Monthly Archives: December 2011

Best of Best of 2011

I’ve had this blog for about a week and change so I don’t really feel up to doing a full-blown “Best of 2011” post despite the genre demands of the season. Luckily, every other beer blogger and their auntie are doing it so I can just steal link to the ones I like! So here are the Best of Best of 2011, as presented by others more knowledgeable than me (and better writers, too!):

Ace London beer bar Euston Tap recently named their “Champion Beers of 2011”, which is naturally the only best-of-2011-list we Londoners care about. However, they did it on Twitter and so far the results have not been posted on the Euston Tap blog, so in case you are not a compulsive Twitter follower like me, you may well have missed this essential best of-list. These were the winners:

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The Samichlaus Experience

Limited edition beers are all the rage. The extreme is probably Russian River Brewing‘s once-a-year-so-limited-you-can’t-get-it-outside-their-own-brewpub Pliny the Younger, smuggled-out growlers of which fetched over $150 on eBay. But almost every self-respecting craft brewer does it – and it takes all kinds of forms, from Fuller’s long-established Vintage series (which uses a different recipe each year, often a historical Fuller’s recipe) to brewers whose every beer practically is limited edition, like Kernel and Mikkeller. Of course, we all know that limited doesn’t equal good – but I have to admit, I am a sucker for almost anything that says “Limited edition” on it. It’s the collector in me. That and the fact that my first truly memorable beer encounter was with a bottle of Carnegie 1986 Vintage Porter (drunk in 1993), an encounter that prompted me to re-prioritize my meagre student budget in order to buy a whole case of said beer (it lasted me until 1995). The Carnegie Vintage Porters were, of course, highly limited edition beers even though at the time they were not marketed as such. I’d like to think it’s the memory of that beer that still makes me perk up every time I see the phrase ‘Bottle XXX of YYY’ on a label.

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The week in beer: Dec 19-25

I did my Christmas warmup at The Old Fountain (no surprise there) and focused on two breweries: brilliant newcomer Magic Rock Brewing (based in Huddersfield) and East London institution Brodie’s Brewery (in the context of the London craft brewing scene I think it’s fair to call something an institution if it’s been around since 2008).

What can I say about Magic Rock that hasn’t already been said? Meteoric rise to fame among the beer cognoscenti, a pub presence throughout the land – all thanks to their excellent, US-influenced beers. Three of their beers were on at the Old Fountain. First High Wire, their West Coast IPA (ABV 5.5), which is an excellent example of the style. It’s very fruity, with citrus and tropical notes like mango dominating and a hefty dry citrus rind bitterness at the end. Then Cannonball, their Double IPA (ABV 7.4), which is an even better, extremely well-balanced IPA: it starts off suprisingly sweet, with molasses and fruit syrup flavours, quickly giving way to some serious, sour and citrusy bitter hoppiness with a layer of tropical fruit. Cannonball also has a big brother, Human Cannonball, a 9.2 ABV Imperial IPA – the best of the Magic Rock stable (they did not have Human Cannonball on at the Old Fountain, but I’ve tried it before). It’s a cranked-up version of the Cannonball, which means even more sweet malts and even more hops – the Human Cannonball is slightly more resiny and has a faint pine needle flavour that sort of goes on top of the other sweet tropical fruits. Third and last, they also had Magic Rock’s sessioner Curious NZ on, a version of their basic pale ale sessioner Curious (both at 3.9 ABV) which uses only NZ hops (so I guess that’s what they would call a South Pacific Pale Ale these days). As a sessioner, it’s great as it packs a lot of flavour into those 3.9 – it’s more tropical and less citrusy than the Curious. It’s good, but this tasting session showed the importance of the order in which you taste things… after the High Wire and the Cannonball, Curious NZ felt a bit bland, but I’ve loved it when I’ve had it on its own!

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Drinking dens: The Old Fountain

It’s a crying shame that I did not discover The Old Fountain sooner. It’s in EC1, I’ve lived in EC1 for six years, and for about four of those, Wetherspoons pub The Masque Haunt was my local. I simply did not know any better (not that The Masque Haunt was bad, really – it’s just that The Old Fountain is so much better). I’ve missed so many beers! But that’s London for you – so big and impossible to get to grips with that you can live practically on top of one of London’s best little beer pubs for six years without noticing.

The Old Fountain is a proper old-school pub with poor lighting, worn wooden furniture and pale, near-bare walls (there’s a dartboard, though) – in other words, absolutely wonderful. At this time of year the white ceiling is also decked-out with Christmas garlands, which somehow adds to the shopworn quality of the Old Fountain rather than detracting from it. I love this kind of pub in an entirely non-ironic way: the moment you step in the door, you feel that this is a pub that does not put on airs, it just quietly goes about the business of being excellent.

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Meet the Brewer: By the Horns Brewing Co.

For a Norf Londoner like me, Tooting is pretty much terra incognita. I’ve heard people live there. Maybe dragons, too. Someone said there was a volcano.

Last weekend, I made the trip to this fabled place south of the river (Turns out Tooting is really close to Wimbledon! Go figure.) to attend the first brewery open house event at new SW17 brewhouse By the Horns Brewing Co. I was of course immediately shown up for the prejudiced Northener that I am: there were lots of people there, not a dragon or volcano in sight, and – most important – there was plenty of damn fine beer.

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Review: Kernel roundup

If you don’t know about The Kernel Brewery, well, you should. I don’t mean that in a condescending way, but really, you should, man, what’s wrong with you? The Kernel has been around for two years now and in that short time they have become possibly the most well-regarded of all London microbreweries – they’ve won several awards, and they are the only British brewery to be invited to Mikkeller’s own beer festival, the Copenhagen Beer Celebration (look at the brewery lineup for that festival and you’ll see it’s a select group). Accolades aside, they just brew totally awesome beers. Simple as that.

Kernel specialize in two things: Pale Ales and IPAs, often with a high ABV, often single hopped, though not always (mixed-hop beers are usually named using cryptic-sounding abbreviations indicating the component hops, e.g. Pale Ale M.NS.NZC), and massive dark porters and stouts (some brewed according to classic 19th century London recipes, like their 1890 London Export Stout). Brewer Evin O’Riordan doesn’t like to repeat himself so most brews are one-off, limited runs – but a few beers survive the cut and get added to the recurring repertoire (the aforementioned 1890 London Export Stout is one such beer). Here are capsule reviews of three recent Kernels I’ve sampled:

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Review: Thornbridge Pollard

My final brew while at the Meet the Brewer event at Craft earlier this week was Thornbridge‘s Pollard, their Coffee Milk Stout (at ABV 5.0). So far I’ve loved everything I’ve tried from Thornbridge, though it’s a relatively small selection – those Darbyshire beers are hard to get down south (except, of course, for their excellent Jaipur and Kipling offerings, available at a Waitrose near you)!

Pollard is one of those beers that does exactly what it says on the tin (bottle? cask?): the roast coffee and milky caramel are right there on the nose, and then stays on. This is very much like drinking a cold, sweet and slightly watery latte. There’s that lactose sweetness, a creamy undertow and subtly bitter and strong roast coffee notes. It is particularly impressive that Thornbridge manages to pack so many distinct, strong flavours considering the relatively low ABV (remember the days when 5.0 was considered a high ABV?) – I think Pollard stands up well to similar offerings in the Imperial range, like Southern Tier‘s excellent Creme Brulée Stout or the Jah*va.

My one gripe is perhaps that it doesn’t exactly do any more than it says on the tin – it is, in a way, a novelty beer, one you can have a pint of (or half, in my case) and enjoy but hardly something you’d want to drink again and again as it is ultimately one-dimensional. Still, that one dimension is pretty well crafted and this is an enjoyable beer, no doubt about it.

The verdict: 3/5.

Review: Mikkeller Red/White Christmas

While at The Craft Beer Company for the Meet the Brewer event the other day I also managed to sample some non-Camden Town beers. Craft is, literally, like a candy store for adults and I have zero willpower when it comes to temptation on tap. So, since there was a Mikkeller on tap that looked interesting…

Red/White Christmas is a blended beer: an Imperial Belgian Red Ale (is it just me or are beer style names sounding more and more like a Starbucks order? I’ll have an Imperial Mocha Skinny Stout, please) and a Belgian White Ale. There’s been a couple of beer blends coming from Mikkeller and his Danish colleagues/relatives recently – the last one I tried was the Yin & Yang Black & Tan (ABV 12.0) from Evil Twin, a blend of the Yin Imperial Stout and Yang Imperial IPA. That was, well, extreme, and while it was nice enough it bore little resemblance to the subtle refreshing blend of flavours that is a classic, normal-ABV Black & Tan.

Red/White Christmas is still an extreme beer (it weighs in at ABV 8.0) but I am happy to report that it is a lot more crowd-pleasing than its cousin. It pours very nicely, a light red, orange-but-not-quite-amber colour with some fizz but little head. The nose is a lot of Belgian caramel sweetness and a bit of yeast. The nose, however, did not at all prepare me for the very wine-like taste explosion that followed, with flavours ranging from fresh grape juice to oaky brandy. It has more than a little in common with that Mikkeller brett monster, Nelson Sauvignon (one of my all-time favourites) but as I said veers more toward brandy than wine, though the wine notes are there in the background. Plus, the Red/White Christmas also has a bit of a fruity hop kick at the end which reminds you that it is actually a beer.

The verdict: 4+/5.

Meet the Brewer: Camden Town Brewery

What better way to inaugurate this new London Beer blog than by reporting on an event at one of London’s premier beer bars featuring one of London’s most talked-about microbreweries? Camden Town Brewery has been around for just over one year (counting from the official opening in September of last year) and has quickly become successful – their beers are now available at some 60-70 pubs around the country, most of them in London (Exmouth Arms in Exmouth Market to name but one example – and remember, folks, it’s the street that’s named for the pub and not the other way around!). Alongside permanent brews Hells Lager, Pale Ale and Wheat, Camden Town also produces seasonal and limited-run beers – two of which were launched at yesterday’s event at The Craft Beer Company. They were Gentleman’s Wit, a witbier at ABV 4.3 spiced with bergamot (you know, the stuff that makes Earl Grey taste like Earl Grey) and lemon, and Bleeding Hops IPA, a darker IPA which at ABV 6.4 I guess could be classified as a Double IPA.

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