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. 

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.


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.

London Beer City 2016: the launch and the libations

Launching full-throttle into its third year, London Beer City is one of the most hotly anticipated beer festivals in the capital. Its founder and organiser, Will Hawkes, has united the gamut of London’s independent breweries, bottle shops and taprooms to transform the city into a single colossal venue. Across ten days, LBC showcases not only London’s evolving brewing culture, but celebrates beer from the United Kingdom and further afield. Hawkes has incorporated a list of breweries as long as your arm in addition to the country’s most eminent beer writers and connoisseurs to host a series of events, discussions, tastings and tap takeovers.

Purusing the LBC schedule, the spirit of community is patent; for instance, this year heralds an official LBC festival beer, a sessionable pale ale with the input of a brewery from each corner of the city, namely: Beavertown Brewery (North), Five Points Brewing Co (East), Fourpure Brewing Co (South) and Fuller’s Brewery (West). The scale of this year’s event makes it the most extensive and ambitious incarnation yet- and it sets the bar for even greater things down the line.

Festivities kicked off with a launch party hosted by Five Points in their East London warehouse yard on the 6 August. The £5 admission price included a beer and ticket holders were given the opportunity to sign up for tasting sessions with representatives from Beavertown, Five Points and Fourpure. Forty kegs and casks were rotated across three bars throughout the day, showcasing beer from 16 London breweries. The weather complied with the occasion, basking attendees in a halo of sunshine as the yard filled up and the tango of switching kegs ensued.

The Phantom Pineapple from Beaverton’s Phantom (the Berliner Weisse and Gose) series was the most eagerly anticipated offering on the menu. Few were shrewd enough to wangle a serving- I missed out despite intently following the activity at the bar. Predictably, it lasted only twenty minutes before the keg ran dry. We were equally as luckless with Fourpure’s Juicebox on tap, which drew in throngs of drinkers from the moment it started flowing.

Despite our ill-fated timing, I sampled some noteworthy beer earlier that afternoon, including a juicy, hazy redux of Gipsy Hill Brewing Company’s Drifter IPA- a New England style beer with an intense citrus explosion of grapefruit, orange pith and pineapple. I also enjoyed Weird Beard Brew Co’s collaboration with BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush, Safeword, an IPA made with chokeberry that’s intensely palatable, its sharp tanginess tempered with juicy citrus. I grazed on The Kernel Brewery’s Damson Sour for a stretch, a lip-puckering beer that appeased in the heat.

Some of the afternoon’s gems were proffered during the tasting sessions, however. Held inside the Five Points warehouse’s tasting room, small groups were seated across banquet tables. My first sitting was with Beavertown and we were offered some examples from their recent projects: Brux, a Brettanomyces IPA collaboration with Founders Brewing Co from their Tempus Project, and Earl Phantom from their Phantom Series.

The Brux is a complex hazy Michigan-style juice, demonstrating aromas of dank, wet forest and hints of strawberry, blackberry and tropical citrus from a dry-hopping of Motueka and Nelson Sauvin hops. The beer finished with a lingering umami hit. The Earl Phantom was equally as interesting- inspired by iced tea, this beer is infused with Earl Grey tea and lactic acid. There’s a zesty bouquet of lemon on the palate, but the aroma is markedly sour. Once I overcame the potent tartness on the nose- which was reminiscent of soured milk- I lapped up the juicy citrus flavour.

Following a short break, we were invited to sample Five Points under the guidance of Doreen Joy Barber, their Community & Marketing Manager, and launched straight into Old Greg’s Barley Wine. Its taste of gummy caramel, hints of citrus and spicy phenolic flavours is ideal to pair with a slab of creamy blue cheese. The Railway Porter elicited nods of approval across the room- many were already familiar with it. Boasting a bill of 100% British malts and hops alongside an intensely rich flavour, it’s easy to see why this is the second most popular beer in the Five Points range, overtaken only by their Pale. We finished on the London Smoke, a gorgeously subtle smoked porter, another style that was well-received by the group.

The third tasting session was hosted by Paul, brewer at Fourpure, who tutored us through Flatiron American Red, Skyliner wheat beer, Shapeshifter IPA and the most hyped tallboy of the summer: the Juicebox IPA. Paul engaged the group with his wry humour and each of the beers perfectly exemplified their style, every sample was on point and wonderfully balanced. Fourpure recently gave their cans a facelift and the designs for Shapeshifter and Juciebox are particularly eye-catching on a shelf. While extolling the virtues of Juicebox amongst ourselves, we mentioned another highly coveted beer, the Tzatziki Sour from Liverpool’s Mad Hatter Brewing Co. Overhearing this, Paul made a confession, revealing his Midas touch: he’s their ex-brewer and the audacious rendition of the Greek staple was his creation. 

Spilling out from the final tasting session, our heads were swimming nicely. The yard was now heaving with revellers, queues snaking around each of the bars as kegs continued to be switched over, all against the wafting backdrop of the DJ's upbeat electronica and the ever-present sunshine. It perfectly encapsulated the zeitgeist of the beer industry in London- we couldn’t stray long before bumping into another friend from a brewery, beer publication or a bottle shop. We engaged in an act of beer communion, sipping from each other’s cups. This was the spirit of London Beer City perfectly manifested, unifying drinkers to discover new styles, challenge their palates and revisit some of London’s established breweries.

London Beer City has gotten off to a prodigious start with the promise of a succession of unmissable events still ahead. The launch party presented an apt microcosm of the industry and its entrenched conviviality, setting the tone for another great festival.

Perhaps most importantly, it allowed us to synchronise our schedules over the next week. We’re in this for the long haul, hangovers be damned.

London Beer City 2016 runs from the 4 to the 15 August and the full schedule of events can be found here.