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.

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 Beer City 2016: a round-up of ceremonies

As quickly as it arrived, bringing elation into the hearts of London’s beer drinkers, London Beer City 2016 came to a thunderous conclusion. It concluded with the fourth London Craft Beer Festival, but there was a succession of events that unfolded across ten days in August- and each one was varied and unmissable in its own right.

While it was physically impossible to attend everything billed in the schedule, I participated in a good cross-section of this year’s offerings. Almost a week later- and after a well-earned repose from the amount of beer consumed and socialising - I’m ready to recapitulate some of my personal highlights.

From 5 – 14 August- The London Beer Hunt: Undertaken alongside friends at Honest Brew, I set out on a wild goose chase around East London, ricocheting from pub to pub equipped with only a map and some cryptic clues. We collected a series of words from five stops to reveal a password, entitling us to a free 2/3 pint of the London Beer City pale at the final venue. Apps and smartphones were permitted, so we were never left in the lurch, but the real fun came from the expedition itself- I discovered some unfamiliar spots with killer selections of beer flowing, including The King’s Arms , where we worked our way through their Sierra Nevada Brewing Company tap takeover and tactfully secured their last can of Mikkeller's Hallo Ich Bin Berliner Weisse Sour Cherries. We also managed to swill examples from Siren Craft Brew and Forest Road Brewing Co along the way, making the Beer Hunt a very fruitful endeavour.

Saturday the 6 August- The London Beer City Opening Party: held at The Five Points Brewing Co’swarehouse yard, I penned an in-depth overview of this event here. This was the perfect harbinger of things to come- I caught up with some old friends, met some new ones and tried a range of impressive beer. Each of the tasting sessions were first-rate and gave the opportunity to sample some exciting and rare examples from Beavertown Brewery’s Phantom Series and the Tempus Project, revisit some favourites from Five Points and further appreciate the excellent range at Fourpure Brewing Co. The weather was tremendous and the rotating beers- over 40 throughout the afternoon- kept the atmosphere buzzing as kegs were switched over.

Sunday the 7 August- The Hangover Club with Northern Monk at The Duke’s Head: Emceed by beer writer Matt Curtis, this was the ideal event following the opening party, allowing us to nurse our hangovers in a very congenial setting. In the presence of Brain Dickson, brewer from Northern Monk Brew Co, a group of us were treated to a smoked porter brewed especially for the event, a punchy Bloody Mary, the new Smallbanger shandy from Square Root Soda and a journey through some of Northern Monk’s range. A mini-podcast interview was recorded onsite and there was free-flowing banter in the environs of The Duke’s Head, a pub that purveys a commendable section of local beer.

Wednesday the 10 August- New Zealand Embassy and Hellzapoppin Launch with Yeastie Boys and Signature Brew at The Commercial Tavern: In advance of undertaking the London Beer Hunt, our team convened at the Commercial Tavern on a very special night- it perhaps wasn’t that serendipitous, as it transpired that a large contingency of our team were Kiwis. Irrespective of this, we showed up with plenty of time to sample the excellent range of beers showcasing New Zealand breweries, including Hellzapoppin from The Yeastie Boys, a hot smoked IPA that packed a wallop of heat and barbecue char. We also had a sneaky sip of Gunnamatta- a Yeastie Boys classic- and tried the Anticipation, a Japanese rice beer on cask and collaboration with Signature Brew. The apex of the evening was meeting Stu McKinlay, one half of the transoceanic Yeastie Boys duo, who is one of the friendliest and sprightly brewers in the business.

From 12 – 14 August- The London Craft Beer Festival: East London’s Oval Space hosted the climax of London Beer City 2016, welcoming over thirty breweries to proffer their most exciting and faithful core beers to a teeming group of enthusiasts. Across three days (and six sessions), drinkers had the opportunity to sample some rare and small-batch beers in addition to some more innovative iterations. Again, I wrote extensively about the beers that I tried across two afternoons here, but there were some perceptible trends, including: barrel aging, fruit-infused sours and some seriously moreish stouts. The cask yard, sponsored by Fuller’s Brewery, was a nice addition and held a plethora of treasures, including Dark Star Brewing Co’s Espresso Stout. As far as a closing ceremony goes, it was a befitting one that brought industry and non-industry types together in celebration of the evolution and growth of London’s beer culture.

This is only the briefest of round-ups of the incredible events that took place from the 5 - 14 August 2016 for London Beer City, but hopefully it pays an adequate homage to another successful festival. If nothing else, let this whet appetites for next year’s edition, which will undeniably be more expansive with even more events crammed into ten days.