Vocation Brewery – Life & Death

vocation brewery life and death

The first thing that attracted me to Vocation Brewery’s Life & Death IPA was the design of the can; a cool black and white collage of vintage tattoo flash art with a sweet slime-green font. But I keep coming back for the smooth, dark and rich taste.

Generally, I love strong beers – if they’re flavoursome and go down easy. And Life & Death’s 6.5% ABV content provides a powerful, lip-smacking foundation for the “life-affirming” U.S. style IPA’s “fruit salad” combination of tropical and citrus fruits. All complemented by the perfect amount of lingering bitterness. Aah…

According to Vocation, each barrel is brought to life by three kgs of hops and 40 kgs of barley, which form the beer’s “smooth malty backbone.” It’s a definite, albeit hard to find, standout from my recent beer hunting trips. And so far, I’ve only ever found it at Wine Rack in Highbury Barn. If you see it, buy it!

*Now available at Tesco

vocation life and death

Advertisements

F*ckoffee – Jonestown Roasters

jonestown roasters coffee beans

Jonestown Roasters’/F*ckoffee’s beans don’t promise any notes of lilac and blueberry cheesecake. Instead, the bag reads, “Produce of Papua New Guinea. Ingredients; coffee beans.” Sweet. Simple. Like a rich dark chocolate without any popping candy or honeycomb.

I picked up a 1 KG bag from Brick Lane Coffee once and haven’t looked back, topping it up – with a free flat white – whenever I run out. And though my head might turn from time to time, lusting after something more extravagant-sounding, with notes of orange chocolate or cranberry “for sweetness,” Jonestown Roasters is my go-to bean.

jonestown roasters coffee beans whole

The coffee is strong, powerful and bursting with flavour. And it makes a rich, aromatic flat white with a sweet, ballsy coffee kick. Even the bean itself looks bigger, more robust, darker and bolder than other beans. Less delicate. The kind of coffee bean that eats other beans for breakfast.

Based in Bermondsey Street, south east London, F*ckoffee uses single origin organic arabica beans from Papua New Guinea’s Purosa region. And according to the official site, the beans are grown in the shade, surrounded by rainforest and enriched by volcanic soil and the ideal amount of rainfall. Highly recommended.

L.O.B. vs N.N.D. – Keep Playin’

Keep Playin'
The latest third-person account of my weekly attempt to play eight-a-side football – we wear grey… Keep playin’

The Greys have a few key players missing tonight, forcing them to adopt a makeshift – and very short – back three. And of course, their yellow-kitted opposition, N.N.D., have a giant up front with legs like tree trunks. Two stand-ins, Roman and Alex, make up the numbers and it’s game on.

The Greys start well. Forwards Karim and Ahmed turn N.N.D. inside out, leaving them kicking at shadows like Joleon Lescott. Thomas gets the ball inside the box and hits the post. Ahmed and Karim combine well but can’t get the ball past the keeper.

Then N.N.D. show some teeth, knocking long balls to their giant forward. Luckily, he’s slow, with feet like concrete. But he’s got a shot on him. The Greys get an early warning when N.N.D.’s right winger rolls a neat ball into the box and Hulk rattles the crossbar. Then five minutes later the Yellows do the exact same thing. Only this time Hulk finds the back of the net. One nil Yellows.

N.N.D. have a few playmakers in midfield, who are always looking for the long pass or defense-splitting through ball. But defenders Theo, Paolo and Adam get the job done – it ain’t pretty but they keep the Yellows at bay. The Greys go into half-time 1-0 down, but still looking the better of the two sides.

They start the second half well. And stand-in Frenchman Alex makes a good replacement for missing Greys midfielder Manu, holding the ball up well and nimbly spreading the play. Frustrated, N.N.D. dive in, making some pretty dangerous lunges that the Greys do well to sidestep.

The ref does nothing to calm things down and protect the players (on both sides). Instead, he focusses on foul throws, blowing for them inconsistently – and seemingly randomly. Meanwhile, the Greys throw caution to the wind, switching to two at the back and going for the win.

Suddenly, Greys keeper Yusuf spots Karim giving him the eyes and punts a precise long ball that finds him open on the left wing. Karim crosses the ball into the box and Ahmed times his run perfectly. He shoots straight at N.N.D.’s keeper, who does well to keep it out. But Ahmed reacts first and tucks the rebound in to level the score.

The Greys continue to play ugly, effective football, and to be honest, they seem the most likely to sneak the winning goal. Just before the end, with a draw seeming the most likely result, Karim rides a tough tackle on the halfway line and slips into beast mode.

He charges down the left wing, beats three players on his own and smashes the ball past N.N.D.’s keeper to win the game 2-1. Think Rocky II; both teams bloody but the Greys getting back up on their feet just before the ten count.

Fanboy Day Out at the Beavertown Tap Room

beavertown gamma ray space man

My beer-loving friend Jerred and I have been talking about a day trip to Beavertown Brewery’s Saturday Tap Room in Tottenham Hale for months. Finally, the day had arrived. And of course, we turn up way too early. Before opening time. Mobile phones out. Cameras ready. Like virgins at Disneyland.

The tap room is open once a week; Saturdays, 2:00pm to 8:00pm. And it’s pretty much tables and benches outside – and even inside – the brewery itself. There’s also a van covered in Beavertown’s classic ’50s alien movie Gamma Ray spaceman design. And of course, there’s the tap room, pop up food by Capish Food and a less-frequented can station.

beavertown brewery, tottenham hale

The smell of the brewery is intoxicating. At first, you’re not quite sure what to make of it. But eventually, the heady aroma becomes pleasant and delicious. The machinery’s impressive too – straight out of Breaking Bad. Everything looks like it’s scoured clean on the hour (or like it was all bought earlier that morning). But the main attraction, of course, is the tap room – and the candy store selection of rare Beavertown treats it holds within.

First up we go for one of three Invasion of the Lupuloids IPA Series options; the Delta Unda, a hoppy 5.7% IPA that goes down smooth and sweet but weighs in with some serious flavour and bitterness later on. A bit like Oakham Ale’s Citra beer, only thicker and even more delicious, with an unmistakable Beavertown twist. A refreshing start to the afternoon.

beavertown gamma ray van

The half pints the tap room serves are perfect. Allowing us to sample more flavours than we would normally, at £2.50 a pop – and the last sip’s always as fresh as the first. Up next we decide to try something a bit more outlandish. The intriguing-sounding Peacher Man Peach Cobbler Wit, a collaboration with California’s Heretic Brewing.

The sweet smell of peach is unmistakable as I go in for a sip. And the taste is rich and aromatic. The spicy 6.2% nectar is a combination of peach, toasted oats, muscovado sugar, lemon zest and bourbon vanilla pods, all added to a “delicate strain” of Belgian Wit ale. It’s then dry hopped with famous New Zealand hop variety Nelson Sauvin, which adds to the liquid’s texture and fruitiness. It could just be my new favourite Beavertown creation.

By now the place is filling up. I recognise a bearded, beanie-wearing dude from Tottenham Hale tube station. Should have guessed he’d end up here – didn’t look like your average IKEA type.

Up next we go for the seasonal Bloody ‘Ell Blood Orange IPA. A beer I can find in the shops, but obviously in a can. Bloody ‘Ell on tap is still quite a novelty.

The lip-smackingly citrusy taste is as pleasant as always – and I still can’t believe that such a smooth, flavoursome beer is 7.2% – but all I can think about is the Peacher Man. And that’s what we get next! In comparison, the Bloody ‘Ell doesn’t seem quite as special today.

beavertown recipe books

By the time we’re ready for round five, the queue in the tap room is massive, snaking around like a post office at lunchtime, only more beards, beanies, New Balance and Vans sneakers, and the odd Sister Ray bag. Waiting in line I notice a shelf of files with titles like “Gamma Ray,” “Neck Oil” and “Black Betty” on the spines. It’s only the bloody recipe books!

In closing, we dip back into the Invasion of the Lupuloids series, this time taking in the Uy Scuti; A well balanced, soft and fruity IPA that leaves a subtle bitter taste in my mouth. A perfect end to our day in the (metaphorical) sun. We grab a few stickers, look through the rest of the merch and head out.

Beavertown stickers
Sticker porn…

London-by-Zee 3 – Natural History Museum

natural history museum architecture

I always used to love going to the Natural History Museum with my parents and my brother. Obviously, the dinosaurs were our favourites. And my brother and I would always end up leaving with a new realistic, scientific-type dinosaur model each. Once I even got an ultra-realistic-looking gorilla – no angry red eyes or scary, fanged faces. So I thought it would make a fun daddy daycare day out for me and Z.

natural history museum diplodocus

Naturally, I assumed the place would be pretty empty on a random Thursday morning. I could not have been more wrong. I mean, last time I went on the weekend, with my wife, the queues were so long we just turned around and left. So it wasn’t that bad by comparison. But it was pretty busy; mostly large groups of school kids in high-vis vests and a healthy smattering of tourists thrown in for good measure.

We queue up outside for a while, listening to some am-dram announcer give his spiel about the museum guidebooks you can buy. Finally, we’re in. Our backpack gets checked and we head left to the dinosaur section. It’s pretty busy but we can still flow relatively easily through the aisles. The first thing that really stands out, of course, is the animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex.

natural history museum t rex
“Where’s the goat?

I worry that Z might be scared of the moving, growling dinosaur, but instead she’s captivated by it. Leaning right out of the sling and craning her neck to get a better look at the intimidating, ominously lit tyrant lizard.

natural history museum deinonychus
Deinonychus

The one that does seem to scare her, though, is the moving Deinonychus, or “Terrible Claw,” models around the corner. To be fair, they do look pretty nasty. Like Velociraptors with feathers, and evil faces straight out of a low-budget ’80s sci-fi horror flick.

natural history museum paleontologists
I spot two old paleontologists reliving the glory days

We breeze through the mammal section. Quite sad, really. But still quite interesting to take in. A young girl in a Natural History Museum t-shirt holds an animal skull and opens and closes it for intrigued – and terrified – looking kids. My favourite new fact I learn is that orangutan means “man of the woods,” in Malay.

Zara at natural history museum

The highlight of the trip, though, is lunch; We head to the cafeteria. I grab a fancy ham hock and Emmental sandwich on wholemeal bread, a flat white and a high chair. Z loves getting out of the sling and sitting at the cafeteria table with me. I give her a rice cake and some banana and devour my sandwich. The flat white is surprisingly good as well.

natural history museum darwin
The Darwin Centre

We take a quick look around before leaving. And I notice “an early neanderthal status symbol” in the Cadogan Gallery’s Treasures exhibition. Ah, neanderthals and their status symbols…

asleep at the diplodocus
The Over Thinker…

Peter Schmeichel – Manchester United ’93/94

Peter Schmeichel
via Pinterest
Today’s goalie kits are boring. Identikits; same shirt, different colours. This is the golden era. When bad taste was all the rage. The ’90s Goalie Kit of the Week…

Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel had some of the coolest ’90s goalie kits of them all. And this is probably the best of the lot. The one I always wanted. From the 1993/94 Premier League and FA Cup-winning season. They don’t make ’em like they used to…

The Burger Chronicles #14 – The Diner, Islington

The Diner, Islington, Angel

The Diner always surprises me. It feels like a franchise. An identikit-chain; from Camden to Kensington. And from buttermilk pancakes to baby back ribs and chili dogs, the menu‘s staggering, seemingly limitless – I can only imagine the chaos that goes on in the kitchen. Yet, somehow, The Diner always seems to produce high-quality food that never disappoints.

It doesn’t hurt that the basic restaurant formula’s a good one as well. Exactly as you’d expect, really; comfy ’50s diner booths, neon lightning bolts, flashes of red and black leather and rock music. And don’t forget the authentic hard (and soft) shakes, served in frozen metal goblets with extra ice cream.

I’m a sucker for The Diner’s buffalo wings, served with blue cheese sauce. I order a “small” portion, some sweet potato fries and a cheeseburger with extra bacon. The beer options are just as extensive as the food. I eye out the Magic Rock, Ska and Beavertown offerings, but eventually settle on a Lagunitas IPA.

The Diner, Islington, Bacon cheeseburger

When the food arrives it looks good enough to stop traffic along Route 66. To be honest, there aren’t a lot of franchise fast food joints that can produce such visually enticing meals with such regularity. Usually, you’d expect the odd bony chicken wing, a flattened burger bun, some misfired blue cheese sauce or the odd under-cooked chip. But not today. The smells get the juices flowing as well. Game on.

The burger itself is surprisingly impressive. When I ordered my cheeseburger the waitress asked what kind of cheese I’d like. Surprised, I had to look at the menu again. Options include Monterey Jack, Swiss, blue and American. It must be like IKEA back there!

I went with Swiss. And the taste lives up to the perfectly presented eye candy. Nothing too flashy. Just a simple, well done classic cheeseburger; pickles, red onions, lettuce, tomato and Diner burger sauce. My only complaint would be that the sauce dried up a bit towards the end. But by then, I was already one satisfied customer.

6.5

London-by-Zee 2 – Primrose Hill, Camden

Primrose hill park view

Having conquered Soho, by eating pizza and organic rice cakes in the park and taking on a group of wiseguy pigeons, I decide to take on Primrose Hill next. I had a great time there one New Year’s. Watching fireworks erupt all over London, while a Chinese lantern stuck to a nearby branch and burnt out. Also, Yoda needed walking and this was an adventure he could tag along for.

I pack Z’s bag, sort Yoda and jump on the 29. We get off at Camden Town Station and it’s a quick, interesting walk to the park. The houses are awesome, the kind of massive, “painted ladies” style north London spots no doubt owned by hip UK celebs like Ricky Gervais, Kate Moss and Noel Fielding. We pass a Whole Foods and I try our luck, asking if they’ll let us in with a dog. But when I ask, a blank-faced dude looks at me like I’m crazy. Access denied.

Primrose Hill houses

Once we’re in the park it’s a steep walk up the hill. Z sleeps through the whole thing but Yoda’s in full-on explorer mode, taking in the new park and local wildlife – and making sure he pees on every tree in sight.

When we get there, the view at the top of the hill’s worth the trip alone. It’s the kind of panoramic intake of London you’d see in a Simon Pegg movie. No wait, that’s Hampstead Heath. Still, the effect’s the same (and last time I went to Hampstead Heath it looked more like a building site). I stare at the view for the appropriate amount of time it takes to appreciate and pick out a shaded spot under a tree, as Z starts to wake up and wonder where we are.

primrose hill view

She’s fine as soon as she sees Yoda, and starts giggling, yawning and taking in her surroundings with the kind of wide-eyed wonder that makes these outings so special. Z’s current objective is walking. That’s all she cares about. And she practices all the time.

The soft grass in the empty park’s the perfect setting for a bit of practice – interspersed with jumping and near-claps. And she has the time of her life. I should have packed a picnic, really. Still, we get a bit of reading done and start to pack up.

On the way home I try my luck again, this time at a coffee shop called Ripe Kitchen. And thankfully, he’s allowed in. I order a flat white and consider the delicious-looking selection of sandwiches and pastries. Next time.

The craft bottle store on the corner completes the happy ending with a free dog bowl of water and we head for Camden Market. If we didn’t have Yoda with us I’d have ordered a Chin Chin Labs liquid nitrogen ice cream and hit the canal. Trust me. It’s the business.

Here’s the honeycomb one I had last time I was in the area…
Chin chin labs honeycomb

L.O.B. vs Design Bridge – Keep Playin’

Keep Playin'
The latest third-person account of my weekly attempt to play eight-a-side football – we wear grey… Keep playin’

“We must be one of the shortest teams in the league,” says Greys defender (and Arsenal fan) Theo before kick-off. “Julien is basically our Mertesacker.” Playing in all black – and sponsored by Smirnoff – Design Bridge tower over our heroes in Grey like the intimidating evil nemeses in a Disney movie. And the first 10 minutes play out exactly like one.

Five minutes in, Design Bridge catch the Greys napping with a long ball that splits their two-man-defence right down the middle. One-on-one with Greys keeper Yusuf, Design Bridge’s stand-in striker “Neary,” who works at Coram’s Fields, keeps his cool and slots the ball in the bottom right corner.

Looking at the opposition, a few of Design Bridge’s fast-footed attacking players are clearly Coram’s Fields ringers. The kind of football-addicted kids that never seem to leave the place.

The Greys kick off again but Design Bridge win the ball back almost immediately. The team’s showboating right ringer-winger steps over the ball like a squirrel on a hotplate, ghosts past the Greys’ last man and sends keeper Yusuf the wrong way. Two nil Design Bridge.

Suddenly, things take a turn and the Greys fight back. They’re all over Design Bridge, who seem to have peaked too early. Greys player coach Thomas wins the ball back in the opposition box, juggles it and thumps it past Design Bridge’s stunned keeper.

Soon afterwards, Thomas lays the ball off to Greys midfield maestro Manu, who steps past his marker and takes his time, blasting the ball past the helpless keeper to level the score just before half-time.

Again, Design Bridge press the Greys hard early in the half. They soon get their reward with a well-hit shot just inside the area. Yusuf dives the right way and gets a full hand to it, but can only palm it in.

This time the Greys react sooner. And a pinball situation in Design Bridge’s box finds Greys winger Karim in space. But somehow, Design Bridge’s keeper stops the ball on the line. Meanwhile, Design Bridge start to implode; arguing amongst themselves, crunching grey shirts with brutal tackles and complaining to the ref about EVERYTHING.

Suddenly, Thomas creates a bit of space and lays the ball off to Karim, who tucks it away to level the score. Three all. And at this point, sniffing the blood in the water, the Greys rise to the occasion. Forward Ahmed puts in a last-ditch tackle in his own box. Yusuf saves one on the line – although Design Bridge moan it crossed the line. And Theo and Julien do their best to snuff out any danger.

Then Greys left winger Ollie finds a bit of space. He rolls the ball across the box to Manu, who hits it in seeming slow motion, the ball curling into the top left corner to put the Greys 4-3 up. Dreamland.

Design Bridge don’t take the goal lightly. Thomas gets flattened in the box. Karim goes down to the soundtrack of crunching bones. And yet, it’s Design Bridge who do all the complaining.

With minutes to go, Ahmed finds himself with just the keeper to beat but is cynically hacked down by Design Bridge’s last man. The ref awards a penalty. Then, after Design Bridge complain, he changes his mind and gives a free kick on the edge of the box. No card.

Still looking to settle the tie, Ahmed creates some space with a neat flick to Karim, who sticks the ball between the keeper’s legs to wrap things up 5-3. What a game. What a battle. And what a great way to kick start the weekend…

London-by-Zee 1 – Pizza Pilgrims, Crosstown Doughnuts, Soho Square Gardens

Pizza pilgrims in soho square gardens

My wife went back to work last month and instead of shipping our eight-month-old daughter “Z” (Zee) off to military school (aka an expensive nursery), we decided I’d stop working full-time and take care of her. Eventually, squeezing in a bit of freelance work on the side – to pay for burgers and beer. So far, I’ve kept our day trips pretty local; Clissold Park. Church Street. Angel. Camden. Blighty Coffee. But last week I decided to step things up a bit. Baby steps. I also woke up with a Michelangelo-sized craving for pizza (exacerbated by my morning Instagram foodporn intake)…

On a whim, I decide to head to Pizza Pilgrims in Soho. Scary thought, at first. What if I had to change her in public. But the thought of swapping Finsbury Park for Soho – and my dough-eyed lust for pizza – was more than enough to yank me out of my comfort zone.

I get off at Oxford Circus and head down Oxford Street towards Soho. Everyone’s either French or Italian. And if not they’re in a MAJOR hurry. Oxford Street people don’t care if you’re carrying a baby, they’ll walk straight through you. I pass Lush’s Oxford Street megastore and before I know it, Z and I are sniffing bath bombs and looking for a till. She really seems to get a kick out of the natural smells, bright lights and colours.

I leave Lush and turn into Dean street. Rounding the corner I dodge a sickly smelling human vape cloud and get a whiff of pizza – there’s a Pizza Express across the road from Pizza Pilgrims.

Pizza pilgrims dean street soho
Italian pizza makers are the only people who can pull off Crocs, but even then

Interestingly, an Italian friend of mine once told me that Italian food’s all about the elegant combination and balance of simple, delicate flavours – so no burger-stuffed crusts or liquid cheese-filled bases then. And, aiming to bring a “slice of Naples to London,” that’s Pizza Pilgrims to a tee; Hand-stretched bases made while you wait, covered in a few basic, high-quality ingredients and bunged in a wood-fired clay oven for about five minutes.

I order the Nduja, with margherita and Calabrian pork sausage. And for a second, the sunshine tempts me with a Brixton pale ale. Instantly, however, something tells me that might be frowned upon, so I order a water and lick my lips instead.

A few minutes later and we’re sitting in Soho Square Gardens, mingling with tightly dressed office folk unwrapping Pret sandwich boxes and ignoring each other. We chase off a gang of Soho pigeons and set up camp.

These guys aren’t like regular pigeons. It’s a bit like an episode of Goodfeathers. They clear off, at first, but then they start to creep back, eyeing us out without trepidation. “Funny how?” Z’s completely fascinated by them and laughs uncontrollably. Meanwhile I break out her snacks and get stuck into my pizza, which is a far cry from Domino’s and Pizza Hut’s symmetrically placed wall-to-wall toppings and thick coats of cheese.

Crosstown doughnuts

To round things off we head past Crosstown Doughnuts on our way home – it’s about five minutes walk from the park. And to be honest, if I’d thought of it I would have stopped at Crosstown first and gone all in.

Ordering’s easy. A Peanut Butter Berry. Crosstown’s handmade take on peanut butter and jelly; a square sourdough base topped with a peanut butter glaze, blackcurrant compote and toasted peanuts. I get a flat white and head home, sipping my coffee – with a lid, which I’ve learned to live with – doughnut safely stowed for later.