Having tried these new beers from East London in the spring, I admit I’m a little late in posting this up. Fitting, perhaps, that we pay a little more attention to all things brewed in London in the upcoming weeks. God knows the independent beer scene – be it pubs, bars or breweries in the capital are going to have a rough time of it in the run-up to the Olympics. There’s plenty of shameful examples of how the major sponsors are using their reach to ensure visitors to the city have their experience cosseted as much as possible, going home with a sanitised version of London in their memories and nothing but dust in their wallets.
Still, with new breweries in London popping up at a rate of knots – and a firm, established ‘new wave’ of the likes of Brodies, Camden and Kernel producing consistently excellent beers and ales, we all know there’s plenty to go at. Redchurch’s beers are simply packaged and simple in taste – and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Just solid, tasty beers that provide a good stepping-on point for any curious visitor wanting to taste something local and new.
Bethnal Pale Ale (5.5%abv) pours sunrise-amber and has an enticing aroma packed with Pine-needle and that same spicy oiliness that fresh Sierra Nevada Pale Ale carries. The mouthfeel is surprisingly thick, with an initial biting sharpness that mellows out as waves of hard-candy sweetness arrives. The end picks up with a decent rolling bitterness that just lifts that sweetness off the tongue, and wraps it all up in a Grapefruit-led finish. It’s an interpretation of that archetypal US Pale Ale flavour profile – but one well done. A satisfying Pale Ale.
The majestically – titled Great Eastern India Pale Ale (7.4%abv) ploughs much the same furrow, flavour-wise, as the Pale Ale; lots of rounded, sweet malt and a tropical-fruit, sharp bitterness – but adds a noticeably warming hit of alcohol on the way down. I did think that the nose was a little dull – particularly for an IPA – but I would rather put this down to the bottle or the batch. I’ll be trying this again; and I’m sure I read a tweet recently saying that the recipe had been tweaked.
Hoxton Stout (6.4%abv) is a fruitier style of Stout. The nose is dominated by Brambles and Earthy spice (Soil? In a good way?) with a slightly phenolic note – again, in a good way. It’s light, and has a decent amount of carbonation adding to that perceived lightness, with more spiky blackcurrant mixing with drying coffee and roasted malt. The beer finishes juicy and fruity, with only a faintly drying edge. Not what I expected, but a pleasant surprise. If you prefer Black IPA’s to Stouts, maybe this is one for you to try – not too dry, not too harsh.
S0 – A belated welcome from me, Redchurch Brewery! If you want a comprehensive run-down of London’s new breweries, you’ll find it hard to beat Des De Moor’s excellent list here.
Savouring Fuller’s Past Masters
To say I’d been looking forward to tasting these beers is somewhat of an understatement. I hadn’t been able to get my hands on them until recently (kindly given to me by a good friend – you know who you are!) and, frankly, I couldn’t wait to get them cracked open. The fact it’s Christmas sort of made them more special, a little more seasonal; beers to savour during the recent colder nights.
If you don’t know the back-story, you can get more info on the link below. When a brewery like Fuller’s – one of the countries most revered breweries – open their recipe vault, you sit up and listen. The Past Masters range, now widely available, is more than worthy of your attention.
Double Stout (7.4%abv) sports a much more restrained aroma than I was expecting; rather than being a noseful of smoke and coffee, there’s waves of deep, rich, biscuity malt, with some unmistakable alcohol heat pushing it forward. The beer itself is smooth, with a head that disappears quickly, with a jammy, plummy note that appears first. When this disappears, you’re left a fairly complex aftertaste of roasted malt, a little smoke, and a hint of bitter chocolate. The taste is rounded, smooth and sweet, and unmistakably silky. It’s light, super-drinkable and damn tasty.
XX Strong Ale (7.5%abv) pours a deep amber and again confounds the expectation of something thick, strong and rich. It’s lively, vibrant and bursting with marmalade-orange, candied fruit and bitter citrus peel flavours, all wrapped up in that familiar warmth. There’s muscovado sugar notes in the body, backing up all that fruitiness with rounded sweetness, and the end result is a strong ale that’s supremely drinkable. Too drinkable, some might say! Like the Stout, it disappears from the palate as quickly as it arrives, making for a beer too moreish for it’s own good.
Both beers have been brewed with a deft, effortlessly stylish hand, and I can’t fault either of them. If you see them about, don’t miss out. It’s testament to British Brewing that our older breweries – the bedrock on which our vibrant brewing heritage is built upon – have such an Aladdin’s cave of recipes to pull upon and give us a taste of beers from the past.
Well, just as I’d finished drafting this post, The Golden Pints were announced for 2011. Given that I’d already done this, I’m going to post it up anyway in lieu of a Golden Pint list, with a few additions. Anyway, I like lists, and it’s been fun running through what beers I’ve particularly enjoyed over the year. By way of a cop-out, I’m not going to rank the best beers this year, because I think they are all fantastic. What’s even more exciting is that I’m sure I’ve missed loads; which means 2012 will have to rectify that.
So, what about a Brewery of the Year? A difficult one. When I think of Breweries that made 2011, three stand out for me; Magic Rock, Buxton and Red Willow.
Given the shared experience of the people involved – both from a brewing and a retail point of view – Magic Rock would have had to have really worked hard to fail. Their relatively small core range covers every base, their pumpclips catch the eye; and their beer tastes good. When you really get into the range, the beers are deceptively simple, too. They’ve worked their arses off; doing countless Meet The Brewer nights all over the country, brewing to capacity, and even introducing a couple of new beers in Rock Star and Bearded Lady. But that Yorkshire grit and no-nonsense approach is still there. No fuss – just taste – and lots of it.
Buxton pull a similar ‘one foot in each camp’ trick but go even further. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a brewery combine fairly hop-forward, or ‘big’ beers such as Axe Edge or Tsar, and yet appeal to the average ‘pub-bound’ drinker. Buxton do this by again turning down the fuss, and just brewing tasty, tasty beer. People that know me know that I’m a Pale Ale freak, and when Moor Top emerged – just a single-hopped, simple Pale Ale – it blew me away (See also Hawkshead’s superlative Windermere Pale and NZPA). You think you’ve seen it all from a style, and then another taste comes along that make you realise that the genre is not dead. Buxton are a brewer for all camps, and one that’s already been popping up on many ‘best of’ lists already.
Finally, I have to mention RedWillow. I know how hard Toby works, and trust me, the guy is a machine. A tired, Oyster-shucking machine – but a machine nontheless. Red Willow flip the previous statements made about Buxton and MR around; simple-sounding and looking beers that reveal hidden depths and innovation when tasted. Fathomless – turns out to be an authentic Oyster Stout. Ageless – turns out to be one of the most aromatic, juicy-tropical-fruit bombs tasted all year. The awards have slowly, slowly begun to trickle in for the Macclesfield brewer, and I’m sure 2012 will only result in a bigger award cabinet being needed.
Beers of the Year
Ok. As I said above, I can’t pick one, really. Here are the ones (in no particular order) that I really enjoyed, from reasons such as taste, to simply being the right beer at the right time. If your beer is on here, then thank you for brewing such Good Stuff.
York Micklegate Porter – Magic Rock Human Cannonball, High Wire & Rapture – Maui Big Swell IPA – Rooster’s Iron Man IPA – Buxton Moor Top – Buxton Axe Edge – 8 Wired IRA – RedWillow Ageless – Sierra Nevada Juniper Black – Brodie’s Hackney Red – Rooster’s Baby Faced Assassin – Oakham Citra & Inferno – Brewdog Bramling Cross IPA – Revolutions Night Porter & Propaganda – Hawkshead NZPA & Windermere Pale – Durham Magic IPA (Bombay 106) – Odell Mycernary – Redemption Big Chief – SummerWine Rouge-Hop – Marble Summer – Kirkstall Three Swords Pale – Raw Pacific Ghost IPA – Ilkley Smoked Witch – Cropton Yorkshire Warrior – Camden Helles – Hardknott Light Cascade – Black Isle Porter – Stroud Amber Ale – De Molen Op & Top – Five Towns Schneider V2 – Birrificio Italiano Tipopils – Williams Bros Joker IPA – Great Northern Wheat IPA – Theakston’s Lightfoot … and the list goes on….
Of course, I’ll have missed some out. It’s impossible not to. If your beer has ended up on this blog, however, then it’s The Good Stuff, rest assured.
I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank Mark and Andy for organising the year’s Twissups, and Luke Downing at Dough Bistro and Nick and Vickie at Homage to Fromage for opening their businesses and kitchens to the possibilities of Food and Beer. Dean Pugh at Mr Foley’s remains a constant source of info and orchestrator of some excellent bottle-swap nights (and Wing nights, and NFL nights!), and IPA Day was a great (and quite drunk) event. We are very lucky indeed. Of course, all the staff at BeerRitz have been stars, as always. We are lucky to have such a place in Leeds (and we almost didn’t for a while; thanks again, Zak!)
Blogs? Well, there’s been some great blogs starting up or coming into their own in 2011. For me, Ghost Drinker and Beersay deserve special mentions, as they bring an enthusiasm and exuberance about beer onto the screen that is sometimes sorely missed from blogs. On the other side of the coin, ATJ’s and Zak’s blogs always provide food for thought from inside the industry and I’m glad they’re still churning out quality content after all these years. I appreciate how hard it can be to blog these days when juggling (a number) of jobs and when I see others doing it, it just spurs me on to quit moaning and get writing.
Finally, I’d just like to thank everyone that reads TGS, and that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a few beers with over the year. You’re a good bunch, and despite the bickering (which makes it interesting, let’s face it) I’m happy to be part of such a vibrant, varied and passionate community. Hopefully, 2012 will be an interesting year for me, and I hope to be able to contribute to UK Brewing in a way that I know many of you do, day in, day out.
Camden Helles & Pale; A Tale of Superstition
I do like superstitions and routine, and one that I have firmly lodged in my mind is that my first beer in The Euston Tap simply has to be a Camden -Just because that’s the place my addled mind associates them with. It was I first tried them and so far, it’s worked. If I ever have anything else there, it won’t feel right.
Damn you, routine.
I’ve got to admit, I’m a massive fan of the guys down at Camden. Not only do they make good beer – they make my kind of beer. Clean, crispy Pales, perfect for sunny drinking or banishing the dust from the throat and ridding the fatigue of a hectic afternoon riding the tube. Now that they are well-established bottle-wise, it just means I can enjoy thier beers all year round.
Both Helles (4.6%abv) and Pale (4.5%) are simple beers, well executed. Take your time over them and there’s more subtlety than meets the eye; and both remain stupidly easy to drink. Pale pours a vibrant gold with a tight, ice-white head, those bubbles zooming up the glass and dying in the head with a reassuring fizz. Fresh Grapefruit on the nose; and the body is ever-so-slightly grainy. It finishes dry, and surprisingly bitter. It’s not too sweet, not too bitter – perfectly poised, and wonderful bottled. One of the best Pales about? In my opinion, yes, but you can probably guess from the paragraph above that I’ve got a real love affair with Camden Pale.
Helles is even paler, but sports the same brilliant white head. There’s a much more herbal, more noble-hop prescence on the nose, and the body is much softer and sweeter than the Pale. The finish is softly citric (a hint of Peach, maybe?) and moreish. Again, a wonderful, simple beer that I could drink way too fast if I put my mind to it.
In a perfect world, my go-to beer fridge is well stocked with Camden’s wares. Football, a couple of these and some good snackage. Heaven.
If you’re interested, another beery superstition I have is Old Peculier on Christmas Day – it has to be the last beer of the day, no mater how much I’ve imbibed beforehand. Do you have any Beer routines you’d like to share?
London X Leeds @ North
Ok, I’m readying myself for some heavy beer-sampling in London next week at GBBF; but if you’re hankering for some southern action you could do no better than heading over to North Bar on August the 17th to raise a pint to some of our southern cousins. We don’t get beers from the likes of Windsor & Eaton and Brodies up here often, so don’t miss out.
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