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Archive for the ‘England’ Category

The Beatles and beer

There have been the occational discussion about the Beatles and their relation to beer in the blogsphere, but with rather meagre results. I’ll come back to this when I’ve finished the first volume of Mark Lewisohns comprehensive biography, where I belive there will be information about Liverpool beer and pubs.

Meanwhile, here is a photo from Sir Paul’s web site, one of many Linda McCarney photos featured in a new exhibition opening in France in February.

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Jeff Knut

I told you I won’t give any proper coverage of our London visit, but I must mention this particularly.

We had spent the afternoon and early evening doing brief stops at a number of pubs. Some of them we knew beforehand, like Cask Pub and Kitchen and the Euston Tap. My aim was to end up fairly early in the evening at the Gunmakers Arms, where two of the early activists of the beer blogsphere are to be found, behind the bar, Jeff and Alessio.

I was welcomed warmly – I have met Jeff some time over the years, while I was in touch with Alessio during the time I visited Italy fairly frequently.

The Gunmakers is still doing very well, with a good range of well kept cask ales.

I’m happy to report that Jeff is also opening a new pub in Earls Court, or to be exact, if I got it right, reopening a pub that has been closed for quite some time, the Finsborough Arms. It will not be a brewpub, but in the beer range you’ll find  recreations of classic beers unearthed by the legendary Ron Pattison. Six keg beers, eight hand pumps.

Opening on 28 February. Jeff’s birthday.

Jeff even promised that he’ll start blogging again.

If you want updates, follow @FinboroughArms on twitter.

Thanks to Ole Richard for the photos.

Gunmakers

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Sorry.

No time for writing up any comprehensive blog posts on pubs, beer shops or the general feeling of being back in London in December once more.

It was a nice unpretentious weekend with two mates, and, while we tried to cover quite a few pubs, we did not aim for a maximum number of beers or breweries. The choice is staggering compared the London I used to know, perhaps I’ll try to come back and cover it better in the future. And our Facebook friends got live coverage the weekend we were there….

So, just a few highlights:

The London Fields brewery tap.

After passing two pubs that did not open until four in the afternoon, this was a great place to end up. Nine beers on tap, including some one-offs, and you get 1/3 pint samplers at a reasonable price. Industrial/punk style, concrete, glass and plywood. There are windows between the tap room and the brewery. Relaxed on a Friday afternoon. Good beers, we particularly noted that the quality was consistent across the range. Impressive from a newcomer.

A return visit to the Cask Pub and Kitchen, good food and a great range of beers. A Saturday evening  visit to the sister establishment, Craft Clapham, which was quite insane. It was the night after opening, and it was packed with Christmas partying. The beer was, however, excellent, with inventive brews far beyond what English beer used to be . A Berliner Weisse from Magic Rock is a good indicator.

Some good Fuller’s pubs in West London, the highlight being the canal side Union Tavern.  If you didn’t know this was a Fuller’s House, you would not guess it. It is really a sign of the changing times that there is a fine range of beers from several London breweries available. And the setting by the Grand Union Canal must be spectacular in the summer. Just a few minutes from Westbourne Park tube station.

CASKdec2013

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There’s a room in a house in a street in a manor in a borough
That’s part of a city that is generally referred to as London
It’s a dark place, a mysterious place
And it is said that if you’re born within the sound of Bow-Bells
You have the necessary qualifications to be christened a Londoner
[It's a cruel place, it's a hard place]
But when you think back to all the great Londoners
William Blake, Charles Dickens, Dick Whittington,
Pearly kings, barrow boys, Arthur Daley, Max Wall
And don’t forget the Kray twins.

Ray Davies –London Song

I make no claim to have the necessary qualifications to be christened a Londoner. But I used to visit London at least annually.

A week every year.

For decades.

I explored the city. On foot, by bus, by tube. I went on guided walks, I bought guidebooks.

I explored the pubs in number of boroughs, usually sticking to Young’s Special or Fuller’s London Pride.

But times changed. There were pubs with a broader range of beers. There were beer festivals. Utobeer and the Rake offered exiting American import beers. BrewDog entered the scene. Young’s disappeared.

The last four years I have only visited once. I have tried to follow the developments, but I cannot claim to have my finger on the beer pulse of London the way I used to.

Time to do something about that. Time for a pre-Christmas visit. In particular, it is time to get so know some of the dozens of new London breweries that have emerge over the last few years. Many of them are clustered in East London. Hackney seems like the centre of gravity right now. And my research shows that on the weekend I am in town, there are two events in the area worth visiting in addition to breweries, pubs and brewpubs.

There are four of us from Oslo going to London for an oval weekend. The other three have more knowledge of beer and brewing than I do. But I know a thing or two about advance planning.

We are talking Friday 6 December, starting at lunchtime. Anyone is welcome to join, get in touch about more exact timing.

Start: Old Street Tube Station.

Or Shoreditch High Street, if that’s more convenient.

There used to be a rather good beer shop around here some years ago, carrying the Pitfield range of beers brewed to classic English recipes. That’s history.

But we have a good alternative. The first stop is a something really special. A pop up beer shop.

The Wanstead Tap is a moveable feast,  selling beers at festivals, farmer’s markets and other event. It  has settled for two weeks in 87 Leonard Street in Shoretditch.

As far as I can understand, the concept is simple: Bottled beers from the London breweries. According to the East London and West Sussex Guardian, this is a case of true love for beer: A father of two has given up a successful career in television to dedicate his time to promoting beers brewed locally. I have already asked him to reserve something specialfor me. Have a look at the Facebook page if you are looking for something out of the ordinary..

I haven’t been to any of the BrewDog bars yet, and BrewDog Shoreditch is just up the road. 51 Bethnal Green Road. Maybe a swift one? www.brewdog.com

 

The question is if the Redchuch Brewery on 275-276 Poyser Street is worth a detour? I may be convinced. On the other hand, their beers might be available later in the day, too.

I think we will jump on a bus going north. Just before the road crosses the Regent’s Canal, the first brewery of the day is Hackney Brewery, just to the left. in Laburnum St. They don’t seem to be open to the public, but I have e-mailed them.

The next stop is across the Canal. It used to be the home of Beawertown Brewery, but they have moved on. But Duke’s Brew and Que is still the brewery tap. And, dangerously, they have around ten of their beers on keg or cask. Not to mention bottles.

I think I’ll have a Bloody ‘Ell Blood Orange IPA.  

Adress: 33 Downham Road, De Beauvoir Town

After this it is probably sensible that we strech our legs, and our next target seems to be about a kilometre due east. Perhaps we will walk along the towpath.

London Fields Brewery has a core range of session beers and more challenging stuff in their Bootlegger Series.
The brewery and brewery tap: 365-366 Warburton Street. Gift packs of beers to take away are available.

If the weather and overall condition is up to it, we can continue walking. The alternative is to get on a bus along Mare Street towards Central Hackney.

Pressure Drop Brewing is located in a railway arch, but don’t have a brewery tap. I think we’ll have a fair chance of sampling some of their beers in the Cock Tavern, which I seem to recall as a rather grim establishment in its previous incarnation, but presumably gentrified along with the rest of the area. According to the Craft Beer App, there are chances of us finding beers from the otherwise elusive Happy Collie brewery from West London there. And, conveniently, the Cock Tavern has its very own Howling Hops Brewery at the premises. 315 Mare Street.

Just a few minutes away, Five Points Brewing is close to London Fields station. I thought I would e-mail them to ask them if they want visitors. But I don’t think we will be up to a serious presentation of a brewery at this stage.

It’s dark by now. But the Pembury Tavern, across the street, is like a beacon. It is actually the only stop on the route that I have visited before. 16 hand pumps, including a fine range from the Milton brewery. 90 Armhurst Road.

The sensible thing now is to return to wherever we came from. Eat some junk food and go to sleep. But there is a beer festival. The City and East End CAMRA Pig’s Ear Festival. With lots of one off beers from London breweries. It’s in an old chapel (!) in Powerscroft Road. Lots of friendly natives. Come on. Just for a pint?

London Beers listed for the festival include brews from

  • Beavertown
  • Belleville
  • Brew by Numbers
  • Brew Wharf
  • Brodies
  • By the Horns
  • Clarkshaw’s
  • Crate
  • East London
  • Five Points
  • Fourpure
  • Hackney
  • Howling Hops,
  • Kernel
  • London Brewing
  • London Fields
  • Moncada
  • Partizan
  • Pressure Drop
  • Redchurch
  • Redemption
  • Strawman
  • Tap East
  • Truman’s
  • Weird Beard
  • White Hart
  • Wild Card.

That makes 27. And, while there is no way to know which beers are on at any given time, there should be enough for even the most enthusiastic ticker.

Even the affectingly mentioned Pitfield from the beginning of this ramble is listed with a few beers. They have made festival one offs for Pig’s Ear for many years, now they are being brewed somewhere in the countryside.

The festival will also commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood, which advocates the use of wooden barrels as part of British beer heritage.  Several wooden casks will be featured, including a one-off anniversary special 7% classic Red Ale brewed by award-winning Cambridge Moonshine Brewery.

There is food available at a number of the pubs on the route, I suppose we will be snacking along the way rather than sitting down for a proper meal. Scotch eggs, crisps and beer cover most of the basic food groups.

 

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I’ve recommended BBC Radio 4s Food Programme before. They cover a very broad range of topics connected with food – and beverages also get their share. A week ago, the programme was about hops. This year, the topic is cider. Broad coverage of Pete Brown‘s new book on the topic, but also interviews with producers great and small.

It is fun to listen to a representative from Bulmer’s trying to avoid a question about mandatory information on the label stating how much apple juice there is in the beverage.

It is the same discussion that we have in the beer world – when the giants of the industry talk about quality, they mean a consistent product that does not vary with raw materials, seasons or anything else. Therefore, the truckloads of corn syrup outside their factories are there for you.

Where I work, in the health sector, we talk about quality as well. The term is used when we discuss how many patients have died or haven’t received the proper treatment or care.

Maybe we should avoid using the q word?

Meanwhile, back at the BBC, Pete even gets to taste a dry hopped cider.

The Food Programme is conveniently available as a podcast.

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I am sure there are experts on riders in the entertainment industry, and while the survivors of the more hedonistic days of rock ’n’roll nowadays ask for wheat grass juice and decaf skinny soy latte, I am sure there are performers who demand craft beer as well. That’s for someone else to find out.

But these documents may also be opening the door to beer history. Who would have thought that world-famous Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962) asked for beer instead of vintage champagne?

In 1950, the singer agreed to perform in Purcell’s opera «Dido og Aeneas» at The Mermaid Theatre in London. The rather humourous contract obliges her to be obedient, tractable, sweet-tempered and helpful in every possible way, and not to brag about the Vikings.
The management, on the other hand, was to supply her with two pints of oatmeal stout per diem at the follow-ing times and in the following quantities, viz. lunch one half pint, dinner one half pint, and one pint following each performance.
The whole story is nicked from the online beer column in the Norwegian provincial daily Østlendingen, written by Bjørn-Frode Løvlund. He has even published a copy of the original agreement.

Soprano stout

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If you look at the global picture, the trend is clear. Beer consumption is going downhill, if you look at the traditional markets (meaning everywhere but China). The global players are doing their best to gain market shares, sometimes with alliances about as cozy as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

But, frankly, it does not matter. (Well, if you are in China, it probably does).

Because we are getting spoilt for choice. The next wave of the beer revolution is sweeping across Europe.

I torment myself by joining the mailing lists of a selected number of beer retailers, bars and breweries. One of them is the Arendsnest in Amsterdam.

They are having a tasting tonight. This café has long been a promoter of Dutch beers, taking pride in serving craft beers from every corner of the country. But tonight they are staying local, offering beers from seven Amsterdam breweries:

  • Brouwerij de Prael
  • Brouwerij ‘t IJ
  • Brouwerij de 7 deugden
  • Brouwerij de Bekeerde Suster
  • Brouwerij de Snaterende Arend
  • Brouwerij Zeeburg
  • Brouwerij Butcher’s Tears

By this time next year, we’ll be able to hold a similar tasting here in Oslo, with between six and eight breweries in business. Most of them will be exclusively brewpubs, some will possibly bottle some.

There are other European capitals with impressive lists of brewpubs and micros:

  • London must have a few dozen breweries now, up from two or three when Young’s closed down.just a few years ago.
  • Berlin has a fair number, as documented here on this blog.
  • Vienna often escapes the radar for beer tourism, but had a fine selection of brewpubs.

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While there is intelligent radio here in Scandinavia, too, there are limits to what relatively small language communities can offer in the way of output.

Sure, there are celebrity chefs in Scandinavia, too, some even have global TV series. But good no-nonsense journalism about food is lacking. In this day and age we are, however, lucky to be able to pick and choose from the offerings of the global village. The BBC Food Programme is broadcast weekly on Radio 4. There are podcasts going back several years. Quite  few of them are related to beer. I particularly recommend the programme about malt, which includes an interview with Alastair Hook from the Meantime Brewery, contrasting craft beer with beer being designed by accountants.

Check out the full list, there are many hours of knowledge and enjoyment available for free, splendid for sunny days by the pool, rainy days in the  countryside or just an escape while you are commuting to work.

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The Haandbryggeriet beer festival sold 1200 tickets in total on the Friday and Saturday, the budget was 1000. This means a new festival next year, I will keep you posted.

But back to this years event. I have praised the setup, but how were the beers?

First of all, I was only present at the Friday session, meaning I cannot do justice to all breweries present. I did not go through the range of beers from the hosts, for example, as I hope I will be able to taste them later.

Prestesonen is a new porter from the Norwegian Kinn brewery. Not trying to be too pretentious, this dark brown beer has a smoky nose and a fairly light palate. Roasted grain and coffee, fine balance.

The Oaked Sunturnbrew from Nøgne Ø has not been barrel aged, but is a special order that’s been aged with oak chips. I feel there is some extra dryness compared to the regular version, maybe some vanilla, too. This is one of my favourites among the Nøgne Ø beers, but I’m not sure if the extra treatment really lifted it.

A legend in European beer circles is the Stormaktsporter from Närke in Sweden. The version available here was aged in Cognac barrels, adding an intense aroma that was very much to my liking. The Närke stand was probably the hit of the festival, both for the eccentric range of beers and for the great visual presentation.

De Molen from the Netherlands had brought a wide range of brews along, some of the will probably turn up in Copenhagen this week as well. The had a brand new Flemish sour ale in two versions, one aged with cherries. I preferred the variety without the cherries, having a cleaner sour flavour which I really enjoyed. We’re talking Rodenbach territory here.

But the brewery which really made my day was Magic Rock from Huddersfield, England. Lovely keg versions of ales available on cask closer to home. This small-scale operation is inspired by American craft beers, meaning a far more liberal use of hops than the standard British fare.

Their Amber ale, Rapture, had a stong, refreshing herbal bitterness. Low in alcohol, intense in flavour, this would make great drinking for the summer months ahead. Honorable mention for their High Wire and Cannonball beers, too, but my highest praise is reserved for their imperial stout, the Bearded Lady. The regular version come in bottled form, and is a smooth and deceivingly soft tipple with fine chocolate tones. The barrel aged version has a lovely bourbon character, smooth beer given extra dimensions. Sweet and dry, charcoal, some sour smoke in the background. Oak and smoke in the tail. All these served by two friendly brewers.

The rest of my notes are blurry. I hope the good people from Emelisse and Alvinne come back next year, so I can do justice to their beers.

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With the new influx of beers in Norway, there are also occasional promotional tastings. With more mundane brews, this is all right, you get a general feeling of the quality level and the flavours. At the same time this speed dating does not do justice to more sophisticated brews.

At the launch of new specialist importers and distributors Beer Enthusiasts, I was pleased to see a more general distribution from domestic Sundbytunet plus imports from breweries like Midtfyn and Hornbeer.

A small sample of St Austell’s Smugglers Gran Cru caught my interest, but this was one that deserved drinking in a more quiet environment. I hinted that if a bottle could be made available, I would try to give it a proper review. A few days later, I was invited to come over and pick up a bottle.

This beer is aged in whisky casks before refermentation in champagne bottles. I have a suspicion this is fairly expensive in both the Norwegian market and closer to its English origins, but I honestly don’t know. I think you have to head to one of the serious beer bars to find it in Norway.

OK. I pop the cork, which reveals a very vinous aroma. Lots of dark berries, with the whisky whispering in the background. The carbonation is quite lively at first, but it quiets down, some pearly bubbles keep coming through the hazy red’/brown beer.

The flavour reminds me of an oaky red wine, the barrel aging giving a dry tannin character. Old leather, rich maltiness underneath. Raisins, prunes, vanilla.

The whisky is not overpowering, there is some delicate fruit laced with caramel underneath.

No Stilton in the house, but I found a piece of Gorgonzola in the fridge to match it.

No need for a port to go with the cheese board if you have one of these.

A minor complaint – they could have gone for smaller bottles. A beer of this strength and character should be enjoyed in moderation.

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