Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Craft Beer Co Vertical Tasting




Well into winter's rain and chill, I went for a meander through London. My walk started out from Blackfriars Station from where I visited Bermondsey. From Druid Street I backtracked and traipsed all along the South Bank of the Thames to Lambeth Bridge. I was buffeted by placards and flags from  demonstrators returning from an environmental protest. I crossed north into Pimlico and soon into the warm welcoming arms of The Cask and Kitchen. There were two versions of an American Brown Ale on. Seeing similar takes of the same style by two reputable breweries, I realised it was fate; it was time for a vertical tasting. If anyone's had the misfortune to imbibe our own homegrown Newkie Brown recently, it comes as a shock: No malt depth - no hop dimension - no body! There's just a rice paper sweetness and the stench of wet cardboard followed by a vaguely Cola-like belch. The Americans on the other hand have treated the style with respect. The prefix American rather than British is much more comforting when attached to Brown Ale. Hopefully things are changing.

Rockhead (cask - 6 ABV) - Dark Star Brewery


Rockhead has a deep walnut brown hue but is still perfectly transparent. It has a soft beige froth which imparts some light chocolate dusting powder on the aroma. First sip is clammy verging on sticky and reminds me of the consistency of the thick cream in a chocolate eclair but has none of the sickly sweetness. It hones to a sharp ground coffee/black chocolate edge. It's this bitterness that gradually echoes across the palate but the alcohol buoys it comfortably.

The Stooge (cask - 4 ABV) - Magic Rock Brewing


The stooge is hazelnut brown with a milky lily white head. I can't detect any aroma at this point. I drink it and it's the fruity hoppiness that dominates. It's a bit like tart berries and puts me in mind of hops like Bramling Cross and Mosaic. There is a darker coffee backdrop to it, though. I think it's coming from burnt malt. Spiritually, it's like a dry bitter with an added roasted hit and it leaves a scorched taste on the roof of the mouth. A beautiful balance - each sip seems more colourful and floral than the last.

Out of the two American Browns, The Stooge wins it for me. I leave The Cask and Kitchen and continue my meander through Victoria, around St James' Park, across Admiralty Arch, through Chandos Place (fellow beer geeks will know why), across Covent Garden and up Endell Street. Soaked, I cross dripping over the threshold of The Craft Beer Co Covent Garden. I need something black for my constitution and guess what - an opportunity for a second vertical tasting arises!

Anastasia's Exile Stout (cask - 5 ABV) - Ascot Ales


Anastasia's Exile Stout is black and impervious to the light. It's got a light coffee sponge head. The smell of chocolate cake oozes off this. When you open the sluice (I mean the upper one), the taste has a cocoa edge but is more of dark berries - blackcurrant, black cherry and blueberry. The roasted malt provides a coffee dreg backwash. There's a creamy malty dimension like porridge oats but also a powdery mouthfeel.

Stouter Stout (cask - 4.7 ABV) - Manchester Marble Brewery


The stouter stout is black too but with crimson at the edges and more of a grey head than brown. I inhale a sweet aroma like demerera sugar. This beer is much more carbonated than the Exile Stout. There's a charred meat/dandelion taste to it that makes it slightly acrid. Something about roling it around the tongue also reminds me of a dry red wine like Merlot. A dry coffee bitterness clings to the palate. 

Both stouts are well crafted ales but my favourite out of the blacks tonight was the Exile Stout. I'm fickle, though. Another time, another place and another mood and I might have gone the other way on each tasting.