19 August 2013

Down the hatch in London and Brighton

A couple of 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.

The top cask, however, was Harbour IPA. A reddish gold and nicely balanced at the 5% ABV mark: you could get stuck in for a session if you wanted to, but there's value to be had from just the one. Fresh juicy tangerines waft off the surface and the flavour begins by lightly scorching the palate with hop acids. A flash of Simcoe darts in but immediately lightens up into peach and mango. Its parting shot is a dryness which necessitates the next sip immediately. Magnificent stuff.

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.

Much more interesting was Magic Rock's grapefruit gose, called Salty Kiss. It's 5% ABV and a pale hazy orange colour. It's wonderfully crisp, like a superb lager, and the sourness brings lambic to mind though it doesn't deliver the same sour punch. The salty tang is mild and pleasant and the grapefruit is fresh and zingy. All together it makes for a fantastic summer pick-me-up and palate cleanser.

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.

Later that same stifling weekend we decided to get out of the city for the afternoon and paid a visit to Hampton Court Palace. Post historic pints were had in the neighbouring village of East Molsey, at the Prince of Wales pub. Whoever picks the casks here knows when to go pale 'n' 'oppy, or maybe that's just what gets brewed these days. Either way, I was well impressed. Itchen Valley Citra first: perhaps unnecessarily strong at 4.4% ABV, pale gold and with a haze that I think can safely be attributed to the hops. The texture is light and there's a respectful presence of biscuit malt, but really it's all about the bucketloads of oily lupulin, perky and zingy and only just nipping the back of the throat with acidic cheekiness at the end. Beautiful.

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.


  1. Seems we broadly agree on Harbour. We liked the porter quite a bit, but perhaps that was partly because the thrill of being able to order a beer with that particular historic name.

  2. It's perhaps just unfortunate that I'd already tried one of the same name brewed by The Kernel which was at least seventeen times more awesome.

  3. Shame about the Uncommon Brewers. I had their beer at the GABF last year and really thought they put out some wonderful stuff. They really shouldn't be shipping a wet-hop anywhere, that taste disappears far too quickly to travel.

    1. The wet-hopped Sierra Nevada we get over here seems to survive quite well. This may just be a case of needs more hops.