BREWERY REVIEW: BOSPHORUS BREWING COMPANY Esentepe Mah., Yıldız Posta Cd, No:I/IA, Gayrettepe, İstanbul www.bosphorus-brewing.com
Istanbul. With 3 names throughout its history, 14 million inhabitants straddling 2 continents, 10 million visitors annually and no fewer than 936 neighbourhoods bustling within 39 city districts, this fascinatingly multi-faceted capital is a geography statistician’s dream. Sadly for the craft beer enthusiast, the number of microbreweries with mention-worthy output can be counted on the toes of one foot of a two-toed sloth. With Taps Brewery inconveniently located in distant Bebek, I do what any self-respecting wandering Anglo-Saxon yearning for a voice of reason in a crowd of madness would do: I turn to the BBC.
Established in 2012 by long-time British expatriate Philip Hall and his Turkish co-venturist Sedat Zincırkiran, the Bosphorus Brewing Company aims to fill some of the gaping hole in the Turkish market for quality beer. Sitting at the bottom of a hill a baklava’s throw from Gayrettepe Metro station in suburban east-central Şişli, its covered and bedecked beer garden instantly provides welcome and tranquil shelter from the hustle and pollution of a scorching Istanbul summer. The pleasantly classic British pub interior with visible copper mash tuns promises much and I sit down outside with hoppy hope in my heart.
It’s summer, it’s hot and I am sweating like a Belgian farm hand after a hard day’s ploughing; the order of play is therefore a simple one. First up is the house witbier, the Sümer Ale (5.0%). Of cloudy, pale yellow colour and with a discernible waft of coriander, it certainly looks and smells the part. Fortunately, it tastes it too. Refreshing in the extreme and finely balanced, this is a perfect summer session beer. An auspicious start, made all the better by an inspired side order of salty grilled halloumi that nicely offsets the simplicity of the beer’s aroma.
Next in line is the Haliç Gold (6.0%), a Belgian blonde brewed with German hops. It looks glowingly good and frothes beautifully, so I am all the more disappointed when the first taste fails to excite. It reminds more of a stronger English golden ale such as Exmoor Gold, than a Belgian blonde. Perhaps it is the unexpected lack of carbonation, but with every sip my enjoyment fades further.
According to the token marketing blurb on the menu iPad propped on every table, it takes 40 days and 40 nights exactly to perfect Brew 81 (6.1%), and it is fair to say that Jesus may have performed a good many fewer miracles had this been his first beverage upon exiting the wilderness. Described as a Dortmunder / Export lager, the bitterness certainly hints at Germanic hoppage and influence although the higher ABV surprises a little. The dimpled tankard may look all full of love and tenderness but this is a silent assassin in the Istanbul summer sun, make no mistake. Unexciting but palatable, as written in the patronising manner of the travelling beer snob.
With verdict on the BBC’s output firmly in the balance after two less than overwhelming offerings, I move for what ought to be the safe option on the brewlist: an IPA, in this case the Istanbul Pale Ale (5.6%). My hope for bold bitterness is faint, however, as the low ABV and East Kent Goldings hops hint at an English cask ale – not an enticing prospect given my unashamed adoration of American Pacific Northwest hops. The taste is malty, faintly fruity and entirely uninspiring. Warm and unavoidably flat, this ale has little chance of impressing in the 32c heat and I cannot even bring myself to finish it. If sorrow had a face, that face would be mine.
Judgement has been cast, and there is very little the Selanik 81 (8.4%), an amber doppelbock with thin foamy head, can do to atone. After the quite awful IPA, the caramel notes initially taste so rich and sweet but the sinking sadness in my taste buds overrule the hopeful heart as yet another beer fades perceptively.
Much is made in the in-house description of each ale of the local water source being adjusted to replicate that of their Belgian, German or British influences, but with the English brewmaster back in the motherland, the chameleon properties of the beers’ main ingredient shall forever remain a mystery. All the brews cost £4.00 or £4.50 for 300ml and this seems expensive, despite the obvious supply chain logistical issues. I would happily choose the Sümer Ale ahead of any of the standard bland international lager offerings available in the city, if this brewpub were in a more accessible and touristic location. It isn’t, however, and so the search for bold hops and new world craft ale goes on in Istanbul.