18 April 2012

The Dog and the Rock

Easter Monday was a dismal one in London, though the weather did little to damp the crowds of tourists queuing round the block outside museums and attractions. We passed the hordes awaiting admission to The London Dungeon on our way west to the first beer stop of the day: Cask in Pimlico. The pub is situated on a corner of the iconic Lillington Gardens development, a low-rise red-brick 1960s housing scheme. Through the door it's a fairly small one-room bar attracting a mostly young crowd, plus a handful of older locals. The bottled beer selection is prodigious, though the draught offering is impressive too, split between cask and keg.

While waiting for a plate of nachos we began exploring the beers on offer from renowned new Huddersfield brewery Magic Rock. I opted for High Wire, a 5.5% ABV American-style pale ale, orange in colour and pretty straightforward in style. I detect Simcoe among the US hop flavours here, a weighty, funky dankness that borders on cheesiness to me. I was reminded of BrewDog's Punk IPA, another Simcoe-forward pale ale. The next handpump over was serving Rapture red ale and here the BrewDog parallel is unmistakable: this beer owes a lot to 5am Saint, in my opinion. Simcoe again, in spades. The cask serve lends it a bit more balance and subtlety than its Scottish counterpart, however.

To complete the set of cask Magic Rock ales, a half of Curious. At 3.9% ABV it's a little more traditionally English. It's a slightly hazy shade of yellow, delivering a serious bitter bite up front followed by a more frivolous hint of bubblegum. Over on the keg fonts the Magic Rock Dark Arts had just run out, though I got a little taste of the dregs of this 6% ABV stout: smooth and sweet, if a little formulaic, laying on the coffee and milk chocolate rather thickly. I opted instead for another keg beer, chosen solely for its name: Shoreditch Hipster by Evil Twin, brewed as Cask's house beer and served in an appropriately stylish stemmed glass. Though only 5.5% ABV it makes for tough drinking, being heavily oily with a kind of chocolate-orange bittersweet character, building to a medicinal eucalyptus flavour. A half was enough and the nacho plate had been cleaned. Time to move on.

From Pimlico, the Tube took us beneath central London and we emerged in bohemian Camden. The destination was BrewDog's London tap, the first of several I'm sure, given how quickly they seem to be expanding. It was bustling with an unsurprisingly young and urban crowd. Eschewing the high stools of the ground floor we took our drinks to the basement to flop on a comfy sofa. Tempting as a full pint of Zeitgeist was, I opted for one of the imports: Little Sumpin' Sumpin', a Californian IPA by Lagunitas. This is one of those fabulously drinkable American IPAs with bags of zingy orange sherbet and boiled sweets. Any overpowering sugariness is kept in check by assertive bittering. Full-on yet balanced. Beautiful.

My other half's half was IPA Is Dead: Galaxy, from the new set of four single-hop beers. As with last year's batch, I think they've over-egged the hopping on this somewhat. There's a an intense pungency from the garnet-coloured ale which leads on to a palate-burning acridity. Just at the end there's a hint of tasty mandarin, but the bitterness has already spoiled the show by that point. I'll give a full report of this and its brethern when I get my hands on the new fourpack.

Time was ticking down to our 7pm curry appointment on Brick Lane and there was one more pub on the list before that, so off we went.

The Ten Bells opposite Spitalfields Market gained notoriety as a regular haunt of two victims of the 1888 Whitechapel murders. It was even known briefly as The Jack The Ripper in the 1970s and '80s. I decided to drop in because I was going to be passing that way, and because I'm a huge fan of Alan Moore's  From Hell, which features the pub, including during its 1990s incarnation as a strip club. We stood in the small crowded pub, where the bar occupies the centre of the floor, and tried to figure out where you'd put a pole.

Of course, Spitalfields has its own beery history, being once the home of the megalithic Truman, Hanbury & Buxton whose stamp is still firmly on the area in the architecture, the street names and the pub liveries. Though the company was merged out of existence in the 1970s and production ceased altogether in 1989, the brand has been revived by new owners, doubtless taking advantage of, as Boak and Bailey put it, "the free advertising all over London". It was a pleasant surprise to find two of the new beers on tap in The Ten Bells, though I suppose it's entirely natural they would be there in this former Truman's house. They're currently being brewed at Everard's, pending the building of a new Truman's brewery in east London.

Runner takes its name from a porter Truman's were once known for, London of course being a porter town. The beer itself is a 4% ABV dark brown bitter with warming toffee notes. The other tap was serving Number Eight, 3.5% ABV and lighter in colour as well as alcohol. It's pleasantly tannic and sinkable: not interesting enough to spend any time over, however, so we didn't.

After dinner, it was time for a nightcap or two in the sister pub of Cask, Clerkenwell's Craft Beer Company, a fairly traditional old-fashioned corner bar that has been given the beer geek treatment and now numbers both its keg and cask taps in double figures. Plus three fridges of bottles, of course.

More Magic Rock and yet more Simcoe, this time in their black IPA Magic 8 Ball. It looks very stouty when poured: pure black and topped with a layer of cream-coloured foam. There's even a good dose of chocolate and a dry roasted bite in the finish. But the middle belongs to our funky friend Simcoe.

Human Cannonball double IPA finished the day's Magic Rocking with lots of 9.2% ABV alchol heat. I'd be tempted to start pointing out the similarities with BrewDog Hardcore, but this is a much better beer, giving lots of pithy zest and Opal Fruit candy flavours rather than just tandem hop burn and booze burn.

For the last round my wife was drawn to the De Molen offering Heen & Weer, a fairly dark 9.5% ABV tripel. It has all the sugary fruit one might expect, and no shortage of alcohol heat here either. But there's also some beautifully peachy hop notes as well. Only a slight disinfectant tang spoils the party a little.

And I just had an orange and pineapple smoothie. No, the beer on the right of the picture is Clementine from the Clown Shoes brewery of Massachusetts. It's a wheat-based beer and as opaque as any lassi I saw on Brick Lane earlier. To the traditional coriander and orange peel they've added clementine essence which brings a marvellous tangy backdrop to the light and almost sour beer. As with the previous day's Siberia, 6% ABV is well concealed.

We called it a day at that point and disappeared out into the rainy Clerkenwell evening.


  1. Ah yes, I'd forgotten about that (sorry Steve!). He doesn't seem to think they're similar. Whereas I took a sip of High Wire and though "Ooo, this is a bit like that Punk IPA that BrewDog do." Then I tasted Rapture and there was almost an audible click.

  2. They're similar enough that when not tasting side by side you could mistake one for the other. Discussion on ratebeer suggests that they were originally brewed as outright clones and have become more disimilar through each iteration of brews. Only magic rock know for sure...

    Sounds like you got through a good number of beers on the day. Have you been lucky enough to find bearded lady yet?

    I enjoyed this year's IPA is dead range (reviewed somewhere, particulalry the challenger beer, though galaxy was most disappointing.

    Liking those Truman's pump clips, are they based on original stylings?

  3. Interesting about the divergent evolution: I can see how that would work. Didn't find any bearded lady, though.

    I'm sure the Truman's clips are based on old artwork -- the eagle was their totem -- but they look pretty modern to me. Before recent times would anyone have cared that the brand was from East London, specifically?

  4. Next time I get to London I will have to make a better effort to find these places.
    Looking forward to the magic rock tour in may at ebbc12

  5. Tried a few bottles of Magic 8 ball recently, and it was okay and I did warm to it more towards the last bottle, but not my favourite Black IPA. I guess I'm not a huge fan of the cheesy simcoe! If you haven't already had it, you should keep an eye out for Buxton Black Rocks, as it's probably my favourite black IPA at the moment. There's also an imperial version which is good, but I prefer the regular one more as the hop profile is more pronounced.

  6. keeganales1:26 am

    Great thing about Lagunitas is they all have that crave-able bright citrus and pineapple thing going on - one of the few breweries I'll buy just on name.
    Clown Shoes, on the other hand, I've found only average, in spite of the buzz they got last year. Fuss was maybe mostly over the tasteless labels?

    1. I'd never heard of them before. And, perhaps mercifully, there was no artwork on the tap.