My 1 Gallon Adventure

So brew number 2 is in the fermenter. It’s a simple English Bitter with the same grain bill as the American Pale Ale but using East Kent Goldings hops. I had a taste last night when I measured the final gravity (1.007, meaning its about 4.2%) and it had a smooth, subtle malt base with a little earthiness from the hops. But it was a little sweet, which might mellow out in the bottle. We’ll see. But it was fermented colder than the last batch, which will hopefully have reduced the fruitiness from the yeast. Time will tell!

I have to say, doing one gallon (4.5l) batches is ideal for me, living in a small London flat. It means I can fine tune my brewing method quite quickly as I’ll be brewing a couple of times a month, and I’ve learned a lot in the first 2 brews: maintaining the mash temperature, boil off rate, benefits of sparging the grain bag, cooling methods, fermentation temperatures. And it means that the first brews, which won’t taste great, I don’t have 40 bottles to get through.

The small batches also mean I can brew lots of different styles and have a variety of home brewed beer in stock. I tried the first brew last week (maybe a little early) and it still had the same kind of flavour as my original extract brews, which I’m thinking might be fruity esters from the yeast fermenting too warm. I’ll try and keep the temperature down, but I don’t have any control over that. I think I’ll just have to work around it as best I can.

I’m brewing a spiced, malty Christmas Ale this weekend, then I have a porter and a witbier planned in the next couple of months, and my “To Brew” list is growing: black IPA, fruit wheat beer, ginger beer, stout, saison, apfelwein, smoked beer, rye pale ale, IPA, dunkel, belgian ale… I’m thinking of doing the cherry barley wine from Randy Mosher’s book Radical Brewing early next year so it will be ready for next winter.

I’ll hopefully do a post early next week on the Christmas brewday. Onward, into my 1 gallon adventure!

Categories: Beer, Home Brew, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

All Grain Home Brew, At Last!

I’m back, and I’m brewing. I wonder if anyone missed me.

I am finally brewing at home (my home, rather than my dad’s) and finally doing all grain (technically brew in a bag, but it counts). I decided to go for small batches – 5l or so – which meant that setup was a lot cheaper and easier, especially for a small London flat. Also, this means I can try lots of recipes and refine the ones I like without having to go through 40 bottles at a time.

So I planned to do a few hoppy pale ales to start with and ordered some pale malt, a bit of crystal malt and then some Amarillo and East Kent Goldings hops. The first beer was a sessionable 4% Amarillo APA, which would hopefully be packed with citrus and resin flavours, and then I want to do the same grain bill but with EKG hops. The first would be fermented with US-05 yeast, for a clean, American pale finish, and the second will use S-04 English ale yeast for a more fruity flavour.

My dad very helpfully delivered all the equipment over the weekend, and on Sunday I made my first foray into proper brewing. This is the recipe:

Amarillo APA

Recipe specifics:

Style: American Pale Ale
Batch size: 5.5 l
Boil volume: 8.0 l
OG: 1.044
FG: 1.011
Bitterness (IBU): 58.6
Color (SRM): 12.7
ABV: 4.3%


1.10 kg Maris Otter Malt, 83.3%
0.075 kg Crystal 50-60L (British), 16.7%


5.00 g Amarillo (AA 8.7%, Whole) 60 min, 19.3 IBU
15.00 g Amarillo (AA 8.7%, Whole) 10 min, 21 IBU
15.00 g Amarillo (AA 8.7%, Whole) 0 min, 0.0 IBU
15.00 g Amarillo (AA 8.7%, Whole) dry hop


American Ale yeast, 0.5 unit(s), Yeast Safale US-05


I weighed out my grains while the water heated up, and fitted my mesh bag into the pot for the mash. I used the brew in a bag (BIAB) technique that is so much simpler, quicker and easier than conventional brewing. Basically, you put the grain in the bag, put the bag in the pot and after 1 hour at mash temperature, remove the bag and start your boil. Easy! The bag I ordered, however, was a small, coarse straining bag which was both too small and too coarse. But, the mash went well, holding temp at 66°C for the hour, at which point the grains were removed and the pot brought up to boiling.

My first hop addition went in when it reached a boil, and this is where the beer gets most of its bitterness. The later hop additions are for flavour and aroma, and this is fairly heavily hopped for such a small batch.

After the boil, I put the pot in a sink full of ice and water to bring it down to room temperature ready for the yeast, who at this point were being rehydrated in a little warm water. This, I think, was the only error in the day: that I didn’t leave the wort to cool long enough in the water bath. I transferred it into my sterilized fermenter bucket but it was still just over 30°C, too hot for the yeast. I sealed the bucket, shook it to aerate and cool the wort but the temp only came down by a degree or two. the kitchen was pretty warm at this point after the hour boil, so I put the wort in a cool corner to sit while I cleaned up.

Eventually pitched the yeast at about 27°C (not ideal) and left it. This morning, the airlock was blooping away and a thick finger of foam lay across the top of the near-beer. Oh, and the smell coming out of the airlock was wonderful, lots of hop aroma, with the still sweet malt underpinning it. I plan to see how it’s going after a week and then dry hop it with more Amarillo for maybe 5 days.

It was all actually worryingly simple. But let’s see how the beer turns out before I get too complacent.

Categories: Beer, Home Brew | 3 Comments

Instagramming Beer

It’s probably on about the same level as Instagramming food, but I was looking through all the photos on my phone and  camera, and realised a large proportion of them are of beer. So I decided to put them all in one place, mainly for my own amusement. If you’re at all interested, have a look here.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Beavertown Meet The Brewer

In my quest a couple of weeks ago to find some more Beavertown Blood Orange IPA, The Beer Boutique informed me of a meet the brewer event that they were holding with Beavertown founders Logan Plant (son of Led Zeppelin’s Robert) and Byron Knight. For £15, it was a bargain.

The Beer Boutique is a fine beer shop with a great selection, and with the candles and wooden tables, it made a very nice, intimate setting for the evening. My friend Nick joined me, and as a self confessed (but open-minded) lager-boy, I was interested to see what he would think of the range of Beavertown’s beers. Logan and Byron began by giving a brief history of Beavertown, how they started up the brewery and Duke’s Brew & Cue restaurant in the same premises in Hackney, and how both have become independently very popular. This meant that recently the brewing setup had to move from the basement of the restaurant to a site a few miles away in Hackney Wick, right next to the Olympic Park. Both guys spoke passionately and animatedly about their beer and the ever-changing craft scene in London. All the while we all sat with a glass of their American Pale Gamma Ray in front of us, showing great restraint until Logan gave the cue to drink. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the style, huge tropical fruit aromas and flavours and a nice crisp bitter finish. I have had this previously, a while ago, and it was much better than I remembered.

Next was a small step to the 8-Ball. this is a rye IPA that has a slightly more subdued tropical flavour and a more earthy character, buoyed by the peppery spiciness of the rye. It was brewed to be paired with the pork ribs at Duke’s, and tastes like it would work very well with the sweet, smokiness of BBQ sauce. As we finished that, Black Betty was poured into our glasses. I have had this before and liked it very much. It’s a black IPA and it tasted just like I remembered: tropical fruits with an undercurrent of toast. Crisp, clean and dangerously drinkable for 7.4%. At this point, Byron came around the table and started talking to us. It turns out he’s more on the management side of the business and still has lots to do with the restaurant, whereas Logan focuses on the hands-on brewing. But he loves beer, and was very interested in everyone’s opinions of their beers. He also informed me that their Blood Orange IPA will make a comeback, but it is, unfortunately, very dependant on the extremely seasonal blood orange harvest. So it won’t be a core beer, but it might be a summer special. Phew!

A bit of a direction change for the next beer. The Hara-Kiri is a saison that was brewed with lime and pepper, among other things, and was designed for an American/Japanese fusion night at Duke’s. It has a fruity aroma, telltale banana from the saison yeast, and an almost salty, sour finish. It is an interesting beer, and the flavour developed and changed with each mouthful. I wouldn’t drink it on it’s own, but I’m sure it paired well with the BBQ pork ramen and cod roe corndog from the fusion evening.

Nest up was a beer that was brewed to pair with Duke’s beef ribs, a smoked porter called Smog Rocket. The nose is sweet smoke, a tinge of bacon-flavoured Frazzles, and the smokiness explodes on the tongue, all barbecue and ash. I really like this and would love to try in with some ribs and just wallow in the hickory, mequite and other burning trees.

The Black Yeti, an India stout, tasted somewhat restrained after all these, but it’s a nicely balanced dark beer. Flavour-wise, it seems to sit in between the hoppy-heavy Black Betty and the malt-bomb of the next – and final – beer we tried.

Heavy Water is an imperial stout. It seemed like the whole evening had been building up to this beer. It’s a 9% beast which poured an oily black with a brown foam, and smelled thickly of coffee, toast and bitter chocolate. The taste followed the aroma, coating the mouth with thick, malty flavours, and finishing with a warm, boozy glow. It would have gone marvelously with a rich chocolate cake, that’s for sure.

I had been eyeing up the beer in the shop throughout the night and knew that I wasn’t going to leave empty handed, so as we were informed that the shop had to close at 11pm, we quickly made our selections. I recommended some for Nick that I thought he’d like: a Partizan and Kernel Pale, along with a couple of Gamma Rays that he picked up. After we paid, we got caught up with Logan in a chat about malt and hop supply politics, the US beer scene and the merits of some mass-produced lager.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a nice tasting trip through some of Beavertown’s beers. I will be keeping an eye on upcoming events at The Beer Boutique as it’s a great setting and allows you to chat to the brewers and find out their inspirations. And I’ll also be in contact with Beavertown to see when the next batch of Bloody ‘Ell is released. And buy the lot.

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

7 Beer Shops In 3 Days.


The results from Saturday’s mission.

The weather wasn’t quite as nice as I’d hoped it would be as I set off from Oval in south west London last Saturday, but there was beer to be bought so I soldiered on in the “getting a bit hot now, jumper of…nope, too cold, jumper back on” wind/sun/cloud. My journey took me to 3 beer shops, though Borough Market, up to Old Street and then on to Broadway Market in Hackney. You can see what I came away with in the picture.

The first stop was Utobeer, with their wide and varied selection from around the world. I had to ration myself to one a couple from here as I still had a lot of walking to do.

So, onward over London Bridge, past Bank and through the deserted City until I reached Old Street and popped into The City Beverage Company. The only thing that jumped out at me there was Beavertown’s Bloody ‘Ell blood orange IPA, which was the penultimate bottle in the shop. The guy behind the counter quickly retrieved the last bottle for himself. I tried the beer that night and wow, it was good. A nice, balanced IPA with the usual tropical fruit and citrus flavours and bitter finish, but it also had a note of bittersweet orange juice running though it that made it delicious.

As I ventured on towards Broadway Market, I passed a Nisa Local supermarket and swung in to have a look at their beers. There was nothing too inspiring there, but I did pick up a bottle of Hoopers alcholic Dandelion & Burdock, and a Cloudy Lemonade as I’m a big fan of those as soft drinks. Having tried them, however, they’re both a bit disappointing. The D&B was a bit fake and almost plastic-y tasting, and the lemonade was overly sweet.

As I arrived in Broadway Market, I made my way through the hustle of bikes and moustaches to Noble Fine Liquor, a very well stocked wine and beer shop. It was my first visit, and since I’d tweeted about my pilgrimage the day before, I was greeted by Liam and given a glass of Buxton’s Moor Top to quench my thirst. It was light, citrussy and just what I needed. They stock lots of beers from Partizan, The Kernel, Brodie’s, Hackney Brewery, they have some Cantillion, but the standout is the 4 taps on the wall allowing you to buy takeaway cask ale and cider. Aside from the Moor top, they had 2 other beers, both from Brodie’s: Hackney Red IPA and the Apricot Sour. I tried both, and though the sour was good, I wasn’t sure about a whole pint of it (although Liam assured me it can be done) so I went with the Hackney Red IPA, which I really enjoyed. A big tropical flavour, but also with some autumnal, peppery notes in there too.


Bloody lovely!

And even after having the Hackney Red and the Moor Top, the flavour that was still with me was the Apricot sour. Damn it, should’ve bought some of that.

So today’s Monday and after trying most of what I bought over the weekend, the standout, by a long way, is Beavertown’s Bloody ‘Ell. I need to get some more of it. So much so, I decided to take a walk on my lunch break at work and go to the beer shops in the area to see if I could find some. But alas, neither Royal Mile Whiskies, The People’s Supermarket, Sourced Market nor The Wine Pantry had any. But the weather was gorgeous, and I did pick up a couple of bottles from breweries I have yet to try, so not a wasted journey.





Monday’s beers.

And then when I got back to the office, I tweeted The Beer Boutique as I had seen Bloody ‘Ell in there a few weeks ago, but ehy too had sold out. Elusive stuff, it seems. But they did tell me that they would be getting more in and that they were doing a meet the brewer with Beavertown on the 20th June. I’ve got myself a ticket. Details here if you’re interested.

So, I think I won’t be on any beer missions for a while now. My thirst has been quenched…for now.

Categories: Beer, Craft Beer Stockist | Leave a comment

London’s Brewing…

1367693025465Last weekend saw the long-awaited, and sold out, London’s Brewing event held at the London Fields brewery in east London and organised by the London Brewers’ Alliance. The website for the event boasted that over 30 London brewers would be represented, and I was very excited about attending, especially after my disappointment of local brewers at Craft Beer Rising earlier this year. I got tasting tickets for the Saturday evening session which started at 6pm. The tickets were £20, which included entry to the festival, a branded 2/3 pint glass (pictured) and 3 pints of beer.

The first question mark came on Saturday when, checking twitter, I saw tweets from disgruntled festival goers complaining that the afternoon session was 40minutes late opening, leaving people waiting in the rain with no explanation of what was happening. Then, when everyone was finally let in, the queues for the bar were horrendous. But as the afternoon went on, people said it calmed down and got better. People who stayed, that is.

So, we headed off to the festival, but decided to have a couple of drinks in Craft in Islington beforehand. I was careful not to have anything from London as I thought I’d have plenty of opportunity for that later in the evening, despite how tempting a Kernel Table Beer was.  I had a couple of halves of the Siren Sound Wave, a US style IPA, after I’d read about their launch event a few weeks ago. It was very tasty, a big hit of tropical citrus and grapefruit.

We arrived at the London Fields brewery just after 6pm and joined the back of a queue of around 50 people. Not bad. It was moving along, and at least it wasn’t raining. But it was a bit annoying that if you just had a festival entry ticket then you could head straight in, skipping the crowds. As we entered the brewery, I showed my ticket confirmations on my phone but no-one seemed to check very closely, and we were given cards with 9 beer mug logos on them (each representing a third of beer, to be stamped off as you drink, thus giving you your 3 pints included in your ticket), the glasses and a programme/beer list. And, for one reason or another, they gave me 4 cards when I’d only bought 3 tickets. Bonus!

The brewery is, like a lot of London breweries, set under railway arches. In the first arch was the Keg Bar, and in the second was the Cask Bar, although both bars actually had some of each. We bumped into Des De Moor outside the keg bar, who told us that the beer judging and all the presentations planned for the weekend had all been cancelled. Not great organisation. So, he decided to just stay and try lots of beers. Sounds like a tough job being a beer writer. We headed to the cask bar, as it wasn’t quite so horribly busy, crowded and hot as the keg bar, but we still waited for about 15 mins at the bar. And this was where I got the biggest disappointment of the evening: the realisation that I wouldn’t be able to try all the beers I wanted. A few beers had run out already, and the programme didn’t say what would be available at which bar. Very confusing, and it meant there was lots of umming and erring at the bar while people decided. I was very disappointed to to be able to have Weird Beard’s Mariana Trench, as I loved it when I tried it a the Earl of Essex, and also that there was no Rocky Head Pale Ale left, as I really wanted to try it from the keg.

I tried lots of beer. Lots. Too many to list (or, in fact, remember). The condition of the cask beer was generally good, expecially from the cask bar, but the keg stuff was on the whole not cold or fizzy enough for something which should be both.

We managed to find a table for the evening, which made the time spent drinking and talking very pleasant, punctuated by infuriating waits at the bar to get beer. And walking outside from one bar to the other felt like a salmon trying to swim upstream.

On the whole, I think it would have been a much better idea to stay at the Craft, or go to one of the many other craft pubs in London which would no doubt have a good stock of London beers. London is brewing, but this wasn’t the showcase for it that I’d hoped it would be.

Categories: Beer, Beer Festival, Brewery, Pub | 5 Comments

A Few Surprises…


As of last weekend, I have had a craving for lager. That’s a strange thing for me. I don’t think I’ve wanted to drink lager since I discovered the “craft” (for want of a better word) scene about a year ago. I kinda just lumped all lagers into the same category of mass-produced, bland and fizzy. But last Saturday, after a nice walk in the sunshine with my wife, and then sitting in the garden of the Earl of Essex, I just really fancied a cold, crisp lager. I had a glass of the Konrad 11º pilsner, which really hit the spot. And went nicely with the very tasty burger I’d ordered for lunch.

Then, whilst picking up some things in Chinatown the other day, I grabbed a Hite Ice Point and a Hanoi. But these were probably due to the bottle caps I don’t have as much as them being lagers. I had the Ice Point last night, which tastes as you’d expect an Asian light lager. But it was a very refreshing after work drink, and suited the warm weather we had yesterday beautifully.

But the strangest thing is that yesterday, on a lunchtime beer excursion from work to Sourced Market in St Pancras station, I came away with 3 lagers – a Crate, and 2 from Brewers & Union. I skipped the Kernels, Beavertowns and London Fields in favour of some lagers. Hopefully flavoursome lagers. I haven’t had anything from Brewers & Union yet, so that’ll be interesting, but I have had the Golden Ale and the IPA from Crate and was disappointed by both. Let’s see what their lager has to say for itself. I got them for a rather ambitious BBQ planned for tonight (since when has a little rain stopped a South African from braaing?). Although, since I woke up to rain this morning, I’m fancying a lager a little less. Could my tastes and palate be so simply tied to the sunshine?

The next big surprise is that I’m watching Breaking Bad after all the hype and buzz and recommendations…and not really enjoying it. I find it a bit slow and frustrating and I don’t really like any of the characters. Me and my wife are halfway through season 3 and will finish it, if just to find out what happens. But I’ve come to the realisation that if I don’t like it yet, I doubt it’ll get better. Shame.

Oh, and I’m listening to a lot of Björk at the moment. I guess strange things happen when you near 30.

Categories: Beer, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A Boozy Saturday and Homebrew Cooking

Someone asked me recently what my favourite brewery is. I thought about it for a moment and then realised, all things weighed up, it’s The Kernel. Consistently good beers that are right in my ideal flavour profile (usually tropical hops, long but smooth bitter finish), and I can’t remember trying one of theirs that I haven’t liked. Which I definitely can’t say for most breweries. But, surprisingly, as a Londoner I had yet to visit the brewery, which is open every Saturday from 9am-3pm for takeaway or to drink on the premises. So, with a couple of friends, we ventured into a trading estate in deepest Bermondsey to get some of London’s finest beers fresh from the source.


Outside The Kernel

It was cold on Saturday. Bloody cold. Snow flurries and freezing winds. Maybe not the best of situations to go to a brewery which, in my experience, are usually cold places to start with. But, the plan had been made so we stuck with it. Passing big flat blocks left and right, a railway bridge ahead, we turned the corner into Dockley Road, and I had to trust my friend Pat (who’d visited before) that we were headed in the right direction. The Dockley Road Trading Estate didn’t look particularly promising or inviting, but a few steps past the gates I spied a honey shop, a greengrocers, a fishmongers, a bakery, a charcuterie and, right at the back, The Kernel. Seems like a great place to spend a Saturday morning, but possibly not when it’s snowing. On a spring morning, it would have been very pleasant indeed. Still, there was beer to warm our cockles.


Inside The Kernel

It was around midday and the wooden tables set aside in the brewery for drinkers were already filling up. We went to the bar and I was surprised and pleased to see that as well as the wall of various bottles on the counter, there were 6 or so taps behind offering some fresh draughts. I went for a table beer to ease myself in. An ideal first drink, light and crisp with a bitter grapefruit hit. And my friend Pat went for a single hop pale ale, I forget which one, but the two together were £5. That’s not at all bad for two 330ml glasses of beer. The place was buzzing, despite the cold – all the drinkers were wrapped up warm, gloves, hats and scarves abounded. The mood was friendly and relaxed. We stayed for another couple and our friend Steve joined us. I tried the Bière de Table (a light, slightly banana-ey saison) and the Citra IPA (just as you’d expect a Kernel IPA).

As we were in the area, we decided to swing by Partizan as well. I’ve been hearing a lot about Partizan, and after trying a pale ale last week in the Earl of Essex, I was keen to try some more. On the way, we popped into the Monmouth Coffee tucked away behing The Kernel and Steve bought a pack of the most aromatic coffee I have ever smelled.


Partizan Brewery

A short trip down the road brought us to Partizan. Much quieter and more unassuming than The Kernel, we walked into the brewery, made our way through the piles of boxes and crates, past the mash tun, to the counter. All bottles here. We each got a bottle of pale to drink while we decided on some takeaways. A 15% discount on a box of 24 meant we each got to choose 8. The had 3 saisons, a pale, 2 IPAs, a porter and a stout, from memory. I got a selection and we trudged back to The Kernel to pick up some more for that evening. This was turning into a very boozy day. But I guess when you get to a brewery at midday, there’s only really one way the day can go.

After the pales, I decided to go for the LBA stout which was very good. Much more suited to the weather than the pales and IPAs. Deep, warm and toasty, full bodied with a lingering citrus hop flavour. We noticed the crowd at the bar was growing as it was nearing last orders, so we joined the back of the queue and once again, beers in hand, decided on what beers we wanted to leave with. I got myself some Tables and a couple of other pales. Always good, always dependable. Then we headed to a friends house to drink some of our spoils.


Our spoils from the day

Tasting notes are a bit thin from here on in, although I didn’t try many new beers so no real drama. I had the Partizan Galaxy Saison, which I remember being lighter than its 5.4%, with the trademark Belgian yeast aromas and flavours.

That evening, we popped into the Effra Social, an Antic pub that’s been open less than a month, for a quick drink on the way home. It really does feel like a social club and has a very 60s grandad kind of vibe. In a sort of cool way. They had a couple of interesting beers on, and I tried the East London Brewery Foundation Bitter, which I found a bit too thin, bitter and astringent for my tastes. And then it was off home to eat leftover rice & peas while watching Stewart Lee.


Homemade steak and homebrewed ale pie!

The next day, spurred on by this relentless winter, my wife and I decided to make a hearty steak and ale pie, and whilst looking through my beer cupboard for a suitable bottle, I thought, “Why not use a homebrew!?”. My 6-odd % porter seemed like a perfect candidate: strong, slightly sweet finish and very dark. So in it went. And the stew turned out great, rich and tasty (although, to be fair, it doesn’t look particularly appetising in the picture). The only issue is that when it came to baking, I left the pie in the oven a touch too long which resulted in the crust being a bit flakey and not as buttery as I like it. Still, with some simple veggies and mustard mash it warmed us up, and it felt nice using my homebrew as an ingredient. I think we’ll be making this again. How soon depends on how long this bleedin’ winter lasts.

Categories: Beer, Brewery, Brewery Open Day, Home Brew | 2 Comments

Moncada – Brewfile and Brewery Tour

Back in November last year, thanks to Heineken paying lots of money to have James Bond drink one of their beers in Skyfall, and also thanks to the lovely people at Food & Fuel, I won a £100 bar tab and a tour of the Moncada brewery. The bar tab was used mainly on drinking all the Punk IPA at Mel’s in Earlsfield, but due to Moncada having to relocate, the tour was only organised for a couple of weeks ago.

Scanner Darkly in the glass

Scanner Darkly in the glass

And, as luck would have it, Shamblemoose were launching their brewery at The Union Tavern right around the corner from Moncada near Westbourne Park. How bloody fortuitous! My friend Steve and I arrived at the Union, were informed that there was a brewery launch that night, to which we replied, “That’s why we’re here!”. Whilst pulling our pints of Shamblemoose’s American Brown Ale No. 4, the barman remarked that people will do anything for free beer. Now I expected a taste, not a full pint! Great start to the evening. The beer was, well, brown. Strong biscuit malts, slightly spicy flavour with crackling autumnal hops. Nice. This was my first visit to the Union and their beer selection was impressive (over 6 hand pumps and about 10 keg taps, from memory) including lots of local London beers. After the Brown we had time for a half, so we took the economical decision and squeezed in a Brodie’s and Kernel Scanner Darkly collaboration Black IPA. As Steve pointed out, the nose was a big hit of blackcurrant. The taste was warm and roasted, with some hoppy zing and a nice, blackcurrant bitter finish. Very tasty.

We then headed to Moncada where we met my friend Jamie, who was joining us on the tour. The door of the unmarked unit in the back streets of north west London was opened by Julio Moncada, the founder and head brewer. He was very welcoming and seemed very happy and keen to show us around his new premises. Moncada was founded by Julio in 2010 in premises around the corner, but he was forced to move a few months ago due to the building being demolished. Julio is originally from Argentina and moved to the UK about 10 years ago. His love of beer started here and he became an avid homebrewer. And then in 2010, together with 2 friends, he started Moncada.

Julio showing us his hydrometer

Julio showing us his hydrometer

We were shown around the brewery, the lovely wooden-clad hot liquor tank, mash tun and kettle. He talked through the brewing process, and his brewing beliefs. They don’t use any finings or chemicals at Moncada, they work with the water they have and their final beer is a little hazy but it’s unadulterated. He let us have a sniff and a taste of the 2 batches of Blonde in the fermenter – one brewed a few days before and one brewed that day – and showed us the cold store room full of casks and and extensive hop stock.


Steve and Jamie talking to Julio at the bar

Then we went upstairs to the Moncada bar, and we were priveleged to be the first outsiders to have a drink there. Julio lined up the bottles of their current roster, which all have the “Notting Hill” name: Stout, Porter, Ruby Rye, Amber, Bitter and their biggest seller, Blonde.The Porter was good, great for a winter evening by a fire. The Stout had a much fuller mouthfeel than the Porter, and much more roasty toasty flavours. But both of these felt a little too carbonated for my tastes. Then we went on to the Blonde from a chilled keg font behind the bar. That was really good, a touch of wheaty cloudiness, lots of fresh, crisp grassy hop notes on the nose and a smooth biscuity flavour. Perfect for a west London pub garden in the summer, and Jamie’s favourite. The Ruby Rye was possibly my favourite, the spicy rye taste backed up by toffee malts and a gentle hop zing. I’d like to try it on tap. And the Amber was also good, that’s Julio’s favourite. They have 6 beers on at any one time, the Blonde and the Amber being the only ones brewed year-round.

We asked Julio lots of questions about homebrewing, and Julio was very helpful, offering lots of advice. He showed us their pilot kit that they’d recently bought – 3 big, shiny Blichmann pots – that were to be setup near the bar for small batches and for guests to learn about brewing. Then we climbed up to the loft and were shown where all the malts were stored, and tucked away at the back was Julio’s original homebrew setup on which most of the Moncada recipes were formulated. We then descended the stairs and congregated around the bar again.


The lineup

Next up was a bottle of last year’s Summer, which Julio thinks was best drunk young. It was light, quite fruity and quite drinkable, very much as you’d expect from a summer beer, but it wasn’t really suited to the near freezing temperatures outside. The beer will be revived for this summer, but they’re planning on dry hopping it to give it a little more impact. Then we moved onto the hand labelled bottles. These are small, experimental batches of new recipes that the brewers are trying. The Porter that they make is actually a mixture of two recipes that Julio and one of the other brewers put forward in an in-house competition. Julio let us try a bottle of his original recipe. And we had what was labelled as “Brown” which was a strong ale, a lovely, rich winter warmer. Full of toffee and caramel. Yummy! But I think my overall favourite beer of the night was the last one we tried, right at the bottom of the fridge, hand labelled “RR Dry Hopped”. I pointed it out to Julio and his eyes lit up. “I didn’t know we had any of this left!”. It was all the spicy, toffee flavours of the regular Ruby Rye with a big tangy, grapefuit hop slap. Gorgeous, just my kind of beer.

We stayed quite late, and then realised that we all had a long way to go home, and were in Westbourne Park. So we said goodbye to Julio, thanked him very much for his time and hurried through the cold west London streets to the tube. A nice brewer, a good philosophy of beer and a great range make this a very interesting brewery. Try them if you see them.

Categories: Beer, Brewery Tour, Brewfile, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Craft Beer Rising 2013

I got my Craft Beer Rising ticket many months ago, when I first heard about it. And I’d been looking forward to it for all that time, up until about a week or two before the event. That’s when I started seeing a few non-positive tweets and hearing some opinions about the organisers. So when I went there, I went with lowered expectations. Since I bought my ticket early, it was an “early bird” ticket which gave me entry to both the afternoon and evening sessions on Saturday.

I arrived at about 3pm, exchanged some real money for CBR money and took a walk around. There was the keg room, the cask room, the music room and a small presentation area called the Mash Tun. Food stalls were dotted around the various rooms, with their tantalising smells wafting around invitingly. There were lots of stalls from bigger, well known breweries such as Sharp’s, Martson’s, Brains, Greene King, Wells and Young’s and Thwaites. That doesn’t exactly scream craft to me. But there were lots of other breweries there flying their small brewery flags. My first drink was half a Humulus Lupulus from The Botanist (I thought I’d support a London brewery) which was very tasty – refreshing, nice hop flavour and a clean, bitter finish. The place was busy and buzzy but as other people have pointed out, quite a trade show feel to the whole thing.

As I walked past the Mash Tun, Alex Barlow from All Beer was giving a talk and tasting of different beer styles. I found a space just as he was finishing off the first beer (a Kolsch). Then he moved on to a Timmermans Kriek beer, a Raw Grey Ghost IPA and Anubis Porter, and finished off with a Traquair House Scotch Ale. Alex was very animated and engaging and gave a good overall introduction to a range of beer styles. I heard lots of reactions (be they good or bad) to the various beers from the people in the room, but this was a very accesible introduction and hopefully opened some of their eyes to some beer styles they may not have tried before or wouldn’t usually go for.

There was another session that afternoon but I had time for a quick half before it started, so I went to the re-branded Hogsback stand and asked for a half of something hoppy. They gave me a Hop Garden Gold. First aromas were subdued but the taste was good. Initially. It died quite quickly and the finish was too bitter and astringent for my tastes.

The next session was a food and beer matching by Melissa Cole that was excellent. She was bubbly and engaging, as you’d expect, and distributed glasses of Thwaites 13 Guns to whet our whistles. The pairings were good, and a little surprising. Good bitters and IPAs to match, respectively, a pork pie and posh fish finger sandwich, but the best was spicy Indian chutney with a wheat beer – the floral, fruity sweetness of the beer paired beautifully with the fragrant spiciness of the chutney. I’ll definitely be trying this with my next curry.

The toilets were appaling, queues and wet floor and horribly drunk people pushing and shouting. Thankfully, they weren’t like that all night, it must have been just because it was the end of the daytime session.

By now it was about kicking out time for the afternoon session, but after seeing pics on twitter of the queue from Patrick Kirkbright from the Friday, I decided to get £30 worth of vouchers for the evening session before I left for a bite to eat. I popped to a Brick Lane bagel shop, got a bagel and some water and went back in to the festival.

My friend Steve joined me for the evening session, and he’s a big BrewDog fan so we started there. I’d heard a lot about their Jackhammer pale ale as one of theyr prototype beers, claiming to be so bitter that “this 7.2% IPA will literally destroy your mouth“. Well, it didn’t destroy my mouth. It was actually very tasty. It wasnt until she’d poured two halves of it for us that the friendly bar staff warned us about it’s strength. Maybe not a good one to start on, but hindsight’s a wonderful thing ain’t it? 20130223_211119We went into the music room looking for the London Bar which was, very unfortunately, woefully stocked (see pic). And it had been like that since the afternoon session.

We tried some Stevens Point beers, which had that American Pale Ale caramel malt flavour that I’m not particularly keen on. Plus they tasted like nothing after the Jackhammer. So we decided to ground ourselves with a low ABV bitter from the cask room. We wandered and tried and spoke to the various brewers, which was a very nice experience. We spoke to William from Wildcard, a new London brewery. He was very passionate, and, somewhat strangely, viewed London as “wide open” in terms of breweries. At least compared to his native Nottingham. If you say so William. We shared a bottle of his flagship (and currently only brew) Jack Of Clubs. It was full of toffee malts, smooth and rounded with a hint of hoppy crunch. It definitely developed as we drank it. Then we had a Gravitas from Vale Brewery, and wandered to the Mother Flipper stand to smell the amazing burgers. But we decided to save our money for beers and grab a bagel on the way home.

At the end of the night, after trying Thornbridge’s Saison and while Steve supped on a last half of Jaipur, we trundled over to the BrewDog bar to use up the last of our tokens. We purchased a bottle of Hardcore IPA each as neither of us had tried it. No matter what you think of their branding and PR tactics (I really don’t like them), they do make good beer.

Then we headed home, stopping off for a salt beef bagel that was gargantuan, and very heavy on the condiments. As Steve said about the woman who served us, his eyes scrunched and watering, his hands clasped in fists as he took the last bite, “I’m not sure she’s ever actually tasted mustard”.

It was a good night, and I enjoyed some parts of the afternoon session more than the night and vice versa – the Mash Tun sessions were much better in the afternoon, but people didn’t seem so hideously drunk in the evening, even though it was busier. The main issue I have with CBR is that for a London beer festival, only 3 breweries had stands of the over 40 potential ones within 20 miles of the event. I think this was mainly due to the amount of money asked by the organisers for the pitches. This meant that it wasn’t wholly representative of the craft brewing scene in the UK as it favoured bigger breweries. I’m not saying the ones there weren’t craft, but there was a bit of a corporate feel to it, more like a beer convention than a beer festival. And with the entrance ticket being over £10 and then having to get a glass on top of that, it felt like it was catered to a crowd that wouldn’t usually go to a beer festival. It felt like someone was making a lot of money out of the weekend, but it wasn’t the brewers.

It was very nice to get the beer from the brewers, to talk and learn from the people that actually make the beer. That was the best thing about it. It just needs to be more about promoting craft beer and less about making money, in my opinion.

Categories: Beer, Beer Festival | 2 Comments

Brewfile & Brewday – Sambrook’s Brewery

In my continuing (if slightly foolhardy) attempt to visit and write about every London brewery, I arranged to visit Sambrook’s Brewery in Battersea a couple of weeks ago, and was fortuitous enough to be there on a double brew day.

I was greeted by brewer Paul Brooker at 6am. Not a lot of other life about in Battersea at that time in the morning. Paul was mashing-in as I arrived, and he ran me through their setup and procedures. The brewery was founded by Duncan Sambrook in 2008 and was then amongst only a handful of London brewers. And despite the explosion of the London, and the British brewing scene in those few years, Sambrook’s beers have remained at the forefront. Wandle, their flagship beer won World’s Best Bitter Under 5% at the World Beer Awards last year. And as Gary Wilds (another Sambrook’s brewer) told me when he was brewing the second batch of Wandle later that the day, “That’s a lot to live up to!”. I have remembered seeing and drinking Wandle for many years now in pubs across London, even before my love for beer…how should I put this…intensified? So they’ve been a staple, certainly in London ale pubs, for some time.


450Kg of grain and…lots of water. Smelled lovely!

My first task was to weigh out the hops. We were brewing the day’s first batch of Wandle. The gorgeous smell of Goldings and Boadicea hops filled my nostrils as I measured them out for the two hop additions. Its a very simple recipe (2 types of grain, 2 types of hops) but the end product has so much depth, complexity and smoothness. It really is a great session bitter.

With the hops weighed out, I took the chance to peer into the steamy mash tun. As I said, this was the first brew of the day – the two brews on the 20 barrel setup would then be mixed in one of their big fermenters before the yeast was added. This shows the demand for their beers.

Paul, a born Londoner, told me that he’d come to Sambrook’s about a year ago after having worked for many years at Young’s Ram Brewery in Wandsworth before it closed down in 2006, as did a couple of other staff members. However, Paul didn’t actually brew when he was at Young’s, instead he did all manner of jobs around the brewery – filling, packing, sorting, loading etc – so working here was his first experience actually brewing beer. He enjoys being a brewer and likes the satisfaction of making something that other people enjoy.


The lab

By this point (about 7:30am), Jaime had arrived. She is another brewer here and she’s originally from Australia. Jaime started by volunteering a few days a week and eventually got offered a permanent position. She took me up to their lab/office to measure the gravities of the beers currently in the fermenters. She has to do it three times a day for all the beers to make sure they’re on track and the yeast are behaving.


Racking Junction into casks

Next to arrive was Zac (yet another brewer), and his job for the day was filling casks. The brewers rotate their tasks day to day, which is needed for a brewery that needs to produce so much beer in a week. 7 brews in 5 days the week I visited. Zac is from New Zealand, he dabbles in home brewing and he’s leaving shortly to spend some time in the vineyards of France. He was racking Junction into casks and he let me have a go at filling, pouring in the isinglass and then knocking in the shives. He was far more adept at all of this than I was. And the cold weather didn’t help either, but everyone there seemed to be used to it so I manned up and got on with it. Well, I did as best I could anyway. Zac then jumped on the forklift to stack and pack the filled casks on pallets ready for delivery.

In one corner of the brewery, next to all the casks, was a big stack of keykegs (disposable kegs for carbonated beers) which Sambrook’s uses for its carbonated Pale Ale – its first craft keg product. They use a technique called krausening where fresh fermenting beer is added to the already fermented beer when the kegs are being filled in order to add carbonation. Zac said that the whole process takes a lot longer than racking to casks but the end result is worth it.


The Sparge

Paul was just beginning to sparge when I went back to the mash tun and he took a sample of the first runnings up to the lab to take measurements – gravity, temperature and pH. There are notes taken at every stage of the brewing and fermentation, sheets of figures and measurements, attenuation tests done on the yeast. This is a brewery that is focussed on maintaining a high standard for all of its beers, and keeping each brew consistent.

While up in the lab I met Sean Knight, who is the head brewer of Sambrook’s. But due to him going away in a couple of days, preparing for the Battersea Beer Festival that week and having to give a tour of the brewery that afternoon, he was a busy man and and such I didn’t spend much time with him. Sean started there washing casks and moved up to brewer, and then when the previous head brewer left, he was asked if he wanted the job. And it looks like he loves the job, even if it can be quite a load sometimes.

Back downstairs Jaime and Jason were washing casks and she asked if I wanted to help. How could I refuse? Now, on a cold Tuesday, moving around wet casks is not particularly fun. My job was to drain the casks, check if they were clean inside, whack them and hammer in the keystone (a rubber plug where the tap gets hammered into). I got wet and I got cold hands. But I’m learning that cold and wet are 2 words that usually describe a brewery. From September to April at least.


Me in the mash tun (note how clean it is!)

Paul was finished sparging, and the boil was going when I went back in and he gave me the perfect opportunity to warm up. Cleaning out the mash tun. I was handed a big shovel and jumped in. It was hot, steamy and cramped, but that’s part of a brewers job I guess! And there’s a lot of water-soaked grain that is left behind when the wort is drained. A lot. But there’ll be some happy cows somewhere.

There were some troubles with a pump that slowed the transfer of the boiled wort through the heat exchanger and into the fermenter, so Gary had started to mill his grain and fill the mash tun before Paul was finished with his brew.  Paul’s wort was eventually emptied out of the boiler and sitting nicely in the fermenter. And in there it stayed until it was joined by Gary’s wort, at which point the yeast would be added. Gary jumped into the boiler to clean out all the spent hops, and I gave him a hand sweeping and bagging all the mess that poured out the bottom of the vessel. Paul went and took some final readings of the wort from the fermenter and then headed home, job done for the day.

Paul has been working at Sambrook’s as a brewer for 2 and a half  years. Before that he worked at Young’s and then Hogsback in Surrey. He is a passionate brewer, and clearly gets great pleasure out of his job. He was all set up for his mash, so I left him to it.


The Wandle in the fermenter

So, that was the end of my day at Sambrook’s. It’s a very busy, friendly place, full of amiable people that seem in some ways like a family and made me feel very welcome. I very much enjoyed my day there and was craving a Wandle by the time I’d left. And that was also the most work I’d done in a day in a long, long time. It made me realise that brewing is a lot harder work than I had thought. Maybe I’ll stick to the day job, visit breweries and brew at home for friends, family and myself. Oh, and I ached all over the next day.

Categories: Brewery, Brewfile | 1 Comment

To Start, Battersea Beer Festival….


It was a cold, rainy Friday night. The festival had been on for the last 2 days, this was the final evening. As me and my friend Pat walked past, huddled from the bleak weather, we could see warm, dry people with pint glasses and hear the sounds of laughter and merriment. As we rounded the corner to the entrance, we saw it. A queue. A long queue. That didn’t move for the 10 minutes we waited there. So, as our thirsts overpowered us, we went to the Battersea Mess and Music Hall, just down the road, to have a makeshift beer festival of our own.

We popped into Eagle’s Wines on the way too as a friend was looking for a wine from a specific Australian vineyard, and I noted that they had a pretty decent selection – BrewDog, Coopers, Little Creatures, Sierra Nevada, plus some Belgians and world lagers.

The Battersea Mess is an Antic pub, and pretty typical of their style – dark wood, odd chairs but nicely informal. And they usually have a good selection of beers. Extremely dissapointingly, the had a tap for Moor’s So’Hop but it was off. When a friend inquired as to when it might be back on, he was told that they hadn’t had it for months. They probably leave it there as a ploy to lure in hopheads.

We started off with a Sunny Republic Beach Blonde, a Pacific pale ale. We easily found a table, which is always nice on a Friday night, and took a sip. It was a great first drink, light, crisp, a nice hop punch with a smooth bitter finish, and at 3.7%,extremely sessionable. Another friend, Steve, joined us at this point and we all had a pint of Sunny Republic’s Dolphin Amber, which was, as the pumpclip stated, “complex but easy drinking”, however it wasn’t to all of our hoppy tastes. I tried a half of the Pin-Up Beers Milk Stout, which I definitely couldn’t have done a pint of. The very toasted finish was a bit much for me. Still, good to try beers from 2 British breweries that I’d previously never heard of.

20130208_203649Then we all moved onto the bottles: Anchor Steam, Little Creatures, Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn. All beers with good heritage but ones that I hadn’t actually had in a while because of my thirst for new beers. I also tried the Sierra Nevada Kellerweis, which I enjoyed – nice banana and clove notes with a clean, slightly sour finish. It was good but possibly not what I really wanted that late into the night.

We also set up a Twitter account for Steve to do beer reviews based on his tasting notes which I find very amusing as they are written purely for himself and sometimes don’t make sense. We came up with The Sipping Forecast (genius, I know) but I think I just have to persuade him to actually start tweeting.

And so to Saturday morning when, not as hungover as the previous morning,
I decided to accomplish three things in one endeavour. I wanted to break in my new walking shoes, I wanted to do some exercise and I wanted to pay my first visit to Mr Lawrence’s beer shop in Crofton Park, south-east London. So, I donned my shoes and set off on the 10 mile walk through Wandsworth Common, Clapham Common, Brixton, Brockwell Park, East Dulwich and Peckham Rye Park before ending up right at Crofton Park station. First bad sign, the shutters were down. Second bad sign, it was 1pm and the website says opening hours are from midday. The third bad sign was when I went into the adjoining wine bar and asked about the shop and was told that it was closed. As in, closed down. I now see that it says that at the very top of their website, but it still lists their stock and opening times. *sigh*

So, I made my way to Brockley, hopped on a train to London Bridge and headed straight to Utobeer where I could happily satisfy my hunger to avail myself of new beers.20130209_153642 I’ve had the Dark Energy already, and thankfully it lived up to all the hype I’d heard. And, inspired (and also made slightly jealous) by the number of bloggers doing Christmas countdowns and beery advent calenders last December, I have started to collect some for Christmas 2013. I might as well aim for 12, it’s a fitting number. Pictured are additions 2 and 3 from Goose Island and Rogue. The first one was a Jolly’s Revenge from By The Horns that I got from their brewery bash before Christmas. I very much enjoyed it on tap, lets see what a year in the bottle does to it. And actually, just thinking about it now, I think I’ll aim to have at least one homebrewed beer on the list. Bring on Christmas!

Categories: Beer, Craft Beer Stockist, Pub | 2 Comments

The Homebrews News

What with being away over Christmas and then having to look for a flat, I havent had a chance to taste my homebrews in a while. And, to be honest, I wasn’t completely looking forward to cracking any open – I just didn’t know if I could handle the disappointment of a bad beer. Thankfully, and rather surprisingly, I was pretty pleased with the brews. I think it helped a lot that I had significantly lowered my expectations this time…and the extra time in the bottles. I should have taken pics but I was too distracted by the fact that the beers were drinkable, to be honest.

The cascade hopped pale ale (from a Coopers APA kit) still had a slight sickly malty aftertase but it had mellowed a lot and made it much more drinkable. It poured a clear, light amber, the citrus/floral nose hitting you as you lift the glass to drink. And that’s the first taste too,  gently sliding to a biscuity middle with a bitter finish. I had a few of these and enjoyed them all.

Next I tried the “witbier” (made from a Coopers Wheat kit with some orange and coriander additions) which I had the lowest hopes for. The OG was too low before we pitched the yeast and, novices that we are, we didn’t try to fix it. I tried this before Christmas and the overwhelming taste to me was “watery”. Still, ice cold from the garage it poured a slightly hazy golden colour, with a decent head. Yes it’s low in alcohol (a smidge over 3%) but as a session beer on a hot day (when those rarities do happen over here) it would actually be pretty decent. Very light in flavour, it was more like a light wit lager. There was a hint of banana from the yeast and a tangeriney tang from the oranges. Very pleasant and refreshing, so said all who tried it.

Finally, the porter. Although at 6.5%, it’s probably more of a stout. Who knows. My first taste of this at bottling was overwhelmingly boozy, and very sherry-like. This made me worry that it might have been ruined by poor cooling techniques. However, the alcohol was well hidden in this dark, roasted, slightly chocolatey and brownie tinged brew. I was very pleased. Very pleased indeed. Not much in the way of tasting notes as I had already had quite a few beers by the time I plucked up the courage to open one of these, but good and drinkable. A little thin on mouthfeel, I remember, and a very slight sour aftertaste. That’s just coming back to me now so not sure how accurate that actually is. Alan (that’s my father-in-law), that gives you the all clear to have your bottle. Put it in the fridge for a couple of hours to chill a bit and it should be lovely. Perfect for that “winter” weather over in Thailand.

Quite a novelty for me to get drunk on home made alcohol. I look forward to doing it again soon. What I have learned from this is firstly, read a book on brewing before you start brewing. Every page I turn in How To Brew, I curse myslef for not having read it before I started. That said, these are all better than I thought they’d be, so just leave it in the bottle for another few weeks and it’ll probably taste better.

So that’s the latest formn Evans & Sons Brewing Co. Before we do another batch, I think we need a boiler to do full wort boils, and a wort chiller. So, no more homebrews for a month or so…by which time we’ll probably be nearly out of these three. As long as we have a few to drink while we brew then next batch, it’ll be fine.

Categories: Beer, Home Brew | 3 Comments

In Search Of Craft Beer In Thailand and Laos

To be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for finding anything other than light lagers on my recent family trip to Thailand. But then again, nothing satisfies quite like an ice cold Leo in that hot, humid climate so I wasn’t particularly fussed.

So on the first night, in Bangkok, we indulged in a Leo tower. It’s my favourite of the standard Thai beers – the others being Singha, Chang and Tiger (not Thai, I know, but it’s available everywhere) – as it has a slightly sweet finish that makes it very easy to drink and means it goes superbly with spicy food. Incidentally, I did try a Chang Export which I’d not seen on my travels there before, but I found to be overly malty and uninspiring. The Leos, however, slipped down a treat. Welcome to Thailand!

We then ventured down to Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand fpr Christmas and New Year, and I abandoned all propsect of craft beer. If it’s difficult to find in Thailand, it’ll be non-existant on a small island. I’ll be happy if they have Leo. So, when on a dive with a Belgian guy called Paul who was doing his 100th dive, he mentioned buying everyone a beer back at the dive shop, “..but not a Duvel!”. “Duvel?” I said, “On this island?”.  Goodtime Adventures bar stocked Duvel, San Miguel Light (didn’t try it, but I think I can imagine it), Paulaner, Beer Lao and Beer Lao Dark. I had a Duvel which was good, but did feel a bit heavy to have after diving. My mistake to sink an 8% beer like it was a 4% lager…

The next day, after a couple more dives (one of which being an old US Navy wreck, which was awesome), I went for the Lao Dark and was very impressed with what I tasted. It poured a Coke-light dark brown, full of bubbles and toasty aroma. And it was ridiculously easy to drink, with a lovely roasted finish that doesn’t overpower the light mouthfeel of the beer. Much better suited to the climate than a Duvel, in my opinion. But then it is brewed in Laos.

We went back to Bangkok for a couple of nights, and I did a bit of research to find some bars stocking interesting beers. I stumbled across Beervana – craft beer distributors in Bangkok – and through them found Brew Beers & Ciders, who boast the largest selection of beers in Thailand. And it is an impressive selection. Well, it looked like it from the website as we didn’t get around to actually going there due to the fact that only 2 of the 9 people in the group were interested in unusual beers, one of whom (me) had tonsilitis. God bless Thai pharmacies for selling antibiotics over the counter.

The next beer-related highlight was very unexpected. We spent a night in Chiang Khan, a small village on the Mekong river, right on the border with Laos. The village consisted of a little street with an abundance of small shops selling clothing made in the area, and lots of food stalls of various weird and wonderful titbits – fried bread on a stick, and little wrapped leaves filled with ginger, onion, garlic and chilli being a couple of my favourites – with a few bars, restaurants and cafes thrown in too.

As we wandered down through the village, I noticed an Erdinger umbrella outside one of the bars so I couldn’t resist popping in for a beer. The bar was called Ganga, and the selection was very, very surprising. Mutliple beers from Erdinger, Paulaner, Schneider Weisse, Weihenstephaner, Leffe and Fullers as well as various, innumerable others. The place was run by a couple from Bangkok, I think husband and wife, called Tim and Tim. Which must get confusing, but anyway…I went for an Erdinger Dunkel (which I was a little disappointed with actually, it didn’t pack as much of a deep, malty punch as I thought it would) and I chose a London Pride for my father-in-law which, although good, was a bit too cold. I asked Tim (the wife) about their selection and she told me that they loved to drink all these beers so decided to open up a bar selling it all. My wife and mum went for a Beer Lao, and altogether the bill was about £10, which although good for pounds is a bit pricey for beer in Thailand. Still, it’s the novelty of stumbling upon that amazing selection in such an unexpected place.

The next day we ventured over the border into Laos, spending the night in Vientiane – the first communist country I’ve visited, and I now have an awesome looking visa in my passport. Unsurprisingly, there’s lots of Beer Lao in Laos. I mean, it’s everywhere. Most bar signs are sponsored by them, all bars serve it, adverts, empty crates and delivery trucks for it are everywhere. But maybe that’s not surprising of a brewery 49% owned by the government. The only other beer I saw widley available was Calrsberg, which is brewed at the same brewery. Also, is it just in Asia that breweries also produce bottled water – Singha, Chang, Lao? I tried a bottle of Beer Lao Gold while I was there, which I found it quite thin with almost a sour finish, which was very dissapointing considering their other two beers. I did notice that the small shop next to our hotel stocked a few decent Belgian beers – Duvel, Vedett, Maredsous and Chimay – probably due to Laos French history. My father-in-law told me about a night he spent there in the past where he had tom yum soup, steamed mussels and a Kwak. Sounds delicious!

So, those are the highlights of my holiday, apart from snorkling, diving, kayaking, cycling, climbing up (and then going through) a mountain, seeing a lake of lotus flowers in bloom, watching lots of sunsets (but only one sunrise), seeing lots of temples and buddhas of various sizes and importance and, of course, eating so much amazing Thai food.

And now it’s Monday, I’m back at work, it’s snowing and we have to start looking for flats. Woop.

Categories: Beer | 1 Comment

Guest Blog – Emerald Vale, Chintsa, South Africa



This post is from Will Talbot, a very good friend if mine who recently moved to South Africa. A bit of an out if the way location, but it looks like tasty beer. Take it away, Will!

Chintsa’s Emerald Ale Brewery

Arriving at South Africa’s youngest brewery we noticed earlier visitors eagerly loading four cases of Chris Heaton’s beer into their boot. This gave us an indication that this may not just be a pleasant first stop on a pub crawl but a tasty treat too. Chris currently makes about 6,000 litres of ale a month at the Emerald Vale brewery, ranging from Pale to Gold and Dark ales. He tells us that his interest in brewing started as a schoolboy, concocting illegal brews out of sight from the boarding masters and to the delight of his dorm mates. This turned into a hobby in later life and is now a passion from which he earns his living. Chris’ earlier career in construction means that the rooms and machinery he uses are all built by him and often salvaged combinations of brewing tools and household plumbing equipment. We taste the Pale Ale which is surprisingly clear for unfiltered ale, crisp to taste and has a lovely aroma. The Pale Ale is fermented for 14 days and then is laid down for a further fortnight. He uses a combination of Southern Star and Cascade hops, only the best Belgium yeast and pure rainwater, collected from the farm roofs on the property. Chris explains that the tin roof runoff gives the water added zinc, which then helps the yeast in a way that I can’t fully understand but certainly does wonders for the end product.

Chris Heaton stands about six foot, wears flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt and has the flushed complexion of someone who has been hard at work. It turns out that we have come to visit the Emerald Vale brewery

at the most demanding time of the company’s five months in business. December was always expected to be the busiest time for the brewery that supplies local hotels and pubs which always see a surge at that time, being the start of the summer holidays in the southern hemisphere.

Quite uniquely, rather than capitalising on this holiday rush to feed further expansion, Chris is planning to reduce production to 5,000 litres a month in 2013. This will help him focus on the solid selection of ales he’s established and make incremental improvements to each of them, in order to reach his required taste and quality. Luckily for the local residents and brewery visitors that get to enjoy the Emerald Vale ales, Chris Heaton’s standards are very high!

If you’d like a visit, you can find the brewery operating from a cattle and goat farm on the Chintsa road (or ‘Cintsa’, depending on which road sign you read). Chintsa lies on the Atlantic Ocean about 15 Km from the N2 highway and about one hour from South Africa’s only river port, East London (which is definitely not cockney).

Categories: Beer, Brewery | 1 Comment

By The Horns Christmas Do

Just a quick post on last Saturday’s open day at By the Horns.

Christmas jumpers and mince pies abounded in the small Wandsworth brewery, welcoming all to the warming embrace of their London craft beers. 

Their Christmas beer Jolly’s Revenge was very moreish – it’s an oatmeal brown ale spiced with chilli and ginger. It was deep and malty, with a lovely sweet-spiced flavour that was perfect for a cold afternoon. The Hopslinger Summit was everything an American-style IPA should be – tangy, citrusy hops at the front with a nice clean, but not too dry finish. And, as an extra, they had a brand new red rye Hopslinger that had the trademark rye spiciness, but also a sweet finish that balanced it very nicely.

My recollection grows hazy of the later hours of the evening as I think I was quaffing the beers a little too quickly for my constitution. And I was slightly tender the next morning. But it was worth it.

I do remember Alex telling me that they will be launching a definitive Hopslinger next year, rather than the monthly specials, which will be packed with a variety of hops to give it a complex but balanced flavour. I’m looking forward to that one.

Right, back to work now I guess.

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The Homebrews, So Far…

So, the time finally came this weekend to try the the first homebrews. I had been looking forward to that moment for quite a while, since I first decided to buy the equipment, decided on the first brews and placed the order, then while brewing and waiting for it to ferment, then bottling…after all that, I was very excited to taste the fruit of my labours, the first beer I had ever made…

I put the plastic Coopers bottle on the counter, grabbed the cap and gave it a twist. The small “pfffss” was not very encouraging. The smell give a nice hit of cascade, from the dry hopping, but the overwhelming aroma is a maltiness that is very reminiscent of the malt extract. It poured a hazy golden colour, with a bit of effort required to build a head – but a head that stayed pretty well til the end when you got it going. The taste was again, primarily dominated by the citrusy cascade, with that malty character bringing up the middle, dissapating to a pleasantly bitter aftertaste. Both my dad and brother thought it was pretty good, but I wasn’t so impressed. Not bad, drinkable but nothing really to be proud of.

The secodn brew was a what beer that had a low OG and the resuly it a watery, thin beer. Maybe this will be nicer come summer when you want a refreshing, cold beer but it’s not suited to a dark winter’s evening. I can safely say that I won’t brew either of these again.

And finally I tasted the porter when I took the FG (1015, meaning an ABV of 6.5%) and the taste was overwhelmingly boozy, almost like a roasted sherry. I’m off to Thailand over christmas so I will leave this now til mid Jan when I’m back and try it then. Hopefully it will have mellowed and balanced a bit. I am a bit more precious about this one as it was more than a kit beer – extract and specialty grains. It’s no all-grain, I know, but small steps.

So, to pick myself up after the dissappoinment of the homebrews, I had myself a Samuel Smith’s Winter Ale, which was malty, rounded and warming, like a comforting hug on a cold night. Just what I was after. Then, I stepped up to a Delirium Christmas, and that got me well and truly into the festive spirit. I supped on that as we listened to Christmas songs and watched the lights twinkling on the tree, and only wished that I had bought a couple.

So, some not-so-great beers to start with, but a solid winter favourite to finish. And the shortcomings with the first brews have only spurred me on to do better with the next ones – get a bigger kettle and wort chiller, do full wort boils, and discuss with the other brewers about going all-grain. 2013 will be a good homebrew year, I can feel it.

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By The Horns – Brewfile

With beers like Lambeth Walk, Diamond Geezer, Wolfie Smith and Bobby On The Wheat, the By The Horns guys are certainly proud to be Londoners.

Founded in September 2011, Alex Bull and Chris Mills are making a name for themselves across London with their quirky labelling and their varied and interesing beers. Alex had been homebrewing for a few years before they founded By The Horns, and they saw that there weren’t many London breweries (how a few years can make a difference!) and that there was an opening for a new brewery with a younger outlook, and demand for good London-brewed beer. From initial idea to the first brew took about a year, with Alex going to BrewLab to learn about the business of setting up and running a brewery. Then they sought out the equipment they needed from Oban Ales, and took a leap of faith by ordering it before they actually had premises – they signed the lease the week before the kit was delivered. So at least no time was wasted!

The guys definitely consider themselves as craft brewers, defining the term as “small batch production using almost experimental and non-governed beers which you can change every week”. Their regular 4 brews are Stiff Upper Lip (pale ale) – their most popular brew, Diamond Geezer (red ale), Bobby On The Wheat (wheat beer) and, my favourite, Lambeth Walk porter – which was a winter seasonal, but has become a regular due to demand. And they have at least one new seasonal a month too – they’ve done a summer blonde, a Prince Albert Munich dunkel for Oktoberfest, a raspberry coffee stout (in collaboration with Nude espresso), a brown ale called Wolfie Smith… And if that weren’t enough, they have their recurring Hopslinger range – American IPAs, each with a twist (single hop, black etc). To keep up with demand, they brew 3 times a week on their 5 bbl setup.

Chris and Alex are trying hard to change how drinkers and pubs perceive beer and breweries, especially in London. There will always be pubs that stock and serve the same beers to the same customers, but they’re trying to tap into the drinkers and landlords who want something different and home-grown. I still find it unbelievable that I can walk out of a London brewery and pass pubs and off licenses within 2-3 mins walk that don’t stock the beer, and probably haven’t even heard of it.

When I visited they were finalising ideas for new bottles and labels, with the emphasis on sleek, and eye-catching designs that will stand out in bar fridges. Just as Meantime made their London Pale Ale and London Lager in standard 330ml bottles to appeal to pub and bar bottle-drinkers, that’s where Alex and Chris are looking to push now. They are already stocked in a few bistros in the local area, and with recommended food pairings also on the new labels, these would sit perfectly in restaurant fridges too. They want to try to entice lager drinkers over to the craft/real side of beer, which I support whole-heartedly.

When it comes to new brews, Chris and Alex often do test batches on a homebrew setup, and try experimental conditioning styles – they mentioned a mojito IPA, conditioned with lime, mint and white rum. Alex loved it, Chris wasn’t so keen. And they very nicely gave me a bottle of their Diamond Geezer red ale with ginger added that they did for the Antic chain of pubs over the summer. I have yet to try it.

Their next seasonal, a festive one this time, is named Jolly’s Revenge. It’s a Christmas spiced, oatmeal brown ale, and when I tried it out of the fermenter it was very rounded, malty, warming, spicy, smokey and hoppy. And their next Hopslinger is a Summit single hop, which had just finished casking and bottling when I arrived, but the yeast that was running off was very green and smelt pungently hoppy.

Since they started brewing, both their beer tastes have broadened. They used to be lager drinkers, now Chris says he loves dark beers and also drinks his beers warmer, which makes the flavours much more prominent, especially with the smokier, toastier beers.

The name By The Horns is something Alex thought up, and it sums up the attitude of 2 twenty-somethings stepping out of a comfortable 9-to-5 career progression to do something they are more passionate about. Before they were brewers, Chris worked in offshore purchasing and Alex worked in oil, and the experience in negotiating and buying/selling is serving them well as brewers.

The journey from the idea to where they are now wasn’t as smooth as they had envisaged – some aspects were easier than they thought, some were harder, and some they had never even considered. Supplying the beer to the pubs works quite differently to how they initially thought: it’s rare for a small brewery to get a contract with a certain pub or chain of pubs, instead they get requests from new pubs every week, but not neccessarily regular repeat orders. Then you have the logistics of transporting beer across London, sometimes with only certain delivery windows to hit. And when the pubs do get the casks, they often don’t put it on for weeks, or even months. All of this was a bit of an eye-opener, but neither of them regret the change of career. Chris did say, however, that they would have second throughts about starting a brewery in London now, with the huge number of breweries that have been founded even in the last year. And although there is an element of competition with the other brewers, there is also a spirit of collaboration and shared knowledge that binds them all together – take the annual collaborative brews organised by the London Brewers Alliance, most recently a stout brewed at The Kernel. Chris just hopes that all the new brewers maintain the high standard and reputation that has already been set in London by the established breweries.

They have brewery open days about once a month, with the Christmas one on Saturday 15th December, starting at 12pm. You can read about the two previous open days here and here. I recommend you come down if you can, have a drink in the brewery, see the mash tun and fermenting vessels and meet the brewers. I am very much looking forward to warming myself on a few pints of Jolly’s Revenge. And a Hopslinger or two as well while I’m there.

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The Beer House – Waterloo

You know the feeling, you arrive at the train station, cold and a little merry from the day’s/evening’s drink and your train has just left. That means half an hour in  Waterloo. The King’s Arms and The White Hart, while close and very good pubs, are probably too far for a quick drink…so someone suggets The Beer House actually in Waterloo station. the last time I had been in there was probably more than a year ago in a previous incarnation and, to be honest, I didn’t have much hope for it. Well, both Meantime’s London beers, Flying Dog pale, BrewDog’s 5am Saint and Erdinger Dunkel on tap. Not to mention a very decent bottle selection too. I stopped looking afterI saw 5am Saint.

The pub itself feels like a train station/airport pub: overall, uninspiring. But the selection makes it worth a quick drink if you find yourself killing time in the area. I would link to it, but I can’t find anything about it online.

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Clarence & Fredericks – Brewfile

These guys could currently claim to be London’s newest brewer, but there are so many popping up all over the capital that by the time I’ve finished this sentence, I’m sure another one will have set up shop on a trading estate somewhere.  Clarence & Fredericks started brewing in the middle of October 2012, and when I went to visit, had just casked brew number 5. So very young indeed. (Incidentally, for pics of the brewery from empty shell to working unit, plus the family brewers themselves, check their Facebook page here)

Founded by couple Duncan Woodhead and Victoria Barlow, the idea was simply to do something which they were passionate about. And Duncan is clearly very passionate about brewing.

His first contact with beer was in his parent’s pub in Worcester, and as a teenager he started helping out on the odd day at a local microbrewery. His payment was a few pints and a sandwich in the nearby pub at lunchtime while the wort was left to be cooled and run off into the fermenter.

Duncan moved to the States when he was 22 to do a masters in history, before moving back over the pond to Edinburgh – where he started getting involved with CAMRA – then Newcastle and finally London in 2008, when he met Victoria.

A year later, their son Freddie was born, and Duncan felt he needed a change of career – they were both working for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (and still are, part-time). The couple discussed some options, and Duncan decided he wanted to brew. He was taken on a couple of days a week at the WJ King brewery in Horsham, and also started experimenting with his own recipes on an all-grain homebrew setup. He used this time to see how a bigger brewery functioned, how he could scale up his homebrew recipes, and learn anything that could help him in his own enterprise from head brewer Ian Burgess. In 2011, after a year at WJ King, the couple set up their own business and Duncan trained at BrewLab at the University of Sunderland. When the course ended,  the planning of the brewery started in earnest. When it came to finding a name, the couple wanted something classic-sounding but that also meant something to them, and rather than use their surnames, they took a slightly different angle: they chose the street they live on and the name of their now 3 year old son.

With Victoria’s background in PR and communications, it seemed natural that she would handle a lot of the sales, branding and marketing while Duncan focused on the beer itself.  He brewed over 30 test batches in the kitchen of their Sutton house in the 18 months running up to the brewery’s launch, trying out different beers and finalising recipes in order to be scaled up to their 10bbl plant. And Duncan’s passion for history meant he was fastidious with the results of the research; he showed me a box containing 24 homebrew bottles, all with hand-written labels and scraps of paper wrapped around them with recipes, tasting notes and all sorts of brewing calculations scribbled on them (one being an old envelope). This is where he gets his inspiration for the seasonal brews –  his brewing record and recipe book, if you like. For example, their Christmas beer this year will be a stout based on a plum porter he made last year, but using redcurrants instead of plums for that festive twist.

They decided on premises in Neville Road in Croydon, and the equipment was supplied and fitted by John Trew from Oban Ales, and while the brewery wasn’t spic and span when I visited (still bits of building equipment here and there) Duncan assured me that what matters is the insides of the vessels, not the outside. And the brewery is producing beer – good beer – so a tidy up can wait.

Their 2 regular brews are a Best Bitter and a Golden Ale. The former is a session ale which is brewed without the ubiquitous crystal malt, which makes it feel thinner in the mouth, but the 4.1% ABV brings up the rear with a nice warm finish. And the sample I was given as Duncan showed me around the brewery, though young, was still very drinkable and full of earthy, caramel flavours. Their Golden Ale bursts with hoppy aroma and flavour. Very much my kind of ale. Although the hop shortages in the US meant that Duncan had to alter his initial recipe slightly for his first brew as there was no amarillo available. And I’m sure he’s not the only brewer who’s had to substitute when it comes to those fruity and extremely popular hops at the moment – hopefully the much talked about new UK hops will fill the place of those big new world hops. And their only seasonal so far was a Smoked Red, which won first prize at the Wallington Beer Festival earlier this year.

He currently brews 1 batch per week, which is just over 40 casks to get out there to the drinkers that want it. And that’s the hardest part about being a brewer, according to Duncan. Actually getting pubs to take your beer. Obviously, most pubs won’t just take beer from anyone, and until you have a reputation its difficult to get pub owners to take a punt on a 70-odd quid cask of beer. But they must be doing something right as the list of pubs that they’re supplying is growing by the day, and among the names written on the whiteboard when I visited were The Hope, The Southampton Arms, The Holborn Whippet and The Rake. And this was only a week after their official launch in the cosy back room of The Gunmakers, where Duncan was enthusing about his beer to publicans, bloggers and other influential beer folk, while Victoria spoke about their philosophy and plans for the future.

Duncan spoke about trying to get into his local Wetherspoons, so they are obviously trying to get a real foothold in the south London and north Surrey area. He describes himself more as a local brewer than a craft brewer and is clearly proud to be brewing in London, and specifically Croydon. And next on their agenda is to open a brewery shop on the premises too – initially selling cask beer in takeaway containers, then moving on to bottles and brewery merchandise.

It’s always good to see passionate brewers, and these guys certainly fit the bill. Speaking to either of them, you immediately get sucked in by their dedication and excitement for their beer. And for Duncan, the best part of the job is when he can see someone in a pub enjoying a pint of his beer. To know that he created that from a balance of 4 ingredients makes it all worth while.

Check their website, twitter and facebook for up-to-date listings of where you can find their beers. Definitely seek them out.

Now I’m off to track down the last of the Smoked Red…

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London Brewfiles

First off, I’m a big fan of a portmanteau and like to use them when I can. They save time.

So this is the start of what I hope will be a series – I’d like to do a “Brewfile” (that’s a brewery profile) on all the London brewers and interview them and get a more rounded picture of why they started, what they love about beer and brewing, their thoughts on this so called “craft” movement and where they see the future of their beer.

Keep an eye out for the first 2 in the series, Clarence & Fredericks from Croydon, and By The Horns in Tooting in the next few days.

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My First Extract Brew – The Frisco Porter

I have been wanting to make a porter since we started homebrewing…all of 2 brews ago. As I have said, I’m really getting into my stouts and porters, and I know that one I’d crafted myself would taste that much better. But probably only to me.

So, after having recently tried the Anchor porter, I decided to make a clone of that. But, due to me being.the only one of the three brewers who likes dark beers, and a bottle shortage, I made a half batch – about 12 litres.

The recipe I used needed converting twice – from imperial to metric, and then in half. This lead to lots of checking, re-checking and re-calculating, and no doubt I’ve messed up somewhere, but I’m sure it’ll turn out drinkable.

Whilst steeping the specially grains (chocolate malt, black malt, roasted barley and crystal malt) it smelled like coffee and walnut brownies. Lets hope some of that makes it into the final beer!

I bittered with northern brewer and cascade, with no aroma hops. Depending on how it turns out, I may add some aroma hops to the next batch.

The boil went without a hitch, cooked the wort, topped it up to 11 litres and took a gravity reading. 1075. So I topped it up with a but more water and brought the gravity to 1065. A touch more sensible. So depending on where this finished, this could be a 6-7%er. Nice and healthy.

Bottling planned for 3 weeks time, then drinking in the new year. A perfect little January warmer, I hope.

We had planned to try our first brew this weekend as it had been bottled 3 weeks ago, but it was my brother’a birthday yesterday so he wasn’t around, and my dad was a little tender. So we’ll crack the first one when we next meet in another 3 weeks. By then, after 6 weeks in total in the bottle, they should *hopefully* be clear, smooth and wonderfully carbonated. Or, at the very least, drinkable.

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Samuel Smith Bottles – A Revelation

Despite working in central London (Fitzrovia, to be precise) I haven’t been to a Sam Smith’s pub in a long time. Not since they inexplicably increased their prices, thus eliminating their major selling point. The beer has never been great, well certainly not the draught stuff but I had a couple of drinks in The Fitzroy Tavern tonight and was pleasantly surprised by their bottled fare.

The Taddy Porter is very, very nice. A bit pricey at £5.50 a bottle (albeit a 550ml) but delicious nonetheless. Roasted, malty, chocolatey and slightly sweet means that this, for me, is a very moorish sipper of a drink.

The Oatmeal Stout, also about the same price, was a little disappointing. While there were still those malty, roasted notes in the nose, there was also a lingering salt-and-vinegar aroma that got me slightly worried. It wasn’t overly present in the flavour but it did have a slightly vinous aftertaste which made it much more difficult to sip and savour than the porter.

There’s still the Organic Chocolate Stout to try, and I noticed an apricot fruit beer as well. I have tried their cherry, raspberry and strawberry fruit beers, and for me, they have a very nice balance of sweet and bitterness that makes them quite drinkable, so I’ll no doubt be trying that at some point.

And from memory, their Organic Cider and Nut Brown Ale bottles are also decent if, again, slightly pricey.

So probably better if you can find their bottled range in a shop rather than pay the expensive bar prices – try Dr.Ink of Fulham or Whole Foods (Kensington or Piccadilly branches) – but I’d say the porter is now my drink of choice if I find myself in a Sam Smith’s in the near future. Considerably better than their lagers.

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By The Horns Brewery Open Day, Nov 2012

Three new beers were showcased at the Wandsworth brewery yesterday: Wolfie Smith, London’s Raspberry Coffee Stout and the latest in their Hopslinger IPA range, Willamette.

Wolfie Smith is a brown ale named after Robert Lindsay’s character in the 70’s sitcom Citizen Smith about a half-arsed communist in Tooting. The beer was a nice choice for the first drink of the day – malty, rich, with a grassy hop finish. A surprising amount of flavour for such a low ABV beer, probably a good session number. But I wanted something with a bit more punch and depth, so opted for the raspberry coffee stout. As the name would suggest, it has lots of delicious smokey, roasted coffee flavour but the raspberry sourness left it a little thin-tasting for my palate. But again, a big flavour profile for another low ABV beer (3.6%). They’re obviously trying to get taste and aroma over pure alcohol, which is refreshing to see after so many double and triple IPAs lately.

Next up, I went for their Bobby On The Wheat which I didn’t get the chance to try last time.  Cold, cloudy, fizzy, banana-ey, slightly sweet, and everything you’d expect of a wheat. Good, but I’m not sure I could have too many of them.

The time had come for the Hopslinger – a 6.2% range of American-style IPAs, with a different twist every month. This month it was the turn of Willamette. Not much hop on the nose, certainly not the pine or citrus I would have expected from a North American hop, much more subtle and grassy. A sip is like a mouthful of toffee and biscuits, with a big warm wash of booze at the end, and a crisp, dry finish. Not what I’d come to expect of a highly-hopped IPA, but very suited to a cold autumn evening in London. I spoke to Alex, one of the brewers, and he assured me they use the same malt base for all the Hopslingers, and late/dry hopped with lots of Willamette, but the caramel flavours just dominate this beer. Unexpected, but pleasant.

And then I went for a Diamond Geezer red ale and the Lambeth Walk porter, both of which are favourites for me. I had a bottle of the Diamond Geezer at home a few weeks ago but I have to say it was a shadow of the version straight from the cask. And the porter was as good as ever, warmed me up good and proper!

As I’ve said before, it’s great to be in the brewery, tasting the beer fresh from the cask or keg and talking to the brewers. The guys seem genuinely passionate about their  brews, and happily for them, their list of stockists seems to be growing by the day.

Their next open day is on Saturday 15th December, 12pm-8pm and they’ll have a spiced Christmas beer (which was in the fermenter) and I’m assuming their next Hopslinger installment (I spied “Summit” scribbled on their brewing schedule behind the bar, so I’m guessing that’s it). Put it in your diary.

Categories: Beer, Brewery Open Day | 1 Comment

A Landmark Sunday

Today was a momentous day. First off, we bottled our first home brew. We had a cheeky taste before it went into the bottles and it tasted surprisingly good! The cascade hops gave it a wonderful citrus, fruity nose, and came through in the aftertaste too. There was something a little amiss in first taste on the tongue but hopefully that will settle down in secondary in the bottles. We’ll give it a few weeks and then try again, but I’m very hopeful.

Secondly, we put our second batch of home brew into the fermenter. We did the Cooper’s wheat kit that came with the starter pack, but boiled up some orange peel and ground coriander, then stepped some spicy Saaz hops and added that to the fermenter. Hopefully that will give it a little Hoegaarden/Blue Moon vibe. The wort had a slight orangy bitterness in the background that was nice, but let’s see how it develops in the bucket.

And thirdly, today was my mum’s birthday. And to celebrate, my brother and I cooked a 5.5kg fore-rib of beef, roast potatoes, glazed carrots, Yorkshire pud, bacon braised cabbage and sherry-glazed parsnips with chestnuts. It was awesome. The meat was perfectly pink, the Yorkshire reached the top of the oven and the roasties were deliciously crisp. It flattened us all. And the Kernel porter I was supping during the cooking and the meal was a splendid accompaniment. A lovely, warming winter Sunday. Now, how long can we wait until we crack the first bottle of home brew…

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Turning To The Dark Side…

To me, if the words hoppy, light, blonde, summer or pale are in a beer’s description, then  I’m probably going to like it. Those were my beers of choice, and I steered clear of scary words like dark, deep, rich, black, smoked, toasted and roasted. That has been the way for all of my beer drinking life. That is, until I went on a tour of the Meantime brewery and tried their London Porter, Chocolate Porter and London Stout. And then I went to the Sambrook’s brewery bash and tried their porter. And, to my surprise, I really enjoyed them all. They were deep, rich, toasted and all those other words I used to avoid, but I liked them. This was a revelation. If I liked these dark beers, then does that mean I might enjoy all those porters and stouts that I had kept well clear of all this time? A whole new world of beer was opening up before me!

I think one of the key things was only having a small amount – just a taster, or at most a half; most of my previous experiences of dark beers have been intimidating, cold, stolid pints of Guinness – placed before me on the bar like a gauntlet being thrown down, challenging me to finish it. But a half of lightly chilled porter, well that’s something altogether different. It feels like it should be sipped and savoured, tasted and relished, not gulped down as quickly as possible. This gave me the opportunity to actually pick out the flavours of the beers and taste them individually, seeing their place in a well-balanced beer.

So now, on my beery adventures around London, I plump for porters and stouts, as well as my standard lighter, hoppier beers, and it is making the experience all the better. Camden Ink, Thornbridge’s Bracia, Ilkley’s Crafty Jane, all beers that I would never have given a second look, but now I feel drawn towards them. Maybe it’s these cold Arctic winds that are blowing through London at the moment, meaning a cold, dry-hopped, crisp pale ale just doesn’t quite hit the spot. I want something warming, something that tastes like a country pub, with a fire and old leather chairs. Comfort in a glass.

As I write this I’m sipping on an Anchor Porter, and it is delicious. Deep brown in colour, smooth, toasted and slightly sweet, but light too. And I have a Kernal porter and a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout it my beer/wine rack that I’m very much looking forward to trying soon. Maybe now, in fact.

At the Gunmakers beer festival last month, I did try a sip of Beavertown’s Smog Rocket smoked porter, which I found very intriguing. I’m building myself up to getting a bottle of it, or a half if I see it in a pub. One step at a time people, OK?

I do feel somewhat ashamed to be coming to the dark side so many years into my beer-drinking life, but I’m still young and there are many beers, light and dark, ahead of me.

So, finally, a message to all those who are still wary of those blacker beers: get a half of porter, sip it thoughtfully, roll the beer around in your mouth and see what you think. I hope you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

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Adventures In Home Brewing – The Inaugural Brew

For a while now I’ve been wanting to start home brewing; watching interesting and informative videos from CraigTube and Northern Brewer has given me the knowledge, confidence and the thirst to get a kit and start brewing.

I bought a Cooper’s starter kit from The Home Brew Shop (why are there no home brew shops in London?? Probably high rents and increased internet activity, but it would be great to talk to someone about brewing!) which had the fermenter, thermometer, hydrometer etc etc and came with a wheat beer kit. Everything you need to do your first brew. But, as I had seen lots of videos and read lots of forum posts about adding to kits, and had a completely unwarranted confidence in my brewing abilities, I decided to get a Cooper’s Australian Pale Ale kit and dry hop it with some cascade for a few days in the fermenter. Not particularly adventurous, I know, but it felt a bit more “craft” than just doing the kit.

So, on a cold Friday night, my dad, brother and I “founded” Evans & Sons Brewing Co. in my dad’s kitchen. The wort came together fine, although the OG was a little low (1.035) so we added a little dextrose. This made no apparent difference so we went ahead and pitched the yeast anyway. It’ll still be beer in the end, right?

The next morning, expecting a thick, foamy head, I was greeted by the same thin brown liqour we left last night…with a tiny  scattering of bubbles at the top. Great, I thought, failure first time. The wort was a little cold so we wrapped it in some blankets and moved it nearer the radiator.

Still, 3 days later it looked the same.

I got my dad to do a hydrometer test and, much to my relief, pleasure and pride, he exclaimed that it was 1.010. The yeast were doing their thing! Hurrah! Beer! My dad had a taste and said “It tastes like beer.” Not exactly tasting notes, but beer is what we were after so it looks lke beer is what we have. Wonderful. At this point, we decided to drop the hops – 50g of gloriously fragrant, whole leaf cascade.

That was 3 days ago, and we’re bottling it tomorrow. So, if we can wait, it’ll be about a month until we taste the proper, bottle-conditioned stuff. I’ll let you know how it goes, as I’m sure you’re all on tenterhooks.

Also tomorrow, I think we might as well do the wheat kit…but add some coriander and orange flavour, and some spicy saaz hops to beef it up a bit.

It’s this craft beer thing, man. I just can’t help myself!

Categories: Beer, Home Brew | 2 Comments

By The Horns and London Fields Brewery Oktoberfests, and Ribs with Neck Oil!

I won’t lie, I had been looking forward to last Saturday for a while. Oktoberfests at 2 London breweries on the same day. And one of them only a 10 minute walk from my flat. And It ended much better than I thought too. So, lets get started shall we?

The first Oktoberfest of the sunny, but pretty chilly day was at the By The Horns Brewery in Summerstown (between Earlsfield and Tooting, SW London). The brewery itself is in a unit on an estate and was adorned with a gazebo, much brewery signage and a BBQ for the ubiquitous wursts. We arrived about 1pm, an hour after it had started, and it was pretty quiet but that gave me a chance to speak to the brewers, Chris and Alex, about their setup and brews. First off, I tried a half of their Stiff Upper Lip pale ale – a very drinkable, light,  session beer. They’ve only been around about a year, and from talking to the guys you get the feeling that this is a big passion, and that they’re so happy to be able to brew for a living and give their creations to eager punters.Their setup is relatively small, with I think 5 or 6 fermentation tanks (one filled with their next seasonal American IPA, a single hop Willamette), 3 of which were recent aquisitions.

For my next glass, I went for the Diamond Geezer red ale – wonderfully malty and hoppy. More people we’re arriving, and the vibe was starting to get more festive. We went outside and chatted to a beer lover who’d been let out by his wife and decided to venture here after he heard about it at a recent beer festival. Good to know their name is getting around. We talked London breweries, and I drained my glass.

Next up, the Lambeth Walk porter – deliciously robust and smokey, perfect for the chilly day (had to alternate my pint hand it was so cold!). They have been trying to get their beer stocked in local pubs (who wouldn’t want to drink a beer from down the road!?) with some success – The Leather Bottle, for one, is regular on their supply list. And their bottles are also stocked in The Earlsfield Deli.

And finally, for we had arranged to meet friends, I went for their seasonal Munich dunkel, Prince Albert – so smooth, with a rich, malty taste that’s almost creamy. Didn’t get a chance to sample their Bobby On The Wheat beer, or their Hopslinger Black IPA, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for bottles of those. They do sell bottles from the brewery, but I think it’s only open Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm. But, like I say, you can get their bottles from The Earlsfield Deli just down the road.

I really enjoyed my brief visit to this fine little brewery, and have already put their next event in my diary  (10th November) – I’ll be there with bells on. For beer fans in London, its great to see inside an up-and-coming brewery and meet the brewers, really feels like like the beer has been crafted. I can thoroughly recommend a visit, great beers and friendly brewers. And with The Rocky Head popping up just around the corner too, it feels like south west London is having a little craft revolution of it’s own.

Then, off across London to meet friends at the next brewery in Hackney at the London Fields Brewery. Underneath the arches, as it were, we were greeted by music, the smell of BBQing pork, and the bubbly sound of people having a good time. We headed straight to the bar and I plumped for half a Love Not War – a warm red ale with a nice hop finish. And my wife, a bit beered out by this point, went for a G&T.  First downside: plastic glasses. My heart broke just a tiny bit. Maybe that was an indicator of the very different style and vibe of this Oktoberfest than the one we’d just come from. Still, lots of beer to try and friends to chat with so chin up!

There was no space at the benches inside so we ventured into the open. Lots of seating outside, some of it consisting of casks around stacks of wooden pallets, despite the chill in the air. But luckily we had scarves and gloves. And beer.

Friends arrived, along with lots more people, and the place starting to get very buzzing. Next I tried their pale ale (which was a bit thin after the stronger, hoppier red ale, but I’m sure a decent session beer), and the Hackney Hopster, which was, well, hoppy. Nice and crisp, if a little too bitter for my taste. They had various spirits behind the bar too, along with their range of brews, which is good as apparently not everyone wants to drink beer at an Oktoberfest.

Then I went on a journey through their single hop IPAs – delta, cascade and galaxy, if my memory serves me correctly. Which, to be honest, it might not. Not as dry as the Hackney Hopster, they were much more to my liking. All very good, like a slap with a wet hop, just slightly different hops. I went through them all pretty swiftly.

By this time we had moved into the warmer inside, between the busy bar and the band, and I think I was just about done for the night. I felt a little like I’d eaten a bag of hops, but that’s my affliction and I’ve got to live with it – Hello, my name’s Phil and I’m a hophead. Whew, I feel a little better.

As we strode out, into the cold, dark, wet Hackney night, I suddenly felt it in my stomach – hunger. We could turn back and grab a sausage and sauerkraut fresh from the grill…or we could do the 10 min walk to Duke’s for some ribs and some Beavertown brews. Despite the rain, we pushed on to Duke’s!

The wait of an hour for a table (well, it was 8pm on a Saturday) was eased by some Neck Oil – which, as the name suggests, slipped down a treat. Nice to have something not too hoppy and bitter for a change. Lovely!

The ribs, pulled beef and all the sides were delicious, the portions were healthy (or unhealthy, depending on the way you look at it), the service was quick and efficient, I just felt that maybe the meat could have been a bit saucier, a bit stickier. They were very nice and tender, but me and my wife thought they were missing something. That might be their style, and it might be that I just prefer my ribs a bit jucier. That said, they were better than most ribs I’ve had in London.

The Thornbridge Jaipur finished off the evening well, my only regret being that I didn’t have the guts to go for the house Smog Rocket smoked porter. I tried a sip at The Gunmakers and thought it very intriguing but wasn’t sure if a whole glass might have been too much, especially paired with smoky ribs. We pretty much waddled out of there, full to the brim with meat, malt and hops.

So 2 very enjoyable, but very different brewery events with the same name. The London Fields do was a party with music and food and beer that was held in a brewery, and had a wide appeal. The By The Horns day was all about the beer, that was the real star. And personally I preferred that.

Like I say, the next By The Horns open day is in the diary, and I’ve also added the London Fields brewery tour to my to do list. Different breweries, different approaches and different outlooks, but both with great beer.


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North London Beer Expedition

There are 2 beer shops that I have long heard about but had never visited as they are in north London, and I don’t usually have much business being in those parts. Which is unfortunate, given the crop of craft and real ale pubs up that way.

It was a lovely, sunny, autumnal day yesterday, so I decided to venture to the two hallowed beer shops of Kris Wines and Drinkers Paradise to see if they were up to all the hype I had read and heard about over the years.

On my way up north, I also popped in to St. Pancras station to have a look at Sourced Market, which I had seen listed as a stockist on the London Fields Brewery site. And very impressed I was too, a surprising selection for such a location: Camden, Moncada, London Fields, Beavertown, Windsor & Eton and Kernel from London, and a good range of real ales from around the country. The prices were a touch high, but not bad considering its location.

So on I went, up York road in the sunshine, past the now derelict York Road tube station, until I reached the parade of shops just before you get to Camden Road. And there, with its shutters down was Kris Wines. God damn it. Well, it was about 12:45pm, so I figured I’d walk to Drinkers Paradise and hope that Kris Wines would open up about 1pm.

Drinkers Paradise is a good little shop. Not blown away, but certainly a much better selection than your average off-licence. Possibly not worth a journey to go there specifically, I’d say, but pop in if you’re in the area. I got myself a Little Brew pale ale (a local Camden brewery), and Eistök pale ale (which I’m seeing around more and more).

So then I went back to Kris Wines and it was open! And, Lordy, what a shop. An overwhelming selection of beers from all over the world; a section of Belgian beers, a whole shelf devoted to Mikkeller, little nooks and crannies filled with craft beers. I could have spent hours and lots of money in there. But, I only had £6 on me (for reasons I won’t go into) and I had to carry what I bought down to Camden. So that limited me to 2 beers. One choice was the London Fields Love Not War because I have, as yet, not tried anything from them. The second choice was tougher and took me a good 15 mins to decide. I finally plumped for the Kernel Porter, as I seem to be exploring the darker beers at the moment (after trying the Sambrooks porter at their brewery bash – it’s opening up a whole new, roasted, toasted world to me!). Kris Wines is definitely worth the hype, and definitely worthy of a trip. Just make sure you take money and a means to carry your spoils, as it’s no fun having to choose only 2.

Then I strode off towards Camden to meet a few friends (with a brief stop to watch 6 middle-aged women trying to negotiate Camden lock with a narrow boat, whilst 2 guys from Amsterdam criticised their every move). The first stop was The Black Heart, as I had heard about their range of craft beers and real ales. The selection was pretty good (Camden, Darkstar, Moor, By The Horns, Brooklyn) but the setting wasn’t. You’re definitely in Camden. It’s also a venue upstairs and feels like it – a bit dingy, bad toilets and not great for a quiet afternoon drink. Still, we stayed to sample their wares, highlights being the Stiff
Upper Lip from By The Horns, and the Darkstar Revelation.

We wanted a bit of food so we ventured to the BrewDog just round the corner. The 5am Saint was very, very good. We ordered food – a pizza and a burger – which took nearly an hour to come. After asking a few times where the food was, the staff simply said it was on its way, not offering an apology. The food came, it was good, but as I’ve mentioned before, when that place gets busy it gets very loud. After the food we decided to call it a night, which was a shame as I didn’t get to try Hello My Name Is…Beastie which I’d heard a lot about. Perhaps I’ll have to pop back soon on a quieter night.

All in all, a lot of walking, a lot of beer, and a lot of discovery.

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The Gunmakers Beer Fest

On the train on the way home now from a lovely evening at The Gunmakers, working my way through their list of beers from London breweries. 8 on at any one time, and I believe they’ll change them through the week. A lovely, relaxed atmosphere and lots of beer-related chat from the staff and customers made for a great evening.

Sticking to halves, me and a friend tried nearly everything on the menu, highlights being the By The Horns Diamond Geezer red ale, the Cronx Dry Hop Standard and the East London Brewery Quadrant stout. All delicious in their own way.
Definitely try to go down this week while you can, a great selection and a brilliant opportunity to try some interesting London brews.

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Rocky Head Launch

I had a lovely afternoon today (after waking up a teensy bit hungover from an evening at Craft) visiting my favourite beer shop, Drink of Fulham for the launch of Rocky Head Brewery.

The new London brewery is based in Southfields, south west London (and about a 5 min walk from my flat) and is the weekend hobby for the two brewers, Steve and Pete, who are wine merchants Monday to Friday.

They are currently only brewing a Pale Ale while they build up their reputation and profile but will expand to other brews in time. The Pale Ale is, I think, one of the nicest beers I have tasted. Loads of hoppy flavour, as you’d expect from a pale ale, but a nice smooth finish that doesn’t grip your tongue like other pales can. Very well balanced, it’s a really good beer with bags of flavour, and so good to see something a little different from a local microbrewery.

They hand bottle and label themselves, and stamp each one with a “Bottled On” date, making it feel very hand crafted. Their artisan approach to brewing means that while they try to make each batch the same, differences in hop yield, malts and the small quantity of beer brewed will result in slight variations in each individual brew, giving an interesting variation. Much like the wines with which they are both well acquainted.

The beer was matched with various Gujarati snacks from Shrila, the owner of Drink of Fulham, who had enough faith in the brewery to host the launch before even tasting the beer.

The only tough part was then choosing which beers to take away. So to ease the pain, I had a Rocky Head Pale Ale while I perused. And now, as I’m writing this, I’m drinking the beers I purchased earlier today. Nothing like writing about beer while you drink it.

I will follow this fledgling brewery closely, I think they have a bright future ahead of them. And I will also be back to Drink soon to stock up on some more of their pale ale, and I recommend you do too.

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Craft Brixton Opening

Beer. Lots of beer. That’s what comes to mind when I think of the Craft Beer Co., and their new bar in Brixton certainly has it’s fair share. Over 30 beers on tap (about 10 cask and about 20 keg) means that a trip to the bar is not as simple as “3 pints of Stella, please mate.”

But, if you ask me, that is a good thing. A very good thing. I arrived about half past 6, after a long day at work, having already decided to stick to halves so I could try more beers. The bar was quite busy, the little outside seating area already full of happy beer-lovers who somehow managed to get to Brixton on a Friday before 7. Don’t these people have jobs? Anyway, while waiting to be served and taking in the selection, I plumped for Magic Rock’s Craft Magic, brewed especially for the night. Then I thought to myself, “well, I’d usually order a pint, so why not get two halves!”. So I did. I went for a Darkstar Kiwi. The Craft Magic was good, a low ABV session ale and an easy drinker for the first of the day. The Kiwi was delicious, the light, fruty aroma of the kiwi balancing perfectly with the bitter hoppiness.

As I supped my halves at the table I managed to snag, trying to look nonchalant, drinking alone in a busy pub, waiting for my friends, I had a look around the bar. Very minimal, high tables with stools (that had pedals…) and not much else. The bar itself is a marvel, the cask pumps sitting atop the polished copper with a bar over the top for all the keg beers. Seemed a little strange to see staff pouring pints above their heads, but it’s a innovative way to use up the relatively small bar space.

The vibe was good, very busy and buzzy, but with all Craft pubs when they get busy they get quite loud and if you don’t have a seat you can feel a bit lost in the room and a bit in the way.

My friends joined and I sampled the Darkstar Belgian IPA (“Bruges in a glass”, so one of my friends proclaimed) and another beer brewed especially for the pub’s opening, the cranberry milk stout Crafty Jane from the Ilkley Brewery (like an old, warm country pub – smokey leather).

The evening progressed, the bar got busier and the waiting time for drinks got longer. But I guess that’s to be expected on the opening night, and a Friday to boot.

The real highlight beer of the evening for me was Thornbridge’s Chiron, a golden ale/blonde beer (so say’s the label) that is delicious, absolutely beautiful. A perfect balance of hoppiness, sweetness and dryness that makes it very drinkable and very moreish.
So, all in all, a very nice evening. And a great addition to Brixton and craft beer. That’s if you like beer. If not, well then why are you reading this? Honestly.

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Sambrook’s Brewery Bash 2012

I’m a little hungover today as I write this, and that’s because yesterday was Sambrooks’ 4th birthday. The weather was good at the brewery in Battersea – a little chilly but lovely and sunny – and people were already milling around outside, sitting on hay bales and sipping on ale when we arrived. We handed in our tickets, received a pint glass and 6 tokens and headed into the brewery. Our first stop was into the main room of the brewery – the Brewery Bar – to have the first pint of the day, where the Pumphouse Pale Ale, Lavender Hill Pale Ale (a summer special) and Wandle were available. We all went for the Pumphouse Pale Ale, a deliciously drinkable, light, hoppy, clean beer with bags of fresh flavour.

We stood outside near the food, supplied by The Ginger Pig, which smelt very enticing – huge sausage rolls (standard, pork and stilton and lamb merguez), sausage buns from the BBQ (made with Sambrook’s Junction ale) and quiche. Whilst we enjoyed the sunshine and the Pale Ale, we discusses the merit of halves over pints – the half measures we saw around us were very generous! So, we went back to the  Brewery Bar to try the Lavender Hill, which is made with honey for a slight sweetness but still has a clean, bitter finish. Once again, very tasty. We tried a couple of the sausage rolls while we drank, which were delicious and matched the beer wonderfully.

We decided to explore the other bars – there were three in total – and popped our head into the porter bar (not yet, we decided) before heading upstairs to the Boadicea Bar over looking the brewery, and with a great selection: Wandle, Junction, Lavender Hill, and Pumphouse (both cask and keg, interestingly). We all went for the keg Pumphouse which served to make the beer crisper and more aromatic. Great for a sunny day.

We ventured back outside just as the music was starting. Didn’t catch their name but they were really suited to the setting and the atmosphere – fiddle, double bass, acoustic guitar, banjo and snare drum, plus 5 harmonising vocals – and did some great country and bluegrass songs as well as some inventive covers.

I also tried the Junction (a nice, deep, rich ale) and the porter, which was very drinkable (I’m not usually a porter/stout fan, but this was very light and smooth), before going back to the 2 pale ales.

By the time last orders came, we were all well lubricated but used up our last tokens on a final pint as people started to disperse.

All in all, the vibe of the day was really good and a combination of great beer, good music, tasty food, excellent weather and friendly staff made for lots of happy drinkers. Congrats to Sambrooks!

Now, I’m off to start cooking a steak and ale stew in the hope it might make me feel better…

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The People’s Supermarket

So, on this mission to delve into the world of craft beer in London, I have realised that there are many places I don’t know about. For example, until 2 weeks ago I didn’t know By The Horns Brewery was 5 minutes from my flat. But then that’s one of the things I love about London; there will always be so much to discover.

Anyway, whilst looking into Little Brew, I noticed The People’s Supermarket in Bloomsbury listed as a stockist. I’d never come across this shop before and since it was only a 10 min walk from my work I decided to pop in on the way home. Didn’t have a chance to have a look around the shop as I was drawn to the shiny bottles in the corner. And boy, the sight that greeted me! Lots of lovely London craft beers – Camden, Little Brew, Meantime and Redchurch. Amazing. One of the assistants did give me a bit of an odd look when I took a photo of their fridge, though. But that’s understandable.

Regretfully, I didn’t buy anything, but I will be back soon and that will be a heavy, clinky walk to the station. Probably get some strange looks on the train. I should get used to that.

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Drink of Fulham

I stumbled across this wonderful little place on Fulham Palace Road shortly after it opened a couple of years ago, enticed in by the quaint cafe/boutique feel of it – a big, black awning and a couple of tables out the front.

On entering, you are greeted by the wonderful sight of nearly floor-to-ceiling walls of beer. And although quite small, the selection of beers is truly excellent. Lots and lots of British beers and ciders, plus German, Czech, Belgian, French, American, Australian and a range of interesting world lagers too (China, Kenya, Laos, Morocco etc). There are a couple of fridges for most of the lagers and ciders, just in case you want to crack one open while you’re there, either to retire to a table outside or simply while you’re browsing the rest of their stock.

The other great thing about Drink of Fulham are the homemade curry pastes and other Gujarati treats – simply excellent. Made with a tomato and onion base, the spices are added in front of you so you can have it as hot as you like.
I always stock up on a few pastes when I make a beer run here.

The staff are very welcoming and friendly; I remember one time I was there while a man (a Canadian brewing Belgian beer) was giving a bottle of his brew to Shrila, the owner, to try. She promtly popped it open, shared it around the customers in the shop and then whipped out some tasty little snacks that went very well with the beer. Like I say, very welcoming and friendly.

AND, they also do monthly beer tasting events featuring home-cooked Gujurati cuisine.

The website is very well kept, with pretty much full listings of the beers they stock, along with details of upcoming events and the full curry paste and food menu.

An absolute gem of a shop, and definitely worth a trip.

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Bibacity Calendar

A new page is up here. It’s a calendar of beer festivals, tastings, open days, openings etc, anything a London beer lover would be interested in.

Contact me if you know of any event I’ve missed.

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Bibacity Map of London

New page on the blog here, long term goal of doing a beer drinker’s guide to London. Send updates and suggestions please.

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Walton-on-Thames Pub Crawl…ish

It was my dear dad’s 60th birthday last week, and on a recent trip to Walton-on-Thames he noted a glut of pubs all in close proximity to one another. So, he decided that we should do a crawl from the river into town in honour of his 60 years. I was hoping to get a variety of real ale on the way, and was also crossing my fingers that there might be some craft beer available at at least one of the pubs…

It was a beautiful, warm, sunny September day when we arrived at The Anglers, the outside bustling with afternoon drinkers. We went in to the comparatively quiet bar make our choices – my brother and I heading straight for the “Anglers Tackle” (claimed to be brewed exclusively for this pub, but a little research has shown it to be Sharps “Cornish Coaster”). A very easy drinker, light in flavour with a delicate hop edge, and slightly sweet on the tongue. Ideal for an afternoon in the sunshine, by a river. As, indeed, we were. If we were staying, this would have been a great session beer.

Good selection of other ales, lagers and bottles (including Brooklyn Lager and a few Belgians) meant everyone got what they wanted (Sol, Savannah and Peroni). So we went outside to enjoy our drinks while people wandered by with their dogs on the tow path, and boats glided down the river in front of us.

The next pub on our list was The Swan, about 20 paces from The Anglers. We walked through the large, sectioned garden, past 2 outside bars and into the pub proper and we were greeted by the wonderful green and yellow of Meantime’s London brews on tap. My brother and I went straight for the London Pale Ale which was deliciously crisp and cold, with a healthy and thirst-quenching  hoppiness and bitterness. While at the bar we also tried the Oxfordshire Ales Marshmellow, which was very nice, smooth and had a hint of, well, marshmallow. Suprisingly pleasant, and great for a more autumnal day. They also had 3 Youngs ales on tap, but we didn’t try those. My dad told the barman we were on a pub crawl, to which the barman remarked, “Most people end up staying here”.

We found a table outside and enjoyed probably the last of the very little sunshine that we’ve seen this summer, then promptly moved on to our next pub as we had 7 planned.

The Masons Arms looked pleasant from afar, like a little manor house. On entering, we were looked at by the 4 locals as if inquiring who we were. Not put off, we headed to the bar and I ordered a Doom Bar whilst I visited the loo. As my dad later commented, he’s smelt better toilets at a festival. I left, looking forward to a nice, clear, toffee, hoppy ale…but was sorely disappointed. Slightly cloudy, in poor condition and tasting, frankly, brown. The ladies chose sparkling water (much to the annoyance of the barman who had to go out back to get another bottle) and my dad had a Stella Artois. The choice was limited.
Needless to say, we didn’t stay long but we did absorb some more sunshine on their benches out the front.

The next pub was The Bear, but after a quick reccy we decided it was probably in the same category as the last pub so skipped it. Also skipped the wine bar, as it looked a bit poncy and dead. So, onto The George Inn. The worryingly light and sparse wood interior made it feel more like a barn than a pub, and the small selection of ales, lagers and bottles didn’t enthuse us any more. My brother and I went for a Shepherd Neame Late Red, which was actually pretty good, if not entirely appropriate for the day. Since it was a Shepherd Neame pub they had Oranjeboom on tap, which I think is always a nice refreshing lager. My wife, however, did not agree.

We found a table in the garden out the back and whilst supping our drinks discussed out next move. There was The Regent nearby, and whilst it being a Wetherspoons guaranteed a decent ale selection, the only outside space was 2 tables on the main road. So, on reflection, we decided to go back to The Swan. It seems the bartender was right.

We headed back to the river, found another table in the grassy area of the garden this time, and I plumped for the London Lager (well, all that walking made me parched). Excellently suited to the warm day, packed full of flavour but still with a refreshing hoppiness and citrus finish. We stayed there for another one too before the cab whisked us off to dinner. Well, why spoil a good thing, eh?
So, if you want to do a crawl in Walton, my advice is to stick to the 2 riverside gems:  The Anglers and The Swan.

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Hook Norton Brewery Tour

When I was last in the Cotswolds with my wife and in-laws, we visited the Hook Norton brewery for a tour. We had a packed schedule so we opted for the 9:30am tour, I think. It was early anyway, on a crisp, cold morning that we pulled into the car park and looked at the beautiful, tall and somewhat ramshackle building that is the home of Hooky beers, surrounded by beautiful rolling Cotswold hills.

Since it was early, we were the only ones on the tour. We were taken through the brewing process and shown all the original machinery that was used when the brewery was originally built – lots of red-painted iron wheels, gears and drive shafts.  It’s an old brewery that works on gravity, so the water is stored in a tank at the top of the building and is allowed to flow down through the stages under it’s own weight. The same with the grain, hoisted up top and then is guided to where it’s needed.

A very interesting thing is that they have 2 mash tuns and 2 hop backs – one old and one new so you can see the brewing process. In new breweries its all sealed stainless steel, self-cleaning vats. The old mash tun has a perforated copper floor made up of numbered pieces so it can be removed for cleaning and put back. And the cleaning is done by hand, which we saw. The brewery worker didn’t look like he was having the best time, but being knee deep in hot spent grain in a copper tun doesn’t sound like the most pleasant thing in the world. And the older hop back was, if my memory serves me correctly, quite open with a chimney over the top so you could see the wort boiling with the hops. Very enlightening.
They use modern cooling now, but still have the large copper pans at the very top of the building that were used to cool the wort before the yeast is added. The slatted walls offer beautiful views of the fields and hills that surround the brewery.
We then ventured briefly into the fermentaion room, smelling that wonderful sweet, yeasty aroma, and seeing the sticky foam on top of the vats.

Then, off to the tasting room! Unfortunately, I was driving. And also, it was just before 12pm. But still, we tried everything they had to offer! Great tutored tasting of their range: all the standards, plus a seasonal or two. Lovely beers, simple but very tasty and wonderfully easy to drink.

Definitely a tour to try, good mix of the old and the new to really show you the brewing process. The tours are around the £10 mark, but for us that included tasters, a “Hook Norton Champion Drinker” badge, and a pint glass. An absolute bargain, if you ask me.

There is a small brewing museum above the shop that is free, and the shop is very nice and worth a visit even if you don’t do the tour. But do do the tour. It’s excellent.

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The Falkland Arms, Oxfordshire

A couple of years ago, me and my wife went for a nice romantic weekend in the Cotswolds, and after a bit of searching found a beautiful little pub with rooms. It was The Falkland Arms, and we have since stayed there again, and are will be going for dinner and a few drinks in a few weeks’ time.

The pub itself is in a little village called Great Tew, nestled in the rolling hills of the Cotswolds. It is old, quaint and covered in ivy – a perfect country pub, if you ask me. It’s cosy interior is filled with all sorts of pub paraphernalia, and the roaring open fire on a cold evening is very welcoming. There are 4 hand pumps with a nice selection, and I think at least one featuring a Wadworth ale, as it’s a Wadworth pub.

The staff were very friendly, and showed us to our room upstairs – a small stone staircase leading to a creaky landing and into our room with a beautiful 4 poster bed, complete with curtains. Very cosy (again) and very romantic – uneven floor and lots of dark wood.

But back to the bar: very nice beers, great atmosphere (you may even spot a celeb or two) and a selection of country wines too, if you feel that way inclined. Oh, and the food…excellent. Ham hock and fish pie, so very good but so much – couldn’t finish them, though we tried. And  the breakfast the next morning, full English done wonderfully.

They have live folk music on a Sunday too, and we were lucky enough to catch some the last time we were there. A nice pint of beer, crackling fire, full pub and one man with a guitar – absolutely perfect for the setting.

If you’re ever nearby, stay for a night or two. Or go for dinner. Or just a drink. Wonderful English countryside pub that’s not to be missed.

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Noble Green Wines, Hampton Hill

I only found out about this place relatively recently, in the last 6 months or so, and have only visited it once as its a little out of London, but I will definitely be a regular here (my brother, who lives nearby, has been a few times…much to my jealousy).

It is primarily a wine shop, with most of the shop housing a wide selection from around the world. But when I went, I wasn’t interested in that. I went straight to the beer section – there’s a room to the side with an extensive range of bottles: ales, wheat, craft, Belgian, lagers. Definitely something for everyone.

The real standout for this shop, however, is the cask ale. 20-odd casks sitting in rows, all waiting to be tasted! Admittedly, not all of them are available as some are resting, but there’s always a good selection. The staff are very friendly and accommodating, happy to pour out tasters and give suggestions. They seem to be regular stockers of various Twickenham Ales brews, as that’s local to them, and when I was there they had at least 4 Dark Stars on, including their American Pale Ale and the seasonal Summer Meltdown, spiced with ginger – delicious!
They pour your chosen beer into plastic milk bottles (2, 4 or 8 pints), or 5, 10 and 20 litre kegs/boxes for a few of you (or if you’re a fast drinker), and they even do the full firkins for parties, etc, but I think they need some notice for that.
A wonderful shop, and the only place I know if in London that you can get cask ale to take away…anyone know of anywhere else that does this?

Find out everything you need to know here, and definitely go and visit them

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Other Pages…

I’ve started to put some links together of pubs, breweries, etc, but they are by no means complete. I will continue to add to them as I remember and discover useful and interesting sites. Please do let me know if you think I have missed anything which you’d like to share with fellow beer lovers.


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South African Beers

I am a pretty frequent visitor to South Africa as my wife is South African, and there is nothing quite like a crisp, cold lager on a hot afternoon in front of a braai. My personal preferences of all that I have tried are Windhoek Draught (technically from Namibia) and Hansa. Both are light and hoppy – my favourite description for any beer! That’s me sucking on a Windhoek Draught at the mother in law’s place, a beautiful sunset through a Hansa on the Wild Coast, and finally my brother with a LARGE Castle in a bar in Port Elizabeth. I’m not a huge fan of Castle, but it is the quintessential South African beer.

There are some craft breweries popping up now too, especially in Cape Town. I haven’t tried any of their brews, simply didn’y know they were there last time I was over there, but I’d love to hear from anyone who has been to any, or tried anything interesting. It’s always exciting to find out about new little breweries popping up, trying something new.

I am also quite partial to a Hunters Dry or Savannah Dry, both nice, light and very refreshing ciders. The ideal first drink of the day, especially when you feel a little tender. And you can get Savannah over here very easily now, you’ll find it in most major supermarkets. Definitely worth a try on a hot afternoon, if we have any more of those this year..

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BrewDog Camden

Last Friday night I went with a couple of friends to the new-ish (opened at the end of last year, I think) BrewDog bar in Camden, the only one in London. Nice back-street location so not overly busy, especially on a Friday night – even managed to get a seat!

The friendly bouncer greeted us as we entered, the vibe buzzy, but not too busy. The bar itself is furnished with 5 or 6 taps, simply adorned with the BrewDog logo. The current beers are listed on a blackboard behind the bar, along with all the various bottles that fill the fridges. On asking for a light lager, my friend was offered various brews to try before he went for a Dead Pony Club – nice and light and very drinkable. Another friend went for the Zeitgeist, a smoky but crisp black lager, and I went for a 5am Saint, a nice, hoppy, dry red ale. All were very reasonably priced, just under £4 for the DPC and just over for the other 2. Very fair prices considering the location, you’d easily pay that for a pint of standard lager in any nearby pub. I also noticed the had Tactical Nuclear Penguin (their 32% stout) available in 25ml snifters for £6. Didn’t try that though.

We went to the basement to find a seat and table, and exchange sips of our various pints.

The decor is pretty minimal, lots of bare wood, mirrors and concrete. While this looks raw and contemporary, fitting with the BrewDog style, it does have the unfortunate effect of making it very noisy; no music but still everyone was shouting at each other. This was ultimately what made us leave when our pints were empty, although I would have happily stayed for at least another one…

We didn’t try the food, but it looked interesting, different and pretty reasonably priced – pizzas and burgers for under a tenner, if my memory serves me correctly.

Personally, I’d say it’s a must for any beer lover. It may not be a regular for me but I’ll certainly be back to try the range of BrewDog beers…I just need to find some other willing accomplices. I told my brother that I’d been there and I detected a note of jealousy in his tone…perhaps I’ll have to lure him up to London to visit.

Check out the BrewDog website to see their various bars across the country, and of course their full range of brews, available to buy online.

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Meantime Brewery Tour

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Meantime Brewery in Greenwich to do the “Pie & Pint” tour. It was a great experience and excellent value – £30 for the tour, a very nice steak pie and as much beer as you wanted. I got there about half an hour early, was shown to the tasting room – pictured, showing a wonderful beer and glass collection – and promptly offered a drink. I was somewhat hungover, but the cool Pacific Pale Ale I had handed to me sorted me right out.
As the rest if the group arrived, we we’re given more beer and then the brewing process was explained by our great guide Jack. Then we we’re shown around the Brewery itself – a large room with huge stainless steel containers. Then for the tasting. Expert guidance and a diverse range of Meantime beers made for a very enjoyable experience.
Then the pie and more beer. Delicious!
We stayed, sipped and chatted to the very knowledgable Jack until 4pm, and eventually had to leave because the next group we’re coming in.
Over the last few years Meantime have grown in size and popularity, cropping up on tap in more and more pubs – which is a very good thing as their London Pale Ale and London Lager are both very crisp, refreshing and far too drinkable.
I can thoroughly recommend the Meantime tour to any beer fanatics, not so much for the tour itself but for the tutored tasting. Excellent value and insights
For more information, check out their website, pubs in London and also supermarkets – I’ve spotted their beers in Sainsburys and Waitrose so far. Very promising.
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First Post!

So, as the title suggests, this is about beer. Specialist beer, interesting beer, real beer, different beer. Just like any other beer lover, I love trying new beers, and I’m lucky enough to live in London where real ale, specialist beer shops and craft pubs are fairly widespread. But still I feel I haven’t really scratched the surface of the grassroots beer culture that seems to be growing at the moment.

My interest in beer has been building for a while now, but I wanted to start documenting it – my experiences and my discoveries.
And my love is not just the beer itself but the culture around it – pubs, labels, branding etc (I’m also a bottle cap collector, which has the unfortunate effect of making me try beers with caps I don’t have, rather than on taste…). I often take my dad and brother on pub crawls around London to show them interesting pubs and bars, and love the feeling of showing someone a new beer or pub even more than discovering it myself.

So I’ll endeavour to keep this about the beer and things relating to it, and I hope you’ll find it interesting and enlightening. At least, in parts.


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