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.