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I told myself I wasn’t going to write about The Independent Manchester Beer Convention, or Indy Man as it is better known.
“Everyone will have been”, “it will just annoy people who weren’t able to go”, “what can you say that nobody else hasn’t already said before?” were just some of the things to have crossed my mind as I stood on a laughably overcrowded train from London to Manchester on Friday night. Yet upon my return to the capital on Sunday, exhausted, skint and very hungover, I felt compelled to write about what was without a shadow of a doubt one of the best experiences on my journey of beer discovery that started almost three years ago with a boozy family trip to Belgium.
It’s not difficult to put a finger on exactly what it is that makes Indy Man such a special occasion and why it is one of the first dates in any beer geek’s calendar. A huge celebration of some of the worlds best breweries in an iconic Victorian baths on the outskirts of one of the UK’s most cultural cities is always going to prove popular. Nonetheless, I was taken aback to miss out on tickets in June after forgetting they had gone on sale. Luckily, Twitter came to the rescue and I was able to secure a ticket to the Saturday day session a fortnight or so before the festival. And boy am I glad I did.
Arriving at the baths around half an hour before doors opened with a slight headache from drinking Buxton’s 12 per cent imperial stout, Yellow Belly Sundae, on cask in Port Street Beer House the night before, I was shocked by the sizable queue already forming on the street outside. To any passersby, the scene must have been something of a mystery. The staff manning the queue were excellent, handing out wristbands and selling beer tokens to the punters whilst we waited for the doors to open, and in no time at all I was collecting my beautiful stemmed third-pint glass and stepping into the old bath house.
Even though I was desperate to start sampling some of the hundreds of beers on offer, it was impossible not to take a moment to be impressed by the venue. Victoria Baths really are a fitting location to drink some of the best beers in the world, and my (fairly average) photos don’t do them justice. However, I was in no mood to stop and stare for too long and made a beeline straight for local Mancunian sensations Cloudwater. Having been assured by brewery owner Paul in no uncertain terms that their latest Double IPA would be pouring all day, I settled for a third of their 3.5 per cent Berliner Weisse and soak up the surroundings waiting for my tardy companions to arrive.
I don’t intend to make this post a blow-by-blow account of my descent into a drunken stupor, but there are a few beers and breweries that particularly stood out. Leeds powerhouse Northern Monk continue to astound me with the quality and consistency of their output, and Saturday was no exception in this regard. Their supercharged Double Heathen is a bitter, murky and beautiful explosion of flavour, whilst their collaboration with coffee roasters North Star – Patrons Project 1.03 if memory (and Untappdd) serves me correctly – is like delicious silky liquid chocolate orange. Cloudwater, unsurprisingly, are at the very top of their game, and DIPA v8 is as good as anything of theirs or indeed anyone else’s that I have drunk in my life. Wild Beer Co. are also on impressive form, showcasing their 2016 edition of Schnoodlepip, much to my delight.
However, the beer of the festival for me, having admittedly only tried a tiny proportion of what was on offer over the four days, is Siren’s Indy Man collaboration, Vimto Belgian IPA. Weighing in at a hefty 8.5 per cent, it is a wickedly sweet and dangerously drinkable IPA that was so enjoyable I simply had to take some home with me. Luckily, thanks to the folks as WeCan, who enable drinkers to take any beer from the festival home with them in can form, I was able to do just that. Unfortunately, having since tasted the can this is not something I can recommend. The beer was sickly, slightly sour and quite clearly infected. Alas, this is just a minor quibble I felt the need to share, and doesn't detract from what was still a fantastic festival.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the sheer quantity and variety of beer on offer at the festival. With a couple of notable exceptions, Cloudwater’s DIPA v8 being one of them, most people will have tried completely different beers to those I sampled in the short five hour session I attended. It would be physically impossible and highly unrecommended to even attempt to try more than about a dozen or so of the beers available, and this is why the new token system was an excellent fit for the occasion.
I had my reservations when it was announced that every beer would be priced the same amount at the festival, regardless of style of ABV. Paying the equivalent of £2.27 for a third of a pint of pale ale is never going to feel like good value for money, whatever way you try and spin it. However, what the token system does enable drinkers to do is to explore the beers on offer at their own pace, and drink the styles of beer that they want to drink, rather than base their decisions on price and regret missing out on something exceptional. I had a lot of very strong beer over the course of the afternoon, but I also left knowing that I had drunk exactly what I had wanted to drink most, and had made the very most out of my time at the festival.
Indy Man is by no means a cheap event to attend, and I do think that the token system possibly penalises those who don’t necessarily gravitate towards stronger beers. However, on the whole it gives the customer the maximum flexibility and choice in the way in which they chose to approach the festival, and that can only be a good thing.
One of the nicest parts about the festival was the sense of belonging and community on show from volunteers, brewers and punters alike. Everyone I spoke to was quite happy to stop and chat about the beers they had sampled, and even without attending any of the many tutored tastings or talks I came away feeling like I had learnt something from the people I had met. The passion on display really was a testament to everyone who attended or was involved in any way.
As we stumble out of the baths after the end of the session and head off in search of further (totally unrequired) refreshment in the city centre, my only regret was that I was only able to attend one of the sessions over the course of the festival. The team behind Indy Man deserve a huge amount of credit for organising and putting on an event of such a scale, and the standard of beer, being produced by some of the most talented brewers in the world, totally exceeded even my exceptionally high expectations. I can safely say that I have well and truly caught the Indy Man bug, and will be patiently waiting in line the same time again next year.
Bleary-eyed and barely recovered from post-Glastonbury flu, I find myself in the departures room at Gatwick South Terminal at half five on a Thursday morning. In a bout of spontaneity a month earlier, I had booked flights to visit an old university friend in Berlin; not even bothering to consider the implications of needing to be at the airport a good four hours before I usually wake up. Like a member of the living dead, I shuffle off in search of caffeine before making my way to the departure gate, boarding my third flight in as many weeks.
A short ninety minute flight later, and I'm in Germany's capital city, still sleep deprived and now attempting to navigate a foreign metro across to Wedding in the city's North-West where my friend Emily resides. Having won my battle with the train and successfully found Emily's flat, I'm feeling ready for a beer. I look at my watch realise it's still not even 11am. Luckily, I don't have to wait long before I can get cracking on finding the (quite considerable) list of bars that I have compiled and intend to visit over the weekend. Or so I think. Emily has a polish class all afternoon, and so after a short U-bahn ride into Mitte, the city's most central district, I find myself alone once again in Berlin's bustling hub.
Biding my time until when I consider to be a socially acceptable hour to begin drinking, I hop on a train down to Ostbahnhof and stroll down the East side Gallery - a 1.3km long section of the Berlin Wall next to the river Spree. Tourists are posing for selfies and striking poses left, right and centre, but I'm content just to move among them and soak up the atmosphere of a city steeped in culture and history. I cross the river into Kreuzberg - the city's edgiest and, in my opinion, coolest district. My aim at this point was simple; Eat grubby street food and have a beer.
Luckily, White Trash - a fast food restaurant just off the river front - is well equipped to handle both of these requirements. A mis-match of endearing grungy, almost punk-like decor and reasonably priced grub (I pay €7.50 for a two course lunch - salad/soup and a burger - plus a small Hefeweizen) makes me feel very much at home. The restaurant is open until the early hours of the morning serving drinks and hosting live music events, and even has a tattoo studio inside (more on that later...)
Having whetted my appetite at lunch, I am firmly now in beer-mode, and head off in search of Hopfenreich - my number one destination for the trip. I am devastated, therefore, to arrive on the corner of Sieauer Straße only to discover that it doesn't open until 4pm, leaving me with a frustrating hour and a half to wait. Undeterred, I keep walking until I reach Markthalle Neun, the home of Heidenpeters brewery. I'm soon cursing my luck again, however, as I enter to discover no obvious signs of life at the brewery's tap. "Do these people not understand the joys of daytime drinking?" I think to myself as I exit and make tracks for Bierkombinat Kreuzberg, another nearby pub that has been recommended to me. Yet again, my search is in vain, as the sign on the door informs me they won't be opening until 6pm. By this point in proceedings, I am gagging for a beer and highly frustrated. I resolve to pop into a local Späti (cornershops famous for selling cheap beer for consumption in the street) and pick up a bland Pilsner to swig on in a nearby park whilst I count down the hours until 4pm.
Returning to Hopfenreich, my anger at the seemingly late opening times of Berlin's pubs instantly dissipates. A proper monster of a pub, Hopfenreich, like many of the new wave of craft beer bars in Berlin, opened around two years ago and now boasts twenty two different taps as well as a great number of bottles. I launch straight in with a 0.3l of Heidenpeter's Mosaic Pale ale, an easy drinking 5.1% pale that is easily the best thing I've tasted so far - although the competition isn't exactly fierce at this point. The friendly Danish barkeep makes for great company as I perch at the bar, and we're soon chatting away about Berliner Weisses, Double IPAs and everything in-between. His girlfriend recommends I head back down to Heidenpeters and informs me that it is 'Street Food Thursday' in Markthalle Neun. I don't need much convincing, and make plans to meet Emily there for some dinner and to check out Heidenpeters tap-room.
The tap room, as it turns out, is less a room and more a small corner of Markthalle Neun, which is heaving with foodies when we arrive. Heidenpeters have just three beers on tap, one of which is the Mosaic Pale I had at Hopfenreich, but their Holledauer Weizen IPA is a superb German twist on a classic West-Coast IPA. We guzzle down a couple of them at an impressive rate, before wandering around the hall in search of more unhealthy-looking street food. In the end we plump for a scintillatingly good Paneer tikka masala wrap, stuffed full of salad and creamy sauce, a steal at just €6. Stuffed to the brim and exhausted from my early start, we watch the football in a rooftop bar (bizarrely located above a carpark) before heading back to bed.
The following morning we take a leisurely stroll around the city, taking in the Humboldt University (where Emily studies), Alexanderplatz, The Brandenberg gate and The Reichstag. The more touristy areas in the middle of the city centre don't charm me in quite the same way as Kreuzberg did the day before, but it at least gives me a sense of having taken in some of Berlin's major sites and not just the insides of its bars. Emily, in typical Emily fashion, has left a project deadline until the last minute, and has to rush off to the library after lunch. I take the opportunity to hop on the S-Bahn over to Friedrichshain in the East of the city, and walk up to Bierlieb, a small bottle shop and tap room on Petersburger Straße. I arrive shortly after opening and make small talk with the manager/bartender, before ordering a Berliner Weisse by BRLO Brwhouse and sitting outside in the sunshine. The beer is delicately tart, with a lingering sweetness, and I ask the manager where the brewery is based. "Right here in Berlin," she tells me, "just underneath U Gleisdreieck station." I stare at her blankly, and she quickly realises I'm not familiar with the city, and then kindly proceeds to write me a list of the bars and breweries I ought to visit in the city, organised by neighbourhood. I thank her profusely, staying on for another half - this time of Berliner Berg Lager - before jumping on a tram up into Prenzlauerberg in search of some of the bars she recommends.
My first port of call in Prenzlauerberg is Monterey Bar, located on Danziger Straße, just a few minutes walk from Prenzlauer Allee S-Bahn station. The bar specialises in whiskey and craft beer, with over 150 bottles and ten taps, and opens at 5pm each day. On offer on the day of my visit is a mixture of British and German beers, including offerings from Oakham, Buxton, Wild Beer Co and Berliner Berg. Resisting the (quite considerable) urge to pay €12 for a bottle of Westvleteren 12, I opt for a Kernel Scans IPA, my first British beer of the trip, and get chatting to a couple of Scandinavians at the bar. We swap stories, with me amusing them with my description of fat bearded old men at CAMRA's Great British Beer Festival, and them making me extremely jealous with tales of their antics at Copenhagen Beer Celebration.
Before long, it is time for me to head off and reconvene with Emily for dinner. I suggest Salt n' Bone, a restaurant I'd been recommended prior to my visit, fully in the knowledge that the beer selection there had been confirmed to me by the manager of Bierlieb as being excellent. Luckily, Emily agrees and so I make the short walk to Shliemannstraße to meet her. I almost jump for joy on arriving and seeing the names of Buxton and Omnipollo plastered across the beer board outside. The restaurant had clearly recently had a tap takeover, with at least four of the beers on tap belonging to the Derbyshire-based brewery. I order a Coral Seas, a seaweed Gose collaboration with To Øl and scour the food menu, eventually plumping for a stunning veggie bean burger with aubergine and fries covered in chipotle nacho cheese sauce. Gorged, we head back to Emily's flat before heading out for the evening.
Our evening begins in BadFish bar, a New York style bar close to Schönhauser Allee, back in Prenzlauerberg. According to Emily, it is 'Canada Day', and some of her Canadian friends want to celebrate and promise us free shots if we wear red or white. Sure enough, as we enter, me clad in a maroon flannel shirt, shots are handed to us. What they neglect to tell me, however, was that they are shots of Jameson's Whiskey. Reeling and feeling like I might be seeing my veggie burger again sooner than anticipated, I order a a Schoppe Brau Flower Power IPA, which turns out to be a mildly disappointing if inoffensive Pale ale. The group soon decide its time for beer pong, and before I know it I'm half-cut and having a whirl of a time, despite it only being midnight. "We'll probably go to the techno club about two-ish and stay out till seven or eight," Emily tells me, much to my horror and mild disbelief. I decide to take it easy for a while, and pick up a Club Matte, a caffeinated drink, for the tube over to Kreuzberg. Having heard many a story about the strictness of Berlin's doorstaff, I'm pleasantly surprised to be allowed into the club without a hitch, although slightly affronted by the extortionate €10 entry fee. In the end we only manage to make it until 5am, before throwing in the towel and heading home as the sun rises across the Berlin skyline.
It's safe to say the following morning is a complete write off. After much groaning and a healthy dose of self-pity, I eventually haul myself from my slumber sometime around two and try to kid myself that I'm being touristy by heading to the Jewish Museum and Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstraße. By six or so in the evening, however, I'm ready to drink again, and head off in search of BRLO Brwhouse. Sure enough, right under U Gleisdreieck station I find a set of shipping containers and a small seating area not dissimilar to the Beavertown taproom in Tottenham Hale. The sun is shining and I feel rather pleased with myself as I sip on a German IPA and lose myself listening to the excellent music wafting from a nearby set of speakers. I start to get peckish, and decide to take a risk on the dubious sounding 'mixed pickles' being offered by the food stall, and instantly regret it as I am handed what are effectively cold vegetables in brine. I leave them untouched.
Frustrated with myself, I jump back on the train, grabbing some pizza on the way, before arriving at Kaschk, a very trendy craft beer and coffee shop, in time for a quick half before the Germany game begins. There is a distinct Brewdog vibe to this hipster hangout located right outside Rose-Luxemburg-Platz U-Bahn station, and this is reflected in the price, with most of the beers costing the wrong side of €4 for a 0.3l glass. Still, with twelve beers on tap and in a central location, it's probably worth a visit if you're serious about beer or coffee. I finish up my beer and head to Prater Garten, Berlin's oldest beer garden, to meet some old work friends and watch the Germany match. We drink far too much pilsner and I end up back in Monterey bar until almost 2am. Whoops.
Sunday begins much in the same way as Saturday, with a hefty hangover and a long lie in. We meet some of Emily's friends for a brunch that ends up being more of a late lunch, before taking a lazy stroll through the markets in Mauerpark, next to the Max-Schmeling Arena. Each Sunday, a mobile sound system is set up and locals and tourists come together for what is commonly referred to as 'Bearpit Karaoke.' We watch with mild amusement for a little while, swigging on more pilsner to keep the hangovers at bay. I decide to take Emily to White Trash for dinner, partly just because I want an excuse to go back to Kreuzberg before I leave. We order a huge plate of nachos and beer battered onion rings, washed down with a glass of König Ludwig Hell. Before we can leave White Trash, however, there's something I have to tick off my bucket-list. We head inside the restaurant to the tattoo parlour and I immortalise the Beeson on Beer brand with a permanent souvenir of my trip to Berlin. Mum & Dad, if you're reading this; I'm so sorry...
We round off the weekend with a quick visit to Vagabund Brauerei, a microbrewery near to Emily's flat. The pub has a welcoming and old fashioned decor, with four of their beers on tap, as well as a reasonably large bottle selection. Another nice touch is allowing customers to bring in food from local restaurants and take-aways, compensating for the lack of kitchen on site. The American Pale Ale and Double IPA are both superb and the perfect way to cap off a fantastic weekend, and it is with great regret that I leave Emily's flat at half four the following morning to return back to the UK.
It speaks volumes about the sheer quality and quantity of craft beer bars that have sprung up in Berlin in recent years that even in a weekend totally dominated by the pursuit of good beer, I was unable to get even close to visiting all of the bars I had been recommended by friends, fellow bloggers and locals during my stay. The city has a incredible array of pubs, restaurants, street food vendors and clubs, and the atmosphere is nearly always lively, friendly and welcoming. To put it simply, I cannot wait to be back.
“I like it because I can drink several pints of it and not fall over on the way home,” laughs Alex Grieg, as he takes the first sip of Kent session pale from a jug. We’re sat on a pair of slightly tired looking red sofas in the back-end of Fuggles Beer Café, the artisan pub-come-bar owned and run by Alex in Tunbridge Wells. Approaching it’s third birthday in November, Fuggles has become one of the most popular haunts in the town, as well as gaining a reputation for having the most varied and exciting beer selection in the South-East outside of London. The pub now boasts over a hundred beers on tap and in bottles and can rightly claim to be at the very forefront of the craft beer movement. I sat down with Alex to ask him about exactly why he thinks Fuggles has been so successful, and what he has in store for the future. Alex’s story is similar to that of many within the beer industry, having worked in the trade for over twelve years. Starting out working in an off license at the age of eighteen, before moving up through the ranks of Pitcher & Piano, Indian Pale Ale wasn’t a term he had even heard of in his twenties. “I was a lager drinker like most of us probably were – Kroenenbourg was my tipple of choice at the time,” he tells me, “but then, when I was working in Chester, I had my first craft beer – a Brooklyn lager.” However, it wasn’t until the second beer; Goose Island Honkers, an English style bitter that Alex was truly converted to the cause; “I’d never tried anything like it; it was well hopped, it was well balanced. It was fantastic at the time.” Enthused, Alex left Pitcher & Piano, came back home to Tunbridge Wells and took a job in a pub called The Wells Kitchen: “that’s where the craft beer thing really started for me.”
Now a passionate advocate about the merits of good beer, Alex needed an outlet. Working at St. John’s Yard, he began to plot an escape. “I’d worked with some not particularly nice people (although not at St. John's Yard) and it got to the point where it was getting me down and I wasn’t happy,” he says, “so I had to do something for myself.” That something, as it turns out, was Fuggles. With £40,000 scrapped together – half from his Mother and Grandmother, half from a Government backed loan, Alex rented a run-down shoe-shop in the middle of Tunbridge Wells, and turned it into a “fairly threadbare” beer café, opening its doors to the public in November 2013.
Fuggles was an instant hit. Initially serving four cask ales, ten keg beers and a number of bottles from Belgium and the UK, the pub enjoyed a huge level of success within the local community and was soon expanding to serve a range of spirits and whiskies. The pub now boasts over forty different gins, and a similar number of whiskies, something which Alex tells me was a hugely important factor in the success of the business: “It (the gin) was something at the time which was really growing and I could see that it was a really great add-on to what we already did,” he notes. “As a bar, as a pub overall, it meant we appealed to more people that improved the atmosphere and everything else we were doing, I think.”
As we chat, I order a cheese and ale toastie from the food menu. Made with local farmhouse cheddar and Belgian Westmalle ale, as well as four types of leek and onion, the sandwiches are freshly prepared each morning, and are served alongside a range of cheese and charcuterie boards as the main food offerings in the pub. “All we wanted to do was something that was simple to prepare, tasted good, easy to put on a plate and went really well with the products we were selling,” Alex admits, “it was as simple as that. We never had room for a kitchen, so we had to keep it small.” Nonetheless, he takes does pride in giving a platform to local businesses, with many of the products sold coming from the surrounding areas in Kent. “Local provenance and local products are vital to what we do. We’ve got some fantastic breweries and some fantastic food producers within thirty miles or so of us – that’s amazing, we’re so lucky. It’s not our sole focus, but it’s lovely to have local products and to know where it comes from, and it’s nice to know and support the guys that make it, who are only round the corner.”
Of course, the main focus of Fuggles, is, and always will be beer. Naming the pub after a local hop was a obvious way of ensuring the pub and its bartenders never forget their original purpose, but watching the staff at work, it’s evident that probably won’t ever be an issue. “I’m adamant that staff know what they’re selling and how it tastes and how to sell that to a customer,” Alex says. Now in his early thirties, sporting a receding hairline and an obligatory bushy beard, he very much fits the bill of a craft beer pub owner. Watching the (predominately also bearded) barstaff chat with customers and recommend styles based on their preferences, it’s immediately evident that Alex invests a lot of time in training his staff. “A lot of the time the customers come to the bar and they’ll ask for a beer and they’re not sure want they want,” he explains. “They’ll ask for something light and hoppy for example and we need to be able to interpret that as bartenders and know what they mean by it. It’s largely to enhance the customer experience and service; we have to be able to offer customers the right product.”
On the particular day of my visit, Alex and his staff are busy preparing the bar for that evening’s event; a tap takeover with ten beers from Buxton Brewery. A brewery at the very vanguard of the beer movement in the UK, Alex is excited for his punters to try their new Belgian range. “One of the reasons we really wanted to get them down is that we specialise in Belgian beer and Buxton have just completed their range of Belgian inspired beers. We felt it was the perfect time to get them down to really showcase what they were doing with the influence they’ve had from Belgium alongside their core range and specials.” Amongst the beers available to try from the Derbyshire brewery are their Belgian Tripel and new Double IPA, Kingmaker. “Buxton are without a doubt up there in terms of UK breweries in general. They’re up there in the top ten quite happily sitting alongside Cloudwater, Magic Rock, Dark Star, Beavertown, Arbor, Kernel, Burning Sky etc,” Alex enthuses. “Its nice to give our core beer drinkers something to showcase a brewery that we really respect and really like.”
Alex explains the main reason he initially decided to feature Belgian beers in Fuggles came after being inspired by numerous visits to the country. “There’s almost a theatre around the way the Belgians serve their beer,” he says, “you get the correct glassware, the way the beer is poured and the effort that goes into it. Also the flavours and drinkability of some of the stronger beers just blew my mind and I really wanted to showcase that.” There certainly does seem to be an almost Belgian-feel to the bar, with its dimmed lighting and rustic, cobbled together furniture. A number of signs from various breweries adorn the walls, and dotted on each table is a candle in an independently brewed spirit bottle. Nonetheless, Alex is determined that the focus on Belgian and British beers does not limit Fuggles’ range, and has recently expanded to include beers from breweries such as De Molen and Kees brewery in Holland.
Part of the reason behind Fuggles’ immense success has been down to the pub’s ability to create a brand for itself, with the beer café now stocking T-shirts, bar-blades and growlers, enabling drinkers to take home up to two litres of their favourite draft beer with a twenty-five per cent discount. “When you open up a business like Fuggles you’re effectively creating a high street brand,” Alex states, “and you have to get your name out there and get people talking about your business; it’s free advertising basically!” Refusing to compare the Fuggles brand to that of high-intensity and outlandish breweries such as Brewdog, who have made a name for themselves through their ‘punk ethos’ as much as through their beer, he prefers to label his own strategy as more of “a slow cooking form of viral marketing.”
Despite being a huge success both financially and with local punters, Fuggles hasn’t always quite found favour with some more traditional beer drinkers, finishing runner up two years in a row in West Kent CAMRA’s pub of the year awards, despite Alex’s frankly obsessive nature when it comes to the condition of his cask ale (as we speak he tests his pint with a thermometer before declaring irritably that it is “just the wrong side of twelve degrees” before sending a co-worker down to the cellar to investigate.) “We’ve had a lot of really good press, we keep coming runner up in various things,” he acknowledges, “which obviously its nice but I’d love to win at some point – West Kent CAMRA if you’re listening, seriously, come on!”
On the topic of CAMRA’s future, a topic that has been the subject of much debate within the beer community in recent weeks, Alex has mixed feelings. He is unequivocally an advocate of promoting cask beer, “I think what’s fantastic about cask is that it’s a uniquely British product – there’s nobody else really doing it - I think it’s an underrated art form,” but questions the policy which has seen the organisation promote badly-conditioned beers on cask over more reliable keg beers. “I wish they (CAMRA) would focus more on cask beer in the marketplace. Generally they’re a good thing for the industry but they’re pushing a product that is so indifferent in so many pubs and that frustrates me," he sighs, "it’s not easy to go up to a Landlord and say: ‘Your beer tastes like shit mate, sort it out.’ but at the same time if the beer is too warm or it tastes like vinegar, I think that as part of the campaign maybe they ought to be mentioning it.” On what he would like to see the organisation do more of in the future, Alex is clear: “I think there’s an educational thing CAMRA could do, it’s members are very knowledgeable and they certainly know how beer should be tasting. That’s what I’d really like to see CAMRA doing – Improving the quality of cask ale.”
Whilst we are on the topic of the future, I enquire as to whether Alex believes the level of growth we have seen in the beer industry is sustainable, and in what direction he thinks the next step ought to be for UK breweries. “I’d like to hope that the industry will keep growing and keep expanding as it has done,” he replies, “and I hope breweries will continue to be more experimental and continue to revive old historical styles of beer.” He does think, however, that there remains room for improvement in terms of the quality of beer being produced by some breweries. “There’s a few breweries out there doing a huge load of new beers and collaborations yet the actual quality of the beer is not great, they’re just trying to get their name out there rather than focusing on making a really good core range and making that really solid and consistent.” Indeed, he warns that unless this standard can be met, some breweries will fall behind. “New breweries are opening left right and centre with a lot of money behind them such as Cloudwater, and the beer has been largely fantastic so far. That’s the benchmark. If you cant keep up with that you’ll struggle to create a long term, viable brewery.”
And what does the future hold for Fuggles? Rumours of expansion have been on the cards for some time now, with the pub having hosted a pop-up bar throughout November last year in Tonbridge Fire-station. “Yes, we’d love to expand,” Alex says coyly, “Hopefully by the end of the summer we’ll be able to get cracking on Fuggles number two.” On the location of this new bar, he refuses to be drawn, but tells me it will almost certainly be local. In the meantime, however, with more tap-takeovers, a beer club launching and a big refurbishment in the pipeline, the team have more than enough to be getting on with. “It should be enough to keep me busy until Autumn, I hope!” Alex laughs, before excusing himself to prepare for the evening's tap takeover. If I take one thing away from our talk, it’s that Fuggles certainly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.