Around Town with Amateur Drinker

Apologies for how late this September column is, and those late summer days seem a long time ago, as I write this….(Ed – never start a column with an apology).

2018’s Zwanze Day was at The Beer Merchants Tap, leading to my first visit to the venue.  It’s clearly an impressive space, with a great selection of bottles, especially Belgian. They had been much more aggressive in promoting the event than the Kernel had in the past, which I have no issue with, but this caused the tickets to sell out in less than 10 minutes!

Unfortunately there were a lot of problems with logistics. There were 15-20 minute queues all night, which then doubled when the staff had to go and serve the Zwanze at 8pm, so much so, that many people, including myself, then left.

They weren’t helped by West Ham having arguably their best result yet at their new Olympic stadium, beating Man United 3-1, as many fans celebrated afterwards, although it was the lunch-time kick-off. Fundamentally, there was not enough staff and they weren’t prepared for the crowds.

Which was a pity as the beer selection was excellent: The keg list mixed Lambics and Imperial Stouts, which worked fantastically, as the bitterness of the former cut thru the richness of the latter. I mainly drank Cantillon Mamouche, the 2-year old Lambic in which elderberry flowers have been soaked, whilst my partner was on Tilquin Oude Mûre à l’Ancienne.

The Finback imperial stout was sensational, especially as I had always associated that brewery with IPA’s. On the same day, Burning Sky Coolship Release No.1 came out, their first beer using their new Coolship and brewed to a traditional Belgian method. It was lovely, but a little too young, so those who got bottles will be in for a treat, after storing.

Finally, the Zwanze itself, Manneken Pise, was a blend of three separate Lambics that were aged in Italian Amarone, Chianti and Sangiovese red wine barrels respectively. It was excellent as always.

Network Rail sold its commercial property business to Telereal & Blackstone for £1.5 billion. The majority of the units are the converted railway arches, which have exploded this decade. These conversions of inner-city real estate are one of those ideas that work so well that it is shocking that nobody ever thought of it before.  Arches becoming bars, numerous breweries, and fuelling the infamous BBM, have played a key role in the beer scene.

In Bermondsey, in particular, the early-adopters have themselves also been partly responsible for the area becoming more desirable for visitors. However, that footfall increase will now lead to higher market rents. That is very unfortunate for those early businesses which did so much for the area. It is harder to feel sympathy for the latter ones who moved in to exploit that footfall at a below-market rent.

“Barley Wine is Life” celebrated that style and was presented by Chris Hall, esteemed beer blogger turned BBNo , and now Communications Manager  at The Bottleshop,  with a Shakespearian ability to invent new vocabulary for the beer world!

I must confess that I rarely end up drinking barley wine as it always seems too gung-ho to order in a normal pub/bar environment and in halves, so I was looking forward to this event. It didn’t disappoint, show-casing a fantastic range of the genre, with Chris proving an excellent host.

Shakespeare (photo credit: Matt Curtis probably)

We opened with Great Divide Hibernation Ale, pedantically an Old Ale. Despite their European location, To Ol Beastly Biscuit and De Molen Bommen and Granaten were US interpretations.  Marble’s barley wine was Xmas pudding-like. My favourite was Jackie O/Creature Comforts, Athens to Athens Grist to Grist, a smoked version, aged in bourbon barrels.

Finally, we finished with The Bruery’s Saule, served with Peruvian chocolate. Overall, this was a brilliant evening, which really educated about the style, and I will definitely be drinking more barely wine in the future, and certainly this Christmas!

A disappointing turn of events to report at the previously excellent Duke’s Head/Small Beer/Prince chain, of which I had written so highly of in the past. Firstly, House brewery, which had been brewing in-house at The Prince shut down, and Tom Harrison, who had played such a key role in the chain’s success before becoming Head Brewer, left the organisation.

Secondly, well-respected beer writer Matt Curtis stopped doing events with the group. From Darker Days  ( to De La Senne (, these had been superbly organised and very enjoyable and I have lauded them accordingly. Finally, the quality of the beer lists has declined dramatically at all venues, with much cheap faux-craft.

The Prince: crown slips (photo credit: Matt Curtis probably)

Brew By Numbers organised an alternative Bermondsey afternoon to Beaver-Ex on the first Friday, opening at lunchtime and offering a free beer to those who had cancelled tickets. Moor, The Bottleshop and others joined in, producing a fantastic atmosphere although a cynic would say that was because we were drinking when we should have been at work! Modern Times took over The Bottleshop Arch. Alongside the normal fantastic IPA’S, were two sours, The Fruitening 1 and 2, Transit of Venus, a rye grisette, and the red wine BA Asteroid Cowboy, an American wild ale.

One of the earliest times that the Editor and I met was at an evening in February 2015, at The Three Johns, N1, when Four Pure launched a collab Transatlantic Overdrive, with Bear Republic, by flying over a keg of Racer 5. (Ed – I remember nothing!).

It was the first ever London beer event where crowd control was necessary (still a year before Beavertown’s infamous 4th birthday party) as the pub was rammed by what seemed like every member of the nascent scene, so much so that a bemused regular asked me what was going on, and couldn’t believe that we had all turned up just for a specific beer!

It was the freshest American-style I had ever had (and this was when no-one had heard of East Coast IPA) and the keg kicked in under 45 minutes.  Three and half years later and I came across Racer 5 in the small M&S at Liverpool St. station.  It wasn’t refrigerated, which is criminal, but is an indication of the staggering speed of change we have experienced.

Right beer, wrong glass (photo credit: not Matt Curtis probably)

Mason & Co shut, blaming upcoming winter footfall in the area. Five Points have their new pub The Pembury Tavern to focus on anyway, so that may have played a role.

Bottleshop hosted Omnipollo, including the infamous soft serve machine, of which I particularly enjoyed the lemon wheat. The cherry candy popcorn sour was as good as I remembered it from GNRT last month.

New bottles released from Mills Brothers, Picture Pot, a blend of 3 beers from 2017, and Today, their 1st spontaneously fermented beer.

Once again, apologies for the tardiness of the column and I promise October’s will be released much sharper….(Ed – when?)

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.