Friday 20 December 2013

Boggle Awards 2013

As we're at the circle-jerk end of 2013, it's time to reflect on the Year In Beer. Per tradition, I don't bother with the Golden Pints, instead bestowing The Boggle Award on beers, brewers and bars I've thought were best through the year.

This year is a bit different, and my radar hasn't necessarily been targeted at beer. Still, I did get to try some some notable new stuff. I'll start with brewers. It seems much longer than 11 months ago that Brew By Numbers were getting attention. I blogged about them as part of my short 'New Boys' series. They were scaling up in the early summer, but various let-downs meant they're only just now brewing on a commercial scale. They've had their tasting room at 79 Enid Street in Bermondsey, open a while, and the beer has been very good, but I imagine they'll want to get 2013 out of the way and get cracking on getting their beer out to a wider audience.

A shout out, too, for Alpha State, Jon Queally's start-up. Much of his output is going to Scandinavia, but the odd keg of stuff finds its way onto the London scene - The Old Fountain will usually have some if he's selling. His fondness for mental hopping rates is legendary around the scene, as is his willingness to take on beer styles and mutate them with same - witness his doppelbock hopped with Sorachi Ace. His recent smoked Belgian ale was very good, and I hope more of his beer is on bars here, if only to tempt drinkers out of their comfort zones.

My brewery of the year, maybe controversially, is Meantime. Not so much for their regular beers, but for the small-batch kegs and bottles I've been able to try. I blogged about their pilsners in the summer, and I've also been able to try some of their 'Brewer's Collection' 750ml cork-and-caged bottles. The 2013 Cali-Belgian IPA was sublime, while the recent Imperial Pilsner, also hopped with Sorachi Ace, was offbeat yet drinkable. The recent Hop City Porter, hopped with 'crowdsourced' hops grown around the City, also drew favourable comments from my informal tasting panel (I should say Meantime gave me these bottles). As well as the beer, they showed they can put on a show with their World Beer Fest in the early summer. Coming soon after the clusterfuck that was London's Brewing, it was reassuring to be able to head down to the Old Brewery, drink some excellent beer,eat some good food and chill out in the early summer sunshine, and all for twelve notes.

For bars, I really haven't been to many new places this year. I did get to spend some unplanned time at the splendid Cock Tavern in Hackney. It became Twitter Central on the first Saturday in May as the London's Brewing fiasco unfolded before the horrified yet fascinated gaze of the UK Craft Beer Scene.I wouldn't have said it was a Blitz Spirit, but the gallows humour made the time spent there well worth while, and the Howling Hops beer they make in the basement soothed quite a few furrowed brows.

I've been to a few pubs in Woodbridge (near Ipswich) on a few occasions this year. It's been quite a reality check to see what happens away from big conurbations. Woodbridge is more or less in the middle of Adnams and Greene King territory, so their beers and pubs tend to dominate. There are a couple of free houses in the area, but the pattern tends to be food-led with events, and then some guest beers, usually from around East Anglia. It's nice, but after a few days I start to miss hoppy golden beers, and tastes around those parts are too traditional for there to be a market just yet, although The Cherry Tree, an Adnams house, has a new management team who ran a beer fest with beers from further afield including Dark Star, and they were trying to open locals up to new experiences by, for example, having Kostritzer on as a regular beer. Worthy, and I'll be checking them out for progress over the ho-ho-holidays.

I'm giving a special award this year for street food. Working close to hipster Shoreditch, there's a different vibe and a greater range of crafty food outlets. Fridays for me have been eagerly anticipated since I discovered the Big Apple Hot Dog stall near Shoreditch Fire Station on Old Street. Fantastic sausage, simple but really well-made, good value and great with beer. They do good business on Friday lunchtimes (I'm off for mine after this is finished), and the sausage is starting to find its way into a range of venues such as independent cinemas, pubs and bars, and even restaurants, I hear. The stall has a loyalty card scheme, which I think is innovative, and the owner has ambitious plans for his franks. They've been as far afield as Leeds and at the fabulous pit barbecue joint in Bristol, Grillstock. Keep an eye out for them.

Resolutions for 2014? To start home-brewing. I was talking about BBNo. They've had former Craft bar manager and brewer Steve Gray working with them recently, and he's also the guv'nor of Massive Brewery. This is an innovative full-mash home brew kit in a box, which he sells online for about a hundred quid. I tried some pale ale a punter had brewed on the kit the other week, and it was clean, with a good body and quite drinkable. Maybe some dry-hopping would have rounded it out. I mean to get myself kitted out and have a go.

So that's this year's Boggle Awards. Here's a final seasonal wish for my reader(s), dedicated to Rabid Bar Fly Glyn Roberts...

Monday 2 December 2013

On Being Frank...

It's been four months since I did anything on here. Suffice to say, my life has been dismantled this year, and I'm still putting it back together again. While there's been beer, there's been no desire or time to blog about it, though I do need to talk about Meantime (again) and some other bits and pieces that caught my attention.

What's bringing me back today is an update on the documentary being made by Steve Sullivan about Chris Sievey and his more famous alter-ego, Frank Sidebottom.

There's been a deal of activity since the early summer, when Frank fans raised a whopping £48K via Kickstarter to get the movie project started. Since then, Sullivan has been wandering all over the country with his small team, capturing memories and moments in the Sidebottom/Sievey mythology. Yours truly was invited to Chelsea Space to recount the infamous window-painting of August 2007, and also to talk generally about Chris and Frank, duality and art. I'll probably end up on the cutting room floor, but it was an honour to be asked to share my memories.

Then, in October, it was the unveiling of the bronze statue of Frank in Timperley Village. Despite being in the middle of a move, I didn't think twice about making the trip, a pilgrimage if you like, and I made this patchy film of the morning when the local police had to close the roads to allow people to witness the event...

Locals were surprised by the distance people travelled to be there. I stayed in Altrincham, and another Frank fan from Herts was also there. On the day, I spotted Mike Joyce (former Smiths drummer) and saw Damon 'Badly Drawn Boy' Gough get out of a cab just after the unveiling. I didn't get any film of him, but was standing behind Frank's statue when he gave an emotional speech about what Chris and Frank meant ('a genius' he said, which just goes to show that great minds do often think alike), after giving a guitar and his Mercury Prize to members of Sievey's family. A great day with lots of love and other emotions, remembering a great man and his greatest creation.

But the film is still getting made. Steve Sullivan continues to rove, Merlin-like, around these Islands documenting this story. So there's still some fundraising to do. So I'm writing this post. Here's the Being Frank Xmas Message, where Steve Sullivan, Martin Sievey and David Arnold make their fantastic pitch...

Being Frank Xmas Message

You can pre-order a copy of the finished film for yourself, or make a present of it. Recipients will get a special download on Xmas Day, and their names will be included in the credits of the finished film. Or, if you're really keen, join the 'I Should Be So Lucky' Club, where your hundred notes will get you a download a month for the next year. All rare stuff, none of which can be fitted into the film in its entirety. Or finally, just get the word out by sharing this, or your own message on social media. Frank's fans have been brilliant since the great man passed, funding his send-off, this film and the statue. Please support the film now and ensure somebody has a cool Yule. And have one yourselves.

Thank you.

Thursday 1 August 2013

I'm-a Drinkin' In A Box...

Meantime has been spending a Sunday each month in trendy Shoreditch, spinning choons and aiming to entice the Hipsters with some of their limited-batch beers. The venue for this is the Boxpark, a pop-up retail experience constructed from shipping containers and scaffolding. Here, global brands like Nike sit side by side with local start-ups and street food outlets. On Bethnal Green Road, vintage cars cruise up and down, although the Hipsterati wouldn't be seen admiring them. Meantime are doing six summer Sundays here, under the guise of #hopsatthebox.

It would appear an unlikely setting for one of London's more conservative craft brewers, but is part of an effort to put their beers in front of what is an increasingly important demographic for craft beer in London. Earlier in July, Meantime launched their latest seasonal Pale Ale (Pacific) at something called Frank's Cafe, atop a multi-storey car park in Peckham. I was due to go, but got my dates mixed up, and anyway, an online search of the place revealed this whole 'cafe' thing is a bit ironic (what else?), with not a bacon or sausage sandwich to be found on the menu.

I'd been invited to the previous two Boxpark events, but hadn't been able to get along. What persuaded me this time was the beer. Called Fool's Gold, a pilsner brewed in 'collaboration' with a listings magazine on the small Old Brewery plant, this had been single-hopped with Citra. I'd not had a lager with Citra before, so wanted to check it out. It's also my view that Meantime's most recent seasonal lagers have knocked the socks off their ales. Tandleman recounts his recent taste of the Friesian Pilsner here. While the Pale Ales are solid enough, I prefer a bigger hop character, and a lager hopped with something as distinctive as Citra needed to be tasted.

Alex Morgan. A Geezer
So I did, in the company of memorable Meantime Beer Sommelier Alex Morgan, a real character who I'd met a few weeks earlier at one of Meantime's beer dinners. All wide boy patter and a real and infectious enthusiasm for beer and food, he was working his socks off getting tasters of the beer into the hands of passers-by. In one of those moments of synchronicity you find around beer, he introduced me to a young American couple on their first trip to London. Turns out they were from Berkeley, in the East Bay, an area I've visited a couple of times now. They were visiting London for four days and were hitting as many beer venues as they could. Admirable.

So. The beer. It poured a delicate pale gold and, being quite chilled, didn't show much of the distinctive Citra character at first, but as it warmed a little some of the cattiness started to show. Berry fruits were in evidence, too. The hop wasn't overwhelming, rather it made this a flavourful and easy-drinking beer. I had several, and every one was refreshing and went down nicely, without any gassiness or bloated feeling. And it's named after a Stone Roses song, so what's not to love?

Meantime are a funny brewery. Their regular beers are well-made but can seem a bit unexciting. I'll happily drink their wheat beer if I can find it fresh. As I said, their recent lager styles have been excellent, but who'll be able to drink them? I'm off to this weekend's beer fest at The Old Brewery, and I'm hoping that there'll be some Fool's Gold left.

Disclaimer: Boggle paid for all of his beer at #hopsatthebox and bought his own ticket for the fest at The Old Brewery.

Sunday 16 June 2013

It's Friesian In Here

A balmy Tuesday night in Greenwich. I'm at Stage 2 of Man-Flu as I plod along Royal Hill for an evening with Rod Jones of Meantime. The brewery is launching their 2013 iteration of Friesian Pilsener, and I've been invited to go along and try some.

There's already a small gathering waiting as I walk in. Rod is at the bar while the staff pours several pints of the golden-hued beer. I note the collective youth of the assembled scribblage (scribblage = a gathering of beer reporters). I don't feel old. That only happens at Brewdog bars, but Rod and I are giving a good few years away to the rest of the group.

Rod is an engaging compere, quickly taking us through the creation of the pilsner style, and the variations that grew up in other parts of northern Europe. He's knowledgeable on the culture of Frisia, the region that straddles the Netherlands and parts of NW Germany, which is the inspiration for this beer.

As Rod takes us along, we're sipping the beer and nibbling on a very nice buffet, provided by the Greenwich Union. My olfactory sense is badly impaired so I'm having real trouble getting the nose of this beer, but here's the Boggle Impression.

A pale soft gold with a creamy head, there's very little sweetness. Instead, the beer is dry and quite pleasingly bitter. That long dry finish clears and refreshes the palate and, for me, makes the beer very drinkable. I was tempted to draw comparisons with the Dortmunder style, and actually would like to see Meantime take that style on in the future.

As I write I don't have my notes in front of me, but it's a couple of additions of Tettnanger late on for aroma. I can't remember what was used for bittering. Maybe I'll add that info later.

Lager is being rehabilitated because our newer brewers are producing excellent versions created with care and respect. This beer spent 5-6 weeks lagering before being racked. Brodies has been producing their excellent London Lager, 6 weeks in the tank, a different beast to this beer, but complex and drinkable. Magic Rock Bearded Lady, Camden Town Hells... this stuff is getting out there, changing drinkers' minds about the style.

I still haven't tried Meantime Brewery Fresh. Rod says they're trying to put it into the Union, so something to keep an eye out for.

Thanks to Meantime for the evening of beer talk, and the grub and beer.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Being Frank: The 7th Inning Stretch

Today is the 25th May. On 31st, the book closes on the crowdfunding effort to support the production of a definitive film about the genius we know as Frank Sidebottom.

In three weeks, almost £30,000 has been raised towards Steve Sullivan's project, spanning the period when a teenage Chris Sievey camped in the lobby of Apple, then to the legendary Freshies, and on to his best-known and most productive persona, Frank Sidebottom. The support this project has attracted is amazing, but again demonstrates the affection and love Chris retains - a statue (left) is due to be unveiled in fantastic Timperley in the next couple of months, paid for by subscription and fundraising. When the great man passed, his fans paid to give him the send-off he deserved. And now, three years after his desperately sad loss, two major projects are close to being realised.

Steve Sullivan's 'Being Frank' is, to me, the most important. This is no flight of fancy, no Hollywood A-lister with a big head on. This project captures the work of an artist to whom punk gave a voice, but for whom, technology offered an outlet. I've noted before, the records, books, art, the animation, the TV programmes, the music. A renaissance man, despite knowing his mum would go up the wall and across the ceiling if she stumbled upon his secret showbiz career.

If this comes off, you'll see Chris Sievey discuss his computer game programmes on the Old Grey Whistle Test. You'll see Frank hold his own with Alf Garnett in Talking Turkey, a 'spirit of Xmas' thing Channel 4 did when they were edgy and relevant. You'll see The Freshies reunited, Frank's greatest fans talking about him and his work; this project is the once-and-for-all chronicle of a life in art. Some footage is already in the can, and a new trailer is available here...

Frank fans who want this film made have come across with an eye-popping offer as part of the stretch-funding appeal on Kickstarter. Prints of some iconic Frank street art, uber-rare posters from his contribution to a Chelsea Art Space installation in 2010; tee-shirts, music, stuff. All these people want his work documented. All of them are giving way stuff to entice you into supporting this project. Every extra pound helps towards licencing a bit of Frank TV history to share.

And I'm still offering stuff here. Until the appeal shuts down, be first to donate £75 (down from £100 at the beginning of May) and I'll give you a signed CD, and some other rare Frank stuff. Just message Steve Sullivan via Kickstarter and tell him you supported the film after reading my blog, and he'll pass me your details. First person to tell him gets the schwag. Likewise, if you already gave and can double your donation, don't change your funding tier, but message Steve, tell him you're doing it because of this blog, and I'll send you rare Frank stuff. This is all on top of the amazing freebies you'll get anyway for backing the project.

Almost a thousand people have chipped in around £30K to see this film get made. If everybody who already donated can up their support by 25%, chances are that £40K target can be met by Thursday. I'm going for it, and I hope you can too.

You know you can, you really can.

Thank you.

Monday 6 May 2013

"There Are Planners, Plodders And Plonkers..."

Thus spake the bloke who, in 1998, delivered defensive driving training to a bunch of Facilities staff, of whom I was one. He was talking about road sense, but I think it's a benchmark you can apply in a whole range of environments.

So, then. London's Brewing. The successor to the directly-arranged and run London Brewers' Showcase event from 2010 and 2011. Not an LBA-organised event, strictly speaking. The LBA brand underpins this festival, but the London's Brewing thing is London Fields, not the LBA. Important to note this for what comes later.

It was clear that the upstairs at Vinopolis couldn't have coped with 40 brewers, so faced with choices which, I am told, were either no fest or this one, the LBA sanctioned London Fields to organise something at their event space. PR and branding were sorted, speakers arranged, beer ordered, tickets sold. I was one of the bloggers asked by the PR lot to preview and cover the event. A couple of tickets offered as recompense. Discounts promoted and a few days before the fest Trade Day, it was a sell-out. All good.

Then we get to the trade day. A harbinger of the catastrophe to follow. Opening delayed by an hour. I go to The Cock Tavern and wait until after 2pm. Hardly any beer available until the second bar was finished, cellar services lads complaining they'd done a week's work in two days to set up Bar Two, the larger of the spaces. Bar One runs out before 3pm, so it's 20-odd beers available for around an hour before they close at 4pm. It's clear there's a lot to sort out before the big public launch on Saturday...

The weather is rubbish as I get to London Fields after midday. It's not looking good. You can read twitter (#londonsbrewing for a sample) and CAMRGB or Matt Curtis for more contemporaneous accounts and different experiences, but the doors didn't open until 1245, and the queue had hardly moved 30 minutes later. People who had been on line before midday were leaving, complaining that (again) only the smaller bar was open. Bar Two didn't open until 2.15, but by then I was one of the disgruntled camped in The Cock Tavern. Rich Burhouse from Magic Rock was there, his day wasted by accepting an invite to judge beer that the organisers couldn't identify. Brewers from London, muttering about the piss-poor organisation, ticket-holders who'd queued long enough to get money back, alarmed by the reports from inside.

I was due to go and cover that session, but there was no point. The steady stream of disaffected drinkers and brewery people told me everything I needed to know. And a bit of gentle scratching at the surface revealed a lot of disquiet, something that I'd picked up on earlier in the week.

So, to the aftermath. Fingers will get pointed. I've seen the fest described as the London Brewers Alliance fest. Not to split hairs, but they don't 'own' London's Brewing. That's a separate delivery vehicle for this fest, which I believe is owned by London Fields. However, this is not to excuse the LBA from some culpability. They don't have a process for oversight and assurance which would have tested the model for this fest. So a learning point must be to acquire or develop a planning or project model that does cover this, as well as issues like risk appetite.

Despite this, LBA can't have had any clue about what was in store on Friday lunchtime, but London Fields could have, and they should have been flagging it, seems to me. Their twitter feed refers to 'left-field issues' or 'outside issues', but is anybody clear what they are? Although they hold events at their 'space', I'm not clear if they've ever run a beer festival in there, and that's what I'd have wanted to know if I was the LBA. Reports highlight the poor door management (tickets not scanned, so who was controlling numbers?); lack of readiness of bars (what happened to the rest of the 20 beers put on sale late on Bar Two on Friday?); mislabelling of beers - unforgiveable; overcrowding - there must be a safe limit on numbers, was it observed by controlling ticket numbers for each session?

And then, the fact that the space simply wasn't big enough. Seems to be that LBA need to speak to an events organiser to see what kind of workable model can be developed. Others have observed that this could significantly up ticket prices, but it's clear that, when punters could find it on the bar and correctly labelled, the beer was the least of the problems. If I was the LBA, I'd be asking London CAMRA for advice. Like 'em or loathe 'em, they know beer festival planning and delivery back to front.

If you rotate the logo, it looks like drinkers are being flipped the bird
Who are the planners, plodders and plonkers here? I can't say there was very much planning evident, certainly none that could be defended with credibility. The plodders and plonkers? London Fields certainly don't come out of this well. A case of reach exceeding grasp? LBA need to protect their brand. We need a body which speaks for London brewing, but maybe they also need to look at themselves and work out whether, with so many members now, their own structure is robust enough. This weekend will likely leave a reputational stain on the LBA, and, I assume, a hole in London's Brewing's pocket. I could be generous and say that everybody will learn from this, but in the meantime London will get a reputation for not being able to, erm... organise a piss-up in a brewery. Must do better.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Oh, Blimey! Being Frank...

Long-time readers of this blog will know I'm a big fan of Frank Sidebottom. The Bard of Timperley (or, correctly, his alter ego Chris Sievey) passed in 2010, but his fans haven't forgotten him. There have been exhibitions, music fests and fundraisers. Plans seem well-advanced for raising money to pay for a statue in Timperley, and former Oh! Blimey Big Band member Jon Ronson is one of the creative forces behind a new film called 'Frank', which will star Michael Fassbender, shown below as the eponymous lead.

The big news today, though, is the launch of a crowdfunding drive for a much more relevant project, Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story.

Visioned by filmmaker Steve Sullivan, it's a feature-length documentary covering the varied and fascinating career of one of Britain's most creative and overlooked artists. As well as unknown and lost footage of Frank Sidebottom, Sullivan has been able to reunite post-punk band The Freshies (remember 'I'm In Love With The Girl On the Virgin Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk'?) to talk about their work; there's interviews with his family, long-term sidekick Dave Arnold (whom I once watched as he struggled in vain to flush poster paint out of the sandstone facade of the Chelsea Art Space), and features on Sievey's work as an animator. He's been shooting footage since last autumn, interviewing fans and generally joining up a highly unusual arrangement of dots to bring a full appreciation of this body of work to a wider audience.

Having gone as far as possible, Steve is now reaching out to fans, asking them to back the project through Kickstarter. He's aiming to raise at least £20,000 by the end of May, and there are some excellent incentives to back the film, even if you aren't a fan of Sievey's work. Amazingly, the project is already halfway to the target in the first day, but the word needs to be spread which is why I'm writing this. I don't think 'genius' is too strong a word to use to describe Chris Sievey. An excellent musician, illustrator and animator, to me he wasn't just technically gifted, he expressed a peculiarly non-linear worldview through his art, as evidenced in the fully-realised Frank's World he formed around his best-known creation.

As mentioned, Steve Sullivan is offering some nice rewards to backers of Being Frank, and I'm going to sweeten the pot. That's right. The first of my readers to pledge £100 (and you'll need to prove it - email from Steve perhaps) will get some Sidey stuff from my own collection, some of it signed, all of it hard-to-find. I'm thinking a CD, postcard from the Frank's World DVD or similar. The Kickstarter page is here, and you can visit the film's website to download this poster which you can share online or print out and display.

This Is From The 'Frank' Film...
 It won't be bobbins, little frank. It'll be ace, fantastic and top. I think about the films they made about Manchester contemporaries of Sievey. It took over 20 years to get Joy Division on the silver screen. The idea of getting Chris Sievey's work out a few years after his passing doesn't make up for the loss, but the belated appreciation of a genius deserves to succeed. So help it to succeed already!

Thank you.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Fetch The Engines, Fetch The Engines...

Yep, pour on beer, though, because London's Brewing.

After a gap of over 18 months, the London Brewers Alliance have got themselves a new, bigger fest, and it's taking place at London Fields over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend of 4-5 May.

With around 40 breweries now operational within the M25, they've outgrown the upstairs space at Vinopolis, so a much bigger fest with a ramped-up bill of fare is in store for beer lovers who make their way to London Fields. As well as over 100 beers from LBA members, there'll be street food, live music, and talks hosted by Melissa Cole, birthday boy Des De Moor, and Sophie Atherton. There'll be beer and food matching, and the event is child-friendly, even if some of the attendees [hem hem] aren't.

Also new for this gathering are awards. The breadth of beer styles coming out of London breweries is astonishing, so Simply Hops is sponsoring a programme which will recognise the best beer in nine different categories. Roger Protz is advertised as being one of the judges, so I'm hoping for some heated debate between him and his judging colleagues, since he'll be sampling more than cask beer.

There's a collaborative beer available now, a 6.8% stout which was brewed last summer at The Kernel under the benign gaze of Ron Pattinson. You'll be able to sample it at the fest, though if you can't wait The Kernel had it last Saturday.

The nice people organising the event have offered me an 'exclusive' to pass on to my readers. Of course, if you widely read UK beer blogs, you'll have seen quite a bit of bloggage about the fest, and will therefore realise this offer isn't quite as exclusive as it sounds. Still, I'm able to offer you a whopping £5 off a ticket to the Sunday session, by entering the following promotional code when you book here.

Just enter sidbogg13 into the promotional code box and you'll get a fiver off. And since it's a Bank Holiday weekend, there's no need to feel guilty about drinking great beer on a Sunday.

I'll be there at some point. It's exciting to think that London brewing has more than consolidated since the first London Brewers' Showcase in 2010 - it's grown and is finding a market. I'll be hoping for the traditional pap shot of Mark Dredge, whose book is due to be published around that week - it's been a while; and wondering if Melissa Cole will remember to bring that copy of her book she promised me. That bottle of Pliny The Elder on page 112 was mine you know...

Let's Drink London Beer!

Monday 8 April 2013

(Mean) Time For A Beer

Time was you only heard from Meantime if you went to the Greenwich Union for a pint, some food and a read of Alistair Hook's latest manifesto, handily inserted into the menu. Or (as I've noted previously), somebody like Peter Haydon wrote to 'What's Brewing' to take UK brewing to task over closed-mindedness.

Lately, though, they've had a PR agency plugging away, inviting bloggers and others to launches of their seasonal beers. Thus it was I was able to finally accept an invite to visit their brewery to try their newest beer, the 5.5% Californian Pale Ale. A quick bus ride from the Elephant & Castle had me out near the O2 in plenty of time, and I was ushered into their pleasant shop while the taproom was made ready.

A late cancellation meant our group was fewer than ten, but it included new beery acquaintances Justin Mason and Matt Curtis. The latter had been at Bunny basher the previous Saturday, just about igniting a spark of recognition. Why does this always happen when I'm at Brodie's?

I'd been wanting to see this brewery for a while, and we were given the tour and talk. A huge forest of fermenters takes up most of the brewhouse space, while beer packaging is sorted out at the front near the loading dock. They do all their own bottling, including the 'sharing' bottles which are corked and caged. We saw a couple of the tanks Meantime are using in a few Young's pubs, and which got steam coming out of the ears of somebody called Mark Justin at that Wandsworth Beer Fest recently...

I pinched this off Dredgie's blog...

Word is that another ten Young's houses will be selling Meantime London Lager this way, and I saw a review (by Will Hawkes?) which was positive, and storing and delivering the beer this way seems to be a selling point. The End of Civilization? Hardly. Just more choice in a city that's bursting with it these days.

Demand for the range means that the brewery may outgrow this space in a few years which will give Meantime some headaches as they decide how to expand. Back in the taproom, there was time to look over a bit of the Michael Jackson collection, which The Beer Hunter bequeathed to Alistair Hook. Bottles from all over the world, glassware, awards, are all around you, a reminder that the world of beer started to shrink once he'd written The World Guide To Beer.

Other impressions? The lad who took us round, Jack, offered the opinion that UK brewing was still a decade behind the US. That sounds like the sort of thing Alistair Hook used to put in his manifestos, but I don't think it could seriously be claimed our scene is that far behind in 2013. The big profile-raising push? I wondered if perhaps Meantime think they might be a bit under the radar, despite being only one of only four or five London brewers left flying the flag for the capital by 2006.

The new beer? Hopped with Slovenian Celeila and American Crystal, it sort of belies its name a bit, but was refreshing with a long bitter finish and, once it had warmed a bit, gave up some intriguing burnt rubber (like you used to get off Simcoe). It wasn't my favourite beer, though. That would be the Bohemian Dark, a lovely chewy dark lager. And a mention for their Wheat. I hear that Camden have stopped brewing their excellent hefeweizen (no, Jasper, NOOOO). Meantime's was fresh and delicious and could fill the hole left by Camden. However, they say (as Camden did) it isn't a big seller. Shame.

On the way out, there was time to pick up a bottle of the barley wine Meantime recently exported to the US. You won't find it anywhere else in the UK, I believe. So I guess UK beer lovers still have some ground to make up before Alistair trusts us completely...

So you know: I was invited to the brewery by Hope & Glory, who are doing PR for Meantime. I was comped the beers I tried, which are included above. The other beer I tried was Yakima Red. I bought that bottle of barley wine.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Kennington: One In, One Out..?

The saga that is the Mansion House appears to be reaching a climax, with talk in the trade of an opening later this week, and some kind of smoke signal appearing on the horizon on Oaka's London website.

I'll believe it when I see the doors open and beer on the bar. Many Oakham fans can tell you the year they were first offered free beer vouchers at an Oakham bar at a fest - GBBF, Peterborough - and the excitement of this time last year was a bit of a false dawn.

Delayed licence application, then a revised application submitted a month after they finally got approval, which seemed to test the patience of Lambeth Council's Licensing Sub-Committee; the sale of the posh flats over the pub, with one prospective occupant posting on a local blog that he'd been assured of 11pm weeknight closing, even as Oaka were asking for a 7-day, 4am licence! Cheeky sods. They've been through meetings with Guinness Trust, the Kennington Association (though we on the nearest council estate weren't deemed worthy of any special consultation).

My gut feeling (and it's an impressive gut) is that they won't open this week. Hoarding is still up, no sign of activity in the bar space, no external decs completed. Still, I hear there are ten beer engines going in, so some guest beers should be on offer alongside the usual Oakham suspects.

The other local news is that their next door neighbour, the Antic-operated Old Red Lion, is suddenly apparently boarded up and on the market. A subsidiary of the Antic PubCo, Antic Ltd, has been in administration for some weeks, and while the administrators were quoted as saying they felt the business might be disposed of as a going concern, and there had been some interest, in the meantime it looks like some Antic pubs will go to the wall. A google search of the Old Red Lion shows a link to the Antic Ltd site but the pub no longer appears on the page which loads.

It was quite a nice pub with a friendly manager, but I won't be shedding any tears. The Antic pubs I've been in are OK, but not craft enough for my tastes. Sort of like hipster Wetherspoons'. I am wondering if the administrators looked next door and perhaps took the view that The Mansion House would see the Old Red Lion off. Who knows? (see below) Sad, but hopefully the pub won't be lost as an amenity. I also find myself wondering about the future of the Camberwell brewery Antic were building. I heard at Xmas that they'd decided to buy an all-new plant, rather than go with the old kit they acquired from Meantime. What will happen to that?

So, it's now up to The Mansion House to try and keep me on the manor for a pint. More news once the place is open...

Boggle Out.

UPDATE: Who knows, indeed? Not me or my source. After the first comment was posted, I checked myself and the sale board is for a small retail premises which sits between the Old Red Lion and Mansion House. It looks like part of the pub, and I can't ever remember it being in use. So, anonymous commenter, thanks for the info, and sorry to the Old Red Lion. Reports of your demise were greatly exaggerated...

Oh, and it seems my Gut of Fate is right. Latest is that the Mansion House will open on March 1. A bloke was up a ladder working on the facade earlier today.

Monday 4 February 2013

The New Boys (3): Brew By Numbers

Evin O'Riordain told me before Christmas about a couple of lads brewing out of their kitchen in Southwark. Aha!, I thought, the nano movement has arrived in London. Then Craft at Clerkenwell did a launch of their bottles, but I didn't try one until CJ Ferrell at Cask Pub & Kitchen produced one to sample.

The new boys, set up as Brew By Numbers, got my mind racing. Well, as fast as it races these days. Small-scale? And the numbers thing. I went through all sorts of number-related scenarios. Tony Wilson, in the book of '24-Hour Party People', returning to the idea of Factory Records' "almost Babylonian obsession" with numbering things, or that scene in 'Gregory's Girl' where the kid with the camera tells Clare Grogan that "numbers make the world go round."

It turns out that the numbers here aren't that impenetrable or whimsical, but we do start our tale somewhere around the world, where Dave, one of our nascent brewers, was touring around the Antipodes and kept finding interesting beer. Around the same time (2009) Tom, the other 50% of BBNo, was being exposed to the new world of craft beer. They decided to learn brewing, and invested in a homebrew kit.

Gotta Start Somewhere...
Three extract brews later, they were ready to move on to full-mash, and in 2011 started bottling their beers and talking to people like Tom 'The Cad' Cadden to get feedback. Over that time, they've upscaled, so that by the time I pop on to see them, their kitchen has been taken over with kit, with a small area given over as a fermentation room.

They are located in a boho loft, which is actually a basement in a former hop store slap-bang in the middle of the old Southwark brewing heartland. One half of the space is Tom's flat and workspace, the rest is the brewery. I want to get to the bottom of the numbering, hoping for some obscure application. Of course, if I'd bothered to read the label on their bottles, I'd know how to decode them, but dammit, I was drinking beer.

Beer Fermenting
So, what about that beer? The lads have gone at a wide range of styles, hoovering up knowledge of beer from everywhere and testing out their recipes. The 80-odd litre capacity, while not commercially viable, does enable them to be very versatile in trying out different versions of their recipes. Splitting batches mean they can play with hopping, ageing and re-fermenting with brettanomyces. As well as stout and Berliner Weisse bottles I tried at Cask, the lads let me sample a very promising Export Stout, a Belgian Tripel they've attempted after trying Tripel Karmeleit for the first time, a stunning Imperial Stout ageing on oak chips. A brown ale I shared at The Rake got good feedback from my ad hoc tasting panel.

Simple, Distinctive Label
I asked about scale. Dave and Tom are emphatic they are not nano-brewers, though perhaps their scale defines them as that despite their protestations. The other difference is that there's no ticker pursuit of these beers despite the tiny batches being made available. I'd like to think drinkers here are just enjoying the beer.

And the scale thing will soon be part of their backstory. As I write, the lads are looking to finalise plans for a premises (a railway arch, of course) and a 10-bbl plant, so hopefully by summer there'll be a new tasting room in a London brewery. The small kit will remain, for pilot brewing and special batches.

Oh, and finally, those numbers. First pair are the style. Second lot the recipe. It's on the label. Sort of based on the US BJCP guidelines, but they'll move away from any rigid duplication as Tom and Dave brew new beers. Simple but clever, and lending their labels a bold and distinctive look.

Craft at Clerkenwell are doing a London Beer Event next Monday, 11th February. Details here. There should be at least one BBNo beer available, but if you can't wait, you'll find them in the fridges of London's finer beer establishments.