Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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I have always agreed with Hunter S Thompson, that, due to the NFL season, February is the most gloomy and depressing month: In January, we get the excitement of the playoffs, but, after the climax of the Super Bowl, you then face an agonising 7 month wait for the action to start again. Fortunately, in 2017 the beer events have flowed thick and fast, providing a measure of compensation.

“5 go to Beavertown” saw them celebrate their birthday with 5 other brewers, each of whom brought their own stock, and, a collaboration they had brewed with the hosts. Those beers followed the Enid Blyton theme: The best were Anne (Lost and Grounded, a Lemon Ice Bun Belgian Ale), Julian (Basqueland, a Patxineta Brown Ale with almond lemon zest, vanilla and cinnamon) and Dick, (40ft, a barrel-aged Lichtenhainer, which was tart and subtly smoked. They also re-brewed Double Chin, the excellent doubled Neck Oil.

Unfortunately, we were given Craft Master glasses which have no stem, so that your body-heat warms the drink as you hold it. Even worse, these were the mini-version so you could not fully get the aroma of the beer.

The logistics were not disastrous, but noticeably poorer than at the, admittedly perfect, Rainbow Project and queues did start appearing, whilst a few beers seemed to ran out relatively early. Possibly they were also a little self-indulgent: I fail to see why there were board games on the tables, let alone a fully-functioning Subbuteo pitch. People attend for the beer!

Given this, there was some stunning news for their Extravaganza, which incidentally Hunter S Thompson would be pleased to know starts the day after the NFL season kicks off, as the Saturday session sold out 6 months in advance! This is astounding, but given that 400 tickets remained the day before, the total is potentially frightening: Caps & Taps tweeted that 4000 tickets were originally available- I don’t know whether this is in total, or per day, or, indeed, the accuracy of the number.

Firstly, this represents staggering growth given that 18 months ago, Rainbow Project was turn up on the door. Secondly, I am very apprehensive about how they manage that many people: Even if there are 50 different brewers, each with their own separate pouring station, that still means that if 4000 tickets were sold, there is an average of 80 people per station. As some stands will clearly be more interesting on the day, it is very hard not to fear significant queues.

The beer is undoubtedly going to be sensational so I hope I am overly pessimistic. Wild Beer held a roadshow at The Three Johns, N1 to promote their crowd-funding offer, for which they specially brewed Cloudy Crowd, a New England IPA (NEIPA?) and Spicy Crowd, a Thai-spiced pale ale.

Unfiltered keg Pride at CBR

Craft beer in the UK is reminiscent of the internet in the 90’s in that alongside spectacular growth (see Beavertown tickets above) there will likely be many individual failures alongside some spectacular successes. In that case, what really matters is the specific talent and whether we are 1995 or 1999 in the analogy.

Full disclosure in that I am extremely likely to relinquish my amateur status and invest as I think we’re closer to 1995 and I like the products and people. A problem for craft beer financing is that heart (to help an industry they love) and head (return) investors have diametrically opposed views on a buyout from ‘big beer’ (see Camden).

I hate the phrase, but an interesting ‘3rd way’ was taken by Hawkshead this month, who sold a majority stake to Halewood, a drink conglomerate that is still basically independent, allowing “significant investment without being absorbed into ‘big beer.”

CBR is now a strange curate’s egg of an event. It is more of a trade show for the brewers to advertise their names, rather than a consumer-focused beer festival. Therefore, most of the Premier League (for instance Cloudwater, Beavertown, Kernel and Magic Rock) don’t need to attend. This leaves a lot of new, tiny brewers alongside some ‘faux-craft’, and trade stands, such as Powderkeg. (As well as Craft Master glasses again!)

However, if you know where to look there was still some great beer available (Indeed not even just know where to look- no one would dispute that Moor are part of the elite):

The Brewers’ Association offered rare American bottles and cans (Saugatuck blueberry maple stout, like American style pancakes, Jolly pumpkin No Ka Oi, a wild ale with a hint of lime and berries and Epic Tart n’Juicy a sour/IPA).

Christine and John Cryne (left) on the BA stand

Firestone Walker brought the outstanding Walker Union Jack IPA whilst Ska had Modus Mandarina, an orange IPA which I’d loved in a can and, given that, was slightly disappointed with on keg. Three excellent, but punchy, beers: Brew By Numbers 14/04 Tripel and 55/04, their latest DIPA, an Edge Triple IPA, excellent but 12% is maybe too strong for a festival?

Finally, it was good to see John Keeling, correctly honoured on the front-cover of the festival magazine for is Frankie Knuckles role as the Godfather of UK craft

John Keeling, the Godfather

The Bottle Shop had a Scandinavian theme this month for their TTO’s. Firstly Mikkeller (favourite was the Nelson Sauvignon Belgian Ale) and War Pigs, although here most action came from a surprise guest appearance from Cloudwater with V12 and a special 2nd birthday beer which, rather superfluously, was yet another DIPA.

Neither were as good as the V11. Secondly To Ol with their famous Sur Citra wild ale, and, also the fruity Mr Blue and Mr Pink. Finally, Omnipollo (Mazarin APA, Nebuchadnezzar DIPA, Selassie, an Ethiopian coffee imperial stout) with Dugges (mainly fruity beers, which my partner loves them but I find a bit sweet, with the show-stopper Mango Mango Mango, a Stillwater wild ale collab that does exactly what it says on the tin).

Siren launched their new DIPA, Hop Candy, at selected bars, including the Old Fountain.  It felt boozier than the indicated ABV – I’ve often wondered how scientifically accurate these are in the craft beer world: Smaller brewers making lots more variety is fantastic but might decrease the accuracy of measurement compared to big beer with more expensive measurement devices and homogenous output?

The King’s Arms hosted Brouwerji Kees and their amiable founder Kess Bubbermann. The standout brews were Anniversary 2, a Quadrupel brewed with walnuts, Lvstro, a smoked imperial coffee porter, and the caramel fudge imperial stout.

Finally, as I started with a sporting theme, I’d note that on Saturday the vagaries of the FA Cup draw have created the London Brewery Bowl as N17 entertain SE16.

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