Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Beers Of London Series 75. London Fields Brewery - Bootlegger Series: Double IPA

Beers Of London Series
75. London Fields Brewery -
Bootlegger Series: Double IPA 7.2%

Even though I've reviewed London Fields Brewery beers before, I've picked up a couple of beers from them recently that I'm not only anxious to drink, but I think are noteworthy enough to write about.

The Double IPA is the sixth beer in London Fields Bootlegger Series, focussing on alternative styles, high abvs and alternative ingredients. There were three released last year, an oak-aged Weizen Doppel Bock, a Pumpkin Ale and an American Black Ale, which have been followed up with a Chocolate Porter, a Marzen and the Double IPA in February, March and April this year respectively. The additional fact that this bottle was only delivered to Sourced Market last Thursday and that I'm keen to review it as fresh as possible is another albeit understandable reason for this post.

As I want to get on and drink this beer I shall only inform you that it's brewed using Chico Ale Yeast (also known more formally as Wyeast 1056) and huge quantities of Amarillo, Chinook and Simcoe hops before I open it up. I hope you're ok with that? Good, shall we begin.

It pours a murky orange brown, it has had plenty of time to settle and it was poured carefully so I'm assuming that is its natural state - which I don't mind one bit, and throws a good off-white head that quickly fades to top the beer nicely. The aroma screams pine and orange peel at you from the outset, but there's also mango in there and more than a pinch of white pepper mixed up with some fresh green spring onion and a few leaves of lemon balm. I could quite happily sit here sniffing this for quite some time to be honest as all these smells roll around just inside the lip of the glass, its really rather lovely. Smooth and quite muted over the tongue, I really expected a beer with this sort of aroma to bite hard with bitterness but instead its slick and rather dignified. A delicious creamy toffee flavour makes way for some sharp citrus, a sticky concentrated orange sauce with some grated grapefruit and lemon peel before this is washed away by some a dainty peach cordial, it's a satisfying rise and fall, not abrupt but gentle and full of taste. The finish dries to leave the sensation left from sucking an orange boiled sweet, perhaps a little barley sugar too, sticky and oily with a sharp spike of bitterness that somehow takes it to a different place, like a summer walk in a damp forest, warm and dank which lasts for a long long time.

If you think that I like this beer you'd be spot on. You might not have gathered it from my admittedly short preamble but I wasn't sure that this beer would deliver on the hyperbole written on the label (you'll have to read it for yourself when you get a bottle to see what I mean) as I'm a natural cynic when it comes to such things. This is however, a balanced and smooth beer, full of flavour without being mouth-puckerinrly headache-inducingly so, and above all it tastes fresh fresh fresh. I love it and if you can get a bottle and drink it soon then I hope you will too. A schizophrenic beast of a brew indeed.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Beers Of London Series 74. Fourpure Brewing Co. - Oatmeal Stout

Beers Of London Series
74. Fourpure Brewing Co - Oatmeal Stout 5.1%

When it comes to deciding on what to call your brewery it can be a tough decision. Do you want to call it after the area you're brewing in, something with an historical reference, maybe your name or nickname is included in it, or perhaps you want to be esoteric and maybe sneak in a clever pun?
So when home-brewing brothers Daniel and Thomas Lowe formed  Foupure Brewing Co. in 2013 they thought about four basic ingredients: malt, hops, water and yeast, and maintaining an attention to detail, a commitment to exceptional brewing and  a purity of purpose, then the name came rather naturally to them.

Coming from a family with a passion for travel and discovery, holidays were spent travelling both at home and abroad visiting local breweries and sampling the local beers and although they find it hard to pick out specific beers and breweries as influences, Sierra Nevada (for quality, innovation and passion) and New Belgium (for it's commitment to employees and the environment) in the US, and Fullers (family brewers and supporters of the industry) in the UK are cited when pushed.

Based in South Bermondsey, which has a growing reputation due to the famed Bermondsey Beer Mile which is becoming a 'must visit' Saturday destination for lovers of good beer, there are two additional members of the team, Josie and John, and have a capacity of about 30 hectolitres which is just over 18 UK Barrels, or around 5280 Imperial Pints. The range consists of six core beers with various special, one-off beers available at the brewery most Saturdays although their Imperial Wit will, one of the latter will be available to a few selected accounts very soon. You will also be able to find some of their beers in cans from early May, everything except the Stout and the seasonals, ready for what promises to be a bumper Summer of canned offerings for lovers of good beer.

Their Oatmeal Stout pours a very dark brown, bordering on black, with its beige head flaring briefly before settling down into a thin covering on top. The chocolate and coffee aroma is quite sweet with the merest hint of black pepper and burnt toast lurking under the surface, emerging more fully as it warms in the hand. The bitterness is first felt at the back of the throat before moving majestically forward, and the beer has a decent body with that hint of creaminess you would expect with this style. Dark chocolate, burnt toast and to a lesser extent coffee are the dominant and clearly flavours in what is indeed a very clean tasting stout, but the carbonation carries a little cola with it and a pinch of dry peppery spiciness that nestles nicely in the centre of the tongue. The finish is dry and a touch oily, echoing the chocolate and coffee notes that follow this beer along the whole of its length, and feels rather satisfying for a good while after the glass is empty.

I have read reviews of this beer that have described it as rather thin and tasting a little of cold coffee so I took the precaution of allowing it to warm for about an hour after I took it from the fridge and was justly rewarded. The care taken to produce it is certainly evident, and while it's not a bruising heavy-weight of a beer it would sit perfectly at the beginning of an evening where a barrel-aged Imperial behemoth was the final chapter.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Beers Of London Series 73. The Cronx Brewery - Standard

Beers Of London Series
73. The Cronx Brewery - Standard 3.8%

The Cronx are London brewery number 44 to feature in this series so far and one I have been trying to source beer from for a while without success, either just missing their beer on at pubs around town or finding that some shops have sold out. I really should have made the trek down to Croydon to source some locally but I found that even though I planned to make the journey on a good few occasions I found myself thwarted by circumstances beyond my control. Well maybe not completely beyond my control but enough to side-track me and keep me from my destination.

The Cronx Brewery were formed in 2011 when Mark Russell, a wholesaler of alcoholic drinks, met Simon Dale, a regulatory advisor for an asset management company in the City, and found they were both having a similar thought, that of establishing a new brewery in Croydon, the first since Page and Overton closed its doors for the last time in 1954. After some test brews, much planning and finding some commercial premises, their brewery equipment was delivered on 10th July 2012, they brewed for the first time on 18th July 2012 (coincidentally my birthday), with their first beer on sale in the pubs of Croydon on Wednesday 8th August 2012 (also coincidentally my wedding anniversary).

They have five permanent beers in their range, Standard - which is the beer I have here, Kotchin - a blonde ale brewed with Cascade, Nektar - a Pale Ale brewed with Polish Marynka hops, Entire - a traditional Porter, and Mad Ass Entire - a not-so-traditional Porter brewed with smoked chilli peppers from the Mad-Ass Chilli Sauce Co Ltd, as well as Single Hop Series, seasonal beers, specials and the occasional one-off. This particular beer I picked up from my good friends at Ales By Mail who have helped me out with a good many of the beers in this series.

The Standard pours a beautiful brown/orange akin to varnished rosewood, crowned with a dense and creamy beige head and it takes that creaminess with it as it passes over the tongue but with the addition of good prickle of carbonation that isn't at all apologetic and adds to the enjoyment of the taste. The aroma is full of sweet chocolate fudge with a little lactic bite that brings out some gooey dried papaya, syrup covered dates and rich suet pudding flavours, in fact the more it warms, the more it evolves in that respect with snatches of thyme and toffee apple in the mix as well. As you may expect with a beer of this low abv however it doesn't translate this aromatic complexity into the taste but it does bring a bitterness that balances very well with flavours of sweet caramel, fruity but understated date and raisin, and rather pleasingly some of that sticky stodgy suet pudding flavour I detected earlier. The finish too is rounded and long lasting with all those muted creamy pudding flavours coating the mouth and leaving a sherry-like resonance.

To be perfectly honest I really wasn't expecting this beer to be quite so good as it is. I must confess that when I picked up a bottle of 'Standard' then I thought I would be drinking a twiggy brown bitter much as you might find in any honest hostelry up and down the country, brewed by brewers sticking to time honoured recipes. Drinkable certainly but not remarkable. This is however, anything but standard, and actually their website describes it thus, but being the sceptic (or indeed cynic) that I am I tend to discount such frippery. On this occasion I was very very wrong and this is a very very good beer. I'll certainly be looking out for more beers from the Cronx to drink soon, and I suggest that you do too if you haven't already.

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.