Westmalle Dubbel Style: Brown Beer ABV: 7.0% Size: 330ml (Bottle)
Why do Monks make great beer?
According to Wikipedia, the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance is a Roman Catholic religious order of cloistered contemplative monastics that follow the Rule of St. Benedict. That probably does mean much to you and me. Unless you know they are commonly referred to as Trappists. They’re not called Trappist because they are good at trapping things, but rather take their name from Le Trappe Abbey a monastery located in Normandy, France.
So to answer my opening question; the 48th chapter of the Rule of St benedict states “for then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands”. In following this rule Trappist monastaries produce goods for sale to provide income for the monastery. So imagine a Trappist Monastary in a region of Belgium known for producing great beers – that is exactly what the brewery at the Abbey of Westmalle, (or to use its local name, Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle) is famous for.
Garret Oliver once said when talking about innovation in craft beer: ‘nothing is really new, you’re new’. His point is that brewing has been around for thousands of years. And Westmalle is part of that brewing history. Westmalle only produce two beers. The Trippel, first brewed in 1934 is consider the first ever example of this style – a strong pale ale with a high ABV of 9.5%. I’ve gone for the original beer from Westmalle, the Dubbel, Legend has it that in 1856 the monks brewed a strong brown beer – now considered the first ever Dubbel.
Beavertown Heavy Water (Sour Cherry and Sea Salt) Imperial Stout
Style: Imperial Stout
Size: 330ml (Can)
Why is it called Beavertown?
Thursday 3rd July 2014 was a beautiful sunny day. Being mid-summer 6pm still feels like mid-afternoon. Looking out across the Thames you can’t help but notice the giant white dome held aloft by striking yellow support towers dominating the North Greenwich peninsula. Every time I see it I am reminded me of the opening scene of ‘The World is Not Enough’. I’ve left work and made the short stroll over to The Gun for a ‘meet the brewer’ with Beavertown Brewery, who were introducing some of their beers and extolling the virtues of beer in cans.
If you’ve met Logan Plant, founder of Beavertown Brewery, I’m sure you’ll agree he is a very engaging speaker and storyteller. For about 45 minutes he gave the background to his beer history growing up in the midlands, introduced Beavertown and gave a tutored tasting of 5 of their core beers. He took questions and mingled with the 15-20 people present. That was July 2014.
In March 2015 I made the trip to Beavertown Brewery in Tottenham Hale for a State of Craft Beer even, part of Brooklyn Brewery’s London Mash Tour. There were hundreds of people there. For me the juxtaposition of a small meet the brewer and a large craft event within the matter of months symbolised the growth of Beavertown.
They have been prolific, having brewed over 100 different beers over the past 4 years, the vast majority of which are collaborations with breweries far and wide. Furthermore they have achieved significant recognition in terms of awards for their beers and brewers. This year Beavertown was awarded two prestigious titles; Supreme Champion Brewer and UK Brewer of the Year in the 2015 International Beer Challenge. Beavertown claiming their cans were critical in ensuring their beers were presented with quality and freshness, spurring them to victory in the blind tasting judged competition. Only earlier this month, Head Brewer Jenn Merrick was awarded the prestigious British Guild of Beer Writer’s ‘Brewer of the Year’
So back to my opening question. I did ask this of Logan at that initial meeting. (Lame I know, but it was best question I could think of at the time). It’s inspired by De Beaviour Town, the part of London where Dukes Brew & Que is located. This is where Beavertown began back in 2011, brewing beers in the basement to serve in the pub.
To be honest, I found it difficult to find information about Heavy Water. I wanted to know more about how it was brewed and the inspiration. While Beavertown’s beers are incredible, their website unfortunately isn’t. I did find something on their blog from back in 2013 referencing Heavy Water as their first experimentation into Barrel Aging. They used 20 year old scotch whiskey barrels, putting the beer in for 45 days with an expected output of ~700 bottles. No mention of the infusion of sour cherries and sea salt in that post, so perhaps this new version is an amended recipe that is now canned rather than bottled.
The can is beautifully adorned with artwork from Nick Dwyer, Beavertowns Creative Director. There is a single illustration of a lady wearing glasses with what appears to be the reflection of an atomic bomb explosion. Standard Beavertown.
The beer is dark and thick, like an imperial stout should be. To be honest I can’t detect the sour cherries and sea salt, but perhaps its because I am no impy connoisseur.
With recent events we should focus less on what’s been lost and celebrate what we have and Beavertown is worth celebrating.
Or at least I was. I have to admit that I handed over some of my hard earned earlier in the year to further Camden’s cause. One of the reasons I did this was because of my first experience of IHL. Camden launched the beer with a ‘7 days of IHL’ celebration back in November 2014.
The 4th of November was a rainy Wednesday night when my former housemate and I headed to the pop-up Temple of IHL at an art gallery space hired by Camden. The event was dubbed ‘Art of the Craft’ and Camden had brought together Nick Dwyer, the man behind Beavertown’s incredible artwork, longtime Camden collaborator Thomas Slater and Alec Doherty of Partizan Brewing‘s illustrated identity. The first highlight was hearing Alec regale the confused crowd with the story of the Cardiff Giant, a famous hoax from 1860’s America.
The second highlight was the beer. After being lucky enough to meet the ever approachable Jasper Cuppiage, Founder of Camden, some of his effervescent staff and drink 5 cans of IHL I left a big fan of both the brewery and the beer.
Camden take IHL and put it in Bourbon and Tequila barrels for 6 months. They have also taken the artwork from the IHL cans and re-imagined it for the bigger 660ml bottles. I vaguely remember trying a very small amount of this at a tasting Camden did with Beavertown and Left Hand Brewing for London Beer Week, but I must have sampled 13 different beers that night and can’t recall my reaction to this one.
Enjoying from a full size bottle this beer is excellent. Time in the barrels softens the hop aromas and flavours, adds extra smoothness and ups the alcohol content. If this is an example of what Camden can do with a barrel ageing program, the future could be bright after all.
Note: I did a full post on my views on the Camden Town – AB InBev deal on December 22 and can be accessed using the links on the right hand side of the page
More specifically it’s Boxing Day in Australia, which means two things; Cricket and Beer. Both of which I love in equal measure.
The Boxing Day test is an institution of the Australian Summer. It is undoubtedly the biggest day of test cricket in the world. Every year a test match is played, starting on Boxing Day, at the MCG (the home of test cricket) between Australia and a visiting opponent. And living now as I do in London, I miss it. Watching it on Sky Sports in the middle of the night only accentuates the pangs of homesickness.
Australia is undergoing its own craft beer revolution; however Big Beer is more involved than in the UK. Big Beer owns or has stakes in a number of key craft brands including Little Creatures, White Rabbit, Mountain Goat, Matilda Bay, Bluetongue and Malt Shovel (brewer of James Squire). There are however a number of independent craft brewers including Four Pines, Vale, KAIJU and Stone and Wood making fantastic beer. Given the events of the past week, perhaps Australia is a glimpse into the future of the UK craft beer scene?
Stone and Wood is based in Byron Bay, the idyllic coastal town on the far northern NSW coast. Stone and Wood’s Pacific Ale is fast becoming an Aussie staple. It ranked #2 in the Hottest 100 Beers of 2014 and should do well again in 2015 when the results are announced in January. It’s instantly recognisable with its golden label. I have been back in Australia a few times over the past year or so and this has been a revelation for me, along with Four Pines Kolsch (which I couldn’t find it in London) and Vale IPA. Pacific Ale is so light and fruity, with strong grapefruit, pineapple and peach flavours. I’ll be drinking this as a tonic for homesickness!
As a sub-note, I was blown away by my trip to Brisbane. My sister and brother-in-law live in Teneriffe, an inner city, riverside suburb previously home to the wool trade that is being transformed into a high density residential area. Within walking distance of their flat is not one, but two craft breweries, complete with impressive tap rooms. The Green Beacon and Newstead Breweries are less that 500m apart and are housed within converted industrial lots. Sadly I could only stay for one in each, but what struck me was the passion for beer by both the brewers and the consumers. A trip to Teneriffe is now a must for any beer lovers who find themselves in Brisbane.
Or so their website would have you believe. But it’s not that far from the truth to be honest. Fuller’s is an independent brewery founded in 1845 in Chiswick, West London. Their Griffin brewery still stands by the Thames in Chiswick, just over 2 miles from my house, and with the closure of AB InBev’s Stag Brewery in Mortlake could probably now claim to be biggest brewery in West London.
If you interested in their history, renowned beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones was commissioned to write a book celebrating their 170 year anniversary. ‘Crafting a Company’ looks at the company’s history, ethos and developments over the years. I haven’t read this, but if you’re interested it’s available from the Fuller’s website.
Back to Vintage Ale.
I first came across Vintage Ale in the Brewery Store back in either 2011 or 2012. After a leisurely stroll along Chiswick Mall with my fiancée (now wife) and her parents we decided to pop in. After perusing the selection, we bought a few Vintage Ales to celebrate Christmas, which is primarily why Fullers starting brewing Vintage Ale back in 1997. In researching Vintage Ale, I came across this great post from Mark Dredge from 2011 which does a great job of explaining what it’s all about. One thing to add to Mark’s post – it is a limited run packaged in a traditional burgundy cardboard box and comes with a strong reputation amongst discerning beer drinkers.
Now, this was the most expensive bottle in my #12beersofxmas list leaving my wallet £16 lighter for the 2013 Vintage, which on reflection is probably the most I’ve ever paid for a beer. To be fair the older they are the more expensive, the 2015 Vintage would set you back £6. Why 2013? This was the year I got married and had my first child so mainly sentimentality.
Reading up on the 2013 Vintage, there was a less than fruitful barely harvest in 2013, so Fuller’s turned to Pearl malt which was brewed with Admiral and Sovereign hops. The batch is limited edition and the individual number on my bottle was 73023, so there was a least that many bottles, which to me illustrates the scale of Fullers (that a run with this many bottles in considered limited).
It pours a dark amber colour with a nice creamy head. The aroma reminds me of bourbon and coke but the taste is more like a Christmas pudding. WHich I have no qualms about as I love a good Christmas pud.
There are no other beers I have coveted more than Magic Rock’s. I was drawn to their carnival-cum-circus-like beer illustrations and standing within the beer community including the esteem in which their Human and Un-Human Cannonball IPAs were held.
Founded in Huddersfield in 2011, Magic Rock made a great first impression, being named ‘2nd best new brewery in the world 2012′ on the independent ratings site Rate Beer. They appeared to focus on keg and cask beers to begin with and sadly our paths never crossed.
The good news is that Magic Rock now sells three of their beers in beautifully illustrated cans to the thirsty masses. To celebrate the festive season I have chosen the Salty Kiss and High Wire Grapefruit whose resplendent pink and yellow and orange cans respectively are equally at home on the dinner table as they are a decoration on a Christmas Tree. I also bought Cannonball, but that went a long time ago!
Style: (Gooseberry) Gose
Size: 355ml (Can)
A Gose. Never heard of it, right? Me neither. First brewed in early 2013, Salty Kiss is traditional German beer style, albeit relatively unknown. It was brewed in collaboration with Danish brewer Anders Kissmeyer. As the name suggests, Salty Kiss is brewed with the additional of gooseberries to add tartness, as well as Sea Buckthorn and Rosehips for an added Danish element with the intention of adding subtle flavor and fragrance. And this is a unique flavour – sour, tangy and fruity.
High Wire Grapefruit
Style: (Grapefruit) Pale Ale
Size: 355ml (Can)
High Wire Grapefruit is based on Magic Rock’s High Wire, a hop forward West coast pale ale, with the additional of Grapefruit. The Grapefruit flavor in beers can be a by-product of Amarillo and Cascade hops, so adding actual Grapefruit is really calling for more zing and this doesn’t disappoint in the zing department. It is a grapefruit explosion!
Based on this rendezvous I am hopefully Magic Rock and I will see a lot more of each other in 2016.
The Manchester based brewery has won over discerning beer drinkers with their seasonal ranges showcasing some exotic styles, lovely artwork and openness on social media.
At the beginning of the month they announced their new seasonal range that includes such gems as; Dr Rudi Lager, Custard Porter, Small Beer and Winter Light Galaxy.
Paul Jones, Co-Founder of Cloudwater explains the rationale for seasonality in Episode 122 of the Beer O’Clock Show podcast. The following text is paraphrased from the interview.
“We are not focused on traditional beer making, but rather look back through the history books plus forward to the progressive development in the US for inspiration. Seasonality is about putting ingredients first. We view beer as an agricultural product that is different every year. Furthermore fresh ingredients will change month to month.”
A clear example is the crop cycle for US hops and NZ hops will be different and they will aim to get the freshest ingredients possible in their beers.
I have enjoyed following them (@cloudwaterbrew) tweeting about building their brewery. But to be fair I love any brewery that tweets picture of building a new brewery. I always look at new brewery pictures showing new fermentation vessels arriving on the back of a truck and think ‘ooh, a space ship brewery’. Their tone is humble and communication transparent. Yet you get a sense they are strong willed and principled. Its a nice dialogue to follow.
Cloudwater DIPA, as the name suggested is a 9% Double India Pale Ale, recognised by a number of beer bloggers as their beer of 2015 in their annual Golden Pints awards. Given all the hype in beer circles, I had to get my hands on it. I visited the team at Caps and Taps Kentish Town to snag a few of the last ones remaining in the wild.
I must confess I have already tried this. I bought two bottles; one for the #12beersofxmas and one to share with my brother when he was visiting from Oregon last week. I always like to show him a few of the UKs finest when he is in town. Of the beers we tried that night, this one stood out. It has that golden, syrupy look and feel and sits well in the glass. The taste is big and bold and the ABV hits you hard after about 5 mins. A good example of a DIPA from a rookie brewery with a big future.