Sunday, 30 June 2013

Beers Of London Series
40. Weird Beard Brew Co. / Elusive Brewing - Nelson Saison 6.9%

Sometimes a beer comes along that demands that you have to review it instantly. This is such a beer.
Collaboration brews are all the rage at the moment and saisons are particularly 'on trend', but you would be very much mistaken for thinking that this was a band-wagon jumping beer of that ilk. Far from it.
This, as I've said, is a collaboration between Weird Beard, currently causing a buzz for producing some of the most sought after beers right now, and Elusive Brewing aka Andy Parker, home brewer turned commercial cuckoo-brewer in a very short space of time and all round nice chap to boot, and taking the Elusive Brewing name from his beer blog, Musings Of An Elusive Beer Geek. I'm a big fan of Weird Beard's offerings, having already reviewed two of their beers in this series already which you can read about here and here and in which you can find out a little about them and their brewery which they currently share with Ellenberg's Brewery, some of whose beers I'll be drinking and writing about very soon. If you follow either @WeirdBeard_Brew or @tabamatu on twitter then you'll already be familiar with this beer and how it came to be, suffice to say that as Bryan and Gregg are former home brewers themselves then they are attracting other former home brewers reaching out to a very appreciative wider audience to collaborate with. Expect one from a certain David Bishop from Nothern Monk Brew Co (#thenorthiscoming) very soon.
You can read all about this beer, the second in the Single Hop series, straight from Andy's blog here, so all that remains for me to do is drink it.
It pours a cloudy orange, like a citrus caramel, with a lemony yellow edge and a tight fluffy off-white head, very much as you would expect for the style. The aroma is tart with melon and grapefruit, kiwi and lime, with a sharp yeasty powderiness riding nicely alongside and interwoven with it. It's a little sticky over the tongue, flowing sweetly and gently leaving lime, cantaloupe, concentrated kiwifruit and strawberry juice, tangy with a hint of white pepper and a little tart, it's almost a little too sweet and cloying, almost ... but then it bursts and dries leaving a beautiful gooey mess of melon and caramel, sticky and delicious. It coats the back of the throat and the roof of the mouth with a beautifully oily citric syrup, this is a saison enhanced with a dank chewy finish, it's superb.
This is another beer that I picked up from Ales By Mail and when beers like this come in you have to be quick getting them. I certainly hope you do.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Beers Of London Series
39. Hoppy Collie Brewery - Coffee Stout 5.5%

Fortune is a wonderful thing. Finding a new brewery that you'd never heard of before. Finding out that the brewery is based in London. Finding out that they've been brewing a range of beers since late January / early February 2013. Then finding out that the beer you have in front of you tastes ... well you'll find that out soon enough.
I had a good day out in London yesterday and as I'm prone to do, though not as often as I'd like, I made a detour on my way home and called in at the The Cock Tavern in Hackney. It's home to Howling Hops brewery and I wanted to pick up another bottle to review for this series as I rather enjoyed the Smoked Porter when I tasted it. I'll be reviewing the bottle I picked up soon enough but when I looked around to see what was on offer there on one of the taps in front of me was this pump clip:

I was intrigued and immediately tried to find who this 'Hoppicoly' were and actually ... what sort of a name was that anyway!
Fortunately the internet is a clever thing and soon worked out that I actually wanted Hoppy Collie Brewery, beer and dogs, I dug a little deeper. Their website is rather helpful. Based in Hammersmith, Hoppy Collie was started by Travis Mooney, an American who understandably had a
 hankering for the beers of his home country. Inspired by the online home brewing adventures of Wil Wheaton (that annoyingly pretentious child from Star Trek: The Next Generation) home brew kit was bought and he made his first tentative brews in July 2011. These were well received, Travis brewed a beer for his own wedding, and in June 2012 the transition from home brewer to commercial brewer was made with the founding of the Hoppy Collie Brewery, and in case you're wondering about the name all of the brewing takes place under the watchful eye of Viola, the original hoppy collie dog.
The regular line up of beers includes an American Pale Ale, a traditional Bitter, a California Common, a blonde ale called Hammersmith Blonde, and a coffee stout which was the beer I stumbled across and therefore the beer that I'm reviewing (obviously you say ... you clever lot).
Brewed with Cascade and Northern Brewer hops and a healthy dose of Ethiopian Sidamo coffee beans, it pours black, pure unadulterated black. Black as night, black as coal, and possibly, as was exclaimed by a nameless person as it was pulled, so dark that it 'must have been made from the souls of pump monkeys'. God bless those pump monkeys. There's a thin café latte head sitting atop this light-swallowing black-hole of a liquid, releasing a marvellous aroma of bitter chocolate and freshly roasted coffee beans. It picks and grasps at the tongue as it passes over it, digging needles of molten chocolate and espresso deep into the flesh, hot rich and intense. This is a beer of considerable punch, beautifully creamy and rich with a real depth of flavour. A real delight. The finish is smoky, but not overly so, and full of more coffee and chocolate, but this time becoming sweeter and dryer as it lingers for some time.
This is a fantastic beer, big and full of flavour, and now I've had the good fortune to stumble across some Hoppy Collie I'll certainly be looking out for more. I suggest you do too.

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!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Beers Of London Series
37. The Five Points Brewing Co - Red Rye 6.0% Trial Brew

Time to get back to the Beers Of London Series after a brief holiday. I have been fortunate enough to visit a few breweries, attend City Of Ale in Norwich and have a weekend in Brussels in the last fortnight so I've hardly been slacking, far from it, but it's good to get back to drinking some London brews.
This is the first time I've featured a beer from The Five Points Brewing Company and I've found fairly little information about them online. Established this year (2013) and named after the five point junction where Dalston Lane, Amhurst Road and Pembury Road meet which is near to the brewery. It's another 'railway arch' based brewery too, under Hackney Downs station, they state that they have a commitment to 'high quality, flavoursome and interesting beers', which sounds pleasing enough. They will have some of their beer at the London Vegan Beerfest in July, but I was lucky enough to get this bottle from Ales By Mail who have helped me an awful lot with this series. This Red Rye trial was brewed in April and contains Chinook, Columbus and Simcoe, an as that's about all that I've managed to find out thus far then I need to open the bottle.
It pours the most wonderful ruby red colour with some light brown and orange highlights, and a tight off-white head, it's an extremely attractive looking beer. The aroma leaps out of the glass with gorgeous cherry drop, orange peel, pineapple flesh and some blackberry in there for good measure. It's not that smooth over the tongue, rather it grips and tightens the taste buds and to paraphrase Dylan Thomas, it does not go gentle into the throat, rather it explodes with passion fruit, pineapple, basil, cherry and raspberry wine gums, and some light sticky toffee too. The finish has more berry fruit stickiness with a hint of balsamic vinegar and bourbon biscuit, it really is delicious.
If this is what The Five Point Brewing Company have done as a trial brew then it looks like they'll be fulfilling their commitment and will certainly be a brewery to keep an eye out for.