What’s Brewing, December – February 2016, Agony Column

Whats Brewing DecFeb16More sound advice for the correspondents to What’s Brewing.

December sees some tedious discussion about gluten free beer. Coeliacs make up about 1% of the population and a further 1% have some gluten intolerance (yet over 20% over the population buy some gluten free products!). So clearly listing all ingredients on a pumpclip ain’t gonna happen. I have sympathy but just do your research and know your beer. NH debunks the myth that CAMRA really is getting through to women and DS of Chelmsford gets a small bite about beer being cloudy, apparently it is a man made product, who’d have known?

New year, new ideas in January 2016! KF of London suggests that people may be pleasantly surprised by the real ale from key kegs at Manchester beer festival. I’m not printing his postcode for fear the hardliners will have put a hit on him. In reply to NH, JS of Chesterfield is worried that positive discrimination of women in CAMRA would be discrimination of men. Yeah, right, CAMRA is really anti-men!

Rather predictably February sees a letter from PJ of Brighouse going against the idea of key keg real ale. He suggests that if the definition of real ale changed one ‘might as well wind up CAMRA’. Now there’s a thought. Mind you, I’ve been winding up CAMRA for years. As well as the previous month there is various Wethie bashing. Get over it, nobody makes you go to pubs with generally well served, low priced, local cask ale.

Pigs Ear Beer Festival

Jurassic PorkJurassic Pork aka Pigs Ear Beer Festival, what do we think? The jury’s out. Everything that’s good about CAMRA, everything that’s bad about CAMRA, all in one (successful) festival.

Let’s start with the venue. The Round Chapel, or the former Clapton Park United Reformed Church is a magnificent building both inside and out, listed grade II it is now owned and restored by Hackney Historic Buildings Trust. Complete with pulpit, organ and balcony it is quite beautiful, and totally unsuitable for a beer festival in many respects.Pigs Ear2

The beer. This is a broadminded CAMRA branch and the beer is an excellently curated selection of local, rare and regional brewers. Not only that, they had two keg lines and a good selection of international bottles, they even advertised Westvleteren 12 ffs! But trying to find what is on where is a nightmare. On the basis that one cannot get close to trying all the beers I would prefer to see  a smaller range with a greater guarantee of finding the beer I want actually on.

Spot the lady on the pulpit stairs having a meal break, deserved I'm sure.

Spot the lady on the pulpit stairs having a meal break, deserved I’m sure.

The organisation, the crowds. Downstairs is a scrum, the balcony is lovely, the bars are downstairs. The toilets are portable toilets outside (Ed-had to be changed because I inadvertently used a trademarked name, so let’s have a big shout out for their competitors Britcab, Mobile Thrones and the like). The staff are generally well meaning but not awfully good, they are volunteers so we shouldn’t complain.

The food. It’s camp catering (Boy Scouts not Larry Grayson). The cheese stall is a good idea but it’s all pre-packed to take way, and not a scotch egg or pork pie in sight. So, buy a sub from one stall, some prepacked cheese from the other, enjoy with plastic knife but no butter or chutney. Picnic on the balcony.

If Heath Robinson did beer festivals this would be it. It’s a must to attend and marvel at but so easy to criticise. No scoring for this one, make your own mind up.

 

Le Gothique – Reinvented

le goth 2015Lord Battersea does it again! The Wandsworth Common beer festivals are held at the wonderful Le Gothique inside the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. This building has a rich and varied past, re-inventing itself time and again and always successful. A bit like the Wandsworth Common beer festival.

The self-styled Lord Battersea can divide opinion and doesn’t shy away from controversy, the fact remains that he organises some of the best beer festivals in London. The beers are interesting and individually sourced, it’s not a simple phone call to a regional wholesaler. Always there are new releases and beers brewed especially for the festival.

Having first decried tank beer, then having a disastrous venture into keg beer a couple of years ago (it requires electricity apparently, more than you imagine) he returned this Halloween with the usual well sourced cask beers and a brand new ‘craft wall’. The meter had been well fed and everything ran like clockwork.

(Now we hear that the Clapham Brewmasters event this year (the substitute for Battersea while it the old town hall is going up and down and up) will feature 100 beers on the craft wall.)

The first night is always ‘preview night’, fixed price entry and free beer, definitely the night to be there. We probably didn’t make best use of it having already stopped at the just opened We Brought Beer Clapham (a properly curated offering) and then The Old School House (on a previous visit had Mikeller, now it was a single distributors faux craft, avoid). But this is stuff for another post.

At the Le Gothique my best in show was Strannik, a big Russian Imperial stout from Northern Monk. Low ABV beers were all the rage in the spring, a trifle late but Little Beer Corporation (yes, the one I do a bit of work for) launched Little & Often, a 3.0% crystal rye IPA, spicy and with 65 IBU of bitterness this certainly has a big initial flavour, would be great washing down a curry imho. Wimbledon Brewery were there with their well made but ordinary new beers backed by brewing royalty and city money. As usual Fuller’s had a special version, as usual, to my taste it wasn’t very nice, sour in a bad way. My notes went downhill after the Strannik.

Great venue, properly sourced beer, always moving forward, genial mein host – I like Le Gothique festivals.

Venue:                    8.5/10
Beer selection:       9/10
Beer quality:           8/10
Atmosphere:           8/10
A good night out:    8/10
Total score:            41.5/50, 83%

The Brewers Project, Chapter 3

Hop HouseNo personal cab, no mystery location but nevertheless a nice Christmas present, the latest chapter of the Brewers Project from Guinness, Hop House 13 Lager. The first things that have to be said are that the branding looks great and that this lager is not really aimed at me.

What do they say about it? “This double-hopped lager is the next chapter in that project. It’s decidedly modern and totally different. With more ingredients comes more character. 100% Irish-grown malted barley. The distinctive Guinness yeast. A mixture of Australian and American hops runs as an undercurrent through this incredibly deep beer, which is fresh at the surface and complex at the bottom. Our brewers set out to create something that would stimulate your palate and senses alike. From first sip to the lingering finish, this beer is surprising. Sample Guinness Hop House 13 and you’ll experience a lager made with so much more. More hops. More character. More taste. It’s a lively sip with accents of apricot and peach. The flavour deepens into subtle malt with a medium body. Combining our famous Guinness yeast with Irish-grown barley in a lager brewing process, our brewers changed the game.”

What does Rich say about it? That’s all a bit OTT above. What exactly does double-hopped mean? It has Topaz, Galaxy and Mosaic which is a nice mix of hops but there is no noticeable bitterness. Starts quite sweet and I did get the hint of apricot and peach, then a touch of malt and a slightly drier finish. 22 IBU apparently which doesn’t really add up to a crisp finish. The Guinness yeast, who knows?

Well what did you expect? This is a mass market lager, not a craft offering (lagered for 5 days apparently). It is definitely not different or surprising. I’m willing to believe that a lot of care has gone into this and it is not faulty in any way (and it comes in a brown bottle). It’s way cooler in terms of branding than the hideously outdated Fosters (who does drink this nowadays?)  which I’d guess is one of the closer competitors. I wish it well in its sector.

As a salesman of genuine craft keg though, I plead to publicans to put it on the ‘commercial’ lager lines and not use up one of your precious ‘craft keg’ lines for this. The crafterati will not be fooled.

What’s Brewing, October – November 2015 – Agony Column

Whats Brewing AugSep 15
Help for correspondents to What’s Brewing. Really, some of them need it.

In October craft beer gets a bit of respite with cider, Bill Tidy’s Keg Buster cartoon, Tesco and Welsh politics all taking some flak. Funniest comment surely has to go to HMcG of York who wants baby changing facilities in pubs and at beer festivals. Setting aside the fact that no self-respecting CAMRA member has ever changed a nappy if pubs and beer festivals are going to try and attract babies then I will not be going. Parenting skills surely don’t include this now do they?

DS of Chelmsford has a more or less regular spot on the letters page. This month he is banging on about one of his favourite themes, choice. Apparently choice only includes those beers one already knows. Discuss.

MC of Bury rails against CAMRA’s assertion that there has never been a better time to be a beer drinker. CAMRA correct, MC bonkers imho. Amongst his problems are that the Champion Beer of Britain has gone to a brewery established three ago which he is highly unlike to see in his local. Well, if his local is not an independent that carefully chooses it’s beers then yes, but then is it a good local. I was highly delighted that for the first time ever (?) the award had gone to a new beer, Tiny Rebel should be applauded. Some older beers were worthy winners but having won it should become ineligible (or else any new winner has to be demonstrably better). Certainly the case of Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, an old and ordinary beer rebadged made me stop voting. Next on his list is beers flavoured with chilli, chocolate, oyster and bourbon. Who’s to say, it’s your choice. Oyster stout is an old thing but doesn’t always contain oysters.

In November, the DS of Chelmsford letter is replying to someone wanting real ale in restaurants. Yes, it is a non-starter through turnover but not because DS thinks there are no bistros in housing estates and villages.

The Keg Buster cartoon is fast becoming the last stand of diehard CAMRA members. Letters for and against (it’s only a small f**king cartoon in a whole newspaper, don’t bother reading it if you don’t find it funny!) but perhaps the most telling is that from ET (no, not that one) of Bingham who suggests that maybe this is not the best way of attracting new readers.

In the paper itself is an article is an article ‘What if you couldn’t drink real ale?’, don’t bother becoming a member of CAMRA is my reply.

Under ‘stereotyped smashed’ is supposedly good news that women drink beer, from AB Inbev (Ed: Are they including Budweiser in that?). Sorry folks but to say that more women drink beer than a particular type of white wine produced only in a part of one Italian province does not convince me. Lots of women do agree that there are some sophisticated beers and this is a good time to try them but are they talking about real ale? I have my own idea on this.

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.