London Beer City 2016: the launch and the libations

Launching full-throttle into its third year, London Beer City is one of the most hotly anticipated beer festivals in the capital. Its founder and organiser, Will Hawkes, has united the gamut of London’s independent breweries, bottle shops and taprooms to transform the city into a single colossal venue. Across ten days, LBC showcases not only London’s evolving brewing culture, but celebrates beer from the United Kingdom and further afield. Hawkes has incorporated a list of breweries as long as your arm in addition to the country’s most eminent beer writers and connoisseurs to host a series of events, discussions, tastings and tap takeovers.

Purusing the LBC schedule, the spirit of community is patent; for instance, this year heralds an official LBC festival beer, a sessionable pale ale with the input of a brewery from each corner of the city, namely: Beavertown Brewery (North), Five Points Brewing Co (East), Fourpure Brewing Co (South) and Fuller’s Brewery (West). The scale of this year’s event makes it the most extensive and ambitious incarnation yet- and it sets the bar for even greater things down the line.

Festivities kicked off with a launch party hosted by Five Points in their East London warehouse yard on the 6 August. The £5 admission price included a beer and ticket holders were given the opportunity to sign up for tasting sessions with representatives from Beavertown, Five Points and Fourpure. Forty kegs and casks were rotated across three bars throughout the day, showcasing beer from 16 London breweries. The weather complied with the occasion, basking attendees in a halo of sunshine as the yard filled up and the tango of switching kegs ensued.

The Phantom Pineapple from Beaverton’s Phantom (the Berliner Weisse and Gose) series was the most eagerly anticipated offering on the menu. Few were shrewd enough to wangle a serving- I missed out despite intently following the activity at the bar. Predictably, it lasted only twenty minutes before the keg ran dry. We were equally as luckless with Fourpure’s Juicebox on tap, which drew in throngs of drinkers from the moment it started flowing.

Despite our ill-fated timing, I sampled some noteworthy beer earlier that afternoon, including a juicy, hazy redux of Gipsy Hill Brewing Company’s Drifter IPA- a New England style beer with an intense citrus explosion of grapefruit, orange pith and pineapple. I also enjoyed Weird Beard Brew Co’s collaboration with BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush, Safeword, an IPA made with chokeberry that’s intensely palatable, its sharp tanginess tempered with juicy citrus. I grazed on The Kernel Brewery’s Damson Sour for a stretch, a lip-puckering beer that appeased in the heat.

Some of the afternoon’s gems were proffered during the tasting sessions, however. Held inside the Five Points warehouse’s tasting room, small groups were seated across banquet tables. My first sitting was with Beavertown and we were offered some examples from their recent projects: Brux, a Brettanomyces IPA collaboration with Founders Brewing Co from their Tempus Project, and Earl Phantom from their Phantom Series.

The Brux is a complex hazy Michigan-style juice, demonstrating aromas of dank, wet forest and hints of strawberry, blackberry and tropical citrus from a dry-hopping of Motueka and Nelson Sauvin hops. The beer finished with a lingering umami hit. The Earl Phantom was equally as interesting- inspired by iced tea, this beer is infused with Earl Grey tea and lactic acid. There’s a zesty bouquet of lemon on the palate, but the aroma is markedly sour. Once I overcame the potent tartness on the nose- which was reminiscent of soured milk- I lapped up the juicy citrus flavour.

Following a short break, we were invited to sample Five Points under the guidance of Doreen Joy Barber, their Community & Marketing Manager, and launched straight into Old Greg’s Barley Wine. Its taste of gummy caramel, hints of citrus and spicy phenolic flavours is ideal to pair with a slab of creamy blue cheese. The Railway Porter elicited nods of approval across the room- many were already familiar with it. Boasting a bill of 100% British malts and hops alongside an intensely rich flavour, it’s easy to see why this is the second most popular beer in the Five Points range, overtaken only by their Pale. We finished on the London Smoke, a gorgeously subtle smoked porter, another style that was well-received by the group.

The third tasting session was hosted by Paul, brewer at Fourpure, who tutored us through Flatiron American Red, Skyliner wheat beer, Shapeshifter IPA and the most hyped tallboy of the summer: the Juicebox IPA. Paul engaged the group with his wry humour and each of the beers perfectly exemplified their style, every sample was on point and wonderfully balanced. Fourpure recently gave their cans a facelift and the designs for Shapeshifter and Juciebox are particularly eye-catching on a shelf. While extolling the virtues of Juicebox amongst ourselves, we mentioned another highly coveted beer, the Tzatziki Sour from Liverpool’s Mad Hatter Brewing Co. Overhearing this, Paul made a confession, revealing his Midas touch: he’s their ex-brewer and the audacious rendition of the Greek staple was his creation. 

Spilling out from the final tasting session, our heads were swimming nicely. The yard was now heaving with revellers, queues snaking around each of the bars as kegs continued to be switched over, all against the wafting backdrop of the DJ's upbeat electronica and the ever-present sunshine. It perfectly encapsulated the zeitgeist of the beer industry in London- we couldn’t stray long before bumping into another friend from a brewery, beer publication or a bottle shop. We engaged in an act of beer communion, sipping from each other’s cups. This was the spirit of London Beer City perfectly manifested, unifying drinkers to discover new styles, challenge their palates and revisit some of London’s established breweries.

London Beer City has gotten off to a prodigious start with the promise of a succession of unmissable events still ahead. The launch party presented an apt microcosm of the industry and its entrenched conviviality, setting the tone for another great festival.

Perhaps most importantly, it allowed us to synchronise our schedules over the next week. We’re in this for the long haul, hangovers be damned.

London Beer City 2016 runs from the 4 to the 15 August and the full schedule of events can be found here.