Stools are cool

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Great Northern Railway Tavern: Bar stools back on the menu

I had the privilege of being asked my views last year on what elements I’d like to incorporate into my local pub. London brewer Fuller’s had recently acquired a lovely Victorian boozer, The Great Northern Railway Tavern, which it intended to restore to its former glory.

Rather than rushing into anything, Fuller’s sensibly canvassed some local opinion before committing any investment. The two key essential items I suggested were a great beer list and bar stools – not necessarily in that order. My children recommended I also propose free ice cream at all times, which I also put forward.

My bar stool suggestion not only highlighted my love affair with this humble piece of furniture but was also a fight-back against previous managers of the pub, who removed all stools from the bar for a time. Their reasoning was to dissuade people from crowding around the bar. This mirrored the strategy town centre bars brought into force to avoid so-called “vertical drinking”. I can understand it in circuit pubs in city centres but it seemed a rather bizarre decision in a local boozer in a north London “suburb”.

Thankfully, Fuller’s reintroduced bar stools – along with a super, rotating selection of beer – although my children were disappointed by the lack of free ice cream. My view is that the beating heart of a pub is found at the bar and, space permitting, where I invariably gravitate – perched on a stool. It’s where the action is and it’s the buzz around the bar which gives any pub the energy that permeates throughout the premises. I suspect we take this for granted in the UK because it’s one of the things tourists comment on when visiting this country.

For customers of Charles Wells’ chain of 12 “British” pubs that are expanding across France, one of the appealing aspects of the venues has been the requirement for customers to visit the bar when they want to buy a drink. This is in contrast to the French tradition of orders being taken at the tables. This British system sucks people to the bar and enables much more interaction among the customers, who invariably find they congregate around this central point. This has found particular appeal among young French drinkers.

As a bar stool advocate it has been interesting to see the move by restaurateurs to incorporate counter seating into their dining rooms. I’d say pretty much any new opening now includes some such seats – more often than not positioned around an open kitchen. This move has been driven by a number of factors including the need to squeeze more covers into venues to counter the increased cost of running restaurants.

Such seating also suits solo dining much better because the customer can focus on the action behind the counter and from an economic point of view because they don’t take up a whole table. It also chimes well with the move towards more casual dining because even in the smartest restaurants, it feels rather louche to be perched on a bar stool.

I’ve had some of my more enjoyable meals out this year dining at the counter. Stools in Spanish restaurant Rambla in Soho puts you right at the heart of the action as chefs work away creating magical dishes. The stools also put you over the top of everybody else in the compact room, giving great visibility.

Irvin Bar Grill: A restaurant with bar stools

It’s the same story at another of my local restaurants, Irvin Bar Grill, which successfully mixes Italian and Scottish cuisine and drinks – but I only visit if I can grab a couple of stools at the pewter-topped counter. The more relaxed nature of its bar-counter seating means an evening intended as “drinks only” can seamlessly morph into a procession of small plates for dinner in a way that wouldn’t be possible at the tables in this tiny venue.

Being a bar fly in Irwin also affords an opportunity to chat with the owner, who works behind the bar, and to people-watch as the restaurant entrance is alongside the bar. These things combine to make you feel you are in the thick of things. It’s safe to say my love affair with the bar stool continues but it now has some competition from the newcomer in town – the restaurant stool.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.

Bath Ales fresh from installation of state-of-the-art brewing facility

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Roger Ryman is renowned for his brewing capabilities – having created blockbusters like Tribute – but he is less known for his engineering prowess, which is on full show at Bath Ales brewery on the outskirts of the Georgian city.

On a tour of the site it is clear that the brewing director of St Austell (parent of Bath Ales) is very proud of the shiny new operation that incorporates some of the latest developments in brewing kit. It is certainly a world away from what existed when St Austell bought the brewery two years ago in a deal worth around £6.5 million.

Ryman says it was a deal that needed doing for Bath Ales as it was an operation with good brands but like other brewers of its size and vintage it needed some investment in order for It to move on. With around £6 million invested in the business Ryman has been able to build a state-of-the-art facility.

He selected British operation Musk Engineering as the supplier of the kit over German manufacturers Krones and GEA because although they have “fantastic” product he suggests dealing with them can be rather like buying goods from a catalogue. Instead, he wanted to build a bespoke brewhouse that had the flexibility to brew a variety of beer styles including cask.

What he has ended up with at the heart of the operation is a mash conversion vessel, lauter tun and whirlpool with a 85hl brew length. “This does not increase the batch size from the old brewery but that was all manual. With the new kit we can make small lengths and it’s a rapid production,” says Ryman.

Whereas previously it could handle nine brews in a 24-hour period it’s now possible to do 10-12 brews per week. “The capabilities we now have are significant,” he says.

At present this kit feeds into 12 fermenting vessels with a total capacity of 170hl and there is room for a further six FVs to be added when required. At present the annual output from Bath Ales is 34,000hl but there is the capacity to crank out double this amount.

There is also the prospect of a canning line being added although he says this will not be a replacement for the bottling line (that also bottles St Austell beers).

Wandering around the facility Ryman seems to almost constantly highlight the interesting bits of kit such as the filtering system, the yeast flow control system, and the valves on the bottling line as examples of equipment that would typically have only been found within much larger brewing facilities.

He says access to such cutting edge equipment is down to the big suppliers like Krones scaling down their technology in order for it to be available for craft brewers: “They’ve recognised that they now need to sell to these smaller companies.”

Although he has plans to produce a variety of styles on the kit including some German style Pilsners and wheat beer – that will complement the recently launched English lager Sulis – Ryman says Gem represents 60% of Bath Ales’ production. This sits slightly above the 50% of output that Tribute accounts for at the St Austell brewery. This figure has been gradually reducing as other beers grow and it is probably going to be the same story with Gem over time.

The acquisition of Bath Ales has not just enabled Ryman to get his engineering teeth into building a new brewery but it has given St Austell a beachhead from which to broaden its reach in the South West of England. This also includes building its pub estate, which was boosted by the eight properties that came with the Bath Ales deal.

The most notable is the Graze bar adjacent to Bath Spa train station that also includes a two-barrel brewery. Another two pubs are in the process of being acquired that will add to the 180-plus properties that St Austell operates across the business.

This is one of a number of deals that have taken place in the sector and we can be absolutely sure that there will be more as the craft beer category grows and consolidation accelerates.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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The highlight of May, and almost certainly 2018, was obviously MBCC in Copenhagen. This year my visit extended to six days, so I was able to experience more of the accompanying Beer Week events around the city.

As in 2017, I bumped into another regular Bottle Shop couple at Gatwick, early Tuesday morning! A gorgeous, sunny day greeted us in Denmark, so much so, that we decided to immediately break the “no drinking straight off plane” rule. The obvious and nearest choice was WarPigs.

The excellent MBCC App listed a Bottle Logic event. I must confess that I had never heard of them and so didn’t imagine it would be busy, which reveals my ignorance and incompetence, as we were greeted by a 45 minute queue at midday!

Bottle Logic are apparently famous for imperial stouts, but I sensibly stayed off them, and enjoyed the sun outside, where we shared a table, and chatted with, Keith Shore, the Philadelphia-based designer of the iconic Mikkeller label.

We then took a taxi to Koelschip, the small cellar bar dedicated to Belgium, and particularly Lambic and spontaneous fermented beer. As befitting English abroad, we couldn’t stay out of the sun, and so went next door to Mikkeler & Friends. The next day was Ascension Day bank holiday, so the evening back at WarPigs was full of civilian as well as MBCC attendees.

Thursday´s plan was to walk to Brus. However, it now doesn’t open until 3pm, which is later than last year. The main Mikkeller Bar hosted Other Half.  Very good, but expensive and I have had them in London many times, so we went to Baghaven, the barrel aging facility in the rural outskirts of, the, not very big, city.

WarPigs

They did have some queuing logistical issues but the beers were excellent. There was a separate pop-up with Alchemist who brought their IPA, which they recommend to drink straight out of the can, as it protects the aroma, although I’m not convinced!

Finally, back to Fermentoren, which I had visited last year, with the Editor, on our first evening, but which was completely different to my vague, drunken memories. Upon sharing this story, Evin O’Riordain from The Kernel, (apologies for the name-dropping), remarked that he had also been present in 2017, which I also blacked out. (Likewise, so thanks for letting me know – Ed).

MBCC´s format is free-pour, which works best for festivals. I had a Gold ticket so got in 20 minutes early before the hordes of single-session ticket-holders. During every session there are a few beers which have queues, and then run out early: Bokkereyder, always, Omnipollo soft serve, and then the top two or three on RateBeer for that particular session.

I don’t see the point of queuing for the notorious, usually RateBeer influenced beers, as however remarkable they might be, there is quality everywhere: At MBCC, grazing is the key!

There were so many amazing beers, so this is far from a defintive list. However, I jotted down the following: Angry Chair Rainbow Sherbert Berlinner Weisee with pineapple, raspberry and citrus juice. Various flavours of Fonta Flora Apalachian Wild Ale.

The Veil Never Never double range: Satisfied, a sweet cheery Gose and Scared, with Guava. Tamp´s Cigar City always seems to make great festival beers, and 2018 MBCC was no exception, but I won’t single one out.

Fantastic sours from Black Project every session, including Cygnus, with cherries, and others aged with wine grapes. Proper modern, high ABV meads from Superstition: I covered these last year, as it’s a style we do not see in the UK, and we’re still waiting for distributors to work with Superstitution!

Juice from Other Half

Other Half´s Go With The Flow Mosaic  Dream, saisons from Threes Brewing, Modern Times’ Monster Tones, a 50/50 blend of Modem Tones and Monsters´Park, two Bourbon BA imperial stouts, a dessert special with coconut and vanilla, which was a RateBeer special on session three.

Finally, amazing spontaneous wild ales from de Garde, blended with so many different fruits from cider apples to Oregon peaches. I could truly go on listing more beers for page after page.

Friday night at Brus, seemed to contain almost every MBCC visitor I recognised, and its always a fun place. Saturday had dawned with a predictable hangover, and I made the mistake of finally going for a Bokkereyder: this meant I lost almost 10 minutes of the special 20 minutes Gold Ticket time, but also, it was a hair of the dog, so I downed it, which was a complete waste!

There was a fifth session on the Sunday, for Gold ticket-holders, with the event left-overs, which was extremely controversial as it was announced after many had booked flights home. It was a very mellow affair, with few crowds, and we even poured most beers ourselves!

Obviously most of the superstars didn’t slip through, but New Bissell IPA and Kane and Sunday Brunch somehow did! The late announcement was the only mistake the organisers made and I would have been annoyed if I had missed it: We also lost the “Lucky Dip” of last year at Baghaven, which was so enjoyable!

A couple of notable restaurants, very conveniently located next to the Festival  venue: Danish tapas at Skank, and the superb Sanchez, a modern Mexican, named after its head chef Rosio, who is ex-Noma, although we were probably too drunk to do it justice! Its street-food Tacos offshoot, Hija de Sanchez, is two minutes from MBCC, so refuelled many a guest, ourselves included.

I was pleased we had stayed until Monday afternoon as it gave a chance to look round the city before a final drink in the main spots, which were very much after The Lord Mayor´s show.

Overall, this was a wonderful few days, Europe´s best beer event, in a charming city, blessed by unseasonably glorious weather. I would recommend MBCC to any beer lover, and will be back in 2019.

There were less events to report on in the UK: Mother Kelly’s hosted the annual Sour Power 4 (Pendant’s Alert: I attended the first in 2014, so am convinced it should be #5 this year). A good, rather than exceptional range, it will surprise no-one that my favourite beer was a Damson-flavoured entry from Kernel, as it always is.

The beer has changed name though, and is now a “Bierre de Saison”, rather than a “Sour”. Apparently, it is exactly the same recipe, but the barrels it matures in, now have the “experience” of containing previous iterations, which means it qualifies. I have no idea if this is true!

Magic Rock Cannonball special. This annual event has declined in importance since the raging queues of 2014 or 2015, but that is due to other breweries catching up, rather than Magic Rock, the innovators of UK TIPA’s, declining. In 2018, the London release was no longer exclusively at Craft Beer Co, N1.

I had the Cannonball Run, Human DIPA, Unhuman TIPA, and, this year, Neo-Human, a NEDIPA, at Mother Kelly’s. Twitter was treated to the unedifying spectacle of distributor Kicking Horse proudly recording their journey down from Huddersfield to bring it to their customers. Unfortunately it was a standard Transit van, on a day, at the start of the summer, which as I write in late June, is shaping up to be the hottest since 2003. Warm-chain! No wonder the beer scene in London restaurants is so far behind, when their suppliers are well-meaning, but so amateur.

Bottle Shop hosted Californication, a celebration of Cold Chained beers from the Golden State. Pride of place went to Modern Times City of The Sun IPA, which had been one of beers of the year for 2016.

Given what was to happen in June, it is good to write that this month was relatively free of news:  Boston private equity fund Castanea Partners, who specialise in $15-$150 million investments in consumer products brands, bought a majority stake in The Bruery.

Chorlton announced plans to Crowdcube funding for a branch in Belgium, although the level of financial innumeracy that will be reached between a UK brewery that once tweeted that a sterling devaluation hurts their exports, and Crowdcube, is truly frightening.

And finally, Beavertown announced they would be contract brewing at Belgium’s Brouwerij de Brabandere. I have covered the beginning of the Spurs/Heineken saga elsewhere (http://beerinsider.com/amateur-drinker-loses-taste-for-beavertown-and-its-extravaganza/), and rest assured, it plays a significant role in June´s write-up!

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.

 

Why I forgave gastro-pubs

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In early 2007 I visited young businessman Philip Mossop at Bacchus, the restaurant he had recently set up in Hoxton, London, which provided the platform for little-known Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes to make his name and go on to great success.

My interest was in Mossops’ objective of delivering “fine dining in trainers” as he so cleverly phrased it. He was referring to the fact Mendes’ high-end food was being served in a former pub and that he had scant interest in turning it into a stuffy experience.

But I only popped in for a pint!

His views fitted neatly into a piece I was writing that predicted the death of the gastro-pub. He openly boasted he had not sold a single pint of beer in the six months since he had been open – although he did admit to one diner ordering half a Guinness!

This perfectly encapsulated my distaste and distrust of the gastro-pub phenomenon. Far too often they were smart restaurants masquerading as laid-back boozers. Nobody was really welcome to pop into these places and have a pint while they read the paper before going home for dinner – and this went against what I believed pubs should be about.

Earlier this year I made the effort to visit renowned north London gastro-pub The Bull And Last. It made me realise that in the intervening years my negative views on gastro-pubs might have become out-dated. The prediction of their death had certainly not come to pass.

While I admit this reflects on my changing perspective – for one thing being 11 years older makes a difference to any viewpoint – we also have a very different market place to that of 2007.

For starters, the smoking ban came into place a mere two months after my story was published, then the financial crisis began in late 2007. The sub-prime mortgage market collapsed in the US, triggering the implosion of Lehman Brothers and Northern Rock, among others. These two seismic events wreaked havoc on pubs and the aftershock is still being felt today.

The smoking ban contributed massively to pub closures

I’ve come to understand that while I’m not going to be the most frequent gastro-pub visitor, I have at least come to value their presence rather than having a tendency to denigrate them as I did in the past.

Thousands of pubs have been lost in the past ten-plus years, which is why the gastro-pub has been such a valuable proposition – without it we would no doubt have suffered even more pub closures. It’s the case today that the vast majority of pubs have to offer some kind of food and the better end of the pub dining experience – as typically delivered by the gastro-pub – has undoubtedly pushed up customers’ expectations across the board. These food-led boozers have played their part in universally improving the quality of food served in pubs.

My changed viewpoint sits comfortably with that of academic Christel Lane, who argues in her recent book that gastro-pubs have had a positive impact on pub culture rather than gentrifying this unique British icon, which was my big worry a decade ago.

She also suggests gastro-pubs have been unfairly criticised for sterilising the traditional wet-led boozer. I apologise for being part of that critical grouping – but I’ve changed my ways.

The Hero of Maida: now under new chef management

So much so I welcomed the reopening of two gastro-pubs – The Coach in the City of London (formerly The Coach & Horses) and The Hero of Maida (formerly renowned food pub The Truscott Arms) in the west of the capital. This partly comes from the fact they are both overseen by chef Henry Harris, who I was a big fan of when he was at French brasserie Racine. If there is one person who can deliver gutsy food suited to a pub environment, it is this man.

What such a move highlights is gastro-pubs have moved to a much more mature footing. High-quality food sits so much more comfortably in a pubby ambience now and we have the full spectrum – from Michelin star venues all the way down to much more laid-back establishments.

We have progressed from the early stages of the gastro-pub movement, when good food in pubs was seen as something of an oxymoron. They were uneasy bedfellows in my opinion. We’ve firmly moved on from boil-in-the-bag cod to sea bass sous vide and I’m pleased to say I’ve also made the journey to the extent I sometimes enjoy a bit of fine dining in the pub while wearing my dusted-down trainers.

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.

Camden Town sitting comfortably with brewery takeovers

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The days of big brewers taking over smaller ones and ruining them are over because there is now too much at stake, argues Jasper Cuppaidge, founder of Camden Town Brewery, which is owned by AB InBev.

Many beer drinkers will disagree with this view but I suspect they will simply have to put up with it because the big brewers are on a buying spree – as most recently seen with Heineken buying a stake in Beavertown.

Consider the recent words of Jorge Paulo Lemann, the investor behind AB InBev, when speaking at the Milken Institute conference in the US. He admitted to being taken by surprise with the rise of craft brewing in America: “We reacted, we bought 20 craft companies. In international markets, if craft appears in Argentina or Brazil, we’ll buy it right away.”

Is this because he feels they can then snuff craft out before it becomes too big and affects his own brands or is it a strategy that would see him develop the acquired craft brands?

When it comes to AB InBev and the UK market then Cuppaidge believes things are in the latter camp. Certainly his experience with Camden Town strongly supports this argument.

“There is always noise when you do great things and also when people are not happy with you [such as when you sell out to a large brewer]. But our strategy has not changed. It is no different today and they [AB InBev] understand that. There has been a fundamental change in the beer market. Fiat would not bring out a Ferrari and Ferrari would not bring out a Fiat even though they have the same parent,” he suggests.

Cuppaidge says AB InBev has done much of the “heavy lifting” – involving the building of a new large brewery in Enfield – and the results are that he believes “Hells has never tasted better”. Many beer writers would agree.

He refers to the beer that now represents 70% of the company’s total sales: “If it was 100% then I’d love it. Every one of our beers is popular but Hells is the priority here in Europe.”

This clearly means that Camden Town has now fully moved away from the days when it was innovating and producing an ongoing array of beers. It has now left this to other newer brewers. “Will we put 10 to 15 beer releases out each year? No. Other breweries will do this and we’ll be the mainstay brand. Two or three beers will take all our brewing capacity,” he says.

The focus with Hells is very much on supplying the major retailers as this part of the market now represents more than 50% of total UK beer sales so “the market is huge”, he points out. In contrast the on-trade represents a mere 4% of Camden Town sales and Cuppaidge appears to have little interest in this part of the beer market.

He regards the major grocers as being prime targets for Camden Town as they move onto stocking more craft products: “The supermarkets were walls of Walkers crisps and now it’s Tyrell’s and where it was Schweppes tonics it is now Fever Tree. There are now also lots of craft beers on the shelves.”

What those beers comprise is certainly going to be fiercely fought over in the future. It will increasingly be the likes of Camden Town [and BrewDog etc…] looking to replace the macro lager brands. Where that leaves the other smaller brewers’ beers is probably in the pub. For many drinkers who have an aversion to brewers growing up that won’t be seen as a problem.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider

 

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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The Axe: one of London’s sharper pubs

April’s premier event was SponFest, a week-long celebration of ‘the very best in wild and traditionally fermented food and drink’ at four Graceland pubs, The King’s Arms, The Axe and The Mermaid of which I am very familiar, and a fourth venue, TT-Liquor, a Kingsland Road cocktail bar, that I had never heard of.

I only visited the pubs, but they had some real treats, on at different times of the week: old and new Cantillon in a vertical tasting, and Fou’Foune by the glass; some superb by-the-glass from special bottles: 3 Fonteinen’s Intense Red Oude Kriek, a young Lambic aged for 7 months with 40% macerated sour cherries and Oud Beersel Green Walnut.

Boon brought various numbered single vat releases to show the differences that can occur between each batch of Lambics and the unpredictable nature of spontaneous fermentation. They had 104, 67, and a 2015 release of 85 on keg along with 109 and 79 in bottle . A mini TTO from De Cam, a Lambic blender, with the outstanding Nectarine, my favourite , Oude Lambiek, Framboise and Kriekenlambiek. This was an ambitious, co-ordinated event that worked really well.

In a flash it’s gone

Globally, the most important news in April was the disappointing, but not unexpected, story from California of Green Flash’s demise. I wrote of its retreat from 32 of the US’ 52 states, and the termination of 15% of the workforce in January’s column (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-28/).

The beginning of the month rapidly saw the closure of its Virginia Beach brewery, and a foreclosure by its largest lender, Comerica Bank, who sold the remaining assets to a new company, WC IPA LLC. This also included Alpine, who had been friendly merged into Green Flash in November 2014.

Mike Hinkley, who started the business 16 years ago, and was the former CEO, admitted “all creditors and shareholders will be stiffed”. The new group is apparently a local Sand Diego business that claimed to want to preserve the beer and safeguard jobs, by focusing on the West Coast operations.

I don’t know the intimate details, but at first glance, it does seem strange that the company did not choose to enter Chapter 11 instead.

The most interesting single night event came from The Bruery, at The Bottle Shop Arch. They specialise in experimental, Belgian-style beers, using a proprietary Belgian yeast strain, for the vast majority. Unsurprisingly, the pales and IPA’s were not remarkable, but the rest of the line-up was fantastic.

Notables included Frucht Guava, a Berliner Weiss, Kyuri Dragon, with dragon-fruit, lychee and rambuten for a SE Asian flavour, and Tart of Darkness, a tart, sour stout. Back in the Jurassic days of 2014, when the Arch first opened, this was one of the beers that truly sparked my interest in the scene.

I hadn’t seen the bottles for a while, so it was good to catch up again, although this version was brewed with blackcurrants. However, the undoubted highlight was Girl Grey, brewed with almond and Earl Grey tea, that reminded me of Battenberg Cake!

There then followed a ticketed bottle tasting with the following pouring: The Wanderer, a red fruit sour, Mash & Coconut, an imperial bourbon BA Brown Ale, Filmishmish, a BA blonde ale with added apricots, Valise, a sour with Viognier wine-grapes, Rum Sucre, a rum BA 6th Anniversary English Old Ale, and, New American Oak Bois, the prior year’s version. It wasn’t, however, especially sensible of me to sit down to the bottle tasting at 19:30, after having already started on the keg list at 16:30!

Wild Beer Co: Results leave a sour taste in the mouth

Wild Beer’s 1st set of results since their Crowdcube campaign, for the year ending July 2017, were released. This blog gives a brilliant summary: (http://fantasyequitycrowdfunding.blogspot.com/search?q=+wild+beer).

A small predicted profit turned into a loss of £370,000, with sales disappointing by £400,000. The results were poor, but good businesses can disappoint and growing ones post losses. What is truly appalling is that they pitched on Crowdcube in March 2017, so had completed nine months of the year, and already knew 75% of the numbers. There are far too many of these stories involved with this method of capital raising.

The 14th was Beavertown Bloody ‘Ell day, which I had at The Euston Tap. The beer seemed subtler than in years gone by. This may mean that it is technically of a higher quality, and also better for all round drinking. However, Special Annual Releases, like festival beers, should be over-the-top and in-your–face.  A cynic would suggest that Heineken are planning on making it a permanent release.( http://beerinsider.com/amateur-drinker-loses-taste-for-beavertown-and-its-extravaganza/).

Following in Moor’s footsteps, Cloudwater announced that they would be an opening a London bar/tap-room. Now that a second brewery from outside has the capital and has made this move the chances are that there will be a flood of them, taking advantage of a much larger customer-base.

It will initially be great for London drinkers, although it clearly massively increases pressure on local brewers. If they respond by improving, then it will be great in the long-run. If they can’t compete with the brand and capital, then there will be causalities.

Variety is the spice of life, and it is especially important that regional identity is preserved in beer. It would be no fun if every bar in the country stacked the same big five to seven craft brands, in the manner in which every High Street looks the same

Brewdog invested in Hawkes Cider, who also has its own Bermondsey tap-room.

The Old Fountain proudly tweeted that they had Siren Limoncello on draft, one Friday night. I popped in lunchtime Saturday to find that it had all gone! Now, it’s a post-City pub and so can get rammed on a Friday evening, but this was still impressive at 9% ABV. Tragically though, this wasn’t the case, and in a cleaning mis-hap, the wrong line had been opened, and all the beer went down the drain.

Waitrose started stocking Wild Beer, Beavertown and Four Pure, along with Belgium’s Boon Oude Gueuze.

Burning Sky Q&A at The Arch with Mark Tranter who confessed, that he really loves brewing the “slow beers”, but it is the “fast beers” which enable him to follow that passion. The keg line-up included an exclusive Saison Printemps Lees.

Finally, a heart-warming incident  one Sunday at The Wenlock Arms, where a 90-year old, who had moved away from the area years ago, was back to celebrate, as she had spent VE Day drinking in there!

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.

Bohem launches new brewery site in Tottenham

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Petr Skocek on the coal face.

North London brewery Bohem has officially opened a significantly enlarged brewery in Tottenham to add to its original bar room premises in Bounds Green.

The brewery, which uniquely specialises in Czech-style bohemian lagers decided it required larger premises last year after initially operating out of a small site near its tap-room on Myddleton Road.

Zdenek Kudr, Evin O’Riordain of Kernel Brewery and Petr Skocek

The new site, part of an industrial estate on West Road, N17 allows the brewery to increase its capacity by around 10-times. It sits alongside Redemption and One Mile End in Tottenham.

Renowned beer writers, leading brewers, London’s Czech community and local fans from Haringey all sat in the sunshine drinking Bohem’s eight different lagers including best-selling Jan Amos and Victoria.

Zdenek Kudr, co-founder of Bohem says the event went “amazingly well” adding that he hoped the attendees would go back to their local bars and pubs all over London and request Bohem beers to be put on the menu.

Na zdravi

Petr Skocek, head brewer at Bohem admis he had no idea prior to the event whether five or 500 people would turn up but says that it was possible Bohem would be opening its tap room on Spurs’ match days to encourage people to come and try its Czech inspired lagers.

Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider and investor in Bohem

 

North London brewing scene continues its ascendency with Gorgeous Brewery

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Reuben Moore, Rob Laub, Sam Laub, and Joe Conlan

Gorgeous Brewery stepped into The Bull in Highgate to replace the London Brewing Company and has installed a significantly more serious brewing operation in this North London outpost.

On my previous visit some years ago when Dan Fox had taken on the dishevelled pub the small brewery was positioned in the kitchen but under its new owners – Rob Laub and sister Sam – the brew-kit has its own dedicated space out the back of the pub. It is also much bigger at five-barrels. To give the brewery some pulling power it also has a recently installed bar that sits alongside the brewing kit to create a proper brewery tap.

This modern shiny space, which opens out onto a sizeable garden that has been given a full overhaul, is open during the summer months. This modern clean-lined area is in contrast to the more traditional interior of the pub. What is constant across the two bars though is the in-house beer that makes up 50% of total ale sales at The Bull.

On my visit the head brewer Reuben Moore and his assistant Joe Conlan ran me through the eight brews on offer on draught that includes five on cask and three keg beers. There was also a bottle conditioned milk stout.

They were all brewed to approachable ABV’s as Moore says this reflects local tastes: “We can’t be doing imperial stouts and things like that as we need to be able to sell them to the locals.”

This supports the argument that it is not trying to play at the edgier – dare we say polarising – end of the craft beer market. This is further indicated by its sales being split evenly between cask and keg. This is helped by the demand for its cask products by local real ale boozers.

Initially the output was only available in The Bull but since taking a stand at Craft Beer Rising in February the brewery has been selling into the free trade. A Tap Take Over at The Rake in Borough Market also helped its promotional drive. This channel now accounts for around 50% of Gorgeous’ beer sales.

On my visit its keg offering definitely packed more of a punch but even these were very approachable brews. None of the output is going to polarise opinions. The pick was the Goofyhoof Pacific Pale Ale (4.6%) and Greaseball American Pale Ale (5.4%).  There was certainly no holding back on the hop mixes that certainly bumps up the cost of production but enabled complexity within what are relatively modest ABVs.

The beers are complimented by the food offering that straddles classics like fish & chips and burgers to slightly more outlandish fare including rare grilled ox heart with salsa verde, halloumi fries, and the winner for me was lobster and salmon scotch egg. As part of The Bull Pub’s ‘Wings Wednesday’ a half kilo bucket of wings with a selection of sauces is a mere £5.

The North London brewing scene is certainly pretty vibrant right now and Gorgeous Brewery is now firmly in the firmament. It also has the big advantage of being a brewpub with its guaranteed channel to market. Expect to see even more of this in the future as the market gets increasingly competitive.

Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider

 

Amateur Drinker loses taste for Beavertown and its Extravaganza

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Extravaganza 2017

After today’s Spurs/Beavertown news, the Editor and I were chatting about whether I should do a quick piece. I was initially reluctant, as it isn’t exactly earth-shattering, and the final Heineken link-up, although now a very short odds-on bet, hasn’t actually happened, and so the precise details aren’t yet known.

However, after reading back to a piece from May 2017 (http://beerinsider.com/lets-rake-over-the-take-overs/), where I first talked about the Beavertown-for-sale rumors, what struck me was the Wicked  Weed take-over which led the piece, and specifically the destruction of their once-proud Funkatorium festival, as independent brewers pulled out and punters demanded their money back.

Specifically, when Beavertown announce their tie-up with Heineken, what  happens to the Extravaganza  in September?

Are the steadfastly proud American independents going to fly over to support a macro-beer company? Will the quality UK craft brewers turn up to help a rival who has now aggressively rammed his tanks onto their lawns? Will the beer-geek fan-boys want to spend £60 on Heineken?

And, if not, will the event limp on as a pale shadow, or be put out of its misery?

A brief recap: Following April’s news that they were supplying Waitrose (coming up in that month’s belated round-up), May saw Beavertown announce that they would be contract brewing Neck Oil and Gamma Ray in Belgium.

Boak and Bailey were the first to specifically put 2 and 2 together and posted an incredibly prescient piece “Getting In Shape for Takeover” (https://boakandbailey.com/page/2/).

By the way, I don’t mind the subsequent Beavertown denials, as that may have been contractually imposed upon them, but, why on earth did Cloudwater get involved and criticize independent journalism? The Mancunians must have been feeling fairly silly when rumours of the Dutch giant buying 49% where reported in Mergermarket and then reached The Times (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/heineken-sees-stairway-to-heaven-xcn0lml5q ) and even  more so today.

Another long running story is Spurs looking for a craft brewer on-site at their stadium, and, for obvious geographical reasons, Beavertown were heavy favourites, and openly admitted the link (http://beerinsider.com/around-town-with-amateur-drinker-14/). However, 12 days ago, Tottenham announced that Heineken would be their “Official Beer Partner” at White Hart Lane (http://www.tottenhamhotspur.com/news/partners/heineken-named-as-official-beer-partner-for-tottenham-hotspur-iconic-new-stadium-180518/), and most assumed that the idea had died.

Then today, Beavertown revealed that they would indeed be opening a brewery and taproom at the ground (http://www.beavertownbrewery.co.uk/beavertown-x-tottenham/).

There is absolutely no way that Heineken would fork out a fortune to be the official beer and then allow this to happen, unless they were going to be getting into bed with Beavertown themselves.

I’m not going to go into details about the final tie-up until it’s confirmed, although mass production almost always produces a lower quality, more consistent, and cheaper product.

However, what is going to happen with Extravaganza?

I can see many brewers and punters, potentially wanting to pull out of a Dutch macro beer event, and then momentum can pick up very quickly, especially in today’s social media world. Indeed, even if you personally have no problem with Heineken, if no brewers are turning up, then what’s the point in going?

Will Beavertown make a gesture of goodwill now and offer a full refund if they do break their promises and tie-up with Heineken? Given their strident denials, it won’t cost them anything!

Certainly, if brewers do pull out, even if the Ticket Tannoy web-site says that Extravaganza tickets are “non-refundable”, customers will have reasonable grounds to demand a refund as the product has been substantially changed.

In that case, if you have booked via a credit card company, then they may well refund you. Alternatively Beavertown may find themselves facing a lot of MCOL Money Claim Online court cases…

Ironically, as I was writing this, Camden (AB Inv) tweeted that they would be showcasing a collaboration with Wicked Weed (AB Inv) at their spanking new tap-room. I won’t be going….

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.

Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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March was a strange month as there was nothing exceptional to rave about or anything especially bad to complain about. It is almost certainly a one-off, but if it’s a trend due to a maturing industry, it will certainly make blogging a lot harder!

The biggest news came when Brewdog swooped on Draft House’s chain of London bars, which was a shock, especially given the proximity of certain branches.  Apparently they are going to keep the brands completely separate, even to the extent that DH won’t be stocking any of Brewdog’s beer.

This rather begs the question of why they bought the chain, especially given the obvious economic advantages of pouring your own, that have led to the expansion of tap-rooms and brewers such as Five Points buying their own pubs.

Draft House was an early, and, therefore, an important player in the scene, but it’s fair to say they lost their way a bit recently as high-end standards have risen and good beer has become almost ubiquitous.

Craft Beer Co EC1 hosted a 5th birthday party for Siren, which was appropriate, as this was where the brewery first launched, in the Jurassic craft beer days of 2013. I was particularly looking forward to the promised return of Limoncello, a lemon DIPA brewed with Mikkeller and Hill Farmstead.

I absolutely loved this beer in the summer of 2014, when I was first getting into the scene, and even sought out its occasional elder brother, barrel aged version Whisky Sour TIPA. They discontinued it, I think because the then-head-brewer Ryan went home to the States, and I have mourned the loss ever since.

Ryan Witter-Merithew so much to thank for

I don’t know whether my expectations were too high, or my tastes have evolved, or the citrus IPA universe has massively expanded, or the recipe has changed, but it was just good, rather than sensational. I certainly remember it as being a lot more lemony. Maiden is Siren’s Solera-style American Barley Wine, in which this year’s brew is combined with last year’s beer, and so on, so that the average age is always increasing and there is an ever decreasing piece of the original in the present release. Some famous sherry’s made this way even claim to go back centuries. 2018 saw the release of Maiden 2017. These are great beers, but not necessarily suited to an afternoon in the pub!

Camra’s London Drinker Beer & Cider Festival, at Camden Centre in Bidborough Street, has been one of the capital’s longest running festivals. Unfortunately 2018 will be the last as the venue is closing. Fuller’s Vintage Ale, the undoubted highlight!

London Drinker beer & cider festival (RIP): last we’ll see of this lot

To make the official opening of their new SE1 bar, Moor hosted Arrogant Sour on Tour, an away fixture for Alessandro Belli’s Reggio Emilia festival. Although they advertised the start as 17:00, the sours weren’t poured until Alessandro turned up, after 18:00, which was annoying. The sours were then good, but too expensive at £5/third. Moor’s Old Freddy Walker on cask is always a delight, and the special Sloe version was sensational.

Bottleshop flew Interboro over from Brooklyn. Mad Fat Fluid IPA , Mad Fat Fresh IPA (w/Civil Society Brewing), Mad Fat Mofo DIPA (w/ Sand City) all benefited from that freshness, but I wasn’t a huge fan of Panther Like a Panther, a porter, one of three beers of that name brewed with musicians Run The Jewels.

Omnipollo Week saw old favourites such as Zodiak IPA and Nebuchadnezzar DIPA early on and then the notorious Noa Soft Serve. A bastion of many festivals, this is the Pecan Mud Stout served by what can loosely be described as a Slush Puppy machine. Here, they went full-on 1980’s-cocktails and optionally garnished in with marshmallows and Cross Town Doughnuts.  Andrew “pastry stout” Morgan drinking one was truly a sight to behold!

Denver’s Great Divide had been scheduled for February but eventually turned up for this blog. Hercules DIPA andTitan DIPA for the classicists amongst us, although the experimental Samurai Rice Ale didn’t really work. Brasserie Trose Dames, from Ste-Croix, Switzerland specialize in sour and wild ales. Unfortunately, in a harbinger of life after April 2019, these were delayed at customs.

Five Points was the latest company to raise capital on CrowdCube.  Good brewery but I strongly recommend that anyone who is tempted to invest, in this or any other company using this platform to be very careful.  Crowdfunding is not pretty.

Anspach & Hobday celebrated its birthday by pouring a Single Hop IPA direct from the tank at their Bermondsey home, which was obviously as fresh as can be, and excellent. They also had a very famous guest, which certainly brought in the crowds: 3 Floyds Zombie Dust, arguably the most renowned Pale Ale in the world. I had only had it at festivals, which is a different type of tasting experience, so it was great to drink it normally.

Deya TTO at GNRT, Hornsey. I drank Steady Rollin’ Man APA, This Ai’nt My First Rodeo, a porter in collaboration with Duration and Rave coffee, Falling into place DIPA and Gareth brews Pale Ale, a superb brewers’ special.

King Arms, E2 hosted an MTB with Menno Oliver of De Molen, although I visited later and didn’t meet him.  Amarillo DIPA, Bommen & Granaten Brett Rioja BA Barley Wine, Mout & Mocca Imperial Stout, Vur & Vlam IPA and Rasputin, a sweet Imperial Stout, all balanced by the refreshing Hop & Liefde Pale Ale!

Mother Kelly’s have a very close relationship with Põhjala, Tallinn’s finest so it was no surprise to see the Vauxhall branch host a TTO. Oo, an Imperial Baltic Porter, Vermalised an IPA,  Must Kuld El Salvador a Coffee Porter, and Kalana, a Brown Ale all enjoyable.

The month ended with Easter, whose loss of beer festivals I have already lamented…..

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t. If you see this man and are tempted to buy him a drink think of the consequences.