We really are spoilt in London, with a constantly growing collection of largely awesome breweries and brewpubs. The hardest part can sometimes be tracking it all down – the majority of breweries are still small operations, and even of those who bottle some of their production are unlikely to supply my local Waitrose!
Happily, the folks at Ales By Mail have decided to help out here, with their Best of London series of boxes – 15 bottles from exclusively London-based breweries (although we’ll have to agree to disagree on Window & Eton’s London status) delivered to your front door.
When the original box was released, my beer cupboard was so overflowing that I couldn’t justify buying yet more – there’s only so much my liver can handle – but I’d managed to get my stocks down to a more manageable level in time for the second edition.
Fifteen bottles from fifteen breweries, and for 6 or 7 of those breweries, my first taste.
Mixed boxes of beer can be a bit of a random experience. Often there’ll be a couple of great beers, a couple of dogs and a whole lot of average bottles. I’m happy to say this was an exception to that rule – I don’t think I had a single duff bottle, and the majority of beers were seriously good. I won’t inflict notes on all fifteen, so here are the highlights.
First up is Brew By Numbers 09/02 Brown Ale. Even before we get to the beer, the branding is just beautiful. It’s a deep, dark brown – way darker than any “nut brown” I’ve ever seen, to be honest – with a nicely lingering off-white head.
The nose is nicely malt-filled, with hints of ripe red berries. It’s heavenly in the mouth, the flavour rich with fruit berries, sweet with a gentle bitter finish and wonderful champagne style mouthfeel. I could happily drink a crate of this, and can’t wait to see what else this brewery can do.
Next is IPA Export No. 1 from Howling Hops, a brewery lurking in the basement of the Cock Tavern in Hackney (where else?!). Understandably, much of their production gets drunk before it leaves the pub, so it’s a real treat to get hold of this.
Perhaps unremarkable visually, this is a full on US-style IPA – the nose is full of sweet citrus hops, with mango and passionfruit. It’s rich and chewy in the mouth, sticky with a huge but not overwhelming resinous bitter smack. Spectacular!
On to Partizan‘s Saison Traditional Spiced. I’m not normally a fan of saisons – I know this is bordering on heresy for a beerophile, but I can’t help my tastebuds – but this could be the beer that changes my opinion.
It has quite a vivid orange colour, with a deep white head and a lot of fizz to it. The nose is most fairly described as ‘odd'; lots of spicy notes and a yeasty, belgian-like aroma.
The flavour is almost honey-like at the start, quickly overwhelmed by a spicy sour edge, while the fizz gives a nice foamy mouthfeel. Delicate and refined, it’s distinctly saison without being aggressively so – very approachable, and exceedingly drinkable.
Lastly is Brick Lane Lager from Redchurch. I managed to pick up some sediment on pouring – a common experience with Redchurch, who have an almost Kernel-like level of stuff lurking at the bottom of the bottle – which rather spoils the look of what was, until then, a glorious golden coloured beer with a frankly huge head on it.
The nose is hugely hopped, sweet, enticing and full of tropical fruit. Not exactly what I expect from a lager, but everything I’ve grown to expect from Redchurch. It’s more classically lager-y in the mouth, light malt and a nice fizz but the hops are still a strong presence – pale fruit at the start, slowly yielding to resinous hops and a dry, lingering finish.
Unusual and, as the tasting notes concede, not quite true to style, but I don’t care. It’s delicious.
These are my top four ‘new experience’ beers from the collection, but the rest of the box is also excellent. There’s a nice blend of the new boys and the more established breweries – the sight of a Sambrooks bottle in any box of beer always makes me smile – and it’s a great way to explore the huge range and diversity of beer being made in London at the moment.
Overall, this is a fantastic collection. The third edition is now out, and is worth the purchase price for Weird Beard’s Holy Hoppin Hell alone!