Pub

London’s Brewing…

1367693025465Last weekend saw the long-awaited, and sold out, London’s Brewing event held at the London Fields brewery in east London and organised by the London Brewers’ Alliance. The website for the event boasted that over 30 London brewers would be represented, and I was very excited about attending, especially after my disappointment of local brewers at Craft Beer Rising earlier this year. I got tasting tickets for the Saturday evening session which started at 6pm. The tickets were £20, which included entry to the festival, a branded 2/3 pint glass (pictured) and 3 pints of beer.

The first question mark came on Saturday when, checking twitter, I saw tweets from disgruntled festival goers complaining that the afternoon session was 40minutes late opening, leaving people waiting in the rain with no explanation of what was happening. Then, when everyone was finally let in, the queues for the bar were horrendous. But as the afternoon went on, people said it calmed down and got better. People who stayed, that is.

So, we headed off to the festival, but decided to have a couple of drinks in Craft in Islington beforehand. I was careful not to have anything from London as I thought I’d have plenty of opportunity for that later in the evening, despite how tempting a Kernel Table Beer was.  I had a couple of halves of the Siren Sound Wave, a US style IPA, after I’d read about their launch event a few weeks ago. It was very tasty, a big hit of tropical citrus and grapefruit.

We arrived at the London Fields brewery just after 6pm and joined the back of a queue of around 50 people. Not bad. It was moving along, and at least it wasn’t raining. But it was a bit annoying that if you just had a festival entry ticket then you could head straight in, skipping the crowds. As we entered the brewery, I showed my ticket confirmations on my phone but no-one seemed to check very closely, and we were given cards with 9 beer mug logos on them (each representing a third of beer, to be stamped off as you drink, thus giving you your 3 pints included in your ticket), the glasses and a programme/beer list. And, for one reason or another, they gave me 4 cards when I’d only bought 3 tickets. Bonus!

The brewery is, like a lot of London breweries, set under railway arches. In the first arch was the Keg Bar, and in the second was the Cask Bar, although both bars actually had some of each. We bumped into Des De Moor outside the keg bar, who told us that the beer judging and all the presentations planned for the weekend had all been cancelled. Not great organisation. So, he decided to just stay and try lots of beers. Sounds like a tough job being a beer writer. We headed to the cask bar, as it wasn’t quite so horribly busy, crowded and hot as the keg bar, but we still waited for about 15 mins at the bar. And this was where I got the biggest disappointment of the evening: the realisation that I wouldn’t be able to try all the beers I wanted. A few beers had run out already, and the programme didn’t say what would be available at which bar. Very confusing, and it meant there was lots of umming and erring at the bar while people decided. I was very disappointed to to be able to have Weird Beard’s Mariana Trench, as I loved it when I tried it a the Earl of Essex, and also that there was no Rocky Head Pale Ale left, as I really wanted to try it from the keg.

I tried lots of beer. Lots. Too many to list (or, in fact, remember). The condition of the cask beer was generally good, expecially from the cask bar, but the keg stuff was on the whole not cold or fizzy enough for something which should be both.

We managed to find a table for the evening, which made the time spent drinking and talking very pleasant, punctuated by infuriating waits at the bar to get beer. And walking outside from one bar to the other felt like a salmon trying to swim upstream.

On the whole, I think it would have been a much better idea to stay at the Craft, or go to one of the many other craft pubs in London which would no doubt have a good stock of London beers. London is brewing, but this wasn’t the showcase for it that I’d hoped it would be.

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Categories: Beer, Beer Festival, Brewery, Pub | 5 Comments

To Start, Battersea Beer Festival….

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It was a cold, rainy Friday night. The festival had been on for the last 2 days, this was the final evening. As me and my friend Pat walked past, huddled from the bleak weather, we could see warm, dry people with pint glasses and hear the sounds of laughter and merriment. As we rounded the corner to the entrance, we saw it. A queue. A long queue. That didn’t move for the 10 minutes we waited there. So, as our thirsts overpowered us, we went to the Battersea Mess and Music Hall, just down the road, to have a makeshift beer festival of our own.

We popped into Eagle’s Wines on the way too as a friend was looking for a wine from a specific Australian vineyard, and I noted that they had a pretty decent selection – BrewDog, Coopers, Little Creatures, Sierra Nevada, plus some Belgians and world lagers.

The Battersea Mess is an Antic pub, and pretty typical of their style – dark wood, odd chairs but nicely informal. And they usually have a good selection of beers. Extremely dissapointingly, the had a tap for Moor’s So’Hop but it was off. When a friend inquired as to when it might be back on, he was told that they hadn’t had it for months. They probably leave it there as a ploy to lure in hopheads.

We started off with a Sunny Republic Beach Blonde, a Pacific pale ale. We easily found a table, which is always nice on a Friday night, and took a sip. It was a great first drink, light, crisp, a nice hop punch with a smooth bitter finish, and at 3.7%,extremely sessionable. Another friend, Steve, joined us at this point and we all had a pint of Sunny Republic’s Dolphin Amber, which was, as the pumpclip stated, “complex but easy drinking”, however it wasn’t to all of our hoppy tastes. I tried a half of the Pin-Up Beers Milk Stout, which I definitely couldn’t have done a pint of. The very toasted finish was a bit much for me. Still, good to try beers from 2 British breweries that I’d previously never heard of.

20130208_203649Then we all moved onto the bottles: Anchor Steam, Little Creatures, Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn. All beers with good heritage but ones that I hadn’t actually had in a while because of my thirst for new beers. I also tried the Sierra Nevada Kellerweis, which I enjoyed – nice banana and clove notes with a clean, slightly sour finish. It was good but possibly not what I really wanted that late into the night.

We also set up a Twitter account for Steve to do beer reviews based on his tasting notes which I find very amusing as they are written purely for himself and sometimes don’t make sense. We came up with The Sipping Forecast (genius, I know) but I think I just have to persuade him to actually start tweeting.

And so to Saturday morning when, not as hungover as the previous morning,
I decided to accomplish three things in one endeavour. I wanted to break in my new walking shoes, I wanted to do some exercise and I wanted to pay my first visit to Mr Lawrence’s beer shop in Crofton Park, south-east London. So, I donned my shoes and set off on the 10 mile walk through Wandsworth Common, Clapham Common, Brixton, Brockwell Park, East Dulwich and Peckham Rye Park before ending up right at Crofton Park station. First bad sign, the shutters were down. Second bad sign, it was 1pm and the website says opening hours are from midday. The third bad sign was when I went into the adjoining wine bar and asked about the shop and was told that it was closed. As in, closed down. I now see that it says that at the very top of their website, but it still lists their stock and opening times. *sigh*

So, I made my way to Brockley, hopped on a train to London Bridge and headed straight to Utobeer where I could happily satisfy my hunger to avail myself of new beers.20130209_153642 I’ve had the Dark Energy already, and thankfully it lived up to all the hype I’d heard. And, inspired (and also made slightly jealous) by the number of bloggers doing Christmas countdowns and beery advent calenders last December, I have started to collect some for Christmas 2013. I might as well aim for 12, it’s a fitting number. Pictured are additions 2 and 3 from Goose Island and Rogue. The first one was a Jolly’s Revenge from By The Horns that I got from their brewery bash before Christmas. I very much enjoyed it on tap, lets see what a year in the bottle does to it. And actually, just thinking about it now, I think I’ll aim to have at least one homebrewed beer on the list. Bring on Christmas!

Categories: Beer, Craft Beer Stockist, Pub | 2 Comments

Samuel Smith Bottles – A Revelation

Despite working in central London (Fitzrovia, to be precise) I haven’t been to a Sam Smith’s pub in a long time. Not since they inexplicably increased their prices, thus eliminating their major selling point. The beer has never been great, well certainly not the draught stuff but I had a couple of drinks in The Fitzroy Tavern tonight and was pleasantly surprised by their bottled fare.

The Taddy Porter is very, very nice. A bit pricey at £5.50 a bottle (albeit a 550ml) but delicious nonetheless. Roasted, malty, chocolatey and slightly sweet means that this, for me, is a very moorish sipper of a drink.

The Oatmeal Stout, also about the same price, was a little disappointing. While there were still those malty, roasted notes in the nose, there was also a lingering salt-and-vinegar aroma that got me slightly worried. It wasn’t overly present in the flavour but it did have a slightly vinous aftertaste which made it much more difficult to sip and savour than the porter.

There’s still the Organic Chocolate Stout to try, and I noticed an apricot fruit beer as well. I have tried their cherry, raspberry and strawberry fruit beers, and for me, they have a very nice balance of sweet and bitterness that makes them quite drinkable, so I’ll no doubt be trying that at some point.

And from memory, their Organic Cider and Nut Brown Ale bottles are also decent if, again, slightly pricey.

So probably better if you can find their bottled range in a shop rather than pay the expensive bar prices – try Dr.Ink of Fulham or Whole Foods (Kensington or Piccadilly branches) – but I’d say the porter is now my drink of choice if I find myself in a Sam Smith’s in the near future. Considerably better than their lagers.

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By The Horns and London Fields Brewery Oktoberfests, and Ribs with Neck Oil!

I won’t lie, I had been looking forward to last Saturday for a while. Oktoberfests at 2 London breweries on the same day. And one of them only a 10 minute walk from my flat. And It ended much better than I thought too. So, lets get started shall we?

The first Oktoberfest of the sunny, but pretty chilly day was at the By The Horns Brewery in Summerstown (between Earlsfield and Tooting, SW London). The brewery itself is in a unit on an estate and was adorned with a gazebo, much brewery signage and a BBQ for the ubiquitous wursts. We arrived about 1pm, an hour after it had started, and it was pretty quiet but that gave me a chance to speak to the brewers, Chris and Alex, about their setup and brews. First off, I tried a half of their Stiff Upper Lip pale ale – a very drinkable, light,  session beer. They’ve only been around about a year, and from talking to the guys you get the feeling that this is a big passion, and that they’re so happy to be able to brew for a living and give their creations to eager punters.Their setup is relatively small, with I think 5 or 6 fermentation tanks (one filled with their next seasonal American IPA, a single hop Willamette), 3 of which were recent aquisitions.

For my next glass, I went for the Diamond Geezer red ale – wonderfully malty and hoppy. More people we’re arriving, and the vibe was starting to get more festive. We went outside and chatted to a beer lover who’d been let out by his wife and decided to venture here after he heard about it at a recent beer festival. Good to know their name is getting around. We talked London breweries, and I drained my glass.

Next up, the Lambeth Walk porter – deliciously robust and smokey, perfect for the chilly day (had to alternate my pint hand it was so cold!). They have been trying to get their beer stocked in local pubs (who wouldn’t want to drink a beer from down the road!?) with some success – The Leather Bottle, for one, is regular on their supply list. And their bottles are also stocked in The Earlsfield Deli.

And finally, for we had arranged to meet friends, I went for their seasonal Munich dunkel, Prince Albert – so smooth, with a rich, malty taste that’s almost creamy. Didn’t get a chance to sample their Bobby On The Wheat beer, or their Hopslinger Black IPA, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for bottles of those. They do sell bottles from the brewery, but I think it’s only open Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm. But, like I say, you can get their bottles from The Earlsfield Deli just down the road.

I really enjoyed my brief visit to this fine little brewery, and have already put their next event in my diary  (10th November) – I’ll be there with bells on. For beer fans in London, its great to see inside an up-and-coming brewery and meet the brewers, really feels like like the beer has been crafted. I can thoroughly recommend a visit, great beers and friendly brewers. And with The Rocky Head popping up just around the corner too, it feels like south west London is having a little craft revolution of it’s own.

Then, off across London to meet friends at the next brewery in Hackney at the London Fields Brewery. Underneath the arches, as it were, we were greeted by music, the smell of BBQing pork, and the bubbly sound of people having a good time. We headed straight to the bar and I plumped for half a Love Not War – a warm red ale with a nice hop finish. And my wife, a bit beered out by this point, went for a G&T.  First downside: plastic glasses. My heart broke just a tiny bit. Maybe that was an indicator of the very different style and vibe of this Oktoberfest than the one we’d just come from. Still, lots of beer to try and friends to chat with so chin up!

There was no space at the benches inside so we ventured into the open. Lots of seating outside, some of it consisting of casks around stacks of wooden pallets, despite the chill in the air. But luckily we had scarves and gloves. And beer.

Friends arrived, along with lots more people, and the place starting to get very buzzing. Next I tried their pale ale (which was a bit thin after the stronger, hoppier red ale, but I’m sure a decent session beer), and the Hackney Hopster, which was, well, hoppy. Nice and crisp, if a little too bitter for my taste. They had various spirits behind the bar too, along with their range of brews, which is good as apparently not everyone wants to drink beer at an Oktoberfest.

Then I went on a journey through their single hop IPAs – delta, cascade and galaxy, if my memory serves me correctly. Which, to be honest, it might not. Not as dry as the Hackney Hopster, they were much more to my liking. All very good, like a slap with a wet hop, just slightly different hops. I went through them all pretty swiftly.

By this time we had moved into the warmer inside, between the busy bar and the band, and I think I was just about done for the night. I felt a little like I’d eaten a bag of hops, but that’s my affliction and I’ve got to live with it – Hello, my name’s Phil and I’m a hophead. Whew, I feel a little better.

As we strode out, into the cold, dark, wet Hackney night, I suddenly felt it in my stomach – hunger. We could turn back and grab a sausage and sauerkraut fresh from the grill…or we could do the 10 min walk to Duke’s for some ribs and some Beavertown brews. Despite the rain, we pushed on to Duke’s!

The wait of an hour for a table (well, it was 8pm on a Saturday) was eased by some Neck Oil – which, as the name suggests, slipped down a treat. Nice to have something not too hoppy and bitter for a change. Lovely!

The ribs, pulled beef and all the sides were delicious, the portions were healthy (or unhealthy, depending on the way you look at it), the service was quick and efficient, I just felt that maybe the meat could have been a bit saucier, a bit stickier. They were very nice and tender, but me and my wife thought they were missing something. That might be their style, and it might be that I just prefer my ribs a bit jucier. That said, they were better than most ribs I’ve had in London.

The Thornbridge Jaipur finished off the evening well, my only regret being that I didn’t have the guts to go for the house Smog Rocket smoked porter. I tried a sip at The Gunmakers and thought it very intriguing but wasn’t sure if a whole glass might have been too much, especially paired with smoky ribs. We pretty much waddled out of there, full to the brim with meat, malt and hops.

So 2 very enjoyable, but very different brewery events with the same name. The London Fields do was a party with music and food and beer that was held in a brewery, and had a wide appeal. The By The Horns day was all about the beer, that was the real star. And personally I preferred that.

Like I say, the next By The Horns open day is in the diary, and I’ve also added the London Fields brewery tour to my to do list. Different breweries, different approaches and different outlooks, but both with great beer.

 

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North London Beer Expedition

There are 2 beer shops that I have long heard about but had never visited as they are in north London, and I don’t usually have much business being in those parts. Which is unfortunate, given the crop of craft and real ale pubs up that way.

It was a lovely, sunny, autumnal day yesterday, so I decided to venture to the two hallowed beer shops of Kris Wines and Drinkers Paradise to see if they were up to all the hype I had read and heard about over the years.

On my way up north, I also popped in to St. Pancras station to have a look at Sourced Market, which I had seen listed as a stockist on the London Fields Brewery site. And very impressed I was too, a surprising selection for such a location: Camden, Moncada, London Fields, Beavertown, Windsor & Eton and Kernel from London, and a good range of real ales from around the country. The prices were a touch high, but not bad considering its location.

So on I went, up York road in the sunshine, past the now derelict York Road tube station, until I reached the parade of shops just before you get to Camden Road. And there, with its shutters down was Kris Wines. God damn it. Well, it was about 12:45pm, so I figured I’d walk to Drinkers Paradise and hope that Kris Wines would open up about 1pm.

Drinkers Paradise is a good little shop. Not blown away, but certainly a much better selection than your average off-licence. Possibly not worth a journey to go there specifically, I’d say, but pop in if you’re in the area. I got myself a Little Brew pale ale (a local Camden brewery), and Eistök pale ale (which I’m seeing around more and more).

So then I went back to Kris Wines and it was open! And, Lordy, what a shop. An overwhelming selection of beers from all over the world; a section of Belgian beers, a whole shelf devoted to Mikkeller, little nooks and crannies filled with craft beers. I could have spent hours and lots of money in there. But, I only had £6 on me (for reasons I won’t go into) and I had to carry what I bought down to Camden. So that limited me to 2 beers. One choice was the London Fields Love Not War because I have, as yet, not tried anything from them. The second choice was tougher and took me a good 15 mins to decide. I finally plumped for the Kernel Porter, as I seem to be exploring the darker beers at the moment (after trying the Sambrooks porter at their brewery bash – it’s opening up a whole new, roasted, toasted world to me!). Kris Wines is definitely worth the hype, and definitely worthy of a trip. Just make sure you take money and a means to carry your spoils, as it’s no fun having to choose only 2.

Then I strode off towards Camden to meet a few friends (with a brief stop to watch 6 middle-aged women trying to negotiate Camden lock with a narrow boat, whilst 2 guys from Amsterdam criticised their every move). The first stop was The Black Heart, as I had heard about their range of craft beers and real ales. The selection was pretty good (Camden, Darkstar, Moor, By The Horns, Brooklyn) but the setting wasn’t. You’re definitely in Camden. It’s also a venue upstairs and feels like it – a bit dingy, bad toilets and not great for a quiet afternoon drink. Still, we stayed to sample their wares, highlights being the Stiff
Upper Lip from By The Horns, and the Darkstar Revelation.

We wanted a bit of food so we ventured to the BrewDog just round the corner. The 5am Saint was very, very good. We ordered food – a pizza and a burger – which took nearly an hour to come. After asking a few times where the food was, the staff simply said it was on its way, not offering an apology. The food came, it was good, but as I’ve mentioned before, when that place gets busy it gets very loud. After the food we decided to call it a night, which was a shame as I didn’t get to try Hello My Name Is…Beastie which I’d heard a lot about. Perhaps I’ll have to pop back soon on a quieter night.

All in all, a lot of walking, a lot of beer, and a lot of discovery.

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The Gunmakers Beer Fest

On the train on the way home now from a lovely evening at The Gunmakers, working my way through their list of beers from London breweries. 8 on at any one time, and I believe they’ll change them through the week. A lovely, relaxed atmosphere and lots of beer-related chat from the staff and customers made for a great evening.

Sticking to halves, me and a friend tried nearly everything on the menu, highlights being the By The Horns Diamond Geezer red ale, the Cronx Dry Hop Standard and the East London Brewery Quadrant stout. All delicious in their own way.
Definitely try to go down this week while you can, a great selection and a brilliant opportunity to try some interesting London brews.

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Craft Brixton Opening

Beer. Lots of beer. That’s what comes to mind when I think of the Craft Beer Co., and their new bar in Brixton certainly has it’s fair share. Over 30 beers on tap (about 10 cask and about 20 keg) means that a trip to the bar is not as simple as “3 pints of Stella, please mate.”

But, if you ask me, that is a good thing. A very good thing. I arrived about half past 6, after a long day at work, having already decided to stick to halves so I could try more beers. The bar was quite busy, the little outside seating area already full of happy beer-lovers who somehow managed to get to Brixton on a Friday before 7. Don’t these people have jobs? Anyway, while waiting to be served and taking in the selection, I plumped for Magic Rock’s Craft Magic, brewed especially for the night. Then I thought to myself, “well, I’d usually order a pint, so why not get two halves!”. So I did. I went for a Darkstar Kiwi. The Craft Magic was good, a low ABV session ale and an easy drinker for the first of the day. The Kiwi was delicious, the light, fruty aroma of the kiwi balancing perfectly with the bitter hoppiness.

As I supped my halves at the table I managed to snag, trying to look nonchalant, drinking alone in a busy pub, waiting for my friends, I had a look around the bar. Very minimal, high tables with stools (that had pedals…) and not much else. The bar itself is a marvel, the cask pumps sitting atop the polished copper with a bar over the top for all the keg beers. Seemed a little strange to see staff pouring pints above their heads, but it’s a innovative way to use up the relatively small bar space.

The vibe was good, very busy and buzzy, but with all Craft pubs when they get busy they get quite loud and if you don’t have a seat you can feel a bit lost in the room and a bit in the way.

My friends joined and I sampled the Darkstar Belgian IPA (“Bruges in a glass”, so one of my friends proclaimed) and another beer brewed especially for the pub’s opening, the cranberry milk stout Crafty Jane from the Ilkley Brewery (like an old, warm country pub – smokey leather).

The evening progressed, the bar got busier and the waiting time for drinks got longer. But I guess that’s to be expected on the opening night, and a Friday to boot.

The real highlight beer of the evening for me was Thornbridge’s Chiron, a golden ale/blonde beer (so say’s the label) that is delicious, absolutely beautiful. A perfect balance of hoppiness, sweetness and dryness that makes it very drinkable and very moreish.
So, all in all, a very nice evening. And a great addition to Brixton and craft beer. That’s if you like beer. If not, well then why are you reading this? Honestly.

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Walton-on-Thames Pub Crawl…ish

It was my dear dad’s 60th birthday last week, and on a recent trip to Walton-on-Thames he noted a glut of pubs all in close proximity to one another. So, he decided that we should do a crawl from the river into town in honour of his 60 years. I was hoping to get a variety of real ale on the way, and was also crossing my fingers that there might be some craft beer available at at least one of the pubs…

It was a beautiful, warm, sunny September day when we arrived at The Anglers, the outside bustling with afternoon drinkers. We went in to the comparatively quiet bar make our choices – my brother and I heading straight for the “Anglers Tackle” (claimed to be brewed exclusively for this pub, but a little research has shown it to be Sharps “Cornish Coaster”). A very easy drinker, light in flavour with a delicate hop edge, and slightly sweet on the tongue. Ideal for an afternoon in the sunshine, by a river. As, indeed, we were. If we were staying, this would have been a great session beer.

Good selection of other ales, lagers and bottles (including Brooklyn Lager and a few Belgians) meant everyone got what they wanted (Sol, Savannah and Peroni). So we went outside to enjoy our drinks while people wandered by with their dogs on the tow path, and boats glided down the river in front of us.

The next pub on our list was The Swan, about 20 paces from The Anglers. We walked through the large, sectioned garden, past 2 outside bars and into the pub proper and we were greeted by the wonderful green and yellow of Meantime’s London brews on tap. My brother and I went straight for the London Pale Ale which was deliciously crisp and cold, with a healthy and thirst-quenching  hoppiness and bitterness. While at the bar we also tried the Oxfordshire Ales Marshmellow, which was very nice, smooth and had a hint of, well, marshmallow. Suprisingly pleasant, and great for a more autumnal day. They also had 3 Youngs ales on tap, but we didn’t try those. My dad told the barman we were on a pub crawl, to which the barman remarked, “Most people end up staying here”.

We found a table outside and enjoyed probably the last of the very little sunshine that we’ve seen this summer, then promptly moved on to our next pub as we had 7 planned.

The Masons Arms looked pleasant from afar, like a little manor house. On entering, we were looked at by the 4 locals as if inquiring who we were. Not put off, we headed to the bar and I ordered a Doom Bar whilst I visited the loo. As my dad later commented, he’s smelt better toilets at a festival. I left, looking forward to a nice, clear, toffee, hoppy ale…but was sorely disappointed. Slightly cloudy, in poor condition and tasting, frankly, brown. The ladies chose sparkling water (much to the annoyance of the barman who had to go out back to get another bottle) and my dad had a Stella Artois. The choice was limited.
Needless to say, we didn’t stay long but we did absorb some more sunshine on their benches out the front.

The next pub was The Bear, but after a quick reccy we decided it was probably in the same category as the last pub so skipped it. Also skipped the wine bar, as it looked a bit poncy and dead. So, onto The George Inn. The worryingly light and sparse wood interior made it feel more like a barn than a pub, and the small selection of ales, lagers and bottles didn’t enthuse us any more. My brother and I went for a Shepherd Neame Late Red, which was actually pretty good, if not entirely appropriate for the day. Since it was a Shepherd Neame pub they had Oranjeboom on tap, which I think is always a nice refreshing lager. My wife, however, did not agree.

We found a table in the garden out the back and whilst supping our drinks discussed out next move. There was The Regent nearby, and whilst it being a Wetherspoons guaranteed a decent ale selection, the only outside space was 2 tables on the main road. So, on reflection, we decided to go back to The Swan. It seems the bartender was right.

We headed back to the river, found another table in the grassy area of the garden this time, and I plumped for the London Lager (well, all that walking made me parched). Excellently suited to the warm day, packed full of flavour but still with a refreshing hoppiness and citrus finish. We stayed there for another one too before the cab whisked us off to dinner. Well, why spoil a good thing, eh?
So, if you want to do a crawl in Walton, my advice is to stick to the 2 riverside gems:  The Anglers and The Swan.

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The Falkland Arms, Oxfordshire

A couple of years ago, me and my wife went for a nice romantic weekend in the Cotswolds, and after a bit of searching found a beautiful little pub with rooms. It was The Falkland Arms, and we have since stayed there again, and are will be going for dinner and a few drinks in a few weeks’ time.

The pub itself is in a little village called Great Tew, nestled in the rolling hills of the Cotswolds. It is old, quaint and covered in ivy – a perfect country pub, if you ask me. It’s cosy interior is filled with all sorts of pub paraphernalia, and the roaring open fire on a cold evening is very welcoming. There are 4 hand pumps with a nice selection, and I think at least one featuring a Wadworth ale, as it’s a Wadworth pub.

The staff were very friendly, and showed us to our room upstairs – a small stone staircase leading to a creaky landing and into our room with a beautiful 4 poster bed, complete with curtains. Very cosy (again) and very romantic – uneven floor and lots of dark wood.

But back to the bar: very nice beers, great atmosphere (you may even spot a celeb or two) and a selection of country wines too, if you feel that way inclined. Oh, and the food…excellent. Ham hock and fish pie, so very good but so much – couldn’t finish them, though we tried. And  the breakfast the next morning, full English done wonderfully.

They have live folk music on a Sunday too, and we were lucky enough to catch some the last time we were there. A nice pint of beer, crackling fire, full pub and one man with a guitar – absolutely perfect for the setting.

If you’re ever nearby, stay for a night or two. Or go for dinner. Or just a drink. Wonderful English countryside pub that’s not to be missed.

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BrewDog Camden

Last Friday night I went with a couple of friends to the new-ish (opened at the end of last year, I think) BrewDog bar in Camden, the only one in London. Nice back-street location so not overly busy, especially on a Friday night – even managed to get a seat!

The friendly bouncer greeted us as we entered, the vibe buzzy, but not too busy. The bar itself is furnished with 5 or 6 taps, simply adorned with the BrewDog logo. The current beers are listed on a blackboard behind the bar, along with all the various bottles that fill the fridges. On asking for a light lager, my friend was offered various brews to try before he went for a Dead Pony Club – nice and light and very drinkable. Another friend went for the Zeitgeist, a smoky but crisp black lager, and I went for a 5am Saint, a nice, hoppy, dry red ale. All were very reasonably priced, just under £4 for the DPC and just over for the other 2. Very fair prices considering the location, you’d easily pay that for a pint of standard lager in any nearby pub. I also noticed the had Tactical Nuclear Penguin (their 32% stout) available in 25ml snifters for £6. Didn’t try that though.

We went to the basement to find a seat and table, and exchange sips of our various pints.

The decor is pretty minimal, lots of bare wood, mirrors and concrete. While this looks raw and contemporary, fitting with the BrewDog style, it does have the unfortunate effect of making it very noisy; no music but still everyone was shouting at each other. This was ultimately what made us leave when our pints were empty, although I would have happily stayed for at least another one…

We didn’t try the food, but it looked interesting, different and pretty reasonably priced – pizzas and burgers for under a tenner, if my memory serves me correctly.

Personally, I’d say it’s a must for any beer lover. It may not be a regular for me but I’ll certainly be back to try the range of BrewDog beers…I just need to find some other willing accomplices. I told my brother that I’d been there and I detected a note of jealousy in his tone…perhaps I’ll have to lure him up to London to visit.

Check out the BrewDog website to see their various bars across the country, and of course their full range of brews, available to buy online.

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