Sunday, July 7, 2013

Wandsworth Common Beer Festival, July 4-6, 2013

Wandsworth Common Beerfest is apparently not a CAMRA festival, but is co-sponsored by the London Brewers Alliance. The 100 or so beers on offer (only about half of which were still available on Saturday evening) were all from the 45 or so participating breweries in the London area—this makes everything we drank the whole weekend #LocAle, which is very cool. Held in the stylish Le Gothique Restaurant, part of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, a mixed residential and commercial complex kind of in the middle of nowhere, it was mostly outdoors, which was super-appropriate on this gorgeous July weekend.

The atmosphere was also somewhat different to most British beerfests—and not only because of the uncharacteristic weather—there was a markedly younger demographic than usual, and it was our impression that there was pretty even gender parity (in stark contrast to many such festivals where staff even actively make women feel uncomfortable or unwelcome). Although the beers and most people were outside in one of the gardens or courtyards, there was further food and drink available inside the bar, and live blues music from Robert Cray. I didn't try any of the food, but it seemed to be pretty basic pub or canteen fare (although the Basque-themed food van out the back was an exotic touch).

Our tasting notes were pretty short (we were live-tweeting), but I'll try to fill in the gaps in some of the more memorable beers:
  • (****) London Fields, Hackney Hopster: a pale amber with a peachy aroma, light and sweet tangerine in the first taste, nice rounded citrus zestiness in the mouth, and a lightweight but refreshingly bitter swallow. (I gave this one 4*, but then didn't go on to rate any others out of 5, so it doesn't mean much. I've marked with the (****) all the beers that I think deserve special note.) This was certainly a nice pint to start the evening with.
  • Late Knights, Worm Catcher: a light, misty pint with a very frothy head; tropical fruit odor, sweet grapefruit on the tip of the tongue; cloying pithy bitterness thereafter. Not bad, but didn't feel like the promising early flavours were quite lived up to; certainly memorable finish, though, if not entirely pleasant.
  • Moncada, Notting Hill Amber: a fairly dark amber ale with very little foam, a fruity caramel aroma, somewhat watery bark sweetness, but over-yeasted bitter swallow. I wondered for a moment if this was spoiled in the cask, but it could just as easily have been the fact that Moncada refuse to use finings in their vegan beers, so it was yeastier than expected (and I'm not a big fan of the yeast).
  • (****) Redemption, Rock the Kazbeck: a cloudy blond beer with refreshing orange zest odor, a bubblegum-sweet first taste, followed by sour fleshy fruit, then an intensely bitter swallow. Very nice; despite the slightly stupid name, the recently popular kazbeck hops may be one to look out for.
  • London Brewing, Vista: another deep amber ale, which is pretty flat and has fruity malt in the odor. A pithy sweetness opens, dry grapefruit bitterness follows, and a woody, smoky swallow rounds off this tolerable but not amazing beer.
  • (****) Adventure, East: a light-colored ale with white head, a wheaty aroma, and sparkly sweetness on the tip of the tongue. A more robust musty swill livens this up, and there are coarse fresh herbs as well as citric bitterness in the rather complex swallow. I don't remember this as one of the most enjoyable beers of the night, but it certainly deserves a special mention.
  • Redemption, Hopspur: an old favourite. Caramel-colored with a perky floral start, pithy grapefruit deeper in the mouth, and rather ephemeral grapefruit-flesh bitterness in the swallow. I actually remember liking this better in the past.
  • Botanist, Nemophilia: an opaque red-black stout, smelling of strong coffee, with just a hint of red fruit in the first taste. A full-flavored roasted malt swill leads to a weak aftertaste, with anything interesting in the bitterness completely overwhelmed by coffee. Way to over-egg a pudding.
  • Beavertown, American Pale Ale: light with a smell like fresh-cut corn, a warm taste of red fruit; too sparkly; further back it's a bit soapy but robust woody bitterness; a pithy finish saves the day.
  • Redchurch, Shoreditch Blonde: a sunbleached blond, almost odorless, barely sour first taste, and gentle white-pithy swallow that doesn't linger nearly enough. A bit forgetable at the end of the day.
  • (****) Partizan, Simcoe IPA (it's not entirely clear from the bottle what the title of this beer was): an interesting beer, with freshcut holly or pine odor, light and cloudy to look at, with musty and grassy sweetness, quite fresh sappy bitterness and an intense overripe finish. I don't remember this very clearly, but from the description it sounds like it would have been one of my favorites!
  • Cronx, Single Hop IPA: my pint of this came from the very bottom of the barrel, so caveat. A bright blond with fruity sweetness; notes of orange and lime in the mouth, a promising chewy bitterness, but everything sadly overwhelmed by the yeast. 
  • East London, Quadrant: black, nontransparent. Smells of roasted coffee and forest fruit. Full taste of dry berries and coffee.
  • Moncada, Notting Hill Stout: almost sweet nutty start with a freshly brewed bitter coffee aftertaste & mild smooth notes, not harsh finish!
  • (****) By The Horns, Black and White (the festival celebration ale): a very dark brown ale, smoky like burnt meat, with notes of flame-dried fruit, black nuts and bramble. There's refreshing nettle in the bitterness. We variously characterized this as: "making a barbecue with green wood"; "a walk in the woods, eating blackberries"; "burnt, overstewed mixed berry marmalade". Quite lovely; we were very lucky they opened a second barrel of this on Saturday night, as everything else was starting to run out.

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