Maiden! Maiden! Maiden! Maiden! Maiden!

Iron Maiden in full flow...

Iron Maiden played a couple of gigs at the O2 in London the weekend that GBBF was on, I was lucky enough to have tickets to the Friday show. Instead of going down after work, myself and my partner in crime for the day, Toby, decided to take the day off and hit some London pubs that neither of us had been to before. The original plan was to head to Borough market and spend the afternoon in The Market Porter, Brew Wharf and The Rake, before heading off to the O2.

However, between booking the tickets and the date of the gig, The Craft Beer Co. in Clerkenwell opened, so we changed our plans and decided to start our time in London there. The train from Cambridge to Kings Cross was uneventful, but it felt strange getting the tube to Farringdon, rather than wandering up to The Euston Tap for a beer or two before doing anything else. After a bit of faffing with Google maps on our phones, we found Leather Lane and what has to be one of the UK’s finest destination pubs.

I knew the selection of beer was going to be good, but it was still a shock when we walked through the door and saw all those taps and hand pumps on the bar. There was almost too much choice, should I start on the Thornbridge Galaxia, Seaforth or Geminus, maybe try the Mikkeller house lager, Exotic Punch or Gypsy Juice, or dive right into the Grassroots, a brewery who’s beers I’ve only ever seen in Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà. In the end I decided to start on a Thornbridge Galaxia, after all we had a long day in front of us.

After another couple of halves, Thornbridge Seaforth, not as good as when I had it before and Mikkeller Exotic Punch, lacking most of the exotic punch I was expecting, we headed across the road to Greggs for a pasty. The Craft Beer Co. doesn’t do food, so having somewhere near by for a quick bite, even if it is just Greggs, is quite handy, although there is supposedly a falafel place on the same road, I may have to find it next time we go. After stuffing our faces, we headed back to Farringdon tube station and headed to London Bridge, where we were going to make a bee line for The Kernel Brewery.

Instead of heading straight to The Kernel Brewery, I suggested that we should head to the Dean Swift. I’d heard good things about it and as it had been International #IPADay the day before, I thought there might be a few IPAs left over for us to try. I didn’t quite realise how far the Dean Swift was from London Bridge tube station, I thought it was on the same side of Tower Bridge, so we had to break out Google Maps again just to check we were heading in the right direction. We eventually got there and found an absolute stack of top flight IPAs available on both cask and keg.

I grabbed halves of both Magic Rock Curious and Summer Wine Kahuna and tried to find a mobile signal to check into Untappd. I was a Magic Rock and Summer Wine virgin, so it was great to be able to try their beers for the first time. The Curious was lovely, just my kind of pale and hoppy beer, while the Kahuna was a a bit too warm, you could tell it was an excellent drop too. Evidently the Dean Swift have sorted out their beer temperature issues, as they now have a python cooling system. I was very impressed by the Dean Swift, it felt like a really nice pub and I’ll certainly be going back if I’m in the vicinity.

After finishing our beers, we headed to The Kernel Brewery, which I was so excited about as they are one of the best up and coming breweries in the country. When we got there, two of the brewers were having a beer before they cleaned up, so it would have been rude not to join them. I had a rather delicious Pale Ale Nelson Sauvin, while Toby had an equally delicious Pale Ale Columbus Cascade. I had a nose around, it’s always great as a home brewer to see a real brewery setup, it’s amazing what these guy can produce in such a limited space. When Evin turned up, he’d been out when we arrived, he joined us for a beer and a chat, it’ll be great to see what they can produce when they move to larger premises.

As friendly and welcoming as The Kernel Brewery was, we had to move on, so we started to head to The Rake in Borough market. As neither of us had been there before, we didn’t quite know which bit of the market we should be heading for. We passed The Market Porter, which was absolutely rammed, so we had a quick half in Brew Wharf, before finding out via Google maps that The Rake was literally round the corner.

I’ve heard a lot about The Rake, so was really looking forward to going. Even though I knew it was small, I really didn’t expect it to be that small, I’ve no idea how they managed to fit four people behind the bar and still have enough room to serve beer, but what beer they serve. When we got there, Glyn Roberts, the manager and Simon Johnson, the Reluctant Scooper, we chatting to a couple of guys who soon left. We joined them and cracked into some damn fine beer, I had an Otley mOtley Brew and a St Austell Big Smoke.

Then things started to get messy as the Summer Wine duo, James and Andy turned up and we all cracked into the Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, which was utterly, utterly lush. After seeing the Summer Wine brewers sign the wall and everyone trying on the ginger merkin, we’d ran out of time and had to head to the O2.

We got to the O2 with perfect timing, straight through and onto the floor after having to persuade an Angel that we only wanted to drop our bag and didn’t want into the priority lounge. The gig was great, especially once they’d overcome their sound issues, that’s the last two Maiden gigs I’ve been to that have had dubious sound. Unfortunately we just missed the ideal train home and had hang around Kings Cross until 00:30, which seemed to take an absolute age. Once back at Toby’s we opened a few more bottles, which is traditional and eventually stumbled off to bed at about five in the morning. All in all, it was a bit of an epic day.

As I often do, I’ll leave the final thought to some one else:

https://twitter.com/#!/simonhjohnson/status/100319088533979137
https://twitter.com/#!/simonhjohnson/status/100320239790731264

The Session #48: Dispense Doesn’t Matter

This months Session is being hosted by the Reluctant Scooper and the topic is Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle: Does dispense matter?.

When this session was announced, I was quite excited. I initially thought I’d try and track down a beer that is sold on all forms of dispense and compare them. Unfortunately, there appears to be no-one in the UK that currently does this with the same beer.

The SessionBoth Adnams Bitter and I think, Fuller’s London Pride, are available in cask, keg, bottle and can, but the strength of the beer differs depending on the dispense, so they don’t really count. Some brewers have the same beer available, at the same strength in cask, keg and bottle, both BrewDog and Thornbridge spring to mind here, although there are probably a few more, but they don’t can their beer.

This put me at a bit of a loss, if I couldn’t write about a single beer what could I write about? I could make this the shortest article ever, by just saying, no, dispense doesn’t matter, as long as the beer being dispensed is good. But I have more to say than just that, maybe enough to say, that multiple blog posts would be better than what’s below, but I digress.

There seems to me to be a difference in perception about some forms of dispense in the UK, that’s different to most other countries. This is mainly due to the prevalence of cask conditioned beer in this country. Kegged and canned beer are thought to be the bastard inbred cousins of cask and bottles and are thus shunned by a lot of real ale drinkers as being inferior.

Mikkeller Green GoldIs this perception really warranted though…? It’s very hard to say, that no, it isn’t warranted, when you walk down the beer aisle in any supermarket and it’s stacked high with cans of mass produced industrial lager and smooth flow versions of previously decent cask ales and not a lot else. It’s also very hard to say, that no, it isn’t warranted, when you walk into a pub and all the cask ales on offer are bland, boring, brown session beer, that hasn’t been looked after and tastes of vinegar.

I think the main reason why this perception exists is due to the product that is being put into the various forms of dispense. The vast, vast majority of keg beer in the UK is, for me, a mass produced undrinkable excuse for a beer, it’s totally vile. Similarly with canned beer, the vast, vast majority is the same mass produced undrinkable excuse for a beer that’s sold via keg. Real ale dispensed from cask on the other hand, is, with a few exceptions obviously, normally very, very good, at least where I drink it is. Similarly, the bottled beer I buy, while it’s not cask, can be just as enthralling to drink.

Redemption HopspurHowever, I know for a fact, that kegged beer can be just as good as casked beer. I spent a bit of time in Rome last year and frequented Brasserie 4:20, Bir and Fud, Open Baladin and Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa’, all of which serve fantastic kegged beer. The vast majority of the beer I drank was from those kegs and it was produced by some of Europe’s most progressive and highly thought of brewers. I don’t think I had a bad glass during my whole time there and the vast majority of the beer I tried, was simply phenomenal.

I have also drank kegged beer at The Euston Tap and at Cask Pub and Kitchen, both of which are in London and both of which offer an amazing variety of cask beer as well. Again I’ve not had a bad one and some have been truly outstanding. Similarly, I had cask beer from both these establishments that was simply jaw dropping, a testament to the combined skill of the brewer and the love shown by the cellar man.

As far quality beer in a can though, it was only the other day that I got to try my first taste. The Caldera Pale Ale was perfectly pleasant, but just like Rogue’s Juniper Pale Ale, it left me wanting. The Caldera IPA on the other hand was a revelation, quality, tasty beer in a can, I’ll have to buy some more. Tasting it, was for me, the final nail in the coffin of the question posed for this months session. So to answer the question, no, dispense doesn’t matter, as long as the beer being dispensed is good.

Caldera IPASo why are we even having a debate about the different forms of dispense, when really, it’s the beer that’s inside the container that that we should be discussing? I think it’s just that in the UK at least, there hasn’t been any quality keg or cans, so they have an image problem. CAMRA have been, rightly, banging on that cask is best for years, but now that there is good quality beer in kegs and soon to be quality beer in cans, from UK breweries, cask no longer contains the best beer by default.

I for one, am looking forward to trying good quality beer from all from of dispense, especially from cans and the new fangled "real keg", because dispense doesn’t matter, it’s the beer inside the container that matters.

The Golden Pints 2010

Originally I was going to do my own round up of the year, I didn’t do one last year as I felt that I’d not been blogging for long enough. This year I felt that I had drank enough to have some thoughts I wanted to share, but then Andy and Mark posted about The Golden Pints. So I decided to combine my thoughts and The Golden Pints categories for this post, hence why I’ve given my top three beers and then a few highly recommendeds.

Now, I don’t normally hold much truck with lists and stuff, they are very personal after all and never seem to align with my view of things. So take this lot with a rather large pinch of salt, it’s only my opinion at the end of the day.

Best UK Draught Beer
  1. Thornbridge Bracia
    I had this at the Euston Tap the day after they opened, it was truly magnificent and while I’ve only had a ½ pint, it stood head and shoulders above anything else I had this year.
  2. Thornbridge Seaforth
    Supposedly an all English version of Jaipur and on this tasting in January, better than its stable mate. Utterly sublime…
  3. Thornbridge Kipling
    Beer of the festival at the Cambridge CAMRA summer beer festival and just about as perfect a beer as you can get for an early summers evening in a crowded tent.
Honourable mentions
Hopshakle Resination, Oakham Chinook, Thornbridge Raven
Best UK Bottled Beer
  1. Thornbridge Halycon 2009
    It took me a while to get hold of, but once I did, I bought every bottle I could find. Only one other beer has come close all year, including foreign imports.
  2. Moor Fusion
    The only beer to render me utterly speechless this year. I couldn’t take notes, I was so blown away…
  3. Marble Dobber
    You can keep your Punk IPA and your Jaipur, this is now my "go to beer".
Honourable mentions
Hardknott Infra Red, Hardknott Æther Blæc, Moor JJJ IPA, Cambridge Moonshine Transforming Tomorrow
Best Overseas Draught Beer
  1. Birra del Borgo ReAle Extra
    Stole my heart when I was in Rome earlier in the year and when I went back recently, it was just as good.
  2. Mikkeller I Beat yoU
    To be honest, it could have been any one of about 10 Mikkeller beers in this slot, but this was the last beer I had in Rome recently and it was an absolute hop monster.
  3. Grassroots Broken Spoke Blackened IPA
    A massive US West coast style IPA, but black. It messed with my senses and tasted sublime. Could have been any of the three Grassroots beers I’ve tried this year though, all of them were spectacular, the Rye Union Porter especially.
Honourable mentions
Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout, De Molen Rasputin, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Bernard Unfiltered, Hornbeer Black Magic Woman, Birrificio del Ducato Bia IPA, Birrificio San Paolo Ipè (Extra Hop)
Best Overseas Bottled Beer
  1. De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis 666
    Possibly the best beer I’ve had this year. Along with the Thornbridge Halcyon, it stands head and shoulders above everything else.
  2. Stone Arrogant Bastard
    I waited 13 years to try it after first seeing an (empty) bottle, it was so worth the wait.
  3. Mikkeller Single Hop IPA Simcoe
    Like drinking liquidised lychees, I’d have drunk more if it wasn’t so expensive and hard to get hold of.
Honourable mentions
Birra del Borgo Duchessic, Saison Dupont, Jandrain Jandrenouille IV Saison, Odel IPA, Dogfish Head Paolo Santo Maron, Hornbeer Oak Aged Cranberry Bastard, Nøgne Ø Porter, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Rogue John John Dead Guy Ale
Best Overall Beer
So hard to choose between Thornbridge Halcyon 2009 and De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis 666. But if I really had to choose between the two, then only as I had more of it, Thornbridge Halcyon 2009.
Best Pumpclip or Label
Anything by Marble.
Best UK Brewery
  1. Thornbridge
    They’ve produced the best UK beer I’ve had this year.
  2. Marble
    Catching Thornbridge up fast, Dobber is sublime.
  3. Moor
    I just wish I could get a moor regular supply…
Honourable mentions
Hardknott, BrewDog, Adnams, Fuller’s
Best Overseas Brewery
  1. Mikkeller
  2. De Molen
  3. Birra del Borgo
Honourable mentions
Grassroots, Nøgne Ø, Rogue, Stone, Hornbeer, Amager
Pub/Bar of the Year
  1. Brasserie 4:20, Rome, Italy
    Possibly the best pub in the world and fantastic food too.
  2. Bir & Fud, Rome, Italy
    The best pizza I’ve ever had, all washed down with lots of amazing Italian craft beer.
  3. Ma ‘Che Siete Venuti a Fà, Rome, Italy
    Could also lay claim to being the best pub in the world, it certainly has the nicest landlord I have ever met.
Honourable mentions
The Euston Tap, London; Cask Pub & Kitchen, London; The Cambridge Blue, Cambridge
Beer Festival of the Year
  1. Cambridge CAMRA Summer beer festival
    Only as I’m now a fully paid up member of the foreign beer bar team…
  2. The Cambridge Blue Winter Festival
    Thornbridge Jaipur, Seaforth and Raven were all on sparkling form.
Supermarket of the Year
Waitrose
Independent Retailer of the Year
The Bacchanalia, Cambridge
Online Retailer of the Year
myBreweryTap and BEERMerchants
Best Beer Book or Magazine
Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher
Best Beer Blog or Website
  1. Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile
  2. The Reluctant Scooper
  3. Real Brewing at the Sharp End
Best Beer Twitterer
The HardKnott’s (@HardKnottDave and @HardKnottAnn); it’s like a Twitter soap opera…
Best Brewery Online
Adnams
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Orval with chips ‘n’ mayo
In 2011 I’d Most Like To…
Continue to try new and interesting beer and widen my horizons by trying new styles and retrying those styles I think I don’t like.
Open Category: Best Landlord
Manual from Ma ‘Che Siete Venuti a Fà
Within two minutes of meeting me was giving me free beer across the road in Bir & Fud. On subsequent visits, he opened things like Cantillon Zwanze 2009 and gave me bottles to bring home. The nicest beer person I’ve met all year.

Rome

Earlier this year I was (un)lucky enough to be sent to work in Rome for five weeks. While there, I had the opportunity to drink and eat, in some of the city’s best beer bars. I blogged about the first four nights of my time there, here, here, here and here. I was going to write a round up of all the places I’d been, but I never got round to it.

One of the perks of working for the UK’s largest software company, is the Christmas party. The weekend is generally quite formulaic. We fly to the destination on the Friday morning and then have to amuse ourselves, before a black tie dinner on the Saturday night. We then fly home again at some point on Sunday, disperse and then spend the next week discussing who got arrested/mugged/hooked up/etc/etc. Previously, we’ve been to Bergen, Barcalona, Prauge, Lisbon, Bolonga, Dubrovnik and Venice. This year, in a stunning twist of good fortune, it’s being held in Rome.

Unlike previous years, I’ve been to Rome recently, we’re going somewhere that I know. So instead of wandering around like headless chickens trying to find various places (Venice), I already know where all the best places are. Tomorrow will follow a plan along the lines of: quick wander round a few of my favourite sights, a stop at Domus Birrae (it wasn’t open when I was there at Easter), then Open Baladin, Bir & Fud and finally Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà. Saturday will probably be spent mostly under a duvet before the black tie dinner, although a few beers in Open Baladin and/or a trip to Gradi Plato Beershop and Johnny’s Off License can’t be ruled out. I’m still trying to decide when the best time to bail from the black tie party is and head off to Brasserie 4:20.

What ever happens, it’s going to be a big beery weekend. I can’t wait!

Rome: Notte Quattro

De Molen AmerikaansI wasn’t sure about going out this evening, I was really tired from a long day of working in the office and then back at the company flat. Time had sort of run away and it was nine thirty before we realised what had happened, I was starving. I didn’t fancy walking anywhere, but at the same time I knew I should get off my arse and go somewhere, as I might not be back next week, so it could be my last chance so sample Italian craft beer on draft.

While in the Gradi Plato beer shop, I was recommend to go to Brasserie 4:20, the chap said that if I liked Bir & Fud and Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà, then I’d love 4:20. The problem was getting the motivation to go, I really couldn’t be arsed, I had to force myself down the stairs and into a taxi. I’m glad I got a taxi though, as 4:20 is quite a long way from the company flat, probably twice the distance that Bir & Fud is.

De Molen AmarilloI was keeping a look out from the side of the taxi, the instruction I had were to look for a large green 4:20 sign, if I’d blinked, I’d have missed it, the taxi driver did. The sign is on the frontage of the building, it doesn’t stick out, so you can’t see it coming, Via Portuense is a long road, so keep your eye peeled.

I didn’t bother looking at the menu, I wanted to be inside and drinking a beer, I just wasn’t prepared for what was on the other side of the door. It’s quite a modern interior, gleaming chrome taps and pumps, off set with some beery things here and there, but the walls are mainly dominated by large black boards telling what there is to eat and drink.

They have 12 hand pumps that were dispensing 11 real ales and 15 taps which were dispensing 14 beers from keg. If that isn’t enough beer, the wall behing the bar was covered in bottles from Mikkeller, De Molen, AleSmith, Port Brewing, The Lost Abbey, I could go on, but you get the picture. They also had four large free standing fridges full of lambic beers of various ages, some of which look seriously old.

De Molen RasputinThere was almost too much choice, so I asked for an Italian craft beer, only to be told thet they didn’t sell Italian beer (this isn’t quite true, they have some in bottles, but none on pump or tap). I couldn’t pass up the chance to try some De Molen from cask, so I plumped for an Amerikaans, which was very drinkable but the body didn’t quite live up to the nose.

It turns out that Brasserie 4:20 doubles as a fish restaurant, which is a bit of an issue if you’re a vegetarian (if you eat fish you’re not a vegetarian). So I asked if they could do something for me, they got the chef out for a chat and he produced this wonderful fettuccine dish with asparagus, tomato, garlic and some other stuff, it was perfect. It’s wonderful when places go out of their way to ensure you have something amazing to eat.

I decided to have a couple more De Molen beers before heading back to the flat. Amarillo is just as awesome on draft as it is in the bottle. Rasputin was totally different to the bottle I had last year, it was just this huge soft malt bomb, not what I was expecting. I had an amazing evening and would have stayed for a few more given half the chance, but I needed to get back.

Grassroots Winter IPAI decided to walk back to the flat along the Tiber, once I got to the Trastevere area I decided I had room for a small one and popped into Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà. It was really busy and I could hardly get to the bar, not that made any difference as the staff appeared to be uninterested this evening and took ages serving anyone. So I necked a Grassroots Winter IPA and headed straight back to the flat.

Roma: Notte Tre

Degustazione @ Bir & Fud, RomaI enjoyed last night so much, I decided to repeat the experience, but tonight I took four of my work colleagues along. It’s been a long day, we started at 07:30 and finally packed up at 19:00, so I was really in need of some good beer and food. Hornbeer Black Magic WomanWe headed straight or Bir & Fud where I’d managed to get an Italian colleague to make a reservation, I’m glad we did as they were packed to the rafters when we left, so we’d never have got a table.

I could only entice one of my colleagues to cross the road and pop into Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà for a couple more. I had a really nice dark beer, Black Magic Woman from Hornbeer, which I followed up with a Cantillon Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek 2007Lou Pepe Kriek 2007. I should probably have had then the other way round, but never mind.

I’d like to go back tomorrow, but I need to find some bubble wrap and a few more bottles to take home with me. It looks like I might be back next week, so there is the potential for taking even more beer back home, we’ll have ot wait and see.

Roma: Notte Due

Ducato Bia IPAI’ll start this post by saying that I’ve had a few, so excuse me for all the mistakes I make… Last week during The Cambridge Blue Festival of Winter Ale, I bumped into @jesus_john, he told me that I really need to visit a certain pub while I was over here. Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà is rated very highly on RateBeer, so I knew I wanted to go, getting a personal recommendation sealed the deal.

They don’t do food, so I headed for Bir & Fud, which is right across the street and only serves beer, it sounded like my kind of restaurant. It wasn’t too busy when I got there, but they were turning people away in droves later on, so if your in a big group, it might be worth booking a table before you go.

Del Borgo Re AleI had a patate e mozzarella pizza with a Ducato Bia IPA. The pizza was great, the IPA was so palette wreckingly bitter it was fantastic, although probably not the best starter beer to start with. Next up was a Del Borgo Re Ale, which looked like it was served via a hand pump. It was really nice, but my palette was wrecked, so I probably didn’t get it’s true taste.

I decided it was time to get to the main event and headed to Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà, which is literally across the road. They have an impressive selection of taps and pumps and I wanted to remortgage the house after looking in the fridge. It was the two empty bottles of Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink the Bismark! that nearly made me cry though…

Lambrate UrtigaI started off with a Lambrate Urtiga, it was night and mouthwatering fresh, mainly due to the massive lemon after taste, an interesting beer. It was while drinking this and watching Inter score against Chelsea that I noticed the beer list, which had BrewDog Chaos Theory listed. The chap behind that bar was really apologetic as it was all finished, he then said that they had BrewDog Hardcore IPA on instead, I nearly fell of my seat.

I might have been a tad dehydrated by this point as the Hardcore was quite malty, but it had a nice heavy bitterness that was was over quite quickly, but was followed through but a more subtle bitterness in the after taste. One to try in copious quantities when I get home.

BrewDog Hardcore IPAI then got talking to Manuele while I tried to pay the bill. To cut a long story short, he’s an absolute gent and when he found out that I homebrew, he dragged me back to Bir & Fud and got two pints on the house, one for him and one for me. I couldn’t believe it, I’d only been talking to him for a few minutes, the generosity was staggering.

My final pint of the evening was Bi-Du Confine a bitter, coffee, chocolate roasted imperial porter that was fantastic. Thank you so much Manuele, I’m going to have a hard time not going back tomorrow and Thursday now… While our pints were being poured, Manuele introduced me to John, who runs the Johnny’s Off License stores. Bi-Du ConfineI really, really, really have to go to one, the Italian beer he was describing sounds awesome, Italian Lambic anyone…?

It’s quite simple, my work colleagues have a choice, they either come to Bir & Fud and Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà tomorrow and Thursday, or I go on my own. If you are in Rome, you should make these two places your priority, I know I have.