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Thursday, 19 January 2012

Camden Town @ Draft House Tower Bridge

Does unfiltered beer give you hangovers?  Always keen to test a theorem and highly optimistic for the null hypothesis Fuggles merrily quaffed away tonight courtesy of Charlie Mcveigh of Draft House, Jasper and the team from Camden Town Brewery and Justin Carter (who kindly got me in the door at the last minute).

I'm a huge fan of what Camden Town are doing.  An artisan twist on traditional beer styles - contemporary, with being try-too-hard.  I'm mostly in love with everything I tried tonight.  Being in much polite company I can't supply you with photos, so please open your imagination instead and enjoy the below.  Or better still, seek them out for yourself in the soon to be opened brewery tap at Camden.

We opened with the Gentleman's Wit - a lemon and bergamot wheat beer where the lemons are roasted to release the oils.  This pale almond cloudy liquid was fresh, zesty and immensely drinkable.  Definitely the session beer of the night.  The Hells had been matured for 6 weeks in tank at Camden town, and 6 hours later, pretty much decanted into our glasses.  A proper kellarbier with spicy floral notes that remind me so much of heather honey.

Then onto the bottled wheat beer, a heffe weisser, brewed using traditional german yeast and very few hops.  There is an interesting story behind the yeast, which Jasper tells far better than I would ever attempt to, but the character of the yeast is the embodiment of the beer.  A variety of malted barleys balance the wheat to create a darker, sweeter and very quaffable variant of wheat beer.

And finally onto the hoptastic finale.  I'm not sure we were ever told how many IBUs were in this beer, but alot.  However, this chestnut coloured IPA had a richness that complemented and toned down the strident bitterness of the (9?) hops and resulted in a full and satisfying IPA.

Mention also should go to the chef, for the quite awesome foot long pork scratchings and even better pork belly.  Fuggles is all at once quite satiated with good beer, food and company and will be visitng draft house again very soon.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

A Lambic Odyssey

It's been a while, I know, but after a brief hibernation Fuggles has rejoined the world of the wide web.  I blame Christmas myself, and I don't mean that in a bad way.  Research commissioned by the cask report in 2011 suggests that cask ale drinkers are more naturally adventurous in what they drink, and consequently less likely to stick to one category of drink.  In December, for me, this comes in the form of mulled wine.  But if it weren't for this fact, I might not be about to extol the virtues of the unusual Lambic beer from Belgium. 

Ever since a tip off from Mark Dredge I've been meaning to check out the Cantillon brewery in Brussels.  Cantillon has been brewing Lambic beer in Brussels in the traditional way for over a hundred years and is the last brewery still running in the capital, under the auspices of the same family which founded it.  The knowledge and skill passed down through the generations is as important a part of the beer as the very fabric of the brewery in which it is made.

Many beers describe themselves as Lambic.  Most that reach the export market have been sweetened to increase the appeal and popularity.  Classic examples being Lindemans and Mort Subite.  The purest and most traditional form of lambic has virtually no sugar in at all (having been entirely consumed by the yeast) and is incredibly tart and sour - a definite acquired taste.  Unlike most beers, old hops are deliberately used to avoid imparting any flavour, and solely for their preservative properties.  Lambic is perceived by some to more closely resemble cider than beer.

What makes Lambic beer so special is the yeast.  Most breweries preserve a pure strain of their yeast in an off site yeast bank, to allow generation of new yeast for fermentation and a consistent brew every time.  Lambic beer is produced using wild yeast.  Samples of Cantillon beer have revealed over 60 different strains of yeast in a single bottle.  The production of lambic beer is therefore unlike any other. 
The cooling tank (above) is where the magic happens.  This large flat vessel is where the near boiling wort is pumped to for cooling.  Boiling has at this point destroyed any organisms that may have been present in the beer thus far.  The sterile liquid is now exposed to the air overnight whilst it cools.

The brewery must therefore ensure a good "infection" of the wort.  There are holes in the roof to encourage circulation of air.  The wood from which the brewery is built is the natural breeding ground for the yeast.  If repairs need to be undertaken to the brewery, only a small amount of wood can be removed at a time to ensure this unique "yeast bank" is not depleted.  Furthermore, brewing can only take place in the winter months to ensure that the wort cools to a level where the wild yeast can survive but bacteria (that would spoil the beer) cannot - around -5 to +5 oC.

The beer is then left to mature in barrels for anywhere from 14 months to 3 and a half years.  From this base a number of beers can be created.  The skill in lambic beer production lies not just in a good brew, but in a good blend.  "Geuze" beer is produced by blending old and young lambic to create secondary fermentation in the bottle, which adds carbonation to the beer.  This blending is the skilful part of making a geuze and the "head brewer" describes himself instead the "master blender" in reflection of this.  Because each bottle of beer is different (due to the effects of the wild yeast) this can only be done by tasting and blending.
Alternatively, fruits are added to provide the sugar for secondary fermentation.  Classic beers are Kriek (sour cherries) and Framboise (rasberries).  The Cantillon fruit lambics have an intense nose and first hit of fruit when you taste it, with the sourness of the lambic sweeping in to finish.
Our favourites were the Fou Foune (apricot) and Zwanze 2011.  Zwanze is the annual limited edition brew.  Cantillon are not afraid to experiment with mixing grain and grape and have several regular examples of this.  Zwanze 2011 contained a peppery grape variety called Pineau d'Aunis which provides a great contrast to the underlying sourness of the lambic.
You can only get this beer in the brewery itself, so if you want to try some you'll have to get over there (which I thoroughly recommend anyway).  Be warned though, our guide recommended a 1-2-3 approach to drinking the beer.  Essentially it takes 3 sips to get used to the flavour before you can start to enjoy it.  Some would argue more, but this is a beer that will not be to everyone's taste.

It's no secret that I like my Belgian beer, but I cannot stress enough that the Cantillon brewery offers a rare (but very accessible) opportunity to learn about and try something unique.  If you're ever in Brussels do pay it a visit.  Even if you can't get your tastebuds round the style it's a living part of Belgium's brewing history.

Much can (and has been) written about Belgian beers and bars, which I won't attempt to better.  If you're planning a visit I recommend a read of the beer advocate.  Instead, I'll just leave you with some abbreviated highlights.

LATE NIGHT BEERS: Delirium Taphouse (excellent selection, didn't ever seem to close, also 400 vodkas if you're that way inclined)
LENGTH OF BEER LIST: Porte Noire (a warm dark cellar with an overflowing fridge and never ending beer list)
LOCALS' BEER CAFE: Le Coq (choice completely uninfluenced by childish humour)

GEUZE: Cantillon (obviously), Tilquin, Oud Beersel
LAMBIC: Bon Voeux 1 An
BRUNE: Bourgogne des Flandres Brunes
KRIEK: Kasteel Red
TRIPEL: Karmeliet, Caulier