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.

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.

2017 in review: what didn't make the cut (part II)

Continuing from last week’s post reflecting upon some of 2017’s craft beer events in London that didn’t make the blog's editorial cut – but were far from forgotten – here are a few more examples of the year’s previously undocumented highlights.

15 July 2017: Hackney Brewery’s 6th Birthday Bash

Hackney Brewery

This year signified big changes for the oldest brewery registered in Hackney, bringing a huge rebrand and shake-up of their core range. We’ve been along for some of the ride – we're good friends and do some consultancy work with the brewery – but crowds arrived in droves to wish the Hackney Brewery crew many happy returns. As the brewery only opens its doors to the public a few times a year, they always draw a congenial crowd of friends and locals when they host a party.

Their sixth birthday event heralded a bar, where many of their new beers flowed, and an area constructed especially for the day that was decked out with a SNES and Mario Kart. Faces were decorated with glitter, cakes were baked and the team seemed genuinely grateful for the outpouring of support. It was a special afternoon and suitable celebration for the milestones that Hackney hit in 2017.

29 November 2017: The British Guild of Beer Writers’ Annual Awards Dinner

British Guild of Beer Writers Annual Awards

This year saw Rebecca nominated for The British Guild of Beer Writers’ new Beer Citizen Communicator Award, which came as both a complete shock and appreciated validation of the work poured into this little blog. Attending the awards ceremony afforded the opportunity for Guild members to mingle and enjoy the company of some of the industry’s finest writers and communicators.

While Rebecca didn’t walk away with the award, it was an honour to be nominated (hackneyed, but true). The evening's beer pairing dinner also triumphed, with some interesting matching that saw an arctic cod with fennel and olive matched with a spicy saison from Brew by Numbers and an apple and rosemary mousse with caramel ice cream paired with a porter from Old Dairy Brewery . Enjoying this feast in such eminent company (and with a few good friends on our table) really made the event a stand-out point of 2017.

1 December 2017: Brew by Numbers' 5th Birthday

Another brewery’s birthday makes this list, this time in Bermondsey. Brew by Numbers held a fantastic event that attracted a teeming crowd from every corner of the beer industry. Spread across its two arches (the old and new taproom), guests were invited to sample a line-up of superb beers, five brewed especially for the occasion, while Bleecker Burger kept rumbling stomachs at bay.

This was a very high-spirited and social evening where Brew by Numbers showed off their sleek new taproom and their first foray into canning (with their juicy 5th Anniversary DDH Pale Ale). In fact, this was the kind of evening that drew in such a great crowd that there are no existing photographs! Despite this, the evening is still etched in our mind as a stupendous one.

Well, that rounds up some of 2017’s forgotten highpoints. Thank you to all for continuing to support Brewing East this year. We’d love to hear your feedback on the blog, or some suggestions on how we can improve it. With a new year just around the corner, we hope to push out the boat a little.

Finally, and most important of all, happy new year!

2017 in review: what didn't make the cut (part I)

With 2017 coming to a close, it’s a logical time to reflect upon some of the events that didn’t make the Brewing East editorial calendar. With London’s active craft beer scene, most weeks brought coinciding or a string of consecutive happenings.

Simply, it was impossible to document them all. Whether it was due to unideal conditions for photography or competing events, some were dropped in favour of others. Whatever the reason was – and sometimes if was simply down to time constraints – there were plenty of occasions that were memorable enough that they are worth revisiting now.

And so we present a few snapshots of the other gatherings that unfolded during the year that were just a plain old good time.

24 February 2017: Left Hand Brewing Company tutored tasting at Mason & Company

Left Hand Brewing Company

We were joined by Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Company’s Chief Operating Officer, Chris Lennert, for an informative tutored tasting. Ticketholders were invited to sample some of Left Hand’s range, including their celebrated Milk Stout Nitro, America’s first nitro in bottle. Still relatively difficult to track down in the UK, this was a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the beers in the presence of a company representative who demonstrated boundless enthusiasm for the products, the brewery and their Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) model.

Left Hand Brewing Company

The event sold out and Chris was an engaging and animated guide who happily entertained attendees well into the night. It was an insightful look into one of the USA’s most respected craft breweries.

3 June 2017: London Brewers Market at Field Day 2017

Field Day London Brewers' Market

As with any summer outdoor event, when you get glorious weather, it heightens any experience. This is just what happened for this year’s Field Day, held in East London’s Victoria Park, where a formidable line-up of musicians drew in the crowds. Again this year, the London Brewers’ Market provided an alternative drinks selection to the overpriced, sponsored bars. Ten breweries were on hand, each one tackling unrelenting queues and offering respite to drinkers who clocked on to the reasonable prices being charged for a range of interesting beers.

Field Day London Brewers' Market

The London Brewer’s Market acted as an oasis at one of East London’s most seminal summer events, giving ticketholders the opportunity to enjoy beers that went down as well as the music. This partnership works extremely well and we hope it continues.

29 July 2017: Camden Brewery Enfield site open day

Camden Brewery

The new Camden Brewery site in Enfield was bound to impress, with its jaw-dropping £30m price tag. When it invited the public in for an open day, the tickets were snapped up quickly and despite the inclement weather, curious people turned up to take a tour of the grounds, indulge in some street food, participate in arts and crafts and even see Camden’s founder, Jasper Cuppaidge, get dunked in water.

Camden Brewery

The brewery was something to behold, a 50,000 square foot, carbon neutral site capable of producing 400,000 hectolitres of beer a year. Seeing a London brewery, which was founded in 2010 and began life at the Horseshoe pub in Hampstead, get snatched up by AB InBev for £85m in 2015, certainly provoked discussion and debate amongst craft beer drinkers (and continues to do so). Still, many flocked to experience the vastness of the new premises, which increases Camden’s capacity by an astonishing 2,000%. 

It was incredible to see how far Camden had come, strolling above the gleaming brewery and admiring the towering fermenter tanks and sprawling packaging line. The dizzying scale of the site is a first for a contemporary London brewery.

Check back next week for part II of what didn't make the cut. Until then, happy holidays to all.

Pigs Ear Beer & Cider Festival 2017: a crafty cask event in Hackney

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.

Pigs Ear Beer Festival

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.

Pigs Ears Beer Festival Cask

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.

Pigs Ear Beer Festival

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.

London Brewers' Market November 2017: the new and old

Last weekend's London Brewers' Market saw over 20 breweries come together for one afternoon, serving up to thirsty patrons under the glass roof of the iconic Old Spitalfields Market. Despite having a different layout, where breweries were confined to the back of the market, the event drew in a crowd.

Old Spitalfields Market recently went under renovations, meaning that breweries are no longer permitted to serve liquids from their new, very expensive, stalls. More flimsy stalls located at the far end of the Market were offered, so the area where beer was served was distanced from the vinyl stalls set up by their event partner, the Independent Label Market.

The breweries were more consolidated to a single area than in previous London Brewers' Markets in this space; this was beneficial for attendees who were on the hunt for particular vendors. Previously, they were spread out and dotted around an open floor where tables were laid out and DJs were playing. It also facilitated our jumping from stall to stall and locating some of the newcomers to the market. In some areas, however, the more narrow thoroughfare did cause congestion as drinkers tried to find a convenient space to perch with their beer.

We tried a number of new beers across the afternoon, starting on those breweries who were making their market debut. The Albion Pale, a tasty dry-hopped pale ale from Old Kent Rd Brewery, was an excellent beer to kickstart our drinking. It was a balanced and refined beer from an operation that started out of UBREW, Bermondsey's open brewery. Old Kent Rd are currently looking for their own site to scale up their production, so expect to see more of their beer around the city soon.

East London's Neckstamper Brewery also impressed with their Squencher IPA, another balanced and juicy beer with waves of Mosaic on the palate. It went down without any effort at all, making this a promising start for the enthusiastic team behind the brewery.

Forest Road Brewery POSH

Newcomers aside, we also enjoyed finally trying POSH from Forest Road Brewing Co. A brewery that had a single core range beer since its inception in early 2016, the WORK pale ale, they've finally welcomed a second addition to the family. POSH is a great, clean lager that merits a lot of praise. We went back for a few halves, where the effusive and talkative Boston-born founder, Pete Brown, gave us plenty of his time.

Affinity Brewing Co

Perhaps the best beer of the afternoon was the Toowoomba lamington cake inspired stout from Affinity Brewing Company, a beer that's been around for a while but still has tongues wagging. It's a velvety and luxurious stout with raspberries galore, hints of toasted coconut and dark chocolate, combining on the palate for a rich and moreish experience.

Beavertown Brewery also brought their A-game, serving up the startlingly delicious Paleo Pinhead collaboration with Florida's Cigar City Brewing Company. Another silky and intensely rich stout, this one boasts a 9% ABV. 'Liquified Bounty bar' is the most sublime description of this incredible beer. We tried this for the first time at the Beavertown Afterburner event in their taproom in October and have been raving about it since.

Although only a fraction of the remarkable beers that were sampled across a pleasant November afternoon, these beers made an impression and are still emblazoned in our minds. It was another successful London Brewers' Market with plenty of brewers on site to represent their products, happy to talk any curious customers through their range. We enjoyed a mixture of new beers and old favourites, meeting brewery founders for the first time and catching up with old friends. It's no wonder that this event is still one of the best showcases of the London beer scene.

Darker Days IV: dark beers against a Burning Sky

For the fourth edition of Darker Days, beer writer Matthew Curtis teamed up with Sussex’s Burning Sky Brewery. Returning to The Duke’s Head in Highgate, four courses of food were served up alongside four exceptional examples of dark beers.

Dishes were prepared by the Duke’s pop-up resident kitchen, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, and included a range of moreish options, including okra fries, jollof spiced popcorn chicken and spicy vegan bean stew with plantain. A spotlight on dark beers is troublesome when it comes to food pairing – while roasted malty notes, charred meats and rich desserts are natural bedfellows, it’s a challenge to find four courses of complementary dishes for the style. But there was little emphasis on strict matching technique here, leaving attendees at liberty to graze on the small dishes as they appeared.

Darker Days Zoe's Ghana Kitchen

Matthew introduced the beers as they were circulated, inviting one of Burning Sky’s brewers, Tom Dobson, to comment on each one, extrapolating on the ingredients used and the ageing process. The structure of the event was kept friendly and casual, giving everyone the time to appreciate their beer while indulging in conversation with their neighbours.

Darker Days Matthew Curtis

Burning Sky is a brewery that relishes time, refusing to rush their meticulously crafted beers and producing some very exciting examples of barrel aged styles right here in the UK. Operating out of a refurbished farmhouse in the South Downs, the brewery takes inspiration from Belgian brewing traditions.

They were the first craft brewery in the country to use oak foudres and earlier this year, they installed one of Britain’s only coolships – a shallow vessel that cools down wort while exposing it to wild yeast and local bacteria. Spontaneous fermentation adds a host of complexity to beers, imparting sourness and funkiness to the final product. This is the method used in lambic beers, notably by the venerated Cantillon, a brewery based in Brussels that we visited earlier this year.

The beer list alone was worth the £30 ticket price, seeing a line-up of some challenging styles brewed and aged right here on our doorstep, including a mouth-watering Flanders Red on keg that would make the Belgians blush. Reminiscent of – and inspired by – Rodenbach Brewery's Grand Cru, it presented lip-puckering tartness balanced with a sweet malt bill. When stripped back, it also presented layers of wood and red berries from the slow barrel aging process.

Burning Sky Cherry Monolith

Despite being exceptional, the Flanders Red didn’t steal the show – the Cherry Monolith flowed from bottles and slipped down easily. Boozy dark chocolate mingled together with dark fruits and the subtle tang of cherries to be the epiphany of a liquid dessert. The finale was a Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout in bottle – this was a limited edition and these were the only bottles served in London – with intensely bitter roasted malt character and infused with rich flavours of bourbon.

Once again, The Duke’s Head proved the ideal venue for Darker Days, supplementing our menu of dark beers with some excellent palate cleansers on keg and cask. We were guided through our beers while enjoying the flavours of Ghana, but the casual nature of the event gave ticketholders the opportunity to discuss the beer and kick back. It was an warranted celebration of darker styles while highlighting some of the most complex and exciting beers coming out of the UK right now.

Heist Bank Beer Festival: city sleek with lots of cask

The first Heist Bank Beer Festival was held in Paddington on the 14th and 15th October, bringing craft beer from around the world to a pizza and beer joint in London. A selection of over 100 beers from more than 30 breweries was pouring from keg and cask while workshops were held in the bar’s basement.

Heist Bank is a sleek city space with an industrial vibe and casual atmosphere. It boasts twelve taps for pints or growler fills and a wood fired oven for their house specialty, sourdough pizza. The space excludes quirky personality, jazzed up with a collection of generously scattered street art, and is complete with a fully-stocked games room downstairs.

Heist Bank Paddington Beer Festival Cask

It worked surprisingly well as a location for a beer festival, where cask beer was lined up in two areas perpendicular to the bar. The taps were subsidised by a second pop-up bar, where the classic Salty Kiss from Magic Rock Brewing Company rubbed shoulders with the Mormora Sour with Coffee from Cloudwater Brewing Co.

With a £15 ticket, attendees were given two tokens for cask beers and one for a slice of pizza, with the latter quickly flying out of the oven. The cask selection was truly the highlight of the event, with an impressive line-up and everything tasting superbly fresh. Following pints of Wylam Brewery’s Jakehead to Tiny Rebel Brewing Company’s Stay Puft, we were reticent to move on to keg, but we did find DEYA Brewing Company’s juicy Into the Haze was worth every cent.

Heist Bank Paddington Beer Festival

Wild Beer Co hosted a workshop on blending during the Saturday evening session, giving attendees the chance to sample their beers while hearing about the complexities of barrel-aging and brewing with wild yeasts, two of the brewery’s benchmarks. As a special treat, a rare keg of Winter Blend 2015 was tasted, which had been magicked up for the occasion. It was a glorious beer with tartness from sour cherries, hints of vinegar acidity and generous berry flavours. On the nose was vinegar, berries and funk.

Pizza fresh from the oven was washed down with Pint from Marble Brewery while a DJ kept the atmosphere light. The festival was rightfully busy – with our session sold out – and impressed with its selection, which we were told had been curated by a Certified Cicerone on staff. Both the keg and cask lists were equally as appealing and the relaxed ambiance – and maybe the tasty pizza – won us over.

Thank you to the Heist Bank PR team for inviting me along to the Saturday evening session.

Indy Man Beer Con 2017: a beer festival going six years strong

The Independent Manchester Beer Convention – often abbreviated to Indy Man Beer Con or IMBC – returned for an impressive sixth year across four days in September and October, 2017. The event is famed for its stunning venue – a majestic Grade II listed Victorian bathhouse – alongside its line-up of eminent breweries from the UK and beyond.

Brainchild of the team that brought you Manchester bars and eateries The Beagle, Common and Port Street Beer House, IMBC is fuelled by an energetic vision; the organisers felt that the UK beer festival format wasn’t capturing the fast-paced, innovative modern craft industry. Even after six years, they’ve managed to keep the festival relevant and representative of what breweries and beer styles people are drinking.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester

This year’s line-up included some world-class participants, from Manchester’s own Cloudwater Brew Co to Brooklyn's Other Half Brewing. Some stalls rotated, serving for two of the four days, while the room sponsor breweries remained for all sessions, which included Beavertown Brewery, Buxton Brewery, Cloudwater, Fourpure Brewing Co, Lervig, Northern Monk Brewing Co, Siren Craft Brew and Wild Beer Co. In addition to the libations was a food village, where vendors also alternated between days.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester Bathhouse

The venue is brimming with character, with surprises around each corner and tight spaces built for more slender Victorian frames. Disconcertingly for drinkers, one of the rooms is still used as a swimming pool and, even covered, the floor sloped. The ornate details of tiled floors, terracotta and turquoise brick are found throughout. Located above the swimming pool, lined along the balconies, were changing rooms with candy stripe curtains.

A single pour of beer required one token, costing £2.50 each, and the IMBC app contained each session’s beer list, allowing ticketholders to coordinate their drinking in advance and receive notifications when new beers were put on. The main rooms were bustling, but the adjacent smaller sponsored rooms offered brief respite from the crowds. Although busy, queues for even the most popular breweries moved swiftly, and most attendees were milling about eagerly.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester Pizza

Moving on to the beers, we have to mention the popular Buxton and Omnipollo collaborations: first, the Original Texas Pecan Ice Cream, a rich pecan caramel imperial porter brewed with vanilla and lactose sugar, was topped with soft serve, honeycomb pieces and miniature marshmallows. Photogenic and indulgent, even when the novelty pieces with disregarded, the beer was memorable, sticky with waves of rich chocolate and caramel.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester Omnipollo

Equally as moreish, but served in a less camera-friendly style, was the Original Maple Truffle Ice Cream Waffle, another robust imperial porter. This time, brewed with maple syrup, cocoa nibs, cassia cinnamon, vanilla and lactose sugar, the beer was a showstopper without any frills. Aromas of rich expresso, chocolate and maple syrup drew us in; intense bittersweet cocoa and maple attacked the palate, finishing dry.

While the imperial porters garnered plenty of excitement from drinkers, other noteworthy beers included The Blend 2017 by The Wild Beer Co, a very drinkable sour, with funk on the nose and a tart, citrus flavour profile with more complex notes detectable, such as hints of fruit like melon and guava. Yet another imperial stout of merit was Hawkshead Brewery’s Sour Cherry Tiramisu, aged in Bourbon barrels, which was bitter, tangy and bursting with tart cherries.

Pennsylvania’s Forest & Main Brewing Company slipped under the radar on a modest stall, obscured by the overflow of drinkers from their neighbour, Cloudwater. Their Lunaire, described as a terroir-driven saison, came recommended and didn’t disappoint – aged in wine barrels for six months, it was pure funk and hay on the nose. Bone-dry and giving hints of white wine on the palate, this was a rounded yet complex beer.

Indy Man Beer Con Manchester

There was no shortage of impressive beers showcased at this year’s IMBC, but the saisons, sours and the extravagant imperial porters really impressed. It’s no surprise that this event attracts pilgrimaging groups from London, which is two hours away by train, as the brewery list, friendly atmosphere and the atypical venue come together to make it exceptional.

And with a session completed, the dynamic city of Manchester beckoned, which is worth the trip alone. After session attendees spilled out on the pavement, cabs were hailed and punters naturally headed towards the comfort of the superb Marble Arch, where more beer was paired with chips and gravy and the northern hospitality was enjoyed.

Goose Island LDN Block Party 2017: breaking into the mainstream

Back for a second year, Goose Island Brewery's LDN Block Party returned to Red Market in Shoreditch last weekend, bringing beer, street food and live music in the heart of East London. New and rare beers were available to ticketholders in the confines of the urban outdoor event space, where bars and a line-up of bands entertained a spirited crowd.

Goose Island LDN Block Party

The Block Party epitomises what an enormous event budget can deliver: an ample selection of beer, including a selection of rare, barrel-aged styles, a well-known indie band and an enthusiastic team representing the brand behind every bar. Goose Island, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, pulled out all of the big stops and repeated the success of last year’s inaugural LND Block Party, and the event – with a £10 entry fee – sold out days in advance.

The crowd was a combination of beer drinkers and gig goers – although these weren’t mutually exclusive. There were just as many revellers there for the headlining act, White Lies, as there were for the drinks. The main stage side bar was met with a constant flow of people, while the more tucked away bars – concealed in adjacent rooms or requiring some exploration – remained manageable. Wayfaring paid off, as the Bourbon County Stout and sour beers didn’t require much of a wait.

Goose Island LDN Block Party

The House of Funk, an indoor bar emulating the noisy ambiance of a nightclub, was serving up the Goose Island vintage ales range, from the wild ale Lolita, with puckering tartness from raspberries added to the wine barrel, to Halia, a farmhouse ale aged in wine barrels with whole peaches. Visitors were treated to a spread of four cheeses paired with four ales. They were also given the opportunity to discuss the menu with an Advanced Cicerone, Jonny Tyson, who was behind the bar.

Goose Island LDN Block Party
Goose Island LDN Block Party

Once of the upstairs spaces was christened Blocktoberfest, where a jovial, lederhosen-clad host welcomed guests. Here, the new collaboration between Goose Island and German brewery Spaten Brauerei, also part of the AB-InBev family, the 6.3% unfiltered Keller Märzen, was a traditional dark German lager. It was apt for the time of year and boasted sweet caramel notes from the darker malt, followed by a rush of a warming alcohol. It was a surprisingly strong beer, but ideal to wash down hotdogs from Engine Hot Dogs, conveniently located beside the bar.

Goose Island LDN Block Party

Across the yard was a second upstairs space, this one a bit tighter area. Joining the set-up of tables and chairs was a piano pressed against the bar, where pianists filled the air with a roster of classic singalong tunes in between the live music sets below. Here, the revered Bourbon County Stout was poured by Goose Island Brand Ambassador, Joshua Smith; the 2015 vintage was a velvety chocolate-rich delight.

In addition to this, there was a selection of Bourbon County Brand Regal Rye Stout, Grand Prestige Vatgerijpt and the 2 year reserve Bourbon County Brand Barleywine. Josh also broke out bottles from his personal collection to offer as palate cleansers between the rich, boozy stouts, including Goose Island’s Class of '88 Belgian ale and delightfully sparkling La Bonté with pear from Wicked Weed Brewing.

Goose Island LDN Block Party

As a follow-up, this year’s LDN Block Party was another impressively sleek feat, just as you'd expect from a big American brewery. Goose Island have nailed the format, bringing plenty of beer to keep the crowds going well after the music stops. You have to marvel at the execution of their London-based events, which have channelled a largely mainstream audience keen to experience the event as a whole; not everyone was eking out the unusual or rare, but the was crowd happy to be a part of it with a beer in hand.

A massive thank you to the Goose Island PR team, who very kindly invited me along to this event.