Saturday, 30 March 2013

Visiting London Fields Brewery

Brew-master Ben (C) London Fields Brewery
It feels like barely a week goes by at the moment without another brewery opening its doors in London. I sometimes find it hard to keep up. 

There is however, one London brewery that I've kept coming back to in the last year. A brewery that have positioned themselves right at the heart of Hackney's thriving beer scene: London Fields.

LF's brilliant Hackney Hopster has become a regular drink for me as I can always pick it up from Oddbins on my way home from work. I've also taken a shine to Black Frost Stout and to be honest, pretty much every other beer of theirs that I've tried.

It was only a matter of time before I'd have to see their brewery and learn a bit more about what they do. After briefly being introduced to Ben, their master brewer whilst I was in a bit of a drunken haze at Craft Beer Rising, I got in touch about swinging by their Hackney brewery.

I've visited a few breweries in my time, but not nearly as many as I would like to. London Fields really stood out to me. Going into the railway arches that they call home, you're immediately drawn into a bustling hive of activity with brewers and other staff working all around you. It's cramped an industrious with a slightly DIY feel to it. The place has a spark to it that many bigger breweries lack.

I stood with Ben and my mate who had joined me for the trip, in one of the few spaces where we weren't going to get under people's feet too much.

(C) London Fields Brewery
It was only a couple of minutes of being in the brewery before Ben poured us a pitcher of Shoreditch Triangle, their excellent IPA. He then gave us the back story to the beer, which is made with three American hops and three malts (hence the name!) and is supposedly inspired by the mystical ley-lines of Shoreditch! A huge grin crept across Ben's face as he added this last detail.

Whatever the influence for the IPA, it's damn good. It has a great big whack of citrus that is balanced by just right level of sweetness from the malt. It's exactly what I look for in an IPA. I can also confidently say that it tastes better being supped in the brewery - but this may of course just be a matter of perception.

In the space of just two years, the guys at London Fields have built a brewery which has quickly gained favour amongst London drinkers and further afield too. Ben joined them about eight months ago and is keen to ensure that their beers remain diverse and exciting.

Alongside Hopster and Triangle, their core range consists of Love Not War (Red Ale), Black Path London Porter, a wheat beer and an unfiltered lager. Alsongside these, they're producing LTD editions such as a black IPA and an Imperial Stout (that will be ready very soon).

It's great a see a small brewery like LF producing decent quality lager. It's obviously a bit tricky for smaller operations due to its need to condition for longer, but their unfiltered lager is to my mind one of their best beers.

Throughout this year and beyond, expect big things from the London Fields guys. Their brewery tap room currently opens just at weekends, but once their full licence is approved, it should be open throughout the week. It's a great place to have a brewery fresh beer and try out some of their LTD editions.
The Tap Room (C) London Fields Brewery

I asked Ben about what other styles he'd like to produce. His roots are in Germany, so expect to see some of that influence coming through in the future. He talked enthusiastically about brewing a Kölsch, the lager/ale hybrid that other UK brewers such as Thornbridge have started producing. We also had a chat about sour beers, which is something I would love to see them have a go out. 

As we walked around the brewery drinking Black Frost Stout, it became clear how passionate Ben is about the brewery and being part of such a vibrant beer scene in London. He clearly views his fellow London brewers more as contemporaries than competitors but is spurred on by the innovation that is happening at the moment. This of course is great for us; the drinkers!

After our tour of London Fields, we set off into the cold and snow of delightful March afternoon happily chatting about the amazing beer being produced throughout Hackney and beyond. The tour formed the start to a great day that later took us to Crate for pizza and more beer before ending up at the ever fantastic Camden Town brewery bar.

I can't end this post without doing a quick plug for an event they have coming up. On the the 4th and 5th of May, London Field's will play host to London's Brewing, which is beer festival organised by the London Brewers Alliance. Get on down there to sample fantastic beers from London Fields and many of London's other top breweries. It looks set to be a great little event!

A massive thank you to Ben and all the guys at London Fields for their hospitality.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Wild Card Brewery

The beautifully presented jack of Clubs
Wild Card are a new brewery founded by old friends William Harris and Andy Birkby. As soon as I saw bottles of their red ale called Jack of Clubs, I was intrigued. Its stark and enigmatic packaging instantly caught my eye. 

I met up with the guys at Craft Beer Co Islington to chat about Jack of Clubs, their future plans and opening a brewery at a pub in Walthamstow. 

One thing you get immediately from the Wild Card guys is their passion for their beer. They've taken a lot of risks to get one beer on sale and they have lots of plans that they're starting to put into action.

William works full time for the brewery whilst Andy holds down a day job at present and fulfills his role as co-director in his spare time. They started experimenting with extract brewing at home before developing their skills further and eventually moving towards founding Wild Card.

Jack of clubs is a bold yet approachable beer that takes its cues from American amber ales. It uses a combination of Maris Otter and Crystal malts and is hopped with Williamette, Mount Hood and Centennial. I had high hopes for the beer before trying it, but I had also wondered if it could just be a case of stylish marketing being used to dress up an ordinary beer. Luckily it proved to be a cracker of a brew. An initial maltiness and hint of sweetness gives way to a satisfying bitter hoppy finish. It's well balanced and has delicious notes of toffee and fruit.

Jack of Clubs on cask at the Warrant Officer
At present, the guys are brewing it at Brentwood Brewery, but in due course they will have their own setup in the Warrant Officer pub in Walthamstow. They should be operating from their new home in within a matter of months.

The name of the beer and the brewery came from their habit of making notes about their test brews on playing cards. The original note for the first beer was of course made on the jack of clubs. Expect their future beers to stick with this theme as it makes for such a striking brand.

I tried to press them on what we can expect from them next, but they weren't giving too much away. My money would be on something pale and hoppy. An IPA called Ace of Spades?

The Jack of Clubs is a striking beer. It definitely nods towards American craft styles whilst having a taste profile that will appeal to a wide range of drinkers. William and Andy told me about how they wanted to create something interesting and memorable that is also accessible. With Jack of Clubs they've achieved this brilliantly.

Currently Jack of Clubs is available in a number of bars, cafes and restaurants across London, particularly in the east end. Personally I'm intrigued to see what they do next. I'm also looking forward to popping along to taste their brews once they're ensconced at the Warrant Officer.

Have you tried Jack of Clubs? If so, what did you think?

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Focus on: Harbour Brewing

Rhys and Eddie from Harbour
In the space of just over a year, Cornwall's Harbour Brewing have established themselves with an instantly recognisable brand and more importantly, an excellent range of beers. 

I spoke to Eddie Lofthouse from the brewery about their inspiration, future plans and how he feels about being part of the UK's brewing resurgence. Here's how he answered...

When was Harbour founded and what was the inspiration behind the brewery being started?
I was first introduced to ‘craft beer’ years ago in the States, drinking Pete’s Wicked Ales and from that point on, I always wanted to drink interesting beers. I was running my family’s pub and all we could get locally was really traditional British beer. Rhys was working just up the road at Sharp's and we had talked about wanting to put a brewery into the pub for ages. Then one day we both just decided it was the right time. A few beers later and Harbour Brewing Company was conceived.

What are the beers in Harbour's core range?
Our core range is still developing but at the moment it consists of:
Light Ale 3.7% (hoppy golden ale),
Amber Ale 4% (malt driven ale),
IPA 5% (British style IPA).

We are also just about to release a 5.5% Pilsner, which will be a permanent fixture in our core range. We wanted to make a traditional style Pilsner - so we have used all the traditional malts and hops you would expect and special yeast that we had propagated just for the job. It’s been maturing for just over 3 months and we are really happy with it. It’s going into keg and bottle next week, so keep your eyes open for it very soon.

What LTD edition beers are Harbour brewing at the moment?
We have been brewing Porter No.1 over the winter and a couple of different pale ales, but with spring in the air we have our minds set on our summer releases. We have Pale Ale No.4 going into bottle very soon, and it is easily the best pale we have brewed to date. Dry hopped with Citra, Simcoe and Centennial it has the bases covered when it comes to hop aroma and flavour, but it is really well balanced.

We have IPA No.2 coming out in March. Our core range IPA is really a session IPA, not too bitter or hoppy but IPA No.2 is designed to be a different beast. Higher IBUs and double dry hopped with some of our favorite American hops. We also have the first of our barrel-aged beer being released at the moment. Chocolate and Vanilla Imperial Stout aged in Jack Daniels’ barrels is now kegged whilst Aji Limon Pale Ale from Jim Beam barrels is due to be bottled at the end of March.

We have plenty of other casks aging some really interesting stuff, but it is ready when it is ready and we won’t be rushing it. I think the ones I’m really excited about are the Bordeaux barrels, which are nurturing a Lambic number we have been working on for a while.

What do you feel is the style that most defines what Harbour is about? 
It’s hard to say really. Rhys is all about dark beers, while I’m a pale ale man. Both of us chat about what we want to achieve with each beer and then we brew it. I think more than a certain style of beer, we are better defined as brewing well-balanced beers whatever the style.

How does it feel to be part of the resurgence in British brewing? 

It makes me really proud to be part of such a fantastic industry. It’s the people that make it special. We are all in it because we are passionate about beer. If you weren't, you simply wouldn't put up with the early mornings, late nights, general hard graft involved in brewing. It’s not just a job, it has to be a lifestyle choice and that takes a certain kind of person. Pretty much everyone we meet from the ‘craft beer’ industry is really friendly, massively passionate and always willing to help.

I love it when I go to a ‘craft beer’ bar, and hear people talking with passion about what they are drinking. I truly believe British brewers are creating some fantastic beers to rival anything in the world.

Harbour Amber Ale and IPA
American IPAs and Pale Ales have come to define the craft beer scene. Where do you think brewing innovation is likely to go next and are there any styles that you feel are likely to catch on in the near future?
It’s difficult to say if there will be another beer style that will be as well received as pale ales have been over the past couple of years. I think there is so much variety within the pale ale style that it will always be really popular. Year on year hops are getting better and just as importantly British brewers are getting access to the best hop growths. So I think you’ll see pales at the forefront of the industry for a while yet.

That said, consumers are becoming more willing to try different styles, which gives us the option to try more of a variety. Sour beers seem to be becoming more popular as are darker beers. I had real doubts about the viability of a Porter but it has been our second best seller over the past 4 months. Our Imperial Chocolate stout has been sold weeks before it is actually released. So to be honest I have no idea where the market is going, but if I had to put a bet on I would say Saisons.

What do you feel has been the impact of American and new world hops on the micro-brewing boom in the UK?
The impact has been huge. They are giving us the flavours we want and more importantly the flavours our customers want. I would love to support the UK hop growers, but as yet I’m yet to be convinced by any of the new hop varieties I have seen coming through.

More and more UK breweries are beginning to brew European beer styles such as Hefeweizen, Saisons and Vienna style lagers etc. Are there any European styles of beer that you would like to have a crack at brewing at Harbour? 
We are about to release 2 different Pilsners, originally named No.1 (4.9%) and No.2 (5.5%). We also have some Lambic beer aging at the moment. We will be releasing a Berliner Weisse in the summer.

Our new brewer is from Sweden and she has been working on some interesting new ideas with Rhys. She has a different take on things than we are used to, which is great.

What are the plans for growing Harbour and getting your beers into more bars and shops?
We are pretty stretched at the moment so we are just trying to keep up with demand. Export is going crazy for us right now with beers heading here, there and everywhere…from Sweden to Australia

Can you tell us about one new and exciting thing happening at Harbour at the moment... 
Everything is exciting. We have only just celebrated our first birthday so the novelty is still there in everything we do, with the exception of racking! But, I imagine you mean something more like the fact we are putting in our own bottling line so we can bottle more of our small batch beers. Almost forgot, I’m really excited we have been asked to brew a new beer for the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular. I’m just not sure what we are going to brew yet!

Harbour's branding and label designs are instantly recognisable. What do you think is importance of a strong brand to go along with your beers?
I think it is really important to have a brand that gives an impression of what the brewery is all about. Something people can immediately recognise is a must, as long as the recognition is a positive one. We tried to make our branding clean and clear, stripped back but with subtle detail. We are really happy with our brand, but like all things we are contantly trying to develop it and make it better.

What do you feel are the beer styles that define the craft beer scene at the moment? 
Pale ales, Saisons and smoked beers

Do you have plans to be at any beer festivals this year? If so, which ones? 
We’re taking our beer out to the Washington DC Craft Brewers Conference at the end of March. We’ll be at the GABS festival in Melbourne in May, and we have been talking about the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival in the autumn but we’ll have to see about that one.  Closer to home we’ll be heading to the Edinburgh Independent Beer Festival, and we have been talking to the IndyMan guys, so hopefully we’ll be able to get up there towards the end of the year. There are some really great festivals popping up all over the country, but time is precious these days. If we feel the festival is right for us, we’ll make every effort to get there. So who knows…

English hop production isn't doing so well at the moment. Do you feel that there is space for highly hopped beers to be produced using just British hops? 
Yes, we just haven’t found the right hop for it yet.

Lots of breweries seem to be doing collaborations at the moment, do you have any plans to make any collaborative beers in the near future?
We have done a couple so far (Bristol Beer Factory and Arbor). They were great fun and also being such a young brewery, we learned huge amounts from brewing with more experienced brewers. We have some good friends in the industry and I’m sure we’ll get together with some of them at some point. There has been talk of something really exciting, but at the moment it is just talk.

A big thank you goes out to Eddie from Harbour for taking the time to answer my questions.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Siren Craft Brew to Launch

The last couple of years have seen the launch of some excellent new breweries. Next to join the burgeoning UK craft beer scene are Berkshire based Siren Craft Brew and the prospect has got me excited!

Based in Finchampstead, Siren are launching with a core range of four beers that will be available on both keg and cask. On 9 March, their beers will be officially launched across Craft Beer Co's four venues from 12pm, with guys from the brewery being on hand at the Clerkenwell branch to chat to punters about their brews.

It sometimes feels like there are breweries popping up like toadstools on a daily basis, so it's taking more for them to grab the attention of beer heads. These guys however have come up with a core range that sounds delicious. Of course I'm properly reserving judgement until I taste them, but on paper they've certainly got me interested.

Their four beers are as follows:

Liquid Mistress
This is a 5.8% ABV west coast bright red ale. Siren promise us "a biscuit and burnt raisin malt base with peach and grapefruit spark."

Soundwave promises to be a punchy hop bomb of an IPA. It has an ABV of 5.6% and is hopped with Citra, Simcoe, Chinook and Columbus.

This may well be the first brew if theirs that I seek out. It will be interesting see if this has the balance that I look for in an IPA alongside the huge whack of hops.

This looks to be their session beer offering. It's a pale ale with an ABV of 4.5% and is packed full of Cascade and Palisade hops. It uses 'part pale, part oats and part caramel barley' for its malt base. This will hopefully give this brew a really interesting character.

Broken Dream
Alongside the pale ale, the IPA and the red ale, it's great to see Siren having a crack a dark beer too. Broken Dream is 6% breakfast stout that promises 'a gentle touch of smoke, coffee and chocolate.' As you may have seen me say before on this blog, I think the brewing resurgence is creating some great dark beers as well as the pales and IPAs that get more attention. I looking forward to trying this stout, to see what they've achieved with it.

As more and more new breweries come to the party, it's essential that quality is kept high and the new brews are innovative and exciting. As more launch throughout the rest of 2013, it will be interesting to see which make a real impression. It's a positive early sign for Siren that Craft Beer Co are on board for their launch and that their local Camra branch have been getting excited about their cask offerings.

I'm sadly away on their launch day but I'll be tracking their brews down as soon as I can!

If you want to try any of Siren's beers on their launch day, they will be available at the Craft Beer Co venues in Brixton, Clerkenwell, Islington and Brighton from 12pm. Pop into Clerkenwell if you want to meet the brewers.