Craft Beer Rising Shenanigans
In my alternative life when I’m not doing beer stuff, I’m moonlighting as some sort of discrete security professional with the steely reserve of a Special Ops Officer. Measured in everything I do. Alert, observant, obedient, cordial but mostly damn, damn bored. So when I got a text from my dear friend and fellow Evening Brews writer inviting me to Craft Beer Rising, my clip-on tie nearly popped off with excitement. “BRAVO…ECHO…ECHO…ROMEO” I thought to myself as my sense of duty slowly returned.
Festival day and the two way radio at work fizzed away like a heavily carbonated Weissbier. I took a peek at the list of breweries and although I expected an overwhelming amount of proponents of Real Ale I was slightly disturbed not see Kernel or at least Beavertown, who serve both cask and keg, on the list of a London beer festival. However I did notice some carbonated cousins. Both BrewDog and Thornbridge had set out their stall to ‘represent’. This got my beer pulse racing again. Mid-way through my shift it dawned on me that I was actually completely skint and had no idea if one was expected to pay for drinks or not. I didn’t want to turn up as a pseudo-journalists, sniff a couple of empty snifters before leaving in a huff with my journo’s pencil snapped in two. After a reassuring text from my Evening Brews colleagues I decided to remain my stoic self and just go for it.
Before I knew it I was in. I headed straight over to some faces I recognised behind the BrewDog bar. You see, when I’m not a security guard I spend my time peddling beer to thirsty customers at BrewDog Camden. A Libertine black IPA is passed my way. Although delicious, I’m more than familiar with this and the other brews they had on show so I went about familiarising myself with new beer on offer elsewhere. Joe from BrewDog is always good for sticking his oar in with either a quip, quibble or a fine suggestion, and with a loving stroke he launched me towards The Rebel Brewing Co of Cornwall where he had earlier tried their Mexi-Cocoa. I doggy paddled across the great ocean dividing the Keg beer geeks and Cask ale enthusiasts and settled at Rebel’s bar.
The beer did not disappoint. It is a sublime stout and at 8.5% the Mexi-Cocoa is a big bad beer that packs a lot of flavours of chocolate and vanilla. Start with dessert and work your way back, I say. I chatted to one of the staff serving there and told her I was on the way to becoming a big fan. I quickly shrugged off my alter-ego and was now engaging under the guise of a BrewDog member of staff just to confuse things furthermore. At this she fled to find the Master Brewer/Owner and brought him straight over to me to discuss business. WOAH! What’s happening here? I had merely offered up my identity as part of casual name dropping in the hope that it would bring me a tiny bit more kudos. Little did I know that it would lead to striking up collabo deals on the basis that he thought I was Mr BrewDog. I didn’t hesitate to reintroduce myself and point out that I wasn’t who he thought I was. However I think he may have dismissed this in his general excitement, for Guillermo Alvarez is an extraordinarily excitable man who proceeded without encouragement to reveal he emigrated at the age of 15 from Mexico to Scotland, his education (Herriott-Watt), his brewing experience (St. Austell), his families beverage dynasty (The Gambrinus Company in the States), his passionate relationship with yeast and then back to how we should do a collaborative brew. All in the space of about 2 minutes. Again I informed him that I was a lowly barman and didn’t have any clout in BrewDog business development. He gave me a knowing wink as if to suggest he had spotted me as the Secret Millionaire and that really I was one of BrewDog’s key influencers. Hey, what’s the case in arguing. Certainly this case of mistaken identity had got me to the front of any queue that may have existed whereby I had the honor of being served his selection of fine beers. He stared at me open mouthed as I took from him the various elixirs. His smiling eyes followed the fluid as it tipped and trickled down my throat as if he knew something incredible was about to ensue. And boy did it. Guillermo obviously has and generates a lot of passion, and this intensity translates into his beers. His 80 Shilling Scotch Ale had me bowled over with its treacly subtleties, as did the milk stout with its beautiful mouth coating and not so overwhelming sweetness. Needless to say whilst not a complete convert to cask, I was very much impressed by the creativity in this instance and just goes to show that coupled with freshness, cask ales can be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I questioned whether he felt that with slightly more carbonation the existing flavours may be enhanced and whether the bottled beer would be a fair example of what his beer may taste like kegged. He smiled and winked handing me a parting gift of two bottles. We’ll see.
Upon Guillermo’s recommendation I seek out St. Austell. They are another Cornish brewery with a rich history going back as far as 1851. However, according to Guillermo, their real success has been since 1999 when Head Brewer Roger Ryman came onboard. This time I choose not to blow my own cover so that I can dip in and out without a procession of brewers being brought to my feet. I opt for the Proper Black IPA on cask. Yes, this hits the mark. Piney hops with a very delicate roasted maltiness, but if I had to compare it directly to BrewDogs Libertine I’d go for the latter. Perhaps the added carbonation gives a fuller mouthfeel. I brought a sample back to the BrewDog bar whereby it was very well received.
Next stop, Thornbridge. I’ve heard a lot about Thornbridge but have never actually tasted their tipples, so I was understandably keen. The first thing I noticed at the stand was a rather large hovering beard which at a second glance I realised belonged to a brewer I had spotted at an event at Brodie’s William IV pub; the now ex-brewer of the Danish Fanø Bryghus, Ryan Witter-Merithew. He explained that he was just helping out rather than working for Thornbridge and that he had his own project Siren Craft Brew on the way, which is fantastic news. He then pours me a Tzara which is a Kolsch brewed in the Cologne tradition of fermenting with ale yeast before largering in cold temperatures. This is precisely what my palate craved. A refreshing clean tasting beer to scrub the tongue and quench the thirst. Now for something a bit bolder. Halcyon, their Imperial IPA. A very well balanced drink with good level of malts to prop up the ABV, but equally a suitable dose of tropical fruity hops to keep things in category. All in all a well rounded beer.
Back at my BrewDog asylum, I got speaking to a Fullers publican who mentioned that there was a bottle of their Fullers Brewer’s Reserve no 4 (aged for a year in Comte de Lauvia Armagnac casks) floating about the place and that I should definitely try… I didn’t wait for him to finish. I was on the hunt. Only to be met by some ferocious bouncer who reminded me that the trade show had finished and that the stalls were preparing for the consumers to whom the event would be opened shortly and therefore I was unable to collect my precious.
‘Okay’, I thought. ‘I’ll see this one through. I’ll hang about a bit and wait until things are back up and running’. Then I got a call. It was a mate and he was outside after I had told him earlier to announce himself as a beer blogger at the door. Unfortunately, as the trade show had officially ended this wouldn’t play out. A rethink and I boldly confronted the organiser with drunken confidence to ask if they could let another staff member of BrewDog (he isn’t) in the building. He said to wait while he tried to sort things out. I was left with a volunteer who revealed that the organiser was going to find a wrist band. I walked back to the BrewDog bar to proclaim my genius. In my impatient state I implored anyone within earshot to lend me their wristband. A Meantime Brewer, whose name I forget, very generously offered me his. I rushed down to my friend and slipped it to him. We got back inside the building, at staggered intervals, only for me to be accosted by the bouncer again. This time accompanied by an antsy organiser who had come to the realisation that BrewDog already had the allotted staff members for the evening. “And in actual fact where is your own wristband?”, he suspiciously asked. And who was I? As my mate slinked passed, I whispered to him to hide in the building until everything settled down. It looked increasingly like my plan had been foiled and that my identity was something of a mystery to people. I reluctantly confirmed with the relevant parties that I would leave but not before collecting my stuff, finishing my drink and finding my fugative friend. As I headed back over to look for him, bouncers swirled around me as hungry sharks. I took the wristband back to the Meantime guy but he ran away from me as he wanted nothing to do with the fiasco. The whole scenario presented itself has as an episode of One Man and His Dog, as multiple bouncers rounded us up and shepherded us out of the premises. If only they knew I was actually one of them!