Local Craft Bar Make Connoisseurs of REBEL
Lee Barber || September 12th
As we walked into Bottlecraft, the soft sound of Stoke band Camp Stag buzzed from the speakers as bass player Chris Wilson and Bottlecraft co-owner is cleaning the bar.
'It's pure coincidence, honestly. I have a playlist on really.' He swears to us, after he realises that all three of us in attendance are well aware that his bands new EP is playing out through the speakers of his bar.
The independent bar, stocking craft beer and real ale bottle shop and tasting room was Stoke-on-Trent's first of its kind, and their reputation has soared in the 15 months that they have been open. Stocking an illustrious and ever changing selection of the world's finest crafts, Bottlecraft pride themselves on their knowledge of product and their ability to create a truly splendid atmosphere for their customers, who undoubtably become regulars, even though they might have only popped in to buy my dad something for his birthday.
Chris hands us each a glass of water, and I instantly realise that this is no simple matter of downing a few bottles of craft. The water enables us to swill our mouths before we begin the tasting session, and also in between each drink to wash away the taste of the previous drink. Alongside the three glasses of water rest three glass of GO West IPA, and six rather keen eyes to go with it. Brewed by American company Anchor Brewing - who claim to be the pioneers of steam beer -, the 6.5% craft. Chris explains to us the perfect way of tasting craft beer, and his knowledge is outstanding. He talks to us about not only how to sample a craft beer, but he also tell us why. We haven't even touched the glass of the first drink yet and I'm drunk with knowledge.
Unlike with wine tasting, the taste receptors of your tongue lie more towards the back as opposed to the front, which unfortunately means you have to swallow all of the beer. Yes, we were gutted, of course... Smelling the beer is also a huge part of the experience, and the Go West IPA gives of a subtle pine sensation, with a stringent and coniferous quality. Anyone who knows Chris Wilson may recognise the latter words as direct quotes... Chris goes on to tell us the complete history of Anchor, which I will not write about here but will instead implore you to take yourself to one of Bottlecraft's tasting sessions.
After a marvellous start with the Anchor Brewing Go West IPA, we moved to a second IPA from Somerset brewery Wild Beer Co, who take the art of brewing right back to its roots. Almost literally. After mashing together all necessary ingredients except for the yeast, which starts the reaction of the sugars seeping out of the husks of the barley, and the the yeast is added at around 40-60 degrees. Traditionally, brewers would mix the beer and then simply leave them in the vats, where things pollen in the air and bugs would drop the yeast into it naturally, which would then begin the fermentation process. It's through this process that you can begin to guess that the first beer was probably made by accident. Wild Beer Co specialise in barrel ageing and spontaneous fermentation, with involved no yeast added directly by themselves. The beer Chris has for us is the 6.8% Madness, designed by an American who moved over to the UK and enjoyed experimenting with barrel ageing. Was you can imagine, there is a potent sour scent to the beer, with funky esters pottering on the enjoyable of zesty, bitter fruits. If the smell of the beer seems like a new sensation, the taste is just unreal and I am already marvelling at the scientific yet natural artwork that is craft brewing.
Beer can be split into two categories; enjoyable and challenging. The next sample, Chris explains, is probably going to be a more challenging beer from the pioneers of this particular style. Coming from Belgian brewery Dupont, Siason creates distinct flavours of fruit and, somewhat unbelievably, baked beans. But don't let that put you off; imagine the finest Belgian blonde beer you've ever tasted and then double that flavour, and you'll be getting close to Dupont's magnificent Saison. A variety of yeasts working together to combine English and German hops create a stunning and creamy 6.5% Saison, a name which carries a rather interesting backstory.
Our fourth beer of the evening brought with it the most powerfully smelling beer I've ever come across, which tastes simply divine. Expecting a vinegary flavour after the smell, the taste actually presented me with a warm feeling, something you expect from perhaps a good whiskey or mulled wine. It's certainly a challenging beer, but in a seriously good way. Be prepared for the woody kick at the back of your throat; it will make you want to curl up by the fire for the night. And at 6.2%, it's certainly a treat as we begin the walk through the autumn leaves into the cold winter nights.
In 1995, an new brewery under the name of Freedom formed in Fulham, before a move to Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire, in 2004. Growing in stature and reputation at a quick rate, Freedom specialise in lagers brewed to the German tradition known as reinheitsgrebot, which is the oldest surviving purity law in the world, using only four ingredients; water, yeast, barley and hops. It is here that I learn how the word lager in fact came from the German word lagern, which translates to 'to store'. The smell of the lager seems to be scentless, however on closer inspection, or upon the wise advice of Chris, canned sweetcorn does subtly waft beneath my nostrils. Make no bones about it though, the extremely light and clear lager tastes sensationally pleasant, perfect for a summers day.
As Chris prepares our final drinks of the evening, I see that what he is pouring is clearly a dark, which is certainly not my personally favourite, so needless to say I was a little apprehensive. The chocolately potency of Pearl Necklace soothed my worries immediately. Using Chesapeake oysters fresh from the Rappahannock River to impart a certain flavour, Pearl Necklace is actually very light (especially for a dark beer) light enough to warrant the term moussey, I might add. Pearl Necklace is brewed by Flying Dog, based in Maryland, who originally came from Aspen, with big friends coming in the form of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas author Hunter S. Thompson and, more importantly, Ralph Steadman, who has illustrated all Flying Dog brands. Innuendoes flow throughout the description of the flavour and it becomes clear that the selection of 6%+ crafts is now beginning work and I remember how I've not eaten since breakfast. As yet another Camp Stag song begins on Chris Wilson's 'playlist', we are quite gutted that the evening has come to an end. All in all, if you do one new thing this year, make sure it's a taster session at Bottlecraft.