Keeping it real … Real Ale
Creating a fun, enjoyable and special atmosphere when putting on a beer festival can be difficult job to get right, its more than just putting on the best beers you can find or having the most beers available. Large beer festivals can sometimes miss that magic edge but small beer festivals can feel more personal and intimate, Stokey Beer Festival in Stoke Newington had just this. With a maximum capacity of 200 people with a brewery list of 8 of the newest up and coming brewers, Stokey Beer Festival had a real buzz around it yet never feeling uncomfortably packed. The 200 people trickled in over the long 12-5:30pm afternoon session in stages, so it was never too difficult to move around or have a little chat with the brewers. Tickets were £20, which included entry, festival glass, ⅓ of a pint from all the breweries and a ⅓ of the Discontinued ESB, which was brewed especially for the festival. I think this was a reasonable price, after I had a ⅓ from each of the breweries I purchased some beer tokens which were 5 for £5 and most of the beers were 2 tokens a ⅓. I thought the ticket format of having a ⅓ from each brewery was a very good idea, it meant you got to try a beer from everyone, exploring and trying a bit of everything and gave you opportunities to chat to the brewery. I took advantage of both me and my other half having a free day together and got a ticket for each of us (which seemed like the first time we had been out together to a beer event in years), and worked our way around all the different breweries.
We started the day off with beers from Solvay Society. The missus diving straight in the deep end and going with Tritum, a 9% Pink Peppercorn Rye Tripel, starting as she meant to go on! Tritum poured perfectly from key keg, I had an early version of Tritum and this slightly tweaked beer resulted in a bit more of those Belgian yeast flavours with a nice warmth from the peppercorns in the after taste, with this beer now available in bottles I must try to pick some more up. I went with the festival special, a barrel aged version of Coulomb, the saison had been aged for a year in French oak barrels with two added brett strains, then blended half and half with a fresh Columbus which has been dry hopped with cascade hops, all coming together to create this stunner of a beer. It brought all that Belgian funk and finished with a lovely tartness, really refreshing, really complex, hopefully Solvay Society brew this beer again for next year, as it was great and a perfect example of what Solvay Society are capable of. If it wasn’t for a certain beer we tried after this then this barrel aged version of Coulomb would have been my beer of the festival. If you are into your Belgian beers then I strongly recommend you get to know Solvay Society this year, I’m predicting great things from Solvay Society over the next 12 months.
I’m not sure there has been a new brewery that has got so many people excited like Elusive Brewing did last year. Andy Parker, in my opinion, is like the beer geek dream come true. Writing a beer blog, brewing some of the best homebrews around and winning awards, then opening a brewery himself, only to then start picking up festival awards and bags of praise from people drinking his beers. Although anyone who has ever met Andy will comment on what a nice chap he is, the reason he is gaining such a great rep is simple, the beers he is brewing are brilliant.
First up we had Overdrive, a fruity, punchy, tingly taste sensation of a 5.5% American Pale Ale and Flamin’ Clickbait, a Cherrywood smoked California Common, which was a collaboration with Soul Rebel Brewing Co. Flamin’ Clickbait was a perfectly balanced smoked beer, it wasn’t too over powering or a palate killer but enough smoke there to know you are drinking smoked beer. Other beers that we had before the end of the afternoon was Gauntlet American Brown and Sphere of Destiny Mosiac, which was a great example of how cask beer can stand up and pack a tasty punch just as well as keg beers. All these beers were of high quality but there was one beer that stole the show.
Raspberry Ruin was honestly one of the best beers I can remember having! As soon as I tried it the beer just took me back to a kid eating Panda raspberry liquorice bars, I franticly Googled a photo of the old panda bars I used to have as a kid but only a couple of people knew what I was talking about. Elusive HAS to bottle this bad boy (or keg it again, or cask, or bottles, or cans or anything I don’t care we need this again!), if Raspberry Ruin was brewed by Omnipollo, aggressively advertising it with a photo of a glass with the (stupid) iceman pour with no head and the description of how great this beer tasted, then the world of Twitter and Instagram would be going crazy for it. Thankfully Raspberry Ruin poured a delicious pitch black with a fluffy head. There was many great beers at Stokey Beer Festival but hands down my top beer of the day was this Raspberry Ruin.
I certainly don’t need any introduction to 40FT Brewery after the amount of time I have spent hanging out with them over the past year, but it was the first time my missus had tried any of their beers so I was excited for her to drink some of the beers that I had been telling her about. Their Stout called Deep was my 2016 UK keg beer Golden Pints winner this year and knowing that she loves dark beers I pushed her in the direction of the Deep keg tap. She loved it. I was pleased to see a new beer on at the festival, Don’t March Märzen, I’m a fan of sweet beers so this sweet malty caramel coloured lager ticked all my boxes. If you find yourself in the company of any of the 40FT guys then ask them about their trip to Dublin when they were invited to be the first guest beer to be poured at Guinness’s Open Gate taproom, it’s a classic.
I was looking forward to trying Little Earth Project as soon as the brewery list was released. I had yet to try any of their beers and throughout the afternoon session I had the chance try at least a sip of all their beers. Little Earth Project are based in Suffolk and specialise in historical, farmhouse and sour beers. Little Earth Project are bringing something fantastic to the table that not many are getting right in the UK, especially with their historical beers. My favourite beer was the 7.9% Organic East India Pale Ale, with help from the local wild yeast culture along with some whisky barrel ageing, the beer was funkier than The Funky Worm (heavily sampled Ohio Players funk track.. Look it up!). Little Earth Project believe that Organic East India Pale Ale is as close as possible to the beers that the East India Shipping Company would have drank on their voyages 200 years ago. The Hanseatic Porter was something special and weighing in at a killer 10% meant it was a bit of a beast. I am kicking myself for not picking up some bottles, they looked beautiful, very dark bottles with an interesting looking logo of a world map carved into a wooden barrel, all sealed with wax tops. I am yet to convince my other half on sour/wild/funky beers so they might not be for everyone but if you are into these types of beers then Little Earth Project should be top of your list of beers to try right now, I’m already looking forward to drinking them again so go hunt them down.
Seven Sisters Brewery was one of a few new brewery names for me to try on the day and I was impressed. Seven Sisters are currently brewing their beers at Ubrew. Using herbs in beers can be difficult to get right, less can be more, but I Found that Seven Sisters got the balance right with their End of Thyme Saison, which was brewed with thyme, it was like drinking liquid roast chicken crisps, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea and it did split opinions amongst drinkers. The missus had their 6% India Pale Ale and it was one of her favourite beers of the day, really fruity with slight flavours of bubblegum too. The bottles look great and just like Little Earth Project I completely forgot to pick up some bottles to take home so I will have to keep an eye out for some of their beers soon.
Discontinued ESB was the festival beer. It was created by asking the world of Twitter what people wanted to be brewed and an 5.5% ESB was chosen. It was enjoyable but I feel it would have been even better had it been cask conditioned. I liked the idea of going to Twitter to create a beer.
Howling Hops are a brewery I know well, I returned to the Ruby Red and Pale. Both beers reminding me that I should really pop back to their taproom soon. I meant to return back to them to try their Double Chocolate Coffee Toffee Vanilla Milk Porter but unfortunately, I ran out of time. Even more of a reason to return to their taproom as soon as possible.
UBrew’s art work certainly is an eye catcher, big bright cartoon style labels and posters catch your eye and draws you in. Given a chance my missus would have stolen the Dinosaur poster straight off the wall she liked it that much! I tried one of their IPA’s but if I am to be honest I wasn’t feeling it. But their Beast Mode Coffee Chocolate Milk Stout however was very good, it was sweet and roasty and everything I love in a Milk Stout.
Brewage à Troiiis was another brewery I hadn’t heard of before and again like Seven Sisters Brewery they are brewing their beers at Ubrew. With beers called One Small Step and One Giant Leap, along with their unusual brewery name, you can see that Brewage à Troiiis are creative. I’m always game for trying something different, so when I was asked if I would like to try the Your Mothers Ruin, a 5.8% Juniper Wit that was meant to be like a gin and tea, I accepted with an open mind. Usually I wouldn’t be putting lime or lemon in my beer but as recommended by the brewers I went with it, convincing me that it would add even more gin and tea feel. I’m not sure about the lemon but the beer itself I really enjoyed, the juniper flavours worked well in the wit. It did leave me with the dilemma of where to dump the lemon though. It will be interesting to keep an eye on both Brewage à Troiiis and Seven Sisters to see if they grow into their own brewery spaces. Between the missus and I we tried most of their beers and I feel both brought a decent selection, including two adventurous beers that should grab people’s attention.
I thought Stokey Beer Festival was a real success, it’s hard to find a good venue and I think that Abney Hall, although small, was a nice hall space. The cheese from Provisions looked lovely (and I really should have stocked up a bit on it), there was also tables with the cartoonist Barry Flynn creator of Through a Pint Glass Darkly (my partner returning home with 3 comics), Mother Kellys selling cans, gin tasters and Pete Brown tutoring a beer tasting, all of which worked well in the space. Both sessions sold out, but during the afternoon session it never felt horribly packed, I’m not sure what the evening was like but this was a big plus for me. It leaves the organiser Chris Martin a bit of a headache, next time (I hope there is another) do they stick with the winning formula, or do they roll the dice and go big with a bigger venue and more breweries. If they do I hope the festival keeps it intimate feel and high quality of beers, as Stokey Beer Festival was an excellent festival and the perfect alternative to the giant craft beer festivals that have been popping up over the next 12 months.
Disclaimer – I paid for everything in this blog post.