February’s highlight was a tutored Fuller’s Vintage tasting at The Bottle Shop, led by John Keeling. The first beer was Past Masters XX, using a recipe from 1893, although the closest they could get to the barley, of that time, was from Prince Charles’s organic farm.
It was brewed in 2010, and is technically now three years out of date. It had the malt, rather than hops characteristic of aging, and some “sherriyificiation” but was perfectly drinkable. Next was an Oatmeal porter, from a 1926 recipe, before we went onto the Vintage Ales:
John talked about the sine wave of tasting for these beers with various vintages going up, down and up again: I have always been interested in the ageing of alcohol, from the freshness of West Coat IPA’s to the immortal Madeira
1997 was the 1st Vintage Ale, which now costs around £500 due to scarcity. Needless to say that wasn’t on our tasting menu! We went thru 2016 (rich, complex), 2015 (only British ingredients, fruit-driven aroma with a bitter finish), 2014 (my favourite, zestier), 2009 (caramelised orange and vanilla) and finally 2005, which was the only one to have lost life.
We then finished with Fuller’s Brewer’s Reserve Number 5 Oak Aged Ale. The original beer is aged in Scottish whisky barrels for two years, along with wild bacteria, and then 60 casks are re-blended with regular ESB to tame it, and increase the precision of the flavours, and lower the ABV.
John is a fantastic and passionate speaker: He distinguished between water, which is chemistry, and used to matter in brewing, but can now be replicated, and the other base ingredients, which are alive, hence biology and subject to evolution and variation.
This led to his main theme for all alcoholic drinks: variety around consistency. There should be minor batch to batch variations in the product as the base varies, but with excellent process ensuring a basic level of underlying consistency.
Early February saw the unwelcome news that Will Hawkes was closing the Craft Beer London app and website. This hasn’t been properly updated for a while, so it was not entirely unexpected. In early 2013, when I first started becoming interested in beer, I religiously used this app to search out new places. It’s strange to think that this was before LCBF, let alone BeaverEx, Bottle Shop Arch, Mother Kelly’s, Cloudwater and many, many more even existed. We’ve come a long way, but I will always be grateful for the start his app gave me, so a deserved thanks to Will.
To celebrate its 6th birthday, Beavertown invited six other brewers who brought both a couple of their own beers and a collaboration with the party-hosts: Boundary (Zoltar Says Make Your Wish, a red wine BA export stout), Land & Labour (Be Excellent to Each Other, an IPA), Pilot (What Am I Going To Do With a Gun Rack, a gin martini saison), Deya (Fear Does Not Exist In This Dojo, a hazy IPA), Elusive ( Eat Flame Bozo, a mojito Hopfenweisse) and Cloudwater (three collabs, the best of which was Do Not Open Until 1985, a DIPA) were the chosen six for me.
The beers were good, but logistically the event was not. The situation wasn’t as bad as the notorious, un-ticketed 4th birthday, but it still wasn’t pleasant. One of the main blocks of portable toilets failed, creating enormous queues elsewhere, even though people were going across to Pressure Drop, which wasn’t particularly fair on them, as it just moved some of the bottleneck there.
Further disappointing news came from the William IV in Leyton that is to become a dreaded gastro-pub. This was always the house pub for Brodie’s, and was much more important at the turn of the decade than it is now as other venues and breweries have appeared. The biggest loss will be felt at Easter with the demise of Bunny Basher, which has been around for more years than I care to remember.
As recently as 2016 (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-9/), I could write that “Easter in London is now marked by two annual beer festivals”. To lose one (C100 at Clapham) may be regarded as a misfortune: to lose two looks like carelessness.
Whilst I must disclose a personal interest, it was great to see a Bohem TTO at GNRT, including a first appearance for Vasco, a wonderfully full-flavoured DIPL lagered for eight weeks and Raleigh, a Czech twist on the unique Bamberg smoked lagers, which is a true love-it-or-hate-it beer.
Craft Beer Rising is more of a trade show these days, and the prices charged for the pitches kept out many small players. It’s hard to complain about drinking Stone Berlin, but there wasn’t much new to report. Beer of the day was the Brew York Imperial Tonkoko Stout. This is a pumped up version of the normal Tonkoko and gave a wonderful coconut, Tonka, Cacao and vanilla hit. Absolutely fantastic, and the commonly heard “Bounty in a glass” doesn’t do it full justice.
Northern Monk announced they would be crowd-funding, using the very much maligned Crowdcube site. They are a very good brewery, so it is worrying that they could not find a more legitimate way of raising capital. Chorlton raised the possibility on Twitter of issuing “beer bonds” which would cost £250 and entitle the holder to get a 5 litre keg every month, of the brewers’ choice, for the six month life of the bond. This is even more ridiculous, and thankfully, they appear to have dropped the idea.
Bottle Shop hosted Brooklyn’s KCBC, or King’s County Brewers Collective, to give them their full title! Marble of Doom II was a superb raspberry, key lime sour, alongside two DDH IPA’s, Dangerous Precedent, which was good, and Viking Disco, which was better.
There were also collaborations with BBNo and Hackney, whose childhood friendship with a KCBC brewer led to the project. I enjoyed all the beers so much that I went up to The Axe on Saturday to carry on drinking them! The Arch also welcomed De Molen with Amarillo DIPA, Tsarina Esra imperial porter, Mooi + Meedogenioos, an imperial stout, and People’s Republic of Juice, with IPA’ from across the UK and which shows all the hallmarks of the recently hired Chris Hall’s pun machine.
Fourpure held a successful opening party to show off its new brewing capacity investments. They were all very impressive, but the size is now starting to move away from what we have thought of as craft in this country, if not the States, although this is not a debate I want to get into here. They also announced a collab project with brewers from six continents, including Belgium’s De La Senne, Australia’s Two Birds, the USA’s Melvin, and Japan’s Hitachino Nest.
Finally, in brief: Brewdog gave away one million pints of Punk IPA. Fuller’s took over Sussex’s Dark Star, which should prove a good fit, as it is predominantly cask. Duvel doubled its stake in Birrificio Del Ducato, which runs The Italian Job, to 70%, and Five Points will be taking over the Pembury Tavern, on the junction from which they take their name.
Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.