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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.