Saturday, 6 October 2012

In Search of Craft

"A man who is tired of London is tired of life." So said Samuel Johnson, and whilst I could never quite tire of our capital city (I was, after all born there), I'd certainly had enough of the place on Friday evening. I had been up in town for a trade show at Excel in London's Docklands, and after leaving around 4pm decided to investigate a few of London's burgeoning "craft bars" before making my way home.

First on my list was the aptly name Craft Beer Company, in Leather Lane, just off the Grey's Inn Road. I had read about this place after it first opened its doors and had checked out its website prior to my visit. Even so I was quite un-prepared for the number of hand pumps that greeted me as I entered. I didn't count them, but there must have been round about a dozen. There was an equally large number of keg fonts dispensing "craft keg". I was rather thirsty following several hours spent looking round the trade show, so kicked off with a pint of Redemption Hopspur at 4.2%. Alongside the Redemption beer were several offerings from Dark Star, plus an inordinately large number of beers from Blue Monkey Brewery. On keg there were beers from Camden, Kernel,  Danish brewery Mikkeller, who brew Craft's house lager, plus several others that I'd never heard of.

The barman had earlier offered me a taste of the craft keg beers, should I wish to buy one, but  the pub was starting to fill up quite rapidly, mainly with what appeared to be a student crowd (where do they get the money from?), even though it was only just after 5 o'clock. I had been on my feet most of the day and really wanted to sit down, so decided to make my excuses and leave, in search of the next possible pub/bar on my list, namely the Old Red Cow. This was about 15 minutes walk away, through the rain, on the other side of Smithfiield Meat Market, in Long Lane.

If I had thought that Craft Beer was packed then the Old red Cow was doubly so. It is quite a small pub, even with its "keg only" lounge upstairs. I manged to push my way through to the bar, where I found three cask beers on sale, alongside nine keg offerings from an American-style, back bar row of taps. The cask beers were all from Ilkley Brewery. I sampled two of them; the light, 3.3% Victorian Dinner Ale, plus the much stronger 5.5% Green Goddess Belgian Green-Hopped Ale. Both were very good, but the place was absolutely heaving, and still more people were trying to squeeze in. There was precious little room to stand, let alone anywhere to sit, and anyway the clientele, in the main, were  "City nob-heads" aka Merchant Bankers, (yes the rhyming slang is appropriate!). It was definitely, yet again, time to move on, but not before I had noticed, with some amusement that the the bar staff were recommending anyone wanting lager, to try the Goldbraeu from Stiegl, a brewery from Salzburg, who are the largest privately-owned brewery in Austria. I  visited the brewery myself, along with Brauwelt, billed as Europe's largest beer experience, back in late 2006, during a short break in Mozart's home town.

I digress; the steady driving rain meant it wasn't the sort of evening to be walking around outside, so a short trip on the Underground brought me to London Bridge where I knew there was a cluster of good pubs. Making my way through Borough Market, where many of the stalls were starting to pack up for the day, I arrived at the Market Porter; always a good bet for something out of the usual on the cask front. Alarm bells started to ring when I saw the throngs of people standing on the pavement opposite the pub, sheltering under the high glass canopy of the neighbouring market, plastic (yes plastic) glasses of beer clutched in their hands. I managed to get into the pub, but it looked far too much of a struggle to get to the bar, so I didn't even bother trying. (I did see a notice explaining the use of plastic glasses for those who wished to drink outside, which is fair enough, given the size of the crowds the pub seems to attract).

Plan B was to make my way a bit further along to the Rake, although I was even less optimistic I'd be able to get served in there. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find it quite easy to reach the bar, as most of the people were standing outside on the covered decking. People rave about the Rake, and beer-wise I can understand why, but to me it always seems like drinking in a porta-kabin rather than a pub. Still, I had no complaints about the beer I had, Hackney Hopster 4.3% from the quite recently established London Fields Brewery,  and reasonably priced at £3.60 a pint. Also on sale was Oakham Inferno, one other cask ale that I couldn't get close enough to the bar to recognise, plus a variety of imported keg beers that I did manage to recognise, including Rogue Dead Guy Ale, plus Oktoberfest Bier from Hofbraeu.

I have drunk, and enjoyed, both these beers in bottled form before, so wasn't tempted to try them on draught; in actual fact I decided to call it a day. Although I obviously prefer to enjoy a pint or two amongst friends, I don't mind drinking on my own, providing it's quiet and I can find a corner to sit in and watch the world go by or, if they aren't busy, stand at the bar and engage the bar staff in conversation. When pubs are rammed full though,the whole experience is far less enjoyable and I find myself rushing my drink (probably as I am subconsciously in a hurry to leave). Friday evening as no exception, so I made my way back to London Bridge station and caught the next train home.

This article started out about being tired of London; tired of crowds would be more appropriate. It was also about trying some of London's Craft Beer Bars. That I accomplished in part, but what I didn't accomplish was to actually try any craft beers. Perhaps I did though, in the form of the offerings I had from Redemption, Ilkley and London Fields. To me they were well-crafted, representing the best that small, dynamic,innovative and up and coming brewers have to offer. They were cask and not keg, and whilst I know I'm biased, to me that makes them better!


Tyson said...

I think you were a little unlucky as you just happened to visit at the worst time possible for those pubs. Ideally, a Saturday or Sunday afternoon would be better.

Paul Bailey said...

You are right, of course Tyson, and I have nothing against any of the pubs I visited. As you say, a return visit, at a quieter time, would be much better.

Anonymous said...

I was in the Red Cow on thursday night after the bankers had gone home.nice and quiet and the 2 Ilkley beers i tried were lovely. cheers