Tuesday 27 September 2011

In A Bunker Somewhere In St Albans...

Simon over at Reluctant Scooper has already posted this, and it's been linked all over Twitter, but it's so funny I offer no apology for linking to it as well...

A thought occurred to me as I watched. And that is, shouldn't CAMRA overdub Kevin Valentine's address to the last Members' Weekend with some of Der Fuhrer's Nuremburg speeches, by way of reciprocation?

Friday 23 September 2011

Boggle Goes Retail: Tap East

The new Utobeer premises in Westfield Stratford City has been open for a couple of weeks, so I figured it was time to check out the trip and the place. I've been enjoying Rabid Barfly Glyn Roberts' intense dislike of the bar's environs with schadenfreude aforethought, and knew that the place isn't finished yet.

So, door-to-door, Kennington to the entrance to the shopping centre, took about 25 minutes. Very nice. I'd scanned the map of the place on the Westfield website and located Tap East, at the far end from the Underground. Not so nice. Now I know why George Romero made those zombie films in shopping malls. People with two speeds, breeders, kibitzers, gawpers, hawkers, canvassers, old'uns, brats... Gaaaahhhh!! It took a good few minutes and at no point did I see the end of the place as it curves to the left, and I was starting to feel like that surveyor in The Castle. And the shops seemed... different. There's a Greggs, but suddenly the sausage rolls and pasties seemed... you know, aspirational. There's a big Krispy Kreme donut concession on the concourse, but this one sells tins you can put your donuts in. Very lifestyle, I may have to invest in one. For my watercress sandwiches. Obviously.

I eventually reached something called the Great Eastern Market, down a little slope in the floor by the last set of escalators and then everything becomes marketplacey. Turn right, and tucked at the end is Tap East. This part of Stratford City doesn't seem to get so much footfall - people seemed to head back up the other side of the human river by the escalators. I suppose that might worry the businesses in there, but it was a relief to be able to get out of that tide of shoppers and into a little haven of calm.

The bar has a large open front like all the units at this end of the shopping centre. One side is all glazed with a door letting on to the square opposite Stratford International Terminal. A false wall with a tiled alcove has been built at the back, with fridges in front and a temporary bar, courtesy of Otley Brewing. Seating is a mix of those high tables and stools you see in a lot of pubs nowadays, and a nice soft seating area with a low table and a nice full-height display unit with books and breweriana on.

There's a huge boarded-off space where the cold room and brewhouse are being prepared, and it'll be a few weeks before all of the work is finished. I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of beers Eddie Baines is planning to brew here. I was hoping to turn up at the bar and announce myself as Kevin The Local Brewery Inspector, come to ensure the beer was in cask and brown enough, but Joe from The Rake is based there, so no jolly japes this time. Feel free to use this one once the brewery is open.

So, a couple of beers then back into the seething mass. It's a nice space which felt chilled and calm. Beers from Otley and Thornbridge, and a couple of temporary keg taps are supplemented by two big fridges of bottles. Once the brewery is up and running, the permanent bar is in and all the taps are in place, it'll be a cracking addition to the list of good bars to drink beer in London.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Fullers Vintage Ale

"It's good."

So sayeth Fullers brewmaster John Keeling in response to a tweet about the 2000 Fullers Vintage Ale. I've been hanging on to a few different vintages of these beers, and thought I ought to get cracking on them. A vertical would leave me hospitalised, so I'm aiming to work through them over the coming weeks. I attended the Vintage Ale tasting John did at LoveBeer@Borough a couple of years back, and I recall his description of the changes the beer undergoes over time. As I remember it, he compared it to a sine wave.

I'm partial to the odd pint of Fullers, but my pint of choice isn't London Pride. I like Chiswick, and, when I can find it, the cask London Porter is lovely during the winter. However, this whole bottle-conditioned range of beers is most intriguing. Vintage has been produced for almost 15 years, but Fullers seem to get overlooked by the crafterati at large in favour of big and hyped imported beers. I'm usually as guilty as any other beer geek, but in this case it'd be nice to see Fullers get some love.

For me, I've also been sitting on some Brewers Reserve No. 1, and still need to get myself acquainted with these Past Masters beers. Nothing wrong with a regional brewer experimenting with this sort of thing, and I think I'm correct is saying Fullers have been pathfinders in getting English brewers sorted with HMRC on the matter of using spirits containers in their brewing without being reclassified as distillers.

So, to the 2000 Vintage Ale. The bottle I had was labelled for the US market, so there's no ABV. It's described on the box as 'mellow and golden', and the Fullers website tasting notes reveal it was an organic beer, brewed with Champion Optic malt and Target hops. I should be looking for a 'fresh hop aroma with notes of honey and toffee, leading to a slightly sweeter taste and burnt, bitter aftertaste'. After 11 years, what's changed?

The colour, to begin with. Sorry for the crap pic, but you can see the beer is a rich deep ruby hue. It was bright with some tiny bubbles persisting. It sustained a caramel coloured head for as long as it was in the glass.

On the nose, hops had been replaced with a gentle aroma of peaches, and the presence of Fullers' signature zesty orange from the yeast. The body was thick and satisfying, and mouthfeel was zingy and bright, like a big spoonful of a good marmalade which gave way to a long and slightly bitter and warming finish.

The beer hadn't gone boozy over time, though it was a sipper. There was something I thought might be metallic in the finish, but it wasn't there all the way through the beer, and in the end I decided it was simply some finishing bitterness.

Very nice beer to linger over with my feet up for a while. Later vintages for tasting are the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009. I'll summarise all of those in a single post once I get to the end, using the tasting notes. One thing, though, Fullers. An update of the tasting notes to indicate how each year is drinking would be useful.

Thursday 8 September 2011

'Beer's Black Market'

The estimable Washington Post has shone its investigative light on the sordid secondary market for spooge beer. Read the whole thing here. Woodward and Bernstein would be proud.

Of course, readers of my own estimable (?) e-organ would have picked up on this dark and unseemly activity in posts past. The Post's article is interesting in including views from such tickerific brewers as Lost Abbey, The Bruery and Stone. Greg Koch offers an interesting view, which I tend to agree with, that it isn't necessarily drinkability that drives this market, it's rarity. Hence RRBC's Framboise For The Cure going at $400 a bottle, and not a penny of that profit finding its way to the charity intended to benefit from its sale. Yet, if RRBC had offered it at double its original $12 price, they'd have been slaughtered by the same tickers for hyping the price.

I've been monstered for criticising the beer fanboy websites which offer trading forums driving some of this secondary market. Many of their members believe that it would all stop if these brewers bucked their ideas up and geared up to meet all demand. It doesn't seem to occur to them that not all brewers are in it for reasons other than global market domination. They simply can't accept they might miss a beer, and move on. I've been there and, trust me, it's not a happy place.

It will be interesting to see how ebay responds to this. Will they stop sales of 'collectible containers' (wink wink)? Police the listings looking for newly-released beers? I imagine their present ambivalence is partly driven by the easy money they rake off from this spooge. I expect the traders will find other ways to knock their spooge out - I believe Craigslist is used for this market, including to recruit mules for people who can't get to launch events. I'll be watching the reaction to this with interest...

(By the way, anybody interested in a 2005 Dark Lord?)