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.