A swill time at the Croydon Craft Beer Festival
October 18, 2015
Thirsty Londoners lapped up a banquet of pale ales, wheat beers and milk stouts at the first Croydon Craft Beer Festival this weekend. And it seemed another indicator of outer London’s growing cultural chops.
In the old reference library of Braithwaite Hall in central Croydon, beneath a hammer-beamed roof and stained glass windows extolling the virtues of reading, we joined hundreds of enthusiastic punters poring over closely-typed tasting notes. These “beer menus” were clearly whetting appetites to a keen edge – some labels had already been drained by late Saturday afternoon. And by eight p.m, unfortunately for some, the beer had been completely exhausted.
It was easy to see why: a convivial, passionate crowd were experimenting with a sparkling array of tastes, from zesty, frothy saisons to bone-dry, refreshing pale ales. And an eminently reasonable flat rate for the cask beers (£3.80 a pint, £2 a half) was getting everyone’s juices flowing.
We started, politely, with pints from the brewery up the road in New Addington and festival sponsor The Cronx – their golden Kotchin brew was clean, fresh and gently redolent of pine and lemon. A perfect session beer, as the name suggests (“kotchin” is slang for “just hanging”). That was followed by a light, fruity Cronx Nektar which had our taste buds buzzing. As you might expect, other young London breweries were well represented. Fourpure, Weird Beard, Howling Hops, Gipsy Hill, Bexley, Brick Lane, Brockley (its autumn leaf coloured Red Ale is my first choice when in the area), Hackney and many more all had guest spots and all showcased London as a brewer’s paradise.
For me, the stouts and porters were a revelation. Their tasting notes read like Willy Wonka’s recipes if the Oompa-Loompas had been deported and he’d been forced into the booze trade – all oozy malt, bitter chocolate, Oreo cookies and tropical fruit. Flying Dog‘s Kujo Coffee Stout combined creamy coffee and heady notes of soothing chocolate and vanilla for a deep, rich and dangerous (8.9% ABV) experience. A friendly punter recommended Beavertown’s Smog Rocket Smoked Porter, inspired by Shoreditch, thankfully in its nineteenth-century, industrial incarnation. He was right to.
In the absence of many cask beers, the knockout bottled beer of the night had to be Wu Gang Chops The Tree from Hackney brewery Pressure Drop, which was being unfailingly recommended to the adventurous by the charming bar staff. Yes, so it sounds a bit like one of those craft beer names that Stewart Lee so effectively takes the piss out of (“Gandalf’s Memory Stick, Hadron’s Collider, Hogwarts’ Bukkake”) but it was worth ignoring that. The barman said he was lingering just long enough to witness my “Oh my God” face before serving another customer. He left my mouth ascending levels of glorious flavour ranging from cloves and lemons to coriander and banana to leave it in a state of lip-smacking beer-vana. A beer that is genuinely able to transport you.
We left later than expected, inspired and chattering excitedly about what we had imbibed, not a little sozzled, and with half my Christmas gift list sorted. That an event this energy-filled and forward-thinking was happening in Croydon, the go-to cliché for suburban philistinism and cultural backwardness of every hack out there, is hopefully one more symptom of the rise of “the doughnut” – the outer London boroughs that are swelling with exiles from the centre, disenchanted by glass-‘n’-steel London, priced out of property, but still demanding immersion in a full throttle cosmopolitan scene, and prepared to build it themselves where it’s sometimes lacking.
Here’s to next year – and more beer this time!