Tag Archives: brewing

Beer Moves

5 Jul

Hackney’s ever-expanding beer waistline.

This time last year there were no breweries in Hackney. As I write today there are four, that I know of, let me know if I miss any here, or if you’re starting one. Exciting times for the borough’s beer lovers or as I like to call them: beerliebers.

The first mover and shaker in Hackney was London Fields Brewery, started in August 2011 they have been on a rapidly rising trajectory ever since. With recent expansion to a larger sized brewery and now occupying four railway arches in London Fields they are going from strength to strength.

Over in De Beauvoir the next brewery to start the beer flowing was Beavertown Brewery, based in a pub/barbecue restaurant called Duke’s Joint. Billed as a “Brew and Que” they brew beer and serve it with American-style barbecue (long smoked not short incinerated) and a lot of rock and roll attitude (in a good way). Hardly surprising as the brew guy, Logan Plant, is the son of Rock God Robert.

Third out of the blocks is the eponymous Hackney Brewery. Started by a couple of Hackney residents with a pedigree of working in some of the best gastropubs around. They are having a meet the brewer event at The Seabright Arms (why not a Hackney pub?) THIS MONDAY (9th July 2012). So you should go, so should I!

Finally we have a brand-spanking new microbrewery and pizzeria called Crate over in Hackney Wick. Not quite open yet, and not actually in Hackney, just Hackney Wick which apparently is in Tower Hamlets…er whatever, it’s beer and that makes it alright. Chill.

London Fields Brewery
www.londonfieldsbrewery.co.uk
 
Beavertown Brewery
www.beavertownbrewery.com
 
Hackney Brewery
www.hackneybrewery.co.uk
 
Crate
www.cratebrewery.com

Pig’s Ear of it

12 Dec
casks of ale
casks of real ale

My trip to the Pig’s Ear beer festival left me feeling a bit disappointed.

East London and City branch of CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) held their annual beer festival for the 28th time this week. That’s a lot of beer. For nearly 30 years this event has resolutely upheld the traditions of British beer. Cask-conditioned real ale was unloved, anachronistic and in decline when CAMRA and it’s network of local branches started 40 years ago, but now thanks to their perseverance and foresight, interest in this unique, traditional craft product is once more on the rise. Nuff respec’.

As I’m a fairly recent convert to the delights of craft beer I haven’t attended many beer festivals. So I was excited about going. A chance to sample some rare and unusual brews, and to get to know more about the local beer scene. Hackney was without a local brewery until this year, now there are several and more are opening all the time. With the festival being held in Clapton, which is rapidly becoming the new Dalston, this event should be something special. A celebration of a burgeoning craft in a vibrant and exciting setting. Surely?….Not so much, no.

So what was wrong with the festival then? The venue is amazing, a beautiful grade II* listed building with plenty of space and a

view from balcony at festival

Drinkers at the Festival

very dramatic atmosphere of its own. You couldn’t find a better building to have a festival. Perhaps with some subtle lighting and decorative touches it could have been enhanced, but that is a minor gripe, because it is a stunning building. Paying £4 to get in (£2 to CAMRA members), is a bit steep, as this only buys you entry. You then have to hire a glass, which involves getting to the other side of the hall and another financial transaction. Why can’t the glass hire and entrance payment be done in one? Probably because a lot of casual visitors would baulk at the idea of handing over £7 just for the opportunity to buy a beer.

Once you have completed these formalities it is time to get a drink. Great, forget having just been fleeced for seven quid, we’re in now, lets relax and have a beer. But where do you start? How do you decide which of the impressive array of beers on offer to choose? You can look in the festival programme, but that doesn’t help much. The choice is dazzling and vast. I asked the barman for one of the brews from the new local breweries. He gave me a taster of one, brewed specially for the festival. It was warm and brown and dull. I asked if there was a different one, but there wasn’t. Only one cask of local ale on offer amongst all this beer seemed a strange situation.

So I thought I’d go completely the other way and try some of the Italian cask ales that the festival had specially imported. A very impressive array of Italian cask ale was lined up on the other side of the hall. This is something you don’t see everyday. I asked the barman here for  a recommendation. His ‘beer of the festival’ was a 9% Double IPA. I asked for a taster, but apparently they don’t do tasters (even though I’d had one on the other bar). So I took him up on his glowing recommendation and had a half. Big mistake. A beer of this strength and body should not be served warm, it was undrinkable. A schoolboy error on my part maybe, ordering such a strong beer, but the barman had done a fairly hard sell on it, saying it was great and there wasn’t much of it left.

I really wanted to like this festival. I love beer, and I love exciting food-related Hackney happenings, but this just didn’t do it for me. I could overlook the lack of ambience (would music distract too much from the drinking?), the lack of seating, the abscence of delicious tasty morsels. I could get over the fact that I was in a crowd of 96.7% males, I wasn’t on the pull. No, I was looking for extraordinary taste sensations, amazing beers delivered in peak condition, the ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ moment, where nothing else can slake the thirst but lovely beer. Unfortuantely this festival didn’t deliver. The main event; the beer, just wasn’t up to it. I don’t mean to imply that the beer should be served ice cold, but it should be served cool. Between 12 and 14 Celsius according to CAMRA’s website. The beers here were served warm in a warm room.

This is real ale at its most unreconstructed and rather than expand the audience for ale, I fear events like this will put the uninitiated off.

Hackney Wild Hops

3 Dec

Brewing beer with foraged hops!

My mate Graham happens to be the Cellarman at one of London’s beeriest beer bars: The Euston Tap. Last week he went up to Norwich to brew a beer with Northcote brewery. Why is this a Hungry Hackney ting? Simples; Graham lives in Stoke Newington and he harvested some of the hops used in the beer from his back garden where they were growing wild. Foraged hops being used for brewing actual beer! I wanted to know more.

“I used to be a self-employed Gardener” explained Graham “so I knew that these vigorous twining plants growing like the clappers in my garden and next door were Humulus lupulus” which is the Gardener’s way of saying hops. “So I let them grow, hoping that they would flower.”

And flower they did. It’s the flowers, or cones, of the hop plant that are used in brewing. They give beer it’s bitterness, herbal aromas and balance out the sweet flavour of the other main ingredient; malted barley.

Harvested hop cones
Harvested hop cones

“By the end of Summer the hop plants were covered in bright green flowers. The best time to harvest them is just as the cones are starting to turn brown at the edges. Then you know they’re ripe” Graham continued “so at the end of September I started my harvest. I got my daughter to help me and we collected loads.”

After collecting the cones Graham laid them out in his greenhouse on shelving to dry out any excess moisture. This took a couple of days. Then he put them into freezer bags, squeezed out all the air and tied them, before putting them into the freezer to store until brew day. Keeping them in the freezer is also a good way of killing off any nasties, bacteria or insects, that might be lurking in the cones.

For the brew day Graham took the hops to the Northcote Brewery in Norwich. Run by husband and wife team Adam and Jenni Nicholls the microbrewery has been producing hand crafted ales for only just over a year. The plan was to create a highly hopped pale ale with as many hop additions as they could. As well as the Hackney Wild Hops they added copious amounts of Citra, Summit and Pacific Jade at every stage of the brewing process. The beer is going to be called ‘One For The Road’ and will be on sale only at The Euston Tap, probably around Christmas and into the new year. There will be about 16 casks of it produced, but because it uses unique wild hops, once it’s gone, it’s gone. There won’t be a chance to recreate it until the wild hop harvest next year.

copper

Hops on the Copper