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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Craft Beer and US-Russian Relations

I went drinking strong beer with Russians last night.

Don't do this.  It's not a good idea if you fancy living. They look at high ABVs and laugh contemptuously, necking them almost scornfully.

I was meeting Eugene Tolstov, Moscow's number one home brewer, and Russian beer blogger.  Eugene looked after me in St Petersburg, and is in the UK three of four times a year with his day job, so I was happy to return the favour.  Eugene was happy to demolish beers the rest of us might be a little bit scared of.

We were in the newly opened Craft Beer Co in Leather Lane, Clerkenwell, London, EC1.  It's a truly great place, and many other bloggers were there for the opening night last week - I know Young Mark has already covered it.  I counted 42 taps on the bar, about half of these being cask ale (which, as we all know, is a form of craft beer, so let's not get started).  The cask ales are a reasonable (for London) £3.40ish, while the taps carry beers rarely, if ever seen in the UK on draught, so they're a bit more expensive.

"Excuse me, have you got any beer?"
"Yes sir, this is a craft beer pub, not a Monty Python sketch"
What I liked about it though is that it still feels like a pub, a proper London boozer.  The glass ceiling is stunning, the roman numerals remembering the gaff's previous spit-and-sawdusty days as The Clockhouse.

I was with one old Clockhouse regular who was complaining about the high price of beers such as Struise Old Albert (13%ABV), or Mikkeller's nonsensically named but wonderful 1000IBU, being sold at four or five quid a half, until I pointed out this would be quite reasonable if you were looking at wine - and rare wine at that.

The Russians were gamely attempting to chug their way through the entire range when in walked a legend, an immortal, a god in little bald beardy man-shaped form.  Ladies and gentlemen, White House communications chief Mr Toby Ziegler! In a pub! In London!  OK, not the real White House Comms chief, the one in West Wing, which is even better than the real thing in all respects.  And not him of course, because he doesn't really exist, but the actor who plays him, Mr Richard Schiff.  But Still.  Toby Ziegler!

I need to say now that, depending on your point of view, I was either too chicken or too sane to rush up to him and take a photo, or have my photo taken with him.  I wish I had been more courageous/sad.  In the end, I only got this photo of him when he was leaving.  But I promise you that is the back of his greying bald head:
"Yes, Mr President"
You can tell by the confident, authoritative way he looks up manfully at the brooding sky.

And here is from the front, in The West Wing, in one of the rare scenes that doesn't have people walking up and down corridors talking extremely quickly:


See? You can tell.

Before he left, he spent a long time tasting samples of various different craft beers before ordering pints of a blonde one, a brown one and a dark one for himself and his posse.  I wasn't close enough to him to ascertain whether or not he ordered by starting a sentence very-quietly-and-quickly-and-suddenly-gathered-pace-before-finishing with an OUTBURST OF MORALLY OUTRAGED SHOUTING!

But the best was yet to come.  As he got his beers, he glanced across the bar at me - or rather in front of me - and saw that I was eating one of the Craft Beer Co's bloody excellent pork pies.  I saw him mouth the words, "Hey what's that? I'll have one of those too."  TOBY ZIEGLER SAW ME EATING A PORK PIE AND THEN HE ORDERED ONE AS WELL!

Apart from now having the best lame claim to fame I've ever had, some gnawing self-doubt at the fact that a better (or worse) man than I would be sitting here today posting a photo of himself with his arm around Richard Schiff, raising our beer glasses to the camera, I'm just happy that one of the coolest guys in one of the coolest TV series ever is a craft beer (and pork pie) fan.  And if Craft Beer Co wasn't cool enough for you before, it is now.

I tried explaining how cool all this was to the Russians.  You'll be amazed to hear they don't really get the West Wing.

But here we were: the former mortal enemies of the Cold War, brought together by craft beer. It was a beautiful moment.  Even if the Russians had no idea what was going on, and Richard Schiff remains forever ignorant of the meeting that never quite took place.

20 comments:

Pete Green said...

Is cask beer still craft if it's produced by a big, corporate brewer?

If a cask conditioned version of Bud Light was released, would that be craft?

I know you said not to get started, but saying "all cask is craft" as you imply simply isn't true.

Anonymous said...

Went in the clerkenwell place last week and really liked it, but for me it brought on quite an unusual feeling with regard to cask beer. Namely that, unlike the Keg lines (where I had the wonderful 1000IBU and the Black Albert you mentioned) where the goal is clear - the best non-UK stuff going the cask stuff seemed a bit odd. How does a geeky beer bar distinguish itself in terms of cask beer when it faces such stiff competition elsewhere? Does Oakham Citra really stand up next to the Stillwater or Mikkeller keg? And since they have no ties to a UK brewery they're unlikely to get any exclusive casks, whereas they clearly have exclusivity on the keg stuff. I also didn't like that the only UK bottles that seemed to available were Kernel. Not to knock Kernel but there are some other UK bottled beers which stand up to that range (e.g. Bracia, Vintage Ale and I could see the Slewfoot stuff doing well there). Just a curious sensation - a UK pub where I didn't bother with the cask selection....

Neil, Eating isn't Cheating said...

Really want to visit this place next time I'm in London.

Also, what a fun, irreverent post, I loved reading this, and have to say you are at your best when telling a story!

More like this please, and also, when's the book on the great imperial stout adventure coming?....

Pete Brown said...

Oh God, I've just lost the will to live...

beerprole said...

Man, I love Toby Ziegler. I wonder what beer goes best with The West Wing: Sam Adams? Liberty Ale? Nothing by Anheuser-Busch, certainly...

Nick

thornbridge said...

I love Eugene. He's a legend. I hope he told you the story of how he got in to Belgium this year...

Dominic, Thornbridge Brewery

Phil said...

I know you said not to get started

The man said not to get started. (Admittedly he said not to get started immediately after making a statement guaranteed to get people started, but there you go.)

BLTP said...

Toby schmoby apparently CJ, Donna and Amy are coming to the re-opening of the Old No 7 and you can guarantee the pies will be way better than any you'll find in that London.

Steve said...

"cask ale (which, as we all know, is a form of craft beer, so let's not get started)"

Yes, poor timing that Martin names his new pub after a term that has become so divisive.

The term "craft beer" was gaining ground in UK and Europe to identify beer made by non-corporate brewers (with the implication that such brewers make poor and uninteresting beer, while non corporate brewers make good and interesting beers), and people felt comfortable with the term. It was hip, it was cool, and it was going places.

But then people started to examine what it really meant, and the whole thing has blown up, and so the term is no longer cool. Use the word "craft beer" in any conversation or blog, and that's grounds for an immediate argument. It's too wearisome.

What is really silly, of course, is that Clockhouse was such a great name. I suppose using the Craft Beer Co name is about corporate branding. No, wait, isn't craft beer meant to be against such things?

Gary Gillman said...

This has solved a mystery for me of some 35 years standing, which is the meaning of gaff (as opposed to gaffe). In the song Bellboy from The Who's Quadrophenia, there is a line sung by the late Keith Moon: "remember the gaff where the door we smashed?". In the days before the Internet it wasn't easy to figure out these expressions, but I can see from the context of this post that it means place or room.

Gary

Jack R. said...

'Craft beer' is well defined in the USofA by the [US] Brewers Association; craft = small, independent, traditional @http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/business-tools/craft-brewing-statistics/craft-brewer-defined

The term/prefix 'micro-' became invalid as top US craft beer breweries became to exceed half a million barrels/year; where, barrel_beer_US = 31 [US] gallons = 117.35 liters.

Leigh said...

Hah! I was wondering if this would end up on the blog! awesome spot. Beats my paltry Chris Morris circa 2001 spot in Soho. Christ, I'm Northern.

String said...

Good beer is good beer, it doesnt really matter what its called or what its labelled.
I like the name "The Craft Beer Co". Its a good name, I don't care what the exact picky definitions are,
to me "craft" (not necessarily beer related) gives the impression of a certain quality - something thats been made with love to be enjoyed.

Eugene said...

Pete, that was excellent night out! Thanks for joining us. I have to learn about West Wing now I suppose and watch it

Pete Brown said...

Look, I just wanted to write a post that might be funny and light-hearted. Thanks Neil for spotting this.

I promise never again to attempt to mix humour and craft beer. Obviously they're incompatible.

BLTP said...

ah but this is typical though Pete so called Brown I've been to that there "Jolly Butchers" in that there fashionable london's london and I didn't see a single meat slicer or kidney botherer not even a grumpy one. It should really be called "the slightly grumpy web designer with scruffy hair and a post modern knowing tshirt bearing a weakjoke based on a starwars meme."

Steve said...

Whatever you do, don't mention the craft beer. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it...

Steve Lamond said...

I wonder if 'craft beer' is a meme?

In all seriousness Pete this big post has strengthened my resolve to visit the place when I'm in that London for gbbf week.

Matthew Steeples said...

Have you tried Nils God Lager? I recommend you do if you haven't already. http://dasteepsspeaks.blogspot.com/2011/07/godly-lager.html

Saga Of Nails said...

Pete, don't you know that it's against the rules to smile, sing or laugh in all the truly serious alehouses ? You broke the golden rule, which is to scowl into your pint, and glare menacingly towards any newcomers into your pub. :)