Around Town with Amateur Drinker

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Rye on the Prize x 2

January has been a month of intrigue. There was Sky Sports’ reporter Jim White with ‘Arry Redknapp winding down the window of his 4×4 to lie about players he will, or won’t be signing. This year the beer world caught up: Gregg Irwin left Weird Beard, despite being a co-founder, Georgina Young took over as Head Brewer at Fuller’s (a surname that would doubtless have briefly interested the Competition Authorities) and Jen Merrick left Beavertown. 24-hour Sky Booze News cannot be far off…

On the drinking front, Left Hand brought the first keg of Rye on the Prize, an imperial red rye ale, to the UK and poured it at the Prince in N22. Generously we all got a free half, but it was excellent and I gladly carried on paying for it! Being the sister-pub to The Duke’s Head in Highgate, The Prince has an excellent pedigree, and, unsurprisingly, had the same unpretentious mixture of locals and great beer.

They have a permanent tap dedicated to the nearby Bohem Brewery, and Sparta, their dark Czech lager was superb. The pub intends to brew on-site, which will be challenging: The Earl of Essex had to stop, as there wasn’t enough full-time work for an ambitious brewer.

Ratebeer is a useful tool, for instance, if I do not recognise a new beer. However, other than to mock (Craft Beer Co, N1 isn’t even the best place for beer in Islington, let alone amongst the best in the country), I don’t know any actual drinker, as opposed to a brewery social media manager, who pays any attention to their annual awards, which came out this month.

Last year I bought 2014 Old Chimneys Good King Henry Special Reserve imperial stout, commonly known as the highest rated UK beer on Ratebeer (a fascinating insight into beer-rating, brilliantly told by the always excellent Boak and Bailey (Click here) which I finally cracked open: There is no hoax and the beer is lovely, but it’s not the best beer in Britain.

Caps and Taps, hosted a “Hunt the Pliny” night, a blind tasting of three IPA and three DIPA, one of which was the treasure. This was a brilliant, intimate event hosted by the extremely friendly owners in which unsurprisingly I recognized most of the guests! It was fairly easy to distinguish between the styles and fortunately (statisticians would point out it was then only a 1 in 3 wager) I could identify the Pliny, a historic beer.

Even better, it is now not on a perch of its own, and there are many other magnificent DIPA’s available. Overall this was wonderfully organized: a fantastic evening amongst like-minded people.

BottleShop had three great events:  Juice Night was a celebration of hazy East Coast style IPA’s: It was incredibly impressive how different each of the four Stigbergets were, even though were the same style and strength. The Cloudwater v11 was sensational: they have tweaked v10, and the result was their best so far.

Secondly, AmeriCAN, a dreadful pun, but a brilliant night, in which they showcased their new cold-chain import process for cans from the States (geddit?). The usual favourites from Mike Hess, Modern Times, Ironfire, Green Flash and others were available at steep discount to takeaway on the night, which necessitated the biggest suitcase I could find (Seriously, it was big – Ed).

Thirdly, Brewski, from Helsingborg in Sweden visited. I enjoyed the Passionfeber IPA, but the standout beer was the outstanding Mangofeber DIPA, which I had previously raved about from the American Bottle Bar at GBBF (Click here). It is however incredibly deceptive at 8%!

The same evening Brewdog, Camden hosted WarPigs, but fortunately the beers were still available the following afternoon: Lil’ Drunk Baby, session IPA, California Steamin’, a California Common lager, Lazurite IPA, Big Drunk Baby DIPA, all truly whetted my appetite for Copenhagen in May!)

Jolly Pumpkin’s beers were showcased at various BrewDog venues, including Clerkenwell. Unfortunately, head-office decided to politicise the event, as it occurred on Inauguration day. I do not wish to hear the un-nuanced political propaganda of a bar-chain (especially when they demand every venue expresses the same opinion) whether it be on this issue, or from the opposite spectrum, Wetherspoon’s views on Brexit.

Moreover, I have no doubt that, just as the latter harvests all the advantages of the Single Market whilst blathering on about the evils of the EU, Brewdog’s US operations will happily trouser any corporate tax-cuts that the new administration makes. (Furthermore, nobody appeared to notice that Jolly Pumpkin are from Michigan, a Democrat state since 1992 but which crucially swung in 2016).

Fortunately, the customers completely ignored it and concentrated on the beer, which was excellent: Bam Biere Saison, Fuego del Otono autumn beer, La Roja, a sour red and my favourite the Cucurbitophobia gose.

Less successful was their Burning Sky event two weeks later. There was nothing wrong with the beers which were as superb as always. However, as the list was similar to that at the BottleShop just before Xmas, so the vastly increased mark-up really stood out. On a Saturday, why start at 15:00, and not the much more sensible 12:00 that they had originally promised? Most damningly (especially given the premium pricing structure) were that two beers were still on from the above Jolly Pumpkin event 15 days earlier.

After last month’s announcement of an expanded LCBF, Beavertown raised the stakes even further with Extravaganza, priced at the psychological £50 prize-point that Craft Beer Co so embarrassingly used for London Beer Carnival, before they cancelled it in September 2015.

Back to Beavertown

The brewery list is the best yet for the UK, although it is a tad disappointing that they have merged in the Rainbow Project, rather than having it as a stand-alone event. I have bought tickets for both days: I really hope that they concentrate on the logistics: It was the queues that destroyed the 2016 Valentine’s bash, and their absence that really made last year’s Rainbow.

(I enjoyed their latest Tempus on tap at Duke’s: El Mariachi, a Tequila barrel-aged Gose and Moonshiner, Berliner Weisse aged in bourbon. The Bloody ‘Ell seems late this year though?)

Burns night at the Auld Fountain was great fun, with Cromarty AKA IPA the stand-out, and Fierce Beer Cranachan Killer the most interesting. Separately, a quiet Saturday half in my local was interrupted by the Five Points pub-crawl, full of friendly and familiar faces on their first stop.

The crawl included The Fountain, Wenlock Arms, Earl of Essex and Three Johns. I haven’t mentioned the Wenlock before but it is a fantastic locals’ pub, highly regarded for years by CAMRA, for the quality of their cask, and was a welcome oasis on Xmas Day!

Pressure Drop announced they would be moving to a new 6,000 square foot unit on the same industrial estate as Beavertown. This givens Tottenham six breweries, which will become seven if Spurs follow through on their promise to brew on-site at their new stadium, although why is this necessary with the six available to supply? Hopefully we will not be talking about overcrowding in N17 at Lockwood Estate, so please nobody mention “T******** B*** M***”!

Life’s too short to queue

I read a frightening article in the NY Times (Click here), on people queuing overnight for 11 hours for the latest Other Half, especially as I remembered how disappointed I had been with their beers in late 2015 (Click here).

Finally, this is the time of year we must put up with pubs constantly tweeting that they are showing the Six Nations, as if it were some sort of unique badge of honour, rather than free-to-view for all on network TV. Please stop wasting your time and mine, and instead publish the current tap-list.

Reporting from the front-line – Amateur Drinker manages to get along to all the beer things you’d like to but couldn’t.