Thursday, 19 April 2018

The Gidea Park Micropub

The Gidea Park Micropub is almost opposite The Ship in Gidea Park, just outside Romford (see my previous post) and my first visit was towards the end of the extended ramble around my past haunts that I know was a rather long read. It's the kind of place, unlike some of those I encountered, that I knew that as soon as I walked in that it wasn't going to be my only visit. It wasn't, and this post was written over the two visits so far that I've made, and my experiences of both. I  hope that it unwinds in a coherent way, let's find out.

Looking around the room as I enter I'm approached by a bearded gentleman in a CAMRA t-shirt who shakes my warmly by the hand. Enquiring as to where the bar is he informs me that there isn't one, and the beer is kept in a room within the micropub itself. Looking up at the board I opt for a pint of Tinkers Cuss from One Mile End and settle down adjacent to the dart board, which occurs to me as a rather dangerous thing to have, and not something that I remember coming across in micropub before.

When I go to a new pub on my own I like to take in the feel of the place with my first drink, and in some places I ascertain quite quickly that it will be my last, but not here. There are a group of lads occupying middle table animatedly discussing giving up smoking and running the London Marathon, but it's not threatening and I sit there contentedly with my beer, which is by far the best kept that I've had today.

Looking up I notice the bearded CAMRA man going into the 'inner sanctum', a room towards the back of the pub. Peering around the door I spy a fully stocked bar in there, with wine glasses and bottles all lit up, but he swiftly closes the door behind him before I can get a proper view.

Upon his return, and my pint finished, he asks me if I would like another. I decline ath this point as I want to go across to The Ship for a swift one, but promise that I'll be straight back. He introduces himself as Steve Powell, and I tell him that I'll be back for a chat soon.

When I get back from The Ship, I order a pint of Empire's Dangerous Dave, and slip into easy conversation with Steve.

Gidea Park Micropub was opened on the 21st of December 2017 on Main Road, it is owned by Trevor Howard who has previous experience at a number of local Wetherspoon pubs, including the Moon and Stars in Romford, The Barking Dog in Barking (a pub I didn't go in on my travels), The Lord Denman in Dagenham Heathway (now closed) and The Collie Row in Collier Row. Fed up with Wetherspoon's local management structure and internal politics he decided to leave, and when the opportunity of managing a micropub arose after conversation with Dave, he seized the opportunity.

Steve tells me that he himself still does some shifts at The Collie Row, and as we talk I forget my notes and all too quickly it's time for me to leave.

Less that a month later, on a bright Monday afternoon, I'm back in Gidea Park. It's less that half an hour away door to door, trains permitting, and as I'm at a bit of a loose end it seems silly not to.

I arrive just after midday, its normal opening time, but I'm not the first customer of the day, just. As I pause to take a picture outside, a man I'd estimate to be in his late fifties tries the door and goes in before me.

Inside I order a pint of Big Hand's Little Monkey as my first drink of the day, a pleasant chocolatey Mild, and the first I've had from this Wrexham brewery. I make myself comfortable at one of the larger tables, perfectly happy with a little solitude as I go over my previous notes and begin to write.

The first pint slips down rather easily, thirsty for another I get a pint of Maxim's 7Cs and a packet of dry roasted peanuts. Light and hoppy, it's a perfect foil to the savoury peanuts, and I'm rather pleased with my choice.A suited gentleman comes in and enquires about food, but the crisps, nuts and pork scratchings on sale here aren't enough to tempt him, so he quickly leaves in search of greater sustenance.

On my first visit I noticed that there was a variety of beery reading material available, with copies of Ferment magazine and London Drinker in cardboard stands, but I pick up a copy of Mersey Ale to peruse, the Liverpool and District CAMRA magazine, and it gets me thinking that a visit to Liverpool might not be a bad thing to do sometime soon.

Pondering my next drink I spy a scrawl on the the blackboard stating that since opening that they have had 129 different beers from 66 different breweries, which strikes me as a rather respectable amount in just over 3 months.

Super Collider from Salopian is my next choice, its tangy hoppiness a real delight, and, three drinks in, I find that I'm rather enjoying my free afternoon. There's a lot to be said for killing some time people watching in a pub of any kind, and the blissful ambience of the micropub is rather relaxing.

It's a little busier now, a couple of retired gentlemen are discussing mutual friends Steve, who I met on my previous visit, is engaged in conversation with a recent arrival in an anorak who has ordered a pint of Ilkley's Hanging Stout. It looks rather tempting and I decide that this will be my next and possibly last drink here, the time having disappeared so quickly.

Hanging Stout it is, thinner in body than I was expecting but with a lovely malty chocolate finish. I have a half, and then another, followed by a third, as I pick up on the conversation with Steve and the man in the anorak, who introduces himself as Kevin. These are some of my favourite times in a pub, heated debate about dispense methods and breweries as another hour or so slips by.

Once again I have to leave, but as before I've thoroughly enjoyed my time here. The gravity dispense beer is in excellent condition, and turns over very quickly, new beers came on and old ones off in both of my recent visits. Fridays and Saturdays are rather busy I'm told, so I'll have to get back there to see what they're like, hoping that there's not a darts match in progress. That would make things rather interesting.

Gidea Park Micropub is located at 236 Main Road, Romford, RM2 5HA and is open every day of the week from 12-11pm. It's less than five minutes walk from Gidea Park station on the Cross Rail link that currently runs out of Liverpool Street. It can be found on twitter at @gideaparkmicro . Although not strictly in Essex, Havering is a London Borough and was previously a Royal Liberty, it is worthy of a mention and a visit for its accesability, friendliness and superbly kept beer. Give it a try.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Never go back? A journey through my past ...

Never go back?

A journey through my past ...

Going back to the places that you grew up, the places you used to drink in, the places that hold a degree of significance to you, no matter how trivial they may appear to others, is as much a journey of discovery as rediscovery.

Time is a strange thing. It plays tricks with your mind, clouds your memory, and can leave you doubting your judgment. 

This is a journey that I've wanted to do for some time, a journey through my past, revisiting those pubs and places that meant something to me growing up. Why it took me so long, well I don't really know. Maybe it's because I was worried that some of these places just wouldn't be there anymore, maybe because some of the places I was going to don't have the greatest reputation now, or maybe because it was so personal to me that I was frightened that it would darken the memories of those places that I've kept with me for over twenty years.

Starting out on a bright but chilly Thursday morning, as I boarded the train at Brentwood I realised that even though I knew where I wanted to go I hadn't actually planned a route to take, however as I got closer to Seven Kings station I felt an urge to visit The Cauliflower. It's a pub that was quite a walk from where I used to live but one that was always worth a visit.

The Cauliflower (553 High Road, Ilford), is an imposing late Victorian Gin Palace built in the Flemish style around the year 1900. It is on the site of a much older pub, as many are, and that was built on the site of an ancient market and cauliflower patch (so I'm told) hence the name. The rear of the property is clearly visible as you pull into Seven Kings station heading out of London, and it is though that the railway was responsible for its location and grandeur. Originally a hotel, something it may well be again if current plans become reality, it was erected on the site of two railway intersections, of which now only one remains, with the owners gambling that Ilford station would be opened there. This wasn't the case although, in the early part of the twentieth century it was indeed a very high class hotel, one which rivalled those of the West End of London for it's opulence and clientele. For those of you who like such stories, it is told that a ghostly apparition of a drowned local girl appeared at the leaving party for Mr and Mrs Hart and their daughter Eva, that was held there prior to their emigration to Canada in 1912, warning them not to take the trip. This disturbed many of the guest but Mr Hart dismissed it as nonsense. Two weeks later Mr Hart lost his life when the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, although Mrs Hart and their daughter Eva, who has a Weatherspoon pub named after her in nearby Chadwell Heath, survived.

Later in its life The Cauliflower found fame as an acclaimed music venue, with bands such as the Small Faces, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, and the Inspiral Carpets having performed there. It was for music that we used to meet there too, and I have fond memories of time spent both inside the pub and drinking outside in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and a particularly fine cover band that, in my head at least, always seemed to be playing "Big Area" by Then Jericho.

Sadly, on this particular morning I'm too early and the pub is not yet open. Peering through the window I get a sense that it hasn't changed a great deal, but I what I really wanted was a sense of what The Cauliflower was, and what it was to me. This isn't to be on this occasion, and so I make my way down South Park Drive towards Barking, and in particular Faircross, the place I was born and where I grew up.

The walk is actually shorter than I remember and the road hasn't changed much, although the old Redbridge Health Centre is now closed and derelict, a crumbling monument to NHS health cuts and centralisation. Just beyond that is the back entrance to Barking Park, and as I round the corner I see the familiar tower of The Royal Oak pub, a local landmark and one that brings on a wave of nostalgia.

The Royal Oak (201-203 Longbridge Road, Barking) known locally as the Fly House, possibly due to it's use by day-trippers visiting the nearby park by pony and trap, or flys as they were known, and in my lifetime had a large representation of a fly on its strange mediaeval fairy tale-like tower. It dates from around 1867, although some argue later, and is one of many buildings in the area listed as being of special architectural interest. It was originally a cottage that was not included in the acquisition of land by Barking Council in order to build both the park and the school, a strategic corner spot, and its conversion to a pub and subsequent rebuilding meant that it could take advantage of the passing trade.

This was the nearest pub to me when I grew up although not one that I often frequented when I first started making my tentative forays into that world. This was mainly due to many of my friends living nearer to Romford, making the pubs of either there or Chadwell Heath preferred venues. I do however have some interesting recollections of the place.

I remember visiting there on Christmas day with local friends and family when I was old enough to do so, and on one occasion having so much to drink that I had to excuse myself from Christmas dinner and retired to my room to sleep the rest of the afternoon away. I also remember the toilets, in particular the strange off yellow of the cistern, pitted with brown stains caused by parked cigarettes or other nefarious activities. In later years, after I had moved away from the area, the bank opposite (now closed and empty) was the first branch that I actually managed. I would leave the building at lunchtime, light a cigarette in the porch and walk across the road where my pint of Castlemaine XXXX would be waiting for me on the bar, regular as clockwork. They used to have regular outing to Ascot every year too, and get dressed up in their finery ready to board the coach as I'd be opening up in the morning.

This, however is another pub that I'm not destined to get inside of today. As I pass I notice a man furtively disappearing into the side entrance, but as I try to follow the door is locked from the inside. Walking round to the front I have no joy there, and although the opening times state 11-11 and it's now half past, I have no choice but to continue my journey.

Walking into town, beyond Barking Park, I'm struck not just by how much has changed, but how much has stayed the same. The shop fronts are different of course, mobile phone stores, vape shops and fried chicken outlets have replaced the toy shops, book shops and record stores of my youth, but the streets are still familiar, and although the people are different they walk the same streets that I once did, know the same routes, the same short cuts and dead ends, and recognise the same landmarks that I now see again with my slightly jaded eyes.

Just before the station are two pubs separated by a narrow road. I'll be going in The Spotted Dog a little later, but not the Barking Dog. It's a Weatherspoons outlet, and despite being Good Beer Guide listed it didn't exist as a pub when I was living in the area so hold no interest for me.

Going past another former branch I worked in, now a large betting shop, I make my way up East Street turning before right before what used to be the The Stag pub, now an open space, and make my way along Axe Street to The Victoria.

Dating from 1871, The Victoria (Axe Street, Barking) was rebuilt in 1961 in order to modernise it for the nearby Gascoigne Estate. It's a Brakspear's pub now, a subsidiary of the Marston's estate, and this two bar local has a very successful darts and quiz team according to its website. My father used to go here on a Thursday evening after bell ringing practice at nearby St Margaret's church, and when I was old enough I would occasionally go there too, although only when my younger brother wasn't with us. I don't remember much about it, only that they used to have a seemingly endless whip, or kitty as they called it, a pouch that was brought out every Thursday with their beer money in it. It therefore wasn't a major part of my formative years, so I take picture and pass by with a nod to those who I used to my fellow campanologists who are no longer with us.

The Barge Aground (15 The Broadway, Barking) is a pub that I did want to visit and just around the corner to The Victoria, but this is now a Romanian restaurant called Tarancuta. The previous Barge Aground used to be situated on the opposite side of the road, on the approach of shops that led up to the Curfew Tower gateway to both St Margaret's church and Barking Abbey (a real abbey this time, from which the school by The Royal Oak gets its name) before being demolished in the 1960s. In his introduction to Barking Pubs Past and Present by Tony Clifford, Billy Bragg, a local lad whose family were in the licensed trade in the area for generations, claims to have proudly sunk a pint or two on its former site. The name itself comes from Barking's heritage as a fishing port, having once boasted an incredible 220 boats, or smacks as they were known, by the 1850s before falling into decline, and Captain James Cook himself was married in St Margaret's, having met a local girl in the area on a visit. His marriage certificate used to be kept in the vestry when I used to go there but I gather it's somewhere far more secure now.

Just along from the Barge Aground and opposite St Margaret's Church of England Primary, my first school, is The Bull (2 North Street, Barking) .

Always an imposing building, I used to watch men stagger out of there on a Friday afternoon while I waited for my bus home, which was also the first time I remember hearing swearing in anger for the first time rather than just naughty words to be shared in the playground. Roger Protz, the eminent beer writer, was also familiar with The Bull, and I recall him mentioning that he used to walk down there with his father from nearby East Ham where he grew up, and it was one of his earliest experiences of beer and drinking.

The Bull though is no longer a pub, and although it retains its familiar exterior it is now a nightclub called The Kings Bull. After a long look, and a quick walk around the churchyard and abbey grounds, I move on.

The town centre is now pedestrianised and hosts a market selling everything from halal meat to hair extensions. It's busy on this Thursday lunchtime but I make my way through, past the station to The Spotted Dog, and for my first beer of the day.

The Spotted Dog Hotel (15 Longbridge Road, Barking), for it was that once, was built in 1870, and modernised throughout the early 20th Century. Legend has it that during some early building work tunnels were found thought to be used by contraband smugglers, and it is another pub that is reputedly haunted. Figures of both a young girl and young boy have been reported by staff after closing time, both fading to nothing after they were approached. It was also popular with signalmenn from Barking station, possibly sneaking a quick pint between shifts.

This is where I came on my 18th birthday with my friends, the landlord congratulating me somewhat ironically as birthday cards appeared on the table as I'd been drinking here for a year or two before. There was sawdust on the floor then, and we came for the Davy's Old Wallop, which was apparently Courage Directors with some added caramel, and served in all Davy's Wine Lodges at the time, or so I'm led to believe. I also meet my wife here after work on a Friday night when I worked locally as it was a great meeting point for teachers in the Borough after a week in the classroom.

The interior hasn't changed much, but there seems to be more space as if it's been opened up a bit, with less tables and no sawdust on the floor anymore. The big barrels of Port which used to be above the bar are gone, but the landlady points out some that remain by the old clock (the original clock I'm told) and I gladly take a few pictures. There's no more Old Wallop either, and the solitary handpump dispenses Doom Bar now, but I plump for a tasty Pilsner Urquell to quench my thirst, the Kozel (my first choice) being off for the moment.

The pub is inhabited uniformly by middle aged white men this lunchtime, either on their own or in pairs, quietly drinking, for the most part, mainly at the bar, discussing recent events in their lives. The piped music I found intrusive, although no-one else seemed to mind it, and big screen televisions constantly advertised upcoming sporting events, but I found it both welcoming and relaxing. Well, maybe not relaxing, the music saw to that, but I was able to enjoy my pint before moving on.

As I was going I had another brief chat with the landlady who asked I remembered the Jolly Fisherman (108 North Street, Barking) on the Harts Lane estate. It wasn't a pub I used to drink in, I do recall going in there once or twice and it did used to be a Good Beer Guide pub back in 1998 (I've checked the listing and it's in there) so I decide to make a quick detour.

When I get there though windows are covered with blackout curtains, never an inviting sign, so on this occasion I decide to give it a miss.

I go back to Barking Station to catch the bus to Ilford via the old Red Lion (38 George Street, Barking) but this appears to be student accommodation now. The sky is darkening and rain threatens as I wait at the bus stop, and as I board I realise that it didn't make it to The Britannia (1 Church Road, Barking). I used to go there for a pint or two of Youngs Bitter, or Ordinary as it was known, and it used to be a popular music venue in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, but I later learn it has closed. A real shame.

The journey along Ilford Lane is long and tortuous, mainly due to the number of cars double parked but I eventually arrive at Ilford station and stop to take in my surroundings.

I used to come here a lot as a boy, my great uncle had a haberdashery and clothing shop in Manor Park and we used to meet here for lunch. I also worked here for a while, but even though there are pubs here that I went to, I don't look back on any of those visits fondly, they were just places to go and have a couple of beers after work. Nothing more than that.

Romford is only four stops on the train, so I decide to catch that as I have a very particular pub in mind to visit, and another a little further on that always felt like a home from home.

Walking along South Street in Romford, you pass all the familiar town centre drinking dens, the 'pack 'em in and get 'em hammered' places that invariably lead to trouble on a Friday and Saturday evening, earning this town a reputation as a place to avoid late at night. That they all seem to be right next to each other, inviting drinkers to move easily between them, can't help either, but this isn't the end of Romford I'm after. The market place is my destination, and more specifically the pub that sits right on its edge.

The Golden Lion (2 High Street, Romford) or more accurately, The Golden Lion Hotel, can be found in listings going back as early as 1440, although the current building dates from the 16th and 17th centuries. It used to be a coaching in, and the site of the stables can still be seen to the rear of the property.There's a connection with The Cauliflower too, as it was run by a Peter Reynolds between 1867 and 1899 while both his father and younger brother ran the Seven Kings pub at different times.

This pub holds a lot of memories for me, all of them good. As most of my school friends lived this way, from the sixth form and beyond it became a regular meeting place where those who had been away to university could return to on a Friday or Saturday evening knowing that there was a fair chance of bumping into someone you know for a pint and a catch up. There were several birthday parties held here, mainly in the upstairs function suite and bar, but it was Christmas Eve that you were guaranteed a big crowd, and a good half of the drinkers would be ex-St Edwards pupils, with a few staff too. It was on one particular Christmas Eve that I asked Sarah, the woman who would become my wife of nearly twenty years, out on a date for the first time, so you can see why it holds a very special place in my heart.

As I enter through the low doorway I'm pleased to see that things haven't really changed. The Golden Lion is still almost exactly as I remember it, albeit rather less crowded at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon than when I used to come here. I'm told that it still gets very busy in the evenings though, and particularly at the weekends. It's a Greene King pub now, with a respectable menu, and whilst there has been some modernisation, most noticeably a new bar top, and a partition may have been taken down, as well as a slight widening of an internal doorway, it's still very much as I remember it. The beer range is from Greene King of course, but seeing that they have Theakston's Old Peculiar on cask I settle down by the door with a half of that. Looking around I see that there's a very mixed crowd, usually a sign of a thriving pub, made up of people meeting for an afternoon chat away from the hustle and bustle of the market place and shopping centre, whilst young families are finishing of their lunch. The barman walks past me carrying two plates of curry for a nearby table and asks me how my beer is. "It's nice enough", I tell him, and he smiles and carries on.

There's piped music, but it's not intrusive, and I 'm reminded of the time we put the whole of Flood by They Might Be Giants on the juke box (sadly gone), which didn't go down particularly well that evening. I don't think it lasted more than three songs before being turned off. We protested, of course, but it made little difference and the landlord was unmoved by our tongue in cheek pleas for its restoration or our money back.

I find the gentle buzz of conversation around me rather soothing as I sit and write, but, pleasant as it is, there's nothing really to keep me here for another drink so, after making a pretence of going to the toilets (vastly upgraded from those I remember, but strangely with the wash hand basin in a separate room) to see if the back of the pub is still as I recall (it is), I make my way back and out through that low doorway (mind the step) and out into the sunshine.

Rather than turning left and heading off in the direction of the final pub on my journey, I decide to turn right instead, towards what is left of the old Romford Brewery.

This takes me past The Bitter End (15 High Street, Romford), almost opposite The Golden Lion. Now permanently closed after a fire on Boxing Day 2015, it has been through many incarnations, and at one time it was a pub I preferred to The Golden Lion. This was when the name changed to Clutterbuck's in the late 1990s and the range of cask beer surpassed any found in the area. Beers from the likes of Butterknowle, King and Barnes and Timothy Chudleigh, breweries that have now all closed, could be found on the hand pumps, as well as a host of others. There was a bar billiards table too, and I used to look forward to arriving there, just to see what was on.

After this it became the Ford and Firkin, brewing on the site, although it was never quite the same as Clutterbuck's it was still a destination pub for good beer. This was under the ownership of Allied Domecq, who had acquired the brand in 1991, however after a few years this was sold on, the brewing equipment was sold, the range of beer was replaced by bland national lager and its name reverted back to The Bitter End. I never went there again.

Similarly the Romford Brewery buildings that remain are a sad shadow of their former selves. Formerly The Star Brewery, founded in 1708 on what the then the main road to London, it was bought in 1799 by Edward Ind, becoming part of Ind Coope in 1845. With the coming of the railway along the rear of the site in 1839, it was able to expand considerably, covering 20 acres and employing over 1000 workers.

Brewing on the site stopped in the early 1990s, and the brewery itself was closed and mostly demolished in 1993 with the brewing equipment shipped to China, converting the site to a car park and shopping centre called The Brewery. Two large copper brewing kettles mark the entrance from the road, reminding shoppers of its heritage, and only the offices remain of the buildings where John Bull Bitter and Double Diamond (along with Castlemaine XXXX) were once brewed. Part of this is devoted to the Havering Museum, somewhere I'll visit another day, but I head back to the market place noticing a strange triangle hammered into the kerbstone (graffiti by a Bass lover perhaps), remembering the smell of brewing that used to hang in the air over the town, now just a memory but once smelled never forgotten.

The Lamb (5 Market Place, Romford) originally dates from around 1681, but was burnt down and rebuilt in 1852. Briefly renamed Mulligans in 2013 by its then owner Richard Willis, who also owned the Romford Snooker Club, hoping to capitalise on the large Irish community in the area, it was subsequently bought by Greene King and reverted to its former name. Once hosting a venue for folk music on its first floor, something I remember from my occasional visits, it's not a pub I particularly hold dear to my heart, and the crowd of leisure suit clad smokers in the doorway and weaving mobility scooters give me cause to carry on walking to the top of the market.

On my right is The Bull (74-76 Market Place, Romford), an imposing building and local landmark in the very heart of the market place. rebuilt sometime in the late 19th, early 20th century, it was once a large three storey building with an even more commanding presence that it holds now.

My particular memories of The Bull were as an occasional stop in the market place on my way through, or as a loud music venue on a Friday evening when it had a resident DJ. Neither of which cause me to linger, so I continue through and under the roundabout at the top via the subway, emerging onto Main Road heading to my final destination.

The walk up Main Road, much as the walk down South Park Drive, is shorter than I remember, and the sun comes out encouraging me to quicken my pace. Lodge Farm Park come up on my right, with the larger Raphaels Park (pronounced locally as Rayfields) across on the other side of the road. Up the slight hill and round a bend in the road and I'm in Gidea Park, greeted by three pubs; The Archers on my side, whislt opposite that The Unicorn, now known only as the Harvester, and a little further along The Ship. It's the last of these I'm aiming for so I cross the road by the newly opened Gidea Park Micropub (a post for another time) and make my way to The Ship.

From ever since I first went there I fell in love with The Ship (93 Main Road, Romford). It's the kind of pub you immediately feel at ease when you enter and even though it must be at least 15 years since I crossed its threshold, today is no exception.

The pub dates back to 1762, and it's still the original building, little changed in all that time. Once reputed to have its own brewhouse, some structural alterations were carried out in 1950 revealing an additional large brick fireplace and exposing the original structural timbers that can still be seen today. The bay windows at the front had to be removed when dry rot was found in the surrounds, but they were rebuilt in exactly the same fashion in order that their character be preserved.

Once upon a time I'd walk though the doors and Dave the barman would be pouring me a pint of Courage Best, having seen me walk past the leaded windows. This rather impressed my father the first time I brought him here, but that was many years after my first visit when Dereck, the landlord at the time used to hold court in the main bar. I'm told by the current owners, who purchased the pub in 2007, that he still comes in from time to time, but not today sadly.

I met my wife properly in this pub. I'd known her from school, she was a few years below me, but I used to come here, a 40 minute journey on the 87 bus, because it was a proper pub. It felt like home from home, and it still does.

The beer range is better now. The Courage Best and Directors are gone, replaced by 5 cask beers now, including Brentwood Gold from just up the A12, but I opt for a half of Timothy Taylor's Landlord, and it tastes great. It's a Good Beer Guide listed pub now, and has been for the last few years and rightly so, and it's something that the owners are justly proud of. It should have been when I was younger, the beer, though limited, was always impeccably kept, but I didn't care about such things then, it was always for the company and the atmosphere. There was a weekly quiz night on a Thursday, and I'm told there still is, and it was to The Ship I came after coming out of hospital after an operation for bladder stones. Though the pain was unbearable, it didn't stop me having a drink with my friends.

As I sit by the very window that Dave used to spot me through all those years ago I have to wonder why its been so long since I've been back. A dwindling fire adds a smoky smell to proceedings, and even though I can hear music playing in the background it's a local radio station, and only on the edge of my hearing. I suddenly feel that like it's twenty years ago and I know I need to bring Sarah back here very soon. She'd love it.

It is essentially a three room pub, with a portioned snug, a larger but still small bar area, and a larger main room, although this is all relative, The Ship isn't a big pub by any means. Late on a Thursday afternoon it has a mix of what appear to be locals. An elderly man opposite me nurses a bottle of Budweiser while his dry cleaning hangs from one of the large barrels that serves as a table. I can see a middle- aged couple chatting in the snug, both to each other and the bar staff, whilst in the main room I can hear, but not see, agreeable noise and chit chat. A woman pops in to enquire about drinks after a funeral, then another asks about live music, which does happen here she is told. The fire is stoked, a couple leave, and I go back to my Landlord. I'm in a good place and start wishing that I could stay here for the rest of the evening.

This is not the case though, and all too soon it's time to leave.

As I walk up to Gidea Park station and my train home I reflect on my journey, the places I've been and the emotions I've felt. Clouded by nostalgia, especially considering my final port of call, I nonetheless feel a great warmth and fortunate to have had such good friends and good memories to look back on. It's been a voyage of rediscovery rather than that of discovery though, and whilst time moves on it's comforting to know that some places remain the same.

I used various sources for my research into some of the pubs and places mentioned here, most notably Tony Clifford's Barking Pubs Past And Present published in 1995 by Barking and Dagenham Libraries Department, but also the Ilford Recorder, the Romford Recorder,, and occasionally the websites of the pubs themselves, although disappointingly the majority of them don't offer much in the way of assistance. This has been a labour of love for me, and if you've enjoyed it then perhaps you'd like to take a similar journey yourself, or, if you'd prefer to do mine then I'd be more than happy to show you around. Just make sure you have good walking shoes on.

There are many other pubs in other areas I could have visited that also hold some significance for me. Perhaps I'll do those in the not too distant future.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Opting out of the Hype P A ?

Opting out of the Hype P A ?

I know I haven't written much for six months or so but it doesn't mean I haven't been drinking much beer, and I'd hazard a guess that during that time at least sixty percent of the beer that I've consumed were IPA and US-style (in all their incarnations) IPAs at that.

Good old ubiquitous IPAs, those big hoppy hits of dry fruity goodness ready to wreak havoc on your tongue with their big bold bitterness, the beer that, it could be argued, were responsible (although let's not forget Pale Ales here) for changing the game and mobilising the masses to drink what we npw universally call craft beer. Who wouldn't want to get their lips round something that actually tastes, and not only that but is actually incredibly and deliciously full flavoured ? Who wouldn't want to go into a bar and see tap after tap full of these glorious brews, each one the very latest up-the-minute and freshest (well, maybe) example of that particular brewers endeavours ? You wouldn't want to miss out on that one beer that absolutely every beer writer, tweeter and their dog have been raving about would you ? 

Well you might, and that's neither here or there as this isn't a post about how I'm fed up with drinking IPAs. No, not at all. I'd be lying if I said I still don't enjoy that wonderful smack across the chops you get from a perfectly crafted, fresh-as-you-like IPA, and I'd have to say that my brewery of choice for these amazing beers time and again is still The Kernel, and it their constancy and consistency that keeps me reaching for those understated brown labels, obviously with half an eye on the "Bottled On" date. Well you do, don't you? 'Best Drunk Fresh' is an IPA brewers mantra.

What I've been experiencing recently, and I'm referring mainly to canned beer here, is that the vast majority of the IPAs have been, well, very samey. I found it hard to distinguish between them, and they weren't particularly memorable. They certainly weren't bad, but perhaps a little bit, maybe more than a little bit, homogeneous.

(Side note: I was hypothesising with some purveyors of fine beer recently that if these same breweries and I don't have name them, you know who they are, started brewing and canning Mild what the effect would be.)

To be clear, I'm not talking about extreme style variants here, I've noticed Sour IPAs starting to appear recently (haven't we seen them before, or am I imagining that?) and Coffee IPAs have been a thing for a while, but I will clump together Session IPAs and DIPAs in with their older sibling.

Can you place your top five IPAs that you've had over the last three months ? Possibly, but if I asked you to place your top five from those that were released as brand new onto the market in the last six months then I'm willing to bet that you'd have a much harder time. Of course you would, it's a ridiculous thing to ask, these are transient times where this weeks big beer will be forgotten next week as there's always something new. It's all about the new, the most up to date, the next big hop, the latest technique, the next can design, and not being one of the first to try it, or at least not missing out, isn't it ?

Recently I was fortunate enough to be invited along to record a show with Steve and Martin from the Beer O'clock Show that featured beers from Shane Swindells at The Cheshire Brewhouse that were brewed using a recipe dating back to the 1800s as well as hop and malt varieties dating back over fifty years. If you haven't heard the episode you can find it here should you want to. But any notion that I had of beer being so much better in this day and age, although admittedly these aren't the actual beers drunk in days gone buy, were certainly dispelled. I'd advise you, if you haven't already done so, to check out their beer and see, or rather taste it, for yourself. These are IPAs from the old school. They're bottle conditioned, so treat them with the respect they deserve, but they'll repay you with some of the best beer you'll have had in some time, guaranteed.

I've been hearing and reading about some murmurings around the price of craft beer, not exclusively targeting IPAs but they have tended to be squarely in the firing line by virtue of the fact that they seem the most common. I'm going to ignore the indignant outrage at the £13.40 pint last year as micro-storm in a third glass, but on the whole beer has become more expensive to make by virtue of it's popularity, it's basic supply and demand, and if you include an expanding brewery's costs growing outside of the actual product then, on the whole, I'm happy to pay for it, but only when I really want to. Before the UK's craft beer explosion there was, believe it or not, some amazing beer out there in pubs up and down that country, and a lot of that beer is still with us, it just hasn't been getting much attention of late. Cask Conditioned Beer and Real Ale aren't dirty words to be spat out with venom and disgust (although the term 'Real Ale' does sound rather trite to my ears these days), they are still things of beauty, of wonder and delight. In these days of New = Best, and the next new one will be even better, let's not forget those beers we remember as being really good but we don't touch because they've been around awhile. My local, The Spread Eagle in Brentwood, Essex, has Sharp's Atlantic, perfectly sessionable if a little thin, along side Fuller's London Pride and Titanic's Plum Porter, and has done for some time. All three are drunk and replenished within a few days by a pub of mixed clientele of all ages who just want to drink good beer, and know it when they find it.

To conclude, I'm not opting out of IPAs or denigrating them in any way, and I'm still undecided as to whether or not I'm going to get sucked in to the talk about the next big beer. You'll have noted the question mark in the title, and there's still a part of me that loves the thrill of the chase even if the result is more often than not, a bit of a disappointment. I'm just being a bit more wary, a bit more discerning, and a bit more focussed on other beer styles, letting my gaze and palate roam where it wishes (remember when it was wall to wall dark beers in wintertime ? A part of me misses that) and maybe, just maybe, opting out of the hype P A.

Footnote: The IPAs in the photograph are just what happened to be in my fridge at the moment, so you'll note that they are beers that I chose to buy and enjoy. I'm not telling you to buy them or otherwise, you'll have to make your own mind up.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

A Beer With No Soul?

A Beer With No Soul?

"... that's why I'm pissed off now, especially by United States customers, they don't give a shit when InBev is buying another company, for them it's the same. No! Goose Island is not a craft beer, come on, that's how they kill the Belgian markets. The Belgian market almost died to that kind of stuff. It was InBev policy for almost thirty years, buying up opponents, now they are doing it worldwide. In Italy, the day they bought Del Borgo I called friends, Manuele in Roma, I called Stockholm, and said "Guys, we have to move!",  but we were not ready. But if I have some time this year I hope I can get a group of people to get ready for the next strike. We have to strike back. That's how they destroyed Belgium, buying breweries. As soon as somebody is getting better, buying it. Buying it to do what? Produce the same shit everywhere, so it has no soul."
Jean Hummler of Moeder Lambic in conversation with Breandan Kearney.
The Belgian Smaak Podcast, EP007

It's a warm Monday evening, and I'm in hipster-central Shoreditch for another beer launch. As it's on the way I stop off at BrewDog, meeting Matt Chinnery (the Half-Pint Gentleman) for a beer or two, returning our glasses to the bar before heading a few doors down to where Goose Island has a pop-up bar ready to launch Migration Week in London for the second year in a row. Migration Week, to quote from the promotional blurb, "The Chicago Brewery will be showcasing the wide range of beers in the Goose Island portfolio at a variety of diverse events across London, where beer lovers can embrace the spirit of Chicago in the capital from 12-17 June."

The invite tonight was for the launch of Goose Island's newest beer, Midway, a 4.1% session IPA showcasing American hops. 

It's a tasty beer too full of big hop flavour, but not too bitter. There's notes of lime, lemon and orange, a full on sessionable citrus hit perfect for summer drinking. It slid down very easily and had three or four in quick succession, which wasn't actually as quick as you might think given the plastic glasses it was served in, which appear to be almost compulsory at every non-brewery-based event at the moment. A side rant here but, come on, they're not easy to drink from  nor are they eco-friendly, and if you're really worried about glass and injury then just make sure you have enough staff that know where the dustpan and brushes are kept.

We had a good night, and the guys at Goose Island were particularly generous with plenty of beer flowing and some very good food and, if you allowed yourself to get carried away by the blues riffs played by the over-loud band, you could almost forget that the whole thing was being bank-rolled by ABInBev.

It's a PR stunt, but nothing new there, that's what these launches are all about. Whether you're a big multi-national or a small local independent, it's all about getting your product out there, getting it talked and written about, creating an interest.

Goose Island do these events really well. I've been to quite a few of them now and they tend to bring out the great and the good in the beer writing community, particularly when the Bourbon County bandwagon rolls into town.

They are a real celebration of Chicago beer culture.

Except this one wasn't.

Goose Island Midway is not a Goose Island beer. 

You know this, it's an ABInBev beer, and you yawn and switch off. I wouldn't blame you, this has been a broken record since they were bought be ABInBev in 2011, and on the whole it's now accepted that if you choose to buy it then you tend to know what it is. It's what's become known as "crafty" and the examples are endless.

Goose Island Midway isn't a Goose Island beer because it's brewed by Birra del Borgo in Italy. It can't embrace the spirit of Chicago because it has nothing whatsoever to do with Chicago. It is a fraud, a beer pretending to be something it isn't, riding on the reputation of an established, better known brewery that's really just a front for a multi-national. It has no real identity, it's the bastard child of marketing men and brewers, spawned ultimately by those who, for their own reasons, took the big money from The Man. There is no story other than profit, there is no passion, there is no soul.

Goose Island Midway was described to me as a "game changer" by a representative of, get this, ABInBev's Craft Division, (a frightening development) and it is. For the first time that I can recall a really tasty new beer that wasn't a limited edition or one-off, not a dumbed down half-hearted flavour-challenged attempt, has been produced under the guidance of ABInBev. It appears that they are learning, should we be worried?

Referring again to the Breandan Kearney's excellent interview again, it won't be long before they'll be producing the same shit everywhere.

Does anyone know where ABInBev have recently invested a lot of money in a state of the art brewery in London recently?

You can listen to what Jean Hummler of Moeder Lambic has to say on the Belgian Smaak Podcast here, and I'd strongly recommend that you do. All of these podcasts are pure gold if you have any interest in beer, particularly Belgian beer, at all.
Many thanks to Matt Curtis who allowed me to crystalise the ideas for this post by messaging me regarding the beer the day after the event. Thanks mate.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Book Review: Historic Coaching Inns of the Great North Road - Roger Protz

Book Review:
Historic Coaching Inns of the Great North Road - Roger Protz

I'm a sucker for old inns and I don't mind admitting it. The anticipation of approaching, the resolute beauty of the exterior and, crossing the threshold, the palpable sense of history as I join the ranks of patrons that have enjoyed the hospitality within the self same walls through centuries past.

All human life has frequented inns through the ages, from paupers and beggars to kings and queens, from murderers and thieves to bishops and knights of virtue, itinerant traders, drovers, servants, writers and politicians, each seeking companionship, solace, sustenance, warmth and rest according to their needs. Inns have been court rooms, prisons, breweries, brothels, meeting rooms, places to plot, plan, philosophise and ponder life's mysteries, as well as providing inspiration and material for playwrights, poets and authors. The stories their walls could tell are many and varied, from joyful and jubilant to morbid and melancholy with every emotion inbetween. This is what I find so fascinating about them, this is why I love them and this is the reason I visit them. For me, surprisingly, a good beer is a bonus, and whilst not essential it often means that I spend longer soaking up the atmosphere than I had perhaps intended.

When CAMRA sent me this book to review I had a feeling of both anticipation and trepidation. The subject matter had obvious appeal, but I wanted to be taken on a journey of imagination along an ancient road, touching on history enough to peak my curiosity, while also providing just enough of a contemporary review that I'd long to explore these places for myself. A tough ask maybe, but fortunately this, on the whole, is exactly what this book delivers.

Those of you that have read some of the many books that Roger Protz has written will be familiar with his narrative style and he sets the scene and historical context that lead to the rise and demise of the coaching inn, before setting off from London to Edinburgh on a journey that follows the old Great North Road, similar in the most part to the route of the  A1/A1M, but taking in the towns and cities that the modern road now bypasses so as not to inconvenience today's road users. The chapters are written in stages so that it isn't a monotonous list of inns, and these are interspersed with jolly asides on subjects relating to coaches, highwaymen (and women), and road builders, as well as providing guidance to other places of interest in the area of each stop. It's clear to see that this was a genuine journey and an enjoyable one at that.

As you would expect in a CAMRA book the beer available in each is mentioned, but this is more in passing rather than a dominating factor, and it's not only real ale that gets a nod, although it is most certainly available in every inn that has an entry here. I would have liked a signpost to other coaching inns in the area that don't carry cask beer but that is purely a personal indulgence and in no way a criticism, it just means that I'll have to do a little background reading if I visit these places so as not to miss out on an historical gem.

I confess to have already visited many of the inns written about here, the Dukes Head in Highgate, the George in Stamford, the Angel and Royal in Grantham and the Olde Starre in York being particular favourites, and am pleased that I feel the same about each as Roger does, finding his insights both interesting and insightful.

If this book has a fault it is that, for me it doesn't go deep enough into the area and history of each place and how it related to the coaching era but this isn't really it's purpose, and that I find some of the picture placement a little confusing as the inn exterior tends to be shown at the end of the piece next to the following entry. What it does provide however is enough of a starting point to pique your curiosity should you have any interest in coaching inns, historical buildings, or are just in search of a beer related diversion.

This isn't the definitive book on the subject, at some 192 pages you would not expect it to be, but it is the ideal book to pack in your glove box or back pack should you wish to set off on a journey of discovery into this country's past and the history of beer and travel.

Historic Coaching Inns of the Great North Road by Roger Protz is published by the Campaign for Real Ale Limited and is available through CAMRA books with a registered retail price of £12.99 although with a little shopping around you should be able to get it cheaper than that. I've already mentioned that this book was sent to me for to review for free, and even though I confessed my love of inns in my opening sentence if it was awful I wouldn't have hesitated in saying so. It's not, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Friday, 12 August 2016

The Moral High Ground: Shades of grey

The Moral High Ground
Shades of grey

Once upon a time we all knew who the good guys and the bad guys were.

Macro-breweries, Big Beer if you like, were the enemy. Evil empires run by money men, focused on profit, churning out enormous quantities of homogeneous ice-cold beer, irrespective of brand. It didn't really matter what it tasted like as balance sheets were king, maximum profit for minimum cost in the quickest possible time.

The good guys, of course, were the small regional breweries. Guarding their territory, putting quality first, making a superior product at a price point that, although it might be slightly higher than Big Beer, we all were willing to pay.

By buying their beer of these regional or micro-breweries as they were called, championing their cause, we held the moral high ground. We were the consumers raging against the machine. We were the worms that were turning. We prayed for a revolution, a spark that would ignite and spread across the land like a wild fire, sweeping away Big Beer and bringing a new age of beer. A beautifully beery new dawn. We gazed into our pints, imagined this impossible brave new world, let out a sigh and came back to reality.

Now things are different. Beer is booming, and big business as well. Where have those oh-so-clear dividing lines gone? Things that would once have outraged us to the point of getting up out of our chairs and actually doing something about it; brewery closures, selling controlling interests to larger breweries, even Big Beer, now have many of us shrugging, mumbling on social media that we won't drink beer from them again (although by the following week we've forgotten all about it and drink it again), and feel a the warm glow of the self-righteous. I'm as guilty of this as the next drinker.

Forty-odd years ago of course, back in the early days of CAMRA, they organised demonstrations. Proper ones. In November 1973 around 600 members "from as far apart as Northumberland and Kent"(source: What's Brewing - December 1973) protested the closure of the Joules Brewery in Stone, Staffordshire by Bass Charrington by organising a protest march culminating in an orderly rally at the brewery gates where Christopher Hutt, the then CAMRA Chairman and author of the excellent "Death of the English Pub", and Bill Young, the district secretary of the local branch of the Transport and General Worker Union, both gave speeches. The following year there was a similar protest at the Barnsley brewery in South Yorkshire with a turn-out of reportedly twice that number. Although both of these were unsuccessful, both breweries were closed fairly soon afterwards, it showed that, despite a relatively small membership (9,000 by 1974 compared to 181,543 today (source; CAMRA website)) it was able to mobilise members to travel and protest a cause. If you make a direct comparison with the estimated 1,200 that protested against pub closures and the beer duty escalator outside the Houses of Parliament in 2012 then surely it means that its members are, on the whole, less involved, less militant, and couldn't really care less.

This state of apathy is not unique to beer of course it can be seen right across our society, look at the percentage of the electorate who actually watch the news let alone vote, but even though many of us feel we have a strong sense of justice, what our actions say we have is just a general feeling of unease or discomfort, a malaise.

Recently I was invited to a brewery launch party at The Rake by 'French' brewery, Le Brewery. The quote marks around 'French' are there for a reason, because even though the brewery is based in north-western France it was founded by Steve Skew, an Englishmen, and continues to be run from England by, as I discovered on the night, a consortium who had purchased it as an investment when Steve put it up for sale around 18 months ago. I reviewed their Norman Gold in July 2012, and you can read about it here should you so wish.

"We came, we saw, we conquered" was the slogan and, I quote from the invite; "Le Brewery is set to conquer the UK craft beer and cider market as it launches its award-winning range and we want you to be the very first to try them".

I looked at the website, which showed a range of eight beers and one cider so I was expecting to taste a variety of beer when I arrived and introduced myself to the team from Le Brewery. Sadly I was to be disappointed. Only two beers, Mysterieuse Lady, an elder flower blonde, and Norman Gold, the beer I had previously reviewed, the two least interesting and the lowest in abv were available to try, along with the cider, their re-designed labels still showing an interpretation of the images of the Bayeux Tapestry, but one that had been settled on by a committee of marketing men. Bland and uninteresting. It transpired that these were the bottles that had been sent to supermarkets to try and spark an interest in the brand (not the brewery I noted) to enable them to gain a foothold in the UK market. As I was talking to them a gentleman who introduced himself as someone who had run successful charities before turning his attention to crowd-funding, arrived with a bottle of their beer and took their attention. I didn't stay much longer after that, although my attention was diverted by one of their older, oxidised, but infinitely superior bottle of Harold's Revenge, a 7.6% English Old Ale, that they had found whilst clearing out the cellar of old stock.

After being initially shocked by this blatant marketing exercise I was perhaps even more shocked by my process of rationalising the evening. If I had bought a brewery as an investment without being completely immersed in the culture and lore of beer this would probably be precisely the route I would follow. It's a well trodden path, one that pays off in many industries and seeing that beer is making headlines and reading about the money being handed to breweries by multi-national companies in mergers and take-overs then why wouldn't you want the chance to get on that train when it arose? Does it make them bad people or just shrewd marketeers? I wasn't so sure as I used to be.

I'm sure we all remember the outcry on social media when Camden Town brewery was acquired by AB-InBev in December 2015, the last, and most headline-grabbing, from a UK drinker's point of view, of the takeovers, mergers and purchases of a busy year for such things.

Among the most vocal, Matt Curtis let his disappointment be know when he wrote this post about the situation, although he did conclude that he would just have to come to terms with it.

If you follow his writing you probably already know that last month (July 2016) he published an interview with Jasper Cuppaidge of Camden Town on the Good Beer Hunting website. I urge you to read it as it explains some of the reasons, other than financial, that Jasper says he had for accepting the reported £85million offer from the brewing behemoth, and it makes for interesting reading. Investment in a bigger brewery in Enfield, on the outskirts of London, access to business, beer and brewery knowledge, and expansion into new markets, particularly the US, are all cited as reasons and the argument is convincing. I do notice that Matt doesn't have a closing paragraph on this occasion, preferring to finish instead with a future projection question, leaving you to draw your own conclusion.

So while I continue to buy and enjoy as I'm sure many of you do, Camden Town's beer, the fact that I'm paying my money to AB-InBev is an inconvenient truth that I'd rather not acknowledge. I still wouldn't buy Budweiser, but I did go to an event organised by Goose Island, another AB-InBev acquisition, the day before Craft Beer Rising this year because Bourbon County continues to be an amazing beer.

Perhaps, given what I've experienced, that things have changed. Big Beers isn't all bad and obviously transparent marketing of a product (as opposed to this example highlighted by Pete McKerry) isn't the worst thing in the world after all?

So who has the moral high ground now?

Certainly not me, if I ever did. My halo, such as it was, has slipped and things aren't as black and white as I once perceived them to be. All I'm left with is shades of grey and that bothers me a lot less than I think it should.

Still, there's always a new brewery, a new beer release, an event to attend, or a parcel arriving on my doorstep, that will mean that I don't really have to worry about it for too long.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Drinkers Digest: Ferment and

Drinkers Digest:
Ferment and 

"We want to be the voice of a somewhat fragmented UK beer world and to do that we want to explore beer in an adventurous and fun way" Erin Bottomley, Editor, Ferment magazine. Taken from the editorial in Issue 1.

Just over a month ago I was delighted to discover that a beer orientated magazine had gone overground hit the newsstand, or more specifically WHSmith's. With the exception of CAMRA's "BEER" magazine which I have occasionally seen for sale, I think it was "Beers Of The World", relaunched in 2012, that was the last regular beer magazine available in the UK. Now not only could I buy it for myself, I could tell others about it and, what's more, some of the contributors are people that I'm proud to call my friends.

Of course, Ferment isn't a new magazine. Subscribers to the beer club have been receiving it every month with their beer order, and will continue to do so, but even though I wasn't a member I could now read it for myself.

I devoured every page of course, enjoying some parts more than others (I'll expand on that a little later on), and had seriously considered subscribing judging by the beer that they were sending out (more on that later too), so was surprised and delighted to be contacted by Ben Black from Beer52 asking me if I'd like some beer to review.

I accepted without hesitation, (you can see a disclaimer coming here, can't you?), and the beer arrived around a week later as promised. Unlike the magazine I didn't pay for this (told you so!), and was genuinely excited at the chance to write about the beer I received and relate it to some of the articles in Ferment magazine. This is something I'm assuming that existing subscribers have been doing for some time, but the chance for me to add a new dimension to my beer drinking was something that I simply couldn't pass up.

Trying to match the beer to some of the articles was relatively easy in some instances as you will see, but where I hadn't had the beer before it proved a little more challenging,. I also didn't want to re-write what was already written as the original authors have far more experience and clever wordsmithery than I could ever hope to have.

Realising that this was going to be a little harder than I had at first thought, I reasoned that the best place to start was at the beginning.

"Craft beer is many things to many different people ... Maybe it's time to take a deep breath, sit back, and enjoy the beer."
Beery state of the nation by Pete Brown. Beer Pairing: Lerwick Brewery - Azure.

Pete Brown is one of this country's foremost beer writers. His books and articles have taken both himself and beer around the globe, but in this opening piece he looks at where we are at this moment in time in the UK with respect to what's happening in the rest of the world, specifically the US. Mergers, takeovers, hipsters and IPAs all fall under his gaze, and his conclusion along the lines of don't worry, be happy, and drink the beer, revisiting some old classics alongside the new breed, is sound advice. If you look at history then it's only (almost) business as usual.

The Lerwick Azure. Pale Ale brewed with American Cascade and New Zealand Rakau hops nicely encapsulates much of what has led this particular craft beer revolution. It starts worryingly, bitter, with some pithy citrus notes, but it is it's conclusion, a precise dry finish that lets you know that evrything's going to be alright. A zingy palate awakener leaving you wanting more, much as you'd expect from a magazine's opening gambit. Job done.

"The funny thing is that we love the person who comes into the bar and says 'I don't like beer'. We love being able to change their perception of beer and help them find something that they'll enjoy."
Lunch with Mikkeller by Heather Naismith & Fraser Doherty. Beer Pairing: Mikkeller - Vesterbro Pils

I have to admit to being a bit of a Mikkeller fanboy. If you ask me what my favourite beer of all time was then I'd certainly consider their 10.9% Beer Geek Brunch Weasel and 5.3% Spontanale, both would make it into my top ten, and back in May 2012, when my blog was very much in its early stages, I wrote reviews of twenty-four Mikkeller beers is thirty-one days. I still stand by those reviews, so as you'd expect an interview with the elusive brewer and founder of Mikkeller, Mikkel Borg Bjergso, a man renowned for not giving interviews, is an article that I'd turn straight to and devour, much as the food and atmosphere is devoured by the lucky interviewers who met with him in Copenhagen's famous brewpub, War Pigs. It's a rare insight into the life and ethos of a man with a passion to change peoples perceptions of beer and make the consumer more discerning, a tough task perhaps, but one he shows no signs of easing up on.

Managing to be both juicy and dry at the same time the aroma of peach and mango in the Vesterbro Pils is immediately enticing. Named for the district of Copenhagen that is home to the War Pigs Brewpub, this beer floods the mouth with mango, peach and passion fruit flavours whilst almost instantaneously drying the mouth with a crisp bitterness, preparing you for the next swallow. Perfect with creamy cheese, I had it with a selection which included Manchego and Goat's cheese that I had for my lunch today, it also stood up well to the robust strength of mature Cheddar, and I can imagine it engaging in some light interplay with a cheesecake for dessert, whether it be plain or, and this would be my preferred choice, one with an apricot puree, echoing the exchanges of conversation in the article. This is definitely a 'light lunch' beer, but one that rewards the drinker with some beautifully nuanced touches. A beer as rarely seen outside of Copenhagen as the brewer himself, an exclusive to this Beer52 box, it has that little bit of something extra, something different, that ignites my passion for all things Mikkeller.

"We followed hash-smoked air into the middle of the freetown melee, pausing in a bar with seaside sensibility, a wooden hut filled with crusty, pleasant-faced men with wild beards, big zoots and crinkly smiles."
The Danish Caper by Craig Ballinger. Beer Pairing: To-Ol - Baltic Frontier.

There are two very different ways to explore a brand new city. The first is to prepare an itinerary well in advance, marking the key places you must visit, researching opening times, distances and methods of transport between attractions or, as described here, to go with the flow of the city itself, letting it take you to wherever it wishes, accepting new encounters and embracing their spontaneity. Of course you may have in mind some idea of the places you like to go to, and maybe you have some appointments you need to keep, such as the meeting at To-Ol in this piece, but the freedom to roam with no agenda is both eye-opening and surprisingly both full and light simultaneously.

" IPA beaten with Juniper Berries and Sea Buckthorn and trashed with hops" says the label, and using natural ingredients shaped by the skill of the brewer's hand is what makes a really good beer, and this is a really, really good beer. A dry botanical aroma switches to a tart, sweet gin-edged flavour, building and drying suddenly with a fruity nectarine and grapefruit encased pop. Ebbing and flowing like the street-life parade, punchy and fresh, like the day starting easily, rising to a crescendo of activity in the evening before dissolving into nothingness in an instant, this beer is exciting, challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

"In many cases this just forces brewers to use their ingenuity and knowledge to work out ways to make their beers with hops that are more readily available, and, in the process, create some brand new beers for us to try."
In Hop Pursuit by Erin Bottomley. Beer Pairing: CAP Brewery - Don't Break the Oat.

Concerns over hop shortages have been rumbling away in the background for some time now, and it's an issue that affects brewers who want to bring plenty of good quality beer to the market place, and the consumer wanting a consistent well-rounded product packed full of flavour. Heavily hopped Pale Ales and IPAs, DIPAs, and more recently their younger brother Session IPAs, have fuelled the craft beer movement, bringing a glut of new drinkers demanding big bitter palate-bashing bruisers to quench their seemingly never-ending thirst. When the scales of supply and demand become more and more unbalanced then something obviously has to give. But it isn't all doom and gloom, in fact, with a little skill and 'outside-the-box' thinking the future could brighter than ever.

I'll confess that it was the fact that this beer uses solely Bramling Cross hops, a British hop in seemingly plentiful supply, that influenced my decision for this pairing, although on closer inspection of the label I realise that I've actually shared a few beers with one of the brewers, Danko. It's also pays tribute to the British style of brewing so I'm already warming to it before I've taken a sip. A smoky creamy chocolate aroma reminds me of many a bigger beer and I'm a little disappointed that it's thinner over the tongue then I had anticipated. A brief pause, then the flavour hits. More smokiness, more chocolate, this time tempered with a touch of cola nut, a nudge in the direction of coconut, then it washes itself cleanly away leaving behind a cheeky ghost of its former self. It's delicious, and I wish that I had another bottle.

"It can be easy to forget about a brewery like Chimay in a world of increasingly more adventurous and radical breweries."
A Little Respect. A Visit to the Chimay Brewery, Belgium by Matt Curtis. Beer Pairing: Chimay Gold.

One of the most enduring constants since I was legally allowed to drink beer, and probably a little before that, has been my love of Belgian beer. A local off licence stocked bottles of Chimay Blue (Grand Reserve) and Red (Premiere) alongside cans of William Younger's Tartan and Inde Coope's Double Diamond. Exotic, strong and flavoursome, taking four or so bottles to a party guaranteed a good nights drinking and usually a sore head in the morning. Matt Curtis is someone I've known almost since the minute I started writing about beer. We started our blogs around the same time, and have spent quite a few drunken evenings discussing beer and propping up bars, so to discover that he also had an early encounter with the delights produced at the Abbaye de Notre Dame de Scourmont brought a huge smile to my face. This is the tale of Matt's visit to both the abbey and the brewery, a totally absorbing read.

This beer pours a wonderfully golden colour with a head as pure and white as the robes of a Trappist Monk with a subtly understated aroma of lemon and white pepper. Clean tasting,refreshing and with a deliciously full body, its flavour of subdued lemon zest and crushed coriander seeds sublimely across the tongue punctuated with a spicy bitter bite that fades gently away. By far the easiest pairing to make of the five, this beer isn't a brash and boozy as it's bigger brothers but for my taste it is simply divine.

It doesn't end there for Ferment Magazine. I haven't told you about Melissa Cole's Views from the Bar, Mark Dredge's Guide to Pale Lagers or, and this was one of my favourite pieces, Archie McDiarmid's A Beer Drinkers Guide to the Wine List,to name but three, but I'll let you find out about those for yourself. Nor was it the end of the box I was sent; My Pils by To Ol, Nazca by Chilean brewery Rothhammer, Vesterbro Wit by Mikkeller, Red Doe by the fantastic White Hag Brewery in Sligo, Ireland, and Hefe from Edinburgh's Stewart Brewery rounded out the excellent selection. When a selection of beers this mouth wateringly good along with the brilliant writing in Ferment magazine as part of the package then why wouldn't you want to be a part of the experience?

Those wonderful people at have given me an exclusive code to share with you that will give you a whopping £10 off your first order. Simply follow this link to and enter the coupon code GBDB10 after your payment details and some fantastic beer to drink on its own or as I did, while you read Ferment magazine, will be delivered to your door in a matter of days. The second issue of Ferment magazine came out on the 7th July and focuses on the burgeoning London beer scene, meaning a great new selection of beer from for you to enjoy. A regular subscription will mean you never miss an issue or fantastic beer, some of which are exclusive to What are you waiting for?