Wednesday 24 February 2016

London beer week is go!

The 2016 London Beer Week is well underway now. It's hubbed at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, where Craft Beer Rising also takes place on Friday and Saturday. I'll be over there this afternoon to see what's happening - apparently there's various pop-up bars, including one from headline sponsor Sharp's and another for Guinness's crafty The Brewers Project micro-brand.

There's a whole bunch of other LBW16 activity taking place around the city too. Some of this needs a £10 wristband which you can buy at the OTB hub and elsewhere. To quote the organisers, it gets you access to the "self-guided Beer Tours", that’s £3 speciality beers and £5 boilermakers (AKA a beer and a shot) in more than 100 of the best beer bars and breweries in London. 

They go on to list several of the beers created especially for LBW16:

Oatmeal Cookie Stout: A rich, chocolatey brew with roasted nuts and caramel created by Brew by Numbers. Available at Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar – 157b Commercial Street, EC1 6BJ

Chilli Oyster Stout: A tasty collaboration between Well & Bucket pub and brewers Anspach & Hobday. Available at the Well & Bucket – 143 Bethnal Green Road, E2 7DG

DrinkUp.London Session IPA: Tropical fruited scents, with a hint of brown sugar and a dry fresh finish. Created by Melissa Cole and 40ft at Cotswold Brewing Co. Available at The DrinkUp.London Boilermaker Bar, The Old Truman Brewery, E1 6QL

LBW Tropical Hopjuice: Rich exotic tropical flavours to taste, an incredibly light and refreshing brew. Created by Durham Atkinson of Hops and Glory, and available at The DrinkUp.London Boilermaker Bar (Saturday only), The Old Truman Brewery, E1 6QL

Mizzen Stout: A dark, strong stout with hints of chocolate, coffee and malt sweetness. Brewed by Sharp’s Brewery’s 2015 Brewing Adventure Winner, Dylan Jones. Available at the Sharp’s Brewery London Beer Week Hub, Ely’s Yard, The Old Truman Brewery, E1 6QL

They are also promoting “hoptails” or beer cocktails, at £5 for wristband wearers, for example:

Kernow Gigglemug: Sharp’s Chalky’s Bite, gin, roasted fennel seed syrup, citrus and caramelized kosovar juniper foam. Complex and fresh. Available at Worship Street Whistling Shop – 63 Worship Street, EC2A 2DU

M-ale Tai: A traditional Tiki rework made using Brewdog Punk IPA and Scotch. Punchy and reviving. Available at Craft Cocktail Company – Arch 253, Paradise Row, E2 9LE

Peroni Sour: Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Calvados, lemon juice and bergamot reduction. Autumnal, elegant flavours. Available at Union Street Cafe – 47-51 Great Suffolk St, SE1 0BS

The Tank Old Fashioned: Pilsner Tank Beer, Woodford Reserve Bourbon, beer sugar and orange bitters. Rich and aromatic. Available at The Duck and Rice – 90 Berwick St, W1F 0QB

Apri-Hop Sour: Bulleit bourbon, lemon juice, apricot liqueur, Hop House 13 Lager.  Smooth and warming. Available at Hop House 13 LDN (LBW pop-up) – 7 Dray Walk, Old Truman Brewery, E1 6QL

Huggalicious: A specially created hoptail made using Big Hug ale, tequila, lime juice and agave syrup. Available at all London Cocktail Club venues.

Have you tried a beer cocktail? What did you think? I've not had one in years.

Thursday 11 February 2016

A-very impressive brewery tour

Part 3 of my Boulder breweries and brewpubs tour back in October last year. Part 2 is here.

A recent reminder that the new brewery site at Avery Brewing Co in Boulder, Colorado, is about to celebrate its first anniversary reminded me that I really ought to get on with writing about my visit there last Autumn.

The building is very impressive – partly because it was designed to be, but also because of the sheer scale and ambition of it. From Avery's cramped former home in a row of industrial units downtown, the plan was to think big. Its new flagship is still on an industrial estate, but this one is set in rolling lawns in the suburbs.

That's a lot of taps
It's not just a brewery, too – as well as a large bar or taproom with dozens of beers on draught, there is an artisanal restaurant and a giftshop selling beers and Avery-branded merchandise. On top of that, the whole thing has been designed with visitors in mind, as well as brewers. There are overhead viewing gantries in the brewhouse, and large glass windows onto many of the other workspaces, such as the barrel-ageing storeroom.

You can wander around by yourself (the visitor areas are separated off from the actual working space of course) or join one of the free daily guided tours – I did the latter. I have to admit I was a bit surprised when our guide reminded us that the brewery was already 21 years old in 2014, when 15-odd years of continued growth meant that they simply had to move somewhere bigger. “Our plan called for $45 million, the bank laughed us out, but we got $28 million,” he said.

The new building opened in February 2015. They decided to move the old brewkit over, which meant no brewing while that happened, plus they installed lots more shiny stainless steel gear. “Our German engineers said our hopback was too large,” laughed our guide. “But we have a 102 IBU* beer – the hopback was not big enough!” Its standard brewlength is now 100 hectolitres, or about 80 barrels, while its biggest fermenters (the outdoor ones you can see in the photo above) hold 800hl each.

They now have 30 different beers on draught at a time, plus many specials and seasonals. They vary from an Imperial (strong) lager that takes 57 days to ferment and mature, through a wide range of IPAs and spiced and fruit beers, to Hog Heaven, the 9.2% double-hopped Barleywine that fired Avery's growth in the late 1990s. Then there's all the barrel-aged (BA) beers: Avery has a huge programme pulling in used barrels from all over – from wineries, whisk(e)y distillers, rum, Madeira, tequila and more.

The BA facility is very impressive, with racks of slumbering barrels and forklifts to move them around. There's no foeders yet – those are the big wooden vats used in producing Belgian Lambics – but this could change!

A lot of blending goes on between BA beers to produce the desired results. Avery is also working on a series of wine-beer hybrids, some using wine yeast to ferment beer. Mostly though it uses the barrels either to flavour beers directly or to create sour and wild ales by adding bacteria and wild yeasts; these then live in the wood and produce fascinating flavours by working on sugars in the beer that normally wouldn't be fermentable.

The centrifuge refuge from above
Talking of which, the brewery has its own quality assurance and yeast propagation labs – indeed, it claims it has one of the best lab facilities anywhere in the world for a brewery of its size, with six microbiologists, chemists and analysts on staff.

On top of that, when I visited they were waiting for their new canning line to arrive. Their existing top-of-the-range microcanning line from Cask of Canada could do 50 to 60 cans a minute, but the new German line can run at over 300 cans a minute when needed. On top of that, there's keg and bottling lines of course, and for filtering beer before packaging there's a big centrifuge – this lives in its own strongroom, in case of accidents!

Like many brewers today, Avery's also working to reduce its environmental footprint. It's working with a neighbour company, New Sky Energy, on carbon dioxide scrubbing technology, with the aim of turning its surplus CO2 – and fermentation produces a lot of this – into useful soda ash. Spent water is treated to regulate its pH, and spent grain goes to local farmers as animal feed – brewers were afraid that the US government's FDA (Food & Drug Administration) would block the latter, but this seems to have been sorted out now.

Back to the bar...
After a fascinating and enjoyable tour, I wrapped up my visit by returning to the Avery taproom for a tasting flight covering a good spread of its products (I'd already has a pint of Old Jube, the winter ale). Oddly, the only one that didn't impress was White Rascal, the Witbier that they make quite a lot of. The others – including Semplice, a farmhouse ale with Lemondrop hops, a passionfruit Witbier called Liliko’i Kepolo, and a SMaSH (single malt, single hop) pale ale with Galaxy hops – more than made up for it though!

If you're in the area, they're having an anniversary party next Tuesday, February 16th. I wish I could be there!

*International Bittering Units – a seriously bitter IPA might hit 65 or 75 IBU. 

Apologies to our excellent tour guide, whose name has totally vanished from my notes! :(

Thursday 4 February 2016

An Australian take on hops

The infographic below was sent over by Australian online beer shop Beer Cartel - it's mostly about the role of hops and other flavourings in beer, but as well as a useful list of herbs there's an interesting list of current Australian hop varieties. Click it to see it full-size.

I'd heard of several of these (eg. Ella, Topaz, Vic Secret) before, but some of the others are new to me. It's great to know there's a new hop industry growing up, especially as there are supply shortages projected for the northern hemisphere this year.

You can find the original on the Beer Cartel site here. Cheers, guys!

Wednesday 3 February 2016

When beer weeks are like buses

Photo: Craft Beer Rising
Typical! You wait months for a London beer week, then two come along at once… First up is DrinkUp.London's London Beer Week 2016 on 22nd-28th February. This is hubbed at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane in the East End. Here you can buy £10 wristbands which get you access to special beers at 100 bars around the city – you still have to buy the beer, mind!

Then on the Friday and Saturday of that week (Feb 26-27th) comes the week's anchor event: Craft Beer Rising London, also at the Old Truman Brewery. There's over 150 British and overseas breweries due to take part with 600ish beers, plus this year they're adding a cider zone called 'Lost in Cyderspace' and rooms for mead, rum and whisky. CBRL tickets are £15 to £20 per six-hour session; this covers your glass, programme and musical entertainment, but not the beer – it's cash bars.

Then today comes notice of this year's London Beer City week and its anchor event, the London Craft Beer Festival, on August 12-14th in Bethnal Green. This is an altogether more bijou (and comfy) event, with 26 breweries taking part last year (this year's brewery list is due out in April), but it also works rather differently.

LCBF tickets are twice the price of CBR (currently £35ish per five-hour session) but they include unlimited tasters of all the beers, as well as music, glass and programme. I suppose it all comes down to whether you think 50-100 beers is enough to try or you'd prefer a choice of 600, plus whether you think you can drink £20-worth in five hours….

The one thing that raised a smile here was the LCBF assertion that “Once again we'll be the central part of the London Beer City week in August.” I presume the organisers are once again glossing over the fact that their event clashes with an ever-so-slightly larger one just across town. But hey, the Great British Beer Festival only has a mere 1000-ish beers, ciders and perries to choose from.

Then again, GBBF probably won't feature too many keg Double IPAs, Pink Peppercorn Saisons and the like. Plus I suspect the GBBF organisers don't really feel the need to link up with the crafterati of London Beer City!

Whatever, GBBF is on at Olympia from August 9th-13th, day tickets are £9/£11 (members/non-members) or £24/£29 for a season ticket – the latter usefully includes the Tuesday afternoon trade session that's not otherwise open to the general public.