Monday, 30 June 2014

Children In Pubs: A Guide For Parents, And Other Users

Children In Pubs
A Guide For Parents, And Other Users

This has been a while in the writing, in fact you could say that it's taken me just over eleven years as that's how long ago we found out that we were having our first child. However the ideas first began to take form when I read this post regarding dogs in pubs by Leigh Linley in September last year, and there are some similarities as you will see, and brought into focus more recently by this post by the Innspectre where he offers a poll at the conclusion asking whether people would like to ban children from their local given the option.
As a parent, and I feel it necessary to make this disclosure now if you hadn't already surmised it from the paragraph above, I feel that it is important that children are allowed into pubs for reasons I will go into further as I progress. I am not however advocating that pubs are places that children should spending a large proportion of their time in, far from it. The pub plays a part in community life, but the key word here is part unless you are a publican, then obviously it is your livelihood, and should be regarded as an aspect of that.

I also don't wish to come over as pompous or pretentious, I am merely drawing on my experiences and in the hope that it helps. I'm not the ideal parent by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I pretend to be, but I am merely passing on things that I have learnt, sometimes through trial and error but mostly through using common sense. Nor is it an instruction manual. This is a far cry from my usual posts, in fact it's about as far removed as you could get, and may not be relevant to those who usually read my blog, but maybe one day it will be.

1. Babies

When Sarah, my wife, and I decided to have children we didn't do so because of the expectations of others or because we thought it might be a good idea, but rather because we felt we were ready and that we wanted to start a family. This was a conscious choice on our part, nobody made us do it, and by doing so we realised that our lives would change. We could not carry on as we had always done. We knew this and we adjusted our lifestyle accordingly.

Our daughter was born in January 2006, a full 18 months before the smoking ban in public places came into force in July 2007. Some pubs and restaurants had already anticipated this and set aside, sometimes as just a token gesture, smoke free areas or banned it voluntarily altogether. Being regular pub users prior to my wife's pregnancy we found that we scaled down our visits quite a bit, but not altogether an this was as much out of prudence, babies cost money, as out of the application of common sense. When we did go we went earlier in the evening when there were less people about, so less chance of smoke, and more chance of getting a seat. Our local pub had a separate area of the restaurant that was smoke free, so we found that we ate in there more often with beer accompanying the meal (for myself that is) rather than the purpose of the visit. In this way we still saw the same faces at the pub but, and this is just as important, they saw us. They would ask about the pregnancy, when the baby was due, what were we having (which we didn't know), all the usual questions that would be asked in any other social situation, which is exactly what this was.

As the pregnancy was shared with them, it was really no surprise when we arrived one day with a baby in a car seat. We still ate in the restaurant on occasion, and people came to look at the baby and at the same time respected our privacy and we theirs. If we were out for the day and we came to a pub that we chose to have lunch in we didn't just take the baby in, barging through the doors, pushchair, bottles, wipes, nappies, change of clothes and all, but I, and invariably it was me, would go in and have a quick look around, a quick pre-visit reconnaissance mission. Going up to the bar and asking if children are allowed in, and then stating the age of your child or children is always advisable. Firstly you can get a good idea of the clientele. Are there children in there already? Are they eating? What was the atmosphere like, because if people look openly hostile to you going in on your own then do you really want to bring your child in there? Secondly you could get the lay of the land. Is there music, and if so how loud? Was there adequate spacing between the tables to accommodate a pushchair or, given the all-clear, would it have to be folded outside prior to entering the premises, and was there somewhere out of the way that it could be stored? Ideally you would have had a look at the menu and whether you wanted to drink the beer there prior to doing all of this as suddenly deciding you don't want to eat there when you're settled means negotiating baby and pram back past those you may have inconvenienced getting there in the first place. This isn't going to win you any friends and should you wish to go back there again soon you might find that they are not so benevolent.

Similarly, in more clement climes the pub garden, if there is one is a boon to parents with small children, particularly if it is large and open and can be accessed without going through the main body of the pub itself. I would recommend finding a spot away from everyone else if possible, a shady corner is ideal, especially as you may want to keep your child away from the sun, and if your child cries, and children do, then it won't impact others as much. Try also to pick table away from smokers, but don't forget that you have chosen to be outside and they are perfectly within their right and the law to smoke. Should it become a problem then move, go inside or leave, however if it isn't directly interfering with you or your child then let them be.

I have already mentioned this but if your child cries then it is your responsibility to deal with it. If it is as simple as giving the baby attention then do so. Going for a short stroll, rocking the pram gently, or engaging the baby directly by pulling faces, playing peek-a-boo or rattling a favourite toy can work wonders, but please don't ignore it. Having seen people continuing a conversation with a screaming baby beside them, seemingly oblivious to it, as an onlooker it grates with you and can lead to confrontation and that is not an ideal situation for you or baby. Showing that you are dealing with it will usually be treated with knowing and sometimes sympathetic glances.

Other things to consider are feeding and changing. Remember to be respectful of others and not arrogant and overt. Of course you may breast feed, it is perfectly natural however there are some that may be uncomfortable with it but a discreetly placed shawl or moving to a different area and finding a quite spot will help save others blushes, and you might want to have a few ready prepared bottles handy just in case. When changing a baby, and while more places have changing facilities it is still not ideal, retreating to the car, if you have one and came in it, or a visit to the toilets is always the preferred option. It is also an aspect to consider on that initial fact-finding mission I mentioned earlier. Remember that the pub is accommodating you and if it won't suit your purpose for the length of you visit then you might want to consider somewhere else.

2. Infants and younger children

As your child grows you find that the general paraphernalia that used to be omnipresent is no longer required. You travel lighter, unburdened by the trappings of early parenthood and experience a degree of freedom that you may have forgotten you had.

With this new found freedom comes a new set of responsibilities and challenges for a parent visiting a pub. The children are more inquisitive, more active and are easily bored, so this needs to be factored into any visit.

Bringing your children to the pub to eat, eating out occasionally, or even regularly sitting at the dining table for meals is the easiest way to get you child to behave correctly in a social environment. Children will copy adults readily and teaching you children their responsibilities to themselves and others is important. If your children know that it is unacceptable to keep getting up and down from the table, that running around a pub or restaurant is inconsiderate and dangerous and that singing, shouting or talking loudly is unnecessary and rude then they will refrain from doing so. I am under no illusions that this is an ideal situation. Despite us telling them my children have, with the exception of running around, at one time or another been guilty of all of these things, but sitting them back down and engaging with them, whether it be with a rebuke or explanation, has worked every time. Ignoring it, from my observation, never works. No surprise there.

Engaging with your children is also important to prevent boredom, so playing word games such as eye-spy or Boticelli will help pass the time when waiting for food or service, or even just sitting round having a drink. Remember to keep the volume down to around normal conversation levels, you don't need to whisper, that's frankly ridiculous as it's a pub not a library, but just be aware of the proximity of others. Colouring books, puzzle books and reading books may well be available in the pub, but it is advisable to take some with you just in case. Toys can be option, however things can get lost or broken leading to unintentional upset and commotion. Mobile phones, iPads and hand-held games will also keep your child occupied but these are very insular and don't really teach your children how to behave socially in a pub, and although with applications such as Untappd or immediate social media interactions such as Twitter see more of us reaching for our phones to review, relate or compare, try and keep this to a minimum. Far better at encouraging interaction are board games, and many pubs have these out for use or kept behind the bar, although if you are eating then they are best left to afterwards.

Pub with good size gardens provide good spaces for more active children, and arriving early will often give you time for them for them to run around if so inclined without disturbing others. It should be stressed to them that they will need to come and sit down if other people arrive so that they are prepared for this. Pubs with playground areas are welcome but be sure to keep you children visible at all times as you would anywhere else as they are not pub-run babysitting facilities but amenities to entice families to visit. A walk to or from a pub can also provide exercise, particularly as children get older, and means they will be more willing to sit down with you when they arrive.

3. Older children

One of the primary reasons for visiting a pub is to consume alcohol. There's no getting away from it, and I suspect that you might be wondering what took me so long before bringing it up, but the reason I've left it until now is that I wanted to address the subject of children and alcohol consumption from two angles.

The first is from the parents responsibility when it comes to their personal intake. I'm not about to preach and this isn't an anti-alcohol polemic, but it is important that you have a responsibility to yourself and, more importantly, your children when it comes to your drinking. If you ensure that you are able to undertake your parental role and keep within your ability to cope should an emergency arise then you shouldn't go far wrong. Being a parent isn't something you can switch on and off at will as the mood takes you, and if you limit your visit to the pub to an hour at most, three if you're eating, then they will accept it as part of normal recreational activity. They will then see it as a place to relax, much as you do, but not a place to get drunk. visiting earlier in the day, or in the early evening as I mentioned above will also mean that they are not exposed to drunken behaviour.

The second aspect, and a far more contentious one is introducing your children to drink. It is important to know the law with regard to this especially as you could end up in serious trouble should you fall foul of it, particularly as ignorance is no defence.

The law states*

It is against the law:
-To sell alcohol to anyone under 18 anywhere
-For an adult to buy or to attempt to buy alcohol on behalf of someone aged under 18. (Retailers can reserve the right to refuse the sale of alcohol to an adult if they are accompanied by a child and think the alcohol is being bought for the child).
-For someone under 18 to buy alcohol, to attempt to buy alcohol or be sold alcohol.
-For someone under 18 to drink alcohol in licensed premises, except where the child is 16 or 17 years old and accompanied by an adult. In this case it is legal for them to drink, but not buy, beer, wine and cider with a table meal.
-For an adult to buy alcohol for someone under 18 fro consumption on licensed premises, except as above.
-To give alcohol to children if they are under 5 years old.

It is not illegal:
-For someone 18 or over to buy a child over 16 beer, wine or cider if they are eating a table meal together in licensed premises.
-For a child aged 5 to 16 to drink alcohol at home or on other private premises.

*source:, link here.

Of course, I'm sure we can all recall instances of ourselves or others buying alcohol when they were under age, and I'm not going to get into that debate here. It is however my view, and I have to stress that this is my view from my experience, that a sip of alcohol, and in my case that is always beer, and never strong beer, includes the child in a social occasion where alcohol is present. They only have one sip, a second is refused, and this is regulated by holding the glass so that the child does not consume too much.

I recently took part in a 'brew off' with Pilsner Urquell at the White Horse in Parsons Green, the results of which will be known on 15th July, however one of the speakers was a taste psychologist whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. He spoke to us about the taste of beer, and particularly about the bitterness of beer, and how for many of us overcoming that bitterness and teaching our taste buds to enjoy beer is almost a rite of passage. The reason we do this, apparently, is that we see older members of the community socialising, enjoying beer and having a good time and that in order for us to be part of that, to experience it for ourselves we overcome that initial aversion and learn to enjoy it.

For this reason I feel that introducing your children to alcohol in a responsible way is important, but don't force it on them. Give them the option of a taste should they so wish but do not be persistent in the face of a refusal. It after all their choice as well as yours.

4. Other users

As pub users ourselves, parents or not we have a responsibility if children have been permitted. Remember that it is the licensee's right who they allow onto the premises, and we have to respect that no matter what our own opinions may be. It's not clever to swear around children, in fact it may be argued that it's not clever to swear at all, however we must accept this does go on in pubs but exposing children to foul language is not our choice.

On the flip side I think we have a responsibility to tell those in charge if  we feel a child is being allowed to behave in a manner that is disturbing others or endangering themselves. It is up to the licensee to police their pub as they see fit, and unfortunately or fortunately depending on you point of view we do have a choice, and that is to either stay and put up with it or go elsewhere. I would caution against interfering directly unless it is affecting you physically, and even then it is best to exercise restraint.

In conclusion

I think I've achieved what I set out to do, which is convey may experiences and offer some guidelines with regard to taking children to the pub and being in a pub with children. I may well have gone into more detail than is necessary in some areas and missed out others but I have drawn on what I have learnt and observed.

Having children is a responsibility, but it is also a blessing and a privilege insofar as you have the ability to bring someone into your world and to introduce them to things that are important to you, and tell them the reasons why. Following what I've written provides no guarantees that you children will appreciate what you do, none of us are exact clones of our parents, nor does it mean that they won't abuse alcohol in the future, but it does mean that the should see the pub as a part of society and community,  see alcohol drunk responsibly and in moderation by people enjoying themselves, and actually enjoy the experience of being there and interacting in a social capacity for themselves.

Further reading;
You may be interested in this article from the Morning Advertiser in December 2012 by licensing lawyer Piers Warne regarding children in pubs.
And this debate appeared on the BBC news website regarding aggressive parents in pubs.
Finally this article by Katharine Whitehorn that appeared in the Observer last month (May 2014) while quite narrow has an interesting observation by G K Chesterton at the end.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Beers Of London Series 77. Dragonfly Brewery - 2 O'clock Ordinary

Beers Of London Series
77. Dragonfly Brewery - 2 O'clock Ordinary 4.0%

I'm old. I often tell people this, in fact I've found that recently it has started to creep into my everyday conversation as if I feel like I need to remind people that 'it was different in my day' or it has started to become a badge of honour like the old person telling you how old they will be next birthday as opposed to the age they are now. I found myself doing it again last night. It's ridiculous really as I'm only 43, I'm in reasonable health and I still have a pretty good memory, and I am lucky to be particularly blessed with an ability to recall and place tastes and sensations that I have experienced before.

Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited to the launch party for Dragonfly Brewery at the George and Dragon pub in Acton, a 17th Century building and one of the oldest in the borough. It has been beautifully renovated, maintaining a period ale-house feel at the front (a board with a list of landlords going back to 1759 is a particularly nice touch) before opening up at the back into a cavernous space that houses the island bar and impressive brewery with it's stacked conditioning tanks and gleaming fermenters and brewing kettles. It really is a sight to behold and fits the space, that someone informed me used to be a music-hall in a former life, beautifully if a little snugly.

It was conceived by Robert Thomas of Remarkable Restaurants who own a small number of separately run pubs. For a long time Robert has wanted to produce his own beer and he persusded  Johannes Lux the German brewmaster at Shanghai Brewery to plan and order the brewery itself, but to actually do the brewing he recruited Conor Donoghue. Conor had previously brewed at both The Botanist (whose beer I featured here ) and The Lamb, but when the latter was bought out by Mitchells & Butlers and its brewery closed he joined the team at Dragonfly with the rest of the kitchen staff following him over shortly after.

We had a very good evening. The beer (of which there were four on offer: Achtung! - an authentic German Weiss, Early Doors - a fruity Pale Ale, Dark Matter - a dry stout that was possibly too cold from the keg version I had although it was available on cask, and 2 O'clock Ordinary - a cask conditioned Best Bitter) and the food were very good indeed, as was the company (Matt Curtis, with his girlfriend Dianne, Chris Hall and his girlfriend Katie, Andrew Drinkwater, Bryan Spooner and my travelling companion and fellow Essex drinker Steve Bentall, who will be publishing his own take on the evening later on).

There was however one beer from the bunch provided that fired my imagination and brought back memories in a way I could never have expected or prepared for.

The 2 O'clock Ordinary is a beer that you might not think that remarkable at first sight. A 4.0% Best Bitter name after a cartoon of 1811 by Thomas Rowlandson depicting a raucous tavern early 19th Century, could be one that you might just pass by whilst looking for the latest tongue-wringing hop bomb, but you'd be missing out if you did. Incidentally, I was unfamiliar with the term 'Ordinary' to denote an eating house or tavern until Conor set me straight on the matter as I had assumed that it was used in this instance as way of distinguishing a standard or 'Ordinary' bitter from the more potent and therefore more expensive Special or Strong Ale, much as I remember asking for a pint of 'Ordinary' in the Young's pub, Hollands, just off Brayford Square in Stepney, East London but sadly no longer with us (it is in-situ I am told but boarded up and unloved) which was just behind were I first started work back in 1988. The beer was occasionally delivered by drays back then, and it wasn't too long ago really, with the big Shire Horses thunderously coming down the Commercial Road to deliver their precious cargo on special occasions. Johnny Holland, whom the place was named after (I forget it's previous name) had been the landlord for many many years, maintaining an authentic East End pub little changed since the Victorian era, with perfectly kept beer. It was a joy to drink.

You might think I have digressed considerably, but last night drinking the 2 O'clock Ordinary it rekindled those memories and taste sensations that took me back to that pub, a pub that I first drank in 26 years ago. It poured bright, clean and fresh into the dragonfly etched pint glass and my senses were immediately filled with fruity caramel and echoes of dates, figs and hints of stewed apple. I couldn't resist it, and brought it to my lips with alacrity savouring its smoothness as it flowed down my throat. I was again struck by it's freshness, those caramel flavours alone satisfying me, quenching my thirst, transporting me to a place I hadn't visited for a very long time. There was more fruitiness in there too, dried apple and perhaps a fleeting notion of damson, and it finished beautifully with just the perfect amount of dryness to send me back to the glass for my next draught and experience the sensation all over again.

It was supposed to have been my last beer of the evening, a pint of the 'Ordinary' to see me on my way, but I had to buy another. This was a beer that commanded to be drunk in pints, and certainly not singularly. I was captivated and would go so far as to say that in my opinion it is the best Bitter being brewed in London right now, and the fact that it was Conor's first brew on the new kit is even more astonishing.

I am told that there will be a limited release of bottles of some of the beers available, not yet but in small batches, with notification of their availability only on the website, so get following that. The official opening night is tonight, Friday 16th May 2014, as I write, and I would strongly advise that you get along their soon to marvel at the place and taste the wonderful beer.

Being 'old' I have many experiences to draw on and some sensations that I wish to repeat again but which I begin to realise may be lost forever. To recapture one of them in a beer, however briefly, is rather magical.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Beers Of London Series 76. Late Knights Brewery - Hairy Dog

Beers Of London Series
76. Late Knights Brewery - Hairy Dog 6.0%

Late Knights Brewery, are the forty-sixth different London brewery to have featured in this series, and although I've been aware of them for some time I wasn't able to actually get hold of there beer to review. At least I wasn't until I came across them at Craft Beer Rising this year when I had a good chat with Sanj from the brewery and was able to taste some of their delicious P.IPA, of which more later. Due to the nature of the beast I didn't make any tasting notes there, however I did manage to pick up a bottle of Hairy Dog their black IPA, and some e-mail addresses to contact them on.

A couple of weeks later I sent off a few questions asking about the brewery and their beer, and waited for a response. And waited. Thinking they had forgotten about my enquiry I gave them a nudge via twitter and a few days later they replied. The explanation for the delay was very straightforward and understandable, but I'm getting ahead of myself a little here. Let's start at the beginning.

Steve Keegan had been as an Operations Manager at Fullers for a few years but he was finding that 'big company politics' were holding him back. He was tasked with turning around under-performing pubs within their tied estate and reinventing them from scratch with a whole new design team, included his girlfriend, and he had quite a knack for it. The first two pubs to be so transformed were The Barrel And Horn in Bromley and The Union Tavern in Westbourne Park, and even though they were getting good reviews he found Fullers quite hesitant and uninspiring in their approach, so he started working on a plan of his own.

Approaching an old school friend of his, Matthew Power of Truefitt Brewing Company in Middlesbrough regarding producing some beers of his own. In September 2012 the first two beers, Crack Of Dawn and Wormcatcher IPA were produced, and at this point Steve was certainly burning the candle at both ends. Working for Fullers during the week, he would travel up to Truefitt on a Friday night to brew there, often working into the small hours, and two weeks later Matt would send the beer down to London on a pallet. The beer was extremely well received and with those nocturnal sojourns inspiring the name Steve handed in his notice to set up his own brewery. Late Knights was born.

Beer writer, Will Hawkes had put Steve in touch with Graham Lawrence, owner of Mr Lawrence Wine Merchants as they had a specialist craft beer section and who, completely by chance happened to have a vacant space just a few hundred yards from Steve's house that he could use as a brewery. Four months later, and with the help of Matthew, they started brewing with a 7BBL kit and 1 fermenting vessel producing 24 casks a week.

By this time he had recruited Mikolaj, with whom he had worked with at Fullers, and Martyn had come on board, and they had come to the conclusion that the best way to survive in a tough market place where they would most certainly be fulfilling the guest beer role, was to produce lots of different styles of beer. As they were producing both traditional beers and those, to use Steve's own words of the 'new crafty arsed hop-crazy' variety they hoped to avoid being pegged as one thing or another and to date are up to around 15 different beers, with many more that they can't wait to get out, including a Smoked Dunkel, a crisp Saison, and a big 7% American-style IPA.

He cites the P.IPA that I had at Craft Beer Rising as a real turning point for them, with Mikolaj working a malt bill that wouldn't overpower a fresh berry IPA. While Steve was away on holiday, Mikolaj managed to get hold of some hops from Poland that worked superbly to this end and an astonishing beer was born.

Late Knights isn't just about the beer though as they have opened the Beer Rebellion in Gypsy Hill, the Brighton Beer Dispensary, and with the London Beer Dispensary soon to open in Brockley, another Beer Rebellion in Peckham as well as more pubs and a bottle shop in Ramsgate then you can begin to see why there was a slight delay in replying to my initial enquiry. They also have plans to open a bakery in the works, and have a weekly output of over 100 casks with more than 30 people under their employ which they hope will rise to 50 by the end of the year.

The focus is very much on sustainable growth, not over-stretching themselves and having a strong business plan, and they have grown with the business, from one fermenter leading to two and from one pub leading to another, the future for Late Knights looks very bright indeed.

And so, on to tonight's beer. Released in October 2013 shortly after the success of the initial brews, Hairy Dog was one of Late Knight's earliest recipes.  Brewed using a single hop varietal, Apollo, this black IPA was 5.5% in it's earliest cask form, however it is now up to 6.0% in its current incarnation. My most recent encounter with this beer was at The Locks Inn beer festival in Geldeston, Norfolk, where it was available on gravity dispense and disappeared rather quickly, but it is the bottled version that I shall be tasting tonight.

It pours a deep dark inky brown with a thick creamy head and an aroma that, whilst not overpowering, laying as it does beneath that dense covering still has some nicely enticing liquorice, blackberry and something that reminds me of fresh crusty brown bread dipped in a meaty, black cherry wine reduced gravy, and this becomes more prominent as it warms. The carbonation scrubs the tongue immediately as you drink it, bringing an initial bitterness that has a nice umami edge. Deeper into the flavour there's lime and grapefruit zest all tumbled together with liquorice, bitter chocolate shavings and a drop of espresso, with every element holding its companions in check and neatly wrapped in that pervading dry prickly bitterness. The finish has a touch of dark cherry chocolate that dries and slowly dies with a little lime zest and orange marmalade chunks that it carries with it.

This is a very good beer and although it isn't a 'crafty arsed hop-crazy' monster of a black IPA, by having all the flavours in balance with each other it is extremely drinkable. I finished the glass very quickly and immediately wanted another, finding myself wishing I had a third and a fourth to follow.

It still remains the only Late Knights beer I have had to date, but I'm now on the hunt for more. The story of how I almost didn't even have this bottle to open today is one best left for another time.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Beers Of London Series 75. London Fields Brewery - Bootlegger Series: Double IPA

Beers Of London Series
75. London Fields Brewery -
Bootlegger Series: Double IPA 7.2%

Even though I've reviewed London Fields Brewery beers before, I've picked up a couple of beers from them recently that I'm not only anxious to drink, but I think are noteworthy enough to write about.

The Double IPA is the sixth beer in London Fields Bootlegger Series, focussing on alternative styles, high abvs and alternative ingredients. There were three released last year, an oak-aged Weizen Doppel Bock, a Pumpkin Ale and an American Black Ale, which have been followed up with a Chocolate Porter, a Marzen and the Double IPA in February, March and April this year respectively. The additional fact that this bottle was only delivered to Sourced Market last Thursday and that I'm keen to review it as fresh as possible is another albeit understandable reason for this post.

As I want to get on and drink this beer I shall only inform you that it's brewed using Chico Ale Yeast (also known more formally as Wyeast 1056) and huge quantities of Amarillo, Chinook and Simcoe hops before I open it up. I hope you're ok with that? Good, shall we begin.

It pours a murky orange brown, it has had plenty of time to settle and it was poured carefully so I'm assuming that is its natural state - which I don't mind one bit, and throws a good off-white head that quickly fades to top the beer nicely. The aroma screams pine and orange peel at you from the outset, but there's also mango in there and more than a pinch of white pepper mixed up with some fresh green spring onion and a few leaves of lemon balm. I could quite happily sit here sniffing this for quite some time to be honest as all these smells roll around just inside the lip of the glass, its really rather lovely. Smooth and quite muted over the tongue, I really expected a beer with this sort of aroma to bite hard with bitterness but instead its slick and rather dignified. A delicious creamy toffee flavour makes way for some sharp citrus, a sticky concentrated orange sauce with some grated grapefruit and lemon peel before this is washed away by some a dainty peach cordial, it's a satisfying rise and fall, not abrupt but gentle and full of taste. The finish dries to leave the sensation left from sucking an orange boiled sweet, perhaps a little barley sugar too, sticky and oily with a sharp spike of bitterness that somehow takes it to a different place, like a summer walk in a damp forest, warm and dank which lasts for a long long time.

If you think that I like this beer you'd be spot on. You might not have gathered it from my admittedly short preamble but I wasn't sure that this beer would deliver on the hyperbole written on the label (you'll have to read it for yourself when you get a bottle to see what I mean) as I'm a natural cynic when it comes to such things. This is however, a balanced and smooth beer, full of flavour without being mouth-puckerinrly headache-inducingly so, and above all it tastes fresh fresh fresh. I love it and if you can get a bottle and drink it soon then I hope you will too. A schizophrenic beast of a brew indeed.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Beers Of London Series 74. Fourpure Brewing Co. - Oatmeal Stout

Beers Of London Series
74. Fourpure Brewing Co - Oatmeal Stout 5.1%

When it comes to deciding on what to call your brewery it can be a tough decision. Do you want to call it after the area you're brewing in, something with an historical reference, maybe your name or nickname is included in it, or perhaps you want to be esoteric and maybe sneak in a clever pun?
So when home-brewing brothers Daniel and Thomas Lowe formed  Foupure Brewing Co. in 2013 they thought about four basic ingredients: malt, hops, water and yeast, and maintaining an attention to detail, a commitment to exceptional brewing and  a purity of purpose, then the name came rather naturally to them.

Coming from a family with a passion for travel and discovery, holidays were spent travelling both at home and abroad visiting local breweries and sampling the local beers and although they find it hard to pick out specific beers and breweries as influences, Sierra Nevada (for quality, innovation and passion) and New Belgium (for it's commitment to employees and the environment) in the US, and Fullers (family brewers and supporters of the industry) in the UK are cited when pushed.

Based in South Bermondsey, which has a growing reputation due to the famed Bermondsey Beer Mile which is becoming a 'must visit' Saturday destination for lovers of good beer, there are two additional members of the team, Josie and John, and have a capacity of about 30 hectolitres which is just over 18 UK Barrels, or around 5280 Imperial Pints. The range consists of six core beers with various special, one-off beers available at the brewery most Saturdays although their Imperial Wit will, one of the latter will be available to a few selected accounts very soon. You will also be able to find some of their beers in cans from early May, everything except the Stout and the seasonals, ready for what promises to be a bumper Summer of canned offerings for lovers of good beer.

Their Oatmeal Stout pours a very dark brown, bordering on black, with its beige head flaring briefly before settling down into a thin covering on top. The chocolate and coffee aroma is quite sweet with the merest hint of black pepper and burnt toast lurking under the surface, emerging more fully as it warms in the hand. The bitterness is first felt at the back of the throat before moving majestically forward, and the beer has a decent body with that hint of creaminess you would expect with this style. Dark chocolate, burnt toast and to a lesser extent coffee are the dominant and clearly flavours in what is indeed a very clean tasting stout, but the carbonation carries a little cola with it and a pinch of dry peppery spiciness that nestles nicely in the centre of the tongue. The finish is dry and a touch oily, echoing the chocolate and coffee notes that follow this beer along the whole of its length, and feels rather satisfying for a good while after the glass is empty.

I have read reviews of this beer that have described it as rather thin and tasting a little of cold coffee so I took the precaution of allowing it to warm for about an hour after I took it from the fridge and was justly rewarded. The care taken to produce it is certainly evident, and while it's not a bruising heavy-weight of a beer it would sit perfectly at the beginning of an evening where a barrel-aged Imperial behemoth was the final chapter.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Beers Of London Series 73. The Cronx Brewery - Standard

Beers Of London Series
73. The Cronx Brewery - Standard 3.8%

The Cronx are London brewery number 44 to feature in this series so far and one I have been trying to source beer from for a while without success, either just missing their beer on at pubs around town or finding that some shops have sold out. I really should have made the trek down to Croydon to source some locally but I found that even though I planned to make the journey on a good few occasions I found myself thwarted by circumstances beyond my control. Well maybe not completely beyond my control but enough to side-track me and keep me from my destination.

The Cronx Brewery were formed in 2011 when Mark Russell, a wholesaler of alcoholic drinks, met Simon Dale, a regulatory advisor for an asset management company in the City, and found they were both having a similar thought, that of establishing a new brewery in Croydon, the first since Page and Overton closed its doors for the last time in 1954. After some test brews, much planning and finding some commercial premises, their brewery equipment was delivered on 10th July 2012, they brewed for the first time on 18th July 2012 (coincidentally my birthday), with their first beer on sale in the pubs of Croydon on Wednesday 8th August 2012 (also coincidentally my wedding anniversary).

They have five permanent beers in their range, Standard - which is the beer I have here, Kotchin - a blonde ale brewed with Cascade, Nektar - a Pale Ale brewed with Polish Marynka hops, Entire - a traditional Porter, and Mad Ass Entire - a not-so-traditional Porter brewed with smoked chilli peppers from the Mad-Ass Chilli Sauce Co Ltd, as well as Single Hop Series, seasonal beers, specials and the occasional one-off. This particular beer I picked up from my good friends at Ales By Mail who have helped me out with a good many of the beers in this series.

The Standard pours a beautiful brown/orange akin to varnished rosewood, crowned with a dense and creamy beige head and it takes that creaminess with it as it passes over the tongue but with the addition of good prickle of carbonation that isn't at all apologetic and adds to the enjoyment of the taste. The aroma is full of sweet chocolate fudge with a little lactic bite that brings out some gooey dried papaya, syrup covered dates and rich suet pudding flavours, in fact the more it warms, the more it evolves in that respect with snatches of thyme and toffee apple in the mix as well. As you may expect with a beer of this low abv however it doesn't translate this aromatic complexity into the taste but it does bring a bitterness that balances very well with flavours of sweet caramel, fruity but understated date and raisin, and rather pleasingly some of that sticky stodgy suet pudding flavour I detected earlier. The finish too is rounded and long lasting with all those muted creamy pudding flavours coating the mouth and leaving a sherry-like resonance.

To be perfectly honest I really wasn't expecting this beer to be quite so good as it is. I must confess that when I picked up a bottle of 'Standard' then I thought I would be drinking a twiggy brown bitter much as you might find in any honest hostelry up and down the country, brewed by brewers sticking to time honoured recipes. Drinkable certainly but not remarkable. This is however, anything but standard, and actually their website describes it thus, but being the sceptic (or indeed cynic) that I am I tend to discount such frippery. On this occasion I was very very wrong and this is a very very good beer. I'll certainly be looking out for more beers from the Cronx to drink soon, and I suggest that you do too if you haven't already.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Beers Of London Series 72. A Head In A Hat Brewery - Gin

Beers Of London Series
72. A Head In A Hat Brewery - Gin 4.0%

A Head In A Hat is a curious name for a brewery. Who's head? Who's hat? What type of hat is it? Is it a dis-embodied head found in a hat, pertaining to some local legend perhaps?

The answer is actually quite simple.

A Head In A Hat is really half a brewery, that is it comprises one half of the brewery at The Florence brew pub in Herne Hill, right on the edge of Brockwell park. The Florence has it's own range of beers, brewed and sold in the pub itself and for exclusive use within the Capital Pub Group of pubs. Peter Haydon, author of 'An Inebriated History Of Britain', former Society Of Independent Brewers (SIBA) General Secretary who had a spell working on the ground floor at Meantime Brewery, discovered he had unused capacity on the kit he was using at The Florence and decided to set up something separate from the main brewery to brew recreations of Old London Beers and take full advantage of that surplus. As he favours hats, and can usually be found wearing one, A Head In A Hat seemed a logical name to choose for this venture, and so came to be.

With beer names such as Trilby (a 3.5% dinner ale), Topper (a 4.8% India Porter brewed to Barclay Perkins recipe from 1805)  and Capper (a 3.8% session Pale) you can see where it all ties together rather nicely, and even the non-hat-related beer names such as Beekeeper and Camembeer have a gentleman suitably 'chapeau'd' in a related hat (beekeeping hat with veil and beret respectively) on the pump clip. There's even a beer called Titfer which, to the un-initiated is rhyming slang for hat, tit-for-tat = hat.

The beer that I've chosen to taste here, Gin, is an idea that Peter Haydon had had for a beer for some time according to the description on the website. Brewed with botanicals, which of course feature juniper, taken directly from the still at the City Of London Distillery, and hopped with Bramling Cross it is styled as "a fruity, golden ale where the various gin fruits and spices make a distinct but subtle impression."

I haven't come across any UK breweries having brewed a similar beer before, but a quick look around the internet threw up a couple of similar examples from the US which are worth a mention I think. Firstly the Midnight Sun Brewing Co. brewed an 8.0% beer in 2010 called Bathtub Gin, similarly with a mix of botanicals including juniper, orris root, angelica root, grains of paradise and citrus peel but interestingly no hops, it takes it's title from the Phish song of the same name. Similarly Delaware brewers Dogfish Head brewed the 5.0% Dirty Fermentini with BeerAdvocate founders Jason and Todd Alstrom based around the idea of a Dry Martini beer complete with an olive, which were used in the brewing process alongside suitable botanicals and whole-leaf Cascade hops as a one-off for the Boston Extreme Beer Fest in 2012. Sadly neither of these beers are no longer brewed but it would have been rather nice I fancy to sit sipping these beers in the sunshine on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Back to the beer in question. It pours an orange/light brown colour with a bright white head, and if you can imagine a combination of both Amber Ale and English Pale Ale then you won't be too far off. It's fair to say that the aroma is quite unlike any other beer that I have ever sniffed before with dandelion, honey, orange zest, white pepper, lemon and of course whole juniper berries, it is slightly spicy, enticingly fruity and rather delicious on the nose, albeit with a slightly medicinal element. Smooth, dry and with a faint prickle of carbonation over the tongue, white pepper is immediately apparent, adding a little heat before lemon peel (not zest) and honey flavours sneak in, but they too are soon overtaken with that unmistakable juniper berry dry, slightly sour taste with maybe a crack of black pepper enhancing the sensation. The finish dries out nicely, as you might hope for in a beer styled in this manner, with a peppery and fruity flourish rounding it off nicely before it completely disappears.

I'm guessing that this may well be a beer that divides opinion and if the taste of gin isn't to your liking then you may not find it pleasant at all. I picked this bottle up at Utobeer a week or so ago and one of the chaps there, someone who professed his dislike for gin to me, described it as one of the most disgusting beers he had ever tasted. How could I refuse a recommendation like that? - so I immediately purchased one. I'm very pleased to say that I made the right decision, in my opinion, and I would have missed out on a unique, but most definitely tasty beer. I was indeed sceptical but this beer turned out to be all it promised, and more besides. Lovely stuff.