Brewing By Numbers

Certainly one of my favourite "Best of London" discoveries from ales by mail is Brew By Numbers. I first tried their Berliner weisse about a year ago and knew they were on to something. They now rank alongside their Bermondsey brethren of Kernel and Partizan among the elite of London brewers and I'm on a mission to try more. In early February I spent an enjoyable afternoon following the now obligatory beer pilgrimage around the rail tracks and spent a few hours in the good company of Andy @tabamatu in the packed BBNo brewery. I later got hold of some bottles to try; so here are my thoughts.

A couple of porters up first, one with liberty and one dubbed traditional. Liberty first then at 5.7% is hazy dark brown, fluffy beige head, piney hop notes and cocoa. Full bodied, low carbonation, v easy drinking, rich dark malt with cocoa, toasty malt and well balanced by leafy herbal hops

The traditional porter is even better at 6.5% dark loamy brown with frothy tan head. Cocoa and toast. Robust and rich, earthy roast barley, coffee and toast. Superb, reaffirms my love of porters. This is sparring against Anspach and Hobday as my favourite porter of the year.

Coming in a smidge higher is the export stout at 7.4%. Pours opaque ebony brown with pillowy tan head and earthy rich roast barley nose. Full body with spritzy carbonation, coffee and chocolate. Rich, hides its strength well. Umami dry toast., touch of lemon peel. V drinkable. Rich cherry notes.

Saison seems to be an area of expertise for the brewery and in addition to a fantastic motueka & lime and wai-iti and lemon sampled at the brewery I picked up a Nelson Sauvin saison. Now antipodean hops pair brilliantly with the fruity Belgian yeasts and again there's no exception here.Pouring hazy pale blonde with pillowy cream head. Rich gooseberry and passion fruit on the nose, redolent of a sauvingnon blanc. Fairly soft medium mouthfeel with a gentle carbonic tingle, fruit peel bitterness at first, then creamy wheat and plenty of fruity gooseberry with a pause for Flinty yeast before progressing to a fruity dry finish. Excellent stuff.

Another style that's (perhaps controversially) all the rage is session IPA. I'll save my thoughts on the genesis of this style for another post and just talk about the beer here. This one combines citric Amarillo and more Nelson Sauvin. opaque golden beer with fluffy off white head. Mango rind aroma. Full bodied pithy bitterness with juicy satsuma and slight sweaty feet. Amarillo running the party here and doesn't quite hit the spot for me. A prime example of "London Murky".

Finally we have a full blown IPA, this time with simcoe and chinook. BBNo redeem themselves here, yes still hazy but  with a much more inviting lime peel and passion fruit nose. Medium body, gentle carbonation, "ruinously drinkable". So sessionable for its strength. Juicy fruit, gentle bitterness, peach, tangerine, verbena. Delicious, best ipa I’ve had in a while. Perfectly balanced.

So with an average score of 4/5 (and only the session IPA letting the side down slightly) Brew by Numbers have comfortably entered my Top 5  UK breweries alongside the likes of Redchurch, Siren, Buxton and Wiper & True. I urge you to seek them out and try for yourselves. I certainly feel vindicated including them in my ones to watch, with more fun on the way in the shape of barrel ageing.


Another blind gambit

In the first of three tastings this month, Steve has teamed up with the whisky lounge to provide us with four blind samples. Arriving in small condiment bottles with a rather sharp looking branded box I'm itching to get started with a whole 2 hours to wait between collection and tasting starting.

As soon as the chime sounds for seven of the evening clock, my first sample is poured and nosed -light floral orange blossom water on this one with spicey pink peppercorns. Its certainly boisterous and cask strength with the gentle character of  a Speyside but still plenty of warmth. Adding a splash of water mellows it and allows fruit and honey to emerge. The twitter consensus is that this is probably a grain whisky but turns out incorrect as its a 1992 Longman bottling from Berry Bros and Rudd at a hefty 50.9%.

In my haste to sample I forgot to take a pic!
here's one from the whisky exchange instead

The second dram has a very inviting deep amber hue and plenty of non-bourbon cask character*. I get butterscotch, caramac bars and banana skin on the nose but also an odd aroma redolent of partially melted acrylic plastic which transports me back to my school construction lab. Thankfully there's no plasticky notes in theflavour instead a spicey warming bananas mashed in honey withginger and cloves...tastes like a dessert. Vanilla comes through strongly in the finish, even more so with a drop of water but actually its so well balanced it doesn't need that. I could happily drink a lot of this but it turns out I can't afford to at £100 a bottle!
* Its certainly non bourbon-cask and not a whisky at all but a cognac. Wow who'd have thought I'd like something derived from the fruit of the vine!

Moving swiftly on we approach dram number three with caution after the previous sleight of hand. Its intriguing on the nose with fruity wood smoke, aged cheese rinds and a gentle peat caress in behind. Very gently caresses the palate at first then unleashes a bowl of fruity apple wood smoke and an after-taste of sea-salted caramel and perhaps an iodine note. The gentle nature of the peating suggests a northern Islay drop, but we're all wrong again as it turns out to be An Cnoc Rutter. This is part of a new range released to highlight the use of peat, with a more ind epth review on the Edinburgh Whisky Blog. I'd certainly consider purchasing a bottle of this one.

Our final drop of the evening appears an innocuous wan gold but with a nasal burning grainy raw spirit note. In behind that is soreen maltloaf, freshly cut and a savoury umami meaty note. Its not until adding water that I spot the huge great whack of peat smoke lurking around the corner to pound my unsuspecting tastebuds into submission. The same is true of the flavour, with just a subtle hint of ashes in behind pre-watering but a full haybarn on fire smoky-sweetness appearing afterwards. Or smoky high quality silage as one tweeter mentioned. Turns out that this one is the Islay though it could easily have been a smoky speysider. Tricky beasts these whiskys, obviously need to train the palate a bit more!

So thanks as always to Steve at the Whisky Wire and cheers to the Whisky Lounge crew for supplying the samples, and once again affirming that in order to appreciate whiskys you need to go beyond whiskys in your sampling repertoire to give you other reference points, that cognac was fantastic. I can certainly recommend the rutter though and will buy one myself when funds allow. This tweet tasting was a preview event of the Whisky Weekender happening next weekend in London, if that sounds up your street then check it out.

For more thoughts on the drams in question take a look at #WhiskyWeekender on Twitter or see Pete's blog.