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:
As I hinted at in my previous post, Copenhagen Beer Celebration was such a massive event that it was difficult to wrap your head around. Not because it was huge, because it wasn’t – 25 breweries and 1000 tickets sold each day are numbers dwarfed by those at, say, GBBF, GABF or the regular Copenhagen Beer Festival. No, it was overwhelming because of the sheer quality on display – these were some of the world’s best brewers bringing some of the world’s best beer, lots of limited releases and intriguing, out-there stuff (when Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales says he put juniper in a beer, he means the whole juniper bush, berries, wood, needles and all), lots of once-in-a-lifetime beer experiences. I admit I was overwhelmed, but in the end I and my tastebuds came out unscathed (whether my liver did the same if open for debate), and I think my survival was helped by my adherence to five simple principles. I am sharing these principles here in the hope that they may help other fellow beer-geeks survive CBC-type events without collapsing in a beergastic, spasmodic heap one hour into the festival (gasping “Too… much… great… beer…”). Here we go:
1. I just let go.
In the festival programme, I counted 198 different beers on offer over two days – and that’s not including all the beers that were unlisted. Brodie’s Beers had brought many more beers than those listed in the programme, and so had De Struise (and they brought 25-odd beers to begin with!), Cigar City and many others. And as I have said repeatedly, many of these were limited releases – not that I am primarily a ticker (OK then, I am a bit of a ticker), but most of these limited releases sounded so darned good (wouldn’t you want to try a Mikkeller Brunch Weasel Vanilla Cognac Edition?). So in order to enjoy the Celebration to its fullest, I just had to let go and realize that I would not be able to sample all the beers I wanted to sample. I would inevitably miss some rarity or other because I was elsewhere occupied when the cask/leg came on. Some stuff was bound to run out. So I dialed down my ticker madness and decided to just enjoy what I got and not go around with a list of must-drink beers, ticking them in mechanical fashion. Many of my beers were impulse purchases – and I was never once disappointed.
As it happens, I’ve been sampling a lot of Mikkeller beers lately – thanks, Craft Beer Company and BeersofEurope.co.uk – so I thought I’d write up a themed review post. Here you go – my views on four Mikkeller collaborations and three Mikkeller originals:
Mikkeller/Revelation Cat Cream Ale (ABV 5.0)
I loved the Revelation Cat Milk Mild, one of the most flavoursome below-ABV 4.0-beers I’ve ever had, so I was excited to see a collaboration between Mikkeller and the Italian cat brewer. This is the house beer at noted Italian beer bar Brasserie 4:20 (Rome).
Look: A cloudy, dull orange/amber with a small but nicely frothy head.
Nose: Vaguely citrusy, rather faint.
Mouth: Comes on like an IPA with plenty of fruit – there’s a distinct taste of peaches – and a quick resin/citrus hop bite. The creaminess is not very pronounced, but it is there, adding a bit of body and depth throughout.
Mark: 3/5. Very refreshing at ABV 5.0 but lacks that special something. It’s really well balanced and I’m sure this goes great with a variety of foods.
The bright blue sign of BrewDog is a beacon in the beer wasteland that is Camden: this part of London has been crying for a good beer bar for a long time. And in December of last year, those cries were answered. This is not your average pub, though, and it is doubtful if the BrewDog gang would even consider “pub” an appropriate word to describe their venues. There are no hand pumps, keg beer only, all dispensed via slick-looking branded black tubes. The interior is very du jour, with spartan cafeteria-style furniture and naked brick walls, plus of course the ubiquitious BrewDog branding. You’ll either love it or hate it – and I love it, as it gives the place an instant identity, a recognizable feel, a vibe, if you will. BrewDog Camden is your beer-loving friend who still manages to be hip somehow.
Beer review/social networking site RateBeer just released their annual Best-of-lists: the best beers, best breweries and best beer bars in 2011, as determined by their aggregate (and, I believe, weighted) ratings on the site. Being a beer geek who loves lists (but who, strangely, only just recently signed up to RateBeer – I’m HenrikO if you want to friend me), I naturally checked it out first thing. Some thoughts:
For Best Brewers in the world, the dominance of US breweries is clear. There are 33 non-US breweries in the top 100 for 2012 (up ever-so-slightly from 2011 when there were 32 – non-US breweries have in fact held relatively steady at around 1/3 of the list since 2006). There’s always an argument to be had whether this reflects the biases of the community or whether it simply reflects the fact that US brewers in general are better. I’m inclined towards the latter explanation, actually – for a long time, the US was the world leader in craft brewing in terms of innovation and quality, and it’s only in the past five or ten years that the rest of the world has been catching up.
Bit of a mixed bag at the beginning of 2012. I sampled some more of my Christmas gift beers, went to Craft Beer Co. and The Old Fountain. Of course I also had the opportunity to try Thornbridge’s sherry cask-aged (3 years!) version of their Bracia Old Ale, which sort of put all the other beers I sampled last week in the shade – but I covered this separately, as you see.
On the international front, I finally got my taste buds around the much-talked-about Jai Alai IPA from Cigar City Brewing. Since I obsessively follow London beer bars on Twitter, I know that all of them make sure to mention when they’ve got this one on, like it is a big sales argument. And now I understand why – this is a hefty Double/Imperial IPA (ABV 7.5) with lots of fruit on the nose and tounge: mango and pineapple predominantly, with slightly sour notes making me think of those fruits as unripe. The fruit gives way to a strong resiny hoppiness and an ever-so-slightly smoky aftertaste. I know Cigar City makes lots of variations on the Jai Alai (how about a juniper/cedar-aged one, or one flavoured with acai berries and mango?) and I’d be really keen to try them too if they ever show up on these shores. In comparison the Southern Tier IPA at first felt a bit flat, but I just had to get used to the fact that it was just a different take on the genre. The high ABV (6.9) does not come through at all as much as it does in the Jai Alai (or maybe those 0.6 percentage units really make a big difference) – the Southern Tier IPA feels like a much lighter, more workmanlike IPA where the malt is more in balance with the hops. There’s a clear bread-and-butter taste, and where the Jai Alai has unripe fruit, Southern Tier goes for overripe, with quite sweet apple, orange and tropical flavours. All in all a very smooth drink. I’m a big fan of Southern Tier and this did not disappoint.