Having spent the last few weeks walking the Coast to Coast I’ve been pretty oblivious to the epidemic that has swept London in my absence. Bunting. You can’t move for the stuff, in different shades of patriotism; with everything from St Georges Crosses and Union Flags to neutral shades flying on the Southbank. I even saw a Brockwell Park Shelter daubed with St Georges Cross’ and slogans such as St Georges Day is ‘ere so give us a beer. Sheer poetry. With the addition of a Royal Wedding it’s a bumper year for bunting manufacturers all over Taiwan. I’ve tried to ignore the Press, good and bad, and the rumblings and chunterings about the supposed Beer Ban. I have a simple view that at the end of the day I’ve got a day off work and it’s as good an excuse to raise a glass or three. I’m sure you’ll do the same whether it’s in a boozer full of bunting or a free zone such as the Duke of Wellington in Dalston, who will be saying wedding, what wedding? Oh and don’t worry those Greens out there, i’m sure the millions of meters of plastic bunting will get a dusting off when the Olympics swings around.
The Q&A this week is back over to the other side of the Pond. We hear from the other half of the GBGH Brewing crew and Hoptopia honcho, Lee Williams. Possibly the busiest man in beer.
What’s most likely to be heard on brewday, in the pub, when writing?
Brewday: Asking, my girlfriend (Stevie Caldarola – the brewer) – “What’s the Hop Schedule?”
Pub: Asking, anyone I happen to be sitting next to – “What are you drinking?”
Writing: Asking, my girlfriend – “Is there anymore coffee?”
Favorite place to enjoy a beer – locally, further afield?
Locally: Rattle N Hum, Manhattan, NYC – the only place in all NYC that really gets craft beer – the place isn’t pretentious and gets the freshest beer. 44 taps that are clean and have a high turn over.
Further afield: Falling Rock, Denver, Colorado – a true, real beer, Holy Grail.
If not for beer I’d be…
Back in the music business, promoting new artists and writing about them – it’s the only other “world” I understand, and am remotely at home in besides, beer.
Definition of a perfect pub?
The one I will one day build and manage!
Beer or Pub hell?
Any place that isn’t enlightened enough to have even one real ale or craft beer on tap – it’s 2011, get with program… if you want to still be in business in 2013. If not, that’s your choice and you can’t complain when you file for bankruptcy. Slaves to macro beer and macro way of thinking in general, are doomed.
What was the last thing you got excited about?
Right now, I’m excited about trying to figure out how I can get my hands on 2 bottles of Närke Kaggen! Stormaktsporter, an exceptionally rare Swedish Stout – only available at a few places in that country. I thrive on challenges, life is so dull without them.
Moving to Denver to pursue a career in the craft beer industry – we’re moving early Summer.
Lots more Hoptopia; it’s my baby – I love writing about beer.
Helping my girlfriend perfect a book of stellar beer recipes that will be GBGH (Go Big or Go Home) Brewing’s first commercial offerings in 2013 or 2014.
I could be accused of taking this whole pub blogging thing to extremes, with lengthy and meticulous research trips. It’s a thankless task but if i’m going to offer a view then in the interests of fairness it must be done. I’m just about convincing myself! The research has paid dividends, in earned brownie points with ‘er indoors. Being Mothers Day and Lou’s mum being in the country I was charged with suggesting a venue. I settled on the The Black Dog in Vauxhall.
Overlooking railway lines and a barren looking park near Vauxhall Station the interior of the pub comes as a welcome surprise; with a mix of copper light shades, ornate stained glass centre piece above the bar and the odd theatre seat for good measure. On two previous visits I had seen the food coming out of the open kitchen and the praise of the punters. Lou and the family seemed pleased. It’s always good to hear that the research isn’t wasted. Service from the initial call to book was excellent, with the advice given that 20% discount is currently available on weekend internet bookings. The food was superb with hearty servings, crisp and fluffy roast potato, homemade Yorkshire Pudding and horseradish with a real kick. I now need to get myself down for food to complete the research.
The Black Dog, 112 Vauxhall Walk, London, SE11 5ER
Giant Robot, a Bar come diner, sits on the site of what was Match cocktail bar. It should be just what’s required after an impromptu Clerkenwell crawl, with it’s classic American diner menu. It’s 10pm on a Wednesday when we visit and as they close at 12am we’re well in time for a few more drinks and some food. We’re told to wait by the bar while a table opens up. Although we can see one uncleared it doesn’t seem to register with the staff. We dutifully wait. The beer selection is somewhat limited with a small selection on tap backed up by a Brooklyn Brewery bottle selection, which is perhaps a nod to the origin of such a bar come diner concept.
Finally seated our waitress provides menus and on returning to the table politely and apologetically hurries us along, as we are told the kitchen is closing. After what seemed like an unnecessary wait for the table and hurried service the first impression isn’t great. English and I go for a burger. It’s become a strange habit borne out of years of dining together that we seem to have synced in our choices. As much to stem any jealously when the other has made a superior choice. After a further wait and glances into the open kitchen to see not much going on our food is an anticlimax. The sweet bun is over toasted, flakes covering the plate as we eat, the burger is pretty standard and sin of sins; no gherkin.
After the delights of #Meateasy and the real deal in Brooklyn, at places like Dumont, Giant Robot just doesn’t deliver as expected. Their not alone. I’ve had similar experiences at Diner in Shoreditch and Essex Road where the concept is good but the delivery is lacking. At £20 each for beers and burger you’d expect them to import the full formula to make this work which is just as much about the service as it is about the food.
Giant Robot, 45-47 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M 5RS
You can see the Ghosts of London’s pub past around every corner. Derelict pubs boarded and decaying, converted pubs stripped of their past and signs of long defunct Brewers etched in stone and glass. It’s rare that once gone these ghosts can pass back but I’ve being seeing apparitions in Vauxhall and Clerkenwell in the form of Truman’s Runner.
A few years ago I sat with English in a pub having one of those conversations that you tend to have after a few pints. It revolved around reviving names like Truman’s. The beauty of such an idea being that the name already has recognition for many and that name is on old Truman pubs across East London. As with most of these conversations it’s lost in the mind fog that you tend to get by pint 5 or 6. Then years later and I’m reminded of this conversation by the first apparition in Vauxhall’s, Black Dog and again in the Peasant, Clerkenwell.
It passed me by that the Truman story had started a new chapter in 2010 and judging by Runner, a solid sessionable ale, it won’t be the last. For more info see their website.