Brew Geekery

The rationale behind Drunken Cinema was to create a blog that was different, a beer blog with a twist. However, little more than six months after my first post, I realised that the concept had a very limited shelf life; simply put there’s a finite number of independent cinemas in London selling good beer. So I found myself writing less about cinemas and more about beer, and the original concept became irrelevant.

Around the same time a friend of Gemma’s offered to build me a shiny new website, gratis. I gladly accepted and decided that while cinemas would still feature occasionally, I’d jettison it as a core aspect of the new blog. Instead I decided I’d make it a personal account of life as a beer drinker in London. At a time when there has been much discussion on whether beer blogging in the UK is too London-centric, Brew Geekery will be unashamedly so; after all, it’s where I live and the beer scene here is vibrant.

The pages still need work (e.g. I need to add some notable blogs to the reading list); the designer is aware what a technophobe I am and hasn’t relinquished full control, but I’ll be plugging away with new posts to add to the content already transferred from here, and hopefully those who found something worth reading in Drunken Cinema will do so with Brew Geekery.

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The New Zealand Craft Beer Collective

I was kindly invited to the New Zealand Craft Beer Collective’s London launch at Hop Burns & Black on Tuesday where I tasted beers from five Antipodean microbreweries that are making waves as well as crossing them. The collective comprises Tuatara, Three Boys, 8 Wired, Renaissance and Yeastie Boys, and as Richard Shirtcliffe from Tuatara explained, this collaborative approach with like-minded breweries makes sense when trying to make inroads into the export market. It’s also a welcome relief from lawsuits and the like as far as I’m concerned.

This was my first tripKIWIS to Hop Burns & Black which opened last autumn and is the brain child of Kiwi natives Jen Ferguson and Glenn Williams. The name refers to the beer, hot sauces and vinyl sold at the store, and as a beer geek it was the expansive range of bottles and cans that got me most excited. There’s also a flagon fill from ever changing kegs (respect for eschewing the ubiquitous “growler”, guys), while I left with a bottle of the much sought after Jaipur X from Thornbridge. I’m aware that the consumption of alcohol on public transport is illegal in London, so I’m not in a position to confirm whether or not I also picked up a couple of train beers in the form of Modus Hoperandi cans…

As I arrived the place was already buzzing; it was stowed out with the great and the good from the beer-geek world happily mingling with the brewers, and the aforementioned Richard from Tuatara and Stu from the Yeastie Boys were palpably excited about HSwkudX_oWXSbeYVLDv2Bo18XcNNWEfeRIpoGmYQqaM=w958-h719-notheir foray into the UK craft beer scene. Regarding the beer I was impressed by Tuatara’s APA: Aotearoa Pale Ale, 8 Wired’s Tall Poppy (which brought to mind Five Point’s Hook Island Red) and Yeastie Boy’s Pot Kettle Black, while 8 Wired’s gloriously refreshing Saison Sauvin was the stand out. And a special mention must go to Jen and Glenn’s friend Kate Crawford and her awesome canapés – I’m not sure if she makes a living from food but if not she should definitely consider a career change.

I’m not one for online beer orders as a rule as there’s a plethora of great bottle shops in London. But the opening of Hop Burns & Black has raised the bar, and I’ll be back for a fix of Kiwi beer soon.

The New Zealand Craft Beer Collective will be at Craft Beer Rising all weekend. 

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Hells Maybe?

Since the turn of the year my Twitter timeline has been insufferably negative. As well as lawsuits and takeovers more recently this negativity has centred on Camden Town Brewery’s “Hells Raiser!” crowdfunding campaign. There seems to be two main areas of contention. Firstly, that the process isn’t transparent enough; and secondly, that the size of expected return on a relatively modest investment is too small to merit paying in.

I can’t comment with any authority on the first complaint, as given that I don’t intend to invest I haven’t looked at the Camden CrowdCube page in any detail. But if it is the case that the picture isn’t clearly laid out for potential investors I for one would be doing some serious research before parting with my money, and I’m sure Camden Town Brewery would be receptive to answering my questions and queries. I also know some people who have become “Hells Raisers!”, and as they are neither daft or blessed with riches I assume they did so in good faith.

The second issue, of the scale of return, is perhaps more pertinent. While this is a financial investment, however, I would imagine many are getting involved for emotional reasons. Passionate about beer in general and Camden Town Brewery in particular,  they doubtless feel excited about being part of the brewery’s continued growth and success. And while I see this as positive, as a caveat I would say that while it’s natural to develop an affinity with your local / favourite brewery or beer, it’s always worth striving for objectivity. These are brands at the end of the day, and unstinting loyalty rarely serves either party well in the long run.

Me? I won’t be investing. But only because I have other priorities (not least my wedding in two months). I didn’t become an “Equity for Punks” shareholder either and it’s a lasting regret, but that wasn’t right for me at the time either. And while it makes perfect sense to scrutinise such ventures, if having done so we decide not to invest, can’t we be happy for those who decide to take a leap of faith and invest in their love of beer? I for one wish Camden the best with their expansion plans, and I am also slightly envious of those who are about to join them for the ride.

But more than this I just wish my beer-themed Twitter timeline was full of more positivity. As CAMRGB states in its mission statement, “Beer should be taken seriously but is essentially a drink to be enjoyed and celebrated with good humour.”

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Dusty Dick’s Does Craft Beer

The craft beer revolution continues apace in Crouch End with the opening of a new sit-in bottle shop, Dusty Dick’s Craft Beer Emporium. Adjacent to the Harringay Arms on Crouch Hill and stocking more than 150 beers, it complements the two Oddbins and independent retailer Bottle Apostle in the area, with the added bonus of growler refills from a venue with “vibe”.

Antipodean manager Benunnamed Hayes arrived in the UK six years ago, after he ran out of beer money at Oktoberfest and sold his return ticket for a couple steins of Lowenbrau. After getting a job in a Knightsbridge pub serving pints of London Pride to tourists, he was swiftly fired for showing a complete lack of interest, and moved onto Dingwalls in Camden. Here, he learned the unique skill of how to throw an empty pint glass and bounce it off the lock without smashing it, and in three years he and his brother had raised the funds to buy the lease on the Harringay Arms.

dd-beersAmong the UK breweries represented at Dusty Dick’s is Cornwall’s Firebrand. So impressed was Ben with the Firebrand samples he was sent, a deal was struck for them to supply an in-house IPA; and discussions are ongoing about adding a stout and a saison to the Dusty Dick’s range. Ben is also in talks with various local producers about hosting food and beer pairing events, and “meet the brewer” events are in the pipeline.

Ben uses eight suppliers for the more distinctive beers he stocks but, where possible, he goes directly to the source and has found the London breweries to be very supportive. He told me that Irish and Scottish craft beers are harder to come by and so he is in discussions with some breweries in order to remedy this. From a personal perspective, my quality of life would be enhanced no end if I could pick up a few beers by the likes of Alechemy, Eight Degrees or Galway Bay on my way home from work.

Dennis, pictured next door at the Harringay Arms.

Dennis, pictured next door at the Harringay Arms

All of which sounds great, doesn’t it? But it gets better. Every trip to Dusty Dick’s comes with a warm welcome from Dennis the dog, giving you a warm fuzzy feeling that all the craft beer in the world can’t match.

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Social Drinking – the power of Twitter

My beer epiphany came relatively late in life, but fortuitously it coincided with the “craft beer revolution” in this country. By the time I joined Twitter I was inclined to go for a Young’s Special or Landlord rather than a Guinness, and would pick up bottles of Anchor’s Liberty Ale or Goose Island IPA from my local bottle shop rather than a six-pack of Red Stripe for a fiver.

Getting back to this side of the Atlantic, I was aware of Meantime but they seemed a blip, a novelty, albeit one 10 years old. And while I didn’t join Twitter with the sole aim of discovering new breweries and beers, in no time at all my time line consisted of tweets by beer-geeks, breweries, and bars. And it’s been fucking great. I’ve met some great people, been to some great bars and drank some great beers, and it’s no surprise to me that Twitter was many people’s “Beer App of the Year” in this year’s “Golden Posts” awards.

But something surprises me. If your beers are bad it doesn’t matter how good at social media you are – but if your beers are good and you excel at social media then you’re golden. What I mean by being good at social media is to be responsive, humorous, informative, varied and interesting. Examples of breweries that excel at this are Five Points, Beavertown and Camden, but the inactivity of other breweries’ Twitter accounts leaves me scratching my head. In the case of Five Points it’s no secret I’m a fan, and one reason I drink so many of its beers is because I always know where I can get them (thanks Doreen). And then you have a brewery like Hackney Brewery, a brewery I have a lot of time for but whose beers I only ever happen upon by chance. If I knew where Hackney’s beers were on at any given time (especially with its new trial keg range) I’d happily cross London for a pint. The same goes for pubs. My work local, the Old Fountain in Old Street has an ad hoc approach to tweeting its tap list but on the occasions they do it’s almost a stick on I’ll be in for a post-work beer.

I don’t know, maybe it’s down to (time and energy) resources. But Twitter in particular is a fantastic way to communicate with your customers and (surely) grow your business – and it’s free! Maybe some feel too humble or proud to hawk their wares, but beer is booming and if you stand still you run the risk of being left behind.

Addendum – I’m aware Young’s and Timothy Taylor aren’t deemed “craft” (whatever that is) but they broadened my horizons, and the latter in particular is indescribably better than what was my my usual choice of pint.

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Five Points Brewing Co. Old Greg’s Barley Wine

I don’t do new year resolutions as a rule but I’ve decided to start a beer “cellar” rather than simply drink what I have when I have it. I’ve had some great beers that would have lent themselves to ageing in recent years like Beavertown’s Imperial Lord Smog Almighty and Heavy Water, but I’m seemingly beholden to instant gratification. However it’s a flaw that I aim to remedy, and to start my collection I’ve chosen Five Point Brewing Co.’s Old Greg’s Barley Wine, a seasonal offering from the Hackney-based brewery.

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Picked up from Dusty Dick’s Craft Beer Emporium in Crouch End and bottled less than a fortnight ago, it pours a deep amber and has barely any carbonation. The aroma is boozy caramel, toffee and orange marmalade, and while you can taste the alcohol (it comes in at 8.5%) it’s not overpowering or intrusive. As well as loads of chewy toffee-caramel there’s honey and fruity and floral notes from the Challenger, Target and East Kent Goldings hops. And while there’s some bitterness, this is a really, really sweet beer, with a syrupy, cough mixture mouth-feel and pleasantly lingering aftertaste.

This batch of Old Greg’s has been ageing at the brewery throughout 2014 and I’m looking forward to seeing how it fares in one, two or even three years (or next weekend). If you don’t have a bottle shop handy it’s available from EeBria, but the stock is limited so look lively.

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12 Beers of Christmas: Day 12

Luckily I had the foresight to get some beers in today but alas I appear to have chosen poorly. The Roscoe’s Hop House IPA was particularly lamentable and the Rams Head IPA by Fordham was forgettable; and while Dominion’s Hop Mountain Pale Ale heralded an upturn in events it still left me wanting. Which is why I was happy when I realised it’s #BeerBods day, especially as this week’s beer is the Pale Ale by Harbour Brewing Co.

I don’t know, maybe my ability to taste is shot with all the glorious beers I drank during last night’s festivities at The Duke’s Head in Highgate. What I do know is that I’ve always enjoyed Harbour’s beers and I had no reason to believe tonight’s tasting would be any different.

HarbourPale

It pours a clear amber with a quickly dissipating thin white head, and the aroma gets you straight away – pineapple and mango in particular.  It’s a really well balanced beer with the tropical fruit and citrus bitterness in unison with the sweetness from the malts. It was the standout beer from tonight’s cargo and it reinforces what I’ve often remarked – it’s often better to buy local. I can now add the Pale Ale to the Harbour’s Pilsner, Dunkel Bock and IPA to the get-in-my-face list.

Apart from the Christmas tree on the photo there’s nothing particularly festive about this beer, and next year I’ll be doing #12BeersofXmas on Instagram (with more thought given to the beers). But it’s been a blast, and thanks go to The Beer O’Clock Show for making it happen and to all those taking part. Beer people really are good people.

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