Sunday 29 July 2012

London: World's 10th Best Beer City?

London's beer scene has had some decent coverage Stateside recently, prompted, I imagine, by all this Olympic stuff. The New York Times and Washington Post have run features by, respectively, Evan Rail and our own Will Hawkes this month which covered some of the new rising stars of UK brewing, and some of the pubs and bars selling that beer (you may need to register to see the complete articles).

One smaller feature comes courtesy of the Boston Globe, where a character called Gary Dzen writes a beer column called 99 Bottles. He picked up on a 'Top 25 Beer Cities' series by Zane Lamprey.

Zane Lamprey? Who he? Gary Dzen notes Lamprey is... of television shows "Three Sheets”, “Drinking Made Easy”, and “Have Fork, Will Travel” [and] has made a career out of traveling and drinking. So he's more than qualified to come up with a list of the world's best beer-drinking cities.
My mate who sent me Dzen's piece sent an accompanying note along the lines that he wasn't sure about London being worth a Top Ten place. I decided to dig a bit further and went to Lamprey's site, where each of his 25 selections gets a couple of paragraphs.

His Top Ten goes like this:

10. London, England
9. Boston, Mass
8. Denver, Colo.
7. San Diego, Calif.
6. Asheville, N.C.
5. Prague, Czech Republic
4. Portland, Oregon
3. Dublin, Ireland
2. Brussels, Belgium
1. Munich, Germany

Now, I'm not much for top tens or lists. They're subjective, even when they're on aggregating ratings fora like RateBeer or Beer Advocate. Still, London as a Top Ten World Beer City sounds like somebody is paying attention. Then I read Lamprey's citation. It goes like this
Having a pint in a pub is just as much a part of the English lifestyle as much as caring about the goings on of the Royal Family. The city is home to some of the oldest pubs in the world, where beer has always been present. Finding a pub in London with ale on draft is easier than finding a a red phone booth. There are dozens of breweries in London too. At the turn of the millennia, there were not as many options for local beer, but in the last decade that has changed. But it’s not all about large companies like it has been in recent years.

The craft brewing scene has gotten a nice boost from CAMRA, a growing group of revolutionaries pushing their Campaign for Real Ales (beers that have not been filtered or pasteurized), who celebrate and educate along the way. Although they appreciate their imports as well, there is a growing beer community and some sizable beer festivals which have garnered more interest in local beers. In the city where Shakespeare would once write and drink, then write about drinking, the only thing that’s changed is the quill.
I have a theory about Americans and British Beer. I think that, generally speaking, they're fascinated by our pubs and traditions, less so by our beer, and have a bit of a sanitised Disney view of our beer culture. Lamprey's piece doesn't really disabuse that. It's curious. Little kernels of understanding mixed up with some Mary Poppins nostalgia about telephone boxes, the Royal Family (bless 'em) and Shakespeare, and I imagine some CAMRA die-hards would be spluttering into their mild over his view of their role in the craft brew scene, although he's not entirely wrong. Like I said, kernels of understanding.

Now, I suppose there's an argument that London isn't even the best beer city in the England, never mind tenth on the planet. I suppose we have to bear in mind this is for US consumption, and take some of Lamprey's views with a large pinch of salt. I posted a response on Lamprey's site about London (which was taken down). In it, I clarified some of his muddled history and suggested Dublin was hugely over-rated at Number 3. The Beer Nut would be better placed to comment on his views about that city, which contained this nugget...
It is the Dubliner’s love for beer, their strong culture around beer, and the sheer number of beer drinking songs that have come out of Dublin that have pushed it towards the top of this list.
So, London as a Top Ten World Beer City, eh? Good news? Right or wrong? Whaddaya think..?

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Mansion House - Oakham Splits The Difference

Oakham finally got their licence for The Mansion House on Kennington Park Road, but they had to concede some of their original application wish list during the licensing sub-committee hearing, and there's a high level of assurance being loaded on the operator in order to assuage residents.

Local middle-class busybodies, The Kennington Association (KA), presented evidence indicating the late licence was out of step with all other local pubs and bars, and it transpired that there is no proper licence for street drinking or dining, meaning the outside dining/drinking and accompanying music has gone. Oaka didn't contest the assertion that street drinkers from Vauxhall were migrating to Kennington as a result of street clean-up work in the former neighbourhood, so stringent controls on late-night access and noise are also a part of their licence.

The biggest cause of uproar, the proposed opening hours, have been constrained to those in force the last time the pub was licensed, in 2008. So, from Sunday to Wednesday the pub will have to close at 12.30am, and they'll get an hour extra at weekends, to 1.30am.

There are some other snippets of info about the new place. This made me grin...
Off sales of alcohol were being sought in order that sealed 3-4 pint jugs of real ales could be sold to members of Camra
So, if there's any street drinking problems around Kennington Park Road, it'll be down to Kevin. At least, according to the KA. I wonder if buyers will have to produce their membership card to get a jug?

Sadly, the pub will be family-friendly, so I expect there'll be occasions when the place is filled with the grizzling of brats off the leash. I remember The Florence hosting a yummy mummies' coffee morning during one visit. Strollers and buggies in a pub is just wrong.

Apparently the refurb is almost complete, though you'd never know it from the outside, so at last, a decent destination pub in Kennington.

The full minutes of the meeting are here.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Drops Of Beer

Some recent beer experiences.

PLIP! Sainsbury's at Nine Elms. At the checkout. I'm wearing a Moonlight Brewing 'Death & Taxes' tee shirt. The old(ish) dear on the checkout notices the shirt and asks what it means. It's an American brewery, I inform her. "American? Have you had that Goose Green beer?" Would that be Goose Island, I venture. Her face lights up. "That's it! I don't usually like beer, but I like the flavour of that one!"

See? Craft beer isn't just for da kidz. And I bet my checkout operator didn't have to spend £13 for it. I don't know where the lady got hers - I haven't seen it in Sainsbury's, though Tesco's lists it, along with the other 2 members of the US Craft Trinity of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Brooklyn Lager (I'm overlooking Blue Moon on purpose, before you comment). I wonder how long it will be before interesting UK beers in bottles start showing up in supermarkets, and yes, I'm also overlooking BrewDog. But they have the right idea, seems to me.

PLOP! Smart Phones. A lot of people have 'em. Not me - I'm habitually 3 or 4 generations behind the current technology. I'm That Bloke who bought a netbook. Anyway, Smart Phones are the thing. And the 'apps' that stamp your personality on them.

At The Harp at the weekend, somebody shows me a beer app. It's called YourRound, and it's a database that allows the drinker to search beers, pubs and even festivals. Say your favourite beer is Dark Star APA. You can search your locale to see who is selling it. Or you can check in at your local to see what they have. The app relies on brewers and pubs to sign up and keep the database current, but Binnie's son Alan was enthusiastic about it being quick and simple for staff to change the listing at the pub when they change a barrel, and if a fast-turnover pub like The Harp can do it...

You also get tasting notes and info on the brewery. I believe other apps are available that do similar things, and it seemed a clever way to simplify finding the beer you want. And it would save the pub or bar having to take to social media every time they change their beers. I think the YourRound app is free to download at the moment.

PLAP! I'm not sure if anybody else picked up on this in the Independent in mid-June. Beer is on the verge of a breakthrough in India, with a tiny but fast-growing brewpub niche. Another sign of the global reach of craft beer? How long before they have tickers and spoogebeerians? Hopefully they're a long way from that.

PLOOP! The Mansion House licence application is up before the Lambeth Licensing Sub-Committee on 17th July. The application doesn't appear to have been modified, so they still seem to be asking for that 24/7 4am closing.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Can't Pay Won't Pay?

Boak and Bailey have poked me with a stick. In a friendly way. So I'm going to get something off my chest.

It's actually something I saw them comment on, maybe on twitter, about being priced out of craft beer. I never saw the context for the convo, but I'd been out for a few beers one Thursday afternoon and ended up (like I do) at Cask, and their comment resonated.

I know quite a lot of the interesting craft beer imports are coming in 'grey' e.g. via Scandinavia, and I assume these beers are picking up on-costs as they find their way from brewer to point of sale. But I'm wondering if the beers that are coming in are all at the ticker end of the scale, and attracting a Spooge Premium as a result.

The beer that's made me think this is from a small brewery in New England called Alchemist. They were a brewpub before Hurricane Irene devastated Vermont and left Alchemist with a brewery and no bar. However, they brew a huge IPA called Heady Topper, and this survived the storm.

Two weeks ago I was in the Jugged Hare, the Fullers pub on Vauxhall Bridge Road, trying some of their Wild River American hopped pale ale. The staff were a bit perplexed. What was this beer with the disconcerting aroma and bitterness they couldn't pin down? I just sipped happily.

All Rivered out for now, I popped over to Cask. The legendary fridges have been re-tooled with some rare bottles, including Drie Fonteinen's Armand De Belder's rare limited bottled series of lambics (at £55 a pop), and some lovely Alesmith bombers (if you haven't tried Speedway Stout, you've got a gap in your dark beer experience).

But these beers weren't what got me thinking. Like a lot of US brewers, Alchemist have been canning their beers. 16oz of IPA deliciousness. Canning technology today is challenging the Kevin sterotype in the same way as the New Keg, unfiltered and unpasteurised, is changing the idea of 'chemical fizz' and 'zombeer'. In the UK you'll find cans from Brooklyn, Maui and, soon I hear, Sixpoint from New York.

The staff at Cask told me they had some cases of Heady Topper. A beer my associates Stateside have tried and like. A chance to sample a beer I wouldn't expect to see in the UK.

But. Gawd help me, but I can't justify spending £13 for 16oz of beer. I can't. I've had my moments with beer, and even though as a carer I live on a fixed income nowadays, I can usually find beer tokens for the odd half of imported keg once or twice a month. But £13 for a tin of beer? No matter how I try to justify it, that £13 sits right between my eyes. I could forego three pints of UK cask beer and buy one. But it just seems... wrong. I'm not sure I'm priced out of craft beer - not with so many lovely UK beers doing the rounds in our better bars and pubs. But I don't think I could live with myself if I laid out £13 for a single tin of beer, no matter how good.

I did a bit of digging. That £13 can of beer can be got from the brewery for $3.75 (about £2.50) for a single can or $12 (under £8) for a 4-pack. The Dive Bar in Manhattan sells it for $9 (£5.80) a can. I know there'll be shipping and Gideon wants his share of the tax generated by an 8% beer. But I can't help thinking that the beer is here because Beer Advocate and HateBeer members rate it very highly, and the Scandinavian market has got it and are selling some on to the UK to defray costs. In a way, are UK drinkers being asked to pay that Spooge Premium on this type of beer? Or, like cutting edge consumer goods, does somebody have to pay the big bucks until the rest of the market catches up and the price drops? Will we see more mass market beers from the US and elsewhere, or are importers looking for the tickerific stuff which RB and BA like? I know Russian River are on some importers' radars, for instance. Today, at Craft, an empty Pliny The Elder bottle on top of a fridge elicited two punter requests for some.

I dunno. But I know I can wait until a trip back to NY to try Heady Topper. Unless I see you at Cask, and it's your round...