Friday 16 May 2014

Beers Of London Series 77. Dragonfly Brewery - 2 O'clock Ordinary

Beers Of London Series
77. Dragonfly Brewery - 2 O'clock Ordinary 4.0%

I'm old. I often tell people this, in fact I've found that recently it has started to creep into my everyday conversation as if I feel like I need to remind people that 'it was different in my day' or it has started to become a badge of honour like the old person telling you how old they will be next birthday as opposed to the age they are now. I found myself doing it again last night. It's ridiculous really as I'm only 43, I'm in reasonable health and I still have a pretty good memory, and I am lucky to be particularly blessed with an ability to recall and place tastes and sensations that I have experienced before.

Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited to the launch party for Dragonfly Brewery at the George and Dragon pub in Acton, a 17th Century building and one of the oldest in the borough. It has been beautifully renovated, maintaining a period ale-house feel at the front (a board with a list of landlords going back to 1759 is a particularly nice touch) before opening up at the back into a cavernous space that houses the island bar and impressive brewery with it's stacked conditioning tanks and gleaming fermenters and brewing kettles. It really is a sight to behold and fits the space, that someone informed me used to be a music-hall in a former life, beautifully if a little snugly.

It was conceived by Robert Thomas of Remarkable Restaurants who own a small number of separately run pubs. For a long time Robert has wanted to produce his own beer and he persusded  Johannes Lux the German brewmaster at Shanghai Brewery to plan and order the brewery itself, but to actually do the brewing he recruited Conor Donoghue. Conor had previously brewed at both The Botanist (whose beer I featured here ) and The Lamb, but when the latter was bought out by Mitchells & Butlers and its brewery closed he joined the team at Dragonfly with the rest of the kitchen staff following him over shortly after.

We had a very good evening. The beer (of which there were four on offer: Achtung! - an authentic German Weiss, Early Doors - a fruity Pale Ale, Dark Matter - a dry stout that was possibly too cold from the keg version I had although it was available on cask, and 2 O'clock Ordinary - a cask conditioned Best Bitter) and the food were very good indeed, as was the company (Matt Curtis, with his girlfriend Dianne, Chris Hall and his girlfriend Katie, Andrew Drinkwater, Bryan Spooner and my travelling companion and fellow Essex drinker Steve Bentall, who will be publishing his own take on the evening later on).

There was however one beer from the bunch provided that fired my imagination and brought back memories in a way I could never have expected or prepared for.

The 2 O'clock Ordinary is a beer that you might not think that remarkable at first sight. A 4.0% Best Bitter name after a cartoon of 1811 by Thomas Rowlandson depicting a raucous tavern early 19th Century, could be one that you might just pass by whilst looking for the latest tongue-wringing hop bomb, but you'd be missing out if you did. Incidentally, I was unfamiliar with the term 'Ordinary' to denote an eating house or tavern until Conor set me straight on the matter as I had assumed that it was used in this instance as way of distinguishing a standard or 'Ordinary' bitter from the more potent and therefore more expensive Special or Strong Ale. I remember asking for a pint of 'Ordinary' in one particular Young's pub, Hollands, just off Brayford Square in Stepney, East London, sadly no longer with us (it is in-situ I am told but boarded up and unloved) which was just behind were I first started work back in 1988. The beer was occasionally delivered by drays back then, and it wasn't too long ago really, with the big Shire Horses coming thunderously down the Commercial Road to deliver their precious cargo on special occasions. Johnny Holland, whom the place was named after (I forget it's previous name) had been the landlord for many many years, maintaining an authentic East End pub little changed since the Victorian era, with perfectly kept beer. It was a joy to drink there.

You might think I have digressed considerably, but last night drinking the 2 O'clock Ordinary it rekindled those memories and taste sensations that took me back to that pub, a pub that I first drank in 26 years ago. It poured bright, clean and fresh into the dragonfly etched pint glass and my senses were immediately filled with fruity caramel and echoes of dates, figs and hints of stewed apple. I couldn't resist it, and brought it to my lips with alacrity savouring its smoothness as it flowed down my throat. I was again struck by it's freshness, those caramel flavours alone satisfying me, quenching my thirst, transporting me to a place I hadn't visited for a very long time. There was more fruitiness in there too, dried apple and perhaps a fleeting notion of damson, and it finished beautifully with just the perfect amount of dryness to send me back to the glass for my next draught and experience the sensation all over again.

It was supposed to have been my last beer of the evening, a pint of the 'Ordinary' to see me on my way, but I had to buy another. This was a beer that commanded to be drunk in pints, and certainly not singularly. I was captivated and would go so far as to say that in my opinion it is the best Bitter being brewed in London right now, and the fact that it was Conor's first brew on the new kit is even more astonishing.

I am told that there will be a limited release of bottles of some of the beers available, not yet but in small batches, with notification of their availability only on the website, so get following that. The official opening night is tonight, Friday 16th May 2014, as I write, and I would strongly advise that you get along there soon to marvel at the place and taste the wonderful beer.

Being 'old' I have many experiences to draw on and some sensations that I wish to repeat again but which I begin to realise may be lost forever. To recapture one of them in a beer, however briefly, is rather magical.

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