Beer + Burger, King’s Cross, London, 2019

I’ve been here at least 4 times this year. It is now my “pre train home” dinner stop, following a tip off on Twitter back in January. When I find myself in London for a day or more, I prefer to catch a train home around 8:30 in the evening (much less crowded, not so many rude commuters, and much cheaper). This usually means that dinner is required before getting on the train.

Beer + Burger is located around the Coal Drops Yard area of King’s Cross, between Granary Square and York Way, an area which has been massively regenerated over recent years. There are even more buildings going up right now.

Beer + Burger combines two of my very favourite things, and it does them both very well. Around 20 contiunally changing taps of keg beer, plus fantastically well stocked fridges combine with a simple burger menu (cheese, double cheese, bacon cheese, chicken, vegan, monthly special) and a few sides (fries, wings, pickles, coleslaw, gravy, jalapenos) and a couple of desserts.

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All very simple and unpretentious. Arrive, find a seat (mostly long shared benches), order beers and burgers. The food comes over to you when it’s ready.

Most beers come in halves, some in thirds, two thirds and pints. This is the only area where they sometimes trip up – if you ask for a measure other than the advertised one, they can get themselves in a bit of a mess over how to charge for it, or even if they can.

You can view the beer menu on Untappd before you arrive, and you’ll find lagers, sours, witbiers, IPAs, double IPAs, saisons, pale ales, stouts and porters all represented. The hardest part is choosing which ones to sample in your limited visiting time. I’ve had some absolute crackers this year, including North x Other Half DIPA, Northern Monk Patrons Project 16.02, Cloudwater AW18 Belgian Plum and Howling Hops Jantelagen.

It is the perfect combination of great burgers and great beers (and ciders if that’s your thing).

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I’ve also been to the O2 (Millennium Dome in old money) branch in Greenwich. Same idea, different seating (higher benches) and different food pick up (you get the vibrating light up coaster things). There are also branches in Dalston, Notting Hill and Willesden.

Recommended if you’re looking for a great beer and a great burger in any of these areas of London. This branch is also handy for King’s Place, the nearby arts venue where some of your favourite podcasts might do live recordings.

The Needle & Pin craft beer club – dark beer selection box #16 – August 2019

Despite the recent deluges, flooding, abandoned international scout and guide camps, dams bursting and everything else, it’s still summer. However, there’s always a place for some big dark beers in your cold storage area, and most of these ones are absolute units, great for sharing with friends around the camp fire when the nights are cooling a little. This is the first dark beer selection to be exclusively all cans.

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Abbeydale – Methuselah – 10.5%

An absolutely huge Imperial Stout which has been finished in wooden ex-whisky barrels. Big, bold and boozy – a hugely full bodied malt-driven stout with a hint of Brett funkiness on the nose and just enough tartness to provide balance on the palate. Sumptuously smooth and strikingly robust.

Box Social – Union Black Jamaican Stout – 6%

Based around Skindred’s fourth album, 2011’s Union Black, this beer is full of soul and flavour. Allspice and vanilla give an unctuous sweetness which plays against the roasted notes of coffee and dark chocolate from the malt. Vegan friendly, so that all of the members of the band could enjoy it, this stout is full bodied, rich and moreish.

Polly’s Brew Co –  Cassie – 7%

Everything about this beer is all about decadence – from the silky mouthfeel, to the 10kg of Arabica coffee beans that were added. Cassie rocks up with a metric tonne of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, and raisin notes. Cassie, named for the horse that occupied Polly’s stable before Polly, is the biggest beer that Polly’s (formerly Loka Polly) have ever brewed.

Northern Monk – Patrons Project 17.03 – Pete’s Dark Past – 7%

To accentuate hints of biscuit, the grist contains plenty of munich malt; a more heavily kilned German base malt with a prominent flavour, plus some lightly roasted amber malt which compliments and offers notes of toast and cinder toffee. This is backed up by light crystal and Special B to add depth and dark fruit character, chocolate roast malt, plenty of flaked oats and maltodextrin to build out the body.

To recreate the outer layer of a chocolate bar, they added a load of lactose and a touch of vanilla for the basis of that classic milk chocolate flavour. They then went even further adding chocolate during fermentation and copious amounts of caramel late fermentation to boost the ABV and add a decadent dessert sweetness to this rich, deep brown stout. Twix in a glass!!

Pressure Drop – Escape Pod – 10%

Polish your diamonds & find your fanciest hat, because this collaboration is quite a lot
of luxury. Pressure Drop have wanted to brew an intense milk stout for a while, and the Left Handed Giant crew know what they are doing around milk sugars and lactose. If you’re going big on a milk stout, you might as well take it all the way to massive. Escape Pod is maxed out with vanilla, coconut and cacao nibs. Brewed with milk sugars, it is smooth and shamelessly sweet.

Stillwater – Thsi Iiis Nlya Tst 006 – 8%

Yes, it’s really called that. A collaborative brew with Oliver Brewing Co and Ceremony Coffee, both of Baltimore. They all joined together to make a cappuccino stout brewed with coffee, cocoa, vanilla and milk sugar. The beer needs a gentle shake before opening to release the nitrogen to create a silky smooth finish.

Fuller’s and Friends 2019 “box set”

The 2017 Fuller’s and Friends box set was a set of collaboration brews that had piqued quite a lot of peoples’ interest. Some of the biggest UK brewery names in the form of Cloudwater Brew Company, Fourpure Brewing Company, Hardknott Brewery (sadly now defunct), Marble Beers Limited, Moor Beer Company and Thornbridge Brewery were all invited to brew a beer with Fuller’s. I think Galleon was probably my favourite.

Everyone was looking forward to the next set of collaborations, whenever they may come. Then in January 2019, Fuller’s sold their entire drinks business to Asahi for £250,000,000 in order to concentrate on running its chain of pubs and hotels. So there was a bit of a backlash, as there has been every time a brewery has been bought by another one over the last couple of years.

The dust has settled, so let’s have a look at the new set, available in your local Waitrose. This year, it is actually available, rather than the myth that the first box set became (it took quite a while to acutally get out into the wild). This year the beers are also available in Fuller’s pubs on cask and keg (I’ve already had one in Greenwich).

Let’s have a look inside…

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Misprized – Magic Rock

Mild – an undervalued beer style? Not anymore. A celebration of this classic English style, with some tweaks on a traditional recipe from 1920 by adding rum barrel oak chips to give a sweet, nutty depth of flavour. This is the one that I had in The Pilot in Greenwich and I don’t think they had kept it well as it was rather meh.

Respect your Elders – Tiny Rebel

Old brewery meets new brewery and bonds over their mutual appreciation of ESB – that’s the story behind this beer, which gives the classic style a contemporary tropical twist. With a trio of new world hops, this malty, marmaladey beer beautifully bridges the generation gap.

Kroke – Mack

Named after the Norse word for ‘Crowberries’, the sloes come fresh from the Arctic Circle and give this lager a slight tartness to offset its sweet, honeyed notes. Learning from Viking tradition, dried meadowsweet is used to add a slight bitterness to this crisp, pale gold lager.

Love on the Run – Woodstock

This hop-forward IPA is the perfect marriage of London town and Cape Town. The African Queen hop and native African cereal Sorgham are combined with British Olicana and Bramling Cross hops. Fresh blackcurrant and lemongrass aromas offset a dry, earthy malt base in what is a very sessionable IPA.

Way Down Ale – Stone and Wood

A trio of Tasmanian hops – including an unnamed experimental hop – combine to create a beautifully balanced beer, full of tropical fruit flavours. A fitting homage to Tasmania’s hop growers.

Huvvy Dug – Pilot

A Caledonian classic, this Wee Heavy is made using six malts – with not a new world hop in sight. Smooth caramel and biscuit notes come to the fore in this rich, full-bodied ale. Huvvy Dug? Well because it’s ‘huvvy like a huvvy dug’ of course.

Brewdog fanzine issue 25

Remember these round ups? There hasn’t been one since October, when BD stopped updating their web site with details of what was being sent out. It obviously existed electronically because they still had a print out in the box. However, they were not interested in sending this out to subscribers. During this time, they’ve also stripped it back to a monthly box, but at least they’ve kept the price the same so far.

I think that Transatlantic Telegram and Old World Russian Stout (which featured in that October box) have been my favourites in the last six months or so. Here’s what’s in the July box…

Humulus Helmsman (5.6%) – West Coast IPA

Setting a course for the West Coast with some true American muscle. Seven different US hops have been deployed to proudly fly the flag for America’s favourite craft beer style in Humulus Helmsman – Simcoe, Cascade, Citra, Centennial, Ahtanum, Mosaic and Chinook. A who’s who of IPA, all involved in this tropical, citrus and pine-led new world hero. I have very high hopes for this one, so let’s hope it’s as good as the description might lead us to believe.

Coffee Caramel Curfew (5.0%) – Caramel Macchiato Coffee Porter

Get off the streets and take refuge with this night-black porter, brewed with five different malts and five different additions. You’ll find milk sugars, honey, Demerara sugar, vanilla and coffee pairing with crystal and dark malts to create a smooth, roasty coffee and chocolate porter with notes of mellow Macchiato and a sweet nuttiness. Another one that sounds very good, and nice to see they’ve included two below 6% for once.

Pulp Patriot V4 (9.5%) – Single Hop Double IPA

I really hope this is better than the first two that I had. V1 and V2 didn’t have much more than strength going for them. It’s about time that I had V3, because then I can have this one which is a tribute to Mosaic, introduced into the whirlpool and at the dry-hop stage. This single-hopped superpower is a classic Mosaicathon – tropical fruit, mango, stone fruit and citrus. Resinous pine also gets a look in but the wheat and flaked oats balance the body and lift the mouthfeel as the near-10% ABV brings the flavour home, and then some.

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Joiners Arms, Bakewell, July 2019

Bakewell has been crying out for a decent pub for a long while. For somewhere that’s the home of the Thornbridge brewery, you’d expect something a little better than some Greene King and Marston’s houses, but that’s what you’ve had to put up with.

Until May 2019, when the Joiners Arms opened its doors for the first time, serving 6 cask lines of local and further afield beer, alongside 6 keg lines which included on opening night (and still do today) Pravha, Staropramen and Aspall’s cider. We’ll come back to them later.

The Joiners Arms is cast in the classic micropub mould, a nice minimalist design based around joinery (I love the planes inset into the bar). It’s all about the beer, which is kept in excellent condition. Food wise, there are some crisps, nuts and other small snacks around, and they have a selection of wines and smaller batch gins as well as soft drinks for those not wanting a beer. They are dog friendly too, with free snacks for your canine companions, and a water bowl for them as well.

I spent a few hours here (with a break for fish’n’chips down by the river) with regular MOFAD drinking companion Steve, and much less regular drinking companion (and friend to badgers everywhere) Andy. Our fourth member was unwell so had stayed back at base.

In different orders, we worked our way across all of the cask ales. The keg lines were ignored, as two of them were empty, one had Thornbridge Satzuma (a permanent fixture, which some of us had yesterday), and the other three contained the offerings mentioned above. On a weekend, you’d expect all of the keg lines to be in action, so it was a shame to miss out on some potential bangers. The cask line up was pretty decent though, so let’s explore what we sampled.

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I started out with West of the Sun from nearby Torrside Brewing, a lovely NZ hop profile coming through. Fruity hoppiness continued with Downdays from Rivington Brewing Co which was mellow and superbly sessionable. A more familiar name came next, Deception from the just over the border Abbeydale Brewery. A classic showcase of another New Zealand hop, Nelson Sauvin.

After our lunch break, the final three beers, all of which were familiar to me. My third encounter with Hawkshead Red, sweet maltiness and much better on cask than the bottled versions that I’d had a few years ago.

I passed on the Jaipur as I’ve had it (and variants like Jaipur X and Dry Hopped Jaipur) many times. That left one more beer, Lucaria from Thornbridge, which I had twice. I first had it back in December 2016, and remember it fondly as chocolate ice cream in a glass, a smooth, milky vanilla porter. There are now four other variants (strawberry, salted caramel, rocky road and mint choc chip, which sounds like old Thornbridge favourite Baize).

It was a nice way to round off our afternoon in the Joiners Arms, which is a pleasant micropub in the centre of Bakewell. You can’t miss it, it’s on the big roundabout on the A6, and passengers in cars can spot you as they pass.

I think the lady behind the bar was having a bit of an off day today, since she got very confused when being offered £11 to pay for £6 worth of drinks.

If I still had time to do my pub of the month round ups, this would definitely be in contention for July 2019. Given that I’m 18 months behind with that, I can’t see them coming back any time soon I’m afraid!

Pub in the Park, Warwick, July 2019

Let’s start with the name of the event first. It should be called “Good Food Pub in the Park”. If you are presenting your pub in a park, it should be all of the facets of the pub. Most importantly, it should showcase the great beer from your area that you serve in your pub.

What is a pub? A pub, or public house, is an establishment licensed to sell alcoholic drinks, which traditionally include beer and cider. It is a social drinking establishment, and a focal point of the community. In his 17th-century diary Samuel Pepys described the pub as “the heart of England”. As I’ve said before, it’s the original social network.

Here we are then, in the heart of England, celebrating the pub. Except we are only celebrating the more modern part of it, the food offering. We’ll come back to that later, as it was really rather good. I want to talk about beer for a moment, which will probably come as no surprise.

The event is sponsored by macro brewer Greene King. They have their fans. I am not one of them. They own a lot of names, and make a lot of dull brown beer. Hardys & Hansons, Morland, Taylor Walker, Belhaven, Ridley’s, Ruddles, Tolly Cobbold and Trader Joe’s are all Greene King under another name.

Given this event is supporting and promoting independent pub/restaurant/cafe people, it should be doing the same for breweries. There are plenty in the Warwickshire area, as well as more in neighbouring counties. So why do we have Greedy King instead? I can only assume it is all down to money. If you have £2,000,000,000 in revenue for the year 2018, operating over 3,000 pubs across at least 8 different chains, then you can probably chuck a few quid at events like this and keep the (better) competition away.

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So that’s the moaning bit over, let’s get on to all of the good bits. We were here with long time MOFAD companions Karon & John, to enjoy a relaxed day of food and drink so let’s talk about the pubs/restaurants/cafes.

The event is the brainchild of Tom Kerridge, so you’d expect Marlow’s The Hand & Flowers to be there, as of course they were. In fact it was the only “pub” to have a constantly large queue all day long. We tried all of their dishes, with Kerridge’s Fried Chicken (do you see what he did there?) being the favourite, but the smoked hog taco was a close second, followed by the minted lamb pie.

We didn’t have anything from The Cross at Kenilworth, but the beef pie looked nice. The same goes for The Hardwick, although I was a little tempted by the breaded corned beef hash. We also missed The Rose and Crown, with the sea bass looking very tempting.

Angela Hartnett’s Café Murano was represented, with the calzone being sampled by three of our number.

Again, three of us visited The Churchill Arms for Lobster Arancini, with shellfish mayonnaise, which was lovely.

My day had begun with a visit to Sindhu, where TV’s Atul Kochhar was cooking and chatting, and serving up chicken tikka pie, with onion and tomato mash and berry chutney (which did resemble the IKEA berry sauce).

I also visited The Half Moon and enjoyed the panko blade of beef and black stick blue cheese burger, although it was a bit too small for my liking. All of the dishes were “tapas size” but this one definitely felt too small.

In between visiting the pop up pubs/restaurants/cafes, we were also visiting the stalls of the various smaller producers that were there. These were at least 50% gin, or that’s what it felt like. From Kent’s Anno Distillers, to Yorkshire’s Haworth Gins, via the Jelley Distillery (set up next to Briscoe’s Artisan Jellies), Riverside Spirits, Warwickshire Gin, Ian Beale’s Neat Gin (ceated by actor Adam Woodyatt and his wife Beverley, and not called Ian Beale’s Neat Gin, just Neat Gin), and finally New Zealand’s Cardrona distillery.

A large number were sampled, and Cardrona’s “Source” gin was the clear winner with everyone who tasted it, whilst also being the most expensive. Of all the gins tasted, it was the most complex, with layers of botanicals revealing themselves. Their “Rose Rabbit” liqueurs (orange or elderflower) were also delicious, although they need a little revision on the definition of liqueur, since they are typically 15-30% ABV, and theirs were both pushing 50%, much closer to navy strength gin (a 1990s marketing invention) than a typical liqeueur.

Where were the beers from all those aforementioned local breweries? Muscled out by Greedy King I suspect, with just Dartmoor Brewery selling warm bottles of beer to take away (no drinking non-Greene King beer on site), and Black Storm Brewery (also appearing as Autumn Brewing Co) showing non-cold chain cans of beer. Whither local breweries like Church End, Church Farm, Fosse Way, North Cotswold, Tunnel or Warwickshire Brew Co?

Enough moaning about beer, back to more food things, with lots of nice cakes on display, tasty cheeses, posh chocolates, posh nut butters and ice creams. We sampled lots of these in between getting dishes from the pubs, and trying gins.

There were two stages, one for chef demos, the other for music. We heard but didn’t see Tom Kerridge’s demo (too many people, not enough seating) but didn’t catch the others due to eating crisps and sampling gin.

The music stage could be heard all across the site, so we listened to The Christians in the shade of the chef demo stage, enoying the music of one of the most under-rated bands of the late 1980s. Their brand of polished lyrical pop/soul kind of got lost amongst all of the dance music of the era. As you would expect, they played most of their big hits from the debut album like Forgotten Town and Ideal World, as well as their cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Harvest for the World”, and Bob Marley’s “Small Axe”.

A bit more shopping and trundling happened next, and we also listened to The Rifles under the shade of the demo stage, which was being dismantled behind us. A bit more food and drink and then we crossed the site to stake out a patch of grass for Will Young, who was headlining the music stage.

It’s fair to say that his brand of bland pop is not to my taste, but it was largely inoffensive, save for a cover of Light my Fire by The Doors. I’ve never been a huge Doors fan, but turning their iconic psychedelic rock sound into easy listening cheese would definitely have made something start spinning in the famous Paris cemetery Père Lachaise on this warm Sunday evening….

A very pleasant afternoon in the park. Nice to meet and chat to lots of small producers of food and drink, and to sample lots of it as well as some great pub food. A cross between the BBC Good Food Show and a small town festival. A shame about the beer, but I already knew that in advance and concentrated on enjoying everything else instead. The Christians were definitely the best band, but this was an event that was more about the food and drink. If you’re thinking of visiting another event for the music, the Sunday evening line up at Chiswick looks good…

The Needle & Pin Craft Beer Club – selection box #19 – July 2019

It’s box number 41, and what could be better for summer evenings than some crisp and refreshing session pales? In fact, there are only two that are session in here, with the rest weighing in at 5, 6 and 7 or more percent.

Amundsen – Pillars of Light – Lemon – 7.5%

Milkshake IPA with Amarillo, Citra, Lemondrop, Mosaic, Lactose, Lemon and Vanilla. Pillars of Light is a small series being produced throughout 2019, mixing up fruit and flavour to create a new milkshake experience every few months. This one is all about lemon.

Arbor – Zero Zero – 4.3%

A session strength New England IPA brewed with lots of Citra and Mosaic hops. Should be murky and juicy without being a 9% beast.

Framework – Jackpin – 3.9%

Your friends and mine, with a new design. Had this one 18 months ago, a delightful bitter ale that has flavour way beyond its session strength. This is their first ever canned beer.

Howling Hops – Pinball – 6.7%

A NEIPA brewed in collaboration with Track Brewing Co and heavily hopped with Galaxy, cryo Citra and cryo Amarillo. A light hazy yellow appearance and a pillowy white head mixes with aromas of citrus and peach. A beautiful soft and delicate mouthfeel with a bit of hop bite at the end. Stone fruits dominate the juicy flavour with a slight late bitterness. The real life equivalent of an added time multi-ball bonus!

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Polly’s Brew Co – Ekuanot Mosaic – 5.1%

The artists formerly known as Loka Polly present two great hops combined into a hazy golden beer. The aroma has notes of citrus fruits, hops, and malt. The flavour is sweet with notes of hops, citrus fruits, and malt, leading to a bitter finish.

Ridgeside x Black Iris – What we Brew in the Shadows – 6.0%

New Zealand IPA collaboration with Black Iris. They’ve gone all Kiwi with the hop bill: Motueka, Nelson Sauvin & Waimea dry hop, alongside a pale barley, wheat and oat grist for a soft, pillowy mouthfeel.