Sunday, 15 May 2016

Brooklyn Comes To Dalston

Brooklyn Brewery are on the road again, taking their 'Mash' concept out to nine countries. This week, they've been in London, with events like a DIY dinner party, and, over two nights, the 'Beer Mansion'. I hadn't previously visited any of the formal Mash events in London, so this appeared to be a good time to go along and see what an 'immersive' beer experience looked like.

In a Dalston back street, into a courtyard with odd bits of shipping container, a sign perhaps that railway arches are becoming a bit passé. Handed a can of beer at the door, I thought, 'blimey, how will they get 500 people in here?' I wandered over to a chopped-off bit of container, and, seeing a staircase heading down, entered the rabbit-hole...

Moments later, I'm in a building reeking of Williamsburg re-purposing. A former commerial/industrial building with large workrooms which are now 'spaces', replete with reclaimed furniture and knick-knacks, supplemented with a range of props and branding from the brewery. A huge room featured bands and DJs, and finding more stairs, heading up to rooms themed for IPA, food and beer pairing, and, at the top (though not the very top) a space devoted to Brooklyn's barrel-ageing and 'Ghost Bottle' programme. Garrett Oliver is on the roof, apparently, though he did pop over to the barrel bar while I was there...
Miss Gabe Barry, testifyin'...

I spent a lot of the evening here, listening to Miss Gabe Barry, 'Beer Education & Community Adviser', perched Greg Koch-like on a bar top taking listeners through a sensory journey demonstrating the creative process for their aged and special beers. There can be up to 70 Ghost Beers in the mix for consideration as a new addition to the range each year, and these events seem ideal to put a few of them in front of informed and willing tasters.

Peak Hipster?
In other rooms, a chef was giving away food by using punters' hands as plates. After platters, shovels and jars, this felt a bit peak hipster, but quite funny. The bar adjacent had saisons to pair with the pile of salmon and dressing. A dedicated IPA bar featured some stuff I'd not seen before, including the impressive Scorcher IPA, and local brewers were also featured, 40FT, Redchurch and Beavertown among them. Redchurch's version of a gose was available (Pillar Of Salt?) - nicely puckering, but a bit short of flavour. I'm sure it'll get better...

So, thoughts... It struck me that the arrangement of rooms somehow led attendees on a journey through the possibilities of beer. From the can of pale ale everybody picked up at the door, after that it was an invitation to find your own level, from the bottom of the building, and the beers you might be familiar with, up to the top. Like playing levels of a video game.

Defend Beer. Lots of the staff were wearing tee shirts with this legend on the front. I didn't get to the bottom of why, so I'm hoping somebody will enlighten me.

Purpose. A tenner to get in, which got everybody free beer samples and food, popcorn and other stuff, means Brooklyn can't be making much money off the Mansion. But there's enthusiasm and dedication here, so this isn't simply naked promotion of the 'brand', but also a way to show the new and curious beer drinker the possibility of beer.

Brooklyn. There's a confidence in the way they go about their work. It occurred me that they're mature and established enough to never feel pressurised into following trends, so it's unlikely there'll be a cloudy Vermont-yeast IPA coming out of Williamsburg anytime soon.

I came away with a Ghost Bottle (thanks!) and, having asked a lot of questions, with more knocking around the grey matter, which can probably wait until next time. I wonder whether next time Mash takes to the road, other UK cities might get a chance to experience this.

(I bought my own ticket, and was delighted to be offered a bottle to take away.)

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Duvel Doubles With Tripel

I guess it's a sign of how far the landscape has been altered, that an acknowledged 'World Classic' beer can be found sitting on the shelves of most of the major supermarket chains, and yet be simultaneously overlooked by those beer drinkers who are in a state of beery perpetual motion, looking for the new shiny. How we can take such beer for granted...

I'm talking about Punk IPA. Just kidding. Of course, I refer to Duvel, the delicious Belgian golden ale brewed by Brouwerij Moortgat, acknowledged as a World Classic by Michael Jackson in his Beer Companion, and yet, apart from Don 'The Demon Brewer' Burgess, not a beer many of my acquaintances go to regularly. A drinkable 8.5% abv, the beer is hopped with Saaz and Styrian Golding, and undergoes a complex fermentation and cold maturation process before being bottled.

Steve O'Clock being thorough
For the past six or so years, Moortgat has produced an annual variant of Duvel. Called Tripel Hop, the beer has a third hop added at two stages, and the abv is pushed slightly higher, to 9.5%. Thus it was that I was invited to pop along to the Burlington Arms where the upstairs bar had been taken over by Man About Beer Rupert Ponsonby and his R&R Drinkers colleagues, to host a vertical tasting of the different versions of Tripel Hop. Being the nation is currently in election frenzy, the assembly was asked to sample each version, and vote at the Duvel Polling Station. A not unpleasant task, no need to hold your nose before making your mark here.

The idea is that, through a series of tastings worldwide, drinkers, writers, influencers and hangers-on like me will vote and the winning version will be brought into production in 2017. So, in the pleasant company of Steve from the Beer O'Clock Show, Half Pint Gent Matt Chinnery, Jezza P, 1970s Boy Justin Mason, Martin Oates and Mark Dredge, I set to.

This is what I call rigour...
I won't reproduce my tasting notes. I didn't go through the beers in order, even though each bottle had helpful numbering on the label. In release order, the versions contained Amarillo, Citra, Sorachi Ace, Mosaic, Equinox and, for this year, an experimental hop from the Yakima Valley simply known as HBC 291.

I hadn't had a bottle of Duvel in years - I think the last time was around 2004, in the Duke of York pub in Borough, so I went to my local supermarket to pick one up and refresh my gustatory memory. I still got peardrops and a little pepperiness, but I hadn't remembered the dryness of the finish. Useful.

Boggle At The Ballot Box
(pic by Justin Mason)
My order of tasting was 4, 1, 3, 2, 5, 6, but I thought I knew what I was looking for. The hop would need to be able to stand up to all that alcohol, and complement the characteristics of the original. My top three, after revisiting a couple of the beers to confirm - I'm nothing if not rigorous when asked to participate in something so important - were Mosaic, Sorachi Ace and Equinox. The Mosaic and Sorachi were immediately recognisable, but didn't overpower the beer. I thought the Citra was a bit overwhelmed, and the Amarillo made the finish too bitter. The results of this event were declared yesterday, and the consolidated order was: Mosaic, Citra, HBC 291 (somebody name it soon!), Equinox, Sorachi Ace and finally, Amarillo.

It'd be interesting to track preferences in different Duvel markets, and I look forward to the final result. Beer Merchants have packs of the different beers available right now. Thanks to R&R for the invite, and also for putting a World Classic beer I'd taken for granted back in front of me.

Friday, 25 March 2016

My Friend Matthew... (Or, On The Tasting Of Wicked Weed Beers)

Herbert Hoover During His Cat Period
Matthew is a college professor based these days in North Carolina. I know him, like I know most of my US friends, through the World of Beer. Matthew has a few eccentricities. His cat has his own Facebook page (we're friends), and once in a while, I'll receive an enigmatic postcard from the US. It will usually feature some historical person, their face carefully obscured by a sticker of a cat's head. Lovingly and carefully cropped and mounted on the postcard. I offer exhibit one...

I think I've worked out why. Matthew is based not far from Wicked Weed Brewing, in Asheville, NC. Founded in 2009, they're one of the growing number of US producers of sour beers. And they come highly-regarded by beery friends Stateside. So, I headed to The Bottle Shop in Bermondsey to sample some of them.

There's a range of nine, including farmhouse ales, a gose-style, sours and, intriguingly, a pumpkin ale. Most of the beers were bottled during the autumn of 2015, so are still quite young. A couple - the Serenity and Horti-Glory - I thought could stand a while longer in the bottle to let the brett character develop a little more. The Tropic Most Gose has passion fruit added, but, behind a tannic nose, it was barely noticeable. The coriander was similarly understated, and the beer finished long and refreshing with gentle saltiness.

I don't like pumpkin beers - I don't get the point of them, and if it wasn't for cinnamon and nutmeg, they'd be tasteless. So the Xibalba Imperial, which weighed in at 8.2%, and has cocoa nibs and ancho, serrano and habanero chillis added, was interesting. It was complex, with a little chilli slap on the roof of my mouth, and some heat at the back of the throat in the finish. There was chocolate and a little coffee roastiness on the palate, all in all quite complex and easily the best pumpkin ale I've tried.

Favourite beer was the Amorous dry-hopped sour. Aged for up to 10 months in red wine barrels, and dry-hopped (don't know what hops, though), this had picked up some character during the ageing, but it was dry, a little tart and I thought an excellent representation of a lambic sour. The Oblivion, a sour red, was also lovely.

Pete Brissenden was driving, but this was not a tutored tasting, more a chance to get together and share thoughts on some excellent beers. The Bottle Shop are looking to run more events like this, and they could become very popular. I'm still working out my thinking on events (see last exciting episode) but I'm wondering whether this is a natural part of the maturing of London's beer scene. Drinkers might not have been ready for something like this in 2010, but now there's a large and still-growing pool of open-minded and enthusiastic beer lovers, for whom this type of event is tailor-made.

Now to get tuned up for Brodie's Bunny Basher...

(Boggle paid for his own ticket. I trust my beery acquaintances across the pond, and they were right. If you start to receive postcards with cats superimposed, then you'll know why...)