Camden is an area with a strong music history, and you can’t have live music without a lot of pubs and bars. However Camden is also famous for its markets and unique local character, therefore it’s not surprising that it is quite touristy. However even on a wet cold Tuesday night in winter, it is a great place to go out for a few drinks
I’ve lived here for three years but have been drinking in these bars for the last eight, here is a selection of mainly craft pubs that makes a nice little crawl, although I’ve thrown in a few non craft as well.
The beer selection at this pub has transformed over the last five years, it now has some pretty decent beers alongside the usual London pub selection. Saturday night is Soundtracks where every song is a winner, and check their website for themed quizes such as Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. They also host regular live music, comedy and talks. This is the sort of pub you want to live close to.
What to Drink? Camden Pale Ale on draft, Goose Island on bottle or Five Points on cask.
Tapping the Admiral
If you’re a tourist, you would consider this a proper English pub. Redeveloped last year from a local boozer to something a bit more interesting. Winner of CAMRA North London Pub of 2013, the pub now offers a lot of London beers on cask and keg along with a few German lagers. There’s usually a cat about as well (called Nelson) and they have a fun pub quiz.
What to Drink? Go for something local on cask from Hackney Brewery or similar.
Camden Brewery Bar
Since the Camden bar opened in 2013, my visits have been limited by them only being open three days a week and bad weather. They have rotating street food traders most nights so there is always something interesting to eat, and the staff often try and match the food with different beers.
What to Drink? Unfiltered Pale or Unfiltered Hells are rather special, or go for something seasonal such as their 2013 Triple currently on the go.
The Brewdog guys opened their first London pub by driving a tank up and down the street. This bar is a great place to grab a drink, they have busy evenings but you still get served quick enough and their selection is impressive – it’s not just their own beers but some stunning guests as well from all over the world.
What to Drink? The taps change so frequently here it’s hard to suggest anything. But there is always something interesting to try, the staff are usually knowledgable so just chat to them. If not just go for Dead Pony Club.
Just down from Brewdog is the Black Heart, a great live music venue, but also a great selection of beer. Lots of American bottles and a rotating keg line that will sate your thirst. Tends to be a bit more punk so you’ll appreciate the Camden atmosphere.
What to Drink? Sirens or whatever American IPA they tend to have on.
Other places in and around Camden that you may find worth a visit.
The Lock Tavern
Just down the road from the Monarch, a bit nicer, but had a half decent selection of bottled beer and cask. It’s open until late on the weekend and has a good roof garden.
What to Drink? Camden on draft or Flying Dog/Bear Republic on bottle
A true music legend of a place, dingy but full of character and occasionally minor celebrities in the music world. Also good for late nights. Not so strong on the craft beer front, but I’m just emotionally attached to it.
What to Drink? – try and already be drunk.
Let me know if you’ve think I’ve missed anything off this list. Have fun and I’ll probably see you in one of the pubs!
On Wednesday, with a cohort of hardy drinking companions we went to the Great British Beer festival at Kensington Olympia. Here are our thoughts, apologies for the lack of photos, but sometimes beer is just more important.
I had been to this event before, but it was my first in a few years. Given this, I had very high hopes for this festival. I am pleased to say they were met and exceeded over the course of one very beery afternoon/evening! Festivals can be hard to get right, as London Fields found out to their cost, however the Great British Beer festival managed to score a win on all counts.
Let’s cover the boring things first. Kensington Olympia was easy to find and there were no queues going in to the event. To be honest, with the exception of the queues at the Bratwurst stall, there were no queues at any of the stalls (or toilets,thankfully )in the event. Be it food or drink you could usually find a willing server within 30 seconds of turning up at a stall. This was a refreshing change to other beer festivals. To add to this there was a range of food outlets which gave more than enough options to ensure everyone was well fed. I had a quite sublime Pork and stuffing pie, which will be remembered fondly for quite some time!
Now that I have covered that, I will turn my attention to the main event. The beer, which was excellent. Not only was there a very exhaustive list of British ales, which were wonderfully arranged by geographical location. I loved being able to work my way around regions, for example being a Sussex boy I got great satisfaction from exploring beers from both East and West Sussex. But there was a diverse range of foreign beers, which you could enjoy in cask, keg and bottle form. Sadly, I never got around to the American stand, however I spent a lot of time enjoying the German stand. To say I filled my boots with Helles, Kolsch and Heffe Weise would be an understatement! On top of this though, I had a Dutch Rye IPA and Cantillon Geuze and these were just two out of hundreds of Italian, French, German, Belgian, Dutch, Czech and American beers available.
Due to some excellent company,food and beer and I had a truly wonderful day. I took lots of great memories away from it, even if sadly some memories were lost to the beer. This really is everything a festival should be, slick service, well run and ultimately full of interesting, quality beers. For any beer lover out there, this is an event not to miss.
I didn’t reach the festival until the evening so had to deal with a few more queues than Mike, but nothing that lasted longer than a minute or two. I also didn’t have the time to enjoy proper pints and instead skitted about trying thirds of as much as I could.
The presence of pub based games are always fun, even if we won nothing due to lack of strategy when shutting the box. The presence of an RSPB tent did mean that friend of the Mule Steph is now a member.As I’m now sure has been said many times, Olympia is a much nicer venue than Earls Court has been in the past.
You’ve got Friday and Saturday left to go and I strongly recommend a visit, it’s £10 entrance and the beers inside and reasonably priced (as long as you avoid high ABV american beers, unlike me).
Mike’s festival picks:
Reissdorf Kolsch: I am a sucker for good German beer and this beer was delightful. A vibrant gold in the glass,the nose was biscuity and the palate thoroughly cleansing. This is a beer to revitalise even the most weary of travellers.
Andechser Spezial Helles: another German beer, I know, but another great beer. This was Helles as we know it, but with more depth. Not quite the power of a Marzen but not far off. It had a real intensity of flavour but at no point did it feel unbalanced. A pint of this on a hot evening is something I will dream of.
American Pale Ale by Dark Star: a local brewery to me, down the road in West Sussex, and one of my favourites. This is exactly what a pale ale should be. Packed with citrus and stone fruit, as well as a hoppy bitterness ,there was just enough malt influence to balance it all out. Brilliant.
Golden Tipple by Long Man Brewery: another Sussex beer, but this one is from East Sussex. Golden Ale in my opinion is the easiest beer style to love and like. Always refreshing, packed with the fruit of the pale ale but usually without the harsh bitterness. This beer was exactly that, a wonderfully restrained hoppy flavour full of fruit and subtle floral notes. It is a beer I hope I will be seeing in a pub near me soon!
Phill’s festival picks:
Spirit of Kent by Westerham Brewery: Because Mike kept wanging on about being from Sussex, I went for my parent’s local brewery in Kent. This was a lovely golden ale which hit a balance of hoppiness with citrus notes, a shame I only had a half.
Hoptimum by Sierra Nevada: This is a ridiculous beer, incredibly bitter with a 10.4% abv, whilst also surprisingly drinkable. If you want to avoid being so ridiculous with your beer then I would recommend…
Wild Swan by Thornbridge: a might lighter and thinner beer, it has hints of lemon and grass and is the perfect pint for a summers day, even if stuck inside a large hall and not in the sun.
I was lucky enough to be on holiday last week in Provence. The weather was hot, the wine was excellent and the beer was cold. What more could I have wanted? Well after my tenth Kronenbourg I craved a beer with a bit more punch. So when at the intermarche I was lucky enough to stumble across some Jenlain Ambree and some La Goudale. These beers are a under appreciated style of beer called Biere de Garde.
Biere de Garde roughly translates as “beer for keeping”, historically it was brewed in winter months to a high alcohol level so that it would keep all year. It originates from French Flanders and can be seen as a French equivalent to Saison. However, stylistically it is quite a different offering with spice taking a back seat and a more rounded malty character dominating. Also, Biere de Garde tends to be stronger, with an an average ABV of 7.5%.
Sadly, this style tends to get forgotten about and very few Biere de Gardes are available in the UK. However in France, with the rise of craft beer, it is slowly rising in prominence. Typically it is sold in 75cl bottles with a Champagne cork, which has resulted in it becoming a fashionable drink, especially in Lille where it is seen as an alternative to Belgian beers.
I have been fortunate to try a few style of Biere de Garde, and for those of you who are a fan of quality Belgian beers they are a must. However they should be respected as beers in their own right not just as poorer cousins of Belgium brewing. They have a wonderful freshness and a terrifying drinkability considering their strength. Despite an often heavy malt presence on the palate they are never cloying. Also, as to be expected with French alcoholic produce, they are great with food. My Jenlain Ambree was perfect with steak and the La Goudale went perfectly with roasted cod.
So with this in mind I urge you to look out for this style of beer and try a massively underrated style of beer. Vive la difference!
Ones to try:
La Goudale: in the 14th century top beers were called “Goudale” or good ale and what was true then is true now. A golden and flavourful beer, with a long finish. Well balanced hops and a touch of spice. Perfect before a meal or with fish.
Angelus: contains 30% wheat, which makes it quite different. Wonderfully spicy, a complex and intriguing beer. For me this is best enjoyed on its own, so that all of the flavours can be enjoyed uninterrupted.
Jenlain Ambree: Brasserie Duyck,who pioneered the Jenlain brand,are the fathers of Biere de Garde. They introduced the 75cl bottle, the champagne cork and the higher alcohol content. Jenlain Ambree was the beer that implanted the style in people’s minds and livers. A copper colour in the glass, it has a robust malt nature that makes it a very satisfying drink. Perfect with your red meats or cheeses. It is very easy to love this beer!
In my opinion there are fewer greater pleasures in life than drinking a chilled glass of Riesling. Whether it is an aged one from the Mosel, giving off notes of honey and petroleum(yes, that is correct!) or a young spicy one from Alsace, it is a wine that rarely ever disappoints. Sadly, however, the joys of this grape are often lost on people. Due to its German origins, it is often confused with Liebfraumilch and instantly dismissed as a sweet, cloying and flavourless wine. Whilst it is sometimes sweet, it is never cloying and rarely flavourless. Quite simply it is the best value white wine in the world, and let me tell you why.
Riesling buds late (saving it from winter frosts) and ripens early, meaning it can be grown in many cool climates. The perfect example of this is in the Mosel, where arguably the greatest Rieslings are grown, which is on the northernmost border of wine cultivation in Europe in Western Germany. However Riesling is grown in a wide variety of places, from Alsace to Australia, this is a grape that has popped up all over the world.
Due to its appearance in many locations it has meant a variety of styles of Riesling have grown up. The dominant style is that of a dry style. Characterised by intense flavours of lime and stone fruit as well as a taut acidity, these are excellent summer wines. Australia probably makes the driest examples, with the vineyards of Clare and Eden valleys being the prominent areas of Riesling production. However if you are after dry Riesling I would either recommend Austrian ones (in particular from the Wachau), or Alsace ones. In both of these the aromas are a little more perfumed than those of Australia. Producers in particular to look out for are FX Pichler (Austria) ,Trimbach (France) or Zind Humbrecht (France).
Riesling also makes both wonderful off dry and sweet wines. Ice wine, from Canada and Germany, is one of the worlds great dessert wines for example. These styles are just as rewarding as the dry ones. Especially as off dry and sweet styles have the ability to age and develop for long periods of time due to high levels of acidity and residual sugar. For me the flavours of aged Riesling are unbeatable, with the trademark smell of petrol being the most prized aroma. You may think that this is strange, but I can assure you once you have smelt it in a wine you will seek it out in others! If looking for off dry Riesling then the wines of Germany are the best place to start, look for words such as Halb-Trocken , Spatlese and Auslese. All of these words indicate that there is a certain level of residual sugar in the wine.
That is just a quick run through of a subject I could talk about for hours, however I am going to make one more point before I let you dive into the wonderful world of Riesling. It is exceptional value! Due to being unfashionable, £10-20 will buy exceptional Riesling. Zind Humbrecht Riesling is around £14 a bottle and this is from Grand Cru vineyards! Whilst Trimbach’s top cuvée, Fredereich Emile, is only £35. When you compare this with the top Chardonnay’s and Cabernet Sauvignon’s in the world it is an absolute bargain.
So, I implore you to go out and give Riesling a chance. I promise you, it is a risk you will be glad you took as after trying it, and you may even start to wonder how you ever survived without it!
A good friend of mine is disappearing off to the states and so in order to bid him farewell I thought to fill him up with some great London beer. With this in mind, I took him to the London Fields brewery in Hackney. It was my first visit, but I knew their beers and heard excellent things about their newly revamped Tap room.
I was happy to find that the Tap Room is a lovely space to enjoy a beer. There is a big glass open front which allows a lot of light into the venue, very handy when inspecting the colour of your beer. But there was also an excellent atmosphere – music was played at an unintrusive level and there was a pleasing hum of conversation. The blank wooden walls and simple furnishings worked nicely, creating an uncluttered atmosphere in which you could enjoy your beer.
The beer was the major and enduring positive (as it should be) due to the large range available at the bar. I was happy to see that the four beers on cask; Hopster, Make Love Not War, Triangle IPA and Black Path Porter, were also available on keg. On top of this they had further keg offerings, which included regulars such as unfiltered lager and their wheat beer, as well as experimental beers such as their US Amber ale, sadly this ran out just before I arrived.
The variety was impressive and their snazzy branded half pint glasses meant you could easily taste your way around. I was also greatly pleased with the takeaway service, where you could buy most bottles for £2.50 (including some 500ml). This meant, as well as being able to leave thoroughly happy with my afternoons drinking, I left with a few brewery fresh bottles to enjoy over the coming weeks too!
I should just mention a couple of things that I would have like to see improved. Firstly, food, which is becoming a constant theme of our craft pub reviews (see our Craft Review for the most recent example). The Tap room did offer some hot food in the form of stew and soup, which, whilst it did look quite tasty, was not the type of sustaining food you want when exploring your way around the pumps. This is only a minor point, as I realise that the purpose of the Tap room is beer and not to double up as a restaurant. Secondly, they advertised gift packs for sale, which I believe are a branded glass and two bottles, however when I asked to purchase one,the member of staff did not know anything about them. This is another minor point, but I was disappointed not to come home with one.
The Beers –
London Fields Wheat Beer – I love Hefeweizen, and this did not disappoint at all. The trademark flavours of bubblegum and banana were there, however what I enjoyed most were the levels of spice. This was a spicy and vibrant wheat beer that got the afternoon off in style.
London Fields Hackney Hopster – I’ve had this a few times before, but it really is true that drinking a beer fresh from the brewery does make a difference. Made using the aromatic Motueka and Nelson Sauvin hops, the freshness of the beer really showed off the power of the aromatics that can be achieved using these hops. Citrus, grass and slight tropical fruit notes all came together and were underpinned by firm malt characters. This will be a firm favourite of mine for the forseeable future.
London Fields Love Not War – a much darker and smoother offering than the Hopster. The roasted malts really came through, with wonderful caramel flavours. There was also a pleasing stone fruit flavour which balanced the beer. It was a wonderful change of pace, and I think my favourite beer of the afternoon. I was pleased to see the effort to ensure tight balance between the hops and malt. Sometimes I feel craft brewers are too zealous with their use of hops and their desire to produce the bitterest beer they can, which means they forego balance.
London Fields Unfiltered Lager – a great way to cleanse the palate and refresh myself. Wonderful gold, with a slight haze. It was bitter, biscuity and had real bite to it. This is the kind of lager I could drink on a regular occasion. It had a long and pleasant finish and with spring beginning to appear this will become a BBQ staple.
London Fields Black Path Porter – what better way to finish the day than with a sneaky half of their Porter. A brooding brown in the glass, it was quite light bodied for a Porter. Dark chocolate was the over powering flavour, with undertones of coffee. It was very refreshing, and it’s nice to drink a dark beer that’s not cloying. I hope other brewers take note.
I cannot recommend a trip to the London Fields tap room enough. A great selection of beers and wonderful atmosphere. I took a bottle of everything I tried away with me, as well as a bottle of their 9% Black Forest Imperial Stout (will let you know what I think soon) and I look forward to drinking them all and remembering an excellent afternoon. Now I just need to hunt down one of their branded glasses….
London Field’s Taproom is open every weekend.
Whilst at work we were informed that we would be receiving a parcel of old Rioja vintages. I was not very interested at the time, but had a look through what was available to see if there were any bargains to be had. To my delight I discovered there was Gran Reserva Rioja from 1987, my birth year, and I promptly bought a case. Thus fulfilling a wish that I have had for a long time, it also got me thinking…
The act of buying a case of wine to lay down when someone is born is a well worn tradition. Phill was lucky enough to be born in an excellent vintage port year, and had a case of Cockburns Crusted Port laid down for him to enjoy when he was of age. This tradition is something I feel everyone should take part in, but unfortunately is one fraught with danger. No one wants to treasure something for 18 years only to open it and find a bottle full of vinegar. So here my thoughts on what make great options for laying down when your offspring enter this world! Or what will make a good present to yourself if you decide to buy a wine from your birth year.
Bordeaux – this is the classic option. Laying down a case of Claret is something truly special and will reap rewards if properly stored (consistent temperature and out of sunlight). The use of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape and new oak barrels mean that this is a wine that benefits from age. In theory after 18 years in the bottle it will be in peak drinking condition, especially if it is from a top vintage. The only downside of this is the price. Top age worthy Bordeaux is expensive. Chances are you are looking at £30 plus a bottle, if it is a good vintage, for a case of six or twelve you can do the maths.
I recommend buying a case of Bordeaux from the following years – 2010,2009,2005,2000,1998,1990,1989,1986
Sauternes: this is a slightly unconventional choice but one I believe should be explored more often. Firstly desert wine offers great value for money at the moment. This means you can get a case of something truly special for a reasonable sum of money. The other great thing about Sauternes is that it is not likely to get spoilt whilst ageing. Due to the high acidity and sugar levels in the wine this acts as a preservative which means you can rest easy for those 18 years knowing that the wine will not ruin, which unfortunately can happen with any red. So take a punt on Sauternes for something interesting to pass on.
I would recommend buying a case of Sauternes from the following years – 2009,2008,2007,2006,2005,1989,1983
Port: much like Bordeaux this is a traditional option, unlike Bordeaux it is great value. Like Sauternes it benefits from high sugar levels which ensure that the ageing process is unlikely to spoil the Port, however there are a few things that must be noted. Vintage Port is a style of port and it is only Vintage Port that benefits from ageing. Whilst LBV is lovely, it is made in a manner to be drunk immediately and will not benefit from any ageing. The same is true of Tawny and Ruby Port. However with its durability, any Vintage Port will make a great gift to lay down. One further point to add though, Vintage Port throws a lot of sediment. Make sure you decant it before drinking. You will experience a very bad hangover if you do not!
I would recommend buying a case of Port from the following years – 2007,2003,2000,1997,1994,1992,1991,1985
Rioja: like Sauternes, this is a bit of a left field choice, but it offers great value for money and the potential to age. Well at least I hope so, given my recent purchase! Like good red Bordeaux, Rioja is aged for significant periods in oak barrels. This allows the wine to age for long periods of time. What is also great about Rioja is you are able to buy top wines at a reasonable price. For example the Vina Ardanza from the 2001 vintage (a great Rioja vintage) scored 94 Parker points and is £20 a bottle. An equivalent bottle from Bordeaux, from a top vintage with the same Parker score would likely cost in the region of around £100 a bottle. This just goes to show what value can be had in Rioja and Spanish wine in general.
I would recommend buying a case of Rioja from the following years – 2005,2001,1995,1994,1991,1987
I should add that the above are merely suggestions, as there are many other things you could lay down that would be just as good. From Champagne, to Sherry, to German Riesling these are all wines with the capacity to benefit from a little age. Hopefully I have inspired you to set aside some money to either treat yourself or to buy for your children. A drink is something you will both benefit from on their 18th birthday!
PS – I have just had the first bottle of my case of 1987 Gran Reserva Rioja. I am pleased to report that the wine has lasted beautifully. A wonderful garnet colour in the glass, aromas of clove, tobacco and dried fruits abounded in the wine. It is everything great about aged Rioja and it showed just how brilliant aged wine can be. There are five more bottles to come and I cannot wait to open each of them if they are like this!
Due to the perils of working in retail, my better half and I have only recently celebrated Valentines Day. We decided to mark the belated occasion with a meal at Roast in Borough Market. The website looked daunting, however I had one of the best dining experiences of my life. The food was exceptional, with a reasonably priced three course set menu at £35 a head. The atmosphere was lively and there was even a Jazz band providing the background music.
Many things impressed me with their range of drinks. Firstly, their oenomatic machines meant that there was a wide range of fine wines available by the glass. This is a huge development in helping to expand the variety of wine that people are able to sample. I hope these machines become more common in restaurants. Secondly, restaurants now value a range of quality craft beers as essential to a balanced drinks menu. Beer is not an afterthought at Roast, where they have three Meantime beers in the fridge; lager, pilsner, and Yakima Red. However it was their own brand beers, brewed for them by Whitstable brewery, that impressed me the most. They had a pilsner, wheat beer, IPA and Oyster stout available. Each of them are served in a signature glass, much as you would a wine. I had a wheat beer which came in its own Champagne style glass. This helped to accent wonderful notes of bubblegum and banana. I then had the Oyster stout which came in a ceramic tankard which upfront had a good hit of coffee bitterness but then turned into a dark chocolate sweetness. Ideal with my desert.
It is a shame I could not try their IPA, given the quality of the first two, however I intend on returning to Roast in the near future. If you are looking for a special lunch or dinner then I would highly recommend Roast. Leaving aside the excellence and breadth of their wine and beer list the food was lovely and the service impeccable. I urge you all to go and enjoy the Roast experience. Ideally with one of their wheat beers!
Street Feast is back for a new season. Last Tuesday’s was a very special Street Feast though, in the form of #BrooklynFeast, a drinks takeover by Brooklyn Brewery who had over eight different beers on offer, six of them paired with a different dish from each food vendor.
Brooklyn’s Brewmaster Oliver Garrett was at the event, roaming the car park and seemed to enjoy watching people appreciate his beer (and the food!). He was very approachable and I enjoyed discussing the growth of the micro-brewery trade, especially in France from where he had recently returned. I also really appreciated that he signed my copy of The Oxford Companion to Beer, which he had edited.
The bar was pretty busy for the first few hours, from people who knew what they wanted to people asking “which beer is most like a Corona?”. However, myself and friends of the Mule Steph and Rahul managed to work our way through most of the beers with the occasional snack through most of the evening.
The event was organised to coincide with Garret spending a few days in the UK and to promote an increasing interest in Brooklyn Beer. As the man said himself “the more people drink, the quicker we can send more over”. There was also a decent amount of free merch – I am now the owner of a Brooklyn T-Shirt, Baseball cap, Frisbee, EIPA can cosie, and some badges. Although I’m annoyed I missed out on a free woolly hat, but seeing as my £7.01 ticket already included a beer and a small food dish I think I left the evening streets ahead, and slightly drunk. Which brings me onto…
Blast! – a wonderfully light yet hoppy IPA, which ran out very early on in the evening too. Probably not as much punch as you would expect from a beer called Blast!, but citrus tones and a light body hid the 9% abv.
Pennant Ale 55– had a clear copper colour, surprisingly bitter for an American take on an English Pale Ale but with a wonderful dry finish. It’s named in honour of the Brooklyn Dodgers 1955 World Champion baseball team.
East India Pale Ale – from a can, which I think suits it more than a bottle. I had forgotten this was 7% until I was halfway through my second can. It was full of flavour, bitter hoppiness and this was exactly what I wanted.
Brown Ale – the Brooklyn take on a mild northern ale. The roasted malts come through as the first flavour but are then overpowered by the hoppiness. Not a bad beer but I think I would have a Newcastle Brown over it.
Pilsner – this wasn’t the beer for a cold and damp Tuesday night in Dalston. Not an amazing beer, especially compared with some of the German beers I had tasted over the previous weekend. The Pilsner left me disappointed but I will try it again at another point before making any serious judgements.
I missed out on There Will be Black and never got around to the original Brooklyn Lager. But I’m certain I will have them again.
For me, the stand out beers were the Blast! and the EIPA, both of which I will be buying more of in the future, as well as the occasional Pennant Ale. Hopefully we can welcome even more Brooklyn beers onto our shores in the near future.