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.

London’s Brewing 2013

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Saturday was the first time I’ve seen doom-laden ‘Rolling News’ culture collide with beer culture. Twitter on the afternoon of 4th May was a boiling tide of beer lover’s anger. Increasingly frustrated reports were coming from London Fields Brewery, where London’s Brewing, the new beer festival from the London Brewers Alliance (LBA), was being held.

The queues, the people cried, the queues. For a while the event didn’t even open. When it did, and the queuing was over, it was reportedly even worse inside: packed bars where waiting times were said to be 30 minutes or more, and kegs hooked up to wrong taps. Above these alarming and basic errors was a weird sense of hopelessness, as though it wasn’t possible for things to improve and that it was a write-off. People left in droves and demanded refunds. I’ve never heard of anything like this happening at a beer festival.

So imagine me, looking at Twitter on Saturday, with tickets for the session on Sunday. I was a little worried. Assurances were made that a new, extra bar would help ease queuing, and that concerns had been listened to.

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I should make it clear that I had A Good Time at London’s Brewing on Sunday afternoon, and that all the beer I had was well-kept and in good condition. As such, I can only comment in detail on my experience on Sunday afternoon, not what happened in the other sessions. What follows is not a litany of complaints. That would be almost as boring as a 30 minute queue for a beer. What follows should hopefully be fair and constructive. We all want these events to be the best they can be, right?

If we are to accept that London – and the UK at large – is going through a Beer Renaissance, then it is the duty of those who care passionately about beer to call out anything that is simply not good enough. Whilst London’s Brewing had the right ingredients of Good Beer, Good Food, Good People and even, shockingly, Good Weather, it did not have Good Organisation.

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In a recent post about Craft Beer Rising in comparison to CAMRA beer festivals, I said how CAMRA-style festivals will always have their place alongside the more hipster-friendly, foodie events, large and small, that are taking place in increasing numbers. This point was made even more clear to me at London’s Brewing. Say what you will about CAMRA, but their organisational skills for beer festivals are unsurpassed. At London’s Brewing, so many basic things were missing: no prices per third/half/pint on the casks behind the bar, no ABVs on beer menus and price lists, and no indications in the programme of where any beer may or not be found across the three bars. A personal complaint was that nobody knew if I could buy one of the extremely cool green staff t-shirts (I love the Thames river/dimple mug logo), or where to find out. In a venue as small as London Fields Brewery’s event space, crammed under a railway arch, the organisation needs to be as tight as drum to prevent frustration. This was not the case.

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However, as harshly as the event has been judged over the weekend, it was not without merit by any means. As I said above, the beer was great. I had an opportunity to try beers from breweries like Weird Beard, Five Points, Howling Hops and Pressure Drop, which are either so new I haven’t noticed their founding, or in parts of London that I rarely visit. There was great food here. I had a Korean fried chicken burger from Thank Cluck that was simply sublime: that perfect chicken burger combination of crunchy lettuce, juicy thigh meat, crispy coating, hot sauce and cool mayo. A simple, wonderful marvel. Big Apple Hot Dogs, Mexican food vendor Luardos and the Falafel-slingers Hoxton Beach were also present, filling hungry faces and generating greasy chins and sloppy grins. Whilst people complained at the crush of bodies in several areas, just as many were having a good time.

London Fields Brewery has several further beer events coming later this year as part of the British Craft Beer Challenge. These four separate events will pit the best of British beer against foes from USA, Europe and the rest of the world. London Fields will have to look very closely at how to achieve a much more satisfying experience for the capital’s beer lovers, who, after the impression left by London’s Brewing, will be less likely to invite their friends from outside London to what might otherwise be extremely exciting events.

(P.S. and if anyone knows where I can get one of those green t-shirts, let me know!)

(EDIT: Have amended to reflect that the British Craft Beer Challenge is a London Fields Brewery initiative, NOT an LBA event. Thanks to Steve Williams for clarifying this.)

Camden Town Brewery USA Hells Party

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The Beer of The Summer.

A beer as legendary as the Holy Grail. The beer that turns a sunny day into a glorious, shiny summer day.

I tasted such a beer last year: USA Hells Unfiltered Lager from Camden Town Brewery. Its release heralded the opening of the brewery’s on-site bar, and began their tradition of hosting street food vendors and serving cool, brewery-fresh beer in classy surroundings. I thought the beer was sensational, a truly innovative fusion of clean, crisp lager and American hop razzmatazz. Then, one day, the limited run of USA Hells was no more.

I have, from time to time, heralded other beers as contenders to the crown. BrewDog’s Dead Pony Club and Kernel’s recent Saison both have what it takes, but neither compared to the crisp, schizophrenic perfection of Camden’s lager supercharged with Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, Citra and Simcoe. I was therefore understandably frantic with glee at hearing of its return. On Saturday, Camden relaunched USA Hells at the brewery bar with the help of local meatslingers Dogfather, Big Dirty Burger and O.X.. The weather varied between cloudy and mild, and wet and wild, but as ever the atmosphere at the brewery was great. A lively crowd of beer seekers mixed with local families and friends just hanging out at the brewery.

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The beer itself was just as fantastic as I remembered: at once creamy, sharp, zesty, floral, clean, smooth and sweet. But what food to pair it with? I had the Boss Hog from Dogfather Diner, which was quite frankly the best hot dog I have ever eaten. A beef frankfurter with chorizo, jalapeños, cheese, streaky bacon, marinara sauce… There are probably other things too, but I couldn’t look at the thing any longer without eating it. As a pairing, the USA Hells was excellent at stepping in to clean my palate and wipe away any heat or salt, so each delicious mouthful of the Boss Hog was as amazing as the first.

My advice to anyone in London is to get to the brewery sharpish to taste the draught and buy some bottles to save for a sunny day. Better still, you can now buy 2-pint and 4-pint “growlers” (I prefer Gentleman’s Beer Conveyance). The large ‘Senior’ model is £5 and a 4 pint fill costs £10. At that kind of price, you’d be a fool not to go back every week!

USA Hells is back. Long live the king.

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Promotion Sickness 2012

Every now and then, I suffer from an immensely irritating condition called promotion sickness. It interferes with my daily life, interrupting an otherwise standard journey from one place to another with intense feelings of nausea, confusion and despair. It is usually caused by seeing an advertisement which has crossed the line which divides promoting a product, to creating a situation that doesn’t exist, and that product being the ideal choice for someone in that non-existent situation. This cracks my perception of reality (but… why WOULD a man be naked, smiling, wearing expensive designer glasses? Specialist nudist eye test? Superglue accident that he sees the funny side of?) and I feel violent convulsions.

Much has been written already about the mind-numbing corporate domination of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and even today Dave Bailey of Hardknott has written about how small business have been affected. I’m going to hone in on a specific example, in fact, a particular advertisement. In London Liverpool Street rail station, there’s a large video screen of rolling adverts, news and so on, which periodically displays information about events taking place that day, sponsored by Heineken. As we all know, Heineken is the official alcohol provider for an international festival where people, who as part of their training are forced to avoid drinking alcohol, perform physical feats for the entertainment of people who do drink alcohol. It instructs viewers to… oh no here it comes… to go and watch the coverage… oh this is going be a bad one… to watch the coverage in… mmhbbbhmmm…. ‘Your Local Heineken Pub’.
Not the first time Heineken has made me sick.
Sorry, I think that’s most of it gone now. The advert (I couldn’t take picture of it – promotion sickness ruins my hand-eye co-ordination and gets vomit on my phone) is sponsored by Heineken in the same way that the sky is sponsored by the colour blue. I mean, it couldn’t be more green, or have more red stars on it, or more uses of the word ‘Heineken’. Clearly all efforts have already been made to make sure that we associate ‘watching the Olympic Games’ and ‘having a beer’ with Heineken. Mission accomplished.
First, I would like to congratulate Heineken on behalf of every person who has ever used the phrase ‘local pub’. We’ve just been milling around, using the phrase for years, without ever once thinking that it could be improved just by subtly crowbarring the word Heineken into it. Well, thanks guys, we are sure to use the new and improved version immediately, and we certainly don’t feel offended by a corporation trying to change an existing phrase for their own ends for a few weeks. It isn’t weird or sickening at all. I was just vomiting about how amazing it is. 
Anyway, this advert raises a few questions, mainly: what was wrong with just saying ‘your local pub’, given that the advert is basically a collage of Heineken logos with tiny glimpses of athletes, grass, sky and things that aren’t Heineken? What is a local… H-word pub? What have you done with the others?
Well, as I am sure any Heineken marketeer would tell you, any pub in London that doesn’t sell Heineken during the Games obviously doesn’t have a very big interest in sports coverage. I mean, these supposed intelligent human beings, have got themselves into a situation where they own or pay rent on a large building that regularly has lots of people it, they have an extortionately expensive Sky Sports package because they are a pub, expensive televisions to show it, and a whole range of drinks to meet the expectations of their customer base, and THEY DON’T HAVE HEINEKEN. Pity should be reserved for those who deserve it, not these knuckle-dragging, slow-witted sub-humans, who probably struggle to use rudimentary tools.
Sports bar owner Dean Smith, whose locals allegedly ‘prefer Staropramen’, if such a thing can be believed.
These people CERTAINLY won’t have received the full corporate pub-vajazzaling (you can correct me on the spelling but I understand it means something to do with interior decoration) from the Heineken salesforce, who have basically rebranded 150 London pubs earlier this month. Perhaps this is what a Local H******** Pub is. Perhaps we are all supposed to flock to these places, and quaff Heineken by the keg-load as physically superior people jump and run and so on in the way that they do.
*opens his cynicism valve*
Aaaaaaah….
Look, I understand why they chose Heineken. From a completely practical point of view, to be the omni-brewer for an event like the Olympics, you need to have enormous brewing capacity and a solid, reliable supply chain to ensure that loads and loads of beer can be in all kinds of places at any moment. You need a competent sales force and account team who know the stadia market inside out, and can accommodate their requirements. You also need to be provide a beer that is acceptable, NOT special or remarkable, but just about acceptable to most people. These are the established rules.
But you know what, it would have been really, really amazing if LOCOG had thought to do things a little bit differently. Here we have a city with not just brewing tradition or history, but a city that actually defined beer styles that travelled the world and influenced brewers everywhere, and were high valued commodities that defined what beer actually is. Here we have a city that is undergoing a beer renaissance, with dozens of microbreweries starting up on a monthly basis. Here we have a city that is producing some of the best beer in the world, and the best cuisine, and maybe, just maybe there was something that could have been done to truly elevate beer’s standing.
Beer could have been parachuted in, or a brewery in the Industrial revolution section…
Wait, what the hell has beer got to do with the Olympics anyway Chris, didn’t you already have a pop at the connection in your second paragraph? Well spotted, and I stand by the point that beer has absolutely nothing to do with participating in sport (after participating is another matter entirely). However, sport is one of everybody’s ‘beer moments’, and this is a cultural Olympiad as well as a sporting one. Perhaps if LOCOG had approached, I don’t know, the London Brewers Alliance, and maybe they could have contacted the Society of Independent Brewers, and brewers based near where other events are taking place in the UK, and discussed and planned out a way of supplying dozens of different beers, from conventional to exceptional, for an event that is intended to highlight the very best of the country it takes place in. I seem to recall Great Britain being rather better at beer that it is at a lot of other things. Well, except rowing and sailing, but then how else would we have got IPA?
Ah well, at least we have a reassuringly passionless, common-denominator corporate brand to enjoy. Isn’t that what the Olympics is all about?