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...

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