Pigs Ear Beer & Cider Festival 2017: a crafty cask event in Hackney

Hackney’s Round Chapel hosts the 34th Pigs Ear Beer & Cider Festival, the annual event from the East London and City CAMRA branch. Running between the 5th and 9th December 2017, with over 230 beers and ciders listed, the festival features contributions from a number of London’s best craft breweries.

The format of Pigs Ear is slightly fiddly, with a refundable glass purchase and beer card required before stepping up to any of the bars. The beer card is divided into lines of 10p denominations. The £10 starter pack included a glass and a card to the value of £7 – and you can manage four halves with this with a few 10p to spare. Drinkers are encouraged to donate their beer cards with any remaining balance to charity, but could also pay any difference for a drink on the bar.

Pigs Ear Beer Festival

The venue is much tighter than the sprawling Olympia space, where the Great British Beer Festival is held, and it did allow for a livelier and bustling atmosphere because of the more compact space. Tuesday night’s industry crowd were naturally enthusiastic about some of the rare cask samplings from London breweries, with a high representation from East London breweries in particular.

Pigs Ears Beer Festival Cask

The styles offered ranged from hoppy IPAs to robust imperial stouts and we were generally impressed with the quality and the flavours of the beers that we sampled. The Five Points Brewing Company had their Green Hopped English Bitter brewed with Bullion hops, which packed a bursting profile of earthiness and citrus, despite having been originally released a month ago.

Hackney Brewery’s Blueberry Sour was next, a beer with a velvety rich stout base and a healthy addition of blueberries, which don’t register the palate until a few sips in. The fruit addition elevates this from merely an accomplished stout to something interesting without being cloying.

Perhaps the most rewarding discovery was the Jazz Police DDH IPA from One Mile End Brewery, a highly drinkable example with bursting tropical notes from a rigorous dry-hopping and the addition of Amarillo and Simcoe hops. A punchy, modern take on an IPA suited cask without any detriment to the beer – this was one that you could graze on happily for an entire evening without a single regret.

Pigs Ear Beer Festival

Next, a collaboration between Redemption Brewing Company and The Kernel Brewery, a Victorian Mild, also left an impression with sticky caramel notes and zesty Amarillo hops. Creamy smooth and packing a 6% ABV, this was another beer that slipped down and provoked a nod of approval. This was originally brewed by the breweries in 2011 and was worth resurrecting.

Another beer sampled in smaller measure was the boozy Anthology from Signature Brew, a bold imperial stout with deep, dark cocoa flavours and an intensely complex body. Having also tried this in can following the event, there is an interesting smokiness on the palate picked up in the cask version.

Pigs Ear succeeds on a number of fronts, with obliging volunteers, delicious hot food (despite the limitations of a very small space and kitchen) from the likes of Capish? and steaming hot pies and mash also seemed popular with punters. The selection of beers was commendable and the involvement of local breweries really make the festival worth a visit. The one aspect missed at these larger scale events is the close interaction with the brewers themselves, something that the London Brewers’ Market in particular achieves.

However, as a showcase of a huge amount of excellent and interesting cask beers, Pigs Ear demonstrated that cask events can achieve a great atmosphere with limited fuss, provided that the beer selection is worthwhile.

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.