I could have made this point at almost any time but after collating my notes for this month the growth in the beer scene appears to have moved up to whatever level is above staggering,
Brewers are increasing their on-site sales, so March saw Hammerton announce that they had taken over the Wig & Gown on Holloway Road, Bohem opened on Myddleton Road, whilst Fuller’s has renovated the Great Northern Railway Tavern in Hornsey, which now has many guest keg-lines (Siren, BBNo, Magic Rock, Weird Beard amongst others on my visit).
If it’s a success, and it will be, they are planning to roll this concept out across London. Successful independents continue to add new sites: The King’s Arms/Earl of Essex only recently added the Mermaid in Clapton, and are now opening the Axe in Stoke Newington.
The Three Crowns has re-appeared in Old Street (briefly it was re-named Hill & Szrok, under the same owners), and this time it has a decent tap-list (15+, including Kernel pale ale on my last visit), which means that within a cricket ball throw of the Old Fountain, and including the Draft House, there is now a total of 50-60 separate taps!
The veterans among them are getting ever more exotic so that the Old Fountain had both original and the grapefruit Mike Hess Solis Occasus on tap this month.
Big retail is muscling in too: Social media was awash with Tesco discounting Stone Berlin IPA to £1.32 a can. The brewer later claimed this was a mistake, but the pressure is only one way. And this when I have lost count of the number of independent outlets (for instance Kill the Cat in Brick Lane is walking distance from the already excellent King’s Arms & Mother Kelly’s).
Finally, there was a question about Jaipur on a mid-afternoon network TV game-show! It’s wonderful for the consumer, and the demand is clearly there. However, it is very unlikely that demand, supply and distribution all manages to grow perfectly in synch so it’s hard not to fear gluts or shortages and queues or shutdowns (especially if supermarkets use craft beer as the loss-leader that they have done with wine).
Siren had a big push with TTO’s at Euston Tap, The King & Co., and CBC Clerkenwell, which I attended, and which showcased Maiden, their barley wine. They had barrel-aged versions in tequila (odd, it didn’t really work), red wine (good, but felt a bit like someone had just poured red wine into the beer) and rum (superb), as well as launching the normal 2017 version. Strictly speaking it’s probably a bit young, but this was my favourite, and I’ll be interested in how it develops over time.
The much-vaunted Bourbon Milkshake, an 11% Imperial bourbon barrel aged milk porter with vanilla, muscovado and honey was way too sweet for my taste. My favourite amongst a stellar line-up was Acid Jam, an imperial kettle sour aged in bourbon and red wine barrels, which was glorious. The same night they also had on the Firestone Walker Luponic 005, a textbook American IPA.
Beavertown held the 4th Tempus event with matching food from Filipino-inspired pop-up BBQ Dreamz. Kneadless Violence, a Kvass (Slavic and Baltic style, from rye bread) with E5 Bakehouse, was light and refreshing and just 1.9% ABV. Uptown Monk, a rye Tripel collaboration with Brouwerij Alvinne, aged in Juracon barrels, was warming and peppery, with a touch of fig.
The stand-out was Brosé, a sour ale brewed using the Pomace (the remains of the grapes after they have been pressed) from Forty Hall and Davenport English vineyards. It produced an exceptional hybrid beer/rosé, hence the name, which was crisp, tart and fruity. Overall although the event was more of a food-and-beer matching evening, rather than just a beer tasting, it was as enjoyable as all the previous Tempus events.
Four days later, Beavertown launched 2017’s Bloody ‘Ell blood orange IPA. This year’s was wonderful – probably the best so far of this much-loved seasonal. However, given the quantity they have produced (a few days later Twitter was full of pubs and shops announcing they had it, including 15 cases at Oddbins in London Bridge) with launch-parties at pretty much all major cities, it seemed rather silly not to also simultaneously launch at other trusted London venues.
They couldn’t have foreseen the glorious weather, which would have added to the crowds at the sun-trap of the brewery, but after barely an hour it was one in/one out and the venue was packed. They should have opened earlier to spread out demand, ticketed it or done a simultaneous release. Great beer though.
Siren launched its new Yu Lu, at Sutton Arms, in EC1, which, as per the above, I wouldn’t have written a year ago. It is an Earl Grey and lemon zest, loose leaf pale ale, and very refreshing at 3.6%.
On the same day, The Bottle Shop had a spectacular West Coast IPA party: The Belching Beaver Blood Orange Vanilla IPA divided opinion as the vanilla characteristic was too dominant, whilst the Allpine Windows Up IPA was clean, tropical, and citrusy. However, the hoppy and fruity Green Flash Palette Wrecker DIPA was gorgeous and the undoubted star of the show.
V13, the final release in Cloudwater’s DIPA series, was a revision of their birthday special, which hadn’t been included in the countdown. Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of the best of the series, and suffered from being up against the Palette Wrecker. I was far more impressed with a can of their wonderful Bergamot Sour, which was refreshing, packed with lemon flavour, and, at just 3.5% ABV, perfect for summer drinking. The bells of St. Clement’s would happily drink this and their Seville orange sour, also back in can for the summer.
Evin hosted an intimate Kernel tasting at The Bottle Shop. He was honest both about the first beer, a pale ale wasn’t up to their normal high standards and in his criticism of most collaborations, as when they are one-off, there is no ‘learning by doing’, as a recipe is tweaked and improved.
I think this is relevant for normal pub beers, when consistently good is the aim. At events, I am looking for different and unusual, and accept volatility in pursuit of the excellent. Collaborations are often over-hyped, as both breweries market them, thereby doubling the advertising. I dread to think how many tweets will be sent about the forthcoming Abbeydale/Magic Rock/Siren/Northern Monk 4 Degrees of separation IPA!
It was fascinating to hear how the Kernel is run as a co-operative, with everyone sharing job and taking it in turns to brew whatever they choose. Clearly this is not scalable but I’m delighted with the present results. As always, their London Sour (this time raspberry) was super, band the Imperial Brown Stout also delicious.
Mason and Company advertised a 10th Birthday special Moor TTO, with owner Justin Hawke. However, I was tad disappointed to find that that were on only 7 of the 20 lines: surely a ‘takeover’ must at the very least have a majority! Old Freddie Walker is a glorious Old Ale which has been difficult to find in London, and the vibe was very friendly.
Mother Kelly’s showcased Het Uiltje from Haarlem, in the Netherlands. I enjoyed M’n Opa M’n Opa a hoppy APA, Big Fat 5, a well-balanced and clean DIPA, but their best was In Between Agendas, an imperial black lager, in collaboration with Pohjala, with hints of passion fruit.
Marble returned to The Bottle Shop. I was a big fan when I first became interested in beer 4-5 years ago, but haven’t seen them nearly as much in London recently. My memory, which, admittedly, may be as hazy as a New England IPA, was of excellent, traditional, cask ales. This list was modern keg, with the Damage Plan IPA not suffering one iota in comparison to it the illustrious Jai Alai from Cigar City, which was also on tap, and thankfully not as extortionately priced as the imported cans normally are.
Finally, whilst I blog about beer, with occasional NFL references, I was lucky enough to see Peter King, the doyen of NFL writers, speak at The Mermaid Theatre in Blackfriars. Anyone who is interested in the NFL should read his weekly MMQB column, which also features his regular beernerdness column, and I hope he enjoyed our vibrant scene as much as I do his journalism…
Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t.