Friday, 29 July 2011

Grim Up North London?

I don't usually get to range very far afield during my weekly beer trips. Time constraints and things like opening times (blimmin' Jolly Butchers) mean some interesting pubs and bars are just slightly out of reach. However, I was pulled like a magnet to The Southampton Arms in Kentish Town on the promise of Brodie's Mental Hop Bastard, and beers from Magic Rock.

I hadn't been to Kentish Town in just over 30 years. Back then it was New Order's second London gig at the Forum Ballroom (now the hmvforum apparently) that got me this far north, these days it'd probably only be beers. I strolled up Highgate Road to the pub from the tube station, getting in at just after 1pm. It seems to be in a rather bohemian part of the neighbourhood, with lots of characters walking past the huge plain glass window. A good pub for people watching, probably. Seating is mostly old pews, which does give the main seating area a bit of a furniture depository feel, but not uncomfortable. The pub doesn't get the afternoon sun, so the interior was cool, the chilled atmos helped along by the old heepy choons coming off the record player.

As promised, Mental Hop Bastard was waiting for me, 6% of pale golden hoppy loveliness. One day, Jamie Brodie will write a book about his brewing days, and this will surely be the title. I could have sat in and drank several more, but I was busy formulating the next stop on my trip around the wrong side of the river.

I dived into a pint of Magic Rock Dark Arts. Another 6% job, big toffee coloured head, big clash of roasty chocolate and hops in the mouth. I was getting very mellow and contemplating just stopping, but got off my backside and headed back down the hill to the station. I liked this place a lot - friendly, lots of good local beer and a simple proposition I can get my head around - Ale, Cider and Meat.

Five stops south on the Northern Line is Old Street, closest station to The Old Fountain, another place I know of, but have never visited. The place was emptying at the end of lunchtime, with an obviously regular clientele heading back to work, and a few others settling in for a bit of afternoon supping.

I had a pint of Crouch Vale Yakima, a bit underwhelming, and scrutinised the fridges, which were packed with a good range of Kernel bottles, and some Oakham and Brodie's offerings. I'm intrigued with the way Brodie's bottled beers turn out. I've had a few now, and they've all been excellent in a way that makes their draught counterparts seem like different beers. The London Porter is good on cask but sensational in the bottle, for instance. The Fountain had Seven Hop IPA - the colour seemed much darker than on draught, and some of the huge hopping had given way, leaving a big balanced beer with a lovely mouthfeel and nice drying finish. I wrestled with stopping for more, or making one last pitstop.

Three more stops and I'm back in the secure embrace of Sarf Lahndan, heading to The Rake. The bar was full of casks for the event Glyn is setting up to run alongside GBBF. He'd previously given me some clues about the beers (I'm sure he said he has something special up his sleeve), but I'd had a few beers by then - you'll have to watch the Rake Twitter feed for more details.

A quick half of Anchor Porter and a chat with some beery acquaintances, and then home. I perused the latest Cockney Kevin missive on the way, learning both my North London stops have received local Camra branch pub of the year awards, with Cask Pub & Kitchen making it a hat-trick. I guess the new wave of beer bars and free houses selling lots of delicious local beers will continue to give the tied and chain pubs a run for their money when it comes to awards. Hopefully it'll encourage the big boys to buck their ideas up when it comes to beer offer.

Two new pubs for me, both quite different and both now firmly on the Boggle radar. Now, if only we could get The Jolly Butchers to sort out Thursday lunchtime opening...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Poor Doggies, Bad Carma & A Man Called Goliath...

The Beer Interwebz are alight with the reaction to the news today that BrewDog's proposed Brewery Bar at this year's GBBF has fallen through.

It would appear that a revised final payment deadline for the pitch was approaching, and meantime BrewDog and GBBF organisers, led by Marc 'Goliath' Holmes, were still negotiating over the size of containers and the dispense. The BrewDog blog has the full chronology set out by James, while the comments contain responses to some of the points by Marc Holmes.

It seems that BD were prepared to concede that they could not have their beer in 30 litre 'key kegs' (lined kegs which mean the beer does not come into contact with any 'extraneous gas'), instead 'reluctantly agreeing' to supply beer in 18 gallon casks.

What does seem to be a matter of confusion is the revised deadline for the final payment. BrewDog says they had 'til last Friday per an email from Marc, but the plug was pulled the day before. This hasn't been rebutted convincingly by Marc and Camra. Cue uproar with the Brewdoggies spitting venom over Marc and some Camra stooge called Graeme Gander, and a general monstering of Camra.

A couple of points occur: I believe the Camra Technical Advisory people are now looking at Key kegs, and that some will be set up on the staff bar at GBBF as part of a trial. Further, some of the Czech beers on GBBF are apparently being supplied in key kegs. BrewDog said they were told there would be a lab at Earl's Court . Sounds odd, but perhaps they're monitoring this trial anyway. Marc says it's the container size (BrewDog wanted to use 30 litre kegs, not 50's, before Camra allegedly moved the requirement to kilderkins).

But, Marc says BrewDog was too late. It does sound odd that there was a dialogue all the way along the process which seems to have lapsed right at the point BrewDog were paying their final fees. Indeed, if what BrewDog says is correct, Camra might have pulled the plug ahead of the deadline.

I don't suppose it will be the end of the world for a business that thrives on conflict and tension in order to generate publicity, but it does seem to put Camra on the spot. You would forgive the latter for being cagey about BrewDog given their previous in supplying Camra fests, and they may even be in the right on a technicality, but it does seem a bit fogeyish and prissy to have agreed a deadline extension to a few weeks before the event, then pulled the plug. I wouldn't know if there were people heading to GBBF this year just for the BrewDog bar, but it did signal that Camra's GBBF Committee at least, were keeping an open mind about building a relationship with a brash and outspoken brewery.

Tom Stainer, editor of Camra's What's Brewing and Beer magazine, has tweeted to caution about knee-jerk reactions to this story, but it does seem that Camra need to get their side out quickly and credibly, or take a slagging off.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Arrogant Bastard?

This is Greg Koch, CEO of Stone Brewing, pictured, I am informed, at the National Homebrewers Conference in San Diego last month. And yes, that face on his tee shirt is, erm, Greg Koch.

Greg recently received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Award for San Diego, and will go forward as a finalist in their national competition. Accepting the award, Greg said,
Receiving this award is a true honor. I’m proud to accept it on behalf of the intense—yet rewarding—work that my business partner Steve Wagner and I have put in over the past 15 years to help unite people who have exquisite taste with craft beers that have the same.

Proud, determined, aspirational. Makes the heart soar. A bit like Bono. A true Mission Statement for the craft beer movement.

Here's another pic...

The picture on the presentation screen appears to be God as envisioned by Terry Gilliam for Monty Python & The Holy Grail. I think those people in the surplices are Stonies (like Moonies) ready for Stonestown, where Kool-aid will not be on the menu. We've had cult beers. Now we have the world's first Beer Cult.

Only kidding. However...

The point of all this is that we know that BrewDog take a great deal of inspiration from Stone in the marketing and promotion of their business. Therefore, I'm offering a prize for the first person to send me photographic evidence of either James Watt or Martin Dickie wearing tee shirts adorned with their own fizzogs. They're at The Rake this evening (flogging shares, I imagine...), so take your camera and be ready. I'll give the first person to send me the goods a bottle of decent beer. Or a beermat. Or something. BrewDog management and staff are encouraged to enter. Especially James and Martin.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Uh Oh!

From last Friday's South London Press...

Leaving aside the 'real ales' bit (I assume outsider shorthand for small-scale production artisanal beers) and whether you think Kernel actually has a 'signature' beer (I don't), my immediate thought was what posting this would do for the old Rabid Big-Head's ego. As you might know, he co-created the Black IPA with Evin O'Riordain.

Despite the SLP being his local paper, I don't suppose he saw this, so really there's only one way to find out...