Saturday, 28 September 2013

Searching For The Taste Of The USA In The Drinking Heart Of London

Everyone knows that Americans make the best IPAs. Everyone except Evo. Despite the incontrovertible evidence of the Great British Beer Festival, he won't give up.

"I'm sorry, mate, I'm not having it. You can't beat good, British beers. There's no contest," he said while supping another Guinness in The Three Greyhounds.

Right, well let's see about that. The London Plane trees are still in leaf and summer is still alive. Time to seek out the ultimate taste of the drinking man's season - a deliciously big-flavoured mouthful of thirst-quenching, citrusy IPA from the USA.

We started at The White Horse in Newburgh Street, that great Nicholson's boozer surrounded by end-of-summer flower boxes just off Carnaby Street. This pump looks promising - Chinook IPA, a name conjuring images of Apocalypse Now choppers, complete with an American flag on the beer clip. Hold on a minute - turns out it's brewed in Walsall by the Backyard Brewhouse. A decent bitter but about as American as a trip up the M6. Conned!

Evo was already on the black stuff for some spurious reason so Geoff and I had a quick refresher of Liberation South Island from the Channel Islands. The magical hops in that one sound like a list of super heroes - Dr Rudi, Kohatu, Motueka, Green Bullet. Their super powers have created a jolly blonde beer that whetted the appetite for a proper IPA.

So off we cantered to The Ship on Wardour Street, a now over-rated and rather smelly Fuller's pub where you can sit next to an eye-level shelf full of ketchup bottles. But it does sell Wild River, a very un-Fuller's-like seasonal pale ale that uses those big-skied Red White and Blue hops - Liberty, Willamette, Cascade and Chinook (there it is again) - to create a fabulously grapefruity throat-pleaser. I love it. Tastes more like Sierra Nevada than Chiswick. Evo stuck with Guinness.

Geoff: "Guinness? You're having a laugh."
Next stop, the Coach and Horses in Greek Street, another one of those tatty Soho legends whose reputation is bigger than its beer range. It's got a scribbly new sign outside announcing its new status as a vegetarian pub but no sign of an IPA, so we settled for a pint of London Pride. Always reliably malty when the going gets tough.

No sign of it there
A few purposeful strides later we found ourselves in The Three Greyhounds, another beautifully wood and glassed Nicholson's pub. But wait, here's another joker in the hand-pump pack: what beer do you think of when you see the name Samuel Adams? I think Boston, Massachusetts. This one's from Faversham, Kent.

But Samuel Adams Blonde Ambition is brewed by Shepherd Neame from a recipe devised in conjunction with the Boston Beer Company using a mixture of US and UK hops. I'm not usually a big fan of SN beers - bit too sweet for me - but this one had a hint of that elusive grapefruit bitterness, even though it was a bit past its best. It was brewed to celebrate American Independence Day so maybe it was reaching the bottom of the barrel by the end of September.

So Evo remained unconvinced and bailed out, leaving me and Geoff to complete the day's quest at The Old Coffee House in Beak Street, the Soho outpost of the excellent Brodie's brewery in the East End. A quick scan of the bar and there it was - Old Street Pale Ale, Sim Coe and Citra hops all the way in their showboat American ale.

It was probably asking too much to expect a draft American IPA on a routine drinking day in Soho. A beer festival is much more likely to produce a result. But in the meantime let's salute in a General Stonewall Jackson-style the Brit brewers who are using US recipes and hops to create the taste of the States in the streets of Soho.

Two drinkers at The Three Greyhounds

Monday, 23 September 2013

Top Ten Lessons From Manchester City 4 Manchester United 1 Yesterday

1. That's me in the corner. That's me in the spotlight. Losing my Pellegrigion a split-second before that man-mountain Toure made it 2-0. My hair seems to be going a bit grey.

2. "Everyone's predicting a draw," said my dad when he met me off the tram in Chorlton. Not me. I rarely call it right but I told anyone who would listen in The Oddest Bar (ie nobody) that City would win 4-1. Maybe it was the Titanic Atlantic and the Acorn bitter talking. To be fair, my United-fan dad went for 2-1 to City.

Photo: V Hunt
3. The Punjab doesn't open on Sunday afternoons. We found out when Vince chauffered us to the Curry Mile in Rusholme. But the Kebabish - the Thrill Of The Grill - does a pre-match chicken jalfrezi of the very highest quality - even though it doesn't serve ale.

4. That new white City away shirt is a beauty. I'd promised myself I wouldn't waste my money on a replica jobby this season but couldn't resist its overpriced Nike allure when I saw it in the club shop before the match. It's my new lucky shirt.

5. That was the most exhilarating City performance I can remember in a derby and I've seen most of the previous 165. Power, pace, purpose, zippy passes - it could have been another six. I remember that time in 1994 we were winning 2-0 at half time in a derby at Maine Road and we lost 3-2. My United-fan brother had a good chuckle in the Kippax that day. He wasn't laughing last night. Just being mean on Twitter.

6. Nasri joins Dzeko on the Born Again list under Pellegrini. He was the official Man of the Match in the stadium and who could argue after his very French flick to Kolarov led to Aguero's opener and the assured side-foot finish for his own goal. We've almost forgotten his fiasco in the wall which led to Van Persie's free kick winner last season. Almost.

7. Nasri was run close for man of the match by Kompany. What a roaring performance. He won everything in the air, was first to every tackle and set the standard from kick off.

8. With the outstanding exception of Rooney, United were awful. I can't remember a more one-sided derby. "You'll never play for City!" chanted the City fans to Shrek. Shame he lost his nerve when he could have joined the revolution three or four years ago.

Vince celebrates in his burgundy away shirt
9. A man sitting on the track at Stone forced the 18:36 Manchester to London train full of Cockney Blues to divert via Stafford on the way home. Unable to confirm suggestions it was David Moyes. Too harsh to run him over? Yes, I think so.

10. TV's John Stapleton slept right through the short delay in his first class seat. Great pro.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Why Manchester City Couldn't Beat Stoke City on Saturday

Stoke City 0 Manchester City 0

1. Pellegrini doesn't know what his best team is yet. Leaving Aguero on the bench was heart-sinking. Jovetic was invisible on his debut, Rodwell is an accident waiting to happen, Nasri is not the man you want in midfield against Stoke, Navas is too good to be saved for the last ten minutes.

 2. City were clueless. No organisation, poor passing, no width, no pace, no creativity in midfield, no Silva. Yaya is a shadow of the player that scored the winner in the FA Cup final against Stoke two years ago.

 3 City's players seemed distracted. This was an unglamorous fixture inbetween that truly awful international week and the first Champions League group match - and it showed. Significant that Aguero'a post-match tweet focused on the Uefa match.

 4. If he's even half fit, Aguero has to start. He came on after an hour and was the best player on the pitch. Superb balance, direct running, making Robert Huth break sweat for the first time in the match.

 5. Negredo was disappointing on his first start. He'd earned his chance but all we got was a couple of embarrassing fall overs and not a chance on goal.

 6. Pellegrini is struggling a bit. The fans haven't warmed to him and he's not helping himself by ignoring them with his hands in his pockets as they applaud him off at the end. Much is made of his happy dressing room. I'd rather have a miserable, winning one.

 7. Stoke were dull but should have won. Walters had a free header four yards out in the first half, Nasri gifted Jones a one-on-one that Hart did well to keep out and they went close in the second half. A typical Mark Hughes team. If Tony Pulis had been in charge they would have won.

 8. Stoke has two excellent pubs. The Glebe and The White Star about five minutes apart. Almost worth the trip on their own. Not a reason for the draw but worth noting.

9. City fans still like Stevie Ireland. And judging by his big grin and applause at the end, Superman still likes us.

 10. Javier Garcia did ok at centre half. Fair play to him. But it's a poor show and very bad luck that Kompany, Micah and the new bloke Demichelis are all crocked.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Review of Selena Gomez at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, September 8, 2013

It's the screaming that will stay with me forever. I've never heard anything like it. The very definition of ear piercing. Nineteen hours later and the delirium of three thousand teenage girls is still muffling my spider senses. It was like all the wild parakeets of west London had turned up together.

It must be stunning to be the cause of such wonderful joyfulness. The warning signs were there when a burly bloke wandered on stage to tune-up one of the support act's guitars. I thought The Beatles had shown up. I bet he doesn't hear that kind of reception at your average indie gig.

But this is no indie kid. This is the cute little girl that delighted a generation of Disney Channel eight-year-olds as Alex in the fabulous Wizards of Waverly Place. The kid who outgrew Mickey and now aged 21 is delighting those same kids who are older, streetwiser and with their own Spotify accounts.

Like everyone else, she's in a rush to grow up. This from Nobody Does It Like You: "I wanna be a bad girl, you bring out my wild side. Your sexy kind of slang the best I've ever had." They don't talk like that on the Disney Channel.

Last night she put on great, grown-up show with a voice like Betty Boop, hot pants like Kylie and a clinically efficient chart sound that mashes up pop, dance, and auto-tuned rap.

She dances pretty much non-stop, making sure everyone in the newly-refurbished art deco Apollo, grandly green and gold like the nearby bridge, felt like they got their own wave and their own smile. Two fabulously less petite dancers add to the energy in the essential hot pants and Selena t-shirts on either side of her. A DJ-style keyboard player stands mysteriously on a plinth behind her, the guitarist and rhythm section tucked safely away in the corner, leaving as much stage as possible for Selena to fill. And fill it she does, especially when she's bending over backwards with her long, black hair flailing all over the place to more and more delighted wailing.

The big video screen at the back of the stage was three-quarters hidden by the speaker stack from where we were sat - boo to that, Apollo - if it was a football match those would be "partially obstructed" discounted tickets. Selena used it to chapter-head the various show sections by showing herself looking like a Latino Alice in Wonderland in front a series of white doors. Which would she go through? Would we get street dance Selena, fairytale Selena with the spangly microphone, pop strut Selena, rocking Selena? We got them all by the end of the night.

There wasn't much chat, apart from the obligatory hello Hammersmith, I love you, and are you still with me having a good time (of course we were), but maybe we got a small insight into the young woman behind the wizard in her intro to my favourite, Who Says, a song treading the familiar teen theme of being yourself even when everyone's beastly to you.

"Sometimes when I've had a bad day and I wonder what I'm doing in my life, and I look at social media and see what people are saying. And I think, you know what, don't listen to anyone who says you can't do that, or that you're not beautiful, or you're a bad person. Who says that?"

Anyone who followed the Twitter outrage that followed Selena's break-up with little Justin Bieber will know that quite a lot of people say things like that, actually.

The 90-minute show ended with an encore of fans' favourite Slow Down and a hugely impressive shower of ticker tape. By then we'd forgotten the smell of fresh paint. But we had proof if proof were needed that Selena Gomez is the pin-up girl for thousands of young women all over the world and good luck to her.

She's also got a bath in her tour bus. A fact revealed by the infectiously confident front-kid of support act The Vamps. It was good to see the ukelele continuing its renaissance in his hands, sounding as Formbyesque as ever in punky pogo-pop covers of Busted, The Killers and Simon and Garfunkel. The foursome had been hanging out in the Gomez coach that very afternoon and were blown away by the bathroom: "A bath in her bus! How cool is that?"

Yep, that's pretty cool. Well worth a scream.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

14 Things We Learned at Manchester City 2 -0 Hull City

Anthem time: this season's is West Wing-stylee
1. The man in charge of Manchester's trams likes stroking tigers. There's a picture of him doing it on his Facebook page. I suggest Metrolink chief executive Dr Jon Lamonte grabs the city's transport tiger by the tail and lays on some extra trams on match day. There were 46,500 fans trying to get to the Etihad for a 12.45pm kick off and a tram from the city centre to the stadium only every 11 minutes. When they arrived at Piccadilly Gardens they were already packed like the old Kippax stand on derby day. When the marooned fare-paying fans voiced their frustration one hired goon in a high-vis jacket told us to stop slagging off the service - there'd be another along in a few minutes. Epic fail, Doc.

Fans but no trams
2. Jesus Navas doesn't know where he should be playing yet. He was the official man of the match yesterday and no doubt he'll be sensational when he settles down. He was signed as a winger but popped up all over the field - in the centre circle, on the left, behind the strikers. I want to see him with that cliche of touchline chalk all over his boots.

3. If you leave your season ticket on the mantelpiece in London the obliging ticket office staff will give you a paper replacement for the day. No charge. Excellent service. But don't forget it again, you idiot.

4. Tom Huddlestone should be playing for England. He was the outstanding midfielder yesterday - strong, energetic, great touch, great drive. He looks the part, too, with that quality hair-stack. He if can keep the weight off and stay fit he'll be brilliant for Hull and a big loss for Spurs.

5. Edin Dzeko is inconsistent. He was unplayable against Newcastle, less so against Cardiff last Monday and ineffectual in the first half yesterday before being subbed. Sometimes he just can't seem to get going.

6. We're going to have to put up with John Smith's bitter for another few seasons. City are delighted with themselves for signing a new deal with Heineken to provide all the drinks in the stadium. Good for business, bad for bitter drinkers. I know it's tough to care for proper beer but if music festivals and Lord's cricket ground can do it at weekends, so should the richest football club in the world.

7. Steve Bruce doesn't look well. The red-faced Hull manager is great - passionate, funny and with three Premier League titles as a player and two Championship promotions as a manager with Birmingham City he's no mug. But he needs to lose three stone and stop getting so worked up on the touchline or he'll do himself a mischief.

8. Joleon Lescott keeps making daft mistakes. For such an accomplished defender he's prone to what pundits call a lapse of concentration every so often that can lead to catastrophe. He almost cost us the title with that back header that led to one of QPR's goals in the Aguerooooooo match. Yesterday he misjudged an innocuous ball which led to Aluko's one-on-one with Joe Hart. We need to sign another defender tomorrow.

9. Sone Aluko is a handful. He fluffed that one-on-one but was a real pain all match. He's direct, he wins free kicks all over the field and he's quick. Robbie Savage laid into him on Match of the Day last night - unfair. He's a good player.

10. City fans want more from Yaya. Lots of moaning around the Colin Bell stand yesterday and he does seem to be cantering rather than galloping at the moment. But when he can deliver free kicks like those, he deserves a bit of leeway - that's two kicks, two goals. And he'll get fitter.

11. We're not sure what Manuel Pellegrini is up to yet. Are we playing with two strikers and a winger all season or going to mix it up? We looked much better in the second half with Negredo up front on his own - but I like us with two strikers. One of the many reasons I'm not a football manager.

12. Alvaro Negredo is a fabulous striker. We've only seen him as a sub so far but he's a proper old-school centre forward. He wears the number 9 shirt, he's powerful in the air, holds up the ball well and is quick, too. Great headed goal yesterday. He should start against Stoke next time.

13. Joe Hart still looks a bit nervy. Couple of good moments yesterday but in the first half he came out for one then dithered and then gave us all kittens in the second half with one of those drag-backs in front of an onrushing striker on his six-yard line. Stop it!

13. Phil Dowd spends too much time lecturing players. The ref has cut down on the chips, now he needs to cut down on the chat. Book them or play on. We don't want to sit there watching players being spoken to like naughty schoolboys - there's a match on.

14. The title looks a long way off. But it's going to be a great season and I fancy us to win it.