Wednesday 23 May 2012
Paid my first visit to the Bull in Highgate yesterday - as well as being a rather nice pub with great food and beer, it's the home of London Brewing Co., one of the capital's newer breweries and a member of the London Brewers Alliance. I was there to have a beer and a chat with US drinks writer John Holl - he's researching an e-book on the London pub scene, aimed at Americans coming here for this summer's activities.
Before I went over there, someone mentioned to me that he thought the pub had a new brewer, so I did some research via Google and Twitter, made a few connections, and came up with the name Tom Unwin. He seemed familiar, so I dug around online a bit more and sure enough, he'd taken me and some others on a tour of Brodie's Brewery a couple of years back - we'd arrived on a weekend when the Brodies were away and he was a brewing student getting some work experience.
It turns out that not only has he just finished university this summer, he's also only been at London Brewing for a week, so none of his beer's gone on the bar yet. I did get to sample a crisp and hoppy pale ale from the fermenter though, which showed lots of Columbus hops and plenty of promise - I believe that's been casked today, so it should be on a handpump before too long.
The brewery is basically in a corner of the Bull's kitchen and has a 2.5 barrel brewlength, which is a common size for brewpubs, it seems. Currently there are two fermenting vessels in the cellar below, and Tom hopes to add two more so he can go from only brewing twice a week to doing three or four runs. He doesn't actually stoop, by the way, it's just that the ceiling down there is several inches shorter than either him or me!
"I want to do a pale ale and a bitter, both as regular session beers, plus an American Pale Ale and some others," he says. "For example we have a Red Ale and the hoppy Pale Ale in the fermenters at the moment."
With each brew producing just eight firkins, the Bull absorbs pretty much all of London Brewing's output. Indeed, alongside the two house beers (Beer Street Bitter and Boadicea IPA) on the bar were several others - on my visit they included Thornbridge Wild Swan and another Pale Ale from East London Brewing. All those I tried were in excellent condition.
John and I also had a great chat with the Bull's head chef, who is clearly a man passionate about good food, and about good English and British food in particular. His Bourbon-glazed BBQ ribs were superb!
All in all, the Bull's a great pub. I just wish it was closer than an hour away - and that's an hour if you're lucky and there's no delays on the Northern line.
Sunday 20 May 2012
Saturday 19 May 2012
So yesterday when I came across some rather nice new-to-me beers at the European Beer Bloggers Conference – a fruity golden ale called Sunbeam, and a couple of single-hop beers, one using Polish Marynka and the other English Sovereign – I was intrigued because it wasn't obvious who brewed them. They were on the table of conference sponsor Marston's, but the Marston's guys only referred to them coming from Wolverhampton – eventually I spotted "Banks's" on the clip, but in tiny, tiny print.
I'm no branding expert, but it did make me think some more about the subject – especially as I saw something similar a few weeks ago, when I spotted an unfamiliar pumpclip in a Greene King pub. Of course GK uses several sub-brands, some for breweries it has bought and closed – eg. Morlands, Ridleys. Ruddles – and some simply to differentiate, such as Westgate, but this clip simply gave the beer's name (The Sorcerer) with no indication at all of its origin.
Stealth beer first caught my attention several years ago at the huge Coors – or fellow conference sponsor MolsonCoors, as it now is – brewery in Golden, Colorado. In the brewery tap were glass trophy cases, and also in there was a bottle of a beer I'd never seen before: Blue Moon. Just to look at the label I'd never have known it was a Coors product. I could only guess that the aim was to reach the kind of drinkers who avoid the mega-brewers.
It was also around that time that Anheuser-Busch – now AB-InBev – bought a slice of RedHook Brewery. Talking to AB people I realised that their motive was similar to Blue Moon's: if you're going to lose market share to craft beer, it's much better to lose it to your own craft beer. AB-InBev now owns several other craft breweries and sub-brands, of course.
I guess the lesson is that not everything that looks new and independent actually is. On the other hand, it's also that the old names are perfectly capable of doing something new and wonderful, as with the Banks's project, which is to explore hops by brewing twelve identical beers, one a month, and flavouring each with a single different hop variety.
What do you think – should Banks's and Greene King use (one of) their own brands, or would that create the wrong kind of expectations?
Friday 11 May 2012
Both bottles contained beautiful pale golden liquids, identified as beer by the presence of malt sugars, aromatic compounds and hops typical of the beverage. Chemical analyses showed that the beer could originally have featured hints of rose, almond and cloves. However, the beers in the bottles examined had not stood the test of time well.
The pale golden colour indicates that the beers were made from unroasted malt. The burned flavour suggests that heating at the mashing stage was not under control. It is possible, though, that a smoky flavour in beer was appreciated at the time. The beers were probably made from grain – barley or wheat or a combination of the two. Hops, of a variety typical of a couple of centuries ago, had been added before boiling the wort.
The analyses also appear to show they were two different beers - one with some characteristics typical of wheat beer and the other much hoppier than the first, and with different bacterial compositions. A presentation given by VTT on the findings is available as a PDF here.
They're going to sell some more of the champagne next month. The next step will presumably be to try recreating the beers - the Åland government is funding the research in a sort of PR exercise for the islands.