Friday, 20 December 2013
Boggle Awards 2013
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.
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.
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...