Monday, 19 June 2017

Ale on a train, or getting RATted…

The invitation to take a trip on the Watercress Line’s Real Ale Train – the RAT of the headline – came out of the blue. I know there’s a bit of an overlap between real ale fans and lovers of railways, but every time I’ve come across a beer festival held in association with a heritage rail line, the beer part was literally station-ary. So the idea of the bar being aboard the RAT was intriguing!
Welcome to Platform 3 in... when, exactly?
It’s over an hour from Clapham Junction to Alton, where the Watercress Line – or to give it it’s proper name, the Mid-Hants Railway – starts. Arriving on Platform 1 on a modern SouthWestTrains sliding door conveyance, we were a bit confused. There were no steam engines or whatever in sight, yet even the SWT platform felt slightly unusual, with its metalwork painted not in modern dark blues but in dark green and cream. Even its ticket office was a – very welcome! – return to the past, with wooden floors and readily accessible, airy and clean loos. 

It was clearly SWT-only though and it took a few moments more to work out that we needed to find Platform 3. Sadly this is accessed not by the attractively ancient (and closed) footbridge nearby, but by a shiny modern one further down the platform. Still, coming down the steps the time-shift was complete, with staff in proper uniforms with waistcoats and peaked caps, doors marked “Station Master”, and posters from the 1950s and beyond. No train though, and no tickets* waiting for us – we’re early, thanks to SWT’s hourly-only service from London, so we’re recommended the Railway Arms just up the road, which happens to be the brewery tap of award-winning local brewer Triple fff. Nice pub!

Returning half an hour later, we were introduced to Sue 'the boss', which seemed to mean in reality that she did a bit of pretty much everything! We later saw her helping load the galley, working behind the bar, helping clean the train, etc... Sue explained the RAT schedule: “We make two round trips, though the hot food makes one and a half because it gets off at Alresford,” she laughed. Alresford is the other end of the Watercress Line, some 10 miles away. 

10 minutes to departure and the queue for the bar already reached halfway down the next carriage. They're a mixed crew - beer buffs, young couples on a night out, what looked like a 50-something birthday party, and an awful lot of people who looked very familiar from the Railway Arms... 

The beer was all bright filtered with no sediment of course, despite being in normal real-ale firkins, otherwise it wouldn't survive the journey. It's why we saw something you'd never see at a CAMRA festival - a barman literally upending a cask to squeeze the last half-pint out. If there is a criticism it's that there's no cooling for the beer on the stillage - which is the bar, of course. In hot weather, as during our trip, the result is occasionally beer that's just a little too warm. Then again, the casks turn over remarkably fast, and the fresh ones are cool from the storeroom. Plus it’s only £2 a pint, with the first pint included in your £15 RAT ticket, so really there’s no complaint!

For many, it’s clearly more of a party on a train. For others it’s a mobile pub, and exploring up towards the loco I even found a folk music jam session underway. As the journey proceeded, and as special trays with holes for the plastic glasses to sit in streamed from the bar – you can also buy your own RAT-engraved glass tankard for a fiver – it did get a bit noisy. But it’s all very good-natured – cheerful voices and the occasional burst of singing. 

Plus while the light lasted, there’s the beautiful Hampshire scenery, the lovely 'step back in time' stations decorated with flowers, topiary and then, finally, yes – parked steam engines, lots of steam engines! (Our train was hauled by a heritage diesel, but most RATs are steam.) There's also shunters, a crane-train, and lots more.

It being two round-trips, there’s three short loo (and for some, ciggy) breaks at the end-stops while they move the loco to the other end. I noticed some people left halfway through when we were back at Alton – heading back to the pub perhaps. 

For those with staying power, the ales continued to turn over – the featured breweries that night were both from Hampshire, namely Longdog and Red Cat, but we’re also treated to a couple of other brews, such as a one-off single-hopped pale ale from Tillingbourne. The food is decent pub grub – chilli, korma, burgers – and while it’s served in take-away boxes, not on china with polished silverware, it’s reasonably priced and the cheerful volunteer staff have more than enough to clear up already!

Alternative engines are available
All in all, it was the best Friday evening we’d spent in a while (the RAT runs a few times a month, on Friday and Saturday evenings). A pub on a train with good beer and constantly changing scenery, what more could you want? And thankfully you’re back at Alton just in time to get the last train up to London – a cooler and quieter journey, but one that is, sadly, rather less fun. 

*Do you need a disclaimer? The railway kindly supplied our RAT tickets, but we covered our own transport from London, plus all our food, almost all our beer, and our own babysitter. Phew. 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Step aside Care Bears, it's time for Care Beers!

Slightly short notice, but there's a new craft beer festival coming up next month in London, and it's all for charity, with the beer donated by kind brewers from London, the rest of the UK, and beyond. Here's the details, as passed on by fellow beer-blogger Matt Curtis:

A brand new beer festival arrives in London this July and all of its profits will be donated to charity. Craft Beer Cares will be taking place on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd of July at Brew Club in Clapton, East London with proceeds being donated to The Newman Holiday Trust and Mind, The Mental Health Charity.

Beer has been donated to the festival by some of the most exciting breweries in the UK and beyond, including: The Kernel, The Five Points Brewing Co, Pressure Drop, Partizan, Brew By Numbers, Anspach & Hobday, Weird Beard, East London Brewery, Beavertown, One Mile End, Elusive Brewing, Siren Craft Brew, Cloudwater, Northern Monk, Wylam, Founders, Yeastie Boys, Hackney Brewery, Gipsy Hill and Magic Rock. In addition to this the festivals organisers promise that they have a few surprises up their sleeves for those lucky enough to grab a ticket.  

Speaking in anticipation of the event, lead festival organiser Gautam Bhatnagar had the following to say:

“We’ve been inspired by movements such as #CookForSyria and smaller events such as #BoozersWithoutBorders and wanted to play whatever role we could in organising something to help those in need. Our aim for this year’s event is primarily to raise funds for the charities Mind and The Newman Holiday Trust, and to scale up on previous efforts by asking for donations from the wider brewing industry.

“It’s been a really heart-warming experience seeing the many people involved in the craft beer community and their willingness to donate time, advice, energy, and - of course - the beer!  We’ve had a great response from everyone we’ve asked and that comes as little surprise to many of us given how wonderful the people in the beer industry are.”

Karen Bolton, Community Fundraising Manager for Mind, added: ““We’d like to say a huge thank you to Craft Beer Cares for choosing to support Mind through their first beer festival. Every penny raised will fund Mind’s vital work including the Mind Infoline, our advice services and the campaigning Mind does to secure a better deal for the one in four of us who experience a mental health problem every year.”

Tickets for the event cost just £14.40 (including booking fee) and includes a glass plus 7 beer tokens – with additional tokens available for purchase once inside the venue. The event will take place at Brew Club, Unit 9, 38-40 Upper Clapton Road, London, E5 8BQ

Tickets for the Saturday July 1st evening session can be purchased here and tickets for the Sunday July 2nd afternoon session can be purchased here

The festival's open from 6pm to 11.30pm on the Saturday, and from noon to 5.30pm on the Sunday. I don't know the venue, but it's in the Old Tram Depot near Clapton BR station. It's up the road from the Round Chapel which hosts the CAMRA Pig's Ear beer festival in December, if you know that. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Fuller's Unfiltered bid for craft keg

When I first heard about the launch of London Pride Unfiltered at Craft Beer Rising earlier this year, my first thought was, oh-ho, a hazy rebranding for the craft generation. But could Fuller’s make the idea work, or would it be like an embarrassing parent trying to be hip? And was it just a rebrand, or a genuinely new beer?

I had all those questions in mind when I got the chance for a brief chat with Fuller’s head brewer Georgina Young – over a couple of glasses of Pride Unfiltered, naturally!

First, a bit of background – I’ve seen this sort of relaunch several times before, especially in Germany, where the marketeers have done a great job persuading the average Josef that all beer is yellow, fizzy and clear as a bell. The industrial Pils that you see advertised everywhere, in other words.

But for the Craft Bier pioneers a few years ago, this heavily-marketed industrial Pils was the enemy, and the easiest way to state your non-industrial credentials was to make cloudy beer instead. Cue lots of murky unfiltered Pale Ales, IPAs and others.

The German industrial brewers seem to have caught up much faster than the UK ones, with Naturtrüb (unfiltered and cloudy) Kellerbiers and others widely available there for a couple of years now. (Amusingly, many of the German craft brewers have now swung the other way, producing clear as a bell dry-hopped Pilsners and the like.)

The first thing George pointed out was that Pride Unfiltered is hazy, not murky or cloudy. More significantly perhaps, it needs to be reliably hazy – consistency is absolutely essential for a brewer such as Fuller’s.

“It’s really hard to get this level of haze just right,” she said, adding that “The haze is not yeast, it’s protein – quite fine.” She also stressed that while the basic recipe “is pretty much the same” as regular Pride, including Northdown and Challenger aroma hops, there are changes. Most notably that Unfiltered is also dry-hopped with Target.

Not too surprisingly, Unfiltered is very like regular Pride, but is drier and less malty-fruity, although that will in part be due to the lower serving temperature. There’s earthy and spicy hops on the nose, then it’s lightly fruity and dry.

And it seems to be doing well – on a recent visit to a Fuller’s pub which had Pride Unfiltered on tap alongside a couple of guest keg pale ales, the barmaid said it was pretty popular. The notable thing is it’s definitely not aimed at the keg Pride drinker, and indeed the Fuller’s folk say there’s no plans to replace keg with Unfiltered.

George also had some news about the Fuller’s beer range continuing to expand. “We’ll do eight new beers this year, four of them cask, plus Unfiltered of course,” she said. “We also have seasonal cask and keg beers and then monthly specials.”

They’re also increasing the range they distribute from other breweries, with Sierra Nevada the most prominent example. One of Fuller’s sales team noted that “We brought over 14 Sierra Nevada seasonals last year, this year there’s six definites plus maybe two or three more. This year’s list include Otra Vez, Sidecar and Tropical Torpedo.” Yet more reasons to visit the bigger Fuller’s pubs – although I don’t expect to see these in my local.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The rise and rise of canned craft

"Why is everything in cans these days?" mused my friend Richard, examining his tin of Five Points Pils. "Funny you should ask that," I replied, "I'm in the process of writing an article about it, as a follow-up to one I wrote for an engineering magazine a couple of years ago..."

Back then, micro-canning was something of a technical novelty, which is why I wrote about it for an engineering readership. A Canadian company, the slightly confusingly named Cask Brewing Systems, had realised that conventional drinks canning machines, which were giant multi-million dollar investments flooded internally with carbon dioxide to keep out harmful oxygen, could be significantly simplified and also reduced in size. In fact, they made them so small and simple that hobby brewers could use one at the homebrew club to can their own beer, one can at a time – a concept that's re-emerged recently as the crowler, a non-reusable version of the growler take-away beer flask that's actually a large can.

Avant-garde US breweries had loved the slightly subversive idea of a mini-canning machine for craft beer, and the first few UK brewers were following suit. There were sceptics, of course – often classically-trained brewers who couldn’t believe a machine that simple could avoid oxidising their beer. However, my own background in engineering told me that what the machine makers were saying made sense.

Printed can – smooth edges, and
you can often see the ink spread
Putting a label on the problem
The big challenge at that point was labelling. The ideal is a printed can, which is what the supermarkets, soft drinks companies and bigger breweries use, but these require a long print run to justify the cost of setting up the printing machine. The last I heard, the minimum print run was 100,000 cans, and to get the best price you needed to order half a million of a given design!

People were experimenting with alternatives such as sticky labels, but unlike glass bottles, empty cans have very little structural strength, so rolling a label on risks denting or even crushing them. Some had even tried printing directly onto the cans using inkjet-type printers, but in the main they were focused on canning those beers that could justify buying 100,000 printed cans.

Sticky label, overlapped
Fast-forward two years and beer cans have become high art – a smooth canvas for the artist and designer, and a signifier of craft, not cheap supermarket booze. And a lot of that is because the labelling problems have been licked, meaning you can now use your micro-canning line as it was intended: to put a single brew into just a few thousand cans, even when that brew is a one-off.

Well, mostly licked. I spoke to Metalman co-founder Gráinne Walsh at the Irish Embassy’s craft event earlier this year – when I interviewed for that 2015 story, they canned one beer regularly, now it’s four, all in printed cans. On top of that, they can several of their seasonal beers, all using sticky labels on plain cans.

Bottle-type sticky label
Like me, she has an engineering background so she understands the issues and the complications: “Labelling cans before filling would be best, but that would break the integrity of the [manufacturer’s sterile] seal on the can,” she says. “So we label afterwards – but that means we have to dry them first.”

So there’s swings and roundabouts, but sticky labels definitely seem the most popular method. I’ve spotted at least two types so far – sheet plastic ones that wrap all the way round, and ones that look more like plasticised paper and wrap with a gap, like on most bottles. Both are fairly easy to spot, though some of the plastic wrap-arounds feel like printing if you’re not thinking about it.

Shrink wrap – spot the edge
on the bottom collar
Shrink-wraps
There is a second popular method though, which is essentially to shrink-wrap the can with a printed plastic label. This feels great and can be quite hard to spot at first, as it’s so smooth and it lacks the tell-tale label edges. Once you look though, you’ll almost always feel the edge of the wrap on the collars of the can.

I have also come across cans that I think were spray-printed, perhaps even after filling, but of course I couldn’t find one when collecting samples for this! The ones I saw felt slightly rough, as if they’d been spray-painted with a fast-drying enamel. I’ll keep looking…

I said above that the big problem for micro-canning two or three years ago was labelling – well, it was, but it wasn’t the only one. The other was overcoming an initial impression that it was ‘cheap and cheerful’ and lacked quality – that yes it was canning, but it wasn’t real canning.

Crowler demo at
Craft Beer Rising
The thing is, not only is micro-canning gear cheap enough for even a small to middling brewery to be able to afford its own canning line, you don’t even have to buy it – it’s so compact that there are companies that have portable micro-canning lines. You get your beer ready, in a specified capacity and condition, they turn up with a truck or large van containing the equipment and a stack of empties, and some hours later they leave you with pallets full of sealed cans.

Climbing the learning curve
Of course, with anything like this there’s a learning curve, both for the canners and for the brewers they work with. So while the UK’s mobile canners do a great job today, brewers tell me that wasn’t always the case when they started up. I heard reports three years ago of lagers with oxidation problems and a stout where one can in three was infected, for example. Reading between the lines though, I suspect the brewers involved were as responsible as the canners, mainly because they didn’t (yet) know how to present their beer properly.

However, while those quality worries are no longer valid, some of the suspicion of low-tech canning remains – and that, combined with the subversive popularity of canned craft beer, has brought the big boys in. Just like the macrobrewers starting up or buying craft beer brands, the big machinery companies based in Germany, Italy and yes, China, who supplied those multi-million dollar canning lines are now targeting smaller-scale customers. As they bring out cheaper and smaller versions of their high-tech canneries, the micro-canners are pushing upmarket with lines that are faster and much more sophisticated than their original semi-manual lines.

And the cans themselves are evolving. As well as the crowlers, there’s now rip-top types where the whole lid comes away to leave you a metal drinking cup. Can’t say I like the idea – I've tried two, and find you lose both the look of the beer and much of the aroma, and those are important parts of the drinking experience.

But it all says – as did my visit to a Morrisons supermarket today, with craft beer cans from all over – that canned craft is not only here to stay, but is increasingly the norm.

Sorry it's been a while, but I've been rather busy! Hopefully this makes up for it a bit...

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Spot the difference

Two bottles, different shapes but more or less the same labels. A change of bottle supplier, perhaps? No, a change of brewer - Lidl UK has moved production of its Hatherwood Craft Beer Co own-brand from the Marston's group to Shepherd Neame. I don't know why, but I assume Sheps offered a better deal.

All the names and descriptions are the same though, and presumably so are the recipes. But how could they be the same beer, when production has moved to a new brewer? Even more so in this case, when it's also moved right from one end of the country to the other - Purple Panther was brewed at Jennings in Cumbria, and Sheps is in Kent.

Fortunately, one of my local Lidls still had a few examples of the old version on the shelf alongside the new, so I grabbed a couple of bottles of the Porter (as I've enjoyed it in the past) with a comparative tasting in mind.

It took a couple of weeks before an opportunity and a couple of willing assistants came along. Without them seeing, I poured samples into six numbered glasses and gave each of them two of one version and one of the other: the initial challenge was simply to pick the odd one out.

And they did it. The two were remarkably close, yet subtly different - and it wasn't even age. Assuming I read the bottles rightly, the Jennings version was bottled in January and the Sheps one in February. When I  tasted them myself, the Jennings one seemed ever so slightly more dry and burnt, while the newer version was just a little softer and its cocoa note a tiny bit more pronounced.

An interesting exercise, and a lesson in just how hard it is to move a beer from one brewery to another without changing it, no matter the work and expertise that goes into taste-matching.

(And no, Young's beers from Bedford are good beers, but they still don't taste the same as they did from Wandsworth, damn the asset-strippers' eyes!)

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Sharp’s tricks the senses

Last week I went on a virtual holiday, courtesy of Sharp’s Brewery who billed it as an In-flight Beer Experience. We didn’t fly very far – in fact we didn’t move at all – but there was indeed beer along the way. The most interesting part, though, was that it physically demonstrated a bunch of things that even trained beer-tasters normally only talk about.

Sam pours the beers
The venue was the same one used for the beer & food matching session that Sharp’s did for last year’s London Beer Week. Which is to say it’s a long-wheelbase van fitted inside with a tiny lobby leading to a long and narrow bar. A single bench facing the bar provides seating for six but it’s a tight fit – if you’re the first one in, don’t expect to get out in a hurry...

Our barman, Sharp’s beer sommelier Sam, fed us three beers in turn, asking us to say what we thought. They seemed pretty different but he then revealed they were all Pilsners – and two of them were the same beer, Sharp’s Cornish Pils! He had used a wide mix of sensory inputs to trick our senses into perceiving them differently – the sound of the seaside for one of them, subtly adding grapefruit aroma into the air for another, and the mood lighting kept changing colour.

It was really well done. I was aware of the coloured mood lighting, but only because it made it so hard to judge the colours of the beers. I didn't spot the smells, and being unable to go back and re-taste beer #1 later, as you would do when judging, made it impossible to compensate for how each successive drink coloured your whole palate.

Orange essence over dry ice...
At the end, and after explaining some of what had happened, he poured us a last drink – a cocktail of a splash of a gin sour in some more Pils. Initially there was just a tart lemony-herbal edge to the drink, but then he poured a liquid containing orange oils over some dry ice (!) to flood the space with aroma. Now the drink tasted more citrusy, and even orangey.

So what was the lesson? Well, when you learn to taste and judge beer, one of the things you’re warned about – but rarely experience so clearly in reality – is that your sense of taste can be affected by all sorts of external factors such as background smells, lighting, even the seating, as well as by spicy food or what you were drinking before – and just before starting the experiment a friend had passed me a neat Glenfiddich, aged in an IPA barrel...  No wonder the first Pils had tasted so light!

We also got to try Sharp’s excellent Camel Valley Pilsner, which is a collaboration with Cornwall’s largest vineyard, Camel Valley. It’s the regular Pils refermented with Champagne yeast in the classic Methode Champenoise, and it’s lovely, with a thicker body, an orange note, and a hint of farmhouse ale, the refermentation also pushes the ABV up by 1%. The first batch is almost gone, but I was glad to hear there’s a second, much larger one, on the way!

If you ever get the chance to go on one of these Sharp’s tasting events, I’d highly recommend it. They are not all the same – they change the themes around and have multiple beer sommeliers hosting them, so even if you’re offered the In-flight Experience it will most likely be different to mine.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Going 'craft Irish' for St Patrick's Day


It's St Patrick's Day today, and while I don't especially approve of either cruelty to snakes, or evangelism, it seems an appropriate opportunity to write about Irish beer – and especially about the Irish beer that doesn't come from a huge and shiny brewery near the banks of the Liffey.

And yet, when I was invited to this year's Spirit of Sharing showcase of crafted Irish drinks at the Republic's embassy in London, the thing that struck me was that this time the brewers were just a small minority – just three of them*, far outnumbered by producers of spirits. It felt like a big change from last year, when microbreweries were the dominant presence.

Metal cans from Metalman
Interestingly, although the breweries taking part were outnumbered they had pride of place, being the first things visitors saw as they entered the event. I was delighted to see Metalman Brewing there – it’s one of Ireland’s oldest new-wave micros, having celebrated its sixth anniversary in production earlier this month – and to finally get a chance to chat in person with brewer and co-founder Gráinne Walsh. We’d spoken on the phone a couple of years ago when I was writing about microcanning, which Metalman was also the first in Ireland to adopt.

From one core product in cans back then – the pale ale that’s still its flagship – Metalman has now expanded to four core beers plus a range of seasonals, and thanks to ‘can’tinued innovation (which I plan to write more about soon) they are all canned. The other core lines are an amber IPA, a spiced wheat lager, and believe it or not, a smoked chili Porter! “It’s the slowest of the four, so we only brew it once a month,” admits Gráinne, “but yes, it’s core – we’re brave!”

Part of this expansion is down to a bigger brewkit, which they finally got up and running about 18 months ago. The problem for Irish craft brewers, and the reason some are looking to the export market, is that the growth in domestic demand isn’t keeping up with the growth in supply – and there are still new contract brands and new breweries setting up, says Gráinne. That’s not too bad for her company – she notes that they didn’t expand the brewhouse so that they could scale their production linearly, instead it was because they were having to brew way too often and inefficiently on the old kit.

As well as the pale ale, she’d brought along their spiced wheat lager Equinox, which is a tasty refreshing brew, dry-sweet with lightly citrus notes, plus two of the current seasonals, Ginger and Sgt Pepper. Ginger does what it says on the tin – a warming ginger note over a slightly dusty blond ale – while Sgt Pepper is a lightly funky farmhouse Saison with well judged notes of sage and white pepper.

Kinnegar's Libby Carton
The other two brewers both describe themselves as making farmhouse beers, although Donegal’s Kinnegar Brewing is in the process of expanding from its current farm-based 10hl kit to a new 35hl brewhouse located in the nearby town. Kinnegar’s Libby Carton had a very impressive array of bottles in front of her: all seven of their core beers, plus four of the specials that she and her other half, American brewer Rick, do “when we have the time and capacity.”

Black Rye IPA is a new one on me
Their bottled beers are all unfiltered, unpasteurised and naturally carbonated, although Libby says they’re not bottle-conditioned as such. “We do have draught lines as well,” she adds, “but it’s difficult because you have to keep that line supplied – with the same beer, too! We’re lucky in a way that we started with packaged beer.” Of those I tried, the regulars were all good, as long as you don’t mind a slight haze. The standouts were all from the specials range, though, especially the peppery and spicy-fruity Swingletree, which is a strong Saison, a rich foreign stout called Flying Saucer, and my personal favourite, Black Bucket, a beautifully complex black rye IPA.

Although they’re waiting for the new brewhouse for their main export push, which will feature 330ml bottles replacing the current 500mls, you can find Kinnegar beers on tap all over the UK this weekend as they’re St Patrick’s Day guests in the Brewdog bars, the Rake, the Tate Modern bar, and several others – see their blog for a list.

Last but far from least was Brehon Brewhouse – Seamus McMahon reckons he is the only dairy farmer in the country who also has a brewery on his farm. He says he’s into brewing partly to boost the local economy – the brewery employs five people and uses locally grown malt too, while the waste can go for animal feed. “We’ve doubled the size of the brewery since we set up in 2014, and will double again this year,” he says, adding that he’s in 50 pubs around the area as well as several supermarket groups.

He has a fairly typical range for an Irish micro – a blonde ale, a red, an IPA and slightly unusually, both a porter and a stout, though he didn’t have the porter with him. The ones I tried were all good examples of their styles, with the Ulster Black Oatmeal Stout standing out as very pleasant and quaffable. What’s an Ulster beer doing at the Irish Embassy, you ask? Well, the historical Ulster is nine counties, only six of which are now part of the UK. Both Brehon and Kinnegar are therefore technically Ulster breweries, even though they’re in the Republic.

As I said, it was however spirits that dominated – mostly whiskey of course, but also poitín (aka potcheen, which is basically unaged whiskey), plus 'craft' vodka and gin. Irish whiskey’s presence you’d understand – it’s reportedly the fastest growing spirit in the world – but vodka and gin? Not only are they currently hip, especially gin, but they don't need time, unlike Irish whiskey which by law must be matured at least three years before it can be sold. So if you are starting a distillery, white spirits are good to get you going while you wait for your whiskey to come of age.

One change from last year was that more of the spirits producers seemed to actually be distilling now, although as most only set up their stills within the last two years, few had their own whiskey yet. Instead, they typically get started by buying already-aged whiskey in bulk, then ageing it some more and blending it for resale.

The other was just how many new faces there were. Most of the participants – and all the breweries – were new from last year. This may be deliberate by the organisers at Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board), as the event's role is as a venue for producers who're not yet exporting to the UK. All in all, an excellent event by Bord Bia: my thanks go to them, and of course to the ambassador Dan Mulhall, for being such good hosts.


*Well, three and a half – Dingle Distillery, which was there with its whiskeys, is an offshoot of the Porterhouse brewery and pub group, so it had some Porterhouse bottles on its embassy table. This is also why the London Porterhouse this week was advertising a Dingle whiskey tasting.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Truman's gets all Kölschy

Tank lager for all to see
The invitation to the launch by Truman’s Brewery of a new ‘tank lager’ didn’t really grab my attention at first. After all, I’m not entirely persuaded that these tank beers are a Good Thing. Brewers claim it keeps the beer fresher, among other things, but there’s a bit of me that sees it as just a dressed-up version of the practice much-derided in the 1960s and 70s where keg beer was tankered to the pub, pumped in via a hose, and served from a large tank in the cellar – although in the modern versions the tank is made a feature of the bar, rather than being hidden away.

What piqued my curiosity was noticing that Truman’s RAW Lager was described as Kölsch-style, meaning it is top or warm-fermented like an ale, before being cold-matured as a Lagerbier*. (It was also described as unfiltered, meaning it’s not a Kölsch but a Wiess/Wieß, an even rarer style that’s made a minor comeback during the current German craft beer revolution – but that’s another story!)

The Kölsch aspect rang bells because it’s far from the only example I’ve come across lately. At the extremes, last year I met some new Irish craft brewers who had a Kölsch-style as the lager-equivalent in their range, usually alongside an Irish Red, a pale ale and the inevitable stout. I even heard of some North American beer-geek bars having four or five different Kölsches on tap at the same time.

Just a few years ago, Kölsch was one of those legendary things: not only was it a lagered ale but it was a Beer from the Old Days (in theory, at least**) that you could pretty much only get in its birthplace of Cologne – bar a few one-offs. I recall the now-defunct West London brewery Grand Union doing one in 2004, for example.

So how come Kölsch-style beers – done properly, I hope! – now seem to be pretty much everywhere? Part of it, especially inside Germany, is the realisation that while the name is protected – it's one of the few that has Europe-wide legal protection, not just protection within Germany like Berliner Weisse – the style is not. Indeed, the real historical Kölsch (as opposed to the modern version) would probably have had close cousins across a wide region. So now for example you can drink Bönnsch from nearby Bonn, a bit further south there's Trilsch from Trier, and most recently Bölsch from a jokey Berlin brewpub.

But it's also the realisation that for an ale brewer, it's a much easier step than going all the way to bottom-fermented lagers. It's also significantly cheaper, as Howling Hops head brewer Tim O’Rourke explained a few months ago while I tasted his cask-conditioned Kölsch-style beer, in both natural and smoked-tea variants. He’s done proper Pilsners too, but they tied up chilled tanks for many weeks while the beer fermented out and then matured. Kölsch could be done in half the time, which is superb when you’re short on space and you need lager to sell, not expensive ingredients locked up in storage for weeks on end.

The big brewers have known this for rather longer. Indeed, there’s been hard-to-confirm tales for many years that some of the major UK lager brands are top-fermented before lagering. One of the few to confirm this is Fuller’s brewing director John Keeling, whose Frontier lager is a top-fermented beer.

Enough about the wider world of Kölsch though: what of Truman’s RAW Lager? Firstly, no, I don’t know why it’s RAW in capitals. But there it was, I’d guess 500 litres of it, in a gleaming copper cylinder hanging above the bar of The Eagle, a newly-reopened (and Truman’s-affiliated) gastropub in Ladbroke Grove, which I hope to write more about later.

This glass is too big for authentic Kölsch!
Truman’s head of marketing Jasper Hossack confirmed the time element: “Our previous lager brews only went to a few selected customers – mostly old Truman's pubs, as it happens, We had to keep a small footprint with them because while ale takes a week [to ferment], lager takes up to a month.” He noted that the brewery is also installing three new 120-barrel fermenting vessels – their brewkit is 40-barrels so they’ll have to brew three times to fill each one, but with the longer overall process for RAW that’s not a problem.

He added that while a brewer can work around faults in an ale, “With lager there’s nothing to hide behind. You have to be so on-it, make sure it’s conditioned properly and so on. The tanker also takes a step out of the process as there’s no filling kegs.”

The first sips of RAW are tasty, refreshing and authentic: lightly hoppy, with dry-grassy and peppery noble hop notes over slightly sweet golden malt. Order a pint though, and further down the glass it changes. It becomes sweeter and yes, there’s a hint of a generic Brit-brewed Eurolager.

I guess this is why in Cologne’s pubs, Kölsch is only ever served in 20cl ‘Stange’ glasses – it needs to be drunk fresh, so as you finish one Stange the waiter quickly replaces it. Maybe Truman’s should consider investing in some branded Stanges lined for third-pint measures – that’s 19cl, so close enough, and it’d make a neat talking point!


*One of the problems with beer terminology is that ale and lager are not opposites – the terms refer to different parts of the brewing process. So you can lager a top-fermented ale, as the Kölsch and Alt brewers do, and I guess you could equally well sell a bottom-fermented beer without lagering it (does anyone ever do this? I’ve a suspicion it’s what at least some of the reinvented Zwickls and Kellerbiers amount to). 

**Modern Kölsch is largely a 20th century creation, developed to compete with Pilsner, Helles and Export lagers – remember here that the Bavarian Einheitsgebot [Law of Sameness] wasn't imposed on Northern Germany until the very early 1900s. Indeed, in the years of devastation following WW2 the Cologne brewers were rebuilding themselves as Pils brewers, before the founders of the Kölsch-Konvention persuaded them of the value of tradition.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Beery times in old London town

We’ve a beery few weeks in London right now. Last week was Craft Beer Rising, where I had a great time discussing the state of the industry with various of the excellent brewers there – more about that in what’s planned to be a series of future blog posts.

Then next week is North London CAMRA’s London Drinker Beer Festival, and the week after that is DrinkUp.London’s London Beer Week*. The latter, which runs from Monday 13th ot Sunday 19th March, seems to have split up with Craft Beer Rising – last year CBR was the anchor event for LBW, but this year they’re separate events. Oh, and earlier in February was the trade show Pub17 which I didn’t get to this year, but by all accounts it’s developing more and more of a craft beer flavour.

London Drinker is going to be interesting this year, as for the first time it will feature only London real ales – the last couple of years it’s had a London bar, but at least half the beers were from elsewhere in the country. Now, with almost 100 breweries active in the capital it can showcase the best beer it has to offer, whether in cask, keg, bottle or potentially can. There is even going to be a Champion Beer of London competition.

Meanwhile, London Beer Week has moved this year from Brick Lane’s Old Truman Brewery (where Craft Beer Rising has just taken place) to Hackney’s Oval Space (the venue for last year’s London Craft Beer Festival, but that’s moving to Shoreditch this year). As well as brewery-run events, DrinkUp.London is running its own three-day festival at Oval Space, called the Beer Edit. Confused yet?

I’m looking forward to the Beer Edit, albeit with some guarded scepticism! That’s because there’s no beer list for it yet that I’ve seen, just mentions of some of the “brands” taking part – and so far they’re all big ones from outside London, but then this is a week of beer in London, not necessarily of London.

Sharp’s and Guinness are headlining again, both of them put on a good show last year and look set to repeat that this year. Sharp’s will again have a full range of beers including a couple of specials, plus a beer and food matching experience, while Guinness will once more feature unusual beers from its Open Gate Brewery, which is the former pilot brewery at Dublin’s St James’ Gate now operating as an experimental craft brewpub. Beyond that we’re promised Czech Staropramen (a MolsonCoors brand, like Sharp’s) and Pabst Blue Ribbon, which is an American lager that was for a while ‘ironically cool’.

Some of the other London Beer Week events look both more local and rather excellent. For example, the rickshaw beer tours which take you to three different London breweries or taprooms, with a beer at each. They’re sponsored by Jameson’s, which is promoting its whiskey aged in stout barrels (if I remember rightly, this is Franciscan Well Shandon Stout – the brewery then takes Jameson whiskey barrels and ages beer in them!), so they’re only £10 per person.

There’s also a Courage-themed walking tour which visits both the site of the legendary brewery near Tower Bridge, and the new Southwark Brewery which is producing special Courage SE1 cask ales. And there’s a bunch of bars doing LBW specials such as beer cocktails – see the Beer Week website for details.

All in all it’s a great time for beer in London, as befits what was once – and may yet be again – the greatest brewing city in the world. Have fun!


*not to be confused with London Beer City week in August, which is when London Craft Beer Festival and the Great British Beer Festival take place. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A few days in Beercelona

BierCab
Although last week's trip to Barcelona was a family holiday and nothing to do with beer, somehow I did manage to involve a little bit of the latter... Indeed, along with a brief business trip there last autumn, I've now been to three of the city's new beer destinations: BierCab, Chivuo's and BlackLab.

Anyone familiar with the Barcelona (and indeed Catalonia and Spain more generally) of 10 to 20 years ago will be startled by the very idea of a 'beer destination' there – Spanish beer was basically Eurolager, plus a few seasonal oddities, such as strong lagers pitched as Bock or Märzen. But like so many other countries, Spain has had a craft beer revolution, and the results are sometimes extremely good.

See yourself on the big screen...
I liked BierCab – it's a friendly craft beer bar with 30-odd taps, pouring a 50/50 mix of local and international beers. It's also the first place I'd been in which had huge screens above the bar showing all their recent beer check-ins on Twitter and Untappd. Seeing my own mugshot scroll past after checking in a beer was a bit disconcerting!

Chivuo's was rather different but equally likeable – enough for a second visit, this time with Mrs BeerViking (it helped here that it was only a short walk from where we were staying). It's rather more hipster, which on the plus side means a menu of jolly decent 'slow street food' – that's burgers, pulled-pork and the like – and on the minus side means beer served in bloody jam jars*, complete with the screw thread for a lid! But no, there were no lids on offer for take-aways, only flip-top growlers.

Nipping out for a jar?
Only eight taps here, but all the draught beers are either from the Barcelona area or not far away, as are three of the four bottled offerings -- the single exception was Schneider TAP1. The local beers were a well-curated and well-kept selection, including IPAs, pale ales, Helles, stout and brown ale.

That list should give a clue as to the big challenge facing local craft brewers here, which is how do they do something distinctive and different? They have no local beer styles to work with, so really it's all just variations on the US 'craft standards' plus styles from the big beer traditions, which means Britain, Belgium, Germany, and perhaps Ireland.

A visit to the BlackLab brewpub – for no obvious reason, its logo is a black labrador wearing glasses – to meet local beer blogger Joan (yes, as in Miro: it’s the Catalan form of John), confirmed it. On offer were a couple of IPAs, an American Pale Ale, a Porter, a fruited Berliner Weisse and more. All were well-made and tasty (their flagship IPA, called Claudia, was particularly good) but I got a distinct sense of brewing-by-numbers, as if someone had told the brewer, “We need one of this style, one of that, two of those, and then pick a couple more from the book.”

BlackLab
BlackLab was quite a change from the other two. It’s down by the posh harbour alongside other ‘destination nightspots’, quite a bit more spacious inside and with a good-sized terrace area too. The beer prices are a bit posher as well, but not too bad. The one fly in the ointment was the crappy free Wi-Fi which, even after requiring me to register, timed me out after two hours with no option to renew.

Catching up with Joan, after we met a few times at other events (most notably the Beer Writers & Bloggers Conferences), was great. So was most of the beer I had while I was in Barcelona – even some of the cheap macro stuff I picked up for under a Euro. As in other countries, there’s also the welcome first signs of beers with a local twist, whether that’s a Saison with orange, Porter aged in a Rioja barrel, or simply a toasty strong lager that works far better as a beer for a sunny terrace than you’d even imagine it might.

Moritz Epidor: toasty
lager on the prom
I barely scratched the surface of Barcelona’s new beer culture. There’s many more bars and brewery taprooms to visit, there’s the Barcelona Beer Challenge, and next week there is the Barcelona Beer Festival, which Joan helps organise. It’s definitely one of Europe’s top new beer destinations.


*The Chivuo’s jars weren’t lined, but I’d guess they were about 330ml which made the beers €10 a litre, or about £5 a pint – and it’s the same price regardless of strength. Pricing in BierCab and BlackLab varied by beer and was higher overall, but not a lot. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Genesis of a Band Beer

Well, OK – as far as I know there isn’t a Genesis-branded beer yet, but there are quite a few others. From Iron Maiden’s Trooper via Status Quo’s Piledriver to AC/DC Rock or Bust ‘premium lager’, it’s starting to look like any band serious about its merchandising has to have a fan-beer. Some also have branded ciders and even wines – how very rock’n’roll…

Guess which is cask?
So an invitation to the official launch of the new Motörhead beer made me curious: just how do these brews come about? And who’d want a lager flavoured with JD & coke anyway? Just joking – JD&C might have been Lemmy’s favourite tipple, but the new beer is actually an American Pale Ale named for the band’s eulogy to its eponymous Röad Crew.[1]

It’s brewed by Cameron’s, a 150-year-old family-run brewery in Hartlepool, and the brewery’s head of marketing Yousef Doubooni says it was the band’s management that approached them about a beer, not vice versa. And unlike some of those other band beers, where band members actually visited the brewery and discussed beer, in this case it was left to Cameron’s to suggest ideas, send over samples, and so on.

Of course, there’s the minor point here that since Lemmy’s death in 2015, Motörhead-the-band “isn’t touring”, as Yousef tactfully put it. So we are talking now about Motörhead-the-brand, which is still very strong, to judge by the number of inscribed t-shirts, leather jackets and so on at the beer launch. (Many of the wearers were there to see former Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell play with his new band The Bastard Sons[2]. Sadly, something went drastically wrong with the audio gear and they cancelled.)

Why an American Pale Ale? “We sell a lot of Trooper in our pubs, so it was important to have something different,” Yousef says. Camerons has also done seasonal APAs before, he adds, plus it has its crafty Head of Steam pub chain where it does quite a bit of ‘white label’ testing of new brews from its 10-barrel pilot brewery[3].

The bottled version is stronger
The first thing of interest is Röad Crew’s on offer in three different packages: cask and keg at 4.5%, and bottled at 5%. A higher ABV for a bottled version is pretty common now, Yousef says that as well as “maintaining the flavour better, it also suits the export market better – they prefer 5-plus.” The export market’s a key one for a beer that’s essentially a bottling of an international brand, with the initial targets being Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Serbia and Slovenia. And no, I’ve no idea why Motörhead should go down so well in the Balkans!

We got to try all three formats at the launch; sadly, the cask version was totally lacking in condition, but the keg and bottle versions were both fine and eminently quaffable. Röad Crew is a well-made albeit fairly typical APA – hints of orange on the nose, then lightly honeyed golden malt with a fruity bitterness.

The one thing it doesn't do, beyond the artwork on the labels and pumpclips, is say anything about Motörhead. I guess it’s a reminder of the extent to which music is a merchandising business now – and that relatively few musicians are actually interested in brewing!


[1] It’s just “(We are) The Road Crew” on the Ace of Spades track list, but some numpty has added the obligatory misplaced accent to the beer name, which would make it sound more like Roe-add Crew. Sigh. (Go Back)
[2] Bastard was Mötorhead’s original band name. (Go Back)
[3] Cameron's main brewery can do 300 barrel batches, but currently does a lot of half-length 150bbl batches. I get a distinct sense that 120-150bbl is a sweetspot in the UK brewing market right now – it seems to fit well with contract bottlers, pub chains, etc. (Go Back)

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

A tale of Owls, Pussycats, Dodos and micropubs

The micropub revolution has reached West London – Ealing, to be precise, where in a week's time the population should have jumped from zero to two. The first one officially opened last Friday: called The Owl and The Pussycat*, it’s not too far from Northfields tube station, and even better, it has its own brewery.

If you’ve not been to a micropub before, they’re a relatively new phenomenon that was first recognised just over a decade ago, yet they embody ideals that are many centuries older. Typically, it’s a single room – often a former shop – converted into a small pub. The Micropub Association definition adds that it “listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks.”

Mark, Roger Protz and Paul at the opening
The Owl and The Pussycat fits that to a tee. It’s the brainchild of two ex-teachers, Mark Yarnell and Paul Nock, and it took them almost a year to get it off the ground, what with finding premises and a brewing kit, and persuading the local authority to give them planning permission.

“I was teaching for 24 years, people said we were crazy, but a year later here we are,” says Paul. Fortunately the local support has been tremendous – as the letter-writing campaign that backed their planning application shows, locals have been fascinated by the project. Indeed, when the pair opened briefly before Christmas to test the waters, they were almost drunk dry and had to bring in emergency supplies from a friendly microbrewery.

In the long run they aim to be self-sufficient in beer though, thanks to having their own nanobrewery in the back room, working under the name Marko Paulo. Their UK-made 200-litre brewkit** took London’s tally of breweries to 92, and it allows them to fill five nine-gallon firkins (casks) per brew. Alternatively, they have 40-litre kegs for beers better suited to gas dispense – on my visit that meant an authentic German-style Oktoberfest-Märzen and a West Coast-inspired IPA.

The Marko Paulo Brewery
Rather unusually, they also have smaller casks: 4.5-gallon pins. Mark explains that the use of pins allows them to offer a wider range of beers – they have six handpumps and two keg taps, which could easily be a recipe for tired beer if it took too long for a cask to sell out. “Using pins keeps the beer fresh and let’s us keep variety on,” he says.

“We are brewing twice a week, and are pretty much at capacity now,” adds Paul. They’re limited not just by only having two fermenters – each brew takes about a week to ferment – but by how many filled casks and kegs they can fit in their cold-store.

The plan is to have two core beers, most probably their excellent Coal Porter and a best bitter, plus a rotating range of others. For example, at the opening event, which was kicked of by an entertaining talk on London’s brew history from Good Beer Guide editor and fellow*** beer-writer Roger Protz, we were treated to a mild, two pale ales (one of them ‘single hop and grain’ – I guess that makes for a more entertaining acronym than the more usual ‘single malt and single hop’!) and a hoppy bitter.

Mark says they hope to do collaboration brews with local home-brewers, and perhaps run a home-brew club. And they plan to run beer-and-cheese tastings/pairings with their next-door neighbours Cheddar Deli.

On top of all that, incredibly the local micropub population is about to double. One of the other guests at The Owl and The Pussycat’s official opening was Lucy, who is due to open her own micropub this coming Saturday. It’s called The Dodo and is in Hanwell, just up the road from Northfields. She’s not planning to brew, instead pouring a wide range of mainly London-brewed beers.


*The name comes from the bookshop that formerly occupied the site.
**made by Elite of Swindon, I noticed. 
***he’s been at it a lot longer than me, mind, and a lot more successfully too!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Going Wild at the Tate

I’ve been following The Wild Beer Co. for some years now, and not just because it’s based in my childhood home of Somerset*, or because it picked up early on those fascinating printed bottles. It’s because it was the first British new-wave craft brewery to specialise in, as the name implies, wild yeasts.

That means bugs like Brettanomyces (Brett to its friends), Pediococcus, Lactobacillus and a number of others. As we’re now discovering, thanks to the diligent work of historians, these were incredibly important right up to the 1800s – Brett in particular was how Stock Ales and vatted Porters were aged. However, while they’re still very important in traditional Belgian brewing, they fell out of favour in most other places, typically with tastes changing to prefer fresher (Mild) beers.

Lemony & sour-sweet: Wild Beer's
The Blend Summer 2016
So I was delighted to hear that the Tate’s tap take-over series would include a meet-the-brewer session with Wild Beer. I wasn’t the only one excited, either – it was pretty full, with a pleasantly varied crowd, as they poured us thirds of four different Wild Beers. (Sadly, the Modus Operandi was off – strange for a sour beer I know, but there really is a difference between wanted and unwanted sournesses!)

As co-founder Andrew Cooper tells it, when in 2012 he and Brett** Ellis started Wild Beer – based on a cheese farm, as it happens – they wanted to explore what wild yeasts could do: “At that time, a lot of people were experimenting with hops, but no one was really experimenting with yeast. We took lessons from Belgium, but also from the whisky and wine worlds – we wanted to make aged beers.”

He adds, “We kind of reverse-engineer our beers – we know what flavour we want to end up with, so it’s about flavours and ingredients, not beer styles.”

The attraction of wild yeasts is the complex flavours they can yield. As Andrew says, “A standard yeast might produce 25 flavour compounds, Brett produces 125.”

Part of this is because they can ferment things that regular Saccharomyces beer yeasts cannot, such as complex sugars and carbohydrates. The downside for the brewer is that they are slow-burners, hence their use in beers that are matured in vats or foeders over many months or even years. “Brett will just keep going – in a barrel it’ll even ferment the cellulose in the wood,” Andrew exclaims.

This can cause problems for the brewer, such as if a yeast kicks back into life unexpectedly. For example, both Harvey’s with its initial 1999 brew of Imperial Extra Double Stout and Goose Island with its 2015 Bourbon County Stout suffered from an extra wild fermentation starting months after the beer had been bottled. In Harvey’s case it meant corks being forced out, while for BCS it meant sour notes, “gushing”, and the less-than-popular decision to pasteurise future BCS editions.

Trendy Juice: murky as anything, but
deliciously fruity and resinous
The bigger worry though is if the wild yeasts escape and go where they’re not wanted. Says Andrew, “We understand Brett, we respect it, and we clean a lot! In four years we’ve never had any cross-contamination on the bottling line, it’s three years since we had any on the kegging line.” He adds that they also have two complete sets of hoses for moving beer around, one for sours and one for normies.

Which reminds me that, while three of the beers on show that evening were mostly sours and wilds, Wild Beer also does whole range of slightly more conventional brews: IPAs, stouts and so on – our 4th was their beautifully complex and fruity Trendy Juice IPA.

So although the sours are what started the brewery, Andrew says that those are now down to 20 or so, out of a total range of 35 beers. “Sour beers take a long time and are really expensive to make,” he explains, “so you have to have some beers that you can get out there faster.”

It’s clear that the fear of cross-contamination is always there, however, so with that and the fact that they now brew around ten times a week on their 15-barrel brewkit, it is no surprise that expansion is planned. The aim, he says, is to have two brewkits, one for the big sellers and the other all about barrel-ageing and wild yeast.***

What of the remaining three beers? All were good, but my least favourite was Black & Blue, their collaboration with New Zealand’s 8 Wired for the 2016 International Rainbow Project. It was interesting, especially in its use of peppercorns, bourbon barrels and zero hops, but too sweet for my liking.

Rather better was the 2016 Summer Blend. Inspired by Belgian Gueuze, this sees several of their barrel-aged beers of different ages blended together to produce a fascinating dry-sweet and sour beer, with a mouth-puckering lemony tartness and a complex mix of honey and fruit notes.

The best for me though was the very last keg of their Amuse Gooseberry, a Lambic-styled beer fermented in this case with gooseberries and aged in white wine barrels. Tart and lightly fruity with lemony and berry notes, it was delicious.

An interesting and enjoyable evening then - it certainly broadened my knowledge of wild yeast, and helped me make useful connections between some other stuff I’d already learnt. My thanks to Andrew Cooper for speaking so well and handling all the questions with aplomb and good humour!


*Although the brewery is quite a long way over from where I did my growing-up.
**I'm sure he gets fed up with the nominative determinism jokes.
***Brewdog is doing something similar, incidentally, building a whole separate brewery for its sours.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Tapping the Tate

Late last summer I discovered that the Tate Modern – the ex-power station that’s now an art gallery on London’s South Bank – not only has a new extension with a bar in it, but that bar is bidding to become a craft beer destination, with a monthly series of tap take-overs where it hosts modern British brewers.

By Jim Linwood from London - The New Tate Modern Extension - London., CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50556806
Opened last June, the new extension is called the Switch House and looks like a tapering yet twisted tower. Apparently there was a bit of controversy over the design... The bar, on the ground floor – or at least, on the entrance level, which is not the same thing – is long and sort of L-shaped. It is also not cheap (330ml bottles & cans average £6, the new price-point for up-market venues), so the £10 tickets for the tap take-overs, where you can taste five of a brewery’s beers and also hear the brewer speak, are pretty decent value – especially given that you get a third of a pint of each beer, and the line-up typically includes a rarity or two.

On the downside, I’m told we are not likely to see cask beer at the Terrace Bar any time soon, as the ‘cellar’ is too far away, plus there isn’t enough free space on the bar-back to put a cask there on gravity. There’s two clusters of keg taps though, serving half a dozen beers plus what looks to be a triad of draught house wines, plus fridges with a decent collection of bottles and cans. The latter has a London focus, eg. Fourpure (which also brews the house beer, Switch House Pale Ale), Orbit, Kernel and Partizan.

I was over there a couple of months back for a tap take-over by Wild Beer, which I'll write about once I get my notes sorted out.