When I asked Beer O’Clock Show whether it would be permissible to take an ad-hoc approach to #12BeersofXmas and got a positive response, I thought it’d be a breeze. Far from it; it’s a busy time of the year and at times I’ve struggled to maintain the required momentum. Also, judging by the Instagram photos I’ve seen and blogs posts I’ve read (including some absolute crackers), my beers appear to be somewhat lacking. That said it’s the taking part that counts and it’s been a pleasure to be part of this festive, beery adventure.
Anyway enough of the introspection. I’m fortunate enough to be off work this week so after taking care of some chores earlier today I decided to pop into the Duke’s Head in Highgate. Recently voted the area’s best pub by Time Out readers, I could think of nowhere better for a quiet Monday afternoon pint. It didn’t quite turn out that way, however, due to the fact there was a bizarre darts tournament being played out as I arrived, with the (very boisterous) participants in fancy dress (including a Mexican wrestler, a man in a dress, and cliched parodies of the Scots and the French). Still, the tap list and service more than made up for it which brings me to my day 10 beer: Siren Craft’s Ryesing Tides.
My chosen beers on days 8 and 9 were rye beers and as the name suggest so is this 7.4% Rye PA (if you will). Hopped with simcoe and mosaic and part of Siren’s seasonal IPA series, it’s dry and earthy but also fantastically juicy and tastes like a beery mango Rubicon. I’ve run out of superlatives when it comes to Siren Craft Brew and my only regret is that they won’t be brewing this beer all year round.
I’m going back to Duke’s for Hogmanay but at 7.4% I may steer clear of the Ryesing Tides, at least till the bells. I have previous at this particular establishment.
We had friends over yesterday and as I went through the futile, masochistic, self flagellatory act of cleaning the house before they arrived, I contemplated what beers to get in. I also had to decide where to go to get said beers, but luckily we are blessed in Crouch End with three quality beer shops, four if you count the new Oddbins. Even as I left the house I wasn’t sure where I was headed till I found myself taking a right at the clock tower, meaning I was making for Bottle Apostle’s in-house beer shop The Brew Testament.
And I’m glad I did. As I cast my eyes over the shelves they fell upon Pressure Drop Brewing’s Syd Strong’s, a Black Rye IPA (7.1%) brewed as part of Brewdog’sCollabFest2014. As I patted myself on the back for a choice well made I grabbed a bottle, as well as some other rye beers – it felt like that type of evening. Owing to much merry-making including a game of Trivial Pursuit (which I won) and Pictionary (which I lost) I didn’t get the opportunity to take a picture, but it looked glorious in the glass. It pours a deep, deep brown (sorry for the earworm) with a cream head and has an aroma of roasted malts, coffee and rye spice. The rye isn’t overwhelming on tasting (which would actually be fine by me), but you know it’s there, and with floral hops and a bitter finish it’s a damn good beer.
As for today, I was headed to Essex again for more festive shenanigans, but before leaving I took the opportunity to open a bottle of Five Points Brewing Co.’s Hook Island Red (6%), which I also picked up from Bottle Apostle. I’ve previously given my thoughts on the brewery’s core range here and am happy to say, along with Pressure Drop, it’s one of my favourite London breweries. I’d been struggling to find a fresh bottle of late so when I saw the bottled-on date was 4th December I was chuffed. Fresh and effervescent on pouring, it’s juicy, fruity, bitter and dry, and a very well-balanced beer. It got Sunday off to a great start and as Depeche Mode, and latterly Celtic fans, sing: I just can’t get enough. There’s a better earworm for you.
In my first #12DaysofXmas post I hinted that a review of this next beer was to come, and it’s a very special beer: Camden Town Brewery’s Beer 2014. A bock lager aged in bourbon barrels with an ABV of 9.5% and sold in 750 ml bottles, it’s a beer to share – and I chose share mine with family on Christmas day.
My future brother-in-law and nephew were thankful for my generous spirit, and we were all equally impressed with the result. With a bold and imposing design on the label and each bottle sealed with wax (hand-dipped, incidentally), you get the feeling you are in for a treat and that turns out to be the case (we’ll forget the fact I nearly lost a finger trying to break the seal with a blunt pen-knife). It’s an incredibly rich beer with a massive hit of whiskey, hints of vanilla and a bitter finish, all of which make it an audaciously late entry for beer of the year.
At the time of writing boxing day isn’t yet over and I’ve already had some great beers including Adnams Ghost Ship and a 16/02 Red Ale Amarillo Citra Simcoe by Brew By Numbers. But with a burgeoning appreciation for saisons I decided to go for By The HornsVive la Brett, a Saison-Brett aged in Burgundy Oak.
Swiftly rinsing the Bailey’s from my mouth prior to tasting, this is a complex beer. Fermented with brettanomyces yeast and aged in burgundy barrels, saisons are often described as “funky” and this beer is exactly that. It’s tart without being overly sour, and seems alive with flowers and citrus fruits. There’s also wine from the barrel-aging and it’s tangy, light, fresh and smooth all at the same time and a real wake up call for the taste buds, especially after a Baileys. And best of all, whenever I think of Brett I always think of this. Enjoy.
Well this #12BeersofXmas malarkey is proving to be a challenge. Yesterday was a great day – our boss bought us all bacon rolls and told us to finish up at 11.30. This was welcome but it meant that I was in the Old Fountain at midday drinking Pale Fire and Hook Island Red and thus the tone for the day was set. These are great beers, and I had others throughout the day but the beer I’ve chosen for day 5 is Incompetence by Doody Brew.
This ironically titled American Pale Ale was brewed by home brewer turned professional Michael McGrorty. An well balanced, hoppy and dare I say it Juicy Banger of a beer it’s an appropriate choice as Christmas is about friendship, and I’m pleased to say I count Michael as one of my friends now, a friendship that was forged through a shared love of beer. It’s often remarked in the beer community that beer people are good people – and Michael’s generous gift epitomises this. I’d better go now, I’m welling up.
It’s confession time. I overdid it ever so slightly over the weekend and yesterday the prospect of a beer wasn’t overly appealing. A day of rest was all I needed, however, and with the added impetus of a visit to north London’s newest bottle shop I’m pleased to say I’m back with the programme. Dusty Dick’s Craft Beer Emporium can be found adjacent to the Harringay Arms on Crouch Hill, and although it only opened last week, from what I saw it’ll be a great addition to the beer scene in Crouch End. It stocks a diverse range of beers from countries far and wide, and even boasts its own in-house beer – Dusty Dick’s India Pale Ale brewed by Firebrand Brewing Co. from Cornwall. Thanks to a shared licence with the neighbours next door (I assume its a joint enterprise), it also plans to sell beer on site, including from keg, but owing to teething problems I made do with the bottled version, which was kindly given to me by the friendly owner/manager Ben.
After limbering up with a couple of Dead Pony Clubs, I popped the cap and it poured amber and opaque, with very little in the way of carbonation. The aroma and flavour were beguiling; there was some citrus bitterness and tropical fruit but also something else I couldn’t quite pinpoint, and being somewhat flat it tasted like a boozy tropical fruit juice, albeit from a high-end supermarket.
Somewhat underwhelmed I opened my second beer of the night from Firebrand (bringing me up to speed with #12BeersofXmas), the All American IPA. Also opaque and amber but a deeper hue than the Dusty Dick’s IPA, I was immediately struck by the caramel aroma I associate with Double IPAs and “Macro Glory Juice” Goose Island IPA. There’s sweet malt caramel on tasting too, but also massive grapefruit notes and the slightest boozy kick (for the record it comes in at 6%). With better carbonation and a dry aftertaste that has you hankering for more, it was a wholly more satisfying beer than its predecessor.
I look forward to further visits to Dusty Dick’s, and hope that they plan events and so on in the future as although a small space, this ramshackle and, yes dusty, venue has vibe. And more importantly, it also has a dog – an incredibly cute and friendly staffie who may or may not be called Derek.
After two days of festive excess, by the time Sunday rolled around I needed to wind down and did so with the aid of Pressure Drop’s Strictly Roots. A porter brewed with dandelion and burdock, on opening the bottle you are immediately jolted by the aroma. But once you get your head around the earthy, floral and herbal notes it’s a pretty stunning beer.
It pours dark brown with a modest tan head and as well as the herbal aroma it has coffee, cocoa and burnt toast, aromas and flavours more typically associated with porter. I drank a few beers throughout the day yesterday and while Strictly Roots was the stand out, honourable mention goes to Beavrtown’s Neck Oil, if only as an excuse to post this photo:
My #12BeersofXmas will be posted a day in arrears, and while this disorganised, freewheeling approach has it’s drawbacks, the possibilities are endless.*
* The possibilities aren’t actually endless.
I lack the focus and drive to fully embrace The Beer O’Clock Show’s #12BeersofXmas, but seeing as I enjoy drinking and writing about beer I decided to do my own half-arsed take on it. Not all of the beers will be typically festive but f*ck it, I’m a maverick. Mark Landells got proceedings off to a stupidly amazing start with his music & beer post which you can read here.
As for me, where better to start off my #12BeersofXmas (my catholic upbringing still makes me shudder at the use of “Xmas”) than at Camden Town Brewery. I went along yesterday to pickup a T-Shirt and stein glass, (or more accurately a Maß as self-declared glassware pedant @ informed me) for my nephew’s Christmas stocking. I arrived at opening and had the place to myself, and as I scanned the tap list my eyes were drawn to the guest beers which featured two iconic US breweries, Lagunitas and Ska. Thankfully it’s fairly easy to get some Lagunitas in your face these days with the brewery making inroads to the UK craft beer scene. Ska less so, and while you may see the cans of Modus Hoperandi in your favourite craft boozer they tend to be less than fresh in my experience. With an abundance of great home-grown IPAs, better to buy local in such circumstances.
So I awarded myself a chufty badge when I saw it on keg and duly ordered a half pint (at 6.8% it packs a punch and I had a session at Duty Nelly’s to come). It was everything you want from a US IPA – a firm caramel malt backbone with hops battering you about the chops with the aroma and taste of grapefruit and pine. And the setting? The subject of context is vital when it comes to experiential beer tasting (fuck you, I said it) and enjoying the vibe at CTB, all snug and warm while outside was a cold, crisp and sunny day made it a pretty fine Saturday afternoon, and a great way to start #12BeersofXmas.
When you get excited by a brewery you want to share it, and I’m excited by Alechemy from Livingston. I recently tweeted a review of its Almighty MOFO IPA and Oddbins replied, heralding news of their collaboration with Alechemy as part of their ongoing series of hook-ups with British “craft beer” breweries.
The brewery’s tag line is “turning grain into gold” and with this beer they’ve struck oil, or liquid gold. Pouring near black like a cola, it has a neon red glow when held to the light with a thin tan head which slowly dissipates. The aroma is dark fruit and citrus but it’s the roasted malts that dominate with caramel and coffee present. And this continues on tasting, as the roasted malts monopolise events like a 1980’s utilities company* with caramel, demerara sugar and burnt toast.
The Oddbins No. 3 Black IPA isn’t my favourite Alechemy beer but it’s still an enjoyable take on a style I’m yet to fully embrace. I’m glad that its beers seem to be more and more prevalent in London with various Oddbins in the capital stocking them. I just hope this trickle turns to a deluge, otherwise I face the prospect of moving back to Scotland in order to get in aboot Alechemy’s considerable range of beers.
* That’s not a dig at state-owned companies – I’d nationalise the lot.
I had my first Alechemy beer at The Lamb on Holloway Road, and it was the awesome Rye O’Rye. It was a bona fide face-changer and ever since I’ve been hoping to see it again. Alas I haven’t seen any Alechemy beers at all in London. Until today, when I popped into my local Oddbins, which has recently received a shipment from Scotia, Caledonia. Eh, Livingston to be precise.
Oddbins in Crouch End is great – it has a dazzling array of beers and they often throw you a curve ball. My eyes lit up when I saw the aesthetically pleasing Alechemy insignia, and I anxiously searched for the aforementioned rye beer. Alas my search was in vain but I did pick up Alechemy’s Almighty MOFO IPA and boy am I glad I did. I stopped by a nearby pub en route to the offiie and had a bottle of Macro Glory Juice Goose Island IPA, and this DIPA from Alechemy resembles GIIPA (that’s what I’m calling it from now on). With a firm malt backbone, distinctive caramel and a hop punch that’s like being slapped about the chops, it’s a winner.
Stupidly I popped it early; I was planning to drink tonight’s haul in an upwards ABV scale but never mind, I can deal with that. If you are anywhere near north London I’d make a point of getting to Oddbins and grabbing a bottle of this.
I like autumn. Maybe it’s because I hail from the cold north, but it’s always been my favourite season. I love the amber and golden hue of the leaves, wearing jumpers and the recently harvested bounty the season bestows upon us. But this year, what I’ve most been looking forward to is the release of Beavertown’s Stingy Jack pumpkin beer.
There are some key dates in the beer year such as new releases of Stone Brewing Co.’s Enjoy By IPA and Magic Rock Brewing’s Unhuman Cannonball Triple IPA, but I was so blown away by last year’s Stingy Jack that the impending release of the 2014 version has had me on tenterhooks for weeks. I first tried it at The Old Fountain in Old Street, and almost a year to the day picked up a couple of bottles from Bottledog on Gray’s Inn Road. At £6.50 each this compares favourably to the £7.50 price tag at Sourced Market, but it’s even more affordable at the City Beverage Co. on Old Street and Oddbins in Crouch End (£6.00 and £5.80 respectively).
I’d previously only had it on keg so was intrigued to try a “Bomber” or big f*ck off bottle to you and me (660 ml incidentally). As you pop the cap you’re immediately hit with a pumpkin aroma with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. It pours a deep amber with a fine off-white head, and the flavour is pumpkin and spice, which nicely balances the sweetness. I’ve never been to America but I felt like I had been immediately transported to some diner in the mid-west, and just been served a slice of pumpkin pie and damn good coffee by a slightly cantankerous server. And at 7.2% Stingy Jack is way too drinkable.
My first Untappd check-in of Stingy Jack had the following comment, and the message remains the same:
‘I urge anyone in the locality to get yourself down here and have a pint of this. In the strongest terms.’
I’m no Oscar Wilde but it’s the message that’s important. If you don’t drink Stingy Jack this autumn you’re just plain silly.
- Railway Porter
- Hook Island Red
I’ve been a fan of Hackney’s Five Points since its inception in 2013, my first beer being a trial brew of the Pale bought in the Stoke Newington branch of Borough Wines. It’s a solid example of the ‘west coast’ style of pale ale – generously hopped with Amarillo, Centennial and Citra with the fruity aroma and bitterness you would expect. The Railway Porter is an exemplary take on the style – brewed with East Kent Goldings hops, it has an intensely smoky aroma with chocolate and coffee dominating the taste, with a hint of caramel and vanilla. The IPA is a new addition to the range and, while some rate it highly the overriding sensation was an unpleasant alcohol burn on drinking it at the Five Points tap takeover at Brewdog Shoreditch on 12/08/14 . That said, at the time of writing it’s still being tweaked so I look forward to tasting the finished article.
Saving the best till last, my favourite Five Points beer is the gorgeous Hook Island Red. I first had this on cask at The Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington and my friend Lee and I must have come close to draining the barrel. It’s an incredibly aromatic rye ale with loads of fruit and a slight hint of spice, and at 6% way too drinkable. I believe that evening I ended up bouncing up and down buses all over north and east London which I appreciate isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. Regardless of my lack of self control, Five Points have come a long way in a short time and really have hit the ground running. Added to the fact they are a Living Wage employer, they are setting a very high standard indeed.
First enjoyed at the Greenwich Union and later the ArtHouse Crouch End, Meantime Brewing’s Yakima Red is brewed with a variety of five hops from the Yakima Valley in Washington State. Malts from Germany and the UK give it its distinctive red hue, and the aroma is both toasted malt and hoppy citrus, with pine and grassy notes on the palate. Meantime’s London Lager and Pale Ale are also available at the ArtHouse, and all are better fayre than you’ll find at the multiplex in Wood Green. High praise indeed.