Last Wednesday saw us joined for our latest Meet the Brewer by Bruno from London Beer Lab. Founded in 2012 and based in part near Loughborough Junction and partly in Brixton, LBL are a double pronged business – a commercial brewery on the one hand, where they produce beer under their own name, and a brew school, comprising a number of smaller kits for teaching people how to brew. What these guys are doing is brilliant, both in the beer that they produce but also in their approach to teaching people about that beer. In fact, we think they’re so great that we decided to brew a beer with them.
Once drinks were poured ready to go, Bruno, one of the two founders, began by taking us through the history of LBL. Having come over from France many years ago, he began searching for home-brew classes in London and, much to his surprise, wasn’t able to find any. At this point he did the only sane thing possible, and chucked in his obviously completely unstable job in the city for the completely stable world of brewing and home-brew classes.
As he was talking, we were all sipping on the first beer, the Coldharbour Hell Yeah! lager, brewed in collaboration with Clarkshaws Brewery, with whom they share a kettle and mash tun. I’ve heard a few brewers talk about judging other breweries based on the quality of their lagers, and I reckon that this beer reflects well on LBL. Whilst it uses a pilsner malt, and undergoes the expected lagering period, they’ve foregone the usual German and Czech noble hops, instead opting for American ones. This gives the beer a nice fruity bitter kick at the end – nothing too crazy, but just enough to keep you interested.
The next two beers were two of their pale ales, the single hopped Mosaic Pale Ale and Tip-Top Citra Pale Ale. As a disclaimer, I think that the Mosaic hop is the bomb. It’s the love-child of Simcoe and Nugget and it burst onto the scene around 2010 as experimental hop variety HBC 639. People then began talking about it as the new Cascade or Citra, two of the most quintessential US hops going. Luckily, Bruno shares my love for this hop, and this pale ale showcases it brilliantly. As Mosaic can be used for flavour, bitterness and aroma, there’s nothing missing from this beer. It has a wonderful berry dominated aroma, whilst the flavour is incredibly complex for a beer featuring only one hop. A bitter finish that never becomes harsh keeps  you coming back for more sips.
The Tip Top Citra contains, crazily enough, the citra hop. This isn’t an “original” recipe per se. They ran a home-brew competition and this particular beer came out the winner. When scaling it up, they had to make some changes, lowering the sweetness and restraining the body of the beer. However, it is ostensibly the same and it has all of the usual characteristics you’d expect from a beer containing citra. There is the mellow bitterness, with citrus fruits coming through strongly on the aroma and flavour, finishing with slightly piney notes.
We’re now onto the penultimate beer of the night, and what a beer it is! The Bear of St. John is our collaboration brew, crafted by our own fair hands and the follow up to last years brew with Belleville, this time named in honour of our forthcoming shop in Clapham Junction. A 6.5% Red IPA, we used Simcoe, Mosaic and Citra hops on top of a complex malt backbone to create what we hoped would turn out to be a West Coast IPA with a bigger, sweeter body. Seeing as we’d had a few hundred labels printed up describing the beer as such in the notes, we were all a bit tentative as we took our first sip.
To be honest, we needn’t have been. Gasps came from the crowd – “best beer ever”, “only beverage worth trying”, “#TheBearOfSt.John4PrimeMinister”, “better than Carling” – all of these statements and more were being uttered. And then I woke up.
Ignoring the above, and at the risk of sounding biased, we’re pretty happy with the beer that we made and, importantly so is Bruno and so were the people at the tasting. As we go into Autumn, we wanted a beer that would be both bright in terms of hop profile, but also have a warming characteristic. It pours a fairly deep red, giving an indication of the darker, sweeter malt body that we wanted to achieve. The hops do indeed bounce off this, giving strong pithy, grapefruit and tropical fruit bitterness. The slightest hint of alcohol on the finish let’s you know this IPA is no  wallflower. We’ve got plenty of it in bottle and keg so make sure you give it a try.
We then moved onto the final beer of the night, LBL’s Simcoe & Citra Black IPA, or, as Bruno calls it, their “Beeper [bi:pɜ:]”. Although, at 6.0% ABV, this was a step down from the previous beer,  normally a no-no when beer tasting, it’s rich, dark body, meant it lent itself to being drunk last. With a toasted, chocolate character there is no doubting the dark nature of this beer if you were to drink it blindfolded. But the hop then comes though strong on the finish, the chocolate and malt receding into the background, allowing a grassy, sherbet-y citrusy bitterness to come through. A lot of BIPAs allow one aspect or another to dominate, however, this remains balanced with both the hop and malt profiles working together. If you want something that is neither too boozy, but equally something that has a bit of presence about it, then this a great compromise.
Unfortunately, we had to draw to a close another excellent and insightful Meet the Brewer event. What these guys are doing is honestly a great boon for the London beer scene, helping to educate people about how what they’re drinking is made. I massively encourage you to check out their website for more details of what they do, classes that they run and open days at the tap room.