This is an odd addition to the Beer World series, both because there is no photograph of a foaming pint (I kind of forgot, for reasons that will become clear) and because its subject is very close to home. About 600 metres from home, to be precise.
The beer in question is Beersley Street, a festival ale from those magnificent brewers at Redemption. The festival in question happened this weekend, and had nothing to do with the Queen and everything to do with books and writing: the third annual Stoke Newington Literary Festival. I missed the second one (I was still in South East Asia at the time, chasing elephants through Cambodia) and only caught a couple of shows at the first. This time, I bought a weekend ticket as soon as they were announced. I was very excited. The news that Redemption were to produce the festival ale only thrilled me more.
Redemption produce some of my favourites among the explosion of new London beers that have appeared in recent years. Their Pale Ale and Trinity are some of the best session beers around these parts, and Urban Dusk is great if you want something a bit more chewy but still digestible. That they hail from North London only makes them sweeter.
Beersley Street itself was a nice light, hoppy affair, not too far distant from Trinity (although I had already drunk quite a bit of free Hendricks Gin, with which the Festival was awash; this might explain why I forgot to take pictures…) That name, of course, was in honour of the Festival headline act, John Cooper Clarke, punk poet and a significant voice of my younger days. He swears, he is irreverent, and he is hysterically funny; his fountain of jet-black, back-combed hair is properly iconic and he has the thinnest legs of any man on God’s green earth.
Beasley Street is probably his best work, and I loved the up-dated, gentrified Beasley Boulevard. Because Clarke is not only a punk stand-up comic (“A unicorn and a Cyclops. That’s an accident waiting to happen”): he can also construct quite marvellously complex rhymes and rhythms, leaving you with take-away images of considerable power: I’ve been carrying “Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies/in a box on Beasley Street” around since the late 1980s.
But while Clarke was the box office hit, there was far more to the Festival than simply him. Jonathan Lee reading from his new novel Joy in St Mary’s Old Church was mesmeric (if slightly dispiriting for my own writing); Jackie Kay was as infectious as ever. In a discussion on the future of the book, China Mieville and Mark Billingham demonstrated that authors know much more about communication and interactivity than publishers and tech-enthusiasts. I got to be all nostalgic for my NME days, with David Quantick and the World’s Coolest LibrarianTM, Richard Boon. London Obsessive (and Suffolk resident…) Mark Mason made me want to follow in his footsteps tracing the entire London Underground overground, while Nat Segnit’s reading, featuring a malevolent Scottish dolphin called Dean, was a masterclass in the short story. Even the poetry dungeon of the New Libertines threw up some real gems among the overwrought teenagery: I shall be seeking out Marc Nash’s flash fiction for a start.
But back to beer, since that is what this blog post is supposed to be. Saturday lunchtime’s event was Perfect London Pubs, hosted by The White Hart on the High Street. The upstairs room was packed, and not only by men of a certain girth, for engaging readings and pub talk from Pete Brown and Robin Turner and a dependable pint of Badger’s Fursty Ferret. Robin had spent hard months searching for the perfect pub, taking Orwell’s ‘Moon Under Water’ as a template; Pete has written the definitive history of the George at Borough, Shakespeare’s Local. Things quickly became quite philosophical, in the way that pub conversations do, sliding through ideas of transience and permanence, authenticity, and the Sugarbabes. Books and beer on a neighbourhood Bank Holiday mini-break – you don’t always have to travel far to broaden your horizons.