Thursday, 27 October 2011

London Brewers Alliance – Showcase

This Saturday just gone, the London Brewers Alliance had jolly good knees up above a wine shop in London Bridge. More accurately, they held a showcase of London breweries, a beer festival really, above Vinopolis and Brew Wharf. It was a cracking night out, with a good time apparently had by all. Last year’s inaugural event was eclipsed comfortably, both in terms of the number of breweries in attendance and the turnout, with the large room packed out by mid-evening.
     Once again I was struck by the knowledge, passion and friendliness on show from the breweries, turning the seemingly very steep £20 entrance fee into a relative bargain once all the free samples and generous over-pours were in full swing. The crowd was pretty young, and the beers were strong – I did manage to get home several hours after leaving, though which route or mode or transport I took is anyone’s guess. I apologise to anyone who experienced my drunkenness first hand.
          Owing to my intoxication I cannot recall every beer that passed my lips, but there were some standouts, both good and not quite so good. Plenty of new breweries were on show as well - it was my first experience of Moncada from West London – the beers were solid and their modern approach to the branding was really impressive. I also had some beer from Kew Green that made me want to visit their brewpub and have some more. Less impressive were the beers from Redchurch, but as they are brand new I’m sure they will improve. I was warned off trying some of the other new breweries in attendance by friends, again perhaps just teething problems. Worst of the bunch for my money was the festival beer – I thought it smelled like melted strawberry ice cream, was overly sweet and had no backbone or bitterness. Too many cooks perhaps.
       On the plus side we definitely have some real high quality brewers in London these days. The best beers I drank all evening were from the London Amateur Brewers who were pouring generously all night. I had a very decent oatmeal stout, a peachy pale ale, and an outstanding Belgian Dubbel that I was longing for ages after it had gone. Kernel brought their usual array of top notch beers, most of which were gone pretty early. I thought their export stout on cask was a particularly good, soft and sweet with loads of chocolate.  
       Another winner was Camden Town, who put the most effort out of anyone into their stand and it paid off, as they seemed to be surrounded by drinkers all night. Their beers were excellent as usual, and if left to my own devices I would have drunk the Red all night long. Slightly less high-tech were Brodies, distributing their beers from a freezer which gave them a welcoming temperature, if a somewhat slushy texture. I still thought the Red and the Black IPA were delicious though.
       On several counts the event was a huge success I thought – it was a great fun night with lots of quality beer on show, and also I discovered a bunch of breweries that I previously knew nothing about. The crowd was diverse and friendly, but more importantly was much bigger than last year, proof if it were needed that craft beer is encroaching on the mainstream. Two small gripes also – it shut way too early, the beer glasses were almost snatched out of our hands at 10pm on the dot – I don’t know about anyone else but that was not past my bedtime. And the major concern is that despite the popularity of craft beer and the resurgence of London breweries, we are likely to have to wait another year for the next one.

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Southampton Arms, Kentish Town

Until quite recently this was my local pub. It was with some regret that I changed that situation, largely owing to how scandalously expensive the neighbourhood it sits bang in the middle of is. This place is not particularly new, but I figured start with what you know - and there are few drinking holes I know better than this one.

Ale. Cider. Meat. The wonderful sign that I see regularly on the already ridiculous activity of an evening run, which makes it seem all the more unjustifiable that I am outside rather than in. It adorns a small public house just south of Parliament Hill in an ever more affluent region of North London, one in which predictable new ventures spring up weekly to absorb the disposable income of the aspirational locals. But rather than finding one of the new wave of smart, comfortable, and one-size-fits-all gastropubs, you discover a rather spit and sawdust, elementary little drinker’s paradise, under a bridge and on a main road.
        The Southampton Arms has overtly rustic benches that stretch the length of the small bar, in addition to a piano and the all too uncommon pub dog. A real fireplace, more wood, an outside men’s bathroom and a small concrete outdoor seating area continue the impression that this is not a swanky new cocktail bar, but something more elemental, more lasting.

        It has a very local feel for a place that quenches the thirst of many tourists, and long travelled lovers of orchard fruit and hops. The mission statement above the bar is challenging and exclusive – only beer and cider from small independent producers (they claim to be the only London pub doing this). However the heart of the place is very simple – give people decent beer, cider, pub grub and a place to sit, without charging the earth for it, and they will probably have a ruddy good time. And what’s more, come back.
        This approach leaves the bulk of the work to the quality of the products, which is where the pub largely excels. 12 beers on draught, including 2 permanent kegs of the very local and very excellent Camden Town brewery. The remaining 10 cask ales generally covers the brand names in UK craft brewing – Thornbridge, Brewdog, Dark Star and the like, in equal measure with interesting less known offerings that will be new to most casual ale drinkers. 8 Ciders, including some fantastic brutes matured in whisky and brandy barrels continues the artisanal selection, often in addition to a mulled something or other. Beyond this they have wine and spirits and other stuff – but why would you bother?
          Pub snacks best describe the chalkboard of food options, but superior pub snacks certainly. The sausage rolls and pork pies are worth a go, especially if you wish to avail yourself of a few different hoppy treats throughout the evening. This is a really fun place to drink, full of atmosphere and hospitality, while still maintaining a sense of the local and a real public house. There are already several quality pubs within drinking distance, the Bull at Highgate, the Pineapple, the Bull & Last, and when, as we’re promised, Brewdog set up shop in Camden, this section of North London is going to have a pretty impressive pub crawl. And this place might be the best of the lot.       

Friday, 21 October 2011

A sip in the right direction...

I have been drinking beer now for the better part of a decade, yet it has never really appealed to me to document or catalogue my experinces and opinions on the subject.
Firstly because I seriously doubt anyone would be interested, and secondly because I have always thought of beer, and drinking in general, as an instantaneous, personal and tangible activity which does not translate well to the written word. The beer drinking experince can be joyously communal and deeply intimate simultaneously, something a retrospective blog cannot really hope to capture or do justice to.
However over the last few years both the craft beer and blogging landscape in the UK have grown and matured considerably, to the extent which it would seem rude not to join the party. One of my very bestest buddies is currently the topping the charts of the UK beer blogging scene, and if nothing else it will be nice to have a more public forum to contradict and mock him.
This is merely intended to be an account of beer and food (and stuff) in and around London, from my perspective, as a gluttonous consumer and voracious drinker first and foremost. I apologise in advance for what is sure to be a criminal lack of knowledge, both general and specialist, an unrefined palate, and a legion of grammatical; errors.