Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Busy as a Beaver

A belated happy 2018 to you all! Forgive my absence over recent months. It's been a hectic time over the past few weeks what with the festive season, wedding preparations and a change of job for myself, meaning that I've been having to adapt to moving from weekly to fortnightly pay schedules whilst battling the scourge of emergency tax. My first blog entry for this calendar year will be a little bit different and is likely to upset the purists amongst you. My first trip out was a bit different to what I'd normally do, focusing as it did more on the craft beer end of the spectrum. This came about due to an invite I received from a friend of my for a day trip to the wilds of North London to visit a craft brewery that has made something of a name for itself in recent years. This is the story of my trip to Beavertown Brewery.

 Image result for beavertown brewery

Originally founded by Logan Plant in his own kitchen or cellar (depending upon who you believe), Beavertown now occupies two units of an industrial estate in the Tottenham Hale area of North London, in the shadow of student accommodation and in site of Tottenham Hotspur's spectacular looking new stadium which is currently under construction. The brewery's mission statement is simple. They aim to create big, innovative beers, brimming with flavour and character. Our aim was to see how much they'd achieved by way of reaching this target. We had a brewery tour scheduled but were probably most excited about experiencing the taproom which opens every Saturday from 2-8pm for both private groups and locals. I should explain who I mean by 'we'. There were 38 of us in total, all from different Nottingham pubs, who had all come together to celebrate our mutual love of beer on a cold Saturday morning in January. A handful of the attendees, and those I spend most of the day with, were people that I am proud to call friends the majority of the others were people who were unknown to me. We arrived at the brewery around 1.30 in the afternoon, half an hour before the opening of the taproom, which at least allowed us to relieve ourselves and get our bearings. As gentle conversation flowed, the buzz of excitement was noticeable and, in some cases audible. Finally, it was time to see what we'd let ourselves in for.

We formed an orderly queue in the general direction of the taproom bar, admiring a veritable forest of giant brewing vessels that took up a considerable amount of space in what is not a small warehouse. Music was blaring from a free standing speaker as we approached the taproom bar which sits in a room along the wall from the entrance we'd come in through. The first thing that struck me was the price board on the wall. Much of Beavertown's core range is available and, on this occasion, guests from Verdant Brewery, in quantities of 2/3, 1/2 or 1/3 depending upon strength and all for the unbelievable price of £2.50! Most of us had decided upon our first beer of the day. We were privileged in being amongst the first to try a brand new beer, brewed in collaboration with Cornwall's Verdant, and being giving a soft launch before its official release the following Monday. Amongst the wall mounted taps, reflecting the neon lights from the Beavertown sign above was the brand new Double IPA, Shut Up and Play the Hits (8.8%). This is where most of us, myself included, decided to begin our journey of discovery into Beavertown's colourfully advertised and quirkily named beverages. Shut Up is a big beast of a beer. Mango is the central flavour with a sneaky but not unpleasant bitterness lurking throughout. The fruity sweetness comes to the fore, enhanced by the combination of 5 hops and this makes it delicious and dangerously easy to drink. It's also fascinating to look at, almost luminous yellow and clear as mud. I was impressed with the amount of flavour in such a heavy hitting beer. Flavour, as I've mentioned, is a big part of the beers here and that was certainly true of the next one that I decided to try. The queue for the bar was lengthening all the time so wait times for more delicious beer was quickly increasing. However, I persevered and returned for a chance to try Lupuloid IPA (6.7%), the first IPA that the brewery made. This is another punchy number, although not quite to the extent of Shut Up. With just the standard 4 ingredients, this came about as the end result of 10 trial and error style experiments, each one tweaked slightly more than the last in order to pack as much flavour in as possible. The finished product is a hoppy, fruity concoction with a soft bitterness that does not detract from the big, citrusy hit of the main event.

As well as selling their range on draught, the Beavertown taproom also features canned products in fridges opposite the bar and these were very quickly being snapped up, with the Shut Up in particular, quickly disappearing. I'd made a promise to pick up a can for a guy at work so I rejoined the queue and, not wanting to purchase just the one can, bought a pack of 6 which cost me £20. 2 of these cans would be consumed on the coach journey home, 1 has gone to the aforementioned colleague and the remaining 3 are currently in my fridge at home. Following my return from the bar and the safe storage of the beer on the coach, it was time for our brewery tour. The first half of this was as you'd expect as we negotiated the forest of vessels to hear all about the processes involved in making these beers and also taking in new equipment that was improving the process, namely a whirlpool and a centrifuge. The brewery also benefits from a state of the art canning machine for their core products, which are widely available in both canned and kegged forms. Bottled versions were formerly available but are currently taking a break to be hopefully brought back into the fold in the near future. After hearing about the ins and outs of canning, labelling and packaging, we crossed the brewery yard to the unit opposite where we were going to be shown the barrel-aging room. The scale of this dwarfed what anything any of us were expecting. Beavertown uses multiple different types of barrels from cognac, rum and whisky, to champagne and even gin barrels to store beers in different conditions as part of what it calls the Tempus project. This is designed to impart different characteristics to different beers over different periods of time in order to create unique and interesting brews which may or may not be released to the public at a time of the brewery's own choosing. This leads to all sorts of scope for styles that cannot normally be created easily under normal circumstances, leading to some very exciting things indeed. including Heavy Lord, a 14.5% bourbon barrel aged imperial stout, Aquavitza, an 8.2% aquavit-inspired saison, calvados and white wine barrel aged Bramley apple saison Applelation (10%) and a 5% tequila barrel aged gose beer called El Mariachi. Sadly, none of these varieties are available for us to try on the day.

It was back to the beer again now and this time I fancied something from one of the guest lines courtesy of Falmouth-based Verdant Brewery. I opted for Track & Field (7.2%). This is another in the line of fruity pale ales, with obvious melon and pear flavours, a smooth, crisp finish and the overall mouthfeel of a pack of fruit pastilles. After a quick break for food, in my case anyway, more beer was required. With the queue for the taproom bar as long as it had been all day, to the point where it was out the door, we decided to check out the offerings of another brewery which conveniently occupies premises on the same industrial estate and also operates a Saturday taproom. We now made our way over to Pressure Drop brewing.

Image result for pressure drop brewery
The difference between the 2 breweries is immediately obvious. Whereas Beavertown is overflowing with requisitioned, older vessels with the taproom in an adjacent room and long benches inside but mostly outside in the car park, Pressure Drop features a row of shiny vessels positioned along one wall, an automated grain distributor on its own mezzanine with a bar opposite the entrance and a large number of benches throughout a large floor space, all of which provides a cosier and substantially warmer interior. The bar has no guest beers but benefits from the full range of Pressure Drop, again all available in reduced quantities for £2.50 a go. I began my exploration with Pale Fire (4.8%), a delightfully smooth pale ale with a good balance of fruity hops and malty bitterness. I'm glad I decided to step down the ABV a little here as there were some more big beers still to come. We'd managed to track down a few more of the group here and had reserved 2-3 benches on which to perch and discuss how the day was going. The pale ale went down just a bit too easily but luckily I'd already identified my next victim, in the form of Pfaff Belgian Pale. At 5.2%, this is a dry hopped Belgian style pale ale that boasts piney, zesty hop flavours and a soft fruitiness from the accompanying yeast. The ABV increased again for my next choice, Bosko IPA (6.5%). Inspired by American-style IPAs, this combines the aromatic flavours of American hops with crystal malt to provide a more balanced version. This provides a characteristic sweetness reminiscent of the style.

We were scheduled to depart at 7pm but thankfully this meant that I had time for a couple more beers before we had to go. My next choice was another IPA, this one profiling Mosaic hops and named Domino Topple (7.2%). Of all the beers I'd had up to this point at Pressure Drop, this is the one that perhaps most matched those of Beavertown around the corner, with a chewy, mango fruitiness and a hoppy, bitter bite. I'd been building up to my final beer before the journey home since I'd seen the name on the board as we entered. I would finish my study of Pressure Drop beers with the wonderfully named Alligator Tugboat (7.2%). This is, in effect, the brother of Domino Topple, with the emphasis this time placed on Simcoe hops over Mosaic. The end result is a big IPA with dank pine, citrus and fruit flavours. Yet another beer that is far too easy to drink! As the last dregs of the beer went down, it became clear that it was time for us to take our leave. We made our weary and tipsy way back to the coach and settled down (or not) for the journey back to Nottingham.

So, what is my overall verdict on these 2 breweries? Firstly, they are both very good at what they do in creating exciting and interesting beers that stand out from the crowd. Beavertown are doing a cracking job at producing a highly flavourful range of strong craft beers, both pale and dark (although I didn't try any of the latter one my visit) whilst Pressure Drop have obviously carried forward considerable influence from traditional styles. I think it's for this reason that I preferred the beers at Pressure Drop over those of their neighbour. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed every beer that I drank but, for me the traditional cask ale passion is more in evidence at Pressure Drop. I enjoy craft beer and cask ale and I realise that, in this day and age, that's a bit of a fallacy. I still think that my heart lies more in the 'cask' than the 'craft' at this present time although I don't necessarily think that the two terms have to be mutually exclusive and I do think craft beer needs to be welcomed and appreciated for how it's helped to rescue the beer scene and carried on the good work of CAMRA as well as allowing both areas to thrive. I do think I still prefer cask ale and will certainly be placing the emphasis on that as I have been. Last weekend has shown me even more about how good craft beer can be at bringing people together and, whether you're for or against craft beer as a whole, you can't deny that it's making a hell of an impact.

Normal service will be resumed next time!