THE Kenna chairman’s unrelenting commitment to running the world’s best London-pub based fantasy football league has been proved once again this week.
Just three days after putting on the league’s 12th annual auction, the chairman was in Prague testing out auction venues. It was here he made a remarkable discovery.
“I visited a bar on the old town, which boasts the best kept Pilsner Urquell in the city,” said the chairman. “And let me tell you, what a pint! As smooth and fresh as Ryan Giggs in the closing stages of a family get together.”
Brewed at nearby Plzen, Pilsner Urquell became the world’s first pilsner when Bavarian pioneers of lager worked with Czech brewers.
“Like cheddar cheese, pilsner is the most common variety of its type in the world,” opined the chairman after a couple.
“But like cheddar cheese, pilsner’s quality varies wildly and sadly most of it bland as hell. This pilsner is the original and the best.”
Kenna HQ wonks are claiming the discovery has more than vindicated the chairman’s decision to reduce prize money this year.
“The chairman is as pioneering as those early brewers,” said a source at Kenna HQ. “An auction in Prague would take the league to the next level.”
People inside and outside the Kenna League may find that hard to believe.
I run a fantasy football league to all appearances with the sole purpose of organising as many all-day drinking sessions in as many different London pubs as possible.
Outside the Kenna I regularly kneel at the altar of licenced premises. Some would say too regularly.
But for some reason I’ve never happened upon the promised land of a big room full of lots of different beers and likeminded souls. Like an itinerant Fifteenth Century monk visiting churches, monasteries and other holy places throughout Christendom without once thinking to go to the Vatican.
So it was with a little trepidation I went to Craft Beer Rising in the old Truman Brewery last Friday night. Having lived in Brick Lane for almost half the noughties, the venue and area were well known. But what goes on at a beer festival was based on barely-remembered, badly-told, second-hand accounts from friends.
Before I go on I should admit bitter disagrees with me. That’s a pretty big obstacle to going to beer festivals, I suppose. Lager, cider and IPA? Can’t get enough of them, but traditional English ale is a nonstarter.
So as a committed lager drinker, I must assert – ahead of a description of Craft Beer Rising – that for too long the British tippler has been enslaved by the evil of big breweries limiting options to Kronenbourg, Stella Artois, Carlesberg, Fosters and other poor excuses for enduring session pints. To the part-time palette and Paul Calf they may be acceptable, but to me they’re all on a par with Skol.
A few years ago Peroni came along and brightened bars for a while, or at least until a visit to Craven Cottage. After the match I tasted a watered-down version at The Temperance on Fulham Palace Road.
Peroni ruined, Veltins stepped up. This is a pilsner one can drink and drink and drink, but sadly it’s only available in a finite number of boozers I know, none of them convenient to home or work.
Then three years ago I started working in Holborn, and there, beneath the faux Romanesque pillars of Sicilian Avenue, I found The Whippet. And Lagunitas.
In truth, Lagunitas IPA is a little too strong to knock back in large amounts, but Lagunitas Daytime is, and by thunder it’s good. They both are.
For £15 then, a room with Lagunitas IPA, Daytime and 598 other beers made with the same care and consideration for the consumer could only be a good thing.
After work on Friday, and the customary weekly après in The Skinny Dog, two colleagues, the ISIL manager and I went to E1.
Entering the sell-out event we were issued with a glass and ascended some stairs. We entered a huge room full of cheerful people and an overwhelming amount of beer.
Like the barefoot, medieval pilgrim entering St Peter’s Basilica for the first time, I was filled with wondrous awe and reverence, but also the sneaking suspicion such excess should inevitably lead the to the utter corruption of the weaker man’s soul.
Struggling to maintain composure in front of my drinking companions, we approached the first stand. It was only after I had tried and bought a third of a pint of Williams Double Joker IPA I realised it was 8.3 per cent. Well-laid plans had already come unstuck, but it tasted good enough to make the Pope blaspheme.
Next we tried Bru. An Irishman with the most marvellous whiskers explained their mission to replace Guinness as the stout of choice. This was the cleanest tasting beer I’ve tried since visiting the hometown of the Żywiec brewery in the Polish mountains a couple of years ago. I hope Bru can repeat their Nottingham feat in London and break the St James’s Gate monopoly.
The evening passed in a jovial blur, and in between all the beer and the chat there was an observation among the demographic of the event that requires deeper inquiry.
Predominance among the people was not the tubby, ageing, male pedants associated with real ale campaigns, Morris dancing and celebratory pub scenes at the end of Time Team episodes. There were certainly plenty of blokes, but there was also a sizeable minority of women. And they were really enjoying themselves.
In fact, they were enjoying themselves so much that as the night wore on – more drinks, going for cigarettes, throwing a few woefully-executed shapes in the cider hall – it dawned on me this event was an absolute meat market.
As a taken man I was keen to repel any slurred advances, but unfortunately the ISIL manager had his own predictable agenda and I was forced into the role of reluctant wingman. I’m proud to say my marriage vows remain intact.
What also remains secure is my conversion to the way of the beer festival. Even without the Ballet of Chestnuts unfolding before me, this was a superb event and a must for anyone revelling in the Renaissance of lager.
And anyway I have to go back. In five hours we didn’t even get halfway round.
ONE QUESTION was only the start of it. How could we ride the new model number 38 bus?
It was accepted that the ‘hop-on, hop-off’ routemaster-style bus only runs around once an hour on one bus route – the number 38.
Despite its meandering path through the boroughs of Hackney, Islington, Camden and Westminster – taking in some of the most iconic sights in London – there was one problem: none of us ever used it.
All of a sudden the answer was clear: a number 38 bus route pub crawl.
The curious mix of order and chaos that happened on Saturday 20 October 2012 is chronicled below. Where applicable comments about the route, the pubs and learning points have been noted. It is hoped these will instruct, inform and entertain both the crawl aficionado and the casual drinker.
We immediately determined to make the excursion as achievable, fun and damaging to the liver as possible. We had three considerations:
Number of pubs – Circle Line or Monopoly board pub crawls have two flaws, there are too many stops to take in surroundings, and everyone drink halves. We decided on visiting 10 pubs, so we could comfortably spend 38 minutes in each one.
Direction of travel – this was simple, start in north east London and travel south west to Victoria. No one wants to be without their wits in Clapton Pond on a Saturday night, an area on a stretch of road commonly referred to as ‘The Murder Mile’.
Pub locations – establishments should be chosen at even intervals along the route, and as much as possible on the same side of the road as convenient bus stops. This second point would prove invaluable in the later stages.
A Sunday morning bicycle ride two weeks beforehand identified a number of suitable boozers, rubber stamped by a kangaroo committee. The route would not be followed to its absolute end because, as any Londoner will tell you, there are no decent rub-a-dub-dubs in Victoria.
Here’s the list:
The Clapton Hart, Clapton Pond
The Cock Tavern, Hackney Central
The Duke of Wellington, Ball’s Pond Road
The George Orwell, Essex Road
The Old Queen’s Head, Islington
The Old Red Lion Theatre, Angel
The Exmouth Arms, Exmouth Market
The Old Crown, New Oxford Street
The Marquis of Granby, Cambridge Circus
Ye Grapes, Mayfair
Each pub name links to it’s location on Google maps. The nearest bus stop is also included.
At 1pm a handful of intrepid souls, including Vicki the Bus Spotter, fat Peter Sutcliffe and the athletic frame of the Vasco De Beauvoir manager, met near the Lea Bridge Roundabout. The weather was overcast, but not inclement.
The Clapton Hart has an airy, pleasant feel with respectable staff, and for a moment the social depravity of the surrounding neighbourhood was forgotten, until a regular ambled in with a dog on a string.
Lunch was adequate, but had that fairtrade, made-of-recycled-principles taste about it and the cauliflower was purple. In hindsight, three pints was excessive.
A couple of new 38s idled in the middle of the Lea Bridge Roundabout, but the clock was ticking. There’d be plenty of time for that.
A few minutes ride on a boring old Wirght Gemini 2 and we discovered that Jesus was wrong: the meek did not inherit the earth. The meek grew up and moved to east London to work in digital marketing and stay up since last Thursday banging meow meow. A trio of such specimens scratching around the Cock early doors hinted at the clientele, but by thunder did the place stock ale.
After a quick beer we emerged to see… Not already? No, it couldn’t be? It was the new 38!
In a moment not unlike an episode of long-running ITV police drama series The Bill, we crashed along the pavement towards the bus stop, except instead of chasing drug dealers through a notorious Sun Hill housing estate, we were trying to take pictures of an arriving bus. And what a bus it was.
Decadent maroon soft furnishing tastefully intertwined with the luxuriant caramel glow of the hand rails. The step entrance was pristine, yellow trim shining, with not a drop of chewing gum, blood or urine tarnishing its surface. The ‘new car smell’ was yet to be overpowered by half-eaten boxes of fried chicken and old people.
For a few intense, heady minutes at the front of the top deck we sailed along Graham Road and over Dalston Junction. Then it was time for another drink.
Charming island bar and abundance of natural light aside, the Duke always feels brittle, as though ordering a round of Jägerbombs for the whole pub would reduce it into a delicatessen. One notable feature is the former doorway turned into a cosy corner which still boasts the original floor mosaic bearing the pub’s name.
At this point latecomers – including Anders Breivik doppleganger the Judean Peoples’ Front manager – swelled our numbers and the throng dutifully moved onto pub number four. Vicki the Bus Spotter was beside herself: at the next bus stop we took another new 38.
Orwell famously treatised of the perfect London pub where the punters were friendly, barmaids affable and beer well served. When visiting his namesake establishment in Canonbury the dream the author weaves, like Boxer the horse in Animal Farm, takes an ugly one in the knackers. Not quite Room 101, but a bit more Down and out than Moon Under Water.
More joined the ranks, with even a one-year-old child putting in a shift.
Whether the Old Queen’s Head is an accurate representation of what’s going on inside the monarch’s noggin is uncertain, but if years of wet paint fumes have finally got to the old girl then why not retro furniture, a slim fit crowd and a baby seeing off a pint of bitter?
Middle-aged men in turtle neck sweaters using the shallow cover of literary drama to crack onto impressionable, young girls awkwardly asserting their creative independence having thrown off the shackles of a sheltered, suburban upbringing – is what you expect to find in a theatre pub. We found Norwich City Football Club fans. Loads of them.
A Canary army had descended on the Old Red Lion to watch their team play Arsenal in the dim red glow of the pub’s quasi ghost train decor. Some crawlers had something to eat. It could have been chips.
At the introduction of the 50p game in the Exmouth Arms events spiralled out of control. For the uninitiated, if a 50p piece is dropped into your glass while you’re holding it, you must immediately drink its contents. The coin is then yours with which to cause mischief.
Composure regained, we found the Marquis of Granby was shut – a common symptom of central London pubs on weekends. Panic spread through the camp, but it turned out there were lots of other pubs nearby and everyone realised they weren’t really that fussed anyway.
We went to the Cambridge. A horrendous place that only exists to convince thousands of tourists every year who know no better that they’ve been to a traditional English public house. The former Young Boys of Kilburn manager ordered a large glass of red wine thinking it would be exempt from the 50p game.
Ye Grapes is also the last pub on the official Monopoly pub crawl, which meant they were used to people wandering in on the sharp end of 14 pints. This was fortunate, as through a consequence of bizarre, delayed trauma to having their childhood television memories recently besmirched in the media, some crawlers were singing the theme song to Jim’ll Fix It.
A fair amount of leering at the barmaid took place, people bought poppies and the Lokomotiv Leeds manager took it upon himself to neck pints with astonishing speed.
If two teams finish the group stage on equal cup points and points difference, then whoever won the game between those two teams will go through. If that game was a draw, then the team with the most points ‘For’ will be deemed to be ahead.
If two teams finish with the same cup points, points difference, ‘For’ points and they drew their fixture, a tie break at the transfer night will decide the winner.