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.

Tryanuary 2018: a spotlight on East London breweries

It's that time of year again: Tryanuary is here. Since 2015, this campaign has encourage people to support the beer industry throughout the month of January. Instead of subscribing to recent movements like Dryanuary, the Tryanuary initiative asks us to support local and independent businesses during the year's most challenging month.

Offering a counterpoint to the Dryanuary movement, which has gained significant traction in recent years, Tryanuary doesn't ask us to drink more than we've comfortable with. In fact, it recognises that many of us will be cutting back on excesses following an indulgent Christmas period. It suggests that we make the beer that we drink count and that we drink conscientiously. And, of course, we should aim to do this year round, so it serves as an excellent perrenial goalpost for drinkers.

Today, January 5th, marks the campaign's spotlight on London, and in light of this, we wanted to direct eyeballs towards the official Tryanuary Twitter account, which will be manned by a group of passionate volunteers to represent specific areas of the city. This is a fantastic way to become acquainted with breweries that lie beyond the boundaries of your residential postcode.

In East London, we have covered some of our favourite and/or the newest breweries to pop up, including:

Crate Brewery

Crate Brewery
Five Points Brewing Company
Hackney Brewery
One Mile End Brewery
Pillars Brewery
Wild Card Brewery

Wild Card Brewery: a brewery holding all of the aces

We've also featured some of our favourite local venues that are deserving of your support, including:

Angel of Bow

Angel of Bow
Mason and Company

Salvation for Stratford: Mason & Company launch

While this list is not conclusive (there's a glaring admission of Howling Hops Brewery and tank bar, for instance), it does demonstrate that brewing is alive and well in East London. If you would like to see some of what Hackney Wick has to to offer specifically, The Five Points Brewing is hosting their annual Tryanuary pub crawl  – the Hackney Beer Hop – on Saturday, the 27 January, which includes some of the aforementioned spots. We've attended and enjoyed these in the past (here and here) and it's well worth the £7 charity donation.

However you decide to observe Tryanuary, we hope that you discover some new and thrilling beers, breweries and venues along the way.

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.

Renegade Brewery: West Berkshire shows its rebellious side

West Berkshire Brewery established Renegade Brewery in 2015 as an arm under which to release a fresh, modern range of craft beers for today’s drinker. To complement West Berkshire’s established range of traditional cask ales, Renegade aims to foster the creative and experimental sides of their young brewers.

Renegade launched a range of beers this week to coincide with the opening of their state of the art brewery. They’ve not only moved to a new premises, but have upgraded their brew kit and packaging facilities, giving them ample space to produce more beer and continue to scale up. The brewery is entirely bespoke and carried a £6 million price tag, but the new 60HL set-up means that they can amp up their current production volume while focusing on some more audacious styles and recipes.

Renegade Brewery Cans

As the name suggests, Renegade looks to push boundaries and appeal to craft drinkers. They’ve naturally taken inspiration from bold and hoppy American styles, trying to emulate their big flavours while maintaining drinkability. They’re not looking to alienate their West Berkshire customer base, but this is a brewery that is keeping up with the times and embracing a changing industry landscape. We’ve seen other traditional breweries embrace the call for different tastes and styles, such as Windsor and Eton Brewery’s Uprising Craft Brewing range.

The beers were launched this week at The Depot in Islington, which is Renegade’s first pub venture, and guests were invited to taste four of their beers on keg and in cans. The vibrant, clear branding easily differentiates the beers from West Berkshire’s established range, giving the beers the contemporary angle that they’re aiming for.

Renegade Brewery

Two lagers were pouring on the evening, one Craft Lager – a satisfying take on the style that uses a complete bill of UK ingredients, from Maris Otter malt to Progress and Fuggles hops. Lagered for six weeks, it’s an easy-going crisp and clean beer. The second lager was more remarkable, brewed in the Vienna style. It’s darker, sweeter and presents a creamier mouthfeel than the Craft, with ample biscuit notes from the darker malts, making it more interesting and slightly more complex on the palate.

Their India Session Ale comes in at 4.2% and uses Mosaic and Citra hops for some big, tropical fruit flavours. It ends on an intensely bitter pithiness, making it a good choice for those who enjoy a brash, unapologetic beer at a surprisingly sessionable strength.

The West Coast Pale Ale pays homage to the big, juicy style hailing from the USA’s West Coast. Bundles of explosive C hops – Cascade, Columbus and Chinook – join Summit to create a beer that delivers bursting grapefruit aroma and citrus flavours to make for another unrepentant and satisfying drink.

Renegade Brewery

While it was a shame to see no dark beers or slightly more off-kilter styles available at the launch, these have been promised down the line. For a debut, the range of lagers and pales proved drinkable and deliver on some punchy flavours. The enthusiasm of their young, passionate sales team demonstrated that they’re taking their foray into craft territory very seriously. But most importantly, they hold a lot of promise as an established brewery clearly open to learning new tricks. 

Thank you to them team at Renegade for the invitation to the launch.

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.

Pillars Brewery: championing lager in Walthamstow

Lager is a style often overlooked, mostly because of its emphasis on malt and clean yeast character over bold hop character. Pillars Brewery respects lager – so much so that they’ve committed their time to producing one worthy of recognition. In a city famed for porter, Pillars hopes to put London on the map for another reason: a crisp, modern adaptation on the Czech style.

Pillars Brewery Walthamstow

Based in the Ravenswood Industrial Estate in Walthamstow, Pillars is a bit of a family affair. Established by three brothers – Eamon, Samie and Omar Razaq – and friend Gavin Litton, the brewery was founded on a single core beer. The Untraditional Lager came from their tireless endeavour to create a recipe for a lager that could equal ales in flavour and complexity. The beer relies upon typical style characteristics, including soft water (as would be found in the town of Pilsen, birthplace of the golden lager), pale malts and yeast that's clean tasting.

Things get interesting when the hops come in. Instead of earthy noble hops, Pillars relies upon bold West Coast US varieties, with pronounced citrus and pine flavours. The brewery describes the Untraditional Lager as a hybrid between a pilsner and an IPA, which seems apt. On the palate, the beer is crisp and nicely bitter in tandem.

Their dedication to this cause has been meticulous, extending to their brewing equipment and conditioning period. The brewhouse comes from Italy and is designed specifically to produce the consummate lager, including a whirlpool efficient enough to ensure that the beer doesn’t require filtration, yet remains bright. Removing the need to filter the beer is crucial for its mouthfeel and even head retention, all of which enhances the drinker’s holistic enjoyment of a pint.

Pillars Brewery

Pillars currently have six fermenter tanks and are at 90% capacity, so expansion is already in the works. They thankfully have plenty of room in their spacious unit, which also houses their taproom and plenty of tables on a Friday night and Saturday afternoon, when it’s open to the public. Even though they’re only brewing two days a week, they cold-condition their beer for five weeks; this is longer than most commercial breweries, where the time might be reduced to two or three weeks.

The taproom is a vibrant space adorned with eye-catching murals and serving up small batch beers, which are mostly influenced by the German purity law, The Reinheitsgebot. This forbids any adjuncts in brewing, permitting only malt, hops, water and yeast to be present. Gavin stresses that they are not bound to this, but their second core beer – Rebell Helles, which is set to be launched next month – is another ‘pure’ beer.

Spending a Saturday afternoon at Pillars is recommended, their taproom offering a warm ambiance to enjoy some crisp beers. Comfortable and equipped with rotating food vendors and resident DJs, it’s the perfect venue to drop into – or stick around in – and make a day of it in Walthamstow and pop into Wild Card Brewery, located in the same estate and literally a stone’s throw away.