Bierebelle in the Big City

Since last Saturday was a day of fixing bikes, grocery shopping, household chores and other angelic pursuits (ok maybe the cigar and pint of Dark Star Original not so angelic) Sunday was bound to become carnage. What do they say about all work and no play…? And where better to run amuck than foggy London town. Since the other half is a Geordie, it seemed only fair to start the festivities on the train so breakfast was a lovely Mikkeller Koppi Tomahawk x Guji Natural (6.9% ABV). When you think coffee beers, you would normally think of the darker varieties but, given that this is Mikkeller, it probably comes as no surprise that they actually came up with (possibly a world first) coffee IPA! Made in collaboration with the Sweedish coffee house, Koppi, organic Ethiopian Sidamo coffee beans were used along with American Hops in this unique beer.

Coffee IPA - World First?
Nice breakfast coffee

First impressions from the aroma made me slightly anxious as the smell was predominently hops with a hint of banana and only a suggestion of coffee. Having been smashed in the tastebuds by the hops some of Mikkeller’s creations in the past, I approached with caution. However, I was rather pleasantly surprised by the overall candy-sweetness, followed by a little waft of coffee with a lingering dry, hoppy finish. Altogether a very well-rounded flavor with the coffee sneaking up as you get through the bottle. It’s rather too drinkable and made an excellent start to the day.

So with a Mikkeller already down the hatch, the day was off to a good start. To be fair, it made Camden that bit more bearable which was our first port of call. After battling through a few shops, we decided that we had earned a little rest. As Brew Dog shareholders under their Equity for Punks scheme, we were also duty-bound to finally pay their Camden pub a visit. It’s less than 5 minutes walk from the mayhem of Camden tube station but my goodness it’s a blessed little oasis of calm. Plus, the staff are friendly and know their beer. We found a lovely seat by the window and made a start on the taps. I had been very keen to try the Hitachino’s Nest at the event held by Brew Dog a couple of weeks earlier but sadly live too far away so I was excited to see that they had two on tap, as well as a wide range of bottles.

The first beer had to be Hitachino’s Nest Nipponia (6.5%ABV) which is their golden ale. What a beautiful beer to look at. A cloudy yellow gold with a little bit of a light head and teeny tiny bubbles.The aroma is sweet toffee with tropical banana and pineapple and a little hops. The flavour is so sweet and lovely like a banana split with a little delicate hoppiness at the end, followed by toffee. The end is long and dry with a tiny waft of smoke and this makes it quite more-ish. I could have gone for another one of these but Nipponia wasn’t the only one on the taps I was eager to try! Thankfully, I had brought my lovely boyfriend along as an accomplice which meant we could try twice as many beers.

Brew Dog Camden
Swatting up at Beer School over a Hitachino's Nest Nipponia

For his first drink, being a bit of a hop-head, he went for a Mikkeller 1000 IBU Light (4.9%). A cloudy sunset in a glass, the scent is exotic, hoppy and spicy with fruit and maybe even raisins. It’s such an incredible, complex scent but to taste it’s hops, hops, HOPS. Just an uncompromising assault of hops and take it from me as not-an-overhopped-beer-fan, it’s actually rather good! First, you get a hoppy smack round the face, then there’s a little sweet flourish where you can bask in the sunset colours in the glass, then the hops come back round and kick you in the ass for good measure so you’re left with a long, bitter end. My partner actually believes the bitterness of the light is actually harder-hitting than the full-strength 1000 IBU.

By now, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that we would probably be here a while – it’s not every day you’re presented with such an amazing range of ales to try (especially since there’s about two decent pubs where I live)! It’s also incredibly rare to find not one but two Hitachino Nest beers on tap. However, I have a little confession to make involving a tiny mix-up. Being impressed by the Nipponia and obsessed by owls, I had intended to go for a half of the Amber (5.5%ABV) and the OH wanted to the try Southern Tier Phin & Matts (5.4% ABV) since we are also big STBC fans. In the interests of keeping my reviews as honest as possible, I try not to find out much about the ales before I try them. This kind of backfired when we were presented with one deep, dark, minstrel chocolate brown beer and one glass of light, golden sunshine (some might say Amber?). So we decided that the dark was the Phin & Matts and the one we had labelled ‘Amber’ was the Amber. It was only when I read an online review of the Phin & Matts that I realised our mistake. Big fail, big lesson learned at the Brew Dog Beer School!

Like a nerdy little CAMRA beer-ticker, I took my little note-book to London with me so I could use my notes to bring you this blog so I’m just gonna switch the notes on the Phin & Matts and the Amber like nothing ever happened. In fact, it wasn’t such a bad mistake since both were lovely in their own ways. The Hitachino’s Nest Amber had the aroma of black treacle and a rich chocolatey burnt toffee flavour with hops at the end. More burnt toffee snuck in for well-rounded finish.

The Phin & Matts on the other hand was pretty much the opposite. Wafting out of the sunshiney glass comes the sweet smell of hops, vanilla, bananas and peaches. Now generally, I prefer dark wintery styles but if more summer beers were like this I might be a little more tempted. The taste is liquid sunshine – sweet, refreshing citrus, white chocolate and vanilla with a finish of sticky-toffee-pudding.

The mighty Milwaukee
Bratwurst, pickles, saurkraut, onions...what's not to love!

All this drinking was making me hungry so to accompany our beers (and soak up the booze to prepare us to be released back into society) we decided to sample the delights from the Brew Dog kitchen. The small menu is mainly pizza & burgers. Since they had run out of pizzas the decision was made a little easier so I went for the hot-dog inspired Milwaukee and the boy had a anglo-Indian Whitechapel. Then we decided they were both so good we switched and had half of each.

After our little food-stop, we decided that as share-holders, we owed it to ouselves to make our next half-pints Brew Dog so I ordered the Rip-Tide Imperial Stout (8%ABV) and the OH had the Hops Kill Nazis (7.8%ABV). I always expect great things from Brew Dog. I love their no-compromise attitude and the sense of fun they bring to their brewing. The Stout was everything I had hoped for; deep, dark liquorice black in colour with a thick, foamy head and a caramel, malt and dark chocolate aroma. The taste was an unsurprisingly sturdy, well-rounded and strong Imperial Stout. In each beer, Brew Dog cram in about 15 times more hops than most brewers so the trademark bitterness was still there but this gave way to a long finish of burnt toffee and black coffee with a waft of smoke.

I’m sure Hops Kill Nazis has way more than ’15 x the hops of other brewers.’ Seriously – how on earth is this stuff so deliciously drinkable? It’s such a pretty dark treacly amber and the hops aroma is so true to the flavour which is citrusy and floral but with not a lot of the dryness you might expect from this style. The finish is just delightful and thirst-quenching leaving you with an impression of lemon sherbert.

So as you can see we made ourselves very much at home at the Camden Brew Dog for a large part of the day but there was still some shopping to do and we had plans to visit The Cask too! Our plans to visit any of our other London haunts had pretty much vanished as soon as we saw the burger menu. That’s probably enough for one blog post though – watch out for London part two!

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