Kernel Meet the brewer with Evin O’Riordain
Kernel has a special place in my beery heart. I remember a hot and sticky summer night down at Café Oto in Dalston. I took a punt on a Kernel Café Oto Pale. It blew me away. The only other beers I’ve had before that even got close to that one were American imports. But this amazing liquid came from a few guys brewing in a dank railway arch in the back alleys of London Bridge. London looked more fascinating that night. And if you were to force me to name just one single experience that started my obsession with the good stuff, tasting that first Kernel might just have been it.
I’ve been to Kernel tap nights before. A heady memory of the ‘Big Brick’ release at the Jolly Butchers has a special place in my heart. But I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing them talk about their beers before. So when Borough Wines advertised a ‘Meet the Brewer’ event with Evin O’Riordain, the head honcho of Kernel, I swiftly signed up.
The evening consisted of a tasting of seven different beers, along with some excellent cheeses and meats to soak up the alcohol. Evin talked about each of the different brews in turn – the flavour, the brewing process and he gave little insights into their goals when making each beer. It was a casual affair, with an increasing amount of conversation as people drank their inhibitions away.
We started off with a ‘Bierre du Table’, Kernel’s flemish counterpoint to their low alcohol pale ‘Table Beer’. Evin explained that it has the same malt bill as the Table beer, but it’s made with Saison yeast and mashed at a different temperature to make it higher in alcohol and have more yeast led flavours. It was a refreshing start to this hot april evening.
Next up was a Pale Ale Citra. Evin introduced it by chatting about how differences between hop harvests can bring out some new and interesting flavours. This year’s Citra had more a fresh, dank, skunky twist, and instead of chasing a consistent flavour, Kernel wants to embrace these differences. The malt bill of the Pales Ales are 100% Marris Otter, by Evin’s own admission, the best malt they can find. Both choices show an obvious attitude of letting good ingredients speak for themselves.
We worked our way up the pale ale ladder, hitting an IPA Simcoe before diving into the depths of a Double Citra. It was a wonderful build up. It showed how aroma, texture and mouthful changes between ABVs in ways you wouldn’t actually think. Evin made the point that the aroma of the pale ale was stronger, but it had a much cleaner, focussed taste. The Double Citra was a favourite of mine last year, and has somewhat mellowed into something more alluring this time, with boozy ‘come hither’ eyes. For 10%, it is unnervingly drinkable, but still hits you with that warm electric blanket of alcohol before coating your mouth in sticky bitterness. Gorgeous stuff.
We were then hit with a cheeky ‘palette cleanser,’ in the shape of a barrel aged London sour, with a beautiful, refreshingly tart hit of sour lemons. It was a great counterbalance after the hops, and had a depth that was lacking in some some other sour beers I’ve tried recently, probably due it’s the time in a barrel.
We ended on two darker notes. Their now classic London Export Porter was on great form, the ‘freshly ground coffee’ aromas bursting out of the bottle and rich, deep ‘brown malt’ led flavours. Evin spoke about how the porter was based on two historical recipes blended together. This is a beer that brings history bang into context. London brewing obviously didn’t just start three years ago when all these new brewers popped up. And the more brewers, such as Kernel, who take things from the past as starting blocks and run with them, the better. This rich history is there to be used, and not just because it is ‘tradition’, but because it is still relevant and makes goddamn tasty beer to boot.
The final beer, and a fitting end of the night, was a blend of stouts, aged in barrels. The barrel was a 25 year old Speyside whisky barrel. This meant the taste was not blasting vanilla & oak in your face, but it had more of an interesting complexity that didn’t taste obviously of ‘barrel’. I know the taste of oak well, but this beer was different, and I loved it. Evin explained that whenever Kernel adds extras to beer, whether it be spices or oak ageing, they never want the addition to overpower. If he hadn’t pointed out the barrel flavour, I might have just missed it. This was a completely new barrel flavour to me. It goes to show how important it is to sometimes wipe your mind and drink the beer without any preconceptions. And to maybe absorb some new ideas. Tasty beer is tasty beer, whatever route you take to arrive at that conclusion.
With that, the night was over and we all shuffled out into the dark. It’d been a chilled out and casual evening, but also incredibly fascinating. It made me like one of my favourite breweries even more, thanks to the down-to-earth vibe of Evin and the quality of what Kernel brews.
Now run and buy all the Double Citra you can find, now… you’ll thank me later.