Unexpected free beer and other adventures

The occasional free beer is, of course, one of the benefits of writing a blog about hopped alcoholic refreshment: but it doesn’t usually come to me via random interactions in the road.

Strictly, I wasn’t actually on the public highway. I was standing in what used to be Black Eagle Street, a turning off Brick Lane, in the heart of what is now Banglatown in the East End of London. Black Eagle Street was swallowed by the expansion of Truman’s brewery, at one time London’s biggest brewer, which closed more than 20 years ago. It is, now, since the old brewery site began to be converted into (quote) “East London’s revolutionary arts and media quarter”, a slightly scruffy pathway lined with slightly scruffy food outlets, bars, art galleries and the like.

I had just come out of one of those bars, where, in an attempted homage to the brewery’s past, I had drunk an Anchor porter from San Francisco. Anchor porter, inspired, ultimately, by the original 18th century beer style that made Trumans famous, was introduced in 1972 – the year after Trumans lost its independence at the end of a ferocious takeover fight.

Hobsons at Trumans

Alice Churchward, left, and Laure Roux of Hobsons brewery, parked up in the Dray Walk at the former Trumans Brewery off Brick Lane

While pondering that, and other ironies, I spotted a van in the impossible-to-miss livery of Hobsons Brewery, from Cleobury Mortimer, a tiny town on the Shropshire/Worcestershire border some 120 miles from the East End, parked 20 feet away.

Fortunately the two young women with the van were not put off by a grey-bearded loony in a blue hoodie approaching, claiming to be a beer blogger, and demanding to know what they were about. Seems that Hobsons, undeterred by the boom in London’s own brewing scene, has decided there is an opportunity for a brewery whose logo is a bowler hat to sell its beers in the capital. The van, as well as dropping off casks to pubs, was delivering mild ale for the guests at a preview show for an exhibition due to take place at one of the art galleries on the Trumans site.

They, in turn, wanted to know if I knew Hobsons (answer: heard of, never drunk) and would I like to try some, they happened to have a few bottles in the van? There’s probably a bye-law somewhere in the constitution of the International Beerbloggers’ Union that says you’re never allowed to turn down unsolicited free beer. So entirely unexpectedly, thanks to Alice Churchward of Hobsons and her companion Laure Roux, I left the former Truman’s porter brewery with a bottle of British-brewed porter, Hobson’s Postman’s Knock (and also a bottle of Hobson’s Manor Ale). Thank you very much, Alice – tried the Postman’s Knock, a fine medium-strength easy-drinking porter that would be an excellent match, I suggest, with Shropshire Blue cheese.

That very pleasant surprise made up for the unpleasant surprise three minutes later when I turned out of the top of Brick Lane, crossed the road, and discovered that Mason & Taylor, recommended as “one of London’s most ambitious new beer bars” by people I respect, doesn’t open until 5pm. I’m sure the people running the bar have what they believe to be excellent operational reasons for being shut at lunchtimes and in the afternoon, but frankly, I don’t care. If you’re not open to serve me at what I regard as a perfectly reasonable hour to be served, you’re not doing a good enough job.

Instead I went to the Water Poet nearby in Folgate Street. It may be almost a parody of the trendy Spitalfields bar – the wacky artwork on the walls, the second-hand leather sofas with the stuffing bulging out and the faux-ironic Scotch eggs on the menu (I don’t recall spotting any dimpled beermugs, but most other boxes were ticked). However, the Water Poet did manage to serve me a very pleasant pint of Truman’s Runner (from the people who revived the Truman’s name in 2010) at 3.15 in the afternoon, which is very considerably better than bleedin’ Mason & Taylor managed.

I was actually in East London on a roundabout journey from my semidetached paradise in the west to the Draft House on Tower Bridge Road for the UK launch of two lagers from the Heineken-owned Czech brewer Krušovice: a trip made less for the free beer and much more because I have known Shirley Braithwaite, whose PR company, Newshield, had organised the launch, for more than 20 years. Good PR people are worth supporting, almost regardless of the client.

This was my first time in the Draft House, another highly-praised-by-people-I-like beer bar, since it was a pub called the Copper. The former name reflected the fact that it was just round the corner from the Courage brewery in Horsleydown. Courage, unlike Truman’s, began as a mild ale brewery, and only grew large in the second half of the 19th century, when mild ale began to replace porter as London’s favourite beer.

I attempted to suggest to my fellows at the launch in the Draft House that one of the Krušovice beers – the almost black 3.8% abv Černé – might well be mistaken for a dark mild if warmed up a bit, but from the looks I was getting back, I fear they believed I was talking utter cobbler’s awls. Ah well – here’s a video review of the event from Marverine Cole, otherwise the Beer Beauty, which will tell you everything you require about the beers and what they’re like. At about two minutes in, you can spot me stuffing my face with devils on horseback while talking to Martin Kemp – not that one, or indeed that one, but the man behind the Pitfield Brewery, and someone else I have known for more than 20 years. (I have, on occasions, been mistaken for Martin – clue for telling us apart: he’s the one with the ponytail. Sadly, no one will ever mistake me for the Martin Kemp who played Reggie Kray.)

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