Coming Soon: Camden Versus Odell

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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…

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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.

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Camden Town Brewery USA Hells Party

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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.

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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.

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One Hell of A Hammer

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Cold. Eyes scrunched into the wind, fists punched into pockets, jaw clenched into face, walking at a forward-slash angle, mouth sneered in defiance. Cold.

There are those that were prepared. Soviet greatcoats, gloves like chinchillas, hats stolen from Buckingham Palace guardsmen, boots like tanks. Then, the Unready: flimsy suit jackets with lapels upturned, scarves wrapped forlornly around heads, trousers flapping around legs like sails.

‘There’s only one thing for it,’ each of these people realise in crystal-like moments of clarity.

Hot. Barely-absorbed suntan lotion running down your face in rivers of sweat. The lenses of your sunglasses hot enough to cook an egg on. Praying in thanks to your ancestors and whoever invented flexi-time. Lighting the signal fires of supermarket briquettes. Pulling out Those Shorts and That Shirt from the wardrobe. Hot.

‘There’s only one thing for it,’ each of these people realise in crystal-like moments of clarity.

Despair. The failed interview, the lost job, the lost friend, the failed relationship. Slaps on the back, squeezes of the shoulder, hugs, encouraging smiles, muttered curses and small words. ‘There’s only one thing for it…’

Elation. Jubilant, exuberant, exalting, life-affirming joy. The nailed interview, the new job, the big win, the big three-oh, the perfect day, The One. Fist pumping, jumping, happy swear words and ear-to-ear grins. ‘There’s only one thing for it…’

Nothing on telly.

That new place.

Heard they have new beers.

Film doesn’t start for an hour.

Long wait before next train.

When all you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails, so the old saying goes.

But it’s one hell of a hammer.

Carlsberg and the C Word

Kraft!

Carlsberg Sweden have announced they will be launching a, and I quote, ‘craft-style’ lager this year. It’s hard not to be cynical when a large company enters a player into a growing trend somewhat late in the game (see Stella and cider). After all, there’s nothing connoisseurs like more than when a large mainstream company launch something that shamefully imitates or seeks to imitate a niche product, right? Right?

‘Lawn Mower’ will be a 4.8% lager developed by Carlsberg in the backyard (ooh, so rustic) of its Falcon Brewery in Falkenberg. The ‘Backyard Brewery’ is the latest in long line of craft brewery pilot plants opened by larger brewers in the last few years. In the UK, Molson Coors have had a pilot plant (based out of the old White Shield Brewery) for a few years, and regional ale producers Brains and Thwaites have both built a ‘craft brewery’ recently. The aim for any brewer who does this is the same: to produce and test out small batches of left-of-field beers, to build long-term brands out of successful brews, and to improve their reputation among beer geeks.

This is all well and good. Big brewers want to have a slice of the growing ‘craft beer’ trend, and win over people that think they’re only interested in making common denominator beers. Fine. And Sweden’s craft beer scene is ripe for the picking. In fact, most of Scandinavia is undergoing a beer renaissance. BrewDog sales figures indicate that most of their exported beer goes to Sweden, and brewers like Mikkeller and Nøgne ø are darlings of the UK and US craft beer scenes.

So with that in mind, why in the name of all that’s holy and good have they described it as:

“dry hopped with Amarillo and Cascade to give it a grassy aroma.”

Bad news for beer-loving hayfever sufferers

I mean, I get it: ‘grassy’, ‘lawn mower’, but there’s several things wrong with that sentence. First, what is a grassy aroma, why is it appealing, and why would you build an entirely new brand around it? I understood a grassy aroma to typically come from lightly hopped lagers and ales, and an actual ‘fresh-cut grass’ aroma is relatively rare, usually buried or distorted by stronger, sweeter scents from the malt. If that’s what you’re going for, fine, but it’s not an aroma that speaks to experimental palates used to hop bombs and barley wines.

It’s also worth clarifying, in case you didn’t already know, that Amarillo and Cascade hops are the kind of big, brash, tropical fruit-scented behemoths that are found in so many American IPAs. They don’t have a grassy aroma. They’re bursting with orange and grapefruit, and taste like it too.

Not grass.

So in conclusion, they are either a) making the beer completely wrong, b) describing it completely wrong, or c) both.

It would seem that Carlsberg have hired one of those beer marketing people that say really weird, nonsensical things. You know, like ‘Brewed traditionally for flavour and taste’ or ‘the beer’s carbonation gives it great, refreshing aftertaste’ or they think Maris Otter is a kind of hops. These people should have been hounded out of beer marketing about seven years ago and forced to write reclining chair ads in the Daily Express.

When I saw ‘Carlsberg to make craft-style lager’ and ‘amarillo and cascade’ I simply assumed they were going for some kind of a Brooklyn Lager rip-off. It’s a safe bet that people will like it and it wouldn’t be too hard to achieve. To be honest, I still suspect this to be the case, and they’ve simply got some utter berk to explain the beer to the media. The same spokesman, clearly some kind of android, goes on to say:


“When we tried some of those high quality brews, we saw an opportunity to bring the concept to market,”

and:

“It (the Backyard Brewery) is not a new brewery, it’s a virtual concept where we leverage our newly-renovated development brewery to make room for creativity and passion.”

We are to assume there was previously no room for passion or creativity at Falkenberg Brewery, and that new ideas were hunted down and shot like the dogs they are. The evidence is in Carlsberg’s “varied portfolio” today. Impressive stuff. Three, count ’em, THREE lagers.

If Carlsberg really want to impress craft beer lovers, they need look no further than the beers they were making a few decades ago. The likes of Carlsberg 47 (Vienna lager), Carlsberg Gamle (Munich lager) and Gammel Porter, among others, were still being made in the brewer’s main headquarters in Denmark as recently as the 1990’s, and a large brewer resurrecting old brands (like Molson Coors did with Worthington White Shield) is generally more impressive than turning out a cynical knock-off.

They could maybe leave the old trademark off though…

I can see why they are desperate to diversify but they should look a little closer to home if they want to gain any credibility, which appears to be another C word they have no concept of the meaning of.

Do these kind of moves by large brewers rub you the wrong way? Does anybody know if those old Carlsberg brews are still available? What’s the story with swastika trademark? Do you like the smell of cut grass? Leave a comment.