Sunday, 8 December 2013
Beers Of London Series
63. Brixton Brewery - Effra Ale 4.5%
This is the third of the beers I was sent by Brixton Brewery to review after Electric IPA and Reliance Pale Ale and as I've covered their story thus far in some detail in my other two posts I'll keep this brief and focus on the beer itself. I had heard of other bottles of this batch pouring flat, hence the slight delay in reviewing but I'm pleased to say that this was not the case with mine when I opened in up. I will mention however that the beer is named after the river runs under Brixton via the sewerage system when this was built in the mid-nineteenth century following the design of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, and it enters the Thames at an overflow outlet near Vauxhall Bridge.
Effra Ale is an American Amber Ale described as fresh and feisty on the label. It pours a chestnut brown with a touch of russet red and a thin beige head with the fresh mango peel aroma with a little freshly baked wholemeal bread in the mix, it's a touch earthy too and has a little twist of citrus in there as well to round it off nicely. A prickly carbonation rough up the tongue, giving way to an unexpected cherry drop flavour dissolving into a smooth apple caramel that fades into a rather tasty orangey fudge finish.
This is the sort of beer that I really want to drink at least three of in a row as I could see those gorgeous sticky fruity flavours building and becoming more accessible the more you drink, filling the mouth wonderfully. All three of the beers that I've drunk from Brixton so far have been very good indeed and I'm looking forward to see what they will produce now that their core range is established, and if you're ever Brixton way I urge you to pick up a bottle of each if you can.
Saturday, 30 November 2013
My Favourite Beer Books ...
A seasonally self indulgent guide for the literary minded
I love books, I always have. Reading is something that I've always enjoyed and was a big part of my up-bringing, whether it be the Shoot! and Victor annuals (and comics - do you remember 'Tough Of The Track' and 'Morgyn The Mighty'?) via Commando books (possible unhealthy war theme appearing there!) to the Target series of Dr Who books, I read and read and read. Granted it wasn't the highest level of literature but it was the 1970s and I hadn't reached double figures age-wise.
I also collected.
I have a rather completist mentality, an almost obsessive trait which leads me to try and obtain all of the particular thing that has become the focus of my single-minded pursuit at that time.
To be honest I haven't really grown up but I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that there have to be limits.
Beer has been an passion of mine, and I'm guessing yours as well, for as long as I have been old enough to be served in pubs. Now I could reminisce for a while about Courage light and bitter, pints of Flowers and Ruddles County and trips out to the Olde Dog Inn from my then home in Barking to drink Mauldons wonderful Black Adder and Suffolk Punch beers, but I won't because this isn't what this post is about. As an aside though, I have realised a dream and now live within walking distance of the Olde Dog and even though the Mauldons range is no longer a constant fixture, Crouch Vale Brewers Gold is. No. This longer than usual post is for me to share my passion for books about beer.
I have been asked by a few folk to provide recommendations for beery reads so, as part of Boak And Baileys Long Reads I thought I'd share these on my blog so that you, should you be so inclined, might think about getting for yourself or for a friend or partner who might want a book (or books) for the festive season. Look, I 've even put the title up in Christmassy colours!
I've tried to (loosely) clump titles together in sections that will I hope become apparent as you read through, and this is by no means a definitive list but rather a list of books that I have particularly enjoyed. I am aware that some of what I have written may not properly be classed strictly as reviews but more accurately you could call them rememberings as did not have the time to re-read every page of every book, but I have tried to give you a little of their flavour and perhaps you will pick up on some of the emotions I have when reading a book I enjoy. I make no apologies if you don't agree with my recommendations but I would urge you to pick one or two at least to read if they take your fancy.
First up, and a book incidentally that I have re-read recently is The Death Of The English Pub by Christopher Hutt for a number of reasons. First published on the 5th November 1973 this book is almost exactly forty years old, but to read it you wouldn't think so. Sadly much of the issues mentioned within its pages are just as relevant to lovers of beer and pubs in 2013 as they were then. If you substitute the then 'Big Six' (Allied, Bass Charrington, Courage, Scottish and Newcastle, Watneys, and Whitbread) with the Pub Companies of the present day, which some of them became, then you'll see we haven't really come very far in some respects. This is a book of its time for sure, some of the images are a real delight, a real window onto the pub culture that I have brief remembrance of from my youngest years, but it's also a seminal work, one which galvanised activists and provided a point of reference for the fledgling Campaign For Real Ale. In fact Christopher Hutt, then a young journalist, went on to become Chairman of CAMRA when he succeeded founder Michael Hardman, and this book very much reflects the mood which caused the campaign to be founded in the first place. I highly recommend this book, it is clear and very easy to read, you won't regret it.
Inns, Ales And Drinking Customs Of Old England by Frederick W. Hackwood is not actually the most spectacular, insightful, or in-depth book on the subject however it is rather well written and rather easy to read. It's not a thin volume either comprising of some 392 pages and 34 very manageable chapters, it is nonetheless very comprehensive covering the birth of the earliest inns and taverns through to the birth coffee houses and tea rooms (remember beer isn't the only drink) with some lovely quotes and literary references. It is the illustrations that make this book an absolute joy however. I could quote some specific passages, practically every page has something that I could reasonably use, and even though it's been a while since I've read it I still smile as I hold it in my hand and can't resist a little look through, just for old times sake. It's simply a romp through roughly 800 years of English drinking and if that's your thing, and you quite like the idea of working your way through this rather hefty tome then you can pick it up relatively cheaply online, making it a rather safe bet in my view.
The Bedside Book Of Beer by Barrie Pepper is exactly as it sounds, a book to relax with before you turn out the light (accompanying drink optional). It is basically a compendium of beer related stories, rhymes, literary quotes, songs and cartoons both factual and fictional presented in easily digestible segments which are perfect for dipping in and out of as the mood takes you. Published in 1990 by Alma Books, CAMRA's first publishing company and not to be confused with this years 'Independent Publisher Of The Year', this was one of the first books on beer that I remember buying on release and as such holds a special place in my heart, but beyond the nostalgia it contains both wit and gravitas in equal measure. Barrie Pepper, Chairman of The British Guild Of Beer Writers from 1991 to 1998, pulls together passages from William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens and Dylan Thomas as well as including some writings by more established by such beer luminaries as Michael Jackson and Roger Protz, and while the limericks section is a little puerile that really is the only criticism of this book that I have. I can't really say fairer than that.
The contribution of the United States to modern brewing is undeniable and I have put the next three books together as even though they end up at roughly the same point in US brewing, that being the 'Craft Beer Revolution' and particularly how it came to be, they arrive there via very different but nonetheless very interesting routes.
Ambitious Brew: The Story Of American Beer by Maureen Ogle is essentially a history book, but rather than taking its starting point at the earliest attempts at brewing by the first colonists, it instead begins with the later arrival of the first Europeans and particularly those from Germany and how the introduction of lager changed the drinking habits of a nation and, it could reasonable be argued, the world. It truly is, as the back of the book proudly says 'a tale of gamblers and entrepreneurial visionaries, of ambition and passion', written in a captivating style that manages to maintain your interest throughout. Unsurprisingly much of the story is centred around Anheuser Busch however there are enough surprises and twists and turns along the way to keep even the most ardent anti-Budweiser drinker engaged to the very end.
The Birth Of The Craft Beer Revolution by Ben Novak is a book that is almost perfect in it's naivety in places but this is by no means a criticism as the passion and enthusiasm that the author exhibits for the then emerging 'craft beer' scene and the momentum is was gathering is so apparent it is infectious. It is a collection of articles that Ben Novak wrote for his column on beer for the Centre Daily Times newspaper in central Pennsylvania between September 1984 and May 1987, the first regular column on beer anywhere in the United States and it just so happened to coincide with the what could be said to be the birth of modern beer. It would be easy to pour scorn on some of the articles with the benefit of hindsight and it would have been easy to have omitted some of them for that reason, however that would have missed the point, and the rumblings that were going on prior to the explosion of American brewing can be experienced throughout. Read this with an open an accepting mind and you will get a glimpse of the anticipation and excitement of those early days.
The Audacity Of Hops: The History Of America's Craft Beer Revolution by Tom Acitelli deals with brewing in the USA with a starting point considerably later, beginning as it does with Fritz Maytag's acquisition of the failing Anchor Brewery is San Francisco in 1965. Exactly as the title suggests, it charts the rise of 'Craft Beer' using a pastiche of short articles gathered together in roughly chronological order using quotes and stories from and about the people who were involved at the time whether directly or indirectly. What started as the realisation of a dream, a struggle and determination to do something different, to produce something better than that was available by different groups of people or individuals in different places at different times can be seen in this book to grow and blossom into a real movement which we can now reap the benefits of. It does get a little bogged down with covering similar stories and little too much detail just past the middle of the book but if you stick with it you will be rewarded with a much clearer understanding of the current surge in American beer and how that is being reflected in the UK right now.
Staying with American beer, Brewed Awakening by Joshua M. Bernstein states on it's cover that it goes 'behind the beers and brewers leading the world's craft brewing revolution' but it is so much more than that. It's a bit of a 'journey' book insofar as it follows a young mans exploration and total immersion into the world of great beer. It is the style of this book, not just in the way it is presented but also the way that it took me along with the author and made me genuinely excited about the beers it introduces, that make it for me the pick of this list of favourites. It is so achingly good that it almost hurts and the beers that it features, surprisingly many of which are now available in the UK, are the very best of their kind. You could argue that it's a bit too trendy-looking for its own good, and it certainly is very modern in its approach but if you think that there's not much more to American beer than Budweiser and Coors you are most certainly in for a very pleasant surprise, and if you are already passionate about beers from across the pond then this could well be your perfect read.
Another book that one that is very much up their with my 'highly recommended' in this list is Shakespeare's Local by Pete Brown. I'm sure many of you will have read this book already, and if you haven't will probably have at least one of Pete Brown's books on your shelf at home, but for me this is his best by some way. Centred around the George Inn close to Borough Market on the south side of London Bridge, Shakespeare's Local is feast of beer and pub related history that happened around the area throughout the six centuries of this pubs documented existence. Southwark is an area of London that I particularly love and somewhere that my family enjoy going to as well as a place where I can bump into many of the friends that I have made in the eighteen months or so since I started writing about beer, so it resonates very strongly with me. The fact that you can visit what is left of this pub today, walk the streets and visit or imagine many of the places mentioned within its pages make it a must-read for anyone with an interest in history or London itself. I have to confess that I couldn't put this book down when I read it, it totally absorbed me, and I can give it know higher praise than that.
Looking For The Moon Under Water: The Search For The Perfect Pub by Paul Moody and Robin Turner takes its title from George Orwell's 1946 essay in the Evening Standard concerning his (fictional) perfect pub and is the story of two men trying to discover if such a place exists or even if it ever really existed in the first place. This book could so easily have deteriorated into a 'road-trip of disappointment' and there are some places that they visit that will make your heart sink, however it is written in such a way that the authors take you along with them and there is much with and clarity within the pages to make you smile and think. It takes you on a journey, albeit a brief one, around Britain and the culture of pubs and drinking drawing in some diverse elements along the way as well as meeting brewers, politicians publicans, singers and writers who help the narrative along. It is a rather pleasing read all told, and almost the complete opposite to the other book that I've chosen in my 'journey' category Beer, There And Everywhere by Peter Hill. This book starts with a challenge, to drink in every one of Banks's pub and evolves through, it has to be said, a series of drunken escapades into a continuing twenty-six year pub crawl quest to drink in every single pub in Britain. It really is a most enjoyable romp, even if it is a little crass in places, and it is the sincerity and sheer sense of fun, adventure and warmth that shines throughout this book which means that you can't help but smile as you read it.
I've started a new paragraph here as even though Around Bruges In 80 Beers by Chris Pollard and Siobhan McGinn isn't technically a 'journey' book it is the book that I used extensively when I visited Bruges in the summer (I did warn you that this was a self-indulgent list) and therefore becomes a 'journey' book for me by default. Bruges is of course a destination that is high on any beer lovers list of places to visit and the Third Edition published this year was a terrific help in enabling me to locate some of the newer places that have opened since my previous visit. The format is clear and concise but still managing to maintain a sense of fun in every entry, each featuring a different beer and I will be eternally grateful to it for directing me to Bierboom on Langestraat with its decidedly different selection of Belgian beers from small producers. There are currently '80 Beers' guides to Brussels (which I also found useful this year), Amsterdam, London, and Berlin so if you're thinking of visiting any of those cities then you could do a lot worse than taking one along with you.
I have to give a mention to Great Yorkshire Beer by Leigh Linley as it's a pure celebration of some of the best beer that my favourite (extended) county, obviously excluding Essex, produces. It's very easy on the eye and succinct in its writing as it takes you from the Dales to Sheffield via Leeds and ending up in the North Yorkshire Wolds at the appropriately named Wold Top Brewery featuring producers of some of the finest producers of beer in 'God's Own County' along the way. Featured throughout and having their own section at the end of the book are some of Leigh's tried and tested recipes that either contain beer or compliment/contrast the beer pairings from the breweries it is about. In fact there is so much to love about this book that it is hard to believe that it is all contained within such a relatively small volume. It really is a sheer delight.
Beer is Best: A History Of Beer by John Watney and Trumans The Brewers 1666-1966 are two very different books but are united in that they both hark back to a bygone era when brewing in the UK was ambitious and grand, providing sustenance to the thinkers, planners and toilers of the Industrial Revolution. Beers Is Best paints its picture with a broad brush, encompassing as its title suggests a wide history of beer, splitting it into three sections - Down The Ancestral Throat, Social Graces, and The Money Game - all of which are surprisingly thoughtful and quite insightful in places. It's an unexpected pleasure. Trumans The Brewers is rather narrower in its celebration of beer and is a little pompous in places but that only adds to its charm. The pictures and illustrations in this slim volume are a real treasure trove of images from a past era, and one of the main reasons I've included it here is that its recent rebirth has carried its history on into the Twenty-First Century so that perhaps there will be an edition produced to celebrate its 400th anniversary. Let's hope so.
Even though I have many of them, and you could even describe Brew Awakening as one of them, I'm not the greatest fan of the 'six-million-beers-to-drink-down-the-years' 'how-jealous-are-you-of-the-great-places-I've-been-and-awesome-beers-I've-drunk' list books but there are a few out there that at enjoy. Melissa Cole's - Let Me Tell You About Beer was the first one that I actually read all the way through from cover to cover, and very good it is too, but I decided that I could only choose two of them to be in this list and to be honest it wasn't that difficult when I'd set that criteria, and I deemed they had to be different enough to be worth acquiring both. First, and my favourite of this type is Boutique Beer: 500 Of The World's Finest Craft Brews by Ben McFarland. Ben was the youngest recipient of the acclaimed 'British Guild Of Beer Writers Beer Writer Of The Year' award in 2004 (as well as two other times since) and his writing can often be found in the national press as well as a range of beer and food magazines. You may think that a long and distinguished career in beer writing might cause a modicum of superiority to creep into his work but you couldn't be further from the truth. I found this book extremely accessible with the descriptions of the beers interspersed with interesting articles, brewers 'Top 5' beer lists and snippets of information about all things beery that make this a book that you'll want to dip into again and again. The pictures are particularly gorgeous and the nine sections (Quench, Lager, Hop, Grain, Classic, Curiosities, Sipper, Wild & Wood, and Cellar) are enough to spark any beer lovers inquisitive nature to make you want to delve deeper into them. There's something here for everyone, interesting brews to seek out and savour as well as some old favourites for you to re-examine and perhaps drink in a new light, this book is a true gem. Much more straight forward in its approach is All Belgian Beers compiled by Hilde Deweer. With this book you get exactly what it says on the cover, all Belgian beers (as of 2011 in the latest edition), and contains over 1100 of them arranged alphabetically by brewery in a very sensible fashion. This no-nonsense approach continues inside with no flowery brewery(or even blogger)speak descriptions of the beer just brief sentences under seven sections (Fermentation, Beer Style, Ingredients, Colour and Transparency, Character Taste and Flavour, How To Serve, and Tips and Facts) alongside a picture of the beer in its appropriate glassware and the bottle it comes in. It reminds me very much of those Taschen coffee-table books, 100 Chairs and the like, that I'm rather partial to and if you're familiar with those then you'll feel right at home with this. This book will offer something to even the most ardent Belgian Beerophile and I hope an even more up to date version is in the works as the Belgian beer scene is constantly expanding and evolving and really rather exciting. Op uw gezonheid.
I really need to pause and say a few words about The Oxford Companion To Beer edited by Garrett Oliver. This is a book that was simply crying out to be written (or rather compiled), a one-stop reference work on all things beer related and on the whole it succeeds wonderfully in this ambition. Much has been written about its faults and errors, but on balance these are minor and if you set them aside then this as near essential as beer books get. Sure, it's big and it's pricey but I have found it invaluable as a reference point when used alongside online and other literary research. I don't really need to say any more than that.
As I have previously mentioned I've rather indulged myself in this post, and possibly in no more section than this one. Cheese & Beer by Janet Fletcher and Beer & Cheese: 5oo Delicious Combinations by Vinken & Van Tricht may seem on the surface to be almost exactly the same book, and to a point you'd be right. However, when you discover that Janet Fletcher is a California resident who teaches cheese-appreciation classes across the US, and that Ben Vinken is a Belgian Beer Sommelier and Michel Van Tricht is a cheese master who owns what the Wall Street journal has described as 'the best cheese shop in Europe', then you may start to get an inkling of the differences in the two books and their approach. As a huge fan of both US and Belgian beers you may well work out why I'm having trouble choosing between them as well. There are some cross-overs here although they do err toward the Belgian side, but the mouth-watering descriptions and stunning photography make both of these books a wonderful addition to the collections of any beer or cheese lover, and particularly in the winter months when such an indulgence is almost mandatory.
We're on the home straight now so I'll highlight two books that have both bought me immense pleasure this year. Often when I look for books online I know roughly what to expect when I make my purchases, occasionally however a book arrives that greatly exceeds my expectations. These two books most definitely fall into that category. First of all I have chosen Unusual Railway Pubs Refreshment Rooms And Ale Trains by Bob Barton. This book takes you on a wonderful journey through the emergence of the railway and its close and on-going association with beer, breweries and pubs. I'm guessing that this book is aimed more toward the rail enthusiast with an interest in beer, and whereas I confess to having little interest in any kind of transport I was totally captivated by this book from start to finish. It is part history book, part travel guide, part directory and part beer related railway events calendar with plenty to sustain the reader in an area that I can't remember being covered before, and to be honest I can't really see it being bettered.
Geuze & Kriek: The Secret Of Lambic by Jeff Van den Steen is by far the most visually stunning of the all the books I've featured here. It is so full of detail and an absolute feast for the eye that I feel a tremendous sense of both calm and excitement every time I open it. As books go this is the most completely immersive of any book about a beer style that I have ever read. Starting with the history of Lambic beers such as it is know, and dealing in depth with the producers and blenders in separate sections this superb book is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.
Finally, because the holiday season is upon us it wouldn't be write to not feature a beery Christmas book and Wishing You A Merry Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, And Most Unusual Holiday Brews by Don Russell more than admirably fits the bill. I mentioned my love for books and collecting right at the start of this piece, although I did neglect to state that in addition to my collection of a considerable amount of beer books I also have close to a hundred books related to Christmas too. This book is no mere stocking filler either but a rather satisfactory list of around a hundred Christmas brews that the author has collected and sampled. It's not all US beers either, there are a fair few from Europe and the UK too, as well as some interesting sections on beer-related Christmas customs, some recipes and even a piece about acquiring, collecting and storing them. It's a lovely book to have and I find that there hasn't been a Christmas since I first purchased it in 2009 that I haven't re-read it. In actual fact it's the book that I shall be reading this evening before I go to sleep.
So there you have it, a reasonable smattering of some of my favourite beer books. You may notice for instance that I haven't included any by such wonderful authors as Martyn Cornell, Michael Jackson or Roger Protz, all of whom I greatly admire and whose books I would not hesitate in a heartbeat, however a list such as this has to have limits, so I limited myself to my twenty-one desert island reads and a seasonal indulgence just for good measure.
You may well have your own views, comments or recommendations, all of which I'd be delighted to read and answer if you'd like to post here or contact me via twitter where I'm more commonly known as @1970sBoy.
Alternatively if anyone would like me to recommend a book or perhaps a reading list on any aspect of beer then I'd more than happy to oblige.
All that remains for me to do is wish you some very merry Christmas reading!
Sunday, 10 November 2013
Home Brew Review
Still Thinking About That Hefeweizen 5.1%
If you've been following my Beers Of London Series of reviews you'll have noticed that most of those breweries were in fact by aspiring home brewers who decided to turn their passion into their job with some fantastic results. I featured Nelson Saison a beer by Weird Beard and Andy Parker, a seriously accomplished home brewer who is seriously considering taking the step into the world of brewing, and four beers from Crema Brewery two excellent home brewers from Streatham, so it's rather exciting to be sent two beers by Michael McGrorty from Stirling in Scotland who has only been brewing since February this year.
Michael (or @h_doody as he's known on twitter) admits to only 'getting into beer' properly after a trip to the Oktoberfest in Munich last year. He didn't actually go to drink, really he was there to party, but found himself downing countless Masskruge of hefeweizen that ignited a passion for beer that has burned ever since.
Right from the start he felt that he'd have a go a home brewing but initially thought the cost made it too prohibitive, however when he realised that you could actually brew at a fraction of the cost he imagined he did a couple of kit brews and a boil-in-the-bag brew before moving rapidly on to all-grain. He was fortunate in being able to purchase a three vessel set up online from Wales for a very competitive price and using some family connections it quickly made it's way north. With a desire to 'brew every style under the sun', an IPA, a lager, a Munich Helles, an amber and maybe a Scottish ale are all in the pipeline and Michael has his sights set on bigger and better things. Only twenty-two years old and currently working full-time at his father's electronics factory, as I write this he had helped out at nearby Loch Lomond Brewery the day before and is looking, with a fellow home brewer, for a location to possibly open a 1BBL plant. Inspired to brew good beer by others that do likewise he cites no major influences although has taken advice recently from brewers at Thornbridge and Buxton, the latter of which he visited recently on a road trip with Steve from The Beer O'Clock Show who recently incidentally featured him in a homebrew special that you can listen to here.
The name 'Still Thinking' comes from Michaels tendency to spend ages deciding what to drink when confronted by an array of choice at a bar, his standard response to "What can I get you?" being "Still Thinking, sorry". Whether this phrase has caused him to miss valuable drinking time is unsure, but it has provided him with the title for his on-going range of beers called 'Still Thinking About The ... (insert style here)' with a little help from Steve and a certain Nathaniel Southwood.
The two bottles I have today are much travelled, having come from Stirling to Buxton where they were given to Steve from The Beer O'clock Show, before going back to Witham in Essex, on to Leeds and via various London pubs before I collected them. They had actually been right past my house twice before I actually got them, so after them being so tantalisingly close before I can't wait to get stuck in.
First up is Monarch, a 5.5% saison-style beer hopped with Amarillo and Nelson Sauvin and Pale, Munich and Vienna malts, and is the beer featured in the Home Brew podcast I linked to above. It pours an enticing burnt orange with golden-yellow highlights and a dense foamy off-white head. The aroma is sweet with lime, a hint of orange zest and a faint underlying digestive biscuit which reminds me a little of a fruity citrus lager and lime, which is probably exactly as it should be if I think about the hop and malt combinations. It has a delicious prickle of carbonation that plucks lightly at the tongue but slides down rather smoothly before that refreshingly dry zesty bitterness that is associated with modern saisons comes crashing through heralding an explosion of lime-edged intense orange cordial that flashes and fades into a touch of tangerine juice before collapsing quickly into a dry dusty orange zest. Unfortunately there is no real finish to speak of, just a faint echo of bitterness which is hard to pin down exactly, but this is nonetheless a very accomplished beer indeed.
Next up is the hefeweizen which has no label as you can see, however I do know that it happens to be 5.1% and is called 'Still Thinking About That Hefeweizen' so there's really only one way to find out more about it. Pouring a light cloudy lemony yellow with a rich white fluffy head it has the classic aroma of coriander seed and lemon with a good sniff of freshly baked white bread in the mix as well but there's also a spread of butter cream in there too which adds an interesting dimension to someone with a sweet tooth like me. Sweeping gracefully across the palate the carbonation tickles the roof of the mouth with a wave of thyme and lemon, sweet and full with a hint of cream soda and the same tangerine juiciness I detected in the saison. The finish this time is long and lingering with dusty coriander and a hint of grated parmesan cheese which works rather well with the tiniest touch of lemon zest and a slight resurgence of that thyme, and perhaps a little rosemary, to make an almost gose-like salty finish which I particularly like, in fact it reminds me of nothing more that than home-made parmesan cheese straws which I'm rather partial too. It's a finish to a wheat beer that I'm rather taken with and of the two beers I tasted I think that this is the one that appeals to me most, it really is rather good.
I'm pleased to say that despite Michael being slightly concerned about what I think of his beers he needn't have worried, and to think that he has produced two beers of this quality with so little experience should be an encouragement to you to get out there and give home brewing a go if you've been thinking about it for a while. I'd like to thank him for sending these beers to me, which by the way was completely unsolicited, and wish him every success as he edges closer to what I hope will be a long and prosperous career in brewing. Cheers matey!
Tuesday, 5 November 2013
Beers Of London Series
62. Brixton Brewery - Reliance Pale Ale 4.2%
This is the second Brixton Brewery beer in a row that I've reviewed, and there's a very good reason for that. As I was writing about the Electric IPA I requested a bit more information from Jez and although it arrived a little too late for that one I felt I'd really like to let you know more about this brewery as soon as possible. Well, that ... and I was anxious to try more of their beer.
I mentioned in the previous review that Jez and Mike were avid home brewers but what I didn't realise at the time is that they were also friends and neighbours since 2006, on Saltoun Road if you know the area. It was in 2009 however that Jez had his personal epiphany when a friend who lived in Borough persuaded him to come along to visit a new brewery that had opened in nearby Bermondsey. That brewery was The Kernel, and on meeting Evin O'Riordain and tasting the beer that they were producing Jez says "I was staggered about what could be achieved and that was definitely one thing that majorly inspired me to be part of the London brewing scene."
They draw a lot of parallels with New York's Brooklyn Brewery too where the founders were home brewing neighbours in an area with a rich brewing heritage and wanted to give something to the local community.
American style beers are a particular favourite and they want to continue making beers in that style for a while before venturing into more 'extreme' territory, but they do have a stout and a brown ale in the works that they hope to add to the three core beers in the range in the not too distant future.
Before I move on to the beer I must make a quick reference to the artist who designed those graphically appealing colour-saturated beer labels as I know there is an interest in good design amongst many of you. Emma Scott-Child is a local graphic designer based at Bird Seed Studios near Coldharbour Lane and here is a link if you wish to see more of her work.
Reliance Pale Ale is named after one of the covered arcades that radiate from Brixton Market where local cobblers and tailors still practice there craft, an artisan beer named for an area of artisan workman. They currently bottle most of their beer with the occasional casked versions available and kegging is planned in the near future, but as it's the bottled version I have tonight it's time to get it open and see what it's like.
Pouring a rather delicious shade of autumn sunset orange and with a relatively thin off-white head, it has the aroma of satsuma juice and a touch of elderflower mixed with one or two drops of pineapple juice, tangy and floral and maybe a little coriander seed in there too. It slips smoothly down the throat before the carbonation kicks in at the roof of the palate and the tip of the tongue simultaneously with a fizzing buzzy bitterness. There's a big wash of pithy orange flavour, both juicy and bitter at the same time but this is quite clipped, followed by a wheaty malty biscuit caramel which is rather nice. This dries quickly into an zesty orange peel-like flavour which fills the mouth with an acidic citrus bitterness which becomes quite intense in the centre of the tongue and although this doesn't last for an eternity as the flavour of the Electric IPA seemed to it does seem to leave a ghostly imprint to remind you of what was once there.
I really like this beer, especially the bitterness of it, but I know it might be a little too much for some as it truly is all about bitter pithy oranginess all the way through. Brixton Brewery have designed their beers to go with food and I can see this working rather well with roast chicken or panna cotta where it would work rather well as a counterpoint, however it may well be lost in stronger flavoured dishes. Give it a try.
Sunday, 3 November 2013
Beers Of London Series
61. Brixton Brewery - Electric IPA 6.5%
Brixton Brewery was officially launched with a party at Craft Beer Brixton on October 16th this year. Sadly I couldn't make it (it was my fathers birthday to be fair) but I was fortunate enough to be sent samples of three of the beers by Jez, one of the brewers, to try and review.
According to the Brixton Buzz - Brixton's listings and news site they obtained a licence for their premises, Arch 547 on Brixton Station Road making it another of London's railway arch breweries, in August this year but the story goes back a little further than that. In fact it goes back to a discussion by two avid local homebrewers Jez and Mike, over a pint in the pub that is now Craft Beer Brixton, the Hive Bar, back in 2011. The idea took root and became a driving passion over the following two years with Head Brewer Dominic bringing some professional expertise to the brewery, having previously worked with Kelham Island, Welbeck Abbey, Sheffield Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada, London Field and Brewdog. They are fiercely proud of their Brixton roots and great believers that beer is best drunk fresh at the source with a possible mission statement on a flyer the sent to me that reads as follows:
'Our dream is for Brixtonites to start drinking local. They say independently made beers are best enjoyed fresh where they're brewed, and we can't think of anywhere we'd rather have a pint than in our own neighbourhood'
Electric IPA is named after Electric Avenue in Brixton, the first market street to be lit by electricity and one currnetly specialising in some of the most ethnically diverse produce in Europe. Made with New World hops, the beer is described as 'packed with energy and attitude', possibly to reflect the area in which it was produced. The branding on the bottle is eye-catching and bright too, the colours and stylised 'lightning-bolt' electric charges make this look rather inviting so I guess it's time to open the bottle and see if it delivers on taste.
It pours a cloudy dirty deep dark orange and it's lively too, throwing a high off-white head that takes a while to settle down, which means that filling the glass takes a little longer than expected, heightening the expectation. The aroma is exactly like the colour with deep dark orange peel dominating, but there's also an underlying juiciness of passion fruit, grapefruit, pineapple and mango all in the mix with some damp pine sap. It caresses the tongue rather smoothly before the stabbingly sharp bitterness announces itself everywhere at the same time with an explosion of ripe zesty citrus fruits, lime, grapefruit and tangerine, all vying for attention before the tangerine wins through quite quickly, flooding the mouth with its sweet juice. The finish is sustained juicy citrus too with a dryness akin to the pith you experience when biting into an unpeeled orange, and when I say it's sustained I'm not exaggerating as it lasts and lasts and lasts for absolutely ages.
This is wonderful debut from a very promising young brewery, full of flavour and very easy to drink despite it's relatively high abv. These guys are clearly keen on you drinking this fresh and preferably locally, so if you're ever Brixton way then I'd recommend that you check this out. It might even be worth a special trip.
Tuesday, 15 October 2013
Beers Of London Series
60. Brew By Numbers - 04|01 Berliner Weisse 3.7%
So I find myself reviewing my sixtieth London beer so I thought I'd make it something that I had been saving for just such an occasion, Brew By Numbers Berliner Weisse, the first beer in that style that I've tasted in this series.
I've previously reviewed two of their beers, 01|01 Saison Citra and 01|02 Saison Amarillo & Orange, back in April when they were generating quite a bit of interest, but then it all seemed to go quiet over the summer. Apart from hearing that they had gone on holiday from the good people at Utobeer there was nothing but a whisper, rumour and hearsay. Luckily for us it was because they were moving premises, from a flat on the Southwark Bridge Road a lovely large location under the railway arches (yes, it's another underneath-the-arches brewery) on Enid Street in Bermondsey. They are now back brewing again, from what I gather, and the brewery is, or will be open on Saturdays so that you can buy directly from them.
Onto the beer. Berliner Weisse is a sour wheat beer originating from the area around Berlin in Northern Germany. The style can be traced back to the sixteenth century, but in modern versions brewers deliberately create the sourness with the addition of Lactobacillus at the secondary fermentation stage in the bottle. If ordering this beer in Germany you must be very clear that you want it plain as it will more often that not have raspberry or woodruff flavour syrups or even pale lager added to it to counteract the sourness. I will of course be having mine as the brewer intended, poured straight from the bottle. I've chosen a glass that mimics the bowl-shaped glasses that it is traditionally served in to a certain degree but with a lip so that the aroma is retained, and although this beer has a best before date of February 2016 I hope that the flavours will have evolved a little since it was bottled on 5th February this year (2013).
It pours a hazy pale yellow and it's really rather lively with a steady stream of bubbles rising quickly to the surface to form a beautifully tight bright white head. It has an aroma akin to a good quality dry cider, not sweet at all but more like freshly pulped apple skins, quite tart and a little dusty. Surprisingly gentle over the tongue given its high level of carbonation in the glass there is the faintest tickle as it is swallowed. There's more than a hint of lemon at first but this quite quickly evolves into a soft dry apple juice flavour with a tangy tartness around the edges of the tongue, I'm certainly not detecting the high level of sourness I was expecting. The finish is long dry and refreshing and it is here that that gorgeous apple sweetness that it was promising finally manifests itself but it's not like apple juice that you might pour from a carton, it's that trickle of juice that flows down your chin when you bite into a freshly picked apple.
This is a truly delightful beer. It may well have been more sour when it was first bottled but any edginess it may have had has softened a little over the last eight months, almost as if its corners have been rounded off, and it has developed into a thing of beauty. I don't know how there a many bottles of this beer (or its bigger brother, the 04|02) there are out there, but if you can track one down then I suggest now would be a perfect time to drink it. I certainly hope they brew it again, and I hope to visit there new premises in the not too distant future as even though I stocked up on their beer in the Spring, they're not going to last for ever.
Sunday, 13 October 2013
Beers Of London Series
59. Honest Brew - Riwaka Hop Mule 5.4%
Honest Brew are the thirty-seventh new brewery that I've featured in this series and a very interesting one they are too. Born in a tiny flat in London around two years ago, the story really goes back quite a bit further.
Growing up in New Zealand, Andrew Reeve the head brewer started home brewing in his parents garage at the age of sixteen. By his own admittance his first brews were little more than ' alcoholic muddy water', however he kept brewing and the beers got better, much better. Taking inspiration from Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head particularly Sam started brewing on a SABCO BrewMagic kit that Honest Brew now use for their small batch and pilot brewing, other influences include the hops from his New Zealand homeland which are a particular passion, and he cites two breweries Yeastie Boys and 8 Wired in particular that looks to for creative inspiration. I've not had beer from either of these breweries but will certainly be looking out for in the future having had a look around their websites.
After uprooting and moving halfway around the world to London in 2011, Andrew says that he hasn't looked back. Honest Brew now comprise of a team of three, Annabel who looks after the finance and marketing, Craig who handles the beer and bar relationship along with Andrew who does most of the brewing. Alongside the small batch and pilot kit that goes 'on the road' to brew at places like Urban Sessions, they also have another kit down at Late Knights Brewery (a brewery I hope to feature in this series as soon as I can get some of their beer) in Penge, but should be collecting everything together under a single roof in the next few months.
The main philosophy of Honest Brew is 'Share'. Sharing their kit, you can contact them to arrange a date and time and go brew there making your dream beer come to life, sharing their knowledge and experience, and they even go so far as to give a full list of the ingredients on the bottle and a link to the recipe online, that's what I call honest. I've been invited to go down and brew my own beer with them and as I've had an idea for a beer that's been with me for some time then I may well be doing that. Reviewing my own beer in this series is something I've not thought of before but fills me with more than a little excitement. Watch this space.
Rather more immediate is their collaboration with Column Arts Agency at the Triple Hop Beer And Illustration Exhibition on Thursday 24th October 2013 at the Test Space creative agency in Warren Street in London. With five beers brewed especially for the event and a live exhibition of brewing alongside a gallery and live wall drawing while you watch and drink, why would you not want to go? Here's a link to where you can buy tickets, maybe I'll see you there.
On to the beer and using the handy list of ingredients on the side of the bottle I can tell those who may be interested in such things that the malts are Maris Otter and Wheat Caramalt, with US-05 yeast used along with Riwaka and Magnum hops, however as we all know the real test is in the tasting when the ingredients combine into that delicious drink we love, beer. It's time to open the bottle.
It pours a beautiful sunset orange with a fluffy nearly-white head and the most wonderful aroma of freshly grated lemon and lime zest that leaps into your nostrils with an amazing sharpness bringing with it a few peppery spicy notes. Initially smooth over the tongue it then bites and claws a little to let you know that it's there and as it does so it chooses this moment to release its flavour in a huge explosion of taste, and what a flavour it is. There's a huge wave of grapefruit up front, big bold and powerful it's like swallowing a whole pulped grapefruit with all the bitterness and sharpness you might expect, the lime zest is in there too with even some fleeting mint, pine and mango elements but these are quickly swept aside, or more accurately they are sucked into the grapefruit crescendo helping it build into a monster. The finish is dry and oily, with the spent hulk of the grapefruit behemoth washed up on the tongue, gasping for life, before finally expiring and fading away over millennia to leave a faint ghost of its glorious majesty.
This is a superb beer most definitely best drunk fresh with all those oily alpha acids in the hops delivering the most wonderful kick to the taste buds. A potential palate wrecker of a beer it still manages to maintain all that delicious citrus flavour the whole length of the experience from opening the bottle to the eventual fading of the final sip. I was kindly sent this bottle by Andrew to review but if I saw it for sale then it's something that I would definitely be buying and have in the fridge to bring out when friends come round. That's if they lasted that long (they wouldn't). I love it.