A Saturday stroll through southeast London

There is a lot more to beer in southeast London than Bermondsey nowadays. Team Intoxicated and Kev decided that we should do the research so you don’t have to. It’s the first beerwalk©* that we have written up.

* Beerwalk is not a dance by a posthumous, cosmetically challenged singer songwriter, it’s exactly what is implied, an unsponsored walk involving beer.

Things were running late so regrettably we had to miss Orbit Beers and assembled at Brick Brewery close by Peckham Rye station. Well knock me down with a table beer, we could have been in Hoxton or Bermondsey. A cool little courtyard outside the railway Brick Breweryarch where they brew, natch, complete with pulled pork vendor. Due to a late arrival (well, me actually) most beers were tried. This brewery is well worth a visit because of the ‘taproom exclusives’ and quality-wise all up to scratch. The raspberry wheat was right up there. My reference for this style is Little Beer Corporation’s Little Rosy, beautifully dry and tart, one of the very best aperitif beers imho. Well Brick’s version is slightly sweeter (bad) but is paler and has far more banana-y wheat beer flavours (good). Kiwi Steam is also an easily approachable beer in an uncommon style.

We could have walked to East Dulwich, but we didn’t. There’s a nice quarter mile stretch that includes East Dulwich Tavern, The Flying Pig and Hop, Burns & Black. The EDT as it’s called is an Antic pub, a proper pub unlike some of their other ventures (that’s for another time, but try going to The Job Centre in Deptford for an alternative experience). Situated in a really buzzy area at the top of Lordship Lane this is really a place to sit with the Saturday papers and have a pint of good local ale (think Gipsy Hill, Volden or Clarkshaws). Nothing exciting but good, solid stuff and well tended but maybe they could rotate a bit more. If you’re getting peckish by now then toddle on to The flyingpig_home1Flying Pig, one of my favourite pubs in London. The beer range here is always interesting, not just the same as other craft locals. My guess is that they don’t buy solely on price or trendiness or availability. (It’s always easy to see when the latest, say, Lagunitas shipments arrive on these shores – however good the beer is – it floods the market temporarily.) They are independent, the food looks great, seating has something for everyone, Simone and Justine are lovely (all the staff actually) but above all it is unpretentious craft. Real ale and craft are equally well represented. Now it’s time to up the trendiness factor, in the same parade is Hop, Burns & Black only opened this year. The fact that Jen, one half of the ownership, comes from Nelson gives the place instant hop cred. Apart from a great selection of beer – think locals from SE London, trendy beers and NZ beers – they also have a growler filling machine with four beers on keg. And it gets better, there is some seating outside. There’s more, the ‘Burns’ refers to a great range of hot sauces and the ‘Black’ to a couple of bins of vinyl. This is a great place, my only criticism is that it’s a tad too hip for an old fogey like me.

I started off my sales career repping in SE London and it was my manor. Nunhead was one of those vague areas on the other side of the Rye with nothing memorable, less than 10 minutes walk from HB&B. Now it’s a lovely little neighbourhood and for the beer enthusiast there is the Old Nun’s Head ( another addition to the Laine’s London portfolio but not brewing on site yet), Bambuni, a great deli with a good craft selection but we chose the newest addition, The Beer Shop. A modern micropub, unlike some others I’ve

Bijou but airy

Bijou but airy

been to. Micropubs, in my experience so far, often have six identical session bitters bought solely on price in a converted shop with little natural light, but it doesn’t have to be like that. This is very small but it is airy and light. It has a keg line. It has ‘craft’ scotch eggs and pork pies, not only are they craft they are bloomin’ tasty too. This would be a great place to have within walking distance.

Still thirsty, where to now? The Ivy House (community owned, good session selection, cask and keg) is a fifteen minute walk south, to the southeast there is Brockley Brewery (nice but ordinary?) or to the southwest Herne Hill has Head in a Hat (interesting but depends what the pub has on) at the Florence and Canopy (needs further investigation).

So we headed north. A ten minute walk took us to Peckham Beer Rebellion part of the Late Knights Brewery group. I am no interior designer and I don’t know if it’s the Late Knights guys or the fact that this is southeast London but, imho naturally, they only pull off the first half of shabby chic. Beer is variable, this outlet has more keg lines than some others and that’s the direction to look. Late Knights themselves tend to stick to themes on a cask ale.

It’s not like me but prior research had discovered a relatively new (aren’t they all) brewery operating out of a pub further down Queen’s Road. Now I have been in some weird pubs in my time, the Montague Arms, home of the Monkeychews brewery is right

Home of the Monkeychews Brewery

Home of the Monkeychews Brewery

up there. I have passed this pub many times in the car, it is black. Inside it is just very dark. Peering through the gloom it is actually quite comfortable to the left, nice chairs, ephemera, taxidermy and tables with globes in the middle. To the right a stage (has been a nearly famous music venue in the past) and what appeared to be a jumble sale? We didn’t like to ask. There were two Monkeychews beers on cask. Kev, who had consistently chosen the dud all day, had the one that was definitely off, it was swiftly replaced and removed from sale. Ours was almost off, it would be unfair to review it. My only complaint is that they shouldn’t have served it, I’m sure someone can make ok-ish beer there but suspect they don’t have the turnover to sell it.

So a slightly odd experience to end an interesting day walking and drinking in the newly vibrant heart of southeast London. Well it wasn’t quite the end, that was in a BYO Vietnamese restaurant eating frogs legs and pigs ears swilled down with Guinness Foreign Extra – but that’s another story.

 

 

Born to die?

brewdog-logo1Probably not, the ultra-slick commercial juggernaut that is BrewDog will continue to make more and more money. Oh sorry, you mean its latest marketing gimmick, I mean beer, Born To Die.

Look, we all know fresh beer is best, right? Especially if it is hoppy beer, like say Punk IPA, oh, no, maybe I’m wrong, that has one year best before on it. Born To Die, the new release from BrewDog has a short shelf life, it will be withdrawn from the shelves on a certain date.

Silly or yet another clever marketing ploy? I fear the latter, BrewDog know their market so well, and have so many shareholders, I mean punks, that they can brew just the right amount of this beer to nearly satisfy demand but as someone once said, ‘leave them wanting more’.

We have a lot to be grateful for. BrewDog really did help kick off the craft beer revolution in the UK. The marketing was designed to annoy some people and thus endear them to their target demographic. Right from the start, they knew their market and how to reach it effectively. Incidentally they brew great full flavoured beers to back it up.

The bars are pretty good and don’t only serve BrewDog beer though there is naturally a preference for those breweries they have invested in. The table service is a nice feature. My only gripe is that the only logo anywhere is BrewDog, no other brewery is promoted. Imagine the outcry if Carling monopolised the advertising in a pub in this way.

It’s all very slick, subliminal, highly commercial and certainly to date, successful marketing which, it could be argued, the beers don’t need. They are strong enough to stand on their own, certainly in the craft market. However I guess they want to have as many keg lines as Guinness and be a mass market beer, even more so than they are now.

Whatever your thoughts, it is certainly ludicrous to say you have only 30 days to drink Born To Die but your bottle of Punk is fine after 350 days. Bad BrewDog.

Twickenham Fine Ales 10th Anniversary bash

twickenhamTwickenham Fine Ales have made it. From microbrewery roots 10 years ago they are now one half of the SW London duumvirate (Sambrook’s being the other) that has excellent distribution of cask ale, session beers throughout London. Both Twickenham and Sambrook’s have gone the cask ale, session beer route to create a sustainable, commercial business free of the vagaries of the latest trend to come out of Hackney. This doesn’t mean to say they make dull beer or uninventive beer. The main difference between the two is that Sambrook’s tend to be more malt based with English hops whereas Twickenham had American brewers early on and have always had more hop forward beers using more modern hop varieties. twickenham anniversaySo, ten years old, let’s have a party! Twickenham Brewery have a bar that is open on rugby matchdays but essentially this is an unglamorous working brewery on a small industrial estate. No matter. Good beer, good company and a great atmosphere with the added bonus of nice weather made for a most convivial day. I reviewed some of the core Twickenham beers a while ago at a meet the brewer event. Here I had the chance to try some of the more adventurous offerings. First up had to be Decade, brewed for this event, a beautiful 5% IPA showing that the style is not the preserve of craft keg brewers. Beers like this could make the pub drinker explore the whole world of new beers out there. Honey Dark was a monthly special in March, it is a strong mild [sic]. Whatever it is called or is, it works well, the honey adding a lovely, not overly sweet, body. Autumn Red I found a little ordinary, lacking the spiciness I was hoping for. Having said that I tried it after a bottle of Hill 60, one of a small series of beers aged in wood and for people who know me will know me this is right up my street. I believe I had the last bottle on sale so here goes with an inadequate description of a stonking beer. It is a blend of an aged dark ale and a fresh strong mild, at first sip the first thought is ‘slow down with bombarding me with all these different flavours!’. It is complex, boozy in an oloroso sherry type of way with the complexity of molasses and dark ale. Ending with a lovely sourness which leaves your heart wanting more and your head saying ‘hang on, this is 8% ABV’. Hill 60 may be gone but if you are quick then you might still be able to get hold of some Oud Bruin, a similarly inspired beer. The most striking thing though about all the beers was how good they were fresh. We all know fresh beer in perfect condition is so much more exciting (especially the more hop forward ones) but we often blame the beer and not the pub when we have a slightly dull one.

Date:                       Saturday, 13 September 2014
Venue:                    6.5/10
Beer selection:        7.5/10
Beer quality:            8/10
Atmosphere:            8/10
A good day out:       7.5/10
Total score:             37.5/50, 75%

Guinness: Textbook marketing through the years

Guinness-original-logoEveryone likes Guinness, even the people who don’t like Guinness. Why’s that then Rich? Marketing! Oh, and a good product and factual story to back it up.

Marketing can be seen as a dirty word but done well, everyone’s a winner with one proviso – the marketing needs be backed up by the product, without that it is just ‘puff’. For years the advertisements have been both contemporary and legendary (Ed: Can you be contemporary and legendary at the same time? Rich: Semantics, you know what I mean.) There must be a Guinness pump in over 90% of the pubs in the UK, saturation point? No, some Genius comes up with the idea of serving an identical product two degrees colder. This gave Guinness the chance to double brand awareness at a stroke. (If you don’t believe in the subliminal effect of brand awareness look around you next time you are in a Brewdog bar, count the Brewdog logos, count the other logos you can see.)

Bitter (style, not attitude)drinkers who wouldn’t touch a pint of ‘nitrokeg’ or ‘creamflow’ bitter will often drink Guinness happily as a fallback such is the affection for the brand. People who don’t drink Guinness still like the brand. Only a smidgin of this love can be attributed to the UK’s fondness for some softly spoken, self-deprecating Irish blarney.

I have had the unalloyed good fortune to be the recipient of Guinness hospitality recently. On the first occasion this was as part of the European Beer Bloggers Conference (my advice – start a blog, attend, you won’t regret it). This included a sneak look at their big, shiny, new brewhouse (the fourth brewhouse they have built at St James’ Gate) followed by a reception at the Storehouse, the most prominent building on the site, with panoramic views over Dublin. Now you expect a professional presentation and a bit of free Guinness, right? This was so much more. All versions of Guinness including the two different export, higher strength versions were on offer together with some other beers and most interestingly, Night Porter. This was the winner of an internal brewing competition, a lovely chocolatey, tarry mouthful for a relatively modest 5.5% ABV. I always mention this because I would just love them to commercialise it. I digress, each stout was matched to a different food station – oysters naturally but lots of other good stuff. Apart from the quality of the beer and food, the most impressive thing were the staff. All were knowledgeable and informed, keen to talk about the product but not in any sort of pushy way. This doesn’t happen by accident, it is the result of excellent training and employees buying into the ethos of the company.

Then, a few days ago, I was invited to a Guinness event of ‘discovery’ at a ‘secret location’. My arm didn’t need twisting. Again, I was expecting a nice evening but was unprepared for how good (and exclusive) it was. I won’t make you green by describing the evening, let’s concentrate on the facts. It was to launch their new West Indies Porter and Dublin Porter, presented by the brewer and the archivist. There were some shadowy suits and little black dresses that indicated marketing people in the background but it turned out they didn’t bite and were indeed, without exception, quite charming.

GUINNESS SERVE 1These two new beers are based on old recipes, recreated as best they are able, from the archives. Sample problem, how big is a bale? From the brewing side this has been labelled ‘The Brewers Project’ and gives the brewers, technically skilled at producing consistent, large volume stout a chance to do some more interesting stuff than the day-to-day routine. All very well, but just another beer to market? No, all the Guinness marketing Genius is here. This is the brewer with the biggest heritage in the British Isles but it’s something they have cashed in on before. The style is one that was incredibly popular, witness the archives, yet is under represented in pubs nowadays. Pubs that are committed to a regular range of bitters might have no problem putting a porter alongside and it’s not a stout. Well, cynics might say it is ‘stout lite’ but when Guinness pull this type of stunt we just smile indulgently. And the markets they are aiming for don’t compete with their existing ones. Nice old labelling. It all comes together into a great marketing package – based on facts and real stories.

Diageo, owners of Guinness are primarily a spirits company. Kilkenny, Smithwicks and Harp complement Guinness in Ireland and North America. In Africa they have some local lagers to complement the famous Foreign Extra. However they have not dipped their toes in the murky waters of ‘craft beer’ either by acquisition or pilot brewery before. Wisely the word craft doesn’t appear here either, it’s about heritage, a far more tangible label. Nevertheless this is just a tiptoe into some markets where Guinness might not have been seen before.

So very neatly Guinness have avoided confrontation with best bitter or modern IPA. They haven’t engaged in the craft vs cask war. They haven’t gone for anything ‘new’. Competition for these new beers is relatively low in a market that is becoming increasingly saturated.

This has been rather gushing, hasn’t it? It is for the marketing. Guinness could be used as a textbook (also for exporting, but that’s another story). Sadly I am too much of a thrill seeker to drink a lot of Guinness nowadays but I love what they do.

A review of the actual beers is here.

In the meantime, a useless fact: My favourite time and place for a pint of Guinness is the open air, but covered bar underneath the Gold Cup restaurant at Cheltenham racecourse on Champion Hurdle day prior to racing. Watch the excited crowds stream in for the first day of the Festival, read the Racing Post, feel the anticipation of the winners and enjoy a pint of the black stuff – bliss.

Great British Beer Festival 2014

gbbfFancy a soured, single hopped wheat beer or a beer ‘dry hopped’ with cardamom or a hoppy saison with elderflowers or an 11% tarry stout or a nice uncomplicated Berliner Weisse or a pale, sour ale with mesquite smoke that tastes of bacon? All these innovative beers can be found at the Great British Beer Festival…..on the overseas bars. Oh, what a shame, because this type of beer is made in the UK too! But the British beer chosen by CAMRA for the exhibition is with occasional notable exceptions, extremely mainstream.

More to come…

Ealing, Oxted and Wandsworth Beer Festivals

The last three beer festivals I’ve attended are Ealing, Oxted and Wandsworth Common/LBA.

Compare and contrast as my school exams always used to say. Beer festivals, tap takeovers, meet the brewers, there are so many events, which do you choose? In my fair handed, even way, I’d like to say they all have merit, it depends what you like.   Continue reading