Drink Craft Beer
So often we hear how English, German, Belgian and Czech brewing has influenced American Craft Beer. I recently made the trip to London fully expecting to immerse myself in pint after pint of session ale. Before I made the trip I asked all of you where I should go, and person after person told me I had to go to Craft Beer Co., a beer bar specializing in craft beer. It was here that my journey through London began and I discovered a burgeoning community of craft brewers and craft beer enthusiasts, many inspired by American Craft Beer. I expected to come back and write all about session ale, but what I discovered was so much more. What follows is by no means a definitive guide to London, but what I consider three must visit spots for any beer enthusiast visiting London.
Craft Beer Company
As previously mentioned this spot was recommended again and again by many of you on Twitter. As I walked in the door I knew I had found something special. The night before I had immersed myself in local pubs, had a few pints of bitter and a ploughman’s lunch...this place was nothing like any of those pubs. The giant line of casks had easily four times more beers available than any bar I’d been to. The expansive line called out to me like a challenge, though thankfully part of me knew better than to try them all. As I approached the bar something caught my eye in the coolers behind the casks. Lined up neatly I saw a familiar sight, bottles of Pretty Things St. Botolph's Town. What?! I couldn’t believe I was seeing beer from such a small Massachusetts brewery in London. Don’t worry, though, I didn’t order that, but it was impressive to see.
What I did get a nice pint of Dark Star Hophead, half a pork pie, and a scotch egg. Pork pies and scotch eggs are the only food served here and it’s the only food they need to serve, they’re that damn good. What struck me as I had a few pints was the ABV I was seeing. When Jeff visited London a few months ago he commented on how man cannot live on session beer alone. What I was finding is that craft brewers in the UK are starting to break with tradition and many of the beers here ranged from 5-7% ABV, much higher than the 4% or lower you find in traditional British beer.
As I was enjoying some fine ale and food I struck up a conversation with a couple guys sitting near me. We started chatting about craft beer and I asked if places like this were typical. I got an instant “No,” it was clear that this bar is on the forefront of a new movement in the UK. From what I can tell there’s pretty much nothing that competes with this place on variety of beers. We chatted, they gave me some tips on where to go next and in thanks I bought them a bottle of Pretty Things (which cost me a whopping £20, I’ll let you do the exchange rate math on that one but lets just say it’s not good). Based on their tip I was off the Cask Pub & Kitchen.
Cask Pub & Kitchen
Cask Pub is the sister pub of Craft Beer Co. The link is clear when you see the logo alone but the beer on tap is different and Cask has a full kitchen. If you make it over to Cask be sure to get the fish and chips. I know it sounds cliché but it's seriously good. The breading is light and crisp and the fish just melts in your mouth; pair that with a nice pint and you’re golden. Once again I was blown away by the selection, there was tons of local craft beer as well as coolers full of craft beer from the states, there were even some beers that I can’t get in Boston, like Duck Rabbit.
As I sat down eating my fish and chips, I started chatting with a couple guys near me. (Sensing a theme here? What can I say, give me a couple pints and I’ll talk to anyone.) Well this time it wasn’t just a couple random guys, one of them happened to be Paul Herbert, brewer for Kent Brewing Co. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I met a craft brewer in a craft beer bar but he gave me some amazing insight into the London craft beer scene. (More from that conversation in a future article.) I did ask him the most important question of all, though. "If I had to go to one bar in London before I left, where did I need to go?" That question led me to the last, and I would say most important, bar I went to.
There were points along my journey to this bar where I wasn’t sure I’d make it. I had to change lines of the Tube a couple times due to construction and make my way through random alleys of North London. Anyone who knows me knows I have the worst sense of direction known to man so getting lost is kind of my M.O. When I got off the train I started following the directions I had written down on my phone. I entered an odd area that was, as near as I could tell, an old folks community and made my way down a narrow, dimly lit alley.
At this point I was sure I had gotten lost but then, just as I was about to give up hope, I turned the corner to see one of the greatest signs I’d ever seen: "Ale, Cider, Meat." Those three words told me I was in the right place.
When I walked in the door the bar was packed and it was only 6pm. A sign above the bar read “We are the only dedicated ale + cider house in London to sell only beers + ciders from small independent UK breweries." Bad ass. While the selection at both Craft Brewing Co. and Cask Pub & Kitchen were amazing, neither were really the night out in London that I was looking for. In stark contrast stands Southampton Arms. A blend of indie rock and classic vinyl plays constantly over the stereo. Small worn wood tables cover most of the bar area. What struck me most was the variety of people here. The range in ages was amazing, everyone from college kids and 20-somethings to people in their 50’s and 60’s were hanging out with friends enjoying a good pint. I had an amazing session ale simply called “3.9.” As you might expect it was 3.9% but it was loaded with hops, of all the beers I had on the trip I miss this the most.
What amazed me about all the places I visited is that they were all relatively new, most of them have only been in business a couple years, signs of a craft beer movement emerging in the UK. I can’t wait to go back in a year or two and see how much more the scene has grown. But for now I’ll just have to look back on my fond memories of London and the amazing beer scene that caught me totally by surprise.
When Mystic Brewery uses barrels in their brewing, they tend to do it a little different than most others. Sure, barrel aged beer is fairly common at this point in craft brewing. But barrel fermented beer?! To get more of the story on this, check out my review of Mystic’s Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Fermented Saison. For now, suffice it to say that barrel fermented is a whole different cat than barrel aged. And Mystic is the only show on the block that we know of. Now, Cabernet Sauvignon and Saison make perfect sense in my head...but a porter/stout type thing with Belgian yeast and molasses fermented in a Cabernet Sauvignon barrel? That has left me a little more perplexed. So, I guess there’s only one thing to do...try it!
Descendant pours with a dark, near black, opacity highlighted with garnets and browns barely showing through at the edges. The barely tan head puffs up mightily but recedes to just a thin coating on top within a minute or so.
While the head may disappear quickly, the aroma is there from the start but never goes away. From afar the Cabernet Sauvignon dominates and you get a grapey, spiciness and stone fruit that one would expect from a restrained, dryer red wine. Up close this changes to almost more of a raspberry note that mixes with the chocolate malt to bring out a luscious chocolate and berry smell. It’s really a great, and very unique, smelling beer! On top of all of this is a light oak that permeates and mellows the entire experience. That’s what I’ve loved about Mystic’s Barrel Fermented brews is that they really are bringing something different to the world of craft beer right now. These are characteristics that nobody else is getting and it’s phenomenal!
Taste wise this beer is not what I expected in some ways! There’s an extremely light but prickly carbonation on the tongue and the beer is almost creamy as it coats your mouth. Up front it’s chocolate, sweet and velvety almost. Mixed berry and some mild tannins play together with candied dark malt and give you something almost like a dry port. At the end of the palette, though, the tannins are much stronger and leave you with a super dry feeling in the back of your throat. It’s almost a little sharp on the back of the tongue. This is where the oak character really comes alive and you know this beer has play a bit rough with some barrels. As you exhale, you can really get the original character of the base beer.
All in all, this brew is really cool! Like I said, I love what Mystic Brewery is doing with their barrel fermentation program. Their beers and the style of the brewery definitely lend themselves to this kind of thing and I hope we see more of it from them. This is a great beer to break out and share with friends over dinner (peppercorn steak or grilled lamb perhaps?), but would also be a strong after-dinner drink for a social group. It won’t be an everyday brew, but it’d be good to have around for a special occassion!
I bought a 750ml bottle of this craft beer at Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, MA.
Hey all you craft beer drinkers! It's that time again! What time? New Beer of the Month from Gourmet Monthly Clubs time! Yeah... I know, it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. But the beer... The beer tastes good. So let's get to it!
This month, we got beer from Sand Creek Brewing Company and Lancaster Brewing Company. Sand Creek sends their English Style Special Ale and Woody's Wheat, while Lancaster has their Milk Stout (which we've tried before on a trip to Pennsylvania and loved) and Winter Warmer. With that in mind, let's get to the beer! (Also, please keep in mind that we were lacking correct glassware for this article, that is why everything is served in a goblet. The Sand Creek English Ale should be in a pint glass, the Woody's Wheat should be in a tulip, the Lancaster Milk Stout should be in a pint glass and the Winter Warmer should be in a tulip or pint glass. We accidentally left some of our glasses at a friend's house while doing a tasting for a party they had.)
If you want to get the same club as us go here: Click to Join
Sand Creek Brewing Company English Style Special Ale
Appearance: Dark amber to brown with a light brown head that pours about 1" thick and then recedes quickly. The beer is super clear, though.
Smell: Sweet, caramelly, toasty English malt.
Taste: This beer has a great mild toasty flavor, not too much hops or malt or anything. Just a great English session ale with a touch of smooth, round caramel to balance the light hoppiness. We both want more. We could drink this one all night! YUM!
Sand Creek Brewing Company Woody's Wheat
Appearance: This beer has a light and super hazy straw color with a very white and whispy head. Not much head on this one, but it looks pretty.
Smell: Holy hefeweizen yeast! You smell wheat and banana right away. Smells a bit tart.
Taste: WOW! Surprising given the smell, no tartness. Just super light refreshing and crisp wheat beer. This is a great nod to German brewing traditions. A hint of lemon zest, so no need to add one yourself... scratch that, go for it if you're into that. We would say try it without first, though. We think the yeast shows off best this way.
Note: We've discovered that Sand Creek is a great brewery we had not tried anything from nor heard any hype about. We really want to try some more stuff from this brewery. Hey, Gourmet Monthly Clubs, take note! We've tried over 1,000 beers... Well over. We want to hear more about these guys! Definitely seek these out.
Lancaster Brewing Company Milk Stout
Appearance: Black beer with coffee with tons of cream head. The bubbles are huge... think a pancake when it's ready to be flipped.
Smell: Coffee... And a little sweetness. Basically, this smells like chocolate covered espresso beans.
Taste: Wow! Creamy, yet sharp. It starts out creamy from the lactose sugar, then ends up sharp from the malt bitterness (a result of the dark malts used). This is a tasty beer. We were glad to see it in the pack, because we've had it before from a trip to Pennsylvania and we were glad to have it again!
Lancaster Brewing Company Winter Warmer
Appearance: Brownish ruby with light brown head that sticks around.
Smell: Little bit of sweetness. This almost smells Belgiany. We get a bit of dried dark fruit, like figs or prunes. It's a nice mild smell that's nice for winter.
Taste: WHOA! Way different than expected based on smell. It's got a very slick mouthfeel. This has a similar taste and mouthfeel of a good barrel aged rum... in a good way. The 9% alcohol is definitely noticeable, but not assaulting at all. It just adds a nice warming character to the beer. Some roastiness ends the flavors off. This is definitely one of the better and more interesting "winter warmers" we've had. Not over spiced, not pure alcohol... just warming and tasty dark beer.
After 5 months of legal wrangling, Publick House Provisions, the food/beer store that is an offshoot of The Publick House (both in Brookline, MA), received it's license to sell beer on Thursday, September 11 2008. The store had been open, but with reduced hours and coolers empty, since spring of 2008. But now, with their ability to finally execute their goal of selling all the bottled beer that Publick House carries, they've expanded to full hours:
They are taking delivery of the first beer this morning at 8am (Friday, September 12, 2008). On top of that, they have a great selection of cheeses, chocolate and other high-end food. It's definitely worth checking out... especially since it's directly next to the newest venture from the founders of The Publick House... Roadhouse Craft Beer & Barbecue! So amble your way over, get some delicious smoked meat and American Craft Beer, then check out Publick House Provisions right next door and pick up some delicious Belgian beer, the glass it goes in and some cheese or chocolate to accompany your libation.
[Editors' Note: We're happy to welcome our newest, and first, regional correspondent, Johanna. Johanna is a native of Michigan, one of our favorite states for craft beer, and will be writing about beer made in and distributed to the Great Lakes region. She discovered craft beer at the Keweenaw Brewing Company brewpub in Houghton, MI...but we'll let her tell you the story of how she got into craft beer in a future article. We met Johanna over Twitter (her handle is @Hufr0, say hello). She asked us about the "Drink Craft Beer Meeting" we had one night and how one gets into the club. After several emails back and forth, here we are! So, Johanna, welcome to the club! We're incredibly glad to have you as a member of the Drink Craft Beer team!
Are you a good writer? Do you like interacting with people? Do you love craft beer? Do you think you fit in with the mission of Drink Craft Beer? Do you want to be our next regional Drink Craft Beer correspondent? Get in touch with us and let's talk.]
Founders Breakfast Stout is an oatmeal coffee stout with both Sumatra and Kona beans. Much like coffee the stout smells sweeter than it tastes. It's 8.3% ABV and surely is a bit of a jolt like a morning coffee can be. Maybe that’s how it got its name. But I think they named it Breakfast Stout because sometimes you wake up thinking about it. You drift back to the last time you had some. The dark molasses beer stirring in your glass a bit, the deep burnt caramel head dancing at the top leaving a rusty film on the glass as you drain it. It doesn’t remind you of any other stout you’ve had. It’s too rich and powerful to be a memory of an oatmeal stout. It’s hoppier than you expected it to be, biting back at you. The chocolate doesn’t hit you at first, masked by all that coffee. The more you drink the sweeter it tastes and you begin to sense the chocolate. It leaves a remarkably smooth, deep, dark and rich flavor on your lips.
Sometimes you gulp it like a rushed morning coffee. Normally you wouldn’t do such a thing with a craft beer but with Breakfast Stout you can’t always help it. You can taste the higher alcohol content when you do, almost like a coffee wine. Somehow it doesn’t ruin the experience. There is almost wildness to the sweet. It reminds you of a molasses; almost a gamey sugar. You can taste it as you lay there in bed. And while you fight the fact you have to go to the bathroom you look at the alarm clock and wonder,
"How early can I have some Breakfast Stout without being a social pariah?"
If it were a holiday it might be acceptable, even now, to have some. Still refusing to kick off the covers (it's cold out there) you pick your brain for a holiday from any religion or country that could possibly be this day. You got nothin’. You twist in the sheets battling facts and social norms,
"Fine. I’ll just make up a holiday. Support Michigan Made Products Day. Yeah that’s it. How can you appreciate it if you have to wait until afternoon to have some?"
You smile. Now you can get out of bed and start your day, knowing you’ve won.
But you never do drink that morning stout. I’ve been saying for some time that one day I will get up and have Breakfast Stout for breakfast. A double chocolate, coffee and oatmeal breakfast sounds good to me and that’s just the beer. I’ll pair it with some good food and it will be fantastic. With 60 IBU’s (International Bittering Units) I’m thinking either something sweet or something greasy like steak and eggs. I have yet to do so, (when I finally do this I will tell you every last drop of detail) but every now and then I find myself wakeful with the thought of my last Breakfast Stout experience dancing in my head. I haven’t found another stout that has been nearly as memorable. Most times I find myself thinking about it when trying other stouts. So far it is my favorite. The only criticism I have is that the Breakfast Stout is available September – January only and not all year round. So go find some while you can and prepare for a summer of dreaming about it.