Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Revolution will not be Carbonised: Guest Post on Craft Beers by Matt Seys-Llewellyn

Dear Readers,

I am sorry to have not blogged in quite a while, I have been away on my travels. In fact, I have just come back from China and Hong Kong (HKSAR). I had a wonderful trip. 

I trust you will forgive the lack of posts, but I am delighted to host the following fascinating and informative post from my friend Matt Seys-Llewellyn. I always wanted to cover a wide range of food and drink issues on this blog, but my lack of experience and knowledge often holds me back. I am very grateful to Matt for his providing this incredibly helpful and useful introduction to Craft Beers. He is very well-informed on the subject, but fortunately, always partakes with discretion and moderation!

Over to Matt for his article 'The Revolution Will Not Be Carbonised'. There was no prompting from me for the title. It's a great homage to the late great talent which was Gil Scott-Heron. A king of jazz and soul, he is often neglected as the true founder of rap music. To hear the maestro at work check out:  YouTube: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

The Revolution will not be Carbonised

What have you been doing while Snigdha has been slaving away, marking papers? Be honest, you’ve been in the pub every evening and enjoying the end of the university term. 

I’m here (with Snig’s permission) to say a few words about ‘real ale’.  Its a provocative term: to some it conjures up images of bearded men out in the country drinking something black as pitch, and to others its actually quite inspiring.  As someone who spent their undergraduate days forced to choose between Heineken and Carling, I fall into the latter camp.   I worked at a “micro” in North Wales before I went to Cambridge, and did everything from bottle washing, to label design, to hauling firkins (barrels to you lot!). 
Herein I will use use the term ‘Craft Beers’ to cover the range of real ales, lagers, Belgian Beers and the like.  Beer with character and beer made with skill. 

Jargon busting 

One of the problems I find have with the some craft beer enthusiasts is that things descend into jargon.  I believe that most things about describing taste are understood by all, but understanding some of the key terms will help you understand what you’re drinking: 
  • Bottle-conditioned 
BC beers are vital to the craft beer industry.   When the beer is racked off away from the sediment and yeast, and decanted into bottles, a small amount of sugar is added to each bottle so it can continue the final stages of fermenting under glass.  This adds to the taste, and by-product of that final fermentation creates the fizz.  The alternative involves a completely dead beer and an injection of carbon dioxide at the point of bottling.  
  • Cask-conditioned 
Like bottle conditioned, but with added considerations about how quickly the beer will be served, and the percentage of Irish Moss to keep the beer clear. 
  • Hops 
You already know what hops are - they give beer most of its flavour and bitterness - but did you know there are at least 50 distinct varieties?  My friends at Charles Faram (the hop factors) are always finding hybrids of them.  The three you will most often come across include Cascade (gives the citrus taste), Syrian Goldings and Fuggles.  All give beer a freshness and a zestiness that thirsty Londoners want in a golden bitter or a lager variation. 
  • Lambic fermentation 
Most beers are fermented by adding yeast (and there are usually two types: one for beers and a different one for lagers).  Lambic fermentation is where the beer vats spend time being exposed to the airborne yeasts that live in certain special cellars.  This produces a bitter almost sour brew, often sweetened by fruit syrups.  A Belgian delicacy. 

So where are the gems? 

This is an unashamedly London blog, so with this in mind I suggest my favourite spots in Central London where the beer is worth the trip, and the atmosphere makes it worth staying. 

Craft Beer Company, Leather lane, EC1N 7TR 
The boys at CBC have really done wonders in little more than a year.  I love the variety of foreign beers in bottles, and English ales and porters on tap.  They also do a mean pork pie.  Anyone who can recommend a Norwegian beer, while pouring you a pint of Dark Star, is on their way to greatness. 

Tube: Chancery Lane and 7 minutes walk 

The Jerusalem Tavern, Britton Street, Clerkenwell, EC1M 5UQ 
I love this place: its wholly owned by St Peter’s brewery in Suffolk and mostly stocks their own beer, which is thoroughly excellent.   Inside the decor is very country pub, but cool and quiet.  Attracts a youngish crowd in the evening, but happily it seems to be student free. 

Tube: Farringdon and 4 minutes walk, Old Street and 15 minutes walk, Chancery Lane and 10 Minutes walk

The Cross Keys, Lawrence Street, Chelsea, SW3 5NB  

I found this pub after the cryptic hint “its near the house of the guy who wrote ‘Sartor Resartus’” (Thomas Carlyle), which tells you something about the people I drink with.  Do look on the map first as its hidden in the backstreets near Chelsea Embankment, but the beer (and food) is worth the trek.  You also get a nice view of the river if you get there early enough. 

Tube: Gloucester Road or South Kensington and 20 minutes walk.  Or take a cab, “yah”. 

The Rake, Borough Market, SE1 9AG 

Be honest, when I said ‘Borough’ you thought about the Market Porter didn’t you?  Well this is – dare I say it – just as good?  You might just get to sit down and the constantly changing selection of beer will impress anyone you take there.  Try to avoid the commuter rush 5-7 and you’re onto a winner. 

Tube: London Bridge and five minutes walk 

This of course ignores the very good Fullers and Young’s that are dotted around, and the pop-ups that will sell you your bottles of Meantime, Duvel and the like.  You know the ones. 

So remember, life is too short to drink poor beer, and CHEERS!


  1. What about some of the great microbreweries about?

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comment. Hope you liked the post!

    I'm not the Craft Beer expert, so you may have to tell me what a microbrewery is, and give me the names of some good ones.

    It's always good to share, right?

  3. Certainly Snigdha!

    As the first comment noted ,one of the ways of finding decent beer – aside from decent beers – is ordering direct from the micros themselves. I focused on some pubs in London where one can find immediate gratification, although the Jerusalem does sell bottled beer and gift sets from the brewery that owns it (St Peters in Suffolk - ).

    The following, in my own utterly personal view, are worth a punt:

    Meantime – the original London revival -

    Otley – good boys with a savvy distribution network -

    Sandstone – my old brewery -

    Otherwise, CAMRA - - has a fantastic wealth of information on microes and pubs, particularly their annual Good Beer Guide.

    Indeed i’d also consider the Great British Beer Festival in August – details . The atmosphere and variety are always excellent. Hope that helps!

  4. Hi Matt!

    Thanks for saving me on this one! This is not a subject I have much knowledge on.

    I must say I don't mind the Belgian style Weissbeers or their fruit beers. I met the Meantime guys at the South Bank - their Raspberry beer was delish! (But perhaps a little girly!)

    Thanks as ever for your astute advice!


  5. I've been led to this, months after it was written. And now I can't stop to comment, as I have to plot the best route from Leather Lane to Borough, via Clerkenwell...

  6. Hello Simon,

    I'm really glad that you've stumbled on Matt's excellent guest post. I hope that pub crawl you're planning goes well. Perhaps you will tell us all about it?

    It's been great trading music recommendations on twitter with you, too!

    best wishes