Sunday, 8 November 2015

Leeds: The Return

The Lovely Jemma and I were recently up in Leeds for a couple of days. Jemma was getting a new tattoo from an excellent tattoo artist who works up there and I came along for moral support. It would of been rude of me not to visit a few pubs as well while I was there. I first visited Leeds last year and enjoyed some good beer in excellent pubs, and I was excited to go back and try new entries in the Good Beer Guide, visit a couple of pubs I'd missed on my last visit, and return to a couple of favourites.

While waiting at Kings Cross station for our train we stopped for a couple of drinks in The Parcel Yard, a large Fullers pub next to the tourist ridden Harry Potter shop. This is a large, two floor pub, and it was disappointing to see the top floor closed during peak evening travel time. This meant the downstairs was much more busy and cramped than usual.  My halves of Fullers Front Row and Windsor and Eton World Cup Drop were both in good nick but pricey at around £4.50 a pint. The high prices don't seem to faze most of the punters who hand over there money with dead eyed acceptance of being fleeced. Despite the wallet busting prices this is a nice enough pub to enjoy a drink.

We made a quick stop across the road at Sourced market in St Pancras station, a little gem of a place that sells an extensive (and expensive) range of canned and bottled beers. I got a can of Five Points Pale, and it was delicious,with none of the metallic flavours that can sometimes be associated with canned beer. We hopped on the train and just over a couple of hours later we were in Leeds and checked in to the glamorous Travelodge hotel.

The next day while Jemma was getting ink stabbed onto her arm, I took the opportunity to visit a couple of the less glamorous pubs in Leeds featured in the Good Beer Guide. First up was the Stick or Twist, a larger Wetherspoons opposite the Leeds Arena. The interior is identikit Spoons - brown-red carpet, sticky wooden tables and chairs, and a long bar with plenty of cheap booze on offer. The customers were identikit as well -mainly  single older men but there were a few groups of students popping in for a cheap lunch. The Wetherspoons real ale festival was on but sadly the special collaboration brews that were on weren't very exciting. I ended up with Oakham Owl & The Pussycat, a hoppy treat to start the day off with. To be honest the place was nothing special and I was quick to move on to the next pub.

The Templar Hotel is a handsome looking pub from the outside with gorgeous tiling, and inside was like stepping back in time. Warm oak boarded walls, old fashioned pub furniture and cosy bench seating at the back made this a pleasant retreat. Serving bells were still on the wall at the back of the pub, I wasn't brave enough to press one to see if they still worked. On a Tuesday afternoon the customers were just as old fashioned as the pub interior and I imagine some of them had probably been there since the pub first opened. There was a decent selection of ales and my half of Devils Advocate from Three Kings Brewery wasn't bad, although it went a bit wonky in the finish. The pub was a pleasant little time warp but again it's not somewhere where I would want to spend a lot of time, the main reason being I was skewing the average age of the punters by about forty years.

I met up with Jemma with her new and excellent tattoo, and headed for lunch at Friends of Ham. I'd heard very good things about this place, and sadly it was closed for refurbishment when I tried to visit last year. Walking into the bright airy space I was pleased to see three blackboards with details about the three things I love most in life (apart from The Lovely Jemma of course) - meat, cheese and beer. We went for the Spanish Meat and Cheese platter, and I also enjoyed a pint of Iti NZPA, a big hoppy fruity treat from Hawkshead, with plenty of flavour considering the 3.8% ABV. It was superb and the best beer of the trip. The food was also excellent. This was a lovely little place and well worth visiting if you're in Leeds.

Last pub for the afternoon was the Crowd of Favours, a former chippy converted into a pub. Owned by the Leeds Brewery, there was plenty of their brews on offer. A pumpkin ale was the seasonal special but I wasn't feeling brave enough to try it and I stuck to the Leeds Pale Ale, which was very tasty. The place has a studenty vibe, with retro consoles set up in one area, and plenty of activities throughout the week such as quiz and cinema nights. Jemma and I settled down for a few matches of Mortal Kombat 2 on the SNES, and after I won ten matches in a row we retired to a comfy sofa. The place was bigger than expected (it must have been a spacious chip shop) and I would be quite happy to pop in on a busy Friday night and enjoy a couple of pints here.

We headed back to the hotel for a nap before preparing for an evening of eating and more drinking, including the trendsetting North bar. But I'll tell you about that next time. Hope you can join me then!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Stag Do Part 2 - London's fabulous East End (and a bit of Dulwich)

Following the success of visting a whole two breweries on the beer mile, we headed on over to Dulwich Hamlet FC for a"pay what you feel" charity match. Hamlet are a local team who the hipsters of Dulwich have taken a shine to, and the supporters section is filled with men with immaculate beards accusing the referee of being a lib dem and shouting "Tuscany" a lot. Normally this would annoy the hell out of me but I was pretty tipsy by this point so found the whole thing amusing. I'd also heard rumours that decent real ale is served at the ground, and it's always good to support your local football team. We headed in and I must have had a few beers in me as I handed over a rather generous £10 to the chap on the turnstiles.

The place was packed which was great for the team but it also meant that the queue for the bar was terrifying. The real ale queue was very long and not moving very quickly so I had to settle for the lager bar, and enjoyed a pint of Hamlet Lager. I was reliably informed that it's just rebadged Oranjeboom, and the atmosphere of the place made the lager taste much better than it had any right to be. The game turned out to be a bit of cracker, with seven goals in all, although the last two came in the last few minutes when we had already made our exit. The Hamlet won, the supporters were in good voice and beard form, and it was a very jolly way to spend an afternoon. I'm looking forward to going back - although I'd get there earlier to secure a proper ale before the crowds build up.

We headed down to Whitechapel for dinner at Tayaabs, a barn of an Indian restaurant that pretty much only caters to large groups these days. Following a recommendation from the Craft Beer London app we stopped into Indo for a quick pre dinner refreshment. I tried the Lagunitas Mozango (Fusion XXXI), which was basically mango juice in beer form. It was pretty good if very sweet, and a half was more than enough. The bar had a run-down, student vibe which was fine on a quiet Saturday afternoon but I wouldn't fancy being crammed in here when it's busy. We left and made our way over to Tayaabs, which is BYOB, and I got a bottle of  Anchor Steam IPA and a Goose Island Honkers Ale from the local off license. Both went down nicely with the well prepared curries at the restaurant.

By this point I was well fed and (very) well watered, so apologies if things get a little vague. We made our way further into the East End, stopping into The White Heart. Microbrewery One Mile End are based in the basement and there was plenty of their beer on offer. My brain was running too slowly to bother seeking out handpumps so I stuck to the keg offerings, with the Salvation! Pale Ale a solid beer. The place was busy so we sat outside and enjoyed the beers in the chilly breeze. The rugby was on and it was England vs Australia, a lone Aussie punter in the pub was very bravely cheering for every try as the Aussies soundly beat the Brits.

Everything was a bit of a blur by this point but I do remember finishing the night at the Redchurch brewery in Bethnal Green. There is a spacious taproom upstairs, complete with dart board and a brewery cat. Strangely I was still able to operate Untappd by this point and apparently I enjoyed a pint of Great Eastern India Pale Ale. I also managed to fit in a game of darts, where miraculously nobody was injured or killed despite the fact I was seeing two dart boards by this point. The cat quickly clocked that our group was a soppy bunch of bastards and plonked himself firmly in the middle of us ready for a fuss, and a fuss he received. Sadly I forgot to take a picture of our furry friend! There was good music playing, the time flew by, and before I knew it I was bundling out of a cab and dancing like a idiot at The Shackletwell Arms in Dalston, drinking sambuca before crashing at my best man's flat down the road.

I woke up the next morning in surprisingly good health - maybe it was because all the beers were good quality, maybe it was because I had eaten plenty of food to sop up the booze. Either way after a delicious breakfast at Cafe Z is Stoke Newington I was ready to head home, and I managed to remain somewhat functional for the rest of my Sunday. Good booze, good football, good curry - what more could a man want from a stag do?

Monday, 12 October 2015

Bermondsey Beer Mile

As a beer blogger you can rely on me to bring you the latest and greatest things happening in the beer world, and what better way to live up to this promise than by writing about the Bermondsey Beer Mile, something that has been going for around three years and every other beer blogger has written about already. Even better, I visited the beer mile for my stag do - I really should just hand in my beer blogging badge now.

Our group started the proceedings on a Friday evening, visiting Anspach and Hobday for their Oktoberfest festivities. The brewery was decked out in bunting, the staff wearing their finest lederhosen, oom-pah music was playing over the PA and there were a number of special brews for the event. As it was my first ever visit to a brewery on the beer mile, I must admit I was a bit sceptical. The internet had led me to believe that I was in for hipster beards, murky beer and a packed out, uncomfortable bar. I did get the hipster beards and the murky beer but the place was fairly quiet and laid back, and I was surprised by the amount of children at the place. I'm not one of those who gets annoyed by kids in a pub, especially if there's stuff there to keep them entertained. But this brewery wasn't particularly child friendly with no activities for the kids and the event geared towards adults, resulting in was bored sprogs toddling around the room and being a minor annoyance while their parents slowly drank their worries away.

The beer was fairly good. The Berliner Weisse had the sour goodness that's expected from the style, it's an acquired taste that I enjoy although a pint may have been a bit much. The Bavarian IPA was pleasantly hoppy  and the Alt Bier had a pleasing nuttiness about the flavour. All the beers tasted however they were also murky in appearence. I'd expect some haziness from the Weisse but I was unsure about the other beers. I enjoyed the beers overall but it did make me feel slightly uneasy wondering if the murkiness was by design or from below par brewing.

We left the bar in good spirits and headed on down the road to London Bridge to find some food. Along the way we passed the Southwark Brewing Company. I poked my head in and spotted eight handpumps on the bar, and before I knew it I was wandering in bellowing "I'm so happy to find a brewery round here with cask beer!" and blurting out it was my stag do. Rather than the staff looking at me with a mixture of disgust and pity and chucking me out, I was instead given a free pint of 5 Hop and it was absolutely delicious - and it tasted even better as it was free! I did pay for my seond drink, the Top Drop Ale, and it lived up to its name, this was a tasty ale. The tap room was full of cosy sofas and bench seating, the rugby was on the television, the toilets were nice, the beer was clear and there were no kids running about. This ended up being my favourite brewery of the mile - even though technically it's a return to the slightly unfashionable, cask driven breweries that some pockets of the craft beer movement were initially rebelling against.

The next day we started at the other end of the beer mile in the middle of South Bermondsey, a place I never even knew existed in my thirty four years of living in London. In an industrial park, behind the ScrewFix and Tool Station stores is Fourpure brewery. I was impressed by the size of the operation, it's a big setup they've got here with an impressive cannery the centrepiece. Plenty of their beers are available on tap, and I tried the Oktoberfest, which was a bit too sweet but rather tasty. I also enjoyed their brown ale Beartooth. Both beers were clear and looked excellent. We sat outside enjoying the ambience only a trading estate in South Bermondsey can provide, the client base mainly consisting of men celebrating major life events. Nice place but I'd rather enjoy a Fourpure in a cosy pub, or at home - their canned beer is always excellent quality.

Technically Partizan brewery should have been next but as we had a football match to attend (more on that next week) we headed straight to Brew By Numbers, a 20 minute walk away. Arriving at around 1pm the place was pretty busy, with a long but quick moving queue at the bar. I tried the Brown Ale which tasted good but unfortunately looked like a foamy chocolate milkshake. Murky beer was here and in abundance. I've never had a murky brown ale and I'm fairly certain this beer wasn't quite ready to be served. We enjoyed our beers outside in the sunshine, and although it was nice to get beer direct from the source I think I'll stick to Brew By Numbers in a pub or at home rather than drinking it at the brewery. I believe the ambience of where you're drinking is just as important as what you're drinking, and a small room under railways arches and a couple of portaloos just isn't as appealing as a cosy pub.

We bid farewall to the beer mile and headed on down to Dulwich Hamlet FC, as recommended by the excellent Deserter blog, to watch some hipsters chant while men kick a ball and we attempted to get some beer. I'll be telling you all about that and the pubs we ended up visting in trendy East London in my next update. Hope you can join me!