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Dish of the Day: Things Learnt At The London Brewers’ Market

Rory Elsome

rory 300x177 Dish of the Day: Things Learnt At The London Brewers’ MarketA couple of Saturdays ago in the Old Spitalfields Market, London’s breweries and record labels gathered to sell the fruits of their respective labours to a highly receptive crowd.

The market was packed with the cream of the East London brigade, indie label vinyl and craft beer surely rank only behind oxygen and water in the hipster hierarchy of needs, and plenty of London’s best were out in show. It was a good chance for a beer-in-hand stock-take of London’s ever-growing microbrewing scene.

The highlights of the day were the, comparatively speaking, big names of the Greater London scene – Beavertown, Five Points, By The Horns, Redchurch, East London Brewing, Windsor and Eton etc., were all out in force, showing off their beers which now feel like part of London’s collective drinking vocabulary.

London now has a group of well established microbreweries that are capable of producing consistently well made and exciting beers. The Five Points Hook Island Red (6% ABV) was in top form and surely is one of the best red rye beers currently on offer in the capital, if not the UK.  Those Simcoe, Chinook and Columbus hops leave an enduring bitterness that works perfectly with the spicier backbone from the rye.  Also, Redchurch’s Old Ford Export Stout (7% ABV) was fantastic, and was the best dark beer of the day (although the By The Horns Porter was a close second).  These breweries are becoming familiar to a wider audience and are now largely producing consistently great beers.

That goal of consistency takes time to get right, and a few of the fresher faces weren’t quite there yet. Brixton Brewery was one I was really keen to seek out. The collective mood around them seemed to indicate they were making some decent beers, so I went straight for the IPA. It looked inviting, the logo is instantly recognisable on a bottle that would stand out on the shelves. The beer though had a woody, almost cardboard like taste, with the expected hop character being largely absent. I think this is just an error in the process as opposed to a fundamental issue, the beer may have been oxidised, or not been allowed to mature enough.

Definitely more teething troubles and something I imagine will be easily rectified as they gain more experience. Other new gangs I was looking out for were Fourpure and Hop Stuff.  Both of these brewery’s beers were in good condition, no signs of errors, but I found them very forgettable. There was nothing bad about them, just not very much great or standout about them either – something which can be said for a few of the other beers on sale as well. Unfortunately for anyone setting up a new brewery in the capital now, the bar has never been higher.

It must be tempting though, especially when so many new breweries have been successful recently. It seems the good times keep on rolling, although the economic sustainability of this boom has certainly raised a few eyebrows amongst the industry’s older hands.

More breweries inevitably end up chasing the same customers which means less business. Although as more people become interested in beer, as they are now, the pool grows and can support more breweries. Perhaps some of the new micros don’t see their growth coming from preaching to the choir, instead growing a following through targeting people who don’t normally drink micro-brewed beer.

While sampling a few forgettable beers at one of the stalls, I joked to a representative of a new brewery in an area with two very well-established ones, that it must be intimidating going up against these comparative behemoths of London brewing. “Well, we aren’t trying to,” she said “but there are a lot of Fosters’ drinkers out there and we’re hoping to convert some of them.”

Could people be turned off industrial fizz onto a beer that looks great, is locally produced and is not such an assault on the taste buds? Perhaps some of the more intense and experimental beers act as a prohibitive entry point to people with a flickering interest in this whole ‘craft beer’ thing? If that could happen then great, but I’ve always believed that the breweries that will convince people that beer is a drink worth exploring, are the ones making the most flavourful, most exciting and most consistently produced beers – and amongst the growing pool of microbreweries there are plenty of them. There are many good things happening in London brewing right now and time will tell where the progress being made these new microbreweries is heading.

Follow Rory on Twitter @RoryElsome

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