Over the marshes to the Signature Brew Backstage Bar

Leyton Marshes

Freezing cold crisp blue sky Saturday – perfect day for a walk over the marshes.

Ducking round the back of the ice rink on Lea Bridge Road I first cross Leyton Marsh remembering the January day 3 years ago when I joined the Hackney Tree Musketeers for their wassailing of the fruit trees at Millfields and Springfield Park.

 

Walthamstow Marshes

I walked along the riverbank past Walthamstow Marshes and under the AV Roe bridge where we had sung the Wassailing song that day as trains clattered overhead.

 

Walthamstow Rervoirs

The view across the reservoirs from Coppermill Lane is one of the finest in London – you look across a sequence of bodies of water that stretch for around 7 miles along the Lea Valley.

Signature Brew brewery Leyton

I’ve been wanting to pay a visit to the Signature Brew Backstage bar since it opened last year and I can think of fewer better ways to end a walk than to stroll through a brewery to the tap room.

Signature Brew backstage bar

Tucked away in an industrial unit on the Leyton Business Park the Signature Brew Backstage Bar is an absolute gem serving up their delicious ales in snug surrounded by music memorabilia.

 

The Backstage Bar opens Saturdays 12 – 8 – check the Signature Brew twitter feed first. Address: Unit 25, Leyton Business Centre, Etloe Road, E10 7BT

Viking Trail to the Beavertown Brewery

Left home at 5pm with no plan except a vague idea to head towards to the Beavertown Brewery at Tottenham Hale and their Saturday taproom which closed at 8. I was torn between my usual walk until dark and/or my knee stops working, and the desire to actually get somewhere by a specified time.

From Midland Road, the schlep of my old work commute with a nod to the home of Harry Beck’s Blue Plaque (but stupidly not shot of it for my walking vlog) then down Coopers Lane and Farmer Road yards away from the wheel screech of Leyton High Road but always tranquil somehow.

Antelope Church Road

So sad to see The Antelope on Church Road boarded up. At a meeting to discuss the future of the Heathcote Arms last week – miraculously re-opened although still owned by a property developer – James Watson from CAMRA told the room that Waltham Forest has lost something like 50% of its pub stock. Thankfully now the local authority seems determined to lose no more – the Heathcote was among a number of pubs granted Asset of Community Value status. Let’s hope that like the Heathcote, the Antelope gets to be reborn.

I decided against the scenic route to Tottenham Hale, down Marsh Lane and over the Marshes because by now I could start to feel the tingle of a Beavertown Gamma Ray American IPA on my taste buds, so opted for the fast track via Markhouse Road and Blackhorse Road.

It’s sad to pass the boarded up Standard opposite Blackhorse Road Tube – once a legendary rock venue. I came here when I was 16 to watch my mate Johnny Lee play with his band. It was a big gig for a provincial outfit – it was said A&R men hung out at the bar looking to spot the next big thing.

The hubbub of the Beavertown Taproom crowd can be heard from a good 200 yards away – I thought it might be me and another 20 or so beer fans sat in the carpark of a Tottenham Industrial Estate. How wrong. There must have been 150 of the trendiest people I’ve seen in one place since I was backstage at a Katy Perry concert. Thank god I’ve got a beard.

Beavertown Brewery tour

After a transcendent Neckoil Session IPA and a Beaver Double IPA I tentatively enquired whether they did any brewery tours, “This is the tour I’m afraid”, the barman said gesturing from the bar to the expansive unit of polished brewing vessels. I must have looked visibly disappointed because he called a fella named Cosmo over and asked if he wouldn’t mind showing me around. At 8pm on a Saturday when they’d been flat out serving for hours they’d have been perfectly entitled to say No – but Cosmo couldn’t have been more enthusiastic, swinging back the barrier and leading me among the brew kit towards a 30 barrel mash tun where 5,500 litre batches are brewed using a tonne of malt for the 5% beers and double that for the stronger beers.

He explained how sugars are extracted from the malt by stewing and steeping it like a gigantic pot of tea. Then it is pumped into a copper for heating before it is cooled where the flavours of the hops start to emerge. The brew passes through a heat exchange into a fermenter where yeast is added and some more hops for dry hopping ‘to give extra hoppy aromas’ explained Cosmo. It is further chilled and carbonated for a week before either being kegged, canned (Beavetown have the best cans), or put into a wooden barrel for barrel-aging.

Beavertown cans

I can think of no finer end to a walk than to be given a guided tour of the brewery of one of your favourite beers. I walked away with the rosy glow of strong beer and a carrier bag containing a Beavertown T-shirt and a mixed six pack. I’ve got one cracked open on the desk beside me now.

American Smoke meets the London Perambulator

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… By way of Croydon
Supping down some Jamboree in Leytonstone Wetherspoons (does it matter what they are actually called) fresh from Lea Bridge Road so clear from the waters of the Lea I can count my fingers gripping the glass on the far side of the ale – I turn the page and there’s my old walking partner Nick Papadimitriou working himself into a chapter about Corso, and Dylan Thomas dying in New York.
When we were schlepping round industrial estates in Park Royal and Perivale I always saw it as a Beat quest.

Ramsgate Walkabout

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Ramsgate is the frontline of the fightback against UKIP – unavoidable in the Queen Charlotte pub whose landlord is running against Nigel Farage in the 2015 General Election. This painting by Bob and Roberta Smith faces the bar.

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And you plonk your pint of locally brewed Gadd’s ale down on one of these #UKIPPUTMEOFFMYBEER mats.

Pig Alley

Pig Alley is too much to resist – the town centre is lacerated with narrow passageways – if only Walter Benjamin had made his way to Thanet.

Karl Marx Ramsgate

The house where Karl Marx laid down his head for a short time on The Plains of Waterloo

Karl Marx Ramsgate

Benjamin could have come to Ramsgate following the footsteps of Karl Marx who stayed in the town in 1879 visting his daughter,  Jenny Longuet Marx who  lived at 6 Artillery Road.

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Wonder if Marx ever slipped in the Oddfellows Hall for a pint and heard stories of an eccentric young Dutch painter who was working in the town as a teacher. Vincent Van Gogh used to take off for London on foot, doing the journey in 3 days.

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Whatever Ramsgate was once renowned for it’s developing a reputation for its micropubs. This is the selection on offer at the Ravensgate Arms when I dropped in on an Sunday lunchtime. It’s the Ramsgate branch of Penge’s Late Knights brewery, their Dawns Early Light APA going down very well in the heat of an open fire.

 

London beers #2: Partizan Pale, Clarkshaws, and Pressure Drop

Three more cracking Capital ales from The Wanstead Tap

pressure drop strictly roots

How could I resist the invitation to try a bottle of Pressure Drop Brewery’s Strictly Roots Dandelion and Burdock Porter brewed in collaboration with the legendary wild man of the marshes John the Poacher, when plonked on the bar of the Tap by Dan. I’d picked up a copy of John’s book in Leyton Library and stupidly only skimmed it in the Leyton Tech but it appeared to be full of stories of catching rabbits on Hackney Marshes. I’m making the assumption that he foraged the Dandelion and Burdock on the marshes for Hackney based Pressure Drop. Like one of John’s gamey marsh rabbits Strictly Roots can best be described as an acquired taste (I grew up on wild rabbit for the record) with strong hints of alluvial deposits from the river Lea and an intense muddy aftertaste kicking in after a liquoricey opening salvo. Best consumed sat on the banks of the Lea with a copy of Marshland by Gareth Rees.

Clarkshaws Strange Brew

There seemed little strange about this  ebullient bottle of sparkling amber ale from Clarkshaws after the Strictly Roots. Cooked up in East Dulwich, Strange Brew No.1 went down beautifully in the evening sun. I was drawn to this beer amongst the 100 on offer at the Tap by the modesty of its label amongst a veritable gallery of vivid branding lining the shelves. Surely this indicated that the beer would speak for itself. To be honest I was also sucked in by the individual bottle numbering (this one was Batch No. 1, Bottle No.54) giving it the feel of a limited edition. Not only did the beer speak for itself it sat there on the table reciting poetry before breaking into arias and sea shanties. Apparently it’s vegetarian as well.

Partizan Pale Ale

Partizan Brewing from Bermondsey have a distinctly different attitude to beer labeling on their seductive range of ales that even include a Saison Iced Tea. This zesty, citrus-tinged Pale Ale had my taste buds dancing round my gullet in the kind of kooky oompah-band hanky-waving gyrations that the figures on the bottle look like they are about to burst into. It then made me want to get up and do a few laps of the table to Half Man Half Biscuit’s All I Want For Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit. Sign of a good beer.

 

These are dozens more are all available from The Wanstead Tap or direct from the breweries.

London beers #1: Reliance Pale Ale & Wu Gang

London is currently bursting with breweries, at least 50 at the last count. Luckily for me a place has opened on my doorstep that sells a great selection of the ales they are turning out giving me the opportunity to sample them by taking the short stroll across Wanstead Flats to the Wanstead Tap

Brixton Brewery Pale Ale

Reliance Pale Ale – Brixton Brewery

According to the eye-catchingly designed label this luscious golden pale ale is named in honour of one Brixton’s dreamlike arcades – the Reliance Arcade built in 1925 and now thankfully granted Grade 2 listed status. I wrote about the arcades in This Other London. German theorist Walter Benjamin used the Paris Arcades as the inspiration for his seminal work The Arcades Project. Benjamin saw the arcades as being like the portals to the underworld of ancient Greece, ‘a land full of inconspicuous places from which dreams arise’. The arcades were ‘galleries leading into the city’s past’ that we pass during the day not realizing the wonders they hold.

In the case of the Reliance Arcade the dream that has arisen is this glorious pale ale. I don’t know how to describe it in terms of its aromas and the varieties of hops used in its brewing except to say that my taste buds ascended to the heavens and did laps around the evening sun. It’s bloody gorgeous.

Pressure Drop Brewery

Wu Gang Chops The Tree – Pressure Drop Brewing

I had no idea what a Hefeweisse is and was beguiled into buying this curious brew by the idea that it contained ‘foraged herb'(s). Dan at the Tap suggested it had hints of sage. It’s also got a lovely label – you don’t find artwork like that on a tin of Carlsberg. Pressure Drop are also relatively local being based over the valley in Hackney.

It slides down like a melted ice cream working it way over your knuckles on a childhood summer afternoon. I couldn’t taste the foraged herbs to be honest but by the time I’d worked that out it didn’t matter.

I’d better get over to the Tap for the next batch.