Tag Archives: hogs back brewery

Ales of the riverbank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– PS

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Pork Choc – Montezuma’s and Hogs Back Brewery launch Chocolate Lager

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Regular ICIP readers will already know that my love of beer is matched by my love of chocolate. I actually have a chocolate cupboard at home (I’m not even joking). Being the chocoholic that I am, I am on the mailing list for Montezuma’s, the Sussex-based chocolatiers, and you can find several of their products in my Special Chocolate Cupboard. So when an email pinged through advertising a collaborative beer with Hogs Back Brewery – a Chocolate Lager – I could barely believe my luck.

Hogs Back Brewery, who you may know for their bitter, T.E.A (Traditional English Ale, 4.2%), have spent 6 months working with Montezuma’s to create this new beer. “For ages I thought there were too many mainstream, unimaginative chocolate/alcohol combinations,” says David Pattinson, Head of Sales at Hogs Back. “Simon and Helen Patterson at Montezuma’s felt the same, so we decided we would create something new and hopefully innovative to take chocolate and alcohol in a different direction. I didn’t have to push them too hard…”

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What immediately surprised us about the beer was the choice of style. We’re used to chocolatey notes in stouts and porters, but not in a lager. “We haven’t ended up quite where we expected – you would intuitively think a dark chocolate beer would be dark – this isn’t, and that makes it quite intriguing,” says Rupert Thompson, owner of the brewery. So what made them decide to go with this flavouring in a lighter beer? “We sat around a table with the Montezuma’s team, and the old beer guys amongst us were wondering which of our dark beers would it be,” says David. “Then they asked why we couldn’t try the lager. We did, were staggered by how well the hop lifts the chocolate. After that, the decision was made and we cracked on with production.”

Apparently chocolate can cause problems when brewing – you can’t add it directly to the beer when you brew because of the fat content. So the brewery infused the beer with Montezuma’s Lordy Lord chocolate – 70% dark choccy with cacao nibs – by maceration and gentle extraction. “Our base beer is our Hogstar Lager, which is infused with the nibs and chocolate from Lordy Lord,” says David. “Exactly when Miles (Chesterman, Head Brewer at Hogs Back) adds the infusion is something he would need to tell you, but I suspect he’d have to kill you first.”

DSC_0794Hogstar is itself a relatively new addition to Hogs Back’s repertoire. Well-known for their traditional range, the 4.5% lager was a bit of a departure from their usual style, and was launched late last year. It is brewed with five different hops to bring out both bitterness and aroma, as well as lager malts, a hint of crystal malt and botanical extracts. It is then matured for over a month, during which time the lager’s flavours deepen and develop. It is unusual for modern commercial lagers to be matured like this, although of course, this is the traditional way that this style was made. It is unpasteurised and the carbonation develops naturally.

The beer pours clear and golden, perhaps a shade darker than you would expect, and the quality of the lager shines through when you taste it. The brewery describes it as ‘a light, fresh, refreshing beer carrying a rich but well balanced chocolate and hop flavour, evident both on the nose and on the palette’. We got huge hits of cocoa on the nose, a sweetness that was reminiscent of soft fruits and berries. Mr Pip likened it to cherry hot chocolate. But underneath that sweetness was that distinctive pilsner hoppy sourness that promised more than a gimicky flavoured beer.

Our previous experiences with chocolate-flavoured beers have been pretty bad (Hotel Chocolat, we are looking at you), but Chocolate Lager finally soothed my chocolatey beer nightmares. It tastes nothing like you’d expect after such a rich and sweet nose. The beer has light carbonation and has the crisp, fresh feel that you’d hope for from a lager, with a clean mouthfeel. There is a decent hit of bitterness across the back of the tongue but also a delicate and subtle sweet cocoa aftertaste which complements the bitterness rather than making you feel like you’re swilling a syrupy soft drink. It really is delicious.

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“As projects go, beer and chocolate is probably about as good as it gets!” says Simon Pattinson, co-founder of Montezuma’s. “This is one of the few chocolate lagers in the world and definitely a challenge to perceived wisdom, but give it a go and be prepared to open your mind to a lager that flies in the face of convention!” The interesting pairing could also lend itself to food and beer matching, as Rupert suggests: “Chocolate puddings are notoriously difficult to complement with wines but could work very well if this lager were added to dessert menus”.

Has the success of this collaboration whetted the brewery’s appetite for further chocolatey brews? “I hope we can do something else; reactions to this beer have been so good even at this early stage,” says David. “Personally I fancy having a crack at our Barley Wine (A Over T or Aromas Over Tongham, 9%) to see if we can marry a very complex rich beer with a chocolate and look at tackling something almost like a liqueur.”

The beer is available from the Hogs Back webshop and their brewery shop in Tongham, Surrey. Making the most of the Father’s Day present-buying rush, Montezuma’s is selling the beer on their website as part of nifty gift sets which include the Lordy Lord chocolate. Frankly, the “Happy Father’s Day” labels emblazoned all over these is not deterring us from buying them all for ourselves. Not in the slightest.

Want more beer and chocolate? Check out our coverage of the Dea Latis beer and chocolate matching event, which includes Montezuma’s Peeling Amorous chocolate.

– PS