We finally left Rome on Wednesday. The flat was scoured, the kitchen was re-cluttered with the piles of stuff belonging to our landlady that we’d stashed in the basement, and, well, the place didn’t really look very different. It was sad to leave Rome, but it wasn’t exactly sad to leave that flat, where we always felt besieged by the other denizens of the palazzo: mad, sad or just pretty unfriendly to know. And all of them shouters, barkers and door-slammers.
One final, expensive international-house-move hiccough happened when we tried to check in our bags at the airport. We’re not naive, and understand perfectly that budget airlines make their money by hitting you from all sides with extra ways, many unexpected, to help you part with your cash, but EasyJet’s luggage policy is especially dubious. We didn’t think to question that spending money to carry extra luggage meant you were spending money to carry extra weight. That’s a logical assumption. You’re paying for the extra weight, right? Um, no – you’re paying simply to have the option to spread your luggage between more bags. So one hold bag: 20kg. Two hold bags: 20kg. Eh?
We’re both pretty web literate, but this info isn’t exactly front and centre on the site when you’re booking; it’s stashed, to help encourage punters to make this costly mistake. Being told we had to pay several hundred euro extra there and then before our clobber would be added to the flight was a shocker.
Oddly, carry-on has “No weight restriction applies as long as you can place and retrieve the cabin bag safely in the overhead lockers without assistance.” I’ve always treated carry-on as a means of transporting my passport and my reading matter, not being one of those people who blocks up boarding and disembarking. So yeah, I suppose I am naive. And the bank account is somewhat lighter too. Ouch.
Still, at least our arrival in Blighty was fairly painless; if British railways’ gulp-inducing prices could ever be considered painless. (No they can’t – they’re a national disgrace, each year leaping ahead of the rate of inflation with undisguised exploitative neoliberal glee.) Struggling with our marginally hefty, now somewhat highly priced luggage, we went into London then out again to our old hood, Herne Hill, where we met the friend Becca, who, with husband Ceri and daughter Angharad, is looking after our cats, who survived their road trip from Rome.
A taxi took us to their house, and a reunion with the beasts in question, Lux and Pip. They’d settled in well. Further reunions followed when we headed further into deepest sarf London and Honor Oak. Some were of the human variety, with old friends Jo and Lawrence and their somewhat enlarged, considerably more articulate kids, and some were with beer.
This isn’t a blog about child development though, so I’ll stick to the latter.
We went to a tapas place called Donde, where they had Meantime London Pale Ale and London Stout on tap. Founded in 2000, Meantime was on the first of the new generation of London breweries I drank their products a reasonable amount before we moved out of London in 2011, and always enjoyed them. Although I enjoyed my pint of London Pale Ale, it struck me as somewhat generic and decided over-carbonised; the latter is partly because it was keg not cask. The former is – I don’t know – perhaps it’s one of those cases where a traditional brewery has got so successful and grown so much that the product, while still good quality, has lost its distinction.
Sure they still exemplify a continuity in the great brewing traditions of London, but with a more industrial approach. They, for example, had a relationship with supermarket chain Sainsbury’s to make some of their own-branded beers. I’m really not sure about this. Surely something as avowedly authentic and artisanal as traditionally brewed beer shouldn’t really cosy up with something as antithetical to all things artisanal, local and traditional as a corporate supermarket.
I really can’t decide what I think about all this. Do success and scale implicitly go hand in hand with a compromise in quality?
It’s something I’ve thought about a lot through two years of enjoying Italian craft beers, especially given that a friend, Michele Sensidoni, is master brewer at one of Italy’s biggest craft breweries. A brewery with an output that some in Italy won’t even acknowledge as “artigianale” (100,000hl / 6,097 UK barrels / 8,547 US barrels – big for Italy, but tiny by US or multinational standards). I talked about Michele’s brewery here, then went on to discuss this question of what defines craft beer: for me, with fermented products like bread and beer, time is one of key factors. Not rushing. Michele doesn’t rush their beers: they’re bottle conditioned for long periods and remain unpasteurised and unfiltered. He also regularly brews up new tests beers, a very hands-on process.
One such beer was smuggled in the luggage I paid an arm and a leg to transport back to Britain. As such, it’s not only the first of its kind to reach these shores, it also had a pretty substantial relative value, thanks to EasyJet’s €14 per excess kilo. (Yes, €14 – about £12, or US$19. I still need a take a breath when I think about that).
The beer is a stout. As with many of Michele’s beers, it’s made with atypical ingredients. So while there’s nothing new about stout that tastes very chocolaty, this one is specifically made with cocoa/cacao beans. They give the beer a delicious smell of chocolate. The beer itself was pretty carbonised and had a similarly delicious taste of chocolate, well toasted malts, charcoal. I’d want perhaps a little less carbon and a bit more body ultimately though.
We drank the beer over dinner, with Ceri and Becca and the cats, then moved on to a bottle of The Kernel Breweryʼs Table Beer. This added a nice balance to the evening: I started drinking beer from one of the founders of London’s new generation of breweries, said farewell to Italian craft beer in the middle, then continued with one of the big success stories of more recent London craft breweries.
The Kernel was founded in 2009. Sadly, I didn’t even become aware of it until I left London in early 2011, but during my time in Rome its name came up a lot as being at the heart of London’s newly revitalised craft brewing scene. The brewery was part of the burgeoning real food scene in Maltby Street, in Bermondsey, southeast London. Like Meantime, they quickly established a reputation and moved to bigger premises in 2012. I’ve only tried a few of their beers so far, but both have been great.
The Table Beer features The Kernel’s neat, pleasing brown packing paper style labels, where, while completely failing to take a photo, I noticed it was just 3.3% ABV. This was an interesting surprise after so many strong beers in Italy. It’s also a delicious beer, very easy drinking with a floral scent and fresh, citrusy taste. Compared to the Meantime London Pale Ale, this is a thinner kind of pale ale, with less body, but it’s also perfectly carbonised, very drinkable and feels, well, uncomplicated but eager. It’s eager to sit on your table and be drunk along with food in lieu of a table wine.
Now I’m sitting here at the kitchen table in my parents’ house in Winchester, the ancient capital of England. I grew up here, looking out over the hillfort that predated the Roman settlement whose street plan still dictates something of the nature of the contemporary city. Rome itself is about 850 miles or 1370km to my south. It was cold and blue and beautiful this morning, but now the rain is sheeting down and the cliché of English weather is asserting itself.
We’ve got a few days here in Blighty, enough time to do one of the best things this island has to offer: avoiding the rain by going to pubs. Then we’ll be off to New York City, and whatever bread, cakes and ale I encounter there. Just to add to the neatness of Wednesday’s beer consumption reflected my current trajectory, Ceri also opened a bottle of Brooklyn Breweryʼs Brooklyn Lager. In a week or so we’ll be able to try it again, mere miles from where it’s brewed.
37–39 Honor Oak Park, Honor Oak, London SE23 1DZ
(+44) 20 8291 2822 | dondetapas.com | email@example.com
Lawrence Trading Estate, Blackwall Lann, Greenwich, London SE10 0AR
(+44) 20 8293 1111 | meantimebrewing.com | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Kernel Brewery
1 Spa Business Park, Spa Road, Bermondsey, London SE16 4QT
+44 (0)20 7231 4516 | thekernelbrewery.com | email@example.com