The Tryanuary Hackney Beer Hop: where to drink in Hackney Wick in 2018

The annual Tryanuary pub crawl guided by The Five Points Brewing Company returned to East London last month. It aspired to showcase some of what Hackney Wick has to offer, leading a group between five locations – or that was the plan, at least.

While it didn’t go entirely as envisioned, the crawl, dubbed The Hackney Beer Hop, achieved its main objective: encouraging drinkers to experience some of the area’s now established bars, breweries and tank bars. Hackney Wick has been a hub of brewery activity for a few years, since Tap East began serving – and brewing – out of Westfield Stratford City, the behemoth shopping centre that opened to the public in 2011.

Tap East Westfield

Acting as the designated starting point for our journey, we crowded into Tap East, which is the easiest meeting point because of Westfield’s convenient public transport links. The bar is tucked away in the Great Eastern Market area on the ground floor, within eyeshot of Stratford International station. Tap East boasts both cask and keg across 16 lines and often hosts a varied selection of styles and regions. We started on an easy-drinking NZ Pale from Electric Bear Brewing as stragglers joined our group.

With takeaway cans of Five Points Pils and XPA to sip en route, the group filed between Tap East and our next stop, Crate Brewery, trekking through the Olympic Park and across the River Lee. A good 15 minutes’ walk gave us adequate time to mingle and drink before approaching the White Building, home to the Crate taproom.

Crate Brewery

Crate had increased the size of its seating area since we last visited, give us ample space and opportunity to pull up a chair. We went in for sour beers and the Lemon Gose proved a refreshing choice. The space was welcoming – not nearly as rammed as it gets on a balmy summer’s day, when it can be an epic mission to get to the bar.

Howling Hops Tank Bar

Crate conveniently backs onto the next stop, Howling Hops. The UK’s first tank bar, where beer is served fresh from fermenter tanks, was equally as relaxed. Here, we enjoyed a number of different styles, including a creamy hefeweizen and a velvety Black Forest Gateau stout. Drinking in this old Victorian warehouse space, renovated with only minimalist flourishes, really epitomises the aesthetic of East London's craft beer scene.

After crossing the canal, we were due to head to Four Quarters East on Canalside of Here East, the sophomore site of the popular Peckham retro gaming arcade and bar. However, due to a clash of our timing – we were twenty minutes ahead of schedule – and the unmistakable presence of a children’s birthday party, we opted to proceed directly to our final destination, which was thankfully located next door.

Mason & Company

Mason & Company is where the Hackney Hop came to its glorious conclusion. We piled into the bustling bar, joining the Saturday crowd. The beer menu kept many of us here, where we enjoyed Dairy Freak from Magic Rock Brewing, a sticky sweet milk stout, and Pressure Drop Brewery’s classic Pale Fire in addition to a few pints of Five Points Pils.

The Hackney Beer Hop is still evolving, but currently has a few solid options for craft beer within a tiny radius. From the 24th February, the new Beer Merchants Tap blendery and taproom will add another site for those who have a penchant for sour and wild beers. Everyone is eagerly anticipating this exciting venture, the first of its kind in the UK, which will undoubtedly prove popular from its launch.

Hackney Wick is becoming increasingly appealing to drinkers as an alternative to the Bermondsey Beer Mile. It already makes for an ideal Saturday crawl, but by the end of this month, it will boast yet another attraction to drive more craft beer fans to East London.

Heist Bank Beer Festival: city sleek with lots of cask

The first Heist Bank Beer Festival was held in Paddington on the 14th and 15th October, bringing craft beer from around the world to a pizza and beer joint in London. A selection of over 100 beers from more than 30 breweries was pouring from keg and cask while workshops were held in the bar’s basement.

Heist Bank is a sleek city space with an industrial vibe and casual atmosphere. It boasts twelve taps for pints or growler fills and a wood fired oven for their house specialty, sourdough pizza. The space excludes quirky personality, jazzed up with a collection of generously scattered street art, and is complete with a fully-stocked games room downstairs.

Heist Bank Paddington Beer Festival Cask

It worked surprisingly well as a location for a beer festival, where cask beer was lined up in two areas perpendicular to the bar. The taps were subsidised by a second pop-up bar, where the classic Salty Kiss from Magic Rock Brewing Company rubbed shoulders with the Mormora Sour with Coffee from Cloudwater Brewing Co.

With a £15 ticket, attendees were given two tokens for cask beers and one for a slice of pizza, with the latter quickly flying out of the oven. The cask selection was truly the highlight of the event, with an impressive line-up and everything tasting superbly fresh. Following pints of Wylam Brewery’s Jakehead to Tiny Rebel Brewing Company’s Stay Puft, we were reticent to move on to keg, but we did find DEYA Brewing Company’s juicy Into the Haze was worth every cent.

Heist Bank Paddington Beer Festival

Wild Beer Co hosted a workshop on blending during the Saturday evening session, giving attendees the chance to sample their beers while hearing about the complexities of barrel-aging and brewing with wild yeasts, two of the brewery’s benchmarks. As a special treat, a rare keg of Winter Blend 2015 was tasted, which had been magicked up for the occasion. It was a glorious beer with tartness from sour cherries, hints of vinegar acidity and generous berry flavours. On the nose was vinegar, berries and funk.

Pizza fresh from the oven was washed down with Pint from Marble Brewery while a DJ kept the atmosphere light. The festival was rightfully busy – with our session sold out – and impressed with its selection, which we were told had been curated by a Certified Cicerone on staff. Both the keg and cask lists were equally as appealing and the relaxed ambiance – and maybe the tasty pizza – won us over.

Thank you to the Heist Bank PR team for inviting me along to the Saturday evening session.

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. 

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.

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.