Sunday, 6 April 2014
Beers Of London Series 72. A Head In A Hat Brewery - Gin
Beers Of London Series
72. A Head In A Hat Brewery - Gin 4.0%
A Head In A Hat is a curious name for a brewery. Who's head? Who's hat? What type of hat is it? Is it a dis-embodied head found in a hat, pertaining to some local legend perhaps?
The answer is actually quite simple.
A Head In A Hat is really half a brewery, that is it comprises one half of the brewery at The Florence brew pub in Herne Hill, right on the edge of Brockwell park. The Florence has it's own range of beers, brewed and sold in the pub itself and for exclusive use within the Capital Pub Group of pubs. Peter Haydon, author of 'An Inebriated History Of Britain', former Society Of Independent Brewers (SIBA) General Secretary who had a spell working on the ground floor at Meantime Brewery, discovered he had unused capacity on the kit he was using at The Florence and decided to set up something separate from the main brewery to brew recreations of Old London Beers and take full advantage of that surplus. As he favours hats, and can usually be found wearing one, A Head In A Hat seemed a logical name to choose for this venture, and so came to be.
With beer names such as Trilby (a 3.5% dinner ale), Topper (a 4.8% India Porter brewed to Barclay Perkins recipe from 1805) and Capper (a 3.8% session Pale) you can see where it all ties together rather nicely, and even the non-hat-related beer names such as Beekeeper and Camembeer have a gentleman suitably 'chapeau'd' in a related hat (beekeeping hat with veil and beret respectively) on the pump clip. There's even a beer called Titfer which, to the un-initiated is rhyming slang for hat, tit-for-tat = hat.
The beer that I've chosen to taste here, Gin, is an idea that Peter Haydon had had for a beer for some time according to the description on the website. Brewed with botanicals, which of course feature juniper, taken directly from the still at the City Of London Distillery, and hopped with Bramling Cross it is styled as "a fruity, golden ale where the various gin fruits and spices make a distinct but subtle impression."
I haven't come across any UK breweries having brewed a similar beer before, but a quick look around the internet threw up a couple of similar examples from the US which are worth a mention I think. Firstly the Midnight Sun Brewing Co. brewed an 8.0% beer in 2010 called Bathtub Gin, similarly with a mix of botanicals including juniper, orris root, angelica root, grains of paradise and citrus peel but interestingly no hops, it takes it's title from the Phish song of the same name. Similarly Delaware brewers Dogfish Head brewed the 5.0% Dirty Fermentini with BeerAdvocate founders Jason and Todd Alstrom based around the idea of a Dry Martini beer complete with an olive, which were used in the brewing process alongside suitable botanicals and whole-leaf Cascade hops as a one-off for the Boston Extreme Beer Fest in 2012. Sadly neither of these beers are no longer brewed but it would have been rather nice I fancy to sit sipping these beers in the sunshine on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Back to the beer in question. It pours an orange/light brown colour with a bright white head, and if you can imagine a combination of both Amber Ale and English Pale Ale then you won't be too far off. It's fair to say that the aroma is quite unlike any other beer that I have ever sniffed before with dandelion, honey, orange zest, white pepper, lemon and of course whole juniper berries, it is slightly spicy, enticingly fruity and rather delicious on the nose, albeit with a slightly medicinal element. Smooth, dry and with a faint prickle of carbonation over the tongue, white pepper is immediately apparent, adding a little heat before lemon peel (not zest) and honey flavours sneak in, but they too are soon overtaken with that unmistakable juniper berry dry, slightly sour taste with maybe a crack of black pepper enhancing the sensation. The finish dries out nicely, as you might hope for in a beer styled in this manner, with a peppery and fruity flourish rounding it off nicely before it completely disappears.
I'm guessing that this may well be a beer that divides opinion and if the taste of gin isn't to your liking then you may not find it pleasant at all. I picked this bottle up at Utobeer a week or so ago and one of the chaps there, someone who professed his dislike for gin to me, described it as one of the most disgusting beers he had ever tasted. How could I refuse a recommendation like that? - so I immediately purchased one. I'm very pleased to say that I made the right decision, in my opinion, and I would have missed out on a unique, but most definitely tasty beer. I was indeed sceptical but this beer turned out to be all it promised, and more besides. Lovely stuff.