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Craft Beer and US-Russian Relations

I went drinking strong beer with Russians last night.

Don’t do this.  It’s not a good idea if you fancy living. They look at high ABVs and laugh contemptuously, necking them almost scornfully.

I was meeting Eugene Tolstov, Moscow’s number one home brewer, and Russian beer blogger.  Eugene looked after me in St Petersburg, and is in the UK three of four times a year with his day job, so I was happy to return the favour.  Eugene was happy to demolish beers the rest of us might be a little bit scared of.

We were in the newly opened Craft Beer Co in Leather Lane, Clerkenwell, London, EC1.  It’s a truly great place, and many other bloggers were there for the opening night last week – I know Young Mark has already covered it.  I counted 42 taps on the bar, about half of these being cask ale (which, as we all know, is a form of craft beer, so let’s not get started).  The cask ales are a reasonable (for London) £3.40ish, while the taps carry beers rarely, if ever seen in the UK on draught, so they’re a bit more expensive.

“Excuse me, have you got any beer?”
“Yes sir, this is a craft beer pub, not a Monty Python sketch”

What I liked about it though is that it still feels like a pub, a proper London boozer.  The glass ceiling is stunning, the roman numerals remembering the gaff’s previous spit-and-sawdusty days as The Clockhouse.

I was with one old Clockhouse regular who was complaining about the high price of beers such as Struise Old Albert (13%ABV), or Mikkeller’s nonsensically named but wonderful 1000IBU, being sold at four or five quid a half, until I pointed out this would be quite reasonable if you were looking at wine – and rare wine at that.

The Russians were gamely attempting to chug their way through the entire range when in walked a legend, an immortal, a god in little bald beardy man-shaped form.  Ladies and gentlemen, White House communications chief Mr Toby Ziegler! In a pub! In London!  OK, not the real White House Comms chief, the one in West Wing, which is even better than the real thing in all respects.  And not him of course, because he doesn’t really exist, but the actor who plays him, Mr Richard Schiff.  But Still.  Toby Ziegler!

I need to say now that, depending on your point of view, I was either too chicken or too sane to rush up to him and take a photo, or have my photo taken with him.  I wish I had been more courageous/sad.  In the end, I only got this photo of him when he was leaving.  But I promise you that is the back of his greying bald head:

“Yes, Mr President”

You can tell by the confident, authoritative way he looks up manfully at the brooding sky.

And here is from the front, in The West Wing, in one of the rare scenes that doesn’t have people walking up and down corridors talking extremely quickly:

See? You can tell.

Before he left, he spent a long time tasting samples of various different craft beers before ordering pints of a blonde one, a brown one and a dark one for himself and his posse.  I wasn’t close enough to him to ascertain whether or not he ordered by starting a sentence very-quietly-and-quickly-and-suddenly-gathered-pace-before-finishing with an OUTBURST OF MORALLY OUTRAGED SHOUTING!

But the best was yet to come.  As he got his beers, he glanced across the bar at me – or rather in front of me – and saw that I was eating one of the Craft Beer Co’s bloody excellent pork pies.  I saw him mouth the words, “Hey what’s that? I’ll have one of those too.”  TOBY ZIEGLER SAW ME EATING A PORK PIE AND THEN HE ORDERED ONE AS WELL!

Apart from now having the best lame claim to fame I’ve ever had, some gnawing self-doubt at the fact that a better (or worse) man than I would be sitting here today posting a photo of himself with his arm around Richard Schiff, raising our beer glasses to the camera, I’m just happy that one of the coolest guys in one of the coolest TV series ever is a craft beer (and pork pie) fan.  And if Craft Beer Co wasn’t cool enough for you before, it is now.

I tried explaining how cool all this was to the Russians.  You’ll be amazed to hear they don’t really get the West Wing.

But here we were: the former mortal enemies of the Cold War, brought together by craft beer. It was a beautiful moment.  Even if the Russians had no idea what was going on, and Richard Schiff remains forever ignorant of the meeting that never quite took place.