There’s a Buzz around South London; The Hop Flower conquers her fear of bees for the sake of Beer


What do you buy the man who has everything? This is the problem I face every Christmas when trying to pick presents for my husband. He loves shopping and has a birthday soon after Christmas so it’s a tough job thinking of original gifts.

Luckily he has lots of hobbies and also aspirations to own a smallholding in the country so when I saw the Hiver Experience – Urban Beekeeping and Craft Beer Tasting advertised, I thought Bingo!

Now a few years ago I took him on a Bee and Chicken keeping course at Bourne Place in Kent.   It was great,we met some adorable chickens but we didn’t get to meet any bees or drink beer!

FullSizeRender - Copy

I first heard of Hiver a while ago and although I am not always a fan of beer with things added – fruit, chocolate, chilli etc when it’s done well the results are fantastic. Hiver don’t add honey at the end of the brewing process but add it for the fermentation. The result is subtle notes rather than overly sweet beer.

So last Saturday we headed to Bee Urban in Kennington Park. Really easy to get to just a few minutes from Kennington tube station, we were greeted by the lovely Floriane who along with Beekeeper Barnaby looked after us.

The two hour session started with a talk from Barnaby who explained about the hive inspection we would make and showed us a few of the tools used by bee keepers.


I should add at this point that I am terrified of bees, wasps, spiders , daddy long legs in fact anything smaller than a cat freaks me out a little but particularly all things bug size that fly and/or sting . So when Floriane explained how during the hive inspection we should hold the frames, despite her calm reassuring manner I felt a tad nervous.

I sometimes tell myself that it’s good to do things that scare me plus in this instance I reasoned I would at least get some beer at the end of it !

So clad in our beekeeper suits looking a little like telly tubbies we went with Barnaby to the hives.


Barnaby opened a hive and passed the frames around one by one pointing out the various cells and types of bees. I took the first few frames remembering Floriane’s instructions. Despite being nervous of passing the frames I soon felt at home with the bees buzzing around me and actually enjoyed observing them close up.

To be honest I felt safe in my bee suit and looking at the bees was fascinating but I was convinced I would drop one of the frames and hurt all the bees. They are such amazing little creatures !


Once out of our beekeeping suits and in the safety of a nearby gazebo Floriane gave us a talk on the Hiver Beers including a beer and food pairing.

First we had the Hiver Honey Beer.   Described on the bottle as a ‘British Blond Beer’ this has an ABV of 4.5%.  Golden Blond in colour with a creamy white head consisting of tiny bubbles, this Blond has an interesting nose of honey and malt.   The local honey used in this beer which we also got to try gives this Blond subtle floral notes of elderflower.  There is just enough natural carbonation to give a tingle on the tongue and the honey notes are subtle throughout.

FullSizeRender - Copy (2)

Refreshing and very drinkable the Blond paired beautifully with the manchego cheese we were given.

We then had Hiver’s Honey Ale, a British Brown Ale also 4.5% .   Containing Blossom and Heather honey the Brown Ale is actually more of an inviting reddish brown with a creamy loose head.   The nose has malt with medicinal notes from the honey.

Like the Blond, the honey notes although present throughout are subtle.  However in the Brown the honey gives more depth with caramel and fruit notes. The roasted notes from the darker malts also came through making this a rich but balanced Ale.

Good with the salami we had been given I felt the Brown Ale complimented the fruit loaf fantastically.


Floriane’s knowledge of beer , bees and honey was brilliant and made for a really enjoyable tasting session.

Bee Urban are a community project who are involved with educational work. I’m sure you’ve heard how important bees are to the environment and our survival but if like me you are nervous of these little fellas a visit to Bee Urban will give you a new respect and fondness for bees and the amazing work they do. For example Floriane told us that during it’s lifetime a bee will produce just around half a teaspoon of honey – yes just half a teaspoon and they never stop working!

As well as introducing me to some great Honey Beers, the Hiver Experience helped rid me of my fear of bees.  If however you really can’t face meeting the bees Hiver have a tap room in Stanworth Street near Tower Bridge so you could cut out the middle bee and head there to enjoy some Hiver Beers .

Wherever you try Hiver beer however remember how hard the bees work and savour every mouthful!




To San Diego, Como, San Sebastián, Copenhagen and Swanley via a micro pub in Sidcup!

The first Beer School at the Hopper’s Hut Micropub – Sidcup

As I crashed back down to earth after a chocolate fuelled Easter weekend I felt a little guilty as what I should have been doing was going for a long run. Instead I was going to the pub.
The pub in question is the Hopper’s Hut, a micro pub in Sidcup, Kent. 

My reason for going to the Hopper’s Hut however was exciting as I had been asked to host a Beer School, the theme – World Beers.

After weeks of perusing beer lists the line up was concluded and so ran like this:

First off we went state side with Lomaland Saison from Modern Times Brewery based in San Diego, California. Named after a utopian community Modern Times also sell coffee, brew one off and special beers and have a tasting room where events are held – I particularly like the sound of the ‘Smoketastic Voyage and Tie Dye party’ being held tomorrow!

Saison which means season in French was historically brewed in Belgium by farmers in the winter months. This provided work in what was otherwise a quiet season in farming plus it provided beer not so much for commercial sale but for the workers to enjoy during the following summer. 

Lomaland is straw coloured and has a funky sour nose. Notes of pears and tart make this a fruity little number which went down well with the Beer School attendees.

Next we went to Italy. Not a country renowned for beer but with a long brewing history going back thousands of years Italian beers shouldn’t be overlooked. See my blog from November 2015 ‘Ferrari, Pasta, Chianti, Fabio Cannavaro…-when you think of Italy , beer isn’t normally what springs to mind’.

We had chosen Tipopils, a Pilsner from Birrificio Italiano. I often bore anyone who will listen about the virtues of lagers – I am sad to say members of my own family still refuse to drink lager thinking it all taste like fizzy mass produced rubbish. But as you may know Pilsner is a long established beer style first brewed in the middle ages in the city of Pilsen, western Bohemia, in the Czech Republic.

Pilsner – or in a lot of cases imitations of it account for 95% of global beer consumption and it’s not hard to see why. Poor imitations aside, Pilsner is clean cut, fresh, floral and soooo drinkable. It’s refreshing and perfect with so many foods; spicy foods, seafood, light cheeses, I could go on.  

Staying in Europe we then went to Northern Spain, or the Basque region to be precise with Basqueland Brewing Project’s Arraun Amber Ale. 

The Basqueland Brewing Project was set up by some American guys who are based in San Sebastián – arhhh San Sebastián! One of my favourite places where I am off to again this summer. It has it all, breathtaking beaches, great shopping, amazing food and an exciting beer scene- if you want to know more see my blog ‘Beer tourism abroad’ although as this was written in 2014 things have moved on since. 

Arraun has the most amazingly fresh hop nose. Once you tuck in however this is a lovely malty ale with notes of burnt toffee. Comments from the other drinkers were interesting with one guy saying he could taste rose petals and someone else agreeing with the inclusion of leather in the brewery’s own tasting notes. This just goes to show how differently we can experience beer!

Arraun Amber is a great ale and I will be seeking out this and more from Basqueland when I next visit San Sebastián.

Next we headed north to the colder climes of Copenhagen for the warming Mikkeller Porter. This will warm your cockles on a cold Scandinavian night at 8% abv. A wonderful porter with an inviting nose of treacle and notes of tobacco. This was extremely popular, even with those not normally Porter drinkers. I wished I could have had more!

Finally we returned home, not just to the UK but to nearby Swanley with Brew Buddies English Hop IPA.  

I wouldn’t normally select an English IPA after such a full-on Porter but I had a sneaky suspicion that some conscientious pupils would be staying on after class so thought this would head them in the right direction when they next went to the bar! 

A great IPA to finish on. Brew Buddies beers are unfined which means they are not filtered with isinglass – fish bladders. This leads to cloudy flavoursome beers which have the added advantage of being vegan friendly.   This IPA was a crowd pleaser all right.

Thanks to all the ‘pupils’ who attended the Beer School last night. If you’d like to study any of the beers mentioned above, the Hopper’s Hut have a good supply and also sell them to take out – oh lucky people of Sidcup, you have the beer world at your feet it seems!

Watch this space for news of future beers schools.



Rising like a pair of Phoenix First Truman’s in 2010 and two weeks ago the Eagle Pub in Ladbroke Grove


To use an avian metaphor, rising like a pair of Phoenix first Truman’s in 2010 and two weeks ago the Eagle Pub in Ladbroke Grove reopened it’s doors.

I am a fan of Truman’s beers as mentioned in a previous blog so I was delighted to be invited to the launch of their first Tank Lager RAW.  

The launch was in the Eagle pub, a few minutes from Ladbroke Grove tube last night. 

Impressive shining Truman’s tanks are perched like nests

The Eagle which had previously been a Truman’s pub back in the days of the original brewery is bright and welcoming. Impressive shining Truman’s tanks are perched like nests above the central bar. The decor is warm and slightly quirky with a mix of furniture and fittings including some Truman lanterns and iconic eagle statues on the bar. As we were led upstairs I noticed some rather fine wallpaper and fabrics from the company I have my day job with….
You would have absolutely no idea the Eagle has been open just two weeks. Hippo Inns who own the Eagle have done a fantastic job at establishing this pub totally in keeping with the area which is one of their policies. 

Each beer I had was expertly served

The staff were extremely friendly and efficient, each beer I had was expertly served often in traditional jugs. Apparently one of the first training exercises they were taken on was a day trip to Truman’s Brewery to see exactly how it all works – nice work if you can get it!

A range of Truman’s beers were on offer in addition to RAW. Pacing myself I stuck to halves – a long journey home and work in the morning sadly curtails midweek drinking somewhat but this didn’t stop me from trying three beers.

The Zephyr Australian Pale is one of Truman’s core beers and a favourite of mine. Packed with Australian hops and so called after the gentle trade winds from Australia that used to accompany exporters on their journeys.

Truman’s like their beers to be sold as fresh as possible and distribute mostly within the M25. They brew a succession of seasonal beers which they aim to get into pubs in 7-10 days. The current seasonal offering is Gypsy Queen, a wonderful Oatmeal Pale Ale.

In keeping with Truman’s tradition of giving a nod to their East London heritage Gypsy Queen is named after an Iron Steam Boat built close to the present day site of the brewery during the nineteenth Century.

Gypsy Queen is dry hopped so gives an instant hop hit followed by a backbone of malt. The addition of oatmeal gives Gipsy Queen a smooth fuller mouthfeel – wonderful so grab it while you can!          

I opted for Ale Battered Cod, Chips, Tartar and Mushy Peas

To accompany Truman’s beers we were lucky enough to try a selection of the Pub’s Bavarian inspired menu which includes dishes such as Chicken Schnitzel served with fried duck egg and a huge Crispy Knuckle of Pork served with Fried Potato dumplings. 

The menu is the creation Head chef Stan Perry (ex Soho House).

Stan told us beer and food pairing is something they are looking into and that he’s a great believer in using beer in cooking.

We started with sharing plates from the starters selection of Pickled Herring, Salmon Tartare, a lovely earthy Venison Carpaccio and a simply heavenly twice baked Gruyere Soufflé.  

As RAW is a Lager I opted for Ale Battered Cod, Chips, Tatar and Mushy peas for my main. To say the portion was generous doesn’t do it justice! After the wonderful starters I felt as though I could barely scratch the surface but the chunky cod wrapped in crispy light beer batter was perfection. The RAW sliced through the richness and was just the right depth of flavour so as not to overpower the dish. 

I should also give a mention to the amazing puddings served last; Bitter Chocolate Fondant with cherry, Rhubarb Panna Cotta with Shortbread, amazing Banoffee pancakes and Mulled Pear and Apple Crumble, needless to say I could manage just a mouthful of each but they were all delicious.

RAW is as clean and pure as it gets

RAW is Truman’s first tank beer and is Truman’s say and I quote ‘completely untouched by light, added gas or any other processes – it is unpasteurised and unfiltered which means it tastes as if the beer were poured ‘raw’ straight from the tanks in the brewery’ .

My verdict…RAW is a wonderful refreshing Lager with plenty of body. Sadly a much maligned beer style, a good lager whether it’s a crisp Pilsner or a smooth rounded Helles is a joy which too many people risk missing out on.  

With Lager there’s nowhere to hide Jasper from Truman’s said, and RAW is as clean and pure as it gets! Well done Truman’s, I look forward to your next tank beer!




For the love of good beer and food…The Hop Flower’s Blog on deserting South London for the day and heading East to West Ham territory and the Truman Brewery

Until my mid Twenties I had an on-off relationship with football. As a child I supported Liverpool. When I hit my teens however I discarded the beautiful game, Kevin Keegan and Emlyn Hughes in favour of The Jam, Two Tone, cigarettes and boys, – preferably those resembling Terry Hall or Paul Weller.

In the early nineties a friend took me along to the old Den to see Millwall play Leicester City. Apart from spotting Danny Baker behind me on the terrace Millwall left little impression on me. I should add I have since developed an aversion Leicester City FC, the reasons for which will become clear….  

Around the same time I also started going to Selhurst Park to watch Crystal Palace and by the time I met my husband in 1995 I was a confirmed Eagle.

he is a lifelong West Ham fan – This has at times been tricky

On the plus side my husband introduced me to real ale – I had previously been drinking Guinness or mass produced fizz masquerading as beer. But where there’s a yang there is often a yin and in this case he is a lifelong West Ham fan… 

This has at times been tricky. In 2004 six weeks after our wedding in a cruel twist of fate, we travelled to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff where Palace met West Ham in the Championship play-off final. Palace won with a late goal and I will never forget meeting my husband after the game. Me in my Palace colours and him draped in his West Ham flag looking extremely down in the mouth. 

I tried to be sympathetic. I had been at Wembley a few years before in 1996 when Steve Claridge had popped up in extra time and done the same to us for Leicester City. Now you see where my hostility towards Leicester City comes from – unlike the rest of the country I wasn’t elated when they won the Premiership last season. I still hold a grudge which I know I should get over of but I just can’t!

Reflecting beer’s current renaissance football fans demand decent beer

Now combining football with drinking may not sound like a good idea if you believe sections of the popular press but plenty of supporters indulge in a social pint before a game without dire consequences. Let’s face it a majority of us know our limits plus having paid to see a game we aren’t likely to render ourselves incapable of remembering the ninety minutes although sometimes we would rather forget.

Reflecting beer’s current renaissance football fans demand decent beer. I have previously blogged about the award winning Supporters Club bar at Leighton Orient. Palace have an annual beer festival and this season West Ham fans have been offered a selection of real ales at their new home in the London Stadium.

Grasping an excellent opportunity the Truman Brewery based half a mile from the London Stadium have a match day membership scheme for hammers called TruRib. For a small membership fee of £10 TruRib members can go to Truman’s bar at their Eyrie Brewery before matches. My husband has signed up which is great as members can take a guest along.

Now that explains the Tru but the Rib part of the name..? Moving from his patch outside West Ham’s previous home, the Boleyn Stadium to Truman’s yard is Rib Man   

The opportunity to stuff my face with this amazing food whilst drinking Truman’s beer was just too good to pass up

Rib Man alias Mark Gevaux is a West Ham supporting ex-butcher who serves baby- back rib meat in rolls with sauces he has created which aren’t for the faint hearted. With names such as Holy Fuck and Christ on a Bike you get the idea.  

I read an article about Rib Man in the Observer Magazine last March and the opportunity to stuff my face with this amazing food whilst drinking Truman’s beer was just too good to pass up. So despite West Ham beating Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park the previous week, for the love of good beer and food last Saturday I deserted South London for the day and headed East to West Ham territory on match day and the Truman Brewery to get my hands on a beer and a Rib Man rib meat roll.

We arrived at Truman’s yard just after 1pm. It was just getting busy with people sitting under a gazebo watching the Spurs game.   We headed for the bar first. There were three beers straight from the cask and three on keg , their Lager, Roller IPA and Pale Ale. Cider and soft drinks were also available.

We started with Truman’s cask Pale Ale Lazarus 4.2% ABV. I’ve had this beer in the past and know it’s excellent. A refreshing easy drinking session Pale with a malt finish.  

The smell in the yard from Rib Man’s stand was enticing so tentatively eyeing up the sauces we ordered our rolls, Husband opting for a small and me a medium. When offered sauce, hoping for clemency we asked rather pathetically if a mild one was available? Smokey BBQ Sauce was suggested so we took our chances.   

You know when you are eating something so good that you just don’t want it to come to an end?

I love my food and every so often I find something that knocks my socks off. Normally something simple like when a Spanish friend introduced me to Padron Peppers cooked in olive oil and sea salt or my recent conversion to Shish Kebabs after years of overlooking them. Don’t ask me why I had always overlooked this skewered delicacy but on my way home from Wembley after watching Palace beat Watford to go through to the FA Cup Final in my euphoria I fancied a take away. I tried a lamb Shish from my local kebab shop – Eureka! I am now addicted! 

The religious references in Rib Man’s sauce names are wholly appropriate as his rib meat roll really was a heavenly experience! You know when you are eating something so good that you just don’t want it to come to an end? Well this is how I felt whilst greedily devouring the rib meat roll. The meat was beautifully tender and moist. The BBQ sauce which seeped through to the bread roll turning it a luscious shade of amber had just the right amount of kick to enhance the whole experience-Oh why didn’t I order a large?!?

Rib Man’s divine creations

The Lazarus was perfect for washing down this divine creation.

Next from the now busier but well organised bar I ordered Fire Starter. Also a cask with a 4.2% ABV which as it says on the pump clip is a hoppy red ale. An instant hit of hops leading to rich, sweet notes with a finish of burnt toffee. I really liked Fire Starter and it made a great liquid pudding after the rib meat.

If you are not lucky enough to have a West Ham Fan in your life do not despair, Rib Man is at Brick Lane on Sundays.

Hackney Wick is a vibrant district with a good feel and for us Beer lovers it’s an oasis

Truman’s is a name synonymous with brewing. Originally established in Brick Lane in 1666, sadly the brewery closed in 1989. But in 2010 it was re-established by a pair of beer enthusiasts. Going from strength to strength in 2013 not only was the Eyrie opened in Hackney Wick but they also recovered the original Truman’s yeast from the National Collection of Yeast Cultures where it had been stored since the 1958.

Heritage is important to the guys at Truman’s hence their desire to forge a direct link with the past by using the original yeast. They are passionate about East London and there’s a lot to like about the area. The Olympic Park and Stratford shopping centre have transformed this corner of London. Hackney Wick is a vibrant district with a good feel. The architecture is a mix of new builds, old warehouses and eye catching graffiti. And for us beer lovers it’s an oasis with breweries such as Five Points, Hackney Brewery and Pressure Drop.

As well as Truman’s there are tap rooms at Crate Brewery and Howling Hops. So having waved my husband off on his way to West Ham versus Sunderland, I did the short walk along the River Lea to pop my head into Crate and Howling Hops Tank Bar.

I last visited these two tap rooms on a lovely sunny August day last year when Queens Yard where both are located was packed with people enjoying the weather and the beer. Despite being a mild October day there were less people around however this Saturday. The last few stragglers were leaving for the West Ham game as I arrived.

Crate Brewery’s bar and Pizzeria

Crate Brewery’s bar and Pizzeria sits on the River Lea. The bar staff were friendly and helpful offering tasters of beer. I had a half of the Crate Amber Ale 4.5% on cask. The Amber has a good mouth feel with dry almost tea-like astringent qualities- lovely! 

There is a monthly menu of beers including guest bottles ranging from Lambics to Darks as well as cider and wine. 

The aroma from the amazing looking stone baked pizzas served straight from the oven was too much! I would have ordered one if I hadn’t gorged myself on Rib Man’s wares . Currently on the pizza menu amongst traditionals such as Margherita or Prosciutto and Rocket are Sage with Truffle and Kashmiri Dahl.

This bar has a great feel to it so don’t be put off by the Canada Geese outside who looked expectantly at me as I ambled along the riverside.

Finally I popped into the Howling Hops Tank Bar. Ten different beers are served from tanks behind a long bar such as their American Brown, West Coast IPA and Pils. The Tank Bar has long benched tables which stretch the length of the room and like Crate there is a turn table which although wasn’t in use I can imagine you would have a good night here. I saw posters advertising a cheese and beer event from the previous night which looked good.     

Howling Hops offer wonderful looking food from Billy Smokes Barbecue such as Beer Sausage Sandwiches – hot-smoked beef and pork sausages containing Howling Hops Beer or as an alternative to all this meat how about a smoked Pepper and Avocado Sandwich with (not mega hot) House Hot Sauce.   

Fed and watered I headed back to Stratford for a bit of post lunch shopping mayhem.

West Ham 1 – 0 Sunderland

West Ham beat Sunderland 1 – 0 with a late goal so I guess Hackney and Stratford were happy places Saturday evening. As for Palace…? We lost 3-1 to, yes you’ve guessed it… Leicester!



Full Steam ahead…for a few real ales whilst being transported through time and the Hampshire countryside on the Mid Hants Real Ale Train.

In my last blog I talked about hitting a scary landmark birthday. The trauma of reaching this age was made not just bearable but a joy by all the wonderful and thoughtful gifts I received – I am a very lucky hop flower!

So as well as being treated to a Korean cooking course (If you don’t know what I am talking about, please see my last blog) last weekend I was taken for a trip on the Real Ale Train or to use it’s nickname the RAT in Hampshire for a few real ales whilst being transported through time and the Hampshire countryside.

taking you down memory lane with a vintage style of old railway posters, signage and furniture.

The RAT’s location is the restored steam locomotives on the Mid Hants Railway known as the Watercress Line after the local cargo it used to take to London. There are four stations on the ten mile line, each taking you down memory lane with a vintage style of old railway posters, signage and furniture. Such is the charm of this picturesque line that it has featured in films and TV including my favourite Midsomer Murders plus Countryfile and a Richmond Sausage ad to name just a few.
RATs are held on most but not all Saturday nights from February through to the beginning of December and feature different breweries either local or from neighbouring counties. Last Saturday night it was the turn of Triple FFF , Hammerpot and Downton – no TV connection…

step back in time before the days of Networkers

Triple FFF Brewery who being in Alton couldn’t be more local to the RAT have been brewing since 1997. They offer a comprehensive range of core beers and seasonals with interesting names such as Pressed Rat and Warthog, Comfortably Numb and Dazed and Confused.
Based near the Sussex hamlet of the same name is the Hammerpot Brewery. Set up in 2005 Hammerpot have brewed award winning beers and take great pride in their local heritage.

Over the Wiltshire Border, the Downton Brewery use some interesting ingredients in their beers such as fresh apples, Coriander and locally grown pumpkins.

I wouldn’t fancy pouring pints on a moving train!

As the trip was booked well in advance we each got a voucher for a free beer as it seemed did most of the other passengers as immediately upon boarding most people headed for the carriage where the real ale was served. Rather handily this was the next carriage from us so although we were initially hemmed in by keen and thirsty real ale drinkers, the queue actually moved quickly. In fact throughout the evening I waited just seconds to be served such was the efficiency and dexterity of the bar staff – I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t fancy pouring pints on a moving train!  
Being seasoned pros at this drinking business we had lined our stomachs with an early dinner at the White Hart in nearby Holybourne where we were staying the night. Hot food is available on the train however plus there is a separate bar serving wine and a selection of bottled beers including some from local breweries which also has a selection of crisps and chocolate bars should you get the munchies.

so to the beers

So to the beers, I kicked off with the 3.9% ABV Quadhop from Downton. A refreshing pale bitter with a nice dry finish.
I then moved on to Hammerpot’s Shooting Star Bitter 3.8 ABV which had great citrus notes but also a touch of spice.

New beers were added during the evening one of these being Triple FFF’s award winning Moondance. At 4.2% a lovely hoppy pale. Loads of floral notes from cascade hops and very drinkable!

I finished the trip with Hammerpot’s Bottle Wreck Porter, 4.7% ABV. Bottle Wreck has also won numerous awards including Champion Beer of Britain, Porters category, at the 2012 CAMRA National Winter Ales Festival. It has warming rich notes of burnt coffee but being a porter was not overly heavy.

Also available on the real ale bar at various points during the evening were Hammerpot’s Red Hunter, Downton’s Honey Blond and their Pumpkin Ale plus Cirrus Minor Cider from Mr Whitehead’s Cider Company.

We arrived back at Alton at around 10.30pm and did the mile walk back to the White Hart where we continued our evening. 
Obviously if you are into good beer and/or steam trains you will love the RAT but if like two of our group you aren’t into either the RAT is still a wonderful night out. The atmosphere was lively and friendly and who doesn’t love the sound of a steam train letting off steam?

If I have inspired you to take a journey on the RAT be aware this popular event sells out well in advance so have a look at the website for booking details. The RAT is timed to get back to Alton Station in time for the 10.44pm to London Waterloo but there are later trains.  

If you fancy making a weekend of it I would recommend a stay at the White Hart. We walked the mile to Alton Station but cabs are available. The White Hart menu is fantastic. Pre RAT I had a cheese and bacon burger with delicious chips washed down with a half of Manx Brewery O’Kells Bitter – yes half I didn’t want to peak too soon after all!   The traditional fried breakfast I had Sunday morning set me up for the day. Clean rooms, great staff in a village pub serving a good selection of beers surrounded by countryside walks – what a great place to complete the weekend!

The RAT is a fun evening out. As mentioned the staff were excellent and the beer selection excelled my expectations. Think I’d better book for 2017!




Hooked on Korean food! – always on the lookout for new and interesting beer and food pairing ideas.   The HopFlower spends an evening at London’s School of Wok

I reached a momentous birthday in July. I won’t spell it out but let’s just say my Dad was lucky enough to go to Wembley and see Bobby Moore lift the World Cup when I was just a week old…

Some lovely friends wanted to buy me a birthday gift but I struggled for ideas as having reached such a ripe old age there’s little that I need. I decided instead that good memories are the perfect present and asked for vouchers for the School of Wok cookery school in London.

I love cookery courses. I enjoy cooking but moreover I am always on the lookout for new and interesting beer and food pairing ideas. I have previously done an Indian cookery class in Delhi and a Basque class in San Sebastian.  

A little bit closer to home near Charing Cross Station, along the road from the excellent Harp pub, School of Wok had caught my eye as they offered Korean Cookery classes.

I should explain the opportunity to visit Seoul arose a few years ago as my brother was lecturing there at a university summer school. He had a free week before he came home and an apartment on the campus so I bought an inflatable mattress and booked a flight.  

Seoul is a huge city with a fascinating mix of modern, traditional and residential architecture fringed by mountains and temples. The people are friendly and the food is amazing.

On my first morning in Seoul we went to a restaurant and had Mung bean pancakes which were heavenly. That was it – I was hooked on Korean food!

Whilst in Seoul we spent many evenings in a tiny local bar which appeared to be run singlehandedly by a woman who didn’t speak English so we quickly learnt how to ask for two beers in Korean. I can ask for beer in four languages other than English but otherwise hello, goodbye and thank you are pretty much the extent of my bilingual talents – shame on me!

We were drawn to this particular bar as it had the great feel of a local. We were always greeted with a huge smile. It was common to be given a bowl of peanuts in Seoul bars but here the lovely woman went one step further and gave us bowls of cherry tomatoes and whitebait as well. Locals were served huge platters of cooked food produced from behind the tiny bar –this woman was an amazing host!

I have to be honest and say the beer wasn’t outstanding but it was cool and refreshing which in the heat of Seoul in June did the job!    

Bulgogi – Meat on fire!

Since my Korean trip I have made the occasional trek to the South West London Suburb of New Malden which being home to a large Korean community has excellent and reasonably priced Korean restaurants. I have also dabbled at home but almost finished off my other half who has adverse reactions to spicy food. So I thought it was time I had a lesson from the experts.

School of Wok hold a range of classes in Oriental cookery but wanting specifically Korean I booked myself on their Korean BBQ and Kimchi three hour course. I was joined by seven other students, a mixture of ages and nationalities all keen to learn about Korean cookery. Our teacher for the night was the warm and friendly Yun Ko.

So with nothing scarier than a chop stick in sight iI allowed myself a couple of bottles of Tsingtao

After a lesson on how to use a scary looking cleaver we chopped vegetables, ginger and garlic for the Bulgogi marinades. Bulgogi is a Korean speciality. Yun told us it literally means ‘meat on fire’ . When making the marinades however you can adjust the seasoning to your taste.   We made one marinade for beef Bulgogi which had a base of Soy Sauce and another for Spicy Pork Belly Bulgogi which based on Korean Chilli paste was a more glutinous marinade.  

Next we made little dumplings stuffed with minced pork. Although this looked fiddly as the idea is to manoeuvre the pork and chopped seasoning into cigarette paper-thin wrappers made from dough it was surprisingly easy

Finally Yun gave us a Kimchi making demonstration. Another Korean staple, Kimchi is all about fermentation – like beer! Yun mixed mooli (a type of radish) a mixture of spices and seasoning, raw oyster and shrimps with chopped cabbage. The addition of raw seafood may sound scary but it gives freshness to the Kimchi. In Korea communities gather to make huge quantities of Kimchi for the winter which improves as it ferments. Kimchi is an acquired taste but definitely worth trying.

Throughout the evening we were offered drinks although I delayed hitting the beer until all cleaver use was over. So with nothing scarier than a chop stick in sight I allowed myself a couple of bottles of Tsingtao.  

We cooked the Bulgogi on table top BBQs. A great sociable way of eating

The evening finished with us sitting together devouring the food we had prepared. The dumplings had amazingly stayed in one piece and were delicious. The delicate flavour was not overpowered by the Tsingtao and the carbonation sliced through the dumpling wrapper. I think the dumplings would pair very well with a flowery Blonde Ale such as Siren’s fragrant Love of Work. A sensible ABV of 3.6% with notes of Earl Grey Tea which would complement the dumplings beautifully.

We cooked the Bulgogi on table top BBQs. A great sociable way of eating which reminds me of Raclette – without the bread and cheese but you get my drift.  

The beef Bulgogi marinade was the lighter of the two so we had this first. Not too spicy but flavoursome, this had notes of sesame oil and soya sauce. We had decided to add an extra touch of ginger to give it a bit more sweetness. With this I would suggest The Kent Gipsy’s Yuzu. A collab beer from Gipsy Hill Brewery and Kent Brewery containing gorgeous Sorachi Ace hops. Yuzu is a pale blond cloudy ale with an ABV of 5.2% and notes of coconut and lime leading to a dry palate-cleansing finish.  

We then cooked the Spicy Pork Belly Bulgogi until it started to crisp a little. This was delicious, quite a bit hotter than the beef but not too high up the Scoville scale for me to handle. The Korean chilli paste gave this marinade a richer slightly creamier mouthfeel and taste. The Tsingtao cooled down the spice but given the choice I would pair the Spicy Pork Belly Bulgogi with a beer which has the ‘belly’ to stand up to it such as a good full bodied IPA . I had a can of Northern Monk’s Heathen with the pork belly leftovers from my doggy bag the following night which worked well. The Heathen has the hoppiness you’d expect from an IPA but not to the extent that it overpowered or distorted the Spicy Bulgogi. With an ABV of 7.2% Heathen is robust and has a good amount of sweetness to complement the caramelised pork belly. Pepper notes in the finish also complement this dish perfectly.

If you are looking for a Christmas gift for someone in your life who has everything or fancy broadening your cooking skills I would recommend School of Wok. And maybe pop into the Harp* for some beer pairing inspiration….

 * Please see the August edition of CAMRA publication London Drinker for a tribute to Binnie Walsh, who was the long time owner and licensee of the Harp 









Let me take you down the A303, to a selection of Skinner’s wonderful beers, their swanky new labels and the stories that inspired them.

Sometimes the old adage ‘If it aint broke, don’t fix it’ doesn’t ring true and this I would say is the case for Cornish Brewery Skinner’s who in recent months have given their beers a funky new look.

I love Cornwall. I have visited many many times and always find it hard to leave this wonderful county. Well I say county but as an outsider my observation is that being ‘Cornish’ is in fact an approach to life – an ethos if you like. Economic factors and the wildness of the weather can make life in Cornwall tough. Many of the people I have met in Cornwall possess a pragmatic yet almost spiritual approach to life. This paired with the creativity which seems to ooze from every corner of Cornwall make it a spellbinding place.

The new labels are little works of art!

In this creative vein Skinner’s have collaborated with six artists to produce a new set of labels for their award winning core range. Skinner’s, a family run brewery just outside Truro town centre have been going since 1997. The new labels they have created are little works of art!

The artists include Stevie Gee who has designed for Fashion brand Vans, Rose Forshall whose work has featured in The Times and in one of my favourite shops Anthropology plus Nick Beringer who having designed the original Betty Stogs has given her a makeover – well of sorts. Nick has been involved in Skinner’s since it began so knows Betty well and rather than glam her up (perish the thought) this brazen woman has been given a new sparkle and is now shown holding court rather than the lone figure she once was.

So let me take you down the A303, past Stonehenge into Kernow and to a selection of Skinner’s wonderful beers, their swanky new labels and the stories and backdrop that inspired them.

First up the woman herself Betty Stogs. Cornwall is known for being the land of myth and legend and the story of Betty Stogs is one of a somewhat lazy woman whose baby was always grubby and had only Betty’s cat for company most of the time. One day the ‘Small People’ took the baby and cleaned it up before leaving it on some moss for Betty to find. Not before Betty’s husband had returned home however and he was pretty angry with her.  

This story has a happy ending as Betty learnt from this episode and became a more attentive parent.  

Described by Skinner’s as a ‘Brazen Cornish Ale’ this Betty Stogs however is in no way shabby. Amber with a lacy head and a 4% ABV she has a nose of caramel and malt. Once you start drinking Betty the malt notes continue accompanied by dry woody notes. I would love to sip Betty Stogs with a Cornish Pasty – of course. Either traditional or cheese and onion would work. Just beware of the seagulls and maybe the mythical ‘Small People’!

Fancy something lighter for a day on the beach? Try Skinner’s Lushingtons Sunshine Pale Ale.  

Now in my experience the weather in Cornwall, even at the height of summer can be a bit hit and miss and I know having lost my car in the terrible Boscastle flood twelve years ago. But when the sun shines and it does, there is nowhere better to be than on a Cornish beach such as Crackington Haven or Trebarwith Strand with a Cornish Ice Cream.

Lushingtons Sunshine Pale Ale has a wonderful new label reminiscent of a Hawaiian shirt- you know the sort worn by some of us in the 80s and often seen at the GBBF.  

The label sets the scene perfectly depicting blue sea surrounded by orange and red skies.
Lushingtons has an ABV of 4.2%. Grassy and hoppy on the nose, this beer does not have a heavy mouth feel so is a great session beer. With jammy notes and hints of lime it’s perfect with that Ice Cream or a Cream Tea.

Lushingtons Sunshine Pale Ale has a wonderful new label reminiscent of a Hawain shirt

Step things up a notch to an ABV of 4.8% with i, which Skinner’s describe as an ‘Untameable Pale Ale’. Very lively out of the bottle Porthleven has a citrus kick that hits the back of the mouth.  

Skinner’s recommend Porthleven be paired with spicy food, kebabs or smoked meats – I love a brewery that include informed food pairing notes on their labels so kudos to Skinner’s for this. I would enjoy kicking back and watching surfers such as the one on the label in the Cornish sunset with a Porthleven and either fish and chips or some locally caught Mackerel-perfect! I guess the ‘untameable’ reference is a nod to the Atlantic. Famed for surfing but is certainly not a force man will ever tame no matter how well we surf.

All I would need to finish off the perfect day would be a visit to the Cobweb Inn, Boscastle for a few more beers and some live music. If you are in the area the Cobweb is one of the best pubs I have ever been to and worth spending at least one evening in. The evening may well turn into the following day but a full Cornish breakfast and a bracing stroll on the beach and you’ll be as right as rain.

Once recovered should you fancy picnicking on some sandwiches of locally caught crab I would suggest you grab a bottle of Cornish Knocker.  

Skinners describe Knocker as a ‘Ground breaking Golden Ale’ which is a clever play on words. Named after fabled creatures that feature in Celtic mythology but are particularly prevalent in Cornish folklore, the Knockers were said to knock on the walls of mines. This knocking was believed by some to be a mischievous act designed to cause the wall to cave in (hence the ‘ground breaking reference). Others however believe it to be a benevolent warning to miners that they were in danger. I feel the need to explain this in case you have images from old fashioned seaside post cards in your head…

Cornish Knocker is Skinner’s Golden Ale with an ABV of 4.5%. Mango aromas lead to a crisp, fruity ale with a short snappy dry finish.

As well as collaborating with artist, Skinner’s worked with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage and came up with English Pale Ale (EPA)

EPA has floral notes from the cascade hops it contains. It also manages to combine notes of wood and malt. The result is a nice mix of sappy dryness and a soft woody finish. For me a perfect partner to a lump of Cornish farmhouse cheese.

Skinner’s worked with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and came up with EPA

So many great things come out of Cornwall and beer is certainly one of them. Skinner’s range with their witty and clever new labels does not disappoint and although widely available don’t wait for them to come to you. If you have a chance to visit GO WEST!