Sunday, 23 June 2013

Beers Of London Series
38. Crema Brewery:
      Lunch Monkey 5.4%
      Red Snow 7.2%
            Red Snow Rye 7.3%
      Declassified NZ 8.1%

If you've followed this series, and I hope you have, you'll know that I've been lucky enough to sample beers from some of the newest breweries in London, a city that literally seems to have a new brewery burst onto the scene every couple of weeks. I tend to follow a regular format insofar as I'll give a brief summary of the brewery and how it came into existence and dive straight into a single beer from them.
This time, and just this time, I'm changing that format.
This time I'm reviewing four beers from a brewery that's not actually a commercial brewery ... not yet at least.
My justification for this is that Chris Taylor and Emma Victory (Chris and Emma, combining and compressing their names to make Crema) are homebrewers whose beers have made those who've tasted them comment rather favourably on twitter and Untappd. They live together in Streatham in the London Borough Of Lambeth, and by doing so qualify as London brewers. You may disagree as to their inclusion, but it's my series and I have a feeling that they're a little bit special.
I was fortunate enough to meet both of them at the recent Magic Rock Unhuman Cannonball launch at Craft Beer Islington and immediately knew I'd made some good friends. Something that I always seem to find when talking to brewers is a deep passion for what they do. Chris and Emma have that but also a love of good beer and genuine sense fun. In short they like a bit of banter, which I'm right up for. Combine that with good beer and good company (you can read Matt Curtis excellent summary of the evening here, and incidentally it was Matt who first alerted me to Crema) and you get a bloody good evening.
Following that evening, Chris and Emma kindly agreed to answer a few questions from me regarding their personal circumstances and their brewing. Little did they know that I would unleash an e-mail interrogation, however they were game enough to answer all my queries in a candid manner and provide some great insight. Rather than simply copy and paste that here, I'll attempt to summarise the key points in my own round-about way.
If you've had the good fortune to meet these two then you'll immediately realise that their accents aren't the same. Emma, a Biomedical Scientist, is originally from Runcorn in Cheshire who ended up in Streatham via Royal Leamington Spa and Billericay (not far from where I live) in Essex, whilst Chris, a Civil Servant with the MOD, grew up in Lisburn, Co. Antrim before moving to London about 6 years ago. They met via an online dating agency in 2010, and it was Emma a regular beer drinker who helped Chris find the path to proper beer, although it was a mutual exploration and Chris's willingness to try new things that cemented their interest and their relationship. I probably should mention that they have a shared background in chemistry, that's important too.
It was whilst on holiday in New York that provided the moment of inspiration for them to start brewing. They had flown in to stay with some scientist friends, Martha and Doug, and after a hot sticky taxi ride from the airport they arrived at the apartment and collapsed on the sofa. Doug handed them a beer, a ginger and pink peppercorn saison. It was both delicious and refreshing. Then it dawned on them. This was Doug's homebrew. This beer that was the perfect beer for that moment had been brewed in that apartment. Homebrew could be as good, and in some cases better that many commercial brews.
Over the next year much research (read drinking) took place as they both tried to work out what they did or didn't like about certain beers and styles and what their preferences were. One thing they were sure of, they wanted to make beer that they liked to drink.
In October 2012 Emma bought Chris a copy of John Palmer's "How To Brew" and, after an inspiring trip to Oregon and Maine, they hired a car and drove to the The Home Brew Shop in Aldershot and stocked up on supplies and kit. After an initial dabble in extract brewing they swiftly switched to all-grain and, in their own words, haven't looked back.
Taking their inspiration from many beery sources they're also influenced by food and flavour, they both love cooking, and take an experimentation with tastes into their brewing. Not wishing to brew 'clone brews', why not just buy that beer, the scientific aspect of the process and a desire to improve that is a driving force. They have no plans as yet to go commercial, they both love their jobs so are not looking for an escape route, however as they've had a few offers to brew using commercial brewery equipment (and if you've been following them on twitter then you might have an inkling who) it's an avenue they may well explore in the future. Time will tell.
If you'd like to follow them on their beery adventure you could do a lot worse than follow them on twitter or even their blog, which is well worth taking the time to read:
Here's my favourite bit, I get to taste the beer.

Lunch Monkey 5.4%
This saison style beer pours an effervescent golden orange with a myriad of tiny bubbles quickly rising up to the off-white pillow of a head. The aroma has lots of spicy orange pith, the smell that hits you when you first dig your fingers into an orange to peel it, with a little underlying bitterness too. Full and a touch gooey over the tongue, the prickle of carbonation hits the roof of the mouth with some more orange flavour, more juicy this time but that pithiness is still present. There's some warming ginger that comes through which combines nicely with, and compliments the orange, drying it out long into the finish. Orange pips highlighted with crushed coriander seed are the strongest flavours here (I think that must be the whole fruit) again with some warmth and some sharp orange bitterness pinches the lips. This isn't dissimilar to Brew By Numbers 01 02 however it's much drier, accenting the sharp bitterness associated with eating an orange. On a humid day, such as the one I'm drinking it on, it sure is refreshing.

Red Snow 7.2%
Red Snow is a different animal entirely. This strong red ale pours a deep reddish cherry wood brown with a thin beige head, but its the aroma that is making me salivate. There's a rich blackberry caramel mixed with some grapefruit and pineapple at the back that's a little exciting. It slides smoothly over the tongue with a sharp tang that disappears a little too quickly for me, there's some chocolate here, a little bitter with more toffee caramel and bourbon biscuit with a twist of blackberry wine gum. This builds to a crescendo, quite sharp, before collapsing at the finish into quite a dry alcoholic sugary 'sucked-wine-gum' ending that I don't find unpleasant but maybe a little confused. It lingers for some time and it's here that its strength becomes apparent. I have to say that I rather like it though. You'll notice from my picture that the label looks rather wet. This is purely down to the bottle coming out of the fridge on a very humid day and is no reflection on the beer or the labelling.

Red Snow Rye 7.3%
Rye beers have become some of my favourites recently with Beavertown's 8 ball being one of which I'm particularly fond, so I'm particularly looking forward to this one (black IPAs are my current 'style du jour' and luckily for me there's one up next). It pours a very similar colour to the Red Snow, but edging towards more of a deep ruby red, and the head has a café latte hue. The aroma has cherry boiled sweets with a rich fruity caramel backing with a very faint dry wisp of ethanol. Slightly harsh over the tongue like a good rye beer should be, there's a tasty hit of toffee and pineapple, with some caramel covered mango. This is a rich tasting beer despite its thin mouthfeel and the finish brings back those cheery sweets mixing it with a little creamy milk chocolate mousse and drying out nicely to a sticky lip-licky ending. I have to say that I prefer this beer to the previous one. It's flavours are more defined and blend nicely together, flowing sweetly from one to the next. It's fresher too, being brewed less than a month ago, so this may have something to do with it, all it really needs is to lose that faint whiff of alcohol in the aroma. I'd buy it by the case then.

Declassified NZ 8.1%
And so we come to my final Crema beer, the biggest and baddest of the bunch. It pours a bitter chocolate brown with the thinnest of milk chocolate edges and a head of thin beige bubbles. There's bitter chocolate and coffee in the aroma too with creamy milk and whisky following sharply behind. It's slightly creamy over the tongue as well before a flood of lime grated dark chocolate sweeps in turning a little into some frothy milk chocolate before it is precisely punctuated by a big crack of black pepper right at the end which I really love, and don't recall ever having found in a black IPA before. The finish is dry and lactic sweet with coffee and milk chocolate flavours coming through rather nicely and lasting for some time. I have to say that this is my favourite of the beers that I tasted here and I'll remember that black peppercorn rather fondly. Lovely.

Having had these beers, and having tasted some offerings from other superb home brewers ( @petedrinks, @tabamatu ) it's apparent that there's some exciting talent on the beer scene living and/or working in the London area at the moment. I recall a CAMRGB event last year where a chap turned up completely out of the blue with two superb beers that we tried before melting back into the night. I've still no idea who he was. I'm sure (I'm hoping) that it won't be long before they step out of the shadows and bring their beautiful beer to a wider audience but at the end of the day that's ultimately their decision. That, and a combination of fate and circumstance. Whatever Crema decide I know that I've found two people whose company I enjoy and who know how to brew some damn tasty beer.

I'll leave you with the only photo I have of the two of them (which they won't thank me for) that I took at the UnHuman Cannonball launch. In case you're wondering, they are the two in the middle, flanked on either side by Chris Hall and Matt Curtis. As you can see it was a rather good night!

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