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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.

Pubcrawling with Jack-in-the-Green
May 2, 2008

May 1st isn’t celebrated widely in London, but the handful of people who do honor this day of class struggle and pagan roots do it in fantastical style. Yesterday I went boozing with Jack-in-the-green, a leafy giant and his attending bogies, men dressed in green rags and ivy crowns. Following them were a motley group of musicians. We wound our way through the streets from one pub to the next, startling the suits and rushing commuters.

We started with Adnam’s May Day golden ale while waiting at the Charles Dickens for the revelers to show. In our pessimism– they were over 40 minutes late– we turned to Sharpes Cornish Coaster. But once they arrived– rather mysterious and triumphant– we were treated to a pint of bitter by a kind, green-faced gentleman from Hastings named Jim.

Later we switched to milds– Harveys Sussex and Knots of May to be exact. While the pub lit up with fiddling, tin whistles and squeeze boxes, I decided the malty, easy drinking mild would become a favourite of mine. It’s a shame the style is so rare. (CAMRA devotes every May to celebrating this style– otherwise I might not have even tried it, or perhaps the pub we were in might not have had it!)

I ended the night raising a pint of Harvey’s Best Bitter with green-bearded brethren. (I now understand why 1,200 Best Bitter drinkers signed a petition to have the drink restored to a local pub in East Sussex after it was removed from pub-owning giant Greene King. People here care about beer, they really do.)

I took no notes. I was too busy dancing.

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