This is the second in a series of posts covering Hackney’s brewing scene. If you missed Part 1, read it here. When Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer made their most recent trip to Hackney it was specifically to visit the taproom at London Fields Brewery. Unfortunately it didn’t go quite the way we wanted…
London Fields was the first of the new breed of craft breweries to open in Hackney and I wish I could give them a proper review. However in only their fourth year it seems they’ve become victims of their own success; all outward signs suggest they may be running a little faster than their legs can carry them. If I get the chance to visit again I’ll update my review accordingly but until then, here is what we encountered.
First the taproom: it’s tiny! Measuring approximately 26 x 22 feet (gotta love Google Earth) it’s not much bigger than the double garage that was attached to our house in Boca. Into this tiny space they try to squeeze wayyy too many visitors: those who are there for the brewery tour as well as walk-in visitors to the bar.
The taproom does extend a little way into the railway arch that houses the brewery but during our visit it was reserved for the brewery tour; not particularly helpful for us walk-ins.
Next the bar service: after waiting in line for ages to order food and some beer tasting flights, Mr Fueled by Beer finally made it to the bar only to be told by the grumpy barman that he was too busy to take any more food orders. The place was jammed and as far as we could tell it was just him on the bar and another guy prepping bar snacks so we gave him the benefit of the doubt and said we’d come back later.
The following quote is from a job ad on London Fields’ careers web page; sad to say but for Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer to find what the brewery say they strive for we had to go somewhere else…
“The Taproom is the face of our business and we strive to provide the best quality products and service. You will need to gain an in depth understanding of our business and will be a brand ambassador ensuring everybody who comes to the Taproom has an amazing experience.”
Off we went in search of a ‘plan B’ food option. Fortunately right around the corner we found the Pub On The Park. It, too, was very busy but the staff there were able to deliver excellent friendly service, very good food, and some great beer: a lovely Five Points Pale for Mr FBB and a hard to find Bellhaven Scottish Stout for Mrs FBB – both served from keg.
The difference between the taproom and the pub? Basically it all came down to adequate staffing and effective management: the pub had it, the taproom didn’t.
Anyway, ever the optimists, after finishing our very enjoyable meal at Pub On The Park we returned to London Fields to see if this time we could at least have a beer tasting. We walked in to find the place still packed, still no more likely to get served, and still nowhere to sit. Yet there were people sitting in the bar eating meals. We didn’t get our “amazing experience” – we left!
After walking out disgusted by our poor experience at London Fields we wandered off through the park. This was unfamiliar territory for us but since it was such a nice sunny afternoon we just decided to explore and see where it took us. We came out at the north end of Broadway Market; the street market was in full swing, and after perusing all the stalls from one end to the other we felt that this is one of the nicest markets we have seen.
Along the way we stepped inside The Dove. What a wonderful pub – easily the best selection of Belgian beers on tap since our Field Trip to Ghent but not only that, there was also Redhook Long Hammer IPA on tap too. It must have come from the New Hampshire brewery but still, to see it in London was cool – a little reminder from home – and of my “Beer Fans Guide To Woodinville Wine Country.”
The Dove is a fine example of what makes a traditional pub successful: a focus on craft beers, both cask and keg, no industrial swill on tap, good food, and an atmosphere that attracts all ages and genders. Needless to say the pub was packed with a mostly 20-something clientele. Whether this reflected the local demographic or the street market was attracting people from further afield I don’t know. However there was a really pleasant comfortable vibe in the pub and outside all along the street.
I know I must sound like a broken record but the traditional British pub, ‘grandad’s boozer,’ the ones that are now closing up and down the country at a rate of more than 30 per week, don’t have to fail. But to save themselves they must reinvent themselves according to the realities of emerging market demand, which, as pubs like The Dove show time and time again, the craft beer business model is where it’s at.
This excellent former Truman’s pub was visited back in August during our earlier trip to Hackney. It serves two purposes on this field trip.
First, as the home of Howling Hops, it’s an important brewery stop along the way. Second, as we found out during our visit, this pub is a place where you’ll likely find beer on tap from Hackney’s three production-only breweries: Hackney, Pressure Drop and Five Points.
As my picture to shows, the Cock Tavern has eight craft keg taps. Around the corner are an impressive number of hand pulls, sixteen in all. Howling Hops had six cask ales on plus two kegs. Also on keg were two from Pressure Drop, one from Five Points, and one from Beavertown. The pub’s commitment to real cider was evident as well: five on cask and one on keg.
Based on past tweets from the pub and brewery as many as twelve Howling Hops cask ales have been on at one time. This plus the 100% commitment to craft keg on the taps is why the Cock Tavern should be included as part of any visit to Hackney. Only one thing saddens me (in a good way): by London craft beer bar standards the Cock Tavern is pretty average yet when compared to the best that Reading has to offer – The Nag’s Head – they blow Reading away.
Brighton-based Laine Brewing Company (background) is a microbrewery and pub operating company making aggressive inroads into London’s craft beer scene. They started acquiring underperforming sites in 2012 and opened their first brewpub, The Aeronaut Acton, in 2013. People’s Park Tavern opened earlier this year and, as I recently reported, a third brewpub opened recently at The Four Thieves Battersea.
Based on our experiences at The Aeronaut I think it’s fair to say that Laine is a pretty conservative outfit. The keg taps betray their provincial mindset; connected as they are to mass-market industrial fizzy lagers. Very sad. On one side of the bar you see craft brewed cask ales, while on the other it’s Amstel, Heineken, Kronenbourg, Sagres – I’m not kidding. However there is one Heineken brand worthy of mention and The Aeronaut had it on tap: Affligem Blonde. This is a quite respectable Belgian abbey ale but apart from this the best you can expect from Laine is their house-brewed cask ale on hand pump.
Where Laine has some strength is in the kitchen – their food is very good. Also, if the Aeronaut is representative, the People’s Park Tavern should be a comfortable place to hang out. It’s going to take another field trip to Hackney to find out if this is indeed the case. A further trip is also required to explore the remaining breweries: Truman’s and Crate.
To read the next installment in this series click here.