Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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London Beer City week obviously dominates this month’s correspondence. The opening and closing events provided a perfect illustration of this year’s main theme: the exponential rise in demand for quality beer, and the response to the capacity constraints this produces.

It is slightly churlish to criticise the Opening party held at Five Points as they were extremely generous in the small, pre-booked brewer tasting sessions, which were completely free. Moreover, the sun came out and with many familiar faces it was potentially a great party.

However, in the face of huge demand, logistically it was a disaster. They did not have a token system so each purchase required change, and there were only three separate pouring points.

On top of this the quality of the beers were extremely varied and too many were advertised: this meant that like Akerlof’s lemons in the used car market, lower quality beers stayed on longer whilst everyone waited for certain brews which promptly sold out- the Beavertown Pineapple Phantom went in 20 minutes.

It was sad that Mother Kelly’s and the King’s Arms, great venues though they are, filled up with people who left the party due to the queues.

However, the same people also produced the closing event, LCBF, which was fantastic. 2016 is the fourth and I can proudly say I have attended each festival. This year was noticeably the busiest, but the layout and the free-pour system meant that queues were not an issue.

Overall it was a fantastic party. I loved Sori Delirious, a DIPA, Buxton/Omnipollo Chocolate Ice Cream Brown Ale and Omnipollo Noa Pecan Mud Cake, an imperial stout. However, on a gorgeous day the go-to beers were lighter.

They included: To-Øl’s Roses are Brett raspberry saison; Omnipollo’s Bianca Mango Lassi Gose soft serve, especially as it was topped with a soft serve ice cream; and Sierra Nevade Otra Vez, which may not have been technically the best but its sour citrus flavours and low APV (4.5%) were perfect in the sun.

The only small gripe I had was about the time. The event was advertised as being 1200-1700. However, they opened 15 minutes late, but stopped serving at 1645 sharp with no drinking up beyond 1700. If they are going to be as efficient at the back-end, then it should also open on the dot. [Amateur Drinker is a stickler for timings – ed]

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Overall LCBF was superb but as demand goes ever higher it will likely have to evolve with more sessions or a bigger venue.

Other notable Beer City events saw CBC host three separate week-long tap takeovers: Tiny Rebel in WC1; Magic Rock in N1; and the centrepiece a rebranding of the Clerkenwell pub as “The Thornbridge Arms” and stocking 38 (19 keg, 19 cask) different beers over the course of the event.

The Thursday night saw a special, imported cans event at The King’s Arms in Bethnal Green. There was a lot of very interesting, reasonably priced beer. I especially enjoyed Tailgate grapefruit IPA, Maui Big Swell IPA, Hardywood Capital Trail pale ale, and probably the best of the lot, DC Brau On the Wings of Armageddon, a DIPA.

GBBF was the same as always, and it is almost certain that if someone is reading a beer blog, then they have attended the event themselves. It is another debate whether this familiarity is a good thing or if the craft brewers should be allowed in, and on keg.

The first stop as always was ‘Bieres sans Frontieres’, which bizarrely is allowed to serve keg! The Antos lager was an excellent example of the style, the Permon cheery lager a fun beer that didn’t quite work, the Boon Oude Kriek predictably good, but the outstanding beer was Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, a glorious smoked beer from Brauerei Heller in Bamberg, Bavaria. And this coming from someone who is not always huge fan of that particular style.

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Then we went to the American bottle bar, which is excellent. We were there on the first day so the selection was still very good. However, I thought it was bad form to allow people to buy bottles for take-away when volumes are limited and rather predictably I heard reports from friends who went later in the week that lots were sold out. The Empire Slo Mo’ IPA and Deschutes Hop Slice IPA were just OK, Brewski Mangofeber DIPA superb but my favourite was the Gigantic Pipe Wrench IPA , aged in gin barrels and tasting of citrus and juniper.

Finally, I find the American cask bar a bit hit-and-miss as it is a style they don’t normally concentrate on and I’m not sure it travels under proper conditions. I did enjoy the Noble Ale Works Galaxy Showers DIPA though.

Beavertown’s second Tempus event was another resounding success. We sat down to a table set up as a continental breakfast with croissants and fruits. They then served barrel aged Spresso, an imperial stout, out of an American Diner-style coffee pourer, which was a nice touch, and a fantastic beer.

This was followed by BA versions of their Sour Power, a Farmhouse Red, Appellation, an apple saison – appropriately using Calvados barrels – and finally Lord Smog Almighty, another imperial stout. As with the first Tempus event this was magnificent – well organised, great beers and generously matched food

Northern Monk TTO at the King’s Arms. With one exception it was all pales and IPA’s. The peach and apricot Midsummer was good but I didn’t like the Mango Lassi Heathen, which was too overpowering: I wanted a beer not a fruit-juice.

Mother Kelly’s hosted their third annual Sour Weekender. I quite liked the new Siren mint, orange and lime Tschuss but I was in a definite minority. As always through, and at the risk of repeating myself, the Kernel London Damson Sour was head and shoulders above anything else: it really is a wonderful beer.

Regular readers know that the Old Fountain is my local so I was delighted to see that they have added a further six keg taps. The only drawback is that they have had to change the information on their black- board, which was always gloriously London-centric, with the geography of the brewer being precise postal districts for the capital, large towns for the rest of England and then countries, so Hammerton, Manchester and USA were all given similar prominence!

They also hosted a meet the brewer with Andy Parker and Elusive, which was a fun evening. The Thai Yum Wit had a real spicy kick, but the showstopper was the Level Up Red Ale, superb in both keg and cask.

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As always, there are a few BottleShop events to mention: A Denmark evening featured Mikkeller (my better half loves the “Hallo, Ich bin Berliner” weisse cherry, myself the Lambic-style SpontanLingonberry) and WarPigs (Real Estate Mongol APA). Magic Rock brought familiar beers but no less welcome for that, and then finally Dugges, (with Tropic Thunder, a sour fruit ale for my partner while surprisingly I actually preferred their High Five! IPA to the Parallex collaboration with Omnipollo & Edge).

I made my first visit to Mason and Co., and unfortunately was not impressed. On the way home I popped into the aforementioned Old Fountain. They were charging three quid for a third of the Cloudwater DIPA 6, as opposed to £5.85 for a half at Mason, which means that a bar on a canal in Hackney is 30% more expensive (£11.70/pint as opposed to £9) than one on the edge of the world’s financial centre, which is ludicrous given their respective rents.

Moreover, two weeks after a Cloudwater TTO for Beer City week, six of those beers were still on and therefore not as fresh as should be.

And finally, the FT reports that Robert Parker has just released his first Saki ratings with the predictable effects of the lemming-like rushes to suppliers and explosive jumps in price, which have occurred in wine for many years. Let’s just pray he stays away from beer.

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t.

 

Hammerton Brewery nailing it in North London

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Lee Hammerton, founder of Hammerton Brewery

Brewing seemed like a good idea when boredom set in with the office job for Lee Hammerton in 2012 and it looks like he made a decent decision as the beers coming out of his brewery in North London are of a consistently high quality.

At the time he reckoned Islington, despite its high number of licensed premises, did not have a brewery in contrast to many other London boroughs (most notably Hackney) that had a growing number of new breweries.

Having convinced himself of the viability of the endeavour, purchased the brewing kit, decided on the names of his first beers, and signed the lease on an industrial unit in Islington, Lee was still undecided about the name of the brewery.

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Having been reluctant to use his own name – as it seemed a little too egotistical – he changed his mind when he found out that the original Hammerton Brewery, which had been located in Stockwell, had been set up by his distant relatives before they sold it and it ultimately ceasing production in the 1950s.

He found out that his grandfathers’ great grandfather had been asked if he would like to join the board of the company, which at the time was no longer in the hands of the Hammerton family. (For the record – the relative declined the offer of the board seat, preferring to spend his time on his career in the theatre. Such diffidence very much amuses Lee).

As well as bringing the Hammerton name back to life Lee had also seen a photo of an original bottle top from the brewery and he now uses this as the company’s logo. With all the marketing aspects and production infrastructure in place it was time to actually start brewing in 2014.

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Although there was clearly brewing in his blood the little bit of home brewing he’d done some years before would hardly cut the mustard for commercial brewing. The recruitment of the former head brewer at Moncado to the same role at Hammerton, as well as bringing in James Kemp from Thornbridge and Buxton breweries as a consultant, definitely set Lee on the right path.

First beer up from the new Hammerton Brewery was N7, which remains a key brew and like all great beers it seems to have been born almost fully formed. Lee says it is still pretty much the same recipe as the original although he does admit that the use of six hops (Waimea, Cascade, Chinook, Citra, Amarillo and Herkules) does enable a little flexibility in production, which is rather handy if any of the hops become unavailable at any time.

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Next up was Pentonville Oyster Stout, which had been produced by the original Hammerton Brewery, and true to the old recipe Lee throws 100 full oysters (shells and all) into the boil.

The first customer of these beers was the Tap Room on nearby Upper Street and other free houses then followed. Two years down the line and the majority of business is still in London – with most deliveries done direct – although there is growth through distributors who disperse the beers to other parts of the country.

Demand has pushed production to around 3,500 hectolitres per year and Lee reckons, with the addition of some new fermenting vessels, he could push output at the brewery’s present site to 5,000 hl.

As production has increased, the level of confidence at the brewery has not surprisingly grown and with it the variety of beers coming out of Hammerton has moved up a notch. On a recent visit to the brewery’s excellent Tap Room there were nine beers on tap, which covered a broad spectrum of flavours and styles.

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Notable were the Belgian style wheat beer Blanche (infused with coriander, orange and ginger), the imperial IPA N7.7 – a souped-up version of N7, and the very individual Chicha Pale v3.0.

The latter was brewed on the brewery’s pilot kit, which produces a mere 60 litres, which must make Hammerton’s Pilot Series beers about as exclusive as it gets. The Chicha beer was brewed with South American black corn and tastes incredibly similar to a bowl of strawberries and cream, with an impressive amount of flavour packed into an ABV of only 4.1%.

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The only trouble with the Tap Room is that its opening times are limited to the last Friday and Saturday of each month as more frequent hours would undoubtedly obstruct production on the site.  The beauty of the Tap Room is its relaxed atmosphere and this surely stems from the easygoing style of Lee and his clear passion for the job.

Thankfully for drinkers this combination comes through in the quality and drinkability of the beers that are now flowing out of Hammerton Brewery.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Amateur Drinker leaves the smoke

After a month in which the country managed tear itself apart in a dispute, almost, but obviously not quite as, vicious and confrontational as craft versus keg at a CAMRA meeting, this column will concentrate on the beer.

It is to be regretted though that some others in the industry did not remember this, as childish beer mats in well-known pub-chains on one side, or tweets from an excellent Northern brewer worrying about the effects of a fall in sterling on their exports (sic) from the other confirm.

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Beer Kat was a most welcome addition. This was a terrific idea, transforming a derelict, run-down pub on the Holloway Road by inviting a succession of brewers to do full pub takeovers. They have combined this with music and food, as well as special events, most notably Hops, Burns & Black’s Chilli Karaoke.

 

The pub is a good size so there are over 10 taps upstairs and downstairs and they chose a great run of breweries, who all entered into the spirit, and also used the opportunity to launch new beers.

First up was Beavertown, surely the best choice to launch with, given their popularity and visibility in London. They debuted Notorious, a blood orange DIPA (slightly confusingly this is a collaboration with Boneyard and not a pumped-up version of the Bloody ‘Ell), which was excellent, juicy and fruity and you really had to remind yourself that it was 9.1% ABV!

Siren came next, and gave us two new DIPA’s: the Tidal Wave, the wittingly named elder brother to their normal Soundwave IPA and the Hillbilly Tropical Fruit IPA, which I really enjoyed.

Finally, there was a Bristol takeover, although practically this meant Bristol Beer Factory and Wiper & True in a supporting role to the main act of Moor. Paying homage to Star Wars, of which Justin Hawke is a huge fan, the latter were Guardian of Peace, an IPA, and Agent of Evil, a black IPA.

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So far Beer Kat has been a tremendous success and I sincerely hope that it becomes a permanent fixture.

The best single event came at Beavertown who laid on a fantastic spread for the launch of the Tempus project, their 1st attempt to age beers in wooden barrels to capture wild yeast and bacteria. They have developed a ‘wild’ space on the other side of the industrial estate, away from the sanitised world of their normal operations, where they are stored.

After a tour of the brewery, we tasted four beers: Phobos and Deimos, respectively a Madeira and Sherry barrel-aged weizen dopplebock with Oskar Blues, and in partnership with Founders we tried Brux and Clausseni. These were all matched with selected cheeses from Neal’s Yard. This was an excellent evening, extremely well-organised and with very generous measures. The beers were all superb, with my favourite the Madeira-aged Deimos.

I love Ibiza, and have visited it multiple times a year for over a decade. Ibosim, which have been gypsy-brewing on the mainland with their bottles available for a couple of years, have just opened a brew-pub in Port des Torrent, and will actually be brewing on the Island from later in the year.

The bar has a very good vibe and three owners are extremely friendly and enthusiastic. Given that they are just starting, their beers are clearly not yet on the level of some of the ones I mention in this column, but they would never claim that they were, and everyone has to start somewhere (the mighty oak of Beavertown was but an acorn in the back of Duke’s four years ago).

Two beers, however, really captured the concept of location: the Summer Ale was great for drinking in the sun, whilst the Garrova Carob Porter was very good and used the fruit of the Carob tree, which grows wild throughout the island.

I would strongly recommend visiting if you are on holiday and although Port des Torrent itself is fairly unexciting, there is an excellent seafood restaurant, Can Pujol, just round the corner.

Moreover they are always interested in collaborations so if any UK brewers fancy a busman’s holiday! They were telling me that apparently a senior Beavertown brewer was on vacation recently, met them by chance at a farmers’ market and then popped in to give some much welcome advice! Ibosim are doing more than anyone to improve the quality of beer in Ibiza and the owners are passionate and friendly: I really hope that the brewery thrives.

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Hawkshead re-brewed their Key Lime Tau, a superb collaboration with Crooked Stave from last year’s Rainbow Project. This is a great beer so why does it need the ludicrous marketing of a special launch at selected venues only on “International Tau Day”, which I had never heard of, and doesn’t even make sense if you write dates in a logical day/month/year order as we do in this country?

Craft Beer Co. celebrated birthdays at two different branches: Covent Garden was lucky enough to receive a special cask version of Siren’s Caribbean stout, with added birthday cake, for their 2nd. Other notable beers included Farmers reserve citrus, a sour blond with yuzu & blood orange, Alesmith double red IPA, and Magic rock Grand Mariner bearded lady imperial stout.

A few weeks later Clerkenwell had a Sour Special for their 5th birthday: High Water Central Valley Breakfast Sour and, predictably, the Kernel Damson London Sour were the highlights.

The Bottle Shop had a couple of interesting tap takeovers: Allvine (enjoyed the Karassas Allvine, Kerasus cherry and Framboos) and To Øl (Gose to Hollywood, Velvet are Blue sour blueberry saison, Friends with Benefits APA and Roses Are Brett an amber saison with raspberries).

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Things always get blurry at The Bottle Shop

They also hosted the launch of version 4 & 5 of Cloudwater’s DIPA. Version 4 was better than version 5; they also came with a brewery recommendation to blend them in a 2:1 ratio in order to enhance the flavour although I did wonder why they didn’t just do the blending themselves!

The beers were excellent, but I didn’t like the artificially small production (only 2 kegs to London?) in order to create a fabricated event: This meant there were queues outside at 5pm on a Friday, which may have pleased their marketing department, but seemed unnecessary to me: why not just make more of the beer?

Finally, a mention for FourPure who are probably the most improved brewery of the year so far. They have really upped their game: the JuiceBox Citrus IPA is very good, but the Shape Shifter is even better, a delicious West Coast IPA.

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t.

 

Fire in the belly at Moor Beer Company

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Justin Hawke, founder, Moor Beer Company

Justin Hawke It seems is a man who likes a challenge and a bit of a scrap. Since setting up Moor Beer Company almost a decade ago he has taken on a number of battles – all in the name of producing full flavoured, consistently high quality, drinkable beers.

From the outset he championed cloudy – or the more technically termed unfined – beer in the days when drinkers held up their pints to the light and instantly returned it in disgust if it wasn’t absolutely clear.

Although he says there is still a holdout from some old school types, younger drinkers couldn’t care less. They now recognise that it is all about the flavour and Hawke says the added mouthfeel and aroma derived from unfined beer has resulted in it winning more accolades in recent years than pasteurised, filtered beers.

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Finings-free zone

With that battle won he made an early move into producing quality (craft we could say!) keg beers rather than just sticking with cask. Since all his beers undergo secondary fermentation in the end container he argues vehemently that whatever vessel he puts Moor beer into it is the equivalent of real/cask ale. There is no injection of carbonation into any of his beers.

And as much as he loves cask beer – especially for bitters and milds – the reality is that demand for cask has been low of late. Take the smart Moor brewery tap room where 18 months ago Hawke’s policy was to always have at least one cask on among the line-up of 10 beers but he found three-quarters of the cask ale was being thrown away each week. So now it is pretty much all keg beers on at the bar.

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With the keg versus cask argument now rightly becoming immaterial – with the winner being simply good beer regardless of the method of storage and dispense – Hawke moved on to championing cans.

Again he was more than willing to take up the early challenge of arguing the case for high quality beer in cans. We are, almost uniquely, talking about Moor beer undergoing secondary fermentation in the container, which in the case of cans Hawke likes to call ‘nano casks’.

Although many others – notably BrewDog, Camden Town,Beavertown, and Four Pure – installed canning lines and promoted the can it has been Moor that has taken on the more challenging route of letting his beers develop their effervescence naturally in the can.

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Hawke with canning line

He is particularly proud of his canning facility having taken what he describes as a “huge risk” investing £300,000 in state-of-the-art kit from Germany’s Leibinger. While it can fill 2,500 cans per hour – thereby enabling one of his 14 fermenting vessels to be emptied into cans in only four hours – this is not the clever bit.

Hawke’s reverence is reserved for the modest sounding ‘seamer’. He has installed what is effectively a small version of what Coca Cola uses to put the top of the can in place and seal the vessel. This is the crucial part of the process and where other cheaper inferior canning lines fall down.

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The seamer

He is particularly vocal about the mobile canning lines that visit smaller breweries, which he says produce varying levels of quality. “Large brewers have tried mobile canning and not been pleased. I’m nervous about the quality and that this is potentially then giving canned beer a bad name.”

Such has been the appeal of Moor beers in cans that they now account for 25-30% of the brewery’s output compared with only 5-10% when he was packaging in bottles (admittedly rather large 660ml vessels).

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Not only has the taste proven to be superior but there is now recognition of cans as more convenient for carrying, cheaper logistically to shift around and hence more environmentally friendly, and to younger drinkers they are simply cooler.

As he considers yet another battle largely won he admits to not being able to help himself with fighting a cause: “I do build a rod for my own back. I’ve very firm convictions and it’s my way or we don’t do it. We’ll often bear the pain initially from doing things ahead of others,” he says, with some relish – of the fiery variety.

This strategy seems to be working as the brewery’s production is this year expected to bump up from the present 5,000 hectolitres to possibly 10,000hl. And although he has firm views against those brewers producing (often undrinkable) experimental beers for the sake of experimentation Moor typically produces a sizeable 25 different beers over the course of a year. But none are joke beers or made to impress other brewers.

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Ten of these will be in the fermenting vessels at any one point, which he says has its challenges, especially since all his beers sit around in the cans, kegs and casks for two to four weeks more than many other brewers’ ales because of the secondary fermentation.

While Nor’Hop, So’Hop and Union’Hop make up a significant level of sales the other Moor beers such as Stout, PMA, Smokey Horyzon, and wheat beer Claudia all have their fan base. Hawke acknowledges that Moor can be perceived as not at the cutting edge in terms of styles and that is to some extent down to his focus on other things. We could call this the little subtle details.

One of these involves carbonation. Whereas many craft brewers will probably end their progression with experimentation with yeast strains Hawke has taken the next step on and his keenly interested in water.

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Talking water in his Stout

 

“It’s out of most people’s depths but based on the beer style we’ll adjust the water. Stout water is different to Nor’Hop and for the wheat beer there is more natural carbonation needed,” he explains.

One suspect that playing around with water might not be challenge enough and Hawke admits he is more than up for another fight and to that end he is now becoming more involved with SIBA where he says he is taking a pro-active roll with leadership within the group.

Can we expect some fireworks? Who knows, but what we will probably get is progress.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Argos blenders killed in Strawberry Hells Forever production

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Murder in the mash tun

Friday afternoon at Camden Town Brewery in North London looked like the scene of a serious crime. The strawberries picked earlier in the week for the second annual batch of Strawberry Hells Forever were splattered on many surfaces and on numerous people’s clothing.

It was also an actual crime scene – certainly for the basic food blenders from Argos that is. A number of the £10 appliances couldn’t take the pace of blending required to puree the 350kg of fruit needed and their motors burnt out.

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Blenders bite the dust

This was the amount of strawberries going into the whirlpool after the boil for this year’s batch of the pinkish tart brew that went down very well last year. This should produce around 60 hectolitres compared with the 15hl last year when the whole fruits were thrown into the brewing vessels and clogged things up somewhat.

The Argos blenders are the low tech solution to last year’s problems that should ensure a more efficient production process that will ultimately see very roughly five strawberries going into each pint of beer.

Catching up with Rob Topham, head brewer at Camden Town Brewery, at the scene of the blender crime, he tells me: “Pureeing the strawberries means we’ll get all the flavour out. Last year some fell to the bottom of the whirlpool. It was a nightmare.”

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Rob Topham, head brewer, Camden Town Brewery

It is clear he is relishing the opportunity to play around and wallow in pureed fruits, and is hoping this sort of experimentation will be a much bigger part of the activities at this existing brew site when the company opens its new brewery in Enfield later this year.

Enfield is not that far away from the present site but it is clearly not Camden Town so keeping the original brewery is important to the company’s credibility – especially now that it is owned by AB-InBev.

[For those who don’t know London then it is worth pointing out that the present site is not actually in Camden Town but it just up the road in Kentish Town.]

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Topham says he will be working across the two sites, with the original location used to produce Hells and Pale Ale but more importantly as the base for R&D. “At the moment we are flat out here so it will be good fun when the new brewery comes into use. We’ll then look to do some other [interesting] things here,” he says.

Let’s hope it includes further flavoursome beers like Flue Faker (based on the smoked beers from the German town of Bamberg) that was sampled on my visit. The original batch last year did not contain enough sweetness for the taste of Topham who added Vienna and Munich malt to the original Cara Pils malt bill.

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Flue Faker: more of this please

When combined with the smoked malt imported from Bamberg brewery Spezial this year’s brew transports me back to a recent visit to the German town. But back to the strawberries, whose impact on the 2016 vintage of Strawberry Hells Forever will be revealed on August 1.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

To expand or not to expand – that is the big question

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Evin O’Riordain of The Kernel Brewery

Like many of the generation of British craft breweries that set-up during the early stages of the current beer renaissance The Kernel Brewery in London’s Bermondsey area is now contemplating whether it should put a lid on future growth and remain at its present size.

It is driven by an unusual aspect of brewing in Britain. Like a clutch of brewers of its vintage The Kernel has reached annual output of 5,000 hectolitres up to which point they only pay 50% of the standard rate of duty. Every pint they brew above this level is charged at the full rate.

This Small Brewers’ Relief (SBR) has been a boon for young craft brewers setting up their brewing kits in railway arches across the UK but the successful ones now face some big decisions. Should they stay at their present size or go for growth and allow more drinkers to enjoy their beers.

For Evin O’Riordain, founder of The Kernel Brewery, output this year will hit 7,000 hl, which he says will result in the same profits being generated as for 5,000 hl of production once he has taken into account the additional costs and resources involved.

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The Kernel Brewery

“The rate of duty increase goes up dramatically on the extra production. We will be producing our beers more efficiently but for the same profits. Staying below the threshold would have meant more profits for less work,” he explains.

Although the extra duty is only chargeable on the output above 5,000 hl it can have a more dramatic effect than some brewers expect, according to Will Calvert, co-owner of Windsor & Eton Brewery: “The extra duty is spread across the whole production and charged the following year so you do not notice it at first. However, slowly but surely you end up with a different cost structure,” he explains.

Calvert says it is inevitably the better brewers that reach the 5,000 hl level and so although SBR is a great accelerator for all small brewers the good ones then have the disadvantage of having a tough time when they want to go over this level.

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“It gives brewers producing poor quality beers the ability to give away the duty benefits by selling their product at lower prices while the brewers of the beers that consumers really want to drink are being penalised by the obstacle of the threshold,” he suggests.

Brewers recognise that only by going for significant growth can the economies of scale kick-in and it is only then worth the effort of breaking through the 5,000 barrier. Ed Mason, co-founder of Five Points Brewing Company – which operates from a railway arch in Hackney, East London, set up in March 2013 and last year it hit 5,000 hl at which point a new brew kit was installed and most crucially two large fermenting vessels were placed outside in the brewery’s yard – doubling the capacity to 16,000 hl per year.

Five-Points

“When you’ve made the decision to go over then you’ve got to really go over. There is no point in going to 6-8,000 hl. We’re much better off at 16,000 hl than 6,000 hl. We get economies of scale from better buying power, doing more brews on the equipment, and we’ve brought the bottling in-house with an automated line and we can get the returns on this over the longer term,” says Mason.

It is the same story at Redemption Brewery that has just moved to a new site in North London where its founder Andy Moffat says he has installed a new brew kit from which he can produce 23,000 hl per year compared with only 5,000 hl on the old kit.

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Andy Moffat of Redemption Brewery

“If you go over the 5,000 hl then you need the economies of scale and we can now produce three-times the amount of beer per week with the same amount of people. And the malt bill is also going to be 10% less because we are using it more efficiently in the larger tanks,” he says.

For those brewers who choose not to go for big scale including Windsor & Eton there are options available such as boosting non-beer sales selling merchandise and running brewery tours. And Calvert says they and also generating an increased cash margin per barrel by selling more beer in its own tap room.

Andrew Morgan, managing director of The Bottle Shop – which imports US beers into the UK including Green Flash, says the likes of Burning Sky Brewery, based in Sussex, has also chosen to remain below the 5,000 hl level and is focusing on selling more premium beers.

“They’ve a barrel-ageing programme and are diverting more of their production to these long range products than easier to produce beers. The duty has come into their thinking and they are balancing the production of high volume beers with the specialist products,” he says.

A limited edition 750ml cuvee of Belgium Lambic and Burning Sky sour ale was in high demand despite the price tag of around £13, which represents a significant premium to some of the brewery’s other beers that include session IPA Arise and pale ale Plateau.

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Ed Mason of Five Points Brewing Company

The Kernel has also taken the decision to roughly stay the same size although O’Riordain says the current site would enable the brewery to go to 9,000 hl output per year. Such levels are not going to deliver the economies of scale to make it a particularly profitable move but he suggests it is more important to remain on the brewery’s existing site even though it is restrictive on space and therefore future production capabilities.

“We’ve got to take into account the community that has built up around the brewery. We’ve limited space but we’ve neighbours and this is really important to us. It’s like terroir – we’ve happy employees here and it comes across in the drink,” he suggests.

The Kernel might be something of an exception in terms of its thinking and philosophy but all the many brewers that are now bumping up against the 5,000 hl threshold have to consider all aspects of their businesses before taking the next steps on their journey’s.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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For beer nerds (and let’s face it, I wouldn’t bother writing this if I wasn’t one) the quality of a tap selection is what makes an occasion. However, for most people, and even for us anoraks seeking variety as the quality of the normal line-up in London bars goes ever upwards, it is good to see more thought put into events.

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Hop Burns & Black

A great example was “Getting away with it”, six beers matched with six tracks from 1980’s electronica organised by Matt Curtis at Hops Burns & Black, a superb niche store that would be a great local for anyone living in the area. I am a big New Order fan, but it was slightly terrifying when speaking to some other guests beforehand and realising how many had not even been born when Technique was released!

Matt is an excellent event organiser, passionate and knowledgeable about his subject and willing to try different angles to approach it. Consequently the evening was great fun, enjoyable both for those with a great interest in, or completely new to, the world of beer.

Continuing the music/beer theme, I always enjoy the coincidence that it could be said that Bermondsey is the birth-place of both the acid house and craft beer revolutions, a generation apart, in that Shoom nightclub (RIP) is but a short-walk away from the original Kernel.

Furthermore they were both created after life-changing trips abroad by their founders: the famous Danny Rampling (along with Paul Oakenfeld and Nicky Holloway) holiday to Ibiza in 1987 where they saw Alfredo DJ at Amnesia, and the slightly less famous trip Evin O’Riordain took to New York where he discovered modern American beers. History does not repeat itself but it rhymes.

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UBrew

UBrew have now acquired taps and have also hosted a final of a homebrew competition. They have the advantage of an absolutely perfect sun-trap; that is if the sun ever re-appears this summer. However, they had a truly appalling pricing policy with respect to halves, which was vastly marked up relative to pints: for instance £6.50 a pint for the Weird Beard Out of Coffee IPA but £4 a half or an implied £8 a pint!

Given their strength and the temperature they are served at, and ideally consumed at, particularly in the afore-mentioned sun-trap, I almost always prefer keg beers in halves at most. There is absolutely no excuse for this pricing.

After they posted their board on Twitter and were called up on it, they did change it, claiming it was an honest mistake although one wonders how on earth a business can survive if nobody is capable of dividing by two.

The American Beer Showcase at BottleShop was a truly superb list with many rare beers. Personal highlights included Horchata Almond Milk Stout Brewed with Rice, Almonds, Vanilla and Cinnamon, and Almanac Emperor Norton Hoppy Belgian Ale with Apricots. I confess I am no expert, but Ka’u coffee is apparently a great delicacy and coffee heads raved about the special version of Alesmith’s Speedway Stout, a Hawaiian interpretation with coconut, vanilla and obviously Ka’u.

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Charlie McVeigh (left) opens up Draft House on Old Street

A new Draft house opened at Old Street, a stone’s throw away from my favourite pub, the Old Fountain, and therefore another addition to the previously mentioned James Parrott Clerkenwell Mile. Given their proximity, it essentially doubles the tap capacity of either, and therefore rather like Janet Yellen’s infamous claims to be data-dependant, a punter can become entirely tap-dependant as to which one to frequent.

Competition is always good for consumers and it has already led to the Old Fountain opening on bank holiday for the first time ever.

Weird Beard came to BottleShop, which brought back memories of their regular monthly events back in 2014 when, it is safe to say, the venue looked very different. This time they brought a couple of special collaboration beers, the Suspect Device DIPA (Farmageddon), which was noteworthy even amongst the recent run of that style and Weird Wired (8 Wired), a cask EPA.

Unfortunately this time round, they did not bring any of the delicious homemade beer-flavoured truffles or cakes that they used to!

BrewDog Shoreditch hosted Sour Power. This was a great idea and it was testament to its quality that my favourite was the evergreen raspberry London sour from The Kernel.

In a month when a new MasterChef champion was crowned, it is worth noting Nanbam Kyuzu, a yuzu-flavoured collaboration between Pressure Drop and 2011 winner Tim Anderson’s restaurant Nanbam.

He was managing the Euston Tap when he won and mentioned his love of beer during the series. Frightening to think that when it was filmed in late 2010 there was no Siren, Mother Kelly’s, Craft Beer Co. nor London BottleShop, the only brewery in Bermondsey was The Kernel, and Beavertown was just a glint in the eye of a BBQ restaurant.

The Hop Bunker, downstairs at BrewDog Camden, saw the succinctly titled “6 over 6%” featuring 6 Stone beers over 6%. The Delicious IPA and Ruination 2 were as good as always. The same venue had seen Jakob Mclean, founder and CEO of Modern Times, visit on May Day, which unfortunately I had to miss due to family commitments, as their City of the Sun IPA is probably my favourite beer at the moment.

Two American takeovers back-to-back: On Friday, California’s Bagby Beer came to BottleShop. This was a new brewery to me and I particularly enjoyed the Dork Squad IPA. The next day Fred Karm, the extremely friendly owner of Ohio’s Hopping Frog visited Craft Beer Co, Covent Garden.

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AKA Top Deck

The prices were eye-watering (£18 a pint for the Rum Borris imperial stout), but thankfully thirds were available and to be fair there was absolutely no shortage of punters wanting to taste. I loved the Killa Vanilla IPA and the Goose Juice Rye IPA, while the Turbo Shandy Citrus Ale really divided opinion. I think it split generally along the lines of whether you are from a brewing, or, like me, consuming background (to revisit the MasterChef theme, the talented chef or Greg Wallace?). Some thought it a masterpiece of technical skill in that it tasted exactly like your grandmother’s shandy, although that rather begs the question of why spend £15/pint when a Fosters and Seven-up top achieve the same result at 20% of the price!

Five Points held their inaugural yard party, an event they are planning on holding every month. Given the good weather, this was a really enjoyable afternoon. Finally, given that it has been open over a year, it is remiss of me not to have mentioned the Hop Locker before. It is a shining beacon amidst most of the tourist tat along the south bank with excellent beers from passionate and friendly owners.

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t.

UK brewers – points to note from US craft beer market

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These are seismic times for the beer industry as smaller craft brewers find themselves on the shopping lists of the big players – notably AB InBev (ABI), which has been buying up small rivals on an almost weekly basis.

This is a well known trend and is most prevalent in the US but what is less well known is the slow down in growth that is now being experienced by many of the well established American craft brewers.

According to some interesting research from analysts Bernstein five of the top 10 (by volume) craft brewers have gone ex-growth over the past 12 months. (Note that Bernstein uses the US Beer Marketers’ Insights (BMI) numbers rather than the Brewers Association (BA) stats as the latter excludes craft brewers that are wholly or partly owned by large brewers).

Such has been the impact of the big guns’ shopping activities that five of the top 12 craft brewers are now wholly or partly owned by these large brewers. Of the top 10 brands only Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Goose Island, Bell’s and Stone were still growing in double-digits in 2015. Of these, only Goose Island and Sierra Nevada were growing faster than in 2014.

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Ballast Point: growing at a fair clip

With the challenge of slowing growth the founders of the first generation craft brewers have big decisions to make. Many of them are turning to bigger operators as a route to both freeing up some personal cash and to fund future growth.

The fact of the matter is, the real growth is coming from those brewers that are now in the hands of the bigger operators. We’re talking Ballast Point, which grew 125% in 2015 and is now owned by Constellation Brands, Founders grew 40% and is owned by Mahou-San Miguel Group, Lagunitas increased sales by 32% and is owned by Heineken, while Goose Island advanced 27% and has been owned by ABI since 2011.

There is absolutely no doubt that the first generation of US craft brewers have done a miraculous job in resurrecting beer not only in America but globally – to the point that craft in the US now accounts for 14% of beer sales by volume and 20% by value.

Along with this has been the explosion of newer brewers – there was a mere 93 in 1983 whereas at the end of 2013 there were almost 4,300. This has resulted in a particularly fragmented market with most players extremely small and only around 200 enjoying any sort of scale.

The result is that the top 10 largest craft brewers have seen their total market share decline from 50% to 38% over the last six years. This should not be seen as too much of a worry (for drinkers at least) as the newcomers coming into the market are undoubtedly adding vitality.

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ABI: a little slippery to some drinkers

But what will be of concern to many beer drinkers is that ABI’s buying spree now places it third in the table of the largest US craft brewers – behind Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada. With its appetite for craft seeming to be ravenous right now and money not particularly an object it looks set to have an increasing impact on craft brewers in the US – predominantly the bigger guys.

The ramifications will undoubtedly be felt in the UK and other countries that have taken their brewing and beer drinking cues from the progressive American market. These are exciting and challenging times indeed.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Apologies for the delayed arrival of this latest monthly review of beer proceedings in the capital but I got waylaid with a rather heavy workload. Anyway, here we go:

It is fair to say that The Kernel is in the vanguard of the London scene: they were among the first of the new wave of brewers, they are at the epicentre of the borough now most associated with beer, and it was their taproom that first experienced the problems of excessive crowds and regrettably had to close in response. So it no surprise to report that they are now leading the way among the brewers with ticketed events.

They did a horizontal tasting using six different versions of their single-hop pale ale each brewed using an identical recipe, but with the single hop changing each time. The hops used were all from the 2015 harvest in the North-western United States: Amarillo, Cascade, Chinook, Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe.

I thought this was an absolutely brilliant idea as personally I have never experienced anything like this in the beer world. It was very interesting to compare the differences. For what it’s worth I found the Amarillo had the most depth while I would choose the Citra for easier summer drinking, if that season ever arrives this year.

Hopefully this will again serve as a pointer for the other brewers: ticketed to reduce unpleasant crowds and also out-of-the box thinking in its concept.

Its second ticketed night was a charity do, organised by Mark Dredge for a children’s hospital, which received all the ticket revenue, with the brewers donating the beer for free. This was a fun evening for a worthy cause so thanks to everyone involved. I enjoyed the Chorlton Sour and the Vocation Life and Death IPA but the highlight was an advance pouring of the third version of Cloudwater’s DIPA a day before the official release and it duly lasted about an hour!

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Cloudwater DIPA v3

There have been a plethora of British double IPA’s brewed recently: I have to say that whilst the well-hyped Cloudwater and Magic Rock Human Cannonball were certainly not bad, I think the best of the bunch is the Brew By Numbers 55/01, which I mentioned last month.

Another notable launch was Magic Rock’s triple IPA Unhuman Cannonball, which debuted initially at Craft Beer Co, N1. This has become an annual event and last year a strongly enforced 7 o’clock start led to queues outside round the block. Thankfully, this year Craft Beer Co sensibly moved the timing forward to 4pm, which massively reduced the logjam so hat’s off for that. The beer was excellent as well!

A second annual beer to appear was Beavertown Bloody ‘Ell introduced initially at their tap-room. Personally I think that each version has got more subtle and a bit less in your face orange. There’s nothing wrong with 2016 but I preferred the more aggressive 2015 vintage.

The King’s Arms continued its recent good run hosting Michigan’s Founder’s. Rubaeus is probably my girlfriend’s favourite beer and I loved Project Pam, a black IPA appearing for the first time in the UK, Backwoods Bastard Scotch Ale aged for a year in bourbon barrels and Kentucky Breakfast Stout an Imperial Stout brewed with coffee and chocolate all of which had been aged in bourbon barrels.

BottleShop hosted The Kernel, with the highlight three limited edition Corny Kegs, apparently similar to those used by homebrewers, and which they use for experimental one-off beers. The London Sour Cascara was superb, but the beer of the night was an absolutely stunning raspberry version of their imperial brown stout. Indeed it was slightly unfortunate that Cloudwater took over the same taps the next night as although it showcased they are now very good (Table beer juniper), they are not quite yet at the top table where The Kernel sits.

Easter in London is now marked by two annual beer festivals. Firstly, Craft Beer 100 in Clapham, which I have already praised for the introduction of third measures and must admit, that contrary to my fears, the Thursday afternoon session was not too crowded.

Overall this event was good but certainly not great: I was not at all impressed with the selection outside (indeed my half of Electric Live Wire APA ended up watering the plants after one sip) whilst although the beers inside, at the Keg Bar, were excellent (the very refreshing High water Central Valley breakfast sour, Almanac Ginger Gose and Alesmith Vietnamese speedway stout the top picks) they were too expensive.

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Brodie’s King William IV pub

Secondly, there was Brodie’s Bunny Basher at its own King William IV pub in Leyton. This is a normal pub, with cheaper commercial beers and Sky Sports alongside the craft range, which is something I always like to see. Unfortunately, for this event that meant that most of the beers in the 44-strong list were not actually available on one of the 7 or 8 taps pouring! Still, it was a good afternoon and I did enjoy the Chunky Monkey chocolate stout as well their sour specialities.

BottleShop had an incredible Scandinavian tap takeover with beers from Omnipollo (notably their Noa Pecan Mud Cake Imperial Stout and the Buxton collaboration Cloudberry Ice Cream IPA), ToOl (Gose to Hollywood) and Mikkeller (Nelson Sauvignon).

Although it would be fair to say that they do not exactly have significant overheads for creature comforts, the prices that the BottleShop charge for beers of this quality is truly fantastic for the (amateur or any other kind) drinker. And it was clear that most of London’s beer community agreed as there was a great deal of familiar faces!

It was Spitalfields brewer market who took on the hair of the dog role the next day. Anspach and Hobday’s dry hopped sour a welcome alternative to grapefruit juice for breakfast. Moor took over the BottleShop, showcased how consistently excellent their beers are.

Having done Thursday nights with all of the top London names, BrewDog at Clerkenwell moved out to the Home Counties and invited Siren. This saw the famous Caribbean chocolate cake on nitro for the first time, the debut of Cinco Muertes, a ginger and lemon brown ale, and my initial taste of the new Peligrosos IPA. This branch of the corporate behemoth has really hit the ground running and shown what excellent local management.

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t.

Beavertown growing up while still mixing it up

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There’s an underlying theme at Beavertown brewery in North London – a keen appetite to mix things up. This includes lots of cross fertilisation of ideas through collaboration with other brewers, hosting massively successful events that bring the beer community together, and more recently a mixing of cultures in its fledgling barrel-ageing programme.

This thinking starts at the top with Logan Plant, founder of Beavertown, who created the brewery a mere four years ago when it was housed in Duke’s Brew & Que bar/restaurant down the road in Hackney.

Today the new kit sits on an industrial estate and production is heading towards 30-35,000 hl of beer for the year, which will take it to near its capacity in what seems like no time. This is the rapid pace of growth it is experiencing and is prompting investigations into where the brewery goes next.

“In the next two months we’ll hit capacity – with 15-16 brews a week. I’d like to sit here for a bit but we’ve got to plan for something else. We’re a part of the community here, part of Tottenham, and would love to stay in the borough. But we could go somewhere and create Beaverworld!” suggests Plant.

What these moves require is cash and to date he says the move from Dukes, along with the expansion in capacity at the present site, have been “handled the best way we could – with banks loans and personal money”.

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He’s clearly thinking of the next step: “We’ll need to raise money. At the moment it’s just me. I worry about it because it’s about working with the right people. When you’re working with people with finance backgrounds then you have to hope it will [ultimately] make your product better.”

Although Plant says he hopes the likes of Camden Town and Meantime selling to “bigger monsters” will lead to craft beer being taken on to the next level as drinkers potentially move from “Heineken to Hells” he clearly has reservations about how consolidation in the industry will affect craft brewers and the prospect of them losing the integrity that makes them special.

Don’t therefore expect a big deal to be done at Beavertown anytime soon because for now he says: “I’ll be driving this company and my heartbeat will be in it. We’ll be keeping it tight.”

In the here and now Plant is looking to further develop Beavertown’s distribution through its own channels. As well as looking for another bar, which he would like to be a “stripped down version of Duke’s, with more of a bar area”, the brewery’s Tap Room is also in need of change in order to accommodate the growing number of drinkers making the trek to Tottenham on Saturday afternoons.

“The tap room is all I wanted it to be – a place to meet people, let them feel the process and bring the beer to life. We created an environment we liked and hopefully people would also like it,” he says, now knowing full well that they like it rather a lot. With 300 to 500 people typically visiting on a regular Saturday while 600-700 attended for the launch of the annual blood orange beer Bloody Ell recently.

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With these numbers he says the Tap Room will have to be taken out of the brewery and into the yard although the format of the physical structure needed has not yet been sorted following the first attempt – comprising two containers – was thwarted by the industrial estate’s owners.

The typical Saturdays are nothing compared with the brewery’s fourth birthday celebrations in February. Such was the appetite for the event – involving a festival with beers from some of Europe’s finest brewers – that thousands made the journey to North London. It was a terrific collaborative creation but the brewery struggled under the huge numbers.

By not charging for entry or ticketing the event in any way it showed the all-embracing, good hearted nature of Logan and Beavertown but the reality was the popularity of the event means that changes will have to be made in the future for these events and for the Tap Room too.

“Maybe we were naive but we’re also massively proud of what we did. Brewers all came together and friendships were created. We’re seeing the [strong] appetite people have for the beers when we open the gates,” he says.

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Tickets will certainly be employed when Beavertown starts releasing the beers from its 18 months of labour and experimentation involving its barrel-ageing programme. There will be a core range under the Tempus name and various one-offs. The limited quantities of some of the beers will involve ticketed events at the brewery.

There is excitement at the brewery for what Plant says is: “A decade-long experiment. We’re educating ourselves and notating everything. We’re gaining knowledge of yeasts, bacteria and different woods. The consistency will be tough but there will be great flavours.

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The first beers have been Sour Power – mixed fermentation red ale aged 18 months in Burgundy barrels on redcurrants and sour cherries – and the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde collaboration with To ØL of Copenhagen comprising a Muscat barrel-aged bretted gooseberry Belgian Pale and an Imperial Stout aged in Speyside whisky casks.

This collaborative approach, desire to mix things up, and an appetite for constant evolvement, very much captures the ethos of Plant and Beavertown right now. Let’s hope they continue on this journey and justify their position as a standard bearer of craft beer.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider