Tuesday 25 March 2014

What's in a Name?

One of the things I quite like about Wetherspoon is that in the main they name their pubs after some local aspect.  In the case of my adoptive town Middleton, the JDW is the Harbord Harbord after the landowner that gave the land to the town where the main street was then built and where the pub now stands.  Mind you it is such an ugly name that nobody calls it that.  As a matter of fact good old HH later became Lord Suffield and that would probably have tripped off the tongue a lot better, though no doubt it would still be called Wetherspoons.

Now in my actual home town of Dumbarton I learn that the long awaited Wetherspoon (long awaited by me as it will bring real ale back to the town) will be called the Captain James Lang.  "Who?" I thought.  Despite living there until I was 25, I'd never heard of him and had kind of thought that the pub would likely be called the Peter Denny after the famous shipbuilder of that name.  For those that don't know it - and I'm assuming all my readers here - Denny's was synonymous with Dumbarton and its decline as a town can clearly (in my view) be traced back to the fateful day in 1963 when William Denny and Bros closed.  This is an event I remember, as my father who died that year, took me to see the final ship (MV Melbrook) being built at Dennys in 1962. I can picture it yet in my mind's eye, much as I can the bright blue and orange plexiglassed Denny Hovercraft, which sat across from the closed Leven Shipyard, in McAllister's Boatyard, long after the yard closed.  As kids we used to clamber all over it until being chased away with a swift kick up the arse.  I wonder what happened to it?  Denny's also built Mersey ferries including the well known Royal Iris. Most famously of all was that it was Denny that completed the Cutty Sark in 1869.  I wonder what happened to that?

So who was Captain James Lang?  Well it seems he was a well known captain in the town in the early 1800s. According to Wikipedia,  "He was born in Dumbarton in 1805, and was educated there. James became a law clerk in the Town Clerk's office, but he later served on the town's steamers. In 1830, he became the captain of one of the Dumbarton Steamboat Company's vessels. He commanded, in succession, the "Dumbarton", the "Leven", the "Prince Albert", the "Lochlomond", and the "Queen". Contemporary accounts show that he was irreproachable in character, a man of good morals". Like me really.

I did think of suggesting to JDW that the pub be called the Peter Denny, but I didn't.  So it serves me right that they didn't pick it.   I suppose Captain James Lang will have to do.

There is also a pub on Dumbarton's High St called the Cutty Sark.  It sold cask beer in awful condition around ten years ago.  Or more.

Monday 24 March 2014

Are Things Looking Up?

As part of my "job" as local CAMRA Chairman, I like to keep in touch with my local publicans.  It makes us relevant and talking their language, listening and seeking their views is never a bad thing. So when I deliver our local CAMRA magazine it gives me the opportunity to have a chat to licensees. Most are keen to bend my ear about the shortcomings of their pub companies or breweries, or to impart gossip and sometimes, good news.  I've spoken to five in the last few days and you know what?  All of them, in brewery tied houses, are feeling very upbeat indeed and the pubs are trading well.  One recurring theme though is the issue of business rates.  This was forcibly and plainly stated by one landlord, whose business rates cost him more than his rent.  He was also at pains to point out  "And I get fuck all for it", complaining that he has still has to pay a private company to get his bins emptied.

I looked this up and indeed this is true, as indicated by this rathern unconvincing explanation from HMG; "Your rates are not a payment for specific services but are a contribution from businesses towards all of the services provided by the Council for the community, such as local transport, education and housing, all of which indirectly benefit businesses in the area."  I'm not sure businesses would take that view. It does seem a tad unfair that a local tax provides no direct benefit to those on whom it is imposed and small wonder it is a source of indignation to say the least.  Nor that businesses are campaigning to have the system reformed.  So much is talked about pub rents, but in these cases at least, the local council are seen to be putting the knife in.

Putting that aside though, it was pleasing indeed that these publicans were optimistic and upbeat and while this area has had a major shake out of pubs in recent years, maybe those good enough to survive are doing better than I had previously thought.  It was also pleasing to observe for myself, that in the pubs I visited, three were going like a fair and two, despite it being quiet times had a pleasant sprinklng of customers. In all cases the beer was good too.

Could it be that as things stabilise in some well run pub companies and breweries, that the focus shifts to unfair local taxes?

I was also pleased to find warm feelings towards CAMRA too. Maybe not typical everywhere, but if you put the work in, it gets rewards.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

More Craft Confusion

It is a rich seam this craft. I haven't finished mining it yet, but one thing is for sure, I'm slowly but surely coming round to a different way of thinking about it.  Not quite at the @Robsterowski end of the spectrum (Craft is meaningless and all its adherents need to agree to re-education or die), but moving towards being a lot more cynical about it in small, faltering steps. The usually dependable Morning Advertiser illustrates that neatly, with a confusing article.  I wonder if it has been edited in such a way that it ended up not making a lot of sense, or if when it was written it didn't.  Or, if the market research company provided a poor synopsis which was simply copied?  

So, basically we have a Market Research company alleging that publicans aren't talking the same language as their customers when it comes to providing what customers want.  The MR company (!im) - phoned 500 customers and then 300 publicans and asked a series of questions about pubs, why people go and what they expect when they get there. So far, so good.  "It's the Offer Stupid" as I keep saying, so you aren't likely to find me disagreeing, provided I understand what was asked and what was answered. But I don't really.

Food is fairly straightforward and while percentages vary, both publicans and customers at least have the same hymn sheet in their hand as they sing the song.  Drinks are more puzzling.  Customers (43%) want locally sourced.  Hmm. What? Wine and spirits? Can't be. Soft drinks? Unlikely. So it must be beer musn't it?  They also want British, but the article doesn't tell us what the publicans think of that. Seemingly 33% also want craft beers, while only 22% of publicans see this as a priority, though 19% promote craft cider.  (Be good to know what that is? Industrial alcohol, water and flavouring perhaps?)  69% of publicans give real ale a priority, but what customers think of that, we aren't told. But remember, customers want British and local.  Big real ale tick I assume then?  Or is it British craft they want?  Or do they think real ale is craft, or some other combination. We aren't told sadly, though I find the craft percentage interesting.

Either way this is poorly presented and may well have provided useful insights if it hadn't been. Pity that.

I thought !him might have this survey on their webbie, but I can't find a trace of them.  Stop Press.  Yes I can.  They are in fact called "Him!"  assuming it is them.  More bollocks from the MA, but their client list is interesting.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Mainstream Craft

I was rather intrigued by the piece yesterday on Boak and Bailey about the post craft world. It got me thinking that perhaps there isn't just one set of "craft" brewers, but at least two. (Well more really if you count all the small cask brewers). The first set are those that actually know what they are doing, do it on a reasonably big scale, do it consistently and with a clear idea of what kind of beer they want to produce and what sort of business outcomes they have in mind. Whether that may be to get bigger or better, or more trendy, or to attract a certain kind of customer may vary, but they all have something rather grander and more ambitious in mind than, say, brewing muddy beer under a railway arch - even if they started out somewhere similar. They are the grandees of this craft business and while they may have been pioneers, they aren't really operating in the same world as they were any more, but in a rarefied version of it. These would include BrewDog, Thornbridge, Hawkshead, Summer Wine, Dark Star, Magic Rock and maybe even Hardknott.

At the other end of the scale is the trendy craft breweries of London, which, although they vary considerably in business models,  operate at the trendy end, more as a hand to mouth kind of business.  There cash is supplemented (maybe even generated) by opening their breweries up to fanboys and hipsters.  These wander about getting pissed of a Saturday by tottering between the new outlets, drinking overpriced and (often) underwhelming beer in overcrowded breweries, which themselves have in effect been transformed into pop up pubs for a day each week. When we think of craft though, it is increasingly those that spring to mind first, either by joining the Bermondsey boozers, or by vicariously doing so in trendy bars mainly in London, but increasingly elsewhere too. And always at top dollar.  These are not the same at all as the vast majority of cask brewing micro-brewers, although micro-brewers they undoubtedly are.

Of course I suppose I could and probably should have added a third bunch to this craft set.  That is the bigger brewers producing more interesting (that is short run, more challenging beers) within their own breweries, usually by having, as in the case of Thwaites and Brains, dedicated breweries within a brewery and a label that says craft very prominently indeed.  Given the resources that go behind these beers, they are usually pretty damn good too which also helps a lot. In fact it would not be that difficult to make a case that in many ways, Thornbridge and BrewDog  have much more in common with Thwaites and Brains than with the Shoreditch mob.  The flip side of this argument is no doubt that these breweries within breweries are parts of, but not the whole of their brewing operations and therefore lesser entities because of it.  Not a convincing argument if you believe that beer quality should be the ultimate determinant though.

British brewing is in a kind of odd flux at the moment.  The reawakening of London from its long sleep has profound inferences for beer drinking, not just there, but everywhere, as like it or not, London influencves almost everything in this country.  It will though be limited in how it exports itself, by that old North/South divide, so eloquently illustrated by Evan Davies in his recent series "Mind the Gap".  To a large extent, London will do its own thing, as there is sufficient population and more than enough money to sustain it, no matter how poor the product there often is. (In fairness, there is often too a lag before quality and consistency kicks in when anything new is offered.For the rest of us that aren't in London, maybe we should just enjoy the diversity, affordability and quality of what we have and if that means buying mainstream craft from BrewDog, Thornbridge et al, we should be glad to have the opportunity to do so, usually at a decent price. Either way, such diversity is good, but surely just underlines that as long as there is a demand for more interesting beer, it will be met, one way or another by those that have the nous to supply it.

It is a fact of revolutions too, that almost invariably those with the highest motives, those that gained the power first, are later knocked off their perch by those who come along subsequently and usurp the early adopters by outdoing them in the zealous department. We see this in the craft beer business too, where it is important to many to challenge how beer is produced currently, to buck existing practice as for example, in forsaking clear beer and to convince a receptive elite, that somehow this is better and tastier.  It is instructive (to this writer at least) that you don't see BD or Thornbridge producing muddy imprecise beer, but beer which is produced to the highest standards, while still maintaining in taste terms, a clear divide from bigger and more established operators.  But it does put them in a position where there interests lie more with the establishment than the usurpers.

That probably means that BrewDog and Thornbridge will be increasingly regarded as mainstream craft brewers.  One of them at least may not like that, but it's happening already.

And no. I have no idea what the formula means either.  Just thought it fitted somehow.  And of course we could sub divide this even more, but really, I regard "craft" as a synonym for "better keg."

And while the UK beer scene is in flux, it is worth pointing out that to most ordinary drinkers, it just passes them by.  As it should.

Thursday 13 March 2014

Craft Definition by BrewDog

Remember that debate about what craft beer is?  Course you do, it was rather popular until we all more or less gave up on it as every time we thought about it, our heads ached intolerably.  I sort of think we all decided on our own definitions and went off muttering words to the effect of  "I can't define it, but I know what it is when I see it."  Then we sort of put it aside and went off to lie in a darkened room. You might also remember that BrewDog same up with their own definition which bore an uncanny resemblance to what happens over the pond in the US.  It was rather derided on this basis and that too seemed to die a similar death.

Now I learn that this very afternoon, that BrewDog, far from giving up on it like most of us, will put a new definition to the Society of Independent Brewers' (SIBA) AGM  The BD website does give some details and urges those with thoughts on the matter to get in touch with them.  The actual proposal to be put to SIBA members for discussion is rather elusive though. The links to previous definitions and discussions both give a 404 error (not found) and BrewDog Jonathan hasn't responded to my request for details (and seems today to have been removed as contact on the BD Blog), so I can't tell you what it is.  What the blog does say seems to relate, not to craft beer, but to craft breweries.  Here's what it says:

"We believe that to earn its title a European Craft Brewery must be:

1) Authentic
a) brews all their beers at original gravity
b) does not use any adjuncts to lessen flavour and reduce costs.

2) Honest
a) All ingredients are clearly listed on the label of all of their beers.
b) The place where the beer is brewed is clearly listed on all of their beers.
c) All their beer is brewed at craft breweries.

3) Independent
Is not more than 20% owned by a brewing company which operates any brewery which is not a craft brewery.

4) Committed
If the brewer has an estate, at least 90% of the beer they sell must be craft beer."

Notice what's missing? Yep. Definition of craft beer.

So?  Any the wiser about what BrewDog are going to say today?  Me neither, but hopefully we will find out after the event, as clearly we aren't going to beforehand. 

It'll be interesting to see what the assorted SIBA types will make of all this.  Are they craft?  Dunno, but probably.  Er. I think.

Canny Coont*

My good friend John has pointed out that my arithmetic was wrong in my previous piece here about Wetherspoons. In that article I managed to convert 2.5 megalitres into 45,000 nines of beer when actually it should be 60,000, or, to be precise 61,736. Or, in pints, 4,445,000.

Now many of you will not know that in my native Scotland, when I was a lad, we had both Mathematics and Arithmetic O Levels. These were back in the days when you either got a "Pass" or a "Fail". Yes they used that word. "Fail". You'll be amazed to know I have both - for all the good they did me. So how did this error come about? Put simply, I failed to correctly multiply 4 by 15 and get the right answer. My old teachers would no doubt have given me a quick tap on the wrist with a strap to point out the error of my ways. They did that sort of thing then to make it harder to forget things. But these are more enlightened times, so Dear Reader, you are now aware that Wetherspoons sell even more beer than I told you and its importance to British brewing is even more than I indicated.

It really is a lot of beer, though I don't know how much of it is real ale.  That's a pity.

Didn't stop me being a bit dissatisfied with the choice in the Regal Moon last night though.

* Can't count  - as my old Supplementary Benefits trainer once told me.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Blinded by the Light

Is pale beer losing its appeal?  We all probably know people that prefer dark beers, or even brown beers, but is this affecting beer sales?  There is some evidence from our American friends that this may be so.  Sales of Budweiser in the U.S. declined 29 percent between 2007 and 2012. Budweiser Select was down 61 percent over the same period, Michelob Light a staggering 70 percent. Miller Genuine Draft dropped 56 percent and Milwaukee’s Best Light 40 percent over the same period.  Heineken didn't get away unscathed either with a 37% fall over the same period for its light version.

Does this really mean anything for us?  Unlike many, I am not that convinced that what happens in the US always has a direct influence on what happens here, though in terms of trends there is undoubtedly some linkage.  It ties in well with  this post from Ed Wray about a "catastrophic" fall in off sales of standard lager.  He also said "ale accounted for 30% of total beer sales in the last quarter of 2013 against the usual share of 15%. Marstons sold 40% less standard lager and cream flow T-bar ales like John Smiths and Worthington lost 15%."   Now these are really rather startling figures and such changes cannot be accounted for solely in terms of craft beer taking market share. The  drop in John Smith's Smooth sales is particularly interesting, as it is the "go to" cheap smooth beer of the North.

So, it seems that the world, including the UK is falling out of love with no frills lawnmower style beer, but it is slightly more difficult to say exactly what is happening, other than, given global sales of beer are down, that folks are shifting away from beer and cheap light beer in particular and that there is some evidence that there is a move to the dark side.*   Does this mean that premiumisation still has some legs left in it and that as people are drinking less, they are drinking "better"? And darker? 

Kind of looks like it. 

Or maybe it was a recession thing?  That's the other side of the coin, in that those with less disposable income, that used to buy lots of cheap light beer are buying much less? 

*Premium and craft beers are rarely lager like pale.

Photo  is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported 

Friday 7 March 2014

Friend or Foe?

How many eggs do JD Wetherspoon sell a year? 39 million.  "That's a lot of eggs" I think.  The statistics roll on.  525,000 (award winning) breakfasts a week.  If you laid the number of sausages sold every week end to end they'd reach from Chester to Frankfurt and back.  Why Chester and Frankfurt? I don't know.  Or was it chips? Either way, this is a big operation. Enough beer is sold in one week to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool.  Sounds a lot. It is a lot. 2.5 megalitres or 45,000 60,000 UK nines of beer. Over 4 million pints of beer a week.  Think about that. I'll leave it hanging to the wall for the moment.

Assembled hacks are in the Cross Keys in Gracechurch, St London to talk about the launch of Wetherspoon's next beer festival which will feature 10 international brewers, all of whom are here.  They are introduced one by one to be presented with a frame memento of their activities.  Most seem confused as you might well be in their situation.  As we listen, we sip rather flat and ordinary beer, jugged upstairs.  It isn't a great advert for cask beer. One disappointment (though logical if you think about it) is that as the brewers had just brewed the beers, they weren't actually available.)

Since they first started JDW's beers festivals have grown both in pints sold and how it is presented to the public, since the first one in 2006 when a respectable 1.1 million pints were sold.  Now they expect 3.5 million pints to disappear down thirsty throats. They'll be delivered in 35,000 nines, to 900 pubs from just two depots.  This year there are 10 international brewers from as far away as New Zealand - the Yeastie Boys - to, as the crow flies from London, next door Belgium by way of Hildegard Van Ostaden from De Hoppeschuur.  They brew in a variety of breweries, such as Caledonian, Banks, Wadworth, Adnams and many more.  This is in addition to the American Craft Brewers Showcase in which one American craft brewer a month comes across the pond to brew their beer for all JDW pubs*.  All of this is making JDW a lot more interesting a place to drink beer.  That isn't all.  JDW has just launched three American craft beers in cans from New York's Sixpoint brewery, which at two for a fiver, kind of blows a hole in craft beer pricing.  BrewDog and Goose Island bottles are already there and there is a decent range of other unusual bottles to drink at keen prices, especially if you aren't drinking them in London. (In London four quid for a cheaply imported Polish beer is hardly a bargain.)  They are already selling British brewed keg craft beer in limited quantities and no doubt will sell more as time goes on.

Unrelated to the beer festival, JDW are changing a lot.  Food is better and still very reasonable.  Pubs are much less corporate now and new ones are pretty contemporary and often a lot more upmarket.  They are often in splendidly restored buildings. Of course you are still going to get the small town drinking den type pub with its John Smith Smooth drinking derelicts, all lining up for their fix at nine in the morning, but this is a diverse operation and as I have said before, like any pub, individual units are only as good as the manager and how he or she runs it.

Back in the Cross Keys, I took an opportunity to have a chat with the two German brewers (From Kloster-Scheyern in Bavaria) who had been brewing a bockbier at Wadworth.(Good choice for that I'd imagine).  They seemed pretty confused about cask beer and I got the impression that they had rather more than a few reservations about it.  The first thing Brother Tobias - yes a real live brewing monk - asked "Why is it always so flat?"  That was a difficult question to answer, but I did my best to explain why it might be so.  Nonetheless the German brewers had enjoyed their time and I got my impression from such as the Yeastie Boys who were positively bouncing about, that like most things, you have to put a lot in to get a lot out.  My suggestion though is that JDW might be advised to hold their launch in a Northern pub, where the conditioning and presentation of the beers might be a little closer to the intended outcome by the brewers.

Now I read elsewhere that the import of the Yankee canned beers is being hailed as some kind of a breakthrough for craft beer in JDW.  This misses the point that JDW has been at the vanguard of this kind of beer innovation for quite some time.  They had a range of great beers some years ago including Duvel, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and other such exotics.  They introduced Polish beers years ago when they were a bit new to the UK. They used to sell Loewenbrau Wheat Beer which isn't even brewed any more.  They try beers out and quietly drop them when demand doesn't meet expectations.. You can probably expect that the availability of the new range will be reduced in many pubs if the beers don't sell, or, as in the past, they may just quietly be withdrawn. so maybe we best wait and see before getting too excited?

Wetherspoons has a lot of knockers that tend to concentrate on the negative aspects of the company.  Just have a look at the comments on Boak and Bailey's blog if you doubt that. Snobbery about them abounds (I for one don't care of people are ordering jugs of lurid coloured drinks - that's up to them).  Nor do I need beer advice from JDW staff other than "What colour is it?"  If JDW sold the Port St or Craft range at knockdown prices, there would still be many snobs that wouldn't want to go there to breathe the same air as John Smith's or WKD drinkers.  For them beer inclusiveness is simply a phrase you hear about, but not one you'd dream of espousing.  Of course negatives exist and should not be denied, but despite the turned up noses of some beer geeks,  there is little doubt that the industry can't do without them. (Just go back to that figure of 15,000 UK barrels a week). Often they are the best bet for decent beer and food in many a small town, or in many a beer desert.  They have 283 pubs in the 2014 Good Beer Guide, 890 pubs out of  905 Cask Marque accredited pubs and they sell a lot of beer.  Only 34% of their turnover is food, so they are still wet led, despite all those eggs and all those breakfasts.

Wetherspoon has in effect had a number of game plans for years and they flex them as needed.  Prices vary according to location. In small towns, they provide cheap drinks.  In airports there is a different offer aimed at the transitory customers they attract.  In London the offer splits between inner and outer, with prices varying accordingly, as they do all over.  You won't see many scallies in the Crosse Keys for sure, but despite prices being on a par with other pubs in the area, it is still choc-a-bloc full of suits.  Must be a good reason for that surely?

Love them or hate them, Wetherspoon has been doing a lot of things right for years. Selling a few cans of American craft doesn't change  that at all, but maybe it will make a few more think again about the company. 

One or two myths arise in B&B blog:  JDW managers have the discretion to buy locally at a certain price. If they don't, it is likely because the manager can't be arsed. Area managers do have a role here, but will devolve power to the individual managers as they see fit.

While JDW is cheap in many places, it isn't particularly so in Central London, yet still very popular. For example in Jeff Bell's new pub a pint of Koenig Pils is £3.90.  In Goodman's Field in Aldgate, a pint of Heineken is £3.95.  Jeff Bell isn't known for his cheap beer.

From Wednesday of this week each JDW will have to have one of Fullers London Pride, Sharp's Doom Bar or Adnams Broadside.  I'm looking forward to trying two of these in great Northern condition.

*Yesterday I had Make It Rain from Sixpoint. It was superb. Brewed at Adnams.

Lastly, disclosure. (1) I got a few halves of very flat beer and a couple of onion bajis from JDW.  I declined a later tour of JDWs in a bus and I was sent the three cans, which I haven't yet tried.  (2) You'll find me in the excellent Regal Moon in Rochdale almost any Wednesday night.

Monday 3 March 2014

Cable Steet E1

London, especially the East End, is endlessly interesting to me.  It has been hugely knocked about, gentrified and changed by bombing, demolition, regeneration and speculation, but you can still see in places what it was.

Yesterday we took a walk down Cable St, famous for its stand against Oswald Mosley's Fascist Blackshirts on Sunday 4 October 1936, when residents and others, together with the police dispersed a march by the British Union of Fascists.  There is a plaque on a wall just round from our flat, (but oddly in Dock St, not Cable St,  though I am sure it used to be), that commemorates the event.   This history pops up again as I looked out for pubs as we walked along the 1.2 miles, heading for Limehouse Basin.

First of all we came across the ex Crown and Dolphin, which look as though it is still a pub. It isn't of course, being residential.  It closed in 1992 to become flats and was a Charrington house.   Next along, yet another conversion to flats, but again you can see traces of its former ownership.  This was the Britannia Tavern first listed in 1839 and owned by Meux, Truman and latterly, Taylor Walker. It closed in July 1996, but the tiled exterior leaves you in no doubt as to what it once was. If you squint along the top of the pub you can still see Meux's Ales and Stouts in gilded lettering, peeping through the overpainting.

Moving on through the mass of council or possibly housing association flats, we come to the ex King's Arms.  Built like a very large brick shithouse, a magnificent painted Mann, Crossman and Paulin sign on a gable tells you who owned it, but sadly I can find out little about it from the usual sources.  

Lastly for symmetry (though out of order by one),  is the Ship, now converted to flats again and up for sale as such.  No doubt about its provenance as a pub though and a little bit of history here too, as this was where the blackshirts used to drink and where they tanked up before the battle of Cable St and presumably where they retired to lick their wounds.

We finished up in Limehouse, in Narrow St, the only original part of this area as far as we could see and as it was raining, nipped into the historic Grapes, owned apparently by Sir Ian McKellen and where Charles Dickens, as a child was made to sing standing on tables.  Built in 1720, it is thin, dark wooded and really rather quaint.  An American tourist's dream.  Alas, to finish on a low note, the Adnams Bitter displayed both warmth and flatness.

In London, some things never change.

We also popped into the Captain Kidd on the way home. By no means original, but a good and recommended Sam Smith's pub in Wapping High St.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Saving the Best to First - The Bermondsey Beer Mile

The Bermonsey Beer Mile or rather, the Bermonsey Beer Mile and a Half and a Bit, but that hardly trips off the tongue. Bermondsey Beer Mile it is then.  The walk itself is quite interesting, particularly if you fancy seeing a council flat bit of London and quite what the locals make of the bearded hipsters wandering about, I don't know, but I didn't see any of them getting duffed up, so I suppose up with them, the locals must be putting.

We walked from our place for the mile and a half to get to the beginning, but as we wanted to end up back on our manor rather than in Millwall, we passed by the early topers kicking off at Anspach and Hobday/Bullfinch and wended our way past Brew by Numbers, Kernel and Partizan to our destination, the furthest point on this upmarket brewery crawl.  Fourpure is set in the furthest recess of an industrial estate and unlike the others not in a railway arch, but in a large industrial unit. 

Fourpure is a decent sized operation with gleaming stainless steel vessels and John Driebergen, a very personable American, as Head Brewer.  We kicked off with a rather excellent pilsner beer of 4.7%, all body and noble hops and chatted to John about about the place.  The conical vessels are Chinese and do the job required well, with mash tun and other vessels coming from Purity when they upsized, though they needed some minor re-engineering for conversion from cask to keg brewing. Apart from the pilsner, there was a very American line up of beers all served from wall taps directly from the cold room.  A Sierra Nevada like pale, though with less sweetness, an American Brown, dark and luscious, an Oatmalt Stout with deep flavours but to my palate hampered by lots of carbonic acid from the CO2 and a rather warming IPA, which at 6.5% drank its strength. The beers are all sensibly priced at £1.50 per third to £4.50 a pint irrespective of strength. John said "Anyone charging more than that in the brewery, even in London,  is ripping you off."  Are you listening others?

I enjoyed our chat with John who seemed a most sensible chap, particularly as we seemed to agree on things like murky beer being a bad idea, London is a poor place to drink cask and that sort of thing. Anyone that agrees with me on such matters can safely be regarded as a prince among men.  Surprisingly there was only around ten customers, so that made it even more enjoyable in chatting terms, but I suspect that won't last.

All good things must come to an end and despite the fact we could both have supped that gorgeous pilsner all day, we set off to complete the crawl, though (as it turned it unwisely) deciding to omit Partizan and Kernel as we'd been there a few times before.  But walking makes you thirsty, so we did call into Kernel, but beat a retreat from the mayhem in there. Jammed full and with a queue at least thirty long, we decided not to bother.  Retracing our steps to Partizan was ruled out, so we pressed on.  We quite liked our next stop, Brew by Numbers for the friendly and chatty crowd. E enjoyed her Golden Ale though my Saison with Nelson Sauvin was like fermented pineapple juice - way too sweet for me, despite a little farmyard funk.  Unfortunately the beer I really wanted to try, the stout, ran out as I queued - yes more of that - so we left and made our last call at Anspach and Hobday/Bullfinch where two breweries share kit and outlet in a very small railway arch absolutely crammed with people. Lots of the beers had run out here and E was most unhappy that what was left was all too strong for her.  I had a rather good bottle of porter, which was thick, oily, roasty and bitter. Oh and clear, as all the beers seemed to be looking around me.  A bit disappointing that for E there was nothing to drink, but we were promised a better range from keykeg from next week.

And that was that. Pick of the bunch by a Bermonsey Mile was Fourpure for really drinkable, clear, well made beers and sensible pricing.  An observation I'd also make is that this brewery crawling is becoming just too popular for the rather small premises and numbers wanting to get in on the act. Something has to give there surely?

Still, on a perfect day for a walk, it was a rather pleasant afternoon out.

Can anyone tell me how some of the breweries get away with illegally selling beer in 33cl draught measures?

Saturday 1 March 2014

Way Out West

I like wedge shaped pubs.  There is just something about them, the way they sit astride two roads with a "Look at me, aren't I bloody great?" sort of way.  They are always interesting inside too, with quirky layouts and all the better if they have floor to ceiling windows from which you can smugly peer at those unlucky enough not to be inside supping ale.  Well that's the theory anyway, so how does an actual one measure up in the real world?

The Finborough Arms is a wedge shaped pub, so there's a good thing right away.  It is painted in a very fetching pale green that I have to say suits it. The second good thing is that it has been recently acquired by well known London licensee and ex beer blogger Jeff Bell, who has successfully - very successfully - built the Gunmakers in Clerkenwell into the thriving and popular pub it is now.  The Finborough Arms it seems had been a wine bar for some years and has a small theatre above it. Well that should be a ready made "audience", so a flying start there.  It is situated in a busy residential area in Brompton, just a few hundred yards from Earls Court Exhibition Centres, though Brompton West is your tube stop.  The area around all looks pretty well heeled so, second tick in the box.  The Finborough should attract customers, as I didn't see any other pubs in the immediate area.

But pubs are all about the offer aren't they? Here Jeff doesn't disappoint with a canny but solid offering of six handpumped beers, two real ciders and a gleaming array of tall keg fonts offering Koenig Pilsner as his "cooking lager" with Lagunitas IPA on a permanent pump too and, in a bit of a coup, Tipopils, an Italian pilsner of some repute, (though I have to say not to my taste), but doubtless an attraction to many.

On its opening night last night the place was bursting as you'd expect and was admirably run by Jeff in his usual ebullient way. His very efficient staff  seemed to hit the ground running too. The beer - strictly middle of the road, but well thought out - Jeff knows his London public and what sells - was, as you'd expect, in top condition and cool.  There won't be any problems in that direction.  For those interested in such things, the bar is basically wedge shaped too, with one leg of the wedge dedicated to keg and t'other to cask.  Toilets are both upstairs and downstairs and there is a further room and seating, though it looked a work in progress. The windows are just as you'd like too.

All in all impressive.  He'll do fine.

Not sure if there will be food, but I did see pickled eggs if that'll help.


When I was younger pubs were usually pretty busy, though very rarely so busy that you couldn't get in the door, or if you did, felt completely unable to force your way to the bar and were doomed to ignominious retreat. It happens in London a lot, not even on a Friday, but on a Wednesday (as I remarked here) and a Thursday, as happened no less than twice to me this week.

After awful beer in the Ten Bells in Spitalfields, we went to Liverpool St to find a cash machine and for whatever reason, I fancied a drop of Fullers,  Thinking they might have something interesting on, we tried to get into the Still and Star. Well I suppose it could have been done, but not with any degree of comfort and the thought of having to press our way through suits and suitesses just didn't appeal. Nor did standing with our drinks and being jostled seem like a plan either, so we beat a retreat.

Our next port of call on the way home, The Bell on Middlesex St, had a rather amusing A board* outside. What it didn't have and should have had, was a warning that the beer is totally flat.  In contrast to my earlier experience, this version of Harveys Sussex Bitter was a dead parrot.  It had shuffled off its mortal coil of life giving CO2 and had been vented to death.  It was flat as a pancake. No discernible CO2 at all, which was presumably, to quote Mr Python again, singing with the Choir Invisible. I left most of it while E chewed her way through a half of lager.

Back to Leman St and I thought we'd try the (newly reinstated in my circle of trust), Dispensary.  It was packed to bursting and we couldn't even see the bar.  Forget it, so it was gin and lager for us in the Oliver Conquest, which was pleasantly busy, but not packed like the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Mudgie is always saying that London is not like any other British city and he is right. Wealth abounds, but what makes people still go to pubs after work in such numbers? Two things. They have the money, but the second is public transport I'd guess. Almost everyone travels by it and that makes going for a drink after work and then staying on for a few, much more accessible.

It's my theory unless there are better ones?

I had Meantime Pilsner in the Oliver Conquest. Not the greatest beer in the world, but at least not flat and warm.

* I was wearing fingerless gloves, but then again, I have been for the last 30 years.