WTF Do I Drink Tonight…craft beer, if you have any sense

A long long time ago, in a galaxy far away I worked in a microbrew pub in Paris. It was probably the worst eight months of my life and, although that’s more my fault than Paris’s or the pub’s, I still associated both with misery for a good decade afterwards. Working there reminded me of some interesting vocabulary (houblon: hop; cuivre: copper and, er, malt for malt…), taught me that I completely and utterly hate routine and paid for a rather lovely dressing gown, which I still have and adore. Two very good friends kept my spirits up for as long as they could until, eventually, I could stand it no more and I rushed out of the city on Eurostar on Valentine’s Day, as every other fucker rushed in. It was not a happy time.

My relationship to Paris and pubs has been restored but, until recently, I kept well away from microbrewed beers, remembering the filthy hangovers and late nights of those days in the 6th arrondissement. Then a conversation over far too many glasses of rosé in Lot-et-Garonne piqued my interest in something called ‘craft’ beer and I was reminded not only of my days at the Princesse but also of how much I had loved microbrewed beers in the States (Blind Faith was my favourite but there were tons of local ones in Maryland too, none of which I can remember). And, suddenly, rather late to the party, I have discovered that beer in London, a bit like food, is having a renaissance, making going out for one almost as much fun as it was when I was, erm, sixteen…

Before you shout at me and say that it has ALWAYS been fun to drink in London, let me clarify what I mean. Have you ever had the experience of going to a Continental European city, preferably northern, preferably in winter, dumping your bags in a hotel and heading out for a beer? It’s cold and crisp, you’re tired and you find yourself in a fuggy, smoky little bar where all the beer comes in half glasses (so much better for a shandy-lightweight like me) and somehow just tastes so much more interesting. I don’t agree with the Polish plasterer who, whilst fixing my bathroom ceiling, said that all beer in the UK tastes like a ‘sack of piss’ (not sure I’ve tried one of those…) but I have never ever felt about a pint of bitter in this country the way I have felt about a glass of Mort Subite in Brussels. Until now. So here is the story of my own little, non-specialist, foodie journey through the beers and places to try.

First, I went to the Crate Brewery with my friend and colleague Jo who is the only woman I know who prefers to drink beer rather than wine. Crate is in hip and happening Hackney but unlike some other places I could mention (that’ll be BrewDog then…) it feels much more inclusive and easygoing. Even if you’re not a beer fan, it’s worth the Overground journey just for their pizzas (sweet potato, Gorgonzola and walnut, if I was you). Over pizza and chat, Jo led me through the menu and introduced me to a) Bear Racer 5 IPA and b) the Kernel Brewery which Mr Rosé had already mentioned. Both of these were yummy but Kernel, well Kernel is astonishing (and I am far from being the only one to think so). The beer is bottled live and young (it’s never more than eight weeks old), it tastes so hoppy and pungent that drinking any other bottled beer afterwards is a bit like drinking a glass of water, and it has the simplest yet most effective branding I’ve ever seen. And the best place to drink/buy it is on the edge of Maltby Street Market, easily one of my favourite places for food, on a Saturday. Borough Market is so over…

And then there’s BrewDog, the poster-child for trendlord microbrewing. Mr Rosé and I went to their Beer School a few weeks ago, an inspired idea, where you get to try six (six!) of their beers with a very necessary plate of bread, cheese and ham. Although I can’t fault the enthusiasm and knowledge of our ‘teacher’, and their branding/reach is admirable (three new bars open/ed this month), I wasn’t overwhelmed with their beer. All a bit too same-y for me and their ‘look-at-us-we-SWEAR’ editorial on their marketing (fuck is my favourite word in the English language but it’s a dull message) is all a bit, well, young and old at the same time. Also, what I admire about the other bars where I’ve tried craft beer is that being over 30, without a tattoo, doesn’t make you feel like a leper.

For a much wider, catholic experience of the stuff, avoid BrewDog (unless you are said under-30-year-old with tattoos and black t-shirt, but I doubt you’ll be reading this if you are) and head to either the Euston Tap or one of the Craft Beer Co‘s bars (soon to be in Islington; oh hallelujah). The Tap wins for being one of the most ingenious places to drink on the planet: I think it used to be a public loo and before that a Victorian gatehouse and, although it’s tiny, it’s absolutely rammed with lovely things to try. A journey to Euston has never been so pleasurable. Watch what they recommend though; I asked for a suggestion and ended up with something very pale and, ssshh, girly. And, equally, Craft Beer Co’s bars are welcoming, wide-ranging places. I went to the opening of the Brixton branch a few weeks back (thanks again Jo) and tried so many beers, the last of which was, eek, about 14%, that I can’t actually name any of them. Shandy-lightweightdom is under severe threat.

Suddenly, I have found a whole new reason to love London and I urge you to avoid all those old men pubs that CAMRA like, full of pint-drinking boredom, and try some of the ones I’ve mentioned or somewhere else in this article. And, I’m hoping, there will soon be another one since the craft beer rosé drinker, otherwise known as Chris, has been seeding me (sorry…) bottles of his own Bad Seed microbrews, including 4 Degrees C, a double IPA which I drank one Friday night on my sunny balcony. It was/is bloody lovely, and drinking it transported me from Finsbury Park to Brussels in about two seconds (well, it is 7.9% ABV…*cough*). It’s not on sale yet* but I have my fingers and tastebuds crossed…


*It is available now.

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