Sunday, 9 November 2014

Beers Of London Series 78. Camden Town Brewery - IHL

Beers Of London Series
78. Camden Town Brewery - India Hells Lager 6.2%

The Beers Of London series is back on my blog after a six month hiatus. In that time I've done a little travelling, written on a few beery subjects, help get Beer East Anglia up and running, and tasted some fantastic beer. The beer scene in the capital has expanded at an incredible rate from when I started this series back in April 2013, London currently has seventy-five (yes, that is indeed 75) active breweries (source: A London Beer And Pub Guide). Since I started this series a few that I have featured have closed for good, one has relocated to York, and at least one is on a temporary break, but who knows how many more there will be this time next year?

I remember that around twelve months ago people were talking about it reaching a 'critical mass' and there were grumblings from some quarters about this being a 'fad' with the pessimists warning that: "This bubble's going to burst in 3/6/12/24* months (*delete as applicable), you mark my words."

Thankfully, this hasn't happened and if anything the momentum has grown. Craft beer is almost mainstream with more bars opening in London all the time to service the needs of those literally thirsting for the next beer/brewery/collaboration/limited release to appear. It can no longer be called a fad, it has become a revolution, an upsurge in the appreciation of good quality beer, brewed by people with a real passion for what they do, who aren't afraid to experiment and push those boundaries, and there are no signs that this is abating.

Although Camden Town Brewery has only been in existence since 2010 it no longer seems like one of the new kids on the block, neither however does it seem out of date or traditional in any sense as it is constantly evolving, bringing out new and exciting beers on a regular basis. The India Hells Lager is the latest of these, and it could be argued that it is the most exciting.

"Why do you keep changing the beers, dropping some and bringing out new ones?" I asked Alex Troncosco, Head Brewer and Development Director, recently, "Is it that you just get bored?"
"Partly" he laughed "and partly due to the availability of ingredients. We're always looking to improve on what we've done before. Learn from that and make something better."

Earlier this week I was at the 'Our Good Lord Lager' event, part of the '7 Days Of IHL' hosted by Camden Town Brewery at a converted gallery close to Camden Road Overground station. This had been transformed into the 'Temple Of IHL', the venue for the whole weeks celebration and the official launch of their new India Hells Lager.

Where some breweries may have an evening launch of a new beer with bloggers and writers invited for a taste and a chat to the brewer and staff, Camden Town Brewery opted instead for a whole seven day celebration consisting of various events centred around the IHL, all except one of which weren't at the brewery at all.

The 'Our Good Lord Lager' session was hosted by Alex who talked extensively about the their three current lagers, the flagship Hells with it's crisp dry finish, the sharp, pine accented Pils, a beer that I actually prefer to the Hells, and the new India Hells Lager that replaces the USA Hells in this triumvirate. We were treated to some technical information on lagering temperature and conditioning periods, which is obviously a huge factor in enabling such crisp flavours and essential in producing a dry and clean finish, but I was interested to here him praise larger producers and the way they are able to come out with such a reliably consistent product. This is of course necessary, particularly as a brewery grows in popularity and builds a fan base of drinkers who want their favourite beer just the way they like it time and again.

Brewed with Magnum, Mohawk, Chinook and Simcoe hops, this India Hells Lager (or IHL for short) aims to deliver the high hop-hitting intensity of a US-style IPA coupled with the balance and dry finish of a classic German-style lager. Seen as the natural successor to their Indian Summer Lager, this is a little different from all previous offerings from Camden Town Brewery in that it is only available in cans.

It pours a golden yellow, a little hazy but only a touch, with a thin off-white head that dissipates into barely more than a whisper. The aroma is, as you might expect big and enticing, full of the promise of pine and peach juice, mango and passion fruit, and it has to be said that this beer delivers on that promise in spades. Sharp and bitter over the tongue, there's in incursion of biscuity maltiness before all of those flavours prominent in the aroma collide and explode, filling the mouth with juicy citrus bitterness, quickly followed by a sprinkling of sugared lime zest that cleanses the palate. It's this flavour, candied lime peel if you will, that takes you through to the finish, clean and crisp but with faint echoes of lime and a dryness that doesn't overwhelm but is just enough to make you crave more. There's balance here too despite it's frankly insane crescendo, with every element delivering pitch perfectly to become a beer that as a whole is much more than the sum of its parts.

This is a beer that will change your perceptions about what a lager is, and what a lager can be. A culmination of brewing experience and experimentation, a high point in the evolution of the craft beer revolution. Matt Curtis described this beer as a "game changer" and I'm inclined to agree, it really is that good. As I mentioned before it is only available in cans with a BBE of six months from canning, meaning Camden Town Brewery want you to drink this as fresh as possible. These should be widely available from next week, so go and pick some up.
I paid for my ticket for 'Our Good Lord Lager'. It was £10 which was I think was a bargain for the beers I drank, the talk from Alex, notwithstanding the conversation and access to the brewer. I was there with Steve Bentall (pictured below) from the Beer O'Clock Show podcast, and after it was over we were able to get a brief interview with Alex (pictured above) which will feature on this weeks show (due out on Friday 14th November) and when this is available I'll post a link to that too. For full disclosure too I have to add that I was subsequently invited back for the 'Full Moon Party' at which all the beer (which was all IHL) and food was free of charge. This was a more informal affair, but was a good chance to catch up with some beery folk that I hadn't seen for a while.

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