Un-Real Ale Festival highlights new wave of London beer

Saturday last week brought my first opportunity to attend a kind of beer event that I expect will become more common in future.

The mischievously-titled Un-Real Ale Festival in North London, promoted by BrewDog’s Camden branch plus other local brewers and outlets, was described as an opportunity to sample beers “banned” from CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival this week on account of their being brewery conditioned or “keg” in the real ale drinker’s parlance.

BrewDog’s antagonism towards CAMRA is well known, the brewery seeing CAMRA’s cask- and bottle-conditioned position as shortsighted. This is a view I have a great deal of sympathy with. Modern keg is a million miles away from the filtered, pasteurised, gassed up, preservative laden (and usually under-strength) abominations that inspired CAMRA’s creation. Nowadays they’re often themselves unpasteurised and increasingly unfiltered (sometimes to the point of turbidity, see below), much in line with what CAMRA itself advocates.

That’s not to say that cask and keg are equivalent. Cask-conditioning in the pub (as well as bottle-conditioning) remains for me a peerless way – when executed to perfection – to add an extra dimension of complexity to ales (it doesn’t always work well for so-called “real lagers” in my view), especially Britain’s lower strength variations such as bitter and mild. But many (many) modern keg beers I’ve sampled, whether in Britain or abroad (check out many of the posts on this blog), have been excellent and they certainly offer outlets that aren’t geared up for “real ale” (i.e. most outside of the UK and quite a few in it) an opportunity to invigorate and participate in the global rebirth of interest beer and to spread the word.

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Pub pilgrimage: Harveys 1859 Porter at The Royal Oak, Borough

The lure of two bibulous delights took me to Southwark in south-east London a few days back. First was the lure of a bottle of the new cask strength release of Redbreast 12 year old from incomparable spirits outlet The Whisky Exchange in the Vinopolis complex near London Bridge railway station. Not one I could afford to miss being a lover of pot still Irish whiskey and this being my first opportunity to acquire an unadulterated specimen. Second, while I was in the area, was the opportunity of a couple of pints of Harveys Brewery’s exceptional, seasonal 1859 Porter in the multiple award-winning pub the The Royal Oak in Tabard Street, not far from the Northern Line tube station in the heart of The Borough itself.

My quest to acquire Irish Distillers’ latest masterpiece was, I’m glad to report, successful, and I hope to bring my impressions to bear once I get stuck in. Even if that success did mean that I’m another £70 or so down following my near-£100 acquisition a few weeks back of the latest 4.2 Comus expression of Bruichladdich Distillery’s latest mega-peated Octomore whisky, another dram I haven’t had time to sit down and contemplate just yet, despite it crying out for my attention. But I digress…

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Czech it out! Bohemian beers get my vote at GBBF as Essex is again The Only Way

Tuesday’s opening night at The Great British Beer Festival 2011 marked the 21st consecutive year that I’ve made the pilgrimage to this temple of beer. Ever since the festival made its permanent home in London, in fact, although the current event bears little resemblance to the one-off edition that began my adventure at the London Docklands Arena in 1991.CAMRA clearly learned a lot from that Dantean Inferno of an event, which – on the day I visited at least – saw most of the beers on offer dispensed at a temperature more akin to that of a brew kettle at full blast than that of a cool cellar. GBBF moved the next year to the greater expanse of Olympia where it stayed until 2005 (it’s going back in 2012) while barrel cooling jackets rapidly became de rigueur at all CAMRA festivals. The overall excellent condition of the various tipples sampled on Tuesday night at Earls Court, which would largely have passed muster in a Good Beer Guide-listed pub, is testament to the skill and knowledge that the Campaign’s volunteer army brings to the World’s biggest bar.