Friday, 29 June 2018

Taproom Scoring System

I feel like I need to somehow measure and quantify taprooms as I visit them. However, a lot of the attraction of taprooms are the quirky details and intangible qualities, which are really difficult to pin down.

I have therefore come up with the following scoring system, which is an inexact science in the extreme.

All data points are scored out of five, with quarter-point increments, in tribute to Untappd, which is, of course, the greatest mobile app in the history of computing!

How cool, picturesque, steam-punk industrial, or otherwise interesting is the location?
How easy it the taproom to get to on public transport, or at least, is there a reasonably-priced hotel option near-by?
Is the taproom a nice place to be? This doesn't have to be luxurious, but is it a comfortable, welcoming place to spend a few hours?
Beer Selection
This is partly about number of taps, partly about a range of styles, but mostly about the beer styles that I love (Pale, IPA, NEIPA, DIPA, Stout and Porter)
Are there enough of them, is the service great, are they welcoming, enthusiastic, and happy to talk about the beer (if they have time)?
Value for money
Some taprooms (mainly in the USA) are absolutely insane value for money, some are downright expensive.
Emotional quotient
Some taprooms are so amazing (some mysterious combination of the above metrics) that they bring me over quite emotional!

The above scores are then added together, to give a total out of a possible 35 points. 

I know that this is subjective, non-scientific, and perhaps downright ridiculous, but it is my blog, and the scoring system pleases me, so this is how it will be!

Brewdog Soho

Brewdog Soho at street-level is a fairly standard single-shop-front Brewdog bar, in Poland St, less than 100 yards from the tourist hubbub of Oxford Street.

It also has a basement bar, about 3/4 the size of the main bar, with a more or less full-service bar, for busy periods.
I was one of only 4 customers in the first hour of the lunch session, but it was the hottest day off the year so far, so maybe the pub wasn't uppermost in people's minds?

I was pleased with the choice of guest beers, including two from The Kernel, and a decent NEIPA from Pressure Drop.

The service was attentive, as one would expect, but I have to mark the staff down, as I struggled (and failed!) to explain to the barmaid that they have listed the wrong Kernel beer on the Untappd Verified Venue listing for this bar!

I imagine that the location ensures that this bar is busy most of the time. Whilst not as pleasing to the eye as Brewdog Camden, it is still a pleasant option for West End drinking.

The Standing Bar - Hanoi, Vietnam

The prevalent beer style in Vietnam is Bia Hoi, which is a light lager, which is sold ice-cold on every street,  in odd little "bars" which are more like the front room of private houses, furnished with primary-school sized plastic tables and chairs.

There are however a couple of what we would identify as proper craft taprooms, the best of which is The Standing Bar. This mostly open-plan bar, with a delightful upstairs terrace with a stunning lake view, serves an excellent variety of mostly Vietnamese modern craft beers, with some imports from elsewhere in SE Asia.

The clientel is mostly Western ex-pats, which is hardly surprising considering the roughly European price levels of the beers. (On one of the nights we were there, there was an excellent stand-up comedy night, with one of the acts hilariously berating the audience for standing there drinking craft beers at 15x the price that we could buy a Beer Hoi across the street!)

The staff were delightful and attentive, and the bar is a wonderful refuge from the incredible heat and bustle of a chaotic Asian mega-city.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Genesis - The Taphouse, Copenhagen

About four years ago, I had arranged to meet a business colleague in Central Copenhagen. When I arrived at his hotel, he offered his apologies, but advised that he had to join a conference call for maybe 45 minutes, before he could join me for drinks and dinner.

It was a hot afternoon, and I had had a busy day, so I was reluctant to wait that long for a beer! So I wandered out of the Hotel and randomly turned left into a narrow sidestreet, and stumbled upon The Taphouse, which was my first experience of a modern craft beer taproom. I was immediately smitten...!
At that time, The Taphouse had only been open for a few weeks, but already boasted the same 61 taps that it has today, organised roughly by beer style. Taps 10 through 18 typically serve a variety of Pales and IPAs from an interesting mix of Danish and International Breweries, and that was where my attention was focused. (These days, I suspect that my interest would be drawn by a broader range of their taps...)

Over the next three years, I spent countless hours in the Taphouse, in the day-time and in the evening, with customers, with colleagues, and alone. Due to it's solid free WiFi, it also became euphemistically know as "The Copenhagen Office" amongst our Team!

Between that first experience and today, I have been to dozens of other taprooms, in Europe, Asia and the USA. I have been to larger taprooms, more atmospheric taprooms, even taprooms with a more interesting beer selections, but no other taproom has a dearer place in my heart than The Taphouse!

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Brewdog Brussels

My first visit to Brewdog Brussels in about two years was a relatively flying visit, while I killed a couple of hours waiting for my Eurostar train back to London. 

This huge bar, spread over two substantial floor was part of the early wave of Brewdog's expansion into Continental Europe. It occupies a superbly strategic location, right opposite one of the entances to Brussels Central Station, so enjoys plenty of passing trade.

As I was settling in at the bar, it occurred to me that I have traveled a long way in my craft beer journey since I last sat in this pub, not least of which has been with Brewdog themselves, including attending the past two AGMs in Aberdeen, as well as countless trips to other Brewdog bars across Europe.

This bar could easily accommodate several hundred people, so the 40 or so punters in there on a Thursday at 3pm did not make it seem busy at all.

My initial thoughts as I surveyed the menu board behind the bar were: 

1. The guest beer list was disappointingly Belgiany (I know, I was in the Belgian Capital, but I had hoped to discover one or two guest IPAs, Porters, Stouts etc.The only non-Belgiany guest beer was Stone's Ruination DIPA, which I had previously tasted, and anyway at 8.5% wasn't ideal lunchtime drinking!)   

2. The prices were pretty steep! (EUR4.30 for half a pint of Punk IPA, equates to £7.50 a pint!)

Nonetheless, the staff were attentive and welcoming, so I ordered up a sequence of halves of Brewdog beers, including Cybernaut, Libertine, Jet Black Heart and Native Son. 

A pleasant couple of hours later, I headed back out into the Brussels afternoon in search of a frites shop, to sustain me on my journey home.

In conclusion, Brewdog Brussels is a pleasant spot for some afternoon drinking. It is very handily located, and so will likely continue to thrive. It's huge size means you will rarely struggle to find a seat, but it is so big and airy that it can tend to lack the atmosphere of some of their smaller and more intimate bars.

Monday, 11 June 2018

2017 Beer Year in Review

This article was originally posted to my (now dormant) poker blog (The Great Poker Adventure), but I decided it was more at home here, in my new taproom blog...   


Today it's Wednesday 31st January, and I haven't had a drink since January 1st.

This year I have combined my observance of Dry January with exercising every morning on my cross trainer, as well as eating an almost exclusively vegetarian diet. The result is that I have lost over a stone in weight and I feel amazing!

However, I have loads of great craft beers in stock at home, that aren't going to drink themselves!

Before I embark on my 2018 craft beer journey, I figured it would be a good idea to log some reflections on the first year of my craft beer odyssey.

Twelve months ago, I had already had some exposure to craft beer thanks to Mikkeler and Warpigs in Copenhagen, but my general focus was on quantity rather than quality, and I was generally intimidated by strong beers.

I have been an enthusiastic attender of beer festivals for many years, but prior to 2017, my approach would be to stick religiously to sub 5% bitters and pale ales. How short-sighted I was!

In 2017 I started using Untappd properly, which for me means only checking in new beers (to me), writing proper tasting notes (to the best of my ability) and trying to be consistent n the score that I give. For me a 3.5 is a beer that I would order again, 4 is an outstanding beer, and 4.5 is a truly fantastic beer. This scoring approach also seems to work when I am looking at the aggregate scores of a beer in a category that I generally like (Pales, IPAs, NEIPAs, Stouts, Porters). I know that I am going to LOVE a beer from any is these categories rated 4 or above, and I know that a beer from these categories rated above 3.5 is going to be very drinkable. 

So valuable do I find Untappd, that I pay the £40-odd per year that is costs to be a supporter. (this subscription was partly funded by cancelling my CAMRA subscription, due to their luddite attitude to craft keg beer!)

I also began to seek out the best craft beer bars in every city that I visited, plotting them in  Google maps for future reference and to share work friends and colleagues. This has now built into a decent resource library, that I am always seeking to update.

I also subscribed to BEER52 which ships me a monthly case of interesting craft beers, which ensures that I always have something new and unusual in the fridge at home.

Beers of 2017

10. Stockholm Brewing Company Birra Nizza - 4.2% Session IPA
Image result for "Birra Nizza" Stockholm Brewing
I drank a lot of beer in Sweden in 2017, and this was one of the very best. Amazing depth of flavours for 4.2% abv.

9. Amager Bryghus Bad Beard Day - 6% Hipster IPA
Image result for amager bryghus

I drank even more beer in Denmark than I did in Sweden, and this was a great find. I love the name, the style description, the colour and the murk!

8. Heart of Darkness Brewery Saigon - Kurtz's Insane IPA - 7.1% APA

I spent an amazing week in Vietnam in April, including 3 days in Hanoi hitting the craft beer bars hard. This was a terrific beer, drank in the awesome, atmospheric Standing Bar, with my great friend Stuart. Very good memories!

7. Warpigs Booty Call - 5.8% Session IPA

Image result for Warpigs Booty CallImage result for Warpigs Booty Call

No brewer or pub has more responsibility for my craft beer obsession than Warpigs in Copenhagen. This was one of at least a dozen APAs from Warpigs that would be worth a place on my top ten. I won't be there so much in 2018, but I will be back there sometime, I guarantee it!

6. Tired Hands Brewing Co Hop Hands - 5.5% APA

This is a great American Pale, which I enjoyed on a fine sunny evening on the terrace at Warpigs.

5. Siren Craft Project Barista Americano - 9.1% DIPA

My local craft brewery! Good to see Siren Craft building such a great reputation. They have just opened a really cool taproom at the brewery, and they are practically ever-present at the Nags Head in Reading these days.

4. Dugges Double Crush - 8% DIPA

Probably my favourite Scandinavian brewer, Dugges brew some amazing NEIPAs and DIPAs. Best enjoyed at the Brewers Bar in their home town of Gothenburg.

3. Verdant/Other Half - Now We Are Here - 8% DIPA

Very high on my bucket list is the need to make a pilgrimage to the NE USA to visit Trillium, Tree House, and Other Half, amongst others. This collab with UK brewer Verdant was fantastic, enjoyed at the Copenhagen Taphouse, which also must shoulder some of the blame for my craft beer habit!

2. Moor Beer Company JJJ - 9% Triple IPA

Enjoyed on JJJ launch day at the Nags Head in Reading. All the pomp and ceremony was justified! This beer has more depth and complexity of flavour than any red wine or whisky that I have ever tasted.

1. Cloudwater Spring + Summer DDH Pale Chinook Citra - 5.2% APA

This week, Cloudwater were ranked the number two brewer in the World by RateBeer, but for me, they are the undisputed Number One! Paul Jones and his Team bring their genius to a wide range of beer styles, but their NEIPAs and DIPAs are truly magnificent!