Friday 21 March 2014

A Visit to the London Drinker Beer & Cider Festival

Going strong for 30 years.

Another year of the London Drinker Beer Festival came and went last week, marking the festival's 30th anniversary. For anyone who has never been, London Drinker tends to attract an interesting cross section of London's drinking populace. Given the festival's venue - the Camden Centre, just a few minutes away from Kings Cross - it requires little effort to travel there (assuming, of course, you're a Londoner who passes through central London). And so you see every type of drinker imaginable at this festival, from the pensioner types who really seem to enjoy the early sessions on Wednesday and Thursday (which have free entry); to the office types who find it a great option for post-work relaxation; to the beer geeks who know they will find good beer here.

London Drinker: where the CAMRA hardcore and the hipsterati intermingle peacefully.
"Bro, fuggles are in right now."

I was fortunate enough to attend the Thursday early session, so the crowds had not gotten too intense. In past years I have attended the evening sessions where you often need to wait in line just to enter the venue and then, once inside, it's difficult to move. I spent the bulk of my time last week working through the London - or "LocAle" - bar, trying out the newest wares from our local breweries. The best beer of the day, by far, was the Redemption Make Me Smile. While the beer itself was outstanding there's actually a nice (if sobering) story behind it. The beer was brewed in memory of Gerrie Stokes, a former CAMRA volunteer who passed away recently. The name of the beer reflects Gerrie's ever-positive disposition.

At only 3.5% ABV, Make Me Smile punched well above its weight class. The hop character of the beer was dynamic and juicy, with lots of tangerine, lemon and payapa. Delicate, sun-kissed pale malts provided structure to the hoppy menagerie, and the beer finished with mild bitter grass and straw, which gave it satisfying quench. It's the kind of beer best drank by the gallon rather than the pint, and it certainly put a smile on my face as I drank it amidst the ethereal sunbeams of an unseasonably bright March afternoon.

Those are actual beams of sunlight; this image was not Photoshopped.

There were a handful of other standouts. I quite enjoyed the East London Brewery Wheat Porter, which had a nice, layered chocolate and dark fruit character to it. Although, truth be told, I couldn't detect anything especially 'wheaty' about it. Perhaps there was more toasted bread character than you might find in a normal porter but beyond that, stylistically, it was a normal porter. I also liked the Twickenham/ Kissingate Nooksack, a fairly sweet, strong pale ale (or American pale ale, if you like) marked by ripe lemon, melon and pale, bready malts. 

Also worthy of mention is the Hop Stuff Saison. This was an ambitious beer that didn't completely hit the mark for me, though it was still an interesting beer. The lemon thyme, rosemary and sage additions came through in abundance, to an extent that I found them heavy handed and dominant. Saison, as a beer style, can mean different things to different people, but to me one ought to be, above all, subtle and drinkable. I found elements of the Hop Stuff Saison to enjoy but overall it lacked balance. I'll reiterate that I like the ambition and creativity this beer represents; but the execution wasn't completely there.

Once I had had my fill of London beers (it does sometimes happen) I sauntered over to the non-London bar and tried a few more. The Strathaven Craigmill Mild really impressed me with its depth; lots of roast and chocolate notes packed into this 3.5% tipple. The Great Oakley Delapre Dark also provided some diversion with its woody bitterness and aged, leathery fruit character.

All in all it was another successful visit to the London Drinker, and my early afternoon session further reinforced my belief that drinking four pints of beer before 3pm is a terrific idea. Congratulations to North London CAMRA for putting on another solid festival. 

I'll leave you with a few more photos that I hope capture the spirit of the London Drinker. 

His brow furrowed, the CAMRA volunteer speedily calculated change owed to the waiting punter.

Great technique. 

This guy looks like he knows what he's doing.

Windsor & Eton Guardsman: always a good option.

The Joy of Cask Ale.

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