Three very special beers that I got to try in London. Ones based on stuff I've found in the archives. Other than that, they had little in common.
First was Devil's Backbone London Dark Lager, based on a Barclay Perkins recipe from the 1930's. You must have heard of it. I've been banging on about it for months. It's the beer I helped brew while in the USA in May. If I'm honest, the chance of trying it was one of the reasons I went to the GBBF.
First thing I did, once inside the hall, was to ask at the US cask bar when it would be on.
"There's a tick against it, so it'll be on at opening time."
Music to my ears. There was my first pint decided. "First pint? You drink pints at a beer festival?" I hear you ask. Yes. I do. Not only because of my hollow legs. Also because of my aching legs. I hate having to fetch beer every 5 minutes. And a half pint doesn't give most lower-strength beers a fair chance. The only time I regret it is the odd occasion I get a duff beer. This year, my only half was the only crap beer I had. Must be ESP.
Despite the distance it had travelled, the Dark Lager was in wonderful condition. Throwing itself into the glass, it formed an attractive, fine-beaded head. The taste was roastier than a Munich Dunkles and a little bitterer. Nowt wrong with that. It never claimed to be in the Munich style, just dark. A beer I'd definitely drink again. Come to think of it, I did. I slipped back for another pint later.
I gave the GBBF a miss on Saturday and headed instead for South London. The Anchor Bankside, Market Porter and Royal Oak were all hit until they couldn't get up any more.
Dropping by Kernel fitted in perfectly with the crawl. I fancied trying their 1890 Export Stout on draught and Evin had kindly invited me along. Black, with a fine tan collar, it didn't disappoint. I love the London Porter taste. The complex mix of coffee, mocha, cocoa and chocolate that brown malt brings to the party and generously hands around all those present. The Stout had the London taste in spades, clubs, hearts and diamonds. Lovely, lovely stuff.
Delightfully quirky place, Kernel, in a tunnel-like railway arch that stretches all the back to France. I'd like to have spent longer there, but Mike has itchy feet. He couldn't wait to visit the Royal Oak after all the glowing reports he'd heard of it.
The Royal Oak provided one of the best pints of the trip. A maniacally suicidal one that repeatedly surged down my throat before I could stop it. Drinkability cubed. Yet some wankers whine: "How can a Mild be the best beer in Britain?" Tossers who think anything under 5% ABV is worthless. The blinkered prejudice of geeks is as annoying as it's depressing. Beer is not safe in their hands.
Sunday was reserved for Greenwich. A couple of pubs, a roast dinner and a visit to The Old brewery to try their Royal Wedding beer, Lovibond's XXXX. Rod Jones, the brewer, had kept back a couple of bottles for me to try. Turned out that he'd also discovered a forgotten keg, giving me the chance to try it draught and bottled.
We kicked off with the draught. It looked a treat, with it's fine carbonation and pale hue. Surprisingly dry, the malt was the potatoes to the hops meat. Using American hops as early additions for bittering transforms their character. (Though this is how they were intended to be used. C hops like Cascade were bred for big brewers wanting more alpha acid for their buck.) Just a hint of fruit subtly strumming rhythm guitar behind a screaming wail of bitterness. Not what I'd expected, but dead tasty. And scarily drinkable for its 10% ABV.
The bottled version was sweetier, maltier and more rounded, but with the American hops still playing their unfamiliar tune. The drinkabilty was still there, sitting comfortably at the table with its hat and shoes off. I'm so glad I brought a couple of bottles home with me to brighten some gloomy winter night.
Three special beers now with special memories to match. I'm a lucky git.
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