Thursday 28 April 2011

London Brick 2: The Embiggening

To The Kernel (Will Hawkes, sometime Independent beerhound, gives us this nice piece) to witness and if necessary, lend a hand to the birthing of the new version of acclaimed collaboration brew, London Brick. That version was a meaty 6%, this will be a bit different...

Toby not thinking about
extract efficiency as he mashes in
As I arrive, Matt Wickham is loafing about outside with his lovely wife Karen, MarkStar Tranter, Angelo Scarnera from Saints & Sinners, and Emma J Cole, your hostess (and mine) at the year-old Jolly Butchers, in far Stoke Newington. They are lurking because Matt appears to have jinxed the HLT, so no mashing-in can start yet.

This version of the beer, dubbed Big Brick, has been 'visioned' by Phil Lowry (fast becoming the London Beer Scene's Justin De Villeneuve) to be a big 8% ABV. He isn't present as we finally get underway, probably jumping on the New Thing From America, White IPA.

We get underway, and the arch is filling with familiar faces from around London Brewing: Andy Smith from Redemption, Stig from LAB, Simon Siemsgluess from ZeroDegrees; and there are the various helpers who pitch in at Kernel, augmenting the small team of Evin, Toby and Chrigl. The grain bill is pulled together, including a generous (or ominous) proportion of rye malts. I quite like the spicy character rye imparts to beer, but brewers don't like using it. It has high water retention capacity, increases wort viscosity and makes the mash sticky and prone to setting. A German roggerbier might have as much as 20% rye in the mash, Big Brick goes much further that that.

7 hours? i wonder why?

Mashing-in goes well, then we start the runoff. First hops are introduced (Magnum and Hercules) and we wait...

And wait...

I had to leave at 2pm. Evin was busy with a shitload of freshly-boiled new potatoes and a raclette cradle, feeding the multitude who had assembled. The copper was about a third full at that point, and I found myself wondering how much longer they'd had to wait before getting the boil underway. Twitter came to life around 7pm, with the news that the runoff had taken 7 hours, and the mash was set like concrete. I wish I could have been able to stay around 'til the bitter end, but I'm glad it wasn't me who had to dig the mash tun out.

hop monkeys

I'm looking forward to sampling this beastie. It will be all the more enjoyable for knowing how much of a struggle it proved to even get the bloody stuff into the copper. I find myself hoping that it all turns out OK. But it will, I'm sure. This is London after all, and we're doing things differently here these days...

Sunday 24 April 2011

Class War

So, no beer to be served at this wedding on Friday. The news from Buck House has inflamed the UK beer wires, Pete Brown leading the way with this wonderfully controlled polemic and call for action to protest the snubbing of The Nation's Drink.

But is it so shocking? I mean, the evidence appears to support the idea that The Establishment hate beer and beer drinkers. The medical "profession" can smell blood after getting their way with a smoking ban, the meejah use beer to illustrate stories of alleged drink-fuelled disorder and health problems; governments use it as a cash cow to top up the kitty to pay for military adventurism and royal weddings. And what is beer? It's a shorthand for the working classes and underclass, and the people who run this country despise the working classes.

People who drink beer are, the message says, unsophisticated, uneducated, violent, fat and feckless. Wine drinkers are sophisticated, wealthy, worldly, and upwardly mobile, even if this sophistication was acquired by no more than reading the Observer colour supplement. Everything we do, every action is decoded to reveal the way we live, the way we think. Beer drinkers must pull themselves up by their bootstraps, leave behind their council estates and elevate their perspective, but until then they'll be left to fester until the days when, like Orwell's proles, they respond to the appeal to primitive patriotism. Like now. Animals and proles are free, indeed.

So, even though it sometimes suits the Establishment to portray our royal family as useful in selling the Best Of British, even though brewing is an industry of which the country can be justifiably proud, beer will be off the menu. Most people won't care - they've been whipped up into a patriotic mass orgasm by the red tops, with cheap 3 for £18 cases of lager lubricating street parties until it comes to the time to toast the nuptial couple, by which time some cheap supermarket fizz will be produced. Toast them with beer? Disrespectful! Laughable, when hard-working and innovative entrepreneurs have reinvigorated our National Drink. That's the real disrespect.

But should we be upset? Like their continental relatives, the rump of now-irrelevant European royalty, the minor members are eurotrash hobnobbing with each other and the pick of New Money they can be bothered to acknowledge, celebrities synonymous with the other purveyors of New Opium, like the Beckhams, Elton John and, erm... Jordan. Apart from the heir to the throne, they are pretty much free to do as they please. Never mind All In This Together, it remains, as it must, Us And Them.

So let them swill their wine, secure in the 'appropriateness' of the occasion, the symbolism and their smug pampered lives. I'll be at Brodie's Bunny Basher on Sunday, hopefully drinking Revolution Red and Noisome Cru. Come say hullo and I'll buy you a half...


Saturday 9 April 2011

Cardinal Sin?

Sam Smiths appears to have provoked an unholy row during the restoration of one of its London pubs.

The Cardinal sits in the back streets of Westminster, not far from the Catholic Cathedral, surrounded by mansion flats. I was intending to pop in a couple of weeks ago and was told by Peter at Cask that the place had been closed for renovation. Sam Smiths takes a great deal of care in carrying out these works, as anybody who drinks at The Princess Louise would tell you.

Sure enough, I wandered by and found the place clad in scaffolding. Works were delayed because in stripping out, an original fireplace had been revealed and they were working out the impact to the plans. Never mind, I thought, after all The Princess Louise ran over time and turned out beautifully. You trust Sammy's on these things. I wandered on and found a pint elsewhere.

Now though, as the works come to an end, it seems that the pub name may be changed. Once upon a time the place was The Windsor Castle, until the then Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Manning, supported a London Dockers strike in 1889, and worked as a social reformer. As the pub sits across the street from the Archbishop's residence, its name was changed in grateful thanks. As the programme of works nears completion comes the revelation that Smiths have decided to reinstate the original name.

This isn't sitting well with local residents, including the present Archbish, the Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, who is urging the local and national Great & Good to press the brewery to keep The Cardinal name. He wants the local link and connection continued. Local history was usually reflected in pub names, a trend that has declined through corporatisation and marketing-led 'themes' and of course, large-scale closures in recent years, and I'm surprised that Smiths, usually so careful about respecting the traditional aspects of their bricks and mortar, would have changed the pub name. It comes over a just a bit frivolous. And after all, Windsor Castle has no local significance in SW1.

According to Westminster Council, Smiths don't have permission to change the name or the pub sign, as consent was only granted for the interior works, so I assume there will be a formal route to object to any application. There's also a petition here. Smiths are legendary for doing things their own way, including keeping their own counsel, to the point of appearing bloody-minded. The BBC couldn't pierce the facade for a comment on this story, but I hope they get the message and reconsider.

Pic nicked off the Daily Mail's website

Se7en Things About Boggle

I see some of my fellow bloggers have recently done one of these viral "seven things about me you didn't know" lists. Here's mine...

1. TACO!!



4. er...

5. that's it

6. no wait, there's one more...

7. If you own a tee shirt with the slogan 'get over yourself', you probably need to get over yourself...

Thursday 7 April 2011

A Celebration Of London

It's been an amazing 12 months for London beer and brewing. National awards for some of our best pubs and brewers, new bars, new beers, new drinkers all picking up and building on the wonderful vibe that has been resonating since the London Brewers' Alliance showcase event last autumn.

As your Man At The Bar I've been commenting on facets of this scene while being delighted myself by new experiences - last week's trip to Brodies being a memorable case in point - and I'm immodest enough to point to my record of picking winners. As well as Boggle Awards for The Harp (CAMRA National Pub of the Year), Kernel Brewing (SIBA National Gold for their bottled Export Stout) now Cask Pub & Kitchen (Boggle Honourable Mention) has picked up the Publican National Pub Of The Year award for leased & tenanted premises. Congrats to Martin, Peter and the bar team. Fullers were also big winners at the Publican Awards, winning Regional Brewer and Managed Pub Company Of The Year.

And what about pubs and bars? London has always had some good pubs, but choice was sometimes a problem. Having seen a city like New York show off the world of beer in its better bars, it felt like London was missing out. It's hard to think back six or seven years to a time before Cask, the Euston Tap, those Draft Houses perhaps, and The Rake.

We could argue, but for me, The Rake was the sign that London was paying attention. The Rake showed there was a market for beer in all its forms from some of the best brewers in the world. The Rake was first, and it showed others that you could be successful if you were serious about selling beer. It educated the uncertain, delighted the geek.

Now, having hosted fests to celebrate the Welsh and West Country brewing scenes, given space over to launches and events for craft beer from all over Great Britain, they are hosting a celebration of the scene right on their doorstep, and about time too. Glyn and his team will be dusting off the stillage once more to offer almost 50 different beers on cask and keg over a week, starting this coming Sunday, 10th April.

As well as beers from Brodies, Sambrooks, Zero Degrees, Brew Wharf and Ha'penny, some of London's New Wave of brewers will be on hand through the week -

On Sunday 10th from 2pm, the Andies Moffatt and Smith from Redemption will be in and three of their beers will be on cask;
On Monday 11th at 7pm, Evin O'Riordain of Kernel will on on hand. Featured beer is the latest batch of Black IPA, which broke your writer last time they casked it;
On Tuesday 12th at 7pm it'll be Steve Schmidt from Meantime (just back from NERAX in Boston, I believe, where he could have drunk Kernel beer!). He'll be accompanied by a couple of the brewers and there will be five beers on keg (don't tell Protzy - my man at NERAX told me that CAMRA aren't happy with Meantime. Gasp!);
On Wednesday 13th at 7pm, it'll be Camden Town Brewery in the guise of Jasper Cuppaidge with five kegs and two beers on cask;
Finally, on Thursday 14th at 7pm, the lads from Windsor & Eton will along to launch their Royal Wedding beer "Windsor Knot" in London, along with three other of their beers.

You should also look out for the last-ever cask of Fullers Past Masters No. 1. I'm there on Sunday lunchtime taking pics and hopefully quaffing some Redemption Trinity. Let's drink London Beer!

Friday 1 April 2011

Boggle Goes East


Thus spake Boggle in response to an enquiry about what I was doing on March 31st, from Dark Star's Matt Wickham. Then come and brew at Brodie's, he says. I'd wanted to head out to the King William IV pub in Leyton for a while, as part of an infrequent effort to get around the members of the London Brewers Alliance, and to get a look at the brewery. And a chance to get my hands dirty? You're on! So it was that I made arrangements for a rare day out, and headed east...

We (being Matt & Karen Wickham, London Amateur Brewer 'Stig', and your correspondent) are the guests of James Brodie, who is brewing one of the beers for his upcoming Bunny Basher festival, an 8.8% Grand Cru. The recipe calls for around 35% wheat, with two hops in the boil and another two for dry-hopping. Say no more.

The mashing-in is a collaborative effort, with all of us taking turns - cue forehead-slapping from Don Burgess, Demon Brewer. With the porridge steeping, we get on with some other brewery jobs, removing keystones and shives and rinsing and sterilising casks. At lunchtime we're ready to transfer the wort to the copper. I'm always fascinated with the ways small-scale brewers do this. Brodie's uses a push-pump while a sparging ring is connected to the mash tun. I take charge while the others go for lunch, and am rewarded with a nice pint of James' 7-Hop IPA, fermented to 7.7%. I keep an eye on the wort transfer and sparging, and in between sterilise, rinse and hammer keystones into a few more casks.

As the transfer finishes, the others return from lunch. By then, we've had a few beers, including the amazing Brainwave, a 2.9% golden ale single-hopped with Simcoe. I never thought of Simcoe as a particularly subtle hop, but this beer is full of lovely red and tropical fruits and more flavourful than you might imagine for something around 3%. Matt Wickham notes that two of the best beers he's tried this year are 3.0%, this one and Redemption's Trinity. Delightful stuff. At the other end of the scale, as I'm prepare to head off, I sample a bottle of Brodie's 10% Superior London Porter. It's one of those that doesn't drink like 10%. Beautiful mouthfeel, complex and slightly warming. Between these and the bottles we've chipped in to lubricate the day, I've got a real buzz on as I head back onto Leyton High Road. I've also got a bottle of lager, conditioned for 10 weeks at 5 degrees, says James. I'm popping it open when I finish this.

I've gone on in the past about the 'new' London brewing scene, and some others have been pleasantly surprised by the emergence of new and creative brewing and bars who want to sell their beers. Brodie's have an advantage by being a fer-real brewpub, but they have built a market outside the bricks and mortar for their 'no limits' approach to making beer. I didn't get a chance to spend much time in the pub, but I mean to go back for Bunny Basher and drink some of that Grand Cru.

Meanwhile, this week, London's Antic Pub Group announced they intend to brew, having purchased Meantime's old kit and employed the services of an ex-Firkin brewer. I hope they take a moment to look around the scene in London before they finalise their range, though. According to their MD, the first brews will be an ordinary bitter and a best bitter, I assume to be dispensed in the casks so beloved of Roger Protz and his ilk. Being merely a noisome blogger, I don't know if that's an attempt to stretch their 'ironic' pub branding into wet sales, but it's said that brewers need to be more innovative and find fresh ways to bring younger drinkers to ale, and Antic will be starting with a clean slate and perhaps 30 pubs to showcase that approach. London - Brodie's, Kernel, Saints & Sinners, Redemption - is setting the bar high with their beers. The usual won't do anymore.

And to finish a cracking day, when I got home Postman Pat had delivered my set of new Frank Sidebottom badges. Ace, fantastic and top!
Pics (from top): Doodle the brewery dog: "neither a brewer nor a dog" says James Brodie, worried about the Trades Description people; Matt & Karen Wickham, branded as you'd expect; sparging with a Batman stylee; fantastic Frank badges - buy a set and contribute to the statue fund!