On a normal, non-lockdown day, you’ve got a few options when hunting down Hammerton’s beer. Their core beers, named for local postcode districts such as N7 and N1, are often on tap at bars around London. They operate a pub, House of Hammerton, a two minute walk from Highbury and Islington station. And, for the dedicated pilgrims, they operate a taproom in the main brewery halfway between Highbury & Islington and King’s Cross.
For now, however, pubs are still closed. If you want your Hammerton fix, you’re better off ordering a case of beers from their website – which is exactly what I did first thing on Thursday morning, still bleary-eyed and waiting for the coffee to brew. Later that same day, I’m treated to a mixed case of Hammerton’s finest.
Hammerton’s core range is pretty readily available across London. Their slightly stranger beers, however, are a novelty to me, so that’s what I’ve chosen to focus on here.
Islington Steam Lager
Anchor Steam Beer is one of the first “proper” beers I really enjoyed, so I’m intrigued about this one to start. Plus we’ve transitioned from freezing under our duvets to sweltering in late may heat in the space of about two days, so a cold lager is welcome.
Steam beers use lager yeast but they’re fermented at ale temperatures, rather than the traditional cooler brewing temp for lagers. This produces a beer with a mix of lager and ale characteristics: fruity, sweet and delicate strawberry notes as well as the more traditional bready and buttery tones on the nose.
On the palate, Islington Steam lager is refreshing and light. Bready, grainy vanilla malt leads, followed by a touch of fruity sweetness and the barest hint of bitterness. It’s that bitterness that hangs around on the finish, calling out for another quenching sip to cool the body and the tongue.
It’s not something I’d save for a special occasion. But it’s the sort of beer I’d crack out to enjoy on a sunny day, or when it’s even slightly warm or humid. Right now, that’s exactly what we all need. 3/5
Hammerton x Abbeydale, Ostmen Kveik IPA
Up next, a collaboration between London’s Hammerton and Sheffield’s Abbeydale Brewing. What makes this beer special is the strain of yeast: kveik (pronounced “kwike”, allegedly) is a traditional Norwegian yeast, which can happily ferment beers at a range of temperatures without producing weird off flavours.
The can’s label design is a nod to that yeast’s Norwegian origins. It’s a weird combination of the kind of hypermasculinity we all got excited about in 300 but with a couple of nods to Norway’s less aggressive modern culture – the heart on the shield, the tiny smattering of women in the crowd.
There’s an awful lot going on in this beer. The aroma starts out with strawberry and mango, evolving into straw as it warms, highlighting the farmhouse yeast character. On the palate I pick up pineapple, more mango, and buttered corn, followed by a lightly bitter finish.
While the Islington Steam Lager is perfect for cracking open to relax after work, Ostmen is one to save for a bigger occasion. I’m pleasantly surprised and keen to dive deeper into the world of kveik. 4/5
Alright, I know I said I wouldn’t be looking at Hammerton’s core range, but how could I not check out Crunch?
Having written at length about how much I’ve enjoyed lighter beers in this warmer weather, a peanut butter milk stout may seem like an odd choice for me to rave over. But that’s testament to what Hammerton has achieved with this beer. Yes, it’s a biscuity, milky sweet stout laced with salty peanut butter flavours. But it’s also disturbingly drinkable, even in a heat wave.
Just looking at Crunch’s dark ochre body and tan head prime your palate for peanut butter and biscuity flavours and aromas. It does not disappoint. A mix of digestive biscuit, biscotti, and crunchy peanut butter assault the nose (don’t ask me why crunch and smooth peanut butter smell different, they just do). On the palate there’s masses of lactose sweetness, balanced with peanut dryness and rich, biscuity malt, returning to lactose on the finish. A beer this dark and packed with this much peanut should not be so refreshing and yet here I am, supping from my chilled glass of milk stout in my tiny East London balcony.
One of my dear friends once overindulged in this beer and landed himself in hospital. While I like to think I have a modicum more self control than that, I couldn’t promise not to polish off a case of Crunch if I had one in the fridge. 4/5
City of Cake
In my efforts to convert my partner onto beer, I’ve had to take something of a sideways approach. So far, I’ve had moderate success plying her with tart, fruited sours, showing that beer doesn’t always have to taste like how granddad smells. I figure the next step is a pincer movement, showing off how darker beers can taste like cake and coffee. And with a name like City of Cake, I suspect I’m onto a winner.
A creamy tan head sits on top of a thick, gloopy black body. While the label promises nothing but cake, the aroma is distinctly stouty: dark, roasty malt leads, followed by coffee and a little ruby chocolate fruitiness. I start to worry I’ve picked something too much like beer for my partner to enjoy, though I’m still in for a good time.
To our relief, the fudge flavours come through more on the palate. Raspberry leads, rounding off until it’s the berry fruit element of coffee richness or a high quality dark chocolate. It becomes more like a liqueur as it warms in the mouth, leaving a boozy, brandy-like aftertaste.
Mission accomplished! My partner likes it, though she admits it’s still a little beery for her. For me, this is a lovely balance of chocolate and coffee with more traditional beer flavours. Great stuff. 4/5
A few days after posting part one of this review, I finally get around to the sours. First of the two is an old favourite: we’ve picked up cans of Chicha Morada from trips to Beer + Burger before.
Brewed with Peruvian purple corn, Chicha Sour is designed to resemble a corn-based Peruvian soft drink named Chicha Morada. They certainly share a passing resemblance, which is helpful for those familiar with Peruvian beverages. For the rest of us, it looks like sparkling beetroot juice.
It smells tart but a little bready. Sour cherries lead on the palate, with drying, tannic red grape skins following close behind. It’s a zingy little number with light fizz, delicate despite the rich, deep purple colour. If you served me this in an unmarked glass, I might guess it was a sparkling red wine, which is no bad thing. 4/5
Hammerton x BBNos, Buoyancy Aid
Finally we say hello again to our Bermondsey friends, Brew By Numbers. This partnership between breweries gives us a partnership between soursop and guava in a crisp, refreshing gose.
I’ll be honest, I had to look up what soursop is. For once, I’m relieved to say it doesn’t form part of the fruit mix in Special K so my friends won’t rib me for not know it. Soursop, also known as custard apple, is a spiky green fruit with white flesh that grows in the Caribbean and the Americas, so not something you’re likely to spot in your Aldi Super Six.
The colour is golden, the body fairly clear. The lively, white head settles by the time I’ve figured out the settings on my camera. The aroma is fresh and tart, with hints of pepper and lemon. The palate is sour and salty, as we’d hope for from a gose. There’s bright, tropical notes dancing at the edge of the palate, but those flavours are far from obvious. Lime leaves, guava, a delicate, milkshakey creaminess thickening out the mouthfeel just a touch.
It’s all acid and salt. A zingy, refreshing beer, but the flavours are lost on me. 2/5