Thursday, 9 June 2016

Friday the 13th

Friday 13th, a date which some people dread, for me however, the 13th May was a day to look forward to - ½ day annual leave and a trip over to Four Pure in Bermondsey to meet with Head Brewer John Driebergen. He had agreed (or “been volunteered”) to show me round the brewery and talk me through their brewing process, but, with a particular focus on one of my favourite beers, the Session IPA. I wanted to know a bit more about the beer I was going to review with Steve and Mark, for the season 10 curtain raiser of the Beer O’Clock Show podcast to be released on Friday 10th June.
My allotted time was 3pm, so, I left work at 1pm and headed south, well, as far as The Pelt Trader, where I shared a few beverages with one of my partners in crime, Clayton. It was a nice sunny afternoon when we left the Pelt, however, strolling over London Bridge admiring a view I never grow tired of, I realised I might be cutting it fine time wise, so, decided to get the Jubilee line over to Bermondsey. The thing is you see, Four Pure are on the outer reaches of the Bermondsey Beer Mile, so, unlike me, give yourself plenty of time to get over there, especially if walking down Blue Anchor Lane, where you will find a fantastic chip shop on the left, hard to walk past, sadly, on this occasion I had no choice (memo to self - plan better next time).
However, i did get there on time, and within a few minutes John appeared, introduced himself, handed me a not so snazzy pair of protective glasses and so began a very pleasant 2 hours in the company of someone who knows his stuff (he was previously at Meantime before he joined Four Pure in 2013, before any beers had been produced, in fact, pretty much before it became a brewery!).
As my focus was on the Session IPA, John basically walked me through the process, which when explained to you by an expert always sounds so simple. It's not. Amongst all the lovely shiny fermenting vessels, I was shown a Hop Gun, how fantastic does that sound? A Hop Gun. (This is where the Mosaic, Simcoe, Cascade & Centennial hop pellets all come together for a bit of a dry hopping party) A brilliant name for a piece of equipment that allows the maximum extraction of flavours from the hop pellets that they use in their beers.
By this time I had sampled the Session IPA at two early stages of development, when the yeast had been added and post Hop Rocket. You could taste the direction of travel, but, it was far from the finished article, in fact, it takes 18 days to produce this beer.
Next, we went for a walk, not far, around 100 metres to another unit that has recently become an extension of the brewery. This is where the canning takes place, but, only after the beer has been piped (yes, piped) the 100m from the brewery. They run along the wall behind the industrial units, John tried to put a dampener on proceedings by saying there was probably only water in it that day (in my head it was Session IPA or Pils, what does the head brewer know anyway?). They then pass the beer through another shiny silver machine called a Centrifuge, where more technical stuff takes place (translation: Magic), eventually ending up in tanks where it will lager (it was years before I knew that this basically meant to store) for 7-10 days before being kegged or canned, incidentally, this is their only method of dispense for these beers. They were also the very first UK-based craft brewery to start canning their core range.
Aaahhh, the canning line is a wonder to behold, a cross between advanced space age technology and an ACME device built to catch the Road Runner (it fills 12,000 cans an hour, but, sadly was inactive when I was there), oh, and it is silver and shiny too, in case I forgot to mention that.
We went back to the brewery (where the tap room was now open and already serving thirsty customers) to enjoy a chilled Session IPA.
Time to be a bit professional and ask a question and make a legible note of the answer, "Why the rebranding of your core range?" the response was simple "Time for a change, after all, the staff see these cans every day". John did expand further, explaining that the background picture illustrates what inspired each of the beers, for the Session IPA it is New York. I must say I like the rebrand, it manages to remain familiar yet new and different. While I remember, I did ask a question earlier as well (look at me go) - what has been the impact of Session IPA and Pils appearing in M & S stores up and down the country (train beer anyone?), well, those two beers alone make up 25% of their output, it's no wonder they needed a new canning line!
This brought me to the end of my visit to the brewery, I really enjoyed my time with John, thanks again for sharing your insight and knowledge (and thanks to owner Daniel Lowe for arranging in the first instance), really appreciated it.
If you get a chance to visit the tap room, please do not hesitate, you won't regret it. Failing that, avail yourself of their core range, then their seasonal, actually, just try them all (I have been giving it a good go recently), and with 35 unique beers brewed in 2015, plenty to choose from! 2016 and 2017 look like they will be just as exciting, if not more so (I am eagerly awaiting the burgundy barrel aged beers myself).

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

How we spent St. George's Day

It was time to get up, but, it was 5am on a Saturday morning, what was going on? I’ll tell you what was going on, it was St George’s Day and we were going to Manchester, not only that, we were going to visit one of the most exciting breweries to burst onto the scene in 2014 – Cloudwater. Michelle and I were booked onto the 8am London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly, a journey scheduled to take just over two hours, giving us enough time to eat, drink and chill (provided everything went to plan). Having picked up some grub, water and tea at Euston, we patiently waited for our train platform to appear on the departures board, these moments give you a chance to spy on potential fellow passengers (you know, the ones you want to avoid). I had already spotted a group of guys that I did not want to share a carriage with earlier, they were the ones who made sure everyone knew they were around and definitely had not stocked up on food, water and tea! (Disclaimer – I have no issue with train beers at whatever time of day suits you, I do have a problem when you are a loud mouthed twat with or without train beers) So yes, you guessed it, these guys appeared on our carriage, needless to say, we moved, and, we weren’t the only ones. The rest of the journey to Manchester was rather pleasant and we arrived without further incident shortly after 10am.
As the tour at Cloudwater wasn’t for another hour, we decided to walk as it was a nice spring day, Google Maps however had other ideas. It didn’t prevent us walking, but, it provided no assistance in helping us to get to our destination. After lots of short sweary words from yours truly, we hailed a cab, 5 mins later we were dropped off at unit 8 on an industrial estate not too far from the station, just in completely the opposite direction Google Maps had indicated earlier. Unit 8 however did not have a Cloudwater sign outside, in fact there was very little indication we were in the right place, until we looked up and spotted quite a lot of bottles on the window ledge inside, so, we rang the bell and to our delight, we were welcomed in.
Even a new brewery has a beery smell/feel to it, and this place was no different. To my left was lots of shiny gleaming silver vessels, pipes and assorted machinery. In front of me, some barrels which were being used to barrel age some of their beers and to my right, a seated area with tables – the taproom. The brewery was bright, airy and welcoming, although not quite as welcoming as “what would you like to drink?”, now, this is where I must congratulate the guys at Cloudwater, providing a beverage before the tour is unusual in my experience, but, definitely the way to go! I had the Bergamot Hopfen Weisse – Special Edition. It was zesty, hints of hops and lemons, refreshing & fresh (also provided me with two badges on Untappd, double badges are becoming increasingly difficult to get these days!).
With everyone’s name ticked off (you pre book your tour and/or drinks at the taproom via Eventbrite), 15 of us picked up our glasses and proceeded to follow our tour guide over to the shiny silver side of the building, basically the bit where the magic takes place. Unusually for Cloudwater (so, we were told), they were brewing on a Saturday, so, there was plenty of activity going on, the brewer kindly made it easy for us to identify him, he had beard! We were shown the all the usual component parts that make up the brewing process and our guide was very knowledgeable and evidently enjoyed her role at the brewery as well as sharing with us on a Saturday morning. We were shown the machine that had been used to bottle 15,000 of the DIPA V3 recently and quite frankly I was amazed that it could cope as it really did look like most of the process was manual, and it appears that I wasn’t far wrong in this assumption. However they managed it though, grateful I am, as the DIPA V3 really is rather brilliant (seems that using hop pellets and Vermont yeast played a big part in this stunning beer). Then we were asked if we wanted to try some, as yet unamend beer straight from the bright tank…….guess what? A resounding yes from all, the beer was slightly hazy due to the influence of wheat, some lovely soft fruity and banana notes, no herbal flavours & aromas were present, very drinkable, so I had seconds (ultimately they named it “Spring & Summer White IPA Comet”).
Robyn, our tour guide was now moving us in the direction of the tap room, this could mean only one thing – more beer! So, I had some of the DIPA V3, again (well you have to really), next up was the Custard Porter, the barrel ageing for 6 months had seemingly removed all traces of the porter. Reminded me of cola cubes, with booze added, this was a 4/5 on Untappd. Another 4/5 was the Sour Yellow Peach (Sherry BA), my notes simply say “tinned peaches”, which reminded me of dessert on Sundays when I was a kid. This pretty much brought us to the end of our time at Cloudwater, it was a wonderful experience, and Robyn is an excellent tour guide/host. Also, we met some nice people as one often does (beer people are good people), special mention goes to the guy who is opening a craft beer bottle shop in Northampton, find him on Twitter - @Beer_Guerrilla, he was there purely for research purposes (obviously) with his dad and son, I wish him and his family the very best of luck with their new venture.
Originally, we were going to visit a few bars in and around Piccadilly post brewery visit, however, my eagle eyed girlfriend had spotted on Twitter that Beer Merchants were throwing a party in their new warehouse on the same day we were in Manchester, and, it was on the way back to the station, next destination was sorted, St George’s Day was being celebrated in style and only English beers were going to be being consumed.
Highlight of the Beer Cave for both of us was the opportunity to try some of the new range from Four Pure, thanks to Sophie and Neil for allowing us to take up so much of their time, really appreciated it. The Cherry Tart and Vertical Drop were the two standouts for me, good to see these guys expand their range, more to come I am sure.

And, that as they say was that, it was goodbye Manchester, see you in October for Indy Man!