Archive for May, 2010

Suffer the children, for the Old Brewery belongs to such as these
May 13, 2010

The Old Brewery, Greenwich

Last weekend I met Chris at the Old Brewery in Greenwich, a place I’d been eagerly waiting to visit since I’d heard plans of its construction a year ago.  I am a fan of Meantime’s beers, and what Alastair Hook the brewer has done in redefining historical beers is truly exciting. With the Old Brewery, Hook has used part of Wren’s grand Old Naval Hospital  for his new brewpub, making beers inspired by the space, including a porter.  It is a glorious idea, but one that, on the afternoon I visited, felt much like stepping into a brochure, a concept rather than a welcoming space. Perhaps this is the problem with so much history– to respect it is to care for it and make it live somehow, but in doing so how do we make room for ourselves in it?

Hook has done a wonderful job surmounting this paradox by brewing traditional London beers but using processes and philosophies from both the German brewing tradition as well as the American craft brewing movement.

I had read much about the brewpub on blogs and other reviews, so I imagined something a little different.  It is a brew pub, in that the beer brewed is served there, and you can even sit near the gorgeous copper vats. Though you will be surrounded by a sea of buggies and families who, though I’d like to think are admiring the shiny beer apparatus, aren’t there for the beer at all, but for the space which they are using as a pit stop on their day out visiting the “interactive learning stations” (this curmudgeon shudders) of the Discover Greenwich exhibition next door.  On the day I visited, this cafe/brew pub felt more like a National Trust tearoom.  In the main room there are aproned staff serving up chocolate muffins and sandwiches, and in the bar there are many very efficient and helpful staff, there’s just not enough space or tables to sit comfortably.  On the rare occasion the weather behaves, the outside beer garden looks promising if a bit overly-groomed.

The Old Brewery

I didn’t take any pictures.  These are promotional photographs.  Much like estate agent documentation, they distort the space slightly, offering a perfect angle. The place just isn’t that big, which shouldn’t be a criticism but if it’s going to be an overblown creche, I would prefer to drink elsewhere.

But drink we did.  Between Chris, Mr. Malting and myself we must have tried almost all the Meantime beers on keg.  They were all quite tasty and refreshing, though in danger of being somewhat interchangeable, their differences were so subtle.  The exception was the wonderfully named Hosptial Porter which was exceptional, and at 8% quite dangerous. A delicious lactose note laced with  lots of deep chocolate, quite balanced with a soft mouthfeel and no sour note or alcohol tang as I had been expecting.  It did seem to have medical properties, lightening my rather grumpy mood.  (It’s not that I don’t like children, I just resent the private space of the parenting endeavor invading on the public space of the pub, which it too often does, becoming an obnoxious spectacle of entitlement, but at the risk of losing my readership I will stop now). Chris commented that Meantime’s dark beers are much better than the lighter ones and I fear he may be right.  The London Pale Ale, so blissfully zingy in the bottle, remained a ghost of itself in the keg (MarkBeer Nut, Knut and I found this to be the case when we visited the Union Pub last year, and our consensus must remain.) However the London Porter as well as the stout are outstanding beers both on keg and in the bottle.

I wonder if in the evenings the cafe is transformed into something closer to the promotional images?Though to be fair I’m a bit put off by the white tablecloths.  That is really taking gastro to the extreme– I look at it and think where’s the awkward wedding seating chart? I don’t know if I would travel the hour and a half it takes for me to get to Greenwich unless I can be promised something between the creche and the precious, upmarket dining experience, no matter how good the beer is.  Though, if they do that Tudor recipe, and put it on keg, the anachronist in me is just going to have to brave the buggies.

The Pub Post I Don’t Want You to Read
May 8, 2010

Fornasetti Wallpaper in the Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington

l shouldn’t write this.  The devil on my shoulder is insisting I not to tell you.  I should keep it to myself, and let it be my little secret.  But the rational angel wins out, reminding me that the Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington is already news and I’m late to the game  singing its praises. Pete Brown has already expressed delight, as have Boak and Bailey.

I’m just going to assume you don’t read those blogs, and you haven’t seen the new red facade, the light open space of the place filled with old wooden church furniture and decorated with the mesmerizing Fornasetti print wallpaper.

You’ve never met the friendly, knowledgeable staff who are content to offer tastings of the beer and are enthusiastic about the whole endeavor– a clear sign of good management.

You won’t be impressed by the myriad cask ale taps.  Take to heart the reviews that have said the beer wasn’t in top notch condition. When I say the Thornbridge Jaipur and Brodies Amarilla I’ve had on my two visits were  well-kept and exactly the right temperature,  you know I’m just not credible. Who’d want the many Belgians and Meantime keg beers on offer– all served in the right glass to a vibrant, fun, down-to-earth crowd?  And it is crowded.

So crowded you wouldn’t want to go.  No really.  I’ll go there for you and eat their gorgeously hearty grilled asparagus with weissbeer hollandaise and balsamic reduction sprinkled with fey, earthy beet sprouts. You’d think it’s too gastro pub, trying too hard to be perfect and maybe even coming close.

A Community Brewer
May 7, 2010

Bob Tower, brewer behind the Echo Park Private Brewery

This month’s Beer Blogging Session is hosted by The Hop Press and they’ve chosen collaboration as a topic.

The most obvious approach is perhaps to discuss micro-brewery collaborations between BrewDog and Mikkeller or other joint ventures that create a buzz in the beer world.

But that would have nothing to do with how I came to beer, which was through a different kind of collaboration.  There is a vibrant arts and d0-it-yourself, indie community of creative people in Los Angeles and one locus of this community was The Echo Park Private Brewery, or Bob and Edie’s home. There was always some new and amazing brew on– from Malt Liquor to Mead and fascinating combinations in between. Bob would  send out humorous and informative emails detailing the style and process.  He has turned hundreds of people on to beer and brewing, and I’m one of them.

Bob sees beer as a collaboration with the drinker, with artists and other brewers.  He has made beer as part of international art installations where participants designed the beer labels– each one different, hand made and sewn. This beer was given away at art openings and community events across Holland.

One of my fondest memories of those nights drinking beer with other artists, writers and community organizers in Bob & Edie’s kitchen was the Chicha night, where we tried to help Bob prepare the maize for the traditional South American fermented beverage.  There were about fifteen of us chewing the maize, rolling it into little balls and flattening it to dry.  (The enzymes in saliva break down the starch into maltose.)  So what if that brew didn’t exactly turn out?  We were all doing it together, part of a big experiment, and it put me in mind of what brewing might have been like when it was a community endeavor marking the seasons.

Sometimes I wonder what the Echo Park Private Brewery could do with a huge influx of capital.  What if Bob Tower’s beer could be available on a larger scale?  His clever vision and mastery of the craft could be shared by many more drinkers.  In the meantime, he has used local resources and creative alliances to continually reinvent what he brews.  Echo Park is indeed lucky to have its own community brewer.

Beer Tribes
May 5, 2010

Hastings May Day Revelers in the ruined castle

Sometimes I’ll be at a pub and see people drinking one thing or another and wonder how they came to that decision– these burly footie fans drinking Guinness– did their father’s drink it?  And the lager drinkers, did their mates give them the first sip, ages ago?  To change their beer is to change teams.  There’s something tribal about it, even the real ale drinkers– or perhaps especially.  Is Timothy Taylor Landlord the tribal beer of the ale nerd? I’ve never had a decent pint of the stuff, though I’ll admit to ordering it when I think someone’s watching and there’s nothing else.  I always regret it.

But what if it’s the May Day bank holiday weekend and you find yourself in Hastings (with the inimitable Pete Brown no less) amongst a sea of people painted green, festooned with leaves, dancing in the street and singing.  What do you drink?

Most of the pubs are Shepherd Neame, and the brewery has made a beer just for the Jack in the Green Festival. It had a lovely malt character, laced through with ripe green hops, very fitting of the day.  But I didn’t drink a lot of that.  I’ll admit I’m put off Shepherd Neame beers because of their ad campaigns– the “Bishops Finger” still manages to make me queasy whenever I even see the name, and the “…and a bowl of water for me bitches” campaign just compounded my dislike, making it difficult for me to enjoy their beers.

But what beer is most loved among the greenery?  It’s Harveys Best Bitter.  Two years ago I happened upon some neo-pagan shenanigans in the City.  These folklorists of the street had  fashioned a giant tree in the Market Porter pub, and it was worn by someone and paraded through the streets of the financial district with the help of green leafy bogies, while everyone followed, playing music on tin whistles and accordion, getting more blotto with every pub and bank we passed.  It was the best pub crawl, ever.  And we drank Harveys.

The similar festival in Hastings, Jack-in-the-Green,  is much bigger and even more life affirming. Harvey’s was on offer at the Dolphin, a sea-side pub right by the imposing black net huts and the motley fleet and fishing equipment strewn about this working beach. I could have stayed there drinking that all day.

It was interesting to note that one of the Shepherd Neame pubs in the old town, the Stag, was filled with song on Saturday afternoon– everyone in the room seemed to know the folk songs and the tiny room reverberated with their voices which welcomed spring with a melancholy certainty that these songs might be forgotten, and soon.  One gentleman had written his own clever lyrics to old tunes and he mentioned a wayward lover who’d sneaked away with the green folk to sing and dance and drink Harvey’s Best. That’s exactly what I would have been drinking, had the pub served it, because two years ago a kind man with a green beard put a pint of it in my hand and at that moment, which is this moment, it was the loveliest beer.

The Meta Post
May 5, 2010

I have let this blog atrophy.  I’m not a competitive person but I’ll admit I was a little sad at not even making the top 20 wikio rankings this month. (If  Stonch can have a zombie blog, why can’t I?) The very inclusion in that list denotes a closed circuit: other beer bloggers must read and link to this blog for it to be included, and I need to keep writing.

But do I?  This is not a plea for inclusion or encouragement, but a searching aloud.  I never intended this blog to be read by other beer obsessives.  To my delight I have found the community of UK beer bloggers to be really welcoming, fun people, but my purpose with this blog as it grew was to turn casual beer drinkers or even non-beer drinkers on to the marvel that is beer by communicating the context– the specific social moment.  Beer is a genius locii– to drink it is to get to know where ever you find yourself.

I have written about bottles I’ve drunk in my flat all alone, but is it interesting? And for a time I was starting a new career which was quite physically and emotionally rigorous– the exact opposite of an office job.  The last thing I wanted when I was done for the day was a drink that I then had to write about.  Though also during that time I would look at my neglected Google feed and see 500+ beer posts I hadn’t read and I would despair.  I had completely fallen away from this community I’d really come to love, but it also made me wonder where everyone found the time to read all the other blogs and continue to write themselves.

There is an unhealthy notion that if you have a blog you must keep it current.  The  “Blog or Die” attitude is a problem.  Why keep talking if you have nothing to say?  What is an online persona anyway and why do I need one?  If you stop talking, does your persona die?  In any blogging sphere there is the fantasy that a blog can be a stepping stone to some other media opportunity, some professional gig, instant internet stardom.  If that ambition can’t involve productive silence every once in a while, then something’s wrong.

As I wonder about all of this, beer bloggers get a challenge from Pete Brown to up the ante, take risks and make the beer blog matter.  I’ve never shied away from a challenge.

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