On the Saturday just gone I finally went to Brixton. That it’s taken so long is shocking considering we first moved to London ten years ago and still work there so I apologise. I’ve always been aware of Brixton even from my distant upbringing in Wales where I recall watching Delbert Wilkins (Lenny Henry) try and launch his pirate radio station from a bedroom here.
I associate the area with a West Indian identity more than anywhere else in Britain but that’s not actually how I found it at the weekend – it just seemed as mixed as most centres in the capital. Maybe the demographics are changing. Then again, I didn’t venture anywhere not within a short walk of the tube station. What is obvious is that Brixton is becoming desirable to move to. I meet more and more young people who reside there and as with everywhere, this might be changing its character.
Fittingly, my first visit was to Brixton Brewery. This is the eleventh beer venue I’ve been to in London that’s under a railway arch and I’ll come on to the twelfth by the end of this post. It’s a cramped space in the stamp of Partizan Brewery in Bermondsey. In fact, as I walked along Brixton Station Road I momentarily forgot where I was and found myself back in Bermondsey on Druid Street. Above is an image to prove the similarity.
I’ve never given much thought about the names of Brixton Brewery’s beers. Why had I never wondered why it’s called Windrush Stout? Because Empire Windrush was the ship that a generation of migrants arrived on half a century ago giving Brixton its identity. I’d never given any though to Electric IPA. Electric Avenue was the first thoroughfare in London to be lit electrically. Atlantic A.P.A is named after Atlantic Road. The only one I’d got right from the start was Effra Ale – the Effra is a now obscured river running under the streets to the mighty Thames. I love it when visiting a brewery gives you a bit of local history. I hope they name a beer after London’s only surviving windmill as it’s another local celebrity.
Atlantic APA 5.4:
It’s lemon curd in colour appropriately topped by a beaten egg white meringue. The palate revels in a melon rind tartness.
Hops used: Citra, Simcoe, Galaxy.
Low Voltage (session strength version of their Electric IPA) 4:
It pours a cedar yellow with a milky wisp of a head. The bittering hops come straight through as they land on the tongue and give off grapefruit. There’s a tonic water minerality too.
Hops: Cascade, Amarillo, Centennial.
I learn of a hop I’ve never heard of: Falconer’s Flight. It’s named after US brewer Greg Falconer and is another of the highly tropical bullets the states are renowned for. I also love the fact Brixton Brewery lists all its hops on its display boards.
One landmark on this short walk is utterly site specific – the park of up-cycled shipping containers called Pop Brixton. I eye it cautiously and walk around it. The graffiti on the back (see top of page) is art which in the corners has been graffiti’d over by er ….graffiti. There are evidently hierarchical levels to this discipline. I clock the front but don’t go in. After ogling it, it ends up revealing more about me than it; maybe it’s because I can’t see inside I don’t cross the threshold. I find myself worrying about the plumbing in the units and am aware that all three beery venues on my itinerary are very crafty so potentially comfort-free. I think it’s just me getting old and wanting to feel my large bottom on a soft surface. The corrugated metal exteriors put me off and put me in mind of corrugated metal interiors and the lack of warmth. I take a picture, turn on my heel and toddle to the Craft Beer Co. I find a comfy seat there even if I get acrophobia from climbing up to it.
On key keg I order Redchurch Brewery’s sweet dry Hoxton Stout. As it’s poured, I marvel at the sublime ugliness of the elephantine leg the keg taps are connected to. This branch has an impressive channel that completely straddles the length of the bar. The keg and cask get referred to as the upper deck and lower deck.
I think about how quickly the Craft Beer Co has grown from its humble spore in Pimlico. Including the daddy – The Cask and Kitchen, I’ve now been to six and am yet to explore Clapham or Brighton while a further two are set to open in Croydon and Limehouse! Ultimately, Craft Beer Co St Albans is its destiny and mine too.
Last on my list is The London Brew Lab (under my twelfth London railway arch) on Nursery Road and an innovative new project budding inside of it: The East India Brewing Company. This has been started by Matt and Claire. I’m actually there attending a pre-scheduled Meetup group launching a small range of tea beers. I’d assumed that the tea was the fifth element – an added ingredient but it’s actually a substitute for the hops themselves.
As I’ve penned before – tea, or more specifically, tisanes can cover just about anything. You could even argue that one permutation of tea beer would be to have one brewed with hop cones meaning regular beer is already a tisane. In the liberal use of the word, tea encompasses drinks made by infusing leaves, bark, petals, stalks, fruit, roots and even seeds.
I thought the removal of hops by The East India Brewing Company was a bold move – especially in the context of this country’s tropical New World humulone fever. It makes their beer unique.
I tried a Jasmine Lager (flower head), a Darjeeling Ale (plant leaf) and a Lapsang Ale (plant leaves typically smoked beforehand). They took me away from my well-tilled vocabulary to try and express their flavours. Unfortunately the only tea I have regularly at home is breakfast tea with milk and sweetener or Tea Pigs’ liquorice and peppermint infusion. Neither is a study into the finer characteristics of tea.
Sometimes with new tastes it’s a bit like abstract art. It helps if someone points out what you’re looking for. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this. I need an education in taste. I should have taken some bottles home but didn’t fancy humping that weight all the way back to Hertfordshire.
I give my thanks for the hospitality but before I leave Brixton I sneakily return to the Craft Beer Co for no other reason than I’ve still got enough cash for a manager’s recommendation I saw on the menu earlier: Prairie Ales Raspberry Farmhouse Ale. It’s 8.4 ABV and shifting for £5.50 a third! Alcohol definitely helped with this decision. It made it the most expensive beer I’ve ever had – a pint would be £16.50 but you’re not supposed to look at it like that.
The ale honked of raspberries. It was a cloudy salmon colour with a lily corona. It was tangy and fruity on the sip with a decaying fruit fug. Smooth. No dryness. The mind was set abuzz from the booze. It’s like a beer syrup you’d expect to dilute if it were a soft drink. I don’t regret making this purchase but was this modest slug worth £5.50? No. But I hope this parting burst of spontaneity helped make up for not entering Pop Brixton. Another time.