But when I think of that visit – in a dour, rainy 2003 Autumn, I think of one thing; the kindness of strangers. I was there to see one of my favourite (at the time) musicians – Ben Harper, the Californian master of proto-slide guitar, he who navigates his deep, rumbling Weissenborn slide guitar through oceans of blues, folk, reggae and rock before landing on your shore in a heady, intoxicating mix. I’d been a fan for a while, and when the chance came to see him and his band – the Innocent Criminals – at the legendary Brixton Academy, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
So we (my girlfriend and I – later to become my wife) travelled down with a gang of mates and spent the weekend in London, taking in some sights and – if I remember correctly – eating some fantastic noodles in Greenwich. Anyway, gig time arrived and we – us gang of awed northerners – arrived in the cavernous space of Brixton Academy.
After a support band that suffers every support band’s worst nightmare – to be ultimately forgotten – Ben Harper and his troupe of revivalists took to the baroque stage, hitting us with hit after hit after hit…and Louise couldn’t see any of it. She’s is only just five feet tall, you see. She’s petite. This leads to a clear line of sight being something hard to come by at a gig, even on Brixton Academy’s gently sloping floor.
Still, she’s a veteran of gigs by this point -, and used to it by now. Tip-toes are the order of the day, mixed with a near-constant jockeying for position in the assembled throng. Yet at this gig, something odd happened. A chap in front of us turned around, recognised Louise’s’ predicament and…well, made way.
Not only did he sit down, he encouraged his friends to. His friends asked their friends… and soon, we had a space in front of us – ensuring a great view of the stage and the band. People around us asked if ‘we were ok’ and ‘if we could see‘. It was something I’ve never seen since and doubt I will again. Now, I don’t want to cast aspersions on the average fan of Ben Harper, but it’s fair to say there was a lot of Red Stripe consumed and even more pre-gig smoking going on. But still – intoxicants aside – when I think of Brixton, I think of these awesome people and what was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. Not so much the great band, more the night. The people of Brixton – and beyond, I dare say, made it. It was a night when faith was restored in humanity, and we talk about it still.
…and it’s that that I think of when I spy these bottles – amongst others – sitting on the shelves of Sourced Market this week. A warm glow of recognition nudges my hand and so I buy them, hoping upon hope that they’ll won’t let me down.
I’m glad to say they don’t. It’s easy sometimes to dismiss the look of craft – much like the oft-cited pornography argument – but when the odd outfit creeps through that celebrates provenance and links into the community like Brixton have done, it makes you realise that there’s still great work happening in the capital. The labels ‘pop’ with vibrant screams of colour, the names of the beers celebrate Brixton’s multicultural history and tie them to the postcode. In a time of seemingly identikit London brewers, Brixton rise above the din for this writer. They seem a little more considered, a little more thoughtful.
Still, the proof is in the tasting; Electric Avenue IPA (6.5% abv) offers that familiar, modern IPA punch in spades; thick, chewy mouthfeel, amber in the glass, and plenty of sweet fruit – mango chutney, perhaps – in the nose, finished off with a surprisingly clean, almost herbal (grassy, minty) bitterness at the finish. The hops in the aroma are pungent, and the beer disappears way too quickly accompanied by a punchy, spikily hot Pepperoni Pizza. High praise, indeed.
Atlantic APA (5.4% abv) may boast Simcoe and Citra hops but I mis-diagnose the presence of Nelson Sauvin (before reading the label), such is the fresh, green grape and gooseberry notes in the aroma. Golden, refreshing despite being quite sweet, this pale ale is a beer I could drink a lot of. This bottle suffered from a touch of oxidisation, but no worry – this only became apparent toward the end of the glass and I would buy Atlantic APA again in a heartbeat. Vibrant, cool and light.
Windrush Stout (5% abv) was the real winner, though. I chilled it for an hour or so prior to drinking – purely due to the heat outside – yet I was still presented with an aroma of burnt malt, malt loaf and blackcurrant; the body remained light and incredibly fruity. I kept expecting a little vanilla to pop up but it never did – just waves of red fruit, a whisper of woodiness, and a long, clean bitterness. As the beer warmed, a little bready yeast note came into play, just to fill things out. Named after the ship that brought the first waves of West Indian immigrants to London, Windrush is a seriously good beer.
I enjoyed all these over a gorgeously balmy early summer evening – accompanied by a few Ben Harper CD’s and fair amount of reminiscing, of course. That’s beer at its best, if you ask me.
There’s something in the stark, pentagonal pumpclips that makes Five Points‘ beer stand out on a bar. Perhaps it’s the clean, practical feel of them, or the names of the beers, perhaps – Railway Porter, Five Points Pale. Words that roll off the tongue; linguistic primary colours, simplicity.
After a somewhat troubled start (the first few beers I tried from them had not traveled well to the northern wastelands), I’ve really enjoyed the recent beers I’ve tasted from the Hackney-based brewery (which, Loiners will be interested to know, is owned by Ed Mason, the guy behind the recent refurbishments of Whitelocks and The Deramore Arms). Pale (4.4% abv) is very much your modern, sunny Pale Ale – a bright, citric nose sitting on top of a boiled-sweet/hard candy body. Not t0o thin, not too bitter, not too sweet – although the finish is more persistent that you’d expect.
But it’s the Railway Porter (4.8% abv) that captures my attention. Pouring a raisin shade of mahogany, the aroma is deeply comforting – a little leather, some oily sap but predominantly powdery, sweet chocolate. That chocolate gets steamrollered on the sip by woodsmoke and bramble, leading to a fruity, green finish, which is powered defiantly by East Kent Goldings.
Perfectly autumnal, Railway Porter is a keeper; the beer equivalent of warming up after a crunchy walk through a park on a cold day. Preferably in a pub, of course.
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.