Un-Real Ale Festival highlights new wave of London beer

Saturday last week brought my first opportunity to attend a kind of beer event that I expect will become more common in future.

The mischievously-titled Un-Real Ale Festival in North London, promoted by BrewDog’s Camden branch plus other local brewers and outlets, was described as an opportunity to sample beers “banned” from CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival this week on account of their being brewery conditioned or “keg” in the real ale drinker’s parlance.

BrewDog’s antagonism towards CAMRA is well known, the brewery seeing CAMRA’s cask- and bottle-conditioned position as shortsighted. This is a view I have a great deal of sympathy with. Modern keg is a million miles away from the filtered, pasteurised, gassed up, preservative laden (and usually under-strength) abominations that inspired CAMRA’s creation. Nowadays they’re often themselves unpasteurised and increasingly unfiltered (sometimes to the point of turbidity, see below), much in line with what CAMRA itself advocates.

That’s not to say that cask and keg are equivalent. Cask-conditioning in the pub (as well as bottle-conditioning) remains for me a peerless way – when executed to perfection – to add an extra dimension of complexity to ales (it doesn’t always work well for so-called “real lagers” in my view), especially Britain’s lower strength variations such as bitter and mild. But many (many) modern keg beers I’ve sampled, whether in Britain or abroad (check out many of the posts on this blog), have been excellent and they certainly offer outlets that aren’t geared up for “real ale” (i.e. most outside of the UK and quite a few in it) an opportunity to invigorate and participate in the global rebirth of interest beer and to spread the word.

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Truly Local drinks for local people

A recent planned visit to my sister’s place in Norfolk led to an unplanned visit to a fine outlet for interesting, and sometimes fairly alternative, tipples.

Truly Local in Stalham in north east Norfolk – only a few miles from the drowning village of Happisburgh – has already found a modicum of fame through the patronage of Prince Charles who made an impromptu visit to the 15 month-old shop in February.

It would be wrong to describe Truly Local – which is run as a not-for-profit business – as a specialist drinks outlet, however. The shop sells local produce of many kinds sourced from within a 35 mile radius of the shop (which in practice means that half its catchment area is actually underwater – still there’s nothing to stop seafood being part of the offering!). Shop manager Mick Sims explained that while the 35 mile radius might seem arbitrary it was in fact a cunning ploy to enable the shop to sell whiskies from the The English Whisky Co. Ltd.’s St. George’s Distillery in Roudham.

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Four saisons in one day … and another three the next

Among all beer kind, the brews from French-speaking Belgium labelled “saison” can lay claim to being among the most idiosyncratic species I’ve sampled. Perhaps even more so than lambics, where a distinct family resemblance is at least clear, the beers described as saisons by Walloon brewers have often seemed to have little in common but their name.

Sometimes weird, usually wonderful, and often among the most spectacularly lively beers I’ve ever encountered (some of the saisons I’ve tried down the years would put Champagne to shame during a Formula One podium celebration), the saisons of Dupont, a Vapeur (Saison de Pipaix), Blaugies (Saison D’Epeautre), Fantome and others (as well as the other, clearly related beers not under that label from Walloon country brewers) were unsurprisingly, given their explosiveness, well attenuated and often very dry.

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Adnams: the spirit and lite of Sole Bay

Southwold, Suffolk family brewer Adnams is for me, like Harveys of Lewes, a beacon for traditional British brewing, its values embodied in its accomplished, highly individual beers. Unlike its Sussex rival, Adnams has taken a decidedly entrepreneurial attitude to its business in recent years launching not only a range of special brews (including continental styles such as a Cologne-style Kölsch and a Dutch-style bokbier) but now also distilling some accomplished spirits, too.

Adnams has also begun opening its Adnams Cellar & Kitchen stores further afield, taking the company’s own beers and spirits, plus an extensive range of wines (Adnams has long been a wine importer and merchant, even if it hasn’t been well known as such) and kitchen goods outside its East Anglian homeland.

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Pub pilgrimage: Harveys 1859 Porter at The Royal Oak, Borough

The lure of two bibulous delights took me to Southwark in south-east London a few days back. First was the lure of a bottle of the new cask strength release of Redbreast 12 year old from incomparable spirits outlet The Whisky Exchange in the Vinopolis complex near London Bridge railway station. Not one I could afford to miss being a lover of pot still Irish whiskey and this being my first opportunity to acquire an unadulterated specimen. Second, while I was in the area, was the opportunity of a couple of pints of Harveys Brewery’s exceptional, seasonal 1859 Porter in the multiple award-winning pub the The Royal Oak in Tabard Street, not far from the Northern Line tube station in the heart of The Borough itself.

My quest to acquire Irish Distillers’ latest masterpiece was, I’m glad to report, successful, and I hope to bring my impressions to bear once I get stuck in. Even if that success did mean that I’m another £70 or so down following my near-£100 acquisition a few weeks back of the latest 4.2 Comus expression of Bruichladdich Distillery’s latest mega-peated Octomore whisky, another dram I haven’t had time to sit down and contemplate just yet, despite it crying out for my attention. But I digress…

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The Kernel’s special recipe: tales from the dark side

The Kernel Brewery has frequently been lauded for its championing of old British brewing styles, new twists on those themes and often innovative collaborations with other brewers and, on occasion, other craft produce makers. It’s label design and presentation has also helped draw attention to what is primarily a bottled beer producer.

These characteristics somehow manage both to attract and to repel old school beer aficionados at the same time. For those of us more interested in the quality of the end product rather than the adherence to arcane standards there’s a lot to admire about Kernel, not least its commitment to old methods such as proper bottle conditioning with a huge slug of very loose yeast sediment, its lack of fear in cloudiness (Kernel beers can be very hard to pour clear), and in its belief that its beers can improve steadily with age, with Belgian-style 10 year-plus best before dates typically the order of the day.

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Beers of Europe: car booty call

I promised I’d provide details of my recent haul from the excellent Beers of Europe. Well, here you go. Mainly beers and mainly from the UK, Germany and Belgium. A few oddities from elsewhere, bought either for interest or novelty value (as indeed were some of the Brits), also found their way into my stash. Photos are arranged by loose themes, although more research has revealed a few flaws in the pattern.

Britain first.

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