Are you ready for a lager? Fullers thinks you are

Do you fancy a lager? Fuller’s Frontier Craft Lager, to be precise. Yes, it’s That Word, “craft” again. With a capital “C”. Right there in the name, where once the mighty “Premium” might have stood. Even the bigger British regional breweries have been going “craft”, lately, but a Fuller’s lager I wasn’t expecting when I walked into The Parcel Yard, Fuller’s excellent refurb station bar next to Platform 9 and 3/4.

Fuller's Frontier Craft Lager

How could I not try it? “Hey, not bad! I wonder who will buy it,” I thought. Continue reading

23rd Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: The best cask ale of the Summer?

23rd December: Fullers, Wild River. 4.5% ABV
From: London, England. Type: American-style pale ale, cask. Source: The Kings Arms, Guildford

“Fantastic beer!” I thought as I took my first sip, sitting outside my newly-discovered, reachable-by-bus Fullers pub, on a sunny Saturday afternoon on the last day of June. A perfect beer storm of right beer choice meeting a beer in perfect condition.

Like just about every other beer drinker not stuck the 1970s, I am enamoured of American hops. I love their bright, fruity, zesty aromas and the citrussy/resinous/tropical twang they give to beers. I love them most for completely exploding the range of flavours available to beerkind.

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Float on

It’s by no means new for Fullers to brew with American hops, but it’s the first time that I’m aware of that London’s only remaining large brewer has made a cask beer in an overtly modern American-style. Wild River? I suppose there are plenty of those where those hops came from.

But Fullers being Fullers, and thoroughly British, Wild River is no mere aping of a west coast APA; it is a cask ale: balanced and refreshing, complex and subtle, moreish and satisfying. It reminds me what the fuss is about cask-conditioned beer ale. (If only they could all be served this well.) It’s full of those American hops, but not brashly so.

The best cask ale of the summer? I thought it was easily the best cask ale from a major brewery I’d had all year. And at this, the back end of 2012, I see no reason to change my mind.

The Parcel Yard: Fullers’ wizard of a station pub on Platform 9 and 3/4

“Sod Hogwarts, Hermione, let’s go for a beer,” said Harry, and abandoning his luggage trolley half way through the wall at Platform 9 and 3/4, turned and bounded up the steps to the Parcel Yard: the magnificent new pub conversion behind him.

Or so it could be…

Quietly, almost unheralded, something out of the ordinary has happened at Kings Cross. The remodelling of the station includes a gesture to JK Rowling’s creation, marking the famous in-between platform with sign and a cut-off luggage trolley. It attracts tourists but it’s not what has me spellbound. No, it’s what has emerged from dust and disuse next to the geodesic-like new roof: a contender for the best station pub in England.

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The view from Platform 9 3/4

For years, as part of the huge Kings Cross regeneration project, the station that gives its name to the area* has had to live in the shadows of its Gothic and mysterious sister station, St. Pancras. With its giant statue to John Betjeman, it has famously and spectacularly been revamped for Eurostar. St. Pancras may have its champagne bar and, indeed its Betjeman bar, but it doesn’t have The Parcel Yard.

You can find mention of The Parcel Yard on the Fullers website, but the description they give is understated.Fullers don’t do estate agency blurb, but if they did… they’d be fired. The Parcel Yard is a pub refit in the Grand Design class, so why are Fullers hiding its light under a firkin?

“Challenging the notions of a station pub
…is what it says in the blurb. The Parcel Yard doesn’t feel like a station pub, it feels special. Not in an exclusive, you-can’t-afford-us way, but in a thoroughly tasteful, we’ve-really-thought-about-this way. And it is still very much a pub. Only bigger.

In the olden days before Amazon, The Parcel Yard’s collection of oversized and oddly-shaped rooms was just what it now says on the door: a place for gathering and distributing parcel post for distribution across the land. Sending out mail on the sort of night trains that populate Auden’s poem.

Reincarnated as a station pub, its history has been preserved, with fixtures and fittings from the parcel past highlighted, featured. It’s not over-bright, and it still feels part of the station. I turned up with a few other strays from the Sainsbury’s Beer Hunt, and licensee/landlord Nick Cameron proudly showed us around: the central bright arboretum, the cosy but spacious side rooms, the upstairs bar, the cramped and well-stocked cellar – if you can call something on the first floor a cellar.

The complete Fullers range: will they match it to food?
Which brings us to the beer. Rather than the butterbeer of Hogwarts, Fullers range on cask and keg covers most of the bar, but not exclusively. Butcombe was on when I was there, and Adnams Ghost Ship recently. Happily, they stock a full range of Fullers bottled beers too, including a plenty of Vintage of different, er, vintages. A good move when food is going to play a significant part, and possibly a leaf taken out of the new wave of craft beer pubs.

At the moment, the food menu is typical of Fullers: a mix of unpretentious pub grub and some interesting but unfussy bistro ideas. I hear the food is soon to be revamped soon though. I hope they take the opportunity to add beer and food pairing suggestions to the menu.

The clientele looked a mixture of passengers waiting and pub-goers. Nick Cameron says that this might make you think that standard lagers would be big sellers, but the cask stuff has been “flying out”. Must be the Quidditch effect.

Explanation of the low-key nature of its opening comes via @TheParcelYard, the pub’s Twitter ID, that says they are “building slowly, tweaking as we go”, and “don’t want to sound too obnoxious”. Wise strategy, perhaps, if they see themselves as competing against some other impressive station pub grand re-designs. As well as St. Pancras, there are the two “Taps” at Euston and York.

You might not be able to get to Harry and Hermione’s destination, from the new Kings Cross, but if you are going up the East Coast Line to Leeds, Newcastle, or Edinburgh, or even on the way home to Letchworth or Welwyn Garden City, stop in to The Parcel Yard. It delivers.

Links
Fuller’s own description of The Parcel Yard
Video of Kings Cross Station roof construction