Category Archives: Festivals/Events

The (other) EU election

Have you ever tried every single beer at a beer festival?

Have you ever tried every single beer at a beer festival and then voted coherently?

Have you ever tried every single beer at a beer festival, voted coherently, tried to go to Jamaica, then watched Jurassic Park, in its entirety, twice?

Earlier this month ICIP and our guest reporter, the outstanding Miranda Heneghan, did.

Now, before you get outraged and blame us for Nigel Farage’s recent smugfest, I should clarify that our voting took place within the safe confines of the British Craft Beer Challenge, five summer days that take the beer festival and shake it up with shots of patriotism.

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Spread over five rounds at London Field’s Brewhouse in Hackney, east London, each date pits the best of British craft beer against the best of the rest – Europe, the USA and the Commonwealth. Punters are issued a frighteningly authentic ballot slip (or ballot slips, in one case of BLATANT ELECTORAL FRAUD that we uncovered using our journalistic skills and the power of drunk) and given the chance to vote for the best GB, best “other” and best overall.

Back in May, GB’s North took on the South with a beer menu that’ll make you prouder than toasting England into the final sixteen (says me on Paddy Power), with Magic Rock’s storming Inhuman Canonball claiming it for the Northerners. Still to look forward to are GB vs the USA on 5 July; GB vs the Commonwealth on 9 August and what promises to be a very Grand Finale on 13 September.

Round two – GB vs Europe on 31 May – couldn’t have picked a better news cycle. Anti-Europe party UKIP’s extraordinary victory in the local elections dominated the Saturday papers the very morning that ICIP stuffed ourselves with porridge (the afternoon drinker’s friend) and ambled over to London Field’s Brewhouse, menu in hand. Caught up in a drunken electoral flashback, would be able to stop ourselves scrawling “ANYONE BUT UKIP” on our ballot papers?

ICIP had made a list of the beers we wanted to try, and ICIP never remembers to make a list, so we were disappointed to discover on arrival that a mistake at the printers led to the distribution of the wrong beer list. Nothing kills your buzz at a brewery like discovering the beers you were most excited about aren’t putting in an appearance, particularly when you deliberately arrive at the start to stop this from happening and, in so doing, MISS THE END OF SATURDAY KITCHEN OMFG.

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But life goes on, and the brewhouse’s chalkboard reassured us that the beers that were available more than justified our missing The Omelette Challenge just this once. We put our feet up on a sunny bench in the yard (London Fields regulars will know what a treat that was) a mere forward-plummet from where staff were honing their made-to-order pizza skills, and opted for thirds (look, mum! Forward-planning!) of Italian beer to start.

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What a mistake.

One mouthful of Toccalmato’s delicious Zona Cesarini, a 6.6 per cent Pale Ale, and we wondered if we might as well pack up and go home. ICIP hit hop heaven with this mix of Japanese, American, Australian and New Zealand varieties, every bit as fruity and floral as you’d expect in a beer exploding with passionfruit, banana and marzipan.

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Brewfist’s Spaceman (7%) revealed more of what the Italians can do, with a mango-y IPA layered with bitter grapefruit. Italian craft beer is really superb at the moment – ICIP has very fond memories of discovering it for the first time in Rome bar Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà– and the Challenge’s selection showed that off. Birra del Borgo’s Reale Extra Double IPA was also outstanding – Christmas-rich with sweet fruits that reminded ICIP of Chewits (really!)

More punters trickled in – still quite a gentle crowd for a joint we normally associate with jam-packed summer Saturdays sweated out to gypsy-swing in one of the brewhouse’s inside bars – and a band struck up. We ate some freshly-made pizzas and wondered why half of Hackney hadn’t shown up.

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We were having such a good time we decided to do what any good beer writer would do in that situation: try every beer at the festival. It’s what would annoy Farage the most, we agreed. So, while we could still write/read/see, we made a plan, and set to it.

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A victim of the mysterious printing accident, we rattled through Germany’s, um, one offering: Paulaner’s Dunkel, a dark wheat beer, which while clean and hazelnut-y felt thin after the Italian flavour-bombs. Fast on to Denmark, then, which regular readers will know Is an ICIP favourite, and offerings from Denmark’s Mikkeller and Tool breweries.

“My tasting notes said ‘nooooooooo’,” of their lambic gueuze collab, Betelgeuze, London Field’s barman tells us. But we rather liked it – Miranda picked out tamarind in the 5.5 per cent brew (tamarind! she can come again!) while Liz settled on sour cherry. It was a good beer to punctuate the super-hopped thirds we had gravitated towards, of which Mikkeler’s Green Gold was a fine example but Tool’s Reparationsbajer left something to be desired.

Team GB fell violently foul of the mysterious printing error, leaving us with a handful of the expected offerings from Arbor, HarbourBrewdog and London Fields themselves – and some notable omissions (where were you, Kernel? Beaverton? Brew by Numbers?). Playing at home, LF triumphed with their new summer brew, a 5 per cent white IPA called Three Weiss Monkeys, which was full-bodied, creamy and banana-y with tasty white chocolate notes, while Arbor’s Double Black IPA shone with coffee, liquorice, pepper and burnt chocolate.

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With the reckless abandon of footballers in the 93rd minute (OH YES I DID) ICIP finished the afternoon with the two strongest beers on offer, which was clearly an excellent idea. Boozey, thick and toffee-y, Brewdog’s 10.5% Barley Wine, Shipwrecker Circus, did for Liz in a blaze of glory; while Miranda took on Belgium’s 9% D’Achouffe IPA, by Houblon Chouffe, and won. There are, as you might expect, very few tasting notes for this last pair that make any sense at all.

The Indian state of Kerala (bear with me) prohibits the sale or consumption of alcohol on election days, as Liz discovered to her immense annoyance while there recently. ICIP can now exclusively confirm that this is entirely unnecessary, for after a mere three goes we be-drunkenly managed to successfully cast our ballot. Science!

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Triumphant and commemorative beer glasses held high, ICIP strolled urbanely home to enjoy a nutritious and home-cooked dinner. The end.

Alternative ending: this happened…

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Then this happened …

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Then we ordered £50-worth of Indian takeaway and watched Jurassic Park twice from beginning to end and passed out. That’s chaos theory.

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We stayed glued to the Challenge’s Facebook page until the results were revealed (sadly, minus a Dimbleby and LSD-esque electoral visualisation WE LOVE YOU BBC ELECTION COVERAGE). Brewfist, quite rightly, won for Team Europe with a delicious Grape IPA brewed with Denmark’s Tool,and London Fields stormed to victory for Team GB with Three Weiss Monkeys. There were two winners overall: Tool’s Hibernate – a toasty wheat beer that tasted a bit like honeydew – and, that home advantage again, London Fields.

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The Brewhouse wasn’t packed the whole time we were there (from noon until about who-knows-but-from-Facebook-we-can-tell-it-was-still-light-o’clock), which is a mystery to us. Without a doubt, and with printing errors factored in, the Challenge showcased some outstanding beers in a fun new format. And we should know, because we tried all of them. Put the last few rounds in your calendar right now; exercise your democratic right to be snobby about beer; and make sure you arrive early. But please leave us the sunny bench.

– ED

Green fingers in Greenwich – Meantime establishes hop farm on the meridian

When someone says “hop farm”, it conjures up a certain mental image. Since our trip to the rolling green fields of Worcestershire to visit Stocks Farm in April, we think of acres of posts and wirework stretching away seemingly into infinity while birds chirp in the hedgerows and the Malverns loom in the distance. We do not think of the sound of a construction site, graffiti and the porcupine-like spectre of the O2.

London brewers Meantime have set out to change that.

DSC_0778ICIP has come to the launch event for the new Meantime hop farm, situated on the Greenwich Peninsula. The site is opposite Canary Wharf, behind the O2, and quite literally right on the Meridian Line – a green wooden plank running straight through the planters marks it out. As locations go, it’s pretty iconic.

DSC_0766This new venture has been developed since the success of Meantime’s “Hops in a Box” project last year, which cumulated in the production of 1,000 bottles of Hop City Porter – a beer made with hops grown across London. This year they’ve taken it a step further by setting up the first permanent hop farm in London for over 100 years.

“London is an exciting place to be a brewer right now. The variety of ingredients at our disposal is huge and it allows us to pack flavour into our beer,” says Rich Myers, Marketing Director at Meantime. “I hope that our hop farm will make more of the public aware of that fact. The beer we will create is about championing our Capital’s rich brewing heritage.”

The baby hops aren’t visible right now, buried somewhere under a sea of cheery marigolds, but we’re reliably informed that there are 48 plants growing on the plot. Keeping with the traditional English vibe, they are all Fuggles.

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“As soon as I saw the site, I knew I wanted to be involved,” says Kate Lonergan, Director at Blacheath Windowbox, the landscape company responsible for creating the hop farm. “I immediately saw the theatrical potential. I wanted to make it an installation, a beacon – a fun moment on The Thames path which had it’s own integrity and connection with it’s surroundings. I suppose I saw the possibilities, not the negatives.”

Despite Kate’s enthusiasm, there were some significant challenges to overcome. Firstly, she had never worked with hops before. “I contacted a number of hop specialists to chat about it,” she said. “Luckily hops are perennials and I work with them all the time!” Working alongside the Essentially Hops company from Kent, Kate’s team were able to set up the posts based on a commercial hop pole configuration, on a slightly smaller scale. They were also able to source authentic coir (natural fibre from coconut husks) and hop pegs.

DSC_0774The next challenge was the location. There’s a very good reason that the banks of the Thames are not already teeming with hop farms. “I knew we would have problems with wind due to the site’s proximity to the river, and the massive turbine at the O2 creates a wind vortex,” she explains. “So I suggested the triangular formation so the hops could protect themselves a bit, casting shadow and providing a wind break. I have had water support installed through root refreshers which kick in only when the plants are under stress through lack of surface water.”

The plants will need to be trained clockwise around the strings as they grow and carefully tended over the coming months. Meantime are hoping to harvest around 9lbs of hop buds from the site – enough for a 10 hectolitre batch of beer to be brewed this coming autumn.

Despite all the practical considerations of how to best grow the hops here on the Peninsula, Meantime have also worked hard on the look and feel of the site, to establish this as an “urban oasis”. Keeping a modern, urban vibe, the planters have been decorated with graffiti by the street artist Xenz. Kate says that the brewery weren’t sure about this idea at first, but that everyone has been delighted with the results. “I was so pleased Xenz included bees and butterflies in his design; the site is full of the critters thanks to the marigolds we planted and also the wild blackberries, hollyhocks and poppies growing around here. The marigolds should also hopefully deter pests!”

Nick Miller, Meantime's CEO

Nick Miller, Meantime’s CEO

Builders are hard at work just a few metres away, and it is clear that this is an early addition to what will be a huge regeneration in this area of Greenwich. “We owe a big thank you to Knight Dragon [company investing in the development], who we work with closely on the Peninsula,” says Nick Miller, Meantime’s CEO. “They work very closely with the community in Greenwich; we are the benefactors of that and we are extremely grateful for all their support.”

For the launch party, the brewery have rolled out the “Half Pint” – a van doubling as a portable bar – and have a BBQ on the go while drinkers sit on hay bales. They are serving up their latest brew, Californian Pale Ale (5.5%), a beer which takes its inspiration from American pale ales while still paying homage to the British styles which in turn influenced these US beers. It is made with both Slovenian Celeila and American Crystal hops, giving it a fruity and fresh nose, and uses East Anglian malt, which lends it a subtle sweet lift to balance the bitterness. The beer is delicious – light and fresh enough for a refreshing summer pint, but with enough flavour and complexity to satisfy our beer geekiness.

DSC_0776As the sun begins to sink behind the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and the beer continues to flow, it is impossible not to be infected by Meantime’s obvious passion for their latest project. They are clearly hugely proud of their London roots and by their connection to Greenwich.

“This is probably the only hop farm directly on the Meridian,” says Nick. “We’re very proud of that. Our name is Meantime, and we are growing one of the most important raw materials of our beer on the meantime.”

ICIP is hoping to return to the hop farm to report on its progress, but in the meantime (!), you can visit Meantime’s Facebook page to see how the hops are getting on. You can also follow the progress of other keen hop growers across London on the #hopsinabox hashtag on Twitter.

DSC_0761– PS

 

Unite Pale Ale, and unification indeed

Unable to attend the launch of a special beer brewed for International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day due to a trip to India (D) and a trip to a hop farm (Pip), ICIP knew it couldn’t let this event go by undocumented. So we asked roving reporter Sharona for the lowdown on what we missed…

When ICIP asked if I could write about the launch of Unite Pale Ale at Wild Card Brewery on April 26th, I was reluctant. I mean, I’m not a beer writer. I’m not ANY kind of writer. My tasting notes at the end of any drink-fuelled day tend to be beer names hastily and illegibly scrawled, supplemented with smiley faces and A++++’s in direct proportion to my intake. And these ICIP girls, WELL. They know their stuff. They’re actual JOURNALISTS. They can QUOTE people. ACCURATELY*.

But if there’s one thing I love, it’s a good party. And that Saturday afternoon, Wild Card’s event did not disappoint. Full of wine, women, and song (read: beer, women, and BBQ), there was nothing not to love.

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International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day (IWCB) came about as the brain child of Sophie De Ronde of Brentwood Brewing Company, who I think we can all agree is one of the most crush-worthy** women in the beer industry. Brewed on International Women’s Day (March 8th), Unite Pale Ale is the collective work of brewsters from all over the world, including Britain, the US, Australia, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand. Project Venus and the Pink Boots Society were an essential part of the effort.

The beer had some parameters (4% ABV pale ale made with Cascade hops), but the rest was left to the brewsters’ creativity. “We went mad with ours,” says Britain’s Beer Sommelier of the Year, Jane Peyton, who was brewing with Brentwood. “There wasn’t a thing left but the kitchen sink by the time we were done. In fact, that may have gone in, too.”*

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Not pictured: kitchen sink.

The three Unite Pale Ales being poured at the April 26th launch party were Brentwood’s Unite Pale Ale, brewed with Sara Carter (Triple FFF), Jaega Wise (Wildcard), Susanna Forbes (Drink Britain), Jane Peyton (School of Booze), Cassandra Orford (Fuller’s), Helen Wardle (Ales by Mail), and friends Victoria Leyshon and Samantha Warner. Gadds’ Unite Pale Ale was brewed by Sue Fisher with Allegra Copps (SEB), Angela Malloy, Rebecca Lee, and Helen Watkins. Brewsters‘ special blend was made by owner, brewer, and girl-about-town Sara Barton and Kathy Brittan of Oldershaw. To cap the day, a USA Unite Pale Ale was sent by Kristi Griner of Capitol City, “brewed by a dozen area beer goddesses, homebrewers, and professionals.”***

It just couldn’t get better. And as the sun began to set on that special day, golden light filtering through the trees of the park as we all talked and laughed in the good humour that can only come about as the result of like-minded camaraderie and lots of alcohol, Sophie swirled the liquid amber in her pint glass and said aloud what we had all been thinking: “This – this right here – is a job well done.”*

IMG_2853And it was.

*Any quotes in this particular article are entirely made up. 

**Because she’s brilliant and I have a crush on her.

***An accurate quote! An accurate quote! 

– SS

Hopping into Spring: an afternoon at the Nicholson’s Spring Ale Festival

Spring is in the air! Somewhere, no doubt, adorable lambs are gamboling through drifts of cherry blossom as fuzzy chicks escape their chocolate eggs and frolic among daffodils.

ICIP wouldn’t know, because we live in central London, where the turn of the seasons is celebrated in the time-honoured way… with a seasonal beer festival. Forget daylight savings: here we know that winter is [not] coming because the stouts disappear and you can’t move for wheat beer. Our buddies at Nicholson’s Pubs dropped us a copy of the menu for their Spring Ale Festival (which runs Monday 24th March to Saturday 19th April) so, using the mad skills we honed at Craft Beer Rising, ICIP charted a well-balanced, open-minded course through the ales on offer.

coleholeAlas, the best laid plans of beer bloggers seldom work out. By the time we arrived at The Coal Hole on The Strand for a run-through with its manager Annie Power, a number of beers had sold out, just two weeks into the festival. These included Loch Ness‘s Hoppyness, Revolutions‘ Clash London Porter, Adnams‘ Mosaic Pale, Itchen Valley‘s Blackcurrant Mild, Adnams & Camden collab South Town and Butcombe‘s Haka. Spring ales, Annie confirmed, are going down a storm. “IPAs are doing very well,” she told us. “People working in the City tweet us to say: ‘I’ll be there by five, I hope there’s some left!’”

And no wonder they’re selling out: you can score money off beer instantly (is there any better sentence in the English language?) by joining Nicholson’s Hop Circle IN THE PUB ITSELF, by scanning one of the many QR codes (those big square barcodes that you wave your phone at like you’re in The Matrix) around the bar. Luckily for us there is plenty left to taste, and we trust Annie to take us off-piste.

stonehengeWe start with a glass of Inveralmond‘s Ossian, a delicious, spring-tastic IPA. Rich and full, the well-rounded Fuggles balanced out other hops. The lovely Ossian nearly went down the wrong way, though, when Annie set out some glasses of bright green beer on the bar. This was our first taste of Stonehenge Ales‘ Sign of Spring, which Annie assured us was naturally green, not some kind of Frankenbeer. Yes, it was very zingy and refreshing, but it was hard to say where the citrus started and the optical I’M DRINKING LIME JUICE illusion ended.

solutionIn between puzzled sips of green, Annie explained why the festival was going so well. “This year they balanced the menu better,” she says, of Nicholson’s HQ. “They had mild and porters. Collaboration brews are very popular – people know it’s beer they can only get in a Nicholson’s.” Punters are voting for their favourite beers on Twitter throughout the festival, with the winner securing a guest spot at Nicholson’s pubs. At the moment the Pete Brown and Brains collaboration, The Solution, is in the lead (much to our delight – it was our favourite at the tasting we attended in March). Rich and fruity, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to drink this again.

skinnersNext we try an offering from the Skinners Brewery – River Cottage EPA, brewed for the home farm of the TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The beer is, Annie tells us, “typically Cornish”. It’s light, floral and delicate – and we were pleased to taste the UK Cascade hop holding its own. Jarrow Brewery‘s Isis, which we try next, is similar –  floral, citrus-y, well balanced beer. It’s sweeter than River Cottage but the hops round this off with a bitter finish. We move on to Ilkley‘s Rye and Dry – a great dessert beer, all caramel, sweet and citrus. Such a dessert beer, in fact, that ICIP’s tasting notes shriek in barely-legible shorthand “WHAT’S THAT FRENCH PUDDING?” A quick Google suggests oranges with caramel, which is exactly what this beer tasted like, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence it is French, but that doesn’t matter because it’s delicious. We finish with a mouthful of malty, toasty Balmy Mild by Cropton Brewery.

croptonLooking around The Coal Hole – which, early afternoon on a Saturday, overflows with tourists, but on weekdays draws a smart business crowd – we wonder if Nicholson’s is at risk of putting off its regulars by doling out green beer and cherry-flavoured ale. “We keep on the traditional ales like Fuller’s London Pride,” says Annie. “We don’t want to force the ‘Jims’ of this world to change their habits” – she nods towards an older man enjoying a quiet pint at the bar, probably blissfully unaware and unconcerned that a pair of over-excited beer bloggers are INSTAGRAMMINGTWEETINGPINTERESTINGTUMBLERING frenetically around him. “London Pride will continue to sell,” she adds. One trick of the trade, Annie tells us, is effective deployment of sparkler. The sheen and added fizz can give otherwise leftfield brews sudden mass appeal. “You have to gauge the customer,” she tells us. “The sparkler is handy with people from Yorkshire. They’re used to Tetley, for example, and we don’t sell that, but if you offer them a pint of cask ale with a sparkler they find a beer they can drink all weekend.” Ladies, she adds, have proved more daring than the blokes. Women have “a more discerning palate,” she concludes.

What, then, is a spring beer? Something with lots of blossom, floral and citrus notes, light and quaffable? “The traditional idea of a spring ale is something that has connotations of pale, blonde, 4%, hoppy, zesty, not too much of anything,” Annie agrees. And yet – Nicholson’s has done a roaring trade in punchy, strong beers, bitter IPAs and, incredibly, porter. “This festival has made a mockery of that!” Annie concludes. Even better, the festival has proved something Annie knew well: that people will travel for a speciality beer. “We should be on that,” she says. “We should always have at least one speciality. This festival proves that that does work.” Beer drinkers in general have become more fluent – Annie tells us that the tasting paddles of three halves have proved very popular. This presents a certain challenge for Nicholson’s, too – pubs try to stock different beers to their neighbours, so that customers ‘doing the rounds’ don’t keep encountering the same beer. “It takes an extra bit of planning,” Annie agrees.

It’s time to bring up the “W” word, because it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Nicholson’s major competitor, Wetherspoons, runs their spring festival at exactly the same time. With three collaboration beers brewed with Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, New York, on offer at the cheeky price of c£2.90 a can [check out fellow beer-blogger Nate’s review here], Wetherspoons have upped their game. “I always go and have a nose around,” Annie admits. “They’re getting better – obviously they’ve been taking notes from us! Some of what they were doing at the last one was an abomination. The staff had no clue and they didn’t have enough beer! It left a lot to be desired, but they are getting better. Competition is healthy.” Annie admits she is jealous of the canned Brooklyn collab. “I wish we could do that,” she sighs. But she thinks her prayers have been answered: Nicholson’s are to experiment with stocking some craft beer in bottles – and The Coal Hole is going to be at the forefront of the new initiative. “There’s a market there,” she confirms.

But Nicholson’s have little to fear from their competitors. Well-informed staff – of which there are 28 at The Coal Hole, 20 in Front of House – are one of Nicholson’s greatest sells. “I don’t expect them to love every beer; we change so often,” Annie says of the staff who are proficiently getting on with their day around us. “But I want them to know the basics. I’m not pretending they’re ale gurus – my cask master is! – but that is part of their education. A big winner for customers is ‘try before you buy’ – that’s good customer service. We ask: what do you normally drink? Then lead them from there. Some people are a bit cheeky but it still leads to a sale.” Regular readers may remember that ICIP like to close up our trips to Nicholson’s with a rare foray into the world of cider (ICIP admittedly frequently has no memory of this). Annie’s happy to oblige. One cider, Orchard Pig‘s Explorer, has already sold out. But we’re more than happy with a glass of astringent, green apple-y Aspall Cyderkyn and the smoother Orchard Pig Philosopher.

beersICIP leave Annie to her busy bar and stagger off down The Strand to The Coal Hole’s closest neighbor, The Wellington, to test the Nicholson’s ale diffusion and to decipher our notes before they dissolve completely into irretrievable squiggles and happy ticks. Sure enough, the bar is stocked with beers that weren’t on at The Coal Hole, so we close our day with the Rudgate Brewery Cherry Pale – as you’d expect, a very sweet floral nose, initially very bitter but tapering off to quite a flowery finish – and the light, sharp and grassy St Austell Proper Job.

The countryside can keep their lambs and chicks. Cheers.

The Nicholson’s Spring Ale Festival will run from Monday 24th March to Saturday 19th April at Nicholson’s Pubs across the country. You can find more information and a copy of the programme on their website.

Want more? Check out our coverage of previous Nicholson’s Ale Festivals (Autumn and Winter 2013) and of the beer and food pairing evening showcasing the Brains Brewery collabs which will be available during the festival.

– ED

And all because the lady loves… beer

ICIP is feeling a little bit intimidated.

Sitting on our table alone are a beer sommelier, an owner of a successful gastropub, an editor of an industry magazine and a brewer. And they are all women.

“A group of us got together to try to regain our voice in the beer world,” says our MC for the afternoon, Annabel Smith, co-founder of Dea Latis. “We recognised that there were a lot of women working in the beer industry who didn’t have a united voice. That’s why we set up Dea Latis.”

Lisa Harlow, Annabel Smith and Ros Shiel, founders of Dea Latis

Lisa Harlow, Annabel Smith and Ros Shiel, founders of Dea Latis

It is clear that much has changed in the five years since Dea Latis was founded. As Annabel rattles through the list of of achievements made by women in the industry, many of these trailblazers sitting in the room with us, ICIP feels a massive swell of pride and empowerment.

Women hold the current positions of Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, Beer Sommelier of the Year, Brewer of the Year, BII Licensee of the Year and Director of Supply Chain at one of the biggest breweries in the UK. And that’s not all.

“We have two women in the room who brewed a beer for International Women’s Day. We had the first female beer inspector at Cask Marque. Broadcaster Marverine Cole founded Beer Beauty, bringing beer to the media. Jane Peyton and Melissa Cole are published authors of beer books,” Annabel continues. “Nearly 25% of CAMRA membership are women now. Considering that’s a membership of 160,000 members – that’s a huge number of women interested in and engaging with beer. We know from the latest Cask Report which was launched last September that there are 1.3m female regular cask ale drinkers in the UK. And yet it’s less than 100 years since we got the vote. I think to have done what we’ve done in the last 5 years – we’ve come a long, long way.”

Our heads are spinning with this seemingly unstoppable march of progress. But Annabel knows what we really turned up for.

“I can see you starting to think ‘“when will we get to the beer?’”

_0003975With a membership of over 200, Dea Latis runs regular events up and down the country to encourage women to discover and enjoy beer, and their beer and food matching events seem to be the most popular: “we found that one of the best ways to reach out to women is to match beer and foods; it completely changes the characteristics of the beer. We’ve done beer and chocolate, beer and breakfast, beer and cheese… perhaps most controversially we’ve done beer on its own!” says Annabel. “Beer works with chocolate in a way that wine can’t,” agrees her fellow Dea Latis founder, Ros Shiel.

We’re about to find out if they’re right as we are poured glasses of our first beer, Blue Moon, and handed out segments of Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

Blue Moon is a Belgian-style witbier originally hailing from Colorado in the States and now part of the MillerCoors leviathan. It’s not a beer that ICIP would usually pick off the pumps, but we’re prepared to be swayed.

DSC_0037We get – predictably – orange notes on the nose, and the beer is sweet and incredibly mild for its 5.4% ABV. “The conception that all beer is bitter is blown out of the water with this beer,” Annabel notes. “While we obviously went for the pairing of the orange flavour in this and the chocolate, the light carbonation is also important. When you eat chocolate, it coats your tongue with a little layer of fat. The carbonation scrubs that away and cuts through it.”

We actually found that the beer mingled with the chocolate as we chewed and spread it all around our mouths even more, spreading the mellow orangey flavours. While it was tasty, we likened the match to the Chocolate Orange you got at Christmas and happily ate, but you probably wouldn’t have bought one yourself.

DSC_0038Beer number two is a different animal (sorry) – Tiger, brewed by Everards Brewery from Lancashire and clocking in at 4.2%. “It’s a bit darker than the Blue Moon and has a real burnished, gold colour to it. This is what I’d call a very ‘traditional’ beer, and it’s got a very good balance between bitterness and sweetness,” says Annabel. “Rather than overpower it, we’ve paired it with Green and Blacks Butterscotch Milk Chocolate.”

This offers something very different to our orange experience. The beer is rich and malty, and the toffee sweetness from this really compliments the butterscotch.

Annabel points out that the bitter cocoa pairs with the hops in beer, while the sugar in chocolate pairs with the sweetness of the malted barley. It might seem obvious, but we it hadn’t really struck us before. “There’s also a similar mouthfeel between the two, so they really complement each other,” she says.

DSC_0039This is especially apparent with our third match, which is a massive hit on our table. We are poured glasses of ink-black Thwaites’ Tavern Porter (4.7%), and asked to shout out what aromas we notice. A variety of replies from around the room include coffee, liquorice and cinder toffee.

“You notice when you taste it you get an almost drying feeling in your mouth,” says Annabel, and it certainly ends with a bitter, almost astringent hoppiness. “When we talked to the brewer she was adamant that she wanted to counteract that drying feeling with something very sweet.”

My god, was that feeling counteracted! We are passed around those old-fashioned chocolate cupcakes that you used to get as a kid before the Hummingbird Bakery-style boom – the flat-topped ones with a thick, hard layer of icing on top. ICIP is developing diabetes just looking at it.

“This should be a perfect example of the contrast between a dry bitter beer and an intensely sweet dessert,” says Annabel. “When we go out for a meal, especially to Italian restaurants, you get very sweet desserts, like tiramisu, and invariably you have coffee to go with it. The bitterness of an intense espresso balances out the sweetness of the sugary dessert. We’re trying to demonstrate the same principle here.”

The smokiness and richness of the porter mingled with the icing as it began to warm and melt in the mouth, bringing the sweetness down to an acceptable level. This match also benefited from the soft, crumbly texture of the cupcake, as some were struggling with the concept of matching a beverage to hard, brittle chunks of chocolate.

DSC_0040The next beer is a little bit special, and comes in a gorgeous wooden presentation box. “This is Shepherd Neame Generation Ale,” Annabel tells us. “Only 3,000 bottles of this beer were produced and it went through a 12-month aging process. It was brewed to commemorate five generations of Shepherd Neame as an independent family brewery, containing five classic malts and five hop varieties.” We can tell that what we’re swirling around our glass is a very special beer indeed. Coming at a 9%, the beer is brewed in the UK’s last remaining wooden mash tuns.

We get honey, dried fruit and nutty notes on the nose – and several people liken the aroma to Christmas cake. This carries through to the flavour, which has hints of molasses, cherries and other rich fruits. “It reminds me of my mum’s Christmas cake when she used to inject it with brandy,” agrees Annabel. “You get the warmth of the alcohol coming through.”

“The brewer wanted to match that dried fruit, so we’ve got Green and Black’s dark chocolate with Hazelnut & Currant.”

As we begin munching, the genius of this match soon becomes apparent. Despite the high ABV, the beer hasn’t too much of a lingering, alcoholic burn, and is quite soft in character. This gentle booziness mingles with the raisins, accentuating that Christmas cake or pudding association, but at the same time it really brings out the bitterness of the dark chocolate. We are in festive booze choccy heaven.

“Gosh, that’s made everyone go quiet!” Annabel laughs. Making the most of our momentary silence, she hits us with the bombshell that this amazing, limited edition, 9% beer in its beautiful presentation box, costs just £17.50. “I’m never going to be able to experience the most expensive bottle of wine in the world. I will never be able to afford a £20,000 bottle of wine. But I do know that in my lifetime I will be able to sample the best beers because it is so affordable,” Annabel says. ICIP already has their phone out and is trying to buy out the other 2,999 bottles.

DSC_0044 Our penultimate match throws us a bit of a curveball. It’s another strong and special beer, this time brewed by ICIP’s pals up in Southwold, Adnams. Solebay was first brewed in 2009 to celebrate 350 years of the historic brewery, and was inspired by strong Belgian styles. It comes in with a 10% ABV, and pours hazy and golden.

We get orange and ginger on the nose, and also some estery notes like banana and pear drops. There is a distinct sweetness to this beer, thanks of the addition of Demerara and Muscovado sugars. They also add a few sprigs of lavender, so there’s a floral note.

“There’s a lot going on in this beer,” says Annabel. “It’s sweet, because there’s a lot of residual sugar, and it has some citrus notes, so this was the first brewer to say they wanted to pair it with a white chocolate.”

We’re not sure about this. While ICIP has an entire cupboard dedicated to chocolate (really), we are big on the dark stuff, and haven’t really touched its pale cousin since we ate white choccy buttons as toddlers.

We were wrong. We were so wrong.

We are handed around Montezuma’s Peeling Amorous, which marries white chocolate with lemon and sour cherry. The bitter and sour fruits easily balance the very sweet and creamy chocolate.

“White chocolate has a higher fat content than milk and dark chocolate,” says Annabel. “But there is such a high carbonation in this beer that it cuts through the fattiness.” As well as taking the edge of the sweetness, stopping it from being too sickly, the citrus notes in the beer match the lemon in the chocolate. It is mind-blowingly good, and a complete surprise.

DSC_0048Just when we thought our day couldn’t get any better, someone puts a bottle of Liefmans Kriek in front of us. Now we’re just being spoiled.

“If any beer could demonstrate how versatile beer can be, this is the one,” says Annabel. Some of the tasters in the room are about to get acquainted with their first lambic. “It is fermented using wild yeast which gives it a slightly sour flavour. They use whole cherries – the stalks, the stones, the skins and the flesh. So you might get a slightly marzipan flavour which comes from the cherry stones – sweetness balanced with the sourness.”

Chocolate and cherry can’t fail. We know that already. But Dea Latis has pulled the rug out from under our feet by passing around some Thornton’s dark chocolate… with chilli.

The addition of the chilli is certainly subtle. At first, several ladies on our table think they’ve been given the wrong chocolate. But it’s a few seconds after you’ve eaten it that you get a gentle heat at the back of your throat.

“If you think about about, a lot of people put dark chocolate in meat chillies to take the edge off the heat and add a richness of flavour,” says Annabel. “We already know this flavour combination of the cherry and chocolate never fails – like Black Forest gâteau on the tongue. Let’s mix it up a bit with the addition of the chillies.”

This is a beautiful match. It turns into cherry truffle in your mouth, with a gentle heat lingering on your tongue. The tingle of the chilli plays off the sour fizz of the lambic and brings your palate alive.

Once our hosts have finally prized the beer and chocolate from our vice-like grip, we take a vote on our favourite match. The Liefmans Kriek and dark chilli chocolate is the runaway winner, although apparently the Adnams Solebay and white chocolate surprise entry comes a close second.

Having spent a whole afternoon being plied with deliciousness in some pretty inspiring company, we’re feeling hugely positive about women’s ever-growing role in the beer world.

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Jane Peyton

“There is a way to convert women to drinking beer, and it is for other women to talk to them about it,” says Jane Peyton, beer sommelier and beer writer. “Let them know that it’s a drink for everyone, and give them a really flavoursome beer – not that pale, insipid, blank, watery thing that the industry seems to think women want. It’s the complete opposite. It’s about giving them permission to try it – I know that sounds patronising, but it’s true.”

“What we find is that although brewers are waking up to the fact that a lot of women are drinking beer, and are doing their own women-oriented marketing, as an overall generic campaign we act as an adjunct to that – we want to add to it, not replace it,” says Ros.

“Out of all alcoholic drinks beer is the most female, ironically, even though it is marketed at men,” adds Jane. “Women invented beer. Yeast is female. The female part of the hop plant is used in brewing. Historically women were the brewers. All the deities of beer are female… so it is actually a drink for everybody.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

Thanks to Dea Latis for some of the photos used above.

Want more? Check out our interviews with Annabel Smith and Jane Peyton, as well as our coverage of the most recent Dea Latis breakfast.

_0003950– PS

When a plan comes together: Camden Town and Adnams collaborate

In the distant future, as robots pour space pints of synthahol in bars run by a be-hatted Whoopi Goldberg (is the top line too early for a Star Trek reference?), people will look back on the beer boom of 2013/14 and wonder why everyone got so het up about cask vs keg. Why couldn’t we just get along? Camden Town brewery (hip hopsters based in North London) and Adnams Brewery (established alesters from Southwold) have had enough of the fight. They’ve collaborated over a new ale – called South Town – and decided to throw it a party at Camden HQ.

That’s on ICIP’s doorstep, so on a balmy Saturday afternoon we meandered through the North London sun (no, really!) to visit Adnams in their new, temporary home. And hadn’t Adnams made themselves at home. We were greeted by the sight of Camden’s long beer garden, sandwiched between gritty industrial plots, dotted with Adnams’ deckchairs; something of a change of scene for them, used as they are to sunset behind a lighthouse rather than sunset behind a graffitied Amy Winehouse tribute.

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South Town (would you believe it’s taken me this long to realise the beer is a mash-up of the locations of the two breweries) was served at a dedicated cask bar, accessible only if you shelled out £12 for a six-stamp card (a half was one stamp, a pint two, so at three pints for £12 a bargain in this part of town) (also fun because stamp cards, like loyalty cards, make me inexplicably competitive and OCD along the lines of: WE’VE GOT TWO AND A HALF STAMPS LEFT IF WE ADD UP THESE TWO CARDS YOU CAN’T LEAVE NOW I DON’T CARE IF YOU CAN’T SEE).

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South Town pours a long, amber pint. It’s approachable and drinkable, and at 4.9% the perfect pint to go with the hours of rugby with which the party happened to coincide. A first glug gave way to SO MUCH much hops (Topaz, Summer, Ella and Galaxy), which resolved in the kind of mellow sweetness you expect from an ale. This was achieved by using four different malts – Pale Ale, Light Crystal, Crystal Rye and Golden Naked Oats. I could drink pints of South Town (I did drink pints of South Town!) and not get bored (I didn’t get bored!) which is more than can be said for many ales.

“Camden are cool in a very cool way and we’re cool in a cask ale way” – Adnams’ Fergus Fitzgerald

South Town was brewed at Adnams’ brewery in Southwold. They picked up the cheque and agreed a retail price with Camden, who buy up and sell stock as they see fit. Beer nerds that we are, we wanted to know more of the story behind the brew: why did Camden, who don’t do cask, want to brew with Adnams, who exude old english ale from their idyllic seaside brewery? We tracked down head brewers Alex “Camden” Troncoso and Fergus “Adnams” Fitzgerald to find out more about what brought these two together.

“We’re both cool in different ways,” Fergus explained. “Camden are cool in a very cool way and we’re cool in a cask ale way. So it was a good way to get together.”

Ideas and recipes flew back and forwards across the interwebs. An idea for a stout and a porter eventually evolved into a hoppy ale.

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Alex Troncoso

“We used a huge amount of hops,” Alex agreed. “More than two times the amount Camden’s pale ale is hopped.” Of course, this made the brew expensive – those hops don’t come cheap.

We were delighted to hear (I MEAN OF COURSE WE COULD TELL JUST BY TASTE) that South Town was brewed with Adnams’ famous yeast. “Part of the collaboration is that we both add something to it, so most of what we add is the yeast,” Fergus tells us. “With our own yeast we’re relatively confident what it’s going to do. Then you can use it as a base and paint a new picture on top.”

“It’s like making 20,000 litres of soup and hoping it will taste OK!” – Camden’s Alex Troncoso

Fergus Fitzgerald

Fergus Fitzgerald

Using a familiar yeast, Fergus added, can be a helpful constant in a nerve-wracking project. “You’re changing so many other things – you want something that you possibly could rely on. If you do enough one-offs, eventually something will go wrong and you’ll end up dumping it. You can’t do that many experiments and not expect to have a failure. You have to accept that’s going to happen.”

“Because South Town was brewed at Adnams, most of the stress was there,” Alex says. “This end … we’ve been in this situation before. It’s like making 20,000 litres of soup and hoping it will taste OK!”

Well, ICIP is happy to relate that this batch of soup definitely turned out ok. Were Fergus and Alex happy?

“Stoked,” says Alex. “It tastes like I’d hoped,” Fergus agreed. “This was more stressful for Alex because I could test it! It’s got elements of Camden and Adnams.”

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Channelling Paxo, ICIP lands the difficult final question: What’s your favourite beer from the other’s brewery?

“My trip to Southwold changed my opinion,” Alex admits. “My favourite used to be Ghost Ship – now it’s Adnams’ Oyster Stout!”

“Camden Hells Lager,” says Fergus, without missing a beat. “It’s the one I’ve drunk most, but you learn with brewing there are a couple of difficult things to brew: low alcohol beer and good lager. It’s really difficult to brew, technically. You’ve got nowhere to hide – you haven’t got enough flavours to hide the little inconsistencies. You’ve got to get everything right.”

South Town gets a lot right, so we were excited when Alex and Fergus left the proverbial brewery door open for another collaboration brew. Come winter, I’m holding out for a Camden Wold stout.

You can buy a mini keg of South Town from Adnams or try it at any of the pubs listed here, or at Nicholsons Spring Ale festival.

Want more? Check out our posts on the Camden brewery tour and our day out brewing with Adnams.

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Beer on the Brains

There are times when, as a beer blogger, you feel like you may well be the luckiest person on Earth.

ICIP had one of these moments the other day when an email pinged into our inbox from Nicholson’s Pubs. Their Spring Ale Festival was coming up and they were going to be debuting some special brews in a four-course beer and food matching dinner, hosted by Ben McFarland, Beer Writer of the Year. Would we like to attend, they wondered?

Oh, go on then.

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“I’ve been writing about beer for 10 years and this is definitely the most exciting time to be a beer writer or a beer drinker,” says Ben after welcoming us to The Globe in Moorgate. Looking at the line-up for the evening, we feel inclined to agree with him.

DSC_0012We hit the ground running, amusing our bouches with a dish of mixed olives and crumbled feta cheese, served with The Solution, a 6% abbey-style Belgian dubbel brewed in collaboration with Pete Brown.

“What we have here is an aperitif beer,” says Ben. “Normally with beer and food matching, you start with a light beer and a light dish and move up in intensity. But we thought ‘sod it’, and we’re going to go in there with the big guns.”

We are pleasantly surprised to see a dubbel on the menu: it isn’t a style you tend to see often, even in the craftiest of craft beer pubs in the capital. “Belgian beer seems to have been lost in the craft beer renaissance,” Ben agrees. “People don’t appreciate that the Belgians were the original punk brewers; people have been making wacky beers in Belgium for a long time. They have more indigenous beer styles than any other country in the world.”

The Solution is a fantastic beer to start the evening with – full-bodied and complex, its range of aromas and flavours gets every sense firing. “It’s got Czech Saaz hops as well as classic British Syrian Goldings, which makes it very earthy,” says Ben, “and it’s been brewed with a traditional Trappist Ale yeast, the fruitiest you can get. So it’s estery, hints of cloves in there, banana notes as well.”

The beer has a sweet chocolately nose, with flavours of rich raisin and a hint of coffee. Initially sweet, it gives way to a lingering, hoppy tang that mingles with the salty olives and feta deliciously. We consider our appetites well and truly whetted for the next course.

DSC_0016Three C’Son (5% ABV), served with our second course of chicken liver pâté, is a complete contrast to the dubbel. Brewed in collaboration with Adrian Tierney-Jones, this saison is named after the three American hops – Centennial, Columbus and Citra – that give the beer its zingy and refreshing bite.

In comparison to the dearth of dubbels about, Ben notes the recent popularity of this style. “In craft beer at the moment, everyone seems to be making a saison,” he says, “and they all taste completely different. I think it’s becoming an umbrella term for a lot of different styles. If it’s refreshing and it’s hoppy, and you don’t want to call it a pale ale, you call it a saison.”

DSC_0018Filling in some background, Ben explains that variation is a real feature of saison beers. “Saisons were brewed by farmers in Wallonia for their saisonniers who worked in the fields. There was no refrigeration which made brewing in the summer difficult, so it was brewed in the winter and kept until the summer, while the grain used in brewing could then feed the animals, so it was a massive cyclical thing.” Crops changed each year, and the availability of other ingredients varied, so it was rare for two brews to ever be alike. The only key characteristics of the style, Ben says, are that the beer should be refreshing, have some residual sugars to keep the workers’ energy up, and should be fairly low-alcohol: “people were using sharp instruments like scythes – not good when you’re shit faced”.

The beer is brewed with pilsner and wheat malts which gives body but also leaves the beer with a pleasant haziness. We didn’t get much from it in way of aroma, but it is incredibly light and fresh on the palate, with an almost astringent quality from the citrussy American hops which eases off into a pleasantly sour finish akin to a wheat beer. This cuts through the palate-coating pâté beautifully; a perfect match.

DSC_0024The tantalising scent of black pig and apple burgers alerts us that it is time for round three, and we are served up our next beer – the 5% Rye-Catcher. This beer was brewed in collaboration with Glenn Payne, who had come along to the event to explain his inspiration. “One of the nicest beers I ever tasted was a rye beer from an Austrian brewery and you don’t often see them in Britain. It was a beer style that was underrepresented here and I saw this as a marvellous opportunity to get it out there.”

But there is a reason that brewers tend to give rye a bit of a wide berth, explains Brains’ Head Brewer, Bill Dobson: “The reason brewers use barley malt is because barley has a husk. Whenever we brew with a grain that doesn’t have a husk it creates problems – we need that insoluble material as part of the mash filtration process,” he says, apologising for getting technical. “Other cereals like wheat, which you had in the saison earlier, we can use up to a certain amount, but then things start to get sticky and gloopy. Instead of making a nice mash you get something like wallpaper paste. You have to be very careful.”

To avoid this problem, Brains used two different types of rye, – a traditional rye malt and a rye crystal, giving the beer a vibrant red colour and spicy, malty base. “Many of you will have tried rye bread and this has that almost indescribable characteristic flavour… almost a nutty taste with a hint of caramel,” says Bill.

Beer and burger matching is very much in fashion right now, but it tends to be hoppy American IPAs which get trotted out time and time again. Rye-Catcher offered something a bit different while still providing the citrussy American hop hit to cut through the fattiness of the meat (Apollo, Columbus, Amarillo and Citra).

DSC_0036Draining our glasses and packing away our last few chips, we think we’re probably done for the evening. But suddenly we are confronted by the biggest slabs of sticky toffee pudding you have ever seen, and bottles of the strongest beer of the night, the 6.5% Boilermaker.

This beer was brewed in collaboration with Ben McFarland and his colleague from Thinking Drinkers, Tom Sandham. “Tom is a spirits expert and I’m the beer guy, and we thought we could probably do something to combine the two,” says Ben. “The Boilermaker is a beer and spirit cocktail which comes from the steelworkers in Pittsburg. It’s a very sophisticated drink: it involves pouring whisky into a shot glass, putting it upside down in a beer glass and as you drink the whisky blends into the beer. That’s what gave us the idea.”

Wanting to keep things local, Ben and Tom approached the welsh whisky distillery Penderyn, and not only barrel-aged their beer in old whisky casks but also threw in some oak chips infused with whisky while it was maturing. “Little did we know that Brains were giving Penderyn the wash from their beer to make the whisky, so there was already an established link between the two, and it all came together really well,” says Ben.

DSC_0034“It doesn’t bear much resemblance to what you’d call a classic IPA; there’s a sweetness there that we don’t necessarily associate with that style, but then as we’ve seen with craft beer today styles blur and blend into each other.” This lends itself perfectly to the gargantuan pudding we are currently shoveling down. “It goes well with the sticky toffee pudding because it has the caramelised notes to it. It’s not massively carbonated… this is calmer, more ‘cask’ and has more of a port-like quality which goes well with the dessert.”

The beer is rich and smoky, taking the edge off the face-puckering bitterness of the hops you usually get with a strong IPA. You also get a gentle hint of cool burn from the whisky barrel-aging.

Not content with sending us to toffee-beer oblivion, Nicholson’s also doles out a shot of whisky with each serving. “We couldn’t get any Penderyn, so we’ve gone with Laphroaig – peaty, smoky, really pungent,” says Ben. “The link between beer and whisky is such a close one  – people don’t associate it enough.”

The four special Brains beers are part of a line up of no less than 50 cask ales and ciders that will be available during the Nicholson’s Spring Ale Festival, which is running between 24th March and 19th April. Exhausted by the trauma of eating a sticky toffee pudding the size of a small child and sloshing with beer, ICIP leaves The Globe excited about the prospect of getting stuck into their fantastic line up very soon.

ICIP will be visiting the Ale Festival over the next couple of weeks to bring you a review of some of the beers available so look out for our write up soon. In the meantime, check out the festival programme on the Nicholson’s website. There’s a really exciting line up with plenty of lighter blondes and golden ales for the Spring.

– PS

Craft Beer Rising 2014

We shuffle into the Old Truman Brewery in East London’s Brick Lane for the second annual Craft Beer Rising festival with a huge sense of anticipation. The front of the programme promises “beer, music, street food”, and it is hard to see how this can add up to anything other than a cracking afternoon.

And yet… there is still the potential for beer festivals to get it wrong. Many will remember last year’s London’s Brewing event where no one actually got to drink any beer, whereas regular ICIP readers will remember our experiences of depressing sexism at GBBF a few months ago. So we didn’t want to count our chickens, and we accepted our branded ⅓ pint tasting glasses with tentative optimism.

Luckily, CBR 2014 exceeded all our expectations.

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Thrown into the chaos of the trade session, and surrounded by booze industry bigwigs, fellow beer bloggers and journos, we were initially a little overwhelmed. There were many more breweries represented compared to last year, the 75 exhibitors ranging from the big guns such as Fullers and Meantime down to brewers so new they told us they had only finished assembling their equipment the day before. Flicking through our packed programmes, we barely knew where to start, but once the beer started flowing, we were off at a gallop.

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The great thing about having the tasting glasses and not having to commit to a ⅓ or ½ pint of each beer was that we were able to try a huge number of different offerings and still be able to stand up unsupported. We’re not going to bore you by listing every single beer we tried, but here are a few of our highlights:

DSC_0155Thwaites’ Crafty Dan Microbrewery – Benny & Hop (5.8%)

Like many of the big cask ale breweries, Thwaites have developed a craft arm of the business to capitalise on the recent popularity of specialist beers. However, unlike many of their competitors, they are really very good at it.

Crafty Dan has been on our radar for a while now. We tried the sublime 13 Guns at Nicholson’s Autumn Ale Festival last year, and we’ve also enjoyed their Big Ben courtesy of Beer52 recently. So we were already excited to see the Fallen Nun black IPA (7%) in the programme, and didn’t need much convincing to visit their stand. But when we got there we were offered a taste of the unique Benny & Hop (5.8%), an unadvertised addition to their pumps.

The Thwaites rep we chatted to explained that this was brewed with Bénédictine liqueur, a herbal drink he likened to Jägermeister. While this was originally developed by French Benedictine monks in the 19th Century, due to its popularity with Lancashire regiments stationed in France during the First World War it is still widely consumed in Thwaites’ home-county today, and the perfect addition to an experimental brew.

Offering something a little different from the more common whisky barrel-aged beers, Benny & Hop’s hoppy aroma gave way to a more complex flavour, with fruity notes and a spicy, Cognac twist.

Bear Hug Brewing Co – Hibernation White IPA (5.6%)

With their friendly blue and white branding and big smiles, we were immediately drawn to Bear Hug. So new that they had reportedly only received delivery of a lot of their equipment the previous day and still having a “coming soon” website, you’d be forgiven for being a bit sceptical of this newcomer to the brewing scene, but Bear Hug easily proved themselves against the more established breweries present.

Brewed with Target, Chinook and Citra hops, this IPA met D’s mouth-puckering hop quota, but by adding the Citra at the end of the process to create an “infusion” Bear Hug succeed in creating a seriously aromatic beer with a fresh finish. There was no lingering aftertaste, no cloying buildup in the mouth – it was super-refreshing. At just 5.6%, it was lighter than many of its IPA counterparts at the festival, but given how quaffable it was, this may be a good thing.

What we also loved about Bear Hug was their ethical clout, working alongside My Green Squares to offer both suppliers and customers the opportunity to protect a square metre of rainforest with every bottle bought. We’ll drink to that.

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The Celt Experience – Shapeshifter Series: Barbarian’s Beverage (barrel aged) 6.3%

The Celt Experience, hailing from Caerphilly in Wales, was a new name to us, but their stall, furnished with old brewing equipment and pipework, was instantly eye-catching.

Created as a collaboration brew with the Otley Brewing Co, this black IPA has a massive whack of American hops – Columbus, Green Bullet, Amarillo, Chinook and Waimea – and it has been dry hopped, giving it real zing. According to Celt Experience founder, Tom Newman, the secret ingredient here is the addition of Hungarian peppers, which brings a real fruitiness, as well as some red chillis for heat. Guiding us around the back of the stand, he removes a bung from an enormous oak barrel. ‘Go on, sniff my barrel,’ he encourages us, cheekily. We oblige, getting a faceful of Burgundy. Tom tells us that the beer has been aged  for nine months in these barrels, deepening and developing the flavours.

Camden Town Brewery – Flue Faker (5.8%)

There is always a temptation at these kinds of events to steer clear of breweries whose range you already know well. You know that you have limited time and liver capacity at your disposal and feel somewhat duty-bound to try only new things. But we are so relieved that we still took the time to swing by Camden’s stall.

We’re familiar with their core range, like Camden Hells and Gentleman’s Wit, and have even tried some of the slightly less common brews like Indian Summer Lager, but we were excited to see a brand new beer – Flue Faker, Camden’s take on a German Rauchbier or smoked beer.

Flue Faker uses beechwood smoked malt and Czech Saaz hops. So many brewers may have overplayed this and produced something gimmicky and over the top, but not Camden. The smokiness is subtle but delicious, adding depth of flavour without overpowering the refreshing nature of the lager.

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Truman’s Beer – London Keeper (8%)

It seemed apt to drop by to see Truman’s, who had come back to their old home for the day to show off a range of beers including this beautiful Double Export Stout. London Keeper was the first beer brewed at their new premises in Hackney Wick when they reestablished in 2010 and only 2,000 bottles were made. The recipe was adapted from that of an original Truman’s beer from 1880, one of the few times that American hops were used in 19th Century British brewing when our own hop crop failed.

The beer was malty and rich with a nutty nose and treacle and licorice on the palate. Outstanding.

Brewdog – Hello, My Name Is Vladimir (8.2%)

We’ve been keen to try Brewdog’s latest ever since it made media tidal waves for its superb anti-homophobic legislation marketing, pinned to the Sochi Winter Olympics. And we weren’t disappointed: generously hopped with Citra, citra and more citra, it packed a lengthy, sweet punch, and clocked in at a beefy 8 per cent. Joint brainchild of Brewdog’s PR arm and the company’s director, this is the young company’s first foray into “political” brewing.

The only bad news is that Vladimir has completely sold out, much faster than anticipated, so if you didn’t have a chance to try it at CBR you might have missed your opportunity. We can only hope that President Putin appreciated the bottle that Brewdog sent him.

Honourable mentions must also go to:

The lovely folks at Duvel Moortgat who chatted Belgian beer with us. We especially enjoyed La Chouffe (8%), Houblon Chouffe (9%) and the Liefmans Kriek Brut (6%).

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Blue Moon Brewing Co who had brought along a delicious Gingerbread Spiced Ale (5.9%). This really carried all the Christmassy flavours of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg without any gimmicky, cloying sweetness.

Fantastic to see ICIP’s friends Adnams out in force, and we loved their Rye IPA (5%), which we were not surprised to hear was the brainchild of ICIPA brewer and fellow hophead, Belinda Jennings!

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We felt like we might as well give up and go home after tasting Ilkley Brewery’s The Mayan (6.5%) – a chocolate chipotle stout – as we failed to see how anyone could top it. Just rereading the description is almost enough to send us into some sort of euphoric catatonia so you can imagine how good it tasted. We bought 4 bottles.

It is always a pleasure to see the guys from Pip’s local brewery, By The Horns. After an expansion last year they are producing more delicious stuff than ever, our faves being  Hopslinger (6.3%) and Belgian Space Project (5.5%).

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Fun to meet some brewers from further afield, too. D was chuffed to find Italian brewers Brewfist and Birrificio Italiano tucked away – their delicious beers got her through a Ryan-air sponsored holiday disaster in Rome last year. Spaceman IPA (7%) was excellent, and a spokesman told us that there were more craft beer bars in Italy than in England. Which sounds like a feature to us.

While not a beer, we thought Harry Brompton’s Alcoholic Iced Tea (4%) was so tasty (and so much nicer than those ubiquitous alcoholic ginger beers) that we couldn’t fail to give it a mention! Apparently available in Waitrose – grab a bottle if you see one.

Speaking of novelties: Bateman’s Black Pepper Ale. If you buy it in a bottle it comes with a sachet of pepper, if you buy it in a pub they will grind pepper into it for you. Good for a photo-op; not so good when the pepper comes back to haunt every beer you have for the rest of the festival.

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While there was probably still a slightly uneven gender balance at the festival, there were many more women both in front of and behind the bars at Craft Beer Rising, as well as a series of talks by Beer Sommelier and writer Melissa Cole. The atmosphere was friendly and inclusive, with brewers and sales reps really showing their passion for their wares.

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We were surprised by the absence of some popular local names – Pressure Drop, London Fields, Kernel, to name but a few. Given that some relatively small producers such as By The Horns and newcomers like Bear Hug were present, this seemed strange to us, but perhaps given the popularity of this event, they will be on the bandwagon for next year.

After we were turfed out so that the exhibitors could regroup before the evening session, it appeared that the entire beer world twitterarti descended on Brewdog Shoreditch to continue the party. It was wonderful to see such a mix of people all enjoying great beer, meeting new people and sharing their love for all things hopped and malted.

The event was a fantastic success and introduced us not only to some new favourite beers, but also to some new breweries to watch out for in the future. We are already blocking out our diaries for Craft Beer Rising 2015.

Check out the rest of our pics on our Facebook page.

– PS

Second breakfast: a morning tasting with Dea Latis

Dea Latis, a group of women beer fans, movers and shakers, had two things to convert me to at their breakfast tasting in December. Having beer with breakfast, and having breakfast.

Just for starters, beer at breakfast is something I normally associate with festivals. The experience of waking up in a tent-slash-sweatlodge, with eyes trying to crawl out of my pores and nothing but a half-drunk warm tin of lager with which to rinse-spit dust, was not an experience I wanted to reconstruct in a pub in London’s Kings Cross the night after my works Christmas ‘do.

Oh, but on arrival at Somers Town Coffee House I realised I could not be further from the scorched earth of Reading ‘05. Long, communal tables lovingly laid ala Christmas dinner; bottles and bottles of beers stood to one side; mugs of coffee that chalkboards screamed was some of the best in London (and it was pretty good).

I should have known better, because the ladies at Dea Latis are a classy bunch. Named after the Celtic goddess of beer and water, they’re a group of women – brewers publicans, writers etc. – who want to reclaim beer for the sistahood because, they say, “it’s far too good to be enjoyed only by men”. It’s free to join, and they organise three-monthly social events like the Beer and Breakfast tasting. You can find out more in our interview with founding member (and MC for the Beer Breakfast) Annabel Smith in our interview from earlier this year).

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A rousing speech from Annabel – a whistle stop tour through some of the industry’s many high points this year – ends “the more noise we can make the better”; an incentive our rowdy crowd hardly needs as we welcome the Breakfast’s main speaker, School of Booze founder Jane Peyton.

“Some people carry a bible, I carry hops,” Jane explains, proudly setting out her sample nuggets. Beer, she argues, is unavoidably female: women invented beer; yeast is female; the female part of the hop plant is used to make beer; female deities gave beer to humanity as a gift. “When women hear that, they think ‘we’ve got a part to play’,” she says. “We have to change men’s perception of women drinking beer. There’s a lot of work to do – but we can do it, can’t we?”

Can’t we just! Invigorated, we tuck into our first pairing – poached egg and smoked salmon with hollandaise drizzle, served with St Austell Brewery’s Clouded Yellow (4.8%). The citrus-y, hopped St Austell’s is a lovely compliment to the rich hollandaise.

eggMaking short work of that, we crunch into the second course, crispy smoked bacon with a herby grilled tomato, served with Freedom Pilsner Lager (5%) The Pislner, light, sparkling and refreshing, cut well through the oil of the grilled tomato; a good foil to the salty bacon.

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(At this point that I should reveal that your correspondent is a vegan and has consequently cribbed many of these tasting notes from her good-natured breakfast companions. But you will be relieved to hear that observations about beer are absolutely her own. ISINGLASS? WHAT ISINGLASS?)

Next up: Bombardier Rarebit Crumpet served with Wells and Young’s Bombardier (4.1%), a great success. The sturdy Bombardier paired well with the salty cheese, without the overall sense of stodge you might expect from cheese-on-crumpet.

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Black Pudding and Apple Crisp not only did the impossible and made black pudding look elegant, but matched well with Timothy Taylors Landlord (4.1%), itself bitter, brown and allegedly “blokey”.

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Chilli Avocado on French Toast – big, tough flavours on sturdy bread – sat nicely with Thwaites Wainwright (4.1%) before the morning’s only misfire, a banana and strawberry smoothie served with Wells and Young’s Banana Bread Beer (5.2%). I’ve got a bit of a thing for Banana Bread Beer – it was one of the first “different” beers I remember acquiring a taste for – but it was rendered almost tasteless by the ice-cold smoothie, which seemed to numb every part of your palette except the bitter-preoccupied edges.

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Nevertheless, pudding-breakfast was redeemed by the next course – the universally popular Pancakes with Chocolate Sauce and Blueberries served with Wells and Young’s Chocolate Stout (5.2%). An obvious pairing, perhaps – chocolate and chocolate – but good to note that neither strong flavour squashed the other. Added entertainment was had by mixing Banana Bread Beer and Chocolate Stout to create a delicious choco-banana hybrid.

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Finally the women of Dea Latis voted, expertly corralled from noisy conversations and banana-chocolate beer experiments by Annabel, and the first pairing, egg and smoked salmon with Clouded Yellow, came out a clear winner. The Vegan Vote went to the avocado on toast with Wainwright – the citrus in the beer took the place of the squeeze of lime I’d normally douse my avocado with.

I leave breakfast tipsy and converted, states to which circumstances seldom lend themselves at pre-brunch. As someone whose breakfasts rarely stray beyond the instant (an apple! Half an apple! WHY HAVE I LEFT HALF AN APPLE IN THE FRIDGE?) to the bizarre (leftover Ma Po Tofu – because nothing wakes up your face like eleven Szechuan chilli), I was as impressed by the array of food as I was by the beer. The beer itself was brilliantly accessible – something you could pick up from your local supermarket instead of having to enter the GPS of your nearest hipstertastic deli and remortgage your house to buy.

But best of all was the company – tables of smart, beer-loving women (and one token bloke); who shouted out tasting observations with confidence and could guess the strength of a beer from the first sniff. If you haven’t been to a Dea Latis event before, then one of their breakfasts is a great place to start. And if you’re not convinced about breakfast, or beer, or the two together, a seven-course tasting menu like this one should be enough to make you think again.

Find out more about Dea Latis

All photographs courtesy of Ros Shiel

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Just to rub it in, that seven course tasting menu:

  • Poached Egg and Smoked Salmon with Hollandaise Drizzle served with St Austell Brewery’s Clouded Yellow 4.8% (from St Austell Brewery in Cornwall)
  • Crispy Smoked Bacon with a herby grilled tomato served with Freedom Pilsner Lager 5% (from Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire)
  • Bombardier Rarebit Crumpet served with Wells and Young’s Bombardier 4.1% (from Bedford)
  • Black Pudding and Apple Crisp served with Timothy Taylors Landlord 4.1% (from Keighley in West Yorkshire)
  • Chilli Avocado on French Toast served with Thwaites Wainwright 4.1% (from Blackburn in Lancashire)
  • Banana and Strawberry Smoothie served with Wells and Young’s Banana Bread Beer 5.2% (from Bedford)
  • Pancakes with Chocolate Sauce and Blueberries served with Wells and Young’s Chocolate Stout 5.2% (from Bedford)

– ED

Getting festive with Nicholson’s Pubs

It feels like no time at all since we were last meeting with Nicholson’s for their Autumn Ale Festival, swilling down such delights as Thwaites’ 13 Guns and Great Heck’s American Classic. But as the days grow shorter and the fairy lights start going up in shop windows, the pub chain has already rolled out a range of 25 winter ales to quench the thirst of the great beer-loving British public.

The crowning glory of this winter range are three very special brews created specially for Nicholson’s by their Cask Masters – the brand’s cask ale ambassadors – working alongside three popular beer writers and well-loved breweries. These beers make up the Christmas Ale Challenge, battling it out on social media to see which can come out on top and win the hearts of customers.

i sea santaWe are glad that Assistant Brand Manager, Ben Lockwood, waited until after we tasted I Sea Santa (4.9%) to tell us what the secret ingredient is. “They used Welsh laver bread, which is seaweed,” he tells us. “It’s added at the end of the boil so you get the most from the flavours.” We try not to splutter into our glass. Brewing with beer sommelier and writer Melissa Cole, the Cask Masters created this unusual beer with Brains Brewery. You wouldn’t know that the beer contained such an odd addition without being told – it has a fruity, raisin nose with that banana-y, ester sweetness, and has great body thanks to the six different malts used. Hopped with Fuggles and Mosaic and with added spices and treacle, it tastes more like panettone than seaweed.

“Working with Bill Dobson, the Head Brewer at Brains was great fun,” says Cole. “He likes to indulge the slightly crazy aspect of my approach to brewing. I’m particularly excited that we’ve used local laver bread in the brew as that particular ingredient is packed with umami and should make the beer deliciously drinkable.” She is not wrong.

rudolfNext up is Rudolf Nose Best (4.5%), a red ale brewed with Boutique Beers author Ben McFarland and Adnam’s. We can really smell the cinnamon notes coming through here, courtesy of the cassia bark used in the brew, along with vanilla. Toasted oak chips add an unusual, smoky dimension to the aroma, and the beer has a warming, spiced quality on the palate.

“The consensus among the Cask Masters was clear – they wanted a Christmas beer that was seasonal, subtly spiced and session friendly,” said McFarland of his contender for the Ale Challenge crown. “If Nicholson’s pub-going legion of cask ale connoisseurs don’t make this awesome oak-aged, cockle-warming ruby ale the best Christmas beer in the competition then Father Christmas won’t bring them any decent presents.”

sleighdriverFinally we tuck into Sleigh Driver (4.1%), the offering from The Beer Cast’s Richard Taylor and Harviestoun. This beer is made exclusively with British hops, which come through with an earthy nose with hints of dried fruit. It is bitter and quite heavy, with a lingering coffee aftertaste. We reckon this would be cracking with Christmas pudding.

“For me, the most exciting aspect of the beer is that it features only British hops” says Taylor.  “For years, breweries here have been experimenting with hops imported from around the world; but British hops impart some truly unique flavours and it is great that they have been championed in this way”.

Toby Flint, the Cask Master who worked on Sleigh Driver, added: “we wanted an ale perfect for the winter – slightly darker and not too strong so it would be easy to drink. We wanted a decent mix of hops for a good balance of flavour, bitterness and of course, a lovely distinguishable creamy ‘Northern’ head!”

This is something Ben picks up on when tasting the beer. “I think it would lighten the bitterness if it was served through a sparkler,” he says, referring to the device that aerates and froths beer upon serving. “It would change the flavour if it was served that way.” Perhaps the Northerners are on to something there.

This is the third year that Nicholson’s have run a range of special Christmas beers. Whereas some breweries already have festive specials, others were only too happy to have a play around with seasonal flavours. The only element that was dictated by the chain was the final ABV – everything else was up for grabs.

As Ben points out, “it’s a real investment to take your staff to the breweries. But engagement levels just soar.” Building a relationship between staff and brewers is obviously important to Nicholson’s, and this initiative gives the Cask Masters an opportunity to deepen their knowledge about the beer they serve. “How many staff behind a bar can say they helped brew the beer they’re selling?” asks Ben.

Jamie McCarthy, one of Nicholson’s Senior Cask Masters, says: “this really is what I believe makes us stand out in our market, we take ale so seriously and this is gives us pride, ownership and impacts the knowledge shared in the teams.”

Drinkers are being encouraged to comment on the three beers and champion their favourites via Nicholson’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. There’s certainly pride at stake, with friendly rivalry between Melissa Cole and Adnams on Twitter as soon as we tweeted about trying the brews. “There’s a lot of love in the beer world between brewers,” says Ben. “There’s great banter on Twitter between the breweries.”

So what’s next for Nicholson’s? There will be a Spring Ale Festival in the last week of March going into April, and a special event for the World Cup in June, pitting 25 beers representing 10 countries against each other with voting over social media. We’re looking forward to it already… once we’ve worked our way through the winter range!

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The special Christmas ales will be available exclusively to Nicholson’s from now until Christmas across the 77 pub estate and joins their 25 winter ales available on rotation until February.

– PS