Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Euston Tap and National Winter Ales Festival

Christ, it's been a busy two weeks. Anyone else suffer from all-the-work-comes-at-once syndrome? After a relatively quiet Christmas, the New Year's been nuts, but the upside of this has been the opportunity to break up a couple of days in London on business with a visit to The Euston Tap.

It's been the #1 venue on my list since reading Adrian's great review back in November. So, what other venue to meet an old friend and catch up over a beer or three. Despite the initial confusion over where the taps are (they're behind the bar, sticking out of the wall, US-style), we then spent the next five minutes deciding what to have. This sounds like a chore-but in reality it's refreshing; it's been a while since I've been stumped by choice. Opting for a Thornbridge Wild Swan and a refreshing, grapefruity Camden Pale (followed by some Bernard in excellent nick), we caught up, whilst every once in a while commenting on the friendliness of the staff, individuality of the space (did it used to be a public toilet, anyone?), the prices (excellent for London) and the sheer range, both on tap and in the monolithically-sized fridges that flank the bar. It's going to be really hard to be in London and not visit, now my cherry has been popped. Visit it. I was so lost in the beer, conversation and the moment, I didn't even take any pictures. That doesn't happen often. Also, if you visit the website and watch the slideshow, you'll see a certain Mr Avery propping up the bar - and if it's good enough for Zak, it's good enough for you. Visit their website for further info.

Back to the North, and I pleaded and fought to take a day off on Thursday to attend the National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester. It's always a pleasure; well run, well organised, a great -and truly seasonal - beer list, and a nice, airy venue. Inital thirst adequately sated by an Okell's Alt - all toffee, caramel, and bready, malt led sweetness - I began on my beer list for the day. Stand out beers? SummerWine's Diablo IPA had all the trademark, golden sweetness for an SWB beer, and, to my mind, delivered a much more aggressive, spicy hoppiness than thier P6 Range. Wonderful stuff, and I'm glad I saved it until last, such is the hop attack. Hardknott's Infra-Red proved too much of a temptation from the bottled bar; and it refreshed the palate following a day of darker beers. One beer I'd had my eye on last time but missed was Robinson's Chocolate Tom. Surprisingly, I got practically no chocolate apart from a mild, milky chocolate hint at the end of the sip. It was, however, a good beer - plummy, red-fruit dominating the palate, with a hint of spice and the aforementioned chocolate-creaminess wrapping the whole package up. Sweet, but not cloyingly so, it was Christmas cake in a glass. Goacher's Fine Light perked things back up with mellow, unmistakable EKG hop notes before I made my big discovery of the day.

This was Hopstar's Smokey Joe Black Beer. I have never - and I really mean this - come across such a well-balanced chocolate beer. Layer upon layer of Dark and Milk Chocolate, a slight hazelnut/almond nuttiness providing a little sharpness, and light as a feather. An absolute diamond of a beer, and at 4.0 abv and not too cloying, I actually went back and had another half. It's not often that happens at a beer festival, either. It won Silver in the Stout category - and rightly so.

My usual drinking buddy, Chris, had never visited The Marble Arch, so obviously the route home was circumvented by a visit. Over post-festival halves of Utility Special, we opted to try the small cheeseboard and a share a bottle of Stouter Port Stout - what a beer! Damsons, Plum, Raisin, Sultana all peeking out from rich smokiness and a surprisingly light finish for a stout. Again, the environment, beer, excellent cheeseboard (and it really was - we opted for 'chef's choice' but really wish I'd have made a note of what we ate) and conversation prevented me from taking too many pictures, but good pubs have a way of doing that.


Ghost Drinker said...

Utility special lives up it's name doesn't it! I think Chocolate Tom and Ginger Tom are a bit of a let down, because it's just Old Tom with added Fentimans ginger beer, or chocolate (I forget which chocolate.) As good as Old Tom is, they could have made some new recipes for chocolate and ginger beers.

Leigh said...

Ghostie - I think I liked the Choc Tom, it jus wasnt what I expected! Would like to try again in a non-fest environment. Utlity Special - Jesus, what a beer. what a pub. What a brewery.

ChrisM said...

Chocolate Tom has chocolate from Simon Dunn added. As GD says, Ginger Tom has Fentimans added - and in my opinion not enough!

Still not made it to the Euston Tap, but I do have the Chaos Crew from Pivovar (Jamie, Jon, Jon, Tom, Phil and Yan) to thank for my beer flu on Thursday after the first night of NWAF. Yan decided it was a good idea to throw rice all over the floor by our bar - I may try the same when I make it to the ETap and see what he says ;-)

ChrisM said...

PS if you want to drink Chocolate Tom at home, it can be found in M&S badged as Cheshire Chocolate Porter.

Ghost Drinker said...

You can also buy the Old, Chocolate and Ginger Tom at Beer Ritz, but I have a feeling you may already know that Leigh :)