On Friday I went to the Rake, the smallest bar in London. I’d been to the Rake before a couple of times after work. It’s essentially a room with a vast beer selection (basically a representation of what’s on offer at the comprehensive Utobeer, the sister stall in the Market) There are a couple of tables and chairs and a fenced-in ‘garden’. I’m glad the place is doing a good business but I’ve never been able to actually sit down inside because it’s so rammo– I’m reminded of how often having ‘fun’ in crowded, pricey London is a lot of work.
I was invited via this blog to the kick-off of the BrewDog week at the Rake– a tasting at the bar at 4:30. I was gleefully excited to get this invitation, as BrewDog is my favourite British brewery, consistently making potent and daring brews, pushing traditional styles. Edgy juxtapostions mark the flavors of their beers. I also love their puckish branding, their playing David to the Portman Group’s Goliath.
I showed up at 5 for the tasting, thinking it would already be in full swing. The bar was packed with people drinking beers, only they weren’t BrewDog beers. Weird. I had brought my friend Petra who is a journalist for National Public Radio back in America, telling her about BrewDog and the complications of the Portman Group troubles, which interested her. Earlier in the week we tried some BrewDog Storm my friend Liza had stashed and Petra announced it was like drinking a house on fire. Precisely! Though my palate delighted in this, hers did not.
On the occasions I’ve gone to the Rake I have had the naive expectation that the people working the bar might enthuse with me about the beers, maybe suggest something or explain what’s on tap. Bars like this in America would definitely have this forthcoming attitude, but there is the typical London service going on– cursory or cowed. Could it be that places earn their names, and the Rake is ultimately a cad, a heel of a beer joint? (Hogarth’s progressed to Bedlam.) My verdict is still out.
On Friday the vibe was no different. I overheard a guy who I thought was the proprietor talking about BrewDog and I butted in, apologizing for interupting– asking after the BrewDog beers and if there was a tasting on. He told me the beers would be on hand pump next week and I should come back then. I mentioned the press release I’d been sent, but he turned back to his friend to say what a coup it was that they had the BrewDog beers on offer for a week, and clearly the conversation with me was over. I had no idea that the tasting was actually going on upstairs at that very moment. I didn’t even know there was an upstairs at the Rake. I only learned of this the next day.
On Friday we sat outside looking to recognize someone. (I was told in the invitation that the brewers would be at the bar.) As I waited, I marveled at the crowd the Rake attracts– well-dressed media types and boomer-aged foodies who love beer so much, or the hipster craic that comes with drinking £4 bottles of beer, that they will stand outside on a rainy midwinter night to drink it. I was no different, and probably worse, as I sat on the rain-wet bench for two hours, waiting to perhaps see another beer blogger or even the brewers I’d come to meet. I actually spurned my usual investment-banking-office-wear that day and dressed festively in my favourite black dress which remained hidden the entire night under my bulky winter coat. If a non-beer person asked me what I did on Friday, how could I even explain this behavior?
While I waited I had some of BrewDog’s Trashy Blonde and then the Speedball, but I took no tasting notes, my heart just not being in it. Petra was after a Kriek, and all they had on was Boon, which I’ve never tried. She had some Morte Subite Olde Gueuze which she affectionately dubbed ‘pickle juice beer’ and then switched to the candy-coloured comfort of Sam Smith’s cherry lager.
This week a full range of BrewDog beers are on at The Rake in Borough Market, along with some in the cask on hand pumps. Initially I drew up a list of the beers I wanted to try, in specific order. But now can’t motivate myself to go and stand outside on a winter’s night drinking them silently amongst strangers, no matter how fascinating the beers themselves might be.