the members of the LBA. The previous year’s beer had been a porter and I managed to grab a few of the small number of bottles they did (it was mainly put in casks but Evin from Kernel managed to get a bit which he bottled), which was tasty and memorable for its ability to explode whenever you opened one. This year they went to the other end of the spectrum and the gang of brewers put out an IPA. It didn’t taste much to me like I’d expect an IPA to be these days, filling its 5.9% with big toffeed fruit and chocolate, with a kick of hops but nothing extreme. It was reminiscent of the IPAs I remember before the new world hop invasion and quite nice with it – hints of a deadly Gale’s IPA I tried 4 or 5 years ago that make me wonder if Fuller’s John Keeling might have supplied the base recipe. This year the gang met at the Windsor & Eton brewery in September to produce the beer and I suspect that we’ve now seen the last of it – it’s definitely worth a try if you manage to find it on in a pub somewhere.
I then moved on to my last stand (although I’m sure I stopped at Brodie’s and By The Horns – notes were not at the forefront of my mind at this point of the evening and I have only a vague memory and a couple of blurry pictures to suggest I did) and drunkenness moved me towards the closest one I find, which I am very pleased I managed to get to – The London Brewery. The chap on the bar explained that they’d had a look and realised that noone had called their brewery that yet and decided to go for it, to which I say ‘Good work’. They’re based in The Bull in Highgate and it looks like most of their beer stays there. I went for a pint of their best bitter, Beer Street, and then may have gone a bit strange. I grew up in Horsham, home of King & Barnes and their Sussex bitter. It was a fairly unique beer and although Hall & Woodhouse now brew it (after they took over the brewery, knocked it down and asset stripped the beer range…there is still some bitterness in my heart over it) it’s not the same. The way I’ve always described the old version is ‘swampy’, but that’s not quite right. It’s quite vegetal, with damp grass and malt, a nice bit of restrained hop and a bit of a muskiness that I thought for years was a problem with keeping it, but was a distinct part of its taste whatever the cause. It is obviously a beer I view through rose tinted specs, but the Beer Street brought back a flood of sensory memory of my younger days drinking at home before moving up to London. It was at that point I started babbling about Proustian Memory and pseudo-madeleine equivalents at the poor chap behind the bar before stumbling away into the crowd and eventually out into the night.
All in all an excellent event, despite my inability to hold my beer these days. Luckily this points out a need for further practice and I did get quite a list of places that I need to visit during the afternoon, so all’s well that ends well. Which is what I’m still telling myself after getting home at 6am the next morning and having a two day hangover.
Drinking companion Dave also has a piece written up on Londonist.