Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
London breweries are currently spreading faster than a particularly nasty Zombie plague except the good kind of Zombie plague where the end result is not the extinction of the human race but lots and lots of really good beer. The Rocky Head Brewery, based in Wandsworth, South London, opened mere months ago and they are already making a name for themselves with their inaugural brew, an American Style Pale Ale. When I first spied the eye catching label on the shelf in my local Oddbins I had not heard a peep about them before, the breweries name made me recall the Rocky Mountains which I often miss dearly and so I had to have some.
After doing a little background research on this brewery I discovered that Rocky Head was formed by a group of friends whose joint love of American craft beer caused them to set up their operation in 2012 with whatever bits of brewing kit they could get their hands on. At the moment Rocky Head only operates as a part time business brewing at weekends, I'm already impressed, these guys probably hold down full time jobs in the week and then spend all weekend brewing and bottling by hand. You can get their beers from a variety of outlets around London which you can see on their website here, I picked up this bottle from my local Oddbins in Crouch End, North London where they are sold for three pounds each. It's currently the only beer being brewed by Rocky Head and it doesn't look like any others are on the horizon just yet.
Like a many other modern London-brewed beers this Pale Ale is bottle conditioned so I left the bottle to settle in my fridge overnight whilst it chills. The label has a clear bottled on date so you can check that your beer is fresh, one of the little touches I really appreciate. The label also boasts that this beer contains an 'exuberant mix of malted and toasted barley' and 'an obscene amount of New World leaf hops added at every possible stage of the brewing process.' Bold claims from a young brewery but it's certainly got me salivating, obscene is a word not to be used lightly.
The beer is more of a rich, light amber colour as opposed to a straw coloured traditional pale ale so it's already ticking the 'American craft' box on my checklist. The beer is nice and bright in the glass and I'm careful to avoid pouring any of the sediment in with it (although I do tend to neck that straight from the bottle once I've finished pouring.) Sticking my nose in I get a big hit of grapefruit, candied orange and marmalade, delving deeper into the aroma the malt bill is also detectable in the form of malted bread and honey.
I can already tell from the aroma that this beer is going to float my sailing vessel but I was quite taken back when I took my first sip. I was instantly transported back over the Atlantic and towards the towering Rockies, the bitter grapefruit, mandarin, melon and lychee flavours making me recall those excellent brews that opened my mind to the world of modern beer. The brew it most reminds me of is the excellent Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar blues, that huge fruity bitterness balanced on a sturdy, rich malt backbone but incredibly drinkable for it's 6.5% ABV. This is the kind of beer you want in your fridge at all times, it's an everyday beer that you'd happily sink repeatedly whilst relaxing at home. The great thing is that I only have to walk down the road to get it so I CAN have it in my fridge at all times, if only it came in one of those clever cardboard six-packs you get the States, then it would be TOTAL CRAFT as we like to say these days.
The one detectable thing that separates this from those delightful Colorado brews is that signature yeasty tang you get particularly from London breweries. It might be the yeast, it might be the water but it's the same signature bitter aftertaste you get with pale ales from Redchurch and The Kernel. It's not an unpleasant taste but for me it takes aways from the cleanliness of the beer, a quality that Tandleman always looks for in a great beer and Mark Dredge wrote about so well recently. It's a factor in beer that I think I'm beginning to understand myself and so will perhaps explore in more detail in a future post but for now, I'm going to drink some more of this stunning beer from the Rocky Head.