I did my Christmas warmup at The Old Fountain (no surprise there) and focused on two breweries: brilliant newcomer Magic Rock Brewing (based in Huddersfield) and East London institution Brodie’s Brewery (in the context of the London craft brewing scene I think it’s fair to call something an institution if it’s been around since 2008).
What can I say about Magic Rock that hasn’t already been said? Meteoric rise to fame among the beer cognoscenti, a pub presence throughout the land – all thanks to their excellent, US-influenced beers. Three of their beers were on at the Old Fountain. First High Wire, their West Coast IPA (ABV 5.5), which is an excellent example of the style. It’s very fruity, with citrus and tropical notes like mango dominating and a hefty dry citrus rind bitterness at the end. Then Cannonball, their Double IPA (ABV 7.4), which is an even better, extremely well-balanced IPA: it starts off suprisingly sweet, with molasses and fruit syrup flavours, quickly giving way to some serious, sour and citrusy bitter hoppiness with a layer of tropical fruit. Cannonball also has a big brother, Human Cannonball, a 9.2 ABV Imperial IPA – the best of the Magic Rock stable (they did not have Human Cannonball on at the Old Fountain, but I’ve tried it before). It’s a cranked-up version of the Cannonball, which means even more sweet malts and even more hops – the Human Cannonball is slightly more resiny and has a faint pine needle flavour that sort of goes on top of the other sweet tropical fruits. Third and last, they also had Magic Rock’s sessioner Curious NZ on, a version of their basic pale ale sessioner Curious (both at 3.9 ABV) which uses only NZ hops (so I guess that’s what they would call a South Pacific Pale Ale these days). As a sessioner, it’s great as it packs a lot of flavour into those 3.9 – it’s more tropical and less citrusy than the Curious. It’s good, but this tasting session showed the importance of the order in which you taste things… after the High Wire and the Cannonball, Curious NZ felt a bit bland, but I’ve loved it when I’ve had it on its own!
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.