Monday 7 November 2011

Plastic fantastic?

I've been meaning to write about this year's London Brewers Showcase at Vinopolis for a couple of weeks now, but other things kept intervening - most notably the Twickenham Beer Festival.... (Congratulation, by the way, to Hammerpot for winning Beer of the Festival for its truly excellent Bottle Wreck Porter.)

The first thing you noticed at Vinopolis was just how many breweries London now has. It may even be up to 20. Most are members of the London Brewers Alliance, but the main LBA website is woefully in need of updating as it is missing a bunch of them: East London Brewing, By The Horns, London Brewing (=The Bull brewpub), London Fields Brewery, and my local Botanist Brewery, to name but five. (There is a decent-ish list in this article though.)

The second thing that caught my attention though was just how many were using plastic casks. These have been around for a a few years, but I wasn't aware of them being very successful. Their advantages are low weight and low cost, plus of course they don't get nicked and melted down by metal-thieving scumbags, but they had a reputation for being more fragile and likely to split.

"Plastic casks are a lot more reliable now - all the recent London start-ups are going for them," said Alex Bull of By the Horns. 

Fullers head brewer Derek Prentice agreed, but added that bigger brewers will most likely stay with metal for now - if only because if he tried running plastics down an automated filling line, their light weight would probably have them bouncing off and careening around the hall...

One other reason why they work for the smaller brewers could be that their beers are not so widely distributed - even if a cask leaves the brewpub, in many cases it stays within that company's small pub estate. That means less heaving casks in and out of lorries and dropping them on pavements.

Other problems remain though, most notably that the other bits and bobs involved - the shive and keystone - were originally designed for use on metal casks, not plastic, and of course how the materials bind together will vary. This was demonstrated at Twickenham where we lost one plastic cask due to the keystone blowing out overnight and another was withdrawn by the brewer because the shive was no longer airtight. So, more work still needed, eh?

Sunday 6 November 2011

Happy birthday CAMRA!

An excellent afternoon out yesterday at the London CAMRA 40th birthday party. We took over the Counting House - the Fullers one on Cornhill, in the Square Mile, not the JDW - for a superb range of beers from a variety of London brewers, plus a few speeches, and pub quiz where all the questions (pretty much) were about the history of CAMRA and yours truly's team didn't even feature in the top 6...

The Fullers beers on offer included the brand new Black Cab Stout, which was launched last week. On Twitter, John Keeling said, "Many people are surprised we have made a stout considering we already make a porter.We are a London brewery by the way." Yes indeed, and don't forget the Double Stout...

Anyway, Black Cab is a lovely stout, black with brown hints and a beige head, then roast malt, milk chocolate and a hint of red fruit on the nose, and a roasty dry yet sweetish body with burnt fruit, plus hints of fruitcake and toffee. Perhaps a little sweeter than I normally go for, but I'll definitely be trying it again!

Others on offer, according to my failing memory, included Brodies American Brown (which is quite excellent), Twickenham Sundancer, Sambrooks Powerhouse Porter, and Redemption Trinity. (There was also one from London Brewing, AKA the Bull Highgate's pub brewery, but I forget the name and the Bull's website appears rather broken...)

Hmm. You won't see that sort of range in a Fullers pub very often, methinks.

As well as speeches from various CAMRA folk, including one by regional director Kim Martin who ably summarised the London branches' desire to see the Campaign embrace craft beer rather than rejecting it, our host Richard Fuller gave a good summary of the history of Fullers and its relationship with CAMRA from 1971.

All in all, an excellent event, and I wish I could have stayed longer!

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Splitting the Atom

It's been a low-key launch, but Fullers has joined the growing group of brewers taking advantage of the government's new tax break for sub-2.9% beers. Its offering is Mighty Atom, which is gradually making its way through the pub estate, and is currently in the Princess Royal in Brentford, among others.

I had a pint today and rather nice it was too, if it little light-bodied as you'd expect. The landlord said he expects it to go down well with the football crowd, especially those who drive over but still fancy a pint or two. Damn, yet more furriners nicking our parking spaces every other Saturday!