What comes to mind when non-natives are asked to imagine London? Grey, rainy skies. Double-decker buses and elaborate guard-changing ceremonies, surely. And beer: pints of the (room-temperature) stuff, preferably consumed in pubs with low ceilings and Tudor-style architecture.
I’m new to London, and it’s been interesting for me to reevaluate the stereotypes. I can attest to the sodden weather and the plenitude of red buses, but the beer? Though modern English beer production has largely focused on relatively low-alcohol “real” ales that stick to the same few styles (your bitters, milds, olds, the odd stout or porter), in recent years it’s expanded its reach to include new, experimental styles and techniques (forged ahead by daring brewers like Scotland’s BrewDog, famous for its 32% ABV Tactical Nuclear Penguin, and others like West Sussex’s Dark Star and The Kernel in London). Much of the experimentation involves working with American craft beer tactics, whether it’s using fruit-forward American hop varieties like Citra, Centennial, and Cascade, upping the alcohol percentage of their brews to boozier heights, or stepping away from Britain’s pantheon of traditional styles to forge something new.
I was curious then to attend Craft Beer Rising, a first-annual festival celebrating all things craft beer in the UK. Part of the festival’s stated mission was to “throw off the shackles of a traditional beer gathering by crafting events, experiences, and environments that take craft beer to the masses,” or, in other words, to modernize the country’s image of the stodgy, old men-filled festivals of yore and replace it with events full of ballsy beers and young and diverse crowds. That the event was held in the old Truman Brewery building on trendy Brick Lane seemed no accident.
If that was the organizers’ aim, in many ways they succeeded: Craft Beer Rising was by all accounts a broad success. Showcasing a total of 53 breweries, the venue filled up quickly, and largely with attendees under 35. Rows of booths spanning several rooms supplied drinkers generously with complimentary tastes and larger pours, while a music room piped DJ-helmed tunes into the fray and food stands — among them schnitzel-purveyors Fleisch Mob and Mother Flipper, a trendy Americanized burger shack — slung well-oiled, cheesed, and carbed goods at the masses.
I’ll be honest and say: after several hours, the festivities began to blur, and the breweries, each pouring upwards of five to six beers, slowly started to intermingle into a single, happy haze. That’s not to say that there weren’t standouts: the staffers at Wales’s Brains Craft Brewery poured a mean Boilermaker (an IPA aged with Welsh whisky-infused oak chips), while Greenwich’s Meantime Brewing Co. (get it?) sampled one of my favorites from the show, a chocolate porter that tasted, as the booth staffer had promised, like a chocolate bar had been melted into the glass before serving. Beyond these, other breweries poured from a range of styles, and it is only due to a lingering bout of food poisoning that I wasn’t able to sample as broadly as I wished.
Aside from the bounty of tipples, one of Craft Beer Rising’s other standouts was its series of 45-minute classes that schooled visitors on the more culinary aspects of beer. My favorite was an engaging session led by mixologist Ryan Cheti of Mr. Lyan, which discussed the marrying of beer and liquor to form that beloved and controversial beverage: the beer cocktail. At the beginning of his talk, he asked those who were skeptical about the mingling of the two to raise their hands. A few attendees were, though I imagine that by the end they would not have felt the same way: his three cocktails, a rhubarb number combined with BrewDog’s Dead Pony, a beery-take on a traditional Manhattan, and a Rum Porter Flip perfectly demonstrated how beer can play a compelling mixological role.
Rum Porter Flip
25 mL Havana Club (or another spiced, dark rum)
50 mL porter or stout
25 mL raspberry syrup
2 dashes bitters
Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake for 10-15 seconds, vigorously enough so the egg adds frothy body to the drink but not so much that the beer’s carbonation prompts explosion.
Open the shaker and add a little bit of ice (4-5 cubes), and shake for a second time.
Strain into a wine glass, and top with freshly grated nutmeg.
Recipe adapted from Mr. Lyan’s Ryan Cheti
So, how would one characterize Britain’s beer scene now? If anything, this festival proved that the move away from strict, old-fashioned, CAMRA-approved “real ale” and the movement towards youthful, fun, and explosively creative craft beer is a very real demographic shift, one that’s slowly pulling in new drinkers in its wake, particularly in a place that still sees beer as the domain of portly old men. That being said, it’s still early on in the curve: some of the breweries present still seemed to focus on traditional, sessionable styles, and many table representatives still seemed surprised that a young women might want in on the festivities. That aside, it’s unarguably one of the most exciting times to be a beer drinker in Britain in decades, and if the US is any model, the craft beer movement here is only going to continue to pick up steam.
February: the shortest month it may be, but its endless stretch of grey days, lingering chill, and frozen ground are a recipe for bleak. Holidays come at a premium (how else to explain the collective apoplexy of Valentine’s Day?), and memories of warm and fragrant picnic-filled days fade as quickly as the brief spells of daylight. Though a Sesonal Affective Disorder lamp is one solution, I propose another: sparkling beer matched with indulgent French cheese.
Miller High Life may claim to be the Champagne of beers, but it’s wrong. Much closer, I think, is AMA Bionda: conceived of by Brooklyn Brewery’s celebrity brewmaster Garrett Oliver and produced by Italian craft brewery Amarcord Birra Artiginale, Bionda is a delicate bottle, but one pulsing with effervescent life.
Brewed with a generous dollop of Italian orange blossom honey, Bionda fully identifies as beer but in taste sways towards cider, with its apple and pear fruit esters, clean finish, and lightly prickling carbonation. It’s a sweet one. For drinkers who are new to beer, this makes it an accessible choice: no fears here about a wallop of hop bitterness.
There’s more going on than just fruit, though. Bionda, despite its name, pours a coppery shade, and its medium body supports a good deal of maltiness and a full-on yeasty funk. It’s bottle-conditioned, and leaves behind a cloud of dregs in the bottom of the glass. This is a beer that elegantly, flexibly pairs with food; perhaps even does best with a companion. Enter Saint Marcellin.
Ho, boy. This is a cheese lover’s cheese: bloomy, nubbly rind? Check. Unmistakably funky aroma? Check. Molten, oozy center? Check, check, check. Saint Marcellin is a cow’s milk cheese that originates from a small town outside of Lyon in France’s Rhone-Alpes region. As David Lebovitz recounts, it’s so abundant there that it’s often used as a form of currency. When young, it’s all cream; as it ages, its rind changes hues and eventually blues while its inside goo grows ever more pungent. I like it best towards the younger side: creamy, soft, with a touch of mushroomy punch but not too biting or astringent.
Saint Marcellin is traditionally said to pair well with sparkling wines. As with most cheeses that lean towards the softer and more delicate, it goes best with light-bodied beverages. Bionda here makes a perfect match: its bubbles cut through the cheese’s creamy core, while its sweeter notes neither suppress the Saint Marcellin nor are overwhelmed by it.
Together: the makings of an impromptu holiday, winter blues be damned.
Is there a beer style richer, sexier, or more bodacious than the American stout? When we pour out a pint, we think: melted chocolate. Pulverized coffee beans. A small mouthful of smoke, and a fast-emulsifying plume of heavy cream. We savor our stouts, whether they err on the hoppy side of the spectrum or whether they dive into full-blown, death-by-chocolate profundity.
It’s the beauty of the American iteration of the style: beefier than its light-bodied Irish and English counterparts, which were once the stuff of day laborers’ breakfasts, the American stout is typically higher in alcohol, heavier on the hops, and, most importantly, decadent in its proportion of sweet, blackened barley malt.
Because of their depth and intensity, stouts are often thought of as a winter beer, and it’s hard to argue against a style that leaves a thick down of creamy froth on the sides of the glass as it’s drunk on a frigid evening. For all of its cocoa and chicory, stout is not a style that lends itself to easy-drinking, summer oblivion. Is it even possible to enjoy one come mid-July?
I would argue yes, but with the addendum that poor weather is absolutely essential.
Luckily for me, Brooklyn has obliged with a thunderstorm-filled week of wet pavements and spats of downpour. Stout loves downpour. It also loves snow, sleet, hail, and even a good derecho. The point being: if it’s precipitating, it’s probably the right time to pull that bottle out of the back of the fridge.
A month or two ago, I had squirreled away a bottle of Mean Old Tom among my more seasonally appropriate bottles. An American stout crafted by Maine Beer Company (a relatively new microbrewery based in Portland, Maine), Mean Old Tom has all of the makings of an excellent, don’t-rest-until-you-can-lay-your-hands-on-it stout: a full and foamy head, a burnished and opaque pour, a nose redolent of all that good stouty business. Its luscious mouthfeel doesn’t hurt — this baby goes down velvet smooth. Though it’s got a well-proportioned, medium body, Mean Old Tom still features the characteristic chewiness of a good example of the style.
As for taste, well, it’s a waltz of everything you expected it would be: biscuity malt, concentrated espresso pulls, heavy shards of dark chocolate bars, and a vaguely lactic sweetness. What makes it special is the fact that it’s aged on organic vanilla beans, which lend a subtle fragrance and lightness to the end product. It’s something of a stunner.
Unfortunately, as I am drinking this bottle off-season, it could prove challenging to ferret out currently. East Coasters may have the best luck: the small-scale brewery currently distributes in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. Hiding behind that minimalistic label is your next cozy weather companion, one that’s got your back come January or July.
High summer in Brooklyn is inescapable. 15-minute walks to the subway turn into plodding crawls, the humid air settling close to the skin like a wet fur coat. Air conditioners peek out of most windows, wheezing weary gasps onto the sidewalk. My six packs have been sweating through their paper bags until the bottoms fall out. It’s hot.
For all of its chill, beer can be hard to drink when the thermostat soars into the high nineties and above. If you’re at all like me, you experience head-swimming dizziness in too much direct sunshine, and the heat stays in an unbroken layer under your skin for long after you’ve retreated indoors. When up against dehydration and heady temperatures, a condensation-studded bottle of water tempts. Or at least it does until this comes into focus through the haze:
Watermelon beer? I have to admit that this can faced some serious skepticism when I first encountered it. In the past, I looked at fruit beer as a cop-out: a deviation from the form; a crutch for people who wouldn’t drink beer without a heavy dose of added sugar; or, worst of all, a predictable marketing ploy to try and scoop up a few more female drinkers. Though Belgium’s lambics provide a riposte, the few American-made examples I’d had, whether filled with florid blueberries, saccharine strawberries, or other fistfuls of fruit, felt weak. Weak and dull. Watermelon beer couldn’t possibly be any better.
I was wrong.
21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon was made for humid afternoons spent sweating into blankets in the park, and I’d argue that there are few better options to accompany grilling or beach outings. It’s the ultimate summer antidote: its light, strawberry blonde-hued body does best when served at the colder end of the scale, while its wheaty backbone imparts enough heft to give it balance. And that watermelon! Fruity without being sweet, bright and fresh but still somehow subtle: a dribble of melon without a mash of pulpy seeds. Boy, is it good.
And it isn’t just me. Nearly every cashier who has sold me this beer in the course of the last two months has leaned in and said, with an air of confidence, that it’s one of their favorites. The refrain is frequent enough that I’ve come to think that it’s the unofficial beer of the borough, if not the season at large.
What to serve it with, then, when you haul a box to that lazy weekend picnic or nighttime rooftop barbecue? This beer harbors a happy secret: it loves a good goat cheese.
Whether with beer or wine, goat cheeses, as a general rule, pair well with lighter-bodied, effervescent, fruit-filled beverages. Just as a creamy, French-style round of lightly aged goat cheese is just the thing to serve alongside a flute of bubbly, Midnight Moon goes flawlessly with this turquoise can.
During my three-month tenure as a cheese-monger in a New York gourmet grocery, Midnight Moon jockeyed for position as the most popular cheese around: full, wax-wrapped wheels disappeared in a matter of days. Produced in Holland for California-based creamery Cypress Grove, Midnight Moon is a Gouda made with goat’s milk instead of the typical cow. That change makes for a cheese that’s irresistible to novices and fanatics alike: its semi-firm paste lapses into rich creaminess on the tongue, though it’s also laced with tiny, crunchy granules reminiscent of a more aged wheel. It’s milky, sweet, and full-on butterscotchy. And with the addition of its blush-pink color, it’s almost as if it’s trying to tell us how good it would be alongside watermelon flavors.
Though the anti-fruit beer crowd may never stoop to try Hell or High Watermelon, they’d be making a mistake: this beer, summer in a brilliant can, quenches in a way that few can. With a generous slab of Midnight Moon alongside, it’s enough to dispel the caked-on sweat, the steaming streets, and the mosquito’s whine — at least for a while.
Welcome to Brewity. Maybe you love beer, or maybe you drink it only occasionally. Maybe it’s something you’d like to learn more about, or even something you’ve decided you’re not keen on. Whatever your tastes, I’m glad you’ve arrived. Pull up a chair, and definitely don’t forget to pour out that special bottle that’s been sitting in the back of the fridge.
I started Brewity with a few aims in mind. It’s become overwhelmingly evident that the United States is currently in the thick of a craft beer revolution. The flowering of craft beer production and consumption can be seen in the fact that we now have over 2,000 breweries operating in the U.S. today — a high-water mark that hasn’t been seen since pre-Prohibition times a century ago. We’ve become a mecca for lovers of the ancient brew, and our swelling ranks of innovative brewers are constantly turning out adaptations of centuries-old styles that treat drinkers to bold, brash, and entirely new flavors. It’s now possible to argue that the U.S. is the best country for beer lovers in the world today.
And yet, craft beer still only occupies 5% of the overall market, which is otherwise overwhelmingly dominated by bottom line-driven macrobreweries and multinational conglomerates. Despite its resurgence, craft beer is still the underdog. As people who love beer, as people who want to support local artisans, as people who encourage innovation, and as people who are excited to explore the culinary potential of beer — it’s up to us to change that.
I operate under the belief that there is a beer for almost everyone (even those who claim not to enjoy it). I also vehemently believe that it’s time that beer is elevated to the status of wine. Culinarians and gourmands who see beer as the province of swillers and chuggers might be shocked to explore its true breadth, range, and the mastery of those who produce it. Beer can and should be seen as an essential companion to food, whether we cook with it or serve it alongside. And, because of its tremendous range of styles, ingredients, and lack of acidic tannins, beer often trumps wine when it comes to food pairings.
As a woman in her mid-twenties, I also want to make it clear that beer can and should be a drink for women, too. Beer, even today, remains a stubbornly gendered beverage. In media, we’re used to seeing it not only as a drink for men, but as a quintessential accessory to a masculine lifestyle. There are still strikingly few outlets or communities, physical or digital, that cater to younger women who are as passionate about beer as their male counterparts. It’s my hope that this blog, and other publications like it, can upend that tired association and make it clear that good beer is for everyone to enjoy.
Check Brewity for profiles of beers and craft breweries (domestic and international), recipes that call for beer in them and alongside, beer and cheese pairings, and more. I’ll also be profiling events and venues in Brooklyn and around New York, one of the country’s undeniable craft beer hubs. In the meantime, thank you for visiting. I’m glad to have you here.