Monday 26 December 2011

A Changing Landscape?

Anybody see that feature in the Grauniad the other day? Based on Paul Moody and Robin Turner's book The Search for the Perfect Pub: Looking for the Moon Under Water (reviewed here by Reluctant Scooper), the authors picked out ten of their favourites for the paper's Food & Drink section.

They included the Jolly Butchers, and a part of their description caught my eye. They wrote:
2010's thoroughly modern spruce-up has seen the Jolly Butchers reborn as one of north London's premier "craft beer" spots, becoming something of a flagbearer for a post-Camra generation of drinkers
I haven't seen a bar described as 'post-Camra' before. Are these new freehouses and small chains 'post-Camra'? It seems to me they attract a mixed clientele, though perhaps a predominantly younger generation of drinkers. Drinkers who like beer but aren't connected to 'tradition' or the battle for cask. Good beer is good beer, regardless of dispense, keg fonts sharing top billing with the beer engines.

Friday 9 December 2011

The Boggle Awards 2011

Last year I shamelessly appropriated and subverted the concept of the worthy, democratic and inclusive 'Golden Pint' awards and made up my own, The Boggle Awards. As a London blogger, I wanted to recognise what I thought were the best brewer, bar, pub and retailer in our capital city. Luckily, over the past couple of years, that sort of thing has developed some meaning with the renaissance of London brewing, and the welcome addition of a lot of beer-centric bars and pubs across the four corners of the city (well, almost).

No sign of this year's Golden Pints yet, so I'm going to go first and name the 2011 Boggle Award winners. This year there are just two. As well as London Brewer, I decided to recognise a single pub or bar, rather than separate them, so there's a single award. And since pretty much the only bottled beers I've had this year were obtained from breweries, I haven't bothered with a retailer award. The only 'fer real' bottle shop I visited this year was Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, CA.

So, who will be receiving the highly-coveted Boggle Xmas card this time? First, this years Brewer Award.

Another great year for Kernel, with Evin and his team consistently producing top-quality beers, including an amazing saison, the London Brick collaboration beers (number 3 in the series is being brewed next week, hosted at Brodie's). They've been honoured repeatedly, most recently by the British Guild Of Beer Writers.

Camden Town has grown up hugely since the 2010 London Brewers' Showcase. Then, it was a table and a few kegs. As today's Will Hawkes piece in the Independent relates, they expect to have outgrown their current premises within a couple of years. And their beers have come on, as well. I'll be looking out for their new Camden Ink stout.

Tucked away in the far reaches of Tottenham, Redemption have been solid and consistent. Keeping it simple with a compact portfolio of high-quality beers, this year they launched Trinity, a fabulous light mild of 3% which proved to be a bit of a signature beer for the London spring and summer.

All good brewers, all setting high standards with their beers. But this year's Boggle Award London Brewer 2011 is Brodie's. I'm late to their beers, but in 2011 I've had plenty of opportunities to sample a wide range, and I admire their 'no-limits' approach. From the longer experience of Boak & Bailey, it seems 2011 has been the breakthrough year for Jamie and Lizzie, and I've certainly been impressed with their determination to develop consistency across a defined core range of beers. They've taken occasional stick for the beer quality in their pubs, but I know they've worked hard to improve things with new stillages, work on cellar cooling and staff training. Drink the beers elsewhere (I've been supping them at Cask Pub & Kitchen recently) and the quality shines through.

The second award, for London Pub Of The Year, goes to Cask Pub & Kitchen. Honourable Mention last year, and some might argue somewhat overshadowed by the excitement surrounding the opening of Craft Beer Co., still, Cask is the Pub Made Good.

Failing as a Greene King operated premises, closed up, then just over two years ago opened as an independent bar. From a slow start, they've relentlessly promoted good beer from around the world, hosted Meet The Brewer events and, proof that a good pub is a meeting place for the whole community, attracted locals and workers as well as beer geeks. This year, they've developed complementary branding to sister pub Craft Beer Co. and recently I've been pleased to see lots of London beer available.

I believe Cask narrowly lost out to The Southampton Arms for CAMRA London Pub Of The Year with the latter's cider offering being ultimately decisive, so hopefully in some way this award will make up for any disappointment.

Next year I hope to be checking out the progress of Tap East, Craft Beer Co, The Bull @ Highgate and a clutch of other recent openings all helping to put good beer on the London map.

Congratulations to both winners, and here's to a cracking 2012 for London's brewers and pubs. Ho ho ho!

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Piss-Up In Brewery "Disorganised" - Official

Another week, and another seasonal beer release for those legendary respecters of beer, the spoogebeerians, to get into a frenzy over. This time it was the release of Batch 5 of Captain Lawrence's Cuvee de Castleton, along with very limited batches of their latest Barrel Select Series beers. Bottling runs of fewer than 250 for the Barrel Select stuff had the spoogerbeerians vibrating at higher than normal frequency.

Last time there was a release, a drunken punter managed to attract the attention of the local police, prompting brewery owner Scott Vaccaro to email this:
After the last release I was not sure if I would be able to do another at our current location due to a very unhappy land lord and local police. Without going into details as to what happened last time, I would just ask that you all enjoy the bounty of beers that are available for tasting prior to the release responsibly, and remember to keep in control of both your person and your bladder. We will not sell or serve beer at anyone that appears intoxicated
The brewery put a portaloo in their parking lot, and put out one of those numbered ticket dispensers so people could simply rock up, get their ticket for a place in the queue, and then go away. As usual though, the whole thing went wrong. Hoax reports on Beer Advocate about tickets, people turning up in the early hours to get their own tickets, and take handfuls more to trade to later arrivals. Queue-jumping - one notorious hoarder went in three times, buying over 20 bottles with, allegedly, a nod and a wink from Scott Vaccaro; people buying without tickets, other arrivals (one group, supposedly at 2.30am) left completely empty-handed. One guy seemingly had a box of beer stolen from the boot of his car, while another set fire to his trousers by standing too close to a space heater. All that was missing was the Keystone Cops, from the sound of it all.

And, predictably, the fallout on the ticker forums is full of recrimination and bile. Some people excused the queue-jumping and ticket trading because the beer would 'stay in the community', leading to incredulous enquiries about the writer's mental state. One Beer Advocate was moved to comment thus:
This culture of frenzied beer releases and fake advocacy is really wearing thin. "Respect Beer", how about respecting rules and honesty instead instead of cheating, cutting, making it this big insider thing. It's retarded and it's lame that you're bitching about people who point these things out.
So, why do the brewers do it, if they're risking problems from neighbours, landlords and police? Well, I hear that Captain Lawrence took $25,000 in CASH on the day. Very handy. And what about the beer? Well, eBay already has a couple of bottles up, being generously touted at a mere 300% mark-up. These tickers cut their own throats, don't they?