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.