Beer Basics: Discover Saison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Modern Saisons:

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

Classic Saisons:

  • Saison DuPoint, Brasserie DuPont (6.5%)

Try them with:

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

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!

Uppers and Downers: caffeine peaks and boozy troughs

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For over four years, Chicago’s Good Beer Hunting has presented Uppers & Downers, a festival showcasing coffee beers. Brainchild of Michael Kiser from GBH and Stephen Morrissey, World Barista Champion, this year’s event took place across the Atlantic from the Windy City, in Bermondsey, London.

Uppers and Downers Coffe Beer Festival

Taking place at the new Brew by Numbers taproom, around 100 people gathered to celebrate two distinct craft cultures coming together. The ethos of Uppers and Downers is to both appreciate and drive the coffee beer style forward, inviting brewers to experiment with flavours, styles and processes. Eight collaborations were offered to sample on the night, combining the skill of eight breweries with the products of eight coffee roasters.

Uppers and Downers Brew by Numbers Taproom

When we talk about coffee beers, we might expect a rich, boozy porter laced with espresso notes. It’s therefore no surprise that this style was represented to perfection with the Brew by Numbers x Workshop Coffee 10|10 Coffee Porter Imperial– it boasted an ABV of 10% and was made with whole bean coffee added four days before being packed – and it was sublime. The silky Uncommon Grounds barrel soured coffee porter from Magic Rock Brewing x Dark Woods Coffee was equally as striking, proving once again that porter and coffee are perfect partners.

Uppers and Downers Coffee Beer

High Anxiety from Belfast’s Boundary Brewing x Roasted Brown Roasters was a sophisticated take, seeing two mixed-fermentation saisons blended with brewed Dimma Ethiopian coffee. Beautifully tart, balancing light coffee notes, it came in at a surprising 2.7%. The 5.5% Hutwe coffee saison from Belgium’s Siphon Brewing x OR Coffee Roasters was another unexpected style, using Hutwe Congolese fair trade coffee. Here, the saison yeast and bright flavours from the beans complement each other to result in a well-rounded beer.

Coffee sours were also on the menu with the Mormora Sour from Cloudwater Brew Co x Square Mile Coffee Roasters, which had a generous amount of ground coffee beans on the nose. This coffee-infused kettle sour boasted tropical fruit flavours infused with bitter coffee notes. The second kettle sour was Sawa Sawa from Weird Beard Brew Co. x Hasbean Coffee, with notes of dark berries paired with Kenyan Thika Washed Varuietal coffee.

More fruit and coffee were combined for an exhilarating coffee IPA from Beavertown Brewery x Caravan Coffee Roasters, Love in the Time of Coffee, an attractive hazy orange beer with aromas of juicy tropical fruit spiked with potent notes from Columbian El Zafiro Washed Bourbon coffee.

Finally, desert was served up in the guise of the Russian Star from Northern Monk Brew Co x North Star Coffee Roasters, a creamy white stout with substantial hits of vanilla and added lactose to give it decedent sweetness. The Guatemala la Bolsa coffee, which was cold-brewed and added to the fermentor tank, mixes beautifully here to enhance the beer, reticent of an indulgent espresso-fuelled dessert.

Uppers and Downers Espresso

It wouldn’t be an Uppers and Downers festival without the inclusion of exceptional coffee, so two espresso bars were set up at the end of the taproom, where the din of beans being ground and the aromatic warmth of coffee was sent wafting across the crowd. Drinkers worked their way through a pour of each beer, stopping to experience the freshly prepared caffeine until the jitters set in. The baristas were knowledgeable and welcoming, happy to explain the unique tasting notes of each coffee bean with enthusiasm.

This sold out event confirmed how two craft cultures can intermingle for one night, attracting the curiosity of drinkers and the experimental, collaborative spirit of two progressive industries. There’s a lot of overlap between coffee and beer and Uppers and Downers demonstrated this with resounding success; with any luck, this marks the beginning of another annual event for the London drinking calendar. 

London Beer City 2017: going four years strong

This year saw the triumphant return of London Beer City, a 13 day event showcasing craft beer across the capital. Now in its fourth year, the itinerary was loaded with several concurrent happenings each day, making it impossible to do it all.

With some clever logistical planning, however, it was plausible to squeeze several events in on a single night. There were plenty of opportunities to get involved, even if you bypassed the three day long London Craft Beer Festival, one of the focal points of LBC. Other events that unfolded between 3 - 13 August included tap takeovers, food pairings and open brewery days. Some events were ticketed, but most weren't, making it easy for the tempted to show up and discover some of the best beer that London – and the UK – has to offer.

London Beer City opening party at Mason & Company in Hackney Wick.

London Beer City opening party at Mason & Company in Hackney Wick.

It all kicked off with the opening party on Thursday the 3rd August. Hosted at Mason & Company in Hackney Wick, a spirited crowd showed up to sample the special LBC beers for the first time in good company. The festival beers saw two groupings of breweries: The Five Points Brewing Company, Pressure Drop Brewing and One Mile End Brewery representing North London with Agadoo, a saison brewed with pineapple and northern hemisphere hops, and the South Pacific Pale from Fourpure Brewing Co, Brew by Numbers and Wimbledon Brewery brewed with southern hemisphere hops.

In addition to these, the beer list included some exemplary British beers worth working through, including 07/08, a strawberry wit from Brew by Numbers, Pale from Buxton Brewery and the intensely chewy Quebec Syrup Heist brown ale from Pressure Drop Brewing. A DJ ensured that music filled the air throughout the evening, contributing to the general buzz of excitement. 

A packed corner of The Duke's Head in Highgate, where Marble Brewery was showcased.

A packed corner of The Duke's Head in Highgate, where Marble Brewery was showcased.

The Duke’s Head in Highgate held a meet the brewer event on Wednesday the 9th August, with Manchester darlings Marble Brewery, who travelled down to London for a tutored tasting and tap takeover. Beer writer Matthew Curtis led the proceedings with support from the Marble team, including their head brewer JK (James Kemp). For a £10 ticket, guests were treated to an evening with four half pint samples of beers on cask and keg. The event was popular, selling out and seeing dozens of attendees squeezed into the back section of the cosy pub.

The story behind the recently resurrected Dobber IPA was relayed by Matthew, who helmed the campaign to have the beer reintroduced and helped brew the first batch himself. Trying it on cask and keg, opinions were divided on whether the cask or keg version was superior- while Matthew confessed to being more partial to the latter, our table thought that cask had the edge. The Marble team brought some special limited edition samples in tow, including some stunning barrel aged offerings, which were passed around for all to relish.

Tiny Rebel being bold at the Great British Beer Festival.

Tiny Rebel being bold at the Great British Beer Festival.

As a counterbalance to the London Craft Beer Festival, primarily showcasing keg beers, the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) is a celebration of cask. Britain’s largest cask ale event has been running for 40 years and brought in droves of drinkers to Olympia in Kensington from Tuesday the 8th - Saturday the 12th August. The best of the UK was represented alongside examples from the US and further afield. The scale of this festival is absolutely immense, with a sprawl of booths serving up extensive menus, broken up by region or country. Some breweries splashed out on their own stand, such as Cardiff’s Tiny Rebel Brewing Company, who were also offering a small keg selection to eagle-eyed customers.

Great British Beer Festival Harvey's Brewery

Harvey's Brewery from Lewes proved very popular, dispensing several ales to a thirsty crowd, including the mighty Prince of Denmark imperial stout with rich notes of chocolate and liquorice. The collaboration beer with Burning Sky Brewery, Anglezarke IPA, had generated enough of a buzz that punters were immediately notified of the precise time that it would be put on.

The crowd at GBBF is diverse in terms of age, seeing groups of younger drinkers jostling with older drinkers, and the atmosphere is a bit confused. But given the sheer size of the event, it's no wonder that it feels as if it would be impossible to cover it all in a single session and it felt slightly disorganised.

The Tottenham tasting session at the London Beer City closing party.

The Tottenham tasting session at the London Beer City closing party.

London Beer City concluded with an eventful closing party on Saturday the 12th August at the Five Points Brewing Co's warehouse yard in Hackney. London breweries were featured and their beers served across three bars with tutored tastings sessions offered; sessions were broken down into three of the capital's beery neighbourhood hotspots: Bermondsey, Hackney and Tottenham. Brewers and representatives of the featured breweries guided small groups through one of their beers each, giving tasters insight into the beer and some tasting notes.

Just as it began, LBC finished with a cheery crowd of drinkers who demonstrated healthy enthusiasm about great beer. The size of the crowds at many events were indicative of how the interest in craft beer has growth in London – and that it's becoming increasingly accessible to a larger segment of the population. The ethos of LBC is, after all, to encourage everyone to appreciate small beer and champion independent breweries. After four years, it's certainly continuing to achieve just this.

Craft Beer Rising 2017: bringing together craft breweries and big beer

For the fifth year, Craft Beer Rising returned to the Old Truman Brewery in East London, showcasing 170 breweries from the UK and further afield. Proving to be the largest manifestation of the festival to date, an adjacent hall was added to the floor map and the layout was improved to increase the thoroughfare space for roving drinkers.

Public sessions of CBR were attended by 2,000 people from Friday to Sunday - all of which were sold out in advance - and Time Out London was given exclusive first access to a preview session on Thursday night for their readers.

Trade sessions were split across two days, on Thursday and Friday afternoons, open to industry representatives. All of these tweaks – from the size of the event, the number of participating breweries and the additional sessions – demonstrate that craft beer is still drawing in a hugely receptive audience. Of all of the beer festivals in the city, this one engages the largest section of members of the general public – that is, people who drink beer and are perhaps craft-curious –in addition to fully-fledged beer geeks. Some of the latter group scrutinised the commercial nature of the event, which included breweries on the bill that aren’t independently owned (the defining marker of a craft brewery in the United Kingdom).

The second hall and the energy of London breweries

Craft Beer Rising 2017 Hall

It was easy enough to beeline to the stands that were of specific interest. Many of these were hosted in the smaller second hall, which was much less congested and populated by some fantastic London breweries, including Brew by Numbers, Orbit Beers, Mondo Brewing Company and Hammerton Brewery. The main hall was heaving – especially during the Saturday evening session – where big beer and craft breweries wrestled for the attention of drinkers.

While the number of vendors increased this year, it felt like London breweries were still thinly represented. We have nearly 100 breweries operating in the city, but only a handful of these were in attendance. Despite the venue's Brick Lane location, some East London breweries were conspicuously missing, including the Five Points Brewing Company, Hackney Brewery and Signature Brew. The expense of attending CBR is costly for both a stand and the provision of gratis beer for trade sessions; this can be prohibitive or unjustifiable for smaller operations.

Craft Beer Rising 2017 Brewheadz

One of the most energetic and engaged stalls were new to the local scene: Brewheadz, a Tottenham-based brewery and only few months old. Their team of four exuded the tireless passion that you get from a fledgling business and their beers were meticulously turned out. Their Kitchen Porter had coffee notes that were reminiscent of a cold brew, paired with rich chocolate and sticky toffee notes.

Craft Beer Rising 2017 Brew by Numbers

At Brew by Numbers, the 21|08 Pale Ale (Ekuanot & Wai-iti) was a juicy pale bursting with tangerine notes and finishing on a perfect dry bitterness. It was fresh, vibrant and stood out as one of the best pales on offer at the event; unlike some of their recent dank, hazy attempts, this reverted to a more classic APA style and nailed it.

Meanwhile, Hammerton's Baron H was a curious wonder, a black IPA liberally hopped and steeped with Earl Grey leaf, which imparted a subtle earthiness to the beer. It was balanced and easily enjoyed.

International breweries entice crowds

Craft Beer Rising 2017 New Zealand Beer Collective

The flipside of CBR is the International contingency, which grants drinkers to experience craft breweries from across the globe. Australia’s Prancing Pony Brewery has been making a big push in the UK market and had a strong selection of beers, including their India Red Ale, which was crowned the Supreme Champion Beer by the International Beer Challenge judges in 2016. Garage Beer Co from Spain also generated ample praise for their excellent modern styles. Availability of some Belgian beers, including Westmalle Dubbel on tap at the Cave Direct stand and lambics flowing at Boon Brewery, went down a treat. The New Zealand Beer Collective was also a hub of activity, where they were flying through kegs of their Tuatara Brewery Tiramisu Stout.

Collaborations still holding their own

Craft Beer Rising 2017 Deya Brewery

The beer of the festival was indisputably the Deya Brewery Company and Verdant Brewery Co collaboration, High Planes Drifter DIPA, which disappeared quickly in 500ml tallboy cans. It reappeared on Saturday night, causing drinkers to clamber around the stall for it's 8pm launch. The beer is a stunner: a beautiful hazy golden number, replete with juicy citrus notes, intense tropical aromas and a creamy sweetness that is balanced by a clean, bitter kick. This 8% beer is supremely drinkable and redolent of the recent Cloudwater Brew Co's DIPAs, where explosive line-ups of mangoes, citrus and pineapple dominate. Deya are new on the radar of many beer drinkers, hailing from Cheltenham. Verdant have continued to please palates with their juicy pales, so this collaboration really showcases talent from both breweries.

Craft Beer Rising 2017 Wild Beer Co

Another collaboration highlight of the festival was the Wild Beer Co and Magic Rock Brewing collaboration, Men who Stare at Oats, a bretted New England IPA with Lupulin Power and oats in the grain bill. Lupulin is the yellow oil pods inside of a hop cone, where all of the oils and alpha and beta acids are contained. The powder is twice as effective in imparting flavour and bitterness compared to standard hops. This was a complex beer with a body boasting New England characteristics - hazy and murky to the eye - and some big aromas and flavours, including citrus and pineapple with hints of green earthiness and sweet porridge.

Sours and stouts, some of the best of CBR

Some of the most memorable beers of this year's CBR weren't aggressively bitter or ludicrously dry-hopped. Instead, there was an expansive selection of laudable tangy fruit beers and velvety stouts.

Craft Beer Rising 2017 Tiny Rebel

The Cherry Bomb sour on cask from Tiny Rebel Brewing Co was sweet and lip-puckering tart, pouring a glimmering ruby hue. I found this modern spin on a kriek immensely enjoyable, a no brainer for sweltering temperatures. Their Stay Puft marshmallow stout was just as delicious, balancing fruitiness with smokiness and plenty of chocolate notes.

Craft Beer Rising 2017 Laine Brew Co

You can't help but get caught up by Laine Brew Co's unbridled enthusiasm. They brought along some of their small-batch projects brewed in the People Park's Tavern, a favourite boozer sitting on the periphery of Victoria Park in East London. Their effusive playfulness is manifested in their vibrant range and some of the pilot beers were interesting - I enjoyed a Twisted Lips Citrus Gose that packed a huge lemon and lime hit and a hint of salinity. This is a beer to quell those who proclaim that they don't like beer, because, in reality, it isn't very beery at all. But it had huge potential for an effortless summer tipple.

Craft Beer Rising 2017 East London Brewery

Other worthy mentions include the stunning Imperial Stout from East London Brewing Co, a decadent and boozy beer with luxurious notes of sticky dark fruit and intense chocolate with a whiff of citrus, making it easy to swirl around the palate and savour. The limited edition swing-top bottles that appeared at the ELB stand were elegant and impossible to resist.

Goose Island and Fuller's: the breweries in the basement

Located in the bowels of the Old Truman Brewery was the illusive Goose Island Brewery Taproom and the Fuller's Brewery's London Pride pop-up headquarters. The former was a quintessential pit-stop, where attendees could wander in and have a chat with Goose Island representatives, including brewers who had been flown in from Chicago. They would generously refill a glass with our of their vintage ales or - if you had timed your visit to coincide with their Bourbon County Stout being put on - something even rarer. The atmosphere was convivial, with drinkers being coaxed to play games and given ample time and attention from staff when pulling up a seat to the bar.

Craft Beer Rising 2017 Fullers

A talking point of CRB this year was the unveiling of an unfiltered version of Fuller's London Pride on keg. Known as a cask serve staple, this is a modernising of a classic London beer, hoping to tap into the movement of drinkers towards unfiltered pints. Unfiltered is the same foundation recipe of the iconic London Pride, with the addition of dry-hopping for a more full-flavoured drink (and obviously served at a colder temperature). While palatable, it was difficult to compare this beer to some of the more audacious styles and punchy numbers on offer in the hall above.

Where craft and corporate meet

Despite the presence of small, big and international breweries, CBR 2017 demonstrated a palpable sense of community between all vendors and a shared love of good beer. The selection catered to a range of tastes, but the energy from London's own was a remarkable thing.

Drinkers would undoubtedly benefit from a larger local presence; for a significant proportion of the crowd, this is good exposure to the craft breweries of the city's other boroughs. The balance between big beer and craft needs to be fostered to draw in crowds from all sides of the beer drinking spectrum. The one thing that this year's festival solidified was that the appetite for craft beer is still voracious in London and we can look forward to an even larger scale CBR in 2018.

I attended the trade sessions of Craft Beer Rising on a media pass, but paid for tickets for the Saturday evening public session.

Darker Days III: Ghananian food and winter warmers

November: the brutal reality check that winter is lurking just around the corner. Clocks fall back, evenings linger. We seek comfort in our pint glasses and huddle together in cosy pubs – the salad days of beer gardens are officially gone – but it’s not so bad. In fact, our tastes seem to be intrinsically linked to the seasons, so it’s an excellent opportunity to recalibrate the palate. Revisiting inky stouts and spicy ales makes this time of year more bearable.

This year, Total Ale's Matt Curtis hosted Darker Days, the third annual celebration of darker styles and winter warmers. Held at The Duke’s Head in Highgate, it comprised of a five course beer and food pairing menu meticulously curated with help from Chris Hall from Brew by Numbers and Doreen Joy Barber from The Five Points Brewing Co. The food was dished out by Chalé! Let's Eat, a Ghanaian street food pop-up vendor currently enjoying a residency at Duke’s. Greeted by Matt, groups clustered around several wooden tables in the rear of the pub. The event was advertised in full as ‘Darker Days III: Darker Things’, referring to the popular (and already cult classic status) Netflix series Stranger Things. Some decorative touches alluded to this reference.

The Duke's is esteemed for its commendable range on keg and cask – on this evening, the plethora of options included an exclusive keg of Brew by Numbers 08|02 Imperial Stout, Bristol’s Lost & Grounded Brewers' Running with Sceptres and Magic Rock Brewing Co’s Hypnotist, which was launched at Indy Man Beer Con this year. Despite the formidable line-up of beers promised alongside our meal, many attendees happily indulged in another glass on the side. For some, it was the first time they had come across these beers on keg in London.

We were introduced to the 'beer dinner' concept of Darker Days by Matt, who had coordinated the pairings based on characteristics imparted by ingredients and textures. Many were unacquainted with the nuances of Ghanaian cuisine, but Matt was confident that his choices would do the food justice and marry with the West African flavours, spices and sauces. He explained that ‘chalé’ means friend in Ghanaian, used colloquially as an equivalent to ‘mate’ in the United Kingdom. This was an apt theme for our gathering, where we were breaking bread – or eating jollof rice - among friends. In the background, a soundtrack of Ghanaian and West African tracks filled the air.

We began by grazing on kelewele, deep fried plantains spiced with cloves and ginger, as measures of Five Points Old Greg’s Barley Wine were poured. Doreen introduced the beer and clarified the basis of the pairing: a barley wine, with caramel notes and hints of spices, plays off the natural sugars in the plantain. A slight bitterness from the Challenger, Target and EKG hops creeps in, balancing the sweetness of the dish while marrying well with the cloves and ginger.

The vegetarians were then treated to bowls of fried okra with a spicy tomato dip, while meat-eaters were given spicy Supermalt chicken wings with chili sauce. The unique characteristics of each offering called for a different beer; the former was paired with Five Points Hook Island Red to complement the kick of the tomato dip. The rye used in the beer’s malt bill, its mild hop bitterness and bone-dry finish tempered the piquant sauce and harmonised with the okra’s stewed texture.

The chicken wings were battered with Supermalt, so it paired naturally with Five Points Brick Field Brown, another malty tipple with chewy toffee notes that mirrored the sticky coating of the sauce slathered on the wings.

For the heartiest course, vegetarians were served kontomire, spinach and kale in a coconut base with garden peas and butternut squash. The tender chunks of squash and wilted spinach were richly coated coconut and elevated by Brew by Numbers 01|24 Saison Rye, another beer where rye makes an appearance. Rich, slick and sweet, the beer mingled with the strong coconut flavours and mirrored its milky notes.

The meat alternative pairing was beef azi desi, a spicy peanut stew with tender beef steak and okra. It was matched with the decadent, velvety Brew by Numbers 08|02 Imperial Stout. Chris talked us through the profiles of both beers, which were diametrically opposed but equally as delicious.

Desert comprised of a chocolate brownie with beer ice cream, accompanied by Five Points Railway Porter. The chocolate notes from the roasted malts and chewy brownie are obvious bedfellows. They melted together in the mouth, amplifying the richness of the brownie, while the ice cream helped cleanse the palate between bites. A relative no-brainer, but a flavour combination that never fails to satisfy.

Finally, two cheeses were circulated to be enjoyed alongside Brew by Numbers 14|03 Tripel Ella, a glorious Belgian style ale bursting with intensely juicy Australian hops. The yeast esters meld well with cheese, especially the softer and less pungent varieties, where fruity profiles aren’t overwhelmed and lost. Instead, they mingled triumphantly.

The evening drew to a close as the chatter flowed, some people clearly content with lingering until last call. The staff made everyone feel so welcome that it was difficult to leave our dimly lit and snug to face the chill of the November evening. But that’s exactly what we did, moving from Darker Days to a darkened night, already eagerly anticipating next year’s edition. 

London Craft Beer Festival 2016: a review

Last week, I recounted my experience at the London Beer City 2016 opening party. This set a convivial tone for the ten day event and it was only befitting that it concluded on equal terms.

Enter the London Craft Beer Festival, spanning across three days over six sessions from the 12-14 August in East London’s Oval Space. Over thirty breweries were represented, ranging from local familiars to lesser known International brewers. Both keg and cask were featured- Fuller’s Brewery sponsored an entire Cask Yard- and a pop-up bottle shop from Beer Merchants was on site, brimming with rarities to take home. Attendees were beer lovers of every ilk, migrating from stand to stand, sampling and deliberating as they went.

The LCBF, now in its fourth year, has nearly outgrown its britches. Most sessions sold out in advance and the size of the crowds has perceptively grown from previous years. Even the Friday afternoon trade session- habitually a smaller, more casual affair- was teeming with passionate aficionados unconnected to the beer industry. 

Glorious summer weather persisted throughout the weekend with temperatures lingering in the low-to-mid twenties well into the evenings. Industrial fans brought some relief as the main space began to feel like a greenhouse, but there was also ample outdoor space. This included a terrace where Fourpure Brewing Co was set up, perfectly positioned for drinkers who had escaped the stifling heat. The Cask Yard also afforded refuge from the crowds, hosting live music on a small stage and boasting a more low-key ambiance.

Each brewery present at the LCBF alternated their kegs for each session. Magic Rock Brewing Co proffered The Rule of Thirds IPA on Friday and Saturday saw Rhubarbella, a rhubarb braggot. Brew by Numbers dispensed their 14|03 tripel, Ella, late Saturday night, but Friday afternoon drinkers eagerly flocked to taste π|07 from their Pilot Series, a mixed fermentation saison hopped with Enigma, Nelson and Motueka. These examples only scratch the surface of the shuffling, but every session brought another extensive checklist of fresh beers to sample.

I had the privilege to attend three sessions across the weekend and was in a perpetual circuit, tasting everything that caught my eye or was brought to my attention, especially during the trade session. Friday heralded some exemplary beer from a powerhouse bill of breweries. My personal highlights were counterbalanced with some disappointments and, admittedly, my preferences were influenced by the clinging humidity. I generally favoured saisons, pale ales and sours.

I particularly enjoyed the Framboise BA Syrah from Bermondsey’s Anspach & Hobday, a sour/wild ale with qualities of a sublime thirst-quencher: it boasted a juicy, pleasant tartness and finished with bone-dry crispness. Denmark’s wunderkind brewery, To Øl, also had a raspberry beer on: the Roses are Brett saison. It was a deep ruby colour with more sourness on the nose than the Framboise, but revealed the same soft tartness from the fruit and a sharp, refreshing finish.

The aforementioned Brew by Numbers π|07 mixed fermentation saison was a beautifully balanced summer libation that favoured honey-like sweetness from the tropical hops over lip-puckering tanginess. Perhaps the most surprising saison iteration of the day was a spontaneous collaboration between Wiper and True and Partizan Brewing Ltd- I was keen to sample the former’s Barley Wine Keeper Beer, but held some reservations about a sweet drink boasting an ABV of 10%. I was offered a sample blended with Partizan’s Raspberry Lemon saison with the assurance that it married well. The result was crisp raspberry lemonade, the sweetness of the barley wine tempered by the tartness and soft carbonation of the saison. A future collaboration, perhaps?

One of the stars of LCBF was irrefutably Omnipollo, the terrifically imaginative brewers from Sweden, and their Bianca Mango Lassi Gose soft serve. Their Mango Lassi gose, an explosively juicy beer with mango pulp and a hint of sea salt, was topped with a swirl of soft serve ice cream. It was idiosyncratic and popular- given the Sahara-like conditions inside the venue, this hybrid beer/soft serve drew an perpetual queue throughout both the Friday and Saturday sessions.

Cloudwater Brew Co generated a frenzy of anticipation as the Saturday afternoon session kicked off; the new versions 6 and 7 of their ever-transforming DIPA, both relying on a different strain of yeast in fermentation, were available. Although drinkers made a beeline to their stall, the kegs lasted for two hours. The version 6 seemed to sway most palates, demonstrating explosive fruity notes that were sweet, tropical and dangerously palatable, its ABV masked entirely. My preference was the version 7- albeit somewhat controversially. The huge fruit characteristics were dialed down and there was a pleasantly bitter finish that achieved a perfect balance. Both were intensely drinkable, however.

During the Saturday session, Weird Beard Brew Co were dispensing some notable beers, most notably the Hops Maiden England, an English pale ale showcasing UK hop varietals- this version featured Olicana, UK Cascade and UK Chinook hops. It was a shift away from the earthy and malty profiles of traditional English ales; instead, it exerted more character with citrus and resinous qualities associated with US varieties. We later tried their newly launched imperial IPA, Defacer- an assault of Sorachi Ace lightly tempered with toffee and malty notes. But the hops prevailed- I’m a fan of Sorachi Ace and this was serious rocket fuel.

The Beavertown Brewery stall was also a hub of activity, serving some rare examples from their Phantom series, which focuses on infused Berliner Weisse and gose styles. I spotted the Dame Melba Phantom (peach and raspberry), Pearvert Phantom (pear and gooseberry), Yuzilla Phantom (yuzu and dried lime), St Clements (Blood Orange and Lemon) and Earl Phantom (dry-hopped with Earl Grey tea). From the recent Tempus Project, the brewery's experimentation with wild yeast and bacteria and barrel aging, both collaborations with Founders Brewing Co briefly appeared- the Brux and Claussenii Brettanomyces IPAs- and also the Deimos, a sherry barrel aged Weizendoppelbock. Those that I was fortunate enough to catch were equally impressive- all of the Phantoms were deliciously sour and intensely flavoursome.

Turning to darker beers and harking back to Beavertown, their 'Spresso scotch barrel aged imperial espresso stout was a potent hit of rich espresso, proving highly aromatic and intensely smooth on the palate. The devilish Nao Pecan Mudcake stout from Omnipollo is more of a liquified dessert than a beer- and perilously drinkable. Yellow Belly, a peanut butter biscuit stout collaboration between Buxton Brewery and Omnipollo, was just as moreish with a harmonious blend of sticky sweet and savoury flavours.

The Cask Yard made its maiden appearance at LCBF this year- located only a short jaunt from Oval Space, it was still overlooked by many attendees. We were free to work our way through a vast range, including Sierra Nevada Brewing Co’s Torpedo IPA , Double Summer from the Yeastie Boys Brewery and Fuller's and the Espresso Stout from Dark Star Brew Co, which retained a complex spectrum of characteristics from the expresso beans. It was reminiscent of a cold brew coffee- mellow sweetness without lingering acidity.

As each session unfolded, I found myself revisiting the same beers in succession. Despite feeling that I’d undertaken a drinking odyssey of epic proportions, I missed some laudable beers and overlooked some breweries entirely. But as my stamina waned, I was drawn towards the dance floor and the real spirit of LCBF resonated with me: I was drinking great beer in the company of great people.

So there you have it: London Beer City 2016 came to a close at the London Craft Beer Festival with a group of us belting out Together in Electric Dreams, hugging glasses of Brew by Numbers’ 14|03 Tripel. It's not difficult to see why it drew such large crowds this year and leaves me wondering how it will evolve to meet the increased interest in 2017.

London Brewers' Market July 2016: A review

Last Saturday, Old Spitalfields Market hosted droves of music lovers, imbibers and the arrival of sweltering summer temperatures. The latest edition of the London Brewers’ Market, held in conjunction with the Independent Label Market, transformed the East London space into a literal oasis. The public were invited to explore the ranges of 27 London breweries under the market’s glass canopy, against the backdrop of a soundtrack provided by a line-up of DJs.  

Kegs prolifically flowed as the afternoon heated up and stands welcomed steady crowds of inquisitive drinkers. Smaller breweries were manned by head brewers and founders- sometimes both- who animatedly spoke of their ethos, brewing process and future growth. Given the expanding community of independent brewers across the capital, some attendees were afforded their first opportunity to swill a beer from their local brewery. Areas such as Brixton, Croydon and Herne Hill were represented, indicative that breweries are no longer consecrated to Bermondsey and Hackney alone. 

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While pints and half pints still reigned supreme as the measurement of choice, there was a discernible amount of canned beers in circulation. Drinkers loved the convenience of cans, reducing the need to queue and keeping beer chilled in the oppressive heat. Standard 330ml cans were ubiquitous, but there was another resounding success in the form of the 500ml 'tallboy' can: the Juicebox IPA from stalwarts Fourpure Brewing Co. Its generous sizing was paired with a punchy design, catching the eye of neighbouring drinkers. In addition to this, a further development in canning was offered from The London Beer Factory, the first brewery in the United Kingdom to use 360° can designs, which allows the top of the vessel to peel away to reveal a cup shape. 

More than a single afternoon would be required to sample everything that caught my eye, but some of the beers were consistently on the lips of bloggers, writers and friends. Following the advice of my erudite colleagues, I was fortunate enough to try some standout examples and I’ve compiled my picks of July’s LBM below. 

  1. Juicebox citrus IPA from Fourpure Brewing Co: I’ve already extolled the aesthetic virtues of the packaging, but the contents inside of the can merit just as much crowing. This is a tsunami of citrus aromas and flavours and was, in my opinion, the superior thirst-quencher of the day. Orange zest and mango on the nose are balanced with crisp bitterness from the hops, making this a seminal summer beer. 

  2. Snake's Alive DIPA from One Mile End Brewery: The LBM was abuzz over the relaunched Snake’s Alive DIPA and it lived up to the hype. It’s a smooth, harmonious DIPA with a sneaky ABV of 8%. A soft, sweet nose with hints of tropical fruits ranging from peach to mango, the malts are smooth and sweet, but all is tempered by a glorious dry finish. Proving popular on the day, this is perhaps the brewery’s most exciting beer yet.     

  3. Milou saison from Bullfinch BreweryA fantastic Belgian pale ale that was brewed for a sun-drenched afternoon. Nice fruity notes from the yeast, the creamy mouthfeel that you’d expect from a wheat beer and subtle bitterness from the noble hops combine to deliver a mellow and refreshing drink. This is a fine example of the great range available from this Herne Hill favourite. 

  4. VIPA from OddlyMarking their inaugural visit to LBM, Oddly’s IPAs were catching the attention of drinkers- in particular, the unusual offering of this IPA infused with masala chai, which resulted in a highly drinkable beer. It was extremely aromatic with a marriage of spicy earthiness from the chai with Citra hops for an enormously palatable and modern take on the IPA.  

  5. 05|18 India Pale Ale: Galaxy & Nelson from Brew by Numbers: It’s not unexpected that the masters of consistent and adventurous beers were decanting another knock-out. This time, it was in the guise of an IPA hopped with Galaxy and Nelson hops. Perfectly matched with the sunshine, the antipodean hops brought a chorus of tropical notes rounded off with a nice, clean bitter finish. This one really danced on the palate with lots of crisp, bright flavours and aromas. 

While the summer weather undeniably favoured temptingly refreshing IPAs, the above examples really stood out as exceptional. Alongside the rising popularity of cans, a quick recce of the LBM crowd confirmed that the IPA is alive and well- a rainbow of Juicebox tins and hazy golden pints certified this.  

Whether or not this is a barometer to gauge current trends in the beer industry is difficult to tell, but there's one thing for certain: this is how customers, both committed fans of beer and those who merely found themselves there on the day, were drinking. And that's the joy of LBM, a free event open to the public- it's about the beer and the breweries, no gimmicks- there's no purer form of democracy than voting with a pint glass.

The London Brewers' Market is organised and managed by The Five Points Brewing Company. Be sure to keep an eye on their website for upcoming events.