Saturday, 28 July 2018

Hackney & Bethnal Green Craft Beer Pub Tour

East London has a wide range of pubs and brewery tap rooms. This is a tour starting in Hackney Wick and working back towards the city centre. The route is about 4 miles end to end - but it is designed to follow the bus route 388 - so you can easily hop on and off the bus which tracks near all the pubs listed.


Hackney Wick 


Beer Merchants
Beer Merchants - Bar
In Hackney Wick - start at the new Beer Merchants Tap room  - ticking everything on a craft beer bar check list - exposed brickwork, dangly industrial lights, cable trays, rough planking and a tap wall - its a great new asset to the Hackney beer scene. A decent range of keg and bottle beers and helpful staff in a spacious and airy re-purposed industrial space

A short walk away is a brace of bars which are now must-do sites for a London beer geek:

First off try CRATE - true hipster location on the canal, alternative living and anti-establishment house boats abound. Sit on the terrace watching the bikes and boats drift by. The actual brewery is across the yard and supplies most
of the beers in the bar, including a decent range of cask beers and keg from other London makers.

Within shouting distance across Queens Yard is the tank bar - Howling Hops Claiming to be the first dedicated tank bar in the UK - a selection of all in house brewed beers served direct from the tanks behind the bar. Long Teutonic style benches in rough industrial chic.

The Mason and Co is just north of here if you want fancy street-style food and craft beer.

Victoria Park Road


Heading back towards Bethnal Green you could try: The People's Park Tavern or the Hemingway
Or alternatively walk the canal tow path - round from CRATE towards Bethnal Green; a pleasant stroll past Victoria Park to emerge on the Cambridge Heath Road.

Mare Street

Try the London Fields Tap Room or the Forest Road Brew Co Tap Room


Cambridge Heath Road 

Mother Kellys
Redchurch Brewery Tap Room - Tucked away off the main road, a London classic micro brewery: in a railway arch with the ubiquitous white corrugated ceiling liner and plenty of pallet wood on show. But a real gem of a tap room and open pretty  convenient hours. Near by is the essential stop on any craft beer tour: Mother Kelly's. A long row of fridges hold all sorts of bottle beers and a menu gives access to the 20+ taps on the back wall.

Bethnal Green Road

Old St Brewery
Old St Brewery Tank Bar
A tucked away little treat is the Old Street Brewery Tap Room - follow the passage to the side of the railway and yes its a planking and white corrugated plastic trimmed tap room. But small batch brews are sold from mini serving tanks behind the bar. The enthusiastic staff talk you through their beers and clearly enjoy what they do. Outdoor seating along the passage mixes with second hand furniture and other local traders.

There is whole street of interesting pubs along Bethnal Green Road - Sun Tavern, Star of Bethnal Green, and tucked up a side road the Three Sods Taproom

The Kings Arms is a London modern-traditional-hipster pub - old school Victorian meets multi-tap keg emporium.

Back on the main road is the quirky Well and Bucket - faded elegance of fine crumbling tiles climbing up the pock marked walls to high ceilings.

If you are feeling peckish now - its a handy detour down Brick Lane for a world of food choices. 

Follow up with a beer at the Williams Ale and Cider house or the Craft Beer Co St Marys Axe

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Bamberg – An Adventure in Brewing, Malt, Smoke and Beer

The air was heavy with the aroma of gently roasting malt as we disembarked from our train. Standing on the platform we were taken with the smell of the Weyermann maltings, its majestic brick façade towering over the beautiful Bavarian town of Bamberg.

We had travelled here to take part in a collaboration brew at the brewery attached to the 140 year old malting company. Weyermann make some highly specialist malts, many of which we use in of our XT and Animal beers. They have an amazing no-expense-spared, high tech brewery to test their malts and experiment with a wide variety of beer styles, and we had been invited here to play on it.

Bamberg must be one of the world’s top places for beer and it is well known for the local smoked Rauchbiers. As with much of Germany the locals are very loyal to their local breweries and the styles particular to the region. Generally I will always search out the local beers in my travels, but to only see local beer and no national or multinational brews at all was a revelation. The Germans see beer as a highly valued part of their culture; it’s not just a ‘drink’ and somehow inferior to wine. The brewing and serving of beer here is a respected career choice.

The old town of Bamberg is beautifully preserved, and a pleasure to wander around its old timbered houses, grand churches and cobbled streets. The locals get about on bikes on the many cycle paths and somehow they manage to ride normal looking machines without the need for lycra or carbon fibre. Most importantly however, Bamberg is blessed with nine breweries, all of which are within the old town environs. The breweries all have their own traditional bars attached, plus there are numerous pubs to tempt you, it’s actually quite hard to find a bad one. Here is a short list of some of our favourite breweries and bars:

Spezial - A traditional brewery which still smokes its own malts for the house speciality Rauchbier. We stayed here during our time in Bamberg, and it is well worth seeking out these characterful places – take a look on for similar brewery guest houses across Germany.

Zum Sternla – Thanks to our hosts Weyermann, who are almost the Bamberg royal family, we had the honour of sitting at the ‘top table’; this is a bit of tradition where the landlord has his own reserved table and holds his beery court. It’s a great way to meet a wide variety of the locals and get to understand the traditions and enjoy the respect that German’s have for their beer and the well trained staff that serve it with such reverence. Sampled some very fine Weissbier (wheat beer) here, which has deep rich flavour missing in many more commercial versions.

Keesmann – Famous for its Herren-Pils and Helles, but for me it was most memorable for the huge food portions which actually defeated my companion who is not normally the loser in man vs. food. On investigating the extensive brewery behind the bar I spotted a huge machine which at first I could not identify, after enquiring I learned it was for the cleaning of beer bottles. In Germany the regional breweries use standardised bottles and they regularly collect and refill them. This was eye opening and a radically different way of thinking to our own throw-away culture.

Mahr’s Bräu – Opposite Kessmann, we really enjoyed the biergarten here and, after the night closed in, the convivial conversation on long benches in the dark wood panelled bar inside. The shared tables in the bars are very much part of the drinking culture; everyone sits together and if you arouse their interest, you will inevitably be drawn into the conversation of your neighbours. This bar also introduced us to the delights of “Ungespundet” which literally means “unbunged”. It’s a process for maturing beers with open vented vessels leading to much less gassy beer. The age old Reinheitsgebot or purity law has far reaching influence over the beers here, interestingly it also forbids the use of extraneous gas in the beer, only gas from the fermentation can be in the beer. So there is a little puzzler for you real-ale purists, is German keg-beer real-ale?

Klosterbräu – Attractive riverside brewery here for over 450 years. The oldest in Bamberg.

Schlenkerla – Probably the most famous Rauchbier: Aecht Schlenkerla. The extensive bar with several panelled rooms and covered yards serves only one beer: it is black and it is very smoky. Served directly from wooden casks behind the bar, it’s a very special beer and special bar that encapsulates Bamberg and its deep beer traditions. If heaven forbid you want a different beer, you can buy the bottled helles, and yes that is smoky too!

I would definitely suggest a beer adventure in Bamberg with its great beers and great bars plus the added bonus that it’s actually a very attractive town. Bamberg is certainly up there in the top ten beer cities of the world.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Future of Cask and Craft Beers

XT Brewing welcomes proposals by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) to widen its remit to include all quality beers, and not just cask ales.

XT Brewing head brewer Russ Taylor said CAMRA’s move fits in well with XT’s business philosophy.

“Following a very busy 2017 when we made a significant investment in new brewing equipment and a new brewery tap room, we are 100 per cent committed to increasing the production of our cask ales.

“However, we are also committed to increasing our production of all our craft beers, which are also produced in kegs, bottles and cans.

“CAMRA’s proposal to appeal to a wider range of drinkers who enjoy all quality beers – while continuing to advocate that real ale is the pinnacle of the brewers’ craft, fits in well with our thinking.

It’s been a great voyage so far on the good ship ‘XT’ – seven years ago we were just setting sail as a new virgin brewery in a beer world where there were only a few hundred like us. Now there are five times more breweries in a very crowded sea. However – we are still going at full steam ahead, with strong growth every year since the outset.

There have been some significant changes in the world of beer – it has made seismic shifts from dull mass marketing or nerdy, “Fred in a Shed” brews to the glamorous new epoch of ‘Craft Beer’. Back when we started our branding was quite unusual, turning away from the traditional look or silly names, we went clean, slick and straightforward with a cutting edge numbering and colour coded look.

The terminology of ‘Craft Beer’ is something of an enigma in England. The Americans, who arguably coined the term, view the beer and brewing world: vertically in terms of volume by producer; whereas over here, we do things differently, and view it horizontally in terms of dispense method. This does rather make twisting an American view point over our beer world a bit tricky.

So is cask beer ‘craft’ or not? –Yes probably, but I don’t think it really matters. At XT we make beer for cask, keg, can or bottle and we ‘craft’ all of them with the same love and care. The most significant format for us is, by far, Cask. Cask beer makes up most of our production and we have invested heavily over the years in our facility and equipment to make more of it and make it better. The cask range under the core XT or experimental Animal brand has been growing and we have striven to keep evolving and developing.

Our R 'n' D programme has been bringing some wondrous beery delights including the 12 month Imperial Stout, aged in a variety of seasoned oak vats; the ever changing Animal cask range and its impetuous little cousin the Baby Animal series of nano-brewed one-offs. The Eisbar Craft Lager has been rolled out to our pioneering pubs. One of the most recent developments has been our newest beer of 2018: the HopCat IPA; it is bang on trend as a hyper hoppy but lower ABV session beer.

The design world of beer has now caught up with our branding but we will keep moving ahead of the pack and continue to do our own thing. To further show our faith in the future of cask beer – we have brought our cask beer branding up to date with a modern new look. The next generation branding will be launched in March 2018 and gives all our beers a cohesive family look while keeping to our core branding principles.

We see the future of XT firmly in the cask market, working with our existing pub partners and also reaching out to other operators who are looking for an innovative brewery to develop new markets for beer with us.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Sardinian Brewing Adventure

Collaboration Brewing & Sardinian Beers

 Last summer at XT we brewed a Belgian Wit Beer, the ‘Animal Donkey’, with innovative and eccentric Italian Brewery BBBirra from Bosa. The beer was made with wheat and loads of potent Sardinian orange zest brought over by our brewing friend Carl Fitzpatrick.

This year I headed out to the idyllic Sardinian coastal town of Bosa to join Carl again and get our brewing heads together for round two of our international collaboration.

Carl runs his brewery and farm in the medieval town of Bosa on the banks of the river Temo in NW Sardinia. The two ventures are built on very strong environmental and sustainable principles close to Carl’s heart. The farm grows all the barley, wheat and hops for the beers, and his well provides all the brewing liquor; the yeast even comes from the local wine producers. Both ancient and contemporary varieties of grains are grown to ensure a diverse culture on the farm and remove the need for chemical assistance.  The by-products of brewing are fed to the farm animals. Unusual these days – even the used beer bottles are returned by Carl’s drinkers and refilled. The locals are so used to this now; he doesn’t even need to charge a deposit! The whole process from field to glass takes place all within walking distance of the farm.

The first beer we worked on in the four storey brewery, tucked away in the narrow, winding streets of old town Bosa, was based on an Italian speciality – “Doppio Malto”. This very high gravity beer is made with a unique double mashing process. The super strong wort is then munched away by yeast which had been cropped from actively fermenting Malvasia wine. To balance the massively chewy malt flavours, high alpha hops are added for a citrus bite.

If the beers travel further than Bosa, Carl takes them in his mobile pub – an amazing, converted German fire engine. With hand pumps, a bar and a bespoke chilled cellar; the beers are enjoyed in perfect condition while drinkers rest on old wine barrels. One day, between brews, we collected an old oak foeder from an ancient and crumbling wine cellar. The cellar tucked away in a tiny narrow street was an Aladdin’s cave of amazing old wine casks resting unused for many years, I wish I could have brought one home for a bit of whacky fermentation of my own.

As a balance to the Doppio, we turned our attention to a beverage made from the oldest strain of grain grown by man – Einkorn wheat which was originally cultivated in ancient Egypt. It’s a tough little grain and takes a lot to get it to give up its sugars for brewing. To help the process, our grist needed to be blended with some contemporary malted wheat. The flavours of this hazy, refreshing “Pharaoh’s Ale” perfectly matched the heat of the Sardinian sun.

Sardinia has a hot, Mediterranean climate and the beer culture has grown accordingly – with the locals and visitors preferring lighter and fruity beers, softer IPAs, wheat beers and lagers. The craft beer craze has swept across the whole of Italy and now even Sardinia has over two dozen local breweries.

The beer market is still dominated by Ichnusa – a classic Euro fizz lager. As with many similar brands this brewer is now a part of the giant Heineken, but a raft of small independent producers are making many inroads.
My pick of these new kids on the island include:

Marduk from Orosei on the east coast – this is one of the more commercial of the independent producers and their beers include American style IPAs, Czech Lagers and a Munich Alt Bier. But as with BBBirra they also follow a sustainability field to grain principle and have their own farm and maltings. 

Birrificio Cagliari, based in the capital, produce a very wide range of styles –and all packaged in beautiful bottles with very stylish labels. Worth it just to enjoy the Italian designer look.

Birra Lara from Tertenia on the south eastern coast is a very modern brewery creating beers using barley grown on their own farm. The owners enthusiastically support the traceability of their ingredients throughout the process.

Sambrinus from Sassari in the north is the oldest craft brewer, operating since 1999. Beers follow a more classical style of traditional brews.

Birrificio 4 Mori based in the south western town of Guspini, the brewery is housed in old mine workings and uses an excellent numbering system for their beers.

Most of the beers are available in bottles – generally I found these to be bottle conditioned, the locals expect ‘craft’ to be cloudy and preferably with lots of foam. Finding the beers on draught was a little tricky, but when you do find them, they are often ‘keg conditioned’ in key-keg or other bag type disposable systems. Many of the beers I tried were unfiltered and unpasteurised. In order to enjoy a really good range look out for one of the many beer festivals around the island. These tend to be laid out in the ‘market street’ style where you can meet and talk to the brewery teams on their own stalls. 

It was a pleasure to work with Carl again this year, and get an insight into beer and brewing in Italy. Travelling for beer – what could be better?

Trappist Breweries

Pray Silence for Trappist Beer!

What is Trappist Beer and What is a Trappist Brewery?


Trappist beer is brewed by monks of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. The order was founded at La Trappe Abbey in Normandy in the seventeenth century – they broke away from the regular Cistercians for being too soft. The Cistercians had already broken from the Benedictines as they had preferred more hard work and dedicated worship. So the Trappists like a bit of seriously hard manual labour, idle chit-chat is discouraged, silence is golden. They do however like beer.
Trappist beer is more a definition of who can brew it rather than what the beer is like. The beer must be brewed in a Trappist monastery, by monks or under their supervision and the brewing must be for the upkeep of the monastery and not for profit. There is legal protection of the designation through the International Trappist Association, and currently only 11 breweries around the world can call themselves Trappist. If you are not up to the mark on these criteria  there are ‘Abbey Beers’  - this is a more loose term for breweries with some vague link to a monastery.
There is only one Trappist monastery in England – Mt Saint Bernard in Leicestershire. They are currently working on building a brewery and hope to be the world’s 12th Trappist brewer, similarly in northern Spain, San Pedro monastery are also working towards joining the elite club.


Although not strictly a definition of beer style, the beers produced by the breweries have similar characteristics. The emphasis is towards estery, fruity flavours from the unique yeast strains. Using warm, top fermentation, the beers are high strength, low on hop impact and utilise specialist malts and candi sugars to give warm, spicy flavours of great complexity. The beers are mainly packaged as bottle conditioned – which combined with their higher ABV and malt characteristics are excellent for long term keeping. Indeed many of the beers improve their complexity with months or years of aging in a cool dark place.
The beer categories have evolved over time and their original meanings have wandered a little – but roughly speaking:
Patersbier – these are ‘table beers’ generally only available in the monastery for the monks, low strength – quaffing beers
Enkel: the ‘single standard beer’ – from which the scale grows…
Dubbel:  twice the raw materials of the single. Strong, dark and low bitterness, heavy and fruity flavours 6–7 %
Tripel: more ingredients again – Stronger and golden, 7-11%
Quadrupel:  Strongest, dark and vinous sipping beers, 8-12%

Where numbers are used, these represent ‘Belgian Beer Degrees’ – not a university qualification, but an old school take on Original Gravity – the measure of the density of the beer before fermentation. So roughly a Belgian BD 6 = English OG 1060, it gives an idea on the final ABV and the weightiness of the beer.


When you come to enjoy your Trappist beer glassware is all important, both for the theatre and to enhance the aromas and flavours. Use a goblet chalice style glass – the breweries have their own specific styles, but collecting them all does take up a lot of cupboard space.
The bottled beers will have sediment – its personal choice if you wish to drink that, so pour carefully after allowing the sediment to settle.
Now consider that the finest wines are bonkers expensive – but the finest beers in the world are within the budget of everyone!


Rochefort - 

Belgian, 1595, 18,000 Hl/Yr
6 = Red Cap, brown ale, 7.5%
8 = Green Cap, brown ale, 9.2%
10 = Blue Cap, Dark Ale, 11.3%

Westmalle – 

Belgian, 1836, 120,000 Hl/Yr

Dubel = Dark Red Ale, 7%
Tripel = Golden Ale, 9.5%
Extra = Only available at the monastery, 5%

Westvleteren – 

Belgian, 1838, 5,000 Hl/Yr

Blond = Green Cap, 5.8%
8 = Blue Cap, Amber red ale 8%
12 = Yellow Cap, Legendary! 10.2%

Chimay – 

Belgian, 1863, 120,000 Hl/Yr

Red = Dubel, 7%
Blue = Dark Ale, 9%
Tripel = Golden 8%
Gold = Golden 4.8%

Orval – 

Belgian, 1931, 71,000 Hl/Yr

Orval = Brett Pale Ale, 6.2%
Petite Orval = Monks only special, 3.5%

Achel – 

Belgian, 1998, 5,000 Hl/Yr

7˚ Blond = Only available at the abbey, Golden 7%
7˚Bruin = Only available at the abbey, Brown Ale 7%
8˚ Blond = Golden 8%
8˚ Bruin = Brown Ale 8%
Extra Blond = Special 9.5%
Extra Bruin = Special 9.%

La Trappe – 

Dutch, 1884, 145,000 Hl/Yr

Blond = Golden yellow 6.5%
Dubbel = Dark brown ale 7%
Isis’or = Jubilee ale, amber 7.5%
Tripel = Golden blonde 8%
Quadrupel = Heavy, amber special 10%
Witte Trappist = hazy wheat beer, 5.5%
Bockbier = Chestnut bock beer 7%
Puur = organic blonde ale 4.7%

Stift Engelszell – 

Austria, 2012, 2,000 Hl/Yr

Benno = Golden Red 7%
Gregorius = Dark Ale 9.7%
Nivard = Golden 5.5%

Spencer – 

 USA, 2013, 5000 Hl/Yr

Trappist Ale = Pale 6.5%
Holiday Ale = Dark 9%
Monks Reserve = Black 10.2%
Imperial Stout = Dark 8.7%
IPA = Golden 7.2%
Feierabendbire = Golden 4.7%
Lager = Pale Golden 7.5%

Zundert – 

Dutch, 2013, 5000 Hl/Yr

Trappist = Brown Ale 8%

Tre Fontane – 

Italian, 2014, 2000 Hl/Yr

Tripel = Blonde 8.5%