Saturday 1 March 2014

An evening of Clouded Minds and Viking Kings

I managed to indulge both my main interests last night - first, a talk at UCL on the impact of 1066 on Scandinavian royal hagiography[1], and then a walk around the corner to the Euston Tap.

The Tap was rammed when I got there, not too surprising I suppose given that it was just before 7pm on a Friday. So I got my first beer and after saying an unexpected hello to a CAMRA colleague who was already there with a mate, I left them to their chat and headed upstairs.

Sloe Walker
I stayed mainly on the cask ales, most of which seemed to fit one of two extremes – either porters and stouts, or London Murky in the New World Pale Ale mould. Which is to say, cloudy[2] golden ales with some underlying sweetness, tropical fruit notes, and lots of hoppy bitterness. All the cask ales were also flying off the bar – 50% of the time I requested a beer, it had run out before I managed to get any.

At the dark extreme, Moor's Sloe Walker – a version of Old Freddy Walker matured with sloes – was excellent. It was rich and complex, with a wonderful blend of flavours, including plummy (sloe), treacle, coffee and liquorice.

Dolce Vita
At the pale extreme, the stand-out ale was a 6.2% New World IPA from a brewery I'd never heard of, Clouded Minds. Called Dolce Vita, it's a cloudy dark gold, with tropical fruit and citrus aromas, touches of orange juice, a green-hoppy spiciness and a firm dry-bitterness. So I looked up the brewery and found its website – just a holding page for now, though – plus its rather more informative Twitter and Facebook pages, discovering in the process that it's a new London micro, which seems to have been brewing commercially for about six months.

People had been coming and going at my shared table all evening, so it was no surprise when a couple of guys took vacant seats and joined me. It was a surprise however when one of them invited me to taste the pint of black beer in his hand. It was an even bigger surprise when he introduced himself as Riccardo, the head brewer at Clouded Minds, and the beer as his Black Pike black IPA, which is rather tasty!

It turns out he's a former home-brewer turning pro, and that Clouded Minds is currently brewing on a one-barrel pilot plant based in Hornsey, North London. There's six beers in the current line-up and most of the production is cask-conditioned ale, though they also bottle the Dolce Vita and Black Pike. He's Italian, hence some of the names of their ales.

So's the Berlin Wall...
The size of the plant only gives them around 140 litres or four nine-gallon firkins per brew, so there is not a lot of their ale about. It seems to be doing very well though, and Riccardo said they will be moving to a larger industrial unit with a bigger brewkit later this year, "maybe by July." He also said a proper website should be up soon.

And while I did have an IPA last night that was better than Dolce Vita, that one was Ridiculously Close To Sanity, a 6.7% keg beer from Danish megastar brewers To Øl – not really a fair comparison! So all in all, Clouded Minds is definitely one to watch.

[1] It's more interesting that it might sound! King Harald Hardrada was the golden boy: wise king, great Viking and battle winner, the man who escaped Constantinople despite the Byzantine Empress's desperate (nudge nudge) attempts to stop him.

By all the norms of early medieval king's-saga-writing, his trip to England in 1066 should have been a walk in the park, yet he got his dead arse handed to him on a plate by King Harold Godwinson. How on earth could this happen?!

The saga writers came up with all sorts of explanations: it was the pagan Norse fate goddesses the Norns, even though Hardrada was a devout Christian (like his sociopathic shit of a half-brother Olaf the Fat, called by some Saint Olaf); it was English sorcerors (boggle!); it was greed leading him to misinterpret his warning dreams; or it was the Trollish landvættir (land spirits) of England. Apparently Scandinavian writers were still trying 150 years later to come to terms with his defeat at Stamford Bridge (three weeks before King Harold was in turn defeated and killed by Duke William of Normandy).

In the Anglophone world we tend to think of 1066 from an English perspective – how it moved England from almost being part of Scandinavia to being part of a wider Western European (Frankish) world, but we have forgotten how the "loss" of England must have impacted the Scandinavian world and psyche. As I said, interesting stuff.

[2] Satirised as London Murky, the current fashion for unfiltered beers doesn't worry me as such, not least because it's been going on in Germany for a decade or more, and it's kind of historical anyway. However, it's almost as if some London brewers are taking the piss by deliberately over-murkying things, which is just silly.


  1. I don't know if London's murky brewers are "taking the piss" or not, but it's interesting to read that you're not bothered. I think that most UK beer that's cloudy is so due to an excessive amount of yeast (not the largely protein-based haze in wheat beers, nor "hop haze").
    This bothers me because, put simply, excess yeast tastes nasty, it's called "yeast bite" a harsh bitter taste that beats up the more subtle positive flavours in a beer.
    I hate over-processed beer & drink good, fresh, unfiltered & unpasteurised beer above anything else, but I object to this move towards yeast-heavy beers.

    1. The fashion for unfiltered beer doesn't worry me - but that assumes it is done well. Overly-yeasty or overly-murky beer *does* annoy me - especially if it affects the taste, but it's a bit annoying anyway because it's so fake (or over-processed in your terms, I guess).