The Beer City

‘Bird’s eye view of London’ by Chung86, from Flickr, under Creative Commons.

 

If you built a city of beer, what would be the foundation? A history, surely; or a reputation perhaps, one lost but now regained.

Solidify that historic, ambitious miasma with the labour of human beings, captains of industry, greedy tyrants, honest souls and bind with the thirsty salt of the earth that build empires then pop down the local.

What shape should this city be? A tower to the moon of pure, unfettered ambition, or a wide, broad, shallow and inclusive plain that absorbs every drop. Perhaps both: a free space where ideas germinate and grow, defended by rigid and steady accomplishments.

It sounds like a fine and noble place, but it isn’t the city that London beer has built. What we have is a hot mess of ideas, ideologies, methods and clans. A furious diaspora of beer styles, none of which have ever been agreed upon, spreading quickly and drunk thirstily by an audience with no upper threshold for things new and/or good.

The whole thing isn’t really a city at all. It’s a river, forging its own boundaries with an endless tide of occasionally directionless but utterly unstoppable enthusiasm.

London’s beer river courses, much like its real-world counterpart, in wide oxbows and sharp bends, towards one favoured new style, brand, bar, pub, or another, looking from above more like a seismograph of some earth-shattering event. In some ways, it is.

It’s into this whirling, unforgiving torrent that the plucky yeast of London Beer City was pitched, an ambitious strain combining the very best of UK beer into something almost magic, or at the very least difficult to comprehend. Just how could they all work together, or alongside each other, and slake the thirst of thousands?

London Beer City had many different events, but also so many different types of events, catering for the longest or shortest of attention spans, the shallowest of pockets, and the thirstiest of palates. Now it’s over, and we’ve all tried to assemble the beer-sodden notes, smashed festival glass fragments and pork scratching crumbs into some kind of identifiable map of what it was, and whether it really worked.

Well, there’s no question that it worked. What was tapped at the beginning of London Beer City was not some terrifying, million-pint vat of beer, but rather London’s thirst for beer of all kinds in all kinds of places. We sustained that thirst for nine days, and I dare say next year it could last for fourteen, or even more. The real questions are: where is the river taking us next, and how will we persuade people not to cross it, but to sail on it with us?

London Beer City

London Beer City

 

About damn time.

That seemed to be the overall consensus when London Beer City was announced. At last, some truly city-wide recognition and celebration of just how incredible the London beer scene is right now. That’s the best thing about it too: that immediate sense of right now, the vibrancy and bottle-able excitement.

Craft beer in London is about the pursuit of something special that we can enjoy and share with others. The best bars, pubs and breweries in the capital, the places and people that really embody that idea, are all involved a calendar-busting programme of events taking place across London. I’ve written before about how that pursuit, the seeking, is what motivates me. London Beer City seems packed with opportunities to do just that: seek, find and taste incredible beer in a huge variety of places.

This event, hopefully the first of many annual occurrences, is the culmination of a huge amount of work by 2013’s Beer Writer of the Year Will Hawkes, who has managed to co-ordinate a schedule that captures the very best of what London beer can be, whether it’s historic, traditional, trend-setting or esoteric. “I want London Beer City to be an annual focal point, something Londoners look forward to. A relaxed, fun occasion, with events for all tastes and pockets. I hope London Beer City can show off the best of beer,” says Will, “and also help bring about world peace!”

A noble aim. Of course, corralling a city of seventy breweries (and rising) and dozens of quality venues was no easy task. “There are a few really tough things,” Will explains, “such as: ensuring you have enough events every day (I just about achieved that); getting a good spread of events; making sure everyone understands what the week is about; and collating the information quickly and accurately. Overall, though, it has been quite smooth since so many of London’s breweries, pubs and bars are keen to be involved. The London Brewer’s Alliance has been really helpful.”

So what is Will looking forward most next week? “It’s difficult to say! Siren’s live brew at the Earl of Essex, Pete Brown’s Music and Beer matching at The King’s Arms (it’s also on at the Bull in Highgate), Brodie’s sour tap takeover, anything Camden Town are doing … there’s loads of stuff. I’m hoping to get to two or three things each day and still retain a functioning liver come Sunday evening.”

Most people I know have similar concerns. How can we hope to fit in so many incredible events, especially those of us with day jobs? I think the key to enjoying a week of events like this is to pick a few things to definitely attend, and then just throw yourself into something new and different every day. There’s obviously the Great British Beer Festival and the London Craft Beer Festival to consider, too. New events are being added all the time, so it might pay to have some time free for something unmissable and just-announced.
Many events are free to attend, and ticketed tastings, festivals and dinners offer some irresistible opportunities to meet amazing brewers and try some wonderful beers and food. I’m hoping to see London’s beer community embrace this exciting week of events in the way the city got drunk with excitement and pride during the Olympics. Only this time, in a slightly more literal sense, too. Here are some of my own highlights from the schedule:
  • Porters, Peers and Pilgrims: a London brewery heritage walk – I’m gutted that I won’t be able to make this, but this looks fantastic if you’re interested in learning more about London’s brewing history at street level. Des De Moor is the guide for this tour of historical brewing locations across the City and East End.
  • Beavertown Welcomes Rough Trade – Beavertown’s tap room is fast becoming the city’s best new beer destination/all-day hangout, and this day of music provided by DJs from Rough Trade, beer from Beavertown’s tap room and some bangin’ street food looks like a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.
  • Weird Beard Pop-up bar in Bermondsey – In a move that surely out-crafts even the craftest of crafty craft brewers in Bermondsey, the suspiciously good Weird Beard will be opening a pop-up bar on the Beer Mile for one Saturday only. Because the one thing the Beer Mile needs, is more beer.
  • Tasting Beer with Melissa Cole – You’d have to be crazy to pass on a tutored tasting from a beer expert with Melissa Cole’s knowledge, and this tasting just happens to be in one of the city’s best bars, BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush. What’s not to like?
  • One Hells of A Beaver – A collaboration between Beavertown and Camden Town Brewery is a thing to be celebrated in its own right, but as it’s going to be a mash-up of Camden Hells and Gamma Ray, it might also result in the Beer of The Summer. If that wasn’t ‘craft’ enough for you, on the brewday at Camden there will also be a collab-label art-off between Camden and Beavertown’s creative types.

Some people think that London’s beer scene is already disproportionately over-sized, that the scene is nothing more than one more bubble that pops in the head of a pint of cheap, dirty lager. The fact is, it’s about goddamn time that we have something of this scale. The revolution is over. It’s time to start taking this shit seriously if we want it to last. If you think London’s ‘beer ego’ is already so big it can be seen from space, then I’ve got bad news for you. We’re only just getting started.