Friday, 20 December 2013

Boggle Awards 2013

As we're at the circle-jerk end of 2013, it's time to reflect on the Year In Beer. Per tradition, I don't bother with the Golden Pints, instead bestowing The Boggle Award on beers, brewers and bars I've thought were best through the year.

This year is a bit different, and my radar hasn't necessarily been targeted at beer. Still, I did get to try some some notable new stuff. I'll start with brewers. It seems much longer than 11 months ago that Brew By Numbers were getting attention. I blogged about them as part of my short 'New Boys' series. They were scaling up in the early summer, but various let-downs meant they're only just now brewing on a commercial scale. They've had their tasting room at 79 Enid Street in Bermondsey, open a while, and the beer has been very good, but I imagine they'll want to get 2013 out of the way and get cracking on getting their beer out to a wider audience.

A shout out, too, for Alpha State, Jon Queally's start-up. Much of his output is going to Scandinavia, but the odd keg of stuff finds its way onto the London scene - The Old Fountain will usually have some if he's selling. His fondness for mental hopping rates is legendary around the scene, as is his willingness to take on beer styles and mutate them with same - witness his doppelbock hopped with Sorachi Ace. His recent smoked Belgian ale was very good, and I hope more of his beer is on bars here, if only to tempt drinkers out of their comfort zones.

My brewery of the year, maybe controversially, is Meantime. Not so much for their regular beers, but for the small-batch kegs and bottles I've been able to try. I blogged about their pilsners in the summer, and I've also been able to try some of their 'Brewer's Collection' 750ml cork-and-caged bottles. The 2013 Cali-Belgian IPA was sublime, while the recent Imperial Pilsner, also hopped with Sorachi Ace, was offbeat yet drinkable. The recent Hop City Porter, hopped with 'crowdsourced' hops grown around the City, also drew favourable comments from my informal tasting panel (I should say Meantime gave me these bottles). As well as the beer, they showed they can put on a show with their World Beer Fest in the early summer. Coming soon after the clusterfuck that was London's Brewing, it was reassuring to be able to head down to the Old Brewery, drink some excellent beer,eat some good food and chill out in the early summer sunshine, and all for twelve notes.

For bars, I really haven't been to many new places this year. I did get to spend some unplanned time at the splendid Cock Tavern in Hackney. It became Twitter Central on the first Saturday in May as the London's Brewing fiasco unfolded before the horrified yet fascinated gaze of the UK Craft Beer Scene.I wouldn't have said it was a Blitz Spirit, but the gallows humour made the time spent there well worth while, and the Howling Hops beer they make in the basement soothed quite a few furrowed brows.

I've been to a few pubs in Woodbridge (near Ipswich) on a few occasions this year. It's been quite a reality check to see what happens away from big conurbations. Woodbridge is more or less in the middle of Adnams and Greene King territory, so their beers and pubs tend to dominate. There are a couple of free houses in the area, but the pattern tends to be food-led with events, and then some guest beers, usually from around East Anglia. It's nice, but after a few days I start to miss hoppy golden beers, and tastes around those parts are too traditional for there to be a market just yet, although The Cherry Tree, an Adnams house, has a new management team who ran a beer fest with beers from further afield including Dark Star, and they were trying to open locals up to new experiences by, for example, having Kostritzer on as a regular beer. Worthy, and I'll be checking them out for progress over the ho-ho-holidays.

I'm giving a special award this year for street food. Working close to hipster Shoreditch, there's a different vibe and a greater range of crafty food outlets. Fridays for me have been eagerly anticipated since I discovered the Big Apple Hot Dog stall near Shoreditch Fire Station on Old Street. Fantastic sausage, simple but really well-made, good value and great with beer. They do good business on Friday lunchtimes (I'm off for mine after this is finished), and the sausage is starting to find its way into a range of venues such as independent cinemas, pubs and bars, and even restaurants, I hear. The stall has a loyalty card scheme, which I think is innovative, and the owner has ambitious plans for his franks. They've been as far afield as Leeds and at the fabulous pit barbecue joint in Bristol, Grillstock. Keep an eye out for them.

Resolutions for 2014? To start home-brewing. I was talking about BBNo. They've had former Craft bar manager and brewer Steve Gray working with them recently, and he's also the guv'nor of Massive Brewery. This is an innovative full-mash home brew kit in a box, which he sells online for about a hundred quid. I tried some pale ale a punter had brewed on the kit the other week, and it was clean, with a good body and quite drinkable. Maybe some dry-hopping would have rounded it out. I mean to get myself kitted out and have a go.

So that's this year's Boggle Awards. Here's a final seasonal wish for my reader(s), dedicated to Rabid Bar Fly Glyn Roberts...


Monday, 2 December 2013

On Being Frank...

It's been four months since I did anything on here. Suffice to say, my life has been dismantled this year, and I'm still putting it back together again. While there's been beer, there's been no desire or time to blog about it, though I do need to talk about Meantime (again) and some other bits and pieces that caught my attention.

What's bringing me back today is an update on the documentary being made by Steve Sullivan about Chris Sievey and his more famous alter-ego, Frank Sidebottom.

There's been a deal of activity since the early summer, when Frank fans raised a whopping £48K via Kickstarter to get the movie project started. Since then, Sullivan has been wandering all over the country with his small team, capturing memories and moments in the Sidebottom/Sievey mythology. Yours truly was invited to Chelsea Space to recount the infamous window-painting of August 2007, and also to talk generally about Chris and Frank, duality and art. I'll probably end up on the cutting room floor, but it was an honour to be asked to share my memories.

Then, in October, it was the unveiling of the bronze statue of Frank in Timperley Village. Despite being in the middle of a move, I didn't think twice about making the trip, a pilgrimage if you like, and I made this patchy film of the morning when the local police had to close the roads to allow people to witness the event...
video

Locals were surprised by the distance people travelled to be there. I stayed in Altrincham, and another Frank fan from Herts was also there. On the day, I spotted Mike Joyce (former Smiths drummer) and saw Damon 'Badly Drawn Boy' Gough get out of a cab just after the unveiling. I didn't get any film of him, but was standing behind Frank's statue when he gave an emotional speech about what Chris and Frank meant ('a genius' he said, which just goes to show that great minds do often think alike), after giving a guitar and his Mercury Prize to members of Sievey's family. A great day with lots of love and other emotions, remembering a great man and his greatest creation.

But the film is still getting made. Steve Sullivan continues to rove, Merlin-like, around these Islands documenting this story. So there's still some fundraising to do. So I'm writing this post. Here's the Being Frank Xmas Message, where Steve Sullivan, Martin Sievey and David Arnold make their fantastic pitch...

Being Frank Xmas Message

You can pre-order a copy of the finished film for yourself, or make a present of it. Recipients will get a special download on Xmas Day, and their names will be included in the credits of the finished film. Or, if you're really keen, join the 'I Should Be So Lucky' Club, where your hundred notes will get you a download a month for the next year. All rare stuff, none of which can be fitted into the film in its entirety. Or finally, just get the word out by sharing this, or your own message on social media. Frank's fans have been brilliant since the great man passed, funding his send-off, this film and the statue. Please support the film now and ensure somebody has a cool Yule. And have one yourselves.

Thank you.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

I'm-a Drinkin' In A Box...

Meantime has been spending a Sunday each month in trendy Shoreditch, spinning choons and aiming to entice the Hipsters with some of their limited-batch beers. The venue for this is the Boxpark, a pop-up retail experience constructed from shipping containers and scaffolding. Here, global brands like Nike sit side by side with local start-ups and street food outlets. On Bethnal Green Road, vintage cars cruise up and down, although the Hipsterati wouldn't be seen admiring them. Meantime are doing six summer Sundays here, under the guise of #hopsatthebox.

It would appear an unlikely setting for one of London's more conservative craft brewers, but is part of an effort to put their beers in front of what is an increasingly important demographic for craft beer in London. Earlier in July, Meantime launched their latest seasonal Pale Ale (Pacific) at something called Frank's Cafe, atop a multi-storey car park in Peckham. I was due to go, but got my dates mixed up, and anyway, an online search of the place revealed this whole 'cafe' thing is a bit ironic (what else?), with not a bacon or sausage sandwich to be found on the menu.

I'd been invited to the previous two Boxpark events, but hadn't been able to get along. What persuaded me this time was the beer. Called Fool's Gold, a pilsner brewed in 'collaboration' with a listings magazine on the small Old Brewery plant, this had been single-hopped with Citra. I'd not had a lager with Citra before, so wanted to check it out. It's also my view that Meantime's most recent seasonal lagers have knocked the socks off their ales. Tandleman recounts his recent taste of the Friesian Pilsner here. While the Pale Ales are solid enough, I prefer a bigger hop character, and a lager hopped with something as distinctive as Citra needed to be tasted.

Alex Morgan. A Geezer
So I did, in the company of memorable Meantime Beer Sommelier Alex Morgan, a real character who I'd met a few weeks earlier at one of Meantime's beer dinners. All wide boy patter and a real and infectious enthusiasm for beer and food, he was working his socks off getting tasters of the beer into the hands of passers-by. In one of those moments of synchronicity you find around beer, he introduced me to a young American couple on their first trip to London. Turns out they were from Berkeley, in the East Bay, an area I've visited a couple of times now. They were visiting London for four days and were hitting as many beer venues as they could. Admirable.

So. The beer. It poured a delicate pale gold and, being quite chilled, didn't show much of the distinctive Citra character at first, but as it warmed a little some of the cattiness started to show. Berry fruits were in evidence, too. The hop wasn't overwhelming, rather it made this a flavourful and easy-drinking beer. I had several, and every one was refreshing and went down nicely, without any gassiness or bloated feeling. And it's named after a Stone Roses song, so what's not to love?

Meantime are a funny brewery. Their regular beers are well-made but can seem a bit unexciting. I'll happily drink their wheat beer if I can find it fresh. As I said, their recent lager styles have been excellent, but who'll be able to drink them? I'm off to this weekend's beer fest at The Old Brewery, and I'm hoping that there'll be some Fool's Gold left.

Disclaimer: Boggle paid for all of his beer at #hopsatthebox and bought his own ticket for the fest at The Old Brewery.