Book Review: Mikkeller’s Book of Beer by Mikkel Borg Bjergso and Pernille Pang


I have a favourite beer t-shirt (no wait, come back), one I bought from Etsy (no seriously, don’t go). It has a vaguely familiar Californian brewery branding aesthetic and the name of the fictional brewery is ‘OBSCURE – Microbrewery You’ve Never Heard Of’. Anyway, I’m not just bragging about my great t-shirt – looking at it the other day made me realise that there is a new level to the joke. Mikkeller, every part the poster-brewery for experimental and uncompromising brewing oddities, pure beer genius and everything inbetween in modern craft beer, is an obscure brewery that everyone has heard of. Production, even when including the many projects all over the world, is relatively low in total, yet the reach is wide, the legacy large and the shadow long. This is the modern brewery, so what, then, is the modern brewery book?

Just as every beer and brewery has a story to tell, so too do the brewers. That compulsion to write their own history, and that of beer too, has motivated a number of American brewers to pen their own bestselling beer books, and we’re now seeing the trend continue here in Europe. Highly anticipated in the craft beer community, Mikkeller’s Book of Beer is co-written by brewery co-founder Mikkel Borg Bjergso and professional journalist Pernille Pang, who is also Bjergso’s wife.

The first chapters of the book feel personal, and the desire to tell his own story in the book’s clipped translated English (familiar to readers of English versions of Scandinavian fiction) makes for a quick and absorbing read. As with anything of this nature, the reader is wary of the authors editing history to suit their narrative, and there is a perhaps controversial recurring habit of measuring Mikkeller’s success by Ratebeer scores alone. Still, it gives a fascinating insight into the mind of a determined and resourceful man across the book’s clean and crisply-laid-out pages.

Of course, much of his story is well-known, and the book proper begins with a potted version of beer history that concentrates on the fun stuff (and, notably, CAMRA), and a breezy trip through major beer styles. The first major problems arise here: for the experienced beer buff, the reliance on heavily debunked myths of style origins may come as shocking, and the IPA section alone might be enough for some people to give up on the book entirely. Meanwhile, the newcomer may find the short, breathless descriptions to lack depth or imagery to capture the imagination, but then, that’s what all the beautiful photography is for. There are also some clumsy paragraphs and phrases that feel like they’ve been wrung through Google Translate, but generally the book maintains an easy-reading pace throughout.


The book’s real appeal to existing beer nerds lies in the selection of 25 recipes for Mikkeller beers and 5 recipes for other brewers’ beers. Whilst laying bare the recipes for I Beat yoU, Beer Geek Bacon and Texas Ranger shows an impressive amount of transparency on Bjergso’s part, I suspect most will be even more impressed by the inclusion of recipes for Firestone Walker Wookey Jack, To Ol Goliat and Kernel Imperial Brown Stout.

The guide to starting homebrewing itself is packed with handy tips, but also comes a cropper from the occasional confusing sentence or questionable translation, which, when on the topic of oxygen in the brewing process for example, is pretty worrying. The whole thing feels useful in conjunction with other more trusted books on the subject (How to Brew by John Palmer, for example) but not a true foolproof brewing bible on its own.

Where the language and tone of the first half of the book is aimed at the beginner, the food section fells far more advanced in some ways. However, it does overcomplicate some of beer and food matching’s basic principles, recommending only sweet beers for cheese for example, yet a variety of beers for different kinds of shellfish, which is perhaps more of an indication of its Scandinavian origin than knowledge gaps.

The food recipes included, meanwhile, are almost exclusively high-end, Masterchef-esque constructions of the most expensive ingredients using the most obscure methods. It’s hard to see anyone who is actually capable of these culinary feats relying on such a text as their guide, but it certainly all looks very nice, and that might be both the book’s biggest strength and its main weakness. The gorgeous design and pleasingly simple artwork from Mikkeller label designer Keith Shore makes for an easy read, but not necessarily an engaging one.

Whilst it is pretty to look at, and will provide a valuable source for homebrewers (as just that, a source, not a bible), this is by no means the ‘Ultimate Guide for Beer Lovers’. With its artistically impressive layout, repeated reliance on debunked myths but tempting recipes and insight into the rock-star brewer’s rise to fame, this is perhaps then the beer book that the craft beer generation deserves, but not the one it needs. Mikkeller’s book is a beautiful one, but requires the context of more grounded works. Mosher, Palmer et al have little to fear.

Recipe: Beer, Bacon and Parmesan Risotto


After a cursory query on Twitter, I got a lot of great suggestions about potential beers to use in place of wine in a risotto. In the end I decided get a bottle of Orval with a few months on it, hoping to get the sharper, funkier flavours without too much bitterness. Unfortunately my regular stockist was out of Orval, so instead I went with a slightly more left field option suggested: a smoked dark wheat beer, in this case the brilliant Freimann’s Dunkelweiss by Hackney’s Pressure Drop Brewing. Check out the Twitter thread in the link above to see other suggestions. Popular choices included saisons, sours and amber ales.

Essentially, you’re using beer in place of wine in the risotto-making process, but you also need less stock as your beer is helping to act as that too. Pick a beer that – alcohol and carbonation aside – has flavours you would like in a sticky, comforting risotto. My recipe has bacon in it because bacon is amazing, but you could just use more mushrooms instead if you want. Also, I really wanted to put the smoky flavour of Freimann’s in the mix with some smoked, streaky bacon. Ingredients and method below.



The below makes a portion for 1 person, so scale up as you wish:

  • 100g Arborio (risotto) rice
  • 2 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 mushrooms (optional), thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 15g Parmesan, grated
  • 125ml beer (in this case Freimann’s Dunkelweiss)
  • 125ml chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parsley, finely chopped, to serve

Cooking time: 40-45 minutes



1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy frying pan and gently fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes. Once softened, season with a little salt and pepper. I’ll be honest with you, I’m fairly free with butter in cooking, I daresay, like many people, I used what looked to be ‘enough’ to gently fry the onion.

2. Add your rice, stirring as you do and coating it all with the butter, onion and garlic. Fry this for about 3-5 minutes on a medium heat until the rice starts to go translucent.

3. Now it’s time to add the beer, but do so gradually, as if you were swigging mouthfuls from the bottle (hey stop! Well, ok, maybe a little) Add a bit of beer, stir and let the rice absorb it, and then some more, and so on. If you’re using a smoked beer, this amazing toasty, fruity aroma should be filling your kitchen. Keep the pan on a medium heat. The alcohol will boil off and all the sticky goodness will be left behind. The rice will take on a slightly darker colour now, depending on the beer it has absorbed.


4. Next, do the same thing again but with your stock (no swigging!) with just a splash at a time, stirring and allowing the rice to absorb it. The grains should gradually fatten up and the liquid thicken. Again, just a medium heat is enough. The beer and stock adding part of the process can take up to half an hour. It pays to be patient and steady. When about half of your stock is left, get a small non-stick pan with your bacon and mushrooms going on a medium-to-high heat. Add a splash of oil if you want, but if it’s streaky bacon you probably won’t need to.

5. Take care to keep an eye on your bacon and mushrooms, stirring them occasionally between adding stock to the risotto. When all your stock is used up and the risotto has absorbed almost all its liquid, take the pan off the heat and stir in your parmesan. After that, add your bacon (crispy, not crunchy) and mushrooms. Give it all a big stir and serve into bowls with parsley sprinkled on top.


Beer match:

Whilst the full-on smoky fruitiness of Freimann’s was perfect to use in the dish, I wanted something slightly less intense but still smoky and flavoursome to serve alongside it. I’ve recently fallen in love again with Anspach & Hobday’s Smoked Brown, which was a perfect match and would even make a good candidate for a beer to use in the recipe. The beer is fairly sweet with a rounded, oily bitterness and a clever, deep and smooth smokiness that brought the dish to life, and had the body and carbonation to cut through the fattiness and enhance the rich flavours. Lovely comforting nourishment all round.

If you’ve done a risotto with beer as an ingredient, share your successes in the comments below. I’m really keen to try this again with some different beers, and if you’re patient it’s a really easy and tasty dish to make. Cheers!

Rediscovering Anspach and Hobday


In the past year, the Bermondsey Beer Mile has quickly and perhaps undeservedly became one of the country’s foremost beer ‘things’. From early on, there was a sense that this self-made beer blowout stretched across a handful of breweries in southeast London couldn’t quite sustain itself. The queues, the walking (or artistic usage of multiple Uber discount codes) and occasionally sub-par beer put many people off after a few tries. But then, don’t all ‘legendary’ pub crawls suffer from the same problems?

Some problems were more specific. One major casualty from my own mixed experiences of the Beer Mile was my enjoyment of beer from Anspach & Hobday. Despite enjoying their beer in bottles and whenever I saw it at a Craft Beer Co pub, I had on more than one occasion tasted beer from the brewery that lacked finesse, and on one occasion, patience. Back then, I worried that the brewery was engaging in a demanding weekly event beyond its grasp, and not always being able to provide beer in the best condition it could be.

Last week, Justin Mason and I were invited by Bottle & Bean to take part in its first live beer tasting video for its subscribers, which featured the first monthly resident brewery, none other than Anspach & Hobday. Part of me was looking forward to seeing what Paul and Jack had been making since I’d last visited the brewery, but I retained a little hesitation from my past disappointment. From the first sip of beer I tasted, I was reassured. I ate my words, or rather, drank them.

With each beer I tried, from their oldest and most practiced like the Smoked Brown and Table Porter, to newer recipes like the Stout Porter and Pale Ale, I was deeply and fully impressed. The Pale Ale was, to use an adjective I find myself using more frequently and tellingly, ‘Kernel good’, its light and faintly biscuity malt body a simple and well-built stage for a floral and rounded hop character that delivered juicy lime and kiwi flavours cleanly. It is undoubtedly a Juicy Banger.

The Smoked Brown, always A&H’s most unique and trusted beer, has improved further still, and is easily one of London’s, and the UK’s, most accomplished malt-forward ales. The smoky character is delicate but persistent in every drop, adding depth and dimension to a rounded, mouth-coating caramel body and a simple yet resinous hoppy bitterness. I was surprised to learn from Paul that the Smoked Brown requires more hops in the boil than any other beer they make, but the balance that this achieves is genuinely fantastic.

Both the Table Porter and Stout Porter showed the brewery’s key strengths in different ways – the Table version demonstrating an ability to extract the absolute utmost of flavour, whilst the Stout variety showed a real skill in nailing the balance necessary to make great strong beers truly great.


These technically accomplished core beers aside, it was the samples of other more limited beers served at the brewery taproom that made me eager to return. A sour ale, in truth the ‘control version’ of a beer due to be completed in a number of different ways, was made with a sour mash instead of inoculating the beer in its fermentation stage (to reduce the risk of infecting other batches) and on its own had the vibrant, sharp and uncompromising sour bite I love. The limited edition White Coffee Milk Stout, a deep burnished golden colour and ripe with vanilla and coconut aromas, was just a tart citrus ingredient away from being a creamy, whipped syllabub cocktail. The oily sweetness and lactose-rich body wasn’t entirely my sort of thing, perhaps best enjoyed by those with a sweet tooth, but damn good nonetheless.

The final beer we tried made me chuckle with delight just from smelling it, a Galaxy Saison conceived by Dylan, a newer member of the brewing team. The glorious peach and papaya aroma had a crackle of black pepper running through it. The flavour developed from sweet, sugary guava and watermelon into a fascinating mid-palate note of strawberries covered in black pepper, ending with a spicy astrigency. The ABV was fairly restrained (for a modern saison) at 5.2%, but provided all the oomph the beer needed. The flavours were blinding.

You might not need any persuading that Anspach & Hobday are making great beers, but if you do need persuading, please do take my word for it. Maybe though, like me, you have a had a different bad experience with a beer that has affected, consciously or unconsciously, your willingness to try beers from that brewer again. As simple and as basic a lesson it might be, it remains one worth re-learning. If people deserve a second chance, then undoubtedly so do beers.

The Distance: All of the people, all of the time


We are fortunate to now be able to drink a wide variety of fantastic beer from great UK breweries on a regular basis. With each great beer, I think a little higher of that brewery or the place it’s from, and the people who make it. But really, when I do that, I’m inside the bubble, thinking everything is rosy. I’m not complaining; I like it in the bubble. It’s a great bubble. Still, it’s only when someone from outside that bubble shares your appreciation that you can feel justified in your opinion. We like to say how great everything is (me included, I mean seriously, I’m doing it all the time) but it’s hard to know we are right without external corroboration. Worse still, it appears to some people that it’s the same breweries getting the attention all the time. So how do we measure fairly what’s really going on, and how far it has come? Let’s try.

Two legendary (and I don’t use that word lightly) American breweries made efforts to visit the UK late last year: Firestone Walker and Dogfish Head. FW, specifically David Walker and a handful of his brewing team, held a tap takeover at Craft Beer Co Covent Garden, whilst Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head’s founder, held a joint beer and food paired dinner with Beavertown and Charles Wells. These were highly desirable events that got people talking. Even though here in the UK we have begun to replicate the success and growth of self-identified craft beer that happened in the US in the 90s, it still feels special and exciting to have the chance to see, hear and speak to these important figures in brewing from across the pond.

Of course, David Walker is British himself, but even he must have been surprised to see how far the beer scene here has come in the past few years. Stood at the heaving bar of Craft Beer Co, California-tanned but armoured in the British institution of a Barbour coat against his homeland’s winter chill, the forty-odd taps of every style under the sun must have seemed both familiar to him, and alien. Cask and keg  together in such numbers is almost unheard of even in the States. Imagine being in his position, returning home and being able to proudly put pints of The Kernel pale ale into his colleagues’ hands. He spoke later of just how great it was to see such a big step forward.

On the far side of London a few days later, Sam Calagione was expressing a feeling of bewilderment. In the interim between his beers no longer being available in the UK and now returning (a period of roughly four years) the founder of Dogfish Head discovered a fully-formed, hungry and ambitious UK craft beer scene, quite a different animal to the one he left behind (for example, Magic Rock didn’t even exist and BrewDog had only just opened a bar or two). On that day in late October last year, Calagione collaborated with brewers from Beavertown and distillers at East London Liquor Company to make a gin botanical-infused ‘Londonerweisse’ in the style of the light-and-sour Berliner Weisses of Germany. Then, in the evening, a dinner was held with beers from Beavertown, Dogfish Head and their DNA brewing partner Charles Wells, matched to dishes cooked and served at Duke’s in East London.

Sam Calagione at Duke's. (photo credit: Nick Dwyer)
Sam Calagione at Duke’s (photo credit: Nick Dwyer)

Beers like Midas Touch and 120 Minute IPA are pioneering classics, but here Calagione found beers like Gamma Ray nailing American pale ale as a style, whilst the likes of Wild Beer Co and Burning Sky are (finally) showing just how great the UK is at absorbing and co-opting influences from abroad and at home. He admitted he was quite taken aback by it all. It’s important that these kind of events continue to happen (and it’s also worth noting that the dinner wasn’t an isolated incident either – more recently, during London Beer Week, Beavertown pulled of a similar event with Camden Town Brewery and another visiting US brewer: Left Hand from Colorado).

The tickets for these extravagant epicurean feasts naturally come with a price tag, but one that, when considering the sheer amount of food and drink covered, are incredibly good value. The fact that Charles Wells had beers represented (an improved recipe DNA IPA and Courage Imperial Stout) showed this wasn’t craft beer elitism or just ‘the usual suspects’. And of course, while there is no direct comparison to be made, one can’t help but think a similar event held by several wine houses would have a ticket cost in the upper stratosphere. Still, it’s worth emphasising that it’s hard to compare such things directly, but also, more importantly, that the cost of the event doesn’t necessarily mean that the scene is becoming a elitist – if anything, it means that there are now events of every type to match every budget.

Those events last year are two examples, but don’t entirely serve as a perfect triangulation of measuring how far things have come, since both are from America. Who else then could provide assurance – somewhere traditional perhaps? How about a brewery that’s as traditional as it gets, not one that’s old-fashioned exactly, but one with a long heritage that has stuck to what is does best whilst keeping technologically updated with the times. How about the growth of Italian craft beer here, and that many of their brewmasters trained at traditional brewers in the UK? Too new? How about someone like Pilsner Urquell shipping tanks of unpasteurised brewery-fresh lager over in a matter of days to satisfy the breadth and growing appreciation of our palates for quality lager? Nah, starting at 1842 they are still mere children among brewers. Older, then? How about the oldest continuously operating brewery on the planet? Old enough for you?

Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan is home of one of the world’s leading brewing universities (well, one of the world’s leading universities full stop, really) and a brewery that has been operating since 1050. Its expressions of hefeweizen and Bavarian-style pilsner are timeless, world-beating classics. Perhaps this passed you by, but last year brewers from Weihenstephan did a collaboration with BrewDog. The resulting India Pale Weizen is being brewed again this year. Whilst a hopfenweisse is by no means a new thing, the meaning behind such a collaboration is frankly colossal.

I’ve written before that the rise of BrewDog has been as definitive point on our beer landscape – somewhere where we can point to and, with surety, know that things a different forever now. But the world’s oldest operating brewery, and let’s not beat about the bush here, Germans who don’t ever fuck about with their beer styles, decide to brew a collaboration with BrewDog, those guys with the tanks and the sharks and the hop cannons? I think it’s safe to say that based on those three examples we can say with certainty that our beer scene has entered, or is at least phasing into, a new stage.

India Pale Weizen by BrewDog and Weihenstephan (photo credit: BrewDog)
India Pale Weizen by BrewDog and Weihenstephan (photo credit: BrewDog)

But wait, you say. pretty much all of the UK brewers mentioned so far are probably in that ‘all the attention’ bracket. What about brewery X, Y, and indeed Z, which have been making amazing beers for yonks and don’t get any credit for it? What about them Chris, you trendy wazzock? Firstly, if you want a brewery that makes great beer to have more exposure, do something about it. Secondly, I am absolutely thrilled to bits to be in a position where we are this spoiled for choice. I am utterly ecstatic that there is so much to celebrate that we can’t decide how to cover it all. But what makes me happiest is that, because of that idea that some are getting more attention than others, we have entered a situation where good beer is being ‘normalised’. There is so much good beer near to us all right now that whether it is all getting the proper credit has become a feasible topic of discussion.

So where do we go from here? Is it really possible for the beer scene to keep growing? Undoubtedly. The appetite or rather the thirst for what is happening right now remains strong; unquenchable. The question is how to rationalise and balance the desire for the weird with the desire to normalise good beer to as many people as possible as a whole. I think the answer is that we don’t try to reconcile those two divergent trends and that, if anything, we should encourage them, because the divergence is resulting in diversity. Only by normalising good beer at one end, whilst still continuing to push boundaries of what beer can be at the other end, can the beer scene truly continue to evolve. If that means that, right now, it’s a group of brewers in each of those camps getting most of the attention, then so be it. It doesn’t diminish everyone else’s accomplishments, it merely highlights who is succeeding in being more inclusive and innovative on a regular basis.

It’s ultimately about growing (not like a brand with an advertising campaign, but like a living thing) what beer can mean to people. Do you ever wonder why it’s the same handful of images of beer used to illustrate any newspaper article about alcoholism, pub closures, alcohol consumption, breweries opening, beer duty rising or falling? That same bloody bloke with a filthy pint pot of brown-coloured ale in extreme-close up? It’s because, to the editors of those publications, it’s “just beer” and they’ll use whatever images they have for free. There’s no point spending money on costly new images when that one of a claggy nitro ale being sucked from a dirty glass will do.

Well, it won’t ‘do’ anymore, frankly. The distance between those images, and what beer is now and what it can be. has never been greater. The problem is that the use of those images is representative of popular opinion. Unfortunately, beer is “just beer” to many people and, as we have so recently been told, nothing to be “fussed over”. We have to champion and encourage this even widening range of things that beer can be, each as important as the one before or after, cask or keg or bottle or can or high-end or low-end, so that those images and the way beer is represented has to change to keep up.

We have to keep setting the pace and daring everyone else to recognise just how vast the growing breadth of traditional, esoteric, historic and cutting-edge beer is. Despite the odd clanger of a dated or misused photograph or naff article, I think we’re getting there. We just have to keep fighting the good fight, and show beer to be something that really can please all of the people, all of the time.

The Southampton Arms (#ShowUsYourLocal)

Southampton Arms

As part of the #ShowUsYourLocal campaign started by Jamie Oliver’s Drinks Tube channel, here’s a look at a much-celebrated north London pub with beer in its heart and soul: my local, The Southampton Arms.


It might seem strange to some people, in London especially, to think of a pub fifteen-minutes’-walk away as your ‘local’. In London a fifteen-minute walk can take you past a great number of pubs. But really, of course, your local isn’t the nearest pub to where you live, but the nearest pub in which you feel at home. Whether it’s on the way to or back from Gospel Oak Overground or Hampstead Heath, or a wide, looping ‘shortcut’ to Kentish Town just to pay a visit, I often find myself in The Southampton Arms. It is what many London pubs, new or old, aspire to be.

In a way, it’s that walk up from Archway up Cathcart Hill and down Chetwynd Road to Highgate Road that really earns, and demands, that first pint. Oh, and it absolutely must be a pint. On occasion I may throw caution to the wind and dabble in a half from the two keg taps, but The Southampton Arms is a bastion of well-kept cask ale, and you would have to be crazy not to partake in that all-too-rare experience of a cask beer in perfect condition. Will it be Marble Pint, or Dark Star Revelation, or Siren Broken Dream, or something new? It’s that thought at the front of my mind throughout the journey, and as I find myself on the corner of Chetwynd Road and Highgate Road, the pub’s sign of ‘Ale Cider & Meat’ calls out like a mythic beacon.


The entrance to the pub is the one you would immediately summon in your mind if asked to describe a “pub entrance”. The feel of the floorboards underfoot as you step through the door and hear authentically scratchy records on an LP, or better still, the rumbling tones of an antique piano, transports you not back in time but, somehow, more vividly into the present. This is what great London pubs can be. This is what great London pubs are.

Twelve handpulls of beer and cider stand proud on the bar, whilst several casks of still cider stand beside the till. A hot plate behind glass on the bar displays a huge piece of pork with glistening crackling at most hours. It’s a heart-warmingly simple and down-to-earth experience in a place that is very much the intense, raw essence of pubness. It has a flexibility to it thought – malleable enough to be a boozer for throwing back great pints with mates, or something quieter, slower, friendlier, or something else entirely. Like all great pubs it lives, and becomes what you need it to be.


Out the back you’ll find a pretty little walled beer garden filled with tables and corners designed for conspiracies and mischief at any hour. In summer, expect it be busy, but always worth fighting for. But beware, a chalkboard outside warns that the beer garden closes at 10pm, and that “the leopard is released at 10.02pm”.

After a near-leopard experience, you might want to strengthen your resolve with a pork bap (with crackling, naturally) for £4, or perhaps a scotch egg, or a sausage roll, or a pork pie perhaps? Wait, how about a pickled egg? Good choice. Perhaps you don’t need persuading. Perhaps you do, because all that stuff is overpriced hipster grub, except, erm, it isn’t, and actually it’s so good you can’t stop eating it. It’s not food to change the world or to sate a family of four, but it’s more than enough to keep you and your drinking partners staunch and hearty for a liquid afternoon or evening. It’s what pub food is for.

Now you’ve got the wind back in your sails, another pint for the road? After all, the buses, whether by design or accident, leave from just outside. It’d be rude not to. No, I insist. My round.


The Southampton Arms will be featured in Beer & Craft: Britain’s Best Bars and Breweries, coming soon.


The Southampton Arms,139 Highgate Road, NW5 1LE


The Distance: Raising Hell

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The modern beer drinker has untold power at their fingertips. They can, at the push of a few buttons, summon up tap lists of their local pubs and pick their beers for the night before they have even left work. They can interact with the brewer of a beer directly, and find out what time they had to get out of bed to start mashing in that Imperial Red Rye IPA. They can, if they so wish, effect instant action about something they don’t like, or something that they do like. The ‘latest Twitter outrage’ is actually the ‘latest example of achieving near instant results’. It’s an amazing time.

In a matter of seconds, the modern beer drinker can even invest in the growth of their favourite brewery. The ground broken by BrewDog’s Equity for Punks has helped open up the idea of public investment in craft beer, but it’s only in the last year or so that we have seen that crowdfunding angle really diversify, to now include magazines, books and the brewing of beers themselves.

Yeastie Boys and Signature Brew have recently launched crowdfunding schemes as well, but Camden Town Brewery’s has the potential to make the biggest waves, given its higher target and giant-sized plans. At the time of writing, Camden has already almost hit a third of its target amount – all since its launch on Monday this week.

Along with over 400 people so far, my partner and I intend to invest too. In the coldest, most calculating terms, it is a sound investment. But beyond that, there is an irresistible opportunity to invest in something that people love, something that shines a little more light into people’s day-to-day lives, and the way that people can now so easily do that in the internet age is, I think, incredible.

If you want to see more breweries enjoy similar success, you should invest in breweries like Camden. Help to grow and sustain this incredible renaissance of beer appreciation. Remember: we all win together. An investment in Camden, or Signature, or Yeastie Boys, or whoever offers a viable concrete plan to grow and expand and improve, is worthy of your money. The power is in your hands to make a difference, and you must be certain that that difference is good. Reward hard work, ambition and courage. Invest in good people doing the right thing, fighting the good fight. Invest in the people making a difference.

Maybe you’re not a huge fan of Camden Town Brewery. Perhaps the phrase ‘crowdfunding’ just sounds like ‘pulled pork’ or ‘pop-up’ to you and it’s all just part of the noise of the beer scene. This is a financial investment after all, and it should be taken seriously, you think. Good, take it seriously. Take beer seriously. Take the idea of what beer is in this country right now, and be serious. If you like it, and you want it to still be this good or better in a few years’ time, you’re going to have to do something about it. Yes, you. Take some responsibility for what you care about. Consider the precedent you can help set by directly funding the growth of London’s first brewery to climb from a pub basement to international, self-dependent success.

Of course it’s easy to be cynical – that’s why so many people are, after all – but while it’s difficult to put your money where your mouth is, it’s easy to see what’s right. If you really care about what is happening to beer in this country, and you want breweries to live and grow and not shrink and die, it is now within your power to help make it happen. It doesn’t have to be a fortune, it just has to be what you think is fair and can afford. Just like buying a beer.

‘Crowdfunding’ is a clumsy term and doesn’t really do justice to how important it can be. The reason that people and companies in the beer industry are able to command this level of investment and devotion from their fans is because these breweries are people – not the numbers on a screen but the hearts and minds that toil to make something good and be proud of what they’ve made.

I believe in good beer and I want it to go the distance. I’m going to invest in Camden Town Brewery.


EDIT: 16/02/15 – As it has caused concern to commenters, I would like to make absolutely clear that my opinion on Camden’s offer in the post above is just that, my opinion, and it does not constitute financial advice, which should be sought from a professional. Thank you.

The Distance: Growing Apart



As you might remember, in the summer I had a bit of a holiday romance with a double IPA by Galway Bay Brewery called Of Foam and Fury. Generous foaming halves of the stuff – a robust 8.5% abv and Ireland’s first commercially-brewed DIPA – seared into my mind, heart and to some extent liver just how far and fast the Irish craft beer scene was growing. It’s an incredibly accomplished beer, made all the more special by discovering it without any pre-attached knowledge or bias.

Towards the end of last year, I had the chance to try it again. I managed to get hold of another bottle thanks to Connor Murphy, who is annoyingly good at both beer writing and beer brewing, and extremely generous to boot. What a guy, honestly. As luck would have it, the equally generous Phill Elliott, freshly returned from a no-holds-barred trip around America and its breweries, offered me (in the most casual way) if I might like one of the bottles of Pliny the Elder he had brought back with him? Well, gosh, I dare say I rather would, actually.

It all came together so perfectly: the chance to put Of Foam and Fury to what many believe is the ultimate test of a DIPA – a direct comparison to one of the style’s most superlative examples. I love Of Foam and Fury, but part of me knew that enjoyment was rooted in rose-tinted memory of a beery holiday with friends. Surely, a side-by-side taste test with Pliny would settle the matter. How wrong I was.




Sticky with orange and caramel, boosted by a muscular, oily bitterness the the edges of its ripe fruitiness edges in sharp lime pith, Of Foam and Fury has more in common with BrewDog Hardcore IPA than Pliny. Galway Bay’s DIPA was all very much as I remembered it, still fresh and bright and quite boisterous in its condition and flavour. One taste transported me back to the Black Sheep pub in Dublin, surrounded by friends old and new. A truly brilliant beer.

So what of Pliny the Elder? For starters it’s a far paler, pinier and crisply bitter beer. Here, the hop character is more defined by mandarin, mango and lemon from the Amarillo and Centennial hops, its bitterness more assertive and sharper. It’s certainly a more accomplished double IPA – earning its famous ‘pint-ability’ with an outrageously clean flavour profile and almost soft mouthfeel – but despite all of that technical brilliance, I didn’t enjoy it as much as Of Foam and Fury.

Wait, what? The beer is better in execution but the lesser of the two? Yes and no. There is of course a glorious juiciness in both, but for me the beer that had the fullest and most complete flavour profile on the day was Of Foam and Fury. Of course, the first question you might ask is how old was the Pliny? Five weeks from bottling. Not ideal perhaps, but more than acceptable for appreciating its world-famous hop character. I think that perhaps the stresses of travel took some toll on the beer, and of course it won’t taste as good as the beer fresh from the brewery, but I feel fairly certain I got a fair impression of it.




So if I got to taste the two beers side-by-side (a pleasure in itself) and was fairly happy with the outcome, why do I think the test was a failure? It wasn’t that, alongside a fresher, younger upstart, Pliny couldn’t live up to its colossal reputation. It wasn’t because Pliny isn’t a great beer, because it really is. It’s because, in a way, I did both beers a disservice by forcing them to compete. That’s why it has taken me so long to finish a blog post about it. The results told me what the beers tasted like, and which one I ultimately preferred at that moment in time, but that was it. I knew there was something to be learned but I couldn’t see it straight away.

It recently became clear to me. The desire to test the beers alongside each other was not because I wanted to enjoy them both, it was because I wanted to pit them against each other. It’s something that’s increasingly prevalent in the craft beer industry – the need to brew the new ‘ultimate’ version of something, and for drinkers to become judges, to try a selection of the same style alongside each other to find The Best, not to enjoy them on their own merits.

This desire to brew the next big thing is rooted in competition and ambition, to beat what’s come before, but that desire to brew ‘the next Pliny’ and similar sentiments isn’t helping us brew better beers – it’s holding us back. Of Foam and Fury clearly took in a number of influences, and wasn’t really a direct clone of anything I’ve had before. However, there have been plenty of occasions where a beer I’ve had clearly was trying to clone something else.

We’re in an age now where the beers that defined the best in craft beer in the past decade, Pliny being chief among them, are no longer at the cutting edge. On this side of the Atlantic, our craft beer industry is frequently guilty of attempting to copy in some respect something from the States. I think our beer scene needs to keep doing what it does best – integrate ideas and traditions but relentlessly innovate and look beyond. We need to pioneer new styles, or bin them if they don’t help us make better beers. We need to measure the distance between where we are now and where we were before, and increase it, not shorten it.

The Distance: The Case for Craft

('Redacted' by, from Flickr, under Creative Commons)
(‘Redacted’ by, from Flickr, under Creative Commons)


On Friday last week, All About Beer magazine published the editorial for the forthcoming March 2015 issue on its website. The editorial announced that the magazine would cease to use the word ‘craft’ in relation to beer wherever possible. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. It’s an important issue, and (I think) unusual to see a publication like AAB to set out its stall on the issue in these terms.

My first reaction to the piece was mostly positive – it suggests maturity, objectivity and uneasiness about using a term so casually banded about by anyone who uses hops beginning with C – but there was also something unnerving about it.

There a few things open to dispute in the piece, not least the assertion that “[larger] brewers use the same ingredients as smaller brewers to make the same final product: beer.” It isn’t that issue that bothers me so much, though.

Almost every blogger or communicator about beer has at one point or another had a fair old stab at what craft means in the context of beer. Don’t worry, I’m not going to repeat any arguments or pitch a definition. This is the thing that bothered me about AAB’s editorial. They aren’t really suggesting a new, constructive angle to the debate. They’re giving up on it.

Most people who get interested in beer travel a similar journey: we start out blissfully unaware of how deep the rabbit hole goes, drinking only what we feel like and what our peers drink. Then, we have That Moment, when a door is opened to a wider world, and the period that follows can last for years, as the never-ending thirst for new experiences takes in everything it can find. Eventually, we decide that only the smaller, odder, artisanal stuff is worth anything; and then we have the Second Moment, after we discover more about processes, older breweries, bigger breweries, and more complicated beers that appear so simple at first glance. We reach The Realisation: that the size of the brewery and rarity of the beer is less important than the qualities of the beer itself. We conclude that big and small is relative, and that ultimately, it’s just beer that matters.

When you’ve taken that journey and reached that conclusion, you realise that it isn’t a conclusion at all, but the beginning of a much longer and more rewarding journey, as you pursue what good beer can be.

The editorial in AAB seems to accept that “it’s all just beer” is a satisfactory conclusion to the mystery of what “craft” means. It absolutely isn’t. And yes, “craft” is not a satisfactory term, nor will there ever be one that satisfies everyone. Good. It’s that disagreement, and the discussions and ideas and the beers that result from it that are the most important thing. It’s the whole point. That “passion and enthusiasm” that AAB finds at once so lovely but also kind of annoying, is what’s keeping this thing going. If we all decided to drop craft, do you really think we would all view beer objectively, on its own merits, as this (very well-written) blog post from Literature and Libation suggests? I’m afraid we’re simply incapable of doing so, and that’s something to be proud of. This is a subjective business, rooted in the most subjective thing possible after all: sensory input.

To simply conclude that “craft” is no longer working, and to drop it, is giving up on the pursuit of what great beer means. To its credit, AAB states “…we don’t honestly believe that the word craft will disappear anytime soon, but we do believe it’s time to have a conversation about what it really means. Is it a helpful word that makes beer better, or is it necessary at all?” Is the best way to start that conversation saying that the debate is over, so don’t worry about it? Shoving every instance of craft into a memory-hole and pretending it isn’t relevant, that it was too much hassle to figure out so it isn’t worth discussing?

I appreciate and understand the received wisdom that the UK beer scene is roughly 10 years behind the one in the US, but if this is the wishy-washy debate and shrug of dismissal that we have to look forward to 10 years time, then we need to take our beer scene in a drastically different direction. 10 years difference or not, the word means enough globally that we all have a say in whether it means anything or not.

I won’t ever agree to some hokey editorial manifesto that seeks to stop using specific words it doesn’t like, much less any school of journalism that believes it can better explore and investigate something by, uh, not talking about it anymore.

AAB makes the point that “craft” has lost its meaning now that it has been appropriated by larger breweries. It argues that we need to leave the word behind so it can no longer be misused. Do we really believe that the end of the word “craft” will result in global corporations not seeking to exploit the hard work and bright ideas of smaller, faster companies? “Craft” has certainly become a battlefield, bleak and arduous at times, and I can understand the fatigue of those that have watched it be slung back and forth, but as AAB itself acknowledges, the combined U.S. craft segment is now outselling Budweiser. It’s a war, but one that “craft”, as divisive and myriad as it is, is starting to win.

“Craft” is inflexible, it causes more arguments than it solves, it’s misused, abused, and used against the people that deserve to use it the most. It’s full of holes, the engine is shot and some of the wheels have fallen off, but this word has taken us the distance. It has a lot to answer for, but as long as it continues to create discussion, debate and more importantly progress, then I will always make the case for craft.

The Distance: Brewing The Juicy Banger

Photo: Marcos Avlonitis (
Photo: Marcos Avlonitis (


In a new series of blog posts, I’m going to explore how far the UK beer scene has come in the past year. This is more than just a post about 2014 in review. Each year sees craft beer in the UK gain ever larger exposure, but how do you measure that, how do we quantify what has been achieved and where this is going? It’s something I can only describe as The Distance. This first post on the topic is a personal one, about a beer with a name from a blog post.


In October, I wrote about the emergence of an ‘anti-style’, the Juicy Banger, a beer that could be lager or ale, 3% or 7%, but always pale, always juicy with pronounced citrus hop character and endless refreshment. The term gained a bit of traction, and caused a bit of discussion.

With the term Juicy Banger, I wanted people to think about beer differently, but I didn’t want to become the Supreme Chancellor of whether a beer is or isn’t one. People started asking me if X or Y or Z was a Juicy Banger, to which I would awkwardly respond “well, do you think it is?” More often than not, they did, and the fact they were asking the question often indicated that they already thought so. That was kind of the point really: to empower people to describe and determine the beers they like in a way separate to the established lexicon and parameters of the industry. Not long after writing the post, the opportunity arose to put the term to the test.

It’s no secret that I’m fond of Camden Town Brewery, its beers and many of the people who work there. It does good beer right and fights the good fight. After establishing themselves in London’s beer scene quickly in the earliest years of this decade, a lot of people have moved onto newer breweries for their hoppy kicks, and I regularly find myself urging people to rediscover Camden’s beers, especially since the launch of their barnstorming IHL.

What you might not know is that every member of staff at Camden gets a turn to brew on the pilot kit, and Sofia De Crescentiis had chosen a Grapefruit IPA, based on one of her favourite Canadian beers, what she calls her ‘eureka’ beer. After a number of discussions between myself, Matt Curtis and people who work at Camden Town Brewery (namely Sofia and brewing director Alex Troncoso), it was proposed that Sofia’s turn on Camden’s pilot kit would be a grapefruit IPA, and that Jonny from the Craft Beer Channel would join Matt and I in helping Sofia brew it and film our efforts.

The name for the beer quickly became apparent (considering all that grapefruit we bought), and whilst I was initially hesitant that Juicy Banger became a single, labelled product, I could also see the opportunity to use it to spread the idea of how flexible beer styles can be, and have some fun making a tasty beer at the same time.

Brewing the beer on cold day in early December was indeed a lot of fun, as seen in the Craft Beer Channel’s video, and the difference that a handful of grapefruit zest could make to 50l of hopped wort is etched onto my palate and brain for ever. The malt bill was 95% pale malt, which the remaining 5% made up by Victory malt to give a little colour and extra body. The hops chosen were Magnum, Amarillo, Citra and Centennial, with the grapefruit zest added at flameout and a further dry hopping of Citra after primary fermentation. One thing’s for certain: without the expertise of Camden brewer Pete Brown (not that one), the brew could have easily been a disaster. For example, we wanted to throw a LOT more grapefruit in there before Pete stopped us. You can read more about how we brewed it in Matt’s blog post.

I had been concerned that the beer would be bitter to the point of unpalatable tartness, that too much pith had gone in with the zest and that it would be slightly sour or even undrinkable. Happily, the resulting beer was far more nuanced than I was expecting. Whilst close to 7%, it had a rounded, orangey sweetness that reminded me of SKA brewing’s Modus Hoperandi, but with a much cleaner palate and a sharp bitterness that developed in a dry, grapefruit-accented finish with lip-smacking astringency. Simply, it worked marvellously well. There was some debate between us all whether it was too bitter or not too bitter enough, but for a first attempt I think it shows a lot of promise. Maybe, just maybe it will make its way into Camden’s brewhouse proper one day.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Boak and Bailey pointed out the closing of a feedback loop, an indication that the chumminess between people who write about beer on an amateur and professional basis and the people who make the beers those people write about has folded space somehow.

The thing is, the beer was going to exist in that form one way or another, with or without the moniker of The Juicy Banger. It was Sofia’s beer after all. So the beer always came first, but it’s also important to understand that it isn’t called The Juicy Banger because of my blog post. It’s called The Juicy Banger because of the response to the blog post, because people found the term applicable to beers they liked and took it for themselves. This wasn’t the closing of a feedback loop – this was the narrowing of the distance, between brewers and drinkers, between the beers people want and the beer brewers make.

How to measure that distance, though? Well, the entire batch of The Juicy Banger sold in just over 30 minutes, which is a testament to Sofia’s idea, to Pete’s brewing knowledge, and the zest of four pink grapefruit. Three bloggers just tried not to ruin it.


Golden Pints 2014

Golden Pints 2014

Crikey. It’s been a bit of a year, hasn’t it? Time to beat ourselves to death again over what were the best beers of the year. Having already done my Golden Posts, I thought I would have sufficiently limbered up the beer memory section of my brain, but alas, no, Golden Pints gets harder every year. This is obviously brilliant though, so let’s crack on.




Jarl. Jarl. Jarl.


Fyne Ales Jarl.

Jarl is a stunning beer in any format, but it also shows just how great a dispense method cask can be. It’s all about what the beer gains from it in terms of body and finish, and it makes most other pale ales seem embarrassingly one-dimensional.

Runner up: Magic Rock High Wire, Adnams Ghost Ship.



I’ve been hugely impressed by the consistency, conditioning, and clarity of flavour of Beavertown Gamma Ray this year. Foaming out of the glass, its gorgeous flavours in stunning high-definition and in perfect nick. Every. Single. Time. It’s no coincidence – it’s hard work and it’s paying off big time.

Runners up: Pressue Drop Pale Fire, Camden Town Brewery Pils, Brew By Numbers Berlinerweisse Lime



2014 really was the year of the #can, and among the leading pack of Beavertown, Fourpure and BrewDog, a late runner emerged in the form of Camden Town’s IHL. It’s simply the best lager being made in the UK, and one of the best-tasting beers in the UK overall. Whilst to many it might seem like ‘just another hoppy beer’, the technical accomplishment of this bright, detailed and glorious beer should not be underestimated.

Runner up: BrewDog Dead Pony Club



I tried some amazing Czech beer when I visited Prague earlier this year, but missed out on a trip to Pivovar Kout due to having to fly home early. I was overjoyed to see some of its beers launched at Mother Kelly’s last month and after one taste of the Kout 12˚ Unfiltered, there was no doubt left in my mind. Quite possibly the fullest, richest and yet most balanced lager beer in the world. Sensational.

Runners up: Firestone Walker Double Jack, Lagunitas Lil’ Sumpin’, Troubadour Magma



The reaction to Galway Bay’s Of Foam and Fury double IPA from visitors to Dublin for EBBC14 was unanimous – this is truly an incredible beer that stands up to the very best from the US and the UK, and sums up in so many ways the heart and ambition in the Irish craft beer scene.

Runners up: Westbrook Gose, Oskar Blues Deviant Dale’s IPA,



The ingenious blend of Camden Town Gentleman’s Wit and The Kernel London Sour is a great achievement in its own right, but the ageing of that blend in a burgundy barrel took the resulting beer to a whole new level. Camden Town/The Kernel Gentleman’s Agreement was easily one of the most memorable beers I’ve tasted this year, with a stunning complexity that punched well its modest strength of 4% abv.

Runner up: Beavertown/ELLC Londonerweisse



I don’t want to choose, I really don’t, but one beer  has impressed me more than any other this year and it’s Camden Town IHL. What an incredible piece of work.



It’s a very crowded field these days, and too tricky to choose one from so many, so here are my favourites of the year and why:

– Pressure Drop for Nanban Kanpai and Ballwanger

– Beavertown for Gamma Ray and Bone King

– Camden Town for IHL and Hells cans

– BrewDog for their rebrand, which grows on me day by day, and especially for how Jackhammer and Zeitgeist now look.



It’s nigh on impossible to pick just one anymore. The only criteria I could really use this year was whether any one brewery is as good or better than the brewery I gave this to last year – The Kernel. I think only one brewery in the UK has really nailed every single beer they sell, no matter the container, the style or the packaging, and that’s Beavertown. It’s been an amazing year for them. They’ve advanced themselves enormously, but also the craft beer scene as a whole with some amazing events and incredible collaborations.

Runners up: The Kernel, Thornbridge, BrewDog, Magic Rock, Camden Town, Weird Beard, Buxton



Dieu Du Ciel! is probably the only brewery that can get away with having an exclamation mark in its name, and that oomph is locked into every one of its beers. I was blown away by Moralité and the sheer breadth of beers they brought over for tap takeovers in BrewDog bars this year. Incredible stuff and a brewery I want to see more of.

Runners up: Firestone Walker, Cantillon.



The beers knocked out by Connor on his first try with the new kit at the Dragonfly in Acton told me me this was a brewer who knows what he is doing. Hitting the ground running with well-rounded examples of best bitter, American pale ale, dry stout and hefeweizen in one the best-looking pubs in the capital is a strong start, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow in 2015. Special mention for Runaway Brewery whose IPA and American Brown both really impressed me this year.

Runners up: Runaway Brewery.



It has the best staff, amazing customer service, a new and improved food menu and not just the range (“40 taps of awesome”) but also the management to make every one of those taps count. Every time I’ve been to BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush I’ve felt like a valued customer and left full of great, great beer.

Runners up: Mother Kelly’s, Hop and Berry, North Bar.



From the moment it opened, Mother Kelly’s has been making all the right moves. Fully refrigerated beer selection to enjoy there or take away, an ever-rotating selection of great draught beers and simple, well-chosen sharing boards in an area that’s fast becoming a microcosm of great independent bars of all kinds.

Runners up: Dragonfly Acton, Hop and Berry. 



I loved Leeds International Beer Festival this year, but when I finally went to the Independent Manchester Beer Convention this year for the first time, I saw where the DNA came from. IMBC is the most influential change to British beer festivals since CAMRA, and it’s right that more people emulate its formula that brings great beer to great people in a great location. It’s brilliantly organised, and the hard work behind it shows in the smiles on the faces of the attendees.

Runners up: London Craft Beer Festival, Leeds International Beer Festival.



Waitrose would have taken this again, but M&S clinched it at the very last minute by being the first UK supermarket to sell six-packs of bottles of craft beer (Lagunitas IPA). It doesn’t sound much but it’s a huge step-change for supermarket retail in the UK. Waitrose and Tesco will follow.

Runner up: Waitrose



A tough category as the choice gets better every year, but my winner is Sourced Market in St Pancras. The selection is great, the prices decent, the option to drink on the premises very welcome, but I’m always stunned to see just how fresh the beer is (Kernel pale ales bottled yesterday you say?) and the newest beers in London are always well-represented. Special mention for newcomer Hop Burns and Black, who, whilst very far away from me, have an amazing selection that demands regular return visits.

Runners up: Hop Burns & Black.



I rarely order online, but I’m going to give this one to BeerBods (disclosure: I’ve done a couple of write-ups for them) because they’re doing great work in getting people interested in trying and talking about new beers. I also like their new ‘collections’ of mixed beer cases they’ve started to offer. They are fighting the good fight the right way, and the number of people emulating what they do shows just how right they are.

Runner up: Ales by Mail



The long awaited modern history book for beer geeks, Boak and Bailey’s Brew Britannia, was as great as we had all hoped. It’s not just a great read, it’s also important and right that we have finally have an objective text covering the rebirth of British beer. The authors tireless research and insightful conclusions are both fascinating and, by the end, hugely reassuring. It’s a real triumph.



For the stories, the breathlessly excited tasting notes, the pictures, the bravery to tackle divisive issues with passion and the composure to respond to criticism with unflappable calm, my winner is Total Ales by Matt Curtis. I work closely with Matt and we’re good friends, but his blog is still the one that makes me think ‘Shit, I’d better write something bloody good next time’.

Runners up: Get Beer Drink Beer by Justin Mason, The BeerCast by Richard Taylor, Boak and Bailey’s Beer Blog.



Fiz provided a fun and cheerful escape from dreary commutes for good little while, but nothing connects me to beer, beer people and beer places more or better than Twitter. It’s easily become the most useful, adjustable and accurate lens through which I view the world of beer.

Runners up: Fiz, Craft Beer London.



David Bishop (@broadfordbrewer) says what we’re all thinking, or at least, what many of us would be thinking if we were as funny as him. His #twattybeerdoodles have become finger-on-the-pulse political cartoons for the world of beer, and his high-quality dad jokes take the edge of even the most ferocious hangover.  He’s a lovely bloke too, annoyingly.

Runners up: @totalcurtis, @boakandbailey.



When it comes to online and social media interaction, no brewery comes close to BrewDog, but Beavertown and Camden Town have both upped their game and are themselves quite far ahead of everyone else.

Runners up: Beavertown, Camden Town