So, having arranged a week of respite, I packed my caree off and made some plans. Here's some highlights...
I'd never been to Zerodegrees. Not once. Got close to the one in Bristol in 2003, but that was it. So, first stop of my week in beer aimed to rectify this. I headed to Blackheath for lunchtime and arrived around opening time. They say it's modeled on US style premises, and I wouldn't argue. The entrance and lobby put me a little in mind of Thirsty Bear in San Francisco, though the layout once inside is quite different. They've built a dining space on two levels with provision for people who just want to drink to prop the bar up or lurk near the kitchen.
Lots of exposed ducting and metalwork, some nice secondary branding and the brewery built over both floors behind the bar. They use their literature to educate patrons about how their beer is made, and lots of glass screens permit easy viewing. They weren't brewing today, but all the beers were on, their four regulars, plus a special. I tried all of them - the Pale Ale makes claims to brewed in the West Coast style, but the hops were very understated, and it put me more in mind of Young's Ordinary than a big C-hopped American version; I bought a Pilsner and Wheat Ale together, and initially had trouble picking them apart - the colour was identical, no tell-tale haze in the wheat, just a larger softer head. The Pilsner I found too sweet, while the Wheat was very drinkable, just a bit... ordinary. The best of the beers was their Black Lager - nice toffeeish and roasted malt character, pleasing bitterness in the finish. The special was a Dunkelweizen, which was very similar to the wheat ale, but the proportion of dark malt used imparted a little bitterness and additional malt sweetness which made it taste a bit more complex.
I'd like to visit again and try their pizza, and go at the beers again. I can see they wouldn't want to scare punters off, especially if they're beer novices, and their premises had a nice feel to it.
I walked over to Greenwich for a pint in the Greenwich Union. It was pretty busy so I found a stool and supped at a pint of cask Meantime LPA. It has a very clean and refreshing mouthfeel, though I'd prefer a little more bitterness. The barman pinched my quarter-pint while I was in the loo, but, realising his error, gave me another half-pint. I wouldn't have made a fuss.
I popped next door to the Richard I, a Young's house. They had the new London Gold on, a 4.0% bitter brewed with Styrian Goldings hops. I honestly can't figure out why they've brewed it, and calling it 'London Gold' when the brewery has been in Bedford for four years is probably a bit rich, but it was the best beer I tried while I was in the area. It put me completely in mind of a very good pint of Ordinary, but then when I've had Ordinary in the Richard in the past, it's been good.
I was aiming to head for the opening session of London Drinker. An old mate texted to say he was planning to be around at the same time, so we hooked up at the Camden Centre just after one. Pete Brown had reported on the SIBA Conference, and I knew that the Saltaire Triple Chocoholic was going to be on, so I went straight for that. I love chocolate.
I wasn't greedy, just ordering a half, having found Tony Martens strategically propped right in front of the cask, working his way through his first half and planning to have another before word got round and it kicked. I don't think I've ever tasted such a complete chocolate beer in my life. I can remember the original Young's Double Choc with Cadbury's Dairy Milk, and I've sampled chocolate beers from all over. Southern Tier Choklat was a memorable US attempt, but none of them get close to this. You get a lovely carob nose, some bitterness in the first slurp over the palate, but then! I swear it was a chocolate ganache! I rolled it over and over in my mouth, getting some gentle spicyness amid the deliciously thick chocolate. I've tried other Saltaire beers, and not been disappointed by any, even that pale ale with lime, which reminded me of a lager & lime but in a good way.
I made my mate get some as soon as he arrived, and I went on to the Marble Stouter Stout. I'd like to visit the Marble Arch when an opportunity presents itself, but this was the first Marble beer I'd tried. I shouldn't have gone at it immediately after the Triple Choc, so it took a few draughts to get a real flavour of the beer. (Note to self: take water next time).
We had a few more UK beers, then headed for the foreign beer bar. Lots of spoogerific beers in the nice list available, including from De Molen (I had their Hell & Damnation Imperial Stout) and Mikeller. There was a nice German Xmas Ale which had a lovely spruce character to it, from the barrel.
From there I made my way to The Rake for Tom Cadden's Last Supper.
And lo, the body of the fallen saviour of the spoogebeerians was lain upon a dais of empty beer crates, and there did they anoint him with their offerings of spooge, and place him in the recovery position and there was a wailing and gnashing of teeth, for they knoweth that the Guv'Nor of The Rake despiseth those from Ratebeer and BA. Here endeth the lesson.
Not too much happening. Met an old workmate in the White Horse & Bower in Horseferry Road for a catch-up and a few sherbets. Lots of talk about football and music (he's a Geordie who 'was there' when punk 'happened', and it's worth the price of a gig ticket to watch him do his strange new wave dance). This has been a Sheps house for some years, and they've done a good job. I like a pint of Master Brew, so I sessioned on that. Disappointed that they dropped their Porter this year, though. I can't quite accept having Late Red on in the early Spring.
All the music talk sent me off to try and pick up some old A Certain Ratio stuff. I sold loads of original Factory Records vinyl 10 years ago, but there's been some stuff reissued. I managed to get a copy of their debut album 'To Each...' - a flawed gem. Story goes that legendary producer Martin Hannett had set up the mixing desk to do the final mix one night, and before he could do the master, some idiot engineer reset all of the dials and knobs. The error wasn't noticed, and so we have this. It's obvious in the final mix.
I walked through Soho to Charing Cross Road and popped into the Harp to slake my thirst. They sometimes keep a killer pint of Dark Star APA, but none today, so I had their Sussex Stout, and headed over to Cask. This place is pretty much the closest pub to where I live that sells decent ale. Zeitgeist is closer, and I like the Morpeth Arms too, but I like this place, and I'd seen that it had been blessed with the patronage of some of the blogerati the previous weekend, and I wanted to ask how they felt about such benediction.
I didn't get a chance, but I did have a cracking pint of Thornbridge Wild Swan. This one punches way above its weight. It reminded me of Phoenix Amarillo in the pleasantly harsh citrus and resin in the mouth and lovely drying finish.
I perused the papers and finished with a Jaipur. I've said elsewhere that the past few times I've had it, it's seemed different each time, and this was no different. The hop onslaught seems a little restrained. Maybe they're having trouble keeping it consistent in the new brewery, or perhaps they've been letting beer world 'celebs' at it again (I'm looking at you, Phil Parkin). Still OK, but no more.
So, a decent week's supping.