Friday 25 January 2013

Meantime/Weyermann Collaboration Porter

It's a cold, cold Thursday night and I'm travelling south to Greenwich for an evening with Meantime brewer Rod Jones. It's the first time I've been to the Greenwich Union, one of the Meantime Brewery Taps and I'm pleasantly surprised by the array of beers on display when I enter. As well as a great selection of Meantime beers, all on keg, there are a few guest cask ales and a huge selection of bottles from all over the world with a particularly good stock of Belgian and German beers available for purchase. I start with a pint of Meantime's Saison De Nuit, a delicious black Saison that pleases the palate with it's rustic flavours and sets me up well for the evening ahead.

Tonight Meantime are launching a very special, one off collaborative porter brewed in partnership with Weyermann Malts of Bamburg, Germany. Weyermann are one of the brewing worlds most highly regarded specialist maltsters producing around 50 different types of malt and specialising in caramelised malts. Meantime brewer Rod, who himself is an avid fanatic of German beers, was invited (or challenged as he prefers to tell it) to brew using Weyermann's own pilot brewing facility in Bamburg with the catch being that he was only allowed to use Weyermann malts. This beer was brewed in late August and has spent several months conditioning and now I have the honour of being one of the first people to try it.

Along with a small clutch of real journalists I am soon ushered to a table to meet Rod and before we are served tasters of the beer we are here to try Rod tells us the tale of its inception. It was clear after listening to Rod speak for a few moments how passionate this man is about his profession and how much pride he has for the authenticity of the beers that Meantime produces. He tells us that he feels that Meantime are the 'leading producer of Craft Beer in the United Kingdom' and although there are a few breweries who might contest that statement he utters the words with such vim that it's difficult not to be convinced. He tells us about his love for German beers and how his goal was to produce a London Porter in the German style. Although the British palate is accustomed to rich, roasted and bitter flavours in dark beer this is not to German tastes and so he tells us how he set about designing a malt profile to give all the body of a rich, London Porter but with little to none of the roasted bitterness you would expect from the style.

'Pale, Abbey and Munich malts made for the bulk of the mash' he tells us and the dark malts including the huskless Carafa 3 were added at the end of the mash to provide colour and not flavour. The twist was that around 5% of the grain used was beechwood smoked malt which is widely used in creating Bavarian Rauchbier and gives it that famous smoked, meaty flavour profile. A small amount of East Kent Goldings were used to add balance to the brew but these were only added 10 minutes from the end of the boil to add a little aroma but not to impart bitter flavours into the beer.

The glass of porter sits in front of me, pitch black with a towering head of off white foam. This soon fades away leaving a pleasing halo around the edge of the glass, at first the nose gives very little away, it's arguably been served far too cold. After it warms a little it begins to give away it's secrets, aromas of black treacle and molasses are present and these are accompanied by the faint scent of raisins and sultanas. The beer feels rich and full in the mouth and being a London Porter my mind expects it to be smoke laden and bitter but instead it's incredibly light and slips down faster than a drunk tourist at Oktoberfest after a few to many steins. The more it warms the more those black treacle and dried fruit notes become apparent, the only thing I'm left yearning for is a little more of the advertised smoke but as Rod points out this beer is about balance rather than an in your face drinking experience.  

After my first glass glides town with little to no fuss at all I finally enquire about the ABV of the beer. Expecting it to be around to 4-5% mark I was shocked when Rod told me that he thinks it's around 8%, suddenly I go from really liking this beer to being in awe of it, how can something with such a delicate balance of flavours still manage to completely hide such a high level of alcohol. A lightbulb in my head goes 'ding' and I learn the valuable lesson that masses and masses of flavour is not always what makes for a good beer. Rods high level of skill is clear but after I sank my third glass I definitely started to feel that 8% ABV creeping about behind my eyeballs.

So, you're probably wanting to try this one off brew yourself now, right? Well it's only being served on tap at the Greenwich Union and they only have 60 litres of the stuff (well, considerably less now after the dent we made in it last night) so if you want some head to the Union RIGHT NOW before it's gone forever! 

Friday 18 January 2013

Duke's Brew & Que

London is beginning to embrace the humble brewpub, there are few things finer in life than visiting a bar or restaurant that brews its own beer on the premises and also serves excellent, slap up food. The London brewpub scene is starting to explode and along with places such as the Earl of Essex in Islington and The Bull in Highgate, Duke's Brew & Que in De Beauvoir town is leading the way. 

Duke's manages to be always cool and never pretentious
Situated a mere hop, skip and jump from Haggerston station on the excellent new London Overground Duke's could literally have been ripped straight out of Williamsburg (or in this weather, downtown Denver.) Surrounded by post-war housing estates Duke's blends in with its surroundings perfectly, exuding East-London cool but still with a homely enough charm to avoid the pretentiousness that similar venues carry with them. It's a Thursday night in the middle of January but people are still queueing up for tables and as I arrive and see a throng of people inside I feel relieved that I decided to book a table for Dianne and myself a few days in advance. 

I've wanted to come to Duke's for a while because not only have I heard that they do they best ribs in town but it's also home to the fledgling Beavertown brewery which has been making waves with it's range of excellent beverages in recent months. We arrive slightly early and our table isn't ready so this gives me a chance to saunter over to the bar and get a beer in. As well as a large selection of Beavertown beers available on cask, keg and in bottle there are lots of other familiar names on the bar such as Brewdog, Thornbridge and Hardknott, I'm here for the house beer though so I immediately plump for a pint of Beavertown's cask conditioned best bitter 'Neck Oil.'

Neck Oil is a decent pint and it was in tip-top shape but it didn't give my palate the full on assault it's used to. Despite not setting my world on fire it went down quickly and I mused on the importance of this beer, you see there is a preconception that cask beer is not 'cool' in fact the Neck Oil made me recall common, everyday beers such as St' Austell Tribute and Tim Taylor Landlord, both decent beers in their own right but hardly cutting edge. Duke's oozes cool but it's not too cool to serve a house, cask bitter and this shows that even with our changing attitudes and tastes towards beer that cask beer is still important and it will live on thanks to the open minded attitudes of breweries such as Beavertown.

As I finish my pint we are ushered to our table, the decor is a simple range of exposed beams, floorboards and reclaimed furniture, this combined with a nice cosy level of lighting makes you feel instantly at home. The place is packed but doesn't feel oppressive or crowded, it just gives it a lively atmosphere that adds to your drinking and dining experience. The menu is a small selection of mains and sides, it's not particularly vegetarian friendly but that doesn't bother me because I'm here for barbecue! This is not barbecue in the outdoor, grilled British vein but instead in the American tradition. Slow cooked, smoked meats are the order of the day, the speciality is their ribs but they also offer burgers and pulled pork. We can't decide what to order so we both plump for a 'Greatest Hits' which features a selection of Duke's signature pork and beef ribs as well as pulled pork, slaw and some dips. We also order some pork 'n' beans because Dianne and I goddamn LOVE pork 'n' beans.

Defeated by meat, demeated
To accompany my smoky meats I order a bottle of Beavertown's Black IPA (of which you can read my review here) which thanks to it's instant success recently became part of Beavertown's core range of brews. Black Betty is a masterclass in dry hopping, massive waves of grapefruit and pine resin leap from the glass and these citrus and pine notes mingle with rich, dark malts on the palate. It was a perfect accompaniment to the massive plate of meat that soon appeared in front of me. The food was incredible and the highlight had to be the epic beef rib that was so large I would have arguably knocked out the chap on the table opposite had I given in to the urge to swing it around my head in a caveman fashion, thankfully I resisted. 

I refused to let the food defeat me and ploughed through the meat like a man possessed, Dianne was defeated by her beef put she got a doggy bag so she could take it home and eat it later, had I not fallen victim to my pride I would've done the same. After the meal I required an alcoholic digestive to help all that meat settle so I plumped for a half of Imperial Smog Rocket, a 9% ABV imperial smoked porter. Having tried the original Smog Rocket a few weeks earlier I was really looking forward to this and this huge beer did not disappoint. Waves of smokey umami combined with rich, sweet, black treacle like malts and lumps of licorice, it was the perfect way to round off a fine feed.

As well as the food and drink being quite frankly incredible the staff were very friendly and attentive and our server Katie in particular was a credit to her employers which rounded off an utterly complete dining experience. Duke's has set the benchmark very high indeed for future London (and indeed British) brewpubs that will surely start bursting forth like daffodils in spring any time soon but with food, beer and service like this, Duke's will take some beating. If you plan on visiting Duke's Brew & Que then based on how busy it was last night I would highly encourage making a reservation a few days in advance.

Friday 11 January 2013

Rocky Head Brewery Pale Ale

London breweries are currently spreading faster than a particularly nasty Zombie plague except the good kind of Zombie plague where the end result is not the extinction of the human race but lots and lots of really good beer. The Rocky Head Brewery, based in Wandsworth, South London, opened mere months ago and they are already making a name for themselves with their inaugural brew, an American Style Pale Ale. When I first spied the eye catching label on the shelf in my local Oddbins I had not heard a peep about them before, the breweries name made me recall the Rocky Mountains which I often miss dearly and so I had to have some.

After doing a little background research on this brewery I discovered that Rocky Head was formed by a group of friends whose joint love of American craft beer caused them to set up their operation in 2012 with whatever bits of brewing kit they could get their hands on. At the moment Rocky Head only operates as a part time business brewing at weekends, I'm already impressed, these guys probably hold down full time jobs in the week and then spend all weekend brewing and bottling by hand. You can get their beers from a variety of outlets around London which you can see on their website here, I picked up this bottle from my local Oddbins in Crouch End, North London where they are sold for three pounds each. It's currently the only beer being brewed by Rocky Head and it doesn't look like any others are on the horizon just yet.

Like a many other modern London-brewed beers this Pale Ale is bottle conditioned so I left the bottle to settle in my fridge overnight whilst it chills. The label has a clear bottled on date so you can check that your beer is fresh, one of the little touches I really appreciate. The label also boasts that this beer contains an 'exuberant mix of malted and toasted barley' and 'an obscene amount of New World leaf hops added at every possible stage of the brewing process.' Bold claims from a young brewery but it's certainly got me salivating, obscene is a word not to be used lightly.

The beer is more of a rich, light amber colour as opposed to a straw coloured traditional pale ale so it's already ticking the 'American craft' box on my checklist. The beer is nice and bright in the glass and I'm careful to avoid pouring any of the sediment in with it (although I do tend to neck that straight from the bottle once I've finished pouring.) Sticking my nose in I get a big hit of grapefruit, candied orange and marmalade, delving deeper into the aroma the malt bill is also detectable in the form of malted bread and honey. 

I can already tell from the aroma that this beer is going to float my sailing vessel but I was quite taken back when I took my first sip. I was instantly transported back over the Atlantic and towards the towering Rockies, the bitter grapefruit, mandarin, melon and lychee flavours making me recall those excellent brews that opened my mind to the world of modern beer. The brew it most reminds me of is the excellent Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar blues, that huge fruity bitterness balanced on a sturdy, rich malt backbone but incredibly drinkable for it's 6.5% ABV. This is the kind of beer you want in your fridge at all times, it's an everyday beer that you'd happily sink repeatedly whilst relaxing at home. The great thing is that I only have to walk down the road to get it so I CAN have it in my fridge at all times, if only it came in one of those clever cardboard six-packs you get the States, then it would be TOTAL CRAFT as we like to say these days.

The one detectable thing that separates this from those delightful Colorado brews is that signature yeasty tang you get particularly from London breweries. It might be the yeast, it might be the water but it's the same signature bitter aftertaste you get with pale ales from Redchurch and The Kernel. It's not an unpleasant taste but for me it takes aways from the cleanliness of the beer, a quality that Tandleman always looks for in a great beer and Mark Dredge wrote about so well recently. It's a factor in beer that I think I'm beginning to understand myself and so will perhaps explore in more detail in a future post but for now, I'm going to drink some more of this stunning beer from the Rocky Head.

Sunday 6 January 2013

On Homebrew

My Dad's homebrew created with an iBrew kit.
There surely comes a point in every beer fanatics life when he decides he wants to try his hand at home brewing and I'm certainly at that point myself. How many of the excellent craft breweries that have sprung up over the last couple of years started life as hobbyists before realising that they were on to something and turned pro? How many highly skilled home brewers are yet to take the plunge, ask the bank for some money and have a crack at commercial brewing themselves? If you like beer as much as I do then you must be as excited as I am about what the new breweries that will surely open this year will bring to the table.

Over Christmas my Dad gave me a bottle of his own home brew which was brewed using a kit called iBrew along with a Munton's Gold IPA starter kit. He didn't follow the kit's instructions exactly as the resulting beer wouldn't have been to his tastes and so he bought some additional whole leaf hops and dry hopped it to add further flavour and aroma to his brew. I really enjoyed the resulting golden brown ESB style beer that was the end result, it wasn't quite the IPA my Dad had originally intended to brew but it was only his second attempt at the style and the beer was still highly quaffable. 

This got me thinking about trying the same thing and so once I've done a bit more research (I'm currently reading Charlie Papizian's excellent 'The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing') I plan to get hold of my own iBrew plus some aromatic hops and have a go myself. I've always been concerned about the lack of space in my relatively small North London flat but the beauty of these kits is that they take up very little space indeed. 

My friend Greg, who started brewing on kits himself, now like many of the people I follow on twitter has switched to full on all-grain brewing. The way he enthuses over his brewing does well do demonstrate how addictive creating your own beers can be. I recently paid him a visit to check out one of his latest creations, a Black IPA that had been dry hopped with a metric shit-ton of Fuggles because that's simply what he had lying around. I was also excited to try out his home made kegerator, a refrigerator which he has converted to house two kegs and dispense under CO2 through taps he has attached to the front. Fresh, cool, keg beer in your own kitchen, Greg is how you say, living the dream. 

What first impressed me about Greg's beer is the excellent condition it was in, the flavours were big but still well balanced, it had a lovely, creamy mouth feel and it was perfectly carbonated. The malt flavours were robust and initially dominated the flavour, plenty of black treacle and licorice was present but then that fresh, grassy flavour that is the hallmark of Fuggles came through... I know what a lot of you reading this might be thinking (EURGH, TWIGS!) but actually it worked really well and gradually flavours of redcurrant and blackberry came to the fore. Greg and I noticed something else though, a distinctly higher amount of warming alcohol in the finish than Greg had anticipated. Upon closer inspection some of the beer had frozen solid in the keg, naturally water freezes and alcohol doesn't so the beer was a lot stonger than it should have been. Despite accidentally freeze distilling his brew the beer didn't suffer for it and I left his house with a bulging bag full of bottles to take home. I look forward to trying some more of Greg's beers later this year and you can also follow Greg on twitter here; @MadeByGregCox (he also makes excellent hand made furniture for a living if you are in the market for some shelves or a coffee table.)

During the CAMRGB twissup last month many participants brought some bottles of their homebrew for people to try out and the bars were happy to hand out glasses so that these beers could be passed around for everyone to try. I was locked in an inebriated haze and standing in the crowded basement of Brewdog Camden when I was handed a glass of Andy Parker's (better known by many as @Tabamatu) pomegranate Saison. I'll be perfectly honest here, if no one had told me that it was homebrew then I would have assumed it was one of the pricey bottles in the Brewdog fridges that I often lust after. The tart, refreshing qualities of the Pomegranate were underpinned by rich Belgian yeast esters, it was beautifully balanced and in superb condition, I would have happily paid top dollar for this beer.

On that night Andy gifted me with a bottle of one of his latest brews, an imperial stout which had been aged on dark roasted coffee beans and french oak chips soaked in Makers Mark Bourbon and THEN infused with cocoa, needless to say I couldn't wait to get into this bottle! Andy had warned me that the beer might have been overly lively and to open it near a sink but thankfully the bottle was opened and poured without incident. The beer was lively and produced a large, tight cafe latte hued head which hung around despite its high ABV. The nose was rich with coffee and chocolate, you could really smell those coffee beans but as a coffee lover this only raised my anticipations. It tasted divine, the cocoa seemed to mellow out the intense coffee hit and just a hint of oak and bourbon was present so it didn't overpower the brew. It was an incredibly accomplished beer, it even made me recall the excellent Kopikat by Summer Wine Brewing, it's easy to see when tasting a beer like this why people have the confidence to pack in the day job and take out a tenancy on an empty warehouse before filling it with mash tuns, kettles and fermentation vats.

I look forward to tasting more excellent home brew this year, in fact if you'd like to send me some I will happily send out some beer in exchange and who knows, if I can get my act together maybe I'll be sending out my own home brew in a couple of months time.