Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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As this column covers The Christmas Lunch Month, it seems appropriate to dedicate it to the poet Gavin Ewart, the all-time legend of Lunch With The FT: “The combination led to some memorable encounters, most notably a liquid lunch of biblical proportions at the Cafe Royal between Nigel Spacey, a Cambridge don and freelance FT writer, and Gavin Ewart, the 79-year-old poet.

The next day, Spivey received a call from Mrs Ewart, saying that her husband had returned home happier than she had seen him in years, before adding: “The second thing and you are not to feel bad about this, is that he died this morning.”

Onto the beers…Stirbergets, from Gothenburg, have been generating a lot of excitement and rave reviews so it was great to see them at The Bottle Shop. Two IPA’s, the Amazing Haze and the GBG Beer Week special, were stunning, and more than justified the hype.

The same venue saw the official launch, from Burning Sky, of the 2016 Cuvee, the Saison Reserve and their first ever Imperial Stout. It is testimony to the quality of this Sussex brewery that so many of the great and good of the London scene were in attendance and the beers showed why, ably demonstrating their trademark subtlety.

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Goose Island opened their Vintage Ale House in Balham. This is a food-based venture, with a tapas bar vibe, and indeed served an excellent Cubano sandwich, that Jon Favreau would have been proud of.

The draught range was not particularly inspiring, but they have a fantastic cellar of wild, sour bottled beers, most notably Madame Rose (Kriek-esque), and the tart, berry Juliet as well as Lolita (think Framboise). There is much to commend here and it is clearly backed by the parent company’s immense power. However, I think the concept needs tweaking slightly: I don’t think casual diners, used to wine, will be experimental enough to jump into 750ml bottles of sour beer, while the keg offerings need improvement for the serious drinker (are they allowed to take guest beers?).

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The Thinker at the Vintage Ale House

Overall, though, this is a courageous and interesting idea. They clearly want to roll it out and, with a couple of minor changes it would be an excellent addition to any neighbourhood.

Moor are one of my favourite brewers, but as their popularity has deservedly risen, I increasingly find it hard to find their beers on keg in London (I can’t remember when I last saw Old Freddy Walker), and so I was delighted to discover their Tap Takeover of Bermondsey’s Eebria, especially as they were bringing the last keg of JJJ, which I have been searching for a while now.

The beer was delicious, although with a dangerously hidden ABV. They also brought a wonderful spiced porter, but unfortunately your correspondent had rather too much JJJ to be able to adequately note its name [This is the first admittance we’ve heard of Amateur Drinker over-consuming so he must have been bad – Ed

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Source: Beer Guide London

A quick word about Eebria. The staff were passionate and knowledgeable and it is clearly a serious player in the beer world, so why on earth did they serve us with plastic cups?

The King’s Arms played a small part in Bierre del Ducato’s Rivelazioni Acide event, offering Frambozschella, a raspberry sour and Beersel Morning, a blend of Ducatos Saison and 18-month old Beersel Lambic. Northern Monk also brought down exceptional one-off beers for a Tap Takeover. I loved the blueberry black IPA, particularly as it is a style that I often find disappointing.

However, the list was unbalanced, particularly for a Wednesday night, as the other 5 beers consisted of 3 DIPA (the best was Double Heathan) and 2 imperial porters from their Patrons Project range (I preferred the coffee 1.01 to the smoked honey 2.01).

And finally, 2 days after they had received the most coveted and prestigious award of all (http://beerinsider.com/amateur-drinker-awards-for-2016/), the pub celebrated 2016 by putting on a fantastic list for New Year’s Eve: Modern Times Fruitlands, Alpine Duet IPA, Cloudwater’s V10 DIPA and Brooklyn Black Ops Imperial Stout were 4 amongst equals.

The Old Fountain invited Beerbliotek (Not Guilty an OJ IPA, and Eternal Darkness, an imperial stout their best) to take over the blackboards, before ending the month with a lovely Xmas Charity Event.

The list of brewers donating beer was a Who’s Who of London, whilst the Raffle saw prizes of fabulous wines, whiskeys and a signed Lionel Messi shirt. I won a bottle of women’s perfume. Interestingly, there has been a clear rise in more discerning beer drinkers, as they desperately need to order more of the stemmed half-pint glasses.

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More of these glasses please.

December saw the launch of Affinity, which has a great pedigree and started brightly. However, going forward, let’s hope they spend more time on brewing and less on naming beers from sixth form politics, especially, as they are now small business owners, and so are part of the class, that the politician that their Red IPA commemorates, despises.

Brewdog Clerkenwell entertained Magic Rock (mainly old favourites, but good to try the Wayniac collaboration with Cigar City for the first time), on the same day as the bi-annual London Brewers’ market event at Spitalfields. A couple of weeks later it was good to see the location acknowledged as the Ten Dollar Shake and Brimful Of Masha were included in their Birthday Bash.

Finally, I hope 2017 brings everyone the beer of their dreams…

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t because you’re not committed enough

Pioneering Zero Degrees retains its relevancy

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Zero Degrees: still shining bright

Way back in 2000 was around the time I recall visiting Zero Degrees brewery in Blackheath, on the edge of London, after its creation by some pioneering nuts. It was only recently that I made a (seriously belated) return visit.

So much water has passed through the mash tun since then that the scene today is almost unrecognisable to the brewing wasteland back then. There has been a renaissance in brewing in London and Zero Degrees should not be forgotten about in the story. Its beers were among the first decent keg ales around.

They helped give keg beer a good name – much to the chagrin of CAMRA – for the first time in living memory. It was a delight to sample versions of Continental-style beers – Pilsners, wheat beers, red ales, lagers etcetera – that could only really be found overseas.

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Returning to the scene of my early tasting of ‘decent keg’ that I’d enjoyed so much all those years back was both enjoyable and odd in equal measures. The former because the beers in the main remain enjoyable and the latter because so much has changed around Zero Degrees. The reality is that it is inevitably playing catch-up to some extent as the young brewing upstarts now set the pace.

The brew house aspect of Zero Degrees looks rather similar to my first visit (as much as my memory holds up that is) but the rest of the room is very different, with its mish-mash of elements that are rather like a Jackson Pollock creation in 3D.

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The core beers are certainly reminiscent of the early days with a Pilsner, Pale Ale, Wheat Ale, and a Black Lager all present. A nod to the present scene can be seen with the Mango beer, which is refreshing I have to admit, but the fact it contains mango concentrate lets it down.

What does excite though is the #FirstSips initiative that has been recently introduced. This involves speciality beers – that are produced by each of the four Zero Degrees outlets (Blackheath, Bristol, Cardiff and Reading) each month – being distributed between each other.

Each month four new brews are introduced (that run to 1,000 litres each) and which are available until the batch runs out. On my return visit (in November) Marzen Oktoberfest had run out but Amber Lager, IPL, Belgian Pale and Marietto’s Dunkel were still featured as the #FirstSips beers on offer.

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By running such an initiative the Zero Degrees brewpub is very much following the trend among small brewers to produce a constant stream of new beers, while also adhering to the need for a bar to offer a great variety of beers, and in addition it is also highlighting that 17 years on the pioneering operator still remains relevant and can on its day pump out some beers as good as the rest of them.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

 

Amateur Drinker – Awards for 2016

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A few thoughts on 2016 as the year comes to a close…

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Best Pub:

King’s Arms, E2

After checking my previous blogs, this category did not prove as hard as I anticipated. Possibly because its location is slightly off the beaten track, but no pub has made more effort this year.

The big headlines come from the Tap Takeovers and a year which starts with Rodenbach and finished with Arizona Wild oozes quality, but where they have really stood out has been the standard of their every-day lists.

They are always well-balanced but consistently there are unexpected gems: Three Floyd’s/Amager Artic Sunstone, Pohjala Mutant Disco and Green Flash Tangerine Souls Style IPA, the only keg of Cloudwater Sevilla Sour at the beginning of the year and many, many other delights.

Honourable mentions to my local, The Old Fountain in EC1 and to The Duke’s Head, Highgate. Both deliver great beer, but are also rooted in their community.

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Rainbow Project top brew – Adambier

Best Event:

Beavertown Tempus (for tasting) and Rainbow Project (for partying)

The easiest category by far, as it neatly sums up the major trend of 2016 and also shows how a near-perfect response when things do not go as smoothly as we would wish.The ever-rising popularity of craft beer leading to logistic issues was first highlighted in the over-crowding that marred Beavertown’s 4th birthday/valentine’s bash.

However, their reaction was outstanding: The Tempus events were excellent on a smaller scale but the first big party was absolutely faultless: Ticketed at a meaningful price, with staggered start-times and free-pure beer led to no queues and a fantastic party.

Honourable mention to Matt Curtis who always organises passionate and idiosyncratic evenings (Burn’s night, Darker Days three matching stouts to Ghanian street-food and a celebration of 1980’s  electronic music are as different as it gets) and to the Kernel’s horizontal tasting using six different version of their single-hop pale ale each brewed using an identical recipe, but with the single hop changing each time.

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Source: CAMRGB

Most Improved UK Brewer:

Four Pure

Although it’s great that London now has 80+ brewers, I have long felt that the hierarchy has been too stable at various levels behind the obvious big two. Finally, that changed in the summer as Four Pure made a spectacular advance, announced by two superb beers, Shapeshifter, the best British APA I’ve yet had, and JuiceBox, a Citrus IPA that brought many new converts into the craft beer world during the summer.  We now need at least two or three others to make a similar leap in 2017.

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Best Improvement to a Friday Night:

The Bottle Shop opening every week

Any round-up of the London scene must include The Bottle Shop and the decision to open every Friday was especially welcome given the queues that now exist on the B******* B*** M***.

From the UK, Scandinavia or the US, there were too many great tap takeovers to mention here but I’m sure anyone reading this enjoyed at least one of them.

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Zwanze 2016 on the right

Beer of the Year

An almost impossible category given the variety of styles, circumstances that they are drunk in, and whether it is festival beer where you want something different or a regular beer where you want reliability. A few to mention (and the list would doubtless be different in a week’s time). In no particular order:

Rodenbach’s gorgeous Caractere Rouge

Obviously, the Kernel’s London Damson Sour and the raspberry version of their imperial brown stout

Hawkshead/Crooked Stave Key Lime Tau

Magic Rock Grand Mariner bearded lady imperial stout.

Beavertown Double Chin, Notorious, and any Tempus

Sori Delirious

Omnipollo Mud Pecan Stout and Bianca Mango Lassi Gose soft serve, especially as the latter was topped with a soft serve ice cream at a very sunny LCBF

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, a glorious smoked beer from Brauerei Heller in Bamberg, Bavaria at GBBF

Zwanze 2016, an exquisite Framboise

Firestone Walker aged imperial stouts, the glorious vanilla, coconut and mocha Velvet Merkin and the El Diablo espresso Parabajava.

Modern times City Of The Sun IPA

Anagram Blueberry Cheesecake, an imperial stout that was a stunning aromatic and decadent dessert beer

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Brewery of the Year:

 Modern Times

The best West Coast IPA of the year was City Of the Sun whilst the Fruitlands sour series are continually innovative and excellent.

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Brexit beer mats: you can’t read them? Good.

Disappointment of the Year:

Nothing can match the personal devastation late on Xmas eve as Derek Carr broke his fibula and effectively destroyed the Raider’s Super Bowl dreams. But in the context of beer the disappointment of the year was the attempt to mix beer and politics. We saw childish beer mats in a well-known pub-chain and tweets from an excellent Northern brewer worrying about the effects of a fall in sterling on their exports (sic)!

 

2017 resolution:

To be able to drink a beer that Andrew Morgan (MD of The Bottle Shop) hasn’t yet tried. Unfortunately, I am more likely to climb Everest, star in a Hollywood blockbuster and take over as Apple CEO (concurrently).

2017 wish list:

When I visited Warsaw, every bar had their tap-lists live and updated in real time on the internet. Indeed in a couple of cases they also included information about how long the beer had been on for.
It is ludicrous that London, a far richer city that derives a significant portion of its wealth from technology, be it in Silicon Roundabout (surely one of the after-work drinkers could do it in lieu for the Old Fountain!) or City dealing rooms, can’t do the same.

Finally, I wish everyone a great 2017 and apologies for any worthy winner that I have forgotten in a drunken haze!

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

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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After my observation last month regarding stouts it is gratifying to report that a fantastic event was recently dedicated to the style at the Duke’s Head in Highgate and two wonderful examples of barrel-aged stouts were released by Beavertown.

‘Darker Days’ was the third annual celebration of that colour of beer that Matthew Curtis has hosted at the Duke’s Head as winter approaches. This year beers from Five Points and Brew By Numbers were matched to Ghanaian cooking from Chale-Let’s Eat, who were the pub’s November monthly kitchen pop-up rotation.

Among the innovative pairings were: Beef Azi Desi, a glorious spicy stew of steak, peanuts and okra, with Brew By Numbers excellent 08/02 imperial stout; chocolate brownie with Five Points Railway porter; and cheese with BBNo 14/03 Tripel Ella Belgian Triple.

These events are a triumph and the only reason not to recommend them unreservedly in future would be a purely Machiavellian desire not to miss out on tickets!

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As a beer consumer, the recent explosion of craft options in supermarkets has been very welcome, especially as we are being gouged by Sterling’s recent depreciation, and this month saw Tesco announce that it now sells 30 different brands at each of its 400 Express outlets, all cold-stored.

Moreover, I was recently pleasantly surprised by the offerings in M&S in Moorgate, which included Lervig Hoppy Joe red ale, and IPA’s from Northern Monk and Stone Berlin, which even 3-5 years ago would have been a pretty good haul in even the most specialist of outlets.

To stay with the supermarkets, but slightly digressing from beer, the epicurean disaster of the month came at Waitrose, Barbican, which has been refurbished for a trial project. This consists of ripping out the continental-style Ham and Cheese counter and halving the fresh meat and fish equivalents. This has been at the cost of losing many lines of proper food and having them replaced by sub-standard nasty take-away items that would not be out of place in a particularly depressing airport terminal. This is an act of ‘strategic development’ self-harm straight out of the scripts of Twenty Twelve or W1A.

The third Beavertown Tempus event was in partnership with BarrelWorks, Firestone Walker’s famous barrel-aging division. It started with a tutored tasting of 10 matured beers, five from each, along with very generous portions of high quality ham and cheese. The two outstanding beers were barrel-aged imperial stouts, the glorious vanilla, coconut and mocha Velvet Merkin (and, long story, but yes, it is named after…) and the El Diablo espresso Parabajava.

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Afterwards there was a Q&A session with Jeffers Richardson, a true craft beer veteran who currently runs BarrelWorks, and Logan and Jenn from Beavertown. This was entertaining and enlightening, doubtless helped by lavish offerings of cans of the brewery’s core range!

In an interview with Hop Review, Logan revealed that Spurs are aiming for a “pop up food bar” with “local food from the area” at their new stadium and have approached Beavertown with the aim of having craft as approximately “20% of the beer” .This is fairly common in the US (although bizarrely the range is relatively commercial at the Qualcomm stadium, despite it being in San Diego, which is perhaps why the voters recently rejected the plan to fund a  new stadium!) and would be great here. But I doubt the Met will be pleased if Power of the Voodoo is served by the pint!

It would, however, be fair to say I was a little disappointed by Club Tropigama, their 1000th brew. A fruity Gamma Ray, it wasn’t dreadful, but I was expecting a lot more.

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Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

 Black Friday saw a faintly ludicrous promotion in which 100 bottles of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout went on sale at Clapton Craft, in its only UK release. By all accounts the beer is apparently still superb, and in general it is an excellent local store, but this had the footprints of the brewery’s corporate owner, AB InBev’s PR department all over it, and indeed articles appeared in at least Time Out, The Independent, and even the Daily Mirror.

Sending over just 100 bottles, and then crucially pricing them below market, is purely to create an artificial sense of scarcity and then media-friendly pictures of queues round the block. It is just silly and ultimately leads to a black market. Moreover, you do not see people annually camping outside Chateau Latour overnight: instead the market clears, at a price which fluctuates.

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No queues for this big boy

The Kings Arms, E2, has been superb recently with some excellent normal lists (Three Floyd’s/Amager Artic Sunstone, Pohjala Mutant Disco and Green Flash Tangerine Souls Style IPA a small sample). And two tap takeovers – with Ska fairly low-key, although it was good to finally try the Modus Mandarina IPA, albeit in a can. Arizona Wilderness was sensational. The funky and refreshing Tart Sunshine, Integrity Blues IPA (a collaboration with the band Jimmy Eat World!), the Peloncilo brown Porter with dates and cinnamon, and finally the dessert of toffee/hazelnut chocolate Muck Elbow English Mild.

It was sad to hear that Quantum were shutting down, as, the founder, Jay Krause wants to concentrate on brewing rather than all the admin involved in running a business, and so will be joining Cloudwater in that role. We didn’t get many of their beers down in London due to production capacity, although I have fond memories of the very early days of The BottleShop (Laura, no mezzanine and only two lines!) when bottles of the very fiery, chilli Stockport Sour were Marmite-esque in their ability to divide opinion!

BrewDog’s CollabFest is an annual event where each of their branches teams up with a local brewery to create and brew a beer of their design, which produced 27 different beers. Clearly this leads to a great deal of variation in both style and quality, but that is what a festival should be about. The clear stand-out winner was Shepherd’s Bush/Siren, whose Ten Dollar Shake IPA was an outstanding tropical fruit smoothie IPA, which I sincerely hope becomes a part of their core range.

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BBNO Beer Pong

Honourable mention, although I will doubtless be accused of home-town bias, goes to Brimful Of Masha, an autumnal red ale made by Affinity/Elusive and Clerkenwell.

Draft House, Old Street, held a Brew By Numbers Beer Pong-based event which was great fun and during which the Pale was very murky but tasted far better than it looked.

(For the record – the BBNO team received a real pasting at Beer Pong by Amateur drinker and yours truly – Ed.)

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Murky but very good

Craft Beer Company, Covent Garden, invited Siren for Halloween. Alongside all their old favourites, three was also a special festive version of Chocolate Cake and the Maiden 2015 barley wine on cask, the aforementioned Ten Dollar Shake, although on a ludicrous mark-up (possibly because it was a BrewDog collab??), and Attack on the Bounty a wonderfully subtle coconut black IPA in collaboration with Northern Monk, although I wasn’t a fan of the V.I.P.A., a Vimto inspired pale ale they had brewed for Indy Man Beer Con.

As always, many notable evenings at The BottleShop: Omnipollo (standout beers the Mazarin oatmeal pale ale and, with Dugges, Anagram Blueberry Cheesecake, an imperial stout that was a stunning aromatic and decadent dessert beer), Mikkeller (SpontanFramboos Lambic, Green Gold IPA  and BooGoop an excellent barley wine, brewed with Three Floyds), California (Alpine Duet IPA and two from the consistently sensational  Modern Times the Fruitlands Blood Orange & Hibiscus Gose and Fortunate Islands, a grapefruit wheat beer) and last, but not least the De Molen, which was slightly different in that it was a formal sit-down tasting session with some of their special beers from the Borefts Beer Festival)

And finally, as December marks the arrival of the ‘one month a year’ drinking crowd cluttering up our watering holes, let’s hope they remember that a “Pub is for Life, not just for Christmas”.

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t because you’re not committed enough

 

Bulmers getting to the core of craft

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The impact of craft beer on the overall ale market has had the people at The Bulmers Cider Company taking a close look at how this could similarly play out in the cider category. What exactly can be learnt from the rise and rise of craft beer?

Their broad conclusion is that there won’t be that much direct correlation between the two categories. Emma Sherwood-Smith, director of cider at Bulmers, says there is a much greater link between cider and wine rather than cider and craft beer. The focus for the company is not to therefore focus on pushing urban style ciders that ape the look and aesthetic of craft beer – that undoubtedly has its beating progressive heart in more metropolitan areas such as London’s Hackney.

“Artisanal cider is much closer to wine. Think Hereford, Somerset and Kent for apples and cider. It’s very much an English democratic thing. The urban thing doesn’t work,” she says.

There is no doubt that the growing appetite for artisanal products is impacting the cider market. To this end the company is investigating how it can better link back to its heritage (Bulmers was set up in 1887) as it develops products that reinforce provenance. And this might sound rather surprising – it is putting a greater focus on apples.

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But then it really is only in recent years that the beer industry has put the spotlight on specific hops, which have now become an integral component of how many people choose and buy beer. Helped massively by the fact the hop gives a good idea of the beer’s style and how it should taste.

But rather than going down this varietal route with cider there will be more of a focus at Bulmers on specific orchards. It has a big advantage in this department because it has long-standing relationships with many apple growers – that collectively own around 8,000 acres of orchards. When combined with Bulmers’ own 2,000 acres of orchards, the total production this year will hit 130,000 tonnes of apples.

These are processed at the company’s sizeable Ledbury plant, which operates 24 hours per day, seven days a week over the course of the 12 weeks of the apple picking season, which ends in mid/late November.

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Typically a whole variety of apples will be processed at the same time at  the plant to produce the rich concentrate that will be used as the base for the final alcoholic product once the fermentation process has done its magic. But this year for the first time the company had a short spell at the start of the season to only process Katy apples and keep the concentrate separate and utilise it for a varietal cider.

However, more interesting is its focus on specific orchards whereby it is seeking to replicate the mix of apples grown by a certain producer in a batch of cider. Under the Orchard Pioneers branding the first drinks off the production line in this experiment – which will be available in February – are Kier’s Cloudy Apple and Sarah’s Red Apple. They have both been produced through  close collaboration with the orchard’s owners.

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What Bulmers is unable to do at present is use the specific apples from a single grower to create small batch ciders. But this could be on the cards because – just like with the larger brewers – it has created a pilot plant named ‘Percy’ that will be the Willy Wonka component of the organisation where small scale experimentation can take place.

Sensibly there is no defined commercial imperative from this modest plant but Sherwood-Smith is very excited about the prospect and the opportunities that it could present. Even if it is just excitement that Percy produces within the company then it will undoubtedly have some value. But clearly it should enable Bulmers to much more effectively bring the provenance of its raw materials into play, which really is arguably what ‘craft’ is all about.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

 

Spa town-based Buxton Brewery punches well above its weight

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Geoff Quinn, Denis Johnstone and Colin Stronge

To say it punches above its weight is an understatement. It employs only eight people, who produce a very modest 3,800 hectolitres of beer per year, but these brews are recognised globally as some of the best in the world.

We are talking about the gem that is Buxton Brewery. If ever there was a brewery that is below the radar then this Derbyshire-based outfit is it. It has the honour of being in the top 100 breweries in the world, according to RateBeer, with output like Axe Edge, and Imperial Black scoring highly among the world’s drinkers.

Geoff Quinn is founder and owner, Colin Stronge is the brewer, and Denis Johnstone manages the ship, which is a triumvirate of interesting, talented and pleasingly understated individuals. Maybe it was their friendly demeanour, the lovely countryside around the brewery, or the warm tap room that won me over when I made a recent visit to Buxton. Either way, I found a wonderful set-up.

What makes the brewery so special is that despite its limited resources it pushes out an incredible 40 new beers per year, on top of its core half dozen-ish brews. Johnstone and Stronge agree that the likes of Axe Edge could make up 80% of total output but that this would simply be a bit boring.

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Colin Stronge and Denis Johnstone

“Most brewers do 60/70% of their totals with one beer. Beavertown has Gamma Ray and BrewDog has Punk IPA but we’re not happy repeating things. We enjoy trying new beers,” says Johnstone.

To produce such a large number of brews is more typical of a gypsy brewer – such as Mikkeller, Omnipollo and To ØL – who have the benefit of not having any brewery infrastructure so they can have their beers brewed by a number of different breweries.

This brings me to another interesting point about Buxton Brewery. It produces beers for both Omnipollo and To ØL. This is certainly some achievement because both these two outfits are keen on pushing the boundaries. In Buxton (and especially brewer Stronge) it has a perfect collaborator and the two parties work very closely together on creating real ground-breaking beers.

One notable brew is Yellow Belly, which was initially produced with Omnipollo for the Rainbow Project two years ago and was the stand-out beer of the show that year. It has gone on to spawn some equally outstanding variants including Yellow Belly Sundae. A recent rare cask of this beer sold out in 30 minutes at Manchester’s Port Street Beer House.

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On my visit to Buxton Brewery two people (from the team of eight plus the odd helper) were wrapping bottles of Yellow Belly in its distinctive white paper cover, which is indicative of just how labour-intensive much of the work is at the brewery. Beyond the bottling line much of what takes place is very hands-on.

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This adds to the effort it takes to produce so many – often very complex beers – on what is also a very small site. “Our malt store is only so big and planning is very difficult as we’re now buying our hops three years ahead [on contract] for the likes of Citra and Amarillo. And then we’ve got our beers for Omnipollo to schedule in and they really want to produce their most extreme beers with us,” says Stronge.

There is also a modest amount of barrel-ageing taking place with 100 wooden barrels scattered around the site “taking up [valuable] real estate” says Johnstone, who adds that again this is time-consuming activity but one with which they clearly want to be involved.

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“There are all sorts of flavour possibilities. People think we over-charge for these beers but there is a risk with them so effectively we’re charging danger money. And they are hand-bottled, and bottle conditioned. They take three-times more man-days to produce,” explains Johnstone.

While acknowledging the hard work and effort involved, there is no doubt that the three key characters at Buxton would not have it any other way. Their spirit of adventure very much personifies the finer aspects of brewing at the smaller end of the scale.

Whereas many large organisations become constrained by delivering on set margins in order to satisfy shareholder demands Buxton is, in contrast, a gloriously free beast (to the great credit of Quinn) where Stronge and Johnstone can work their magic and deliver a constant stream of wonderfully inventive beers.

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Tasting at Buxton Tap House

While they might fly under the radar in the UK they have certainly caught the attention of discerning beer drinkers around the world and for the past three years as much as 50% of the output have been shipped out to 20-plus countries with Italy, Spain, Ireland and Sweden keen buyers of Buxton’s beers.

Buxton Brewery manages to be the oddest of beasts in being quintessentially British in terms of its low-key modesty and self-deprecation while its outlook is global and its inspiration is very much derived from activities way beyond these shores.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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A taste of Rainbow Project 2016

It was entirely appropriate that in a period in which the County Championship triumphantly returned to its rightful home in North London, Middlesex’s finest brewery put on a performance that would have done Angus Fraser just as proud.

[Middlesex county no longer exists and Yorkshire is the rightful home of County Championship – ed]

It was Beavertown rather than the Home of Cricket that hosted the Rainbow Project. This event began in 2013 with seven UK brewers, each producing a beer based on a randomly assigned colour of the rainbow. It then became an international project with each UK participant being randomly matched with a continental counterpart in 2014 and a trans-Atlantic one the following year. In 2016 that honour went to New Zealand.

Beavertown again hosted one of the parties to show off the results. While 2014 was quiet, 2015 saw worrying signs of over-crowding that were to explode at Beavertown’s Valentine birthday-bash. Everyone makes mistakes, but it is how you deal with them that matters, and Beavertown’s response since that ill-fated day has been outstanding.

The organisation was absolutely faultless. The event was ticketed, with limited numbers at a meaningful price, and used staggered start-times. The beers (34 festival brews and the core range) were all free-pure, and following the sage advice of WC Fields, there were no dogs or children. This meant there were no queues, either for the drinks or the toilets.

The beers were superb: From the official collaborations, Partisan/Prairie Real Time, a kaffir lime, lemongrass and grapefruit saison, Magic Rock/Fork & Brewer Upside Down, a tangy Witbeir and Hawkshead/ Yeastie Boys Kai Moana gose were the pick of the bunch.

From the ‘normal’, which they most certainly were not, I enjoyed Fork and Brewers’ 1st ever export, the Sourbet, a raspberry and lemon Berliner, the refreshing Hawkshead earl grey and Seville sour, Parrot Dog’s Flora Forget Me Not and Bitterbitch IPA’s, the Superb Garage Project Pernicious Weed DIPA, the Wild Beer Bee Brush a lemon, verbena and grapefruit saison, the Liberty Sauvignon Bomb, a sensational pale ale and last, but not least,  the 2015 (the beer changes every year) Yeastie Boys His (red oat ale) and Her(blood red beetroot ale  Majesty.

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Rainbow Project – Red

Finally, a couple of non-Rainbow collaborations: Magic Rock/ Gigantic Special Relationship, a deconstructed Manhattan, and the 8-wired/ Modern Times Halfway to Whangarei a sharp, almost sour refreshing saison.

Overall this was a fantastic, perfectly organised, and enjoyable event for both geeks and those new to the scene. This was undoubtedly the beer party of the year so far.

I spent a weekend in Warsaw for a wedding (unfortunately missing Omnipollo at The BottleShop!) and surprised absolutely nobody by taking the opportunity to check out their beer scene. Whilst the local Polish brews in general needed a little more work, the bars were of a surprisingly high quality with friendly and passionate staff.

Kufle i Kapsle (where I had Nomada Papaya Crush, an excellent Catalan DIPA), and Jabeerwocky were two minutes apart on Nowogrodzka, whilst at Hoppiness I tried Pracownia Piwa’s Huncwot IPA, which was comfortably the best local beer. I even popped into BrewDog Warsaw as they advertised online that they had the Four Pure Shapeshifter IPA.

This was the outstanding feature: all of the bars listed above had their tap-lists live and updated in real time on the internet. Indeed, in a couple of cases they also included information about how long the beer had been on. London is light-years behind and really needs to copy this as it is not expensive or difficult to do but is massively helpful for the customer.

Such is the pace of change in the scene that Zwanze Day feels like an historical institution, although it only began in 2008. The concept of pouring the beer at an identical time globally should really be in “Timekeepers” (Simon Garfield’s recent book on how the world became obsessed with time). The Zwanze 2016 itself was an exquisite Framboise: 82/18 raspberry/blueberry with just the right smidgen of added vanilla.

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Zwanze on the right

We only got a third but Cantillon also provided the apricot Fou’Foune and the Cuvee Saint Gilloise, Burning Sky the Anniversaire Saison, whilst the Kernel’s Pale Ale was a nice palate cleanser and regular readers will know I love the damson London Sour!

Unscientifically it seems to be that across all of the pub/bars I visit, there are proportionally less and less stout/porters on the lists. Asking about this, in a couple of different venues, I received the very rational response that the beers don’t sell as well, so they stock less.

In some ways, the decline is purely mathematical in response to the rise of other styles: IPA is the flagship of craft, DIPA is the height of fashion in 2016 for UK breweries and it is wonderful for the scene that more and more people are trying new styles, such as sours, and also that experimental/wacky/festival beers are being produced for us to drink (and me to write about!).

But I hope that drinkers and brewers don’t neglect stouts too much though, as there is a reason they are such a part of our drinking heritage. Although maybe it’s just the weather and beers will soon get as dark as the evenings outside!

A seamless change at The Bottle Shop as Sabrina returned to Canada to be replaced by Edd, and unsurprisingly the quality of events remained exceptional. I missed the aforementioned Omnipollo but heard good reports. There were two American tap takeovers, with the second, fortuitously scheduled on the same Friday for which I had bought Indy Man tickets, but was unable to attend due to unforeseen work commitments!

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Mike Hess Grapefruit IPA at The Bottle Shop

Given the US’s undoubted lead in IPA’s that style was the most notable, specifically the Alpine Duet, Black Market Aftermath, Mike Hess Grapefruit Solis and the Green Flash Tangerine Soul Style IPA,Black Market – Aftermath IPA whilst on a separate visit, I loved the Buxton/Omnipollo Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Pie.

Beavertown launched a new core beer, the Lupuloid IPA. This has had mixed reviews (drinkable, but maybe lacking a bit of a punch), and it isn’t even close to being the best British IPA (now that’s an entirely separate question we could spend hours on) but I think that if they do genuinely roll this out in the volume, and with the marketing, of their other core beers, it may prove a small step in bringing more drinkers further into the scene, just as Gamma Ray introduced them to it.

The autumn Craft Beer Co.’s Clapham 100 came around again. Like a comfortable shoe, this was as it always is: it amuses me that not only do you see the same faces at the event every time, but they occupy exactly the same tables! To be fair, it is clearly doing something right to inspire such loyalty.

Again as usual, I thought the keg offerings were more interesting: The Fierce Beer Cranachan Killer tasted just as creamy and raspberry as the Scottish dessert should, the Weird Beard Something Something Darkside, a marvellous black DIPA, Evil Twin Soft Dookie keg, an imperial stout, (which I preferred to the Hopping Frog Rum Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S.), the Jolly Pumpkin Maracaibo Especial , a spicy, citrusy  Belgian ale, the Panhead Supercharger APA and ultimately two from Westbrook: their sensational Key Lime Pie Gose and the Mexican Cupcake, which had a decent chilli kick and carried a great deal of flavour for the low ABV (just 4.2%).

Finally, some fantastic news for me personally as I managed to get a full Season Ticket for next May’s Copenhagen Beer Celebration. Expect to hear all about it in due course.

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

 

Derek Prentice – not a common brewer at Wimbledon

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Wimbledon Brewery is fortunate in not only having a committed owner, who has had the necessary resources to create something of substance, but to also have the services of Derek Prentice.

As London continues its brewing renaissance through an explosion of new craft breweries setting up shop Prentice is one of the few people who have done time at some of the capital’s key breweries of the modern era.

Truman’s, Young’s and Fuller’s have all benefited from his skills since he joined the industry in the late 1960s. Although he recently left Fuller’s upon retirement there was no way he was going to miss out on the revolution that is currently taking place in London and the rest of the UK.

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Especially as he regards the present situation as the most exciting he has experienced in his almost 50 years of brewing. On a recent visit to Wimbledon Brewery Prentice was as enthusiastic as ever: “This is the most exciting time in brewing since I started in 1968. It’s mainly because of consumers as well as the nature of brewing and beers today.”

He believes it is the younger generation’s desire to explore and find new things – in order to establish their own niche – that is fuelling the growth of new breweries and demand for new beers. “The new generation [of drinkers] think lager is bland from the multi-national brewers and they want to establish their own culture.”

This rejuvenation in brewing, combined with the general inability of retired brewers to simply stop making beer, led Prentice to take on a variety of consulting roles with younger breweries before alighting at Wimbledon Brewery following his departure from Fuller’s.

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After doing some consulting work with owner Mark Gordon, formerly a City banker, he has since become a founding partner of Wimbledon Brewery and helped build the brew-house. “Mark invited me to join the team and although I’m trying to cut down the amount of time spent at the brewery it is such a joy to have been able to set it up – and introduce some novel elements – as well as bringing on some young brewers,” he explains.

These elements include: mixing automation with manual activities in the production process; adapting the coppers to his specification including fitting China man’s hats; designing a bespoke mini hop-back; providing easy access to the coppers for painless cleaning out; and the installation of a boiler that he jokes took a decent chunk of Gordon’s budget.

The first beer to come out of the Prentice-designed brew house was the pale ale Common. The name harks back to Young’s Ordinary and its flavour components highlight how the beers produced so far have aspects taken from the ales he has helped brew in the past.

 

“There are bits of Truman’s in Common as well as Young’s and Fuller’s with Maris Otter, Cara Gold and light crystal malts used. It’s the barley that makes all the difference at low strength,” says Prentice.

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Mark Gordon and Derek Prentice

Next up was Tower – a 4.5% special pale ale – and then Quartermaine IPA (named after the owner of the original Wimbledon Brewery that burned down in 1889) coming in cask at 5.8%.

“This is based on my memory of PA1 Export pale ale from Truman’s. I had one of the last casks brought down from Burton for my 21st birthday that was served in a pub in London. In 1971 Truman’s was closed down and all production shifted to London,” he recalls.

Although Prentice says he could easily just brew cask ale with British ingredients at Wimbledon he recognises the desire from drinkers for a broad variety of beers and more recent output has included Gold Lager at 4.8% served in bottle and keg and Bravo American Pale Ale at 5.5% that uses US hop Bravo and is distributed in can, bottle and keg.

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“I like new world hops when they are used well. We are focused on drinkability and quality. Whether it is British or US style beers or others it is all about the quality,” says Prentice, before he ponders on the reason that he finds it difficult to call it a day in the brewing industry.

“Whenever people say they like one of my beers, that’s what I like and that’s why I brew.”

For drinkers in London it must be hoped that long may his love affair with making beer continue.

 

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