Saturday, 10 August 2019

Underneath the arches

I was in London, last Monday evening, for the British Guild of Beer Writers’ Summer Party. This is an annual event which takes place on the evening before the opening day of the Great British Beer Festival. I haven’t been to every party, since joining the Guild in 2015, but of the three events I have attended, this one was by far and away the best.

This might be because I now know a lot more Guild members, than I did when I was just a “newbie,” but I think this year’s venue, along with the beers and food we all enjoyed, was every bit as important.

The venue was the London Fields Brewery Arches, at Helmsley Place, just a five minute walk from London Fields Overground station. The bar area, which occupies one of the railway arches, was just the right size for the number of Guild members in attendance. There were three London Fields beers on tap, along with an eclectic selection of bottles and cans, all suitably chilled.

The courtyard outside, acted as an over-spill area, and was also where the food was served. The weather too played its part in the evening’s success, remaining dry, but not too hot. The culinary offering was from local restaurant Al-Amin, and consisted of a choice of chicken or vegetable curry, with rice, samosas and onion bhajis.

The food was served roughly halfway through the evening, and was the perfect accompaniment to the various beers. Prior to getting stuck into the curry, there was a short speech from Guild Chairman, Pete Brown. Pete thanked the generosity of our hosts at London Fields, along with all the other brewers who had contributed towards the evening. There was also a special thank-you to Ros Shiel, who is stepping down as Guild Secretary.

Apart from the London Fields beers, a number of both national and international breweries were represented. These included Stiegl from AustriaKrombach and the recently re-vamped Hofmeister; both from Germany, plus Curious Brew and West Berkshire Brewery from the UK. There was also a sprinkling of cans from Mikkeller – the renowned Danish  “gypsy” brewer, from Copenhagen, along with a separate bar offering a range of beers from the United States, at the rear of the arch – see below. 

I won’t start “name-dropping” by listing the many well-known beer writers and other luminaries who were at the party, although I will make an exception for Peter – better known as Tandleman. It was good to catch up with him as well as fellow blogger Ed Wray, but the surprise of the evening was being tapped on the shoulder by “Beers I have known” Steve from Northern Ireland.

I hadn’t seen him since 2015, when we both attended the European Beer Writers Conference in Brussels. Steve said he would be looking after one of the American bars at GBBF, so I said would pop over and say hello on Friday. He also mentioned he was instrumental in obtaining some of the beers on offer at the party.

So what about the beers? There were three offerings from hosts, London Fields – Pilsner (Broadway Boss), Pale Ale (Hackney Hopster) and a White IPA (3 Weiss Monkeys). They were keg, rather than cask, but were well brewed and quite drinkable, but of the three, I much preferred the Pale Ale.

The Mikkeller offering - Hair in the Mailbox, was an interesting IPA and, believe it or not, my first ever Mikkeller beer! I missed out on their Double Sour Cherry Organic Berliner – see the cans in the photo, but  managed to sample Curious Session IPA: a triple hopped and rather distinctive IPA, plus son Matthew’s favourite - Hofmeister Lager.

I had a chat with representatives from both Curious Brew and Hofmeister, who were manning their respective stands. My discussion with the lady from Curious Brew, centred on the company’s recently opened, state of the art brewery at Ashford; the town where I grew up in and spent my formative years. I also enquired about the possibility of a brewery visit.

Some of you might remember me writing about Curious Brewing’s expansion plans, and it seems they are already coming to fruition. Look around and you will see the increased availability of Curious brand beers, and only today I noticed Tesco running a promotion on cans of Curious Brew lager.

Distribution and availability was a topic I discussed and with the two lads from Hofmeister. The company seem to be taking a more cautious, step-by-step approach with their Hofmeister Helles, primarily because they want to get things right. They are carefully vetting all new accounts to ensure the beer will work in these outlets.

Hofmeister are doing this by focussing the bulk of their marketing activity on experiential, face-to-face opportunities, where drinkers get to taste in prospective pubs and bars. You can read more about this strategy here, and also learn where exactly in Bavaria the re-vamped brand is being brewed.

I left shortly after the official 9.30pm end of the party, but not before being invited by a couple of Scottish members, to share part of a bottle of Heretic Evil Cousin. This was a strong (8%), American Double IPA. It was a dangerous one to finish on, as it didn’t drink like a beer of this strength.

I made my way back to London Fields station and whilst on the platform got chatting to one of the most knowledgeable writers on Belgian beer, and the author behind the current, and all previous editions of Good Beer Guide Belgium. I said I wasn’t going to name-drop, but I’m sure many of you will know who I am talking about.

We parted company at Liverpool Street, from where I took the underground to Charing Cross. Tuesday morning was a bit of a struggle, both getting up and at work, but by lunchtime I felt sufficiently recovered. My colleagues knew I’d been partying up in London the night before, but cut me some slack, especially in view of my help with the previous day’s audit. I still had a pile of work to catch up on, though!

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