London, York and Norwich pubs

Over the festive period we made a few trips to a few different cities, and had a few beers when there. Here’s a pick of some great pubs that we visited in each city during our travels.

London

Old Coffee HouseLondon was the first festive trip of the season, and after a trek to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland we headed into the West End for a much deserved beer. The Old Coffee House was the first stop, a pub run by Brodie’s Brewery from Leyton and situated down Beak Street, just off Regent Street. It was pretty busy on a Saturday lunchtime, but we managed to get the last free table (we needed a sit down after all that Winter Wonderland wandering), settling down with a Brodie’s Kiwi on cask – I wanted to try their keg version but it wasn’t on unfortunately. It’s a lovely old dark wood pub, with paintings and memorabilia dotted all over the walls, lots of vintage mirrors, chandelier lamps, a couple of screens for sports, and even a guitar hanging from the ceiling just above my head. As expected, there are lots of Brodie’s beers on at the bar, both cask and keg, including the likes of Dalston Black, London Fields Pale Ale, and Bethnal Green Bitter. Kiwi IPA – almost double the strength of the session Kiwi I was drinking – was on keg also, but also not available that afternoon. We’ll be back for it!

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Craft Beer CoAnother great pub is Craft Beer Co Covent Garden, which is located at the top of Endell Street where it meets High Holborn. It’s light and contemporary, with quite a long, narrow bar area upstairs, and instead of tables (there’s no room) there are mostly bar stools lining the shelf-style tables against windows and walls – but there is a larger, smart seating area downstairs, but with a different atmosphere. There are 45 taps, cask and keg, and lots of bottles in fridges, so it’s pretty difficult to choose what to drink, and out of beers from breweries such as Burning Sky, Marble, Thornbridge and Wild Beer, I took a while to decide as we only had time to stay for one. I opted for a Siren Sound Wave IPA on keg, bursting with tropical hops – lovely. We also left with a bottle of the deliciously hoppy Port Brewing Wipeout IPA.

Exterior - Craft Beer Co Covent Garden

York

photo 2 (2)There are so many great pubs in York – a mixture of historic inns and modern tap rooms. One good one is Pivni, located close to the famous Shambles in an ancient building with lots of dark wooden beams on three floors – but despite its history, it also feels fresh and modern, and has lots of great beers on cask and keg. Over a couple of visits during the busy Christmas market period in the city we tried Victory Prima Pils, Magic Rock Acrobat, a tasty saison with apricot and tarragon, and Summer Wine Zenith, a citrussy pale ale. This pub is friendly and cosy, and one of my pubs of choice in the city.

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photo 4 (2)The York Tap is another great find. It’s a light and airy Victorian pub right next to York train station, with a oval bar in the centre and an attractive stained glass skylight. It was heaving when we arrived on the Saturday afternoon (I think a train load of football supporters had just arrived just before we did). There were mainly cask ales, and several keg beers too, including Sierra Nevada Mandatory, a beer brewed with mandarins, and a nice and easy drinking Brass Castle and York Tap collaboration, Oatmeal Pale. I also had a Summer Wine Oregon, a West Coast Pale Ale, which had tasty sherbet and citrus flavours but lacked some condition.

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Another pub which deserves a mention is Ye Old Shambles Tavern, which is, you’ve guessed it, located on the Shambles, but actually isn’t an old tavern at all – it’s only been in the guise of a pub for a year, previously just a cafe and gift shop – although you’d think there’d been a pub there for centuries. It still sells gifts, but now the walls around the small bar are covered in bottles of beer from Yorkshire breweries that you can purchase, and there are three hand pumps selling beers from Rudgate, including their own Shambles house beer. There are just a few bar stools, but there is also a cosy back room also, and if you want a beer you have to sit down to drink – that was one of the council’s odd laws when they were granting the new license. You also have to eat as well, so everyone is served complimentary sandwiches and crisps after taking a seat! There’s a food menu also. It’s a charming, atmospheric place, and I highly recommend a visit – just make sure you arrive before 9pm if you want a beer, as the door is locked at that time and they are not allowed to let anyone else in – another one of those odd laws..

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Norwich

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I’ve written about Norwich pubs several times, but there’s no harm in mentioning some again. The Mash Tun was a new one for us – this is run by the same Redwell guys who run the fantastic Tap House around the corner – it’s larger than it looks, and with exposed brickwork throughout and a clean finish, it’s a great looking contemporary pub with a big beer list. Keg beers are chalked onto a blackboard, with cask beers from breweries such as Crate on at the bar. But the main feature in the pub is the hopinator/infusinator, which on the evening we visited was crammed with mango and kiwi and had Magic Rock Acrobat running through it, so you end up with an Acrobat – which is already full of tarragon and mango flavours – infused with even more fruity delights. Delicious. We also went for a Weird Beard Five O Clock Shadow, a beautiful strong IPA loaded with resinous hops. There was no going down in ABV after that.

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Finally, we took a bus out to the Plasterers, one of our favourite pubs just slightly out of the city centre. It was all very festive and lovely, with a proper Christmas tree and lots of Crimble music playing. As usual, there was a great beer selection, including Green Jack Golden Best, Five Points Hook Island Red on keg, Brass Castle Sunshine IPA on keg (a beautiful beer from Yorkshire) and a wonderful, rich breakfast stout from Siren called Broken Dream. A fine way to end an evening!

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Published in: on December 20, 2014 at 8:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Great British Beer Festival 2012

Yesterday we headed down to London to the trade session of the Great British Beer Festival.We were slightly concerned beforehand about the transport situation, having to get to and across London in the middle of the Olympics, especially after discovering that both tube lines we intended to use were suspended or delayed due to signal failures. But by the time we arrived the District line was up and running again, so we took the tube to West Kensington then walked 10 minutes in convoy with a group of other beer enthusiasts who seemed to know the way to Olympia better than we did. Well, one of them did have the Google map app on his phone, so we trusted that he and Google both knew where they were going.
Upon reaching Olympia, the GBBF’s home for 13 years before moving to Earl’s Court in 2006, we joined the queue and waited until 12 for the doors to open. We were entertained by a hobgoblin of sorts having his photo taken with unwilling volunteers from the queue, and then the real entertainment began – the Skinners Brewery coach pulled up. Off piled the Skinners lot, with flag and Betty Stogs (one of their beers is named after the delightful – ahem – lady) accompanied by the Falmouth Marine Band who immediately started to play and march. Yes, Skinners certainly know how to make an entrance, and throughout the session the marching band would march around the venue, banging their milk churn type drums. If you didn’t know Skinners before, you most certainly do now. (Skinners Cornish Knocker is a great beer, as is Betty Stogs (the beer, that is, not the man.. sorry, I mean ‘lady’..!)).

Never having been to Olympia before, the first thing that I noticed was its glass winter-garden style ceiling – it was as if we were in a giant greenhouse, slowly sizzling away down below. It was a massive venue, although smaller than Earl’s Court, with bars, shops and food spread over two floors. I would most definitely get lost some point later. The exhibition centre was certainly big enough to house over 800 beers, ciders and perries – and they were expecting over 50,000 visitors over the 5 days. We picked up programmes and pint glasses for £3 sale or return, spotted lots of bars named after sports stars (inkeeping with the Olympic theme) and we walked around in circles in bewilderment trying to find Ruth B5 bar where the American ales were located (we didn’t realise there was a site map in the centre pages of the brochure until much later, it was far too well hidden). Like the previous year, I had made a list beforehand featuring no less than 30 US beers – I realised that some might not be available yet, being day 1, so thought with 30 I was in with a good chance of trying many of the ones on my list.

There were just 5 on from my list. Hmm. And about 10 altogether, many of which were very strong, even too strong for a third measure at that time of day. Many were oatmeal stouts and porters, which I didn’t want to drink just yet – I was saving those for later after I had dealt with the hop monsters. I decided to go first of all for a Notch Brewery Session Ale, at a manageable 4.5% for 12 pm. Pintsandpubs stocked up on bottled US and Italian beers, and we grabbed a table near the stage and sat down to drink. My Session Ale was full of juicy tropical mango hops , whilst pintsandpubs‘s Deschutes Doc Watbrown– one of our favourite breweries from Portland, Oregon – was mellow, caramelly and malty with subtle hop flavours. They know how to balance their beers, Deschutes.

After that I tried a few more US beers – the insanely tropical Sebago’s Fry’s Leap, at 5.2%, and the Lowell Beer Works Sour Red – one that I would never have tried if it wasn’t for the suggestion of Mat Wilson, the organiser of Ely Beer Festival who happened to be volunteering behind the bar there. I don’t normally like sour beers, but this one was very interesting with biscuity and sour fruit notes. At this point Eric ‘the Crafty Cockney’ Bristow took to the stage for a world record attempt for the fastest 301 game, playing against Dean Gould and Keith Deller. Keith Deller ended up beating the world record, which was pretty cool. I took a few pics and drank more beer. Then the Skinners clan sang some folk songs, then started banging their drums again and marched off, Betty leading the way. (Check out pintsandpubs’ great photo of the ‘lady’ herself).

I decided to go for a selection of English ales as my USA list was turning into an #epic fail. I went to ‘Ben’s Bar, B7 Hutton, for the wonderful Buntingford’s Hurricane, a delightfully mellow caramel malt and subtly hoppy beer – it went down a treat, as their beers generally do. I then had a Marble Lagonda IPA, a full bodied tropical hop monster at 5%.

Roger Protz announced the Champion Beers of Britain at 3pm on the stage, after being introduced by festival organiser Marc Holmes. The overall winner was Coniston No. 9 Barley Wine, at 8.5%. I really thought a weaker beer would win, just like the Oscar Wild last year, so it was a big surprise – so well done to them! Green Jack Trawlerboys Best Bitter came second, and the lovely Dark Star APA came third (I thought that one would win, actually).

After a curry that was far too spicy I needed to sort out my mashed taste buds, so I  went back to the Ruth bar and got myself a Watch City Breakfast of Champions, an espresso oatmeal milk stout – very interesting roasted sweet malty flavours. My taste  buds slowly returned to normal. This was then followed by a Brodie’s Dalston Black IPA, with massive hop aroma and flavours followed by a subtle sweet dark roasted malt aftertaste, a good one from this East London brewery. I then tried some of pintsandpubs Allgates Hopgate, and was so impressed with its sweet and nicely balanced incredible hop flavours that I went back to Ben’s Bar for some of my own. Beautiful stuff from this Wigan brewery, I will have to keep my eyes open for more of their beers. I think this was my beer of the fest.

And then, suddenly, I was all beered out. Time to get back on that tube…

There are so many beers I would still like to try, but I always leave beer festivals saying that and there’s no way to try them all when attending a festival with several hundred beers available – not even, alas, when drinking thirds. It was a great festival, and I look forward to reading the #gbbf tweets throughout the rest of the GBBF week with interest. Cheers!

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