Tag Archives: London

Brewhouse, in the middle of our street

We get it ripped out of us here in Islington. People make fun of our biodegradable yoga mats, our bespoke tofu and our eco-friendly soap nuts. Yes, we love our green initiatives as much as we love our hummus. So where better to open up a pub where the booze travels beer-millimetres, instead of beer miles, from tank to tankard?

In fact – why not open two?

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That’s exactly what Simon Bunn and Kris Gumbrell, the team who pioneered street-level brewing at The Lamb in Chiswick and The Botanist in Kew, intend to do. They opened London’s first Brewhouse pub at the Angel this week, with a second planned for Upper Street, about a ten minute walk away, in 2015.

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ICIP is used to our craft bars being stuffed into tiny converted local boozers, so we were blown away, when we visited Brew House in Angel on its pre-opening opening night, by the sheer size of the joint. So blown away, in fact, that the magnificently conceived interior gave us pause: was there something of the chain about this enormous craft bar? Don’t get us wrong, we loved the atmosphere, but was it a bit too themed? Quaint, reclaimed and bespoke: diners and drinkers can huddle into street-level wooden booths or perch around enormous tables. “Tables” doesn’t do them justice: the enormous, circular tabletops are actually glass-topped wedges of hops and barley. Staring down at them through your crystal-clear pint, you could hardly get closer to the roots of your drink.

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Except you can: because look up, and you’re seated in the middle of the magic. Right in the brewery. Like its predecessors in Portsmouth and Dorchester, the Brew House’s core range of original beers are all brewed in open view – and this is what takes it above and beyond your average well-funded craft initiative.

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Having your kit bang in the middle of the bar is a lovely concept  – and, as we found out in conversation with head brewer Pete Hughes, it’s much more than just decoration. Here, Pete brews Brew House Islington’s core beers on site, often at night, three times a week.

And what a core range.

Arc Angel, a 3.6% English bitter, poured a mouth-puckering pint that mellowed into a British classic. Dominated by (we think!) Goldings and Fuggle hops, it would sit well alongside anything from the Fullers range. “A nice dad beer”, ICIP decided.

Myddleton, a 4.5% blonde IMG_20141002_211739ale, with its bright white, lasting head and sweet, banana-and-clove aroma, was a lovely Belgian-style brew.

Spandau B, the pub’s 4% session IPA, was so popular it ran out by 9’o’clock. One of our favourites, its floral, Mosaic and Amarillo dry-hop packed more punch than we expected from its (relatively) low ABV.

Watchmaker‘s deep caramel colour gave it away as a deliciously easy-drinking amber ale; this strong, 5.5% bitter was smooth, well-balanced and surprisingly sweet.

Finally ICIP was a huge fan of Black Swan, a black IPA, with mouthfuls of roasted nuts and enough fizz not to taste overwhelmingly chocolate-y or smooth.

(The menu promises a couple more that we didn’t get to try – Britton, a 5% American brown, and Chaplin, a 6% IPA.)

These were early days for Brew House: while this, the core range, will remain mostly the same, two of the pub’s eight taps will be dedicated to seasonal and special beers when it opens to the public. At the moment these include Suffragette Ninja (this could become ICIP’s signature beer), a 4% milk stout, a spicy winter beer called Vlad and a smoked porter. The Angel pub will continue to be dedicated to cask beers – its sister on Upper Street will handle the kegged side of business.

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“They gave me complete freedom,” says brewer Pete Hughes, of the core range. A man who has literally just landed his dream job, he dreams big: of pressurised vats to brew lager in, of specialised and novelty brews. Which is what you want in a head-brewer, really. Chairman of the London Home Brewers, Pete worked in construction and brewed at home before a friend suggested he apply for the Brew House gig.

IMG_20141002_204003“Really I’m just a home-brewer who’s been allowed an outlet for my hobby,” he tells us.

And what an outlet: “If we wanted to brew something crazy we’d do it,” he promises, when I wonder if the range might include some riskier numbers. “They’re [owners Simon and Kris] more adventurous than I am. I’ve had some impractical requests!”

The beers are totally handmade, he explains, making the set up much closer to homebrewing. This is something Brew House looks set to capitalise on: for £99 you can buy a Brewing Experience Day, which includes a crack at the various pieces of kit, a tasting, lunch and a 5litre keg to take home, and for an undisclosed sum you can commission your very own beer.

“This can be as diverse and darlingly difference as chamomile flowers, lavender or even horseradish,” the press release promises. But don’t get too nuts because the minimum buy is 750 pints, and even ICIP isn’t sure it could get through 750 pints of horseradish beer.

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ICIP walked in ever-so-slightly worried and walked out converted. Our corner of north London is stuffed with great craft beer pubs, and normal pubs, and we wondered where this would fit in.

Lovely beer-loving Brew House spokeswoman Su-Lin Ong painted us an attractive picture of an Islington crawl, taking in the Hops and Glory, the Earl of Essex, the two Brew Houses and the local branch of Craft.

Even the ladies' loos were a beery work of art.

Even the ladies’ loos were a beery work of art

We might not survive that, but we’ll certainly be back to the Angel brewpub. Yes, it has all the trimmings: good food (high on the manifesto), acres of space and a well-thought out theme. But more importantly, at its heart is a passionate home brewer. And he won’t even be working behind the scenes – he, his brew kit and his beers, take centre stage.

Brew House Islington opened on Monday 6 October. You can find it next to Angel tube, on the corner of City Road and Torrens Street.

– ED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-LD

Summer Brew Fest 2014

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There are more breweries in London these days than there are terrifying statue-mimes in Covent Garden. Statistically speaking, if you’re not busily home-brewing your own smoky tribute to the Capital’s gaslit past, your neighbours, Tube driver, takeaway delivery lady or Evening Standard pusher probably is.

DSC_0010So it made sense to get everyone together in a car park in London Fields (where else?) and condense London’s micro-brewing macrocosm into … er … a microcosm again. Arranged in a circle around Space Studios, right next door to London Fields Brewery‘s own brewery tap, the first inaugural Summer Brew Fest – which showcased London brewers – epitomised the city’s drinking scene: super-friendly, more street food than you could fit into a cul-de-sac, and on the staggering side of pricey. Full disclosure – ICIP didn’t pay for two of our three tickets, which cost £30 each + booking fee for an afternoon session and included 15 beer tokens (at a third each, that’s roughly five pints).

Half-price, seven-token entry set you back £15, while on the day legend had it you could grab a ticket for a tenner, which included three beer tokens. Now, even in London ten pounds is a lot to spend on a pint, and thirty pounds is steep for an afternoon’s drinking, particularly when other venues (Craft, for example, was holding a birthday party in Clerkenwell) were hosting free gigs just round the corner.

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But to Summer Brew Fest’s credit this was one of the very few times that the all-inclusive label stuck. ICIP’s trio of drinkers couldn’t get through all 45 of our beer tokens and – as regular readers will be aware – we’re extremely good at getting through beer tokens. From a punter’s POV this was an extremely well-run festival: our nicely branded third-glass literally overfloweth(ed) with tokens; there was an attractive beer list with tasting notes and some genuinely handy guidance for beer-tasting; there were kegs of water in the middle of the beer circuit where you could rinse your glass between sessions. Crucially, of course, there was beer, brought together from across the 32 (thanks, Google!) boroughs of London.

DSC_0015We ran straight into our friends from Bear Hug Brewing – who we met for the first time at Craft Beer Rising, when they – and their beer – were literally just days old. Coincidentally we had the inside skinny on their social calendar because North London is a small place and everyone goes to the same parties, so managed to wheedle our way into trying their delicious Spirit Pale Ale (5.2%) as well as revisiting their lovely Hibernation White IPA (5.6%).

DSC_0030A shuffle to the left and a conceptual bound over the river we discovered newbies Hammerton Brewery who, it turns out, brew a stone’s throw from Liz in Islington, not that she’d throw stones at a nice brewery. Their Islington Lager (4.7%) – light and hoppy – managed to very briefly turn her away from the double IPAs on offer, while N7 (5.2%) – their light, session-able pale ale made a great summer drink.

As ICIP casually drank our way around London without risk of getting stuck on the Northern line, experts from London Field’s homebrew course ran live masterclasses in brewing from a stand on the periphery of the beer circle. ICIP didn’t attend because we had a job to do, viz, try all the beers, and we know all about brewing thanks to Adnams, but from the excitable crowd it sounded like these innovative “Beer Geek” sessions provided added bang for your buck.

DSC_0054It was great to see some breweries from south of the river, an area taking its time to catch up with the beer boom in the north east of London. Onwards, then, to Rocky Head Brewery, who brew in Southfields, whose delicious blonde pale ale Zen was a real find – called Zen because it sits perfectly in the middle of their range, it packed more of a punch than its 4.8% per cent suggested.

DSC_0049It is always a pleasure to catch up with Pip and Mr Pip’s local brewery, By The Horns, based in Tooting. They were showcasing their kegged Hopslinger IPA (5.9%) as well as touting some tantalising bottles of a couple of their new brews – Bastard Brag Black IPA (7.4%) and Sour to the People (4.8%).

Pip, suffering from IPA fatigue, made a beeline to Hackney Brewery‘s retro stand, complete with ceramic pump handles, for a glug of their outstanding Best Bitter (4.4%). Liz, meanwhile, found her beer of the festival in their Mosaic TNT (4.4%), a great showcase for a great hop.

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Via a much-needed darker beer from pizza-masters Crate, ICIP finally moved onto the ciders, to which we are quickly becoming converted. Throwing caution to the wind we fell upon Thistly Cross and tried their Ginger Cider (4%), Elderflower Cider (4%), Original Cider (7.2%!) and the jaw-droppingly jam-laden Strawberry Cider (4%), which is made with more fresh strawberries than our overnight oats (ICIP: as on-trend with our breakfasts as we are with our beer).

London, you did great. We came away from the festival proud that there are more breweries in stumbling distance of our respective lairs than there are Tesco Metros. The absence of some of London’s really big hitters – Kernel, say, and Beavertown, who really could have fallen straight into the festival if they headed the right way from Duke’s Brew and Que – gave some smaller brewers a chance to shine. But we were faced with the perennial London issue: at what point will our city become saturated with hop-bomb IPAs? Competition is a good thing – it means that creative brewers can come out with Cucumber and Juniper Saison, for example – but it also means that beer drinkers like Pip eventually get to the point in beer festivals when they swear blind that if they see one more IPA they’re going to look as mournful as this mournful-looking dog.

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Then there’s the cost. With beer festival tickets now hitting 90s-era Glastonbury prices (the upcoming London Craft Beer Festival will set you back £35 and GBBF is £26 for the whole festival), will there come a point when punters decide they could just as easily have a nice sit down in one of London’s great craft pubs or spend a day out at a brewery tap, instead of tying themselves into a boozey half-marathon, a race against time to neck as many thirds as possible before being turfed out for the evening session?

Summer Brew Fest solved this conundrum by being winningly friendly and unashamedly geeky, bringing together beer-lovers from both sides of the bar. ICIP, towards the end of our visit, had to plead with the breweries’ uber-keen beer evangelists not to fill our glasses to overflowing, lest we plummeted into the dregs buckets before we make it to the novelty Indian snacks van. The homebrew courses were a great addition. We came away, yes, with tastebuds joyously subdued by hops and the gently giddiness of women who’ve spent happy hours drinking 7% grog, but also with the sense that London, its myriad brewers, landlords, bloggers and other vested interests, has to figure out how to balance its alcoholic ecosystem before it collapses in on itself, and all that’s left is some delicious-tasting foam.

Check out more of our pics from the event on our Facebook page.

-ED

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ICIP’s thirst birthday

It barely seems possible that it’s been almost a whole year since we began our foray into the world of beer blogging.

ICIP enjoying GBBF

ICIP at GBBF, August 2013

Since last August, things have exploded. We’ve clambered into beer cellars. We’ve visited breweries, pubs and two hop farms. We have interviewed no less than three beer sommeliers. We brewed our very own IPA (thanks, Adnams!). We got 500 followers on Twitter and met innumerable fab beery people. We baked with beer, ate beer ice cream and read books about beer. We even found the time to drink some beer, would you believe.

We felt that this auspicious occasion deserved some kind of celebration. And we want you, dear readers, to join us.

On Friday 15th August at around 1900 we will be descending on the best pub in London, The Queen’s Head. We’re working with the landlord to line up some of our favourite beers from over the last year to share with you all – details to follow nearer the time!

We’ve got a Facebook event up and you can also keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

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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

 

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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Nicholson’s Autumn Beer Festival

Ah, the autumn beer festival season. Pavements run with beer, plastic pint glasses crunch underfoot, air thick with the smell of barbecuing street food. You’re more likely to be rained on than you are at a summer festival, but you’re also less likely to keel over from dehydration after the 11th pint.

Two of Britain’s biggest beer chains have run “beer festivals” within weeks of each other this autumn: Wetherspoons (ran October 16-31) and Nicholson’s (running 21 October – 17 November).

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“Beer festivals”, we say: by nature, they’re short, packed, ticketed, temporary affairs. Pilgrimage-spots for the beer-lover. Part of the fun is sampling a one-off brew and, for the London-based boozer, luxuriating in the week when some of the best ales in the country come to you (travel outside the north circular? Me? What?). Can big chains recreate the magic of the summer beer festival? Can you have as much fun sprawled on the floor of your local ‘spoons as you can in the long, lush charred remains of grass, cigarette ends and syringes in London Fields?

ICIP went to the White Horse in Soho, a Nicholson’s pub, to find out.

White Horse-13This year’s autumn festival marks the chain’s 140th birthday and showcases 50 cask ales (and ciders) on rotation. Your local will change the beers it has on offer every week or so – and will do so in consultation with nearby pubs to make sure one area isn’t flooded with the same IPA. Nicholson’s Cask Masters, the company’s trained beer experts who select the beers on sale in pubs, are on hand in each pub to talk punters through the range and offer recommendations.

The brand does a great line in nostalgia, buying up old British pubs in prime locations for (at least in London) the ultimate Dickensian drinking experience. It’s given them some fantastic locations in London – Soho, the West End, the City – but, as Nicholson’s Assistant brand manager Ben Lockwood tells us when we meet him for a glug-through the beers on offer, it doesn’t always make it easy to accommodate events us excitement-hungry Londoners require, like a real ale festival. And it is these excitement-hungry young drinkers that Nicholson’s hopes to attract with its IPA-heavy festival. Sales of cask ale are on the rise, Ben tells us, and the chain has seen a shift in the age of its punters to a younger, 25-34 audience.

DSC_0024Set around an old-style public bar, which dominates the centre of the pub, the White Horse creates what Ben describes as a traditionally British experience, particularly when coupled with the expertise and local knowledge of the landlord – Nicholson’s well-trained staff, who Ben says are encouraged to talk to customers and offer them samples. But – in the White Horse, at least – you run the risk of entering through the wrong door, having your view of the festival obscured by the bar, and leaving none-the-wiser. This is one potential pitfall of holding a festival in this kind of environment. This is the tradeoff, we guess, for holding a modern beer festival in central London in an environment built for 18th century gin-sippers.

However, this certainly doesn’t affect the quality of the brews. We kick off our tasting with a half of the stunningly delicious Great Heck, an American IPA (5.5%). You can taste America in its breadth of the “c” hops – Cascade, Chinook and Columbus among others – but it’s well-balanced and warm enough to earn a place in an Autumnal line-up. Next up is Thwaite’s 13 Guns, another 5.5% stuffed with New World hops but brewed in Blackburn. It’s lighter than Great Heck – despite being the same abv – but as there’s a lot of halves ahead, this is no bad thing.

DSC_0021We wondered if Nicholson’s beer choices reflect the average punter’s beer taste – and particularly if they are mindful of the ever increasing number of women beer drinkers. “Times have changed,” Ben tells us. “Women drink what they want.” He isn’t surprised to hear we like dark beer – and remembers when a half of Guinness was the quintessential lady’s tipple – but says he would probably recommend something blonde and lemon-y, around 3.8%, to a first-time festivaller.

We move on to Nicholson’s own Porter, brewed by St Austell to a recipe from 1910, which makes an interesting change. Hopped with Fuggles and Styrian Goldings, it’s a rich, dark toasty beer. We were interested in the brewer’s choice of British hops, but Ben told us that a popular taste for zingy, new world hops is endangering home-grown varieties.

Feeling slightly guilty, ICIP tucked into his next suggestion – Broughton’s Hopopotamus (3.8%). Following the Porter it feels a bit lighter – this would make a tasty session beer. Although now the Amarillo, Cascade and Chinook taste less like grapefruit and more like GUILT. We finish off with a half that isn’t part of the festival – Cameron’s Gold Bullion (4.3%) – but makes for a light beer with a citrus-y finish.

Avowed cider newbies, we weren’t sure what to do when Ben offered us a parting half of Orchard Pig’s Explorer Bib (4.5%). ICIP wondered what we were missing when we walked straight past the wall of ciders at the GBBF – and, turns out, we were missing quite a lot. This cider is fragrant and smooth, packing more punch than you’d expect from it’s 4.5%.

We staggered out of the White Horse pub-based beer fest converts. It’s all too easy to sniff at big-brand endeavours like Wetherspoon’s festival – but corporate dollar, at least in Nicholson’s case, has devolved to local expertise (in the form of its Cask Masters), a great spread of beer. You’ve got almost a month to enjoy them – meaning there’s less of an excuse for panic-downing eight halves of whatever you can reach – and, crucially, you can have your fill without fear of being swept into the Thames by a passing seasonal hurricane.

Nicholson’s Autumn Beer Festival runs until 17th November.

– ED