While going through my planner (I haven't lost it yet and it's already March! Hallelujah!) and noting down my outings for the next few months, I recalled the London Brewers' Alliance Festival London's Brewing, which I attended last year. It had been an utter delight trying brews like Pressure Drop's Stokey Brown, dancing to the live music and getting a free bagful of Serious Pig's award-winning Classic Snacking Salami (Best. Thing. Ever. Only I have to go all the way to Selfridge's to get the stuff), so I was wondering if anything similar was on before I need to leg it back to Singapore for the summer.
And lo! A quick search turned up Craft Beer Rising, which was very conveniently happening just the next weekend. I got myself a ticket immediately (Wincing somewhat at the cost), and it's a good thing too because they sold out completely not long after. Most beer festivals happen in the summer, but thankfully organizers are realizing that people have a taste for these events pretty much all year-round.
The map indicated that the event was held at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, but when I got into the main building, the receptionist sent me on a merry chase down the street and round to a pokey little door in the back of the next building, which turned out to be the trader's entrance. The security team there directed me back round the front, where thankfully a queue had formed, indicating that I was in the right place. (Such useful things, queues.)
My £16.50 (Once you included tax and the booking fee) ticket for Saturday afternoon got me a free glass and £5 worth of tokens to spend at any of the food and beer stalls, after which I'd have to purchase more at the token counter if I wanted to get anything else. £5 wasn't really going to cut it for an event that was on from 12 to 5 pm, so I ended up plonking down an extra £10, which was very restrained of me. I spoke to a guy later in the afternoon who was obviously pretty sloshed, and he had no idea how much he'd spent exactly.
"Just... A lot. I've spent a whole lot."
With over 200 beers from 60 different breweries worldwide, trying everything was next to impossible, and with beer such a subjective thing, finding "the best" stuff to drink was equally elusive. The programme booklet did have a list of recommended beers to try, but with a glass in one hand and a bag in the other, I wasn't in much of a position to be wielding that as well. Besides, I figured that loads of people would be crowding round the same few places, and wanting to try something different, I picked the first free stall I could find and started my beer journey from there, trying their beers then asking which breweries they particularly enjoyed.
A bunch of visitors pulled away from Freedom Brewery's stall to go on their prowl for their next pint, so I stepped in. Tried a nice big sip of their Freedom Organic Lager, which tasted quite sublimely drinkable, but wound up opting for half a pint of the hoppier and very aromatic Freedom Pioneer, because I like what I like. All of Freedom's beers are certified Vegan, and matured for at least four weeks before sterile triple filtration, which results in much more complex natural flavours in the beers. The great thing about Craft Beer Rising, is that the brewers or distributors themselves man the stalls, so you get to stand around and talk to them about the beers you're drinking. When I asked which other brewery stood out for them, they pointed me round the back - "There's a brewery from the South of France that's very new, but their beers are good."
Meduz has only been around since August 2012, but they've already picked up a pretty dedicated fan following where they're based in Uzès, the South of France. I spent 15 minutes chatting with one of the owners of Meduz, who was a really lovely dude, while trying pretty much their entire range of unpasteurized craft beers. He's spent ages working in the beer industry and used to home-brew before taking the plunge and opening his own brewery, which now produces four different very tasty beers. It was ridiculously windy outside, but safe in the venue, with the sun streaming in and a third pint ("Pace yourself by ordering thirds, then you can try more beers." What did I tell you? Absolute sweetheart.) of their delightfully tart Meduz Blanche, the freshness of their wheat beer helped me imagine I was summering in the South of France. I ended up buying one of their glasses, with designs all round looking like the waves of the sea and a small marking on the bottom in the shape of an M to help with the nucleation process (I.E. A steady stream of bubbles in the beer), a little investment for future beer enjoyment.
He gave me not one, but two excellent recommendations, so I started with BeerCat from Catalonia - I'd told him I love hoppy beers, and their Further Westward had stood out for him. The stall was fairly busy so I just got my third pint and legged it, nursing my beer while having a bit of a wander. BeerCat's another newly established craft brewery, and Further Westward was a really exciting beer, unbelievably light for all its hops.
Like most over-used labels, no one exact definition of 'Craft Beer' exists, but honestly, I don't think most of the people at Craft Beer Rising even cared. It's beer! It's supposed to make you happy! All the other participants I spoke to were a really cheery bunch who were just glad to be there to drink different things, and I ended up swapping glasses with a whole bunch of people, thus trying drinks like Left Coast Brewery's scrummy Baltic Porter while in line for tokens, and an alcoholic ginger beer cocktail while companionably sharing a bench with another girl.
I got to the event at 12.15 pm, and started straight with the beers, but filling as they were, I needed lunch. There was a man selling sausage rolls which another participant had sworn up and down were the best he'd tasted, and another person doing ham sandwiches, but while deciding where to do I smelled the sizzle and was hooked. I followed it to where Burger Bear had set up shop in a corner, with decor that made me want to Roller Disco. It was a toss us between the Grizzly Bear (Bacon! Cheese! Bacon Jam...) and the Angry Bear, but I was desperately craving something spicy to sop up all the day drinking, so the Angry Bear it was.
Byron's likes to talk about their squishy bun, but it has nothing on the sproing of Burger Bear's, which puffed right back up again. Just like that, I knew it would be a pretty life-altering burger experience.
The fiery hot sauce was just what I needed, and the burger itself was mighty fine. It's probably the juiciest patty I've tasted so far, with lashings of vegetables, relish and cheese, packed between a gloriously fluffy bun. I just sat at the corner of a table smiling like a loon while attacking my burger, taking sips of Further Westward in between bites. I was probably the happiest person in the world.
Eventually I passed out of the happy burger haze enough to have a nice chat with the lady across from me, who was completely enamoured of her fish finger sandwich. She recommended Redwell's Steam Lager, which I eventually spent my last 50 p token on later in the day, while I ran through the entire list of things I'd drunk since I couldn't decide on a favourite yet.
ES dropped by only to find that no tickets were left, but with my wristband I could come and go as I pleased, so I wound up taking a walk with him down Brick Lane to digest a little before Round 2. We popped into Dark Sugars after the smell of chocolate wafted by and wound up with two bags of exquisite handmade truffles, then went over to JoY so ES could do a bit of shopping. I always have to shop for BB, who refuses to actually step into stores with me, so helping ES out was a breeze. It's so much easier pick outfits when the person who'll be wearing them bothers to actually go out and try it on. Along the way I made a new friend at the store, and we discussed movies while ES was in the fitting room.
After the parting of ways, my phone shuddered back to life long enough for me to snap a picture of Brains Craft Brewery, where I had a wonderful time. They had little plastic cups for people to try their beers from, which was such a well-organized thing to do. (Instead of half-pint glasses maybe next year the organizers should give out a small case of shot glasses instead so people don't overload on a single beer.) Brains has a really diverse range of great beers, and the guys behind the counter were incredibly generous, allowing me to taste my way pretty much through their entire catalogue. I couldn't really pick a favourite (I liked everything!), and debated with myself for a good long time while nursing a tasting portion of their rich burnt caramel and coffee Imperial Russian Stout, Shining Tsar. Eventually I left with a bottle of the Black Mountain IPA, which I'm saving for a special occasion.
My last proper stop was at Butcombe Brewery's stall, on the suggestion of the guys from Brains. After a whole afternoon of boozing, the beers here still more than held their own. Of the easy-drinking rather than the strong novelty variety, the beers served at the Butcombe stall had a great build, resulting in really well rounded beers you could probably drink pints and pints of without feeling overwhelmed. I had thirds of both the Haka (Made from New Zealand hops! Zesty and oh-so quaffable) and the Brunel Atlantic IPA. They've got free tours over at their brewery near Bristol, and maybe one of these days I'll make a weekend of it and actually use my student railcard. Ah, the things I do for love (Of beer).