25 October 2017

One busy beaver

Part two of my look at the Beavertown Extravaganza which happened in London last month. I mentioned on Monday that the festival was spread over three-and-a-bit halls. The "bit" was a darkened corridor space which was dedicated to the Rainbow Project. This is a series of seven collaborative beers produced at UK breweries with input from foreign ones, a bit like that thing JD Wetherspoon does a couple of times a year, but far more expensive.

They had only just been released so obviously there was a queue. I took the time to try two of them. First up, in the "Red" slot, Amanecer Mexicano by Magic Rock and Casita Cervecería of Vermont. This is a gose with added chilli, lime and lots of other traditional mole ingredients. It's a clear bright red colour and tastes soft and sweet, with a kind of cherry sherbet flavour. The tartness helps prevent it tasting too much like candy, and this builds as it goes along. Despite the multiplicity of additions it remains clean, refreshing and easy drinking, even if the ABV seems a little high at 5.8%. I wasn't wowed but did find it quite enjoyable.

There was a bit of a buzz around the "Green" beer as well: Mojito by Hawkshead and Modern Times. Described as a "tart IPA", it's a sickly yellow colour and tastes almost exclusively of mint. Mojitos have their place, but this had far too much mojito and not nearly enough beer. There was barely any sourness and absolutely no discernible hop flavour. It's a very disappointing novelty, and probably what I deserve for listening to the hype. Both breweries usually turn out great beers too.

Doing something vaguely similar but much better was Wylam with Bliss 322k, a white IPA. There's a lovely juicy lemony aroma from this greenish-yellow job, and the flavour pushes forward coriander first and then a light and refreshing bitterness. This is tasty and fun, and also surprisingly easy going despite being 6.8% ABV. The best feature is something entirely missing: an absence of the soapiness that so often plagues the style.

The other English brewery playing with fruit and sourness was Thornbridge, pouring Abacaxi when I dropped by their bar. It's a sour beer at 6% ABV with pineapple and, like the Mojito, is dominated by the non-beery addition. There's a very mild tartness but really it just tastes of pineapple juice and almost nothing else. That's a little more forgivable when the brewery isn't calling it an IPA, perhaps, but I still couldn't see the point of it.

The last English beers before moving on to what the rest of the world had to offer were from Bristol's Lost & Grounded, a new brewery that has been generating a lot of positive feedback but which had not hitherto crossed my path. Another round of punishment from the hype machine? Kind of, yes. Ciel Rouge is a red rye ale with American hops, produced in collaboration with Burning Sky. Unfortunately, the billed Amarillo and Chinook are nowhere to be found in the finished article and instead it's heavy, savoury and resinous with a musty, dusty, stale quality. I couldn't figure out what this was trying to be, only that I didn't enjoy it.

Running with Sceptres, the 5.2% ABV "special" lager, was similarly odd. It's a lovely clear dark gold colour, but the thickly perfumed hops were just too cloying for me, giving it a musky character. It's certainly distinctive, and I'm sure it's exactly as the brewer intended. It left me hankering after something more delicate, however.

Just as well Mahr's of Bamberg were in the house, looking quite out of place among all the cucumber and candyfloss concoctions. I just had a sinfully small helping of Mahr's Pils and really enjoyed it. This is flawlessly smooth with a creamy texture; a cake-like malt base topped with roaringly fresh greengrocer hops giving it bags of character but not in any way overdone. The bitterness is just enough to make you want to drink more. Yes, it's exactly the sort of pils you would make if the Keesmann brewery was the first thing you saw when you stepped out of work each day.

I was pleased to find Swedish brewer Brewski was present and gave their Dunedin Stringduster a go, largely because of the name. Sadly this is one of their misses. It's a sea buckthorn grisette, though rather strong for the style at 5.3% ABV. A sickly pale yellow colour, it tastes of savoury, gritty yeast for the most part, with an unpleasant green banana acidity, turning plasticky at the end. Just because a beer has a silly name doesn't mean it's going to be any fun to drink, alas.

Stockholm Brewing Company was entirely new to me and I'm sure did well from their location around the end of the Other Half queue. I tried their Elderflower Sour, a simple, clean and smooth little chap, reminding me a lot of our own Brewtonic's In Cahoots. It's similarly balanced, with just enough sourness to wake the palate up, and sufficient sweet elderflower to keep it entertained without getting overwhelmed by syrup. At 4.4% ABV it made for a great mid-festival palate cleanser.

Last of the nordics is Põhjala from Tallinn. Imperial Ginie is the one I went for, produced in collaboration with To Øl. It's ostensibly a gose, though stupidly strong at 10.8% ABV and aged in gin barrels. It doesn't quite work. The end result is very sweet and tastes somewhere between an apothecary's dresser and an olde worlde sweetshop, all herbs and humbugs. There's a slightly soupy brine quality as well, removing any refreshment power it might have been intended to have. Definitely one for gose purists to steer clear of.

I'm not sure if Dublin's Italian beer festival is coming back this year so I made sure to get my fill of LoverBeer new releases while I saw them. Pruss Perdú sounded most intriguing: a pear lambic. It's 5.4% ABV and a dark hazy orange colour. I found it to be tough drinking, with a very stale and papery oxidised quality, lightened only by a mild cidery taste. The drinkability wasn't helped by the heavy texture and almost complete lack of carbonation. I'm not at all sure it was worth the effort it took to get through it.

For more enjoyable pear experiences it's probably best to leave the pear out altogether. So it was with Cardosa, one of LoverBeer's saisons. This had a fabulous multicoloured aroma of apricot and lychee with a heavy backing track of farmyard funk. The flavour is just as fruity but fantastically clean: crisp like a cool slice of just-ripe pear. Saison brewers take note that this immense complexity was all achieved at just 5% ABV. There's no need for anyone to make saisons stronger than that.

The simple four-letter name Lale hides an immense beer behind it. The basic style is a Flemish oud bruin, but with the ABV ramped up somewhat to 9.2% and given 20 months ageing on cherries. There is the acetic burn that you'd expect from the style but it's smoothed out through maturation so it doesn't attack the palate the way some of these do. The fruit is very apparent and almost fresh-tasting, adding a juicy summer sweetness that balances everything wonderfully. The warmth from the alcohol leaves you in no doubt that it's a powerful beer, and one to be careful with. Ideal drinking for a festival of small pours like this.

That leaves just the token Canadian. Dieu du Ciel were tucked away at the end of one of the halls, and perhaps this is why they didn't seem to garner the attention I was expecting them to. I tasted an intriguing-sounding dark saison called Isseki Nicho: 9.5% ABV and aged in Pinot Noir barrels. It's a very serious beer, tarry and resinous, loaded with bitter balsamic notes, lightened only slightly by dry grape tannins. It tastes like all of its strength and more, and while pleasant, it's not as complex as perhaps it should be, certainly when compared to Lale above. The gut-sticking warmth is probably its best feature.

Despite all of the beers in this post and yesterday's, I was still perfectly sober at kicking-out time. I stopped off at a pub on my meander back, The Yellow House, to have a beer in a grown-up measure for a change. It's a smart and modern place, and as is usual for such if they're not beer specialists, the selection was pretty poor. I took a punt on kegged Maltsmiths IPA, Heineken UK's fake craft brand. It's pretty grim: sickly sweet and huskily dry, with an overcooked marmalade foretaste and a stale grain finish. I wonder if they're brewing this at Caledonian because it had a lot in common with the execrable Coast to Coast I drank in Liverpool airport during the summer.

I hit the sack early, aware of the long day's brewery crawling I had planned to start the following morning...


  1. Three and a bit halls of beer. Plus a food market, symposium hall, gallery, and eventually music venue! https://flic.kr/s/aHsm41w9NP

    One of the great mysteries of the weekend was the stands without queues. Dieu du Ciel were pouring Péché Mortel Bourbon and Saison Mile End until the sweet sweet end.

    I am very curious though, given the spate of festivals, if you've any thoughts on the various formats?

  2. None of those other things were serving beer so are not of interest.

    I remarked on the fickle nature of hype in Monday. Bell's and LoverBeer were the two that really stood out for me as being pleasingly underappreciated.

    Not too pushed about formats. I liked all-you-can-drink but I saw a lot of beer being wasted and I'd say that contributed to the premature closure of some bars. There's a lot to be said for cash bars, like the Stockholm Beer & Whisky Festival, coming in a future post.