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Tuesday 17 December 2013

Anspach & Hobday Brewery - The Last Word

Wednesday 11th December - This isn't the first time I have written about Anspach & Hobday and it won't be the last, as I have been following their journey from home brewers to Bermondsey pros since March when I first met Jack (Hobday) handing out beer samples on a snowy Southbank.  I ran into them a couple more times at various pubs / breweries before attending a private tasting event run by the guys to celebrate their IBC Silver Medal win (for their Porter) with their team, and reveal their new branding.

Since then Paul (Anspach) & Jack have finally found a site to brew in, and it couldn't be better placed. They have set themselves up in an archway on Druid Street, just round the corner from four other top breweries (Kernel, Partizan, Brew by Numbers, and new kids on the block Fourpure) who together now form the "Bermondsey Beer Mile".  Maltby Street Market and the delights of Bermondsey Street are a short walk away, and they have Bea's of Bloomsbury and St.John's Bakery for neighbours. Saturdays in Bermondsey (when all the breweries, archways and markets welcome the public) are truly unmissable now - if you keep going to Borough Market instead, you are out of touch.

And so this brings me to last Wednesday, when the boys invited friends, family and some beer lovers over to 118 Druid Street for the Anspach & Hobday Brewery Commissioning.

I brought along 2nd-placed Lauren (who was on the Southbank with me 9 months ago) to check out their new premises, and we arrived bang on 6pm.  I was surprised to see that they actually have proper windows and a door, having spent a fair amount of time in open industrial archways this year - it would have been an unpleasantly cold evening without them.  The impressive space used to be a gym, and they have kept the leftover mirror wall to make it feel even bigger.  Benches and tables were laid out and attractively adorned with flowers and empty A&H bottles/candles.

We only had an hour before we both had to go our separate ways, so we wasted no time in getting a drink.  Paul was starting everyone off with tasters of their Christmas special - a 7% Pfeffernüsse Amber (spiced amber saison) inspired by the popular festive Pferffernüsse biscuits, which were readily available for comparison. Aroma - Christmas Spice including ginger, cinnamon & clove. Palate - Warming spices, fairly dry with a touch of biterness, but still light and fresh.  We were both very taken with it, and went back for several refills - hopefully it isn't a one off!

We moved on to the 6% IPA, brewed with American hops and British, German & Belgian malt. Aroma - Sweet orange, with a touch of grassy and resinous hop aroma. Palate - Caramel and toffee malt with citrus notes and a firm, balancing bitterness.  Another great brew, especially when paired with hoppy sausages!  Various food pairings turned up throughout the evening, including cheese, A&H smoked ale sausages and giant pretzels.

That left the 7% Smoked Brown and the award winning 6.7% Porter.  The Smoked Brown is the beer that drew me in all those months ago, so it is great to see it properly bottled up. Aroma - Bavarian smoked cheese, oaky vanilla, forest fruits. Palate - Hazelnuts and dark berries with an oaky mid palate and gentle smoke.  Many smoked beers take it too far to the extent that I can only think of salmon, but they have got the balance just right here. 

Finally there is their flagship Porter. Aroma - Freshly ground coffee, dark chocolate and dark berries. Palate - Smooth with a perfect balance of sweetness and bitterness.  Complex rich and roasty. Any beer brewed in a tiny kitchen that comes away from the International Beer Challenge with a Silver Medal deserves some attention.  In fact, with several great beers, stylish branding, and a great location, you are going to want to keep your eyes on Anspach & Hobday.  The brewery should be officially launching early next year, opening up to the public on Saturdays & Sundays in keeping with the new Bermondsey brewery tradition.  See you there!

I had in fact triple booked myself that evening, but luckily I managed to squeeze two events in.  I sent List regular (and contributor) Jane to cover the new pork restaurant Blackfoot in my absence - stay tuned for a write up on that soon.  Meanwhile, I grabbed a lift to the second location with Su-Lin, who rocked up to Anspach & Hobday with a congratulatory Christmas cake.  

We were due at 7.30pm just over the river in Wapping for an evening of music, mixology and dining harking back to the golden age of swing & jazz at Trinity Presents "The Last Word".  Before you read the rest of my post, just head over here to reserve a table / book dinner at one of the last few dates of 2013 (19th-21st Dec) - trust me.  Dinner bookings must be received 48 hours in advance so get moving.

Had I not turned up with professional drinker Su-Lin, I might never have found the entrance to The Last Word, which was held at The Studio in a quiet backstreet in Wapping, near the Tobacco Dock. She assembled a dream team of food & drink enthusiasts that I was honoured to spend an evening with, including Simon Difford (Difford's Guide / London Cocktail Week), Ms S and Mr G aka The Cocktail Lovers, Clinton & Kate from Imbibe, Mark from Bar Magazine, Elsa from The London Sinner, Gavin from Blood, Sweat & Fashion, and Craig & Gareth representing Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and Cellar Trends

We made our way into the the main bar which was decked out like a 1920s jazz club. Producer Zane informed me that The Studio (which used to be a nightclub) is used every day as a photography studio, so they painstakingly take it all down and put it all back up again each time - truly impressive! The decor and the overall atmosphere reminded me of the fantastic film sets of Punchdrunk's current show, albeit on a much smaller scale.  This was pure escapism.

We started with a welcome Prosecco cocktail, the first of many superb drinks from mixologist Deano Moncrieffe and his bar team, which eased us in as Benoit Viellefon & His Orchestra completed their soundcheck on stage.

Before too long, we made our way to our tables where we served up a sublime sharing feast of 12 dishes by the acclaimed Disappearing Dining Club, who are doing lots of exciting things across London at the moment.  The dining area was beautifully lit, smartly separated from the bar by a thin black curtain so that you could continue to enjoy the jazz with some privacy.

At this stage, we were brought The Last Word, the eponymous cocktail for the evening, made with Tanqueray Gin, Green Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, and fresh lime juice.  It was first tasted in the 1920s at Detroit Athletic Club (which Mr.Moncrieffe named another drink after for the evening).  It is a great vehicle for the Luxardo cherry liqueur, and was garnished with a Luxardo cherry - marasca cherries steeped in maraschino syrup.  I was lucky enough to walk away with a whole jar at the end of the evening.  Look no further for an easy Christmas gift for cocktail lovers - buy them here.

We were spoilt for choice on food.  Three starters included a delicious Black Bean and Smoked Sweet Corn Ceviche.  Of all the wonderful mains, the standouts were Brick Lane Warm Smoked Salmon, Pickled Kale & Swede Mash, and a Venison Stew with All Spice & Juniper.  Red and white vino flowed throughout as well, leading me to confess to Simon Difford that I am a huge fan of his cocktail tomes, and admit to Clinton from Imbibe that his magazine mysteriously turns up through my door every month thanks to a previous tenant.  

The standout dessert was a wonderfully realised The Last Word jelly complete again with a special Maraschino cherry.  That said the Chocolate Brownie with Maraschino compote and nougatine chantilly trays wasn't half bad either.  Cocktails continued to turn up, and I thoroughly enjoyed both the refreshing Gypsy Gin (Tanqueray Gin, Pink Grapefruit Juice, Tonic Water, Almond Syrup, Lemon Juice) and a very drinkable Whisky Flower (Johnnie Walker Black, fresh lemon juice, elderflower cordial, egg white).

The Last Word Jelly
With a drink in hand, I went on a wander with Su-Lin to discover two hidden bars in the studio.  One is more functional for overflow on a busy nights, but turn the right corner and you will find Whiskies & Cigars, possibly the smallest bar in the world!  Situated near to the outdoor smoking area, there is space for maybe 2 people at this bar - you may never leave once you have found it.

Smallest bar in the world?
We found our way back to the main bar for a last couple of drinks & some dancing in front of Benoit Viellefon and his talented band, who made it all look too easy.  Django would have been impressed as they coasted through jazz & swing standards from Caravan to It Don't Mean a Thing, keeping us very entertained with friendly chit chat in between songs.  There is different music every night, and I was assured that all the musicians are top notch.  If gypsy swing is your thing, make sure you also checknout my local, Le QuecumBar in Battersea, for an authentic gypsy jazz live experience in a lovely setting.

Benoit Viellefon & His Orchestra
To finish, we had a round of Filthy Swings (Don Julio Reposado, raisin water, fresh lime, agave syrup and chocolate bitters).  I might just have to buy a bottle of either Mozart or Aztec chocolate bitters, as they always seem to take cocktails to another level.  We also tried the special cocktail for the evening, made by one of our party - Gareth from Luxardo created the Zadar (a delicious boozy blend of whiskies and maraschino), named after the capital city of Dalmatia where maraschino was first produced by a Venetian merchant back in 1759.

A round of Filthy Swings
I stayed as long as I could before scampering off to catch the last Overground from Wapping.  The atmosphere and service was so consistently wonderful, I can't think of a better place to have a classy Christmas party this year.  You can just turn up for drinks (reserve a stage-side table for £6), but you would be a fool to miss out on the full Disappearing Dining Club experience.  Dinner (which includes the prosecco cocktail) will set you back £36 - a bargain considering the setting, and the 12 dish feast that awaits you.  Cocktails are mostly £10 and a range of spirits, wines and beers (including some London Fields Brewey offerings) are also available.

There are only three dates left in 2013 - 19th, 20th and 21st December - reserve a space now!

If you really can't make it, fear not - they are returning in April with "Death in the Afternoon".  Booking opens for that on January 31st.  

Whilst I'm plugging boozy things, I recommend that you check out Bring A Bottle - a very handy new price comparison site for alcohol of all shapes and sizes, perfect for last minute bargain hunting for Christmas and NYE.  It's free to use and leads you straight to the top drinks savings at supermarkets and other retailers

Two very new brands that won't be up there yet should be on your Christmas wish-list:

Moonshine Kid - Dogs Nose Dry Hop Gin - created by "Talented Mr.Fox / Moonshine Kid" Matt Whitley, this has only gone on sale this week (just under £30) and is a delicious, innovative gin.  Email Matt at to order.  Read more here.

Cleveland Bay Vodka - a brand new British vodka distilled using small copper pot stills by the entrepeneurial James Luwagga.  Cleveland bay is citrusy and slightly earthy on the nose with hints of pepper.  Very smooth when it hits the palate, with a creamy long lasting flavour thus culminating in a slightly floral finish.  I took James up on his recommendation, and drank it with Copella apple juice which was excellent, before drinking it neat on the rocks.  I don't often drink vodka (with the exception of Zubrowka) and I definitely don't drink it neat, but I could happily sip on Cleveland Bay all evening.  It would also make a very quaffable Martini.  Maybe Cleveland Bay (along with Chase, Sipsmiths and Vestal) will lead a vodka revolution next year.  Find out more on the website.

Cleveland Bay Vodka

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