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.

The Angel of Bow is here, bringing Redemption to East London

Beer drinkers of Bow, take heed: The Angel of Bow has opened its doors. A concept from The Angelic Pub Company and Redemption Brewing Company, the pub boasts over 15 lines that are exclusively reserved for East London breweries. On cask, you’ll find Redemption permanently available, making this a significant addition to the East London craft drinking scene.

Formerly Kitsons, the pub was once a destination in London for live music. The new proprietor will continue this tradition, promising jazz sessions on Sundays. As for the kitchen, food will be heavily inspired by nearby Billingsgate Market and will include Seafood Saturdays and an oyster bar on Friday and Saturday evenings. The Redemption and Angelic Pub partnership will see the opening of a further six pubs across London – they intend to turn around the fate of neglected sites and create more attractive spaces that appeal to London’s drinkers.

Redemption Brewery Cask Angel of Bow

Redemption is a stalwart of the London craft scene, founded in 2009 by Andy Moffat. They recently unveiled a shiny new brewery in Tottenham with a taproom that draws in impressive crowds on Saturday afternoons. Part of the Tottenham crawl, which includes Beavertown Brewery, One Mile End Brewery and Affinity Brewing Company (with Pressure Drop Brewing soon to be added to the bill), Redemption remains as popular as ever with both their cask and keg ranges, although they predominately focus on sessionable strength cask ales.

On The Angel's opening night, both locals and curious beer drinkers filled up the pub, which is surprisingly cavernous on the inside. With the scent of fresh paint still wafting in the air, there were tables and chairs dotted around the space and a fireplace on one far wall. The surface of the bar is made from slabs of slate, an unusual sight – but this isn't the only quirky feature in The Angel. In the women's toilets, there is a hairdryer for patrons who have been caught out in the rain. And the men's loos are segregated into urinals and cubicles - which one door marked 'one' and the other 'two'.

Angel of Bow Pub Keg

The keg selection was commendable, with some highlights including the Pale from East London Brewing Co, Black Vinyl Stout from Signature Brew, Kapow! pale ale from Hackney Brewery, Jack of Clubs from Wild Card Brewery, the Railway Porter from The Five Points Brewing Company and Untraditional Lager from Villages. The fridges are also brimming with a decent selection.

Angel of Bow

The Angel of Bow has bundles of potential and is a welcome addition to East London. The staff were still learning the ropes on its opening night, but were eager and friendly, and the kitchen won't be open until later this year. Cask drinkers will be thrilled to hear that they're committed to becoming a haven for properly served cask ales in London and hope to start collecting CAMRA awards very soon. There was some talk of Redemption also putting their stamp on the venue given their contribution to the venture, so the pub should feel more lived in and even quirkier in the coming months.

And if jazz isn't your thing, don't fret – we were reassured that there would be a variety of live music lined up, including indie rock. Yes, there's a lot in the pipeline, but for now The Angel of Bow is still a sure bet for tasty beer in the area.

The Angel of Bow can be found at 171 Devons Rd, London E3 3QX.

Tryanuary Tour du Pub 2017 with Five Points Brewing

For the second year running, I joined Doreen Joy Barber from The Five Points Brewing Company around a curated selection of exceptional pubs. In 2016, we visited some of East London's drinking highlights, but this time, we were set to discover some of the best that the Old Street & Islington area has to offer. The tour de pub promoted the Tryanuary initiative to encourage better, more adventurous drinking, with all proceeds from the ticket price and raffle tickets sold on the day benefitting St Joseph’s Hospice.

This year’s endeavour was slightly outside of my usual stomping ground, which made it all the more enticing. I work around Liverpool Street – only a short jaunt away from the excursion’s starting point – but habitually rely upon Brewdog Shoreditch for any rendezvous in the area, mostly out of ease, convenience and its proximity to the overground. I was therefore keen to explore further afield.

On Saturday the 21 January, convened at the Old Fountain, just a stone’s throw from Old Street station. We were scheduled to visit four pubs throughout the afternoon, spending about an hour at each destination to soak in the beer and the ambiance. Our group was large and to mitigate a sudden bombardment on smaller pubs, we were split into two groups and staggered our arrival times. Everyone was given an itinerary in case they lollygagged along the way.

The Old Fountain was a pub that I knew, typically bursting with city drinkers on weekday nights. On a Saturday afternoon, it was much more tranquil, giving us ample time to explore their vast beer selection. They had Brugse Zot on tap, that intensely drinkable blond from De Halve Maan that I had enjoyed in Brussels only the week before, and the excellent I Fear The Ferryman from Verdant Brewing Co, a sweet and silky stout. The pub itself is surprisingly spacious and I’ve heard great things about their roof garden, but it was sadly under repair on our visit (and it was January). 

Assigned to Doreen’s group, we moved on, taking a short walk to The Wenlock Arms, where we were warmly greeted and offered a free half by the publican because we were in good company (read: Doreen). I savoured Siren Craft Brew’s Soundwave on cask, which was so clean and refreshing that I vowed to drink it more frequently. We circled the pub, where keys from a piano in the backroom were occasionally plunked and a dog sighed contentedly next to the lit fire. After a game of darts, I enjoyed a crisp South Pacific Pale from Redemption Brewing and Weird Beard Brew Co on keg, sitting down and remarking the casual, community vibe of this venue.

Another short stroll brought us on to the Earl of Essex, which was much more livelier than the previous stops. I’ve been to some of the Earl’s sister pubs around London and the atmosphere was equivalent, with the drinks list prominently displayed across two wooden boards. This pub has a small brewing set-up behind the bar, including a mash-tun and fermenter tank, but it looked pristine, unused and just for show. Brewing in this space would be a nightmare, but it was a conversation point. Here, I had the most memorable drink of the day – a Drink'in Cucumber Berliner sour from Mikkeller - which was bursting with cucumber and hints of sharp vinegar, redolent of tzatziki, but deftly balanced, making it zingy and light.

Our final destination was The Three Johns, a vibrant, spacious pub that offers a commendable pizza menu in addition to their fine beer selection. We had an area booked and some of us tucked into dinner here, washed down with some more Siren Soundwave on keg, a solid IPA from Cloudwater Brew Co and a reliable Gamma Ray from Beavertown Brewery. The atmosphere here was trendy but relaxed, making us happy to graze here until the early evening, chatting with friends and the rest of our group.

The 2017 Tryanuary pub crawl was a resounding success, showing off the crème de la crème of an area of London less travelled - by me, that is. I would happily revisit any of these stops and I'm glad to have them on my radar. I think I owe someone another round of darts anyway, so we'll be back at The Wenlock Arms for a rematch soon.