I was fleetingly introduced to the man behind Hammerton Brewery, Lee Hammerton, during the London Craft Beer Festival in August 2016. Although the brewery has been operating since 2014, their beer has largely eluded me- this is mostly attributable to the fact that they're detached from the East London drinking scene. Local to Islington, they proudly serve a range of beer that rivals London’s other emerging independent breweries. My oversight was indefensible because, in reality, the brewery is only a short jaunt from Hackney Wick on the overground.
Based in N7 and specialising in turning out small batch beers, my previous encounters with Hammerton was limited to the flagship range, namely the- you guessed it- N7 IPA. But it was their effusive excitement about their take on chicha, a popular drink in South and Central America usually derived from maize, that captivated me. Branded the Chicha Pale, this pilot brew is a 4.1% pale ale made from South American black corn, which lends it a striking amber hue. When last weekend’s taproom opening presented me with the opportunity to taste this unique beer, I cleared an afternoon. I was intent on redressing my unfamiliarity with the brewery’s range.
Just a hop and a skip from the Caledonian Road & Barnsbury station, the brewery and taproom are located within a commercial unit. On a Saturday afternoon, the lot was quiet and the surrounding units showed little signs of life. There were only the tell-tale characteristics of the open taproom coming from unit 9: the wafting smoke of a street food vendor and an al fresco seating set-up. Stepping inside, I was struck by the generous size and arrangement of the taproom, spread out across the brewery’s warehouse floor space. Nine beers were available fresh on tap and bottles were chilling in the fridge to take away, all showcasing the breadth of Hammerton’s range. Styles available included their N7.7 DIPA, the Blanche witbier and their Pentonville oyster stout.
Hammerton are quietly confident- but with sufficient reason. I was served by welcoming staff who demonstrated exhaustive knowledge and enthusiasm about the selection. This batch of the Chicha Pale, v 4.0, was running low. Given the fact that previous versions were limited to 60 litres- the volume of the brewery’s pilot kit- they must be flying through their supply. I was advised that in future batches, there was talk of achieving a lighter hue comparable to a rosé wine and deriving more of the natural sweetness from the corn grist. You could almost envision the Chicha being decanted into a wine glass and glistening away in the sunlight- at 4.1%, it’s a perfectly sessionable beer for long, languid summer afternoons.
Indisputably an attractive beer in the glass, the Chicha is also remarkably drinkable- I was uncertain whether I would discern any characteristics from the corn- whether aromatic or on the palate- but there was certainly pleasantly soft flavour nuances of ripened strawberries and white fleshed fruits. While present, the sweetness of the beer is tempered with a long, refreshing bitterness. As a pale ale, I found it was a nicely rounded and deceivingly complex. It had me going back for a second half- just to be certain that I hadn’t missed any restrained qualities imparted by the corn.
To further my acquaintance with Hammerton’s beers, I also sampled the Blanche, a 5.3% witbier infused with orange zest, coriander and ginger- this was a good, clean rendition of a Belgian wheat beer with apposite haziness, zingy citrus notes and a nice buttery earthiness from the coriander. This was intensely drinkable in the humidity of the afternoon. I was equally as satisfied with the N 7.7, a DIPA with an ABV of 7.7%, carrying a nice nose of tropical fruit and citrus, which was also exhibited on the palate alongside some maltiness, a hint of resin and bracing finish.
Although I came for the Chicha, I was easily swayed to try further examples from Hammerton’s range. I can now confidently place them as another London brewery that’s producing solid and immensely drinkable beer. It was the passion of Lee and Gavin, the brewery’s Head of Sales, who inspired me to revisit their offerings after our chance encounter last month. And the allure of their taproom will see me returning, but how could it not? Drinkers are invited to sit within eyeshot of operations and brewing, harking back to the salad days of many of London’s stalwart brewery taprooms- some still independent, some no longer- and this is a great, convivial environment to lap up Islington’s finest beer.