Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
I arrive early at Winter Brew Fest, so early in fact that I'm made to wait outside for ten minutes before they open the doors. As I sit there, waiting for the Sunday afternoon session of this new beer festival to open I sit and take in my surroundings. It's a cool, crisp afternoon a few yards from the resting Old Street, food traders are setting up for the day and I'm wishing I'd stopped for that coffee I'd considered on the way here. I'm not left wishing for long though because I'm soon inside, glass and tokens in hand and I'm chatting away to Weird Beard's Natasha Wolf.
She pours me an Out of Office coffee IPA, a beer that I had tried just as it had been bottled a few weeks ago and one that I already know that I like. What was remarkable was how the intense and slightly green around the edges hop profile I had detected weeks beforehand had now mellowed and let the rounded, bitter, citric acid quality of the coffee shine through. It's both a very tasty and accomplished beer that deserves high praise indeed but the fact that it was brewed by my friends Andrew and Chris makes this beer even more special. I'm glad I didn't stop for that coffee on the way here, after this I certainly didn't need it.
Winter Brew Fest is one of several new wave beer festivals that are steadily increasing in number, such as Manchester's IndyManBeerCon and The London Craft Beer Festival, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. It follows the premise that the brewers sell the festival their beer and then man their stands themselves. Beer is bought with tokens that are part of the £27.50 ticket price, which gets you a glass and twelve thirds of beer. For me this was plenty to be getting on with during the five hour session especially as each brewer was happy to dole out tasters and many of the beers were well over the 7% mark. There was a small smattering of breweries present, maybe 15 or 16 and mostly from within London. Both cask and keg beer was well represented as was draught cider and alcoholic ginger beer. Along with a well chosen set of food traders there was a little something here for everyone.
I made some wonderful new discoveries, Gipsy Hill Brewery were selling well made, pintable beers. Islington's Hammerton Brewery have really hit the ground running and as I supped their pithy, citrus led N7 Pale Ale I continued to be impressed. One new brewery that really left their mark on me was One Mile End of The White Hart brewpub in Whitechapel. Their salvation pale ale was being served on both keg and cask and was tasting great on both although I found the cool, carbonation of the keg pour enhanced the juicy, bitter quality of its hops. I followed this with their Imperial Stout, a huge beer laden with flavours of liquorice, coffee and chocolate. On this evidence I strongly feel that One Mile End are ones to watch in 2015.
While I was delighted to see some of London's fledgling breweries already making some great beers what pleased me greatly was how some of our more established brewers have really kicked on. I kept going back to Weird Beard, their juicy, resinous, Mariana Trench was rich with flavours of tropical fruit yet so, so drinkable and their decadence stout was, well, full bodied, decadent and downright delicious. Similarly the beers from Redchurch, who I feel are often overlooked by a few, were on simply stunning form. I was given a timely reminder that the borderline black IPA, Hoxton Stout is one of my favourite beers in this class and that I need to stock up.
I left the relaxing Sunday session with a smile on my face and a stagger in my step. I'd had more than enough great beer to make an afternoon of it and were it not for the fact that Monday morning lurked around the corner I'd have carried on late into the evening. The BL_NK venue was well chosen but I really wish I'd taken the opportunity to visit one of the Friday or Saturday night sessions as I think with the addition of live music and a party atmosphere the place would have really jumped into life. It's great to see smaller, more intimate festivals like this popping up and I'd like to see more. I'll most certainly be heading to Winter Brew Fest's summer incarnation when it comes around next year.