Thursday, 25 February 2010

National Trust IPA

Staying on an IPA theme it is about time that I gave a shout out to the new National Trust beer that Robert Wicks from Westerham Brewery sent me long before Christmas.

The beer is a traditional IPA style beer called National Trust - Viceroy India Pale Ale. It is named with a nod to Lord Curzon who was Viceroy of India and responsible for the restoration of historic buildings, notably the Taj Mahal. At the end of his tour of duty, he returned to England and set his mind to our own historic buildings hence the connection with the National Trust. He was also a great beer drinker.

The beer itself is a 5% bottle conditioned, India Pale Ale, brewed at Westerham Brewery in Kent using organic malt and hops from the local Little Scotney estate, another connection with the National Trust.

The beer is amber coloured and pours with a fluffy white head. The hop aroma hits you first with appetising floral and grassy notes enticing the first slug. The flavour is big, with a spicy hop bitterness that envelopes the tasty honey and apricot sweetness. The finish is long, dry and bitter to the end. This beer is delicious, the bottle carbonation giving enough tartness to cut through the resinous, peppery hop character. It is a very distinct and complex beer.

It is brave of Westerham Brewery and National Trust to agree that their beer should have such character. It would have been very easy to bring a drinkable but dumbed down IPA style beer for the visitors to National Trust properties. This will usually be a one-off discretionary purchase by visitors wanting to put a bit more into the Trust funds. They are going to get a pleasant surprise when they taste it.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Adnams or Fullers IPA ?

Dropped into the Sun Inn in Barnes village last night. Was attracted by the Adnams American Style IPA - part of the Adnams seasonal beer program. This has the potential to be an excellent beer but on this occasion failed due to flavours of clove and butterscotch that spoiled the taste and aromas of sweet biscuity malt backed up by a strong American hop character. Look out for it - on a good day this beer will blow Fuller's Bengal Lancer away.

I like the new Bengal Lancer from Fuller's but I think it is overcome by the sweet orange character that comes from the Fuller's yeast in their stronger beers. I think a more liberal use of hops might have given the beer a more distinct IPA style. Both beers of course are aiming at balance to provide the regular beer drinker with variety and choice rather than amusing the rather boring, style obsessed, beer geek.

In my experience the Fuller's beer is always of good quality. I look forward to finding the Adnams in good form but in the meantime Bengal Lancer will be my first choice out of these two.

One nice observation of the English attitude to service was observed last night. An old man with a stick, settled in the corner with his dimpled glass almost empty of Doom Bar, stopped a passing barman, thrust a fiver at him and asked if he could get him another pint. "Sorry" replied the barman, "We don't do table service". Table service ? He wasn't asking for table service, he was asking for kindness. Another customer stood up and went to the bar for him. You could not make it up.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Glasshouse, Kew

Now I am a simple sort of a bloke. That came out wrong but hopefully you get my drift. I prefer the simple pleasures in life; happy with a good pint in a well run pub sustained by a steak pie or a cod and chips.

Recently Mrs W and I have agreed that we should be upping the ante and visiting some smarter places than the Roebuck and Red Lion. It helps not that when I attend court the conversation in the retiring room is often about high end restaurants and holidays and I keep dragging everyone back to pubs and beer.

Last week we coupled a visit to Kew Gardens with lunch at The Glasshouse - a well respected local restaurant by KG station that has merited Michelin star status for a number of recent years.

On arrival I scanned the wine list per chance for an interesting beer list and was unsurprised to find no beers among the comprehensive collection. I selected a New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region. I don't drink much wine these days but I do have an advanced WSET certificate and I know what I like.

The wine was excellent; dry, crisp and refreshing as expected. The food was fabulous which is unsurprising given the place's starred status but from my beer-geek perspective my meal was begging for a beer match.

The starter of scotch egg was cooked to perfection. The crisp outside matched with the smoothness of the meat and rounded off with a soft yolk of the egg inside. Lovely comfort food.

However it was calling out for a spritzy golden beer such as Meantime London Pale Ale where the carbonation would cut through the fattiness of the scotch egg and a delicate hop bitterness might compliment the runny yolk.

My main of braised rabbit leg was falling from the bone, the gamey flavours from the rabbit combining beautifully with the onion and potato that accompanied. I was by this time enjoying the sauvignon blanc but what I really wanted was a more malty number. A small glass of Adnams Broadside or a Belgian dubbel would be a perfect match with the sweet maltiness bringing out the gamey meat character and finishing with a warming, spicy aftertaste.

By the time I was ready for dessert I was certain my wine would not go perfectly with a chocolate terrine so I slugged back the last glass. As my wife was driving I had to drink three quarters of the bottle (hardship, I know) so had no capacity for glass of sticky from the strong list of dessert wine.

The rich taste of the chocolate torte was set off by a refreshing raspberry sorbet and by then I was drfiting away dreaming of a strong stout or even a tart geueze to heighten the sensational flavours of the chocolate and raspberry.

All in all, it was a fantastic afternoon and I will definitely return on the strength of this one visit. Food, service and ambiance of this place are all first class. [Luch for two with wine and service was £90]. I didn't expect a beer offering so was not disappointed. I just feel that with food of this quality they are missing a trick by not offering at least a short beer list. But then again, you could say I am a little biased.

Next in the pursuit of beer in good restaurants is the River Cafe, Hammersmith. Then I am going to try the Harwood Arms in Fulham, London's first pub to be awarded a Michelin star and somewhere I can be guaranteed a choice of beer.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

And finally for today, for those interested in beers and breweries from across the pond, The Brewers Association, the trade association representing the majority of U.S. brewing companies, has just launched to celebrate the ever-growing interest in craft brewers and their liquid libations. The new site is a consumer portal providing information and community interaction for craft beer enthusiasts everywhere.

On first appearances it looks to be a well researched and properly funded additional source of information for the beer geek - add it to your favourites (or should that be favorites ?)

Sambrook's Junction

The final piece of news that arrived in my in-box this week that you may not have seen is that the beer of the festival at Battersea last week was Sambrook's Junction as voted for by the customers.

This is Sambrook's Brewery's first CAMRA award (I think) and gives deserved credit for the manner in which they have burst upon the beer scene in South West London in the last year or so.

My interest is that I am CAMRA's Brewery Liaison Officer for Sambrook's Brewery.

History of Pubs Conference

On Saturday 20th February, the National Archives in Kew will be hosting a conference on the History of Pubs organised by the Pub History Society.

The conference will explore themes such as coaching inns, pubs of the 1930s, darts, the lost pubs of London and the inn signs of the metropolis.

The event runs from 10.30pm to 4pm and entry is free though booking is required.

The details are here or call 020 8940 6884. I have been tardy in bringing this to the blog so hopefully there will still be places available.

CAMRA National Chairman

Today, I am going to post a few pieces of news that may have passed you by.

Firstly, last Saturday, Paula Waters stood down as CAMRA National Chairman. Colin Valentine was elected by the National Executive as the new Chairman with immediate effect.

Although many of the "figurehead" duties of the CAMRA Chair are now delegated to the head office team led by Chief Executive, Mike Benner; it is vital that the National Chairman is able to demonstrate leadership.

Leadership to the 110,000+ members, the 200+ branches, the 10,000+ active members, 1,000+ members at conference, 250+ beer festivals, 30+ HQ staff members - and that is just internal affairs. It is a thankless task and very difficult to be all things to all people.

Colin Valentine is a strong leader and I, for one, wish him the best of luck in his new role for the Campaign.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Castle Rock Harvest Pale

I have always enjoyed finding a pint of Castle Rock, Harvest Pale. It is a quaffable pale ale, 3.8%, crisp and bitter with liberal use of American hops. It has won numerous CAMRA and SIBA awards and it is rare to find it in less than tip-top form. At £2.10 in the Vat & Fiddle, the brewery tap, it is an absolute winner.

At the weekend, I learned that it is now available in a bottle. Brewed out to 4.3% to give a bit of extra oomph to counteract the carbonation necessary for a bottled beer, I found it to be yet another winner. The increased strength balancing the biscuit sweetness of the malt and a distinct dry bitterness - again from liberal use of American hops. From the clean, fresh taste it is clear that top quality ingredients are used and the flavour is consistent with the cask version. I believe it now has a national listing in both Morrisons and Tescos so should be available on a supermarket shelf near you.

As a slight aside, the bottled beer is brewed and bottled under license by Marston's in Wolverhampton. Its provenance is clearly stated on the bottle. I am more interested in what a beer tastes like but should I care more that such a great beer is getting a wider distribution supported by a giant like Marston's as there is insufficient capacity at Castle Rock to bottle the beer ?

Monday, 8 February 2010

Battersea Beer Festival

If you do nothing else this week, get yourself down to the twentieth Battersea Beer Festival being held at the Battersea Arts Centre on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Among the 150 or so cask ales you will also find a well stocked foreign bar, plenty of cider and perry and the legendary Polish food from Kam's Deli.

This is likely you be a very popular event so I recommend you get there as early as possible each evening.

For any who don't know where it is, it is about a 10 minute walk up Lavender Hill from Clapham Junction railway station.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Citizen Smith

Most people of a certain generation will equate Citizen Smith with Tooting harking back to the 1970's TV series of the same name so it seems strange to see him crop up recently on Putney High Street.

Citizen Smith is a new cocktail style bar that is most notable (for me anyway) for its beer range.

There are one or two pumps of cask ale - a Sharp's beer (usually the seasonal or Cornish Coaster rather than the ubiquitous Doom Bar), and Meantime London Pale Ale.
The tap (or keg) options range from Meantime, (Stout, Kolsch and the delicious, Smoked Bock) to Budvar to US offerings such as Anchor and Sierra Nevada.
The bottled list runs to about a thirty beers from around the world - some of the highlights being Sierra Nevada Porter, Goose Island IPA, Brewdog Punk IPA, Dark Star Espresso, Little Creatures and Coopers.
The beer list is well researched and thorough with detailed tasting notes that make the mouth water.

This is not your normal pub, it is part of a growing trend in London to offer good quality beer at the most trendy and modern bars - and something to be celebrated. I suggest you give it a try as you move down the High Street from the Wetherspoon's towards the Young's and Fuller's pubs as you make your way to the Bricklayer's Arms - still Putney's highlight for beer lovers.

The vibe in Citizen Smith is buoyant and lively whenever I have visited and the mood is good. I have often been the oldest person in there but it is full of Putney's beautiful people sampling beautiful beer among their cocktails.

Food is pizzas and salads with the back of the bar being the dining area. Open late on weekends when the music turns up a notch but the beer still flows.

This is a rarity - a beer led cocktail/wine bar and I hope it does really well on the beer front and becomes an essential visit for South West London's beer lovers.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Beer Festivals

The following is a list of beer festivals that are advertised in the latest issue of London Drinker magazine together with other future confirmed local CAMRA events :

Feb 10th-12th Battersea BAC, Lavender Hill
11th-15th Land of Liberty, Peace & Plenty (Winter) Heronsgate
11th-14th White Hart (winter) Grays
25th-26th Leyton Orient Supporters Club Leyton
25th-28th Bricklayer's Arms Putney
26th-29th Red Lion (Scottish and Welsh) Isleworth
28th-6th Mar Rake (Welsh beers) Borough Market
March 10th-12th London Drinker Camden Centre
10th-14th Pembury Tavern Hackney
12th-14th Leather Bottle Earlsfield
25th-28th Le Gothique Wandsworth Common
27th-28th King William IV (Brodies) Leyton
April 1st-5th Land of Liberty, Peace & Plenty Heronsgate
2nd-5th Five Bells Chelsfield
2nd-5th Fox Hanwell
8th-10th Bexley Sidcup Sports Club
9th-10th Hook Verona Drive, Surbiton
June 8th-12th Thurrock Civic Hall, Grays
25th-26th Kingston Workmen's Club and Institute

Monday, 1 February 2010

February at last

Right, here goes. this is my final attempt to spark some life into this blog. The winter feasting season is over and it is now time to get back to what matters most - beer. The larder is empty, no cheese, no Christmas cake, no snacks, no crisps, no biscuits. My huge stash of Cadbury's Dairy Milk is exhausted - my wine gums are all gone, as are the licorice allsorts - yes, even the brown ones were gobbled up last night. The weather is warming. The children are back to university (well, one isn't but that is a wholly different tale). There is a new more personal blog that I'm hoping will help me shed some pounds. The cross trainer is dusted off and the running shoes dragged out from beneath the wellies and waterproofs. The new London Drinker is about to hit the pubs and it is packed with special places to find great beer in the next two months. I have plenty to share given my barren patch. There are new bars to shout out about, Cask Pub & Kitchen, Sheffield Tap, Citizen Smith. Some new beers, notably Bengal Lancer, the IPA from Fullers. Now that I have finished reading about Swedish lesbians, I can get back to my beer books. Those kind people who have sent me stuff over recent months will at last get a shout out for their beer, website, film or book. There may even be some more videos. So, here we go, this is my best effort. Enjoy !