Wednesday 30 March 2016

Murky beer at Fuller's - and it's deliberate

Last week I accidentally found myself at the launch of a new beer. There I was at the Fuller’s brewery for a very interesting seminar on re-creating historic beers (of which, more later), when a brand new beer was announced – and it wasn’t a Fuller’s brew, either!

John & Justin
Brought up from Bristol specially by Moor Beer Co’s head brewer Justin Hawke, Relentless Optimism was immensely fashionably – and very appropriately, given our location in a real ale heartland – available to taste in cask-conditioned, keg-conditioned and can-conditioned form. Once CAMRA’s technical group catches up (and they’ve already validated keg-conditioning), all three formats will be acknowledged as real ale.

It’s a three-way collaboration between Justin, his guest Fernando Campoy of Spain’s Cerveza Domus, and Fuller’s John Keeling. It seems Justin and Fernando decided to brew a "non-traditional" interpretation of ESB, and thought who better to ask for advice than the man whose ESB is that rare thing – a brew that founded an entire new style of beer.

“They contacted me because they wanted to make an ESB, and they thought I might know something about it,” John joked. “So one Saturday I got the train down to Bristol and helped them brew one.”

“We wanted a modern twist on ESB,” Justin added. “It’s unfined because that leaves more flavour in the beer, and we worked with some modern British hop varieties – Admiral, Minstrel, Keyworth and UK-grown Chinook. We used a traditional ale yeast too.”

So what’s the beer like? For a start it was cloudy in all three formats – not quite Bristol Murky, but close! It looks and tastes quite different from Fuller’s ESB, yet you can see similarities in how the toffeeish malt balances the herbal and resinous bitterness.

It was also very interesting to see how each serving format emphasised different aspects of the beer – as John said, the cask version had a bigger mouthfeel, while keg dispense emphasised the hops a little more. Some people preferred the can-conditioned version though, perhaps because it came somewhere in the middle – a nice bright hoppiness, but still with that caramelly body and a decent alcohol warmth.

John said Fuller’s will buy some casks of Relentless Optimism and release them to some of its pubs, though he added that “It will be a step forward for some of them, because they won’t be used to hazy beer. We generally prefer finings because our customers expect it.”

Cloudy beer in a Fuller’s pub, yet nothing’s wrong – who’d have thought it? :)

Wednesday 23 March 2016

How beer could rival Scotch for Highland affections

As described in my previous post, a few months ago I spent an evening meeting brewers from the Scottish Highlands, learning about the market challenges they face – and tasting some of their beers.

Cairngorm Brewery will already be familiar to many both north and south of the border, partly because of the array of awards on its wall, most of them for its Trade Winds golden ale and its gorgeous Black Gold stout, but also because it has participated in several of JD Wetherspoon’s national real ale festivals. As many brewers will admit, while there’s no financial profit for them in these festivals, they're a great publicity boost.

Supplying real ale across the country is a major task, said Cairngorm's Merlin Sandbach, not least because it means having 400 or 500 casks to fill. Two factors make it practicable – one is that Wetherspoon has its own distribution centres, and the other is that you can now rent casks for one-way use, with the rental company recovering and cleaning them afterwards.

As well as its mainstays, at this festival Cairngorm was offering its bottled Highland IPA. This was an interesting Scottish take on an old friend, with lots of toasty caramel adding to the citrus hops, herbal bitterness and malt that you’d expect.

Confusingly, there were two new microbrewers present from the Speyside area – Speyside Craft Brewery, and Spey Valley Brewery. “We do cask, kegs and bottles. That was a no-brainer, there was no reason to limit ourselves,” said Speyside’s Seb Jones. “It's predominantly a local market, we do definitely get seasonal influences though,” with local craft beer proving popular with the many summer visitors to the area.

A former home-brewer, he joined the oil & gas industry “but didn't enjoy it much, so I moved back. The brewery took 18 months of planning and fund-raising. It was just me at the start, now there's six of us, including a head brewer.” He added, “The beer range is what I want to drink – how else can you be passionate about it?” How else indeed!

I tasted his Findhorn IPA and Bottlenose Bitter – both were good, the former having notes of bitter orange and burnt caramel while the latter, named for the dolphins that live nearby in the Moray Firth (I've seen them), was dry-sweet and lightly bitter.

Of course, beer isn’t what the Speyside area is best known for, so it wasn’t too surprising to learn that the founder of Spey Valley Brewery, David MacDonald, originally worked in the whisky business as a distiller at Cardhu (now part of Diageo). Of course, every whisky distillery is also a brewery, although they don’t make this obvious, because fermented but unhopped ale is what they distill.

He initially put together a 200 litre brewkit more as a hobby, but was looking to expand when he met local farmer and hotelier Innes MacPherson, now his partner in Spey Valley. “He wanted a 10-barrel plant,” said Innes. “The window of [craft beer] opportunity was closing fast though, and when we priced it a 20-barrel was as cheap, and the opportunity meant capacity was needed.” So David has retired from Diageo and gone into brewing full-time. His smoky and berryish Spey Stout is a tasty mainstay, but I also tried the eponymous David’s Not So Bitter, a well-balanced light bitter.

To add a little more confusion, Spey Valley, via its floral and crisp Sunshine on Keith blond ale – although I see they’re now more fashionably calling it a Session IPA – also overlapped with the next brewer along, Keith Brewery. A little name-sharing shouldn’t surprise though, given that Keith is one of the main towns on Speyside (and is home to Strathisla, reputedly the oldest distillery in Scotland).

The Keith Brewery name is just a year old and its labelling is both tasteful and amusing. Everything is named Something Keith, for example, such as its barleywine (actually a Strong Scotch Ale) being Sir Keith and its lager being Larger Keith. Its brewkit is older and has ‘history’ though – it was formerly operated by Brewmeister, a poorly-executed attempt to out-do Brewdog in the shock and outrage stakes. Brewmeister’s clownish claims to have brewed the world’s strongest beer were ridiculed and largely disproved, and new investors took over.

“Almost everyone involved with Brewmeister has gone,” said Keith assistant brewer Alex Saramaskos – the only exception looks to be Tony Kotronis, the head brewer recruited right at the end of the Brewmeister era to be a new broom and clean things up. “It's the same brewkit but there's also lots of new stuff, such as new cooling gear.”

Alex was pouring Sir Keith and Stout Keith. Both were excellent, with the barleywine carrying its warming 10% ABV very smoothly. The stout, which is dosed with five litres of cold brewed coffee (from 5kg of coffee beans) per 2000-litre brew, was unsurprisingly coffee-roasty with a burnt bitterness and pleasing hints of old wine and tart currants.

Wooha Brewing’s founder Heather MacDonald was the only brewster present, and despite a name that’s about as Scottish as you can get, is originally from America. A microbiologist by training, she learnt to brew commercially (meaning consistently!) as a way to start up a business as her children grew up. “I brewed wherever people would let me, and at home for recipe development,” she explained. “I have a lab background so I'm very much into record keeping.”

Her 10-barrel brewery has now been in production for a year. She started with four 10-barrel fermenters but when we spoke she had just ordered a 20 as well. Her beers are a hoppy lager that is unusually full-bodied – perhaps because it is lagered for five weeks, an easy-drinking porter, a wheat ale and an IPA.

The wheat in particular I liked as a hoppy twist on the Ur-Weisse style, although Heather says “We don't call our Wheat Ale a Hefeweizen – it's fermented at 18C because I didn't want banana and cloves,” while the IPA seemed more like a hopped-up Strong Scotch than a traditional IPA. All four showed Heather’s desire to explore flavour in its entirety. As she said, “I want it to be about the whole beer, not just bitterness.”

They've rebranded since then!
Last but not least, I stopped to chat with George Wotherspoon from the Loch Ness Brewery – besides Cairngorm, this was the only other brewery here that I already knew of, from meeting (and enjoying) their cask ales in London.

As well as a core range of four, they do a wide range of seasonal beers, many of them available in both bottle and cask – and some cask-only. For sampling he'd brought along bottles of HoppyNess, a hop-dank and bitter-sweet pale ale which I see they've now rebranded as an American IPA, and LochNess, a malty Scotch ale that made me think more of a brown Porter.

Overall, it was really interesting to see how responses to the craft beer opportunity can differ, yet all reflect a shared heritage – in this case, centuries of Scottish and British brewing. And of course there wasn't a bad beer in the bunch!

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Beer is a welcome taste of the Highlands

The news that Scottish brewers have done well at the SIBA BeerX 2016 trade conference and festival in Sheffield, taking 25% of the gold medals despite being less than 10% of the UK’s brewery population, reminds me that it’s an area I’ve been meaning to write about for some time – ever since meeting half a dozen interesting brewers from the Highlands & Islands area a few months ago, in fact.

Beer, beer, beer...
We met at a special one-day Highlands Craft Beer & Cider festival run in London’s Covent Garden on behalf of Highlands Islands & Enterprise (HIE), which is the local economic and community development agency. As well as six breweries and a cidery, it featured excellent Scottish cheese and the inevitable – but very welcome, as far as I’m concerned! – haggis, and pulled in well over 300 visitors during just a few hours.

As an insight into the Scottish beer scene today, layered on top of reading the likes of Ron Pattinson on the history of Scottish brewing, it was fascinating. For instance, talking to Merlin Sandbach of Aviemore’s Cairngorm Brewery confirmed my understanding that Scottish brewing consolidated in the mid-20th century even more than English brewing did, leaving great swathes of the country with no real ale and little choice of keg beer.

Merlin noted that as one of the elders of Scottish craft brewing – it is 15 years old now – Cairngorm has taken the opportunity to work with some of the newcomers to mutual profit. “We have invested in our own bottling plant and we contract-bottle for others, so they become customers rather than competitors,” he said, adding that “We're working with Highlands & Islands CAMRA too. We have worked to bring back cask, we also do craft keg.”

It is hard work though, according to George Wotherspoon of Drumnadrochit’s Loch Ness Brewery. “Scotland still has a very young craft beer market, [new brewers are] still trying to pitch lager drinkers who will only take a risk on golden beer,” he said. On the plus side, there is plenty of heritage for craft producers of all sorts to build on, and nowhere is that as true as Loch Ness. “One thing we do not have to explain is the brand,” he laughed. “About a million tourists come through our village every year.”

Like most of these breweries, Loch Ness does cask ale for beer festivals, but bottled beer is the mainstay for all of them. That’s partly down to the peculiarities of the local market, with so much of the on-trade being both tied and keg-only, but it’s also because even where there is interest in cask ale, there isn’t always the knowledge and skill to look after it. Plus it needs turnover, because even properly-kept cask beer is good for at most a week once tapped.

Heather & sales manager Alan of Wooha
“We have our own bottling line, and while we do own 24 casks for local beer festivals and the like, everything else we do is bottled and bottle-conditioned,” said Heather MacDonald of Wooha Brewing Company. “I've been to too many pubs with badly-kept cask beer. There's no way I'm putting all that energy into brewing and having it go to waste. I had one publican ask for cask beer and say he knew how to look after it and make it last three weeks!”

“We do a little keg, the rest is all bottles plus some casks for local festivals,” agreed Alex Saramaskos of Keith Brewery. “In my immediate region, everyone is tied to Tennents, Carlsberg, etc. But a bit further away we can find free outlets – we have to go 60-plus miles out. Some delis and cafés are very interested too, for example in Aberlour where the tourist market is.”

The other opportunity for the new brewers, just as it was for Scottish brewers in the 1800s, is to export outside the region, both abroad and to the rest of the UK. Scotland’s bonnie image helps as much here as it does with the seasonal visitors: “The export market is absolutely key,” said Spey Valley Brewery’s Innes MacPherson. “We also have a canning line in mind in three or four years – there's plenty of bottling capacity around.”

Some have targeted exports from the get-go – Wooha already has its own bottling and pallet racking lines, for instance. It even spent last December selling at a Christmas market in France! “Our aim is to export 65% by the end of our second trading year,” said Heather MacDonald. But most are not big enough to do it alone, according to HIE development manager Caroline McLellan, hence events such as the Covent Garden one to raise awareness and build contacts. “London and the South-east are really key markets for our area,” she said. “So now I'm trying to get people working together, collaborating to get scale.”

Of course this is just a snapshot of Scottish brewing today, and most importantly it excludes the major population centres of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Scotland as a whole now has well over 100 breweries according to SIBA, which on a per-person basis is about twice as many as London has. I think it bodes very well for the future though. In particular I hope that as well as seeing more Scots beer south of the border, we will also see the Scottish pub & bar trade open up to beer variety pretty rapidly, just as it has in other similarly-sized European countries.

More on the breweries and beers at the Highlands & Islands festival in my next blog post...

Sunday 13 March 2016

Irish craft beer in London

When is an IPA not an IPA? When it’s an Irish Pale Ale – then you have no way of knowing if it’s a Pale Ale that’s Irish or a transatlantic IPA. Except of course you could find out by drinking it, a tactic that I wholeheartedly recommend…

And if you’re in London today (Sun 13th March) you could have a chance to do exactly that this afternoon, when Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) is organising an Irish food & drink market from 12-6pm in Trafalgar Square, as part of London’s early St Patrick’s Day celebration.

Two years ago I was in Dublin for the European Beer Bloggers Conference. We met a lot of Irish craft brewers, enjoyed a lot of good Irish beer and discovered a lot about the beer scene in the Republic. Since then I’ve been following some excellent Irish beer blogs to keep in touch, but given that the brewers there don’t do a lot of distribution in London, it is impossible to really know what’s the new beer is really like.

So when an invitation arrived from Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, to meet 20 of the Republic’s hottest craft distillers and brewers at the embassy in London, it was a great opportunity to get back in tune – and to actually taste what those folks are up to.

I’d met two of the breweries before – Carlow, which brews under the O’Hara’s name, and Galway Hooker. However, I’d forgotten just how good O’Hara’s Irish Red really is, and when I met Galway Hooker before they only had the one beer, their Irish Pale Ale – they now have four regulars.

Galway's IPA
On top of that, the Pale Ale was better than I remembered and it had an intriguing note of Kölsch about it – brewer Aidan Murphy explained that while it’s brewed as a PA, its aroma hops include Saaz and it’s cold-conditioned for three weeks, which almost makes it a Kölsch. Of the newer beers, the Amber was lightly toasty and the Irish Stout was excellent, with fruity sweet notes over a dry body. Last but not least was an India Pale Ale, zesty and fresh, with lime and passionfruit notes.

It was interesting to see how the younger breweries contrasted. Like those older two, some such as Boyne Brewhouse and Drew Fox Brewing focus on a core range of three or four beers, typically something lagery, a Stout, a Red Ale and a Pale Ale or IPA. Others such as Wicklow Wolf and White Hag are more like many American micros or brewpubs, with a wide range and always doing something new.

Clever Man's attractive labels
Either way, craft brewers in the Irish Republic take their cues far more from the US than from Britain or elsewhere in Europe. That’s probably because so many of them are American or have lived in the US, like Malcolm Molloy of Drew Fox Brewing, who lived in Chicago for 16 years. Molloy is in the first camp, with just four beers in his Clever Man range, all named after Irish inventors and their inventions. Interestingly, for his lager slot he had indeed chosen a Kölsch, but the best of the bunch was his beautifully rich Turf Smoked Stout, with a dose of smoky whiskey malt plus notes of plum and mocha coffee.

Also in the core camp was Boyne Brewhouse, the brand new beery arm of Na Cuana (The Cooney), a family-run drinks company that’s also into cider, cream liqueurs, whiskey and gin. Talking to Paul Cooney, he mentioned that they first started a brewery about 10 years ago – which I reckon would have been about the same time as Galway Hooker started up – but that it was not a success.

That, incidentally, would have been during the second wave of Irish microbrewery start-ups, with Carlow being one of the very few survivors of the first wave in the 1990s. The last two or three years have seen a third craft-inspired wave of start-ups, with most of the brewers present being from this latest generation.

Anyhow, Boyne has three beers so far, with a Stout still to come. Its twists on the trend are that its Pale Ale is Australian-hopped, and its lager is a pretty good example of Dortmunder Export, a classic style that’s not often seen outside Germany.

Of the other, more eclectic brewers, I’ll write more about White Hag later, as they’ve kindly passed me a few bottles that I’ve not had a chance to try yet. Just to say now that in contrast with the others, they’ve made more than two dozen different beers in about a year and a half. They also got a name-check from the Irish ambassador in his welcome speech for having their sour heather ale – and it really is an ale in the historical sense, because it’s unhopped – in a couple of top beer bars in beer in New York.

As an aside, it’s a measure of just how good a job Guinness has done of embedding itself into the Irish national myth (and indeed, there in a corner of the hall, presumably left over from a different event, were empty kegs of Guinness Stout) that while the ambassador was quite comfortable bigging up the new whiskey and liqueur producers present, he seemed to struggle a little with the brewers.

Quincey Fennelly
Once he’d sorted out his notes though, he also name-checked Wicklow Wolf for having their own hop garden, which they use the hops from in their autumn seasonal beer. They too are pretty eclectic, but have built their range around that standard core of an India Pale Ale, a Red Ale and a Porter. They’ve also achieved more of a breakthrough into pubs and bars than most – co-founder Quincey Fennelly told me he was able to use contacts in the trade from his years working for drinks distributor C&C. They now have beer on draught in around 150 pubs in the Dublin and Wicklow area (County Wicklow takes in some of the south Dublin suburbs, by the way), he said.

So, a snapshot of a market that’s evolving fast. Two years on from my last visit, when the on-trade was still firmly tied up by Guinness and Heineken, it is starting to open up. The small brewers still do a lot in bottle though so they can get to market through other channels. And Big Beer is fighting back – for example Guinness brought out Smithwick’s Pale Ale and more recently Hop House 13 lager, which its reps are using to keep publicans from defecting when their customers want something crafty. Meanwhile, Heineken has introduced its own Irish Pale Ale and craft lager under its Cute Hoor brand.

Meanwhile, two weeks ago at Craft Beer Rising, I also met some brewers from Northern Ireland and learnt about some of the unique challenges they’re facing – there’s a lot in common, but also some differences. I wrote about that here. Interesting times, eh?

Friday 11 March 2016

So that was Craft Beer Rising - London 2016

Quite a queue
I’m a couple of weeks late saying it, thanks to paid work intervening, but this year’s Craft Beer Rising was a blast. Despite the fears of some, who thought high cost of booking a stand and the increasing presence of Big Beer would dumb the event down, there were interesting new beers and brewers from all over the world, all eager to offer their brews to a thirsty British audience.

I especially liked the layout – all the beer bars in one long room, plus a second room for Cyderspace, the "Craft cider" section, and then another room for the music and stuff (of which there was none during the trade session). There was yet another space for talks and food, but I had enough to do in the main space and never got that far!

If there was a problem, it's that there was too much to explore in just a few hours. I started by the entrance and then worked my way around the outside – there were two long double-sided parallel rows of bars down the middle of the hall, plus more all around the edge of the room. OK, so I did spend a fair bit of time at each stop chatting to the exhibitors, especially the overseas ones to learn more about where they came from and their home market, but I ran out of time before I got to visit most of the bars down the middle.

Although I did visit a couple of brewers I knew that had new beers to try, all the rest were breweries I'd never met before, and mostly ones from overseas. The first of these visits killed three birds with one stone, because it was a bar shared by three brewers, all from Northern Ireland – and with a three-way collaboration IPA on tap to boot. Each of the three has a bit of a speciality: Farmageddon tends to hoppier beers, Hillstown to Belgian styles (although it started brewing solely for its beer-fed Wagyu beef cattle!), and Pokertree to Irish styles.

It seems like the craft beer scene isn't taking off in Northern Ireland anything like as strongly as it is south of the border though, thanks in large part to the alcohol laws having been written by Presbyterians who'd prefer it 'dry'. A particular bone of contention is that 2016 is NI's Year of Food & Drink, yet the threesome told me that small brewers are largely shut out. Not only does Big Beer already have the main events and much of the licensed trade sewn up, but NI law makes it impossible for the new brewers to sell direct, which means they can’t open brewery taps to pull in the tourists, or even sell online.

And yes, Big Beer was also at CBR in volume – though mostly incognito. For example, the Backyard Brewery turned out to be Carlsberg Sweden in crafty guise, Marston's was there as Revisionist Brewing, Diageo/Guinness as The Brewers Project, and Goose Island was one of I think several AB-Inbev properties present.

On the other hand, it was interesting to see that even UK microbrewers are now getting into the craft beer import business. London's Truman's is now distributing Lonerider from North Carolina, for example, while I was told there are family links between Charles Wells and South Africa's Devil's Peak Brewing Co, whose beers Wells is going to bring in. It turns out South Africa is an interesting – in the Confucian sense – market for microbrewers. It is largely sewn up by SABMiller (SAB of course stands for South African Breweries) which also owns all the South African hop farms!

Gradually though the SA micros are converting drinkers away from the ubiquitous yellow fizz – Devil's Peak has a pretty toasty and fruity IPA for instance. However, it looks like Wells will lead in the UK with Devil's Peak's 4% craft lager, a sessionable and inoffensive brew that apparently hits an emerging sweet spot in the UK market – think Beck's Vier and Holsten Vier, I guess.

It wasn’t all foreign beer though. Next to catch my eye was Peterborough’s Nene Valley Brewing which is one of a growing number of breweries making gluten-free beer – indeed, brewer Paul Woodcock said that all NVB beer is now gluten-free. He doesn’t use alternative GF grains such as sorghum to make it, either. Instead it is deglutenised during fermentation by a special enzyme, taking it to less than half the 20ppm cut-off point that the law defines for ‘gluten-free’ labelling. And to judge from Release the Chimps, NVB’s fresh and fruity American IPA, there’s no reason to miss gluten.

It was off to Spain next, but not one from the established craft beer heartlands of Barcelona and Madrid – Mateo & Bernabé is from the famous wine region of La Rioja, and it makes use of the fact in several of its beers. These include its dry-sweet and winey Little Bichos Spider, which is an 8% Porter aged 10 to 12 months in wine barrels. “It goes in black and comes out deep mahogany,” said M&B’s international rep Dominic Lombard.

Also barrel-aged but this time in Pedro Ximinez sherry barrels, is Little Bichos Mosca IPA PX. This time the result has almost Lambic aromas and dry bitterness, with sweetish sherry notes. Barrel-free but still unusual was a brown ale brewed with a local rum & raisin cake called Trenza added to the boil. According to Dominic, Spanish consumers like to look for something a bit out of the norm, though he added that many people only accept that Spanish products are good when someone abroad validates them, which is why M&B went first for the export market – it exports 98%, he said.

And they claim that the brand name is not as rude as it sounds to an Anglophone. Bichos is local dialect for a small creature (in Portuguese it means vermin!) which is why all the labels carry animal pictures – there’s a spider, a moth and a crab, for example.

Next stop was back in the UK, and a part of the country I know fairly well. Electric Bear Brewing might sound and look American, but is actually from Bath – although brewer Guillermo does indeed hail from North America, being from Mexico. It was also one of relatively few bars present to be pouring cask beer as well as keg. The beers I sampled were good, one of the stand-outs being his Samurye, a complex winey and almost Saison-like beer brewed with 50% rice in the grist and a Sake yeast.

We also talked about his Heisenberg’s Double Decoction, a Doppelbock produced as the name suggests by the classic Continental decoction method, where the mash is heated by moving a portion of the wort to a separate kettle for boiling, then returned to the mash tun to share its heat with the rest of the brew. Even in Germany, while some still swear it produces better beers, many have given it up as too awkward and moved to infusion mashing as used elsewhere.

And as Guillermo admitted, doing it on the wrong brewkit was even more awkward. “Engineering a double-decoction mash in a traditional English brewkit with an infusion mask tank was a labour of love,” he signed. “It was one of my famous hours!” The result was not exactly refined but was otherwise pretty authentic – rich amber, with dusty toffee notes and hints of peach and strawberry.

I already mentioned the Backyard Brewery that turned out to be the 20 hectolitre pilot brewkit in Carlsberg Sweden’s Falkenberg Brewery. They’d brought over cans of The Bee 17 (Bomble Bee 17 in Sweden) which is allegedly a dry-hopped Pilsner though it’s more like a faintly honeyed Eurolager, and Lawnmower, a sweetish and lightly toasty amber lager. More interesting than macrobrew for sure, but very much a big brewer trying to do crafty.

The one other foreign beer scene I learnt a bit about was Austria, thanks to a chat with Michael of Vienna’s Brew Age. I was intrigued to learn that not only are some of their traditional beer styles different from the German equivalents, but that Austria never had a Beer Purity Law as such. Instead, its brewers are preexhibitotty much in the position that many in the anti-Reinheitsgebot camp want for Germany, which is that if an ingredient’s safe and legal in food, it should be OK in beer too.

So while artificial additives are banned (and no, I don’t yet know how they’re defined), things like honey and fruit are allowed. Michael said they can even use up to 25% of adjuncts without having to declare it, although he added that most small brewers are proudly all-malt. As in most of central Europe, the craft beer scene there is very young – he reckons it only took off three years ago. Inevitably there’s plenty of beers styled after American IPA and Pale Ale – Brew Age’s Hopfenauflauf (Hop Casserole) was a drinkable and pleasant example of the latter.

They’re also experimenting though. For instance, Brew Age’s excellent Dunkle Materie (Dark Matter) is presented as a Black IPA but comes over more as a hybrid of that and a Munich Dunkel, beautifully rich and marrying its bright hoppiness with roast coffee and dark chocolate.

Amusingly, the last unfamiliar beer to catch my eye as the festival session ended was almost the opposite: Fireweisse is a German style brewed in West Sussex. It’s from Firebird, a brewery that’s only three years old but has a long heritage – it's the latest project of career brewer Bill King, formerly of King & Barnes and then WJ King. Fireweisse’s texture nodded slightly more towards ale (interestingly, this was also true of the American Hefeweizen from Lonerider, mentioned above) but it was otherwise a sehr typisch Hefeweisse, crisp and dry-sweet with banana and bready notes.

So that, mostly, was my time at the London Craft Beer Rising this year. I learnt (and enjoyed it) a lot, with my one caveat being that I was there for the trade session and could not get to one of the public sessions. As a result I found myself wondering (as fellow blogger Sophie Atherton did) whether it would have been as much fun if I was there as a paying punter.

Did you go to one of the public sessions, and if so, what did you think? Were you able to explore and learn, or was it a fight to get to the bar?