2016 in review: The new East London pub crawl

Yes, 2016 has been an exhilarating year on a number of fronts. Following from last week’s post on two events that didn’t make the Brewing East editorial cut, there’s still more to chuck into the ring. One of the most significant triumphs this year has been the growing list of new places to find beer in East London. Homerton and Limehouse hosted two prodigious openings this month alone.

But first, an event held at my current favourite drinking haven.

Mason & Co’s Northern powerhouse takeover (Thursday, 20 – Sunday, 23 October 2016)

Perhaps the most welcome addition to the East London landscape is Mason & Company, a taproom-style bar situated in the new Here East development in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Brainchild of Ed Mason, owner of The Five Points Brewing Company, this venue lies between Stratford and Hackney Wick. Previously, only Tap East, a diamond in rough plonked down in the behemoth Westfield Shopping Centre, excelled as an oasis for good quality beer on keg and cask in the E20 postcode.

Since June of this year, Mason & Co have hosted a series of events, including tap takeovers from the likes of Beavertown Brewery and Cloudwater Brew Co and a Thanksgiving feast for American ex-pats (or merely the eternally hungry). Their kitchen is manned by Capish?, who serve up legendary meatball subs slathered in their trademark marinara sauce or chicken parm sandwiches that hit the spot every time. 

Their excellent Northern Powerhouse Takeover event showcased an expansive selection of beers from breweries up North. The beer list ranged from old favourites to the rare, with a couple of collaborations thrown into the mix. For an astounding five quid, a wristband could be purchased that entitled drinkers to three 1/3 pint servings of the beer and a souvenir Mason & Co branded teku glass.

Some of the featured breweries included Northern Monk Brew Co, Magic Rock Brewing Co, Wylam Brewery and Track Brewing Co. I remember the beers that I tried, which were surprising and excellent in equal measures. First was Attack on the Bounty, a coconut black IPA developed by Northern Monk with tattoo artist and illustrator James Butler and Siren Craft Brew. It was packed with tropical flavours with strong aromas of coconut and pineapple. Opaque inky black with the addition of some roasted malts, imparting rich chocolate notes, this was a liquid marriage of a Bounty Bar and a piña colada. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but it resonated with me.

This was followed by my first taste of the juicy Hypnotist from Magic Rock, a modern take on a hazy New England IPA, and Hops ft. Epic, another IPA from Northern Monk alongside Epic Brewing Company from New Zealand.

All in all, it was fantastic value for three gorgeous and memorable beers. The event had attracted some large groups who were happy to put a few fivers down and work through the menu. It was one of the most fruitful Saturday afternoons spent in 2016.

Craft Beer Co Limehouse opening (Tuesday, 6 December, 2016)

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The preview party for E15’s Craft Beer Co christened the new venture, which lies adjacent to the Limehouse DLR station and offers the area a fresh prospect for a varied beer selection. Across 21 taps and 6 cask lines, the selection on the night was solid and a crowd of brewery representatives showed up for the occasion. Little Things that Kill, a session IPA from Weird Beard Brew Co and Tartelette from Redchurch Brewery’s Urban Farmhouse project tasted beautiful and fresh. The Siren Craft Brew’s Squealer, a Sour/Berliner Weisse fermented with raspberries, was one of the most talked about beers of the evening – and the keg had shown up just the day before, so it was a late addition to the inaugural line-up.

The venue is comfortable and convenient if you're in the area. Management and staff were enthusiastic and helpful and it’s been a bustling spot since it opened to the public. Patrons are assured an extensive selection of rotating beers as expected from Craft Beer Co in a small, but very comfortable, setting.

BrewDog Homerton opening (Friday, 2 December 2016)

Some will remember the locally-loved Hommerton pub, The Plough, which closed its doors last year to much anguish. Today, in its place is a shiny new addition to the BrewDog franchise. This BrewDog boasts more casual environs when compared to its larger, more ostentatious central manifestations. It’s a softened, watered-down incarnation without the heavily industrial touches of exposed piping and ventilation systems. Instead, it’s a neighbourhood convening point with couches, group tables and some stools pulled up at the bar. There’s no lit-up marquee display of the beers on offer, instead a wall of A4 papers displayed on clipboards on plywood. There’s a roaring pizza oven and a tidy food menu that caters to carnivores and vegans alike. Local guests have consistently included Hackney’s The Five Points Brewing Co.

This subtle incarnation of a BrewDog bar seems to have slipped under the radar, despite being only a few minutes away equidistantly from the Homerton and Hackney Central overground stations. The staff are enthusiastic and passionate about beer and the Assistant Manager is friendly with a vast knowledge about everything on tap. It’s another worthwhile addition to East London and only a moment away from the excellent community-saved Chesham Arms, making a pub crawl across Homerton and Hackney something to get into your 2017 diary. 

 

2016 in review: Goose Island LDN party and Bourbon County launch

As 2016 draws to a close, it seems appropriate to shine a light on some of the events that unfolded across the past year, but have gone overlooked. This isn’t a critique of how memorable each event was in isolation, but rather an observation of how vast the beer scene in the city has become. By March 2016, the number of new breweries in London increased by 24%, introducing 36 new businesses, and this figure has continued to increase.

Given that the amount of breweries in London currently hovers around 80, there’s no scarcity of occasions to attend, whether it’s attending a launch or accessing a range of beers from a much lauded brewery from outside the city - from Bristol, Manchester or even further afield. It’s been a tremendous year for beer events. Simply put, there just isn’t enough time to divulge them all.

A number of events this year have stood out, but have remained buried in my photo library and fuzzy memory. As the year prepares to take its final bow (or final blow, given the general tendency of 2016 up to this point), it’s fitting to revive the brief snapshots of these eclipsed highlights.

Goose Island: Block Party LDN (Saturday, 24 September 2016)

Goose Island Brewery hails from Chicago and is a macro, part of the AB InBev family, that took great pains to resonate with London drinkers in 2016. The first of these occasions was the inaugural London leg of their annual block party, a sold-out event held in RED Market, Shoreditch. Thousands of revellers were tempted by the promise of street food vendors, a live set from English band Everything Everything and a beer selection that included their much sought after Bourbon County Stout and vintage ales. Brewers were flown over from the windy city and John Hall, founder and CEO of Goose Island, welcomed press to sample the rare beers in advance of the crowds; this included their Sofie and Juliette, the former a saison and the latter a wild ale, and the elusive 2014 Bourbon County in addition to a variation on the original, the Bourbon County Templeton Rye.

The enigma surrounding the Bourbon County drew in a curious crowd of bloggers, journalists and industry friends. The turn-out was due to the rare opportunity afforded to sample the barrel-aged beer in the UK. Stories of people queuing for hours to get their hands on a bottle in the USA drifted across the pond and stirred up sufficient intrigue. 

The rich flavour of the Bourbon County is undeniable. The 2014 batch was redolent of smoked leather, both in aroma and taste, but in a highly pleasant way. With a viscous mouthfeel, this complex barrel-aged stout is loaded with flavours of tobacco, molasses, dark chocolate and espresso. Complex, deep and boozy, it felt worthy of an occasion. Boasting an ABV of 13.8%, it certainly merited one.

The event was a high point of the summer, attracting a group of people who were curious to take a peek behind the Goose Island veil. Given the strength of some of the beers on offer, memories of the event slip into a haze of oompah bands entertaining drinkers, the wafting smells of barbecue and even a moment of clarity where John Hall happily obliged to down an oyster or two in our presence.

This was not only an introduction for many to the Bourbon County, but also a preview of what was to come. 2016 was a momentous year for Goose Island generating a buzz around London, indicative of their intent to start pushing for a market share in the UK.

Goose Island:  Bourbon County Stout launch preview (Thursday, 24 November 2016)

Juxtaposed to the extensive LDN Block Party, Goose Island invited a small group of writers and journalists to sample 2016’s Bourbon County before it was launched for the first time in the UK. Due to be stocked in a single bottle shop in North West London and limited to 100 bottles on the day, the PR machine was in full-throttle. Based on photographs and videos taken on the launch day, Friday the 25 November, it appeared to work - there was a cluster of eager individuals who dedicated their morning to queue for a bottle, which retailed for £20.

On the evening, Joshua Smith, UK Brand Ambassador, and Tim Faith, Innovation Brewer, introduced the Bourbon County, explaining the origins of the concept and tasting notes. Before the 2016 batch was circulated, Tim explained the primary difference between this and last year’s variation: the 2016 has been pasteurised and is the first edition to undergo this treatment. This was due to several bottlings of the 2015 batch that were infected with lactobacillus-related bacteria and recalled; pasteurisation removes any chance of this happening again.

The 2016 batch was tasted alongside the 2015 edition for comparison – while the variations between the two were subtle, they were distinguishable. The 2015 Bourbon County was aged longer in the barrels and the depth of certain nuances and the mouthfeel varied accordingly; the 2016 had a fresher more herbal quality and lacked some of the potent richness of the former, which made it lighter on the palate. Hints of vanilla were more pronounced in the newer edition as well, imparting a mellow sweetness to the beer.

Again, the budget of a macro brewery allowed for decadent touches on the night, including free-flowing taps, KERB vendor Annie Mae's scooping out generous servings of macaroni and cheese and artisan donuts from St John’s Bakery. Goose Island representatives took questions then mingled with the crowd throughout the evening. Attendees were also treated to the new UK release of the Goose Island Winter Ale, but this was overshadowed with the palpable anticipation to tap into the Bourbon County.

Two different events where no expense was spared. It was therefore not terribly surprising when Goose Island announced plans for the opening of their first permanent European site in Balham, a Vintage Ale House. Whether or not Goose Island will continue to invest in these types of glitzy affairs has yet to be seen now that they have a UK base. But it's set a benchmark for UK breweries to perhaps emulate, so we might be seeing similar affairs from our homegrown (and still independent) talents in 2017.

I was kindly invited to both Goose Island events by their PR agency, Shine.