Monday, 1 February 2016

It was a dark and stormy night

I tell you, it’s getting harder to keep up with the beer scene in this city. On Friday I found myself braving the cold wind and rain – Storm Gertrude had just passed, apparently not causing as much damage as feared – to cram in three different beer launches.

Since summer Grunting Growler (whom I last mentioned here) has been in residence at Peckham’s off-licence shop in Hyndland. Boss Jehad Hatu has paused only slightly to pick up a “Beer Hero” award from the Scottish Bartenders’ Network in October. When I call in there is actually a queue waiting to have growlers filled.

Grunting Growler had its first very own beer for sale – a 4.1% fruity Berliner Weisse entitled “Popping My Cherry”. The beer was brewed with Jehad by Jonathan Hamilton of the Hanging Bat, who has since departed to join Beavertown in London.

It opens with fresh cherry ice-cream flavour and a nice slightly yoghurty, very slightly stomachy acidity. Not nearly sour enough to be a true Berliner but pleasant enough. If it hadn’t been good, though, the other beers on offer were a splendid mix: Camden unfiltered Hells (which still looked reasonably clear), Vocation Pride & Joy for those still obsessed with hops, Almasty milk stout, all of which I’d be happy to drink.

Chris Lewis of Dead End Brew Machine was
coaxed into saying a few words, mostly about
zombie films
On the other side of the university, west end design agency O Street (who are actually in Bank Street, not Otago Street as you might assume) were hosting one of their informal Beer Times events. This particular one was a bit special, as this evening revolved around the beer itself. Award-winning homebrewer Chris Lewis has finally been persuaded – after much coaxing from Hippo Beers boss Derek Hoy and O Street themselves – to launch his first commercial beer, under the name Dead End Brew Machine. It’s going to be a passion fruit IPA, brewed (like so many these days) at Drygate, and should be out by mid-March.

Drinkers who remember Chris as half of the team which created Zombier back in 2012 will already be drooling. Those who are lucky enough to have tasted Chris’s homebrews are even more excited. On the night some sample bottles of prototypes were going around. An IPA was tasty but didn’t stand out from the oceans of very similar beers already on the market. Chris’s house smoked porter, on the other hand, is sensationally good, rich, smooth and rather elegant.

Some very new brewers seem to have a rather high opinion of themselves, and the actual beer is often disappointing. Chris has the opposite problem, in that he is far too modest. Typically he will thrust a glass into your hand, slightly shamefacedly mumbling something like “I made this beer, I don’t know if it’s any good man, what do you think?” Then you taste the beer and it’s like nectar. This is quite endearing, but Dead End Brew Machine may need to adopt a more aggressive approach commercially.

Nearer the city centre, in the State Bar, which recently won the local CAMRA branch’s Glasgow Pub of the Year for the second year in a row, a Fyne Ales tap takeover saw the pub even busier than normal for a Friday night. The reason for the shindig is to launch ticket sales of the brewery’s summer festival, FyneFest (see here and here and here…) After a quiet first couple of years, FyneFest now sells out every year, so I’m not quite sure why the ticket sales still need promotion. Mind you, as one of the brewery staff tells me, when you work on a farm it’s nice to have a night out in the big city once in a while. And they have new beers to sell, so why not?

There are two spanking new beers here: Great Pacific Hop Patch, an oily, sweet IPA, presumably with New World hops as the name implies, with the slight heaviness common to most of Fyne’s stronger beers, and a lychee-fruity and bitter finish. Sunryse Boulevard, with rye and, I am told, Sorachi Ace hops, is lighter-bodied and easier drinking, with slight notes of coconut and cocoa, but these are subordinated to big, crisp, white-bread doorstep toastiness – I confess I have no idea where that comes from. But as usual, it’s the Jarl and Avalanche that the thirsty punters finish off first.