The phrase ‘the birthplace of’ usually conjures up images of willingly forgotten family days out and mindless shuffling around some perfectly preserved ode to the past. So when I heard you could go to the birthplace of the- still adolescent – Beavertown brewery I assumed it’d be more of the same post-apocalyptic boredom. But, I was promised beer.
My slow walk towards the perceived relic in Hackney is promoted to a March when I catch a glimpse of a bunch of ‘creative professionals’, out on the terrace, oiling their necks in the English sun. I almost just want to grab a pint of the strongest shit they have and settle in for a garden session. I think hard and hesitate for about half a cigarette before my stomach convinces me to go inside. A good decision – the restaurant is comfortably rustic and it smells like it’s ready for me. To my right, a bar of ‘taproom standards’ with fridges stocked like an alcoholic magpie’s nest with a treasure trove of the familiar and the exotic. From Magic Rock’s ‘Salty Kiss’ to Mikkeller’s ‘Cherry Berlin Weisse’- a definite crowd pleaser (if a crowd can be 1 person). Along the bar are various keg and cask offerings with the welcomed addition of the resident Beavertown’s core range with the current Tempus Project on draft- the first reminder of Beavertown’s presence here. I gaze longingly into the fridges until (thankfully) I am shown to a table before any (more) drool could escape my mouth. I am greeted at the table with an almost bureaucratic amount of menus on crisp white paper, which puts me in to a mild exam mode. I almost feel like impulsively annotating the menu for reference purposes. I’m not literatures biggest fan, but with an inward breath of anticipation I get stuck in to the (5 page) beer menu. Then, the food.
The menu is deep-south, straight-talking and full of helpful recommendations of which Beavertown beer to pair your meal with. It’s perfect for the clueless diner who might opt for the stew, washed down with a fruity sour, resulting in a flavour clash. The waitress informs me that the recommended Black Betty is not currently on but offers up Neck Oil as an alternative, though it seems that the bar staff are far more knowledgeable about the beer than the waitresses.
There is a selection of burgers, ribs, stew and a few specials on a separate menu but all choices come under the umbrella of American BBQ. If you like meat, then Duke’s your man – all said to be smoked ‘low and slow’ to give the meat a better BBQ taste. They use imported wood smokers from America, and it seems like that a lot of time and effort has gone into producing the end result.
The signature Duke’s Burger comes served medium-rare and is perfectly pink. It’s a petite minimalistic burger that has all the signature ingredients of a classic then washed down with a pint of Gamma Ray. The strength of the hops really balances out the sweetness of the onions. The burger comes with homemade coleslaw, which is very ordinary coleslaw, but paired with a mound of pickled red onion. The meat is neatly packed under slightly sweet brioche bun that doesn’t distract from the flavour of its contents. Where the dish really fell short was with their homemade BBQ Sauce – a watery substance that lacked in smokiness.
The ribs come with a bone that could potentially knock out a baby elephant. The beef sticks to the bone and is crackly rather than soft. The glaze of Molasses add this sweet framing to the meat that really compliments the inside juiciness. It’s not tough to cut into without being too dry. There’s a dark purple layer under the meat, supposedly as evidence of the beef being penetrated properly. The pork rib is equally done to perfection, and has the right amount of meat attached, unlike most ribs, which is more bone than pith. We’re all about girth. Thankfully you can order the two meats together as ‘Duke’s Selection’ and have the best of both worlds.
My hearing muffles and vision blurs as the food coma sets in. I look down with post-sex-shame at what was left of the meal. Just meat and bone, everywhere- reminding me of that scene in Saving Private Ryan on the beach, stunned and vacant, unsure if I’d make it through. Moving isn’t really an option I’m considering, but those beer fridges are glaring at me like an air-raid floodlight. There is a bunch of fresh-faced diners eagerly waiting to be seated, so I gather what is left of my dignity and sought some liquid comfort at the bar. The bar is refreshingly busy for a Monday night but has enough space for us- and the rest of my dinner, (which the waitress kindly boxed into two doggy bags to remind me of my failure, all the way home).
At the bar I meet Amy; the bar lady/personal shopper for your beer related needs. She gives me a swift, precise and welcomed education on most of the beer they have on offer. Upon light interrogation and an in-depth consultation with my taste buds, she chooses a Bell’s ‘Expedition stout’- 9%abv; a dry stout that’s like a gourmet Guinness, but aged in a Marmite cask… which I try really, really hard to enjoy.
Conversations turn into hours and my watch keeps hinting at me that I should leave. Before I do though, I want to know a bit more about the history of Dukes, as it hasn’t been mentioned. So I ask Amy at the bar and she explains that Beavertown started brewing beer here about 5 years ago, down in the cellar as part of the an in-house brewery to accompany the restaurant. The beer’s popularity grew and so did the operation, roping in the whole Beavertown/Dukes family to help in the process. They inevitably outgrew the basement and flew the nest, settling down in a warehouse in Tottenham Hale. Though geographically distant, Dukes and Beavertown seem like a close-nit family of beer-loving, meat-eating perfectionists. Amy then invites me downstairs into the cellar (an offer I never refuse) to see where it all began. I grab all my things and follow her. I imagine an old dust-filled beer museum with velvet rope and things behind glass- the boredom I’d been expecting and preparing for. My grey imagination suffocates any anticipation I might have had as we went downstairs and into the fabled cellar. There it was- the actual birthplace of this popular brewery- The Manger.
But there is almost nothing here- no old casks from the first brew, no blue plaque- just white walls and beer kegs; all, pretty normal. I realised, this wasn’t a ‘birthplace of’ type place. No relics in sight no pine for the past but still alive, kicking and very much in motion. This whole place feels more like I’m spending an evening with the mother of some genius child prodigy. She rarely has any moment’s peace to share and reflect, as her brilliant offspring is out having another lesson on ‘the barrel ageing processes of Kentish hops in the 18th century’ somewhere in Tottenham.
Dukes Brew and Que is the mother ship, standing out on its own serving the best BBQ’d and cured meat you’ll get in London on a Monday- and a bar that makes even The Carouser‘s eyes drip with joyous pleasure. The fact that you can buy an actual pint of ‘Gamma Ray’ is just a massive bonus.
Burger from £12.95