Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Railway, Bromley and The Library, Islington

Antic are a "collective" of pubs that have been rapidly multiplying across South East London. Since I moved to SE London last year three new Antic pubs have opened near me. I've previously written about the Baring Hall and the Eltham GPO, and out of the two I prefer the Baring Hall. I was surprised to see it wasn't in the latest Good Beer Guide as they always serve a decent pint.  The GPO isn't bad but it seems to be having trouble shaking off the clientèle who used to go to its previous incarnation, the grubby booze barn "Old Post Office." They also aren't being very adventurous with their beer selection, with Landlord, Adnams and Deuchers nearly always the only ales on. I usually end up going to the Park Tavern across the road with its more lively beer selection.

I recently visited the third Antic pub to open near me, the Railway Tavern in Bromley. This pub used to be a rock pub/venue, then closed for a while until Antic got their hands on it. The strict Antic formula has been applied -  shabby decorations, antique and "eclectic" furnishing, and a good selection of real ales behind the bar. Even the smell told me this was an Antic - an odd tinge of antiseptic in the air. The stage has disappeared so maybe live music won't be returning here. Beer wise I tried the Cronx Standard, an excellent session bitter from this talented brewery based in the uninspiring council estate sprawl of New Addington.  Brockley Brewery Red Ale is a good attempt at a style of beer I'm not a huge fan of, being malty and sharp on the finish. Both beers were in good condition and very suppable. The pub isn't serving food yet but I'm looking forward to returning when the kitchen opens - Antic pubs usually have a good menu. The service on a quiet Saturday lunchtime was a bit dozy but pleasant enough. Hopefully this pub will continue to improve.

The craft beer scene continues to rage throughout London, and more and more pubs are stocking beers from Beavertown, The Kernel and other craft superstars - at increasingly ludicrous prices. The Library in Islington is a pub/bar/music venue that has embraced craft beer - although I suspect it's to make a bit of extra dosh from "on trend" customers rather than because of a love of the scene. Bottles started at £4.95, with the majority of them at £5.95 and some even reaching £6.45. Now I enjoy brews from The Kernel and Bristol Beer Factory but these prices are just crazy. The pub itself is fine if a little soulless but it's no better or worse than the other middle class trendy bars dotted along Upper Street in dull Islington. I wouldn't visit the pub again.

I'm off to Leeds next weekend so I won't be updating next Sunday, but I'm hoping to visit a few pubs up there and can't wait to tell you all about them. See you soon!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Orpington Liberal Club

Orpington is one of those suburbs that nearly every Londoner has heard of but none of them have visited, and with good reason. The high street is mainly made up of coffee shops, cafes and charity shops and while it is somewhat nice to see so many independent businesses as a whole the shopping experience is lacklustre. It doesn't have any big anchor stores such as Marks & Spencer or even a Primark which makes it a bit useless for shopping, especially when there are better shopping options nearby such as nearby Bromley. The only reason anybody local may want to visit Orpington, or "Orps" as it is known by absolutely nobody, is that it has a gigantic Tesco, a sprawling shrine to commerce spread over two floors and selling just about everything you can imagine. Perhaps it's the cause of the death of Orpington's high street.

Orps is also lacking entertainment wise, with precious few pubs and no cinema or theatre. There used to be an Odeon but it closed - maybe the local chav population destroyed the place. Pub wise there isn't anywhere particulary good. Most are filled with "undesirables" - although I am a wuss so anybody wearing tracksuit bottoms and looking slightly shifty is considered undesirable to me. Even the pokey Wetherspoons, usually a good bet in scruffy shopping towns like this is a bit too shabby to spend much time in.

Luckily there is one place in Oprington for the real ale drinker, but you have to be a member to enjoy it. In an unassuming house across the road from the Tescos is the Orpington Liberal Club. I'd been meaning to visit this place for ages as I'd heard good things, and it has received plenty of positive recognition from CAMRA. Last week they had a beer festival on which non members could attend, so I took the opportunity to stop by for a visit.

The cosy little club has a comfortable lounge room and small bar, featuring six handpumps. For the beer festival an adjacent room was set up with around 30 casks - mainly local beers but also some from further afield, including Marble Beers from Manchester. I tried a fair few, and highlights included Clarence and Fredericks Single Hop Amarillo, a crisp and deceptively easy drinking pale ale from one of my favourite new breweries. Who knew something good could come from Croydon? The Tonbridge Union Pale Ale was another favourite, a rich, malty and slightly fruity treat. Outside there was a barbecue, although what appeared to be a logistics mess up meant there was no food served until 1:30pm. I was absolutely ravenous and a wee bit tipsy by that point so I purchased a burger as soon as they were off the grill, and munched it down while listening to folk and blues music played by an enthusiastic and very good local troupe.

All in attendance were invited to vote for their beer of the festival, and the eventual winner was Toujours from Gyle 59. I had a taste and I could see why it won - it was an accessible, easy drinking saison, a lovely introduction to the style. Overall I had a great time at this friendly little club - there was a lovely community spirit to the whole thing and the beer, food, music and atmosphere all came together very nicely indeed. I had a brief chat with the owner who clearly cares about the beer and his club. Well worth a visit if you do somehow end up in Orpington - perhaps you really like visiting gigantic branches of Tesco.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Great British Beer Festival 2014

Some quick thoughts about the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) which I visited yesterday. First of all I still can't believe how much better it is at Olympia rather then Earl Courts. The place is much airier and just doesn't feel as packed as Earl Courts did, even though there were plenty of thirsty punters enjoying some of the best ales on offer. I was amused to see Timothy Taylors scooped up the Champion Beer of Britain award. I sometimes think CAMRA are deliberately trying to rile the craft beer movement by giving awards to reliable if a bit boring brews. Still it was nice to see Oakham Citra and Saltaire Triple Chocoholic get noticed - exciting beers that are comfortably straddling the middle ground between craft and mainstream.

Joining me at the festival was a friend visiting from Canada, where he emigrated several years ago. He brought the entire family along including his ten month old son and five year old daughter, so this was the first time I got to visit the fabled GBBF "Family Room." We weren't expecting much to be honest, as hardly anybody brings their kids along, and the festival programme stresses heavily that "it's not a crèche." Visions of a pokey room staffed by a bored volunteer flashed before my eyes. However we were all pleasantly surprised - the kids are treated to a lovely space upstairs where there are plenty of toys, arts and live performers to keep them amused all the way until 9pm when it promptly shuts. It was a bit weird sipping a pint while surrounded by tens of kids but they all seemed to be having a very jolly time. A parent must stay with the child though so don't expect to drop the sprog off and then go have a merry time - one of you will have to keep an eye on your child!

I'd actually arrived at the festival a bit before my Canadian friend, so I spent thirty minutes having a look around. In this time I managed to neck a third of Castle Rock Black Gold and Moor Revival, both of which were excellent. I stopped by the American bar but even by 2pm on the second day of the festival most of the beers were gone, with only four or five left to choose from. They were all on the high end of the ABV scale and I didn't fancy getting blotto half an hour into the festivities so I plumped for a third of Smuttynose Bouncy House  (about 4.3% abv,) which was fine but I don't think it was at its best. All the US beers were cask only, and quite frankly I don't think the Yanks or the Brits know how to handle US beers in cask. There were many complaints that the US beers were a bit flat and lifeless this year. Who knows, maybe next year we'll see a few on keg - or even some being served in cans.

I didn't really get to see any of the entertainment, although I was a bit disappointed that the "carnival" theme wasn't carried out a bit more. There were some halfhearted "ringmasters" walking about but it needed more trapeze artists and perhaps a couple of fairground rides so queasy punters can empty their stomachs ready for the next round of ale and pie. The food was on good form this year although I only managed to scarf down a Pork and Black Pudding pie (excellent) from the Crusty Pie Company, and a steak and Stilton pasty from a venue I can't remember the name of - I may have been getting pretty tipsy by that point. My friends native Canadian wife tried her first pork scratching, and despite initial disgust an hour later she had bought four bags of the stuff to take home. One scratching and you're hooked.

As for the beers, well they were in good form this year. The Moor Revival was probably the highlight, but I did also enjoy the Otley O1 - not the "oi" which I incorrectly asked for. The Marble Dobber was a boozy treat from the ever reliable Marble boys (and girls) and the Bristol Beer Factory Nova was a hoppy treat to finish the evening on. If you haven't been to the festival head on down - it's well worth the price of admission if you're a beer lover. And it's still great even if you have to bring the family along with you.