Thursday 19th Feb 2015
Stepping off the train at Shoreditch High Street I made my way towards Brick Lane past graffiti laden walls, street food vendors, Pop-Up London Beer Week events and all manner of other ‘on trend’ people, places & things, I wondered, briefly, if this place is still considered cool or perhaps just a bit cliché these days. I was finding it closer to frustrating as I grudgingly mingled with families trying to find their own destination; a Lego exhibition; this was clearly half term week, as I went from pillar to post in the pissing rain looking for a poorly sign posted Craft Beer Rising festival.
But I made it. Eventually. I looked like the proverbial rat but I got in, found a glass and made my merry way towards that happy place where finely crafted beer flows and laughs are had. And that’s exactly what happened. Northern Monk soon helped me forget just how parched I had become, with the Northern Star Mocha Porter being recommended by the BOCS Steve & Mark, it was everything it should be; smooth, full of coffee and chocolate unctuousness and delivering a surprise spicy edge. It didn’t last long.
Then, a beacon in the hubbub, Beerd Brewery. I’d had the stall earmarked before the show started, having never tried a Beerd beer before, the barrel aged impy stout Crowbar was at the top of my ‘To Try’ list. I worked my way up to it via the immense Colossus, making its debut at the show, and the equally delectable 5.1% Baron Samedi, a coconut porter. Colossus lived up to its name, a huge 6.9% IPA boasting a complex flavour profile of juicy tropical fruits; mango, grapefruit and orange followed by a dry, crisp, bitter finish, all with a clean malt profile backing it all up to let those hops really shine. I necked it as if it were fruit juice. Baron Samedi was a smooth taste of paradise, that coconut and milk chocolate working beautifully together, the coconut becoming more dominant further down the glass but never overwhelming the palate or becoming too sweet.
The 8.5% Crowbar though, that was a special beer. It had been barrel aged in Ardbeg whiskey casks and was the best whiskey barrel aged stout I’ve had the pleasure of tasting. It was rich and complex with the peaty nature of the spirit clearly defined along with a smoky quality and an oaky depth in equal measures to create a beer so complex, so punchy, but so smooth and dangerously drinkable. I’ll be on the lookout for more Beerd beers from now on.
The benefits of these market place styled festivals is obviously the opportunity to chat with the brewers and teams behind the beers. Shane, head brewer at Beerd, talked me through the range, mentioning that the keg of Crowbar was in fact the last one. With that very last keg sitting next to the brand new Colossus, it seemed to tie in nicely to the vibe of CBR- that being a February event lends itself to drinking up the last drops of nectar from the Winter season whilst looking forward to and sampling the tastes of the Spring and Summer to come.
I left the Beerd / Bath Ales stall feeling as though I’d probably already found my beers of the festival (I had), but feeling freshly buoyed by the Bristol brewery I took to the next room to see what else was on offer and found myself chatting to some locals; King Beer and 360 being represented as The Beer Collective. Exciting news from the King’s camp being the addition of a brand new kegged beer, Unity IPA, and at 5.2% it offers a bit more kick than most of the existing beers in the core range. It’s exciting to see another local brewer exploring kegged beers and Unity offers a full, fruity, refreshing profile that, providing the handful of local pubs that aren’t H&W owned can get it on tap, could quite easily become my local go-to beer over the summer. The all new Working Class Hero was also on form, now a session IPA, on cask, the new recipe sees a fruitier, bolder beer on offer; a far more drinkable and inviting beer than its previous identity as a ‘twisted mild’. Continuing the Sussex theme I spoke with the Bedlam crew, who were officially launching at the festival. I’ve been aware of the brewery for a little while now, enjoying their beers on cask locally, but it was great to see them rocking a new look and a new beer. More of that to come in separate post though.
Other highlights included the Bear Hug brewery’s Himalayan Red Rye Ale- a bold bitter beer upfront with a chewy toffee and dry peppery finish which was followed up by a cheese and beer pairing session led expertly by Des de Moor. The session was a tidal wave of incredible beer and cheese, two stand outs for me though were the dark and roasty Gnarly from Purity and Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2006.
I could’ve easily drank the bottle of Gnarly all to myself, but the small measure I had paired with the goats cheese in particular, was a delight. Well balanced, yet complex. Oaky, smoky, peppery and a hint of orange. Fuller’s Vintage on the other hand; stunning. I loved the golden raisin and dried apricot notes that dominated this beer.
Starting to wane a bit and eager to make my way back to the station without getting in a drunken and lost mess I made my way out of The Old Trumans Brewery, heading home I reflected on the afternoon. As far as the venue is concerned, it was bloody loud. The nature of the old building meant that a mass of beer fuelled enthusiasts were crammed in, pushing through narrow pathways and shouting to be heard with echoes bouncing around the small halls. Not ideal to say the least. The food hall too, with a variety of street food vendors, got very smoky, very quickly. Also not ideal. What CBR does well though is the balance. The balance between cask and keg (cask repped more so than last years LCBF for example), the balance between bottle and can (at the end of the summer it may be easier to list the brewers that don’t can), the balance between London brewers and the rest of the UK, and then the UK and the Rest of the World, the large and small, the new and old, the traditional and the more innovative. There really was something for everyone, meaning CBR is the festival for launching the year and if the vibe, samples and hints are anything to go by, this is going to be a great year for beer.
Big thanks to Purity for the ticket and for everyone who said hello and made me feel welcome, it was great to meet and chat with so many friendly folk.