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.

Tryanuary 2018: a spotlight on East London breweries

It's that time of year again: Tryanuary is here. Since 2015, this campaign has encourage people to support the beer industry throughout the month of January. Instead of subscribing to recent movements like Dryanuary, the Tryanuary initiative asks us to support local and independent businesses during the year's most challenging month.

Offering a counterpoint to the Dryanuary movement, which has gained significant traction in recent years, Tryanuary doesn't ask us to drink more than we've comfortable with. In fact, it recognises that many of us will be cutting back on excesses following an indulgent Christmas period. It suggests that we make the beer that we drink count and that we drink conscientiously. And, of course, we should aim to do this year round, so it serves as an excellent perrenial goalpost for drinkers.

Today, January 5th, marks the campaign's spotlight on London, and in light of this, we wanted to direct eyeballs towards the official Tryanuary Twitter account, which will be manned by a group of passionate volunteers to represent specific areas of the city. This is a fantastic way to become acquainted with breweries that lie beyond the boundaries of your residential postcode.

In East London, we have covered some of our favourite and/or the newest breweries to pop up, including:

Crate Brewery

Crate Brewery
Five Points Brewing Company
Hackney Brewery
One Mile End Brewery
Pillars Brewery
Wild Card Brewery

Wild Card Brewery: a brewery holding all of the aces

We've also featured some of our favourite local venues that are deserving of your support, including:

Angel of Bow

Angel of Bow
Mason and Company

Salvation for Stratford: Mason & Company launch

While this list is not conclusive (there's a glaring admission of Howling Hops Brewery and tank bar, for instance), it does demonstrate that brewing is alive and well in East London. If you would like to see some of what Hackney Wick has to to offer specifically, The Five Points Brewing is hosting their annual Tryanuary pub crawl  – the Hackney Beer Hop – on Saturday, the 27 January, which includes some of the aforementioned spots. We've attended and enjoyed these in the past (here and here) and it's well worth the £7 charity donation.

However you decide to observe Tryanuary, we hope that you discover some new and thrilling beers, breweries and venues along the way.

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.

Poppies Pale Ale: Five Points perfectly paired with fish n' chips

It’s been a busy few months for The Five Points Brewing Company with the release of their Field Day Citrus Pale and their acquisition of the adjacent arch at their Hackney Downs site. Despite this, they’ve made time to collaborate with Poppies, London fish and chips stalwart, on a beer brewed to perfectly complement the nation’s most iconic dish.

Poppies Pale Ale is launching today, on National Fish and Chips Day, and will be available at all Poppies sites across the city.

Poppies Soho London

Most Londoners will know Poppies because of its venerated fish and chips. In a city where such a classic and simple dish can go so wrong, Poppies is always a safe bet. It’s down to their legacy and attention to quality; the fish used is delivered straight from Billingsgate market and is filleted in-house by skilled staff. They’ve been serving up great food since 1952, when Pat ‘Pop’ Newland founded the Spitalfields site. He was the real deal: a born and bred East Londoner who began working on a fish and chips stall on Roman Road Market at the tender age of 11.

Although Poppies has been around for over half a century, their ethos is modern and all of their fish is sustainable. Their partnership with Five Points intrinsically fits too; here are two companies firmly rooted in East London and have similar local focus. As you’d expect from the brewery, Five Points didn’t take this challenge flippantly – Poppies Pale Ale was meticulously devised and brewed to ensure that it was the superlative companion to Poppies’ specialty dish, from complementing the crispy batter to cutting through the hot, stodgy chips.

Beer and food matching is something that’s increasing in popularity, as the growing number of pairing events hosted by breweries around London demonstrates. But do we really need a curated beer to accompany our cheeky hit of fish and chips? Well, Poppies Pale Ale stands on its own as a highly drinkable pale. In accordance with the local focus of Poppies, the beer uses only British malts and hops, which gives it bitterness to cut through fatty foods, but has enough zesty citrus in the body to balance this and make it intensely refreshing on its own.

Five Points Poppies Pale Ale

A lot of care has gone into getting the recipe just right, from the involvement of beer sommeliers from drinks agency Boutique Bar Brands to having the Poppies team give their feedback. This is the first time Five Points have worked with a restaurant to brew a bespoke beer and, based on the reactions of the team, they seem delighted with the result. So here we have a beer that stands on its own as a worthy choice, but also tastes exceptional when fish and chips are added to the equation. If it comes down to savouring a beer solo, or over a box of steaming chips and flaky battered fish, I know what I’d choose, though.

The beer will be unveiled across all Poppies locations – that’s in Spitalfields, Soho and Camden – from today.

Thank you to the team at Five Points for inviting me along to a preview tasting of Poppies Pale Ale.

Five Points x Field Day Citrus Pale: getting fruity with cat cans

For the second year running, Hackney's The Five Points Brewing Company has teamed up with Field Day to brew the superlative summer beer. The brief was simple: to produce a thirst-quenching and highly sessionable drink, ideal for, say, one of East London’s premier music festivals. Field Day is taking place at Victoria Park on Saturday the 3rd June 2017, but don't worry – the beer will stick around all summer long.

In 2016, the Five Points x Field Day partnership resulted in the Ten Points, a delicious extra pale that has since been inducted into the Five Points’ range as their XPA. The XPA recipe was slightly refined, making it a touch more bitter, but its ABV remains at 4%, resulting in a breezily, yet intensely flavoursome, choice. This year, there are two notable aspects to the collaboration: it’s a fruit beer – a first for The Five Points – and, well, cats. Yes, the cans are adorned with five feisty felines.

Five Points Brewing Co Field Day Citrus Pale

An obvious detour from the clean and consistent Five Points branding, the cats are all in good fun; they refer to this year’s Field Day branding, which prominently features fluffy friends. It’s irreverent, eye-catching and a conversation point; the five cats featured across the cans as a photograph set upon an orange sherbet background actually belong to members of the brewery (with the exception of one puss, Noodles, who is owned by the Field Day organiser). The cats will be rolled out one-by-one and currently Astrid, a black and white beauty with piercing green eyes, has been unveiled.

The visuals are only the beginning, though. The beer, Field Day Citrus Pale, saw the Five Points foraying into unfamiliar territory. Working alongside their good pals and neighbours, Square Root London, they acquired both grapefruit and Sicilian lemons in abundance. The former hailed from a farm that isn’t certified organic yet – but is on the cusp – and the lemons are organic. The zest from these prime ingredients was added to the beer in addition to Mosiac hops, another first for Five Points. Mosaic was selected for this venture because of its versatility and intensely fruit-forward qualities.

The Citrus Pale comes in at 4.2% and is clean and crisp, but don’t expect too much fruit character. Instead, the subtle hints of citrus are a background feature that linger nicely in the aftertaste. It’s accessible and refreshing, making it the perfect choice for a diverse crowd. The 16 BBL batch was split into two tanks and there’s talk of one being dry-hopped for even more prominent aromas and flavour. However, there’s a chance that the delicate grapefruit notes will be lost and that the final product will be hazier as a consequence.

Five Points Brewing Co Field Day Brew

Using fruit in a beer presents its own problems, mostly with issues of clarity – this has been overcome by extending the boil by 15 minutes. Because it would require lenghty periods of time in fermentation to clarify the beer further, the small amount of cloudiness has been embraced. And if you get a cloudy pint of Citrus Pale, you know that it’s fresh.

Five Points Brewing Co Hop Gun

With a dry-hopped batch of Citrus Pale proposed, this will give the Five Points an opportunity to use their newly acquired hop gun, equipment that emphasises the aromas in a beer. The entire contents of a fermenter vessel is circulated through the hop gun, increasing the quantity of essential oils present in the finished beer. The circulation process takes a couple of hours and this is a substantial brewery investment that will result in more delicious beers for years to come. The brewery has also splashed out on a state-of-the-art lab, which will allow them to monitor quality and ensure consistency of their beers going forward.

Five Points Brewing Co Barrels

With the inevitable success of the Citrus Pale in addition to their popular Five Points Pale and Pils, the final addition to the Five Points inventory comes as a relief to their space issues: a new arch, situated just next door from the brewery, has recently been acquired after lengthy negotiations with Network Rail. There’s now space for their barrel aging project, where the Railway Porter and Old Greg’s Barley Wine happily sits contained in wine barrels from Burgundy, France.

So we can relish a summer of moggy puns from the Five Points on social media. And seeing as there's a plethora of exciting developments going on behind the scenes too, even if felines don't take your fancy, there's a great deal to look forward to from the brewery. In the meanwhile, the Citrus Pale is a perfect way to welcome the Summer of 2017. Now if we could only find a sun beam to sprawl out in...

I was invited to taste the Citrus Pale by the Five Points, but this has not affected my opinions.

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.

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.


Stokey Beer Fest 2017: a review

It was audacious to propose a beer festival in January, a time of year plagued with post-Christmas tightening of strings and the Dryanuary initiative. However, Stokey Beer Fest organiser Chris Martin proved the sceptics wrong and saw his event at capacity during both of its sessions on Saturday, the 21 January 2017. But he was on tenterhooks until the eleventh hour, as more than half of the tickets sold only days before the event. Incredibly, he found himself literally turning people away on the day due to its overwhelming success.

Eight breweries were showcased alongside an on-site bottle shop provided by Mother Kelly’s and gin distiller Jensen’s for the spirit drinkers. For sustenance, Provisions were on hand, curating delicious plates of cheese, charcuterie and bread. As people streamed through the doors of Abney Hall in Stoke Newington on a bright Saturday afternoon, they were each given a festival glass and a stamp card for a 1/3 pint sample from each of the breweries. In addition to stalls, attendees were offered a 1/3rd of the Discontinued ESB, a beer brewed especially for the day following a series of Twitter polls to determine a style and recipe for this beer of the people.

The hall was amply spacious for the scope of the event and queues for a drink rarely surpassed two people deep at the busiest of times. Brewers were on hand, happily mingling and talking visitors through their beers. For one of the breweries, Suffolk-based Little Earth Project, this was their inaugural festival experience. They were thrilled at the turn-out and the kudos received for their excellent sours. They specialise in mixed culture fermentation and their Brett Terroir had a beautiful delicate tart and funk notes, redolent of a bone-dry farmhouse cider.

Ubrew, the open brewery based in Bermondsey arches, was selling their new canned beers. Two of the breweries - Brewage à Trois and Seven Sisters Brewery –also rely upon Ubrew’s facilities to brew their range, so there was a palpable sense of camaraderie in the hall. East London’s own 40 Ft Brewery and Howling Hops were serving up some enticing styles, including a Märzen from the former and a Double Chocolate Coffee Toffee Vanilla Milk Porter from the latter. The Solvay Society won drinkers over with a delicious dry-hopped sour that was available in both a standard and barrel-aged form; the depth and complexity of the barrel-aged version was beautifully tart and a personal highlight of the festival.

Elusive Brewing was on my radar the one given the recent buzz around the brewery. Brewing on a 5BBL kit in Finchampstead, Berkshire, Andy Parker is the man behind the beer. Andy’s pedigree is inarguable, having won the title of National Homebrew Champion in 2014, and his beers have been receiving a lot of attention in recent months. The pixelated, retro gaming branding sees a Donkey Kong-esque barrel as the brewery emblem and some of the range of beers take their moniker from the same source, including a ‘Level Up’ series. The Sphere of Destiny (Mosaic) was on cask and quickly disappeared, but the Raspberry Ruin was perhaps the beer of the festival, a double raspberry imperial stout with copious hits of juicy tartness enveloped by deep, silky chocolate notes.

The morning session had a great crowd of people with familiar faces and new, all opining on the more unusual beers, including the End of Thyme saison brewed with thyme and honey from Seven Sisters, which divided drinkers. The first hour was fairly tranquil, but crowds starting building quickly and at 3.30, beer writer Pete Brown hosted an informal session about styles of beer and beer tasting, guiding a group through several tasters.

We remained until about 4pm, when the lull of a local pub with a seat beckoned. We felt that we'd sampled everything as intended and the crowds were beginning to thin out. In conjunction with Five Points Brewing Co, many pubs in the area were offering a £1 discount off their range, which we liberally made use of as we moved on from Abney Hall. If the evening session was as successful as the morning, then Stoke Newington might just have a new annual festival on its hands. It would be great to see more local breweries involved, so already the venue might need to be reassessed to allow for further growth.

And Chris, the organiser? Well, he’s a maths teacher by day and juggled his job with curating the entire event, so he might need an extra few pairs of hands to see the festival become a regular event for the East London calendar. He might also consider a spring date next time, but then again, January seemed to work just fine for Stokey.

Beer & food pairing: keeping things simple

You’ve probably already noticed, but beer and food pairing events are very much on trend. As far as routine brewery events go, pairing nights are catching up with the abundance of tap takeovers held in pubs across London, which easily amount to several on any given week. Whether it’s a lavish five course meal with drinks curated by a Cicerone-qualified expert, or a more modest monthly beer and cheese night, beer drinkers are discovering how hops, malts and yeast can harmonise with the ingredients used in a dish. Both beer and food recipes can be dissected into a list of individual components, each imparting a distinct flavour. There’s a wide scope for these to play off each other – the trick is finding the perfect pairing.

Demonstrated at the Darker Days III event held at The Duke’s Head at the beginning of the month, Ghanaian food was matched with some surprising contrasts – from barley wine to imperial stouts – and British beer was married with a cuisine influenced by warm climate and some ingredients that aren't indigenous to these shores. Despite being a world apart, the drinks and dishes came together in unison. Warming spices in the barley wine were mirrored in plantain bites, chicken encased within a malt-based batter hummed with the chewy notes of a brown ale and a chocolate brownie was matched with a silky, rich imperial stout.

Some of these flavour combinations are elementary and classic - chocolate will always marry well with a rich, chocolatey stout, for instance. And spicy foods will always call for something clean, like the crispness or a pilsner or an easily downed lager. These innocuous pairing rules aren’t controversial or deemed acquired tastes; slowly people seem to be coming around to the notion that exemplary food can be safely complemented with beer. Despite this, It will undoubtedly be some time before we’re met with anything but a wine menu in an upmarket restaurant. But there are rumblings afoot.

Beer aficionados might curtail red and white wines with confidence and ease, flipping to the back of a hefty drinks menu to see what beers are featured. A recent trip to The Ginger Pig in Brighton saw us doing just that, opting for a balance of local beers from Dark Star Brewing and Gun Brewery in addition to a bottle of wine to accompany an extravagant three course meal. For our mains, we stuck with wine, but in retrospect, the ribeye steak with its creamed shallot and red wine sauce could have withstood a malty red or brown ale, given the depth of the jus. The roast skate wing, a fish dish that would traditionally call for a crisp white, could have equally paired with a pilsner, where there’s little risk of hops dominating the palate and detracting from the lightness of the dish.

Last week, International Izakaya, a food and beer pairing evening, was held in Shoreditch. It was aimed at those in the restaurant industry, foodies and writers. It promoted the beer/food matching concept, emphasising that it applies even with more refined cuisine. For the occasion, four London chefs, including Elizabeth Allen, former head chef at Michelin-starred Pidgin, served up a menu that comprised ‘beer bouches’ and several courses. Each dished was served alongside a selection from a Ciceron-qualified beer sommelier. The beers were rare, including the Halia and Bourbon County Stout from Goose Island’s vintage ales range and Birra del borgo’s L’Equilibrista, a wild sour with pronounced wine characteristics from an Italian brewery. The food was as extravagant as the beers. All was on point, but the simple enjoyment of the marriage between food and drink was lost in the grandiose offerings of the occasion.

A more bare-bones and achievable attempt can be replicated at home. We held a dinner party with friends on the weekend, with homemade tandoori chicken, potato saak with raita, poppadums and coconut rice on the menu. Although the temptation of going against the grain - and what was coherent to my palate - with something smouldering to match the tandoori flavours or perhaps something with an acerbic edge to cut through the spices, it was still a pilsner, the Five Points Brewing Co’s Pils, and the Lightbulb Extra Pale Ale from Verdant Brewing Co that were the clear frontrunners. But maybe that's the trick: not to over-egg things.

Like our meals, which don't need to be convoluted to be delicious, sometimes simplicity is best. But the quality of a beer still makes a difference - other macro brewery pilsners were sampled, but lacked flavour profiles that were pronounced enough to stand up against a fiery tandoori main. While open to the unexpected, there's no denying that a solid pilsner or lager can still enhance a meal, but, like experimenting with styles of beer, there's still room for defying our senses. Suddenly a rich porter with a steak might just make sense.

I was invited to Word of Mouth's International Izakaya beer and food pairing meal at the Hill & Szrok Public House as a guest.