Wednesday, 2 October 2013
Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight - Trade Session Review
Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight
Trade Session Review - The Foundry, Canterbury
Thursday 26th September 2013
Sometimes I'm a very lucky chap, and sometimes just being in the right place at the right time can lead to an adventure in taste and making new friends in beer. Let me tell you about this one.
In August I was fortunate enough to be at the Great British Beer Festival on Trade Day and met a whole bunch of fantastic people, drank some fantastic beer and generally had a marvellous time. Early in the evening I spotted Sophie Atherton, who I had previously met at Moor - Empire Strikes Back launch and Susanna Forbes who I had met the day before at the Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay launch (review soon, and actually a tad overdue, on the CAMRGB website) chatting to each other by the US beer stand. I made my way over and said hello and immediately fell into conversation about the beer that I had been drinking the day before. As you will be aware Shepherd Neame are a Kent brewery and Sophie mentioned that she was very much involved in the Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight 27th September 2013 to the 11th October 2013 (which means it's still on now!) being the PR Manager for the event. I remember expressing a desire to go along and she asked me to send her my e-mail address, which I believe I did there and then and that she would be in touch.
Green Hop Beers are a rare treat, being a once a year seasonal and regional (hops are mainly grown in large quantities in Kent, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and the West Midlands in the UK) speciality, and a fairly recent one over here too. Most hops when they are picked are dried to preserve them and therefore enable them to be used by brewers throughout the year. This is an essential process, one that has been carried out since hops have been used and indeed the Oast Houses which are a familiar sight in the Kent countryside were used for this very purpose, but this process means that some of the essential oils present in the fresh hops are lost. To make a Green Hop Beer the hops are not dried but instead used to brew with within twelve hours of being picked, ensuring that all those lovely oils are present and leading to fantastically fresh tasting beer full of flavour and often bringing out the real character of the hop used.
This is the second year of the Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight, being instigated by Eddie Gadd, the Head Brewer at The Ramsgate Brewery and such was its impact last year that it has returned bigger by far than last year with twenty-two Kent breweries taking part by making their beers available in pubs all over Kent and into London too, with five breweries (Ramsgate,
The Foundry Brew Pub, Goody Ales, Wantsum Brewery and Canterbury Ales ) opening their doors for tours, music and food this coming Sunday, the 6th October.
I had been considering heading down to sample a few of the Sophie asking me if I'd like to come down to The Foundry Brew Pub to attend the launch event, bringing together brewers, journalists and bloggers to sample a selection of the beers that would be available during the fortnight.
Last Thursday saw me heading down to Canterbury on the high speed service from Stratford International opposite Tap East, where I stopped for a re-journey half, and after fifty minutes I was in the cathedral city and entering the Foundry for a beer. This was lunchtime however, with just under three hours until the main event was due to start so I used the opportunity to have a decent lunch and have a good look around and take in some of the sights. Sitting in La Trappiste, a Belgian-style café/restaurant with a decent bottled beer list, I took the time to reflect on my first encounter with a green hop beer. It was on my first visit to The Craft Beer Co. in Clerkenwell about two years ago, I walked in and amongst the plethora of beer available was Dark Star's Green Hopped IPA. It was a beer the like of which I had never tasted before, brewed with Target hops it was fresh and alive and made such an impression on me that I still remember it incredibly clearly. This memory had fuelled my desire for more green hop beer and had led me, via an incredible set of circumstances and luck, to have the opportunity to sample ten different beers in an afternoon.
Make Mine A Beer I was familiar with, Jack (SW6BeerBadger) who introduced himself to me first of all and we quickly began talking about all things beery.
The room had begun to fill up and after a short introduction and welcome from Sophie the first beers were poured and I pulled out my notebook and settled down at a table in the centre of the room to write my thoughts on what I was drinking. This became my perch for practically the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, with me rising from my seat really only to get a fresh glass of a new green hop beer or a plate of the deliciously sticky ribs that were available, with the event happening around me. This might seem quite solitary but it was far from it as with a central position I was fortunate enough that everyone in the room was accessible me and I got to speak to everybody there at some point I believe. Peter Meaney and his son, who is the brewer from Mad Cat Brewery were particularly entertaining companions with Peter telling me how he became a brewer and particularly the story of the how by incredible good fortune and being in the right place at the right time they were able to secure their premises at the end of 2012. Unfortunately their beer wasn't available to taste at the launch party which was a disappointment, but from what I hear then if you find it you're in for a treat. The obligatory photograph of the brewers was taken about half way through which took so long to organise that the phrase "couldn't organise brewers at a piss-up" was heard to be mentioned.
The real star was of course the beer, and without exception every one was in superb condition, fresh and incredibly tasty, so it's only fair that I give my appraisal of what I tasted and the notes I made as I journeyed through a hoppy heaven and the glass-ware accumulated around me.
The first beer that I chose, by the extremely scientific method of it being the first pump clip on the right-hand side and would enable me to plot my progress across the bar, was Wantsum's Green Hop Fuggles (4.5%). Fuggles is a notoriously delicate hop to use in brewing I was informed by the brewery founder and head brewer James Sandy (we'd met before but neither of us could pin-point exactly where) but I found that this beer, probably due to the huge quantity of Fuggles used, flew in the face of that notion. The aroma was big and aggressive, like shoving your face in a musty old hop sack in a straw-filled barn, with the faint whiff of freshly baked bread. The colour of spun gold, its flavour had touches of honey and white bread straight from the oven with some floral notes coming through later on. The finish was sweet and floral too and this lasts a long time becoming slightly oily at the end.
At this point, as I prepared to move one beer to the left along the pump clips I realised that I had made an error in judgement my starting point as there, right at the far end of the bar was a box of Green Hop 3 (4.0%) brewed with Challenger from The Old Dairy Brewery that I had overlooked. This was a very different beer indeed, pouring a hazy yellow with a thin bright white head and the aroma of warm butter and honey, all oily, sweet and delicious. Sharp and bitter over the tongue, it had the merest hint of orange before an overwhelming taste of lemon and lime swept through, but these limes are densely packed in freshly mown hay. The finish was rather abrupt but the faintest ghost of summer meadows lingers awhile.
Carefully checking to make sure that there were no additional boxes or otherwise cleverly secreted or obscured at the far right of the bar, I continued my journey to the left. Next beer on my radar was Shepherd Neame's Tallyman's Special (4.5%) again brewed with Challenger as was the previous beer but this was completely different. It poured a golden amber with a dappled white head, and quite a woodland-walk earthy yeasty aroma but incredibly deep a powerful, leaping right up the nose. This beer was an absolute joy to me and took me back to my childhood in a way I wasn't expecting at all. With its brown bread toastiness and bramble flavour I was instantly transported to eating toast spread with blackberry jam sitting in the kitchen on a cold day, fresh in from a walk in the nearby woods. The finish faded wonderfully too, like a warm sunset, and my notes have one word written at the end - superb.
Kent Brewery's Green Giant (6%) was next and the brewers at the event that I spoke too were mainly in agreement that this was the stand-out beer of last years inaugural Green Hop Festival and really raised the bar, giving the rest of them plenty of impetus to raise their game for this year. Brewed with East Kent Goldings, it poured a dark amber sunset with no real head to speak of by the time I got back to the table to write down my thoughts, and had an aroma that reminded me of wood varnish straight from the tin mixed with lots and lots of lovely stewed apple. Big and tart over the tongue, the flavour had more stewed apple, with some deep whisky notes and a squeeze of lemon as a thoughtful aside. The finish was quite boozy too and I really knew that I was drinking a beer of higher abv than the previous offerings.
Described in the tasting notes that I had been initially provided with as an 'Entry Level KGHB (Kent Green Hop Beer) with soft, subtle hops' Canterbury Ale's Early Bird Pale (3.6%) again brewed with East Kent Goldings, poured a very pale yellow with a touch of haze and a thin off-white head. The aroma had lots of grassy lemon in it, and this was wrapped up in a basket of hay, studded with limes and garnished with a little elderflower. Crisp, fresh and light as it danced over the tongue with an almost creeping bitterness, it's soft, warm, oily and mellow with some wild flower meadow sweetness and honey with perhaps a notion of some gingery spicy warmth although this disappeared rather quickly. The sweetish finish was gone in an instant but left me with a rather satisfied glow, or maybe by this stage the alcohol was starting to take effect.
Moving along the line, The Ramsgate Brewery's Gadd's Green Hop Ale (4.8%) was a beer that I was anxious to try as I'm a big fan of Eddie Gadd's beers and it didn't disappoint. It poured the colour of purest gold with an off-white head and its aroma of sugar dusted lemons was quite enticing. Another brewed with East Kent Goldings it had the faintest prickle of carbonation over the tongue and the flavour of broken rich tea biscuits, lemon and honey. I found this beer incredibly crisp and balanced with its sweet lemon cough-drop finish was all sticky and delicious. The notes I got described this beer as one where the malts take a back seat but I found this not to be the case at all as, although the hop used here with its profile of honey and lemon freshness that I was beginning to recognise was very much in evidence I found the malts complimented it wonderfully.
Goody Ales were not a brewery that I was familiar with at all, and I felt myself a little on the spot as the brewer approached me and asked my what I thought of their beer Goodness Gracious Me! (4.8%) just as I sat down to drink it. Thankfully it was beautiful. It poured a hazy orange-yellow with a tart lemon curd aroma that was very inviting. More lemon and honey in the taste (I'm aware that I'm repeating myself here and I bet your thinking East Kent Goldings, but you'd be wrong as it's Challenger) but the malts this time were digestive biscuits which rather pleased the brewer as she considered them rather upmarket. The finish was sticky with lemon and grassy orange and lasted for absolutely ages and rounded off a very nice beer indeed. I loved the pump clip too that references the song by Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren after which it is named.
The last three beers of the evening for me were brewed just below where this launch was being held as they were all from The Foundry. The first that I chose was the East Kent Belgian (4.2%) which others had told me was one that that really pushed the East Kent Goldings to the front. This was the last of the beers on the bar upstairs and for me it was actually the one that I found least surprising. I'm quite fond of Belgian beers and I found this not much different from one I would expect in a bottle from one of the newer breweries over there who are starting to use more hops than the older, more established ones. I was expecting this to blow me away with hops but found that the bready continental yeast actually balanced the East Kent Goldings wonderfully. You may have got the impression that I didn't enjoy this beer but you'd be very wrong, it's just that perhaps I was expecting to experience a wonderfully new taste sensation which is completely my fault and not the brewers.
So, it was now time to venture downstairs into the main bar and collect the last two beers from The Foundry and sadly my last two beers of the launch, however I was rather delighted to find that these were amongst my favourites of the entire event. The East Kent Read (5.8%) was a rye beer hopped with East Kent Goldings (as were all The Foundry beer) and poured a beautiful Autumn red, maple leaf crisp, with a shocking white head. The aroma was full gorgeous red fruits, strawberry, plum and raspberry, all nestled closely together and bursting out of the glass, it's actually making my mouth water now as I write about it, very nearly a week later. Tart over the tongue too, and a little grating, the taste was full of Autumn berries as well, with more plum and some deep rich cherry flavours rolling deliciously around the mouth. The finish was suitably fruity and maybe a little oily, but this vanished rather quickly, becoming quite arid with some blackcurrant notes, it really was a fantastic beer.
The last beer in what was an absolutely amazing tasting session was the East Kent Pale (6%). It poured a pale golden orange with a crisp white head, and for the first time a far more familiar aroma for a Pale Ale, well a US one anyway, of grapefruit and lime which was testament for the sheer volume of fresh East Kent Goldings hops packed into this beer. It was tangy and tart over the tongue and even after the amount of beer that I'd drunk the freshness still shone throughout with lots and lots of lemon, lime, grapefruit, Galia melon and a dash of strawberry juice. The finish was sweet and dry with the bitterness of the hops clearing all the moisture away leaving a spectre of those juicy hops lasting for ages.
All too quickly it seemed (although it was actually four and a half hours since the launch had started) it was time for me to rush back to the station to catch the train home, with a cheeky stop off at Tap East to grab a couple of halves of the new IPA and Saison brewed with the latest Australian hop,Vic Secret. On the fifty-odd minute journey I had plenty of time to go over my notes and think about what a marvellous time I'd had and everyone without exception had been friendly and more than willing to chat. Those whom I haven't previously mentioned but nonetheless contributed to a wonderful afternoon and evening were the head brewer from Larkins Brewery whose name I apologise for forgetting, similarly the brewer from Kent Brewery whose names also escapes me. Special thanks must go to Claire-Michelle Taverner-Pearson who put up with my inane ramblings for quite some time and who managed to snaffle me a taster from the fermenter of the monster of a beer that will become The Foundry's Green Hopped East Kent India Pale Ale, at somewhere around 9% it'll be one to look out for, Craft Beer London compiler Will Hawkes with whom I managed to grab a quick work, the aforementioned Susanna Forbes from Drink Britain, and lastly and very definitely the person to whom I am most grateful and indebted to for inviting me, Sophie Atherton. Thank you Sophie, I had a blast!
Finally here is that link to the Kent Green Hop Fortnight again. If you can get down there at all this year then I urge you to go, but if you can't then pencil it in your diary for around the same time next year, I guarantee you won't regret it.