Regular readers will know how Collabfest works. Every year, in the autumn, each of the BrewDog bars goes into collaboration with a local brewery, and they make a beer together. And then over a single four-day weekend - this year it was October 21st to 24th - all those beers go on sale in BrewDog bars simultaneously. Some years it clashes with the London Film Festival, some years it doesn't, but either way The Belated Birthday Girl and I have been to every Collabfest since 2013. (Even last year's, which was undertaken at home with cans because of the you-know-what.)
As always, the problem is that no single bar is capable of selling every single Collabfest beer simultaneously - this year there were 66 on offer in the UK - so a schedule has to be drawn up saying which beers will be on offer in which bars over the four days. Because The BBG is privy to Secret Knowledge, she had a spreadsheet with precisely that information on it, which we used to plot out which of the bars in London we'd need to visit on particular days to maximise our beer intake. And it was while poring over this spreadsheet that I found myself asking the following question:
"Wait, there's a bar in Chancery Lane now?"
This is how far it's gone now - BrewDog are opening bars and we're not noticing.
To be fair, there isn't really a brand new BrewDog bar that's just sprung out of nowhere. Like Milton Keynes before it, this is a bar that used to be part of the Draft House chain, which BrewDog acquired in 2018. Most of them stayed as Draft Houses until a few months ago, when they were rebranded as BrewDog Pubs, which are a separate entity from BrewDog bars. The pubs aren’t so intensely focused on craft beer wankery, stretching to one or two ales being available on cask: and they also have a more pub-grub style selection of food available, supplemented with a couple of the usual BrewDog burgers, (No, we won't be covering any of the pubs in BrewDogging, since you ask. It's enough trouble keeping up with the bars.) But occasionally, they've taken a Draft House and converted it into a full-on bar, if they think the location calls for it. And apparently Chancery Lane calls for it.
So, here’s how our ninth Collabfest went. On the Friday night, we went to Seven Dials and – as would be the case in all the other bars we’d visit that weekend – shared two flights of beer between us, each one consisting of four measures of 1/3 pint of beer. The first one featured beers from Liverpool, Perth, Exeter and Cardiff: the second one had beers from Seven Dials, Reykjavik, Le Marais and York. And yes, as in previous years, there’s a post on Moblog for each flight with reviews of all the beers, written in something approaching real time. Because that only really amounts to 1.3333 pints we’d drunk in Seven Dials that evening, we had no problem going straight from there to watch The French Dispatch afterwards. (Well, I zoned out a little bit at the start of the third section, but we can draw a veil over that.)
Onto Saturday, and we had a nifty east-to-west route planned. We started at Tower Hill, where our opening flights of the day came from Tower Hill, Sheffield, Carlisle and Gothenburg, followed by Nice, Oxford, Newcastle and Leeds North Street. (It says Leeds North Street on the Moblog post, but that’s a mistake on my part. Sadly, in the month it’s taken for me to get this Collabfest writeup together, the tiny Leeds bar that isn’t on North Street has announced that it's closing down on December 1st.) As fans of the London tube network will have guessed, Tower Hill positioned us nicely for a quick hop on the Central line from Bank to Chancery Lane, which dropped us a few minutes away from the bar of the same name.
When we told the barman at Tower Hill we were moving on to Chancery Lane, he was quite enthusiastic about it, saying that it felt more like a pub than other BrewDog bars. And it’s true, the first thing you notice on entering is that the BrewDog style guide hasn’t fully been plastered over its previous identity. Sure, you’re immediately greeted by another one of their jokey neon signs, but instead of the expected weak joke about being in the City you get a weak joke about the environment, because that’s their thing now. There are other features that set it aside from the usual design cliches, notably a fine set of beer fridges at eye level behind the bar, rather than you having to lean over the counter to see what bottles are available.
The space itself is a decent size, with a whole area just around the corner from the main set of tables just where you least expect it. So it’s interesting to note that there were a moderate number of people in, more than you’d expect in a largely office district on a Saturday afternoon. There was a sign up on the door suggesting that filming was either going to take place or had already taken place that day, though there were no signs of it while we were there. Still, it seemed that the people who were in the bar hadn’t made a special trip for Collabfest like we had – none of them appeared to be on flights, they were just necking pints. Where have all these people come from? Why are they here?
It’d seem rude to pry much further, so we didn’t. Over the course of our two hour stay we drank two more Collabfest flights (Kungsholmen, Chancery Lane, Inverurie and Brighton followed by Dundee, Malmö, Swansea and Milton Keynes) and shared a plate of cauliflower wings (a bit less spicy than we’re used to in other bars, but generally fine). It’s a perfectly fine place to have a beer in, but I don’t think it’s a London bar we’ll be particularly clamouring to return to in the future, if only because there's bugger all else of interest in the vicinity.
As for the rest of Collabfest… following our stint in Chancery Lane, we got back onto the Central line and headed across to Ealing for our final bar of the day. Along with a more substantial meal of burgers, we had flights from Norwich, Leicester, Ealing and Tallinn, followed by Headingley, Nottingham, Southampton and DogTap. If you’re looking for the point where my writing skills become wrecked by the booze, the Ealing Moblog entries are the ones to head for, especially my insistence that there’s a city called Southamptom.
On the Sunday, we wrapped the festival up in a more sedate fashion. Breakfast and just one flight at Shepherd’s Bush (Shepherds Bush, Sodermalm, Old Street and Aberdeen): two more flights at Camden, by which point we’d started struggling to find beers we hadn’t drunk already (Camden, Leeds North Street, Edinburgh Cowgate and Dublin Outpost, followed by Castlegate, Peterhead and Brussels): and then dinner at Dalston, including their spectacular vegan Halloween burger and a final curtailed flight from Dalston, Glasgow and Cambridge. And to celebrate what turned out to be a weekend with 46 beers in it, we headed down the road to Café Oto (as previously discussed) and watched, among other things, a film that was basically Cubist pornography. So, how was your weekend?
[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, Dog Eat Dog/Angel†, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow,Rome†, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku†, Helsinki†, Gray's Inn Road†, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton,Homerton†, Berlin, Warsaw†, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong†, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo, Tallinn, Overworks, Tower Hill, Edinburgh Lothian Road, Milton Keynes, Canary Wharf, Brixton, Paddington, Dalston, Aberdeen Union Square, Peterhead, Itaewon, Le Marais, Outpost Manchester, Perth, Edinburgh Airport, Carlisle, St Pauli, Old Street, Cambridge, Ealing, St Andrews]