Friday, 3 June 2016

My top five craft beers

Craft beer - everybody wants some. Well everybody inside the M25, and in some pockets of the area outside the London Orbital called "The North" (south of London is just a wasteland of cider and cocktails.) Living in London I'm lucky enough to be in the epicentre of beardie brewed overly hopped beer enjoyed by folks with more money than sense. In no particular order here are my favourite craft beers of the ones I've tried.

Gumphreys Belfry - Hopless. I must admit I was skeptical when I first tried this. As Rupert Gumphrey, head brewer and part time uni-cyclist explains from his East London brewery "Hopless is a natural rebellion against the mega hopped beers so beloved by the craft scene. We were fed up with beers that tasted like tropical fruit juice, so we've created a well balanced beer made with absolutely no hops whatever. Just malt, water and yeast. Technically we're not allowed to call it beer but our marketing managers dad is chairman of the Advertising Standards Agency so we're getting away with it."

I must admit it took a while to get used to the flavour, it was like drinking a very bitter bread. But after a few sips and being coerced by the beer bloggers I was sharing this with at some craft ale festival I couldn't help but agree that it was pretty good, even while I was pouring it down the sink in the bogs.

Greenfingers - Asparagus IPA. If the fetching green colour doesn't make this beer stand out, the smell of your wee the morning after drinking it certainly will. As brewer Robert Smith explains "my son Giles kept visiting me on my allotment going on and on about the latest craft beer he'd tried. They all sounded like the brewers had found whatever they could get their hands on and shoved it into their beer. Well I had a bumper crop of asparagus this year and rather than flogging it off down the boot sale I thought I'd have a go of making it into a beer. To be honest it was a bit of a disaster but early thirties men with well trimmed beers kept showing up at my shed offering me £10 a bottle so I couldn't say no. I'm looking forward to see what they make of my Runner Bean Pale Ale."

Craft Beer Toadies - This Will be Rated Number One on Ratebeer. A 12% ABV Imperial Stout brewed in the USA.

Brouwerij Verhaeghe/Bros - When Will I Be Flemish? - Eyebrows were raised when Bros announced that they were following the example of other forgotten bands Iron Maiden and Status Quo by releasing their own beer. Nobody expected it be a Flemish Red, and a good one at that. Beloved by those who insist that Belgium beer was "the original craft beer" while being ignored by absolutely everybody.

Marstons - Crafty Growler Hoppy Artisan IPA. Out of all the attempts of "big brewing" to enter the craft scene this is probably the best. As head brewer Martin Moneybags explains "we just shoved every trendy craft buzzword into the name of this beer in the desperate hope that some confused hipster will order it by accident when they see it in one of our tied houses in the arse end of nowhere"

That's it! Join me next week for my "Top Five Boring Brown Bitters." Actually I may as well just tell you now - it's everything Harvey's brew.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Micropubs - The Door Hinge and The Broken Drum

The Micropub - a small licensed premises selling real ale and not much else, with no music or fruit machines to be seen or heard. They are basically a CAMRA members wet dream come to life. The micropub movement has been moving along quite happily now over the past few years. I've managed to visit a few of them. I have always enjoyed my time at them, even if the small rooms means they usually feel very busy, filled with men of a certain age (old.)

I recently had the pleasure of visiting two micropubs in Welling, a suburb in South East London where the most noticeable feature is that there is a Tesco's and a Morrisons directly across the road from each other, like two cowboys having a show down to see who's going to leave town first. A few minutes walk away from the superstores is The Door Hinge, the first micropub of my visit. It fit the micropub template to a tee - a very small room with cosy bench furnishings and plenty of random tat plastered all over the walls, with a well chosen selection of ales on offer. The clientele was older and it turned out a fair few of them were CAMRA members. Unsurprising as micropubs may as well have signs plastered on the front saying "CAMRA members come drink in here - it's all your pub dreams come to life!"

I realise I'm sounding a bit snarky about CAMRA but I do quite like them, and I'm even a member. They still seem to be struggling a bit with this whole craft beer thing though. Some want to dismiss it, some want to embrace, personally I don't mind if bearded hipsters are making the beer as long as it is tasty. The Door Hinge certainly serves a decent pint and the friendly landlord handed me a half of Iceberg from the Titanic brewery, a hoppy treat that I always enjoy. Perching on the end of a bench I had a chat with other punters about the (rather good) Wetherspoons up the road and what local real ale festivals were coming up. Soon it was time to move on to the next micro.

The Broken Drum hasn't been around as long as the Door Hinge, and it's in a rather awkward location off a main road and near to a very popular local pub (The George Staples.) With it also being a Tuesday afternoon it was very quiet when I walked in, with a young couple and child being the only other customer. The beer selection was tempting though and I settled on another bench with a tasty pint of Goachers Best Dark Ale which went down very well.

Despite the lack of customers it was nice having a drink in here, and I had a second drink, the excellent Blue Top from the Old Diary brewery, whose beers are well made and very enjoyable. I had a pleasant chat with the landlord about the do's and dont's of opening a micropub, as it's something I'd be interested in doing once I have the funds. He was more than happy to have a chat. I think that's what I like best about micros, it's nice just sitting down among strangers and having a chat. Beer is a social lubricant after all. It may not be for everyone, but I enjoy it.

Friday, 11 March 2016

BrewDog Clerkenwell

Another day, another BrewDog opening in London, this time in trendy Clerkenwell. The area has long been a hotbed for new media and graphic design firms, packed full of young employees ready to enjoy a crafty drink. The nearby Dovetail has done well catering to this market with an excellent selection of Belgium ales, back when Belguim beer was considered exotic before the craft beer movement got into full swing. I'm surprised it has taken BrewDog this long to open a pub in the area as there are plenty of potential customers although I have heard they had a go at opening a place before but the plans fell through.

BrewDog venues never seem to be big enough for the amount of punters they attract and sadly the Clerkenwell venue is no different. The two storey layout somehow feels very cramped and claustrophobic. The second floor suffers from narrow gangways making it difficult to navigate while holding your drink, and downstairs tables and chairs are crammed in next to the bar, making it difficult to squeeze past the mixed customer base of hipsters and City boys and order a drink. Once you make it to the bar you'll find an excellent selection of beer on offer - all keg of course. Cask beardies will have to seek what they want elsewhere - luckily the Jerusalem Tavern and the Craft Beer Co are a short walk away.

I was there for the Brew By Numbers (BBNo) tap takeover, which meant all of the guest taps (around 15 of them) were dispensing BBNo beer. They did not disappoint with a wide selection of beers and styles on offer. I went for a four beer sampler. The 01/03 Saison Mosiac was a good start to the evening, a well made saison with a welcome hoppy twang.The 09/05 Brown Ale - Chinook and Centinneal was another decent sup - a boisterous American style brown ale, very rich and boozy. 05/13 India Pale Ale Rakau was the booziest beer I had at 7.1% but it tasted much lighter than that, an easy drinking pale ale clearly made with skill. The samples were all 1/3 pints and it came to £9.60 - about the going rate for a drink round these parts.

The best of the bunch was the 03/05 Porter - Willamette and Cenennial. Brew by Numbers usually make excellent porters and this was no exception - plenty of malty flavours and a good bit of bite to it. After trying and failing to blag a free BBNo T-Shirt I called it a evening. I enjoyed my visit to BrewDog Clerkenwell and would be happy to return. It's a decent bar with friendly staff and good beer - if only the place was a little bigger.