Thursday 27 November 2014

Blowing Hot and Cold

My most recent London visit brought some warm beer to my notice. Well it would, as I was the recipient. It also brought some excellent beer.  There was some in the middle.  So dreadful was a Roosters beer in JDW Shakespeare's Head that I reported it to Cask Marque. (I must ask them what their conclusion was.)  That's one thing you can do if it has the CM accreditation, though I've reported the Brown Bear in Leman St before and the beer was still awful when I watched the football there two weeks ago. Maybe it does less good than you hope? (Apparently miscreants thus reported usually tell CM the cooling was broken that day, or someone new turned it off instead of the light - that kind of thing. CM are meant to follow up with a later visit, but I don't know if they do or not.)  Anyway and either way, I do urge those afflicted by poor beer in a Cask Marque pub to let them know. It might just help.

So to the good news.  I thought the beer in the Hop and Berry in Angel, recommended to me by Matt Curtis, was very well kept and  I was delighted by the truly top quality  I experienced in the Market Porter, a place I don't tend to go in that much, but did, as I had been let down quality wise - well temperature wise - by the usually reliable Southwark Tavern, whose beer I had praised on a warm summer's day. Sadly on a much colder Autumn one, the beer was warm, as was E's lager.  The Market Porter was heaving, but service was quick and friendly and the beer, stout in my case, was sparkled, cool and lively. A sure two pinter.

Lastly a word in praise of the Draft House in Seething Lane. The Tankovna Pilsner Urquell was delicious and at £4.75 a pint, well under the price of most local keg beers on the same bar.  I find that a bit odd.

I didn't realise they chucked out at six on a Sunday in the Draft House. Made my last pint a bit of rush. My own fault.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

A Tale of Two Breweries

I was alerted by my good friend Tyson about a new brewery on the Bermondsey Mile. Tyson being at the cutting edge had been there and noted that it wasn't a keg and bottle effort as most of them are, but a cask brewery. Sounded interesting and being at the Tower Bridge end of the mile, it's just a twenty five minute walk from my London place.  So we went on Saturday.

Situated in Druid Street, in the inevitable railway arch and sandwiched between a bakery (see what I did there) and a car repair shop, sits Southwark Brewery.  This straightforward name gives you an idea of what to expect. It's quite a big arch and sported a bar to the right with four handpumps and the usual benches and a toilet stuck near the door. Handy.  We got there at one and it wasn't that busy and in the hour or so we were there, it changed customers more or less, but remained fairly quiet and it was noticeable to this old git, that it was mostly a more mature customer that was attracted.  In other words, other old gits, though there was a few younger ones, wondering probably how they'd got into this fine mess. We sat nearest the mouth of the arch and watched the various hipsters as they wandered up and down Druid Street. One or two looked in and found something wanting and moved on.  Some were bolder and came in, looked round, then buggered off. 

There were four beers on. Each served, Glory Be, by a swan neck and a sparkler, for that is the policy. I was warming to them.  I didn't care much for Bermonsey Best which was reassuringly brown and a decent enough drink if you wanted a malt forward, fugglesy type thing.  But I didn't. However it was to be all good news after that. I liked LPA which was indeed hoppy with citrus notes, Hop-X (I think - I didn't take notes) was a blend of English and American hops, was pale and it worked well and leading the pack at 5.6% was Gold, which just has a sweet hint of alcohol and was a decent drink.  Beers were available in thirds, halves, two thirds and pints and were all under £4 a pint.  Enjoyable and reasonable priced. There were bottles too, including a Russian Imperial Stout at 8.6%. The bottled take away service was doing quite well.  Staff were pleasant and happy to chat.

Now I've said it before and will do so again. Will those drinking craft keg please stop saying it costs just a little bit more. We left Southwark Brewery and walked the few yards to Ansbach and Hobday where the beard and too small jacket brigade were in full swing. It was, as we say in Scotland, "hoaching". Busy.  We had a look and noted that all beers were £6 a pint -  even those at 2.8%. No chance. Like a News of the World reporter in a knocking shop, we made our excuses and left.

So what's it all about? The lure of superior keg beer, the attraction of being with fellow types?  Why was one heaving and the other, a stone's throw away not?  Will cask beer crack the Bermondsey Beer Mile?  You tell me.

 But it isn't all bad news. At least they'll have me from time to time. Cool and sparkled beer in London? Why ever not?

This is of course a tongue in cheek post, but I really do wonder. Is it just that Southwark Brewery aren't on the radar yet I do hope so.

Saturday 15 November 2014

A Bone Picked Out

Ed set the cat among the pigeons with his controversial (though he'd say tongue in cheek) post about the so called elitism of craft beer.  There was a flurry of responses, probably by now not far short of 100 of them. I don't think it unfair to say that these generated more heat than light, but also a fair degree of exasperation. There is an amount of defensiveness in the crafterati and a large portion of doubtful economics on the side of those that think craft is overpriced for what it is.  That generated a lot of passion, but you must pick the bones out of that yourself, though I do wish that craft aficionados would stop saying that it is worth paying "a little more" for "better beer". It is rarely a little more. It is a lot more. And it isn't always by any means better.

In all this I would like to commend to you for consideration the words of Yvan Seth when he says "And hell, £1 more for keg because I don't have to play cask-quality-roulette and I can just get on with my drinking without the fuss of returning beer or putting up with a semi-drinkable pint. This is a point I have made before (hence my liking it), but it harks back to why keg was so welcomed in the 60's when cask quality was thought to be uniformly dire.  It took the lottery away when purchasing a pint. This quality lottery goes a long way towards explaining why when I'm in London, I quite often end up drinking commodity lager. Yes I know where to get good beer, but despite the beer revolution in London, you still have to travel to get that good beer. Random decent looking pubs will often disappoint.

Then Yvan goes on to say something with which I more or less totally agree. It is worth repeating here:

"[IMO, if there is one thing CAMRA could *really* do for the future of cask ale, & the good of the cask ale drinker, it would be to drop most of what it does now and focus entirely on quality of beer at point of dispense. Because on average it is abysmal. This might even help save flagging pubs."

I have said until I'm blue in the face that quality at the point of dispense is cask beer's Achilles Heel.  It might well be in an advanced state of decrepitude in London, but it has problems in cellar skills everywhere. We have all played the cask beer lottery and all lost.  Yvan is absolutely right that CAMRA does not do enough about that. I'm not yet sure what that might be. I'm thinking about it, but it shouldn't be that difficult to come up with something. After all it is the "raison d'etre" of the Campaign.

There are those that say the CAMRA battle has been won. Real ale is indeed everywhere, but as long as a quality pint remains elusive, CAMRA still has plenty to do. We  need to fight the right fight though.  Keg beer, in whatever form is not the enemy. Lack of quality cask beer at the point of sale is. 

I watched Scotland win last night in my local London pub. My pint of Gales Seafarer (see above) was a warm, flat mess. I'd have had three or four pints if the beer was any good. I had one Gales and a pint of Becks, which was awful in a different way, but at least cold and with condition. Bad beer loses pubs money.

Friday 7 November 2014

A Tale of Two Bloggers

I was invited to the launch (or should that be revitalisation) of the new "Let There Be Beer Campaign", but couldn't go due to other commitments that meant I'd be in the Grim North instead of Millbank. Others went and liked what they saw. One or two most certainly didn't like what they saw, so much so, they were still spitting hops days later and could only write about it after they'd calmed down. Interesting stuff.

The focus now is "There's a Beer for That". Two bloggers I like and respect wrote about it. One, Matt, was in the "Incandescent With Rage" Corner" and t'other Ed, in the "Seems All Right to Me" Corner. Other bloggers (I like them too) have also written about it - for example Pete Brown has done so and was broadly in favour, while Beersoakedboy was agin it on the whole, but in quite measured tones, seemingly more concerned about lazy stereotypes and likely poor impact, than Matt, whose main and recurring theme was that it sat on the backs of the smaller craft brewers in order to get a better view. "It's the better that the people behind this campaign are worried about, craft beer is bucking the industry trend and growing at an exponential rate........... Craft beer hasn't just got its foot in the door to the mainstream, it's already in the room throwing a party and it brought beer. So why do we need There's a Beer for That? Well, multinational corporations really don't like it when small businesses infringe on their market share. That's pretty clear. Craft doesn't need the big brewers, so bog off. 

Of course the argument that advertising such as this is kind of lowest common denominator stuff can easily be made, but advertising does work, though only the very cleverest of advertising can make those who do not wish to engage, engage. Nonetheless if the phrase "There's a Beer for That" sticks in the mind of those sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and makes them think of beer, wouldn't you think that a good thing? I think I would. On the other hand though I take Matt's point about the overwhelming wish seems to be for those funding the campaign to be the biggest beneficiaries of it. Mind you, it would be somewhat remarkable if they didn't.  It is maybe worth pointing out that few of us came to craft beer by starting out that way. Most of us started out with a pint of Harp, or Carling and moved on. Or didn't. And that's the point. Craft may be rising, but it doesn't rule the world just yet and is for most a destination that they may never consider visiting, not a journey's start. Most beer drinkers drink the good old cooking stuff and why shouldn't they? Matt's love of craft beer is legendary, but he wears his craft credentials on his sleeve. Not that that's a bad thing. He probably hides it less well than those that funded the Let There Be Beer Campaign hide their intentions. But like them it does colour his view somewhat. They are maybe not so different then in some ways?  Matt certainly isn't the target audience.

So what does Ed say? He has only a few well reasoned paragraphs, culminating in this " I have to say I'm quite pleased to see a generic campaign to promote beer." He gets far fewer comments, but John Clarke, quite a craft beer supporter, weighs in by saying "I have to say that I'm a little bemused by all this outrage. If it's a generic promotion to raise the profile of beer does it really matter who funds it?" That would I suppose only be true if you don't mind what beer people drink, as long as it is beer.  I'm not sure that's the message I'm getting when I read what Matt has to say.  "People are drinking better etc."  Is it that old beer snob thing again? I hope not. The truth is, that for most people, "There's a Beer for That" is unlikely to mean craft, so to that extent Matt has a fair point.  An analogy is that over the years, when campaigning for real ale (and it still is true), that as an advocate for cask, you have to accept that your view of beer is a minority one.  Craft keg is no different.

On the balance, Ed has the right of it.  More people drinking beer is good for everyone. When the craft beer movement can throw ten million quid at it, they can do it their way. Until then, let's get them to drink beer first, then worry about them drinking "better" beer later.

This isn't a go at Matt by the way. His passion for beer - craft beer in particular -makes his views worth commenting on.