The Distance: Raising Hell

IMG_20150213_001112 (1)

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.

100 Best Breweries Bonus Content: Interview with Camden Town Brewery’s Alex Troncoso

 

Alex Troncoso at the Camden Town Brewery Bar
Alex Troncoso at the Camden Town Brewery Bar

 

Our new issue of Craft Beer –  ‘The 100 Best Breweries in The World’ was such a huge piece of work that not everything fitted into the pages of the finished magazine. A few bits and pieces of interesting stuff were regrettably cut for space, so in the interest of completeness, and to give you a taster of the content in the magazine, I’ll be posting some ‘bonus content’ here for the good men and women who read this blog.

First up is an interview with Camden Town Brewery’s Head Brewer and all-round top bloke, Alex Troncoso:

 

Alex Troncoso joined Camden Town Brewery at the start of 2013, having previously worked at Little Creatures in Australia, where he was Chief Brewer and Head of Brewing Development.

 

What does brewing mean to you?

There’s a quote from a homebrewing book that I really like: “Art meets Science and has a beer”. I like that it’s highly technical but also creative. It’s greater than the sum of its parts, you know? You can calculate colour, you can calculate bitterness, analyse those and think that’s probably about right. Roughly estimate what you attenuation is going to be, your level of alcohol, but you can’t calculate flavour or exactly what it’s going to be. I like the fact it’s technical, there’s a lot of history, and it still involves artistry in some ways.

 

Who inspires you as a brewer?

What I like to say is that companies that are grounded, who have a strong commitment to what they’re doing, big ones like Sierra Nevada who are still a fantastic brewery, we can all aspire to be like them. The kind of guys who have been in a brewing company, and made it to a certain level of capacity, they run everything like a military operation, they can control quality, efficiency all that sort of thing. Using all the technology in the world, not to make things cheaply but to make things better.

So that’s what I like about what we do here. It’s very hands-on and we’re very small here. What we’re doing is using a lot of technology to take out some of the less important work so we can focus on the more important work.

IMG_20130309_172105

How would you describe Camden’s beers to someone who has never had them before?

In my previous life, I worked for another brewery called Little Creatures. Their Pale Ale was at the time, like crazy bitter, but now it’s like normal bitterness – 42 IBUs or something – but at the time I started it was insane.

Regardless of the bitterness level, we always strived to have a certain balance to everything we made, and that’s what I’m trying to do at Camden. Anything we make, even if it’s a bit bigger, like Camden Versus Odell, or the Camden Versus Italy Märzen, even with things like that we try to keep the balance.

At Little Creatures I was used to making bottle-conditioned pale ale, lots of it, so that was a lot of fun but it was also quite complicated. The process of something like Camden Hells is simpler, but in a lot of ways it’s more difficult to make, because there’s nowhere to hide any mistakes! With Hells, it’s very easy for it to be too bitter, or too sweet, and every single beer has its own sweet spot to it.

It’s just a matter of dialling it in and figuring out where it is, but also remembering that the sweet spot might change from year to year. At times, say like this year, Pale at the moment is about 42 IBU, next year we could push it to 45, or maybe it has to be 38, and that can be dictated by the hop crop that year [and what we have to work with].

So anyway, balance. You got to remember, you’re not going to appeal to everyone, but I just want to put something on the bar that looks great, smells great and tastes great.

IMG_20130517_152647

Which of your beers do you feel is your greatest achievement?

From our one-off beers, I think Camden Versus Odell. It’s bloody brilliant! It was all pretty casual, we spoke to Doug Odell, we’d talked about what we should do, we originally wanted to do a lager, but we had kind of already done a highly hopped lager, with SKA Brewing. They suggested using Cutthroat Porter as the base for a beer, I went back and said ok, but let’s do it as a Baltic Porter, make it a bit stronger. Scaled everything up but used in the same proportions. That was really fun.

 

And the most difficult?

The one that had me on the edge of my seat was Camden Versus Italy: the Märzen (a German lager beer style traditionally brewed in March and matured over the summer). When we brewed it, it looked great, colour was bang on, bitterness level was bang on. But when I started tasting at the start of the maturation period, it wasn’t right. It tasted bitter as hell, looked like swamp water and I thought “Oh my God!”

We brewed the beer with three different Italian brewers, so they’d each be asking me “How’s the beer coming along?” and I’m thinking “Oh shit.” It got to the point where I thought we would have to dump it. I was really, really nervous. I kept saying to myself “Don’t panic! Give it time,” like every day, checking it. And over time, the flavours gradually came together, getting slightly better every day, until after the three weeks of maturation after fermentation, it just kind zoned in to where it needed to be. Then it ended up tasting fantastic!

I spoke to this German brewer about it, explaining how I was really panicking about it, and he just  said “ah, the Marzen takes time,” and I was like “ah, okay.” But it was great for everyone on the team to see how a beer can change and get better, and it reinforced that, with the lager beers especially, we need to give them time.

 

IMG_20140411_194213

Since the brewery bar opened, Camden has always had a really strong connection to local street food vendors. Do you have a favourite beer and food match?

Yeah, man: Motherflipper burgers! They’re here tonight and I’ll definitely be having one of those later. I’ll probably slam one of those with a pint of Unfiltered Hells.

 

Are there any special beers planned for 2014?

We have lots of ideas, so we worry more about how we’re going to be able to do them all! To try and get anything special fitted in, we need to plan quite far ahead, at least 3 months in advance because the tank schedule is just so full. We have about 5 ‘Versus’ collaboration beers in the schedule now and a few other little things, too.

 

You can read more interviews with the world’s top brewers in ‘Craft Beer: 100 Best Breweries in The World’, now available in newsagents and online.

Golden Pints 2013

golden pints

The year that was 2013 saw ‘craft beer’, whatever the hell it is, become a truly, sort-of mainstream-ish and widely-noticed thing of some kind.

What I mean is, we in the beer blogoshire (hat tip to Boak and Bailey for that infinitely preferable alternative to the cold, corporate-sounding blogosphere) say more than ever before, but we communicate in increasingly fuzzy and inconsistent terms. The year has seen attempts to unify people and ideas, but there have been just as many fractures and splinters within already fractured and splintered groups.

There’s been a collective obsession with measuring What This Is All About, as people try and define Who We Are as drinkers and what beer is, as A Thing. I’ve read loads of blogs and articles this year about things in the present, events that are still unfolding, as if they are already history. Well, they’re not.

I hope 2014 sees a more patient and reflective attitude; less trying to define everything and more trying to understand things.

Many have struggled, even more so than usual, with their choices for this year’s Golden Pints, which has got to be a good sign. I have tasted some fantastic beers this year, many of which rank among the best I’ve ever had. I’ve even been asked to write what I think the best beers in the world actually are, which was of course broader in scope, but still a task laden with similar difficulties.

As with any test of naming the Best Thing You Had of That Type This Year, this feels more a test of memory than anything else. Taste as a sense is (I am told) the one with the strongest links to memory, so this should be easy. It isn’t, though, partly because of the vastly different flavours I’ve bombarded my palate with, but also because of the Inherent Obstacles in beer writing (the memory of a man drinking beer).

As with last year, I’ve tried to focus on what is new to me; beers that have Expanded My Mind in some sense.

Best UK Cask Beer

To ‘doge’ this issue: wow much difficult.

This should be an easy win for Oakham Citra, a beer that has been in almost perfect condition every single time I have tasted it. It’s a sensational pale ale that I will happily order a second or third pint of, and I say that as somebody prone to ordering as many beers in as smaller measurements as possible these days.

That said, even a shoddily kept, limply pulled, warmly-glassed, flatly served pint of cask Beavertown 8 Ball Rye IPA puts all five toes right into the nuts of any other cask beer in the country, including Citra, so there.

Best UK Keg Beer

This is an even messier decision to make. On a good day with no breeze and good-to-firm ground, a pint of BrewDog Dead Pony Club is hard to beat. It has a brightness all the way through its middle, right to the last drops that languish in the very bottom of the glass. Just delightful.

Unfortunately, Dead Pony is simply outclassed by the one-off wonder that was Kiwi Wit, the NZ-hopped version of Camden Town Brewery’s Gentleman’s Wit (thanks to Tandleman for reminding me of this). Only a single keg of that gloriously beer was made, a damned uncommon delight of gooseberries, grapes and citrus. Urgently address its absence from our lives, Camden.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer

IMG_20131109_173640

It would be remiss of me, given my constant harping on about canned this and canned that, not to award this to a canned beer. Even if I hadn’t been going on about canned beer all the time, I’m pretty sure that Camden Hells Lager in its exceptionally decorated can would have knocked my block off regardless. The freshest, crispest lager with the best possible protection from everything but your ravenous thirst. It’s the definitive version of Hells as far as I’m concerned.

Best Overseas Draught Beer

I spent the last part of my holiday in Belgium this year in the beer Mecca that is Moeder Lambic, and there tasted the sensational IV Saison by Jandrain Jandrenouille. It’s a beer so flavourful and wholesome and perfect that it outshone almost every beer I’d had on the trip, with the exception of…

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer

2013-07-24 16.58.54

I had Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus for the first time this year, at the brewery. No further explanation needed.

Best Collaboration Brew

Another tricky one. Wild Beer Co/Burning Sky/Good George’s Shnoodlepip is about as craft as it gets, and I mean that in a good way. An experimental but totally quaffable beer that is worth every penny and Does Things to your palate/mind.

On the other hand, Weird Beard/Elusive Brewing’s Nelson Saison had a purity and elegance to it that was quite disarming. If you asked which I would like to have four pints of right now, I’d pick the Nelson Saison every time.

Honourable mention goes to BrewDog/Brodie’s Berliner Weisse, which taught my face a new expression: Berliner Weisse Gurner Eyes. A proper gob slapper.

Best Overall Beer

Beavertown 8 Ball. It’s been present at some of my favourite moments of the year, and I think of it often. A total class act.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label

I love Beavertown’s branding. All the little details, the boldness, the oddities, it’s cool without really trying too hard, i.e. the definition of cool. Once they (as rumoured) move into canning their beers, they’ll look sensational.

Until then, there’s only one brewery that dominates any shelf its beers go on: Partizan. So, so pretty.

Best UK Brewery

I think The Kernel have hit – and maintained – a momentum that’s frankly astonishing. Every beer coming out of the new brewery in Bermondsey has been a showstopper. Freshness is key.

Best Overseas Brewery

2013-07-24 16.38.08

Cantillon. My trip to the brewery is etched into my mind permanently.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013

Three different beers in the space of an hour from Burning Sky were enough to convince me they are a new force to be reckoned with. The Saison l’Automne was just fantastic, sensible strength and bursting with flavour. Believe the hype.

Pub/Bar of the Year

Really tough. I’ve been massively impressed with BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush every time I visit, but it’s still early days there. I’m fairly certain it’ll be a contender for my favourite bar this time next year.

Really, there can only be one contender. It’s a pub where I’ve met loads of ace new people this year, and tasted some incredible beers on every visit. If pubs are places where people + beer x location = bliss, then the location in that equation for me this year has been Craft Beer Co Islington.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013

This is quite simple, really. My summer wouldn’t have been the same without Urban Sessions, a great place that had some of the best beers (including Nelson Saison) that I’ve had all year, in a location perfectly suited to the glorious summer we enjoyed. I really hope that something else like it will happen next year.

Beer Festival of the Year

If I have to pick one it would be London’s Brewing.

IMG_20130506_162940

I’m not joking.

I’ve been to plenty of beer festivals this year, from the daft and craft to the golden oldies, but London’s Brewing has to be my favourite because it took us all down a peg or two, and I think we needed that.

You need a good, solid fuck-up every now and again, especially in a movement that can occasionally get its head stuck up its arse fairly frequently, just to make it clear just how things really are.

It’s easy to get feverishly excited about the diversity and the variety and the experimentation and just how nice everyone is, but if you can’t organise a piss-up in a brewery, in a very literal sense in this case, you’re not perfect.

Never again etc.

Supermarket of the Year

Waitrose always seems to have just what I want, whenever I need it to, so I can’t ask for much more than that. Still, credit is due to M&S for getting an impressive range of beers in from some of the country’s best breweries. Popping into an M&S Simply Food in a train station for a journey-enhancing bottle or two of Citra IPA is heartwarming experience.

Independent Retailer of the Year

I’ve made an effort to visit Utobeer in Borough Market several times this year, and they’ve just about won the crown from Kris Wines, which has let me down a couple of times with a few past-their-best imports.

Online Retailer of the Year

Don’t use online retailers much, but all my Abstrakt Addict parcels from BrewDog were delivered without issue.

Best Beer Book or Magazine

IMG_20130508_233215

Joint winners:

Leigh Linley: Great Yorkshire Beer – every page written with real love for the subject matter. A lovely read.

Mark Dredge: Craft Beer World – the passion and excitement about every beer is representative of the very best aspects of the craft beer scene.

Best Beer Blog or Website

I’m going to cover this in a separate post at some point, so stay tuned.

Best Beer App

Untappd – if only for  the debate it creates about what beer apps should or shouldn’t be like.

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer

Nothing has made me chortle this year as much as Let There Be Tim.

Honourable mentions for Boak and Bailey, for participating as much as analysing this year; Nate Southwood for never, ever changing; and Zak Avery for this tweet alone:

Best Brewery Website/Social media

@BrewDog is still the one to beat, though I love Wild Beer Co’s new website and Camden Town’s is very smart these days.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year

It’s been said elsewhere, but Fraoch and haggis at EBBC13 was sensational.

BONUS AWARD: The Tin Hat Trophy for Best Effort at Tackling the C-Word

After reading so many earnest, heartfelt pieces about defining ‘Craft’ this year, I found Craig Heap’s What is Craft Bear? and Defining Craft Beer Through the Ages to be the best and most useful contributions to the debate, because they made me laugh and not want to self-harm.

Here’s to next year.

Yes We Can: Part Deux

IMG_20131109_173640

After a period of intense, blog-abandoningly-busy writing, I am back in the saddle.

On Saturday, I attended the Hells Can Party at Camden Town Brewery, where their Hells Lager was launched in cans, at last. I say ‘at last’ because it feels like a long time since I first spied Camden’s small canning plant, and I had hoped to spend the summer with a few crates of Hells, or even USA Hells, in cans. Unfortunately, it took a lot of time (and as I am led to believe, extremely hard work) to get the Hells cans launched. Some noted the oddness of launching a canned lager this close to winter, but when it’s this good, I say why the Hells not?

Camden Town’s bold, sharp branding is perfectly suited for cans, and their artist Mr Bingo has really outdone himself on the Hells can design. A straight adaptation of the Hells Lager bottle label would have been more than enough to impress anyone, but the intensely and eccentrically detailed madness oozing from the Hells can label is something glorious to behold. Packaging aside, the beer inside is the same world-beating, ever-refreshing and fantastic-tasting lager. Once I’d poured it into a half pint mug, I must have finished it in about four or five incredible gulps, a few of which washed down a wonderful pulled pork bun from the lovely man at Prairie Fire BBQ. By eck, even the flipping Mayor (of Camden, sorry Boris fans) showed up.

Anyway, I’ve written about my feelings on cans before, but in a nutshell (for those of you who don’t like being told to click on links when you’re right in the bloody middle of reading something), I think they are the future for packaged Good Beer. Bottles will be seen as premium and special; and bottle-conditioned beers will be treated with even more reverence as a result. Fresh, hoppy beers, however, especially those that have travelled some distance, almost always benefit from the total protection that a can provides.

What’s needed is a few other small UK breweries to take the plunge and get canning. It really needs to suit their image and branding, too. The Kernel, for example, would never can their beer and I wouldn’t want them to. There are some brewers however, whose branding and beers would be fantastic in canned form. Here’s my wishlist:

1. Magic Rock Brewing – Tell me – go on, just try – that Magic Rock’s madcap labels wouldn’t look sensational on a shiny can, especially the metallic ‘shiny football sticker’ labels given to their more limited beers. As for the freshness of those hoppy monsters, well, just imagine cracking open a can of Human Cannonball or Magic 8 Ball and let me know when you’ve finished drooling.

2. Tiny Rebel  Brewing Co – A brewery that’s going from strength to strength, Tiny Rebel are just the kind of brewer to embrace canned craft beer. Their labels could even make the cans look like the spray paint used by their hoodlum teddy bear mascot. Just the thought of beers like Hadouken and Full Nelson tasting brewery-fresh already has me all excited.

3. Oakham Ales – There’s something about Oakham’s beer labels that already reminds me of cans, as they often use a bright, rectangular image that could fit onto one just so. I’d love to be able to come home to a fridge full of cheeky, hop-faced cans of Citra, or, be still my beating heart, Green Devil IPA.

4. Beavertown Brewery – Beavertown’s bottled beers are almost always bottle-conditioned as far as I can tell, but if they could pull off can-friendly versions of Black Betty, Gamma Ray and 8 Ball, I think their branding would look even cooler than it already does on their bottles. Imagine cans of Beavertown at your next barbecue – surely a dream come true.

5. Meantime Brewing Co – It’s surprising in many ways that this old stalwart (over ten years old, people, that’s ancient) of the London brewing scene hasn’t dabbled in cans. They have the quality, consistency and capacity. Cans might not somehow suit the brewery’s schizophrenic mix of innovation and tradition, but really, they should.

I think the main issues, as is always the case with canning, is whether the brewers have the capacity and demand. BrewDog famously outsourced the brewing and canning of Punk IPA cans to Thwaites, but following the building of their new brewery, have taken canning of their beers back home.

Given that a brewer based under a railway arch (admittedly that goes for a lot of London brewers) can pull this off, surely plenty more can, too. What do you think? Is there a brewer in the UK who should be canning their beer and they aren’t? Or is it all a Craft Wanker fly-by-night flight of fancy, best left to them bloody Americans and that? Perhaps, but as Craig Heap notes, the UK has a tradition of canned beer innovation. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Camden Versus Odell Baltic Porter

IMG_20130630_192327

Porter is a beer style that makes even the most knowledgeable beer experts a little nervous. Many a beer blogger has had to fumble together a paragraph that kind-of-but-not-entirely explains how, if at all, porter is different from stout. I’m not going to do so here. We’ve all got lives to live. I’ve tried before, but others have done it better. That’s what makes Baltic Porter so special. It has discernable characteristics that set it apart. What started out as an export-strength porter for sale in the Baltic states in the 18th century, became so well-loved it was adopted by them. By the mid-19th century, it was being made with cold-fermenting ale yeast or lager yeast, transforming it into something quite different.

Fast forward to May 17th 2013. Odell brewmaster and all-round lovely gent Doug Odell is brewing a collaborative beer with Camden Town Brewery. The audacious aim is a violent, schizophrenic fusion of Odell’s seminal Cutthroat Porter and Camden Town’s award winning Hells Lager. The result: Camden Versus Odell, a Baltic porter at 7% abv. I remember being baffled by the facing off of lager and porter, but after thinking about what a Baltic porter really is, it actually makes perfect sense. Cutthroat is full-bodied but incredibly balanced beer that glides silkily across the palate, and is even-handed in its dispensing of cocoa and coffee. Hells, meanwhile, is the clean, classy everyman of the booming London beer scene. Easy to like and hard to hate, it just shines with quality, depth, bite and refreshment. All things considered, it’s a grand heritage.

IMG_20130627_200702

On June 27th, Camden Versus Odell was launched at Camden Town Brewery where it was brewed. Head brewer Alex Troncoso was present to talk about the beer (most of which came across as a rather adorable enthusiasm for being able to brew with Doug Odell). My anticipation for this beer had grown since that day back in May when the brewery was filled with the smell of what should be a cracking beer. Assembling such a Frankenstein’s monster should be easy, right? Cutthroat’s body and flavour with Hells’ clarity, balance and quaffability. What could go wrong?

Normally such a paragraph break would suggest that ‘well, actually, a whole goddamn lot can go wrong’. Thankfully, this is not the case. Camden Versus Odell is an accomplished, technically impressive and delicious Baltic porter. It wears its 7% abv strength not like a burden, but rather like an ostentatious crown befitting a Czar. The difference that a lager yeast and long (six week) maturation can have on a porter is quite remarkable. It arrives on your tongue in a forthright and unashamedly loud fashion. Quick, cold, carbonated bursts of coffee and cocoa that at first seem sharp and overly bitter melt into something soft and silky, ending with a crisp, roasty bite. The consensus of other drinkers I spoke to was that it was a sublimely balanced beer, and never tiring in its flavour or strength.

As the beer warms in the glass, there’s more to enjoy. Toffee sauce and chocolate chunks (like a tub of half-melted Ben & Jerry’s ice cream) pile up on the tongue, but just as the mouthfeel becomes thick, the crisp, dry finish cuts everything down, leaving you gasping for every sip. A 7% abv beer needs to be special in order to be this drinkable, and Camden Versus Odell is just such a beer. Fans of strong porter and black lager should seek it out while it’s still available, and if this beer is anything to go by, future releases from Camden’s ‘Versus Range’ will be unmissable.

IMG_20130517_152647

Disclaimer: I was invited to the launch of this beer at Camden Town Brewery, where half-pint measures of the beer were free from 7pm until 8pm. Needless to say, I had a few. My growler fill was paid for.

Coming Soon: Camden Versus Odell

IMG_20130517_152647

Now here’s a thing for the style purists: a quite literal mash-up of Camden Hells Lager and Odell Cutthroat Porter into a 7% black monster. Black Lager Porter? Blagorter? Anyway, this hybrid madness was being brewed at Camden Town Brewery on Friday. I went down for the afternoon, and whatever it is they’re brewing, it smelled pretty amazing. Doug Odell himself was in the building, and might be the nicest brewer anyone has ever met. Some American craft brewers come across as suspiciously PR-slick or boisterously brash. Doug has the persona of a kindly uncle, happy to crack open a beer and talk shop with people he’s barely known five minutes.

Anyway, for those of you still trying to get your head around the Blagorter concept (and I include myself in that group), you can get a first taste of the finished beer at the end of June. After all, it is partly a lager, so it needs a good six weeks in tank to mature properly. Given how excellent both Odell and Camden’s beer are, I suspect that this will be something very special, and will sell out very quickly.

Speaking of special things in the pipeline, soon we will be able to enjoy Camden Town Brewery beer in cans. That’s right, more quality canned beer for the UK, which is great news. Mark Dredge was kind enough to do some tours of the brewery on Friday, showing off new bits and pieces, including a compact canning line. Camden Hells in cans will hopefully be a reality by June, with USA Hells also in the running for being canned. I think the Camden branding will look fantastic on a can, and I’m thirsty just thinking about the prospect of a summer involving cans of USA Hells…

IMG_20130517_182323

Back in the brewery bar, there was even more excellent beer available than usual. Odell IPA, Lugene milk chocolate stout, Myrcenary Double IPA, 5 Barrel Pale Ale and more besides were in the fridges, whilst a keg of Odell’s Friek sour was put on tap against Camden’s own King Crimson. Friek is a sensational wild ale that is both raspberry tart and strawberry sweet. King Crimson meanwhile had a sublime, wine-like texture, and a rich, smooth body of red fruit and sourness that made it far easier to drink than it had any right to be.

After ordering another mind-bendingly delicious Boss Hogg from the Dogfather stand outside (I don’t have a problem, okay?), I thought it would be rude not to try a couple of other Odell beers. The Five Barrel Pale Ale washed the hot dog down nicely, working almost like liquid Turkish Delight to sooth the heat and enhance the sweetness of relish and spice. After that, the exquisite Myrcenary IPA, named for its recipe designed to include the highest amounts of bitterness compound Myrcene, cleansed my palate with its indulgent, oily-slick combination of pine and pith. It also has a fantastic label – one of my all-time favourites – depicting some kind of Olde Timey hop robber making his getaway on a motorcycle with sidecar.

I also got some bottles to take home: a bottle of the Lugene milk chocolate stout and the tasty-looking Red Ale. And, naturally, I filled my Gentleman’s Beer Conveyance with USA Hells. I’ll put up reviews of those bottled beers later in the week.

IMG_20130517_214932

Camden Town Brewery USA Hells Party

USA-HELLS-POSTER

The Beer of The Summer.

A beer as legendary as the Holy Grail. The beer that turns a sunny day into a glorious, shiny summer day.

I tasted such a beer last year: USA Hells Unfiltered Lager from Camden Town Brewery. Its release heralded the opening of the brewery’s on-site bar, and began their tradition of hosting street food vendors and serving cool, brewery-fresh beer in classy surroundings. I thought the beer was sensational, a truly innovative fusion of clean, crisp lager and American hop razzmatazz. Then, one day, the limited run of USA Hells was no more.

I have, from time to time, heralded other beers as contenders to the crown. BrewDog’s Dead Pony Club and Kernel’s recent Saison both have what it takes, but neither compared to the crisp, schizophrenic perfection of Camden’s lager supercharged with Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, Citra and Simcoe. I was therefore understandably frantic with glee at hearing of its return. On Saturday, Camden relaunched USA Hells at the brewery bar with the help of local meatslingers Dogfather, Big Dirty Burger and O.X.. The weather varied between cloudy and mild, and wet and wild, but as ever the atmosphere at the brewery was great. A lively crowd of beer seekers mixed with local families and friends just hanging out at the brewery.

IMG_20130413_163034

The beer itself was just as fantastic as I remembered: at once creamy, sharp, zesty, floral, clean, smooth and sweet. But what food to pair it with? I had the Boss Hog from Dogfather Diner, which was quite frankly the best hot dog I have ever eaten. A beef frankfurter with chorizo, jalapeños, cheese, streaky bacon, marinara sauce… There are probably other things too, but I couldn’t look at the thing any longer without eating it. As a pairing, the USA Hells was excellent at stepping in to clean my palate and wipe away any heat or salt, so each delicious mouthful of the Boss Hog was as amazing as the first.

My advice to anyone in London is to get to the brewery sharpish to taste the draught and buy some bottles to save for a sunny day. Better still, you can now buy 2-pint and 4-pint “growlers” (I prefer Gentleman’s Beer Conveyance). The large ‘Senior’ model is £5 and a 4 pint fill costs £10. At that kind of price, you’d be a fool not to go back every week!

USA Hells is back. Long live the king.

IMG_20130414_152528