Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
The King William IV has an identity crisis. Despite being located on busy Leyton High Road mere minutes walk from Leyton Midland Road station it feels like it's a hundred miles away from my flat when in fact it's less than five. This is the Londoners mentality, something that creeps up on you, the chip shop two bus stops away is too far to travel, and as the traffic is really bad it'll probably take you an hour to get there anyway so you might as well not bother. Besides when you live in suburban London it's rare you have the desire or reason to visit another suburb when the glitz and glamour of a more central location takes the same amount of time to reach. For this reason I've never ventured to Leyton and enjoyed the delights of the King William IV, more fool me.
Craft beer is really overpriced in London... Oh.
On Sunday I finally had a damn good reason to visit Leyton, Magic Rock, one of my favourite breweries were taking over the taps at the King William IV which are usually occupied by Brodie's beers whose brewery is located in the back of the pub. In addition to that a huge amount of the excellent beery friends I've made on twitter were heading down too, so it was an excellent opportunity to put some faces to screen names as well as drinking some excellent beers. I made the arduous journey from where I work in Wembley all the way to Leyton and eventually found myself standing in front of the pub, a fantastic Victorian building that added much needed grandeur to the rather dilapidated Leyton High Road. There was a sign outside the pub proudly heralding that Brodie's beers were brewed on the premises and that they were only £2.35 a pint.
I made my way inside and had to check I was in the right place, a huge screen was displaying the West Ham vs Liverpool game and the pub was half full with rowdy football fans, was I lost? Eventually I made my way towards the bar and saw the vast array of taps, twenty Magic Rock beers on both cask and keg alongside the likes of Fosters and Stella for the locals. It's a strange mix but as soon as I saw the tall frame (slightly rocking back and forth due to imbibing a large amount of craft) of the one and only Nathaniel 'Nate Dawg' Southwood, author of Booze, Beats and Bites
I felt right at home. Nate introduced me to lots more beery folk, too many to mention, you know who you all are and it was wonderful to meet you. Nate kindly ordered my first beer, a half of The Great Alphonso, a collaborative brew between Magic Rock and Brodie's, brewed at the Magic Rock Brewery in Huddersfield. The Great Alphonso is an American Style Pale ale infused with mango, it was available on both keg and cask but I was in a keg mood so stuck with this format for the duration of the evening. Mango is often a flavour descriptor used to describe beers that use lots of new world hops and The Great Alphonso certainly had mango notes but I didn't get any more than I would expect from a well hopped IPA. It was delicious and refreshing and a great way to kick start my palate but it didn't quite reach the heady heights of Magic Rock's flagship pale ale, High Wire.
I then had a beer I'd already tried a few weeks ago at the Euston Tap, Clown Juice India wit ale which had been infused with Brettanomyces and aged in a Tequila Barrel. I was lucky enough to corner Magic Rock head brewer Stu and ask him what gave him the idea to tweak this already great beer using this method. 'I just thought I'd stick some in a Tequila barrel with some Brett and see what happens' was the response, so clearly Magic Rock beers involve a long drawn out thought process to make sure this cutting edge brewery stays at the top of it's game. Tequila Barrel clown juice is a revelation, it doesn't sound like it should work but it does, I've tried plain, ordinary, boring (actually it's brilliant) Clown Juice and it's a juicy, hoppy hit, the Brett certainly adds a lovely level of sour funk but it's not completely overpowering and I definitely got a little hint of oak and agave sweetness in the mid palate. I'm a fan of good Tequila, especially in a decent Margarita so I'm thrilled that this beer really works and I hope I get to try it again before it disappears forever.
I then moved on to a beer I've wanted to try for some time, Big Top which is described as an India Red Ale, so it's essentially a bigger, badder version of Rapture which is Magic Rocks core red ale. It tasted as I expected, it was like concentrated Rapture, a huge cascade of pine and grapefruit with marmalade and granary bread, simply wonderful stuff. It didn't quite excite me as much as Brodie's Hackney Red IPA which I tried earlier in the year at the King Williams sister pub, The Old Coffee House but it wasn't far off the mark. I then moved on to another one of Magic Rocks barrel aged experiments, Dark Arts stout aged on brambles in a sherry barrel. I didn't get much of the brambles or sherry at first, I got classic Dark Arts, choc full of roasted coffee and red berries but as this beer both warmed and worked it's way into the furrows of my tongue those warming, fruity sherry notes crept in and not only added another dimension of flavour but also a nice warming, alcoholic finish, another success then.
I used the 'Drunk' filter on Instagram for this photo
The next beer was another collaboration, Rock Star, an American brown ale brewed with Brighton's Dark Star. Two versions of this beer have been produced, a 6% cask version brewed at the Dark Star Brewery which I had already tried a couple of weeks earlier at the newly opened Craft Beer Co Islington. I found the cask version a bit lacking, mostly because it was a bit thin in the mouth and I wanted a bigger, fruitier hop kick so I had high hopes for the 7% Magic Rock keg version. Despite being a thoroughly decent beer I felt that it had the same flaws as the cask version, there was a nice amount of roasty, biscuity malt and a lovely piney hop wallop but they weren't married together and this left the beer feeling far to thin for me. It was by no means a bad beer but it finished bottom of the pile on the night for me, perhaps it's a style that's not quite to my tastes as I remember being very disappointed when I've tried other American brown ales such as the one from Brooklyn.
The next beer I had was one I'd not tried for a while but had quaffed on many occasions, the 2011 CAMRGB beer of the year, Human Cannonball. There's not much that needs to be said about this beer that hasn't been said already but what I will say is that the guys at Magic Rock have clearly been making little tweaks here and there to this beer as I had never tasted it on this kind of form. Huge bitter tropical fruit flavours melded beautifully with rich, sweet malts which seemed to linger on and on even after I had swallowed the last delicious mouthful, this truly is a modern classic as is the next and final beer of the evening Bearded Lady. The lady is another beer that's already been gushed about repeatedly, it's huge but not unwieldy despite it's size, in fact it's perfectly balanced and a wonderful drink to end the evening on. When these bottles appear again I fully intend to lose some in the back of my cupboard only to uncover them in a few years time and she how well the lady has aged, exciting times ahead.
Before I staggered back to catch a train home I witnessed something at the bar. A regular who had been on the Guinness all night pointed at the Dark Arts cask handle in the now considerably more vacant bar area and said 'this Stout, any good?' Before the barmaid had replied he'd ordered a pint and was quaffing it down occasionally emitting words such as 'cor' and 'blimey' he was absolutely loving it. In fact I reckon he loved it so much that he'll probably start a beer blog next month, if he was sober enough to remember the experience which I highly doubt. The other delight of the evening was how much money I had left in my wallet. When I bought a half of Human Cannonball and Bearded Lady I handed over a tenner not expecting much in return but when I was given back more than half of what I gave out I stared at the fiver in my hand with disbelief. The prices in the King William IV are beyond excellent and you know what, it's only down the road from my house, not far at all, in fact the next time the football's on I'll probably head there.
Once again it was fantastic to meet so many people I already know and some that I didn't, I can't wait to see you all again this Saturday at the CAMRGB Xmas Twissup!