Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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After my observation last month regarding stouts it is gratifying to report that a fantastic event was recently dedicated to the style at the Duke’s Head in Highgate and two wonderful examples of barrel-aged stouts were released by Beavertown.

‘Darker Days’ was the third annual celebration of that colour of beer that Matthew Curtis has hosted at the Duke’s Head as winter approaches. This year beers from Five Points and Brew By Numbers were matched to Ghanaian cooking from Chale-Let’s Eat, who were the pub’s November monthly kitchen pop-up rotation.

Among the innovative pairings were: Beef Azi Desi, a glorious spicy stew of steak, peanuts and okra, with Brew By Numbers excellent 08/02 imperial stout; chocolate brownie with Five Points Railway porter; and cheese with BBNo 14/03 Tripel Ella Belgian Triple.

These events are a triumph and the only reason not to recommend them unreservedly in future would be a purely Machiavellian desire not to miss out on tickets!

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As a beer consumer, the recent explosion of craft options in supermarkets has been very welcome, especially as we are being gouged by Sterling’s recent depreciation, and this month saw Tesco announce that it now sells 30 different brands at each of its 400 Express outlets, all cold-stored.

Moreover, I was recently pleasantly surprised by the offerings in M&S in Moorgate, which included Lervig Hoppy Joe red ale, and IPA’s from Northern Monk and Stone Berlin, which even 3-5 years ago would have been a pretty good haul in even the most specialist of outlets.

To stay with the supermarkets, but slightly digressing from beer, the epicurean disaster of the month came at Waitrose, Barbican, which has been refurbished for a trial project. This consists of ripping out the continental-style Ham and Cheese counter and halving the fresh meat and fish equivalents. This has been at the cost of losing many lines of proper food and having them replaced by sub-standard nasty take-away items that would not be out of place in a particularly depressing airport terminal. This is an act of ‘strategic development’ self-harm straight out of the scripts of Twenty Twelve or W1A.

The third Beavertown Tempus event was in partnership with BarrelWorks, Firestone Walker’s famous barrel-aging division. It started with a tutored tasting of 10 matured beers, five from each, along with very generous portions of high quality ham and cheese. The two outstanding beers were barrel-aged imperial stouts, the glorious vanilla, coconut and mocha Velvet Merkin (and, long story, but yes, it is named after…) and the El Diablo espresso Parabajava.

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Afterwards there was a Q&A session with Jeffers Richardson, a true craft beer veteran who currently runs BarrelWorks, and Logan and Jenn from Beavertown. This was entertaining and enlightening, doubtless helped by lavish offerings of cans of the brewery’s core range!

In an interview with Hop Review, Logan revealed that Spurs are aiming for a “pop up food bar” with “local food from the area” at their new stadium and have approached Beavertown with the aim of having craft as approximately “20% of the beer” .This is fairly common in the US (although bizarrely the range is relatively commercial at the Qualcomm stadium, despite it being in San Diego, which is perhaps why the voters recently rejected the plan to fund a  new stadium!) and would be great here. But I doubt the Met will be pleased if Power of the Voodoo is served by the pint!

It would, however, be fair to say I was a little disappointed by Club Tropigama, their 1000th brew. A fruity Gamma Ray, it wasn’t dreadful, but I was expecting a lot more.

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Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

 Black Friday saw a faintly ludicrous promotion in which 100 bottles of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout went on sale at Clapton Craft, in its only UK release. By all accounts the beer is apparently still superb, and in general it is an excellent local store, but this had the footprints of the brewery’s corporate owner, AB InBev’s PR department all over it, and indeed articles appeared in at least Time Out, The Independent, and even the Daily Mirror.

Sending over just 100 bottles, and then crucially pricing them below market, is purely to create an artificial sense of scarcity and then media-friendly pictures of queues round the block. It is just silly and ultimately leads to a black market. Moreover, you do not see people annually camping outside Chateau Latour overnight: instead the market clears, at a price which fluctuates.

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No queues for this big boy

The Kings Arms, E2, has been superb recently with some excellent normal lists (Three Floyd’s/Amager Artic Sunstone, Pohjala Mutant Disco and Green Flash Tangerine Souls Style IPA a small sample). And two tap takeovers – with Ska fairly low-key, although it was good to finally try the Modus Mandarina IPA, albeit in a can. Arizona Wilderness was sensational. The funky and refreshing Tart Sunshine, Integrity Blues IPA (a collaboration with the band Jimmy Eat World!), the Peloncilo brown Porter with dates and cinnamon, and finally the dessert of toffee/hazelnut chocolate Muck Elbow English Mild.

It was sad to hear that Quantum were shutting down, as, the founder, Jay Krause wants to concentrate on brewing rather than all the admin involved in running a business, and so will be joining Cloudwater in that role. We didn’t get many of their beers down in London due to production capacity, although I have fond memories of the very early days of The BottleShop (Laura, no mezzanine and only two lines!) when bottles of the very fiery, chilli Stockport Sour were Marmite-esque in their ability to divide opinion!

BrewDog’s CollabFest is an annual event where each of their branches teams up with a local brewery to create and brew a beer of their design, which produced 27 different beers. Clearly this leads to a great deal of variation in both style and quality, but that is what a festival should be about. The clear stand-out winner was Shepherd’s Bush/Siren, whose Ten Dollar Shake IPA was an outstanding tropical fruit smoothie IPA, which I sincerely hope becomes a part of their core range.

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BBNO Beer Pong

Honourable mention, although I will doubtless be accused of home-town bias, goes to Brimful Of Masha, an autumnal red ale made by Affinity/Elusive and Clerkenwell.

Draft House, Old Street, held a Brew By Numbers Beer Pong-based event which was great fun and during which the Pale was very murky but tasted far better than it looked.

(For the record – the BBNO team received a real pasting at Beer Pong by Amateur drinker and yours truly – Ed.)

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Murky but very good

Craft Beer Company, Covent Garden, invited Siren for Halloween. Alongside all their old favourites, three was also a special festive version of Chocolate Cake and the Maiden 2015 barley wine on cask, the aforementioned Ten Dollar Shake, although on a ludicrous mark-up (possibly because it was a BrewDog collab??), and Attack on the Bounty a wonderfully subtle coconut black IPA in collaboration with Northern Monk, although I wasn’t a fan of the V.I.P.A., a Vimto inspired pale ale they had brewed for Indy Man Beer Con.

As always, many notable evenings at The BottleShop: Omnipollo (standout beers the Mazarin oatmeal pale ale and, with Dugges, Anagram Blueberry Cheesecake, an imperial stout that was a stunning aromatic and decadent dessert beer), Mikkeller (SpontanFramboos Lambic, Green Gold IPA  and BooGoop an excellent barley wine, brewed with Three Floyds), California (Alpine Duet IPA and two from the consistently sensational  Modern Times the Fruitlands Blood Orange & Hibiscus Gose and Fortunate Islands, a grapefruit wheat beer) and last, but not least the De Molen, which was slightly different in that it was a formal sit-down tasting session with some of their special beers from the Borefts Beer Festival)

And finally, as December marks the arrival of the ‘one month a year’ drinking crowd cluttering up our watering holes, let’s hope they remember that a “Pub is for Life, not just for Christmas”.

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t because you’re not committed enough