Sunday, 23 November 2014

Bermondsey Beer Mile

The Bermondsey Beer Mile is a popular crawl to some of London's hippest new breweries. It's an interesting view of craft-brewing life in London today - still joyfully in a state of independence and not overtly commercial. How things will develop in the coming years is anyone's guess - but this is a tour worth doing sooner rather than later... before the informal charm is polished away.

The breweries all set up temporary bars and trestle tables on Saturdays for you to enjoy their draught craft-keg or bottled beers. The breweries are built into railway arches with paved yards to the front. Mostly the beers are strong IPAs, hefty stouts and porters or whacky Saisons and experimental brews - didn't see a session bitter all day. There were quite a few 'table IPAs' under 3% available too - surprisingly tasty. The beers on draught were sold in 2/3 pint glasses.

The trestle tables, working brewery surroundings and slightly ramshackle feel all make for a very sociable day - we found all the other beer tourists very friendly (especially as you will generally be trailing each other all day) and every stop would be a babble of chatter among similar minded beery folk.

The tour is made up of seven breweries and one bar, and for ease I would suggest starting at the furthest point and working your way back towards central London. The breweries are generally open from 11am to about 5pm on Saturdays - except Kernel which closes at 2pm. This makes things a little tricky as they are the mid point. So if you realistically want to do the whole set you'll need to start early.

To start the tour head for London Bridge station and the overland 'Southern' trains. You need platform 14 and the train to South Bermondsey. The train journey is just 5 minutes and they run every 15 minutes.

Leave South Bermondsey station and head for Fourpure Brewery Unit 22, Bermondsey Trading Estate, SE16 3LL - 0.3 miles away. Walk out of the station and down towards the right, Rotherhithe New Road and after around 500m on the right you will see Bermondsey Trading Estate and Screw-Fix. Walk through the estate following the road and back under the railway arches, the brewery will be right ahead of you. 

Fourpure Brewery is probably my personal favourite; it's a professional looking set up and one of the largest. They purchased the 20 barrel kit from Purity Brewing. Their beers are all sold in keg or can - yes cans! Cans may have a reputation for holding the most awful of beers and to many should only be used by louts and tramps - but honestly - give it a try and you will be very pleasantly surprised.

Next head to Partizan Brewery - 8 Almond Road, SE16 3LR - 0.4 miles. Walk out of the trading estate and turn left back the way you came. Then take the next major right up Galleywall Road. At the end of the road turn right and then immediately right down Almond Road. Partizan is in an arch on the left around 300m down the lane. 

Partizan is rather different to the orderly Fourpure, seating is outside on pallet stacks and a temporary bar is placed in front of the brewkit. The brewery itself is amazingly squashed into a fairly small railway arch, the 6 barrel plant came from Kernel. The beers are all one-off specials and they use more unusual ingredients.

After Partizan go on to Kernel Brewery Arch 11, Dockley Road, SE16 3SF. This is 0.7 miles away and will take around 15 minutes. Return to the top of Almond Road and turn left, then carry on until you turn right down Blue Anchor Lane, then cross St James Rd, with the railway on your right, go down Lucy Road and Kernel will be on the right.

Kernel is the original and set the mold for this south London 'new-wave' of breweries. They are the one everyone wants to copy and they also started this Saturday-at-the-brewery trend. There is a huge range of beers on tap and bottle. Right next door is a bakery and cheese maker and several people were in the brewery enjoying their bread and cheese lunch with beer.

Next up is Brew By Numbers - 79 Enid Street, SE16 3RA. This is around 0.5 miles away.With the railway on your right, turn right down Rouel Road. Left then right, this turns into Enid Street and Brew By Numbers is on the right. 

Brew by Numbers - again quite a lot of equipment and stock all piled into a railway arch and the temporary bar area opens out on to the yard in front. A fine selection of beers all number coded by style / recipe - now who would number their beers? Silly idea! 

Lunch Time! There is an artisan street market selling all kinds of cracking food called the Maltby Street Market. Leave Brew by Numbers along the railway arches until you reach Abbey Street and turn left then first right down Gelding Place. The market is in this area. There are lots of street traders along here and plenty of places to enjoy a hearty lunch (if a little pricey)

Next up is Anspach & Hobday and Bullfinch - 118 Druid Street, SE1 2HH. (Two breweries in one) 5 minute walk, 0.3 miles. Walk to the top of the market street with the arches on your left, then turn left down Millstream Road and back under the arches. Turn right onto Druid Street and Aspach is on the right hand side. 

The two breweries here offer some indoor seating and a fairly wide range of beers.

Next door is the Bottle Shop - this is worth a visit as it fits in with the character of the day and is both an informal shop with a range of bottled beers and a bar with seating on a mezzanine area under the railway arches. We enjoyed an excellent tasting session with Weird-Beard Brewery who were doing a meet-the-brewer night.

Also in the same arches is the newest of the breweries in our crawl: Southwark Brewery - newest and yet the only one of the group to make their beers for cask. The brewery was only a week or two old when I visited and we had a very interesting chat with the guys there talking through their set up.

By this time it was early evening and the last visit of the day is very close to Tower Bridge - the Dean Swift pub - this is tucked away in a side street under the once mighty Courage Anchor Brewery.

Thanks to North Oxon CAMRA and John from Turpin Brewery.

Monday, 27 October 2014

ALPHA ACID - An Ultra Bitter Experience

XT Brewery, Alpha AcidThere are a few ultra IBU beers out there, and it is a challenge both to brew these beasts and indeed a serious struggle to actually drink them.

It had been an idea burning away in my head for some time that we should try and brew up one of these horrors. Prompted and encouraged by our friend John Bishop from the St Albans beer festival I started planning how to meet this challenge ready for the festival in September 2014

The Alpha Acids in hops are the source of the bitterness we brewers use in our beers - the bitterness of a beer is generally measured in International Bittering Units IBUs - from no effect at 0 up to 100 which is the top level generally agreed to be max out point of human perception. A bog standard 'English Bitter' is somewhere around 30 to 40 IBUs for a 4% ABV beer.

So it had to be XT- AlphaAcid 

The Press Release:
Alpha Acid, is a heavily hopped IPA style beer with a mouth puckering bitterness which was available for the first time at the 19th St Albans Beer & Cider Festival September 2014. The beer measures in at 6.0% ABV and 1000 units of bitterness and is brewed by XT Brewery Company of Long Crendon, Bucks with masses of intense American Hops to produce what is possibly Britain's Bitterest Beer.

The beer makes full use of alpha acids. Alpha acids are the components in hops which gives beers their characteristic bittering flavours, normally balanced with the sweetness of the malts.
Beer Organiser John Bishop said "When one considers that an English IPA is normally between 40 and 60 IBU this beer definitely hits harder than your standard pint and tips the scales well into unbalanced and bitter! Definitely not one for a session or those with a weak constitution! I am certainly looking forward to sampling it myself. This beer is bound to create quite an interest on curiosity value alone and will undoubtedly be extremely popular by many of our more adventurous visitors so come early to the Festival if you want to try some".

It was planned as a pale beer - but actually ended up a rather interesting milky pale green.The IBU level was a calculated value based on standard brewing formula - we didn't have the opportunity to have it scientifically measured before the festival.

It is certainly a beer for the drinker who wants the challenge and bragging rights rather than a nice balanced session ale - I rather enjoyed making it and I hope the drinkers who tried it will remember it even if they didn't actually like it.

I  am not sure if it was Britain's Bitterest Beer - there are plenty of other green beasts out there but I hope it comes in the top 10 ... looking forward to 2000 IBUs

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Long Crendon Cider - craft cider

Long Crendon Cider

The launch of Long Crendon cider will take place at the Eight Bells pub, Long Crendon, Bucks during the 2014 Easter Beer Festival, a fitting venue as the cider is produced at Long Crendon Manor and sold exclusively through XT Brewing Co, who are also based in the village.

Cider has been made at Long Crendon Manor for a number of years using their own orchard apples for household and local consumption. However, when XT started brewing beer they also took an interest in the artisan cider from the other end of the village, which had previously only been available in the Manor kitchen or occasionally the Eight Bells and the Cross Keys in Thame.

It was Spring last year when alcoholic coercion from Russ and Gareth of XT morphed into business planning by Tim and Sue at the Manor to move on from the old hand scratter and butterfly press to an electric miller and a brand-new Voran hydraulic press. Supplied by Vigo, the twin bed press is capable of providing a force of 380 Bar (that’s a whopping 5,500 Psi!) to extract the juice from the apple pulp. This means that the process is very efficient and the apple pommace which is left over after pressing is perfect for being fed as a supplement to the Gloucestershire Old Spot and Large Black rare breed pigs at the Manor.

Apples sourced from the Manor and a number of local orchards are harvested in the summer to produce a medium dry cider. Still and clear, it has an ABV of 5.5% and is appropriately called: Late Summer cider. These apples are hand-picked (good quality wind falls are fine!) and are usually left for a week or two before crushing and pressing which allows the natural yeasts and acids to get to work under the skin.

The Autumn varieties are made primarily using the famous Dabinett cider apple from Herefordshire. Again, according to the time of harvesting the apples, the three Autumn ciders on offer are: Early Autumn, Mid-Autumn and Late Autumn. Strengths are also 5.5% ABV and the tastes Medium Dry, although the Autumn ciders have a very different colour and flavour to the Late Summer cider.

Packaging this year is in 10l and 20l polypins available through XT Brewing Co.

The significant investment in the cider process at Long Crendon Manor means that production volumes this year will be significantly greater than last year to provide a larger and broader offering in 2015.

Long Crendon Cider –

Late Summer – 5.5% ABV Medium Dry. Still.
Early Autumn – 5.5% ABV Medium Dry. Still.
Mid-Autumn – 5.5% ABV Medium Dry. Still.
Late-Autumn – 5.5% ABV Medium Dry. Still.

Craft Beer

So What is Craft Beer ?

Recently there has been a lot of heated discussion about this seemingly simple phrase. Both CAMRA and the Brewers Association SIBA are talking at length about how this term should be used and what it ‘means’. So why is it a hot topic? The phrase ‘Craft Beer’ is being used more and more and has started to be associated with beers from a wide range of breweries from very small to the global giants. Compare this to another phrase which has been around for a while and which has significant meaning to readers of this blog, ‘Real Ale’ – this by contrast is a carefully defined term - where secondary fermentation occurs in the beer barrel after the main brewing process. The strict definition gives you the consumer a degree of security; it means that you know what you are getting.

There has been craft beer since the dawn of civilization but the term is gradually taking on a more particular meaning and is being used in connection with beers that have more character and flavours than the mainstream products. Generally speaking your local microbrewery will be producing Craft Beer – beers which are full flavoured and interesting. However as this phrase passes into the general beer language we have seen more of the big players jumping on the bandwagon and producing their own so called Craft Beers. There is a danger that the boundaries are blurring and the small scale local beer revolution we are currently enjoying is being hijacked by the brewing giants.

So what are the characteristics of a ‘Craft Beer’?
Small – small scale production
Independent – the brewery should not be part of a larger group, and ideally an owner-brewer company.
Authentic – the beer should be brewed with all high quality natural ingredients, where taste and flavour are a higher priority than cost per unit. The beer should be honest about its origin and ingredients.

Real Ale produced by a microbrewery can be a Craft Beer, but Real Ale mass produced by a multi-national is not a Craft Beer. 

The other reason for the increasing use of the term Craft Beer is its connection with the new-fangled Craft-Keg beers. This new term has developed for much the same reason CAMRA introduced ‘Real Ale’ to our language. Back in the sixties and seventies ‘ale’ became increasingly devalued and its quality spiralled downwards – hence CAMRA added a prefix to differentiate a traditionally crafted beer from the industrially produced rubbish.

What is this Craft Keg stuff then? CAMRA promotes and protects cask conditioned real where the beer is still ‘alive’. These are beers served from traditional hand pumps, the beer lasts 3 or 4 days once it has been tapped. This method of production was being phased out by the industrial brewers in the sixties in favour of easy keep keg beers. Keg beers such as lagers and bitters like John Smiths Smooth are served under gas pressure through taps and the beer lasts for several weeks once in use.

Keg beers are generally produced by the large brewing groups. They are filtered and pasteurised to kill all life in the beer and then the beer is artificially gassed to make it fizzier than Real Ale. CAMRA’s bĂȘte noire are the keg bitters which historically pushed Real Ale out of pubs across the country. These beers like Watney’s Red Barrel and Double Diamond were brewed for ease of distribution and dispense, all at the expense of taste or character. Rubbish In Rubbish Out - regardless of the method of dispense.

We are currently in the midst of a beer revolution and today’s craft breweries are producing an ever widening range of beers. In order to be able to offer an even greater range of beers many of the more progressive brewers have looked again at offering keg beers. A beer served in keg lasts longer than a cask beer enabling pubs to have more beers on offer at any one time. Keg also provides the opportunity to produce more unusual, much stronger or challenging flavours in beers – where a cask might be too slow selling in most pubs.  The character of some stronger beers or heavily hopped beers can also be enhanced in a keg. The differences between a Craft-Keg and standard keg beer are huge – hence the need for a new term.

At the XT Brewery we produce traditional cask conditioned beer – that is what we do and it will always be the vast majority of our brewing. Cask beer is an amazing product and cannot be beaten for flavour, however to complement the cask beers, we are developing a range of Craft Keg beers – these are brewed in exactly the same way using the same high quality ingredients, the beer is filled into keg totally un-filtered and certainly not pasteurised – it is still living as Real Ale and allowed to condition and age naturally in the keg. As the beers are not filtered of all their life, they will also not be as crystal clear as a keg lager. All of the character and flavour of the beer goes into our keg process. The reason for us to use kegs is so we can work with more unusual styles or stronger beers – in complete contrast to the reasons for keg beers of old.

There’s a lot going on in the world of beer these days and it is important that consumers understand what they are drinking. The choice of beers will continue to grow and it is likely you will see more Craft Keg beers alongside an increasing range of cask beers, for either method of dispense - if it’s made by a small, independent and authentic - craft brewery – why not give it a try?