One of the hazards of formally announcing the arrival of Britain’s craft beer revolution is that it puts heaps of pressure on the business and small upstarts in particular. It’s a double-edged sword. Healthy competition and a desire to stand out by way of genuine innovation is obviously a good thing, but there’s also a danger of stagnation: either dozens of Brew Dog clones announcing themselves, or long spells with nothing worth shouting about because potential brewers don’t want to risk paling into comparison to the Scottish mavericks. At present, these are thankfully just minor unfounded fears to bear in mind for the future, as a recent tasting of three new London microbreweries revealed the next wave of the capital’s craft brews to match the quality of their predecessors.
The star of my Saturday afternoon spent drinking – ahem, researching - at last weekend’s Real Ale and Rockin’ Blues Festival at the Sebright Arms near Bethnal Green was undoubtedly the Weird Beard Brew Co’s Single Hop No.7 Summit IPA. Lightly hazy in colour due to the dry hopping process, its subtle nose belied a truly explosive palate: slightly sweet and delicately floral, it was packed with exotic fruit flavours. Perhaps it’s just my imagination, but I was getting serious hits of kiwi and guava from that bad boy. Comparisons are lazy but inevitable: its quality couldn’t help but remind me of some of Kernel’s single hop offerings, but don’t get me wrong, this was no mere knock off. It was as fresh, unique, and vibrant a bottled beer as I have had the pleasure to sup in a long time, and if this effort is anything to judge by, then Weird Beard Brew Co look a good bet to take a seat in Britain’s pantheon of elite craft brewers.
Less awe-inspiring but still solid was the Hackney Brewery’s Golden Ale. A much more traditional number than the Summit IPA, it was generally clear but bore the tiniest hint of cloudiness to nod at its bottle conditioning. Aromas were subdued and gently hoppy, while the palate was light and refreshing with a clean bitter finish, much less subdued and persistent than its London Field’s comrade. Perhaps there was a bit of elderflower somewhere in there, but mostly this was an easy-drinking number that, if a bit unremarkable, was deemed by Al to be “quite nice” – a high accolade for a bitter indeed – and partnered amicably to the fine weather. Their American Pale Ale was slightly less well received, with the general consensus being that it was a bit heavy on the Burton water aromas – in other words, it smelt a bit eggy. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as any real beer head will tell you, but it is enough to put off casual ale drinkers, which this event seemed to have in abundance. Perhaps an experiment or two with a keg is in order to help attract a wider audience?
The wild card was Ellenberg’s Brewery, who I must admit I was unaware of prior to Saturday's excesses. Copious amounts of Googling and other research (if other forms of research still exist) since has turned up little more than what was on the vague but attractive label: something about North-west London and a possible address in Greenford. This little mystery only added to my present and past tense enjoyment of their Two Arches Dark Wit, as spectacular an interpretation of the classic Germanic wheat style as I have had in a long time. Taste-wise, it was possibly even better than Camden Town’s offering if, at this stage, slightly less refined. Aromas of chunky orange zest immediately tempted and led to a palate that was a massive but dynamic mash-up: banana was a dominate flavour, while tropical fruits – perhaps lychee? – were also represented and all rounded off with shed loads of spice like clove, coriander, and black pepper. I’m a big fan of wheat beers and this was a pretty stunning example, with only the colour being less than totally sexy. Still, at least it helps weed out the pretenders from us dedicated craft beer piss-heads:
All in all, it was a pretty perfect afternoon. It doesn’t often get much better than quaffing an inspired selection of quality craft beer, including some hitherto alien numbers, in an atmospheric establishment on a relatively balmy afternoon. I think I always enjoy boozy festivals the most when they are held in pubs and The Sebright Arms boasts an effortlessly relaxed yet still a bit buzzy ambiance, something not even a conference centre run by Russell Norman could manage. The bar team were friendly and knowledge, the music rowdy without being overwhelming and, of course, there were the Lucky Chip burgers to soak up all the lovely booze: nicely pink and juicy, suitably messy, and 100% trailer park gourmet. Not only that, they arrived in around half an hour, hardly a bad showing given the scrum that had evolved by the time we ordered. My flatmate went as far as to deem his Sheen (it had a different name at the Sebright, but it’s a Sheen to me) “possibly the best burger ever” and the girls’ veggie numbers looked a cut above the average token bean mush generally peddled at meat-driven establishments.
As evening settled in, the tone was inevitably lowering, a sad but true reality in this part of town. The moustachioed masses descended and pleas for “Something lager-y?” began to overwhelm the otherwise charming and efficient staff. But that should hardly detract from a truly fantastic event – this eventuality is the case in nearly all East London establishments on a Saturday night, let alone ones that are selling the area’s finest local brews at a staggering £2.50 a pint AND helping to distribute some choice bottles for free! So a characteristically strong showing from Lucky Chip, top marks for the exciting new microbreweries showcasing their wares, and kudos to The Sebright Arms. There couldn’t possibly have been a better way to announce the arrival of Spring.
The beers reviewed here were prototype brews and bottles were provided by the brewer and distributed by The Seabright Arms free of charge. They were gratefully received.