08 December 2009

Crawl of Fame

An Irishman, an American and a Norwegian walk into a bar...

I caught up with Knut Albert in Borough Market just before 11 on Friday. He was finishing one of the delicious-looking pies from the stall opposite Utobeer. As we browsed the shelves, along came Zak Avery and Marks Dredge and Fletcher, all looking remarkably fresh-faced, given the previous night's revellries at the British Guild of Beer Writers (I always imagine it being something like the Stonecutters in The Simpsons).

When The Market Porter opened for business, Knut and I were straight in, to begin a long day of beering around London. The final member of Team Beer Quest -- Ally -- arrived a little later. After the previous day's excellent lager experience, I started with Meantime Helles. This isn't a patch on Moravka, however. Instead of the soft bready smoothness I'd expect from a Munich Helles, this is sharp and bitter, and quite earthy, presumably made with English hops. There was a nasty stale mustiness to it as well. It stayed on the good side of drinkable, but it was a bad start to the day. Knut wasn't doing much better, with his Freeminer Iron Brew. The flavour has a little bit of sweet biscuit and a lot of long-lasting disinfectant: think Hob-Nobs dipped in Dettol. Ack!

Things picked up with a beer called Sauvin Blanc, by Pictish. As the name implies, this pale golden ale is packed with the complex aromatic hop Nelson Sauvin. It's supremely bitter and almost becomes harsh, but doesn't. Instead, the lush grapey fruit flavours charm the palate, and last for ages after swallowed. It completely buried whatever flavour was in Knut's Labeski IPA so I'll leave him to tell you what that was like.

At noon, Ally, Knut and I headed round to The Rake, where we found Melissa Cole holding forth at the tiny bar (if all the name dropping is bothering you, tough: there's loads more to come). Highlight of the staggeringly amazing draught selection there was Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA. This Californian is 7% ABV but tastes about half that. It's light and fruity, with peaches and melons aplenty, plus a bonus lip-smacking bitter grapefruit finish. There was also a bottle of BrewDog Nanny State waiting for Knut. Everyone made the appropriate disgusted noises at this 1.1% ABV super-hopped brown "beer" (you can see from the photo how impressed Knut was with it), but there was something in it I quite liked. Yes, the aroma is terrible, like hops boiled in water, but the flavour has a certain charm to it, with a distinct toasty, roasty coffee thing going on just before the bitterness kicks in.

While I was savouring these very different taste sensations, the two Marks had caught up with us, and opted to stay on at The Rake while we headed off, taking Mr Dredge's directions to The Greenwich Union -- just two stops on the train from London Bridge. This is Meantime's brewery tap and is as smart, clean and modern as everything else with their brand on it. I went for the Smoked Bock, a red-brown lager which I found a little disappointing, being all bock and little smoke. Just a little bit of caramel which comes out as it warms redeems it. There was also a shared bottle of the fabulous London Porter, and when the stragglers caught up with us there was an interesting comparison of the cask and keg London Pale Ale, neither of which were up to much: lacking the zip and zing of the bottled version. This, Mr Dredge said, is an unusual state of affairs.

Leaving that enigma behind, the Fellowship of the Pint Pot returned to central London. The journey was not uneventful, with Ally having to cut up rough with one of those ogres that live under London Bridge and attempt to block the path of innocent wayfarers. With the foul creature bested in combat and Ally's quarterstaff cleaned of ogre brains, we marched on The Wenlock Arms as darkness fell.

The Wenlock is a freehouse in a residential/industrial area of the north inner city. It looks rather out of place there, almost like it's on a film set. I found out later that it started life as the tap of the Wenlock Brewery, though these days it's known for its diverse selection of cask ales. Inside it's homely, and was quite cramped with the Friday after-work and instead-of-work crowd enjoying themselves. Dark Star's Over The Moon was my first choice: a very drinkable dark brown bitter with lovely tannic peach notes, for a superb thirst-quenching quality. I scored a second time with Horsham Old Ale which had all the plums and toffee that I want in an old ale. The rest of the team weren't so lucky, there was the grainy and flat Shake, Ramble & Roll, the marginally more interesting caramel-tinged Spearfish and the bitterly smoky Newcastle United-themed Loony Toons, which was just a bit too full-on to be the sessioner it would like to be.

Ally took her leave of us at this point, and the rest of the League of Extraordinary Drunks hailed a hansom cab, instructing the driver to bring us to Clerkenwell without sparing the horses. The Gunmaker's was already spilling out into the street, and a veritable beer bloggers' jamboree was going on inside -- Jeff was run off his feet with the crowds, Woolpack Dave was around, and Ron Pattinson was propping up the bar. I don't remember a whole lot of detail about the pints of Purity Mad Goose and Harviestoun Haggis Hunter I had, only that they're decent, unfussy drinkers, with the former pale and hop-driven while the latter is ochre and sweeter. Both were consumed while having a good old chinwag with Ron, whence, of course, I picked up that nugget about The Wenlock's history.

6.30 meant that my quest was at an end and I departed for Heathrow. Hell of a day, that. I know it's been said before, by me and by others, but just to repeat: beer people are the best bloody people in t'whole wide world. Cheers, all.

So, while my part in the epic drinkathon was over (I believe it continued later back at Pig's Ear), my day's beering hadn't quite finished yet...


  1. Looks Like it was great trip!, got to love the wendlock arms some intrsting people in there!

  2. Anonymous1:22 pm

    A great day out - I'll get to it in due time...

  3. Did you spew on the splane? If not then you didn't drink enough

  4. I almost usually enjoy the beer at the Union, but not always. As I've said at various times in various comments threads, despite all the trappings of German-style, super-consistent industrialised brewing, I'm sure Meantime muck around with their recipes quite a lot, so the same beer can taste very different from one week to the next. You should definitely give it another go sometime.

  5. I've said it before and I'll say it again; you are the master at international pub crawling on a tight schedule.

    Sounds like a great day out. Last time I flew home after a skin full I awoke mid flight with a blinding headache. It felt like I had an axe in my cranium. Given that it was a Ryanair flight, the possibility of an axe actually being in my head couldn't be ruled out entirely. Surly lot, those flight attendants.

  6. It was a great crawl, privileged to be part of it. Wish I'd made it over for some Nanny State. One of the best pints of the day had to be the Racer 55 at the Rake, it was fab.

    Wenlock was something else, especially going to the loo! There was a pretty big crowd to watch the World Cup draw. I'm not sure I'll be racing back for the Looney Toons though...!

  7. wish i had been there it soulds awesome

  8. Quite a day! Following this we went to the Pigs Ear, too...!

    Good to drink with you properly rather than just a few brief passings at GBBF.

  9. Anonymous7:23 am

    I can't believe I missed meeting Ron! Bummer. I was going to be entirely sensible and stop drinking after we parted but my friend was already headed to the Wenlock! I had no choice of course but to keep up the good work.

    And you can't really call it a pub crawl until someone's bagged an ogre! Hehe-- thanks for getting me to laugh about it.