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.