Tag Archives: real ale

New beergeek.TV Episode – 800!

Nice start to our London visit

800!” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.

Getting back to London to explore its fast growing beer scene was always something in the backs of our minds. With another brewery century-mark within reach, it seemed like the perfect time to return to British capital.

With a whole week in the city, Merideth and I had a long list of beer-related and tourist things on our agenda. But with London’s exploding beer scene we hardly found time to play normal tourist. And we only made a dent in our beer list.

So enjoy our latest milestone beer adventure…

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

To Beavertown!

We may have hit 800 breweries the day before, but our London trip wasn’t over. There were still beers to drink, people to see and more breweries to add to The List.

Hanging at Brew Wharf on a Friday morning
Photo by Phil Lowry

We started our Friday with an early morning meet up with our friend Phil Lowry at Brew Wharf near Borough Market. Phil asked us to join him and Angelo Scarnera, Brew Wharf’s head brewer, as they brewed up something tasty. In the end, we didn’t help much (except to confirm that using Pioneer hops was a good idea), but we had a lovely morning catching up with Phil, debating American beer politics, and discussing the explosion in the London beer scene.

While hanging out at Brew Wharf, we talked with Phil about our day’s plans which were somewhat in flux. All Chris and I knew was that we wanted to end up at Duke’s Brew & Que, home to Beavertown Brewery. Phil suggested we walk the almost three mile route. Taking up his suggestion, we headed out into the cold. It was a great way to get a bit of exercise and see more parts of the city, especially the up and coming Shoreditch area.

Stumbling upon a beer festival

From a number of friends, we had heard about an inaugural beer festival, Craft Beer Rising, that was happening Friday and Saturday. As luck would have it, our path to Beavertown took us past the festival.

Forty-five minutes after leaving Brew Wharf, we arrived at the historic Old Truman Brewery in East London’s Brick Lane. In the last dozen years, the vacant and derelict buildings on the 10-acre site have been refurbished and transformed into spectacular office, retail, leisure and event spaces. We were initially confused about where to go, but a security doorman pointed us in the right direction. Up a short set of dark stairs, we found ourselves at the entrance of a large white-washed warehouse.

My beer of the Fest… Thornbridge Tzara

Similar of our experience at Great British Beer Festival, we were initially confused by the unfamiliar selection of beers. While there were familiar names like Brains, Brewdog, Fullers and Thornbridge, we were completely at a loss with Two Cocks, Penpont, Offbeat and Dorset. Wanting to try new beers, we ended up randomly guessing based mainly on brewery or beer names catching our eye.

In the end, we sampled over a dozen beers. And despite trying a number of new beers, our stars came from a brewery we were already familiar with. Being a good Californian, Chris’ favorite beer was the keg version Thornbridge Halcyon, a very West Coast Style 7.4% ABV Imperial IPA. With a tagline of “hops, hops & more hops,” Chris also liked the 5.5% ABV Thwaites Thirteen Guns, which was served in the cask room. True to my love for German-styles, my star also came from Thornbridge: Tzara, a wonderfully crisp 4.8% ABV Köln style beer.

A great bar policy

Having had our fill of English craft beer, we strolled down Brick Lane passing Shoreditch’s numerous hipster vintage clothing shops to arrive at the Brewdog Bar. I admit that I would have loved to stop in those shops, but Chris was on a mission and I know better than to interrupt a beergeek on a mission.

Despite not being a big beer-type of girl, I was looking forward to going to the Brewdog Bar. It seemed my best opportunity to try some of their not-so-wild-and-crazy beers that I know they have. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way, but it was a great stop nonetheless.

My first Brewdog bar

The bar was spacious and the wall of large windows added to the light feel of the place. I imagine it can get pretty packed, but on this late-Friday afternoon, there were only a handful of people chatting quietly over pints. Being Brewdog, there was the potential for this ultra-hip bar to be pretentious. While the bartenders were very hip looking and could easily fit in at Toronado, they were also surprisingly patient and helpful. With their help, I opted for the Libertine Black Ale. At 7%, it was a dark, rich and roasty beer with a heavy mouth feel. The bite of the Simcoe hops came through with a bitterness that proved too much for me.  Chris helped me finish it after polishing off his Punk IPA.

Our stop at Brewdog was short and sweet and after just one beer, we were on our way to the final stop of our day: Duke’s Brew & Que, home to the Beavertown Brewery. Earlier in the day, Phil had confirmed that it was a great place to go. We hit the pavement to head to De Beauvoir Town.

Pint please…

We arrived around 4:30pm and food (awesome tasting Southern BBQ) didn’t start until 5pm. No worries, though. We sat down at a table near the bar and warmed up a bit over a few beers. Chris started with a beer from their regular line-up: Neck Oil, a 4.3% Black Country Best Bitter on cask. With some of the highest ABV’s we’d seen on the whole trip, I opted for the  6% Saison 34, a recently released experimental beer from the brewery’s Alpha Series. Using the Dupont strain of yeast, this beer was great!

Cheers to Beavertown!

I can’t say enough good things about Duke’s and Beavertown Brewery. With rustic wooden floors and the smoky smell of BBQ, the atmosphere was warm and inviting. The bartender Elle was super friendly and very helpful (even before we broke out the bottle of Pliny the Elder). As 5 o’clock approached and the dinner hour was commencing, the place started to fill up. It is very family friendly without being annoying and it gives you the sense of hanging out at a friend’s party.

Tight quarters in the Duke’s kitchen

We had a chance to chat with owner/brewer Logan Plant. He was very humble and spent probably 30-45 minutes chatting and tasting beers with us.

Among the tasty treats were Black Betty (7.4% black IPA), Smog Rocket (5.4% smoked porter), and 8-Ball Rye IPA, a 50 IBU 6.2% beer described as being a “mash up of sweet Carapils, spicy Rye and zest West Coast hops.” All of the beers were top-notch and the amazing thing is that the 4bbl brewhouse sits in the kitchen across from the BBQ smokers. (Note: The brewery has recently moved to a larger space, but Duke’s will continue to be Beavertown’s official tap.)

Dinner!

For dinner, we chose the BBQ platter called Duke’s Greatest Hits. It included beef rib, pork rib and pulled pork served with coleslaw, pickled red onions, 2 different BBQ sauces & Texas garlic toast. Everything tasted great and although it was very filling, we couldn’t pass up the “Chocolate Salami” dessert. Cheeky sounding, I know, and we really had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be slices of chocolate rolls, one black and one white, both delicious!

It was a wonderfully cozy end to a fun day. Overall, our London trip had felt like one big meet up with friends, whether the people were new friends, acquaintances or longtime mates of ours, we thoroughly enjoyed sharing beers with everyone. Before our trip, I had thought that London was not one of my favorite places to go (primarily because real ale is not my preferred beer), but my opinion has completely changed. With such an explosion in craft breweries, there is something for everyone’s taste. Even mine. Cheers to one and all for the warm hospitality and a jolly good time!

800!

Unlike some previous milestone trips, Merideth and I were quite sure that we would visit our 800th brewery while in London. Such confidence made the trip much more relaxing. Able to check our completist tendencies, we had maybe our slowest paced trip in years.

Lunch at Borough Market

Our lazy 800 milestone day got a late start while Merideth slept in and I finished the first trip travelogue. Finally managing to leave our apartment around noon, Merideth and I headed for London Bridge and Borough Market for some lunch to fuel our day.

By the time we arrived, Borough Market was already mobbed with Londoners and tourists, flocking around the myriad of food stalls looking for lunch. Pies, soup, and oysters were among the many choices that were before us. After much soul searching, I went with the pork sausage with onions and Merideth the pork burger with blue cheese.

Lunch done, we walked a few yards over to the Rake. With a great beer selection and WiFi, The Rake had become our unofficial London headquarters. Like days previous, we popped in to get warm, drink a few halves, check email, social media and most important, plan the afternoon’s activities. With a 5pm tour for our 800th, Camden Town, we still had a whole afternoon. Looking at my list of breweries and pubs, the nearby Dean Swift jumped out as our next stop.

Our on way to the Dean Swift

Joined by our friend Paul, we set out on to the windy and cold streets of Southwark. Leaving London Bridge behind us, our trio walked east along Tooley Street. Paul pointed out various landmarks such as City Hall. More interesting to us, we passed the historic Anchor Brewhouse.

The Anchor Brewhouse began as a small brewery purchased by John Courage in 1787. The current structure, a very impressive, massive, brick building, dated from the late 19th century. While it has long ceased being a brewery, on our big day, it was nice to see some London brewing history.

Located down the street and around the corner from Anchor Brewhouse, the Dean Swift was a brightly lit, airy pub. It’s bistro-like feel made it all the more confusing when Paul said this used to be a rough neighborhood. Mid afternoon, it was very quiet, only a singular customer pecking away on his laptop in the corner.

A pint of the Redemption Big Chief please…

The Dean Swift had an excellent selection of beer, both real ale and keg. Though we were going there next, Merideth was happy to see Camden Town’s 7 Hop Lager on keg. I started with Big Chief from Redemption, a delicious 5.5% ABV Kiwi-hopped IPA.

Hanging with Spizz
Photo by Paul Daly

One of the unexpected highlights of our Dean Swift stop was meeting Spizz for the second time. One of the many entertaining characters in Teachings from the Tap, Spizz, with his punk band Spizzenergi, had a #1 hit on the Indie chart in the late 1970s, “Where’s Captain Kirk?“. Quite a characer, Spizz was just as charming and humorous as we remembered him from 2008.

We also learned a valuable lesson. There is a big difference between our English and English. The term “spastic” apparently has a slightly different meaning in England than here in America. If Merideth writes another book, she won’t make the same mistake again. Thanks for understanding, Spizz!

An impressive row of fermenters at Camden Town

We took an alternate route to our 8ooth, Camden Town Brewery. Occupying a number of railway arches below Kentish Town West Overground station, we ended up on the Tube on our way up from the Dean Swift. Disembarking at Kentish Town, we walked the ten minutes to the brewery. Turning down Wilkin Street Mews, we saw five shiny, huge fermenters sitting outside of the brewery. It was kind of a ‘wow’ moment as I’m not sure we expected such a large setup, especially since all of our other brewery visits had been significantly smaller operations.  Passing the fermenters, we entered the tasting room already buzzing with early evening drinkers.

Brewery tour at Camden Town

We quickly found our guide, Mark Dredge, who was kind enough to give us a private tour for our 800th brewery. As Mark took us from the brew kit to the bottling line, two things stood out for me. First, the large amount of brewing equipment they squeezed into a few railway arches was quite amazing. Second, we saw no casks. Camden Town is part of the keg revolution in England. Merideth couldn’t have been more excited!

Celebrating 800 together in our cool safety glasses

After the short brewery tour, we retired back to to the red light-bathed tasting room. Set up with a six beer flight, we each took a quick sip of the Helles. And 800 was officially in the books. Focusing back on the flight, the other five ranged from a couple of Wheats and Pale Ale on the lighter end of the spectrum to a Stout and Doppelbock on the darker side.

The star was the wonderful crisp 4.6% ABV Helles. Probably Merideth’s favorite beer of the trip, my only disappointment was that I didn’t get to try it next to US Helles, Camden Town’s American-hopped version of the same beer. Also of note was Ink, a roasty 4.4% ABV Stout poured on nitro.

Given that we celebrated 700 this time last year, we were quite proud of reaching 800 breweries. It was extra special that Merideth and I shared the milestone moment together, I think for the first time ever. Thanks to our London friends who helped us: Paul for being a great tour guide, Mark for letting tag along for his visits to Pressure Drop and Brew By Numbers, and Tanya for being fun to have a pint with. It’s now time to focus on 900!

View all the images from our 800th brewery day…

A Nice London Walk

With a whole week in London, we vowed to do more touristy things than our usual brewery to pub to brewery routine. Despite it being February, I hoped we could even get in some outdoor activity. A 3-mile walk from Richmond to Kew Green along the Thames was exactly what I had in mind for mid-winter outdoor fun. And there was even a brewpub at the end.

A nice day along the Thames

Alighting the train at the Richmond tube stop in the town center, Merideth and I got our bearings and followed the signs for the Thames riverfront. Being half-term (a time when kids are out of school), affluent Richmond bustled with families walking its streets. Within just a few minutes, we were walking along the river towards Kew Green.

Breaking the tranquility

As luck would have it, the day we chose for our Thames walk was the nicest of the trip. With temperatures seemingly approaching 50°F, I wondered if I should have worn the one pair of shorts that I had packed. Merideth, however, thought I was a bit daft, as it really wasn’t THAT warm.

Once we left the crowded path around Richmond, we were flanked on the left by the Thames and on the right by Old Deer Park, a huge expanse of green. Meandering through intermittent woods, it was quite tranquil, except for the constant roar of air traffic landing at Heathrow about ten miles away.

One of the many Green Parakeets

Following along the Thames, the path teemed with bird life. Swans, geese, ducks and especially gulls were prevalent in the water and along the shore. Egrets were nesting high in trees or hunting along the water edge. We heard the shrill of a parrot, something very familiar in our household. Apparently, the Richmond area is home to a large population of green parakeets (not our kind of parakeets, these are medium-sized parrots). Our ornithology adventure culminated with seeing a kestrel, a few feet away, unsuccessfully nab a rodent and then sit on a fence long enough for me to snap a photo.

Eventually, we reached an open space with family-filled picnic tables. Signalling our return to civilization, this was the famous Kew Gardens. Off in the distance at the end of a long, narrow green, we could see the iconic Palm House. Soon we passed the large parking lot and a short time later, we arrived at Kew Green. Its large open space and country village-like feel made it hard to remember we were only a few minutes from central London.

The atrium in the Botanist

Directly across Kew Green was our reward, The Botanist, an aptly named brewpub. Arriving a bit past noon, we were the first customers of the day. A glass atrium filled with dried hops dominated the entrance with a bar of hand pumps underneath. All manner of signage filled the room, telling us about being brewer for a day, explaining our three glassware choices, and to keep calm.

We settled at a high table just across from the bar and ordered a five beer flight. The brews ranged from a golden-hued Wheat, Kew Green, to Nemophila, a deep-brown Stout. To remind us we were in England, there was Maximus, a 5.8% ABV “Imperial” Red. All the beers were solid.

Lunch at the Botanist

With my yummy Croque Madame, basically a grilled cheese sandwich with fried egg on top, I paired the Humulus Lupulus. If it had been brewed in the States with a name like Humulus Lupulus, the brew would be a 10% ABV bomb hopped to the hilt with every trendy hop. At The Botanist, it was an easy-drinking, brightly-hopped 3.8% refresher. Merideth, also enjoying the Croque Madame and paired it with “65”, a malty, deep amber-colored English Mild.

Lunch and beers finished, we needed to head back to central London. It was a short walk to the Kew Gardens tube station thus completing our walk. I could easily see us repeating this walk in the future, especially on a nice summer day.

View all the images from our Richmond to Kew Green walk…

Hackney Ramblings

When Merideth and I last visited London a little over two years ago, there were only a handful of breweries left in the vast city. Fast forward to early 2013, the craft beer revolution has hit the British capitol, now boasting over three dozen breweries and still counting. With our 800 brewery milestone looming, we fancied a return visit to London to see what was happening in the beer scene.

Many of these new breweries have made the London borough of Hackney their home. Consulting with our friend and London beer guide Paul, we decided a six brewery tour of Hackney would be a good first day outing to see what was going on in London.

Tap East at Westfield

With our jet lag, it was admittedly a bit rough to make our late morning meeting at the Westfield Mall in Stratford City. Adding to the jarring experience was that our first stop, Tap East, was all away on the opposite side of a shopping mall from the Tube stop. Bright lights, loud music and sensory overload was compounded by hordes of children clamoring to go into the Lego shop and toy stores.

First beer of the day, Tonic Ale at Tap East

We found Tap East and eventually Paul at the end of the mall’s upscale food court. Tap East, with its muted colors and eclectic decor, was a contrast and refuge from the bright lights of Westfield Mall.

Tap East had a large range of beers in cask, keg and bottle, some 150 choices in all. But we were there for the house-brewed beers. Of the three choices, I went for Tonic Ale, while Merideth had the Jim Wilson Bitter.

One of the joys of being in England is that the beers are so, so different from what we drink at home in California. Big and bold is replaced by sessionable and subtle. Tonic ale was a perfect example of this. At 3% ABV, the soft, light-bodied, hoppy and refreshing brew was a perfect start to a jet-lagged day of beer drinking.

Crate Brewery, on the canal, in the White Building

Catching the overground, we just had to travel one stop down to get to our second destination of the day, Crate Brewery. Forget the gritty industrial park setting on one side of the building. With its canal-side location and outdoor seating, Crate looked like the perfect stop on a nice summer day. Too bad it was February.

Welcome to the Olympics!

Crate’s tranquil setting along the canal contrasted sharply with the electric fence topped with razor wire on the opposite bank. Reminding both Merideth and me of Derry, interspersed security cameras completed the police-state look. Asking Paul, he explained we were on the edge of the Olympic Park. It was  sobering reminder of the world we live in.

All smiles at Crate

We had heard that Crate could be quite busy. But on a Monday in February we were the only customers besides a gentleman drinking tea. We grabbed seats at one of the long tables with a view of the canal.

Crate had a nice menu of artisan-type pizzas and it probably would have been a good idea to get some food to help us through the day. But lacking the hindsight, we stuck with the beer-only route.

Merideth, already tired of real ale after less than a day, sucked it up and ordered the 4.3% Best Bitter. I bucked the real ale trend and went with Crate’s kegged IPA. A number of new breweries in the UK are forgoing cask only and providing their beers in keg as well. Crate’s keg IPA was much more like what I would get at home, both in terms of mouthfeel and its 5.2% ABV.

Our kind of place…

A further two stops down on the Overground was Hackney Central station, maybe soon to be the epicenter of the London brew scene. A few steps from the station was the Cock Tavern, home to the Howling Hops Brewery.

Walking into the dark tavern, made even dimmer by the dark wood interior, we found only one other customer in the pub. It just happened to be John the Ticker sitting at a table along the wall. (John is one of the many interesting, colorful characters Merideth talks about in Teachings from the Tap).

Still going strong at the Cock Tavern

At this point, Merideth had a revelation. She didn’t have to order full pints, she could order half-pints. She went with the bright and refreshing Duchess, a 4.0% ABV Single Hop Ale that came in a cute tiny dimpled mug (The single hop being Duchess, a trial variety). My choice was the 3.3% ABV Mild Ale. While the pump clip proclaimed “Hopped for Export,” I found the brew to be a nice malty one, with lots of caramel and a hint of roast.

Finishing our beers, we felt the jet lag kicking in. Talking with Paul, we decided to cut the tour from six to five. Command decision made, we headed to our next stop.

A short ten minute walk down Mare Street was London Fields Brewery. As I peered into their closed, under construction tap room, I remembered seeing on Twitter a few days previous that they were reopening the upcoming Saturday. Oops. At least we know where it is, in case we make it back over.

Regents Canal

Joining the canal again on the way to our final stop, I envisioned a summertime return to London featuring a canal-based Urban Beer Hike. Bundled up for the February chill, I imagined myself making the same journey in shorts and a t-shirt on a warm summer evening.

Hackney Brewing

Leaving the canal, we found our last stop, Hackney Brewing, in a railway arch. Only trading since last June, we have to thank the busy Jon and Peter for letting us pop in to see their operation. After chit-chatting about being a new brewery in London, we sampled the very nice Golden Ale and American Pale Ale.

Our day ended with a long walk to the Wenlock Arms and a quick pint. We can’t thank Paul enough for helping us with our Hackney brew tour. Giving blood that night, Paul as a real trooper, sipping on tea or water while we enjoyed beer after beer. That is a true friend!

View all the images from our Hackney Ramblings