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.

Monday 15 July 2013

Beer Tasting: Signature Brew Doctor's Orders and Ed Harcourt's Dark Heart

This evening I ventured further into the Signature Brew roster of beers. I'd had a few others from this outfit before (Professor Green's Remedy, Sssnakepit and Unplugged, to be specific) and enjoyed them, so nerves were not an issue. On the docket tonight were Ed Harcourt's Dark Heart (a ramped up brown ale) and Doctor's Orders (a fairly straight-ahead lager).

Signature Brew bring something unique to the table. The three guys behind the company - David and Sam, who come from the music industry, and Tom, who has a brewing background - pair up with their favorite musical acts or record labels to create collaboration beers, which they in turn aim to sell at music venues where these acts perform; the beers are also sold to pubs and bottle shops. The collaborative process begins by meeting with the musician in question and sampling through a range of beers to assess his or her tastes. The team document these tastings and post the resulting videos on the Signature Brew website. (These videos are actually quite enjoyable to watch and I would recommend in particular the one with Ed Harcourt.) Once Tom has enough information to go on, he puts together a recipe. Signature Brew then contracts the recipe out to a brewery to have the beer produced.

So the Doctor's Orders was a collaboration with Hospital Records, the South London-based label that specializes in electronic music. The result of their collaboration was a malty lager, clocking in at 5.2% ABV. The beer pours clear, deep gold with a moderate, frothy white head. The aroma has lots of bready malts, some cereal, hints of ripe orange. The flavor is medium sweet with lots of lightly toasted bready malts, some caramel, mild bitter cereal grains, touches of orange. Light to medium bodied with fine, creamy carbonation. Sweet finish, more sugary bread, light bitter toasted hay. It's decent. Certainly not the most complex beer you'll come across, but it's easygoing stuff.

Taking it up a notch, I moved on to the 6.8% brown ale, Ed Harcourt's Dark Heart. Mr. Harcourt seemed to quite relish the opportunity to create a beer (see the video here), and his enthusiasm definitely comes through in the finished product. This so-called 'Edwardian Brown Ale' pours clear, red-brown with a strong, lasting beige froth head. The aroma holds a bit of chalky cocoa, well toasted malts, some dry earth. The flavor is light to medium sweet with lots of bittersweet cocoa, some almost-burnt brown bread, licks of robust coffee, earthy bitterness. Medium bodied with average, creamy carbonation. The texture is fairly oily. It finishes with lots more bittersweet cocoa, further earthy bitterness, burnt toast, dirt and charred malts. A pretty sturdy brown ale, and a solid effort overall. Apparently Ed Harcourt likes his beer to have some teeth.

I've enjoyed the beers I've had from the Signature Brew project so far. And I'm especially intrigued by the collaborative process they undertake. I'll be interested to see what other styles of beer come out of this fairly singular approach to brewing.

Thursday 11 July 2013

Festival Recap: The Wandsworth Common London Beer Festival

The Wandsworth Common Beer Festival is one of my favorite festivals in London. For setting, beer selection and overall experience there are few festivals that can really touch it. As such, when they announced they would put on a new iteration of their festival focusing solely on London breweries, it excited me greatly. Additionally, the prospect of a summer festival (the Wandsworth Common Festivals had until now taken place in March and October) was also a major perk.

The Royal Victoria Patriotic Building (pictured at right) houses the beer festival, and the festival takes place in the building's courtyard and attached restaurant, Le Gothique. It is quite a fetching structure aesthetically, and its history makes it all the more intriguing. According to the its website, the building began its life as an orphanage in 1857. It was subsequently a hospital during WWI, home to MI6 during WWII, and later on a school. When the building fell into disrepair, the London County Council eventually sold the building on to an entrepreneur, who funded extensive reservations to the Grade II listed structure. That was in 1980. The building now has residential flats, artist studios and workshops, office units, a bar and restaurant. And it is in that bar and restaurant section of the building that I spent last Thursday evening.

The selection of beers from London brewers was indeed dizzying. There were about 40 distinct London breweries represented, ranging from the classic (Fuller's) to the more progressive brewers that have opened in the last few years (The Kernel, Partizan, Weird Beard, et al), and the styles of beer available for consumption ranged widely. The gravity casks outside poured all manner of bitters and golden ales, APAs and IPAs, stouts and strong bitters. A select few kegs lines added to the variety. In doors, a further range of handpumps offered drinkers different cask options, and there was also an excellent selection of bottled beers for sale. On the Preview Night, the session I visited the festival, the bottles were not part of the tasting schedule, so I was precluded from drinking those beers offered in bottle at the festival, such as the aforementioned Kernel and Partizan, in addition to Brew By Numbers, Little Brew, Ellenberg's, Redchurch, Beavertown, Howling Hops and Pressure Drop. During the subsequent festival sessions, which were pay-as-you-go versus the all-in price of the Preview Night, the bottles could be purchased by attendees.

Even without the bottled beers there was more than enough draught beer to keep any drinker occupied. Despite applying myself fairly vigorously for several hours, I reckon there were a few dozen beers I did not get to try. The quality level of the beers I did have was overall quite high. And the festival did well to get breweries from a broad geographic sample: from the north, London Brewing Co.; from the east and southeast, A Head in a Hat, Beavertown, Crate, East London Brewery, Five Points Brewing Co., Hackney Brewery, Brupond; and from the west and southwest, Belleville, By the Horns, Clarence & Fredericks, Cronx, Fuller's; and all these breweries are just a portion of what you would have found during the festival.

Among the most notable beers were the following:

Fuller's Special 7-Year Old Matured Cask Bitter, 8.5% - it's not often you come across aged beers at festivals so it was certainly a fun experience to try this one. The beer definitely showed signs of its age, its character rife with tangy and leathery fruits, molasses, raisins, earth. I've had a number of aged beers from Fuller's before, mostly bottle conditioned beers from their Vintage Ale collection; it was nice to try one from the cask.

Rocky Head Zen, 4.8% - this was likely the most refreshing beer of the day. Pouring from a key keg, it was chilled a bit more than the gravity casks. The beer was tastefully hopped and had traces of dried lemon, tangerine and hay, with an adequate dry pale malt base to provide just enough sweetness. The beer finished lightly resinous with a nice, cleansing mineral quality. It was a really lovely little pale ale, and easily the most drinkable of the festival.

London Brewers Alliance Collaboration Ale, 7.2% - this was an interesting one. The beer was an IPA base with roasted malts, oats and wheat, and a yeast designed for wheat beers. The recipe resulted in a genre-bending so-called 'black and white IPA'. The beer showcased the creativity of the members of the London Brewers Alliance, or LBA, and the range of flavors that can be packed into one beer. Past collaborations from the LBA, which have included an IPA and a strong stout, have been fairly straight-ahead takes on those two styles, so it was great to see the brewers have a bit of fun this time around. The beer had the look of a dark beer (brown in color with creamy beige head) and some nice roasted malt character, baking cocoa and charcoal notes throughout. It also had the earthy and piney bitterness you might expect from an IPA. And it also had definite traces of banana and wheat bread that you would expect from a hefeweizen. It was a novel experiment in style-mixing and I enjoyed the resulting beer.

London Fields Love Not War, 4.2% - it's impressive for a bitter to be a standout at a beer festival. When you've got high strength IPAs, stouts, old ales, etc., it can be difficult for a lower ABV bitter or golden ale to match the flavor and complexity of these higher ABV styles. But with its juicy hop character and tasteful malt structure, that's exactly what Love Not War achieved. The beer contained engaging notes of ripe citrus, orange, toasty bread and some earthy pine bitterness - and all these elements were well balanced. Along with the Rocky Head Zen, this was one beer of which I could have drank a whole lot more.

Weird Beard Little Things That Kill, 3.8% - winner of the Look-What-We-Can-Do-With-Only-3.8% category, this beer punches well above its weight in terms of its dynamic flavors and hop profile. This little ABV killer has loads of hops packed into it, resulting in a mélange of mango, grapefruit, urine (in a good way!) and lemon. And there's just enough sweet and lightly doughy white bread to hold the whole thing together. I feel like I could sink a few pints of this beer (which I didn't do during the festival - too many other beers, you know?) so I will keep an eye out for it around London.

 Aside from all the great beers, though, it really is the atmosphere of this festival that makes it so special. I was lucky enough to have a seat at one of the few small tables in the courtyard thanks to my early-arriving cohort; but I'm sure the groups of friends who took their places on the grassy patches outside Le Gothique did so happily. The weather, thankfully, was beautiful during my visit, so the tent and space heaters (which you may note in the pictures on the right) were of little use. The bar staff was prompt and friendly (not always guaranteed at festivals!) and helped to make my experience a real pleasure. So well done, festival organizers, for putting together another wonderful festival, and especially well done on bringing together so many London breweries all in one place. This was easily the most comprehensive collection of beers from London-based brewers that I have come across, and it was with great enjoyment that my friends and I worked our way through the catalogue of beers on offer.

Until next time.

Friday 5 July 2013

Beer Tasting: Weird Beard Saison 14

This evening I tried another saison from West London's Weird Beard Brew Co. Based in Hanwell, this brewery was started by a pair of homebrewers who, after achieving some success at the amateur level, decided to turn pro, as it were. Their pedigree does shine through in the beers they put out. I've been most impressed by the brewery's saisons, though their pale ales and dark beers aren't bad either. The brewers, Gregg and Bryan, do a great job of getting their beers to market. You can routinely find Weird Beard around London at the bottle shops (e.g. Kris Wines) and pubs (e.g. any of the Craft Beer Co. outposts) you would expect, in addition to festivals. Most recently they've made quite a splash at the Ealing Beer Festival and the Wandsworth Common London Beer Festival.

So the Saison 14. It pours mostly clear gold, hugely effervescent, with a large, lasting white froth head. There's pleasant dry, yeasty dough in the nose, hints of lemon rind, some grass and grapefruit. Light to medium sweet flavor with a nice, semi-dry dough foundation, along with some straw and grass bitterness, a bit of lemon merengue, touches of tangy mandarin orange. Light to medium bodied with average, massaging carbonation. Sweet finish with further doughy malts, a bit of sandy yeast, grass, mandarin orange. It's lovely stuff overall. If I could change anything I wouldn't mind the beer being a touch dryer.

As I said, I like what these guys are doing on the saison front. I look forward to seeing what else they have in store.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

The Week in Beer: 4-7 July, 2013

Another big week of beer lies ahead. I got up early to write this, so please read it. If you see an error let us know @londonbeerguide.

Wednesday, 3 July:
  • Ealing Beer Festival (3-6 July):
    • The 24th year of this festival will feature some 247 (give or take )beers and ciders. The obvious emphasis of this CAMRA festival is on cask ales but they've also got a solid foreign bar with the likes of Cantillon, Struise, De Molen and many more. Further information can be found here. Definitely a festival worth checking out.

Thursday, 4 July:
  • The Wandsworth Common London Beer Festival at Le Gothique (4-6 July):
    • This is routinely one of my favourite beer festivals in London. The setting is unique, the beer list always well curated. For this iteration the festival organizers are focusing solely on London breweries. The goal is to have 'all' London breweries available. While I don't believe they will have them all in the strictest sense of that proclamation, I am very much looking forward to enjoying the majority of London brewers all in one place. Event info here.
  • The American Beer Festival at the White Horse on Parson's Green (4-7 July):
    • I'm usually impressed by some of the beers that the Pony brings in for their annual American Beer Festival. Expect the likes of Brooklyn, Sierra Nevada, Odell, Flying Dog, Stone, et al. Info page here.
  • American Beer & Food Festival at the Duchess of Cambridge (4-18 July):
    • I went to this pub last year for this festival and wasn't disappointed. The beers on offer will include a nice range on tap and even nicer in bottle; expect stuff from Goose Island, Flying Dog, Fordham, Brooklyn, Anchor and more. If memory serves, they also roll out some US-style beers from UK brewers on cask. Some basic info can be found here.
  • Hop the Pond Independence Day Party at all Draft House bars:
    • Any excuse to highlight American beer (and food) sounds good to me. Info here.
  • Hells Yeah at Camden Town Brewery
    • Want to slam a bunch of London's best lager to your face, eat street food and listen to music? Go here. Apparently there will be 20 vendors slinging their wares. Details available right

Saturday, 6 July:
  • The 'Meric F Yeah!!! Festival at Brupond:
    • I think the focus of this festival is on beer from American brewers stationed in the UK. I think - the details are slightly fuzzy; decipher what you can here. At any rate, there should be beers from Brupond, Hoppie Collie, Lovibonds, Moor and more - a respectable collection of brewers, to be sure.
  • The Five Points Brewing Co. Open Day at the Brewery
    • At this event you'll be able to meet the brewer, tour the brewery, get free tastings, eat some food and listen to music. There will also be a 'mini festival' featuring neighborhood brewers such as Pressure Drop, Howling Hops, Wild Card and Hackney. It's a shame I'll be out of town on Saturday because this sounds like fun. Event details are available on the brewery's Facebook page, here.
  • Partizan Keg Party at Craft Beer Co. Clerkenwell:
    • The good folks at CBC Clerkenwell have taken little time off between events, the memories of their 2nd birthday celebration last weekend still very fresh in my mind. This Saturday they're rolling out nine kegs of Partizan liquid - an impressive number for a brewery event, even more impressive when you consider Partizan has to date rarely been seen on keg (excepting the recently-released coffee black IPA). With a bit of luck I might be able to catch the tail end of the event. Details here.