A few beers in Brixton

A few beers in Brixton

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

dscf4560I have a half of Blackjack Brewery’s Bramling Cross – 4 ABV on cask. It’s bronze with an elderflower milk and notes of redcurrant. It’s plummy and quite smoky. Corky, even. It’s got a metallic note.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

dscf4575 East India Brewing Co

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.

dscf4579The 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.

Getting a brew on: tea-infused beers

 
Coffees with heads you could stick flakes into have usurped our dainty cups of tea. When visiting people’s homes, tea was always the default offering. Coffee was a backup choice – back there with cocoa, hot chocolate and Ovaltine. Perhaps Britain’s decline in the world correlates with the dearth of raising our little finger. 
 
Beer and coffee hybrids can be quite special. The alcohol relaxes and loosens you out, the coffee stimulates and hones you to a point. I find that on occasion the mixture of booze and caffeine can bring on a headache – especially if its ABV pounds into double figures.
 
This vertical tasting sees beers from Siren Craft Brew in Finchampstead, Hammerton Brewery in Islington and Pope’s Yard Brewery in Watford. Each different beer style has been blended with the herbal, the relaxing and the invigorating: tea.
         
 
 
Siren Craft Brew – Vermont Tea Party – bottle conditioned 3.6%
 
loose leaf pale ale with earl grey tea and lemon zest 
 
 
This beer is based on Siren’s original tea beer – Love of Work. The yeast is from Vermont. Citrus zest has been used to complement Chinook, Citra, Equinox and Amarillo hops. 
 
Decanted, the colour is lemony and turgid. The head rocks up like white nougat. You can hear it popping like Rice Crispies as it declines.
 
On the nose I certainly get the lemon zest but also some dark gritty malt like pumpernickel bread. The carbonation is zinging. 
 
The malt in the aroma isn’t reflected on the palate. Lemon is the strongest taste that comes through. It’s easy-going, maybe not surprising considering its svelte ABV.
 
I like it. The beer made no claims of having a complicated character. It’s perfect for sipping outside in the summer – ideal for watching Wimbledon. The refreshment’s similar to a lime cordial or a lemon squash with the added “herbal high” of the tea. I do get a calming feeling; my heart rate feels as though it’s slowing.
 
photo source: Wikipedia


The leaves of the traditional tea plant – Camellia Sinensis – contain L-theanine linked with reducing mental and physical stress, improving cognitive performance and lowering blood pressure. When brewers dry-hop, it’s virtually the same process as adding tea leaves to hot water. The heat teases out the oils and flavonoids.
 
 
 
Hammerton Brewery – Baron H – bottle conditioned 5.8%

earl grey black IPA
 
Baron H is short for Baron Howick, aka Earl Grey – the Prime Minister the tea is named after. This ale is hopped with Chinook, Cascade, Mosaic, Columbus and Summit. 
 
The colour of the ale is deepest cola burgundy. The head is beige and beautiful; it builds high into a whisked batter of mismatched bubbles.
 
The aroma is appetising: a mixture of bergamot, ginger and chocolate malt. It smells more like a seed-based or wholegrain snack bar.
 
First sip is like a draught of coffee but it harbours friends with benefits. You’re led through a solenoid able to shoot you down three legs: the calming tea earthiness, the buzzing roast caffeine hit or the sweet stout creaminess. In fact, you’ll travel down each simultaneously. 
 
It has a smooth malty mouthfeel too but the carbonation gives it vitality. There’s even a fennel note – presumably from the earl grey. There’s also a mild Marmite note (I’m a lover rather than a hater btw) and an zincy mineral water edge.
 
There’s loads going on but it’s well compiled and eminently moreable. You’l feel sated at the end.
 
photo source: Wikipedia


Tea today is a varied creature. For one thing, unlike coffee beans, it isn’t actually anything specific. Different teas (more accurately “tisanes”) are made from different plants, buds, petals, fruits, roots, leaves and stems. In the last week alone I’ve had peppermint, stinging nettle, popcorn and roast almond tea.
 
 
Pope’s Yard Brewery – LSP – bottle conditioned 10.2%

lapsing souchong porter 
 
 
This porter is made with many malts – Maris Otter, Crystal, torrified wheat, roast barley and black and chocolate malt. Target and Golding hops are then used with molasses.
 
The beer in the glass is pitch black and impenetrable to light. All I can see is the reflection of my nose made bulbous by the glass’ curves. There’s a brief head the colour of brown sugar that releases a sigh as it goes down; high ABV beers don’t often retain a mousse.
 
On the nose I get bitumen and liquorice. It smells like a rich dark dessert. It’s tantalising. The liquid when you rock it back and forth is viscous – again, no surprise for such a boozy heavyweight.
 
When I sip it with my schnoz almost touching the surface of the beer, I get peripheral minty notes on the inhale and get memories of Vicks VapoRub. You can feel the alcohol pixellate you but thankfully you can’t taste it. Bergamot comes through as you down it. It’s sticky on the lips like figs and there’s a taste a bit like biro ink.
 
On the palate it’s tangy with a fruity spiritous edge – stewed dark fruits – plums, blackberries, damsons, and black cherries. It reminds me also of the brandy you get in Kirsch chocolate liqueur sticks
 
It doesn’t weigh as heavy as you might think but considering the punch it packs, isn’t quite as interesting or intense as it could be.
 

Conclusion?
               
 
The Lapsang Souchong porter is still worth investigating but outmatched in this taste-off. With another palate, another mood and another climate these thoughts could change.
 
My runner up would be Vermont Tea Party for its sunlight. The brewery is building a portfolio of bold recipes that occupy each weight division. This beer’s been brewed at the right time of year and quite a few hours could be whiled away on this. I think it could also be great on cask. I will seek it out for this summer’s beer garden sittings.
 

Baron H definitely wins this session. There’s so much going on you can dine out on it but it’s not so heavy you couldn’t have a several of them. It’s just right for its bottle dose. Each sip is a short cruise around the senses. I love how none of the characteristics overwhelm one another. I think it would go really well with an evening of Scandi crime drama on TV and a slice of coffee cake.