Craft Beer Company Anniversary Party Report

I did it again: I drank too much beer. But what could I do? It was the Craft Beer Company 1st Anniversary Weekend on June 30 – July 1. I go there so often it feels like the place has been around forever rather than for just one year – they’re already a London institution and a world beer lover destination. And as expected the lineup of beers was something special: a lot of it must have come from Copenhagen Beer Celebration as many rare beers from there made a repeat performance in London. Not that I mind one bit as I got to try a lot of the stuff I missed at CBC, as well as have more of beers I was convinced I would never have the chance to try again. And the evening ended with not one but two proper whales… Here are my unsystematic observations, sorted by brewery this time:

Westbrook – New brewery Westbrook was one of the revelations of CBC and I am very pleased to see that they are now increasingly appearing in select beer bars and shops across Europe. They’re a young team that are firmly of the North American craft tradition with its focus on hops and big, bold flavours, yet also seeking influences from elsewhere, including looking for old European recipes and near-forgotten styles. My Anniversary companion and I came down early to Craft on the Saturday specifically so that we could try their Mexican Coffee Cake (Imperial Spiced Stout, ABV 10.5) as we had been reliably informed that there was one keg only. We were not disappointed and it was a great beer to open the celebration – “Life is uncertain – Have dessert first” to quote Douglas Adams. The coffee flavour is big and deep, dark roast-style, with an overlay of strong spicy notes (cocoa, chili and cinnamon all discernible). As the beer warms up you get more of the delicate dessert flavours, like vanilla and fudge, and the coffee/cocoa flavours become more balanced. The chili kick is definitely there but does not come on strong until after the first third of the glass (we were drinking half-pints). Many brewers do spiced stouts and US brewers in particular like to add everything but the kitchen sink to the spice mix, but few manage to balance it out like Westbrook and make all the flavours clearly discernible and balanced. 5/5. The Westbrook Lichtenhainer (Smoked Weisse, ABV 5.0) was a much more subdued affair in comparison but still offered an wonderfully odd flavour combination: a sour wheat beer body (unusual in itself) with strong smoke flavours – and I’m not talking the “roast”-type smoke flavours either, this beer had a strong aroma of smoked meat – bacon and ham came to mind. And this comes on top of that wonderfully sour, tart and slightly sweet body. An oddball creation that works. 4+/5.

Farmer’s Cabinet/Cabinet Artisinal Brewhouse – Farmer’s Cabinet is a high-end restaurant and cocktail bar in Philadelphia. They recently launched their own house brewery under the name Cabinet Artisinal Brewhouse, with Terry Hawbaker (formerly of Bullfrog Brewery in nearby Williamsburg) as brewmaster. Farmer’s Cabinet is already making a splash in the brewing world with their cocktail-influenced beers – and just like Westbrook, they like offering their own uniquely American takes on traditional European styles. No beer exemplifies this better than their outstanding Marry Me in Goslar (Gose, ABV 4.5) – gose is a beer style native to the German cities of Leipzig and Goslar and has salt (!) and coriander as its key ingredients (Marry Me in Goslar uses pink Himalayan rock salt). The salt is at first very subdued and works exactly like salt in food should work: highlighting and sharpening other flavours without taking over itself. The beer is very fresh, zesty and spicy, kind of like a geuze that isn’t sour, if you understand what I mean. As the beer warms, the salt becomes more pronounced and the beer takes on a sea-breeze-like quality, and the spice notes get stronger, too. A unique beer experience. 5/5. Unlike most US craft brewers, Farmer’s Cabinet are really interested in making good low-ABV beers, evidenced not only by Marry Me in Goslar but also their Layover in Berlin (Berliner Weisse, ABV 3.0). My initial tasting reaction was “pineapple cat wee”, which is much better than it sounds. The beer opens slightly sour and tart with strong fruit flavours, mainly pineapple and elderflower, then the sourness becomes more pronounced and you also get some grapefruit notes. Fantastically flavourful for ABV 3.0, very much reminds me of a mild geuze or a farmhouse style beer. 4/5.  Interestingly, the one slight disappointment I had from Farmer’s Cabinet was their take on the quintessentially US style invention Black IPA, No Love Lost (Joy Division Series) (Black IPA, ABV 7.8). Here, the nose promised what was then not delivered on the palate: the beer really had a massive fruit nose (dried fruit, mango, resin), flavours that were not very present on the palate (except the resin and some light dried fruit touches). The beer had a long dry finish with clear roast notes which made me think more of a porter than a black IPA. Still a good beer though. 3/5.

Pizza Port – I plan to be at the Cask Pub & Kitchen Pizza Port Tap Takeover on Saturday and as I will be posting about that too I’ll keep my comments on the Pizza Port beers I tried brief. I know this is not one brewery but four – the ones I had were from the Carlsbad branch: 547 Haight (Double Red Ale, ABV 10.0) and Spitting Cobra (IPA, ABV 7.5). The 547 Haight was in many ways a textbook Double/Imperial beer: big tropical fruit, big brown sugar, and with a quick, cheeky hop bite at the end. Very moreish. 4/5. Spitting Cobra was a bit more nondescript, a competently-brewed IPA but nothing that made it stand out from its many bretheren. 3/5. I understand some of the more well-regarded Pizza Port beers will make an appearance at Cask (Night Rider Stout, both the regular version and the barrel-aged version, the raisin Belgian dubbel Dubbelicious).

Beachwood – Another new brewery with some CBC beers making a repeat appearance at the “other” CBC. The Knucklehead Red (Amber/Red ale, ABV 5.7)was a pretty standard hoppy red ale, well presented but in my mind not too much different from BrewDog’s 5 AM Saint. 3/5. The Kilgore Stout (Export Stout, ABV 7.1), on the other hand, was a really nice Imperial Stout with a stonkin’ coffee aroma and a pronounced milky smoothness to it. In a lineup that consisted roughly 1/3 of Imperial Stout in the ABV 10+ range, the Kilgore stood a bit in the shade of its stronger colleagues, but it’s not a beer to be ignored. I found it a very unpretentious, well-balanced strong stout. I can easily have this again any time. 4/5.

Jolly Pumpkin – Brewing legends I had yet to try prior to the Anniversary weekend. I usually don’t mind spending the money to get good, rarely-seen beers but I have to admit that the £6.95/half price tag for all Jolly Pumpkin beers (the most expensive beers in the Anniversary lineup) put me off trying more than one, particularly as there were so many other sought-after beers that were cheaper (the Mikkeller Black 2011 Edition at ABV 17.5 clocked in at a comparatively cheap £4.95, for example). But still I could not resist trying the Madrugada Obscura (Sour Stout, ABV 8.1). Yep, you read that right – a sour stout. And they’re not kidding around. I swear I got a bit of brett funk in there, along with more “normal” sour and tart farmhousey flavors. Then the stout aromas hit: grassy/hay-like hops, and roast malt and roast coffee tones. The combination weirdly worked but I don’t think I could have more than one at a time. I’m still getting my head around this one a bit, which I suppose is a good thing. 4/5.

Assorted: Wow, what else? I tried the much-vaunted Heady Topper canned DIPA. I can see what the fuss is about as it is a heavy-on-the-fruit-type DIPA with a big bitter hop bite, but at £13.95 a can, I’ll stick with Kernel IPAs and DIPAs, thank you very much. They do exactly the same thing and are available at a fourth of that price here, so no contest. Carnival, Magic Rock’s summer ale, was predictably competent – a hoppy golden ale that I expect will fly out of pubs. Very English with an American twist. Thornbridge’s dry-hopped barleywine Alchemy XVI had strong grape skin/grappa flavours, which was unexpected but pleasant. And the Stillwater/Farmer’s Cabinet collab Wabash Cannonball was a fine beer that really highlighted the Cabinet cocktail influences: it was a very cocktail-tasting beer, spiced with figs and with nice sweet apple and rum notes. Old Numbskull from AleSmith was a fine barleywine – I am reliably informed it goes great with cinnamon buns and I can definitely see that.

Whale 1: Armand ‘4 Herfst (Drie Fonteinen, Geuze, ABV 6.0). Towards the end of Sunday evening bottle sharing with perfect strangers seemed like a great idea, so we were four newfound friends who pooled our resources to purchase a bottle of this lauded and very limited edition gueze. For those of you who don’t know, it’s blended by master lambic blender Armand Debelder and it is a mix of his 1-, 2- and 3-year old lambics, part of a four-beer series with a seasonal theme – besides Herfst (Autumn), there’s Spring, Summer and Winter. I’d heard good things about the Herfst so off we went. And this is indeed a good candidate for ‘perfect geuze’. The barnyard funk and saddle leather smells come on strong, but when you taste the beer these flavours are very subdued and instead give way to a ridiculously well-balanced mix of tart, citric, acidic, spritzy, vinous and fruity. You would hesitate to ever use the word “smooth” in conjunction with a geuze but in this case it is very apt – this is a highly seductive blend that I would think perfect for a geuze/lambic novice. 5/5.

Whale 2: Hunaphu’s Imperial Stout (Cigar City Brewing, Imperial Spiced Stout, ABV 11.0). To top a wonderful weekend off, a not-so-mystery benefactor (thanks, Tom!) poured us glasses from a bottle marked with strange mayan symbols and a big cigar. I am of course talking about Hunaphu’s Imperial Stout, a whale if I ever saw one (or tasted one?). Like the Westbrook Mexican Coffee Cake, this is an Imperial Stout (based on Cigar City’s Zhukov recipe) with everything but the kitchen sink: cocoa nibs, vanilla, cinnamon and pasilla and ancho cilies – a Mayan Imperial Stout, as it were. And what a stout it was. When chilled it had the most enticing milk chocolate flavour, which when warmed gave way to freshly roast coffee beans, vanilla thickness and lots of spice, parallel with some vegetal notes from the chili. The beer had no chili heat, just chili flavour – it’s kind of hard to describe, and also made it stand out from most other chili beers. With so many different spice flavours you’d think they would be fighting for attention but instead it was like drinking a glass of harmonious, half-melted ice cream (also in terms of texture – this is one beer you have to cut with scissors when you pour it, and I swear it absorbed some of the light in the room). This, in my view, is the dessert beer to end all dessert beers, and I count myself very fortunate to have sampled it.

So in case you haven’t gotten it yet, it was a great weekend! Thanks to Tom, all of the Craft staff, and all other guests who made it an unforgettable beer orgy experience.

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Posted on July 4, 2012, in Event, Pub & bar, Review and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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