Ahh, Valentine’s Day, the annual prospect of a corporate Cupid that tries to divest us of our remaining cash and last shreds of dignity. If your idea of true love is twelve red roses and Billecart-Salmon on ice then you may find this blog somewhat lacking, but if the idea of walking through a Biblical swarm of midges on a drizzly Tottenham trading estate followed by a drunken chicken dinner floats your boat, then I’ve got a treat in store for you.
The reason for this rare north London pilgrimage was to visit the Saturday tap room at the Beavertown Brewery, one the most celebrated of the new wave of British brewers who produce such wonderful beers as Gamma Ray American Pale (my favourite) and Smog Rocket smoked porter (the Ewing’s).
Our recent visit was in anticipation of the annual release of their lauded brew, the Bloody ‘Ell blood orange infused ipa. Although it may seem like a bit of a schlep, it’s an easy ten minutes’ walk from Tottenham Hale tube to get your hand on some of London’s best beer straight from the source: although I still can’t think of anything positive to say about the drizzle and the insects encountered on route.
Our first sampling of the main draw, the aforementioned Bloody ‘Ell, was a comparison between cask and keg. Very briefly, and hopefully not too boringly, the difference between the two can roughly be described thus - cask ale is unfiltered and unpasteurised ‘live’ beer which is conditioned (including secondary fermentation) and served from a cask (or it can be bottle conditioned) without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. Keg beer is beer which is served from a pressurised keg. Keg beer is often filtered and/or pasteurised, both of which are processes that render the yeast inactive and give the beer a much longer life.
After that it starts to get tricky. For a long time CAMRA - who are the champions of ‘real’ (cask) ale – saw ‘dead’ keg as the enemy. And this may have been true when the competition was from a row of shiny taps offering Stella, Fosters, John Smiths and Guinness, but now many microbreweries (and ‘craft’ drinkers) have resurrected kegged beers - for a start they are usually served colder, and with a little carbonation, that suits the hoppy IPA styles and gives good head to the stouts that are popular at the moment.
Beer politik aside, I happily enjoy both styles without discrimination, although it was nice to get to try a brew that is normally served either kegged or in cans. I actually think I preferred the cask, being a touch warmer it made the orange-lead hoppiness stand out, making it feel more ‘English’. Contrarily, the Ewing preferred the keg, so, for once, we were both happy with our lot.
Next up was something completely different. For me the Dogfishhead collaboration Londonerweisse, a bracingly sour beer with a 2.8% abv that is based on the popular German Berlinerweisse, but with added gin botanicals – such as juniper, coriander and citrus zest and then dry-hopped with Darjeeling tea - to make it ‘London’ style. In Deutschland sugar syrups are added to sweeten, notably green woodruff and red raspberry, but I’m big fan on the pleasing lip puckeringness of this style being served as is.
The Ewing chose the far burlier Applleation, a bramley apple infused saison, rocking up at a hefty 8.7% ABV. Saisons are beers with lots of history, traditionally brewed by the French and Belgian farmers in the colder months and served to the workers, who were entitled to up to five litres each workday (thankfully at much lower abvs). As it is, it is only served at Beavertown in half pints, a good thing on balance as its warming, vinous qualities made it dangerously quaffable on a chilly afternoon. If you’re a fan of good oaked apple cider, complete with those dark funky farmyard notes, then this could be the drop for you.
There were also savoury snacks, in the form of Soffle's Pitta Chips, which are made on the same trading estate as Beavertown. The chilli ones are properly fiery and come recommended.
The sweet supplies picked up in Lidl on the way proved a good match with our next tipple, the wonderful Heavy Water sour cherry and sea salt imperial stout (at 9% ABV try saying that after you’ve drunk one). The stout itself is, for my money, one of the best in class. It’s oily and rich with chocolate, coffee, malt and Marmite notes, although the cherry isn’t particularly prominent in the mix. A real bruiser for a typically English winter’s afternoon and a great match with Crusti Choc (a Rice Krispie and milk choc marvel), that’s currently my confectionary of choice.
Because of the auspicious date (and nothing to do with the alcohol imbibed) love was in the air and I was eager to share our chocolately spoils with the neighbouring table. This lead to the inspired pairing of chocolate mousse filled bars eaten with Bloody ‘Ell, creating a kind of alcoholic chocolate orange taste sensation –a pairing the Ewing ramped up on our return, combining it with a real chocolate orange; properly zesty times.
More sustenance was supposed to be supplied in the shape of the East meets West ramen burgers (complete with compressed noodle buns), but then something happened, and it wasn’t. Luckily a late substitution, in the form of Columbian St Kitchen, stepped into the hold and we were soon enjoying chicken tamales with tomato chutney, and beef and onion empanadas with pickle. The latter were particularly memorable, like a kind of South American pasty and the perfect grog-absorber for our final round of a 8 Ball Rye ipa for the Ewing and another Bloody ‘Ell on keg for me.
It wouldn’t be a proper Valentine’s Day without a nice dinner a deux to round things off, which is how we found ourselves under the sparkling neon lights of Tottenham Hale KFC, ravenously sharing a bargain bucket and fries, complete with Milkybar milkshake and extra gravy on the side. Who said romance is dead. (Oh God,what did we do to ourselves? TE)