In recent years, I’ve gotten more and more into Craft beers – As part of my 40 Project, I tried to drink local beers from places whilst on my travels (I actually went to a local Birmingham brewery but didn’t manage to take any photos so am not counting it). I was briefly into Real Ales whilst at University, but I was never really someone whom liked lagers when out drinking with friends. My memories of it was mainly of my Dad treating himself to a pint of lager or bitter from the pub opposite the Takeaway and when trying a mouthful myself, complaining about how bitter it was. By no means would I consider myself to be an expert, but yunno, I think I have a fairly decent palette, I know what kind of tastes and flavours I do and don’t like and it’s been (and continues to be) a real voyage of discovery as I continue to not only learn about, but discover new, tasty beers from the ever growing list of breweries out there. I do have some favourite breweries, ones that have consistently good beers across their portfolio – Anchor Brewery, Founders, Magic Rock and Brooklyn Brewery.
Admittedly, I have a bit of a soft spot for Brooklyn as they’re probably THE brewery that really got me interested into craft beer. Whilst I was busy avoiding Brooklyn Lager through fear of bringing back unpleasant childhood memories of drinking lager (by virtue of containing the word “lager”), it was at the brilliant Grillstock that I got to drink the very delicious Brooklyn Summer Ale for the very first time – It was light, crisp with a slight fruity note – words I would normally use to describe wine, not beer and yunno, it was absolutely perfect for drinking on a long, warm summer night. It was also from that weekend at Grillstock that I got to try other beers like the East India Pale Ale which was delicious, but a whopping 6.9% – Which I didn’t realise at the time when I bought a case for some friends who were competing in the King of the Grill contest, oops!. From there, I tried other beers in the Brooklyn range and very quickly, Brooklyn Brown Ale established itself as a firm favourite of mines (along with Summer Ale both of which are 2 of my favourite beers and regular go-to beers). It was from here that I learned about the BQE range of beers and fortunately for me, the (also very brilliant) Stirchley Wines tend to stock beers from the BQE range and again, I’m generally impressed with what Brooklyn produce. I should also point out that I have since tried Brooklyn lager and (as expected from a brewery that takes taste and flavour seriously, rather than mass-producing something bland), it’s actually really nice and nothing like anything my Dad used to drink.
Through the joys of social media, I learned that Brooklyn Brewery were bringing their Mash to London – A series of different types of events over a few days – And whilst I don’t live in London, I was keen to see if there was anything I could make it to (without taking any leave from work as I may need to save them for other fun things this year…) and my eyes are drawn to the Beer Mansion. I really wanted to go to the feast – A collaboration with Smoking Goat but given it was midweek, it would have meant a bit of a dash to and after (not that I could buy tickets anyway, it was more of a raffle). Quick message to my craft beer brother, Moon, and I’m booking tickets for the Beer Mansion along with accommodation.
The Beer Mansion was described as “an immersive beer experience” and if I’m completely honest, my first thoughts after reading that were that it was a load of pretentious marketing twaddle so upon arriving to the entrance to MC Motors in the back streets of Stoke Newington, I didn’t really know what to expect – But I went in with an open mind…
So we arrived at the back of what seemed like a former car mechanic’s yard and there were ship containers a-plenty, all stack on top of each other. Quick scan to make sure we had actually bought tickets and literally before we could step into the entrance/shipping container, the bouncer (shades, black suit and all) sternly instructed us to “grab a beer” and pointed at 2 large black plastic bins filled with iced water and cans of various Brooklyn beers. Naturally, we weren’t going to argue with the scary bouncer and I headed straight for a can of my beloved Summer Ale whilst Moon went for the American Ale. Right by the entrance, we’re approached by someone whom obviously works there (walkie-talkie, dressed in Brooklyn Brewery clothing…) and asked if we’d just arrived (yes) and whether we’d been told about the Beer Mansion. Claiming (quite rightly) ignorance,He proceeded to tell us that “This is a beer festival – with 50+ beers in different settings for you to appreciate” and his best advice to us was “to not stay in one space for too long.” Well, that would be our interest piqued. Moving to one end of the courtyard, there were plenty of people lining up for food (provided by Voodoo Ray Pizza), playing Cornhole or like us, just chatting and drinking the (free) beer and making the most of the sun coming out to play. We’d only just got there and were already loving it..
As the night went on, we took the advice of the aforementioned guy and started to explore the complex – There were indeed lots of different areas with different themed bars at each spot, all with beers for you to try. In the courtyard by the entrance, they were offering Brooklyn Bel Air Sour – Which I *loved*. I’m really into my sours atm, and this one was an absolute cracker! Going downstairs to what was ostensibly a basement, there was a DJ on one side and an (empty) stage at the other with another bar nearby – This time with another 4 different varieties to try. Everywhere you went, there was a bar with yet more beer to try, soon it became clear what the advice meant – You really wanted to continue exploring the complex and trying different beers in different settings. Hell, there was even a photo booth – Who doesn’t love a photo booth (especially after a few drinks?). There was so much to see and do, including a slight element of danger added to the proceedings in the form of concrete stairs steeper than those found at the Colosseum in Rome with a bit of loose rope pretending to be a banister. I mean, even the security bod had to keep saying to people (in his stern voice) to take care which presumably, he had to after too many ppl were staggering up (and down) them. I was a bit overwhelmed by it all, but the main feeling was one of disbelief that everything (including danger and comedy elements) were included in the £10 for the ticket?!
One of my favourite bars within the Beer Mansion was where Head of Culinary Programme Chef for Brooklyn Brewery Andrew Gerson essentially plated a dish in our palms and paired it with one of the beers. The dish was some lightly cured salmon with micro herbs, roasted seeds and nuts, some sauce and it was very nice indeed. More to the point, it did pair exceptionally well with the beer and was for me, a perfect example of drinking beer differently. I stood a little in awe, watching wave after wave of people crowd round and follow instructions given diligently and seeing the reactions on all their faces after eating the dish. If I wasn’t already having a brilliant time, this last experience completely cemented it for me.
I left the Beer Mansion completely in awe at what I experienced – So much thought and planning had gone into it and it was a very slick operation, but it didn’t lose its core ideal in that it was something to not only allow you try different (Brooklyn) Beers, but also try them in different settings which may (or may not) enhance the experience. Truly, I had never experienced anything like it but that’s not to say that it was a bad thing. I admit, I do like Brooklyn Brewery beers – They’re very drinkable! – And by the end of it, I admit that I was taken in by the marketing spiel, but the Beer Mansion was just something else and very special. They have set the bar impossibly high for others when it comes to Beer Festivals and I tell you what, if Brooklyn Brewery bring the circus that is the Brooklyn Brewery Mash round to the UK again, I will be clearing my diary to make as many events as possible, wherever it may be.
More photos can be found at my Flickr album