Something’s brewing

jamesRevd James Gilder

As plans continue to brew for the first Wanstead Beer Festival, Revd James Gilder samples some of the ale currently available in Wanstead

Ale brewing has a long and illustrious history throughout the UK. Well into the 20th century, many a working-class Londoner would have ‘enjoyed’ a few weeks of hop-picking in Kent, which served as a kind of paid holiday (for a good account of what back-breaking work it actually was, George Orwell’s A Clergyman’s Daughter is a pretty good read).

By the 1960s, brewing had become a rather miserable affair. The advent of the pressurised metal keg, which could be transported more easily than the traditional larger wooden cask, and the disappearance of small local breweries in favour of the huge national corporations, meant that almost the only beer produced commercially in the UK was insipid, gassy and tasteless. However, this homogenisation also led to a brave backlash amongst those who wanted to save local brewing and preserve the ancient recipes and methods that brought subtlety of taste and significant variety to real ale. Nowadays, there is a huge flourishing of small breweries, many of them in London, and new technologies have meant both keg and cask ales have come a very long way from the dark days.

As anyone who has ever watched Father Ted knows, clergy and alcohol together can be something of a mixed blessing, even if it is also a combination almost as old as the art of brewing itself! Monks were often master brewers when brewing ale was a healthier alternative to the often-brackish water that was available to drink. In later years, church bellringers became famous for storing casks of ale in their towers, which they consumed during services. I’m partial to a real ale myself, and as our very first Wanstead Beer Festival is due to be held in the parish halls at Christ Church in October this year, I thought I’d see what good beer Wanstead has to offer.

My first stop was at the newly renovated Cuckfield for a pint of Neck Oil, an IPA that has become so popular in the 10 years since its inception that it can now be found canned in supermarkets. Brewed by Beavertown, just down the road in Tottenham, this is a beer to make the purists howl (particularly as the brewers have recently sold out to the mighty Heineken). Whilst Neck Oil might not truly qualify as a real ale, it is undoubtedly a quality beer: it’s light and citrusy, with an aftertaste of mango that strikes all the right notes on a summer’s evening.

Next stop was The Duke, a pub which always has a great community feel and lots of events. Here, the pint of choice was Hopspur, a cask ale from Redemption Brewery Co, again Tottenham-based. Another citrusy ale, this time with a delicious grapefruit taste which seems to be all the rage at the moment. Not everyone likes their ale as sweet as this but I thought it was definitely worth its apparent Gold Medal.

Sadly, the best beer in Wanstead cannot be purchased from any of our public houses, for it is brewed by the ‘Wanstead mystery brewer’. Famous for their beer deliveries on Oak Hall Road, the mystery brewer apparently regularly delights residents with free gifts of a range of home-brewed ales to rival any artisan brewery. Fortunately, the rector of the parish was able to sample a selection and can attest to the quality! We can see why house prices in Oak Hall Road are on the up!

It’s clear there is a strong demand for good beer in Wanstead. If you like tasting fine ales, do come along to the first Wanstead Beer Festival. There will be an opportunity to savour a wide range of ales as well as other drinks, and to collect a Wanstead Beer Festival pint glass (no doubt soon to become highly collectable). Tickets will be on sale soon, so watch this space.

On a more serious note, it should, of course, be acknowledged that a lot of people do struggle with alcohol, and if you’re reading this and wondering whether your drinking has become a problem, Wanstead Alcoholics Anonymous meet regularly (call 020 7407 0700).

The Wanstead Beer Festival will take place in the halls of Christ Church on 14 October. For more information, email beer@wnstd.com