Around Town with Amateur Drinker


December, with its Xmas jumpers, office parties and the once-a-year crowd, is the worst month for regular pub-goers, and quite understandably there are far less special events to report on, which is reflected in this column.

The devastating shock of the month was the news that Duke’s Brew & Que was closing immediately.  As I’m sure every reader knows, it was Beavertown’s birth-place, and, on that basis alone, deserved a Blue Plaque for its contribution to the London scene. It remained an excellent bar, a perfectly passable BBQ restaurant, and an excellent place to avoid the tap-room queues for special launches. It will be sorely missed.

There are a lot of unanswered questions, which Beavertown ducked on social media, with all the evasiveness of a professional politician. It always seemed very full when I was there, but clearly I haven’t seen the accounts. They may have fallen victim to an unexpected rent review, but that doesn’t explain the main issue, which is timing: Firstly, why close at the beginning of December, the aforementioned month of festive spenders? Secondly, why not announce the decision in advance, and finish with a closing party? I am sure many drinkers would have deliberately visited before it shut down: I would have done.

I can’t think of a business failure as stunning as this since the craft beer boom began. Is it possible that this is the canary in the coalmine? I very much doubt it, but then again very few people saw any problems when a few small subprimes went bust in February 2007. The fact that the rest of this column is mostly about openings shows, that, in Charles ‘Chuck’ Prince’s unfortunate turn of phrase, the music is still player and the industry is still dancing (if you don’t know about finance then it is worth looking up –Ed).

I suspect this is a one-off, but I do worry the growing fashion to Crowdfund tap-rooms with advance sales discounts, which is very bubbly.

The Bottle Shop in Bermondsey attracts less of the December crowd, and, so put on the most interesting events: Haze Night featured Verdant (I Played Bass On That Tune IPA), Fuerst Wiacek, a brewery of which I am not nearly as big a fan as others and Stigbergets (Api Lairepmi DIPA, Muddle IPA, beer of the night), who were the winners hands down.

Northern Monk TTO featured three collaborations, Malt (imperial porter, with De Molen), Hops (DIPA, Deya) and Yeast (DDH saison with 18th Street). Brewski: I’ve enjoyed their fruit-based offerings in the past but strangely found them a little disappointing, although I enjoyed 50 States of Freedom, a  Berliner Weisse with Cycle.

WarPigs brought the old favourites, Wheezin’ The Juice IPA, Lazurite IPA and Cry For Help, Rick, a porter. They also had a, most definitely not the, Mikkeller week, although I had a stinking cold, so it would be silly to pass judgment on the specific beers. It was also great of Amex to include the Arch in their Small Business Fortnight, which led to a welcome £5 off the bill!

Its wholesale arm cold-chained Modern Times Critical Band IPA, an absolutely fantastic tropical NEIPA, which received rave reviews wherever it popped up further down the retail chain. It does leave me pining for City Of The Sun though.

Heineken finally made their much anticipated entry into the craft beer scene. However, it was a lot less dramatic than many, including myself, had predicted/feared. Rather than an outright takeover of one of the bigger fish, they invested a minority stake in the smaller Brixton, who will use the cash to expand capacity by five-times.  The move is less than half a mile away, so they will retain their local character. It is very early days, but this news could have been a lot worse.

The King’s Arms produced a stunning list for NYE: Kernel Damson Sour, Mikkeller Spontanblackberry,  the wonderful Moor Old Freddie Walker, on cask, Rodenbach 2017 Vintage, Stigbergets Api Lairepmi DIPA and Cloudwater/Pilcrow The Missing Piece IPA .The only slight criticism was three imperial stouts   (Cloudwater/To Ol Xmas cake , To Ol Yolomaelk and Omnipollo Noa Pecan) but no barley wines.

Moor opened a London tap-room very close to BBNo, so clearly targeting the B******** B*** M*** crowd.There has been some criticism from brewers that this is slightly cynical, as they are not actually brewing there, and already have a very efficient London distribution network.

(photo BeerGuideLondon)

Would they welcome a FourPure tap-only space in Bristol? As a customer, though, it is clearly great, as Moor brew terrific beers, and show a devotion to cask that is unsurpassed in the modern craft scene. At the launch, I enjoyed Rey of Light, a DIPA whose name reflects Justin’s fanaticism for a well known space opera, although I found it a bit overly alcoholic when I subsequently had it in a pub

Between Xmas & the New Year I managed the Triple Crown of walking, on successive days, to each of the King’s Arms, Earl of Essex and then finally The Axe. It was good to experience Mauritz’s knowledge and enthusiasm again, with his recommendation of Garage’s About Thyme Berliner Weisse, predictably spot-on.

For those of you haven’t already read it, I would recommend an excellent article by Mark Dredge (click here) on the phenomenon that is NEIPA.

A brief round-up of the flurry of openings: Siren re-opened a new, expanded tap-room at their Berkshire brewery, although I have yet to re-visit. Thornbridge announced a joint-venture with Pivovar (wholesaler, and bar operator, including Euston Tap) to open 10 new sites across the country, with the first in Birmingham.

Former Beavertown head brewer Jen Merrick will open Earth Project, in Royal Docks, with production hopefully coming on stream in mid 2018. Two pubs launched from stables with impeccable credentials: Brave Sir Robin in Crouch Hill, from the Rose & Crown owners, and Small Beer in Crouch End, from The Prince & Duke’s Head.

Unfortunately, I missed BBNo’s 5th birthday party at the tap-room, which was apparently great. I did try the 5th Anniversary DDH Pale Ale, their first can offering, and a superb juice-bomb.

Finally, a truly bizarre story that should act as a warning against taking any on-line customer review sites too seriously, in which Oobah Butler used fake reviews to push his South London garden shed into being rated the capital’s top restaurant (click here).

Here’s looking at you, RateBeer & Untapped….

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.