Tuesday 23 May 2023

Hungarian Voodoo is a sweet surprise

I was not expecting to meet a Hungarian brewery at Brew//LDN this year, but there it was: the confidently-named First Craft Beer from Budapest, with a bar of its own and a range of brews on tap. They say the name is because when it was founded in 2017 by two brothers, they reckoned it was “the first new wave open-view brewery in Hungary.” Which I guess reminds us that it’s possible to claim pretty much anything if you define your criteria carefully enough. 

Anyway, it seems the beer market in Budapest is pretty big, despite it having a relatively small population. Like so many European craft breweries, First produces international styles, including ‘all the usual suspects' – on tap here were a Pils made in collaboration with a Czech brewer, two IPAs, a Fruit Sour and an unctuous dessert Stout.

Their 5.6% Voodoo IPA (how long before the New Belgium lawyers come calling, I wonder?) was relatively mild, hoppy-bitter and sweet – too sweet for my liking, but as the server explained, Hungary has always been Eurolager country, so drinkers there have quite a sweet tooth. 

Fruit Locker's actually pink, but the lighting
 in the venue is utterly weird so you can't tell!
Lightly fruity and piney, the Triple Flower Power IPA was also pretty sweet, though as it’s a 9% Triple IPA, the alcohol and bitterness helped cut through the sweetness a bit. Fruit Locker. which they describe as an Imperial Pastry Sour, was 9% and rather sweet too. But it was properly tart as well, with sour cherries, tangy currants and a warming booziness adding a good balance, making it for me an unexpectedly pleasing brew.

Apparently, most of the brewery staff are home brewers. They are all able to contribute ideas, too, so the idea for the rich and dark Dessert Storm – another 9%er – came from "one of the guys on the canning line." Fully in the modern pastry stout tradition, it's like Tiramisu in a glass – creamy and sticky-sweet, with notes of coffee and chocolate syrup. The best of the bunch? Maybe, but the Fruit Locker is in there too. 

Monday 15 May 2023

Brew//LDN 2023 round-up

I know I’m coming back to it a bit late, but this year’s Brew//LDN was great fun, as I expected it would be. The trade session started out quietly but was heaving by its end; I only saw the first couple of hours of the public evening session, they weren’t too busy but they certainly weren’t quiet either.

Yes, there were a few big companies acting crafty, and several contract brewers or importers playing the branding game, but there were also plenty of genuine micros, both modern and traditional craft. I spent most of my time hopping from bar to bar, mostly aiming for breweries that were new to me or that I’d not seen for a while. Here's some of those that caught my interest.

Jawbone Brewing is based not far from me, and I did visit the brewery to buy cans a couple of years ago, not long after it opened. Since then it’s expanded considerably though, opened a taproom and brought out several new beers. The Highs & Lows Callista Pils I tried here was maybe a bit corny for the style, but I really do want to get over there and check out the taproom.

I wasn’t sure if mead-maker Hive Mind was new or not – it looked new, but there was also something familiar there. And sure enough, it turns out this is the new name for sparkling mead specialist Wye Valley Meadery who I’d met before.

Chatting to Kit, one of the founders, he explained the change – they’d found that localism works well when you’re selling locally, but once you start trying to sell further afield it can count against you. Anyway, as Hive Mind they’re now offering a set of their four core meads, colourfully packaged in an equally attractive box – look for reviews of them here soon.

Something I'm still learning about is NoLo – no-alcohol and low-alcohol beers – so when I met brewster Pam Honeyman (left), of Monty’s Brewery in Wales, I wanted to hear her story. It's hard to tell her 1.2% Semi-nude Bitter from a regular light ale – she explained that she brews it rather hot to modify the fermentation and yield an ABV of around 2.5%, then liquors-back (adds water) to reach the target strength. Rather interesting and clever, I thought. 

Next, I'll write up some of the longer conversations I had, learning other stuff that was new to me and which might also be new to you.

And yes, the Printworks lighting was weird all day long. A heavy orange overcast in most areas, plus blue in a few, all of which made it very hard to take decent photos. Most odd! 

You can read part two here and more from Brew//LDN 2023 here Hungarian Voodoo is a sweet surprise and here Start-up brewer shows Spooky quality