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.
As some may have already noticed, my presence on lovegoodbeer.com over the past few weeks has slowly faded. I feel I owe a bit of an apology for this neglect – could this negligence on my behalf be considered alcohol abuse?
Part of this is due to a new job – they tend to take up a good portion of time. I have a hard time finding inspiration to blog after spending all day sitting in front of a computer editing and drafting business communication pieces. This is not a valid excuse – most of us either have a job or would like to have one. Once I have settled in a little more at my current work I will post on a regular basis once again.
The other reason for my diminishing online presence, and perhaps the largest reason, is a genuine fear of slowly turning into a beer snob. I have a tremendous respect and passion for beer and therefore want to always portray beer as simply just beer. Beer is an incredibly complex drink with a long history which is intertwined with the development of modern human civilization – but to most it is just beer and I see no problem with that. This blog was started because Chris and I both love beer. We wanted an opportunity to learn more about beer and share our passion for this tasty beverage with others. Over the course of the past few months I have learned that beer is an inclusive drink, and it should always be that way.
Take for example my recent experience in California’s Napa Valley – I also love good wine. My wife and I purchased a five dollar discount-shelf wine country guide book in San Francisco this past summer and took to the wind in our rented Toyota Echo. The guide book turned out to be less useful than we had hoped, I got what I payed for I suppose. With so many wineries to see in only two days we needed to develop a strategy. We decide to visit wineries with the best sounding names – this seemed logical to me. After visiting our first winery, we were told by the snooty wine tasting woman that perhaps we should try a different road to travel from vineyard to vineyard on because the area we were in was “too exclusive”. And this was after we paid $20 for a sip of over-hyped wine. This put a damper on the afternoon – no one wants to be excluded. Wine should never be an exclusive drink, but as demonstrated above, often times it is.
Wine and beer share similar histories; many ancient civilizations consumed large amounts of either beer or wine and they all recognized the ability of these two beverages to nourish and bring pleasure. Wine and beer helped turn survival from a daily struggle into a joyful celebration. Wine became a drink for the elite when the ancient Greeks mastered viticulture and beer was a left as a drink for the barbarians to the north. Only the wealthy could afford good wine and suddenly wine became an exclusive pleasure reserved only for middle to upper class citizens. To this day Northern Europe produces beer and Southern Europe produces wine. Wine is still the drink of choice for society’s elite and beer is still for the working class citizens. I am generalizing a lot here – I am sure many wealthy people love beer and vice versa.
The attitude that “real ale” must be preservative free, naturally carbonated, and poured from a sediment heavy bottle or cask does not agree with me. I mean no disrespect to CAMRA, I am a proud card carrying member, but this concept of real beer seems inaccurate. This concept of real ale implies that most of my friends do not enjoy real beer and that when I go out for lunch with my new work colleagues I am not drinking real beer. Real ale may be brewed following traditional recipes and techniques, but I believe these recipes are somewhat off the mark. This new concept of real ale seems somewhat exclusive – the attitude that inclusive macro-brewed beer is not real, is just plain wrong.
If beer tastes good, provides nourishment and brings joy to the drinker, than it is real beer. Everything from premium craft beer to light bohemian macro-brewed lager is real beer.
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!
I love the beer brewed by Central City Brewing. I am particularly fond of their Imperial IPA and their Copper Bock, not to mention Thor’s Hammer Barley Wine when it is available. When we heard that Central City was going to be having a 5th anniversary celebration this past Saturday, we were all aboard. We were particularly excited about the special beer pairing menu and the five uniquely aged brews to be on offer:
- Belgian Trippell – brewed December 06, 9.0% alc/vol
- Smoked Porter – brewed October 07, 8.5% alc/vol
- Thor’s Hammer Barley Wine – brewed October 07, 10.5% alc/vol
- Imperial IPA – brewed June 08, 8.5% alc/vol
- Red Racer Winter Ale brewed September 08, 7.5% alc/vol
We decided to head to Central City last Saturday evening for 7PM, thinking any earlier would not suit drinking such strong beers on a chore laden Saturday. We thought this was a perfectly acceptable idea seeing as the Facebook event listed the start and end times at noon and 11PM respectively. It was to our tremendous dismay when our waitress had no clue what we were talking about when we asked for the special menu. We missed it! The festivities came and went in the afternoon. I was even more disappointed to hear from the honourable Rick Green that the party was held in the brewery itself and that all of the food and beer was free to CAMRA members. I’m still a bit depressed writing this up.
Us looking sad (but still kind of happy) at Central City
In any case, no trip to Central City is a waste when Empire IPA is readily available. I also think the food there is rather better than your typical pub fare. That being said, there’s nothing like having your ID scanned and your mugshot taken like you’re a criminal when entering a brewpub. I find the restaurant to be somehow disjointed from the brewing operation. The last few times I’ve visited Central City, our waitresses have seemed to think that displaying half of each boob makes up for impoliteness and poor attentiveness, but then to some that’s a boon. I even got the “oooh, have you had it before” when I ordered their Imperial IPA, which I ordered with authority mind you. It seems to me that they are not taking much pride in their beer. Maybe it’s just me though, am I visiting Central City at the wrong times?
This year I became a member of CAMRA Vancouver and I’m pretty excited about it. For those of you who don’t know, CAMRA stands for Campaign for Real Ale and it is an organization that promotes the creation and consumption of quality beer. It began in the UK to combat the proliferation of mass produced, generally poor quality lagers that began to dominate the beer market. CAMRA has really caught on amongst beer enthusiasts worldwide, so much so that we have our own Vancouver chapter.
You might be wondering what the point of joining an organization like CAMRA is. For me the benefits are quite obvious. With my 2009 CAMRA Vancouver membership I get:
- 10% off at Brewery Creek, the best beer store in Vancouver
- 10% off at Firefly, the second best beer store in Vancouver
- 10% off food at the Alibi Room, a great place to drink beer in Vancouver
- Special pricing at local beer related events
- A newsletter containing info on all the great local beer related happenings
The membership only costs $25, which I will recoup within a month by saving 10% on my Brewery Creek purchases. In additon to the financial benefits of joining CAMRA, members also play an important role in encouraging our local brewing community, which will surely lead to increased quantity and variety of quality beer produced in Vancouver. Sadly, I’ve already missed out on the first CAMRA affiliated event of 2009, the sold out Feast of the Five Firkins at The Whip, next time…
If you are a beer enthusiast, I suggest joining your local CAMRA chapter. At the very least, sign up for the mailing list. I think you’ll find it well worth it.