Archive for August, 2010

Hit the North!
August 19, 2010

My quest for LOL or Life Outside London continues this weekend with a jaunt to see my brilliant friend Jenny and perhaps visit Liverpool and Manchester and environs.  We may also be hiking around North Wales for a bit as well, depending on the weather & my health.

I’m hoping RedNev will have a few pointers and Darren at blogobeer has suggested The Marble Arch in Manchester.  Any other ideas would be most welcome.

Women in the Tap Hole
August 13, 2010

Women’s Hour today has a terrific show– not only do they talk to some fascinating knitters, but they also discuss women and beer.  Increasing numbers of women are drinking real ale, as well as brewing it.

Jenni Murray makes the point– which I’ve been trying to tell most of my wine drinking friends, that beer is less fattening than wine.  If they won’t listen to me, or to CAMRA’s press release, maybe they will listen to her.

The Yorkshire barman they quote says he never used to see “Women in the tap hole,” nor did he have to clean lipstick off a pint glass.  Those days are over.

Though the Landlady of the Grapes says she seldom sees women going alone into the pub– it seems despite more women drinking beer, many  pubs still feel like a male domain.  I often go to pubs alone but always feel a bit conspicuous doing it.  The Jolly Butcher is one exception to this– I feel perfectly comfortable there and that’s down to the friendly staff who now greet me as a regular.

Change is happening.  In the Observer:

More than half the students working on doctorates at Britain’s biggest beer studies department, at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, are women. At the three other main universities that offer a PhD in brewing, numbers of women either match men or are catching up fast.

I look forward to the increasing number of women in brewing, reclaiming the ancient tradition that once belonged to alewives, brewsters and goddesses.

Soon enough, women will work alongside men in equal numbers as equals, brewing in greater numbers.  We can hope that in turn the last hurdle preventing women from enjoying beer– puerile, macho marketing– will be a thing of the past.

Local Lager, Lager, Lager
August 8, 2010

Bud Girl from 1904

A brief googling of “beer and women” turns up a dark parade of lager and misogyny.  It’s hard to separate the two.  Even with the new shiny-retro Stella ads aimed at women, it’s enough to turn a girl off the style.

I don’t expect much from a good lager and to be honest, they don’t expect much of me, either.  They’re like that friend you have that doesn’t mind a bit of dumb fun while crawling around the mall or dancing to 80s music. But the trick is to find someone who’ll do those things but not annoy you. They’re rare.

Munich is the place to find such companionship in a beer garden, in a brewery canteen. But what if you’re not in Munich?  What if you’re in London?

The Bunker brewpub in Covent Garden used to brew a perfectly fun lager but then they changed the recipe, labeling it as Freedom lager and it just wasn’t that good anymore, and now they are no longer.  Though you can still get Freedom lager around, it’s a bit like seeing that friend that used to be fun but then adopted some seriously green middle class lifestyle and lost their sense of humor in the process.

And then there’s shiny Meantime Helles and Pils– both totally drinkable yet I don’t choose to drink them very often because usually wherever you find these beers there’s a wider selection of something that’s just more enticing.

Brodies, an East London brewery that’s brewing some really compelling beers, does a London Lager but I’ve never had it.  They have a brewery tap, King William the IV in Leyton, which seems worth a field trip!

Last night we met some friends at the Regent in Islington, which has the best pizzas in London but the beer selection is a bit lackluster.  Chalkboards around the shabby-chic interior proclaimed a new Cotswold Lager on tap.  I was a bit wary but by the time I had my second half I was won over completely.  This beer was easy to drink and went down well with the pizzas.  The sweet malt character gave it just enough backbone to not be boring, but it was dry enough not be annoying.

That is, I wasn’t annoyed until I read the Cotswold Brewery website’s description of the beer, a complete throwback cliche describing the beer as if it were a woman being offered up for sexual consumption: “If you think lager doesn’t taste of much then it’s time you pressed your lips up against a pint of Premium. She’s a full flavoured seductress who will soon have you head-over-heals with her crisp, dry taste and flirtatious bitter kick. It’s love at first sip.”

Read on with mild horror the description of their Dark Lager: “This one is a dark little number who can really pack a punch. She’s bursting with flavour and lashings of taste, yet retains a smooth finish that will warm even the most frozen of your cockles. She is normally only available during the winter but has proved to be a popular little number so we have kept her on for the summer.”

The wording of the description is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.  Their lager really deserves a better public face.  It’s another example of a good British brewery in dire need of a marketing makeover.

American Imperial Homesickness Cure All
August 7, 2010

Yesterday I felt a great need to try the Great Divide anniversary IPA, which is a beer I missed during the GBBF.  Following Pete Brown’s tip, I headed to the White Horse in Parsons Green for their American Craft Brewing celebration in the upstairs bar.

I like the White Horse– it’s comfortable yet elegant and the service is always stellar.  Yet, I never know what to eat there as the menu is strictly gastro and full of things like “deep fried lamb’s tongue.” I end up Googling things like “Haslet” only to find out it’s made of pig hearts.  I have heard the food here is very good, and I’m sure it is, but it’s not my kind of thing, and I didn’t try any of the vegetarian dishes.  The veggie options at places like this are usually a gloopy risotto or some salad involving warm goats cheese– an afterthought.

The 7-10% beers are sold in halves or pints instead of the more reasonable third-pint measure, which meant I had to curtail my list a bit.

After drinking so many cask ales over the last five years, I had to re-acclimate to American beers on keg.  The carbonation releases hop oils and really changes the mouthfeel profoundly.  And the serving temperature is much colder, which I love, but it means the real dimension of the beer reveals itself slowly, like a dance of veils, as it warms in your hand.

Great Divide 16th Anniversary Wood-Aged IPA was worth the trek to alien land that is posh greater West London.  There’s definitely a Turkish delight thing going on, heavy on the pineapple and vanilla, but coated in hop bitterness.  Complex and slick with a lively carbonation, after a half of this I was really feeling the alcohol which was very warming, even from the first sip.

Until Mr. Malting showed up, I was drinking alone.  There were only four blokes up there in the bar with me.  They were fresh from the GBBF, all business.   Philosophically, one always gets drunk faster drinking alone and this is not ideal.  I need some London beer drinking buddies and I need them pronto!

Ballast Point Calico Amber was the second beer I tried, as I was trying to scale things back and this was only 5.5%.  It was unfair to line this beer up after the Great Divide IPA, which was the stronger, hoppier beer.  The Amber wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t remarkable.

The standout beer of the evening was Odell’s IPA which has been brewed according to a traditional English recipe  from the 17th century, similar to the style brewed by White Shield for Pete Brown’s Hops and Glory adventure.  It’s in that bold, hoppy-yet-light style but amps it in an American way.  I had never had a beer by this brewery before, but after perusing their website I want to try all their beers now.  The textures and illustrations on their packaging are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen– nostalgic, earthy and slightly magical, the fonts are reminiscent of that old storybook from which your gran used to read you bedtime stories.  The beer itself was perfectly balanced and bright with a nice oily mouthfeel that would stand up really well to a spicy curry. I could have really used a spicy curry at that point in the evening.

Yeti Imperial Stout is my second-favourite in this style, next to Rasputin and BrewDog’s Paradox. It’s complex yet easy to drink.  I convinced Mr. Malting to have this one so I could take sips of it. He said it’s not really his kind of thing, and he only wanted a third and probably would only drink it once a year.  Ok, point taken.

I ended with the Southern Tier Mokah, a combination of their Imperial Stouts, Jahva and Choklat. It contains both coffee and chocolate and was a dessert of a beer.  Deceptively easy to drink and quite comforting, I wish I had bottles of this to give to friends who say they don’t like beer.  Specifically friends who like things like Baileys or even Starbucks specialty coffees (which are weirdly popular with a lot of people I know).  This would be a great gateway beer for that kind of drinker.

Scattered around the bar were excellent Guide to American Craft Beers brochures published by the American Brewers Association.  Well written and clearly laid out, they give the basics of beer ingredients, brewing processes and styles concisely and colorfully.  It is exactly the kind of thing I would have loved to have picked up when I was getting started, as it saves you the embarrassment of asking about the basics.  The tone is enthusiastic, open and friendly, assuming no prior knowledge or expectation on the part of the reader, and yet it’s not patronizing either.  This is something I feel UK beer culture has not yet managed– how to reach out to new beer drinkers or twenty-somethings without sounding like they are passing down some hallowed tradition that must be cared for in very specific ways.  On this front– describing the joys of beer to the uninitiated– the Americans have got it right.

It is difficult to do a proper evening of tasting of beers which are meant to be had in small measures, on their own, paired with food.  If anyone knows a good source for US beers online, please let me know.  I would like to stock up on the Mokah and Odells!

Art Stoat Confidential
August 6, 2010

Bergdorf Goodman window display from Crappy Taxidermy dot com.

Stoat and Grey Squirrel, a cartoon coming to a bar near you.  Or not.

I am grateful to BrewDog for always giving me something to write about, even stoats. Stoat is a funny word, especially if you say it a lot.  But there was something about this recent press release from James Watt of BrewDog that felt a bit like a bad dream.  Wait, you’ve made a what?  A 55% nettle and juniper infused blonde Belgian ale packaged in roadkill and selling for 700 pounds?

OK, ok– I’ve been working on the lucid dreaming thing,  and the one I’ll have next will involve a wild yeast visiting Fraserburgh, allowing Brewdog to make a kriek with James’ grandma’s raspberries and the whole thing will be packaged in wildflowers.

Choice of glassware for Brewdog's The End of History, Meret Oppenheim's teacup.

I’m a fan of taxidermy, even crappy taxidermy which is a blog I peruse on a regular basis. I hope that The End of History will be immortalized on that site, preferably with the stoat in the kilt. As a joke, I get the End of History and the brewery’s missives about the beer sure are fun to read, but this beer, it’s no Meret Oppenhiem’s tea cup. It’s not my cup of tea.

The End of History, Brewdog's newest beer.

Right now, most of my friends are looking for work or  are really struggling and the last thing we could do is fork out 700 pounds for a bottle of beer (500 for the bargain stoat) and I can’t help but feel that the brewery has left us in the dust, if just this once.  I find myself resenting those 12 punters who were flush enough to buy it; they probably sold all their BP shares right before the spill.

Maybe that’s the point of The End of History, to make it to the pages of the Metro, and to consign the roadkill to the Samsara of endless Ebay auctions.  But you know what would be really post-modern and punk? (And I say this having gone to graduate school in the same department where Derrida lectured.  I even know someone who stood next to him at the urinals there.)  Give the beer away.  Give it away to people who just signed on for the first time.  People who don’t even like beer.

Sometimes I worry that BrewDog are so caught up in being contrary, in fighting their white whale of the Portman group and neo-prohibitionists that they may end up seeming, especially to those who haven’t tried their stellar beers, as being a bit of a stunt-based brewery.  Rather than competing with German breweries, why not look closer to home for friendly competition, to Thornbridge and even closer to Williams Brothers, both are breweries who are doing exciting things, reinventing the session beer as well as creating alternatives to the mass-market lagers and they do it with packaging and finesse that speaks to a wider audience.

BrewDog are stunningly talented brewers who have given me much joy and have always been generous.  I can understand their mistrust of the market and the press who’ve given them a really unfair time of it, and these strategies are no doubt a reaction to that.  In many ways this has worked in their favor, giving them lots of free press, and they have continued to trust the drinker throughout it all which will be the thing that matters in the long run.  In ten years, I want to see BrewDog beers available everywhere, with a bigger range of even more amazing beers (packaged, preferably with the help of their previous collaborator, Johanna Basford.) In that context, the End of History will be just a weird souvenir, like that shellacked frog mariachi band you bought on a bender in TJ.  It seemed like a good idea at the time but is now just a grotesque gathering dust.

August 5, 2010

I wouldn't mind one of these cuddly cases from latelierdeluluu on Etsy

I resisted the iPhone.  I really did.  I won’t evangelize; in my social realm, the device has become an antisocial distraction.  No, I don’t want to see your pictures or your gimmicky app or watch you surf the net while we try to have a conversation. Within a matter of a year or two, some new, rude behaviour has become commonplace as well as some ugly words like “app” and I think it’s fair to blame Apple.  Why not.

With that said, in the short time I’ve had my iPhone I’ve found it indispensable.  I’m sure other smart phones are just as handy, I just happen to have the mac one. I read Keats on it, have my choice of virtual mediation bowls, keep track of my knitting, make on-the-fly sound compositions and don’t get lost in London anymore.

But what about beer apps? Mark at Real Ale Reviews has put out some feelers, and I’ve decided to dive right in.  Mind you, diving has required treading through some muck, like iBeergoogles, the iPee, burp machines, simulated “quarters” or the Carling app (stolen from an indie developer‘s iBeer) that makes your phone look like a glass of beer.

I was looking for something like Remembeer, an app Sarah from the Irish Craft Brewers had on her Android phone which allowed her to log beers with her tasting notes and the when and where.  It was simple and elegant.  It’s available as Open Source. (Does anyone know how to install an Open Source app on an iPhone?  Is it possible?)

I’m not on Rate Beer, but I have downloaded the app at £1.19, which was a waste.  I fully intended to review the app’s features.  I hate giving stars to anything– books, movies, beers.  It just doesn’t make sense to me, but I understand this is how things are done when beers win awards.   This app allows you to tap (rather slowly) into the huge database of Rate Beer ratings and see the random stars everyone else has given beers, but I can’t get it to do anything beyond that.

There is the simply-named Beer! app by Metosphere (who also do a Christian prayer app if you want to really multitask).  It ain’t pretty, but it’s also free. It allows you to keep track of beer notes. It’s simple and in theory  you can share your notes with others, though in playing around I couldn’t get this feature to work.  I could see getting caught up with the category dial, not know where to put some things.  There are some Google ads on this app and I’m not sure how easy it would be to retrieve and organize the beer notes.  Also did I mention it’s a tad unsightly?

The unfortunately-named Beer Pad is a similar beer note app which costs £2.39.  It’s very similar to Beer! except that it has a generic “dewy lager glass” background rather than the grey streaky photoshop fill on the Beer! app, and it allows you to put in food pairings and customize the styles if you’re in a beer pedant mood. I didn’t try this one out personally because I couldn’t bring myself to pony up the pounds for it.

Beerlicious, £1.19, allows a similar rating breakdown by beer characteristics like aroma, mouthfeel and taste, averaged into a standardized rating.   Very concise and slick.  I found the style groupings and sub-headings of the Beer! app more user-friendly, but the quasi-Soviet looking icon is cute.

There are also apps that help you pair beer with food.  As I’m need of remediation when it comes to pairing, these seem particularly useful, though if you are an experienced beer foodie this kind of app might annoy you.

Beer Match costs 59 pence.  This app is a nice “beginner” type, with beer styles paired to different sorts of food, with a separate (if extremely limited) section of cheeses as well.  For instance, I haven’t yet forgiven them for omitting yarg.  Like most beer apps I’ve considered, this is geared toward the American beer drinker and the beer descriptions are almost too simplistic to really be useful.  Also, it seems like the kind of app one would use in a full service shop where you could ask for a particular style of beer.  If you live in London, good luck with that.  It may be geared to the total beer newbie, but I’m looking forward to using this app while I make meal plans for the week.  That’s about as Martha Stewart as I get.

BeerCloud is is an even better deal, as it’s free.  It’s also very shiny, very American. (And available for Android phones), a group of beer wholesalers which distributes information about availability of craft beers and organizes beer fans into local groups are behind the app which has an excellent Beer Sommelier feature more comprehensive than Beer Match. It suggests brands that are US beers, so you have to ad lib a substitution with what is available here.  Likewise, when you look for local beers or brewers, the UK isn’t represented.  This app would be great if there were a British equivalent, but I’ll definitely be using this when I go back to the States, as well as when planning meals in general.

I also splashed out on the mobile version of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide which costs a whopping £4.99, and is the most I’ve ever paid for an app.  So far it’s reminded me of locals I already know about, but perhaps will be handy if I’m in a part of the UK I don’t know well.  According to the app, the Wenlock Arms is local to me, which I wish were true. There are interesting notes and trivia with each pub listing, as well as a downloadable directory of breweries’ contact information, a short background and a list of their beers which is nice for on-the-go researching.

If you have a beery app that you use frequently, I’d like to hear about it.

Solstice Gruit wins my GBBF beer of the year
August 4, 2010

It was another whirlwind GBBF Trade Day. As I stood in the queue, which was much shorter on the Non-CAMRA member side, I felt a bit exposed, lost amid a sea of serious Beer Blokes. What was I doing there? I thought to myself. And then the two men in front of me from Oxford asked me, “Why did you come alone?”

I didn’t say “I always drink alone.” Maybe I should have quoted Homer Simpson, “Does God count as a person?” But I just explained, “I am meeting people inside.” And I hoped it was true.

I stealthily sat at the Irish Craft Brewer Table waiting for The Beer Nut to arrive, drinking the first beer on my list, Thornbridge Craven Silk.  It was the second best beer of the day, a perfect summer ale with a strong hop character immediately apparent, giving way to a white grape and floral middle that accumulated with drinking the stuff.  I had a third and wished I’d had a pint.  It was a lovely sunny color with a lacy head, and perfect study in balancing the delicate and the bold in a light mouthfeel.

The Beer Nut and Ms. Beer Nut arrived and the party started  in earnest because the rest of the Irish Brew Crew had come with them, including two Americans.  Maybe I’m homesick, or maybe these guys were just awesome, but it was great to bond about American beers with other expats.

My next beer was the Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean– The Beer Nut thought it a bit to synthetic, and I saw what he meant.  The hops seemed to give the profound vanilla a weird two-dimensionality.  The smoke was lost on me.  I felt guilty about liking the stuff.  It was a vanilla-fairy beer which twinkled along the palate, reminding me of a cereal I ate as a child, something with a prize inside.

But by this time I was eying Beer Nut’s rather girly looking beer, a cloudy aubergine-colored lambic from De Molen which he described as a farmyard where all the lambs are only fed raspberries.  How could I resist?  It was in one of those mysterious-looking De Molen casks (you can see them in the video above) which looks just enough like contraband to make you feel like you are getting away with something drinking it.  It was indeed the fruit-dream farm beer The Beer Nut had described, and yet there was something dark there as well, a leather note and a bit of tobacco.  If I were to extend the metaphor to incorporate these elements that farmyard would be more akin to the Torture Garden. But in a good way.

The next beer on my agenda was something that made me think of Jesse Bullington, a medievalist who has written a remarkable novel called The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart. I had the happy chance to hang with him and talk beer last month and I thought it was the kind of beer he would dig.  It t urns out it was the most remarkable beer I’ve had this year.

Quote from the American Flatbread Philosophy

I had never heard of the brewery before, but I’m fascinated by brewing history, particularly pre-hopping styles.  This quote from the American Flatbread website could describe their Solstic Gruit.  It was a gentle beer with a mead-like character.  Often with honey or mead one can taste the ghost of the flower, what the bees used in the brew, and this beer had a similar twice-removed esther. It was also quite herby and peppered, similar to Froach but with nose that had a bit of ceremonial incense about it.  Seductive!  In my tipsy delight I see I have scrawled in the margins of my tasting notes, “PUT ON THE WOODEN CLOGS!”

The only downside to the gruit was I knew nothing could follow it.  But I did try.  Beartown Ginger was a thin, dry ginger tea which I couldn’t finish.  And next up was the Saint Austell Black Prince which had a mineral tang that predominated and lingered distractedly, like blood in the mouth. Ms. Beer Nut described it, “like licking rocks.” It was swiftly abandoned.

I was on the cusp of feeling a bit morose and hopeless– would I wander around the entire airplane hanger of beer that is the GBBF tasting one unpleasant thing after another?  There were suggestions from the table but the last two beers had made me feel a bit queasy, a bit put off beer altogether.  Thinking back I should have had some really un-beery beer like another lambic, but instead I opted for the perfectly fine Left Hand Black Jack Porter.

Richie suggested I should just have the beer I really liked.  It’s what I really wanted, anyway. And honestly, when will I ever see it again?  As I got some more I sang its praises to Tandleman who was sceptical, but that’s his MO. Secretly I’d like to think that he stayed on the weird medieval herb beer all night without telling anyone!  And then I told Zak about it, though he’d already tried it and wasn’t so keen.  I basically talked about it to anyone who would listen.

Skinners brewery from Truro were forcing the craic with their marching band headed by a “Queen” in bad drag.  huzzah. They thundered through the echoing space like an invading army, and whenever anyone broke a glass the place erupted in hollers as if someone had invented fire.  The strange grey space of the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre is no place to get squiffy. I’ve said it before, but there is a moment in the afternoon when the ugly labyrinth just seems to ambush you.

That happened before I had a chance to go up to any of the bars and get the bottles I was hoping to take home. Some in my party were not allowed to take bottled beers from the bar, but Tandleman assured me this was not the case. All the same, I didn’t press my luck.  The American bars were so much more crowded than the others, and the layout so confusing– impossible to browse without consulting the maps and program.   So I will just have to wonder about the Great Divide 16th Anniversary IPA and the Thornbridge Saint Petersburg and hope that I can get my mitts on a bottle or two elsewhere.

And then I sat down and savoured my third, listening to the conversations around me, talking to the American blokes about what it’s like to be here.  And I was happy.  Sure, the company was great, but I was really, really happy.  I thought, why is that, when really the GBBF is so often like work– a bit scary, a bit overwhelming, always grim.  But I’ve come every year in hopes that I’ll find that elusive thing, that thing every beer-obsessive has felt at one time– beer joy.  Last year it was the Allagash Interlude and this year, I found it again in the Solstice Gruit.  Thank you, lovely brewers at American Flatbread for making it worth it.

There’s Something about Lists
August 3, 2010

I’ve been up since 5am compiling my list for the Great British Beer Festival.  (Did I say yesterday I wasn’t going for the beer?  I was lying.) I know this list making is an exercise in futility but I can’t help myself.
Have I gone mad or is the GBBF “region” list a complete rewriting of British geography?  If you didn’t know the names of the breweries you liked, it would be impossible to find anything.  Though organizing 700+ beers can’t be easy, and I won’t pretend I could do it better.

I’m keeping my expectations low and realistic, even if I stick to thirds there’s only so much I can drink.

There is the dilemma of starting with what is most palate-friendly, but ironically I’ve found at beer festivals there is always a rush on the higher-alcohol brews.  Perhaps because they are “rarer”– especially if you do most of your drinking in pubs where most beer available is around 4%.  But most of these beers will thrash your palate straight out.

But then there is the labyrinth of the GBBF layout to negotiate.  Sure, you want to start with that light summer ale with elderflower infusion, but where the hell is it?  You get lost and end up drinking some hop bomb which coats your mouth in resins for a good hour.

Here is my list for those who really like that kind of thing.  You know who you are.

  • Adnams Gunhill (a dark mild)
  • American Flatbread Solstice Gruit (a medieval brew, I’ll be drinking it in honor of my new friend and fab writer, Jesse Bullington.)
  • Beartown Ginger Bear– (the gay man in me giggles.)  I like ginger, I like Beartown and I like ginger bears.
  • Buffy’s Norwich Terrier– I’m a fan of Buffy’s– their Old English Rose was one of those palate-defining brews for me.  Though the name isn’t too promising.  I keep thinking wet dog.
  • Islay Nerabus–I’m increasingly curious about Scottish brewers, particularly Hebridean ones.  This beer also has Amarillo hops, my favourite.
  • Mighty Oak Oscar Wild Mild or Sand Bar– I’ve heard great things about this brewery and it’s local if we’re counting food miles.
  • Orkney Raven Ale– I sampled several beers from this brewery while I was in Orkney.  I’ll drink almost anything with “hedgerow” in the tasting notes.
  • St. Austell Prince– I’m a fan of this brewery’s hoppy bitters and am eager to see what they do with a mild.  So often breweries will brew a mild for the GBBF but you never see them in pub rotations.  It’s a shame– this could be a post in itself.
  • Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean–I feel obligated to list this as it seems the quintessential beer-chaser type beer: rare, distant and complicated, though I’ve yet to have a Stone beer that has blown me away. Maybe this is the one?
  • Stone This Beer Tastes Better on Tap– this is an in-joke about cask ale, right? Right?  If I try it will I be in on the joke?
  • Thornbridge Craven Silk– OK, this is the beer I’m most excited about.  Brewed with fresh-picked Elderflower (see, this is why Cyclops style ratings, where beers are broken down into hue, bitterness and sweetness and nothing else, will never really sell beer.) I am hoping to start with this one.

This year I’m going to pick up some bottles to drink at home, specifically:

  • Great Divide 16th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA (increasingly becoming a favourite style of mine)
  • Thornbridge Halcyon– after sneaking a sip of Pete Brown‘s at the Jolly Butcher on my Birthday, I need more of this sunny beer.
  • Thornbridge St. Petersburg– there is a pattern forming here!  This is my favourite beer style and I can’t wait to see what Thornbridge do with it.

I fully expect most of these to be gone or MIA once I get there, but one can  hope.

Saying goodbye to my old local, and hello GBBF
August 2, 2010

Photo of Steve Bolton by philfromdublin on flickr

Is a blog without updates really a blog?  The generous folks at CAMRA seem to think so, and have granted me a pass to the Great British Beer Festival trade session.

I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go, especially after hearing Laura and Dave had to give it a miss this year.  But then I was lucky enough to meet up with Laura this weekend, as she was visiting for the Knit Nation extravaganza.  We ended up at the Market Porter fondling roving and wool Laura had found at the knitting event and drinking halves of Harvey’s Bitter and Deeside Talorcan (a hearty, chocolaty stout with an impressive beige head and just enough bitterness and wood notes to really make it complex).

We then made our way to the Rake which was more than hospitable.  We sampled most of what they had on at the moment, as well as some remarkable bottled ginger beer and the Williams Brothers’ Kelpie which had a warm salinity at the back that was fascinating.  We met Nick who’d just come from the Utobeer stall, fully stocked with De Molen bottles.  We marvelled at their elegant, mysterious labels in true beer fanatic fashion.  Everyone prompted me to get the blog going again, and as you can see they were very persuasive.

The only sad news of the day was seeing the landlord of my old local, the Magpie and Crown, pulling pints at the Rake.  I asked him what the situation was and he told me he’d been forced out due to excessive rents after running the place for 14 years, offering stellar real ales from local breweries and lovely cider as well as the best Thai food I’ve had in London.  This is a common story all over London, another example of greed pushing out places with individual character , history and personal vision.  I never really liked living in greater west London, but the Magpie and Crown was one consolation.  I relished the notion that I could go down the street and never know what I might try, but knowing there would be something that I was perfectly in the mood for, and the music would be good and at the right volume and the punters just strange enough to be interesting.  And, you know, I’d always have the corner seat by the window.  The pub is still there but it won’t be the same without Steve, and I thank him for helping to make the time I lived there much happier, welcoming and full of fantastic beers.

Cartoon over the Hearth of the Magpie and Crown

So now it’s on to forming my beer festival game plan.  Last year I had a list which became useless within minutes as I realized the beers I most wanted to try weren’t there yet or were MIA or were trumped by bigger and better ideas from the beer hounds surrounding me.  Which brings me to the real reason I’m going.  It isn’t really for the beer at all (don’t tell anyone!) but for the fellow beer writers and brewers– where good beer is you find good people, it’s as simple as that.