Tag Archives: beer festival

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.


“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.


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.


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.



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.


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%).


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!


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%).


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.


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.


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