This month was a tale of two festivals, just a fortnight apart, and both dependant on the heavyweight names of the US scene, but completely opposite in the underlying motivation of the organisers and therefore enjoyment.
The Rainbow Project was a genuine celebration, hosted at Beavertown and featuring seven American and seven British brewers collaborating on beers themed to the seven colours of the rainbow.
It was brilliant last year and personally I was a little worried that, unlike the simultaneous Northern launch being hosted by Magic Rock, the event was not ticketed and that the venue would therefore be overwhelmed by crowds, a feeling that was enhanced on the day due to the glorious weather.
However, the decision to extend the opening hours and great logistics meant this was not a serious problem. Overall this was a wonderful day and one of the best beer events I have attended with a knowledgeable, friendly and enthusiastic crowd enjoying a great range of beers. My favourites were the Hawkshead/Crooked Stave Key Lime Tau and Partizan/Prairie Saison.
The day ended with the annual Cantillon Zwanze launch, this year allocated to the Kernel and The King’s Arms. I had been looking forward to this but unfortunately my stamina let me down!
The preceding Friday night had seen an Arizona Wilderness tap takeover at the King’s Arms. I enjoyed the Bierre de Wassail, described by the organiser as a “liquid Belgian Xmas cake”, and it would have been lovely in the holiday period. It did however seem slightly out of a place in London in September, so the mind boggles as to how it would taste at source in the Arizonian desert!
I have already written about the sudden decision to cancel the London Beer Carnival at short notice, and replace it with various events, the flagship being the US-themed Route CBC at Craft Beer Company’s outlets. A cynic might suggest that this was because the US is more litigious and insisted on Craft Beer Company fulfilling its order. Clearly there had been a disastrous lack of demand for tickets, which made the decision not to even offer something for those who had supported the original concept even worse.
The event then felt like a desperate soulless attempt by bean-counters to gouge the consumer and recoup as much of their losses as possible. Prices were extortionate (£6.50 a third for 3.5% ABV J Wakefield Berliner Weisse or £19.50 a pint) and many beers were not even especially rare in London in 2015. Deposits were taken for glasses, almost as a deliberate hope that punters would forget to return them and the promised shuttle bus to the Scandi leg of the event at Brixton did not run regularly or promptly.
Overall it felt like the infamous food episode of the Apprentice where desperate media-wannabees cut every cost possible and serve up an inedible product. That is a game show and a one-off task. This is real life and a repeat business in which reputation matters and people remember and don’t come back. Craft Beer Company does many good things, but this was very disappointing.
A fantastic run for the King’s Arms continued with a tap takeover from New York’s Other Half brewery. They have garnered a lot of hype recently so I was really looking forward to this. Unfortunately it was rather disappointing. Firstly, the tap takeover was almost exclusively IPA’s. At a push this would be my desert-island style if I was forced to only drink one kind of beer for the rest of my life. However, I always think a tap takeover should feature a wide range of styles to showcase what the brewery can do. Possibly it is a reflection of my lack of knowledge about their speciality, but in that case I would have appreciated the night marketed correctly as an IPA event.
However the crucial problem, especially given the style, was that the beers did not taste very fresh! The brewers who had flown over were totally honest and extremely apologetic about this and admitted that there had been teething problems with their first significant overseas venture. The impression I gained of the brewery was almost better than if the beers had been fantastic: Clearly they care deeply about their product and I therefore am really looking forward to trying them properly.
As always, there were notable events at The Bottle Shop SE1. Tap takeovers for Brodie’s and Alamanac (Emperor Norton!) and the launch of Mark Dredge’s latest book. Mother Kelly’s ran a fantastic free pour of Brooklyn’s famed Ghost beers. However, it was on a Sunday night and I was unable to attend, which I still regret!
A brief mention for London cocktail week, sister event to the execrable February London beer week, ludicrously sponsored by Guinness. This was mainly dreadful with most cocktails on offer way too sickly sweet and many venues only allowing one per person at the advertised price. It was however redeemed by the sensational Shoreditch Old Fashioned pop-up bar with signature versions of the drink from bars from all over the world.
Two approaches to festivals then, but to end positively when it is as good as the Rainbow Project, we are living through the best of times for London beer drinkers.
Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t.