August would usually be busy enough for beer drinkers with GBBF, and the London Craft Scene generating some synergy off that by organising the nascent London Beer City week. This year, we've also had the big news that Binnie Walsh has sold The Harp to Fuller's. A former Boggle Award winner (and also a Camra National Pub Of The Year), I hear promises have been made about the running and offer at the pub, though some regulars I spoke to are a little trepidatious about creeping corporatism. I'd hope not – after all, Fuller's would be killing a golden goose by making The Harp just another Fuller's pub. But can a pubco in the business sense of the term be as nimble about managing their beer range, and bringing in new stuff? Binnie and her team dealt direct with breweries, which kept the bar looking interesting. Fuller's have put Pride and Gales Seafarer on the bar, and that's all, so far. We'll see, and I understand Camra's 'London Drinker' will have a big feature in their next issue.
This Bank Holiday has been a decent weekend for beer. Meantime hosted their third Brewfest at the Old Naval College, and Brew By Numbers held another Sunday event at the brewery.
Meantime seems to be honing the offer at Brewfest. More of the beer is draught, which keeps the queues moving, and the beers available are a bit less scatter-gun. This go-round,they had plenty of Brooklyn beers alongside Founders, Rogue and Flying Dog from the US, I assume because of the recent big Brooklyn presence in London for their Big Mash Bash Week, or whatever it was called. I chanced on an event at The Rake earlier in the month, leading to an excellent evening of tasting and banter. Their exclusively-imported Konrad Czech beer was on, and I missed Schoenram Dunkel again. From the UK, as well as Dark Star, Thornbridge and Beavertown, they had some Redwell stuff. I've been seeing them in London a lot, and I quite like what they do with hops.
Meantime craftily (see what I did there?) slipped in some specials of their own – Old Naval College porter, 8% but carrying its weight easily and without any booziness. This is the latest batch of the first beer they brewed at the ONC. They've also brewed Botanical Beer, a collaboration with Chase Distillery. Ginger, cinnamon, botanicals and, I was informed, vodka. I don't always care for this type of fusion – bergamot in beer is just wrong, for instance, but the adjuncts weren't overwhelming, and it makes a change from brewers working with distilleries just to acquire barrels to age beer in. Botanical poured hazy, had a lively mouthfeel and was refreshing in the Sunday sunshine. A bar manager wondered whether it might stand mulling...
|Beer-branded cyclewear. Don't tell the anti-fun brigade|
I made it to BBNo for their Sunday event. They've just taken delivery of branded glassware, for which the imbiber pays £3. The money is refundable upon return of the glass, or you can take it home. The brewery suffered a lot of glass theft early on, and this is a good way to incentivise punters to return the glass, or they'll be out of pocket. New fermenters have been installed, and the brewery is creaking a bit at the seams – there's talk of another space for storage, which will help. I bumped into Andy 'Partizan' Smith and histeam, who is also thinking about expanding into another arch. Happily, it also seems that the infamous 'Bermondsey Beer Mile' is now history. A harmless attempt by Anspach & Hobday to brand the chain of breweries starting out by Southwark Park and ending in Druid Street, this had the unfortunate consequence of sucking in large groups of lads who thought it was some kind of pub crawl. The Kernel and BBNo had to change their opening hours to discourage the 'eight pints of your strongest beer' crowd, and things seem to be quieting down now.
For me, this next bit is the biggest news of the month, and it's not about London. Matt and Karen Wickham, the management team of The Evening Star in Brighton, have ended their 16-year association with the pub and Dark Star, and are heading west as I write, to take over The Colston Yard in Bristol, a Butcombe pub. I've known the Wickhamses for a decade, and they're an extraordinarily well-travelled pair of publicans. I've been on beery adventures with them on both coasts of the US, and the Evening Star was always an oasis of quality beer before the rest of Brighton caught on. In some ways, they ran a craft beer bar before we had craft beer. Beloved of their local Camra branch (though apparently the Kevin/Craft schism in Sussex caught them in its crossfire more recently), there were always interesting beers in the fridge, well-kept Dark Star casks and a top range of guests. They'll be a tough act to follow at The Star, and I wish their successors well.
I spent a day with them last summer in Bristol, a city with a buzzing beer scene, and I've known for a while that they were interested in moving on. While I'll be spending less time in Brighton from now on, I'm looking forward to Mine Hosts (and yours) showing me around Bristol again, and I'll be keen to see how they deliver their vision of a new type of pub for Butcombe. Good luck to them both.
And that's it for now.
Disclaimer: Meantime gave me a freebie ticket for Brewfest. Thanks to them. I bought my spiffy beer glass from BBNo.