12 Beers of Christmas: Day 11

Hackney Hopster by London Fields Brewery (LFB) was the beer that introduced me to a resurgent London brewing scene. I spent the summer of 2012 drinking this “Pacific Pale Ale” in and around Hackney, on one occasion to the apparent displeasure of an old curmudgeon at Ryan’s Bar in Stoke Newington. Born and bred in the borough, he scoffed at the idea of a beer brewed in Hackney sold at a “rip off” price. As the snarling, gnarled old malcontent sneered over his glass of generic lager, however, I reckoned I had the better deal.

Anyway, *takes a deep breath* it can be reasonably argued Hopster isn’t the beer it once was, (whether due to staff turnover and associated variables or a deeper malaise), but it’s still a fine beer in my book, and I regard LFB’s Shoreditch Triangle as a very, very good IPA. But for my #12BeersofXmas day 11 beer I’ve decided to go with something more befitting of the season – the Black Path Porter.


It has the the distinct coffee aroma and flavour from the roasted malts you’d expect but this beer is all about the chocolate – when I first tried it as a sample at Oddbins in Crouch End I wished I had a chocolate sponge cake with coffee icing served with cream to complement it. It’s not the best porter I’ve had but it’s more than decent and one of these days I’ll do that chocolate cake pairing.

It’s been a troubled year for LFB but as 2015 beckons I wish the best for the brewers and the whole team. Slàinte.

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12 Beers of Christmas: Day 10

When I asked Beer O’Clock Show whether it would be permissible to take an ad-hoc approach to #12BeersofXmas and got a positive response, I thought it’d be a breeze. Far from it; it’s a busy time of the year and at times I’ve struggled to maintain the required momentum. Also, judging by the Instagram photos I’ve seen and blogs posts I’ve read (including some absolute crackers), my beers appear to be somewhat lacking. That said it’s the taking part that counts and it’s been a pleasure to be part of this festive, beery adventure.

Anyway enough of the introspection. I’m fortunate enough to be off work this week so after taking care of some chores earlier today I decided to pop into the Duke’s Head in Highgate. Recently voted the area’s best pub by Time Out readers, I could think of nowhere better for a quiet Monday afternoon pint. It didn’t quite turn out that way, however, due to the fact there was a bizarre darts tournament being played out as I arrived, with the (very boisterous) participants in fancy dress (including a Mexican wrestler, a man in a dress, and cliched parodies of the Scots and the French). Still, the tap list and service more than made up for it which brings me to my day 10 beer: Siren Craft’s Ryesing Tides.


My chosen beers on days 8 and 9 were rye beers and as the name suggest so is this 7.4% Rye PA (if you will). Hopped with simcoe and mosaic and part of Siren’s seasonal IPA series, it’s dry and earthy but also fantastically juicy and tastes like a beery mango Rubicon. I’ve run out of superlatives when it comes to Siren Craft Brew and my only regret is that they won’t be brewing this beer all year round.

I’m going back to Duke’s for Hogmanay but at 7.4% I may steer clear of the Ryesing Tides, at least till the bells. I have previous at this particular establishment.

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Everyman Screen on the Green, Islington

The Screen on the Green in Angel is a very special cinema, but it has one major drawback: despite boasting a bar in the auditorium (yes, actually in it), the best beer available is a pint of Guinness. It therefore fails to meet the the benchmark of an independent cinema that sells quality beer but it’s such a great movie house and makes for such a great viewing experience that this can be forgiven.

Photo by Fin Fahey licensed under  Creative Commons

Photo by Fin Fahey licensed under Creative Commons

Taken over by Everyman in 2008, with its red neon sign it’s an iconic feature on Islington’s Upper Street. Inside is just as special with sofa-seating, side tables upon which to place your drink, table service and even footrests. It’s certainly at the premium end of the cinematic experience and tickets don’t come cheap; however, after my last experience at the nearby Vue multiplex when a woman actually answered her phone during a showing of Arthur Christmas (and in so doing temporarily robbed me of my festive spirit), I’m happy to pay the price. It’s also an amazing place for a date, and is guaranteed to impress more than those brightly lit, sticky carpeted, nacho festooned big chain cinemas. Just make sure you grab a kerry-oot from the Craft Beer Co. N1 beforehand.

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12 Beers of Christmas: Days 8 and 9

We had friends over yesterday and as I went through the futile, masochistic, self flagellatory act of cleaning the house before they arrived, I contemplated what beers to get in. I also had to decide where to go to get said beers, but luckily we are blessed in Crouch End with three quality beer shops, four if you count the new Oddbins. Even as I left the house I wasn’t sure where I was headed till I found myself taking a right at the clock tower, meaning I was making for Bottle Apostle’s in-house beer shop The Brew Testament.


And I’m glad I did. As I cast my eyes over the shelves they fell upon Pressure Drop Brewing’s Syd Strong’s, a Black Rye IPA (7.1%) brewed as part of Brewdog’s CollabFest2014. As I patted myself on the back for a choice well made I grabbed a bottle, as well as some other rye beers – it felt like that type of evening. Owing to much merry-making including a game of Trivial Pursuit (which I won) and Pictionary (which I lost) I didn’t get the opportunity to take a picture, but it looked glorious in the glass. It pours a deep, deep brown (sorry for the earworm) with a cream head and has an aroma of roasted malts, coffee and rye spice. The rye isn’t overwhelming on tasting (which would actually be fine by me), but you know it’s there, and with floral hops and a bitter finish it’s a damn good beer.

As for today, I was headed to Essex again for more festive shenanigans, but before leaving I took the opportunity to open a bottle of Five Points Brewing Co.’s Hook Island Red (6%), which I also picked up from Bottle Apostle. I’ve previously given my thoughts on the brewery’s core range here and am happy to say, along with Pressure Drop, it’s one of my favourite London breweries. I’d been struggling to find a fresh bottle of late so when I saw the bottled-on date was 4th December I was chuffed. Fresh and effervescent on pouring, it’s juicy, fruity, bitter and dry, and a very well-balanced beer. It got Sunday off to a great start and as Depeche Mode, and latterly Celtic fans, sing: I just can’t get enough. There’s a better earworm for you.

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12 Beers of Christmas: Days 6 & 7

In my first #12DaysofXmas post I hinted that a review of this next beer was to come, and it’s a very special beer: Camden Town Brewery’s Beer 2014. A bock lager aged in bourbon barrels with an ABV of 9.5% and sold in 750 ml bottles, it’s a beer to share – and I chose share mine with family on Christmas day.


My future brother-in-law and nephew were thankful for my generous spirit, and we were all equally impressed with the result. With a bold and imposing design on the label and each bottle sealed with wax (hand-dipped, incidentally), you get the feeling you are in for a treat and that turns out to be the case (we’ll forget the fact I nearly lost a finger trying to break the seal with a blunt pen-knife). It’s an incredibly rich beer with a massive hit of whiskey, hints of vanilla and a bitter finish, all of which make it an audaciously late entry for beer of the year.

At the time of writing boxing day isn’t yet over and I’ve already had some great beers including Adnams Ghost Ship and a 16/02 Red Ale Amarillo Citra Simcoe by Brew By Numbers. But with a burgeoning appreciation for saisons I decided to go for By The Horns Vive la Brett, a Saison-Brett aged in Burgundy Oak. 

Brett. Brit? No Brett. Brit?

Brett. Brit? No Brett. Brit?

Swiftly rinsing the Bailey’s from my mouth prior to tasting, this is a complex beer. Fermented with brettanomyces yeast and aged in burgundy barrels, saisons are often described as “funky” and this beer is exactly that. It’s tart without being overly sour, and seems alive with flowers and citrus fruits. There’s also wine from the barrel-aging and it’s tangy, light, fresh and smooth all at the same time and a real wake up call for the taste buds, especially after a Baileys. And best of all, whenever I think of Brett I always think of this. Enjoy.

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12 Beers of Christmas: Day 5

Well this #12BeersofXmas malarkey is proving to be a challenge. Yesterday was a great day – our boss bought us all bacon rolls and told us to finish up at 11.30. This was welcome but it meant that I was in the Old Fountain at midday drinking Pale Fire and Hook Island Red and thus the tone for the day was set. These are great beers, and I had others throughout the day but the beer I’ve chosen for day 5 is Incompetence by Doody Brew.


This ironically titled American Pale Ale was brewed by home brewer turned professional Michael McGrorty. A well balanced, hoppy and dare I say it Juicy Banger of a beer it’s an appropriate choice as Christmas is about friendship, and I’m pleased to say I count Michael as one of my friends now, a friendship that was forged through a shared love of beer. It’s often remarked in the beer community that beer people are good people – and Michael’s generous gift epitomises this. I’d better go now, I’m welling up.

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12 beers of Christmas: Days 3 & 4

It’s confession time. I overdid it ever so slightly over the weekend and yesterday the prospect of a beer wasn’t overly appealing. A day of rest was all I needed, however, and with the added impetus of a visit to north London’s newest bottle shop I’m pleased to say I’m back with the programme. Dusty Dick’s Craft Beer Emporium can be found adjacent to the Harringay Arms on Crouch Hill, and although it only opened last week, from what I saw it’ll be a great addition to the beer scene in Crouch End. It stocks a diverse range of beers from countries far and wide, and even boasts its own in-house beer – Dusty Dick’s India Pale Ale brewed by Firebrand Brewing Co. from Cornwall. Thanks to a shared licence with the neighbours next door (I assume its a joint enterprise), it also plans to sell beer on site, including from keg, but owing to teething problems I made do with the bottled version, which was kindly given to me by the friendly owner/manager Ben.


After limbering up with a couple of Dead Pony Clubs, I popped the cap and it poured amber and opaque, with very little in the way of carbonation. The aroma and flavour were beguiling; there was some citrus bitterness and tropical fruit but also something else I couldn’t quite pinpoint, and being somewhat flat it tasted like a boozy tropical fruit juice, albeit from a high-end supermarket.

DD beers     DD scene

Somewhat underwhelmed I opened my second beer of the night from Firebrand (bringing me up to speed with #12BeersofXmas), the All American IPA. Also opaque and amber but a deeper hue than the Dusty Dick’s IPA, I was immediately struck by the caramel aroma I associate with Double IPAs and “Macro Glory Juice” Goose Island IPA. There’s sweet malt caramel on tasting too, but also massive grapefruit notes and the slightest boozy kick (for the record it comes in at 6%). With better carbonation and a dry aftertaste that has you hankering for more, it was  a wholly more satisfying beer than its predecessor.


I look forward to further visits to Dusty Dick’s, and hope that they plan events and so on in the future as although a small space, this ramshackle and, yes dusty, venue has vibe. And more importantly, it also has a dog – an incredibly cute and friendly staffie who may or may not be called Derek.

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