Sunday, 20 April 2014

Hastings revisit - The Dolphin and First in Last Out

I went down to Hastings on Good Friday, as I fancied a trip to the seaside and it's pretty easy to get their from my house on the train. Being a holiday weekend I was preparing for the worst on the train journey: screaming kids, stroppy parents and a generally miserable atmosphere. In reality although there were a few young 'uns on the train it was actually pretty quiet. Another surprise for me was how quiet Hastings was considering it was a holiday weekend. To be fair the town isn't looking its best these days, and with Brighton, Eastbourne and other better maintained seaside towns nearby maybe Hastings doesn't have much appeal these days. There isn't really much to attract people down there besides the shopping and the (stony) beach. You also have to leave before sundown to avoid getting attacked by the towns blossoming population of chavs.

I'm hoping the place will start receiving a bit more love from the local council over the next few years as there's still a bit of charm to the place. However none of it is found in the "new town" which is the first thing visitors come across leaving the train station and main car parks. This gormless concrete mass of generic town centre shops isn't going to win anybody over. But walk down towards the old town and things got a whole lot nicer, with little antique and curio shops dotted about that you can easily kill a few hours in. Amongst the antique shops on the outskirts of the Old Town is the First In Last Out, a brewery tap for the FILO brewery, which is a few hundred metres up the road from the pub. I've written about this place before and I enjoyed my time there, and I was looking forward to going back.

The atmosphere was gently buzzing when I walked in with a nice mix of locals and beer seeking tourists. I was pleased to see a small beer festival was on over the Easter weekend. Before I hit the guest ales I tried a FILO ale, the Old Town Tom. Curiously this was the only beer among the FILO range which was labelled as a "craft beer." I have no idea why this one was craft and the others weren't, as the FILO is a small, talented brewery and I wouldn't raise an eyebrow if they labelled all their beers as craft. Curious craft branding aside, the Town Tom was a decent sup, with a ginger kick that added a bit of character to the brew.

I also tried a couple of beers from their festival. Dark Star Seville was on, and what a lovely beer this is. Packed full of orange flavours with every hoppy mouthful, this was a absolute pleasure and I would of happily drank this all day. But instead of getting another I tried a Roosters 41 Degrees North. Despite the tasting notes promising plenty of New Zealand hop flavours, this was a curiously flat tasting ale, with none of the hoppy goodness I've had from other South Pacific beers such as High Wire NZ or Thornbridge Kipling. Disappointing.

My second pub on the trip was The Dolphin, which I was visiting for the first time. This CAMRA award winning pub was in the more touristy harbour area of the town, and it's situated across the road from old fishing huts. Inside the decor is suitably nautically themed, with fishing nets, captain hats, ropes and other sailing knick knacks scattered around the walls and ceiling. A blackboard proudly displayed the varied ales on offer. There was also a separate blackboard listing "craft ales." Like in the FILO I have no idea how the landlord at The Dolphin decides what classes a beer as craft. The only diference I could see is that all the ales on the craft board were 30p more expensive than the "normal" ales. The breweries on the craft board were Meantime and Charles Wells. Personally I'd class Meantime as craft as they're not really in the "big league" brewers. Charles Wells however is a rather cynical attempt from the Youngs Brewery to cash in on the craft craze, and I don't think it deserved to be on the board.

I opted for a couple of the "non-craft" ales. Franklins Brewery Citra was a good effort at an American flavoured IPA, with a decent mouthful of fruity hops in every sip. Buntingford Brewery Polar Star was another hoppy treat, this time a blonde beer. Both beers were in excellent condition and very flavoursome. Other customers were tucking into tasty looking food, with fish dishes appearing to be the house speciality - unsurprising considering the location right by the fisherman's huts. A good little boozer and one I would be happy to return to.

Next week I'll be (hopefully) writing about the new BrewDog venture "BottleDog," which appears to be a upmarket offie. See you then!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Brains Craft Brewery

This "craft beer" movement that you may have read about on the internet and the newspapers is a funny thing. I still don't think anybody really knows what craft beer is but as long as decent ales keep appearing I'm happy for the movement to continue. Some of the more established breweries have noticed that there's money to be made with this weird craft thing and more and more beers are now suddenly "crafted" by brewers. I find this pretty patronising mainly because it's obvious beer is crafted unless they've previously been digging beer out the ground or just cut open a tree and wait for the ale to spill out? But I guess if the breweries think they sell a few more bottles by slapping "craft " on the label then fair game to them.

One brewery that has embraced the craft movement further than just re-badging existing beers with a craft label is Brains. This Welsh outfit have started a new brand of beers from the Brains "Craft Brewery." They've got some beer writers and other non brewers in the beer world to help out with creating the ales. Now I'm sure these guys are excellent at tasting and reviewing beers but whether they know how to produce a decent one themselves is open to debate. I know if I was given the chance to make a beer it would probably end up being a horrific failure with an initial hoppy flavour leading to vomiting, paralysis and eventually death. That's why I stick to writing about beer rather than making it, and even the writing I'm not great at seeing as I completely failed to produce any new content last Sunday.

The Brains Craft Brewery beers were available in Tesco on a 4 for £6 offer so I thought it rude not to give them a try. I could tell they were craft beers immediately as they had trendy labels and were in kid sized 330ml bottles. First up was Barry Island IPA, labelled on the bottle as an American Style IPA and a collaboration with "YouTube real ale reviewer extraordinaire" Simon Martin. True to the description this was a hoppy, boozy drink. It was a good attempt at recreating the highly hopped, Lagunitas style IPA. Recommended.

The other brew I tried was the Boilermaker. According to the Brains website this is a collaboration with "Ben and Tom from Thinking Drinkers." I have no idea who they are but according to their website they are trying to "revive the lost art of discerning drinking." A bold aim but this beer isn't going to help their cause. Despite the label promising vanilla notes and a whisky finish, I could taste neither. Instead it was a rather muddy IPA flavour, nothing outstanding and nowhere near as pleasant as the Barry Island IPA. A shame as this beer sounded the more exciting of the two but it just didn't deliver on what was promised.

It's good to see Brains trying something different and getting the beer blogging community involved. More experimentation in the brewing industry is always welcome and who knows what winning formula they may hit upon. But some experiments shouldn't be released into the wild and while the Barry Island was definitely ready for release I think the Boilermaker could have done with a bit more work before being sold to the public. It's not the first craft beer I've tried that wasn't ready for public consumption, and luckily thanks to Tesco's deal it wasn't so much of a costly mistake to me as some other craft beers have been. Overall though I look forward to trying more beers from the Brains Craft Brewery.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Eltham GPO and The Claret, Addiscombe

I recently had the chance to visit two pubs nearby to me that I'd heard good things about but hadn't had the chance to visit. First up was the Eltham GPO. This is a recently opened Antic pub in the suburban mediocrity that is Eltham. The town already has one decent boozer, the Park Tavern, and the GPO is conveniently located on the same road as the Tavern. In a former life the GPO was called The Old Post Office, and it was a chav infested Jaegarbomb spewing hellhole best avoided by everyone. Now that Antic have got their grubby mitts on it the place has been spruced up, but also spruced down, being furnished with vintage furniture and sporting exposed piping and walls as part of the decor.

Having been impressed with the beer selection at the Baring Hall Hotel, another new opening from Antic in nearby Grove Park, I was looking forward to more exciting beers here. However the landlord has played it safe with the beer selection at the GPO, with five solid if not very exciting ales on offer, including Timothy Taylor Landlord. I opted for a pint of local brewery Hopstuff Fusilier, which was a classic best bitter. It was in good nick and went down perfectly with a very tasty Fish and Chip dinner, chosen from a food menu which again plays it very safe with pub classics such as sausage and mash. I did enjoy my time here and would stop in if I happened to be in the area, but unlike the Baring Hall I didn't feel it was a pub worth going out of the way to visit. Hopefully with two pubs in such close proximity to each other, the Park Tavern and Eltham GPO might step up their game ale selection wise.

Over to Croydon which despite its grim exterior and sometimes questionable inhabitants, it is bereft with decent pubs. In nearby Addiscombe is the Claret Free House. Unassuming from the outside, it looks like it could be a wine bar or restaurant. But inside there's no doubting this is a traditional local boozer, with a long bar and mock tudor interior. Five handpumps displayed a tantalizing selection of beer.

The Claret is "famous" for serving Palmers Best Bitter, with a certificate proudly displayed proclaiming that they have served over 1,000,000 pints. It would be rude not to try it and after a sip I could see why they sell so much. This was a easy drinking, slightly floral ale that went down a treat, perfect for a session or a quick one after work. Next up was W.J King Lost Kingdom. This was a heavier bitter, with gentle raisin notes in the aftertaste. It was fine but not as charming as the Palmers. Finally there was the Westerham Puddledock Porter. With its low ABV this was a light and refreshing porter, not too heavy on the coffee notes. This is the first porter I've ever described as refreshing.

A small collection of regulars were in, and the crowd got bigger as the afternoon wore on towards clocking off time. A telly in the corner was showing the cricket and I got the pleasure of watching England perform terribly in the Twenty20. It was a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere and although I was the youngest customer in there by far, I never felt uncomfortable. A pub well worth visiting if you're in the area.