I was kindly invited to the New Zealand Craft Beer Collective’s London launch at Hop Burns & Black on Tuesday where I tasted beers from five Antipodean microbreweries that are making waves as well as crossing them. The collective comprises Tuatara, Three Boys,8 Wired, Renaissance and Yeastie Boys, and as Richard Shirtcliffe from Tuatara explained, this collaborative approach with like-minded breweries makes sense when trying to make inroads into the export market. It’s also a welcome relief from lawsuits and the like as far as I’m concerned.
This was my first trip to Hop Burns & Black which opened last autumn and is the brain child of Kiwi natives Jen Ferguson and Glenn Williams. The name refers to the beer, hot sauces and vinyl sold at the store, and as a beer geek it was the expansive range of bottles and cans that got me most excited. There’s also a flagon fill from ever changing kegs (respect for eschewing the ubiquitous “growler”, guys), while I left with a bottle of the much sought after Jaipur X from Thornbridge. I’m aware that the consumption of alcohol on public transport is illegal in London, so I’m not in a position to confirm whether or not I also picked up a couple of train beers in the form of Modus Hoperandi cans…
As I arrived the place was already buzzing; it was stowed out with the great and the good from the beer-geek world happily mingling with the brewers, and the aforementioned Richard from Tuatara and Stu from the Yeastie Boys were palpably excited about their foray into the UK craft beer scene. Regarding the beer I was impressed by Tuatara’s APA: Aotearoa Pale Ale, 8 Wired’s Tall Poppy (which brought to mind Five Point’s Hook Island Red) and Yeastie Boy’s Pot Kettle Black, while 8 Wired’s gloriously refreshing Saison Sauvin was the stand out. And a special mention must go to Jen and Glenn’s friend Kate Crawford and her awesome canapés – I’m not sure if she makes a living from food but if not she should definitely consider a career change.
I’m not one for online beer orders as a rule as there’s a plethora of great bottle shops in London. But the opening of Hop Burns & Black has raised the bar, and I’ll be back for a fix of Kiwi beer soon.
The New Zealand Craft Beer Collective will be at Craft Beer Rising all weekend.
My partner Gemma and I decided that rather than buy Christmas presents for each other this year we would book a trip, and settled on Bruges as a suitably festive destination. I didn’t go with the intention of writing a post as I wanted to simply enjoy the city and its food and beer without analysing or deconstructing everything. Some say that poetry, especially the Romantics, is devalued when it is over-analysed; better to let the words wash over you and arouse thoughts and feelings. I disagree on the whole, and the same when it comes to beer – we can better appreciate it if we understand how it came to be. But sometimes you just want to relax and not record every detail of your experience, and added to this is the fact that better and more experienced beer bloggers than I have written extensively on the beer scene in Bruges. However, now that I’m home I find I want to make sense of my trip and, as I intend to return to the city, it’ll be a useful reference point.
As we arrived it was already dusk and the twilight painted some beautiful colours upon the city’s skyline of tiled rooftops. After checking in at our hotel just south of the historic centre we took a wander, ticking off locations from the film In Bruges and generally taking in the festive atmosphere (think markets selling mulled wine, masses of Christmas lights, and horse and carriage rides). When it was time for a beer we made for Staminee De Garre, a highly regarded beer house located down a narrow alleyway close to the Burg square. However, when we got there there were no seats downstairs so we headed upstairs (no standing is permitted here) where we were spoken to rather abruptly by a slightly surly bar tender, so we reluctantly beat a retreat. I was fairly deflated and some of the magic of Bruges was temporarily lost but the city is so beautifully atmospheric it soon picked me up again.
We instead stopped for a beer at the beautiful historic Craenenburg cafe situated on the stunning Markt sqaure. The beer menu was extensive and the service fast and friendly, and surprisingly in my case we both opted for a kriek (I had a right drouth* that needed to be quenched, and this beer to me is like a soft drink). We pondered the food menu but felt it better to explore some more and ended up in a small bistro near Concertgebouw, the impressive modern concert hall that although new, complements the historic red brick architecture of medieval Bruges with its terracotta tiles.
The next day we had breakfast and decided to visit the Béguinage of Bruges, a beautifully quiet and contemplative place, the tour group of 25 Spaniards notwithstanding. We then hoped to take a canal trip but the weather made a mockery of our plans as the rain began teeming down. Instead we took the tour of De Halve Maan brewery, the only working brewery within the old city of Bruges. I had been warned by Melissa Cole that the tour can play fast and loose with the facts but taken with a pinch of salt it was one of the better tours I’ve been on – our guide was terrific and gave us the perfect blend of the brewing process and the history of the brewery, and at €7.50 per person including a beer it was great value. The beer we got in exchange for our ticket was Brugse Zot, a sweet, malty pale blonde ale which while not spectacular was unfiltered and unpasteurised, and brewery fresh.
As the heavens re-opened we sought shelter at 2be, home of the famous “beer wall”. I opted for a Trappistes Rochefort 8, a strong dark ale coming in at 9.2% while Gemma went for a Mongozo Coconut beer, having enjoyed the mango version at Durty Nelly’ssome time ago. The Belgians are famed for their numerous beers with their matching glassware, and Gemma’s beer came served in half a coconut shell. Those crazy Belgians…
We now had a good beer buzz on so what could be better than climbing the 300 steps of the Belfry, scene of the demise of Brendan Gleeson’s character in the aforementioned In Bruges. Once we conquered the summit we went for a wander and had some lunch before going in search of t’ Poatersgat, a basement bar on Vlamingstraat. Poatersgat means “monk’s hole” and the door is a charming little entrance, almost like a doorway you would find in Hobbiton (as an aside, the Belgians seem to be strangely fixated on Hobits and all things Middle Earth). The owner was friendly and engaging and talked us through the many beers available, all of which are from what he described as “family breweries”. I wanted a draught beer and went for a De Koninck but I was really hankering for a gueuze, and sought the owner’s advice. I went for what he described as a beer at the extreme end of sour, the Cantillon Gueuze. Intensely tart, crisp and dry with a distinct taste of apple, it was the first of many gueuze I would drink that night but possibly the best, and once I had drained my glass we headed to our next port of call.
‘t Brugs Beertje was the highlight of the trip in beer terms. As we entered it was rammed but the manager Daisy handed us a menu and assured us a table would be available soon. We ordered two Special Brews (for ‘t Brugs Beertje), a strong dark ale coming in at 10% and in no time at all a corner table became free. There was a real buzz about the place, and ‘t Brugs Beertje is obviously something of a Mecca for beer tourists if the accents were anything to go by. We ordered a platter of cheeses and salami and among numerous beers the best was the Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait – I was definitely getting my geueze on. I also had a Préaris IPA – No Hops No Glory, which came in a glass so beautiful I had to have it, and duly purchased one. I drank my first ever Halcyon from it last night, and Gemma was somewhat bemused as I held it aloft and declared its beauty. From getting my Geueze on to getting my geek on you might say.
For more on the Bruges beer scene I recommend this series of posts by Chris Hall and this, the first of a series by Matt Curtis. And if you haven’t been, even if you don’t care for beer you need to go.
* Scots word for dry mouth / thirst
I attended an “Introduction To Craft Beer” at The Duke’s Head pub in Highgate last night hosted by my friend, the intermittently trouser-less Matt ‘Total Ales’ Curtis*. Although aimed at the novice craft beer drinker I was keen to attend as not only is Duke’s a cracking pub, I was also interested to hear Matt expand upon the oft-times rushed, drunken beery discussions we have when attending the same pubs/events.
According to Untappd my first visit to Duke’s was in December last year when I was fortunate enough to find Siren Craft Brew’s Liquid Mistress on cask. Under its current management for just over a year, Duke’s has quickly made a name for itself with its fantastic range of cask and keg beers with a particular emphasis on London breweries. They also do take away, stocking Beavertown and Fourpure cans among others, and with excellent customer service it’s a real boon for local beer enthusiasts.
So on to the event. Once the latecomers had arrived Matt got going and we started off with a bottle of Hammerton Brewery’s Islington, an eminently quaffable sweet, malty steam lager with a hint of citrus bitterness. Matt’s delivery was friendly and assured as he gave us the background to this nascent Islington brewery and provided context with a potted history of steam beer. My only regret is that he didn’t herald the beer by standing on a stool and shouting “Stop – Hammerton time!” (sorry). Next up was The Five Points Brewing Co’s Pale. A fine take on the style, I’m a big fan of this brewery and you can see my thoughts on their core range here.
Matt then introduced what was possibly the beer of the night, for me anyway: Fourpure Brewing Co.’s Oatmeal Stout – a gorgeously rich granola tray-bake of a beer smothered in treacle and chocolate (not literally). Fourpure’s entire range is excellent and a trip to the brewery in Bermondsey is well worth it, especially with various other microbreweries in the vicinity.
We then took a break for food from Duke’s in-house scran-merchants and salt beef and pickle specialists The Bell and Brisket which was wolfed down by the hungry, and by now well lubricated crowd. Half-time also gave Matt the opportunity to chat with everyone on a one-to-one basis as he answered questions and elaborated on his talk.
We restarted with a palate cleanser/smack to the chops via Partizan Brewing’s Saison Grisette Lemon & Thyme. Not surprisingly, citrus was at the forefront and the thyme was also evident albeit more subdued. Although Saison is a challenging style for the novice beer drinker it’s an important and rewarding one given perseverance, and this was an ideal introduction – accessible enough while demonstrating the scope in flavours the style affords brewers. Matt finished with two beers from one of the highest regarded breweries in London, The Kernel Brewery. First up was the India Pale Ale Chinook Simcoe which was greeted with a cheer from the crowd, emphasising the esteem in which American-style IPAs are held by the craft beer community. This was followed by the Export India Porter – a full-bodied beer with an aroma and taste of coffee, liquorice and chocolate which really got me excited about the change of seasons and the prospect of scooping many more of the style.
That brought an end to proceedings, for me anyway as I was on the verge of being crunk**/gammadied*** and thought it best to make my way home. It was a great night – I drank some fantastic beers, enhanced my beery knowledge and met some friends, old and new. Word on the streets of Highgate is that there may be more such events to follow, and I’ll drink copiously to that.
* Due to poor photography skills I have no photos of Matt but you can see his mug here
** Drunk on craft beer
*** Smashed/bevvied – derived from auto correct wrongly translating “hammered”
I attended the Five Points tap takeover at Brewdog Shoreditch last night, which was part of London Beer City – a “week-long, city-wide festival celebrating London’s beer renaissance”. Steve from The Beer O’clock Show was my drinking buddy and as I arrived he was playing the long game, sipping a half pint of Dead Pony Club so as not to peak too soon. London Beer City has come at the wrong time for me as I have neither the finances or time to take full advantage of it; as Emma from Crema Brewery suggested in a recent tweet, perhaps it should become a national holiday. I decided to prioritise this particular event as I’m a fan of Five Points and because Brewdog Shoreditch is close to my work. Some may call that lazy, I prefer to call it focused.
It has often occurred to me that Five Points don’t elicit the same reverence or even adulation that some breweries do, perhaps as they’re not seen as being sufficiently experimental. But I view the fact they have eschewed the scatter-gun approach and concentrated on getting their core range right as a positive. The consistency of their beer whether it’s from cask, keg or bottle suggests to me that quality control is very important at Five Points.
The takeover was due to commence at 7pm* but at 6:55 Steve and I decided we’d waited long enough and got a flight each, containing the Pale, Railway Porter, Hook Island Red and the new addition to the core range, the IPA. There was still no sign of the Five Points crew, who were winging their way from Great British Beer Festival in Olympia. If London Beer City is demanding for punters, I can’t imagine how hectic it must be for the breweries.
Five points excel at social media with a regular newsletter via email and a very active twitter account, however in person they have some work to do based on last night’s event. The format wasn’t very clear, and when founder Ed brought some samples to our table they were withdrawn once it was established that I had already sampled a flight. Maybe this was down to confusion, or perhaps the priority was to reach out to new fans but it would have been great to talk to Ed about the rationale behind their beers and the philosophy of the brewery (don’t worry Boak and Bailey, I wasn’t after an autograph). That said there was nothing to stop me approaching Ed but then I’m not what you would call the outgoing type. You can see what I think about Five Points core range here, but it’s worth stating that Steve rates the IPA highly, and regularly commits craft blasphemy by comparing it to Magic Rock Brewing’s Cannonball. In any case, he managed to set up an interview for his podcast to take place at a later date and we battered through some more beers, making it a thoroughly enjoyable, London Beer City-themed Craft Tuesday.
* As with the Stone “Enjoy By” release a megaphone was produced to herald the commencement of proceedings. Note to BDSD – it’s slightlly awkward and doesn’t really work…