Caught by the River

Pint by the River – Sambrook's Brewery Powerhouse Porter

Ben McCormick | 5th December 2010

By Ben McCormick

There’s an old, oft-used idiom about being unable to organise a piss up in a brewery. After two hours at the launch of Sambrooks Powerhouse Porter at its excellent, shiny beer-making establishment in Battersea, I’m happy to report it’s not remotely true of Sambrook’s or its PR company.

In truth, it didn’t take much to convince. Within moments, I’d been handed a pint and its first warming gulps soon swept away the freezing memories of autumn’s coldest evening yet. The heady brew was served up by one Jim Kerr; not the lead singer of Simple Minds, but a master brewer who numbers Whitbread, Castle Eden and Brains among his former employers. It was Kerr managing director Duncan Sambrook called on when he wanted to produce a traditional London Porter to complement the brewery’s other ales – Wandle and Junction. Having a long association with Castle Eden gives Kerr the edge when it comes to putting together a winning Porter, a difficult ale to master but a rewarding one when you do.

Using a combination of Fuggles, Goldings and Challenger hops for the aroma and Boadicea – a low-growing English hop new to the brewer – Kerr worked with the head brewers at Sambrooks to put together a beer of real character. According to Kerr, more flavour and colour comes courtesy of the Crystal, Brown and Chocolate malted barley mixed with Maris Otter Pale malt.

The result is certainly impressive. It looks menacing, like a watered-down oil slick topped with a fluffy, brown-sea froth. But the aroma is subtle; sometimes full of herbs, more commonly infused with delicate, refined treacle. It’s on the tongue that Powerhouse really comes into its own, though. It’s safe to say you’re expecting it to smart a little, but instead you’re dealt a smooth, chocolatey stroke across your mouth like a Bond villain fondling a furry cat. The caress continues for some time before being brought abruptly to a grasping halt. Panic-stricken, you wonder what’s coming next, fearing the worst at the hands of this malevolent maniac. Instead, there is blissful reassurance. No painful death of flavour, but the nagging insistence that you’d like more of the same, please.

This sensation is repeated throughout the pint until two-thirds of the way in, when for some reason only really explicable by sorcery, I fancy, the beer takes on the kind of moreish properties more usually associated with Pringles or crack cocaine.

So it looks like Sambrooks have brewed the perfect beer. And judging by the aplomb with which people are slugging it back at this exceptionally well-organised event, you’d be hard pushed to disagree.

Ben’s beer advent calendar.