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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!

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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.

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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.

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A Few Surprises…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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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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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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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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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.
Phil

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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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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.

Phil

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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.

Phil

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