Archive for December, 2009

New Beers Resolutions
December 31, 2009


The Beer Chicks have asked us for our best and worst beers of 2009.  There is a tie for best– between the sublime BrewDog Zephyr, and Pete Brown’s traditional Burton IPA– the same beer brewed for his voyage which he documented in Hops and Glory.  After fermenting for two years, it took on all sorts of mysterious, vinous, lambic-like characteristics.  Really haunting and complex, made moreso by its role in such a marvelous narrative.

In 2009 this blog turned one.  It started as a whim and has now become central my lens on life and London.  The days of the lone blogger are over; I’m part of a community.  It’s introduced me to fascinating people, many who are now friends.

My biggest leap of faith in 2009 was investing in BrewDog.  Why did I do it when so many in the blog-o-shire put forth compelling arguments not to?  When it’s not really an investment? When the Equity for Punks promo material was clearly sexist? When the guys at BrewDog went one stunt over the line and reported their own beer to the Portman group?  I confess the lifelong 20% sweetened the deal but really, I believe if anyone can inject new life into brewing in the UK and turn on a younger generation to craft brewing, it’s BrewDog.  Their beers excite me and capture my imagination. James’ sincerity and passion have won me over. I want them to do this thing– the new brewery, the brewpub, everything. It’s going to be amazing, the kind of thing that is already alive and well in the US. The Equity for Punks scheme is a bit crazy, but it just might work, it might be this kind of craziness that’s needed to ring in this sea change. What a coup it will be if they pull this off. These are exciting times in terms of craft beer, especially in Scotland, but in the whole of the UK.  I don’t want to miss it and I want a front row seat.

My big mistake of 2009 was not brewing enough of my own beer, not finding enough time, bottles, gumption.

The Beer Chicks have also asked us what kind of beer-o-phile do we want to be in 2010.  For me that would be a home-brewster beervangelist of a higher order.  Brewing stronger, bigger, tastier.  I want to take the beer message to the people.  And by people I mean non-beer drinkers.   In 2010 as in life, I want beer to dictate my travel itenerary and season my travelogue.  I want to eschew the role of foodie in favor of beer bard and alethropologist. I want to have a green knees up in Hastings at Beltane. I want to be my own surveyor of a beer map of Scotland and hunt for booze in Bruges.  And all this I can do, provided the Border Agency sees fit to keep me.

Happy New Year, beer-0-sphere!

The Moon in a Vivarium*
December 28, 2009

Image by Happyralph on Flickr

The Oakdale Arms is a forlorn little place, far from any bus stop.  Drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, and neither does anyone else.

Its clientele seemingly consist of people who work or live there: the most regular of regulars.

The whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly mid-80s. Everything, including the day bed covered with a zebra throw, has the solid ugliness of the late 20th century.

The great surprise of the Oakdale Arms are the vivariums.  One holds a “25 year old” bottom-feeder. Another contains exotic amphibians half submerged in black water, shimmying frantically against the glass. The landlord, almost eight feet tall in his New Rocks platforms, wears a bearded dragon around the premises.  There is no television.

It’s quiet enough to talk. All that one hears is the buzzing of fluorescent lighting in the glass tanks about the place.  Amid the peace of a menagerie stunned with existential boredom, the chirping of uneaten bugs.

You cannot get dinner at the Oakdale Arms, though the barmaid is eating crisps so they must have them. There’s no stout for your pewter pot or china mug.  Instead, there’s Santa Slayer with a dominating copper tang, and middling Milton Dionysus, not really fitting of the name.

But now is the time to reveal something which the discerning and disillusioned reader will probably have guessed already. There really is such a place as the Oakdale Arms.  It’s just down the road, past the Harringay Superstores.

*apologies to Orwell.

What Survives
December 23, 2009

Near Finsbury Park Station there’s a boarded up old pub, a matte lapis facade festooned with a remnant of London’s disappeared beers: Meux’s Original London Stout.  In every corner of London a mysterious detail hides a story; to note them is to chase ghosts.  Ghosts of the drowned; of the sudden, absurd death.  Even death by beer.

Meux’s was “famous for its black beer” and the great porter vat it was brewed in: 22 feet high and containing enough beer to supply more than a million persons with a pint of beer each.  According to Zythophile the brewery “…once brought a beautiful aroma of malt and hops to delight passengers on the tops of buses at the corner of Tottenham Court Road and New Oxford Street.”  But British Historian Thomas Pennant describes it as exhibiting a magnificence unspeakable.

One day, this vat burst. The London beer flood was immortalized in Peter Pindar’s poem, “The Lamentations of the Porter-vat”

Here—as ’tis said—in days of yore,
(Such days, alas! will come no more),
Resided Sir John Barleycorn,
An ancient Briton, nobly born,
With Mrs. Hop—a well-met pair,
For he was rich, and she was fair.

And yet the pair quarrels, love-locked, waltzing disaster like petty gods.  Are these the genius loci of this Seven Sisters corner, driven from their original perch by the tourists flocking to see We Will Rock You musical playing at the Dominion Theatre which now stands in place of the brewery?  I imagine Meantime’s London Porter to be a fitting ode to these bitter, roasted ghosts.

1814.  It’s that hour when everyone’s at home. You run from a flood of porter, through the crowded tenements surrounding the brewery. The basements of the rookery fill.  Up on the first floor: a mother and daughter at tea and then not, the mother dead on the spot.  The daughter tries to swim and is dashed to pieces.  Running, a tidal wave of the stuff after you. Timber and neighbors, feral cats swept up in it. Drunk on the fumes. The drunk are dying.

There are rumors: in the nearby hospital the doctors minister to the injured who stink so of beer the other patients there demand beer too, almost causing a riot.

And following it all, punters with pots, gleaning from the porter river: knee deep or face first.

You would cup your hands–let nothing go to waste.

La Tamalada Sola del Londinium
December 22, 2009

Vegan Sushi. But where's the beer?

I’ll admit I have a hard time with the whole food matching thing.  Most of the time I drink beer without food. I consider it my pud, my afters.

I am health conscious, maybe to a fault.  This beer hobby is taxing on the body, let’s face it.  But I’ve never seen eating healthy as a sacrifice– it doesn’t have to be.  But you’d  never get this by looking at foodie writing or even beer blogs.

Consulting other experts on food matching leads one to meat-and-cheese heavy ideas. Hot Knives, from California, are an exception to this, though often their recipe ingredients and beer choices are difficult to find in London. Reading their blog I’m reminded that I learned to cook and love beer in a place that’s culinarily alien to most Brits.  My voyeuristic glimpse of the British Guild of Beer Writers annual dinner had me thinking Caligula would have blushed, or at least the courses could have featured as a chapter in the Decadent Cookbook.

In London the availability of beautiful, fresh produce rivals choice in Cali– and yet vegetables and grains are considered afterthoughts, peripheral to the “real” food which is flesh. In a time when we are all thinking green, and when cheap meat will cost plenty in terms of our environmental future (let’s not think of the smoking piles of mad cow by the fin de siècle motorway here in the UK or the recent H1N1 from the viral incubator of a US factory farm), it just makes sense to rethink the centrality of meat and its pairing with beer.

With that said, I need to learn to food match, and I need to do it yesterday.

The other day I made vegan sushi, pictured above.  I had this idea that BrewDog’s Movember, with its mild manned yet hoppy character would be perfect.  Big mistake.  The soapy nose really wrastled with the ginger in a most unpleasant way.  Everards Sly Fox would have worked well, but it’s not something I can nip round the corner to get.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about Crouch Vale’s Wild Hop, which I had in during a lovely day out in Cambridge with Jesus John and Claire.  It was a beautiful beer, made with hops gleaned from hedgrows, with a mild, chamomile character, and it would have gone perfectly well with the sushi.

Tamalada, by Carmen Lomas Garza

Though, this year, I have one beer matching success.  In Aztlan, or the part of Cali I consider home, it’s traditional to have a tamalada or tamale-making party at Christmas. It’s something I never did when I lived there, as it was easy to get tamales around my neighborhood.  I never knew how to cook them until homesickness dictated I learn.  In past years I’ve smuggled masa and corn shucks home in my suitcase.  One year I mail ordered the ingredients from a gourmet shop and nearly went broke.  This year my friend Alice found a Mexican importer near Columbia Flower Market where we found all the ingredients necessary, with still enough money to buy beer.  If we count the food miles here I might as well be chopping down a rain forest, Paul Bunyan style.

Tamale making is a two-day process.  I was complaining to my friend El Chavo that it felt lonely to do it solo, and he said that it could be a time for quiet contemplation.  This year I perfected my recipe and I shared the finished tamales with more London friends than ever before. I served them with BrewDog’s Trashy Blonde and it was gorgeous, the sweet fruity character balancing well with the smoky-earthy corn cakes.  (I also made some hibiscus and lime infused wassail for full-on cultural hybridity, and that went over well.)

Tamales, pre-steamer

I’d like to think that this is a new London tradition in the making, and that next year I will have friends join me in the tamalada and we can find the perfect beer to drink while making them (an intense Christmas ale!)

So, what are you doing this time next year, mis tamaleros-in-arms?

The Green Dragon’s Hoard
December 18, 2009

Sir Frank Brangwyn's etching of Southwark Cathedral

London, in its infinite complexity, forces one to be a creature of habit, to stick with what you know.  I return continually to the shadow of Southwark Cathedral, crossing the Thames over London Bridge, built up, as the rhyme goes, with needles and pins.  Pricked and tingled, you take Green Dragon Court into the rabbit warren of delicacies that is Borough Market.

I am not a foodie; the dead creatures hung and bled, laid out on ice– I will never get used to the ordinary cruelties.  I believe the best food is the simplest, the most humble.  And yet the plenty of this little chaotic market moves me.  So much of old London is gone, but there has been a market on the south bank of the Thames here since Roman times, and this particular location has existed for 250 years.

The cathedral shimmers golden in the early dark– I pass in its chiaroscuro. Soon I will be at the Utobeer beer stall picking out something new.  It’s started to snow, now, as if the weather conspires in delight.  Yule beer!

But, I have a secret. I’ve come here tonight because I suddenly find myself the kind of drinker that will run after a beer tweet.  The trip to the beer stall is just a ruse– I’m kidding myself that I’m not really headed, once again, to the Rake because I’ve heard they have cask BrewDog on: mysterious Equity for Punks.  I’ve never had cask BrewDog, and this is about to change.

I’ve resigned myself– it will be a grumpy affair.  I’ll order, drink up, take notes and leave.  The place is already packed at 4pm, but there’s still some BrewDog left so I order a half and find a vacant stool by an elegantly bearded gentleman drinking Rodenbach’s Grand Cru, “Are they doing something with this place?” He asks, “it seems even smaller than when I was last here.  It’s like a temporary classroom or something.  All the beer in the world to drink and nowhere to drink it!” (exactly.)  And then we remarked that normally no one talks to strangers in pubs in London and why is that?  This guy, mild mannered and charming is a beer person.  Every year he makes a pilgrimage to Belgium in his Volkswagon, loads his boot with bottled beers and returns via the Eurotunnel in Folkstone.  I love this idea– a beer road trip! it’s so American– but I keep this to myself.  He never drinks “real ale” but his first Chimay, years ago, blew his mind.  He’s joined by his mate, a fellow car-boot pilgrim who turns out to be this blogger.

I’m warming up to the Rake now, grateful for good company and a corner perch– though maybe that’s just the 3.7% Equity for Punks coloring things.  In silent triumph I’ve gone back and snagged the last pint.  It’s red and piny, velvety with a lacy head staying put through the entire pint.  BrewDog have done their hat trick again, producing a profoundly hopped beer that remains balanced with lovely caramel malt on the finish.

And then who should pass by the window but Mike Hill, one of the owners of the Rake.  Before moving here my idea of a quintessential Londoner was some Dickensian, lock-stock-and-two-smoking-Dalloways amalgam: forthright, funny.  That Londoner is rare, but Mike is one, with his voice of shale and tailings.  I had the luck of meeting him through Pete Brown and just immediately took to him.  He waves, comes in from the snow and we have a proper chat.

My table mates have moved on and are now drinking Delirium Noel.  The beer is starting to work; the elegant gentleman is praising the designer who came up with the little archetypal DT elephant, “It is exactly what a pink elephant should be. The essence of elephant!”

I’m on to the inevitable Death and Taxes, Moonlight Brewery’s schwartz beer, from my old stomping ground in the Bay Area. It’s impenetrably black and roasty, with a dense mouthfeel that betrays the style but makes me like it more.  I resist the homesickess that might be equally inevitable.  I’m a Londoner now.

Periodic Table of Beer
December 18, 2009

periodic table of beer, originally uploaded by John602.

I confess high school chemistry was hard and some of this metaphor is lost on me. But, you know, it’s fun to look at.

Is Your Lager Phone On?
December 17, 2009

If America is Jackson Pollock then the UK is Rolf Harris.

–Battle of the Craft Brewers: US vs UK

This feature on Dwink argues that the US is currently winning the rounds.  The most compelling aspect of this article is the section on availability of craft beer in the two countries– the UK dismally losing this round. “Penetration within the pub companies, mostly owned by banks not brewers, is constrained by the beer tie while many insist on centralised distribution through one of the big three logistic companies.” This is my frustration– even though the brewer-to-drinker ratio is greater in the UK, the selection of craft beer readily available in the just isn’t as healthy as in the US.  For this to change, we have to get more Brits drinking craft beer.

The other night Mr. Malting was at a metal show and the craft beer on tap was Sierra Nevada.  This is something I’m seeing with more regularity in trendier pubs and venues– American beer is becoming increasingly available. Everyone I talk to in my peer group, and most are almost inconvertable mega-lager drinkers, believe that the image of craft beer in the UK is the one insurmountable obstacle, but I’m sure distribution plays a bigger part.

I realize I long ago turned my lager phone off.  I don’t know how to reach all my lager and wine drinking friends, try as I might suggesting different beers.  The lager drinker who will opt for anything that’s around 4% or the wine drinker who’s not fussed as long as it’s red suddenly become very picky when presented with ale.   I can only conclude the reluctance is not about taste; it’s about image.

It is curious to note that among my friends and peers in the US there is absolutely no stigma to drinking craft beer.  On the contrary, it is cutting edge, hip, authentic.  I wonder if the way forward in converting a younger generation of beer drinkers will be through more American craft beer available here in the UK?

Isn’t that the way lager almost swept out real ale in Britain initially?  The imports were sold to Brits as the shinier, younger option?  In profoundly image-conscious Britain we need to think of a narrative that will resonate with younger Brits the same way the populist, American”Craft Brewer” video spot resonates with Americans’ identity as revolutionaries and independents, Davids to the industry’s Goliath.

To do this we really have to redefine our terms.  “Microbrew” and “real ale” have become problematic and exclusive.  Perhaps a more encompassing approach is to embrace “craft beer”?  We know that cask ale isn’t the only good beer around, despite its vitally defining role in British brewing, but this is a topic for another post.

My friends who went to All Tomorrow’s Parties tell me that Exmoor ales were served at the Butlins venues and the staff were encouraging punters and really offering the beers as locally made and an exciting “new” option.   Perhaps this approach–emphasizing food miles and green thinking, the authenticity of locality and context is the way forward?  I remain skeptical.  Part of me believes that many Brits would opt for a stylish import or a mass brand “no brainer” over something as seemingly unfashionable as real ale.  I would like to be wrong.

Oh, England, My Lionheart…I Don’t Want to Go…
December 12, 2009

Green Man from the Beltane Bash Street Party, 2006

Yesterday I passed  the Life in the UK Test which all seeking residence must take after the law changed in 2007.  The experience was of course a series of jumping through hoops placed in front of you by a patronizing bureaucracy, the same absurd behemoth that has been the birth mother of so much brilliantly sardonic British comedy.  The test is that unnerving combination of stupid and hard; it had almost nothing to do with life here– an arbitrary series of factiods, most 8 years old, memorized and spat back in tick box format.

And, with all this, Operation Don’t Deport Me, or ODDME, has just begun!

It’s forced me to focus on what I do love about living here– everything that wasn’t on the test and that will never be in any oath.  Ale is one–my informal passport to real life here.   Beer has shown me this place and the people in it in the most glowing, welcoming way.

There are no coincidences in life, really.  Shortly after returing home, demoralized and frustrated despite my success, I read Zythophile’s transcription of Carol Ann Duffy’s beautiful poem, a meta take on one of my favourite folk songs. I reprint it here with what I hope is fair use.

John Barleycorn

Carol Ann Duffy

Although I knew they’d laid him low, thrashed him, hung him out to dry,
Had tortured him with water and with fire, then dashed his brains out on a stone,
I saw him in the Seven Stars, and in the Plough.
I saw him in the Crescent Moon and in the Beehive.
In the Barley Mow, my Green Man, newly born, alive, John Barleycorn.

I saw him seasonally, at harvest time, in the Wheatsheaf and the Load of Hay,
I saw him, heard his laughter in the Star and Garter and the Fountain and the Bell,
The Corn Dolly, the Woolpack and the Flowing Spring.
I saw him in the Rising Sun, the Moon and Sixpence and the Evening Star.
I saw him in the Rose and Crown, my Green Man, ancient, barely born, John Barleycorn.

He moved through Britain, bright and dark, like ale in glass.
I saw him run across the fields, towards the Gamekeeper, the Poacher and the Blacksmith’s Arms.
He knew the Ram, the Lamb, the Lion and the Swan,
White Hart, Blue Bull, Red Dragon, Fox and Hounds.
I saw him in the Three Goats’ Heads, the Black Bull and Dun Cow, Shoulder of Mutton, Griffin, Unicorn.
Green Man, beer-born, good health, long life, John Barleycorn.

I saw him festively, when people sang for victory, for love and New Year’s Eve,
In the Raven and the Bird in Hand, the Golden Eagle, the Kingfisher, the Dove.
I saw him grieve and mourn, a shadow at the bar, in the Falcon, the Marsh Harrier,
The Sparrowhawk, the Barn Owl, Cuckoo, Heron, Nightingale.
A pint of bitter in the Jenny Wren for my Green Man, alone, forlorn, John Barleycorn.

Britain’s soul, as the crow flies, so flew he.
I saw him in the Holly Bush, the Yew Tree, the Royal Oak, the Ivy Bush, the Linden.
I saw him in the Forester, the Woodman.
He history: I saw him in the Wellington, the Nelson, Marquis of Granby, Wicked Lady, Bishop’s Finger.
I saw him in the Ship, the Golden Fleece, the Flask
The Railway Inn, the Robin Hood and Little John.
My Green Man, legend-strong, reborn, John Barleycorn.

Scythed down, he crawled, knelt, stood.
I saw him in the Crow, Newt, Stag, all weathers, noon or night.
I saw him in the Feathers, Salutation, Navigation, Knot, the Bricklayer’s Arms, Hop Inn, the Maypole and the Regiment, the Horse and Groom, the Dog and Duck, the Flag.
And where he supped the past lived still.
And where he sipped the glass brimmed full.
He was in the King’s Head and Queen’s Arms. I saw him there:
Green Man, well-born, spellbound, charming one, John Barleycorn.

The Rake, Take Two
December 11, 2009

Conquest of Planet of the Apes, my alma mater

I went to college in a place that was built in the 1970s. The architecture was so alienating they filmed one of the Planet of the Apes movies there.  In the science quad there was this little snack bar, basically a tiny white room with stools and small round tables, and a guy behind a bar, frying things.

The Rake, despite all its hype, is really just like that. Except the snack bar played music, even if it was just the college radio over a small sound system, and sometimes the guy behind the bar was chatty.

I ventured to the Rake with Knut and The Beer Nut last Friday and I was not surprised that the service was very forthcoming and they had amazing beers on.  This was of course the Friday after the British Guild of Beer Writers Awards and there were lots of beer writers drinking in London.  I was in Borough a couple days ago and thought, maybe it wasn’t just because I was with famous beer bloggers that the place seemed friendlier?  Maybe they still have some of the Racer 55 on (I’m an optimist), or perhaps there’s something equally nice?

So I went in.  As I studied the taps, considering, the guy behind the bar looked sidelong and asked me, “Are you alright?”  Which to this American ear, sounds like the person asking thinks there’s something wrong.  I know this is a particularly British approach to customer service, but it’s not “Do you want to taste anything?” or the simple, “What would you like?”

Left Hand Ginger Julu label

Already I’m regretting my decision to come here. I order the Left Hand Ginger Juju because it’s a beer I like and even though there are only about ten men in the bar, it’s still too crowded to get a good look at the other taps without pushing.  A half pint of the underwhelming juju sets me back £3.20.  It’s not as good as when I had it before– the ginger totally MIA, the mouth feel not peachy with soft effervescence but dulled.   So I sit there nursing this luxury which really isn’t, next to a table of suited men. Since there is no music, I listen to their conversation: upping each other with business talk, foodie marketing strategies, which posh groceries are buying which and who is losing money, etc., etc.

You know you are in trouble when you’re in a pub and suddenly you want to put on your iPod.  I should leave, but part of me is thinking I’m being too hard on this place.  What I want from this place is to talk to the punters here about beer, about what beers are on and about what’s coming next.  Isn’t that what this pub is for anyway?  It certainly isn’t about ambiance or craic.  Give the Rake a chance, urge myself on.  So I go up and ask they guy to recommend one of the seasonal beers they have on tap at the moment– from my strained vantage there seemed to be at least two.  He turns to the massive fridge of bottled beers and starts to forage.

But I don’t want a bottled beer. Unless I’m in Belgium, ordering a bottled beer at a pub just seems like a cop out.  I love the living, unpredictable nature of cask beer, and I relish the I idea of visiting kegs, something that will only be around for a short while.  A bottle– I have those at home!

Anchor Christmas Ale, 2007

I say, “What about a seasonal beer on tap?” but he doesn’t hear me.  He presents me with a bottle of Anchor Christmas Ale from 2007, which is exactly the beer I would present to someone who asked me to suggest a holiday ale.  So, we’re on the same page but I really wanted to drink something new.  “A beer from the Home Country.” The joke falls flat. There will be no chatting.

Anchor Steam was the first “real” beer I ever had, the first local beer– I drank it before I could legally do so, back when I lived in SF;  I didn’t really like it then but I thought drinking it made me authentic.

I would like to think I’ve matured but maybe I haven’t.  I bought the Anchor Christmas as well as the other beer he suggested, the bottle of Hook Norton Twelve Days which I’d heard good things about– I was going to take it home to Mr. Malting.  Those two beers set me back £8.00, plus a 50p fee for using my debit card.

The 2007 Christmas ale was so beautiful– the seamless melding of the dried fig, molasses and delicate, spicy hops finishing it like little twinkles of lights strung on a pine bough.   It’s Yule and I’m happy! I thought, my nose buried in the novel I’d brought. I was content.  Forgetting temporarily the dreary white box of the Rake and the fact that after I’d spent £12 on three beers that weren’t even pints, there was no soap in the ladies toilet. (I expect this from crusty old boozers– often the ladies is either pristine from never being used or utterly neglected. But the Rake have women working there.  Do they not wash their hands?)  Please, Ghost of H1N1 Christmas Present, let the men’s toilet at least have soap, I thought, and then drank a little faster.

Returning home, I presented the Hook Norton gleefully to Mr. Malting, the Christmas ale making me quite jolly. He replied, “Oh yeah!  Did you get it at the offie on the corner?”

“No, the Rake.” My buzz quickly wore thin, “How much is it at the offie?”

“£1.75.  Why?  How much was it at the Rake?”

“Nevermind!”

“Why did you go to the Rake?  Didn’t you just go to the Market Porter?”

Well, exactly.

Ale Power Posse, Activate!
December 10, 2009

Funnest and most clever: The Beer Nut at the Greenwich Union

Last week Friday there was a truly epic beer crawl with Knut Albertson and The Beer Nut– you really couldn’t ask for two better drinking buddies.  (When Knut laughs you know it’s a party!) I joined them at the Market Porter where there were a bevy of bloggers who I only recognized from tiny 75 pixel icons.  It’s a rather surreal experience, being left to guess who is who. Forgive me if I failed to recognize you or introduce myself, even if I’m a regular reader.

Knut and The Beer Nut were already well into sampling beers– the stage was set when I sampled The Beer Nut’s Pictish Sauvin Blanc, a swoony hop cocktail. It really put my Acorn IPA in its place.  It was entirely drinkable but just not stunning.

And just so, I spent the rest of the day making safe choices and really coveting whatever the Beer Nut was drinking! We moved on quickly to the Rake, a place I haven’t visited since the unpleasantness of last year.  The staff outnumbered patrons when we arrived, and they were ready to welcome “the names of the industry” (their phrase not mine) who were to be arriving that day.  Again, I loved Beer Nut’s Racer 55, bursting with fruits and crazy drinkable at 7%.  This would be the kind of beer I would give to someone who says they aren’t a beer drinker– balanced, fruity and surprising enough that someone who is antibeer might be converted.  I opted for the Cantillon Gueuze on keg which was delicious but perhaps kegging interferred with its mouthfeel the velvety sparkle turned up to a distracting brighness? And it was served a bit too cold (easy to remedy this by waiting..) Knut braved the BrewDog Nanny State, a beer I really found rough going when I tried it at the Equity for Punks launch.  It’s kind of a bitterly metaphorical beer– we all had to agree that any beer that still has a discernible malt character after such brutal hoppage is indeed remarkable, if not drinkable.

Knut drinking Meantime's London Porter

And then we were off to Greenwich, to the Meantime Union.  We were all quite disappointed with the London IPA on cask–  something I adored in the bottle, with its grapefruit intensity.  All that juicy presence was missing in the cask.  Mark Dredge (who joined us later) also tried it in the keg and said it was still missing all the best parts. We were also joined by Mark of Real Ale Reviews, who impressed me with his enthusiasm and perception.  (I will save my thoughts on the New Wave of young UK Beer writers and drinkers for another post.) After sharing part of a big bottle of London Porter my liver was telling me I really had to rethink this whole Beer for Life thing. I was getting tipsy, but I knew everyone had grand plans: there was the Wenlock in Hackney, and then off to see Jeff at the Gunmakers in Clerkenwell, and lastly back to the Pigs Ear Beer Fest back in Hackney. I was never going to make it.

Beering of this magnitude takes planning: I ate a hearty meal before heading out and I stuck with halves and drank water between beers.  Even so, it caught up with me more quickly than I thought.  It’s not that I was crazy drunk, it’s just that I’m aware that getting beyond tipsy while inevitably traveling home alone from an unknown part of London without a planned route is a bad idea. (Edit: The link contains the offensive Cabwise PSA video aimed at rape victims and can be triggering.)  But I digress.

In London Bridge there was some difficulty at the train barriers.  All the guys were waved through but the Gate Keeper had other plans for me–I needed to go upstairs and buy a different ticket (I’d used my oyster on the way in, but it’s not accepted on the way out? Ah the joys of National Rail in London).  Luckily, thanks to an outbreak of fisticuffs on the second floor, I stealthily slipped by.

By the time we got to the Wenlock, I knew that to keep drinking was to just fuel the urban anger that had been stirred by the random officiousness and witnessing the full-on fight at the station wasn’t helping matters.  I had water and tried to regain my bearings.  While walking there I got a text from an old high school friend who was in town.  I invited him to come join us, not knowing that  plans were already in the works to move on.  I realized to keep going would be to keep drinking and eventually I would have to take a brain-addled approach to finding my way home from an unfamiliar part of London.

And besides, I really loved the Wenlock with its ramshackle crowd of local sports fans and myriad grey heads tucking in to their half pints.  There were beers I hadn’t even tried yet, and besides, I knew my friend from high school was going to love this place, with its dingy red carpet and massive cracks in the floor from which mysterious blue light poured forth.  I saw the guys off and went to meet my friend (thanks Beer Nut for the map print-out– I needed it to find my way back).

I can see the Wenlock becoming a a new favourite– people were very friendly– making room for us where there was none, and being generally quite amiable.  We both had Harvey’s Bonfire Boy.  From a distance the pump clip looked vaguely seasonal, like Father Christmas in a pith helmet. I love Harvey’s beers so we stuck with that for the rest of the night. The brewery website says this beer was first brewed in 1996 for the Emergency Services that fought the fire which destroyed the brewery offices.  But while I drank it I thought of it as a winter warmer sort of beer, with a lovely sweet malt presence and vague smoke, perfect for nursing in halves (though my friend was having pints), slowly the glow of it all returned as the two of us, having not seen each other in twenty odd years, caught up with the rapid passing of decades while the locals hollered at the telly and sang what to us, two American midwesterners adrift in London, sounded like shanties run aground.

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