Hackney’s Round Chapel hosts the 34th Pigs Ear Beer & Cider Festival, the annual event from the East London and City CAMRA branch. Running between the 5th and 9th December 2017, with over 230 beers and ciders listed, the festival features contributions from a number of London’s best craft breweries.
The format of Pigs Ear is slightly fiddly, with a refundable glass purchase and beer card required before stepping up to any of the bars. The beer card is divided into lines of 10p denominations. The £10 starter pack included a glass and a card to the value of £7 – and you can manage four halves with this with a few 10p to spare. Drinkers are encouraged to donate their beer cards with any remaining balance to charity, but could also pay any difference for a drink on the bar.
The venue is much tighter than the sprawling Olympia space, where the Great British Beer Festival is held, and it did allow for a livelier and bustling atmosphere because of the more compact space. Tuesday night’s industry crowd were naturally enthusiastic about some of the rare cask samplings from London breweries, with a high representation from East London breweries in particular.
The styles offered ranged from hoppy IPAs to robust imperial stouts and we were generally impressed with the quality and the flavours of the beers that we sampled. The Five Points Brewing Company had their Green Hopped English Bitter brewed with Bullion hops, which packed a bursting profile of earthiness and citrus, despite having been originally released a month ago.
Hackney Brewery’s Blueberry Sour was next, a beer with a velvety rich stout base and a healthy addition of blueberries, which don’t register the palate until a few sips in. The fruit addition elevates this from merely an accomplished stout to something interesting without being cloying.
Perhaps the most rewarding discovery was the Jazz Police DDH IPA from One Mile End Brewery, a highly drinkable example with bursting tropical notes from a rigorous dry-hopping and the addition of Amarillo and Simcoe hops. A punchy, modern take on an IPA suited cask without any detriment to the beer – this was one that you could graze on happily for an entire evening without a single regret.
Next, a collaboration between Redemption Brewing Company and The Kernel Brewery, a Victorian Mild, also left an impression with sticky caramel notes and zesty Amarillo hops. Creamy smooth and packing a 6% ABV, this was another beer that slipped down and provoked a nod of approval. This was originally brewed by the breweries in 2011 and was worth resurrecting.
Another beer sampled in smaller measure was the boozy Anthology from Signature Brew, a bold imperial stout with deep, dark cocoa flavours and an intensely complex body. Having also tried this in can following the event, there is an interesting smokiness on the palate picked up in the cask version.
Pigs Ear succeeds on a number of fronts, with obliging volunteers, delicious hot food (despite the limitations of a very small space and kitchen) from the likes of Capish? and steaming hot pies and mash also seemed popular with punters. The selection of beers was commendable and the involvement of local breweries really make the festival worth a visit. The one aspect missed at these larger scale events is the close interaction with the brewers themselves, something that the London Brewers’ Market in particular achieves.
However, as a showcase of a huge amount of excellent and interesting cask beers, Pigs Ear demonstrated that cask events can achieve a great atmosphere with limited fuss, provided that the beer selection is worthwhile.