London Crawling

Our original plan had us missing London on this trip and starting our European holiday in Dublin. But fortuitously, the Dublin flights necessitated passing through London to get to the Irish capital. If we needed to stop in London, we might as well stay for a day.

The new brewery at the Old Brewery

When we last visited London in August 2008, there were only a few breweries left in the British capital, Fullers, Meantime, and Brew Wharf. In the subsequent 26 months, London has experienced an American-style craft brewery explosion throughout the city.

An early landing at Heathrow gave us time for a full day of beer exploring in London. Luckily, we were able to take a quick shower at our hotel before getting on the Tube for Greenwich. We met our friend and beer guide for the day, Paul, at Meantime’s brand new Old Brewery. Located in the old Royal Naval College, the Old Brewery was the first in a succession of the new breweries we were going to visit on the day.

The full range of Meantime beers at the Old Brewery

Paul, Merideth and I took a seat in the bar area which occupies the front part of the building. Behind that separated by the short corridor, is the cafe by day, restaurant by night. It is also where the brewing plant is located. The six barrel kit is meant to be a research and development platform for Meantime, as well as experimenting with unique, limited edition brews.

Enjoying a Meantime Kellerbier

The full range of Meantime brews were available for us to try. That wasn’t necessary, though, as we visited their pub on our last trip. Being in London, I started with their London Pale Ale on cask. Merideth, not being a real ale fan, was delighted to hear that the house brew they had on was a Kellerbier. She ordered it with great enthusiasm. I followed up my Pale Ale with the Kellerbier as I needed to try the house beer for the brewery to count on The List. Merideth really liked the Kellerbier, where I felt it could have had a bit more ‘keller’ feel to it. Both beers were light and very easy to drink, something that our first day, jet-lagged, minds appreciated. It was going to be a long day, so we moved on after both of us had filled the brewery list requirement.

The Army is everywhere...

The first of the ‘new breed’ of London breweries we visited was Kernel. Since Kernel first came on the London scene, there has been a great amount of buzz on the Interwebs about their brews. This was the one place we HAD to visit on our one day visit. A good 10 minute walk from London Bridge, Kernel was located in an industrial space below the railroad tracks. Oddly enough, the first smell that greeted us as we entered what we thought was the brewery was cheese. It turns out that Kernel shares their long and narrow space with a cheese maker and an importer. As we passed the huge wheel of Parmesan, we had to remind ourselves we were there for beer.

Very happy while trying the beers at Kernel Brewery

Brewer/owner Evin O’Riordain runs a hands on operation at Kernel, down to the “hand crafted” beer labels that adorn their bottles. We were able to try three beers during our visit. Thanks to Phil Lowery who magically appeared while we were waiting for Evin to return from a delivery, we started with a rich and powerful Imperial Stout. At 12.5% ABV, the inky dark brew, while not best for our jet lag, was the perfect antidote for the chill in the air.

When Evin returned, we made our introductions and continued with the sampling. Simcoe IPA, at 7.1% ABV, was an example of what sets this new breed of brewer apart, the marrying of English brewing traditions with American hops. The IPA was one of those ‘wow’ beers that could challenge anything the West Coast has to offer. Our last beer, an 7.8% ABV Export Stout, was based on a 1890 London recipe.

The next stop on our beer journey in London took us from south of the Thames to north London. Getting off the train at White Hart Lane, it was a another 10 minute walk to the industrial park that housed Redemption Brewing.

Redemption in North London

Owner/Brewer Andy Moffat did what a lot of us in the beer geek community talk about doing. He left an unfulfilling banking job in London to start Redemption Brewing. Another small operation, Redemption opened in January 2010 and is quickly building a good reputation in the London beer community.

Chatting with Redemption's Andy Moffat

The first beer we tried was still in the conditioning tanks. At 3.8% ABV, Andy was reluctant to call it an IPA but it was a hop bomb nonetheless. Dry-hopped with Cascades (if I remember correctly), this brew was a perfect example of the marriage of a low ABV English beer with American hops. The second beer we tried was at the opposite end of the scale. Someone suggested to Andy that he barrel age his Urban Dusk, thus Bourbon Dusk was born. Lacking barrels. Andy used  oak chips soaked in rum. For Merideth and I, not being spirits drinkers, the result was a very hot brew. However, after a couple years of mellowing, it is easily anticipated that Bourbon Dusk will be a real gem.

A few of the 16 Brodie's beer...

Our final brewery of the day was Brodie’s in East London. The oldest of the new London breweries we visited, sibling owners Jamie and Lizzie Brodie took over the abandoned Sweet William Brewery and recreated Jamie’s  homebrew recipes. The resulting brews are served conveniently next door at their pub, the William IV.

Enjoying one of the many hoppy brews at the William IV

At the William IV, our group of three doubled. We were joined by Paul’s wife Eilís as well as two Marks, one of the Dredge variety and the other from Beer. Birra. Bier. The William IV looks looks like many a London pub, complete with the requisite set of lager taps. There was a fair sized crowd with many waiting for Arsenal’s Champions League match to start on the TV.

Walking up to the bar, the regular London pub image disappeared. That’s when I noticed the dizzying array of Brodie’s Beers on handpumps, sixteen in all. While I started with the more English style IPA, Merideth, true to her heritage, ordered the Californian, a 5.3% ABV, more West Coast style brew. I moved on to try the Californian, Citra, Amirilla, all delicious low ABV, highly hopped beers.

We were having a great time talking beer with Paul and the two Marks and catching up with Eilís. Unfortunately, jet lag really started to kick in and the conversations began to drift off. I kept having to stop myself from staring blankly into space. Merideth later admitted to doing the same thing.

Euston Tap... tiny from the outside, tiny on the inside

But we still had one more stop, luckily in the direction of our hotel. Since opening a few weeks ago, Euston Tap has been getting a lot of attention for their international beer selection. The second in a maybe growing chain of train station multitaps, the pub is housed in a tiny obelisk-looking building out front of  Euston Station. Walking in, I half expected this huge TARDIS-like bar area. But Euston Tap is not the TARDIS. It was as tiny on the inside as it looked on the outside.

The cool looking beer taps at Euston Tap

An impressive selection of international beers, eight cask and twenty keg, confronted my fading mind. I wasn’t even going to try to contemplate some of 150 bottle choices. Mark Dredge offered advice suggesting I try the Thornbridge Wild Swan as well as the Thornbridge/Darkstar collaboration, Thornstar.  Familiar with both those names, I tried both.

Despite the enjoyable company and a hoppin’ Euston Tap, I was pretty numb at this point. It was pushing midnight and we had to be on the train at 6:30am the following morning. We parted ways with our friends and returned to Paddington. A nice comfy bed was calling our names.

View all the London images

Merideth’s Year in Beer Top-10

By now you have already read Chris’s top-10 beer experiences from the Year in Beer. And now, you’re getting mine.

We decided on two different lists primarily because we have differing criteria upon which we base our determination of what is the “best”. Our lists overlap a bit and since I had the honor of publishing mine second, I risk looking unoriginal. Please bear with me as I offer to you my top-10 experiences from the Year in Beer (in no particular order).

Meeting our friends Matt and Michelle
Meeting them in Alaska for the first time, Matt and Michelle helped create a great kick off to the Year in Beer. Had it not been for a shared love of beer and our determination to pull this whole endeavor off, we would have never met them. It’s reassuring to realize that you’re not the most geeky of all the beer geeks in the world.

Getting stuck at Pug Ryan’s
Going to a pub and expecting to catch a cab home is not always a given, as we found out at Pug Ryan’s in Dillon, Colorado. There are apparently no cab companies in Dillon. Completely shocked and dismayed, I felt like a big city folk mocking the small mountain town, but it really was just absolute surprise. The owner was good enough to offer us his bartender as a ride home. Thanks, Chris the Bartender!

Showing our German friends around Munich
It was a bit strange and even a little awkward to have known Munich better than our German friends. Chris acted as tour guide and successfully wrangled our group to several of our favorite Munich beer halls. Wolfie thought Chris was the best tour guide he had ever had, even if he was the only one he had ever had.

Surviving 9 days of drinking real ale
I can’t say that our trip to England made me want a hand pump in my house, but surprisingly my complaining was minimal during the trip. I think I had a German-style lager on only a few occasions. Quite a personal accomplishment. You afraid of a little taste lager girl?

Volunteering at Great British Beer Festival
We had no idea what the beers were. We couldn’t handle the money without turning over every coin to check the denomination. But festival goers and fellow volunteers alike were incredibly nice and it was a fun time. Plus, where else can you watch a guy in drag sing traditional English drinking songs?

The Year in Beer tastings
Packing the beer for travel home is always a pain and not one of my favorite activities. However, our Year in Beer tastings made it all worth it. The tastings united the Monterey Peninsula beer community and I really enjoyed sharing our discoveries with others. Those others are now people I consider to be my friends.

Wearing my dirndl to Oktoberfest
Despite being cold, I felt very festive being at Oktoberfest in my outfit. This year, I participated in Oktoberfest, not just attended it.  Now if I can only get Chris in some lederhosen.

My Birthday
I’m not thrilled about careening towards 40, but what better way to celebrate a birthday than a trip to one of the best and most famous beer cafes in the world, ‘t Brugs Beertje. Daisy and her staff were awesome and I even have a little stuffed brown bear to commemorate the occasion. If he only had a beer in his hand…

The Kerstbierfestival
Our kind of festival. Out-of-this-world beer in a mellow, yet lively and fun atmosphere. Dignified without being douchey. We met a few new people and ran into Tom Peters. “Dank u” to the festival organizers for creating a great event.

Developing an appreciation for Belgian beer
For those of you who know me, know that I am generally defined by what beer I don’t like and Belgians were at the top of the list. Not so anymore. I think they’re pretty darn good.

The Year in Beer Top 10 – Chris’ List

With the Year in Beer now over, we would be remiss not to come up with a list of top 10 experiences from our amazing year. The original plan was to come up with a combined list, but within the first minute of discussion, it was clear that wasn’t going to work. So, here is my list not necessarily in order…

The Kerstbierfestival
Our kind of festival where great beer, friends and conversation seem to be the focal point. Maybe the perfect end to the Year in Beer.

The “Four”
I still need to come up for a better name for our July-October stretch of the Year in Beer. In these months we went to four of the premier beer events in the world; Oregon Brewers Festival, Great British Beer Festival, Oktoberfest and Great American Beer Festival. A lot of beer geeks would be happy to make all four in their lifetime; we did it in consecutive months.

Anchorage in January
The first month for the Year in Beer and there was some worry about how it would turn out. Not only was Anchorage’s beer culture quite amazing, the community was so nice and welcoming. We couldn’t have started the year in a better fashion.

Cologne, Munich and Vienna
After the Bergkirchweih beer festival, we joined our friends Ute and Wolfgang for Flogging Molly shows on consecutive nights in Cologne, Munich and Vienna. Day one was Kölsch, day two was beer gardens with liters of beer and day three was our first visit to Vienna.

Hallertau Hop Tour
One of the fringe benefits of the Year in Beer was that we got a tour of the Hallertau hop growing region by Anheuser-Busch’s European hop guy, Willy Buholzer. Thanks to Willy for being a great host and hop guide.

The Beer Bars
The Year in Beer gave us the opportunity to go to some of the best beer bars in the world… Toronado, Monk’s Cafe, Standard Tap, Brouwers, Falling Rock, Kulminator, Arendsnest, In de Wildeman, ‘t Brugs Beertje, Cafe Delerium, Liar’s Club, Cafe Amsterdam, O’Brien’s… to name a few.

Visiting All Seven Trappists
One of the main goals of our December trip was to visit all seven Trappist breweries. The worry was that in December, the six that were open to the public, would have limited hours or be closed. The beer gods were smiling down on us as we were able to visit all seven and drink the beer at the six that were open to the public.

One of the side trips we made during 2008. Big thanks goes out to the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing  Corporation for inviting us out for Philly Beer Week. If they hadn’t, we would still be talking about someday we need to get to Philly. We knew about Monk’s Cafe, and it is truly amazing, but there is a lot more to Philadelphia’s beer scene than just Monk’s.

Seeing Our Friend Win Beer Drinker of the Year
Another 2008 side trip… Being into beer, for me, is not just about the beer, it is also about the great friendships you make. And to be on hand to see our friend, Matt Venzke, win Wynkoop’s Beer Drinker of the Year, was not only a great time but was worthy a Top 10 Year in Beer experience.

OK… this is probably number one. I got to spend the Year in Beer with my best friend and better half. It truly doesn’t get better than that.

New beergeek.TV Episode – England

YiB-8“England… Finally…” is the latest Year in Beer episode of One Pint at a Time.

It is somewhat hard to fathom that in the ten years we have been traveling to Europe, we have never managed more than short visits to London. Thus, we had two goals for August’s Year in Beer trip:

1. Attending the Great British Beer Festival
2. Venturing beyond the Capitol.

So, we began our trip in Somerset.  With the help of Real Ale Walks, we were able to go on a couple of great hikes, enjoy real ale in  small village pubs and even learn the traditional English pub game skittles.

Back in London, we not only attended two sessions of the Great British Beer Festival, but also pulled pints as festival volunteers.

We also found time to do some touristy things during our London stay – our kind of tourist things – a river cruise down the Thames to visit some pubs in Greenwich and a historic / architecturally interesting / cool pub tour of London.

For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.

Finishing Strong in England

YiB-8Saturday was our last day in England and we finished up strong by visiting a couple of breweries in the north London suburbs and returning to GBBF for its final session.

When we were in London in December, I tried a Colorado IPA from Red Squirrel Brewery.  I thought it absolutely brilliant and knew I wanted to visit the brewery.

Luckily, we had a connection through our friend Paul, the cellarman at the Old Fountain. Paul was able to grease the wheel and set up the brewery visit. So Saturday morning, we met Paul at track 10 (not 9 3/4) at King’s Cross Station for the half hour ride to Hertford.

Located in an industrial park near the Hertford North rail station, Red Squirrel is a 10 barrel brewery producing a dozen or so real ales. Unfortunately, due to the ‘hop issue’, my beloved Colorado IPA was no longer in production.

Gary Hayward, the owner, is amazingly a one-man operation, handling every task you can imagine. Brewing, washing casks, distribution, sales, accounts receivable, accounts payable… he does it all.

The beer we got to try is the replacement for Colorado IPA… Springfield IPA. While not as hoppy as its west coast-style brethren, it still will raise the eyebrows of any hophead out there. We want to thank Gary for taking a few minutes out of his busy day to spend time with us.

YiB-8As our luck would have it, there was also a another brewery in Hertford (well, there are actually two other breweries, but only one is open to the public) to visit before we headed back to London. The Old Cross Tavern, located in the city center, not only has an impressive collection of hand pumps, but also a small brewery located in the former kitchen.

Their beer that they were pulling was Laugh and Titter, a very nice Bitter. It makes sense that it was a Bitter since that it is what Laugh and Titter is slang for.

Even more impressive was their collection of vintage bottled beer. There was several hundred bottles including vintage Thomas Hardy from the 1970s and a bottle of Bass Ale from 1869! I guess I should stress that these were full bottles of beer, not empties.

It was time to return to London and after parting with Paul, we headed over to Earl’s Court and the the last session of the festival.

Call us GBBF rookies which is apropos because we are. And we pulled off a really, really, really BIG rookie maneuver.

Over half the reason for going to the trade session is so you can try the Champion Beer before the masses are let in the venue. This year the winner was Alton’s Pride from Triple fff Brewery. During the trade session, despite knowing that we were supposed to try the Champion, I never bothered finding out who had won.

We doubled our mistake by not trying it on Thursday when we were volunteering. The beer was only in the next section over, B6.

Well, Saturday, was going to be the day we tried it. We met a friend – more about that in a second – and then bee lined for section B6. It was out but we were told that it would be back on in an hour and a half – 5pm. We returned dutifully at 4:56pm and were told that is was gone for good. Lesson learned.

So the friend we met is JJ, formerly known as The Thirsty Hopster and a fellow Bay Area Beer Blogger.  JJ’s claim to fame, in reference to us, is that in our 10 years of travel to Europe she is the first person that we know from the States who we have met up with over there. Congrats JJ! Your plaque is in the mail.

By 6pm, the festival was winding down but we wanted to stay the last hour to get video of the people streaming out. But an odd thing happened… as more and more casks ran dry, people started leaving on their own volition and by closing time, 7pm, the convention hall was pretty empty.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our fussball friends…  unfortunately, we don’t remember their names (If by chance you guys are reading this, send us an e-mail). We were wondering around the hall in the last hour and walked by one of the fussball tables scattered around the venue. Three guys were looking for a fourth and I got asked to join a game. So, we played a game of fussball (no spinning) and then talked with them for about an forty five minutes. Truly one of our greatest pleasures of going to Europe: good beer and good conversation. Thanks.