After last year's small but perfectly formed inaugural Belgian beer festival, Ales Tales is back! We had an amazing time running the shop and trying beers from breweries we'd never heard of before. As Belgium experts that's not a thing we get to do very often!
This year's brewery list is a little bit bigger but a whole lot better, with some of Belgium's best and most experimental breweries joining the line up. As well as the returning De La Senne, Hof Ten Doormal and Siphon, organisers have added mixed ferm specialists Alvinne, saison obsessives De Blaugies and the more modern stylings of No Science and Ermitage. The last two are new to us, so they are the first place we'll head when we get to the Oval Space in Hackney on 1st of June!
As always at a Belgian beer festival, the wild variety of breweries and styles can be pretty daunting so we sat down to have a look at the beer list and pick our favourites. The joy of a small, very well curated festival like this is that every beer is a winner, and you try pretty much every one that's there! Tickets are still available so pick them up right here.
De Ranke Simplex
A Belgian Kolsch! What a time to be alive. And it's a beautiful lager/ale hybrid with soft, fruity yeast aromas cutting through a clean and refreshing pale body. It's a great first beer to get you in the mood, or a palate refresher after something sour or extremely hoppy (yes there are some hop bombs at this Belgian festival!) You can buy it here too.
A rich, velvety and smooth oyster stout so full of coffee, liquorice and soft salinity it makes you double take each time you take a sip. We think it's the best of Siphon's core range, and that's saying something. Try the beer by ordering it here.
De Blaugies Vermontoise
One of the best saisons we've ever tasted – made with spelt it has a raw, grainy and rustic malt body, dry hopped with amarillo to add zest and orange pith to the spicy yeast aromas. The Darbyste – a similar saison but fermented with fig juice – is equally brilliant with the same rustic malt feel but a smoother, fruitier nose.
t'Verzet Oud Bruin Raspberry
A delicious cherry-scented Flemish Red style sour from one of Belgium's most exciting new breweries. Based out the back of a car garage, they have a huge, innovative space and irreverent approach to brewing that bridges the gap between modern craft and traditional Belgian methods. This version of their flagship beer has been aged over raspberries for a fresh and delicate, floral tartness. We have limited stock right now!
De Halve Maan Straffe Hendrik Quadruple
Perhaps our favourite Belgian quad, loaded with caramel, banana, liquorice and slight sherry notes. More known for their Brugse Zot beers, the Straffe range is bigger, bolder and more true to the Abbey roots that inspired it. Buy it here today.
De La Senne Taras Boulba
For our money this is the best session ale in the world, and there isn't a brewer in the world who's had it and wouldn't agree. Spicy Belgian esters, soft stone fruit, a little lemon hop bite and a lightning quick finish. Its depth and drinkability put pretty much all beers at the same strength to shame. Stock up here too!
Beer and chocolate are the most obvious of matches. One is known for its sweet, dark decadence, the other for its dry and bright notes. But there are no hard and fast rules in beer and food matching, and often contrast is where the most fun is to be had. There aren't many other foods that offer so much potential to play around and enhance flavours, and more importantly, this is a chance to reclaim the kiddie chocolate fest that is Easter for us adults.
Below are simply suggestions. You can use them as a guide and pick beers around the styles and breweries we've picked, but be warned that IPAs have no place here and short of white chocolate, all blond beers will struggle a little. Enough waffle (there is another beer and food article right there), here are the best beers to have with your chocolate this Easter. Or any time, really.
Boon Kriek - dark chocolate
Cherry and chocolate were born to go together. That said, don’t go picking any old cherry lambic – you do have to be a bit careful. If you’re matching with dark chocolate you’ll want a little bit of sweetness, so we recommend Boon Kriek, which still has lots of residual sugars but also lots of funky, rich cherry notes that create that amazing Black Forest Gateau vibe. Lindemans would also work really well too if you have a sweeter tooth. The final option is Fruli. We don’t know how we feel about recommending that, but dang is it deliciously trashy.
De Dolle Export Stout - dark chocolate
By far the least wild of De Dolle’s beers, this amazing imperial stout takes a fair amount of inspiration from Britain. It’s thick and velvety, but also really well balanced dry with loads of dark chocolate and fruity coffee. That enhances the berry acidity of a really good dark chocolate, while the roasted edge makes it more heady and indulgent.
Wild Beer Co Fruitbooter - white chocolate
This is an incredible beer and we don’t know how we still have some. It also makes a great pairing with white chocolate thanks to the acidity of the saison and raspberries, cutting through the creamy sweetness while the peppercorns add spicy depth to the whole mouthful. Any tart raspberry beer would do the job nicely, but we like the complexity of this match.
Lervig Sippin’ Into Darkness - milk chocolate
Let’s be honest, milk chocolate isn’t clever. It’s all about the biggest, sweetest, cliche-ist, chocolaty-ist flavours you can get. Well that’s basically what an imperial adjunct stout is all about too – big flavours, to hell with balance and decorum. We’ve picked Sippin’ because it’s a bloody marvellous beer with some surprising depth while still being just plain stoopid. Any adjunct stout with coffee, vanilla, cocoa, fruits, marshmallow or anything like that will do, but be careful with spices (like Lervig’s 3 Bean) – they may overpower the whole thing.
Tiny Rebel Chocolate Stay Puft - already done
This isn’t a match, because the match is already in the bottle. This sweet, indulgent and preposterous idea of a beer is a joy thanks to how it takes you back to your childhood. I like the idea that all over the country it’s the adults turn to stuff their faces with chocolate and then feeling sick all through Sunday dinner.
They said it couldn't be done – well, we did – but we have pulled out all the stops and are delighted to say that we are opening the Beer Merchants Tap full-time from Saturday 24th of February.
It's been a lot of work but a lot of fun and we can't wait for you to see our amazing line up of fridges and 700-strong bottle list, all 20 taps and 2 cask lines perfectly kept and pouring world-class beers. We've got a deli counter, soon to be loaded with artisan cheeses, meats and fresh salads. We've lined the walls with amazing artwork from our favourite breweries and artists, as well as classic Belgian tin signs and neons. We'll be releasing photos, tap lists, bottle lists and more as they are finalised, so keep an eye on our social feeds and the website.
If all that sounds too good to wait for, we're happy to say there are opportunities to see it early! All our investors will get exclusive access to the pub on Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd February to start spending their bar tabs, but you can join them on those nights from 8pm when we open the to the public as part of our soft launches. On top of that, we're also hosting a one off tap takeover with the one and only Half Acre Beer Co on the preceding Saturday, with four of their best pale beers on tap next to lots of other hoppy numbers. The pledge discounts won't be ready for that event, but everyone is welcome to come down, see the Tap and indulge in some of America's absolute best beers.
So to sum up, here are some very important dates for your diaries, and if you have any questions just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday 17th February - Half Acre Tap takeover (10am to 10pm) Thursday 22nd February - Pledge Party (5pm to 8pm) then open to the public Friday 23rd February - Pledge Party (5pm to 8pm) then open to the public Saturday 24th - Officially open (10am to 11.30pm)
We can't wait to see you! To find out more about the Tap and the blendery, follow the links!
We're hugely excited to say we're starting to recruit as our plans for London's best new craft beer bar come together!
If you missed the original news story and crowdfunding, we're opening a giant 5,000 sq ft pub, bottleshop and blendery in the heart of Hackney Wick. We've raised over £60,000 to help fit it out and are on course to open in February, so now we're looking to find London's most passionate and knowledgable beer lovers to work with us full time behind the bar.
We have three different positions available. Having found a fantastic general manager we're after an assistant manager with lots of experience in events, a duty manager highly skilled is cellarmanship (there are a lot of lines to look after!), and a team of passionate beer-loving bar staff. In return we're offering the London Living Wage, loads of benefits and the chance to work for one of the Uk's best loved and most experienced craft beer retailers.
You'll find all the details you need to know below. To apply, send a covering letter and CV to email@example.com by the end of the day on Monday 22nd January.
This article is in support of the crowdfunding campaign to raise money for our taproom, bottleshop and blendery in Hackney Wick. Invest today at get a £2 bar tab for every £1 you invest!
Inspiration is an over-used word these days, but the main motive behind Good Company Blendery was that we were inspired. That inspiration comes from some of the most exciting and authentic brewers in the world.
Since the moment beer was discovered, likely by some curious Sumerians around 6,000BC, humans have endeavoured to get the process of fermentation under control. The first inoculation was by accident, after which superstition took hold, as “brewers” used the same clay pots to make their beer believing they were blessed. Fast forward to today and science has taken over where religion fell short. Steel, copper, caustic, glycol have taken over and help produce some of the most delicious and exciting liquids on the planet.
But to forget your roots is to lose something, and at Beer Merchants we take great joy in the historic side of brewing. Beers from the wood, wild ferments, use of local and traditional beer ingredients. Many Belgian brewers have stuck to their guns, fashion be damned, continuing to make the style of tart, natural beer they love through tough economic times. Where modern brewing looks for consistency, traditional brewing willingly casts it aside.
And now, out the other side, those inspired by these breweries are getting involved too. We’ve watched Allagash, Jester King and Russian River install coolships and start to release spontaneous beer, and now a host of British breweries, and that is where our inspiration comes from. Every one of those breweries will make something unique – in fact every barrel within those breweries will make something unique.
We’re very proud to announce that to make our own lambic-inspired blends we’ll be using three of the most exciting new spontaneous producers in the world – Wild Beer Co, Burning Sky and the soon-to-open Duration. All of whom have built or are building their own coolships to cool the wort, and are delighted to be on board for the UK’s first dedicated sour blendery.
“As soon as we heard about the project we wanted to get involved in as big a way possible,” says Brett Ellis, head brewer at Wild Beer Co. “It's a great honour for us to be recognised and partnered with The Good Company blendery. I feel this is coming at the perfect time for the UK beer scene. Pushing boundaries and expectations has been Wild Beer Co's USP from day one, so we are very eager to get creating with some new components and materials.”
We would describe ourselves as professional amateurs, so we’re going to be using the expertise of the amazing people we have on board for this project to make sure we produce something exciting. To count Mark Tranter among the contributors is not only exciting for his experise, but also because we are kindred spirits, having championed deeply unfashionable beers along side us for years.
Cave have been fighting the good fight for many years," says Mark, "supplying Gueuze and other Belgian wonders when they were far from trendy but to us at Burning Sky, this project shows a level of maturity and faith in the UK beer scene we have been yearning for. When I first saw the news from Cave that they were opening a bar in London, we immediately got in touch just to reiterate our excitement and to say, 'if we could be of any help, just shout!'. Then here we are a few weeks later, absolutely stoked to be announcing that we will be supplying innoculated wort to the blendery from our coolship. This is something that cannot be swayed by trends - the Cave guys are nailing their hearts to their sleeves and we are humbled to be on board."
All three breweries have said they will happily share all their expertise, and coming from brewery legends such as Burning Sky's Mark Tranter, that means we will be learning from the best. This air of collaboration is the inspiration behind the name Good Company Blendery, as explained here.
“It’s great spontaneous beer is getting the renaissance it deserves,” adds (Derek) Bates, founder of Duration Brewing. “We will be doing all we can to help the blendery come into being and to be a roaring success. We will be providing the wort made in our coolship for starters, and we are already plating up some petri dishes at the site to see what our wild inoculates will create. We will share our inception designs and let them observe the build out of our place and when operational I’ll give training and some practical sessions on the coolship, using foeders and all the mother strain good stuff we’ll have going on.”
There’s still time to help us fund the blendery, taproom and bottleshop so click here now and double your money in the form of a bar tab for the pub!
This article is in support of the crowdfunding campaign to raise money for our taproom, bottleshop and blendery in Hackney Wick. Invest today at get a £2 bar tab for every £1 you invest!
When we found the site at 99 Wallis Road we fell in love with it. The building is so imposing – rising so high that everyone pulling into Hackney Wick station can see it – and full of history that adding another chapter to it was too much to resist. It’s also a huge, airy and inviting space that gave us the room get enough taps and fridges for our huge beer range.
The only issue was that the landlord wanted a brewpub. Now, we have a few avid homebrewers in Beer Merchants and Cave Direct, but none of us had the experience to make a brewery a success and budgets were already tight. But if there is one thing we do know – thanks to decades of importing it – is lambic.
Lambic is a spontaneously fermented beer, which means rather than pitching a lab yeast into the fermenter, the wort (the sugary malty liquid) is exposed to the wild microflora in the air as it cools overnight. It’s then fermented in oak barrels for up to three years, before either being consumed, blended, or aged further over fruit to create a wealth of exciting, unique styles.
We’ve been bringing in lambic breweries like Lindemans and Cantillon since the 80s. Back then it would sit gathering dust on the shelves until someone in the know came along and usually bought the whole lot. Today, we can’t lay our hands on enough of it as our tastes get drier, funkier and more experimental. That’s fantastic news for the lambic brewers, as well as those inspired by their methods all over the world.
We’ve been to these breweries hundreds of times, met the people, tried the beers, even done a little blending ourselves, and there is no style that gets us more excited. When the idea of founding a blendery was first floated, we knew we had found the answer. It was a chance to revive the history of the original Belgian pubs who bought wort from lambic producers to age and blend themselves before serving direct to their drinkers.
Of course, loving and understanding a style of beer is very different to producing it and we have a lot to learn. Our shelves are now stacked with books on lambic, American wild beers, barrel ageing and technical brewing manuals – we burn the midnight oil as fast as the coopers torch their barrels – and we have a consultant on board who is going to make sure we do everything right. We’ve also arranged to spend a few days training with some of Belgium’s best lambic brewers to learn their trade and make sure we champion the traditions they follow.
That said, our blendery is going to be very different. For a start, we won’t be calling it lambic, or geuze, or oud. The lambic producers of Belgium have made it clear they regard those words as specific to their location, and we want to respect that. We don’t have a name yet, but we will find it, and we’re open to suggestions!
The second major difference is the wort we will use. Rather than buy it from Belgium, we’ll be using British liquid. Excitingly, several British breweries have recently acquired coolships, and we’ll be buying ours from them. Three breweries (to be announced!) have all agreed to supply us both their liquid and some expertise to get us off the ground. Grateful doesn’t cover it. With this beer we’ll be making traditional blends, as well as fruited beers using British produce.
So that accounts for one-third of our range, but we have two more exciting projects as part of the blendery. The second one is our 50/50 series, where we will age 50% British fruits and 50% 1-year-old spontaneous beer in oak barrels for around 6 months to produce a tannic, rich and fruity beer not a million miles away from a rioja.
Finally, we’ll have a row of barrels with all kinds of different beers imported from our partners overseas – already Lervig are happy to help out – which we’ll age over fruits, blend with other beers or simply age in a unique barrel to produce something wild, exciting and completely of its place in East London.
As you can see, we are working with a lot of different people to bring this together, so when it came to deciding a name for the brewery there was only one option. While enjoying a beer after a tour of 3 Fonteinen’s incredible new site, founder Amand Debelder raised a glass and said something that caught our imagination: “All you need is good beer and good company”. To hear a man who produces some of the most hyped, sought-after and indeed traded beers say something so simple and humble about his beer struck a chord.
In honour of all the people who are going to help us with this adventure, and in reference to all the great friends we’ve made in 40 years of importing and distributing beer, we have decided to call our little project Good Company Blendery and our logo will be based on the historic paint stroke once used to denote the different kinds of beer in Belgian barrels.
There is so much more news to come that we can’t wait to share, but in the meantime, please check out our Crowdfunder page here, and invest in the Beer Merchants Tap. For every £1 you invest, you’ll get a £2 bar tab to spend on drink in beers at the pub.
Help us fund the Beer Merchants Tap in Hackney Wick | Beer Merchants - YouTube
If you’ve been following our Twitter feed you might have known something but was coming. Beer Merchants are VERY excited to say that in January we’re going to open our own taproom, bottleshop and blendery in Hackney Wick, and we want you to be involved via our crowdfunding.
It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a very long time and finally the right site has come up. Rather than cram ourselves into a corner pub or a cold railway arch, we wanted somewhere big, inviting and with a bit of history like our company. Happily we found that in the Hackney Wick Warehouse, a 3,000 sq ft former book store right by the station, and open the Beer Merchants Tap in just 3 months’ time.
We hope this beautiful warehouse will become one of London’s best bars. As part of speciality beer importer Cave Direct, we’re going to have some of the world’s best beers on our 24 taps. Already we’ve put away some exciting kegs from Cantillon, Lervig, Tilquin and a few british breweries, and also have a very exciting American brewer sending us some beer specially for the launch.
On top of our amazing, rotating tap list, we’ll have around 700 beers in the fridges from our online shop, allowing you browse, takeaway, drink in and even pick up orders you’ve made online. We’ll also have a special vintage section full of delicious lambics, stouts, Trappists and barley wines we’ve hiding away for years in preparation. Which leads us on to our next exciting announcement.
Within the first year we hope to set up the barrel-ageing project and blendery. As you may know, not all lambic producers brew their own wort, buying it from other spontaneous brewers to age themselves. The tradition comes from a time when brewers would brew the beer and send it straight to the pubs to age and blend themselves before serving. We’re going to bring that back by opening the UK’s first dedicated blendery using spontaneous beer from Britain and beyond. The beers will only be available from the Beer Merchants Tap, and won’t be available for a few years, but the barrel room will also be available as an event space in which we’re going to host all kinds of tastings, takeovers and dinners.
So how can you get involved? Well, it wouldn’t be a craft beer venture without a bit of crowdfunding, but we’re going to do it in a very special way. We’re not offering equity, but for every £1 you invest in the bar, we’ll give you £2 to spend at the Tap. The minimum investment is £50 so that’s £100 to spend when it opens. In addition you’ll get 5% off at BeerMerchants.com for life.
For more details check out our crowdfunding page and video below and donate if you can! Every £1 we raise reduces how much we have to borrow from the bank and keeps our costs down so we can offer you a better pub!
We hope to see you there in January!
Help us fund the Beer Merchants Tap in Hackney Wick | Beer Merchants - YouTube
Let’s start with a caveat. When it comes to matching beer and burgers, there is no wrong answer. They were born to go together, like tea and biscuits or Turner and Hooch.
But there are some deliciously simple rules you can follow to make sure you add to the flavour of the burger and the beer, rather than take away or distract. Below we’ve picked for beers that do different things with different flavours and make the messy, religious experience of a really good burger all the more fulfilling. This is the ultimate guide to beer and burger matching, and to celebrate for one day only use "ILOVEBURGERS" to get 10% off your purchase today!
Kona Big Wave is a brilliant beer for big flavoured food because not only does the light, bready body wash away flavour to cleanse the palate, but the hint of lychee, pine and lemon is a delicious counterpoint to things like soft American cheese, sweet red meat, bready brioche and fleshy tomato. If Kona aint around, try a Belgian pale ale like Plan B from Elusive or Structure of Matter from Solvay. It’s the shot gun approach – shoot from the hip and you’ll hit something.
If there is a significant amount of cheese involved – especially if it’s aged – then the only choice is a massive f***-off IPA. That’s exactly what Shapeshifter is. Where most of Fourpure’s range is just a little safe and designed to be drinkable they thrown everything at their flagship IPA and kept it west coast with mountains of bitterness, a balancing whack of crystal malt and loads of dank, resiny hop aroma that matches with an mature funk the cheese throws at you. IPA is the only way for this kind of burger. In fact, it’s what the Craft Beer Channel did for their own Brad Sandwich (worth rustling up tonight if you fancy making your own). This match is not for the faint hearted and will probably bring you out in a sweat, but you’ll by smiling as you slip into that food coma.
Candied bacon & beer burger (aka The Brad Sandwich) | The Craft Beer Channel - YouTube
If you go into any Honest Burger you’ll be served a delicious pint of Lost and Grounded Kellerpils, and that’s delicious with all kinds of burgers. But sometimes you need a specific tool for a specific job, and No Rest for Dancers – their Belgian dubbel crossed with an IPA – is awesome with burgers topped with even more meat. If it’s bacon, the malt sweetness will be perfect with the caramalt; if it’s pulled pork those esters will heighten the tangy bbq sauce; if it’s brisket the hops will cut through the heavy, moreish meat. Alternatives could be Liquid Mistress from Siren or even Westmalle Dubbel. With something this big you need balance and that’s what this kind of beer will bring.
This is our top tip, not just for burgers. If you’re eating anything with meat in it, go for Schlenkerla helles. It’s not actually made with any smoked malt, but simply being made on the same kit as this world-famous brewpub’s Marzen and Weizen means it has been imbued with a soft, smoky bacony aroma that works remarkably well with the bready, biscuit Bavarian helles underneath. It’s like drinking liquid bread cooked over an open fire – perfect with smoky bacon, flame grilled beef, tangy mustard…need we go on? If the helles isn't available any of the Schlenkerla range will work a dream, as will Beavertown's awesome Smog Rocket.
This weekend is the inaugural Ales Tales – a London-based beer festival dedicated to great Belgian microbreweries. The orangisers have worked hard to get together some of Belgium’s finest new and small brewers, and we worked with them to get all the beers in.
There are some 20 breweries attending, each bringing up to four beers for each session, so given that very few of these beers have made it to the UK before, that’s a lot of sampling that needs to be done! We thought we’d help you guys out (or tempt those without tickets) by giving our tips for the festival so you know where to head and don’t stand there like a lemon with a virgin glass in your hand.
To see the full brewery list or get tickets, head over to alestales.co.uk – you can go for the all-in ticket at £40 with free beer throughout the session or £9 on the door with tokens.
Glazen Toren Ondineke (8.5% Tripel)
A truly delicious tripel, with that classic banana, apricot and raisin-bread aroma, a smooth, fine-bubble mouthfeel. The bitterness is wickedly smooth, like in De Ranke beers, leaving the creamy sweetness of the beer to linger.
Hoften Dormaal Wit Goud (8% strong blond)
Translating as White Gold, this beer is an absurdly drinkable strong ale with lots of dry, spicy aroma countering the sweeter yeast esters. The sinkability is down to the hint of tartness that develops on the tongue, lightening the beer and cutting through the slight caramelised orange malt flavours. Very complex but very moreish too.
De La Senne Taras Boulba (4.5% pale ale)
Anywhere else in the world, a pale ale wouldn’t cause a stir. But in Belgium it does, especially one this hop forward. It’s loaded with delicious spicy, soft grasy hop notes balanced by some mild stone fruit from the yeast and light bready malt. The body is surprisingly creamy, smooth and rich, cut in two by a big whack of Belgian-hop bitterness that reminds you this beer is reaction against the traditional, sweeter style of traditional Belgian brewing. To them it’s bold an unusual, to us it’s one of the best session beers in the world.
Monsieur Rock (6.6%)
I can make you want a beer in one sentence – the brewer behind Monsieur Rock was once the head brewer at Orval. With me? Great. This super pale Belgian blond is like Champagne – soft and dry, but with pronounced hop aroma from the dry hopping and a crisp, estery finish.
Solvay Society Tritium (7.7%)
“Another tripel!?” I hear you cry with disdain, but this is different. Not only are Solvay Society the only English brewery invited to this Belgian beer event, they make their tripel with pink peppercorns and rye malt to add spice to the soft banana and green apple esters, and bready malt. It’s a beautiful beer.
De Dolle are hands down one of our favourite breweries in the world. Found in a centuries-old farmhouse in Western Belgium, using copper equipment from the early 20th century and a mixed culture yeast over, head brewer Kris Herteleer makes some of the most exciting but simple beers in Belgium. He is proof that the old ways and means still have potency in a world dominated by labs and chrome tanks. When you ask him what strains are in his yeast he shrugs and when you ask why he uses copper he can't put his finger on it. He seems to guide his beer more than brew it – letting nature take its course like a winding river. All he has to do is ensure it reaches the sea.
It's less risky than it sounds. De Dolle beers are always delicious and remarkably consistent. Arabier, a strong blonde, is always bursting with brioche sweetness, banana fruitiness and a rasping bitter dryness that catches you off-guard every time. Oerbier is a bizarre and brilliant sour brown ale, even better after a few years in red wine barrels. Then there is a world-famous Stille Nacht, widely regarded as the best Christmas beer ever made, with its notes of spice, honey, apple and banana making for a warming beer that is far too drinkable for 12%.
For more information on the beers and a virtual tour of the fascinating brewery, check out this video from the Craft Beer Channel.
De Dolle: art, artisan brewing & Arabier | The Craft Beer Channel - YouTube
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