Tuesday 31 December 2013

Golden Pints 2013

I probably drank too much this year. But with the way things are going in London – and in the UK in general – it’s hard NOT to drink a lot, given the unbelievable amount of good beer getting made. It has been nice putting together my Golden Pints as it allowed me to reflect on what has most likely been my best ever year in beer. I put a lot of time into these awards, which I think is reflected in my verbosity. If you read through it all I can’t promise you will be glad you did, but I can guarantee you will see some unique category winners. Some categories were easy to call, some were hard. I hope you enjoy.

Best UK Cask Beer

This category was actually pretty easy for me. The best cask beer I had all year, by some measure, was Oakham Citra Special. Some of you might be wondering what the ‘Special’ is, since Oakham Citra is pretty special on its own. The Citra Special is slightly stronger than the normal version and the hops are ramped up. I reckon Citra Special isn’t an easy beer to find; I had it at The Wellington in Birmingham and I’ve never seen it anywhere else. As a more common option, the Oakham Citra is damn solid, too. I’ll give an honourable mention here to Brodies Citra (I enjoyed a few fantastic pints of this at King William IV this summer while beating Ryan Witter at bar billiards) and Arbor Single Hop Nelson Sauvin (unbelievably juicy and flavorful for a 4% beer).

Best UK Keg Beer

It seems like the best (in my mind) London breweries right now are all focusing on keg beers. As such, this is a hard category for me. If pressed, though, I would put The Kernel IPA Mosaic at the top. It was an absolutely gorgeous expression of the hop and, like most Kernel beers, was eminently drinkable. Other beers deserving of mention in this category include one-off Camden Kiwi Wit (somewhat tragically, I fear not many people got to try this beer); Magic Rock Salty Kiss (great Gose); The Kernel Pale Ale Citra Galaxy (stunning); The Kernel Imperial Brown Stout (Glen Garioch Barrel Aged); and BrewDog Abstrakt AB:13 (ballsy and delicious).

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer

Fresh Kernel in the bottle can’t be beat, and in 2013 IPA Mosaic was the best example. Bermondsey neighbour Partizan also produced a couple of standouts with the Porter 9 Grain and the Saison Grisette Orange. Moor Hoppiness also deserves a nod.

Best Overseas Draught Beer

This is an interesting category for me because many of the best ‘draught’ beers I had this year came from the US and were limited and/ or growler-only. Peg’s G.O.O.D. RareR DOS, a rum barrel aged imperial stout, was otherworldly good. I also enjoyed a few growlers of Trillium Fort Point Pale Ale (Trillium, a tiny brewery based in Boston, MA is one to watch out for) and Grassroots Legitimacy IPA.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer

For the cans it’s an easy choice: Utica Club. Utica Club is a classic lawnmower beer, made by one of the oldest regional breweries (F.X. Matt) in the US. It’s fairly easy to find if you’re in Central New York; it’s also dirt cheap. Second place for cans is the Alchemist Heady Topper, that stupidly dank and resinous double IPA from Vermont.

For bottles, the choice is much harder. Thanks to some generous Londoners I was able to try a handful of Three Floyds Dark Lord Imperial Stout variants, among them Bourbon Barrel, Cognac Barrel and Pappy Van Winkle Barrel; all were tremendous but the Bourbon Barrel was tops. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout also impressed. At the paler end of the spectrum, Toppling Goliath pseudoSue (a citra hop pale ale) blew me away, as did Lawson’s Double Sunshine (a juicy DIPA).

Best Collaboration Brew

There were a handful of UK collaborations that stood out in 2013. But the Magic Rock Salty Kiss stands above the rest. A collaboration with veteran Anders Kissmeyer of Kissmeyer Beer, Salty Kiss is a take on the German style Gose, with a Danish twist in the use of sea buckthorn and rosehips as ingredients. The beer was crisp, refreshing and far, far too drinkable. Second place would go to the Arbor / Moor Double Dark Alliance. It was a balls-out coffee imperial porter and if you weren’t ready for it when it came at you it could knock a few teeth out. Siren earns honourable mention for several collaboration beers, including Neither (made with Cigar City and Grassroots), Big Inflatable Cowboy Hat (made with Pizza Port), Even More Jesus and its variants (made with Evil Twin) and the Limoncello IPA (made with Hill Farmstead and Mikkeller).

Outside the UK, most of my favourite collaboration brews had Hill Farmstead involved. A smoked beer HF made with Kissmeyer (Kissmeyer killing it on the collab front) called Holger Danske really impressed me. I also loved Grassroots Brother Soigne, a saison made at Hill Farmstead with the assistance of Luc Bim Lafontaine, formerly of Dieu du Ciel. The beer was brewed with lime, hibiscus and blood orange.

Best Overall Beer

A very, very difficult question, this. For the UK, I tried The Kernel Imperial Stout for the first time. This is a beer that Evin O’Riordain made with Phil Lowry, Simon Siemsgluess and Chrigl Luthy back in late 2010 to celebrate the birth of Evin’s son. To say the beer is aging gracefully would be a tremendous understatement. (I see the boy running around the brewery occasionally and he seems to be doing alright, too.) The Kernel IPA Mosaic was the best pale ale I had from the UK this year. Partizan’s Saison Grisette Orange was the best Belgian-style, UK-made beer of the year.

From outside the UK, the best beer I had was Peg’s G.O.O.D. RareR DOS. For pale ales, the honour goes to Trillium Fort Point Pale Ale. For Belgian-style beers, Grassroots Brother Soigne earns the prize.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label

The Kernel, because less is more. When I’m in the mood for an interesting label, though, Partizan is without peer.

Best UK Brewery

By an ever-so-slight margin, I take The Kernel over Magic Rock. Honestly, these two outfits are pretty far ahead of the pack in overall brewing ability. Yes, there are numerous UK brewers who can make an outstanding IPA. Yes, there are numerous UK breweries who can make a sour. Yes, there are numerous UK brewers who know how to barrel age a beer. Yes, there are numerous UK brewers who can make a low-ABV session ale, or a high-ABV stout monster. But how many breweries are there who do all these things and do them all exceptionally well? In my eyes, there are currently two.  

There are many, many other breweries deserving of mention, though, among them:

§  BrewDog: say what you will about their brand and ethos, but they still put out some phenomenal beers. I sometimes wish their beers weren’t so expensive in their own pubs, but the beers are still good.

§  Buxton: these guys do a great job on both the traditional styles (bitter, golden ale, stout) and the more modern (American style IPA, black IPA, sour). I really haven’t had a bad beer from Buxton.

§  Partizan: consistently making solid saisons, IPAs, pale ales and stouts. Recent forays into barrel-aging have been proving fruitful as well. One of London’s most promising breweries.

§  Brew By Numbers: their staple Saison - Citra is likely my favourite regularly-available saison in the UK. Their one-off Saison - Orange was even better (I really hope they brew it again). They’ve also shown prowess in styles such as porter/ stout and Berliner weisse.

§  Moor: these fellas are quietly making some of the best hoppy beers in the UK (Claudia, Confidence, Hoppiness, Illusion, JJJ – the list goes on), while also doing good work on the barrel aging front (with the Fusion series).

§  Tiny Rebel: it really seems like these guys are having fun; all the better that they’re making good beer while they’re at it. The greatest hits from the Best Brewery in Wales include Baby’s Got a Temper, Beat Box, Billabong, Cwcth, Hadouken, Hot Box and the Vader Shuffle.

§  Beavertown: in Gamma Ray they have one of the best widely-available American Pale Ales. In Smog Rocket they have one of the best UK-made rauchbiers. This year they have started delving into wild territory and they have also done some barrel aging. One of the UK’s most exciting young breweries.

Best Overseas Brewery

Hill Farmstead. Not only do Shaun Hill & Co. show mastery over the fundamental styles (i.e. pale ale, IPA, porter, stout, etc.) but they show just as much mastery over more ambitious brews, such as farmhouse saisons (HF saisons really are breathtaking), barrel-aged stouts and saisons, sour reds – I could go on. They even made a lager this year; it was very good, incidentally. It may not be easy to get your hands on Hill Farmstead beers, but believe me, the juice is worth the squeeze. My favourite HF beers for 2013 included Geneology of Morals (Madeira), Birth of Tragedy, Damon, Susan and Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013

Brew By Numbers and Partizan deserve recognition, even though they both started selling beers in December 2012. Each brewery only had a handful of beers out at that point and each has really blossomed in 2013. Siren has roared out of the gates; though, of course, this isn’t head brewer Ryan Witter’s first rodeo.

Pub/Bar of the Year

I am not sure I can pick a sole victor for this category. I drink almost exclusively around London, so that narrows it down somewhat, but there are a number of superlative pubs in town. I always look forward to visiting the Cock Tavern up in Hackney. Ditto the Craft Beer Co. in Clerkenwell (or the other branches, for that matter). And when I don’t care about drinking the latest BA stout or ballsy IPA, my local – the Cleveland Arms – does the job. And, the Cleveland Arms has a level of character most craft beer bars could only dream of. So it really depends on what I’m looking for on any given day. I’m still waiting for that game-changer pub to bring it all together and locate itself walking distance from my flat.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013

As I said, I mostly drink in and around London. With that in mind, I’ll go with Craft Beer Co. Clapham. I’ve only been there once but I loved the ambiance and the beer selection, as with all the CBC outlets, was outstanding. BrewDog Shepherds Bush is also outstanding. The range in there is pretty much unparalleled in London. Of course, there are no casks…

Beer Festival of the Year

Within the UK, I’ll keep it classic and go with the Great British Beer Festival. It’s nice to see young upstarts putting together Craft Beer festivals and what have you; but when it comes to organization, beer variety and overall atmosphere, GBBF still wins. We saw what happens when novices try to cobble together a festival this year, and it wasn’t pretty. Whatever reservations you have about CAMRA, they know how to run a massive beer festival.

Looking outside the UK, the best festival I attended this year was the Copenhagen Beer Celebration. CBC boasts one of the most ridiculous brewery line-ups of any festival in the world. And the 2013 iteration improved on some of the quirks of the inaugural 2012 edition (like, they had free drinking water this year!).

Supermarket of the Year

When Sainsburys throws it into high gear (what with their Beer Hunt and everything) they are hard to beat. On a regular basis, though, Waitrose is a good go-to.

      Independent Retailer of the Year

I’m a Kris Wines man, through and through. Put me in that cramped little shop on York Way and I’m a happy camper. In all seriousness, though, Kris approaches beer with great enthusiasm and he fills his shop with an impressive range of beers not just from the UK, but also from continental Europe and the USA. I’ll also mention that I visited Cotteridge Wines for the first time this year and, if ever there was a time when I considered being unfaithful to Kris, it was while I roamed the aisles of this West Midlands Mecca.

Online Retailer of the Year

Tough to call. I don’t regularly use one online retailer. Ales By Mail, The Bottle Shop and beermerchants have all done right by me in 2013.

Best Beer Book or Magazine

CAMRA does a pretty good job with their London Drinker publication.

Best Beer Blog or Website

I like what Chris Hall has written this year on The Beer Diary, so that will be by choice for best blog. Best beer website goes to RateBeer.com. It’s the best source for information on beers. Also, the sense of community on RB is wonderful. The forum banter ain’t bad, either.

Best Beer App

There really aren’t that many, are there? I probably use Craft Beer London every other month, and it’s helpful when I do, but I tend to visit the same places on a rotating basis. When I’m in a new area, yeah, Craft Beer London is useful. I also use Untappd fairly often but I get frustrated with the errors and duplicate entries on there.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer

Chris Hall. I always stop scrolling through my feed when I come to one of his tweets.

Best Brewery Website/Social media

I actually don’t spend too much time looking at brewery websites, so I may not be the best judge for this category. That said, Brew By Numbers recently launched a website and it’s pretty fantastic. It has loads of information, the navigation is smooth and the style is clean. I could see myself returning to the page. In terms of social media, there seem to be two types of brewery social media presence: those breweries that tweet everything, like each bar carrying their beer, every thought they have, every trip they take; and those breweries that tweet absolutely nothing.  I’ll also give a shout-out to Brew By Numbers here as well, because they tend to tweet only when they have something useful to say. Please don’t change!

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year

Tuna and sweet stout – it’s a winning combination, trust me.

And there you have it. See you in 2014.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

A Groupie Follows Moor on Tour

On Saturday, Moor Beer Company organized a rather creative event - or series of events, if you like: one day, seven one-off variations of their beer Amoor, seven pubs around London. I happen to be a big fan of Moor and I think they are quietly producing some of the best beers in the UK. What's great about Moor is that they've not only mastered traditionally British styles (see Revival or Nor'Hop) but they're also not afraid to be a bit progressive, like with Hoppiness (an IPA that brings to mind the offerings of the West Coast USA), Illusion (a highly sessionable black IPA at 4.5%) and Fusion (their annual barrel-aged old ale), among others.  So I was pretty excited to hear they were going to put out seven iterations of Amoor, their 4.5% porter. Here is a recount of the day's action.

Draft House Seething Lane: The First Stop

The tour started at Draft House Seething Lane. I had actually never been to this pub so I welcomed the incentive to visit. To be honest, this place has one of the least attractive facades I have ever seen. Thankfully, though, the inviting interior and the stellar lineup of beers more than makes up for the architectural shortcoming. This stop featured the Victoria Amoor, which had added Victoria plums from Michelney. The plums imparted a pleasant tang to the beer, while the original beer's character remained: well roasted malts, a bit of bittersweet cocoa and tobacco.

The Old Red Cow: Stop Second Stop
The second stop took me to the Old Red Cow, an impressively good craft beer for its neighbourhood. Here I had Damson Amoor, a version benefiting from hand-picked damson plums. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Damson version did not differ markedly from the Victoria version. Again I found the addition gave the beer a nice berry-like tang, and again I enjoyed the dusty cocoa and burnt earth character of the original.

Onwards I walked to the Fox & Anchor, a nearby Smithfield pub that I had never visited before. It's certainly not a craft beer mecca, but it has the kind of old school aesthetic that I can really sink my teeth into, what with the worn wood and pewter tankards. And the barmen were dressed pretty smartly, too - a nice touch if you ask me. At this venue they had on offer Sloe Amoor, the sloe sourced from Charlton Adam in Somerset. I encountered similar tangy berry characteristics in this beer, suggestions of blackberry and cherry; but I also thought this version was more bitter than the first two, which I didn't altogether enjoy. Still, nice to see how a different ingredient impacts the base beer. Moving along.

Next I ventured to the Slaughtered Lamb - my first visit to this bar. The Slaughtered Lamb is a somewhat spartan affair. You've got the bar, plenty of uncomplicated seating, large glass windows looking out on to the street. (Downstairs is a venue for comedy and music.) The highlight here is really the beer. They've got a modest range on cask and keg but in bottles there's a nice assortment from around the world: De Molen, Nogne O, Odell, Ska, The Kernel - the list goes on. During my visit the draft lines (both cask and keg) featured a nice range of Moor beers beyond the special of the day, Blackberry Amoor. I quite enjoyed this edition. The blackberries came through full and juicy up front, then dry and leathery in the back. The jamminess of the berry worked well with the dry chocolate character. Before leaving the Slaughtered Lamb I also enjoyed a glass of Moor Confidence, a well-hopped amber ale. I would highly recommend it if you have the chance.

Fox & Anchor: The Third Stop
The fifth stop was the Exmouth Arms, ground upon which I have previously trod. Once there I went directly to the bar to order a Cherry Amoor. The cherry character came through most strongly in the nose, all ripe and tangy. In the flavor the cherry was a bit more restrained and the chalky cocoa dominated. In the finish you got bitter cherry pits. A fun version, to be sure. I wish I had more drinking capacity because the Exmouth Arms had plenty more good options on tap. But duty called.

The sixth stop of the tour was the Skinners Arms, yet another first visit for me. I got here before the Moor entourage and the bar had not yet started selling the Grape Amoor. I flashed a quick smile to the barmaid and that was it: Grape Amoor - mine. (To be fair the cask was connected and everything. They just hadn't attached the pump clip.) I thought this version lacked the complexity of its predecessors, but it could have just been that I'd been drinking steadily for six hours and my delicate palate was starting to miss out on nuance. But I'll stick to my guns and say that this was my least favourite of the magnificent seven Amoors. It was still a solid beer; I'm just speaking relatively here. I did get mellow grape in this beer, along with other tangy berries, raisins and milk chocolate. There were no interesting beers on besides the several from Moor so I steeled myself for the final leg of the journey.

The Exmouth Arms: The Sixth Stop
The Euston Tap was rammed when I arrived shortly after 6pm. But with the kind of tunnel-vision determination only someone deep into a day of drinking can possess, I got to the bar quickly and ordered the final Moor one-off of the day: Spiced Rum Amoor. This version was another standout. The fruits in Spiced Rum Amoor were less ripe and tangy, more dry and leathery. I also welcomed newcomer notes like burnt marshmallow and flinty minerals. There was still plenty of ashy roast and bittersweet baking cocoa to keep everything in check. I thought this last edition was well balanced and deep, a good way to cap the Tour.

Upon reflection, it was a hell of an outing. A big thanks to Moor for having the spirit to embark on a project like this - I really hope you do it again. It was fairly educational to see how the variations in ingredients led to slight differences in the final product. But most of all, it was a lot of fun.

Until next time.

Monday 18 November 2013

Beer Tasting: Partizan Dubbel

Partizan Dubbel
There are only a handful of breweries in the UK that make a habit of producing Belgian-style beers; fewer still are the number of breweries who do it successfully. Partizan has now put out over 20 different Belgian-inspired beers and today we try one of their best, the Dubbel. I bought this beer at the brewery. It pours a mostly clear russet with a large, frothy tan head. The aroma is lovely, full of well toasted malts, hints of cocoa and caramel, touches of ripe and slightly dried fruits. Medium sweet with subtle Belgian yeast, the flavor has some dry but lightly doughy brown bread, ripe fruits, hints of grapes and berries, mild toffee and light bitter leaves. It is medium bodied with fine, massaging carbonation. Moderate sweetness greets you in the finish with a nice though mild dry, earthy bitterness to balance it out, along with dried fruits, further berries, hints of toffee, rich bread and background Belgian yeast. It is a great beer overall, very well balanced and exceedingly drinkable. I can't think of many - if any - other breweries in the UK that have made a dubbel to this standard. (Score: 4.0/5.0)

Beer Tasting: Belleville Northcote Blonde

Belleville Northcote Blonde.
Today we try Belleville's Northcote Blonde (4.2% ABV). I would guess this beer takes its name from Northcote Road, which is located a short walk away from the brewery. I picked this bottle up at the brewery. It pours clear, yellow-gold with a fine, frothy white head. It really is a pretty attractive beer. The aroma holds notes of grains and hay, along with some white bread. It has a light sweet flavor with further hay, some tangy lemon and tangerine, more doughy and yeasty white bread. It's light bodied with fine carbonation. On the finish there is some bitter and lightly astringent hay, with still more doughy pale malt sugars and tangy lemon. It's alright overall but it could do with a bit more cohesion. At times the malt sweetness come across as a bit cloying. Some of Belleville's other beers are better put together than this one. (Score: 2.9/5)

Friday 8 November 2013

Wandsworth Common Halloween Beer Festival Recap

The Wandsworth Common Halloween Beer Festival concluded this past weekend and it was another great event. (For information on the festival and its history, please go here.) I attended on the Preview Night, which allowed me to try a good number of the beers on offer. Among the highlights were:

You may not find a better location for a beer festival.
Empire Colony Thirteen, 5.1% - Until this festival I had never had a beer from Empire, so I really didn't know what to expect. This beer was billed as an 'American style IPA', and I'll just say this: as a default I am skeptical of non-US breweries (and, to be fair, even many US breweries) who describe an IPA as American because, as an American, I have certain expectations. Well, congratulations, Empire, you did a damn fine job on this beer. The beer pours clear gold with a large, frothy white head. The aroma is a pleasant mix of lightly dried citrus fruits, hay and biscuity pale malts. The flavor is light to medium sweet with mild pithy lemons, subtle citrus rind and hay bitterness, and crunchy pale malts. The body is light to medium and the carbonation level is moderate - the beer is in top condition. The finish is quite clean with decent citrus pith, stony dryness, straw and balancing pale malt sweetness. This really is a superlative sessioner. And while I wouldn't describe this beer as a by-the-book American IPA, it's still an excellent beer; I'd probably call it a ramped up British golden ale with a nod to American IPAs.  Regardless of what you want to call it, this was one of the best beers on tap. (Score: 4.1/5)

Bank Top Dark Mild, 4% - I'm a big fan of milds. It's a difficult style to do well, in my opinion, because packing a lot of flavor into a low-ABV beer - while keeping it balanced and drinkable - is no easy feat. When done right, though, it's one of the best session styles around. Bank Top delivered a stunner here. The beer pours clearish brown with a frothy beige cap. The nose has nice chocolate notes and mellow roasted malts. The flavor is light to medium sweet with moderate toasted bread and light milk chocolate. Light bodied with fine carbonation; it's in great condition. Lightly earthy and dry to finish with more chocolate character. The beer is rich but mellow and very well balanced. Easily one of the best beers at the festival. (Score: 4.1/5)

The beer of the festival, folks: Fuller's Imperial Stout.
Fuller's Imperial Stout, 10.5% - Imperial stout might not be the best style of beer to have during a protracted festival drinking session, but that doesn't mean one should pass up the opportunity to try it; and bless the festival staff for only serving this beer in small pours. In contrast to a mild, I find imperial stout a much simpler style to pull off since any slight imperfections can be covered up by an excess of flavor. As with any style of beer, though, the chief goal should be to achieve balance, and Fuller's has most definitely done that with this rendition. The beer pours oily black-brown with a mellow, creamy brown head. The aroma holds lots of burnt wood, dark chocolate, well roasted malts and charred marshmallows. It's medium sweet with a nice torched wood character, subtle pine, dark fruits, rich chocolate and restrained bitterness. Medium to full in body with fine carbonation, the beer rests easy on the palate. It finishes with light dry burnt wood, further rich chocolate, earthy bitterness and more scorched marshmallows. The most impressive thing about the beer is the balance between the intense depth of flavor and it's drinkability; for a 10.5% beer, it was far too easy to drink. This was my favorite of the festival. I hope others were able to try it as well but I know there was only a small amount available. If you missed out, this beer can be purchased on the Fuller's website. (Score: 4.2/5)

Belleville Trick or Treat, 5.4% - Pumpkin beers are tough to do well given that you're dealing with a range of ingredients that don't often make their way into beer. The classic pitfalls of the pumpkin beer style include excessive spicing or cloying sweetness. I'm happy to say that Belleville managed to brew a lovely take on the style. The beer pours lightly hazy gold with a fine, filmy white head. The nose has notes of fleshy pumpkin, pumpkin pie and nutmeg. Medium sweet with notes of dry, bready malts, further pumpkin pie and restrained cinnamon and nutmeg. It's light to medium in body with fine carbonation. It finishes lightly sweet with great balance between the pumpkin character and the spices. While it's simple to write off pumpkin beers as novelty, this offering shows you can make one that is balanced and drinkable. Good work. (Score: 3.7/5)

Other beers worthy of mention include:

Exeter Avocet, 3.9% - A classical British golden ale with notes of lemon rind, straw and bready pale malts. Effortlessly drinkable if not particularly complex. (Score: 3.8/ 5)

Hawkshead Windemere, 3.5% - A good and hoppy golden ale with a dynamic character of tangerine, lemon and peach. It finished clean and dry with slight minerality and crunchy pale malts. (Score: 3.8/5)

Twickenham Autumn Red, 4.4% - A well constructed premium bitter marked by toasted brown bread, dried berries and balanced, piney bitterness. (Score: 3.8/5)

Exmoor Beast, 6.6% - A rich, hefty porter with notes of toffee, figs, raisins, sweet bread and semi-dark fruits. A nice cold weather beer. (Score: 3.7/5)

And in a tie for best names...

There's always something for everyone. 
Elgood Harry Trotter & The Deathly Swallows, 4.5% - While fairly average overall, the beer did have an intriguing fruit character with lots of berries, plums and cherries. And it was in good condition. (Score: 3.1/5)

Ulverston Laughing Gravy, 4.0% - It was a pretty decent bitter that hit all the right notes: grainy and bready malts, berries and other dried fruits, moderate leafy bitterness. I don't know what other people thought of the name, but I loved it. (Score: 3.6/5)

Many thanks to the folks behind this festival. You all continue to impress me with the range of beers and the consistently good conditioning. Cheers.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

The Week in Beer

This weekend is shaping up to be a great one. Quite coincidentally there are a host of good events going and it will take an intrepid drinker to make it to everything.

Friday, 8 November:
  • Tap East Second Birthday Party:
    • Tap East celebrates two years of slinging beers in Westfield Stratford. The event kicks off at 11am on Friday and runs until Sunday. Expect a range of collaboration beers and other rarities for the occasion. For more info, go here.
  • Hop Stuff Launch Party:
    • Hop Stuff, a new brewery based down in Woolwich, will have a launch night at Dial Arch, Royal Arsenal. The event is scheduled to commence at 7pm and feature two of their beers. For more information on the event, go here.
Saturday, 9 November:
  • Dieu du Ciel Tap Takeover at BrewDog Shoreditch:
    • BrewDog Shoreditch will showcase a range of beers from Dieu du Ciel, one of Canada's most highly regarded breweries. Dieu du Ciel, based in Montreal, tackle a range of beer styles and often put a novel twist on each - and the quality level is almost always high.
  • Tilquin Meet the Brewer at Craft Beer Co. Clerkenwell:
    • Pierre Tilquin comes to Clerkenwell to meet London's beer geeks. For those who don't know, Tilquin is one of Belgium's newest gueuze blenders and, in only a few years of selling his blends, has made a name for himself on an international level. It's really pretty cool that he'll be in town. The event is scheduled to begin at 5pm. Want more info? Here.
  • Euston Tap Celebrates Third Birthday:
    • To commemorate three years of operation the Tap will have a range of special beers available, including Harbour Imperial Chocolate Vanilla Stout (I've had it before - it's good) and Thornbridge/ S:t Eriks Imperial Raspberry Stout (I've had that one too - also good). The festivities are set to begin at 6pm. For more info, go here.
There you have it. Godspeed.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Beer Tasting: Brixton Brewery

Brixton Brewery's core lineup.

London welcomed a new brewery into the fold a few weeks back: Brixton Brewery. They launched at Craft Beer Co. Brixton on 16 October with three beers: Reliance Pale ale (a golden ale), Effra Ale (an amber) and Electric IPA (yep, an IPA). Craft was fairly rammed that evening so I bought the three beers in bottle (only one was on tap when I stopped in anyway) and took them home. And the next day, I drank them. Here's what I thought.

First off, I'd say it's worth noting that these are some sexy labels. Just look at 'em. They bring to mind the work of Peter Max and, for me, that's just great. But of course it's the liquid inside that counts, so along we move.

Brixton Reliance Pale Ale
I started with the lightest beer, the Reliance Pale Ale. At 4.2% it's right in the session beer wheelhouse. It pours lightly hazy gold with a moderate, frothy white head that settles into a cream. It has a pretty classic aroma of pale, lightly doughy malts with touches of hay and lemon. The flavor is lightly sweet with a character that follows as expected based on the nose: some lightly dried pale malts, a bit of white bread, dirty hay, lemon rind, background citric tang. It's light bodied with fine carbonation. Lightly drying on the finish with bitter hay and rindy citrus, it's balanced by a very simple pale malt base. It's highly drinkable golden ale. (Score: 3.7/5)

Brixton Effra Ale
Next up I went for the Effra Ale, a 4.5% amber ale.  The beer pours cloudy amber with a bubbly, white head. The aroma has notes of pine, dried orange and grainy bread. It's light to medium sweet with lots of dry and lightly yeasty brown bread, further pine, earth, some leaves and a bit more dried citrus. Light to medium bodied with soft carbonation - the condition seems slightly lacking. Mildly resinous on the finish with lightly toasted, dried bread, pine, hints of pineapple, orange and apple. It's a fairly tasty beer overall but it’s rather simplistic and a bit rough around the edges. (Score: 3.4/5)

Brixton Electric IPA
I finished off with the Electric IPA. At 6.5% it's far and away the strongest of the Brixton trio.  It pours lightly hazy, rich gold with a large, frothy white cap. The aroma has pine needles, grapefruit and perhaps some tangerine. The flavor is light to medium sweet with further citrusy hops, some alcohol, and mild notes of plastic and somewhat abrasive grass. It's medium bodied with fine, creamy carbonation. Subtly resinous on the finish with harsh grassy bitterness, subtle toasted plastic, pine and semi-ripe grapefruit. There are some nice citrus notes at times but overall the beer could be improved; I just didn't find it that drinkable. Given the quality level of IPAs in London at this point in time a beer like will struggle to stand out. (Score: 2.9/5)

It's great to see a new London brewery kicking off with a session beer like the Reliance - and doing it well. But with the Electric IPA and, to a lesser extent, the Effra Ale, it's apparent that this young brewery still has room to improve. I will look forward to trying more Brixton beers in the future to see how the brewery progresses.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Beer Tasting: By The Horns Hopslinger American IPA

I picked this beer up at Oddbins London Bridge (which, incidentally, is a great place to source London beers). This IPA looks great: it pours a perfectly clear amber-gold, lightly effervescent, with a moderate, foamy white head. The aroma holds orange, pine, modest caramel, lightly toasted bread and some background grapefruit. The flavour is medium sweet with a sturdy malt character, some dry toasted bread, a bit of earth, dirty pine, semi-dry orange and further grapefruit. It is medium bodied with fine carbonation. Lightly resinous to finish, there are notes of juicy citrus fruits, bread, dry caramel, subtle grass and earth. It's a pretty decent IPA with a relatively dynamic hop profile. It certainly leans more to the dirty, earthy end of the IPA spectrum. (Score: 3.6/5.0)

Monday 12 August 2013

The Week in Beer: 12-18 August, 2013

Any self-respecting beer drinker - and especially a London beer drinker - knows that this week is a big one. The premiere event is, of course, the Great British Beer Festival, which kicks off its 36th year. There are, however, a number of smaller though still highly intriguing events taking place over the next seven days, including a few Meet the Brewer nights and the inaugural year of the London Craft Beer Festival. Please read below for further details on what's happening this week.

Monday, 12 August:
  • Weird Beard Meet the Brewer at Cask Pub and Kitchen:
    • West London's own Weird Beard Brew Co. takes over the taps at Pimlico-based Cask Pub and Kitchen. It looks like they will have 10 beers on cask and an additional seven on keg; full list available here. Keep an eye out for a few specials you aren't likely to see again. Beers available from 5pm.

Tuesday, 13 August:
  • Great British Beer Festival - Day 1 (13-17 August):
    • Great, indeed. According to the festival's website, they expect more than 55,000 attendees this year to enjoy the more than 800 beers, ciders and perries on offer. This festival is first and foremost a CAMRA event so the focus is on British real ales (and real cider/ perry). But that doesn't mean they won't have a fantastic selection of beers from beyond the UK both on tap and in bottle. Expect to see some great beers from the United States, Belgium and Germany. It's obviously [almost] impossible to try everything so I would recommend you take a look here to prioritize your drinking agenda. I'll do my best to tweet any standouts I come across.
  • Wild Beer Co. Meet the Brewer at Cask Pub and Kitchen:
    • Another great MTB event at CPK, this one featuring Wild Beer Co. of Somerset. The pub will have seven offerings from Wild Beer, including a few debuts. Information on the beers planned for the event can be found here. Beers available from 5pm.

Wednesday, 14 August:
  • Great British Beer Festival - Day 2:
    • Pick up the pieces and get back in there!
  • Camden Versus Italy at Camden Town Brewery:
    • Camden will host four Italian brewers for an Italian tap takeover. The event will feature beers - and their brewers! - from Birrificio Italiano, Brewfist, Birra del Borgo and Toccalmatto. Full event details available here.

Thursday, 15 August:
  • Great British Beer Festival - Day 3
    • Time to start separating the men/ women from the boys/ girls. Probably best not to do three straight days of GBBF unless you really know what you're doing.

Friday, 16 August:
  • Great British Beer Festival - Day 4
    • This tends to be one of the busier days of GBBF as London's work force heads to the festival to wind down and celebrate the weekend's arrival. If you are going, expect ample and perhaps rambunctious crowds.
  • London Craft Beer Festival - Day 1:
    • Expectations are high for this new festival, which will feature 18 breweries and over 100 beers from the UK and beyond. Numerous London breweries will be in attendance, including The Kernel, Redemption, Beavertown, Brodie's, Partizan and more. Non-UK breweries include Mikkeller, De Molen and To Ol. For a full roster of the breweries attending, please go here. This festival will also emphasize food and music as part of the overall experience. Day one has two sessions: in the afternoon for friends/ press and in the evening for everyone.
  • Mikkeller Tap Takeover at King William IV:
    • Details surrounding this event have been minimal so far. I've heard whispers that the event will feature a dizzying array of beers from Denmark's renowned gypsy brewer and, based on previous tap takeovers at King William IV, I suspect the rumors are true. Should I get more information I will post back. I suspect beers will be made available in the early afternoon.

Saturday, 17 August:
  • Great British Beer Festival - Day 5:
    • By this point most of the best beers will be gone - but not the crowds.
  • London Craft Beer Festival - Day 2:
    • Two sessions today: one in the afternoon and one in the evening.

Sunday, 18 August:
  • London Craft Beer Festival - Day 3
    • If after six days on continuous drinking you still want more, here's the best place to do it. One session lasting from the early afternoon until the early evening.

So there you go. I have to say this is one of the most impressive (and dangerous) beer weeks I have ever encountered. For those of you aiming to tackle the majority of the events listed above, please keep me updated on your progress (tweet me @LondonBeerGuide). I'll be hoping to do something each day this week, though I almost certainly won't be able to do it all - but you never know.

Good luck everybody.

Saturday 10 August 2013

Beer Event: Pilsner Urquell Nefiltrovaný in London

The rather lovely unfiltered Pilsner Urquell. Photo taken at the Prince Regent on Marylebone High Street.

Most people know Pilsner Urquell as the ubiquitous Czech Pilsner you can find all around London and, indeed, all around the world. Given its mass-market status (it is owned by SABMiller), it's actually a pretty decent beer, and if I happen to find myself in a non beer-focused bar I'll happily drink a Pilsner Urquell. What most people don't know, however, is that Pilsner Urquell actually make a different version of their flagship lager that rarely gets exported out of the Czech Republic. This different version, known as Pilsner Urquell Nefiltrovaný, is both unfiltered and unpasteurized (the version we see most often is unpasteurized and filtered). It is widely considered the best example of the Czech Pilsner style; it scores a 3.97 (out of 5.0) on consumer-based beer rating site RateBeer, which puts it in the top percentile for the style and makes it the highest-rated Czech Pilsner. By way of contrast, the standard, filtered version scores a 3.26, which places it in the 95th percentile and 45th highest out of all Czech Pilsners listed on RateBeer.  

The cask gets tapped at the Prince Regent.
As such, it was with much enthusiasm I greeted the news that Pilsner Urquell would tour their unfiltered beer around London. Wednesday was the first day of a four-day circuit around the Big Smoke. Basically, a team from Pilsner Urquell have a barrel of beer for each bar they visit. On Wednesday they started in Mayfair at the Guinea and finished on Marylebone High Street at the Prince Regent, the stop at which I visited them. On Thursday they were in East London (I stopped by the Haggerston for a pint), Friday in Central and North London, and they will finish today in Southwest London. For the full itinerary, see here.

I thought the beer was outstanding - and hence my effort to try it more than once. Interestingly, I actually picked up on some subtle differences in the beer from the two sessions. On the first night the beer had a much stronger bready character, a bit more toasted corn; on the second night it had more crispy straw bitterness and more restrained breadiness. I had one of the first pours out of the cask at the Prince Regent and the beer was flowing a little lively, resulting in one of the firmest heads I have ever seen on a beer. (If you wanted, I'm sure you could have literally rested another glass right on top of it.) Overall, though, the beer was essentially the same, defined mostly by its delicious, bready pale malts and delicate bitterness of hay and straw. The beer also has a fairly miraculous texture - exceedingly fine and creamy. It's just about one of the most drinkable beers I can recall having. After four pints on Wednesday and another one (and a half) on Thursday, I'm pretty confident about that statement.

First glass of unfiltered Pilsner Urquell.

As I noted above, today will be your last chance to try this beer for the foreseeable future. I spoke with a Pilsner Urquell rep at the Prince Regent and he said the brewery will likely continue bringing the unfiltered version out for special occasions but that it typically won't get to London more than once per year. So, whether you're a lager-lover or simply a beer enthusiast eager to try something special, I highly recommend you make your way to Southwest London later today to try some of this beer.

Monday 5 August 2013

Beer Tasting: Strawman Saison

I recently tried my first beer from Strawman, a small brewery based in Hackney, just off the northeast corner of London Fields. This beer was the Strawman Saison. First of all, any brewery that launches with a saison as one of their first beers is pretty damn OK in my book (so long as they do it well, of course). Thankfully, Strawman did an exceptional job on their low ABV interpretation of the saison style. At a mere 3.9% ABV, this beer punches well above its weight class. It pours hazy yellow and strongly effervescent with a large, frothy white head; it looks great - just check out the photo to the right, yeah? The aroma holds dry, pale malts, dry dough, some spicy yeast and hints of banana. Lightly sweet, the flavor brings further dry but somewhat doughy pale malts, touches of orange merengue and mellow bitter straw. It's light bodied with lively, massaging carbonation. The finish is fairly dry with some sweet, dry and mildly doughy pale malts, the faintest hints of tangy lemon and low bitterness. Very clean, very refreshing. Overall it is quite a solid saison. And to do it all while keeping the ABV at 3.9% is indeed impressive. I am excited by this new brewery. (Score: 4.1/5.0)

Beer Tasting: Pressure Drop Fashion IPA

On this rainy Monday evening I tried Pressure Drop's Fashion IPA. The beer pours cloudy, amber-brown with a lasting, frothy off-white head. The aroma holds lots of brown bread, ripe orange, pine and subtle toffee. The flavor is medium sweet with more bready malts, toasted sugars, moderate alcohol boost, some further ripe and slightly dried citrus fruits, touches of toffee and brown sugar. It's medium bodied with fine, massaging carbonation. The finish has light warmth and hints of pine resins, some rindy bitterness, soft earth, more brown bread and a bit of dry toffee. All in all it’s quite tasty stuff, if not especially clean and in the style of paler IPAs. I've had a range of the Pale Fire American pale ales from Pressure Drop, which were all fairly true to style, so it's interesting to try an IPA from them that, I would say, is a bit more adventurous. (Score: 3.5/5.0)

Sunday 4 August 2013

Beer Tasting: Partizan Barrel Aged FES

I recently tried Partizan's Barrel Aged FES (Foreign Export Stout). This is the first barrel aged beer Partizan has put out so far. The beer debuted at the Haand Beer Festival in Drammen, Norway in late May before going on sale down in Bermondsey in mid June. The beer pours deep, brown-black with a strong, frothy beige head. Lightly charred, somewhat ashy roasted malts abound in the aroma, with a bit of cocoa and earth as well. The flavor is medium sweet with lots of rich, dark chocolate, sturdy roasted malts, subtle dried dark fruits, ash, chocolate-covered cherries, burnt wood and burnt marshmallows. It's medium to full bodied with fine, creamy carbonation. There is moderate alcohol warmth in the finish, further dark chocolate, mild bittersweet baking cocoa, a bit of torched barrel, mellow earthy bitterness and burnt sugars. It's great stuff overall. The nuances imparted from the barrel are subtle - a successful outcome from barrel aging, in my book. Some barrel aged beers can be completely dominated by the barrel in which they were aged, leaving little character of the base beer behind; that is not the case here. I wouldn't say I like this beer any more or any less than the original beer. This iteration has perhaps a bit more bitter, burnt wood and slightly more muted, rounded sweetness, but the overall character is similar. Bottom line,  it's nicely balanced and quite drinkable, especially for the alcohol level and intensity of flavors. (Score: 4.1/5.0)

Monday 29 July 2013

Beer Tasting: The Kernel London Sour Red Wine Barrel

My visit to The Kernel this weekend yielded a slew of barrel-aged beers. In the last year The Kernel have embarked on a fairly ambitious barrel aging program, and they have released several of their barrel-aged beers in the last couple of weeks. Some of the beers that are either available now or will be in the near future are the Imperial Brown Stout (one in Glen Garioch, one in Glen Spey), the Stout (in Glen Garioch) and the London Sour (one in Burgundy Chardonnay, one in Burgundy Pinot Noir).

Today I'm trying The Kernel's London Sour Red Wine Barrel, a 2.3% Berliner Weisse that has been aged for four months in Burgundy Pinot Noir barrels. The beer pours clear, pale yellow with a small, quickly fading white foam head. The aroma sends off lots of tangy, acidic lemon, mellow funk, hints of ripening stone fruits. The flavor holds moderate sweetness with further lemon, some lip-puckering vinegar notes, nice acidity and hints of tart berries. It's light bodied with fine, spritzy carbonation. The finish is sour and quick. You get a bit of tart lemon bite, very little bitterness, touches of white grape and sweat. There’s mild throat burn, courtesy of that aforementioned vinegar character. In the aftertaste you get notes of soured wheat. Overall I like this a bit more than the standard London Sour from The Kernel. This barrel-aged version definitely has some additional acidic twang to it, and also a more complex fruitiness. It is quite a lovely little beer and a testament to what can be achieved at a very low alcohol level. (Score: 4.2/5.0)

Beer Tasting: Partizan Pale Ale Dr. Rudi

I recently enjoyed one of Partizan's pale ale releases, which features the New Zealand hop variety Dr. Rudi. Dr. Rudi has at times been described as a cross between Nelson Sauvin (a New Zealand hop) and Cascade (an American hop). Having tasted this beer, I can understand that description, as the hop certainly imparts the juicy fruit character I would expect from Nelson Sauvin while also lending a grassy, dirty bitterness, which I associate with Cascade.

The beer pours hazy, yellow-gold with a large, lasting frothy white cap. The aroma holds notes of ripening orange, mango, some lightly yeasty pale malts, zesty lemon, hints of citrus rind and dirt. The flavor is light to medium sweet with mellow grassy bitterness, more rindy citrus, dry pale malts, some hay. It's light bodied with average, creamy carbonation. The finish is lightly resinous with some quick, dry citrus bitterness, a bit more grass and hay, mild juicy tangerine, touches of spicy pine. At 5.5% ABV it's right in that session beer wheelhouse - at least for me, anyway. Overall it's quite a nice American pale ale and a good illustration of the Dr. Rudi hop variety. (Score: 3.8/5.0)

Thursday 25 July 2013

Event Recap: Meantime Tasting at the Union Tavern

On Tuesday evening, the Union Tavern hosted Meantime Brewing Company as part of the pub's We Need to Talk About Beer series. For this series, the pub typically brings in a single brewery and a representative from the brewery (often a brewer) takes the audience through a range of their beers. This occasion marked the fifth such event I have attended at the Union Tavern, preceded by Windsor & Eton, The Kernel, East London Brewery, and a mixed tasting of American beers.

Pete Brissenden from Meantime walked us through six beers from the brewery's range: London Lager, Pilsner, Wheat, India Pale Ale, London Stout and Chocolate (a Baltic Porter). Meantime, the second-largest brewery in Greater London after Fuller's, focus mostly on beers that appeal to a wide variety of drinkers. Their lagers, pale ales and porters are fairly straight-ahead examples of the styles, well executed if not especially exciting. Thankfully, Meantime do have an experimental streak and regularly brew small batch releases that are available at their brewery tap room and pub down in Greenwich. For example, they've put out a host of barrel-aged beers and other niche styles such as quad and saison. I find these limited-release beers to be far more intriguing than the standard lineup. They showcase the creativity and brewing acumen of Meantime's brewers, and I will continue to seek out such beers as and when I can.

With their core range of beers, though, Meantime strives for consistency and drinkability, embracing a 'Drink it, don't think it' (Pete's words) mentality. While many breweries like to vary their beer offerings by using new recipes on a weekly basis, Meantime wants its customers to know that the London Lager they drink today will taste the same as it did last month, and will taste the same next month. It's a sound model and it suits their mission.

Pete talking beer.
The first beer we tackled was Meantime London Lager, a 4.5% so-called Premium Lager. It's a fairly uncomplicated beer with a character marked by crisp but doughy biscuits and a very slight straw bitterness. This beer epitomizes the 'Drink it, don't think it' mentality. I would happily sink a few bottles of this stuff on a hot day. We followed with Meantime Pilsner. It's not terribly dissimilar to the London Lager, though it does have a bit more hop kick to it. The malts again are fairly biscuity, lightly doughy, with mild cereal grains. It's another highly drinkable beer.

We then moved on to the Meantime Wheat. True to its style, this 5% hefeweizen had plenty of banana and clove in the aroma, and of course bready wheat. The flavor was moderately sweet with lightly sugary wheat bread, mild spices, ripe bananas. Not the most inspiring hefe I've had before, but certainly quaffable.

Next was the fairly heady 7.5% Meantime India Pale Ale. The brewery markets this beer as an 'authentic' IPA; that is, a beer true to the style of those IPAs that, back in the good old days, made the voyage from the UK to India. It's a decent beer and it drinks pretty well for its strength. There's a mild breadiness to the malts, and the hops impart notes of earth, cedar and tangy citrus. The alcohol leaves you with a warming finish.

We finished the tasting with two dark beers, the Meantime London Stout and the Meantime Chocolate. The London Stout (4.5%) is easy going, its character defined by dark sugars, lightly roasted malts, some ash and faint coffee. The Chocolate (6.5%) is a bit punchier, the roasted malts a bit harder. The chocolate character can be a bit chalky at times but overall it adds an interesting element to the beer.

It was a fun event and thanks to Pete for making his presentation insightful and engaging. And, of course, big thanks to the Union Tavern and its staff for hosting. I loved the ribs.