Category Archives: Festivals/Events

Alternative altbier: Anspach and Hobday’s Oktoberfest range

By Liz Dodd

Oktoberfest. The smell of smokey sausages hangs in the air. People with lederhosen compare altbier and rauchbier. Meanwhile, a few metres away, double decker buses roar up and down Upper Street.

The annual German beer celebration is observed slightly differently in Islington, as we discovered earlier this month at local craft pub The Hop and Berry. Less dancing on tables, more ironic dominoes on table.

Here local (well, Bermondsey-based) brewers Anspach and Hobday are launching their six-strong range of German style beers. It’s just in time for Oktoberfest, and good news for anyone disappointed by the sudden closure of London’s official Oktoberfest allegedly due to inadequate staffing.

The brewery admits it’s taken some liberties. “We’ve bastardised some of it,” admits Paul Anspach who, true to his Germanic heritage, is wearing lederhosen. “In Germany, Oktoberfest is a family festival. We haven’t got helter skelter,” he points out, accurately.

He and Jack (Hobday) tell us they relished the chance to brew the six beers – a rauchbier, a hefeweizen, a Bavarian IPA, an altbier, a Berliner weiss and a golden rachbier. “It’s nice to make the classic styles. It was like going back to the recipe book,” Jack explains.

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I dove straight in with the 7 per cent golden rauch (it had been a tough week, alright?) It’s savoury and smokey, like a Rauch should be, and lifted by its hazy floral nose. Its cousin, the straight Rauchbier, had the same caramell-y smoke, with rolling coffee notes.

IMG_20150930_204340On to the Hefeweizen, which is creamy, herbal and deliciously smooth. Cut its vanilla-banana wheat notes by with the Berliner Weiss, a gloriously sour, refreshing fizz with groves of tropical fruit.

We finish with the Bavarian IPA, which is hoppy, bitter and very drinkable, and the altbier, which glows an amber red and tastes of smoke and toast. A great autumnal beer, and a great way to dip a toe into the great German tradition.

With just a couple of kegs of each left, it’s worth sorting a trip to the Anspach and Hobday brewery tap as soon as possible. Some of the most popular – like the Hefe, Alt and Rauch – might appear again as keg specials.

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Hair of the Dog: What we learned at Brewdog’s 2015 #PunkAGM

It’s been just over a week since Brewdog’s 2015 AGM. The hop-haze has finally lifted. My ears have stopped ringing. And I can be in a room with alcohol again.

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Note: not all mine

The ubiquitous craft beer company‘s AGM isn’t your average AGM, as I explained to my photographer, Will, when he asked if this was a tie and chinos or a jeans kind of event.

Back in 2010, the company started trading B-shares in an effort to raise capital. Its investors were, by and large, craft beer fans, drawn in as much by discounts and bonuses as brand loyalty. The scheme – dubbed Equity for Punks – was a roaring success and, in five years, has raised over £6M.

But as a business, what do you do when the majority of your shareholders are beer-lovin’, mohawk-sporting, tie-eschewing punks? Turn AGM on its head and hold a festival instead.

Hopefully not holding out for an actual AGM for punks

Hopefully not here because of a terrible misunderstanding about the title #PunkAGM

We arrived in Scotland – courtesy of Brewdog, who invited us and covered the trip – early Saturday morning, the slate-grey streets of Aberdeen glowing in the sunshine as we landed, slingshot (with Scotland’s angriest taxi driver) around the outskirts of town and on to the colossal warehouse that would house the event.

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Inside punks, PR and press – drinks in hand – quickly got down to business; the annual report that opened the day’s tastings. And oh, how beleaguered Tesco must wish its shareholders were punks. Brewdog’s founders, James Watt and Martin Dickie, crossed the packed arena floor to raucous cheering, through a forest of raised glasses full – or, in most cases, part-full – of the beers that they would reveal had underpinned a year of unprecedented growth.

It’s testament to Brewdog’s army of punks – of which there were 14,500 before the AGM – that the 6,000 or so of them in attendance (the maximum the event could host) not only showed up early enough for the address, but listened with rapt attention. I didn’t begrudge James and Martin the six-pack they had on stage with them – tie-wearing corporates their shareholders are not, but that doesn’t mean they’ll take bad news well.

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But of course, this is Brewdog; arguably one of the craft beer Renaissance’s most overwhelming success stories. There was no bad news. The company’s turnover for 2014 was up a staggering 64 per cent, to £29.6M. Their gross profit – up 66 percent – was £11.5M, and with overheads of £7.8M, ended up with a net profit pre-tax of £3.7M. Brewdog has grown by 71 per cent in the last three years. Behind it all? “We’re committed to making as many people as possible passionate about craft beer,” James explained.

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Brewdog comes under fire, particularly in the London bubble, for its aggressive marketing, its appropriation of punk, and doing too well, too quickly. A few years ago it was criticised for the inconsistency of its ubiquitous IPA, Punk. But is this a case of the classic, British distrust of success?

Speaking personally, I’m a fan of Brewdog’s brash, hoppy beers, which speak to my palate. I like that I can get them everywhere, from Sainsbury’s local to Wetherspoons, in Oslo via Florence.

I fell for them even harder at the AGM when I ran my stock feminist sort-of-trick question, “do you brew beers specifically aimed at women?”, past Alex Myers, Director at Manifest, who handle Brewdog’s PR, between drinks.

“All our beers are for everyone,” he said, immediately, and with conviction. 10/10 answer. Not a whiff of, “why, of course, we have a 3 per cent cherry-flavoured beer, and one that tastes like chocolate…”

Finally, you can’t deny Brewdogs’ fans’ passion – made manifest in the whopping number of shares sold – be they the punks, or the two Scots on stage clutching their cans of craft.

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Brewdog has done a comprehensive round-up of the AGM announcements here. Our top lines…

US EXPANSION

Brewdog, which incredibly still still brews out of one, soon-to-be-expanded site at in Ellon in Aberdeenshire, is expanding production and heading stateside, with plans to open a 42-acre sister brewery in Columbus, Ohio. Dog Bless America, indeed.

NEW BEERS

Born to Die, an imperial IPA with a life-span of just 35 days, was our beer of the weekend, so great news that it’s going to be made marginally more widely available. The plan is to brew two batches that will appear in 660ml bottles and be available on keg. The beer we tried (that will die on 4 July!) was extravagantly hoppy, delicious and citrus-fresh. Will swears he was sweating hops the next day. BD also announced its first Equity Punk-inspired brew, a 6.5% chocolate and coconut stout, and a collaboration with Beavertown called “Coffee and cigarettes”, which is exactly what those members of Team Beavertown aboard our early morning return flight to London on Sunday looked like they needed.

NEW BARS

Brewdog also announced a slew of new Brewdog bars, including (deep breath) Leeds, Glasgow, Berlin, Brighton, Oslo, Rome, Leicester, Brussels, and, most importantly, because it’s at the end of my road, in Angel, Islington as well as London’s Soho, which will apparently also have a beer-themed sex shop (Bd’s PR didn’t explicitly deny this, so… you heard it here first, until you didn’t…)

FULL OF SPIRIT and IN THE DOG HOUSE

Finally, BD also announced that they would be opening a craft distillery, promising “we are going to smash the world of spirits forever”, and shared some tantalising details about its planned hotel, The Kennel in Ellon, to be the first completely beer-focused hotel in the UK, with beer on tap in every room.

“2014 was ace,” James told us, a broad understatement.

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THE BEERS

With the AGM down, it was on to some serious drinking, with not a watercooler or peppermint tea in sight. In our experience, the layout this year worked well and queues for the half-dozen or so bars were short (except for the food pop-ups outside – we legitimately queued for 50 minutes for a burrito). The beer wasn’t breathtakingly cheap – £10 bought you six tokens, and most beers (served in pints, 1/2s, 2/3s and 1/3) cost two or three tokens – so at £2.50-£3 a third a hair’s cheaper than London prices for some, but a generous £2 a pint for others (like Punk IPA).

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Team ICIP drank our way round most of the bars (why do you think it took so long to write this post?); our top tips:

Born to Die 04.07.2015: Just glorious. Fresh, US-hops, with zingy grapefruit notes. Full-bodied hop punch. Did I mention it’s hoppy? Basically my dream beer.

Dog D: At 16 per cent, this hefty imperial stout was not a beer to mess with. Or drink at the end of the night, as I did, which probably explains why I had to have a nice lie down on the floor of the departure lounge the next morning. Aged in oak barrels, it exudes chilli, black treacle, vanilla and whiskey notes. For 28 hours after you drink it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Jack Hammer: Another hop bomber, this one a more gentle 7.2%. Looking back, it’s probably a bad sign that my tasting notes rendered this “gentle” by mid afternoon. No matter! More US-hops here, palette-meltingly bitter, also more widely available than the beers above. Might start a petition for Sainsbury’s to start stocking this one.

Ballast Point, Sculpin Habanero: There were beers other than Brewdog, and this stole the show. I can only really claim to have had a half pint of this, because so bowled over was I by the seedy habanero kick – unlike any other chilli beer I have ever tasted – that I offered a mouthful of it to everyone I encountered just to see the looks on their faces. Extraordinary.

THE BANDS

Turns out that after a few pints of double-digit strength beer, I both recall the words to and enjoy many more Idewild, Twin Atlantic and Pulled Apart by Horses songs than I realised. Leaping around like a lunatic to Scottish emo was the perfect end to a fab day. But, this is a beer blog, not a music blog, so this entry is mostly an opportunity to showcase the one good photo I took with Will’s camera.

SO PROUD

SO PROUD

THE REST…

We only attended one tasting session – with Brewdog’s own brewers, and of lovely Dog D – and it was great. You do have to fork over precious beer tokens to attend, but it’s well worth it; in fact, apart from booking the subsequent week off, making more of those sessions is pretty much all we’d do differently next year.

Because, Dog willing, we’ll be back, and we’ll see you down the front.

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Loveable Rogue

It’s a dull, dark night in early January, and ICIP has been lucky enough to be invited to a special dinner at The Bull in Highgate, north London, hosted by American brewery Rogue Ales. Established in Oregon in 1988, Rogue has been one of the frontrunners of the American beer revolution, and their chunky, distinctive bottles are a common sight in fridges in beer-loving bars across London.

This dinner was to mark a visit from their Brewmaster, John Maier, a man with a beard so famous it has its own Twitter account and blog. John has been visiting the UK primarily to brew with our friends at Adnams, and the resulting Brutal IPA is going to be featured in JD Wetherspoon pubs across the country.

Rogue had taken the opportunity to host this multi-course beer and food paired spectacular while John was passing through the capital, and as we duck out of the miserable weather into the cosy confines of The Bull the bar is already buzzing with brewers, beer writers and distributors eager to see what the night has in store.

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Before we commence noshing, we start with an old favourite – Dead Guy Ale, a 6.5% maibock. With a beautiful red tint in the glass, the beer has a powerful malty nose but a hoppy finish courtesy of European Saaz and Perle that really lifts it. We’re off to a great start.

beard_beer1Next up are canapés – sesame prawns with a sweet and sour veggie garnish – accompanied by a glass of Beard Beer (5.5%), a brew with a backstory so crazy, we thought it was a joke until we had it confirmed by John himself. The legend goes that the yeast for this Belgian beer was cultivated in John’s beard. Apparently they snipped a bit off, took it to the lab, and brewed with the resulting strain. John has been growing his beard since 1978, and his yeast has certainly produced a fine vintage (sorry). It packs the classic Belgian aromas you’d expect, bready and rich, and has tart red fruit flavours. It’s a good foil for the sweet and sour Asian flavours as well as providing enough carbonation to cut through the palate-coating sauce.

rogue_farms_chipotle_aleWe take our seats for our starter, which is a fondue made with the very beer we will be enjoying next – Chipotle Ale (5.5%). This amber ale is brewed with jalapeño peppers, which, John tells us, Rogue grow themselves on their farm back in Oregon. Rogue now grow a huge amount of their own produce, and John proudly reels off a list for us – hops, barley, rye, hazelnuts, marionberries – even pumpkins, which he says they slow roast for a week in a pizza oven to caramelise them before they’re used in their Pumpkin Patch Ale. Twenty kilos of smoked chillies are added to each brew of Chipotle Ale, tied up in a bag and added to the kettle during the boil. The result is a beer with a subtly smoky nose, a big punch of maltiness and a well-judged warmth to finish. It blends fabulously with our fondue, adding a depth and richness to the cheese.

rogue_farms_oregasmic_ale2Rogue’s passion for locally-sourced ingredients is made even more apparent with their next offering – OREgasmic Ale (6.5%). This IPA is brewed exclusively using ingredients from Rogue’s home state, Oregon. John tells us that this full-bodied beer uses many hop varieties, all grown by the brewery, and that its strong malt backbone allows them to hop it hard. This, he says, stops it from becoming “so bone dry it crunches your palate”. The beer is paired with confit duck served with a waffle and maple glaze, and it works nicely. There are the familiar punchy pine and citrus notes from the US hops, but it is balanced by a slight caramel sweetness. It managed to walk the tightrope and both cuts through the fatty meat and complements the sweet waffle and glaze.

voodoo_pretzel_raspberry__chocolate1We’re a little alarmed when our hosts present us with bubblegum pink bottles of Voodoo Doughnut Pretzel, Raspberry & Chocolate Ale (5.4%). To call the packaging eye-catching would be an understatement, and as a rule we are not fans of crazily-flavoured beers. The nose doesn’t encourage us – it literally smells of jam doughnuts, and while jam doughnuts are very nice, this is not a doughnut. This is meant to be a beer. John tells us that the base for this beer is the Mocha Porter, and that it is de-hopped before the other eyebrow-raising ingredients are added. This is one of several collaborations with Oregon-based Voodoo Doughnuts, and appropriately it is being served with cinnamon doughnuts and chocolate sauce. Despite our trepidation, the beer holds its own. In the same way that it didn’t smell like beer, it certainly doesn’t taste of doughnuts or pretzels. “They wanted to add stuff like pretzels to the lauter tun,” John remembers, “and I said sure, but you’ll never be able to taste them!”. While he’s right on the baked goods front, the less sweet elements – the bitter cocoa and sharp raspberry – really do come through, and the subtly parching mouthfeel helps cut through the sweet stodginess of our dessert. We’re pleasantly surprised, and have learned yet again not to judge a beer by its bottle.

lAllegroPorterBottleNext up are our petit fours, which once again incorporate the beer they are paired with – Allegro Coffee Porter. This 7.2% Baltic Porter was added to the most delicious peanut butter and chocolate truffles we have ever eaten, and the bitterness of the toasted malt perfectly cuts through the mouth-coatingly rich treats. John tells us that strong cold-infused coffee is used – and you certainly get this both on the nose and on the palate – but there is a sweetness there too, a hint of caramel, or maybe vanilla.

xs_imperial_ipaJust when we thought the night couldn’t get much better, we’re presented with our digestif – a generous glass of XS I²PA – a seriously intense Imperial IPA clocking in at 9.5%. John tells us that this beer was dry hopped with a range of Rogue’s own US hops, which explains both the resin and pine notes and the tang of citrus on the nose. The parching hoppy bitterness you’d expect from the style is well-balanced with an almost caramel flavour from the malt. It is delicious and far too drinkable for the ABV.

Like many other breweries, there is a distinctive signature flavour detectable in all of their beers. While this is often down to the yeast a brewer favours, in this case, I think that the “Rogue” quality is all down to their use of malt, much of it home-grown. Personally, I’m really not a hophead (that’s Liz’s department), and I think what I like about Rogue’s beers so much is that all of the styles, even the hoppiest IPAs, have a strong malt backbone that balances out any excessive punch of citrus or acerbic aftertaste that ensures you can’t drink anything else all evening. I even find myself polishing off my large helping of XS I²PA despite the fact that I usually steer well clear of Imperial IPAs all together.

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Rogue are particularly known for their promotion of beer and food matching, their bottles and website providing the kind of detailed info on IBUs and attenuation you don’t often see, and they make pairing suggestions for all their beers. This is a topic that sparks plenty of discussion on our somewhat international table: we are sitting with both a Dutch and an Italian beer importer. We go on to chat at length about beer’s perceived lack of sophistication when compared to wine, why this has come about, and how this misconception can be challenged. We talk about beer’s current image, both in the UK and abroad, and how men – and women – have played a part in its history, and can change its future. It is always a pleasure to have the opportunity to socialise within the beer community, and it was particularly interesting to speak with colleagues from overseas to get a different perspective on the beer world.

We had an incredible evening – great food, top notch beer, fabulous company, and, best of all, the chance to shake hands with a true giant of the American craft beer movement.

Big thanks to Mitch and the team at The Bull, and to John, Gary and the rest of the guys at Rogue.

– PS

Budget brilliance: ICIP reviews Wetherspoons’ International Real Ale Festival

ICIP is coming around to Wetherspoons.

Sure, we’ve gone there for a quiet pint and wound up giving witness accounts of the bar brawls that erupted within feet of our sun-soaked boozing to the Met’s finest. But more recently, we’ve been drawn in by the promise of cut-price Punk IPA and This is Lager, tempted to stay by cans of exclusive (and delicious) Sixpoint.

Now Wetherspoons, possessed as it is of some considerable clout,  has put together a superb international festival. International offerings from Birrificio (Italy), Sixpoint and 10 Barrel (USA) and Brewmoon (NZ) – among many others – sit alongside some 40 beers from UK Brewers (among them Harviestoun, Thwaites, Adnams). The autumnal range focuses on spicey, amber-y, chewy-caramel beers, but has also – in a welcome move – made an effort to showcase beers brewed by women (five international beers and two from the UK).

Read the full list

Not only that, but in a London ‘Spoons a festival pint cost £3.20, a good pound less than one of these beers would cost in our local craft pubs, and you can get three thirds for the same price. Some of the beers are of decent craft strength (around the 6-7% mark), and will still set you back just over a quid for a third, or less than a high street coffee.

But there is a price to pay for this breadth of range, even if it’s not financial. Lows we experienced in our mammoth, four pub tasting session included some dire service, occasionally atmosphere, and a lack of coordination across pubs in an area.

For example: every bar we visited stocked Bath Ales‘ Prophecy, but nowhere could we find the elusive Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale we were so desperate to locate. Arch-rivals Nicholsons told us last year that their pub managers co-ordinate festivals so a locale isn’t saturated with the same beers – if ‘Spoons wants to attract the craft crowd, they’ll have to do the same thing.

line of beersBut all that aside, beer tasting at a Wetherspoons festival is genuinely great fun.

“…you have to engage in a Pokemon-slash-Indiana Jones-style quest as you sprint, increasingly weavily, across quadrants of London”

Unlike a static, course-of-the-weekend festival you’re armed with a mouth-watering tasting list but no guarantee you’ll find any of the beers. There’s no schedule per pub, which means that if there are certain beers you’re desperate to try you have to engage in a Pokemon-slash-Indiana Jones-style quest as you sprint, increasingly weavily, across quadrants of London, dipping into cavernous branches of ‘Spoons as quickly as you dip out again once you realise they haven’t got one of the elusive beers you circled on your tasting notes.

We started at The Crosse Keys on Gracechurch Street, which supposedly has the most taps of any Wetherspoons. A former bank, its roughly canteen-y entrance gives way to a circular bar solid with taps and a gorgeous – if somewhat hotel-receptiony – private lobby behind, where ICIP and our guest taster Miranda sank into some comfortable sofas.

IMG_20141026_150615This is where it got difficult. The taps at The Crosse Keys are all assigned a number, and – v helpfully – the beer list perpetually scrolls across big flatscreen monitors throughout the bar. When you order, you do it takeaway style – a third of 13, 18 and 25, please.

liz wetherspoonBUT: the numbers on the taps do not match the order the ales are listed in Wetherspoons tasting notes. So once you’ve chosen your next drink based on the tasting notes (or the abv, wink wink), you have to sit and watch the scroll-y screen until (if you’re lucky and they have it) the beer you want flashes up. Then you have to very quickly scribble down the number, and then later remember what the hell beer that number referred to.

It goes without saying that this raucous game of beer bingo gets more and more difficult the more you drink. Try doing that across 12 thirds.

We exhausted the circular bar at the Crosse Keys (actually, the scroll-y screen of beer bingo was replaced with an ominous warning that the pub was closing early because of “a gas fault” so we ran for it) without nailing down some ales we were desperate to try, so embarked on a brave mission across the city, taking in Hamilton Hall at Liverpool Street Station, Goodman’s Field in Aldgate and finally The White Swan in Islington, making it through 20 of the beers in total (less than half!)

IMG_20141026_160306Some of the beers were excellent, some mundane; some of the pubs were stunning, others less so. But probably the greatest testament to ‘spoons endeavour is that Miranda and I are now physically incapable of passing one without popping in to see if they’ve got any of that damn elusive pumpkin beer.

There’s bound to be one near you, so if you’ve some spare change, you’re counting pennies until the end of the month or just want something new to drink before a Halloween do, drop in any time before 2 November.

ICIP’s TOP THREE

10 Barrel O.G. IPA, 5% ABV, USA

Honey-coloured, almost lager pale ale with good lacing and a thin head. Citrus and biscuit nose. The light malt leaves loads of room for the citrus-y Australian hops, which render it hoppy but not bitter. Very drinkable.

Adnams 1659 Smoked Ruby Beer (4.7% ABV)

Pours a rich, dark ruby with a thin head. Chocolate and biscuit on the nose. Then smoke! In gusts! Wood, ash, nuts. Good long mouthfeel: the smoke dominates, but enjoyably so. “It’s like there’s a peat fire in my mouth”, said Miranda.

Wicked weedWicked Weed Freak of Nature (7.5% ABV) USA:

WHOAH. Very unusual beer, this. Sour and grassy, with tobacco notes and a hint of gooseberries. Incredibly smooth mouthfeel and lingering savoury and somewhat soapy taste, it is surprisingly and inexplicably moreish.

MIRANDA’S TOP TIPS

Brewster’s Brewers Dozen (5.5% ABV):

Very sweet on the nose – smells like candyfloss and toffee apple. Fresh tasting, with hits of lime and coriander. Good amber colour – very nice to drink.

Bath Prophecy (3.9% ABV): This is a nice light pale ale with a lot of flavours going on – on first sip you get a hit of sweet Murray Mints, followed by a nice clean pine finish.

Banks beerBank’s Botanical Beer (4.2% ABV):

This unusual beer has a very floral and perfumey aroma. There are herby notes and it has a nice mouth feel – quite soft with a hint of mango. Strong lemony finish. Very tasty. This beer has added flavours from  “Gruit”, a herb and spice blend commonly used in medieval times when ale was brewed without hops.

BEST OF THE REST

Batemans Colonel’s Whiskers, 4.3%

Somewhere between a mild and a stout, this pours a thick, impenetrable pint with a slightly off white head. Molasses and black treacle, good mouthfeel.

Moorhouse’s Black Cat Reserve, 4.6%

Pitch black. Thin off white head. On the nose nutty, roasted, smokey. Gentle first mouthful, good thick mouthfeel, winds up a bit thin but then hits you with late, palette-obliterating liquorice.

Arundel Autumn breeze, 4.6%

Red ale, very dark, notes of biscuit, honey, amber. Tastes of caramel, burnt toffee and creamy dark chocolate.

Brouwerij’t ij isa, 4.6%, Netherlands

Very light Belgian-style, with burnt piney resinous nose. Caramel, light mouthfeel, medium body

Marston's Oyster stoutMarston’s Oyster Stout, 4.1%

Has a peaty aroma and tastes mildly of coffee – quite bitter. Very dark beer with no head. Tastes creamier than it looks with mild fizz. Easy to drink but a bit bland – probably wouldn’t drink a whole pint of this.

White Horse Camarillo, 4.5%
Sweet and spicy yet light – good for a summers day and yet warming enough for a winter pint. Strong grapefruit finish. Clear with small head. Thoroughly enjoyable, slightly wheaty beer.

Ian Ramsay’s Village Elder, 3.8%, NZ

Initial aromatic hit of Parma violets and geranium, this is a well balanced beer, creamy and biscuit to star with a touch of burnt toffee that lingers. Lovely to drink. 

Heather HoneyWadsworth Heather and Honey, 5.0%

Good golden colour – quite clear. Has grassy undertones in flavour and aroma of freshly cut grass. Subtle sweetness shines through from the honey as well as slightly floral hint.

Brew Moon Antipodean Ale, 4.0%, NZ

Strong hoppy, flavour and citrusy aroma. Starts off with sweetness before leaving an unusual after taste of black tea – this is quite pleasant and cuts through the initial sweetness.

Two Birds Golden Ale, 4.4%, Australia

This ale doesn’t offer much in the way of aroma – subtle flavours of green apple and melon come through – a little bland but pleasant all the same. Good golden colour.

Abbaye Du Val-Dieu Abbaye Blonde, 6.0%, Belgium 

This is a nice, slightly cloudy pale beer. Slightly watery but fresh taste, with hint of coriander and slight sweetness of honey. Strong herby-camomile nose.

Birraficio Lambrate Ligera, 4.8%, Italy

Nice clear amber beer. Good head and lacing. Tropical nose – hints of pineapple followed by apple and sweetness of almond. Quite nice and dry.

Wetherspoons 17-day festival runs until the end of Sunday 2 November. ‘Spoons gave us vouchers to use during this tasting, but as ever, our review is completely objective.

– ED

What the right hand is doing: Left Hand re-launches in the UK

Between Brits brewing American-style beer and Americans brewing British-style beer, it was only a matter of time before Americans started brewing British-style American beer and selling it to Brits and the whole system collapsed in on itself in a multidimensional paradox.

Responsible for this rupture in the beer time continuum is Left Hand, a 25-year-old Colorado-based brewer whose broad range (which includes stouts and “English-style” IPAs and PAs) has gone down a storm in the US. Now, thanks to some ambitious expansion plans, it plans to renew its presence here in the UK.

Interested to see what the other side of the Atlantic thought our brewing-style looked like and determined to write a review that didn’t put “coals” “to” and “Newcastle” in the sentence you might expect, ICIP headed over to LH’s UK launch, at Mother Kelly’s in Bethnal Green, London.

IMG_20140904_192424Surely, we thought as we studied the menu and carefully DID NOT LOOK DOWN AT THE OTHER NON-LH BEERS BECAUSE WE ARE WEAK AND WOULD HAVE ORDERED THEM, having TWO milk stouts called basically the same thing is a bit excessive.

But oh, my beery friends, they were not the same thing at all. For here, at MK’s, ICIP discovered the power of “nitro”.

I have little-to-no grasp of the scientific theory, but in a weird and misshapen nutshell: when you “carbonate” beer with nitrogen, you make it taste creamier, like Guinness. Because nitrogen is largely insoluble in liquid, a higher proportion of nitrogen in beer means you can keep it at high pressure but with less CO2 absorbed, making it feel less fizzy and more creamy and giving it that all-important creamy head. A piece of tap equipment in bars called a restrictor plate forces the beer through tiny holes as its poured to give it a bubbly, carbonated effect and head, with a much smoother mouth feel. Nitro is a big thing in the US – bars and brewers quibble over the proportion of nitrogen to CO2 – although, arguably, it’s something Stout brewers like Guinness have been on top of for years. Making it even more ironic that Guinness was launching its craft-beer style beer on the same night LH launched it’s, er, Guinness-style craft beer.

Anyway! As a loather of excessive carbonation (like, any carbonation, really, because I don’t want nasty stinging bubbles popping all over my lovely hoppy mouth), I think this is brilliant and we should all be early adopters. Left Hand – and this sounds like black freakin’ magic to me – has even invented nitro-bottles, with the added power of something to do with widgets. The whole process (tap and bottled) is shrouded in secrecy. In addition, the beers are truly described as being ON NITRO!, which makes drinking them sound like some kind of exciting new technology for Formula One.

IMG_20140904_192944Crucially, exacting science (a side-by-side comparison facilitated by MK’s lovely staff) revealed an astonishing difference between the nitro- and non-nitro- Milk Stout on offer. Hand on heart, the Nitro tasted like Guinness straight out of a Dublin tap. It was well-balanced, with strong notes of mocha, chocolate and coffee that tasted so natural in the smoother pour. While the non-nitro Milk Stout had nothing to be ashamed of, you’d need some good reasons to opt for it in a market already saturated by chocolate stout, chilli stout, stout-y stout, stoat-y stout, etc.

Meanwhile we had it on good authority from those that know (London’s bestest beeriest Twitterati) that awesome results could be achieved by mixing a half of nitro and a half of non-nitro. Punks.

IMG_20140904_195811While disappointed that we couldn’t get it (or indeed everything else in our lives) “on nitro”, we consoled ourselves with our regular favourite, IPA. LH’s 400 Pound Monkey (an English style IPA!) was totally session-able, a gentle backdrop of US hops giving way to a smooth, easy drink. We were quite surprised to discover the beer was 6.8 per cent – it tasted about 5, and lacked the big, sweet mouthfeel you associate with IPA at that stronger end of the scale.

It’ll be interesting to see how this works out: everything about this IPA is approachable. You could easily drink a pint or three, and it could be a great way into IPA for someone not so keen on hop bombs. But at 7% it might prove a more difficult way out of eg. the pub door after a few pints. LH risk losing the 7%-craft-drinkers market over flavour, and the ale-happy session drinker on strength.

IMG_20140904_194314Stranger Pale Ale was another approachable, quaffable pint. A bit too fizzy for us – but then everything for the rest of our lives will be unless it comes ON NITRO! – it had a British, biscuit-y base that could have come straight from Fullers’ cook books.

Black Jack Porter (6.8%), described as an English style Porter, was a solid, coffee-ish porter, stronger than it tasted but full-bodied and chocolate-y.

Left Hand deserves to do well here, their range a friendly and diverse lot that could slip as easily into your village local as a branch of Craft. It’s really interesting to taste an American take on an English take on an American beer (wait, what?!), and the brewery has done a great job of taking the best of the US and packaging it for a classic British palate.

IMG_20140904_201405But – LH needs to know that British tastes have changed, and beer-fans are as keen as their American cousins for big flavours and innovation. A quick glance at LH’s website reveals some one-offs – like Beer Week Sauce, a kegged Porter brewed with Ethiopian coffee, a Tripel and a limited edition double IPA – that ICIP would love to get our hands on. We hope LH’s expansion will, in time, extend to these special editions.

Meanwhile, ICIP would like to throw our weight behind a new campaign for a nitro pump absolutely everywhere for everything. Our favourite smoked porters and IPAs, sure, but also perhaps sandwiches and lasagnes. If you need us, we’ll be ON NITRO!

Left Hand will be available at Beer Hawk, Whole Foods, Barworks craft bars and more.

-LD

Ales of the riverbank

After a frankly sodden Bank Holiday Monday (I am sure I can still detect an unpleasant squelchy quality to my shoes), we were apprehensive about what Mother Nature would hit us with for Beer by the River. Set in the lush leafy surrounds of Morden Hall Park, the second annual celebration of Sambrook’s Brewery’s birthday would be a festival of beer, music and food held next to the very river their flagship ale is named after – the Wandle. We were promised a bouncy castle, hay bale seating and street food. This could either be a balmy summer paradise or a hellish muddy dash as all the revellers tried to pack into one beer tent.

Thankfully, we got lucky, and the sun was shining as we made our way through the park to the event. By the time we arrived the party was already in full swing, with a 1,500-strong crowd enjoying the late summer weather. Families packed out the grass with their picnics, the delicious smell of burgers wafted across the grass and Jo Elms & Sue Ballingall provided the soundtrack from the stage. We wasted no time in getting ourselves near to the beer.

20140830_140422We started off with a clutch of beers by our hosts, Sambrook’s. This was the perfect time to sample their wares as we caught both the tail end of their summer seasonal, Lavender Hill, and the first batch of their autumn beer, Battersea Rye. Both clocking in at 4.5%, these two beers demonstrate the range the brewery is capable of. Lavender Hill is a golden honey ale with a biscuity nose and surprisingly hoppy punch, whereas Battersea Rye pours deep copper, hits you with dried fruit aromas and comes through bready and bitter on the palate. We round out our first trio with tried and tested favourite, Junction (also 4.5%), a bitter with Challenger, Bramling Cross and Goldings hops.

20140830_141102Despite being the hosts of the event, Sambrook’s weren’t the only brewery on offer at the festival. It was interesting to see an eclectic mix of both well-known locals (By The Horns and Hop Stuff from London), further-flung stalwarts (Hogs Back from Surrey, Gadds’ from Kent) and names which were totally new to us (Flack Manor all the way from Hampshire, and Westerham from Kent). So by our second round, we were ready to start mixing things up a bit. We went for a decidedly British selection of bitters: By The Horns’ The Mayor of Garratt (4.3%), Hogs Back’s British Endeavour (4.5%) and Flack Manor’s Flack Catcher (4.4%).

20140830_150018A pint of The Mayor of Garratt comes with a little bit of local history. During the early 18th century people would elect a ‘Mayor of Garratt’ at the same time as the main parliamentary elections in nearby pubs in Earlsfield and Wandsworth. Local characters would stand and give silly speeches as a light-hearted railing against the ruling classes (and an excuse to have a few drinks). By The Horns brewed this very British beer in homage to this tradition, using purely British ingredients, and the beer has the grassy aroma you would expect from home-grown hops.

British Endeavour, Hogs Back’s tribute to the Great War centenary, is of special significance to ICIP: we saw the eponymous hop being grown at Stocks Farm during our visit in April this year. Endeavour is a hop developed through a British Hop Association breeding programme, crossing Cascade with a wild English hop. Hop grower Ali Capper promised us it would have blackcurranty, summer fruit aromas, and this beer delivers that in spades. It has raisin and stone fruit on the nose with a warm, caramel maltiness. We’re looking forward to more brewers experimenting with this new hop in future.

Flack Catcher was sweeter than the other two beers in this round, and had a spiced quality that complements the hoppy bitterness. With the citrusy, orange-like aroma it almost felt a little festive.

20140830_141553The festival also posed an opportunity for some keen amateurs to stand alongside the pros. When we arrived we had been given tokens which would be used to vote in the homebrew competition, the victor of which would win the chance to brew a beer for Cask Ale Week with Sambrook’s. Sadly, it appears that south west London prefers buying its beer than brewing its own, as there were only two entries from Kevin Wright and Andrew Barber, who were crowned joint winners after the vote was declared too close to call. By the time we made it to the tasting table our fellow festival-goers had snaffled all the samples, so we can’t comment on this outcome – but we’re looking forward to the launch of the collaborative brew later this month.

Unable to get our hands on the award-winning homebrews, we fought our way back to the bar. We nabbed a Westerham British Bulldog (4.3%) and a Gadds’ She Sells Seashells (4.7%). The British Bulldog was crisp and toasty with hints of toffee and a floral nose from the Goldings and Progress. She Sells was much lighter and more zingy, hitting the schnoz hard with Cascade lemon and pine and delivering on flavour with a lingering dry bitterness. Perfect summer drinking. We also tried a kegged offering from Sambrook’s – Battersea IPA (6.2%). This is a new addition to their line up, only launched in May 2014 and their first foray away from traditional cask ales. Chinook and Citra ramp up the aroma and the hop flavour spike we’ve come to expect from an IPA. It was a shock to be drinking something cold and carbonated after so much real ale, but it was a refreshing interlude.

20140830_162049We decided we needed to stop for food, and after agonising over the burgers and fish and chip van we went for Pizzarova, a family run pizza company run out of the back of a customised Land Rover. The sourdough crust and delicious melty cheese made us weep when we discovered that they are based in FRICKIN’ DORSET. The humanity. If you are lucky enough to live in Dorset, they frequent Sherborne, Bruton and Castle Cary. I am already trying to work out how long the commute to Moorgate would be.

Our pizza break was a good opportunity to kick back and enjoy an impassioned speech by Beer Sommelier Jane Peyton. After reminding us of the health benefits of our favourite tipple (full of B vitamins, potassium and antioxidants!), Jane encouraged any beer philistines to get up to the bar and give the great range of ales a go, especially any women who still mistakenly viewed it as a male drink. “If you don’t like it, try another,” she implored, “and another, and another!” Great advice.

We were flagging after a long day of boozing and starting to lose track of our tokens so we decided to head back to the bar for a final round.

IMG_20140830_165530We tried Sambrook’s kegged version of Battersea Rye, with a slightly higher ABV at 5.8%. Like the IPA, this was launched recently as a toe in the craft waters and contains no less than four different grains – Maris Otter Pale Ale Malt, Malted Rye, Crystal 400 and Chocolate Malt. It is rich and caramel-like with yeasty, bready notes and a spicy, fruity flavour. We were impressed, and tried not to argue over whether it’s better from cask or keg.

We wrapped up with By The Horns’ Diamond Geezer (4.9%) and Hogs Back’s HBB (3.7%). Diamond Geezer is a red ale, sweet and malty with a bitter, floral finish from the American Willamette hops. HBB had a lighter touch with grapefruit aromas and a lingering, acidic bitterness on the palate. The perfect aperitif.

The party looked set to continue on into the evening, the families were beginning to thin out as the evening crowd moved in and the music cranked up. We were fair sloshing with the good stuff by now and were ready to get home and order a curry, so we slipped away past the babbling Wandle into the gloaming, already looking forward to next year’s Beer by the River.

Want more? Check out our tour of Sambrook’s Brewery, our interview with Jane Peyton and coverage of her book launch.

– PS

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Great British Beer Festival 2014 – festival report

I’ll admit it – I am pretty anally retentive. A worrywart. An Order Muppet. I plan everything in advance. I’ve always got a pen. I love to make lists and – more importantly – tick off said lists (mmm).

So, when I was handed my pint glass and programme for this year’s GBBF, and staggered into the barrel-vaulted spectacle that is London Olympia, panic began to set in.

DSC_0219So many beers. So. Many. Beers. The completist in me started nervous twitching as I struggled to accept that no amount of planning or tactics would allow me to drink over 900 different beers, ciders and perries in just five hours.

DSC_0226Luckily, my neuroticism was immediately soothed by Mark Payne, Off-Trade Sales Manager from St Austell, who offered me my first drink of the day at a pleasantly numbing 7.2%. This was Big Job Double IPA, big brother to their popular IPA, Proper Job (clocking in at a more sedate 4.5%). A fantastic burnished caramel colour, this heavy hitter is hopped with Citra and Centennial, and has a lightness which belies its high ABV. Mark told us that they use Cornish Gold malt and attenuate it until nearly all the sugar is gone, allowing those hops to really sing. It’s a good start.

Next, we made the mistake of visiting the USA cask beers bar. I say “mistake”, because once we’d checked out the list of available brews, there was a serious danger that we would never leave, and we’d only been at the festival about fifteen minutes.

Surrounded by a huge throng of beer fans, this bar was perhaps one of the most popular of the festival, and for good reason. The sheer variety of beers on offer was outstanding – everything from a 4% wheat to a whopping 9.3% Imperial IPA – and we started off with a Franklin’s Psychedelic Smokehouse (5.3%), a smoked, sour ale. It poured light with a seriously smoky nose, like getting a delicious faceful of BBQ and bacon, but then shocked the palate with a light, zinging acidity.

DSC_0241Next we went for something at the other end of the scale – a dark, rich Left Hand Milk Stout (6%). We’re usually sceptical of milk stouts because we’re frankly evangelical about Bristol Beer Factory’s take on the style. But this impressed us mightily. Hopped with Magnum and US Goldings, this stout was incredibly smooth and seemed to stealth its way down your gullet, leaving a strong, cocoa-nib bitterness behind. Dreamy.

Promising ourselves “one for the road” before we headed off to… uh… the other 21 bars, we went for a Buckland Brewery Ginger Pale Ale (5%), brewed with macerated ginger. A deep coppery colour, this promised a lot on the nose but didn’t quite deliver on taste, although we got a pleasant ginger tingle lingering at the back of the throat.

We did finally tear ourselves away from the delights of the good old US of A… here are some of our other festival highlights.

DSC_0250I was confronted with an offer I couldn’t refuse when I spotted Kissingate Brewery’s Black Cherry Mild (4.3%). I had initially made fun of this beer in my GBBF preview post, saying that it was the kind of gimmicky fruit concoction I would select when already inebriated, only to find that it was rubbish. I then found out that it had won numerous awards, and, having tried it, I now see that I should eat not only my words but also my notebook, pen and GBBF souvenir pint glass. It was delicious – smelled like a bowl of fresh cherries but had no cloying sweetness, just a rich, smooth mouthfeel and a really nice dry finish. Just goes to show that no matter how much beer you try, there will always be something to surprise you!

DSC_0256When we fancied something lighter, we were drawn to a beer by Jo C’s Norfolk Brewery – Norfolk Kiwi (3.8%). The brewery was established by Jo Coubrough and this beer is a tribute to her husband Chris, a native New Zealander. It uses locally-grown Maris Otter and a mixture of British and New Zealand hops, giving a tropical, zesty punch despite the modest ABV. Refreshing and extremely quaffable.

DSC_0268We couldn’t pass up on an offering from Bristol Beer Factory. We first discovered this gem of a brewery on a cottage break to the West Country in 2011, when we popped into a beer festival at The Tobacco Factory. This was when we fell in love with their Milk Stout in particular, but their other beers have never disappointed and we hadn’t had the opportunity to try the 3.8% Nova pale ale before. This beer has a light malt base (Maris Otter, CaraPils and wheat malt) providing a perfect, subtle backdrop for the hops, coming through zesty and fresh with a grapefruit tang.

DSC_0262It was nostalgia that initially encouraged us to give Exe Valley Brewery’s Winter Glow (6%) a try – Mr Pip and I are Exeter University alumni. This is a traditional old ale, and usually the brewery’s winter seasonal. While we weren’t entirely sure why it had showed up at a beer festival in the middle of August, we enjoyed the rich, dried fruit and malty nose and the dry bitterness after the 6% punch. Hope that we spot it around once the nights draw in a bit to enjoy it in its proper environment!

After a pork roll to soak it all up and much wandering, sampling and poring over our programme, we decide to visit to the cider and perry bar, which we often end up neglecting. Since our trip to Stocks Farm earlier in the year and being introduced to the wonders of cider, we felt we needed to at least try a couple.

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We begin with an offering from Lancashire, Dove Syke Cider’s Ribble Valley Gold. This comes in at 6.5% and is described as “medium dry” on CAMRA’s scale. It is delicious – no cloying sweetness, but not too acidic either. Encouraged, we persevere with a taste of Oliver’s Yarlington Mill (also 6.5%), which had a little more sweetness than the Ribble Valley but not to the point of excess – it still had a good level of dryness to round out the flavour. We enjoyed chatting to one of the CAMRA volunteers (complete with pirate hat) on the cider bar about the different varieties on offer and were very grateful for his recommendations and tasters. Cider is still a bit of an undiscovered country for us but we’re certainly going to continue our exploration of it in future!

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We have to fight through the crowds to get near enough to hear the announcement of the Champion Beers of Britain competition. With eight categories as well as an overall “Supreme Champion”, there are too many winners to list here, but special ICIP claps on the back must go to our friends at Oakham Ales who took Gold in the Golden Ales category as well as Silver in the Supreme Champion contest for Citra (4.2%), and also the guys at Sambrook’s who took joint Bronze in the Bitters category for Wandle (3.8%).

DSC_0287The results of the Supreme Champion contest were announced by Bruce Dickinson of rock band Iron Maiden – an avowed real ale fan who has brewed his own successful beer with Robinson’s Brewery – Trooper (4.7%). The announcement of first place in this year’s competition – Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker (4%) – is met with some consternation by the crowd. “Did he just say Timmy Taylor’s?” someone asks behind us, while the chap to our right goes with a more forceful “Timothy Taylor’s? Fuck off!” As the crowd disperses, we hear another festival-goer commenting to a friend “it’s average at best”. It’s obviously a controversial decision. We haven’t tried Boltmaker so we can’t comment, but we’ll be keeping our eyes open for it in future to see what we think.

DSC_0243The atmosphere at the festival was characteristically jolly, and although the gender ratio is still way, way off (still the only place in the universe with no queue in the ladies’ toilet!), we spotted plenty of women enjoying their beer and there was thankfully no sign of the sexist poster seller that so disappointed us last year. We did slightly question the choice of the “circus” theme (lots of strongmen etc vs scantily-clad female acrobats strewn across the branding) which still made it all feel a bit masculine… but let’s face it, I look frickin’ distinguished with a moustache.

Overall then – a great day with some top notch beers. It was fantastic to see such a broad range of different styles and countries represented, and there really was something for everyone. There are up and down sides to attending on Trade Day – the entire programme is still available, for example, but you don’t get the added fun of talks and signings by the pros or live music. But that wasn’t going to spoil our day.

Being the pernickety fusspot I am, I am already looking ahead to next year and working out my tactics. If I attended for all five days of the festival next time, that’s just… 180 beers a day… which is just… er… 60 pints, if I drink thirds…

I’ll get back to you next August.

– PS

You can read our review of last year’s festival here, and also take a look at our investigation into women’s attitudes towards beer and festivals here. Check out more pictures from the event on our Facebook page.

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