Pilsen, Czech Republic: the home of golden lager

Hop on a train from Prague for an hour and a half to find yourself in the ancient city of Plzen, or Pilsen in English, the fourth largest city in the Czech Republic. Here stands the Pilsner Urquell brewery, where the world’s first golden lager was brewed in 1842.

Pilsen – once part of the kingdom of Bohemia – is a city with a rich history that spans back to 1295, when it was situated on the trade route between Germany and Prague. Today, the charming city has examples of breathtaking architecture, including the Gothic St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, which stands in one of Europe’s largest squares, Republic Square. In the picturesque historic city centre, many buildings represent the grandiose Baroque style, standing resplendently among the more modern structures.

Pilsen, Czech Republic

Brewing has played an important role in Pilsen’s history and identity. When the city was founded, King Wenceslas II gave permission for its citizens to brew and sell their own beer domestically. One particular incident in 1838, where 36 barrels of spoiled beer were ceremoniously dumped in in front of the City Hall, resulted in the establishment of a citizens’ brewery, Bürger Brauerei. This was eventually renamed Plzeňský Prazdroj – or Pilsner Urquell in English – which roughly translates to ‘the original source at Pilsen’. 

Bavarian master brewer Josef Groll was tasked with the creation of a high quality beer using pale malts. He turned to local ingredients and incorporated Bavarian lager yeast to create a beer that was truly unique. Lager yeast has been used in brewing at least as far back at the 1400s, when lagers were dark – such as dunkels in Germany or tmavé in the Czech Republic – and they likely remained so until the 1840s, when the advancement of kilning technology allowed for the development of pale malts. Groll developed a paler malt than what was available at the time, now known as pilsner malt.

Pilsner Urquell

In addition to the malt, which produced a spectacularly golden beer, Groll also used local Czech Saaz hops, known for their spicy and herbal notes, and Pilsen’s exceptionally soft water, which is low in minerals and salts, to create Pilsner Urquell. This was the original pilsner. The brightness of the beer captivated drinkers worldwide and many lighter styles of beer followed. The beauty of this new golden beer helped popularise the use of glass vessels (Bohemian crystal at the time), a material that was becoming cheaper to produce and perfectly displayed the spectacular clarity of the beer.

Pilsner Urquell Brewery Pilsen

Part of the sweetness that characterises Pilsner Urquell comes from a triple-decoction mashing process, where portions of the mash are heated and boiled separately, and then returned to the mash vessel to gradually heat up the temperature of the main mash. As a result, a rich caramel flavour is developed as more sugars are extracted from the malts and heated by direct flame in copper vessels.

Pilsner Urquell Brewery Bottles

Visiting the brewery, where the methods developed to create Pilsner Urquell in 1842 are still used, provides an insight into how the Czech Republic’s largest brewery maintains tradition while increasing their output to export their beer across the world. Modern practices have been put in place, but are monitored by ‘parallel brewing’, where beer produced on the newer equipment is regularly tested against beer brewed using the original methods, which includes being lagered in oak barrels that rest in Pilsen’s underground tunnel network.

Pilsner Urquell Brewery Pilsen

Seeing the brewhouses, both the original and the sleek modern site, and standing above the brewery’s immense and clanging bottle line is impressive. But the indisputable highpoint of the brewery tour is going into the cellars, where visitors are invited to taste unfiltered, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell from the lager barrels. No other pilsner comes close to the creamy, sweet and snappy nectar that is poured in these cellars.

Pilsner Urquell Brewery Pilsen

The Pilsner Urquell brewery is located in the centre of the city and easily accessible from the Pilsen train station. Book a tour online in advance, as most will be full on the day – especially the English tours. Given Pilsen’s history, there are plenty of bars that are worth a visit too, including Na Parkanu, where unfiltered Pilsner Urquell is served alongside traditional Czech food.

Yes, there’s something magical about drinking Pilsner Urquell from the source. Often imitated, but never replicated, this beer changed the way that the world drinks. When you sample it in those underground cellars beneath the streets of Pilsen, it’s impossible to not develop a deep appreciation for the original golden lager.

Reykjavík, Iceland: drinking beer in the land of fire and ice

Reykjavík, Iceland, has the distinction of being the most northern capital city on the planet. But in this hyper connected modern world, no city – no matter now remote – exists in isolation. Fast-moving drink and food trends are represented here too, partially driven by the heavy tourist footfall. Thankfully for us, craft beer is no exception.

There’s something intensely charming about Reykjavík, which can mostly be attributed to the people, who are outgoing and possess a bone-dry sense of humour. In the winter, when temperatures can dip to almost -20ºC and there’s only a few hours of hazy sunlight per day, lights are strung up all over the city to combat the encroaching darkness. And if you look around, you’ll spot colourful rows of houses, cheerful even in the bleakest winter months.

The recent emergence of a craft beer culture in Iceland is tied into the country’s drinking history. Prohibition came into force in 1915 and effectively lasted until 1989. The original blanket ban on drinking became entwined with a sanction on beer specifically, as beer was closely associated with Denmark and the Danish way of life – it was therefore seen as unpatriotic for Icelanders to enjoy a pint. The day that the law was changed, the 1st March, is now celebrated annually as Beer Day (Bjordagur).

Today in Reykjavík, after admiring Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland with its striking tower, and discovering Harpa, the city’s modern concert hall with its beautiful glass honeycomb design, you thankfully won’t need to go far to find a bar.

Skuli Craft Bar Reykjavik, Iceland

Skúli Craft Bar

Aðalstræti 9 Reykjavík, Iceland

Cosy, elegant and chic, this bar had a good mix of locals and tourists on our visit. There are 14 taps pouring Icelandic beer; the menu proved intimidating with a jumble of English and Icelandic words, but the bartender was happy to give us his recommendation (when prompted). The space is open, bright and there’s even a dartboard tucked behind the main seating area of the bar. We were content to linger here as the skies opened up and the rain beat down on the city.

Micro Bar Reykjavik, Iceland

Micro Bar

Vesturgata 2, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland

Descending a staircase into the basement of Restaurant Reykjavík will bring you to the dimly lit and cavernous Micro Bar. When we visited, it was mostly populated by English-speaking tourists grazing on beer flights – even a small craft beer tour group – so we pulled up seats at the bar. This is one of Iceland’s oldest craft beer bars and offers a choice of 14 local beers, but we found that the quality of the beer varied greatly; while a gose and a witbier impressed, all of the lagers that we tried missed the mark, serving as a reminder of how nascent the craft beer scene is in the country.

Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavik, Iceland

Mikkeller & Friends

Hverfisgata 12, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland

While London has yet to see its Mikkeller bar open, Reykjavík has been home to one since early 2015. Located in one of the oldest buildings in the 101 area, the house once contained the city’s first X-Ray machine. Inside is like a maze, but ascend the stairs (or ask for directions) and you’ll find the bar. On your way up, keep your eyes peeled for an unnamed cocktail bar and DILL Restaurant, which received Iceland’s first Michelin star last year, spread across other floors of the house. Once you find it, the Mikkeller bar is a characterful space with plenty of dark wood features contrasted with bright circus-themed accents. On the chalkboard behind the cramped bar are 20 beers to choose from, which included familiar examples from Mikkeller’s own range and To Øl on our visit. Of all the bars we enjoyed, this was by far the most popular with the locals.

Within eyeshot of our Airbnb, we stumbled upon the makings of a BrewDog, the familiar blue and white crest swinging in the breeze. It was still under construction, but it seems that the demand for craft beer in they city has caught the attention of some big players. The landscape is rapidly changing – there’s still some work to do when it comes to the quality of the beer – but that undoubtedly improve as the industry grows.

Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice, referring to its ever-changing frozen landscape and dynamic volcanoes. As the country learns to embrace beer again and make it their own, there is boundless potential for the coming years of drinking. Craft beer isn’t the only reason that you should visit this magnificent country, of course – but it’s becoming a stronger incentive.

A Beginner's Guide to Tasting and Judging Beer

The idea of dissecting a beer into its component parts might seem intimidating, but once equipped with the right language and tricks, you might be surprised at just how developed your palate is.

The best training can come from tasting with more experienced judges; a discussion about aromas and flavours focuses your mind when trying to identify certain nuances. Sometimes it helps to go back to the basics – do you really know what a lychee or gooseberry smells like? It might be time for you to revisit some of these fruits that often come up as descriptors if not!

When sitting on a brewery sensory panel or as a judge at a beer competition, you’ll be provided with guidelines to prompt you to look, smell and taste. Generally, the elements of a beer that are helpful to consider are:

Appearance

The colour of the beer is the recommended place to start. Hold the beer up to the light and against a neutral coloured surface to spot any highlights (such as garnet streaks in a dark brown beer). The Standard Reference Method (SRM) is an American scale commonly used to describe the colour of a beer, which ranges from 2-40+, where a Pilsner rates as a 2 and a stout as a 40+. Also consider clarity – is the beer hazy or crystal clear? The head of a beer can also be telling; some Belgian styles produce rocky, long-lasting foam, for instance.

Aroma

There are a few techniques to detect aroma, but it’s important to note that some aromas are volatile and these might quickly dissipate. The short sniff technique is considered a good approach; longer sniffs can dry out the membranes in your nose. If you need to reset your nostrils, sniff the back of your hand (we’re all accustomed to our own scent and it’s neutral). You’re looking for malts – are they bready, toasted, chocolatey? Then there’s the yeast – are there any apparent esters (fruity characteristics, which can be anything from pear, banana to raisins and dried figs) or phenols (spiciness or cloves). Finally, the hops – are they earthy (common in UK/Noble hops), floral (European hops), citrus (US hops) or tropical fruits (Australia or NZ hops). Occasionally notes of barnyard can be found when wild yeasts are present (such as brettamyces). This takes a lot of practice, but it’s all about identifying aromas that you’re already familiar with.

We also smell with the mouth – that is, we have retro nasal receptors that are triggered when we chew food or drink beer. These are found in the back of the mouth and in the channel between the mouth and the nose. To make sure that you’re using these, try swallowing beer while breathing in. It takes practice, but you should find it helpful when identifying some aromas that are linked to flavour.

Flavour

Like aroma, the flavour of malt, yeast and hops should be considered. Water is also a factor, as soft water can be crucial to some styles of beer (think an elegant pilsner). Water is a solvent and picks up a number of minerals, which, given that beer is 98% water, can obviously contribute to its aromas and flavour. 

Our tongues can detect five established flavours (salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami) and even emerging flavours (we might be able to detect fat, metallic and carbonation, but keep an eye on the developing science here!). Each of these flavours are picked up by the papillae on your tongue, which host your taste buds. The six flavours that you can recognise can be tasted in all areas of the tongue, but some areas are slightly more sensitive to specific flavours. The sides of the tongue are more perceptive of sour flavours, such as a tart lambic, for instance. It’s for this reason that – yes – when tasting beer, you should swallow it.

Mouthfeel

We can detect other qualities of beer while drinking it, such as how attenuated it is (dryness), how creamy it feels on the palate (if it's a wheat beer, for instance) and how carbonated the beer is (think of a natural carbonated real ale versus a spiky lager served on keg).

This is really an overview of the checklist that should run through your head when you’re tasting beer. By expanding your knowledge of styles, key indicators will leap out at you and help you narrow down a beer’s characteristics. When judging a beer, you’re likely to be using the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Programme) style guidelines, which are focused on traditional qualities of a style. However, craft beer often breaks these rules and the guidelines might not apply – the current version is from 2015, and beer has evolved since then!

Despite this, try installing the free BJCP guidelines app on your phone and consult it when enjoying a new style of beer. If nothing else, it's a useful way to start thinking about the aromas and flavours that should be present in your glass.

Beer Basics: Discover Rauchbier

Rauchbier is often described as ‘liquid bacon’ and, depending on your palate, this might not be the most appealing introduction to this smoked German style. ‘Rauch’ means smoke in German, referring to the beechwood smoked malt, German Rauchmalz, which makes up between 20-100% of its grist.

The tradition of smoked beer dates back to a time where all malt was exposed to smoke from the wood used in kilns during the drying process. Prior to the mid-1700s and the introduction of direct-fired kilns, most beers in Europe would have demonstrated a palpable smoky quality. Now malt can be kilned without producing smoke as a byproduct (usually air-dried), but this kilning tradition is still preserved in the German city of Bamberg.

Like most Bavarian beers, rauchbiers are lagered – meaning that they’re stored in cold temperatures during their slow fermentation. The lager yeast imparts a clean profile, letting the balance between rich malts and a varying amount of smoke really come to the forefront of this beer style. Rauchbier can range from light to dark brown in colour depending on the quantity of Rauchmalz used. Although they present a host of intense flavours, rauchbiers still finish bone-dry, resulting in a surprisingly crisp beer. The base of the beer is most commonly a Märzen, a complex and well-rounded copper lager that was once the beer served at Munich’s Oktoberfest celebrations (before it was fazed out in favour of a lighter, easy-drinking Festbier).

There are obvious food pairing choices with rauchbier, given its rich malty and uniquely smoky profile. Any proteins that can be thrown on a barbecue are an effortless match. The rich malt profile can mirror the caramelization of meat and the complementary smokiness of both melts together in the mouth. Another natural pairing is pork, a German staple foodstuff, in a myriad of forms, whether it's fresh bacon or braised pork belly.

Naturally, smoked fish can work beautifully with rauchbier, especially salmon. Smoked flavours are also ubiquitous in Mexican cuisine, so think about ancho chillies and black beans. In fact, rauchbier demonstrates a great amount of versatility that it’s rarely given credit for, so get creative. In The Brewmaster’s Table, Garret Oliver posits on the beer style’s adaptability:

It may be a stretch, but I almost think that we must have an instinctive prehistoric memory of the days when much of our food came into direct contact with fire. There’s something about smoky flavors that is deeply satisfying, something that is not easy to explain logically.
— p.342

The umami factor can also play a pivotal role in effective pairing. When served with tenderloin and creamy mashed potatoes, the beer worked with the sweetness of the pork. However, it was the gravy – enhanced with a dash of the smoked beer – that really stole the show and pulled everything together.

Modern Rauchbier:

Classic Rauchbier:

Try them with

  • Smoked foods, such as ham, pork, sausage, cheese and  fish.
  • Many forms of pork, such as ribs, pork roast or pork belly.
  • Some Chinese foods, especially black bean sauce.

Beer Basics: Discover Saison

Have you ever encountered a saison that you've dismissed as too "saisony"? If you struggle with this style of beer, you're not alone – it can be tremendously complex, boasting characteristics of its unique peppery yeast strain alongside herbs, spices and other botanicals. But it's precisely for this reason that a saison makes such a dependable beer to grab in a 750ml bottle and enjoy with just about any dish and cuisine.

Saisons are farmhouse ales that can be traced back to Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. Translated from French, saison means ‘season’, referring to the time of year that it was brewed for the farmhands. Before refrigeration, beers were brewed in the cooler months (in this case, usually March) when fermentation temperatures could be kept constant. They were then enjoyed the following summer. The historical table versions of the style were lower in strength; today, stronger examples can be found with ABVs topping 9%.

The peppery characteristics of saisons are attributed to its unique strain of top-fermenting yeast, which is thought to be related to a red wine strain. Unlike ale yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae, which ferments at 13°C) and lager yeast (saccharomyces pastorianus, which ferments at 4-7°C), the saison yeast strain prospers at a fermentation temperature of 32°C. As a consequence of this, the yeast produces a high level of phenols, responsible for its distinguishing pepperiness. Some esters can be present, which are the fruity notes often detected in ales, which usually have some citrus characteristics. Saisons are a highly attenuated style, meaning that the yeast has left very little sugar in the wort; this results in a discernible dryness on the palate.

The most famous version of a  saison is Saison DuPont from Brasserie Dupont, which has been brewed since 1844 as a farmhouse product, originally sold alongside artisanal foods such as honey. Today, you’ll find it available in any repiutable bottle shop (and for a reasonable price too). If you’re uncertain about the style generally, Saison DuPont is a great starting point.

When it comes to pairing with food, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more versatile style than saison. Honestly – this is where it really shines. Although it hails from Belgium, saisons have the perfect flavour profile to complement anything from Mexican to Thai dishes; its gentle phenolic spiciness – usually described as cracked black pepper – harmonises beautifully with fiery foods. Additions of herbs, such as coriander, marry effortlessly with fragrant dishes, while the effervescent carbonic bite scours away any rich textures, easily vanquishing greasy cheese or fatty meats. The food doesn’t need to be heavy, as crab cakes or Vietnamese summer rolls can happily pair with a Saison Dupont. Just ask Garret Oliver, who extols the virtues of these pairings in his food and beer bible, The Brewmaster’s Table:

Saison is not just versatile – it’s downright promiscuous. It seems to go with almost everything. The carbonation, right aromatics, spice flavours, peppery notes, dark earthy underpinnings, and racy acidity gives these beers a hook to hang their hat on for a wide range of dishes.
— Garret Oliver, p. 190.

When it comes to modern and local iterations of the style, you’ll struggle to find anything more thirst-quenching than East Sussex’s Burning Sky Brewery, whose Saison à la Provision is a refreshing take with additions of lactobacillus and brettonamyces for a crisp, dry and tart take. I’ve always been a fan of Bermondsey’s Brew by Numbers’ saisons as well, which are highly drinkable and can be deliciously adventurous – 01|27 comes to mind, a beetroot and fennel saison.

If you feel ambivalent about saison as a style, it’s worth picking up a bottle of Saison DuPont to pair with your next meal, especially if you’re partial to Thai or Vietnamese food. 

DSC04178.jpg

Modern Saisons:

  • Saison à la Provision, Burning Sky Brewery (6.5%)
  • Any Brew by Numbers saison (ABV varies)

Classic Saisons:

  • Saison DuPoint, Brasserie DuPont (6.5%)

Try them with:

  • Vietnamese summer rolls with prawns, shredded vegetables, beansprouts, heaps of coriander and mint
  • Spicy Thai salad with shredded vegetables, chillies, coriander, cashew nuts and zesty lime and soya dressing
  • Spicy crab cakes

Cask 2018: a modern cask festival beneath Bermondsey arches

Running between the 7th- 9th of April, Cask 2018 brought a modern cask festival to Bermondsey, South London. Brainchild of Ben Duckworth and Steve Grae, also the minds behind Affinity Brew Co, the festival was an ode to cask beer, aiming to instigate a discussion on price, range and quality of serve.

Affinity teamed up with Partizan Brewery to divide the festival between two arches, spreading the crowd across the taprooms beneath the din of a railway line. A short amble separated the spaces, allowing drinkers to enjoy two different menus of beer that included over 60 casks from 30 breweries. Participating breweries included some of the UK’s most revered names, from up-and-coming stars like Little Earth Project to established favourites Northern Monk Brew Co.

The event unfolded across two day sessions, Saturday being exceptionally busy due to a bout of clement weather. Tickets were £5 and included a festival glass and a first pour of beer. The affordable ticket price made it an easy option for a weekend activity – it wasn’t surprising that sessions were humming.

Cask 2018 Beer Festival

For an inaugural attempt, Cask 2018 was a resounding success – with a large turnout and some enticing examples of cask beer on offer, it was a solid debut. Crowds were friendly and comprised curious industry types alongside groups who would otherwise be embarking upon the Bermondsey Beer Mile on a Saturday.

The beer list was exciting, seeing traditional styles rubbing shoulders with modern beer; best bitters were present alongside piña colada porters. Some of the most outstanding examples were the Little Earth Project’s Organic Harvest Saison, a 6.7% saison brewed with organically grown Suffolk hops and malts, then undergoes second fermentation in oak barrels. Dry, funky and refreshing, this delicious saison had nuances of a rustic cider. 

Cask 2018 Beer Festival

The Jester DDH Pale from Partizan Brewing was an accurate example of a flavoursome modern beer performing well on cask and Good Chemistry Brewing’s Rich Stock Ale was a full-bodied malty wonder that’s perfectly suited to cask, but still impressed with its quality and flavour. 

Queues ebbed and waned throughout the day and we were happy to wander between taprooms to ensure that we tried everything recommended by fellow attendees. The atmosphere was exceptionally relaxed and the beer menu offered enough choice without being daunting. The event seemed to draw in a hybrid of regular cask drinkers together with habitual keg drinkers. 

The premise of Cask 2018 was to shake up our notion of cask festivals and provoke positive conversation about this method of beer dispense and they certainly achieved this. Indicative by the turnout alone, it seems that people are willing to explore good cask beer in a city that doesn’t have much of a reputation when it comes to keeping and serving it adequately. Londoners, it seems, will drink cask beer.

There are murmurings of a Cask 2019 and this will undoubtedly offer a wider selection from even more breweries, which will attract even more attention. More beer and bigger crowds are guaranteed and we’re looking forward to a new addition to London’s drinking calendar.

Wellington, New Zealand: Garage Project is crushing it

New Zealand’s Garage Project began life in a rundown petrol station in Wellington’s Aro Valley. They started brewing on a 50 litre kit in 2011, pumping out 40 beers in their first year alone, demonstrating a penchant for experimentation and producing beers with flair.

Garage Project Wellington

Things have shifted gears considerably since 2011 for Jos Ruffell and brothers Pete and Ian Gillespie, seeing their capacity grow and spread over several sites. Across the street from the brewery is their taproom, a bustling hub for local drinkers, and their Marion Street site, the Wild Workshop – where they are delving into the realm of spontaneous fermentation – is a short stroll away. Outside of Wellington, they operate their B-Studio in Hawke’s Bay, a production brewery with state of the art equipment and canning and bottling lines.

Garage Project Wellington

Their Wild Workshop is located in a former print factory, lending ample space for row upon row of wine barrels of their wild, spontaneous and mixed fermentation beers, all relying on native New Zealand cultures. In the attic, there will soon be a coolship, a tray-like open vessel that efficiently cools wort while exposing it to wild bacteria and yeasts. These are traditionally associated with Belgian lambic producers, such as the hallowed Cantillon in Brussels.

Garage Project Wellington

The coolship is an exciting prospect, primarily because if there’s one thing that New Zealand can offer in spades, it’s a thriving unique ecosystem bursting with distinctive native plants and flora. The island country’s physical isolation has resulted in a biological segregation, which means that native yeasts can impart some truly distinct flavour characteristics to beer (as it does to their world-renowned wines).

Yeast aside, New Zealand is already respected for their hop varietals, which includes a number of hops including Motueka, Nelson Sauvin and Wai-iti, all of which are coveted for their richly juicy, tropical notes ranging from lychee to pineapple. These impart aromas and flavours like honeyed apricots, peaches and melon to beers like Garage Project's own Pernicious Weed IIPA.

Garage Project Wellington

In their Wild Workshop, the brewery is also dabbling in natural wines. Their Crushed series is still in its infancy, but they intend to offer drinkers an alternative to the traditional wine styles of New Zealand. In both the aroma and flavour spectrum, these so-called 'wild' wines have a lot in common with wild fermented beers. To ensure that they get the most out of the project, the brewery has produced the 100% brett-fermented wines with the help of Alex Craighead, a stalwart figure in the country’s wine scene.

Garage Project Wellington

The focus on wild beers and wines points towards exciting times ahead for Garage Project. Not ones to play it safe, it also lends them further scope for experimentation. In their Wild Workshop, the hunkering foeders and fermenting beers and wines mark the brewery’s innovative spirit and lofty future ambitions.

As for the beer, the product that started this fruitful journey, they’re still brewing some of the best  in the country and although the volume of wild wines produced remains conservative, there's thankfully plenty of beer to go around.

Thank you to Jack Dougherty for some of the stunning photography featured in this post.

Wellington, New Zealand: A Craft Beer Guide to the real Windy City

Famed for its blustery gales and changeable weather, Wellington, New Zealand, is also lauded as the country’s craft beer capital. Over the past decade, breweries and craft beer bars have popped up in abundance across the city. These have been embraced by locals, expats and a thriving student population.

Wellington is New Zealand’s capital and second largest city. More than 60% of the central city’s population is under 40, according to the 2013 Census, and it has strong connections to the arts, acting as the base for the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts and the Arts Foundation of New Zealand, lending a dynamic and bohemian feel to the city.

The city's creative soul extends to eye-catching street art. Murals and art installations are scattered around the city’s centre, including lively Cuba Street, a bustling pedestrian mall that hosts the city’s iconic Bucket Fountain sculpture. This energy gives the city a pulse that starkly differentiates it from Auckland, New Zealand’s most populated city, located 493 kilometres away.

David Bowie Mural Wellington

In recent years, craft beer has joined the ranks of precious commodities, including their world-renowned wines and exceptional coffee, among the local Kiwi population. It has also become a tourist attraction in its own right. The joy of Wellington is that the central city can be navigated from one side to the other in under 30 minutes, making many of the unmissable venues and breweries easily accessible from one another.

Fork & Brewer 

14 Bond Street, Te Aro, Wellington 6011

Fork & Brewer Wellington

Posed as Wellington’s premier craft beer bar, Fork & Brewer is a microbrewery offering a range of their beers across an impressive 41 taps, with room for guest beers to pour. The immense curving bar takes prominence in the venue, but there are plenty of booths and even outdoor balcony seating to enjoy. The venue is very polished – although touches like quirky utensil-themed keg handles give it plenty of personality– but isn’t unwelcoming. We enjoyed some flavoursome beers bursting with New Zealand hops and even a few refreshing wheat beers.

Fortune Favours

7 Leeds St, Te Aro, Wellington 6011

Fourtune Favours Wellington

Operating out of an old dip stripping factory, Fortunate Favours brews onsite on a 1,000L kit – a remarkable feat when you spot the tight corner where the brewing kit sits. Fermenter vessels are lined up, enclosed behind glass within eyeshot of the bar, and menu boards describe the beers that are pouring or fermenting. The venue is spread across two levels and also offers tempting cheese and meat platters for the peckish. The bar is also located literally a stone’s throw from Golding’s Free Dive.

Golding’s Free Dive Bar

5G / 14 Leeds St , Te Aro, Wellington 6011

Inspired by classic American dive bars, this is a great stop for both their beer selection and for first-rate pizza supplied by local pizzeria, Pizza Pomodoro. Under the neon glow of the ‘BEER’ sign affixed above the door, we were greeted warmly by clued-up staff. Here, we savoured pints from local breweries on a few occasions, even bumping into one of the Garage Project’s founders, Jos Ruffell, during our first visit. If the industry is drinking here, then you can guarantee that the beer served up is both fresh and in pristine condition.

Golding's Dive Bar Wellington

Whether pulling up a stool to the bar or being deft enough to secure a table, the atmosphere in Golding’s is electric and the beers were tasting sublime. It gets busy in the evenings and we struggled to find a seat, but persistence paid off and we were rewarded with pints of Orange Sunshine, a pithy citrus wheat beer from Garage Project, and a hot Don Mimi pizza that quickly dosappeared.

Husk

62 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro, Wellington 6011

Husk Wellington

Set down an alleyway adorned with twinkling fairy lights, this craft beer bar and coffee roastery is home to Choice Bros brewery, which is brewed and served up fresh onsite. The styles are modern and experimental, giving patrons a lot of intriguing beers to wade through. With 12 taps, one nitro and two handpulls, they aim to not only appease the beer drinker, but also those with a penchant for natural wines or barrel-aged cocktails.

The food menu is also impressive, serving up bar food with a contemporary – and aesthetically pleasing – touch. Plated beautifully and delighting palates, the chickpea Apocalypse Now burger and haloumi fries were excellent accompaniments to our selection of beer, which included an excellent collaboration with Modern Times Beer, a City of the Wind IPA that was replete with ripe peach and soft mango notes.

Stay tuned for more on The Garage Project next week. Thank you to Jack Dougherty for some of the stunning photography featured in this post.

The Tryanuary Hackney Beer Hop: where to drink in Hackney Wick in 2018

The annual Tryanuary pub crawl guided by The Five Points Brewing Company returned to East London last month. It aspired to showcase some of what Hackney Wick has to offer, leading a group between five locations – or that was the plan, at least.

While it didn’t go entirely as envisioned, the crawl, dubbed The Hackney Beer Hop, achieved its main objective: encouraging drinkers to experience some of the area’s now established bars, breweries and tank bars. Hackney Wick has been a hub of brewery activity for a few years, since Tap East began serving – and brewing – out of Westfield Stratford City, the behemoth shopping centre that opened to the public in 2011.

Tap East Westfield

Acting as the designated starting point for our journey, we crowded into Tap East, which is the easiest meeting point because of Westfield’s convenient public transport links. The bar is tucked away in the Great Eastern Market area on the ground floor, within eyeshot of Stratford International station. Tap East boasts both cask and keg across 16 lines and often hosts a varied selection of styles and regions. We started on an easy-drinking NZ Pale from Electric Bear Brewing as stragglers joined our group.

With takeaway cans of Five Points Pils and XPA to sip en route, the group filed between Tap East and our next stop, Crate Brewery, trekking through the Olympic Park and across the River Lee. A good 15 minutes’ walk gave us adequate time to mingle and drink before approaching the White Building, home to the Crate taproom.

Crate Brewery

Crate had increased the size of its seating area since we last visited, give us ample space and opportunity to pull up a chair. We went in for sour beers and the Lemon Gose proved a refreshing choice. The space was welcoming – not nearly as rammed as it gets on a balmy summer’s day, when it can be an epic mission to get to the bar.

Howling Hops Tank Bar

Crate conveniently backs onto the next stop, Howling Hops. The UK’s first tank bar, where beer is served fresh from fermenter tanks, was equally as relaxed. Here, we enjoyed a number of different styles, including a creamy hefeweizen and a velvety Black Forest Gateau stout. Drinking in this old Victorian warehouse space, renovated with only minimalist flourishes, really epitomises the aesthetic of East London's craft beer scene.

After crossing the canal, we were due to head to Four Quarters East on Canalside of Here East, the sophomore site of the popular Peckham retro gaming arcade and bar. However, due to a clash of our timing – we were twenty minutes ahead of schedule – and the unmistakable presence of a children’s birthday party, we opted to proceed directly to our final destination, which was thankfully located next door.

Mason & Company

Mason & Company is where the Hackney Hop came to its glorious conclusion. We piled into the bustling bar, joining the Saturday crowd. The beer menu kept many of us here, where we enjoyed Dairy Freak from Magic Rock Brewing, a sticky sweet milk stout, and Pressure Drop Brewery’s classic Pale Fire in addition to a few pints of Five Points Pils.

The Hackney Beer Hop is still evolving, but currently has a few solid options for craft beer within a tiny radius. From the 24th February, the new Beer Merchants Tap blendery and taproom will add another site for those who have a penchant for sour and wild beers. Everyone is eagerly anticipating this exciting venture, the first of its kind in the UK, which will undoubtedly prove popular from its launch.

Hackney Wick is becoming increasingly appealing to drinkers as an alternative to the Bermondsey Beer Mile. It already makes for an ideal Saturday crawl, but by the end of this month, it will boast yet another attraction to drive more craft beer fans to East London.

The Beavertown and Pressure Drop Tottenham experience

October 2017 saw another craft brewery open its doors in Tottenham, North London. Relocating from its arch in Hackney Central, Pressure Drop Brewing joined Beavertown Brewery in the Lockwood Industrial Estate, giving drinkers an even more convincing reason to be flocking north of the city.

The Pressure Drop story began in a garden shed in Stoke Newington. Founded by three friends, Graham Patrick O'Brien, Benjamin Jack Freeman and Sam Smith, and brewing since the summer of 2012 on a 50 litre pilot kit, they swiftly upscaled operations in 2013 to a brewhouse in Hackney Central. Their mission was always to create modern interpretations of beers to capture the imagination of drinkers. The success of their Pale Fire, an easy-drinking beer that showcases different hop pairings, demonstrates their talent for solid, accessible offerings.

When announcing their move to Tottenham Hale, beer drinkers rejoiced – it marked both a momentous step for the brewery and some relief to the increasing strain on the Beavertown taproom, which is situated just a moment’s walk away. The two breweries were quick to join forces to enhance the Saturday afternoon taproom experience for all; visitors were encouraged to amble between the two and glass deposits were waived when glasses were exchanged at the other site.

Beavertown Taproom Tottenham
Pressure Drop Taproom Tottenham

Despite the increasing number of visitors and buzz surrounding the new Pressure Drop space, it offers a refuge from the spiralling queues and heaving masses at Beavertown. Just across the lot, Pressure Drop is chilled, highly ambient and offers a reasonable chance of actually getting a seat. There's have ample space and a functional set up, where the shiny new 20bbl brewery backdrop is illuminated by colouful stringed lights.

Pressure Drop Taproom

The vast, open space is furnished with wooden tables and benches, a takeaway bottle stand and, when we visited, a vendor boasting selection of sausage rolls. It's pleasant and a world away from drinking shoulder-to-shoulder beneath cramped arches. The freshest Pressure Drop beers appear on tap, directly from their new cold-store, and they have first dibs on specials.

Both Beavertown and Pressure Drop offer great background soundtracks– yes, the music is generally on point at both sites –and environs for a Saturday afternoon brewery crawl, but you can see why drinkers have taken to migrating between locations; when Beavertown's queues become unwieldy, popping over to Pressure Drop for a breather is only sensible.

Of course, it won't always be this way, as the latter was inevitably become a destination in its own right. But take advantage of soaking in the calm surroundings before the summer rush descends upon this corner of Tottenham, especially as they have plans for a beer garden to make an appearance in the spring.

Until then, you can visit the Pressure Drop taproom from 2pm until 8pm every Saturday.