Sunday, 25 May 2014

Dragonfly Brewery

With so much of our attention focused on Hackney and Bermondsey, West London is an often forgotten part of the UK's most active brewing city. It shouldn't be, it's home to Fullers, arguably the most important brewery in town and deservedly popular craft upstarts Weird Beard reside in none-more-west Hanwell. For now though it's still lagging behind, certainly in quantity but definitely not in quality. 

It's a warm and sunny Thursday evening as I make my way to the newly refurbished George and Dragon on Acton High Street, home of the brand new Dragonfly Brewery. I'm struck by the sheer size of the pub when I enter. A relatively bright lounge area greets you as you walk through the doors and this extends into a cosy, candlelit wooden hall. 'Where the hell is the bar' I think to myself. It was a 10 minute walk from the Station and I've got a right thirst on. Soon my prayers are answered as I reach the back of the seating area. An old dining room houses a traditional square bar which is adorned with statues of Nymphs holding lights in their arms. At the back of this tall, spacious and airy room sits a modern brew kit, all gleaming copper and chrome. This is a truly bright and beautiful space.

I order a half of Redhook Long Hammer IPA and join my friends as this beers citrus nuances start to wash away the toils of the day. We discuss how the low lit interior of the lounge reminds us of the sprawling old pubs of York. This is a place I could quite happily sit in and while away several hours of my day. A plaque sits on one wall detailing the names of landlords as far back as 1759. This former coach house has a supposedly colourful past, apparently being frequented by dangerous highwaymen and robbers during the 18th century. Tonight instead of rogues and highwaymen (well, there were a few rogues present) the George and Dragon is playing host to food and beer writers. 

The Dragonfly Brewery is headed by award winning Master Brewer Conor Donoghue and they are currently producing four different beers on keg and cask. Two O'Clock Ordinary is a cask only best bitter that reminds me of some of the top bitters produced in the South East. It's slightly sweet with flavours of ripe plums and golden syrup, it has a nice bitter finish with a drying touch of white pepper. I only had a half to taste but this is a beer that demands to be drank by the pint (Justin Mason was quite taken by this beer, you can read his account here.)

I move on to Early Doors an American style pale ale that's available on cask and keg. I start with the cask version and it's simply drenched with the classic grapefruit flavours provided by cascade hops. It's a little cloying on cask but the extra fizz and lower temperature of the keg version gives this beer a leg up. This is really good, so good in fact it reminds me quite a bit of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale at its best. It's pin bright and the flavours are clean and distinctive, this is my kind of beer.

Also available on both cask and keg is Dark Matter which is described to us as a dry stout with bite. On this occasion I prefer the cask version as opposed the keg version which is served under nitrogen for a classic, creamy mouth feel. It's got a decent amount of stone fruit and chocolate in the mix, it's definitely another good beer. Perhaps the nicest thing about Dark Matter is that Guinness has been shunned for a stout that's brewed in house so it'll be easy to switch fans of the black stuff on to this.

Finally I get myself a half of Achtung! This German style hefeweizen has soft notes of banana and clove with a distinctive prickly hop finish. I usually prefer my wheat beers to have more pronounced esters and less hop bitterness but this was still a decent drop. All four house beers were well made and in great condition, there wasn't a drop of London murky to be seen which will certainly keep the purists happy. In fact there's enough at the George and Dragon to keep the entire gamut of beer drinkers amused with draught offerings such as the aforementioned Redhook IPA, Lindemans Kriek, six cask lines and a good range of bottled beer. It's the house beer that'll keep people coming back though especially with the promise of a larger range of Dragonfly beers being available in the not too distant future. 

The George and Dragon is an incredibly easy pub to relax and enjoy yourself in and that's the main reason that'll draw me back to this fantastic space. A great range of American style eats such as burgers and hot dogs is available as well as inspired range of bar snacks. I could have eaten the beer battered black pudding (made using the Dark Matter stout) until my innards had become fois gras. This brewpub that effortlessly fuses the vintage and the modern parts of the current British beer scene is certainly a very welcome addition to West London.

The George and Dragon and Dragonfly Brewery is now open and located at 183 High St, London, W3 9DJ. Many thanks to the staff at the George for hosting a great evening and to Anastasia at Kapranos PR for inviting me down. Original photography by Dianne Tanner

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Serious Pig

I've a confession to make, I'm secretly addicted to Peperami. Something about those cheap, greasy, almost sausages provides a certain satisfaction as well as taking the edge off after a few too many thirds of craft the night before. So you can imagine my delight when the folk at Serious Pig asked if I'd like some samples of their porcine meat snacks.

The Serious Pig range currently consists of four different varieties of salty pig flesh. The Scratch is their take on the pub staple, pork scratchings whilst Snackling is literally a bag of crackling that comes in plain, smokey bacon and sage and onion flavours. For jerky fans there is Snackingham which is air dried ham pieces and finally there is Snacking Salami which is essentially a posh Peperami and is available in classic or chilli and paprika flavour.

I've tried and enjoyed a few of Serious Pigs upmarket snacks before at Gospel Oak's The Southampton Arms and Brewdog Camden and remember enjoying them. I then had to figure out a way of fitting them neatly into my blog, this is about beer not dried and cured pork after all. I devised what I thought was a simply ingenious plan. I would pair each snack with a carefully chosen beer and then I'd invite my friends around and make them eat bits of pig while tasting the beers blind to see if they agreed with my choices. Imagine their joy when the smoky bacon dust that tops the Snackling mingles with the dry, woody tones of Orval. Oh, how they'd enjoy themselves and reward me with praise for enhancing their very lives!

I soon realised that this was a terrible idea. The point of delicious meaty treats like these is that you don't really think about them. Pub snacks are designed to fill the void between lunch and dinner when you fancy something salty to keep you going mid session. Hell, you might even treat yourself to a second pack and skip dinner whilst you drink long into the night, who am I to judge.

Then it struck me, I was attending a BBQ at my friends Bek and Dan's place in honour of Dan's birthday. I asked Bek (who blogs her excellent recipes over at if I could hijack the party and force small packets of meat on the rest of their guests. Bek being a huge fan of meat agreed wholeheartedly with my plan. I brought a case of Camden Hells Lager and Brewdog Punk IPA with me to sweeten the deal and to help the guests wash down their salty meat treats.

We got stuck into the Snackling first and we found the plain a little bit, well, plain. It's quite a dry snack and this needed a little more salt to make it more interesting. The smoky bacon was nice, they tasted like Frazzles but instead of crisps you were eating actual pig skin. The real treat was the sage and onion, this worked beautifully, I could've eaten a whole sack of these washed down with pint after pint of Camden Hells and everyone else seemed to agree.

I love a bit of jerky, I would kill to be able to get hold of Jack Links in this country, especially the teriyaki flavour. The Snackingham was really good, it's much more tender than beef jerky which on one hand is good because it melts in the mouth but there is something satisfying about chewing away on a decent piece of air dried beef. People didn't seem to enjoy this as much as the sage and onion snackling but it didn't last long so it was obviously appreciated.

The Scratch are classic pub style pork scratchings, rich and salty with just enough fat to stop them being too dry. It was also nice not to find any hairy ones, I always hate getting a bag of scratchings only to find they haven't been shaved. Finally we got into the Snacking Salami. I loved these, the classic had loads of black pepper running through it which I really liked but the highlight of the whole Serious Pig range was the chilli and paprika. I could've eaten a great length of this, the paprika added some smoke to the juicy meat and the chilli gave it just the right amount of kick. It went beautifully with the growler of Great Divide Titan IPA I was knocking back at the time.

What was also interesting, for me at any rate, was watching a non beer geek crowd getting stuck into the Punk as opposed to the Hells. Times (and palates) are a changing.

Serious Pig snacks are popping up at pubs all over London and beyond, you can check them out at and you can follow them on twitter over at @SeriousPig. Thanks again to the lovely people at Serious Pig for supplying me with lots of tasty meat.

Original Photography by Dianne Tanner. Although I was given these snacks for free I don't think that influenced my opinion of them. 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Isis and Tamesis

Based at Frilsham Home Farm in the village of Yattendon, the West Berkshire Brewery have won more than 30 awards for their traditional British brews since they opened their doors in 1995. Their German style pilsner and extra stout take their names from the gods that are said to inhabit the river Isis and the river Thames which both flow through the county from which this brewery takes its name. Effigy's of these river gods are cast onto sticky back parchment and then gracefully attached to the bottles that contain these elixirs but are they as godlike as their titles would suggest?

Isis is brewed in homage to the light, crisp pilsners of Bavaria and does not disappoint. It pours a clear, straw yellow with a tight white head and lots of lively carbonation. The inviting aroma is of rolled oats and freshly cut grass. This lager is as satisfying as it is refreshing, the interplay between the honey sweetness and the nettle-y, herbal bitterness from the German hops is spot on. Above all the flavours are balanced, clean and distinctive. This is indeed a very accomplished pilsner that exists to be sank by the gallon in sunny beer gardens. This would pair beautifully with a hot and spicy curry, as also suggested on this beers label.

Where Isis is an excellent example of its style Tamesis sadly falls short. It dubs itself an 'extra stout' but reminds me more of a rich, dark best bitter such as Adnams Broadside. Although it appears dark and stout-like in the glass holding it up to the light reveals the true crimson red colour of this beer. It produces Autumn like aromas of stone fruit and brambles but I'm getting very little of the roasted coffee bean qualities I expect from a stout. The taste is of slightly unripe plums and blackberries with a little stewed rhubarb also thrown into the mix. There's a pleasing grassy bitterness on the finish and it's very drinkable but it all feels a bit too wishy-washy to be dubbed a stout. This is a tasty beer that would probably be at its best on cask but after being so impressed by Isis, Tamesis has let me down a touch.

I would drink Isis again in a heartbeat if I saw it on draught, I also think as a lager it may fare better in smaller bottles rather than the half litre it comes packaged in. The jury is still out on Tamesis but it's better than your average supermarket beer. It's got good flavour but just doesn't tick my 'stout' boxes.

Thanks to the West Berkshire brewery for sending me these beers. They were free but I don't think that influenced my opinion of them. Original photography by Dianne Tanner

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Best Pulled Pork I Ever Had

The following is a short story pieced together from experiences over the last four years. Some of it is true, some of it may not be completely true but it's exactly how I choose to remember it. 

I remember the very first time I ate pulled pork like it was yesterday. I was a few days in to my first trip to the States, my first trip to Fort Collins, Colorado where my Dad had taken up a new job. It was a dry and hot day in July and we had retreated to the back of Lucky Joe's Sidewalk Saloon so we could cool ourselves down with air conditioning and cold beers. As you enter the dark, wooden interior of Lucky Joe's the custom is to scoop a handful of peanuts from the barrels by the front door. Empty shells crunch underfoot as you work your way through the Irish-influenced interior. Joe's is well worn but in good nick, a stage for bands is right at the back but it was the middle of the day so there was no live music to entertain us. It was almost empty so we sat ourselves down in a quiet corner and ordered food and drinks. 

One thing that struck me about food in America, or Colorado at least was the size of the portions. The fridge back at our hotel was piled high with 'to-go' boxes because almost every meal I had ordered, even sandwiches at lunchtimes were gargantuan tributes to the gods of food themselves. I pondered if the mortals that lived here ever managed to finish their dinner. For the first time on this trip though I managed to eat every last bite of my pulled pork sandwich. Forget everything else, this sandwich was about two things, the harmonious union between meat and sauce. The pork was lightly smoked, succulent and juicy, I'd never knowingly eaten pork cooked solely in a smoker before but it was that zingy, sweet yet sour and slightly spicy barbecue sauce that lifted everything to another level. I relished every mouthful which was in turn washed down with a cold pint or two of New Belgium Fat Tire. 

Fat Tire is to me an interesting beer. I mean it doesn't really taste very interesting but the concept of it fascinates me. It's everywhere in America, New Belgium are the country’s third largest craft* brewery after all. I guess in a way it's like their own version oDoom Barnot brilliant but better than most other things on the bar, if you like beer anyway. It's interesting because on my first trip to the States I loved it, I couldn't get enough of its biscuity, bready amber-ness with just enough citrus hop bitterness to make it more interesting than most of the things I'd tried back home. What's also interesting is that it's the most brewed beer (by volume at least) by a brewery that specialises in brewing new world takes on traditional Belgian style beers. If you've tried their Abbey or Tripel then you know how good they are at this and don't get me started on their simply exceptional La Folie sour brown ale. It's like Rodenbach Grand Cru on steroids. These days when I drink Fat Tire, my usual response is 'meh'. I, like many of you am an unfortunate victim of Lupulin Threshold Shift** but after each bite of that rich, delicious pulled pork sandwich each sip of that light amber ale was pure refreshment heaven. 

That wasn't the best pulled pork I've ever had though, I wouldn't experience that taste sensation for another two years. In that time, I changed as a person. I became madly obsessed with beer, it's all I talked about so I started writing about it in order to try and get some of the lust out of my system. That didn't work, still I rambled on at anyone who I at least thought was listening. Perhaps the same level of obsession wasn't there so I didn't notice it as much but I was starting to become as critical of my food as I was with my beer. When I had that first bite of pulled pork back in 2010 I thought to myself 'hey, this could really catch on back home!' It didn't surprise me when American style BBQ 'joints' (for that is apparently what we call restaurants these days) started springing up all over the place. 

I was excited by the emergence of these new places to eat and the new found British love for American food. I would get to eat all of the things that I enjoyed to eat when in the USA all of the time. Reubens***! Pulled Pork! Burgers that actually taste of something! Dollar oysters! OK, so we still need to sort out the dollar oysters (and deep fried Catfish for that matter) but other than that a new generation were becoming obsessed with what you could do to a good piece of meat. So I started to go to in these places and eat their meat. Damn, I had some good burgers and hell, there is no better cut of meat than a rib of beef and no one smokes a rib quite like Duke's Brew and Cue but why was I not getting the same joy from all the pulled pork I was trying over here? 

Over the next two years I'd started visiting my Dad in Colorado whenever I could. The USA is a wonderful place to visit but I'm far too entwined in the glorious intricacies of London to ever emigrate myself. I can't remember if it was my third or fourth trip but I was starting to feel like an experienced air traveller as well as a seasoned beer enthusiast. Gone were my days of Fat Tire and now the first beer was always Odell IPA. Unlike Fat Tire, my flame that burns for Odell IPA still shines brightly. So much clean grapefruit and mango flavour over a pronounced bready sweetness that's cleaned up by a sharp, dry, hop bitterness. Make no mistake this beer is underrated by too many, this is one of the best examples of the style in the world. 

I must have been two nights into this trip because I had a stonking hangover. I know this because the first night I always go in hard with so much good beer there for the drinking but the flight takes it out of me and I'm usually in bed before I've even given myself the chance to get tipsy. The second night I always manage to go in hard, there's usually more beer on offer than I know what to do with and I feebly attempt to drink as much of it as possible. Then I start on the whisky. Some people say that the mile high altitude of Colorado gets you drunk faster but I don't think this is the case. I for one seem to get drunk at the same speed I always get drunk. The altitude does affect you though, precious oxygen is in short supply and those that have been on Mountain Standard Time will surely have experienced what I like to call 'the dryness'. Waking up at 3am, clutching wildly at the air in the hope of finding a glass of water as your mouth feels like it's starting to disintegrate inside your head. 

Then there's the hangovers. Those gut wrenching, cranium shattering, soul destroying high altitude hangovers that completely stop you in your tracks. You'll be cursing the primeval forces that smashed those two continental plates together forcing the Rocky Mountains and High Plains to soar skywards which in turn had the knock on effect of you being barely able to stand in the shower and wash away the shame of the night before. Yes I was definitely two nights into this trip. 

My girlfriend Dianne is obsessed with tat. She'll be scowling as she reads this but inside she knows that she cannot wait to find some more tat to gather dust on our shelves. I must confess that I actually like that she likes tat. I'm far too lazy to bother decorating our tiny North London flat so if we have a bit of shelf or a corner of bookcase that looks a bit too empty she will at some point locate an ideal piece of tat to occupy it. My Dad was driving us down Antique Alley, the southernmost stretch of College Avenue, the main road that runs north to south through Fort Collins. Here there lies at least a mile of thrift, junk and second hand stores each with their own mountain of tat for Dianne to sift through. There I was, hangover raging, being incredibly dutiful while the love of my life pored through each and every corner of these flea markets. She didn't even really want to buy anything, she wanted to take photographs which made sense, she's very good at taking photographs**** and there was a lot of cool shit lying around just asking to be snapped. 

It wasn't that bad, in fact I found that these stores were all quite interesting in their own quirky way. A lot of them had old, useless, beat up guitars that looked cool but were almost unplayable. One had a really knackered looking Fender Bassman guitar amplifier that was far more than I could afford but would have loved to own. One thing that all of these stores had in common was that they had free coffee, some of them even had free biscuits (cookies, they called them) so I was happily plodding along topping up my sugar and caffeine levels as we roamed around. Dad had promised that when we got to the end of Antique Alley we would all meet up and have lunch aCrazy Jack's the diner at the very end of the street. There, I thought, lied my salvation. I was one pint away from being completely fixed or totally fucked but right then and there I didn't really care. 

As we neared the end of our shopping experience (Dianne had purchased a surprising amount of dead animal parts) I went outside to wait for her to finish. This was a bad idea as in the baking Sun the dryness began to return. If I didn't get a pint down me soon it would be curtains I was sure of that. Thankfully my Dad rolled up in his shiny Lincoln SUV and drove us the rest of the distance to Crazy Jack's. Outside there was a big sign that simply said '$1 PBR' and for a moment it looked like my salvation might be cold and almost tasteless but thankfully it wasn't to be. Jack's was as typical as any American roadside diner could be, there were faux red leather-bound booths down one side, circular aluminium tables with bar stools in the centre, a Wurlitzer jukebox and a few pool tables. The only other party occupying the diner seemed to be a table full of older looking students, older than 21 at any rate as they were supping cold pints of PBR and munching on hot wings. 

Eventually the server came to take our order and I inevitably asked what beers were on tap. "We've got dollar PBR plus Coors Light, Bud Light, Fat Tire and Easy Street." I contemplated the Odell Easy Street, a light American wheat beer that doesn't get exported to the UK. "We've also got a New Belgium Seasonal tap which just changed and it's a beer called Dig, I think it's quite hoppy." Minutes later a pint of Dig was flung my way. I must confess I'd tried a bottle of this the day before so already knew that it featured, amongst others, glorious Nelson Sauvin, Cascade and Sorachi Ace hop varieties and boy it showed. There was grapefruit, of course there was grapefruit but alongside this was wonderful passion fruit, gooseberry and just a hint of lemongrass. It's another not very Belgian beer from New Belgium but when they taste this good who cares! 

Hangover? What hangover. 

I'd been concentrating solely on beer, of course I had and so I'd ordered a pulled pork sandwich plus some fries without really thinking about it while I was enthusing about my pint of Dig. It turned up looking pretty ordinary, liquid pig fat was oozing out of a sesame seed bun and into a paper lined red plastic basket. I ate a couple of fries, took a sip of my beer and then casually bit into the bun. This was something else, a eureka moment, the very essence of salt, pepper and mesquite had been magically infused into this meat that was the perfect texture, the perfect consistency but that wasn't all. The home-made barbecue sauce lifted it to another plain entirely. It cut through the fat and added zing and zest and spice. I practically inhaled it and within minutes it was gone. When our server came to collect our empty baskets I told her that was the best pulled pork I'd ever had so she went and got the owner, Crazy Jack***** himself and I told him that was the best pulled pork I'd ever had. 

'Jack' was thrilled and perhaps a little perplexed that a party of Brits had descended on his diner and told him that he cooks the best pulled pork they'd ever had. He was obviously taken back by these compliments so decided to take us out back and show us his smoker (not a euphemism.) He told us how he chooses the finest pork shoulder he can get his hands on, he told us how he embalms the meat with spices and seasoning before slow smoking it with mesquite for sixteen hours. SIXTEEN HOURS. He then went on for quite some time about his interest in British history, especially the wars. A few too many "Dub-ya, Dub-ya'slater and the soothing effect of the beer was starting to wear off. I was desperate to go for a bit of a lie down. Eventually we bid our goodbyes to Crazy Jack. I've been back once since, I had the pulled pork, it was brilliant but not quite like that first time. I don't think it'll ever be quite that good again. It was as much about the moment as it was about the meat. 

I've still never had great pulled pork on this side of the Atlantic. I've had some decent shoulder, ribs, belly and knuckle, in fact some of it has been really, really good but not slow smoked for 16 hours over mesquite by a magician good. My main disappointment is always the barbecue sauce, iBritain it's either not good enough or not there at all. Why would you serve pulled pork without barbecue sauce? It's like having a hot dog with no ketchup or mustard or roast beef without gravy and horseradish, it lifts the dish. I don't understand why there is no barbecue sauce. Those that served it with sauce at least made the effort but many attempts fell short with the sauce being sickly sweet or too acidic. It's too late for me now though, I've changed, I've moved on. Vietnamese cuisine is what I'm all about now. I can't stop thinking about deep, spicy bowls of Pho with lashings of lime and coriander. Imagine that paired with a crisp and drSaison Dupont, just imagine, there you go. 

Over the past two decades beer has been changed forever. We're riding a big wave now and yes one day it will crash when the fad drinkers move on but when that happens there will be a lot more people still swimming than you'd expect. I'm not sure that American barbecue will hold up as well in the UK as craft beer though, mostly because it's not American enough. Obviously it will hold up in America because over there it's just barbecue, it's not a concept, not a gimmick, it's just how they've been cooking food for years on end. Americans are the masters of meat, they'll be chomping down on braised brisket and pulled pork until Ragnarok comes. Meanwhile we fickle Londoners will all soon be balls deep in noodle soup and using summer rolls as a makeshift flotation device. 


*The Brewers Association of America denotes that a 'Craft' brewery is one that brews less than 6 million barrels of beer per year. It used to be 2 million but they move the goalposts every time a certain Boston based brewing organisation expands its capacity. 

**Lupulin Threshold Shift or as no one ever calls it 'LTS' is a condition wherein your tolerance to very bitter beer increases the more you expose yourself to it. I have exposed myself to so much hop bitterness that I now only drink beer that has been dry hopped with Uranium rods.

***Forget what you know, the best Reuben in the world is the Colorado Buffalo Reuben from Choice City Butcher & Deli in Fort Collins. I will fight anyone who disagrees with me. 

****All of the wonderful photographs on this post were shot on real, actual film by Dianne and if you really like them you can buy them as prints! Just visit her website for details. 

*****He did tell us his real name and it wasn't Jack or Crazy Jack but despite being able to remember how good a sandwich I ate two years ago tasted I am unable to recall something so simple as a person’s name. I do remember thinking he wasn't particularly crazy, by my standards at least.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Sixpoint Hi-Res

When Brooklyn's Sixpoint Brewery announced that they would be making three of their beers available via the 900 plus J. D. Wetherspoon outlets around the UK I was a little skeptical. Why had the one of the hippest craft breweries in the US teamed up with a pub chain that many of us, myself included associate as being stuffy, old-hat and beige?   

The connection just didn't click and I couldn't see this partnership working but now that the cans have been available for a few weeks I've come to realise what a smart move this was from both parties. As well as giving Sixpoint a massive amount of exposure in the UK this has also very slightly upped the cool factor of the Wetherspoons chain. The real winner here though, is the consumer as they now have access to three good American beers at a great price. In particular Bengali Tiger is a great American IPA and being available for as low as £1.99 (it's currently on special offer in some pubs) is significantly cheaper than a comparable beer such as Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale which is considerably more expensive at around £4.00 a can.

Time will tell if this union is sustainable, I for one hope it is as surely if there is evidence of demand then Sixpoint will make some of their rarer and more exciting beers available on these shores. Hi-Res, their triple IPA is one of these beers. Right now the only way to guarantee getting hold of this once-annually brewed beer is to head to New York shortly after its release. Building on their Double IPA, Resin, Hi-Res appears to be an absolute monster weighing in at 11.1% ABV and 111 IBUs. This is surely one for the most ardent of hop heads out there.

The slender gold can which to me resembles a can of energy drink opens with a satisfying hiss and the ruby/amber liquid glides into my glass producing a nice finger of off white foam. I'm already getting a lot of fruit cake and alcohol before I've really stuck my nose in but there's definitely a hint of mango as well as a massive whack of pine resin in there.

I have to admit after tasting some great hop forward Triple IPAs with very delicate malt profiles so far this year (Four Horsemen Hopocalypse, Magic Rock UnHuman Cannonball) I was expecting more of the same from this Sixpoint effort but I couldn't have been further from the truth. This was much more like a dry hopped barley wine, similar in fact to Avery Brewing's excellent Hog Heaven or Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA. I tasted a nice bit of mango juice at the start but this was soon followed by raisins, sultanas and a dry boozy note reminiscent of a good Oloroso sherry. It was only at the finish that the real heft of the hops kicked in with a massive bitter grapefruit and pine resin smack to the chops that was then smoothed out by the warming alcohol. 

My experience of Hi-Res was one of a boozy, late night sipper but I can imagine that at its freshest those juicy, resinous hops would be much more pronounced. If stored well this would surely evolve into an even more complex barley wine but you'd be doing those hops a disservice if you did such a thing, if you have some, drink it now.

Huge thanks to @TheAleTrail and @DassieGirl1 for sending me this can, I owe you both a pint! 

Saturday, 3 May 2014


When BrewDog announced that they were opening an off licence premises in Central London I have to admit I got a little bit excited. The Scottish brewery have connections to some of the best breweries in the world and don't do things by halves so I was looking forward to having potentially a huge selection of world class beers available practically on my door step. When they revealed that it would be located on Grays Inn Road which runs between Kings Cross and Holborn I grew increasingly excited as it really would be quite handy for me. I'm sure I heard my wallet let out a muted whimper at this point.

As I made my way from Euston Station through Bloomsbury I mused as to why they chose this location which isn't an area I'd associate with the burgeoning London craft beer scene. It soon became apparent as I dodged office workers, tourists and students alike. This area was picked because it was already ripe with punters and this is a destination store, people will travel from all over the city and beyond to get here if the shelves are stocked as well as I was led to believe.

At my brisk pace it takes me about 20 minutes to complete the walk from Euston and I'm soon stood outside the plain grey exterior of Bottledog. It echoes the simpler approach that they've taken with their Shepherd's Bush and Sheffield bars and I like it. It's classy and shows a developing maturity. There's a lovely hand painted window display luring you in and I can see that there are quite a few punters inside, it's busier than your average offy

The counter is immediately on your left as you walk in, the right hand side wall is adorned with fridges, and on the left are some shelves neatly stacked with an astonishing array of brews. I think BrewDog have missed a trick here though, they had the chance to be the first completely refrigerated bottle shop in Britain and this could have shaken things up but it's a good start at least. The first thing that struck me was how big the shop actually is, a huge wooden table sits proudly in the centre of the room which extends back much further than you'd think. It still feels slightly unfinished but when I visited the shop it hadn't even been open a week so you'd expect it to need a bit longer to hit its stride.

Naturally the shelves are piled high with BrewDog beers, all are very reasonably priced too with Punk being £1.90 a bottle and the excellent Jackhammer being £2.60. There's also a great selection of BrewDog's limited release beers, I made sure to pick myself up a bottle of the new Paradox Imperial Stout that had been aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. Mikkeller are also incredibly well represented which is to be expected as Brewdog are the sole UK distributor for this brand, I was happy to pick up some Beer Geek Breakfast, an old favourite.

It wasn't surprising to see lots of great American craft beer and the sheer volume of great US brews had me quivering with joy. Oskar Blues, Great Divide, Clown Shoes, Green Flash and Flying Dog are just some examples, I even spotted some bottles of 2012 Goose Island Bourbon County hiding on the shelves. It's not just America that's so well showcased though, there is an excellent range of classic German and Belgian beers such as Scherlenkerla, Boon and Orval. In fact on the opening day there were even some elusive bottles of Westvleteren 12 available for sale. Fear not, UK craft brewers are also present with Kernel and Partizan being two of the more prominent examples. This small selection I've written about barely scratches the surface however and if they can keep up these levels of stock then there are going to be a lot of London beer geeks with full fridges and empty bank accounts.

In addition to a range of about 250 different bottles there is also a growler filling station with two lines (soon to be expanded to four) pouring both BrewDog and guest beers. I bought a one litre growler (two litres are also available) for a fiver and my fill of Pressure Drop Pale Fire cost me about £9. The growler fills are pressurized so the beer will keep for a week before you need to drink it. As well as beer there is a range of soft drinks from Hackney's excellent Square Root, there's no wine or spirits available but some more boutique spirits from the likes of Mikkeller may make an appearance in the future. As well as ready made booze Bottledog sells everything you need to make your own with one fridge chock full of vacuum packed hops and little vials of yeast, sacks of malt are piled high at the back of the store. This adds yet another dimension to Bottledogs offering which makes it more than 'just' an off licence.

The thing that struck me most about Bottledog is how great a space it is and I think this is what lifts it above a lot of other beer outlets. There is room here for tasting sessions, bottle share clubs, beer schools and home brew classes. It's hardly revolutionary though as stores such as Leeds' Beer Ritz have already been doing this kind of thing for years but it certainly means that other London beer retailers will have to raise their game. At the moment it feels like that Bottledog have so many options they're not quite sure what to do with all that room yet but I have a feeling when they figure it out it'll be a great place to spend a lot of time and worryingly for my sake, all of my wages.