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:
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.
This is the kind of beer geek I am: I follow all London beer bars on Twitter so I’ll know if something exceptional comes on (granted, if your locals are The Craft Beer Co, The Old Fountain and The Old Red Cow, pretty much every night is exceptional). And the other day, I was rewarded for my geekery with the news that Craft was going to put on the cask-aged version of Thornbridge’s Bracia. In case you didn’t know, this Bracia has been aged for three years on Pedro Ximenez casks (that’s a kind of sherry). It’s a severely limited/rare release. A beer event in itself. I’m swooning just writing about it.
Naturally I started planning my visit to Craft the day I heard the news, and this Tuesday last the Big Day had come. I took a non-beer geek friend and off we went.
First shock: it’s £6 for a half-pint. But hey, quality costs, right? So I front the dosh for two halves, and there it is, as black as the night with a light frothy brown head that sinks a bit but sort of stays for the whole time we’re drinking. So after a build-up like this, it can only end in disappointment, right?
Wrong. This is one beer that’s every bit as good as the hype says. The nose hits first and the sherry aroma is unmistakeable: raisins, brown sugar/molasses, grapes and a little bit of wine. Then, the first thing on the tounge is the honey: sweet, more than a hint of molasses, and very floral. “Floral” is an adjective commonly used to indicate a delicate flavour, but Bracia is about as delicate as a hammer: when I say “floral”, think flowers with a heavy, penetrating sweet smell, like gardenia, or honeysuckle. The honey flavours blend well with the oaky, near-tannic notes from the cask, lots of vanilla going on there, then the sherry comes back with raisins, grape juice and a hint of dark berries. Then, just as you worry about the beer becoming too sweet and too cloying, the dry, roast bitterness comes on, with a distinct nutty layer, plus just a little bread (toast) to finish. The dry hoppy finish also stays with you for a surprisingly long time, making Bracia something very unusual: a beer of extremes that’s still perfectly balanced. As you drink it (this is a beer for sipping, not quaffing), it opens up a bit and the vinous/sherry character becomes more pronounced and the sweetness subsides. You get more of those raisins, the dark berries, maybe a bit of strawberry too, maybe just a little hint of grass.
I had another half after the second. It was worth it. Is it possible that I’ve had the beer experience of 2012 the second week of January?
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:
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.