recent posts were about my weekend in London at the beginning of July. Before that I spent a few days in Brighton for work. Time was tight and I did no pub-hopping, not even a return visit to The Evening Star. Instead I took up residence in The Craft Beer Company, a branch of the chain which also has several outlets in London. It's a compact little place and seems to get a mostly local crowd, but generally quite clued-in on beer, judging from the conversations I overheard.
The first beer that drew my attention was Bell Rock 'n' Hop by Fyne Ales, part of something they're calling their "IPA Project". It reminded me a lot of Sanda Blonde, which is very much a compliment. A gently funky fruit flavour is at the centre here, weedy but not quite catty; pithy without being harsh or sharp. The cask serve lends it a certain rounded mellowness but it's every bit as hop-driven as any kegged IPA, with long lingering hop oils coating the palate. It could have done with being served a mite cooler, but very little to complain about otherwise.
Cornwall's Harbour Brewing were doing a bit of a tap takeover while I was there and I did my best to get through the set. Harbour Amber Ale came first in the queue: 4% ABV and the proper shade of bronze, but that's where its good points end. An astringent bitterness starts it off, followed by a mostly watery middle bit and then a token piece of sad wholegrain digestive on the end. The whole just never quite comes together as a recipe and the hoped for hops were nowhere to be found.
Harbour East India Porter made a better fist of things: this is 4.9% ABV and a dark ruby-brown. There's an odd but fun gunpowder nose and the flavour offers jammy damsons and plums coupled with a much drier roasted finish. It's a straightforward, solid porter, but not massively exciting. I guess the name had me expecting more from it.
We switch over to keg dispense for the last of the Harbours: their India Brown Ale. It's rather pale, given the name: more of a red-amber than brown. It deftly balances orange sherbet and parma violets on a light milky toffee backdrop. Perhaps just a little too fizzy to be spot on, it did offer an interesting contract to the cask Amber, doing a lot of similar things only much better.
One token American propped up the keg fonts: Casserly Wet Hop from Uncommon Brewers in Santa Cruz, California. California? Wet hopped? I'm in! £3.95 a half? OK, I'm still in. Just. It arrived a dark amber colour and I opened my nostrils for some major citric Pacific hops. I got cereals and vinegar. Oh dear. Any wet hops have long since slid off this one, leaving biscuit and rye bread graininess. Drinkable, so not a total disaster, but definitely trading under false pretences as regards the hopping.
Carnival by Magic Rock was a new one for me. This is their 4.3% ABV summer blonde which features some light peachiness against a much harsher waxy bitter background. I'd prefer something a bit easier drinking in this genre, but the fan of stern pils would probably love it.
Work done I left Brighton to meet herself in London, rendez-vousing at the Market Porter in Borough. It was busy with Bulmers drinkers on the Friday evening but we found a quiet corner to catch up and make plans. From the cask selection I had a Hop Dog pale ale from Sunny Republic down Dorset way. A bit of a powerhouse this, at 5.5% ABV and brewed with Kohatu hops. It's dark, heavy and a bit musty with a strange opal fruit flavour which suggests spooky abandoned sweetshop to me. On another occasion it might be a winner but it wasn't what I needed to clear the dust of the Brighton to London railway from my throat. Ah well.
Twickenham's Naked Ladies attempts to do something similar, being the same strength and only a little darker. It's a much gentler drinking experience, however, offering fresh peaches and some delicate bubblegum. Nicely balanced and subtle, though a little forgettable next to the Itchen beer, if I'm honest.
The quaffing award goes to Park Life by Windsor & Eton. 3.2% ABV and insanely drinkable. The hops contribute an orange blossom character which sits on top of a lightly tannic body lending it the quenching refreshment power of cold iced tea. This is what I needed back at the Market Porter.
I couldn't leave without trying the house beer: Hampton Hero. It's a garnet coloured 3.9% ABV bitter brewed by Greene King. There's an interesting mix of artificial fruity perfume and lurid coloured chewy candy on a tannic and quite grainy base. "Rooibos tea" opined the wife, having more experinece of such things. It's certainly not bland but I don't think it compared favourably with the other, paler, offers on the day.
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