Around Town with Amateur Drinker


August was obviously dominated by London Beer City, which was even bigger and better than last year.

The week kicked off with an unofficial opening party at The Kings Arms, ‘The Scandinavian Embassy’, which hosted a MTB with Dry and Bitter, and had enough brewers and industry people to start a convention. The highlight was As Seen on TV, a session IPA, which almost all those convention visitors appeared to be drinking! Well that, and the free shots of Aquavit, a Nordic spirit…

I have attended every LCBF: I wonder, if, in 45 years’ time there will be a similar group to those that have been to every Super Bowl ( 2017 saw a move to a new larger space in Hoxton Square. Friday brought out all the usual suspects. The Fuller’s Cask Yard was superb, especially the collaborations with Moor, Marble and Thornbridge. New York’s Other Half feature prominently in this month’s round-up and it was their Simcoe and True Green DIPA’s that attracted the most attention on keg.

I have some sympathy with the LCBF organisers who have done so much for beer in the capital and it was very unfortunate that Extravaganza was launched in the year they moved to larger premises, especially as I do know that some foreign brewers, who had planned to come in August, changed their plans to come the following month.

Despite these obstacles, overall it was an enjoyable and successful afternoon.

Fuller’s at LCBF

However, as in 2016, they again let us in 15 minutes after scheduled opening time. There is no reason for this and the error is compounded by sticking rigidly to the closing times. This is easily fixable and mustn’t occur next year.

Sunday was always going to be all about Other Half at The Axe, N16. When we arrived, it transpired that there was a bizarre system operating in which none of the beers were served until 18:00 dead.

There was no queuing system, either physical or via grabbing a ticket as you arrived. This led to a scrum of people three deep at the bar from 17:40 at the latest. Unlike in a Friday after-work pub, they weren’t even moving after being served, but instead holding their position. Bedlam then ensued from 18:00. The staff worked incredibly hard- Pete from the King’s Arms was even drafted in after an emergency call! However, it still took over an hour before the experience was in any way pleasant.

The beer was very limited so I understand there had to be some sort of rationing, but this didn’t work at all. If it had been tapped at 12:00, us geeks could have queued outside. Alternatively, and it may have been that the brewery insisted on the 18:00 rule, they could have introduced a ticket when you arrived and bought your 1st other beer.

All the beers were stunning.

On Monday, I went Bohem’s Czech lager tasting at their tap-room in Bowe’s Park. I must declare that I have a professional interest (I’m an investor) in this brewery, although it is true that I love their beers, particularly Sparta, an amber lager.

Bohem Brewery

Trade day at GBBF is the proverbial comfortable pair of old slippers. It is what it is, and I am not going to discuss the Marble row. There was one silly change this year in that the American cask bar only opened at 15:00. Not only did this produce congestion at that time but created queues elsewhere earlier as people switched. Why do it?

Notable beers were the Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen, a Rauchbier, Cherry Lady, a lovely sour from the Italian Foglie d’Erba, Apollo Galaxy IPA from the Czech Pivovar Matuska, an excellent modern IPA from a country more associated with traditional styles, Essex’s Crouch vale Equanot a citrusy, floral golden ale, Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild, chocolatey nutty and last, but not least, a bottle of Portland’s Hopworks Ferocious Citrus IPA

Thursday was Beavertown at Fuller’s owned Great Northern Railway Tavern, Hornsey. Mostly these were familiar, but Hawaii-5-Oh! a Grodziskie, with Friends of Ham and Canned Rations, a spiced IPA were new to me. Top marks to the excellent venue, which provided three thirds for £6, even including Blueberry Fika and Normcore, the imperial stouts. Then onto Duke’s Head for some Marble Dobbler, which was gorgeous on cask.

Siren had events at CBC, Covent Garden all week, unimaginatively called Siren’s Calling.

On the Friday, it was also their turn to pour the Other Half DIPA’S, Green Diamond and Mylar Bags. They were charging £6.50 a third, as opposed to £4.50 at The Axe! However at least they were pouring from opening!

They also put on a free tasting of a Siren/Other Half imperial milk stout collaboration, passionately led by Ruben, ex-Mother Kelly’s and now working for the Berkshire brewery.

First up was Twigs, the base. Then we tried Nuts with hazlenuts, and, finally, Berries, with strawberries. They were all excellent but the finale was truly sensational, the clear winner for almost all tasters, including myself.

I then hopped on the Central Line to go to The Kernel event at Brewdog Shepherds Bush. Upon arriving, it was quickly apparent that they had also imposed a ludicrous 18:00 sharp start time. The Kernel is not a sexy, rare, American import and there was loads of the stuff available so, whereas I had some sympathy at The Axe, this was just completely unacceptable.

It hurts customers who face needless queues, staff who must repeatedly give the bad news to disappointed punters that the beers aren’t on yet, and then face an unpleasant horde and finally discourages normal punters who walk in, see the mayhem, and walk out again, which I saw at both this event and on the Sunday.

It is a stupid system and needs to stop.

The Kernel beers were excellent as always.

With perfect symmetry, the week finished as it began, at The King’s Arms, although it was vastly more relaxed and mellow than it had been 10 days earlier. WarPigs Birru for Ramen yuzu pilsner the stand-out.

August wasn’t just Beer City:

Bissel brothers belatedly made it to Mother Kelly’s after the customs issues discussed in the last piece. This was less hectic and I could ascertain that I preferred the Industry IPA to the Substance. On the same evening, Thornbridge did a free sour tasting upstairs at CBC, EC1.

Ric, from Modern Beer Co., hosted a Spanish MTB with Cerveses Guineu, Naparbier and Cerveses La Pirata at Brindisa, Shoreditch. This was a fun evening and one can only hope that some of the beers become permanent at the bar. My favourite was Naparbier Mad Clown Extra Pale Ale.

Bank holiday weekend was back to GNRT, Hornsey for a 20-tap sour takeover. There were old favourites from Wild Beer, Magic Rock and Siren. I am not usually a huge fan of Redchurch but really rate Urban Farmhouse, their sour sub-brand, of which a few were on, including Tartlette. I am also a sucker for Buxton Trolltunga, their gooseberry sour IPA. GNRT is proving itself an excellent addition to the London scene.

Bottleshop welcomed Stillwater Extra Dry, a fantastic saison brewed with sake rice and The Cloud, a solid IPA.

Next month’s column will carry a full review of Extravaganza (spoiler alert- although there were some teething problems, overall, I thought it was fantastic).

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.