Monday, 29 February 2016

Almost a tale of two beer festivals

Friday 26th February started out well, a lie in (as I had booked the day off work), which is always welcome on a work day.
Then I clocked up a few miles on the road on my bike, showered, changed, grabbed some water, train beers, rucksack, train ticket and most importantly my ticket for Craft Beer Rising. This was the 4th year I believe and set to be the biggest yet, with over 100 breweries being represented. The festival was being held in the iconic Truman Brewery building on Brick Lane, it was an event I had been looking forward to attending for quite some time. Train departed Colchester on time and shockingly arrived in Liverpool Street as scheduled, a very relaxed 49 min journey (if only my daily commute could be like this, minus the train beers though!).
Grabbed a sandwich at Liverpool Street while waiting for one my brothers to arrive, he was travelling down from Milton Keynes and a catch up was long overdue, so, thought I would combine with a few beers before CBR16 (hey, it was a good plan....). First stop was The Crown and Shuttle, a pub that had been previously boarded up for a number of years and before that might well have been a strip pub, with the pool table being the stage (naturally if asked I never visited it's previous incarnation, a story I am sticking to). Now it is all Shoreditch/craft beer hipster venue, with the walls and floors stripped back leaving the original building exposed, and, no doubt all the better for it. Had a couple of beers here, including the Session IPA from Hackney Brewery, a very sensible 4.1% abv citrusy number, with a bitter finish, Brian was suitably impressed, which was a good thing as I had taken control of the ordering, in his own best interests!
It should also be noted that if you are a fan of the Meantime Brewery Fresh lager, the Crown and Shuttle has a couple of tanks full of their beer. Must be said they do look very good.
This was my first time visiting this venue, and while I enjoyed my afternoon visit, you can sense that after 5 on a Friday it will be very busy, being so close as it is to the City and en route to the East End.
Next up a quick pit stop at Brewdog in Shoreditch, close to Brick Lane, where we met up with Clayton, so, now at least one of us had a beard before entering full on hipster territory.

Upon arrival at The Old Truman Brewery, we were presented with a queue, but, this moved along without too much fuss. Craft Master One (how "crafty" does that sound? lol) glass and programme collected, away we went up the stairs to the main hall, a pretty sizeable affair which allowed the organisers to put all the beer in one place and double the capacity. Another plus was a cloakroom, I do wish more festivals (traditional & craft) had this option.
The layout was very simple - 3 aisles of beer, despite this we got about 20 feet when we saw Beavertown and the souped up version of Neck Oil - Double Chin, an Imperial IPA weighing in at 8.5% abv and brewed to celebrate their 4th birthday. Very enjoyable it was too, you knew it was bigger than the Neck Oil, but, not so much that the 8.5% screamed at you.
Walking and browsing appeared to not be high up on the list of priorities as we found that we had only got as far as Brew By Numbers, and they had a beer I had marked down as "must try", the 55|01 Double IPA - Citra Mosaic Simcoe. Another imperial IPA, it belied its 9.2% abv. It was ever so drinkable, bags of fruity citrus bitterness, it did not last long. We then bumped into Matt (or, Half Pint Gent as some of you might know him) who had already been to the trade session, and with camera in hand was able to take a picture of Clayton drinking his 55|01 Double IPA, the beer which clocked up his Elite badge on Untappd (2,500 unique check ins), well done that man!
Next up was Adnams Triple Knot, a beer I had bought back at the start of the year in bottle and sampled while it was still fresh, the overriding taste and aroma was one of pear drops. So I thought I would give this 10% abv  Belgian tripel inspired offering another go, but, on cask. It was delicious, and again, it reminded me of all of the pear drops (not my favourite sweets as a kid - all about the cola cubes), but, was smooth enough to really enjoy and provided a nice counterpoint to the hoppy citrus beers I had sampled already. Around this point, my brother decided enough was enough and now was a sensible time to head off back to Milton Keynes.
Matt then insisted that we pay a visit to Tempest Brewing Co, these guys were very helpful and friendly and so it came to pass that I tried the Longer White Cloud, a 10.2% abv pale beer, with the style purposely not specified by the brewery. Instead they want us, the drinker to simply appreciate the freshness of the new season NZ hops. Verdict - simply a wonderful beer that is easy to drink, in fact too easy, this is where I have pinpointed the moment that I started on the inevitable roll downhill.
However, there was still time for more tastings! I had entered a draw to gain entry to the Goose Island Barrel Aged tutored tasting session, so, having collected our tickets Clayton and I made our way downstairs to sample some beers from Hertog Jan and Goose Island culminating in the Bourbon County Brand Stout. The beers were all very tasty, and, a few styles were covered off including a Dubbel, a Tripel and a Belgian Pale Ale, as well as the aforementioned stout.
I enjoyed the tastings and I know everyone else did, but, I am afraid I cannot be anymore descriptive about the beers as I had stopped making notes at this point. I was fairly much at the bottom of the hill. It was time to leave. Despite this not being anything like my first craft beer festival, I had been like the proverbial kid in the sweet shop, I will endeavour not to repeat this mistake again! And, I will certainly be looking forward to CBR17, as I thought the set up was absolutely fantastic, well done to all concerned.

On Saturday, the plan was for Michelle and I to pay a visit to the Chappel Winter Beer Festival, a lovely venue at the East Anglian Railway Museum between Colchester in Essex and Sudbury in Suffolk. Train tickets had been purchased, we made our way to Marks Tey train station to pick up branch line to Chappel & Wakes Colne, however, the once an hour service at 12.21 was not going anywhere, Greater Anglia had lost the Guard. No guard, no train......almost two beer festivals, but, no t shirt.

Till next time folks, happy drinking.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Off To The Craft Beer Co We Go......

I like to mix up the events I run at work, helps to keep things fresh, also challenges me to come up with new ideas. With that in mind, I enquired with the nice people at The Craft Beer Co in Islington if they offered tutored beer tastings, they answered in the affirmative. A few emails later, and the booking was confirmed, a silver tasting (yes, you've guessed it - they do a bronze and a gold one too) consisting of 6 beers on Thursday 11th Feb at 6.30pm for a max of 25 people. Within a couple of weeks, all 25 places were snapped up by my colleagues, monies received and paid into Finance (these events do not organise themselves you know).
It is probably a 30 min trip door to door from the office to the pub, hence the 6.30pm start, however, as always happens with the external events we started closer to 7pm (which meant an extra beer at the bar for me, oh well.....) to allow for as many of the group to be there for the start of proceedings.

Now, I have been to Islington Craft Beer Co twice previously and had noticed a rather nice room at the back with the brewing process pictured on the walls, this was to be our area for the evening. The two previous visits had both been enjoyable and noteworthy for me - 1000th unique check in on Untappd and my first Cannonball/Unhuman Cannonball experience.
Thanks to Mark, our host for the evening, my third experience was no less enjoyable/noteworthy. We kicked off with Tzara (4.8%), from Thornbridge, their take on the classic German beer, Kolsch, which is traditionally brewed and served in Cologne. I have a soft spot for this style of beer having visited Cologne a few times over the last 12 years as one of my brothers lives there, and this beer did a very good job of helping me to imagine being in the old town in sight of the cathedral and the Rhine drinking multiple 200ml servings cold and fresh (which the bar staff will continually serve to you unless you put a coaster over your glass, I think I might have forgotten that bit a couple of times!).
Next up was a pale ale from Kent Brewery (Clerkenwell Pale @ 3.8%), this cask offering is in effect the house beer, and it gives you everything you would expect from a sessionable English pale ale. However, not only did we get to taste the beer and opine, we also had the brewer, Richard Barclay in the house. Richard very kindly gave up some of his free time to explain the brewing process to us and was on hand to answer any questions afterwards too, very much appreciated.
Beer number three saw us up the abv to 5.5% and a change in colour and flavour profile - Maduro Brown Ale from Cigar City Brewing. I have had this before, and, was impressed with it and this time round was no different, a brown ale with a pretty complex flavour profile but very drinkable. I have to admit I often have a love/hate relationship with brown beer, especially traditional British versions which for me can too often be "twiggy, grassy, woody", whereas the Americans seem more than happy to create a brown beer that doesn't merely taste "brown".
Beer number 4 was a beer very familiar to me - Salty Kiss (4.1%) from Magic Rock in Huddersfield. The style is a Gose, this is a tart yet refreshing style of beer, originally from Leipzig that uses wheat as well as all the usual beer ingredients. A lovely beer in its own right, it is also a fabulous palate cleanser, which would set us up for the final two beers.
The penultimate beer was Molotov Lite by Evil Twin Brewing an 8.5% Double IPA. I found this to be a really well balanced beer, plenty of tropical fruit notes, with a lovely bitterness that merely had you reaching for the glass time and again. At 8.5%, a dangerously sessionable beer, please take due care and attention with this one!
Last, but, very definitely not least was Aphotic Baltic Porter (9.3%) from High Water Brewing. This beer has benefitted from barrel ageing and blending, and the end result is a smooth dark chocolate of a beer, definitely an end of evening type of beer, one to savour (for the record, i didn't, just too damn tasty).
And, that as they say was that. Feedback from my colleagues has been positive, so, once again thanks to Mark at Craft Beer Co Islington and to Richard Barclay from Kent Brewery.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Colchester Winter Ale Festival Jan 2016

The 9th Colchester Winter Beer & Cider Festival is over for another year. 
I am pretty certain I have been to the last 8, it is therefore very possible that I missed the inaugural one, sorry about that Colchester Camra (although, on the upside one less tankard to store).
The festival is usually held over 4 days, finishing as ever on a Saturday night, although there is also a Camra members preview evening, which I couldn't get to this year. The venue is the Colchester Arts Centre, centrally located and easily accessible by most, if not all forms of transport.
The Arts Centre is an old church (a very old church in fact, that first appears in local records as far back as 1206), St Mary-at-the-Walls, with quite a substantial graveyard outside the main building, where the summer festival spills over. Which, when I see everyone drinking outside always reminds me of a scene from Steptoe and Son, where Steptoe senior is heard saying "first time I have ever had a drink on him" while his beer rests on the deceased's coffin!
As ever, these events are best enjoyed with friends, and, so, on a wet and windy Wednesday evening a few of us made our way from London, Chelmsford and Harwich to sample some cask ale.
A seamless process sees us get our 1/2 pint tankards, which I do like, if only I could find a way to store them efficiently, programme, and our token card (this means the rest of the evening is cashless and any leftover 10p tokens are donated to a local charity), which leaves us only one more thing to obtain - BEER! As you can see from some of the pictures, there were a few casks available to us........
Now, I had already done a little bit of preparation, having utilised the online beer list, so I headed straight to one of the bars to find Oakham Ales "Affair at Styles" a 3.8% abv described as a limited edition, pale golden beer bursting with citrus and tropical fruit flavours. I simply described it as dry, bitter, refreshing and hoppy. Off to a good start with a beer from a brewery I have a lot of respect for.
Next up, I wanted to try a beer from local home brewer turned small batch brewery, Oli Watts( However, the 1st of his two casks had already sold out, damn! Well done Oli as I hear that the second cask also sold out pretty rapidly later in the week also. That is the downside of doing your homework before a beer festival, inevitably not all beers listed will be available when you are there, so, in order to put this disappointment behind me, I looked for one of the two new Harwich Town Brewery beers. Success - Hamlet was on (which either reminds you of a play by The Bard himself, or a brand of cigar, if neither, perhaps you are too young to be drinking or reading this blog!), a copper brown bitter coming in at 4% abv, I noted this as a very dry English bitter, not twiggy or too malty. It was well balanced and along with the offering I tried from Oakham, was in my top 3 beers of the night.
Beer of the night for me was a new one from a brewery I do not believe I have come across before, but, will keep an eye out for them in the future - Papa Steve 2015 from Bexar County Brewery ( An American Imperial Stout. Extremely limited edition beer, packed with flavours of burnt toast, dark chocolate and hints of toffee with an impeccably smooth finish, weighing in at 9% abv, my own notes were somewhat less eloquent - lovely dry stout, very easy and drinkable. Subsequent to deciding that this was my beer of the night I did a little research and found out that there was a very personal and poignant story behind the creation of this wonderful brew ( If you see this beer, give it a go, you won't be disappointed, but, take care, as it hides the 9% abv rather well!

Naturally, I tried a few more beers, plus a couple of Belgian bottles were shared, and, as ever I had an excellent evening that went all too quickly. Thanks to all the volunteers who help make my local winter beer festival what it is and who also provide tasters, advice and opinions in equal measure!
Roll on the summer festival on the 1st June 2016.