06 March 2018

Social Oxford Saturday

It was an honour to be invited by Martin to join an Oxford pub crawl on Saturday 24 February, 2018 which would include pubs on the map below.
Martin a.k.a. NHS_Martin on Twitter regularly updates his retiredmartin (Travel, Pubs, Music) blog with posts about his visits to pubs in connection with his mission to visit every pub listed in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide. Martin's posts always include a catchy title eg 'Tottering with Tim Thomas to the Turf Tavern'- an inspiration for the title of this post. If only I could adopt Martin's admirable ability of posting in a timely fashion instead of waiting until many relevant details have escaped my memory.
I arrived at Oxford station by train at 11.20am on a cold and bright morning. Heading towards town I noticed that Oxford has been colonised by colourful fleets of bicycles since my last visit. An encounter with perforated tyres, a feature of Pony Bikes, called for a photograph.
Walking down Lower Fisher Row and Paradise Street beside the Castle Mill Stream, an ivy covered Saxon St George's Tower, a remaining part of Oxford Castle, also deserved a photo.
My destination was the Swan & Castle, a contemporary Wetherspoon pub opposite the new Westgate shopping centre and beside an access route to Oxford Castle Quarter.
Friends have told me that a Wetherspoon breakfast is the best way to start a pub crawl but today was the first time I graduated from a bacon roll to a full breakfast. Complemented with a 'bottomless' cup of coffee, my brunch cost less than £5.
I was already on my second Flat White when Martin and Christine (aka Mrs RM) arrived to join me for coffee.
We walked to the Victorian era St Aldate's Tavern via Bonn Square and past Oxford Town Hall, the venue for CAMRA's Oxford Beer and Cider Festival in October.
Cheers to Martin for my first beer of the day, a half of Wild Weather Ales Pirate Captain 6.5% ABV Jester IPA. As the narrow bar area downstairs was full we headed upstairs to 'The Blue Room' where Winter Olympic coverage was on the flat screen TV prior to the Six Nations Rugby.
We made ourselves comfortable and were soon joined by the rest of our erudite companions - Peter  (Twitter's Pub Curmudgeon) whose The Pub Curmudgeon blog includes a link to the Beer and Pubs Forum. Other contributors to the Forum who joined us were Paul Mudge, Jon Benger, Michael a.k.a Citra and Oxford resident, Tim Hampson. A photo of the group appears later in this post.
As editor, this was my proud opportunity to hand out copies of the winter issue of Ullage - the West Berkshire CAMRA magazine, which includes a regular Curmudgeon column by Peter. I was also able to give Peter a proof copy of his column in the Spring issue. Martin promised not to set fire to his copy after an incident when a pub's candle had this effect on a previous issue. Martin confessed to this atrocity with a photo as evidence in a blog post!
See Martin's post about our visit to St Aldate's Tavern for more details of Saturday's visit.
The Chequers
It was now time for the short walk to the reclusive and historic Chequers which is entered from a courtyard approached from a narrow alley at 131 High Street. Once again we had Christine to thank for finding a big enough space for us all to congregate on an upper level.
In debt to Martin, it was my turn to buy the drinks but confusion arose when I asked for the beer to be topped up and was told it was not the Skinner's Porthleven Pale Ale that I had ordered. After a dash to locate my beer, which Martin had taken and was about to drink, I returned to the bar and authorised a top up of Pedigree IPA which was the beer Martin had ordered. Of course, the full pint did not survive being carried up the stairs but a napkin was found to dry the outside of the wet glass and we were both reunited with our respective pints. Porthleven is a beer that I will look out for again. Thanks go to Martin for spotting the 20% discount, for CAMRA members available at this Nicholson's pub, in time. The main group ordered lunch here but after my brunch I only needed a pint. See Martin's blog post for more photos of the Chequers and its courtyard.
While Martin & Christine later headed to the Covered Market for their lunch, I headed back to the mock-Tudor style Castle pub, near the Westgate shopping centre, which is Hook Norton's first pub in the city.
The bar front, made from old Hook Norton beer crates, was my favourite decorative feature here.
A lower room had a TV for the Six Nations rugby match. The raised level of the main room with steps up to the corner entrance is an unusual feature. My half of Oakham Inferno guest ale had the right flavour but was not as cool as hoped for. Martin and Christine would soon join me here. See Martin's blog post for photos of the Covered Market and the Castle. On our departure, while Christine made a detour to visit Uniqlo, Martin and I took a circuitous route to the tucked away and historic Turf Tavern, which is overlooked by the Bell Tower of New College.
Martin's blog post (with my name in the title!) includes interesting photos taken en route.
There was a limited choice of beers at this Greene King pub and my choice was the indelicately named Daleside Old Legover.
We were able to rejoin the main group at a good sized table near a window in the busy pub.
Paul produced a bag of badges dating back to a 1981 campaign to save the Burton Unions. Paul handed them out and this seemed to be an ideal time to get a partial group photo as this would be my last beer with them.
L to R: Paul Mudge, Jon Benger, Peter (Pub Curmudgeon), Michael (Citra) and Tim Hampson.
Our group would walk to the nearby King's Arms, a Young's pub covered in scaffolding. This is where I shook hands with the stalwart group and said farewell.
See also Pub Curmudgeon's blog post on this Oxford Day Out.

My second ambition for this trip was to visit Tap Social Movement on Curtis Industrial Estate near the A34. With a tagline 'Criminally Good Beer' an unusual feature of this brewery is its focus on social justice. The brewery provides training courses for people serving prison sentences, o ffering courses in brewing and business start-up, and providing one-on-one support in securing permanent employment to assist in e ffective rehabilitation.
The S1 gold bus heading west towards Witney / Carterton from George Street stops nearby.
The Taproom is open between 4pm and 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
An award certificate shows that Goodsize Eh was Runner-up in the 2017 Oxfordshire Beer of the Festival Competition. All the beers are served on keg here and this would be my first half pint
The spacious taproom is decorated with various artworks.
My favourite decorative feature was Hugh Pryor's bottle chandelier suspended from a BMX wheel.
Some good music was being played on the sound system. I liked hearing the lively latin sound of Moliendo Café by Fanfare Ciocãrlia and the jazzy sound of Elijah's Remedy by TRI-Force.
The second half pint I enjoyed here was Hops off the Press a 5.1% ABV American style IPA with tropical flavours.
Waiting for the bus back to Oxford station as the sun set
This had started out as a social day meeting fellow beer and pub enthusiasts and ending up at Tap Social Movement. I look forward to the opportunity to do both of these things again!

05 March 2018

Ale Trail ends in Hackney Wick

After days of snow, the weather relented and Paul Rayner's East London Ale Trail could go ahead as planned on Saturday 3 March, 2018.
My morning train from Newbury to London Paddington ran on time allowing arrival at Whitechapel tube station rendezvous by 11.30am. Our small group called in for beers at most of the places on the map Paul had devised.
The White Hart Brewpub, 1 Mile End Road
Mother Kelly's, 251 Paradise Row
Forest Road Brewing Co, 8 Netil Lane
London Fields Brewery Tap Room, 365-366 Warburton St
The Dove, 24/28 Broadway Market 
The Cock Tavern, 315 Mare St
The Cock Tavern E8 - Brewpub with 24 taps of indy beer & cider
Paul mentioned that The Cock Tavern was once a Truman's pub with a typical entrance door on a corner. More recently the pub's basement was the original home of Howling Hops Brewery. In January 2018 @TheCockTavernE8 tweeted that 'Tim & his team from @HowlingHops will be brewing at The Cock again soon! They'll use the OG kit for interesting small batch stuff available exclusively here on the bar.'
John, Paul, Jennie & Andy - The Cock Tavern E8
Sat around a table away from the door, we decided to skip intermediate stops on the planned trail and catch an Overground train from Hackney Central to Hackney Wick (2 stops towards Stratford).
Meanwhile, Andy Pinkard would leave the ale trail here and catch an Overground train in the opposite direction to Highbury & Islington.
new Hackney Wick station construction on left
Our group alighted at Hackney Wick, where there is evidence of construction work for a new station building. 
We walked to Crate Brewery via White Post Lane where large blocks of flats are under construction. The barrier screens around the building site are covered in street art and graffiti.
Howling Hops and Crate Bar both have entrances from an open area. On the far side of the Lee Navigation smoke or steam emerges from a power station chimney. 
We headed to Crate Brewery first. A stainless steel extract chimney services the pizza ovens just inside the entrance.
The bar furnishings are industrial style and appropriate for the warehouse type setting. The open pizzeria kitchen occupies the space behind the bar.
A range of Crate cask and keg beers are served. Pizza menus are available from a cylindrical stand.
My choice here was Crate Session IPA (£2.10 for a half pint). Having enjoyed several good pale ales already today, this Session IPA was somewhat disappointing but this can partly be explained by the low 3.6% ABV and my jaded tastebuds. As there were no free seats at the large tables we stood near the windows overlooking the Lee Navigation where extra outside seating is popular on warmer days. The soundtrack was obscure but distinctive house music style at a medium volume. At one point we were identified as potential brewery tour ticket holders waiting to be inducted but this was a mistake. After a short wait the generous offer of a slice of Paul and Jennie's pizza with a sweet potato topping was delicious and welcome nourishment.
It was only a minute's walk from here to Howling Hops Tank Bar and it was still daylight when we went inside.
The ten tanks, standing immediately behind the long bar, are near the entrance.
My beer choice here was from tank 3. New England Special IPA hopped with Mosaic, Motueka and Citra. It was my favouite beer on this visit to Hackney Wick.
This was 6.9% ABV so the standard 2/3 pint dimpled glass cost £4.10. Beers with ABV of less than 6% cost £3.10.
Nearly all the tables were full but Jennie found a gap where the four of us could squeeze onto opposite bench seats. I generally like New England IPA style beers and the Howling Hops example was no exception. There is no canal view here but the 'beer hall' style room was light and expansive. As the light outside dimmed, the volume of conversation inside rose and the lack of soft furnishing did nothing to absorb this sound. 
We emerged into twilight and crossed the Lee Navigation using the White Post Lane bridge. The lights from the Arcelor Mittal Orbit and the London Stadium, now home to West Ham United, were visible in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the south east.
Heading north along the towpath of the Lee Navigation we passed the white Crate Brewery building and then passed under the railway bridge. 
We continued on, past canal boats moored to the banks, underneath a pedestrian bridge and reached the new building partly occupied by Mason & Company, our final destination on the trail.
As we had found earlier at Mother Kelly's, the changing draught beer list was detailed on a printed menu available at the bar. 
There were 5 beers from Five Points Brewing Co and many from breweries based in the South West of England including Harbour, Wiper & True, Verdant, Wild Beer Co (2), Eight Arch, Firebrand, Electric Bear. Other beers were from Affinity (Bermondsey), Zapato, UK (Leeds), Brewsters (Grantham) and De La Senne (Brussels) as well as an urban cider from Hawkes Cidery (Bermondsey).
My choice of Five Points XPA (Extra Pale Ale, 4% ABV) was £2.35 1/2 pint. At the end of a day spent drinking pale, hoppy beers, this one did not especially impress as much as it would have done otherwise.
After the well worn surroundings of Howling Hops Tank Bar, the clean lines of Mason & Company were a complete contrast. The pale wood gives a Scandinavian feel. The low tables and benches are slightly spaced apart giving more room and privacy but not much more comfort.
From here it was possible to return to Paddington in less than an hour by Overground and Tube and with train services disrupted it was possible to catch the delayed 20.03 train that would otherwise have left before my arrival.
Thanks go to Paul and Jennie for arranging this ale trail. Keep an eye on Paul's Twitter account and blog for trails in other destinations including an East Bristol Brewery Trail and reports on beer festivals.

02 March 2018

Barcelona on a Tuesday evening

After Saturday evening (27 January) and Tuesday afternoon (30 January) in Barcelona, this third blog post is the final report on my 2018 quest for the beet Barcelona beer bars!
Two blocks south east from BierCaB leads to the taproom for the Barcelona Beer Company at

Plaça Espanya.

View towards Palau Nacional, Montjuïc (top left)

En route, I was tempted by 'chip star' but instead found a nutritious meal at a kebab cafe.
Homo Sibaris - wide mirror reflects beer blackboard
It was quite late by the time I arrived at Homo Sibaris,