A Very Brief British Beer Round-up

I could move in here.
The House of the Trembling Madness

While on our recent trip to the UK we did the usual touristy things – took in a play the Globe as groundlings, went dowsing at Avebury, flew the TARDIS (well, one of us did, and yes, it was bigger on the inside) – we also kept a watchful eye out for interesting (mostly) cask ales that do not usually travel to our shores.

Places and beers we particularly enjoyed include:

The Wilmington Arms
69 Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell, London
We went for a very jet-lagged lunch, and it was practically empty, but we were very pleased to find great service, a nice selection of cask ales, all of which we were invited to sample before choosing, and a fantastic jukebox (which was not unlike playing one of my larger Spotify playlists – I cannot complain). The food was good as well.
Best beer enjoyed there: Elgood’s Cambridge Bitter

The Fox and Anchor
115 Charterhouse Street, Islington, London
This was expensive even by London standards, but it was very laid-back and quiet for dinner, with outstanding food. We had a number of beers from smaller brewers in somewhat twee-but-fun tankards) and some other smaller producers. It was nice to find a London pub (well, gastropub) that didn’t take itself too seriously, and – equally if not more importantly – did not feel that accommodating a well-behaved child was somehow below them (redacted West End pubs, this means you).
Best beer enjoyed here: Colchester Red Diesel

Holborn Whippet
25-29 Sicilian Avenue, Holborn, London
Certainly a destination for the beer nerd set, but not in a snobbish or pedantic way. In addition to a fantastic taplist, it boats friendly barstaff and quite reasonable prices, given its location. There was a nice mix of unusual and harder-to-find beers, like the refreshing unique Black Isle Blond, along with more traditional fare, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Best beer enjoyed here: Buxton Brewery Moor Top

Nicholson’s Pubs
The Cross Keys
34 Goodramgate, York
The Punch Bowl
7 Stonegate, York
Somehow I never ran across this chain when I lived in the UK (why was I going to Wetherspoons instead?), but they will certainly be on my radar going forward – not only did they have an excellent selection of guest ales on cask at each of the locations we tried, but they had very reasonable prices, fine food options and were very child-friendly. They also have their own combination pub crawl/ghost walk in York, which is essentially my ideal night out.  We will certainly be seeking them out around the UK on future visits.
Best beer enjoyed here: Thwaites Sunshine and Lollihops

The House of the Trembling Madness
48 Stonegate, York
Another must-visit for beer geeks of all stripes, this bottle shop-cum-medieval pub lives up to its hype. Everything on tap and on cask was outstanding, and the bottled selection was well worth exploring. It would have been easy to spend a whole day here, given the variety and the pleasant surroundings – we started off with Rudgate’s Ruby Mild and Durham Brewery’s Evensong, and moved on to some very ‘American’ IPAs from London’s Kernal Brewery (and quite tasty they were, too). The food is also tremendous and featured some of the best breads and cheeses I’ve had (and I am a bread and cheese nerd, in addition to being a beer nerd). Given that I could happily live on good beer and good bread, this ticked every possible box. Also, if you are 7, the fact that the decor includes swords is a bonus point.
Best beer enjoyed here: Ampleforth Abbey Dubbel

Other travel notes: Thwaites brought back Lancaster Bomber, and it’s still great! One thing I never noticed when actually living in the UK is that tattoo parlors close well before the pubs do – surely a more symbiotic relationship would improve business?

You Should Try This: The New York Distilling Company

The still at the New York Distilling Company

Over the holidays, we had the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the New York Distilling Company, and it’s well worth a trip into the hipster wilds of Williamsburg to get to know this new microdistillery.  For those who have not been paying attention, microdistilling is the Next Big Thing, and if they’re all nearly this good, I believe it – but more on that later.  The distillery is the brainchild of Tom Potter (of ex-Brooklyn Brewery fame) and his son Bill; we got the full Potter Family treatment on our visit, as our good friends are their former neighbours (this is one of many, many reasons I often miss living in Brooklyn, but I digress).  Even the many and various children we had with us enjoyed the tour (again, many thanks to Gail Flanery for keeping them occupied!), even if they didn’t get to sample the wares at the end like we lucky adults did.

You enter through The Shanty, an industrial-cozy bar (yes, such a thing exists) with gin-inspired light fixtures and a view into the distillery, which at present is essentially a large, industrial space that would certainly be familiar, though not identical, to anyone who has been on a brewery tour.  The difference, of course, is the sparkling new still, custom-made in Germany.  Eventually, rye whiskey will begin here, but in the meantime, there are two varieties of really rather wonderful gin being produced: Perry’s Tot and Dorothy Parker.  The former, were it made in Plymouth, would carry that town’s name, while the latter is a more ‘American’ gin, with a few unusual botanicals like hibiscus in the mix (and isn’t it nice to see a drink named after a woman famous for her wit, rather than her other attributes?).  After touring the distilling operation, we repaired back to the bar, where we got to sample both to fine effect, both alone and in some of the unique cocktails developed by the team there. While I’m normally just a beer drinker, gin is one of the few spirits I do enjoy from time to time, and it was certainly a pleasing experience to taste two that really had a definite (and very distinct) flavor and character (especially on the ‘botanicals’ front).

Future plans include some collaborations with the Brooklyn Brewery (at least insofar as using some of their barrels for aging projects), and the long-term goal, as mentioned above, is whiskey. The gin is certainly much more than a stopgap measure, and while The Shanty is no 30-tap beer bar, it does reserve the beer taps for the good stuff; on our visit, there was a Brooklyn Brewery special release as well as a one-off from a smaller Long Island brewery.

You should most definitely get on the small batch distilling train now, so you can say you liked everything before it went mainstream – and if you’re a cocktail bar, you should be ordering the gin now – it’s tremendous.

Beer Places: ChurchKey, Washington, DC

ChurchKeyAfter previous highly-successful visits to their sister restaurant, Rustico, in Alexandria, VA, we finally managed to fit in a visit to ChurchKey, which opened last year to great acclaim.   Unlike some revered beer destinations that don’t quite live up to perhaps unrealistic hype, ChurchKey exceeded all expectations.  The interior is laid-back in design, yet sleek, with tables by the window and cozy raised booths near the fifty-plus tap bar, which is clearly the focal point.

And it’s a thoroughly-impressive tap list, helpfully laid out in categories that are equally approachable by hardcore beer geeks as well as the uninitiated (one minor complaint – that list could be updated more frequently on their website).  Information for each beer includes the brewer, style, origin, ABV, ideal serving temperature and usual serving glass, although each item was also available as a 4oz taster (even the five cask ales) – something our party made much use of.   But the bottle list is not to be overlooked – it contains well-curated rarities from around the world as well as traditional favorites; you know it’s good when it comes in a binder, and you don’t have to go to your fourth pick to actually get something that’s in stock.   Given the weather in DC in summer, finding Professor Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse on tap was certainly welcome; having a waiter who understood ‘and I’d like the woodruff on the side’ was even better; indeed, the service was outstanding throughout our visit (something that isn’t always true when you bring a small child with you, even at a quiet lunchtime).

The food is also very tasty and should not be overlooked, but you’re no doubt wondering which beers were top of the list on this visit.  Schlafly Pumpkin Ale offered a spicy fall preview, while Ommegang Cup O Kyndnes was an unusual combination of heather, malty and peaty goodness.  Although we tried a wide variety (thanks, again to the handy 4 oz tasters), one of my favorites was Brewster’s Brewery Mata Hari – something that will be receiving its own review in the near future.

So while there is not a terribly convenient Metro stop by ChurchKey, you should still seek it out if you happen to be in the District; there’s something for every palate or mood, and the friendly, well-trained staff make a visit even more pleasant – it’s all rather tremendous.

ChurchKey
1337 14th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20005-3610

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