We’ve been in London for a couple of weeks now, time enough to check out a few pubs. Obviously I was aware that pubs were a big deal over here, but I wasn’t really aware of just how big a deal. There are probably twenty pubs within a ten minute walk of our flat. Back in Canada, there weren’t any pubs within a ten minute walk of where I lived and my pub of choice was a 15 minute drive. English people are also very worried that pubs are closing down at an alarming rate. In my opinion, these pubs must be closing down for a reason, that being they suck. Every pub I’ve walked by in England so far has been packed, and this is at all hours of the day, so it’s hard to imagine any half decent pub needing to close down. Anyway, I love pubs, so I’m pretty happy with my new found selection.
When first looking for interesting pubs to try I stumbled upon the Wenlock Arms, which is frequently voted North London pub of the year by CAMRA. They advertise nine casks of quality beer, so I obviously had to check it out. It was in a bit of a sketchy neighborhood that you would only go to if you lived there or were heading for this pub. The pub itself was a bit rundown, as was the clientele. I supposed I expected the young, hip crowds you find everywhere else in London, but what I found was a bunch of old dudes who look like they drink too much. Given the Wenlock Arms is a beer destination, it is fitting that it attracts beer nerds, and for good reason. The two beers we tried were both outstanding. It’s been a few weeks so I don’t remember what I had, but I was delighted to have a hoppy beer rivaling something from out of the North West for the first time in London. Built in 1836, the place has some pretty cool history too. Anyway, I’ll be back to try more of their delicious beer and to find out what it actually was, but I’ll only go there with serious beer people who will overlook the atmosphere.
While not every pub has nine casks of delicious beer on offer, pretty much all of them have at least three. This includes The New Rose, which is a convenient one minute walk from our place. It’s a livelier spot frequented by the trendier locals hereabouts and it just might be our regular pub. Their website is brilliant too.
The irony that I’ve moved from Surrey near Guildford in Canada to Surrey near Guildford in England (at least until we head up to London next week) isn’t lost on me. This time I’m not talking about Central City, Russell Brewing, or Big Ridge, but Hogs Back Brewery. Much to my surprise, I learned of Hogs Back Brewing through Google Buzz. It was recommended to me by a friend of friend in Canada who originally comes from Surrey. Without a car, I was trying to figure out how to get to Hogs Back when a random Google Buzz user let me know of a few pubs in Guildford that carry their brews. Who knew people used Google Buzz? Anyway, I eventually found Hogs Back’s beers at a small beer and wine shop in Shalford.
I picked up TEA and OTT, which stand for Traditional English Ale and Old Tongham Tasty (Tongham is the town Hogs Back is based in); both are bottle conditioned. I’ve only tried TEA so far and I quite liked it. As the name says, it is a traditional bitter. I found it to be pleasantly malty and full of flavor, if lacking in hops for my tastes. So far I’ve found that English brewers tend to focus on malt and its subtleties, versus North American brewers who make much more use of hops to provide bold flavors and bite. While both approaches have their merits, I’m currently enjoying the excellent session brews the British brewers are brewing (most bitters weigh in at 4% ABV). I’ll definitely buy TEA again and I can’t wait to try the other interesting beers that Hogs Head has to offer.
The CAMRA Vancouver AGM is coming up on January the 17th, which is where the CAMRA Vancouver awards will be announced. Beforehand, each CAMRA member is able to nominate three of their favorites in each category. Those garnering the most nominations are then voted on by members. The trouble I am having is coming up with three nominations in each category. In some categories I find myself wanting to only nominate what I consider to be the one clear winner. In others (best BC beer for example), I find there are just too many choices. I’ve settled on at least one nomination in each category, which I’ll share below:
Best Local Brewpub – Big Ridge! Why? Because the few brewpubs we have in the lower mainland are fairly similar (they are all pretty good) and Big Ridge is close to my house.
Best Local Beer Cafe, Pub, or Restaurant – Alibi Room! Why? Because they have the largest and most interesting beer selection around. It is also has a cozy atmosphere and delicious food.
Best Local Liquor Store – Brewery Creek! Why? The best beer selection and the most knowledgeable staff. Gerry and Chester are rad.
Best Local Beer Event – Dix Caskival! Why? The best selection of delicious, creative, and fresh craft cask beer under one roof.
Best BC Brewery – Driftwood! Why? Because they set out to brew interesting beer when they started not long ago and they haven’t wavered. Their beer is also delicious. This was a tough one, Central City and Phillips will likely be my other nominations.
Best BC Beer – Central City Red Racer Pale Ale! Why? Because it is a wonderful session beer that enthrals serious craft beer and macro drinkers alike. Another tough one to call, so many good beers in BC.
Best BC Seasonal Beer – Driftwood Old Cellar Dweller Barley Wine! Why? Wow, this is good stuff. Complex, hoppy, bold, and delicious.
Who would you nominate?
I’ve never really had a frequent haunt, the kind of place that I could walk to and visit frequently. The closest thing to a local watering hole I have is Big Ridge in Surrey, which is a fifteen minute drive for me. Granted, there is Dublin Crossing, a fun fake Irish pub within walking distance, but it isn’t a place I want to latch onto.
Lately, I’ve found myself going to the Alibi Room almost once a week. I am lucky (or unlucky, depending on your impressions of the neighbourhood) to work only a block away, making it quite a convenient place for a pint after work. Even if the Alibi Room wasn’t so conveniently located for me, I would still make an effort to get there once in a while. They have the best beer selection in the lower mainland and are the only place you can get many of the local craft beers they serve. They have 19 rotating taps as well as three beer machines pumping out cask conditioned ales, which also change on a weekly basis. Notwithstanding, their food is very good and reasonably priced.
The great Alibi Room beer menu, updated weekly
The Alibi Room is really the one stop shop for beer in the entire Metro Vancouver area. It saddens me that there are no similar places. Why I wonder, do none exist when the Alibi Room’s success (it is always busy) clearly indicates an existing demand? Maybe Erik and I should open up a place of our own?
Cask beer is pumped
I was telling a few friends about some of Vancouver’s periodic cask ale events and was shocked to realize that they didn’t even know what cask ale is! I suppose it is one of those terms that I just take for granted. In any case, I thought I should post a blurb for the uninitiated.
Cask ale is unfiltered, unpasteurized beer that is served right from the cask it is conditioned in. Cask ale must be served via a pump (or gravity) because there is no artificial pressure, which is usually generated by added CO2 or nitrogen. Cask ale is often dry hopped, meaning that hops are thrown into the cask before the secondary fermentation phase, which is generally referred to as conditioning (live yeast remains because it is not filtered out). Cask ale is usually served a little warmer than most beer, at about ten degrees Celsius. Cask ale is the real ale that the Campaign For Real Ale is promoting. The cask ale Wikipedia page has a lot of great information if you are interested in learning more.
I really enjoy real cask conditioned ales, which are generally more hoppy (bitter) and less carbonated than their un cask conditioned counterparts. I also find cask conditioned ales to be smoother and more flavorful. If you are interested in tasting some cask conditioned ale, I recommend signing up for the CAMRA Vancouver mailing list. Their weekly email will tell you where to find cask ale, which is available every day at the Irish Heather, every Thursday at Dix, and every last Friday of the month at Big Ridge.
Also, if you were wondering, bottle conditioned ale is similar to cask ale, save that it is aged in the bottle and not in a cask. Give it a try if you see it in your local liquor store!