On the 8th October we headed across London Bridge to Seething Lane, where the Draft House stands proudly, blinking neon slogans into the Autumn evening. Slogan’s that encourage the consumption of beer in an Americana fashion, surrounding a big (and I mean big) bar. We had wandered down, mainly thanks to Steve from Beer O’Clock Show, to partake in an evening of Harviestoun Brewery‘s finest beer – and when I say finest, I am in no way overstating.
We arrived a tad early and so begun off-kilter with a Camden vs. Italy. I’m not a huge fan of the Camden stuff anyway and this really wasn’t anything to speak about. So I’m not going to, because there is plenty from that Tuesday night to relay. As we settled into our first beers the magnanimous, speed-talking, enigmatic, power-house of Real Ale – Harviestoun’s own Shaun Voss, emerged from the shadows and enchanted the table with tales of ale, brewing and a life less ordinary.
A run down of what we were to drink was welcomed with eager ears – and they were not disappointed in the slightest. I had, earlier in the day, attempted to get a little hint of what was on offer that evening. Though the Shaun was keeping schtum I think I conquered with the following:
The Wild Hop IPA was on. As was Schiehallion, Bitter & Twisted and Ola Dubh – eighteen and thirty. Thirty. Thirty. If you haven’t tried it, you won’t understand why I had to write it three times. But a day later, writing this, I can still taste that magnificent beer.
The Early Ones
Whilst still in the fringes of sobriety we knocked back first a Bitter and Twisted. This should be no surprise to you regular drinkers out there. Named after the wife of one of the team (after an argument in the brewery) this beer has won a multitude of awards. This version, however, was an unfiltered and unpasteurised morsel. Shaun informed us it was a little more sweet than it’s bottled companion, it was creamy with hints of grapefruit and a very well balanced bitter, peppery aftertaste.
Next, we moved swiftly into a lager. A lager. Shock horror, I know. But this lager is slightly differently. An actual craft lager, with live yeast. This was refreshing, crisp and surprisingly (considering our distant ‘premium’ cousins twice removed and mixed with piss) this was a very well crafted, tasty beer. I could have almost passed this off for a pale, in all honesty, and drinking it was a pleasure – not too cold, not too carbonated and with enough flavour to realise you have tastebuds (I’m sure the first time I drank Carling I didn’t understand what a tongue was for). It’s not a bad brew and it has – if only slightly – broadened my horizon in terms of lager.
Then, the Wild Hop IPA. I’d heard very good things about this beer and never have I been able to get my gullet around one. But tonight was the night, I smelt, I swilled, I swallowed. Savouring this chance. Harviestoun are discontinuing this ale for the time being – replacing it with something special very soon – and hopefully, if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll see something here about that in the near future. But what a beer that IPA is. There’s a reason that Harviestoun are a touch more expensive than the general beer out there and this IPA is a clear demonstration of why that is. It’s crisp, grassy, piney in places and has one of the best bitter washes I’ve ever
had remembered. It’s a shame that this is being discontinued, but Shaun assures us that it’s permanent replacement is something to behold, and due to the gleam in his eye as he spoke about it, I very much believe him.
Ola Dubh (pronounced Ola-doo and translating from Gaelic to mean engine oil) is a beer like no other I’ve tasted. It’s matured for 6 months in a cask that held 18yr Highland Park single malt. It’s an ‘amped up’ Old Engine Oil (amped to 10.5%) deposited into barrels that once held single malts (I’m a scotch fan too, so this really got me going), how this had never been done by a named brewery before is beyond me, but bloody hell am I happy that it was Harviestoun that did it.
Crossing my lips this beer was more liqueur than bevvy. Thick, smooth, heavy – nearly a syrup. It hugged your mouth, it warmed your gullet – I’m getting giddy just thinking about it – but it made me feel…whole. It’s strong at 8% (it loses a couple of percent over time) and definitely tastes it, but not in the discordant way that many Barley Wines do (though, even though this has a high percentage it’s classed a porter). It’s a drink I would take to my library (if I had one), I would sup it as a read ancient, leather bound tomes in my mahogany and plush silk high-backed chair. I would feel like Ghengis Khan, just much more civilised. How this beer could be beaten that same evening I was unsure, yet Shaun pulled one more bottle from his collection.
Finish Him Again
Ola Dubh 30. Yes, that’s a link to their store (and I don’t usually do that, and it’s not an affiliate either). And I know, £10 per 330ml bottle is a lot to pay for a little beer. But by the beard of Odin, the loincloth of Tarzan and any religious or mythical character you may enjoy this is a beer that needs to be inside you.
There were only 1000 bottles in existence, we shared two at the event between a fair few of us. I wanted mine completely and totally as soon as I took the first sip – and yet, I managed to save one sip until the Beer O’Clock Show recording. To be honest, I’m not sure what I said the moment after I had drunk it, but I’m sure it is a much truer and uninhibited (read: drunk) view of what I thought of this beer.
Be sure to check the Beer O’Clock Show Podcast out (live at 6pm 11/10/2013).
But my word – I remember rambles of unicorns, bunnies and all the good things. And, even in sobriety (do any of you believe that?) I stand by it. This was a beer crafted by an artist. Not a session in any way. This is a treat. This is the kind of beer you want after the whole Christmas thing is over. Family buzzing around, arguments over the turkey, hassle, stress, children crying. This is the beer you take into your wo/man cave, sit with in silence, and just enjoy. There is no other way to describe this, I can’t articulate just how good it is. If you owe yourself a treat, and let’s be honest, you’ve been working far too hard lately. Get a couple of these in. Find a good book, grab an hour to sit down in peace, and please, please, please give this beer the time and focus it deserves. Because in turn, that’s exactly what it’ll be giving to you.
This has been a bit of a whirlwind write-up. We had a great time with Shaun, who is a fantastic host. If you see any events by @HarviestounLond make sure to get down, he’ll keep you entertained – we also met some great people along the way. Hannah from Hiver Beers was a delight to chat to and gave us one of her beers to try (look out for the interview too!), and the gents from the Draft House itself are also great. I would highly recommend a visit – and please, stay away from the Pisswater.
All your pubs need support in the craft and real ale areas, drinking that mass produced bollocks might be cheap, but it’s also just that, cheap. Make sure you listen to the Beer O’Clock Show from Friday at 6pm. We drunkenly chat rubbish about the beers in this review with Steve and can’t remember much of what we said.