Saturday, March 15, 2014

London Drinker beer festival, Camden, March 14

Our second visit to the London Drinker beer festival in the Camden Centre on Bidborough Street, a stone's throw from the British Library. As before we were pleased by the size of the venue, with a huge main hall and several smaller sections where food and imported beer were served, and the not-terribly-comfortable but quieter balconies. As we attended on the last day of the festival a lot of beer was starting to run short: at the beginning of the evening about half the titles in the programme were gone; by 9PM only a handful of British beers remained, but we'd had a chance to try a good few by then. Staffing was as usual amateurish but friendly, with many of the familiar faces from CAMRA beerfests all over London showing up at the bars. (The only sour notes being the sarcastic steward trying to get us to use the cloakroom "for charity!", and the pushy chap from the Save Our Pub campaign who tried to get us to buy £50 shares in the Antwerp Arms, gave incorrect information about dividends—that we hadn't asked for—and dumped a hug pile of coasters on me that both contained errors in the site URL, and a site where their own project seemed not to be listed yet! Laugh or cry.)

The beers:
  • I started the night with a Hop Stuff, Saison, a very pale, slightly cloudy pint, with a savoury tang of barley grass, bitter honey, green onion and grapefruit zest. On the tip of the tongue there's a tart taste of rocket and dandelion, but it's a little more tangy in the mouth, with green wood and coriander. A coarse peppery finish leaves memories of ginger and cardamon, but only a faint hint of wilted flowers longer longer that a few seconds, and then it's all gone. A bit of a one-kick pony, really.
  • Much more promising was the Kelburn, Carte Blanche, which was a still, very deep light gold, beautiful to look at, and gave off an intense aroma of golden syrup or candy floss. Disappointingly watery sweetness in the first taste, slightly musty but very mellow, with sour hops throughout. No appreciable bitterness, just a faint hoppiness that's gone before it's really started... only a little honey lingers after the swallow.
  • Twickenham Ales, Grandstand was a more traditional pint, a completely clear dark gold, with a little sweaty, grassy smell; grain corn-syrup sweetness with a hint of honey and chaff leads to a nice robust bitterness in the mouth. Nothing special in the aftertaste, but a reassuringly quaffable pint nevertheless.
  • More interesting perhaps, Whitstable, One Hop Challenge is a very light, clear ale with the slightly medicinal smell of fresh-cut grass and wet bark. Gentle honey and a hint of tangerine flesh in the blandly sweet first taste leads to a dominance of wild flower honey in the mouth, slightly smoky with a hint of caramel and roast seeds on a synthetic fruit base. There's a yeasty hit in the syrupy bitterness, like coffee left to go cold and rinsed down with almost-fermented white grape, which lingers but not in a terribly pleasant way. (I think I may have had the end of the barrel; everything was starting to run out at this point...)
  • Great Oakley, Wot's Occuring is a very light amber with a quickly fading head and a barley-husk and honey odor. A biscuity first taste, followed by mellow, malty darkness in the mouth, and a pretty intense yeasty and burnt raisin swallow, but the aftertaste is more a peppery biscuit. A little sourness echoes after the fact, but savory ginger and pastry is the memory that remains. I'd like to wash down a cheese and onion pie with a pint of this, but otherwise it wasn't terribly memorable.
  • Salopian, Darwin's Origin is another very light brown ale, with a pithy hop aroma and a sweet orangey first followed by a zesty hit; allium and spinach in the mouth. A green but mellow swallow lingers with a peppery note, but gentle and subtle. Ultimately pleasing and satisfying once in the belly, even if it was nothing to write home about while drinking.
  • Finally, almost all the casks of British ale being spent, we had a last visit to the important beers section, which was disappointingly small, with only a few Belgian, Dutch and German bottles on offer. Nonetheless I picked up a Brasserie de la Senne, Stouterik, which is a pitch-black Belgian with brown foam, smoky like a stout but much more tart. Heavy in the mouth, with roast vegetable and yeast notes, a bit floury, but more sweet that dusty, and an aftertaste of burnt veg and grilled sausage. This bitter and savory and satisfying beer is like a cross between an old and a stout, aged to the limit of endurance, more interesting that a typical Belgian dark beer. I'm not sure I'd make a habit of drinking this, but I' was not at all unhappy with the choice.

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