The London Beer Week at the Rake continues – my self imposed 30-day alcohol ban has sort of limited my opportunities to join the fun, but I was so curious about new London brewery Weird Beard Brew Co. that I decided to come down to their free sample session despite the fact that I wasn’t going to drink any of the free samples. What I did do, however, was have a chat with brewmaster Gregg Irwin (one-half of Weird Beard Brew Co. the other half being brewer/brand manager Bryan Spooner) about their beers and why they are getting noticed even before they’ve officially launched their brewery.
London Beer Blog: You don’t generally decide to start a brewery overnight. How did the idea develop?
Unless you obsessively follow London brewery news, you might have missed that from March 31, the Kernel Brewery is trading from their new premises. It’s still under a railway arch in Bermondsey, but a bit further east than the previous location (and closer to Bermondsey tube station rather than London Bridge) – and the neighbours are still the same, as they’ve moved along with Kernel, which means you can still get meat from The Butchery and cheese and cold cuts from The Ham and Cheese Company to go with your beer (other nearby traders include The Little Bread Pedlar, Coleman Coffee Roasters, and The London Honey Company).
A smart idea by Durham Brewery: create a “virtual tasting event” where people everywhere try their favorite Imperial Stout and then tweet about it. CAMRGB (Campaign for Really Good Beer, not to be confused with CAMRA) also supported the event, and from what I’ve seen on Twitter so far it’s been a rousing success. Since I am the first one to jump on the bandwagon of any totally made-up holiday (International IPA Day, anyone?) or event related to beer, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the two bottles I popped open for this global (OK, mostly British) event of virtual beer goodness.
Ok, so this post takes a bit of explaining. I’m Swedish, which you know if you’ve been paying attention, so as it happens many (ok, three of them, which still leaves them in the majority) of my readers are Swedish. And if there’s one thing I’ve picked up from the Swedish beer geek scene after observing it from a distance these past nine years, it’s that British beer gets a bad rap there. No Swedish beer geek I know really enjoys British beer except maybe for BrewDog (who prefer to be called Scottish, I’m sure, though calling them “British” will certainly go over better than calling them “English”) – British beer is generally thought of as bland, stale, sour (in a bad way, not in a Cantillon way) and only one small step up from generic lager.
I’ve had this blog for about a week and change so I don’t really feel up to doing a full-blown “Best of 2011” post despite the genre demands of the season. Luckily, every other beer blogger and their auntie are doing it so I can just
steal link to the ones I like! So here are the Best of Best of 2011, as presented by others more knowledgeable than me (and better writers, too!):
Ace London beer bar Euston Tap recently named their “Champion Beers of 2011”, which is naturally the only best-of-2011-list we Londoners care about. However, they did it on Twitter and so far the results have not been posted on the Euston Tap blog, so in case you are not a compulsive Twitter follower like me, you may well have missed this essential best of-list. These were the winners:
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.