For the last couple of years, I have said that London needs a CAMRA beer festival which should feature a beer list completely made up of London cask beer, I had wrote it in a half finished blog post after last year’s London Drinker festival which never saw the light of day. I wrote how that I thought the London Drinker would be the perfect festival bring the best of cask beer in London. Finally, this year I got my wish and not only that, there was a key keg bar thrown into the mix also, finally progression.
Over a period of 3 days the Camden Centre in Kings Cross was filled with thirsty London beer drinkers, spreading out over the main hall, the upper seating areas and the smaller side hall. Each year there is a trade session which is a 2 hour long meet and great with different London brewers that feature at the festival. This year it seemed even busier than usual, most likely down to there being much more London brewers in attendance to talk to the trade session then previous years. I went along to the trade session with my mate Paul for research purposes for Leyton Orient Supporters Club and stayed till late into the evening session.
I wouldn’t usually see Anspach & Hobday cask beer, but the two beers I had at the festival, Smoked Brown and IPA, were both excellent and I would love to see more cask beer from Anspach & Hobday in the future. Hackney Brewery’s new big punchy pale ale Kapow! was equally as juicy in cask as keg, I enjoyed it so much that I went for a whole pint in the evening time. Also, their Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout was incredible (although maybe an option of a third would have been good as a half of 9% beer during the festival was pretty full on!). This is just a small preview at what Hackney are up to at the moment, there’s going to be a few exciting things coming from them this year and I am looking forward to seeing what they produce. The official beer of the festival was a collaboration between CAMRA competition winners Bethany and Robert with Signature Brew, the beer they brewed was Coconut Disco, a coconut and lime pale ale. It was one of my favourite beers of the day, the lime was really present and gave it a nice lip puckering juicy flavour, whereas the coconut was more recognisable in the aroma.
The key keg bar was finally some progression on CAMRA’s behalf, after all the work they’ve put into the revitalisation meetings recently it is pleasing for me to see many CAMRA festivals now including key keg options, although the negative voices may have been louder at the meetings, it seems that a change is coming. A couple of highlights were both the Mondo beers, Dennis Hopp’r IPA and Van Dammer, Brixton Brewery APA and the excellent Brew By Numbers Gose that was on offer.
As part of the trade session, after a busy morning of several judges working their way through the different beers, the awards for the beers of the festival were announced. There were some interesting results, a blind tasting proving that some of the original London breweries are still brewing beers of top quality. Fullers London Porter was the overall winner of the festival, which I found interesting, although a great porter and winning in a blind tasting, I personally think Five Points Railway Porter cannot be beaten. Five Points shouldn’t be disappointed though as they won best Golden Ale for their Pale Ale, which is a stunning cask beer. Fullers also one the strong bitter category with Fullers Gales ESB, East London Brewing winning best Mild with Orchard Vanilla Mild, London Brewing Co winning the Bitter category with Beer Street as well as 100 Oyster Stout winning the Stout award and Sambrooks Junction winning the Best Biter award. The new award of best key keg beers, which was sponsored by Kegstar, went to Mondo Brewing Co Dennis Hopp’r IPA, with second place going to Brixton Atlantic APA and third place to Orbit Brewing Leaf Ranch Alt.
CAMRA have so much experience when it comes to running beer festivals, I personally would love to see the new London breweries and CAMRA work closer together on something big. The two worlds together at the London Drinker Festival felt better but there is still work to be done. The range of beers was great, it was also a great example of how London brewers are now not only brewing contemporary styles of beer but also experimenting back with old and classic styles of beer. There was also Belgian beers and great American beers from the Brewers Association in the smaller room. The evening sessions are busy, which did make me question why they picked the set up with the bar running down the middle of the room, it splits the room in half almost, making each side busy and kind of trapping you in to that side of beer selection. It is only a small moan but maybe the layout could have been better. But I don’t want that to distract from the real achievement here and that is an excellent start to a progressive forward thinking CAMRA festival, which I can see only growing to stronger strengths over the forthcoming years. If CAMRA really wants to freshen up and attract new younger members, then festivals like this is the way to go.
Disclaimer – Paul and myself attended the 2 hour trade session as a combination of press pass and trade for the Leyton Orient Supporters Club, although selected drinks were free of charge this hasn’t affected our opinions on the beers. We also stayed for the evening paying for our drinks.