Category Archives: Pub & bar
The last leg of my Baltic journey about a month-and-a-half back took me to Lithuania. I’ve been there several times before and know and admire their beer culture. Even their macro brews are totally OK – all the major breweries make a decent porter and main Lithuanian brewery Svyturys won a couple of medals in the World Beer Cup recently, including a Gold in the Dortmunder/Export or German-style Oktoberfest beer category for their Svyturys Ekstra.
But the real reason to love Lithuanian beer culture is the profusion of local beers and breweries – I hesitate to use words like “micro” and “craft” as Lithuania so far is not at all influenced by the US beer scene but quite happy with their own brewing traditions. This inevitably leads to offerings being a bit samey – small breweries typically brew a lager, a dark lager, a porter and a farmhouse beer – often they all come in filtered and unfiltered varieties, and sometimes there’s a wheat beer in there, but that’s about it. But when these offerings are executed to a pretty high standards, it’s still OK – in my opinion, Lithuanian dark lagers are second to none, often a bit heavier and with a better mouthfeel than your typical dark lager, more akin to altbiers or schwarzbiers than plain dark lagers. And even though it gets a bit samey, some breweries have some delightfully oddball offerings. Two of my favourites are Vilniaus Alus, the only brewery in the capital, and Čižo Alus, a small family-run brewery (owner is Ramunas Čižo, a fourth-generation brewer – the family has been brewing on the same site since 1865). As breweries, they couldn’t be more different: Vilniaus Alus is more of a small-scale macro brewery that exports quite a lot of their brews to their neighbouring countries, whereas Ramunas Čižo makes only one beer that hardly makes it outside the lake Sartai area except for a few specialist pubs and restaurants in Vilnius and Kaunas.
I did it again: I drank too much beer. But what could I do? It was the Craft Beer Company 1st Anniversary Weekend on June 30 – July 1. I go there so often it feels like the place has been around forever rather than for just one year – they’re already a London institution and a world beer lover destination. And as expected the lineup of beers was something special: a lot of it must have come from Copenhagen Beer Celebration as many rare beers from there made a repeat performance in London. Not that I mind one bit as I got to try a lot of the stuff I missed at CBC, as well as have more of beers I was convinced I would never have the chance to try again. And the evening ended with not one but two proper whales… Here are my unsystematic observations, sorted by brewery this time:
There are beer bars in London that have a wider range than The Rake, that’s for sure – next to Craft Beer Company or Cask Pub & Kitchen, the three hand pumps and seven keg taps of The Rake may seem downright paltry. But look closer: those ten pumps/taps regularly feature the very latest releases from top British and world breweries, there’s frequently limited releases on offer that you can hardly get anywhere else but here, and everything changes with a frightening regularity. You can have a two-keg limited release of a Kernel/Tom Greasly collab (a Red IPA) one night (those two kegs lasted all of 40 minutes) and the launch of the Ilkley/Melissa Cole collab Siberia (a saison with Siberian rhubarb) the next. Because that’s just how The Rake rolls: respected and liked by brewers everywhere, this is the place of choice for many brewers doing a special launch or presenting a one-off collab. The Rake is not just a beer lovers’ pub, it’s a brewers‘ pub (as evidenced by the brewer guest wall of fame, getting ever more crowded with every week – look for signatures by the likes of Stone and Hitachino Nest). The Rake team (the same people are behind the Utobeer beer stall in nearby Borough Market, in case you have been living on Mars the past couple of years) also seem to be dedicated to geographical variation: as you would expect, the three hand pumps offer the best of British, as it were, and on the seven keg taps you can almost always be sure to have something from the US, something from Germany, something from Belgium, and something from somewhere else (Australian Little Creatures and Norwegian Nøgne Ø make frequent appearances, for example – I had an excellent Nøgne Ø Wit at The Rake the other day).
The London scene is expanding at such a rate that it is difficult to keep up. I’ve updated my London Breweries page, adding Rye Lane Brewery and Weird Beard Brew Co, plus a list of brewpubs. I’ve also added a few venues to the London Beer Bars & Pubs list, probably old news for you jaded readers.
While I was doing this, I found out that there’s a beer festival (or beer and blues festival, to be precise) at the Sebright Arms this weekend (March 10-11) focusing on London breweries – there’ll be beers from almost all London breweries by the looks of it…The Kernel, London Fields, Redchurch, Weird Beard, Moncada etc etc… And with pints at £2.50, you’d be silly not to sample a few. Me? Sorry, due to a scheduling conflict I’ll be in Italy this weekend. But I may pop by late Sunday, if I can.
EDIT: And, oh yeah, the London Drinker Beer and Cider Festival is also this weekend. Which I am also going to miss. I’m a bad London Beer Blogger.
The bright blue sign of BrewDog is a beacon in the beer wasteland that is Camden: this part of London has been crying for a good beer bar for a long time. And in December of last year, those cries were answered. This is not your average pub, though, and it is doubtful if the BrewDog gang would even consider “pub” an appropriate word to describe their venues. There are no hand pumps, keg beer only, all dispensed via slick-looking branded black tubes. The interior is very du jour, with spartan cafeteria-style furniture and naked brick walls, plus of course the ubiquitious BrewDog branding. You’ll either love it or hate it – and I love it, as it gives the place an instant identity, a recognizable feel, a vibe, if you will. BrewDog Camden is your beer-loving friend who still manages to be hip somehow.
What can I say about The Craft Beer Company that hasn’t already been said? Within four months of opening, RateBeer had them down as the 4th best beer bar in the world. When RateBeer published their Best Beer Bar list for 2011, Craft Beer Company and their sister pub Cask Pub & Kitchen were the only two UK bars on the list. Craft (as it’s known) has 37 beers on handpump and tap, plus a phone book-size menu of bottled beers (all available for takeaway), so it’s by far the best selection I’ve ever seen, anywhere (better even than Cask).
It’s a crying shame that I did not discover The Old Fountain sooner. It’s in EC1, I’ve lived in EC1 for six years, and for about four of those, Wetherspoons pub The Masque Haunt was my local. I simply did not know any better (not that The Masque Haunt was bad, really – it’s just that The Old Fountain is so much better). I’ve missed so many beers! But that’s London for you – so big and impossible to get to grips with that you can live practically on top of one of London’s best little beer pubs for six years without noticing.
The Old Fountain is a proper old-school pub with poor lighting, worn wooden furniture and pale, near-bare walls (there’s a dartboard, though) – in other words, absolutely wonderful. At this time of year the white ceiling is also decked-out with Christmas garlands, which somehow adds to the shopworn quality of the Old Fountain rather than detracting from it. I love this kind of pub in an entirely non-ironic way: the moment you step in the door, you feel that this is a pub that does not put on airs, it just quietly goes about the business of being excellent.
What better way to inaugurate this new London Beer blog than by reporting on an event at one of London’s premier beer bars featuring one of London’s most talked-about microbreweries? Camden Town Brewery has been around for just over one year (counting from the official opening in September of last year) and has quickly become successful – their beers are now available at some 60-70 pubs around the country, most of them in London (Exmouth Arms in Exmouth Market to name but one example – and remember, folks, it’s the street that’s named for the pub and not the other way around!). Alongside permanent brews Hells Lager, Pale Ale and Wheat, Camden Town also produces seasonal and limited-run beers – two of which were launched at yesterday’s event at The Craft Beer Company. They were Gentleman’s Wit, a witbier at ABV 4.3 spiced with bergamot (you know, the stuff that makes Earl Grey taste like Earl Grey) and lemon, and Bleeding Hops IPA, a darker IPA which at ABV 6.4 I guess could be classified as a Double IPA.