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Thursday, 17 November 2011

London and South East Craft Brewing Competition 2011

This weekend past, the London Amateur Brewers hosted the first ever ‘London and South East Craft Brewing Festival’ in Wimbledon, London. Borrowing heavily from the now defunct Sutton competition that’s taken place in previous years, the emphasis was on a structured judging segment before an informal festival-style drinking session later in the day.

With entries totalling in excess of one hundred, across styles as varied as best bitters, saisons, new world hopped weisse beers, lagers and smoked ales, the standard was generally very high. The knowledge and enthusiasm in the room was obvious, but it’s good to see that backed up by some quality output too.

Judging came courtesy of the country’s newly qualified BJCP judges and members of the National Guild of Wine and Beer Judges. The award for best in show on this occasion going to Tom Greasley for his ‘Sarcastro Stout’, whilst Fergus McIver picked up the people’s choice gong.

Bigger things planned for next year. Here are some photos:

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Kernel - Double Black IPA

There’s a scene in Cloverfield where the mutilated, dismembered head of lady liberty is seen crashing down a Manhattan street. Apparently unfazed by a glimpse of the colossal monster responsible for this over-sized jeu de Boules, the nearby New Yorker reaches for his phone to record the moment. The scene sticks in my mind because every now and then I feel the same compulsion. Yeah it’s rare that London‘s under the attack of an unknown, possibly extraterrestrial entity at the time, but that basic urge to capture and record is the same.

The Kernel Brewery needs no introduction. If you’re a fan of good beer or you spend even the smallest of your free time visiting the pubs and restaurants of the capital, you’ll have heard of them. Their double black IPA - cannily named ‘Double Black’ - is an insanely-mental drink. Clearly it bears significant resemblance to French neoclassical sculptures of Roman goddesses because, upon taking a sip, I was sent immediately scurrying for pen and paper.

In this awesome age of ‘OMG!’, ‘legend!’ and ‘Best.Blah.Ever.’, you’d be excused for dismissing the use of a compound adjective like ‘insanely-mental’ as typical blogger hyperbole. Not this time though. This time I mean it.

The dark brown colour - rather than an ominous opaque black - and fresh hop notes in the aroma give rise to a false sense of security. There’s so much sweetness in this beer; it combines with the fudgey, toffee and darker roasted character of the malt to appear deep and rich and tar-like. It coats your mouth like a spoonful of black treacle before a bulldozer of bitterness powers in, stunning the back of your throat like a slap round the face on a freezing cold day. And if that bitterness makes the cut, then the burn of alcohol rubs salt deep into the wound; the one-two combination working to devastating, stinging effect.

Halfway down the glass, my tongue curling, my head spinning; I wasn’t ready for this assault, this is an unfair fight! Part of me says leave the rest and move on, but part won’t let me. That part that orders vindaloo, that throws hot sauce in the shopping trolley; it’s poking me with a stick and it’s egging me on.

The Kernel Double Black is an abusive challenge of a beer. It will mess you up. It’ll knock you out and then help you to your feet, leaving you with a parting kiss, knowing that you’ll forgive it and come back for more.

The Kernel Double Black is a beer that you experience as much as taste. You need that experience in your life. Look out for the beer at beermerchants.com or direct from the brewery.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

London Brewers Alliance 2011 Showcase

At the end of last month the London Brewers Alliance held the second of their annual showcase events. Here's a few photos from the day:

Friday, 4 November 2011

Sick Lambic

My rhubarb lambic is acting up.

If you missed the first two posts, here’s a catch up. With some surplus homebrew, some sour beer dregs, a homemade lactic starter and a couple of sticks of rhubarb, I fashioned something close to a sour beer. Maybe. Things were going well, the first bottle tasted great, samples from the fermenter grew tarter and I thought I had a bit of a winner on my hands.

Five months later, I have this:

Now wait, don’t panic yet. In his book 'Wild Brews', Jeff Sparrow tells us that “the fermentation of lambic occurs in a specific sequence, each microbial species growing at different rates before reading a high enough cell count to act, in turn, on the wort”. The fermentation of sour beer is far from straight forward, could this just be the next stage in a normal wild fermentation? The pellicle that formed after I pitched the lactic starter started to break up and drop away, then in came the monster you see above, slowly but steadily it grew over the top of the beer. Could this new pellicle be the work of a microbe that had sat dormant, waiting for its chance to take control?

Frank Boon, head man at lambic brewery Brouwerij Boon, tells us that “after four or five months, it [lambic beer] can be very unpleasant. The bitterness disappears, the first taste of acidity appears, and it has less esters than the end. At certain moments it is very pleasant, and others it is not”." A condition that Jean Van Roy of Brouwerij Cantillon attributes to fermentation cycle in combination with ambient temperature and season: “Before September, the beer will be sick”. Sparrow explains “During the first warm day, certain strains of pediococcus cerevisiae – sometimes known as Bacillus viscosus bruxellensis – give the beer viscosity. This condition is described in some texts as 'ropiness' for the long strands of slime produced on the top of the wort. All lambic goes through this sickness and comes out the other side ready to blend of serve”.

So what’s the diagnosis for my beer? Is it sick? Will it get better? Will it come back stronger, smelling of roses and ethyl lactacte? Or is this a terminal case of mould that’ll slowly spell the end?

Cross your fingers.

Quotes taken from Jeff Sparrow's excellent book Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewer's Yeast.