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.

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.

The Return of Dalston Beer Day for 2017

Last Saturday, ten breweries assembled in The Bootyard for the second Dalston Beer Day. The event was a resounding success, with occupancy reaching capacity only a few hours in. The weather held up and sustenance was flying out of the Honest Burgers food truck, keeping revelers contented enough to linger until late. Drinkers worked their way through a varied selection of beer against the backdrop of an East London hideaway, tucked away from Kingsland Road.

The Bootyard space offered a comfortable setting for this relaxed and informal beer festival. The brewery list had changed from last year, seeing some relatively fresh additions to the London scene, including Affinity Brew Co and Pillars Brewery. Beavertown Brewery was present for the second year running and had rotating specials on, such as Lime Phantom – which had disappeared by mid-afternoon – and some examples of their small-batch brewers’ series, Beavertown Says. Psychotropic, a New England style table beer with a breezy ABV and hazy appearance, was a sublime way to kick off the festivities.

Affinity Brew Co Dalston Beer Day

Pillars Brewery is a recent addition to London’s craft scene with an exclusive focus on lager. Their flagship beer is the Untraditional Lager, a commendable effort at a notoriously difficult style. Pouring golden with a foamy head, its subtle aromas of zesty citrus and hay was immediately promising. It's very easy drinking, with clean, biscuit malt flavour accompanied by lemon and grapefruit. With a 4.5% ABV, this will appease any lager fan, embodying the characteristics of the style and it was served up exceptionally fresh.

Pillars Brewery Dalston Beer Day

Dalston Beer Day also presented a second chance for me to sample Affinity Brew Co, that Tottenham brewery that impressed at the London Brewers’ Market earlier this month. Founders Ben and Steve were again on hand, enthusiastically serving up drinkers. They launched a hibiscus sour, which was a stunning beer that rightfully proved popular. It was a radiant pink colour, drinking like an effervescent rosé with balanced hints of hibiscus. Tart, dry and flavoursome, this slipped down effortlessly and was the standout beer of the afternoon.

The Kernel Brewery was also present, understated as always, but they were pouring a juicy Pale Ale hopped with Mosiac and Victoria Secret. As expected from the brewery, it was another silently exceptional beer that was crisp and delicious, satisfying the need for an outstanding pale in the sun. Kent’s Pig & Porter also carried remarkable rye ale, Arachnophilia, which was a wonderful harmony of spiciness from the rye and bursting citrus from the hops. Intensely drinkable, it was a gentle yet moreish beer.

Dalston Beer Day

The crowd was a good mix of genders and ages, both local residents and beer aficionados unified in one space. The team behind the event, 40ft Brewery, make a concerted effort to include the surrounding community and it seems to be paying off: guests were wandering in without any pretense or knowledge of the beers on tap or the breweries present, just to grab a drink. The casual nature of the event meant that it was accessible, and while there is still work to be done to attract a more diverse crowd, it encapsulated what the craft beer scene in London should always aspire to: being inclusive, friendly and - most importantly - fun.

And there's good news if you missed April's event, as a June edition of Dalston Beer Day has just been announced. Watch the 40ft Brewery Facebook page for more details.

London Brewers' Market April 2017: a review

April Fools Day saw the spring edition of London Brewers’ Market set up in the Old Spitalfields Market. Held in conjunction with the Independent Label Market, this seasonal event brings together London’s newest and esteemed craft breweries in one picturesque East London setting. It always attracts a huge audience and on April 1st 2017, 25 London breweries were in attendance.

Fortunate with the weather – which was clement but not sweltering – sunglasses were at the ready and the atmosphere was that of a teeming beer garden. This event typically draws in a large segment of London’s beer drinkers, from those whose work in the industry to those who've merely stumbled upon it. Even the most ambitious beer drinker can’t cover all of London’s industrial estates and railway arches, so the Brewers’ Market offers a chance for them to catch-up with the city’s quickly evolving scene.

New breweries such as Affinity Brew Co and Brewheadz participated, offering drinkers a chance to taste some beers currently generating a buzz in bottle shares, blogs and social media. At the Brewers' Market, if those filling your glass aren’t the brewers themselves, those responsible for the beer are always within earshot. It's guaranteed that regardless of who is actually pulling your pint, they'll be animated with passion for their craft.

Fourpure London Brewers' Market

Based on research and recommendations, there were some beers that I sought out, but it’s crucial to be open to everything. Revisiting old favourites is never shameful as well, as Fourpure Brewing Co’s citrus wunderkind, Juicebox IPA, was as pleasing as ever. I’ve been enjoying the new core IPA, Push Eject, from Hackney Brewery over the past months and its intense tropical flavours make it a juicy beer I'm happily returning to. And, frankly, there's nothing that a clean Five Points Brewing Co Pils won't cure when the sun is beaming.

Hackney Brewery London Brewers' Market

New to me was Affinity, a brewery based in Tottenham that’s been impressing with its Belgian-inspired range. A brief chat with the founders, Ben Duckworth and Steve Grae, was fruitful; they have some exciting plans in the future that will eventually see their beers moving from a shipping container to the taps inside Five Miles London – a music and events venue that's based on the same estate where their taproom currently sits – which is set to open this year. I settled on the Parasol, their hazy Belgian Ale with hints of citrus, spiciness and bread in both aromas and on the palate. It's a complex and easy-drinking beer that I look forward to revisiting.

Affinity Brew Co London Brewers' Market

Another new brewery conquered was Brick Brewery from Peckham – well outside my East London comfort zone – whose Rhubarb Sour Berliner Weisse was an tremendous introduction to their range, presenting puckering tartness with big sways of rhubarb in the body, finishing on a crisp bitterness that proved exceptionally refreshing and one to add to the list of summer beers.

Brick Brewery London Brewers' Market

But it wasn’t light beers getting all of the glory, as the nadir of Saturday’s beers was something very unusual and dark in colour: the Blended Black Framboise from One Mile End Brewery. Two parts barrel soured with Brettanomyces, one part barrel aged Gose, gin botanicals and raspberries. This beer was exceptionally palatable, offering tempered sourness, big cocoa notes and juicy, jammy raspberries. Lightly carbonated and velvety smooth, any hint of the 8.1% ABV was completely lost in the deliciously sweet tones. This was exciting, accomplished and a good return to One Mile End, who have impressed me with their experimental approach in the past.

One Mile End London Brewers' Market

The spring edition of the London Brewers' Market was not only a pleasant day out, but a glance at the benchmark of the styles and quality of beers that London will be enjoying this summer. Sours, IPAs and Berliner Weisse won't surprise, but there's always room for something a bit more rounded and complex like the Blended Black Framboise. Thankfully drinkers are being and breweries are being increasingly adventurous; in my mind, it's always the accomplished - but atypical - beers that are the most memorable at London Brewers' Market.

Now to wait patiently for summer...