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Taking my Probe out in Public!

11 Jul

Before you read on, I’d like to openly admit that this behaviour is a little on the sad side. If I were to imagine myself doing this even 5 years ago, I would be more than a tad perturbed. It’s not really the done thing to pull it out in public places, let alone dunking it in someone’s drink. My mate Bob thinks I should be locked up and is threatening to stop being my mate unless I get some help. Such things really should be confined to the privacy of your own home, he says.

Well, I’m not the only one to enjoy getting theirs out. Heston swears by his. This lady does too. However, I don’t know whether either of them have taken their probes out in public. Curiosity is a cruel mistress. It drives a man to distraction and this particular distraction began with my mate Bob whingeing about the temperature that beer was being served in pubs. My mate Bob does like it served on the cold side, whereas although I can enjoy it across a whole spectrum of temperatures, I’m more likely to whine if it is too cold.

It got me a thinkin’. Again. If I had my probe with me, maybe I could measure the temperature of the beers that we were served over the course of a night or two, come to a rather neat little conclusion and put the matter firmly (but lovingly) to bed! So that’s what I tried to do.

However, there were a few flaws in my plan. Mainly, I hadn’t bargained on all the attention pulling it out would receive. I’m quite proud of my probe and I’m not bragging but it isn’t exactly a subtle one, you can’t slip it into a pint glass unnoticed.  After the first attempt, everyone wanted a play. In the end I just had to explain to people that it was my probe and nobody was to touch it except me.

Another issue was that my probe has the appearance of an offensive weapon in some people’s eyes and I hadn’t bargained on having it confiscated by security guards at a football match. I tried to argue that it was more likely to save someone’s life than take it, especially with some of the old codgers I stand near. It held no truck with the men in black bomber jackets mind and they stood firm. Understandable in a way, I mean, you wouldn’t want me taking your temperature in the crowd with 2 minutes to go, would you? Fortunately, for me, and the world if they are remotely interested, I recovered my probe in good working order.

Fearsome…Grrr!

So what were the results, well they are either in my spare room under a mountain of paper or being recycled by the local council but the long and short of it was that all pints were not served at the same temperatures. If my memory serves me correctly, the warmest was at 16.5 degrees and was too warm to enjoy and the coolest was at 10 degrees, which was agreed to be acceptable. Those in the 11-12.5 range were perceived as the most enjoyable because you didn’t really think it was too warm or cool, you just got on with enjoying them!!

Needless to say, I won’t be repeating the exercise!!

Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant

22 May

Ghent, in Belgium for the ignorant, has many plus points for someone like me. First of all, it is very close by. Well, that’s relative I suppose. It’s not that close but it is only 3 train rides away (Lots of my favourite London locations are 3 train rides away.) and one of those is the Eurostar, which is mildly pleasurable with the exception of its poisonous buffet carriage. Secondly, it’s architecturally beautiful and historical. I haven’t ranted on too much about architecture but no doubt will do in future, from a layman’s perspective. It’s also a student location, which lends it a little more life to the old place. It’s a bit more real than it’s more celebrated cousin Bruges. Thirdly, and rather obviously, it has some great Belgian beer!

If you have ever seen the film In Bruges with Colin Farrell, who is actually quite good in it, you’ll recognise Bruges as being both really interesting but really boring and conservative in equal measures. This is also true of Ghent. However, there is enough sexy beer in sexy beer glasses to keep my attention for a day or too. It’s always nice to have a decent beer list in any restaurant or cafe you rock up to. Something that here, through snobbery, foolhardiness and a tendency not to celebrate things we do well, is only just appearing in restaurants. There are some good pubs/bars there too, many institutions that you have to (try to) visit.

Het Waterhuis aan Bierkant

Situated on the canal just along from the market, Het Waterhuis aan Bierkant is a fairly busy place in town. In the daytime when we were there, it was just too busy, being a bank holiday and all. Roll forward a few hours and the crowds had fallen away revealing quite a chilled out little bar. The weather was a little balmy before moving aside for a short rainstorm, which looked almost romantic on the surface of the canal from the pub window.

The service was interesting in the bar. You had to order from behind the counter and then the barman would sort out your drinks before giving them to the waiter who brought them to your table where you paid. I’m sure there is logic there somewhere, maybe they like you to have a seat before serving you.

The beer list was pretty immense and you can check it out on the website. However, what are the chances of me having all those beers in an evening. I had to choose something that I hadn’t had before, I always have to, which is a bit of a chore at times.

chill

There was also a good mix of ages in the place, something I would aim for if I ever opened a pub. The locals were very friendly and were happy to help out with information and a little bit of banter. I’m a sucker for a bit of memorabilia really, or brewerania as some call it, and there were some good little bits and bobs around the place including this:

Xmas box!

I was reliably informed by one of the locals that this was a savings box. Regulars would have a slot where they would put some money aside over the year and it would only be opened around Christmas time, presumably for an almighty blowout in the pub itself. If you ask me, it sounds like a bit of a ruse by the publican to ensure the punters don’t go home with their own change in case they should spend it on the kids or something equally disturbing.

Reinaert Gran Cru

The above beer was fairly interesting. A 9.5% dark beer which was sweet and spicy smelling but with an underlying sourness. It was a thoughtful beer or rather a thought-provoking beer. It provoked me into thinking what I should go for next. After all the talk of choosing beers I hadn’t had before, I went for an old favourite in Saison Dupont. A marvellous choice it was too. I always think of straw bales and barns when I have this beer and it never lets me down. If I were to write tasting notes for this one they would be along the lines of .. bloody lovely  mmm straw bales! It’s quite easy to get my mitts on over here too so I did feel a little guilty choosing it from such an extensive menu. But I wanted it.

Brewerania that you can’t see very well. Still it looks chunky enough.

Overall, I liked the bar, liked the beer and enjoyed the company!!

The Humble Beer Mat

13 May

I take it all back. A while back I had a rant about ‘real ale’ in which I touched on the ludicrousness of collecting beer mats, actually I didn’t say anything about beer mat collecting but in my head I was suggesting that it was ludicrous and I questioned the need for this particular book.

Bargain

While I still feel it’s a little on the pricey side, I take back all I err thought on the subject. Basically, I was in a pub in Peckham way, I went to the toilet and came across this beer mat wall.

Beer mat wall

Not only did I think it looked great, it was interesting to look through the designs and see how the brands had changed. As well as pushing a few nostalgia buttons, it also made me remember that I like seeing pump clips plastered around pubs, many of them are great design!

From another angle

So I suppose the message is – keep collecting those beer mats!

Remote Brewing – Nether Wasdale’s Strands Pub and Brewery

9 May

I probably go to the Lake District in the North West of England about once every year and a half. Each time I have been, I’ve found myself in awe at how beautiful the place is. There is something in the combination of colours, light and stone that is individual. The farmhouses and stone walls are fantastic, the walking is superb and there is plenty of good food and beer to be had to boot.

Cumbria

The West side of the lakes is less visited but equally beautiful. I started a walk from Gosforth village where I saw an excellent bakery which doubles up as someone’s home. Nice. I like that kind of thing.

Gosforth Bakery

The village itself is very pretty by normal standards but certainly not a jewel in any Cumbrian crown. My walk was through the village for about 5 miles in the direction of Nether Wasdale. Another of the great things about being in this part of the world is that the light changes every 5 minutes and the views are in a constant state of change. There are also plenty of animals to look at and, of course, plenty of animal shit to tread in. Oh the great outdoors!

Moo

Goat

Deer

Sheep

I also came across that most rare of things. A fox. Not just any fox, a fox that was actually frightened enough by your presence to bolt off into the fields on seeing you. A far cry from your urban fox with its devil-may-care attitude and its disdain for all things human (as exemplified by the holes in my garden and the ‘little messages’ left outside my front porch).

Road to Wasdale

Nether Wasdale is a stunning place and when I entered the village I came across a young man knocking posts into the ground and fixing some bunting along the roadside. ‘Why?’ I asked. Well, there was to be a May Day Fair in the village that weekend and they were expecting quite a few people. From where I’m not sure I could guess as there seemed to be more pubs in this village than houses (there were 2 pubs). Nevertheless the small green still had its maypole in good working order and apparently the local (?) children were well versed in the ways of traditional country dancing.

A signpost

All good walks in England ought to take in a pub at some point or other and mine did just that. If I’m being completely honest I’ll admit that I had slightly engineered this walk because I had heard about one of the village’s pubs, The Strands pub and microbrewery. We’ll keep quiet about that one though!

As pub location go this is up there with the best of them. We shared the pub garden with a load of hens while a group of brown cows looked over the fence at us. The views towards the mountains were great and sitting back with an ale after a bit of a trek was just what the doctor didn’t order, but I did it anyway because I’m rock and roll! So off to the bar.

Strands handpumps

There is nothing so welcoming as a line of ale pumps set on a pub bar as you walk in. In this case there were 5 from the pub’s own microbrewery. Great – Responsibly, Brown Bitter, Red Screes, Pied Piper Mild and Irresponsibly. It was nice to see a selection of different styles of beer on offer. I didn’t check the food out because I’d brought my own packed lunch (this is also rock and roll). I wasn’t entirely sure about the triangular pump clips but they did catch the eye, or rather I remembered them. The barman happily took me through the beers and made appropriate recommendations along the lines of ‘they are all nice.’ This happened to be true.

Red Screes & Irresponsibly

The beers on the right were halves because I was trying to get into the spirit of the rambler! My first half was Responsibly, again in the spirit of the rambler, a slightly hoppy, light, dare I say largery 3.7% beer.  Their website says it is slightly smoky but I didn’t really get that. I would certainly have a couple of these again though. The two in the picture are Red Screes 4.3% and Irresponsibly 5%. The Red Screes was my favourite of the three, it was tasty, refreshing and interesting. I contemplated it down to the bottom of my glass, much to the chagrin of the Profesorette, who was hoping for a little bit more adult conversation.

Being a saddo who photographs pump clips turns out well sometimes as the owner came out and told me he was setting up a tent in the garden for the next week’s beer festival and that if I gave him a few minutes he would put on all 25 pump clips for me to photograph. Now in the real world I would have taken this as a sarcastic threat but in the beer world people are genuinely nice and I took him up on the offer.

Chickens, or are they hens?

After I finished my beer, I left the Profesorette playing with the hens/chickens and joined him for a while while (ahem) he was setting up. Despite him and his co-worker looking extremely busy he stuck some pump clips on for me and let me take photos. I felt a bit guilty so rushed them. He also took me into the microbrewery where he was brewing up some Angry Bee honey beer and happily answered my questions. If I had known he was going to be so accommodating I would have prepared some more!!

Mark Corr, I believe his name is, brews around 26 beers and many of them look really interesting. Unfortunately, I won’t be there to try them all as the festival is on 11th-13th May 2012. This weekend. He brews for the pub mainly and he mentioned one other pub in another valley that he supplies to as well. He sells bottles from the pub and they are all bottle conditioned and very popular by all accounts.

It’s always quite impressive when a brewer tries his hand at so many different types of beer and even more that he manages to get different beers all ready in time for one festival. Remember they are all beers from the microbrewery and in cask form!!  Unfashionably, I love a TBB (that’s Traditional Brown Bitter apparently) and like the idea of drinking a beer called … Brown Bitter. I’d also love to get my hands on his Barley Wine (and no that isn’t a camp euphemism). There is also a cheeky lager style ale name Corrsberg. (That’s a play on words, you see his surname is Corr and there is a Danish brew…)

It’s a shame the beer is only sold in the pub but next time I go to that part of the world, I will definitely time it right so that I’m there for the festival or if not, I’ll stay the night in front of the fire after a long day walking, supping ales and waxing lyrical about the time I jumped over a stile and nearly fell full force into a great big round cow pat, and we’ll all laugh heartily!

Angry Bee in the tank

 

The cheeky one is on the left!

Pumps

More handpumps

Tea, Beer and a Mallet – 2 Great British Institutions and a potentially lethal murder weapon!

Bored yet?

 

 

If you are in the area. You won’t regret going there if not for the pub then the scenery!

The pub

The pub opposite

Het Velootje Pilgrimage Quashed

6 May

Pilgrimages are all well and good if you’re  religiously insane but what about the rest of us?

A recent beer pilgrimage of mine was a funky little trip to Ghent to visit the legendary Het Velootje bar or pub or whatever they call their drinking establishments over yonder. I’d looked forward to this for some time because, like the religiously insane, I too enjoy long trips of hope and expectation. Only in my beer pilgrimage, I was to actually get to meet a slightly disturbed man with long hair, a beard and dirty fingernails! Better still, I would be able to have a beer with him or at least have a beer served by him. See, we’re all a bit mental!!

Sadly, while the arduous journey through some of the hardest terrain known to humanity (Belgium on the Eurostar) taught me to love myself and to respect other people (allowing other people off the train first), it did not prepare me for the crushing disappointment that was to await me when I found the place.

Het Velootje is situated in the Patershol district of Ghent, a very pretty historical area and the building must be quite old. It is in all the guidebooks as a weird bar with a weird owner and the latter is certainly true.  It’s a bar crammed with bicycles and junk with a roaring fire (by all accounts). I arrived there early in the day just so that I knew where to come later in the day and found a small but lively little street. The place was closed but I was happy that I would be back there later on in the day.

Het Velootje

Great bin location. What looked like a bunch of Romanian cleaners
had just shut themselves inside before I took the photo.

I went back. I dragged the Profesorette. We rocked up and were pleased to find a bevy of lunatics outside. I was beside myself with joy until I found out from the horse’s mouth that, because of problems with the electrics, the fire department had decided to close them down for the time being. What? Seriously? Well, I can’t tell if they were having me on to this moment. “It ish alsho political, oh yes and the neighboursh” is what I was told.

She holding the veggie box, He holding my hopes and dreams in his tool box

Well, I was happy to have met the madman and his friend, who seemed lovely, like a Belgian Pam Ayres. There was another particularly mad fellow who was trying manfully to translate what the creator was trying to explain. Unfortunately, he had to disappear on his bike either for a trip to the dentist or to get his grey roots dyed so I never had the chance for a photograph.

The bar

When all was said and done, I wasn’t really disappointed. I came away content because I’d had quite the most bizarre conversation outside the place of pilgrimage with the legend himself. I didn’t get in for a beer but it just sets me up for the next time. Assuming it is still there that is*. And after all, it’s not every pilgrim who gets to meet the man with the beard!!!

*Apparently, people should write on his website about how much they want to visit, and how disappointed they were that their visit was in vain because the comments are being compiled into some sort of book that will be delivered in front of the powers that be, or something like that, I didn’t understand every cryptic remark that was shot my way!

By the Horns Brewery Open Day

23 Apr

Summerstown is a very nice name. It sounds like the name of a happy village from a charming fictional storybook. Well, the reality is quite different. It’s the crap bit that sits between Earslfield, Tooting and Wimbledon where all the pubs are boarded up and green spaces concreted over. It might be wild west country were it not for the fact that nobody lives there. It is basically a rather dated industrial estate with a dog track.

So spending a Saturday afternoon alternating between a garage-sized industrial unit and a small car park drinking beer wouldn’t appear to be the most attractive way of spending a Saturday afternoon. Just as well I didn’t do it. I arrived a bit later for an hour or so to have a brief look at what now must have become my local brewery.

By the Horns

I’ve mentioned By the Horns Brewery on here before but was unable to make their last open day. It’s been set up by two lads in their twenties (I think) called Alex and Chris, who say they saw potential in the market and just went for it. I can’t remember which one was which but the tall bloke said that he hadn’t long been into appreciating ales as such whereas the shorter one was the avid homebrewer. Together they seem to be putting their respective strengths to good use and have been making a few waves around the local area since they started production in November 2011, not even 6 months ago. I recently missed out on their beers, which also appeared at the Hope’s London Beer Festival last month, too many beers not enough of a beer gut to put it all in I’m afraid!

Menu

OPA

The open day would display (sell) some of their cask ales, some keg and their bottle-conditioned range, as one might expect a brewery to on such an occasion. They were also having some food put on from a deli in the altogether nicer part of town not 5 minutes away. Unfortunately, which is an adverb I often use when I’m describing how I never pull my finger out of my arse in time, I arrived too late for the food. And whatsmore, they’d ran out of beer!! A welcome sign indeed for the lads but not so for me! My initial fears of a wasted journey were not completely borne out, most of the bottled range was still being sold albeit a little on the warm side.

Having a little chat with the brewers was also quite nice as they were two enthusiastic and personable young men (I’m not sure I’m old enough to say that!) who spoke openly about what they were doing and appeared to have time for everyone.

The people who attended, at least while I was there, were not just the usual suspects but had quite a young bias. I only counted one beard, not that I’m knocking beards, after all they are nature’s bibs. It appears to be a good sign for the brewery as they look to (also) tap into a younger, perhaps trendier market, as may be evidenced by the 33cl bottles and branding. They also appear to be tapping into their status as a London brewer with their brews often named after something iconic, Diamond Geezer Red Ale and Lambeth Walk Porter and good luck to them.

Garage

I tried their new beer 6 X 6 Oat Pale Ale 4.4% which was pretty hoppy without being overwhelming and had a decent mouthfeel and flavour for the strength. The one I liked the most was their Bobby on the Wheat 4.7%, it didn’t ask too many questions was good in the mouth and didn’t smell of old socks. Their Diamond Geezer Red Ale 4.9% felt like it might be quite interesting but I thought that it had a touch of the vinegars about it. Stiff Upper Lip was a Pale Ale at 3.9% and was good and the most sessionable one on offer, light with a hoppy finish. I also tried a sample of the Lambeth Walk Porter and was a bit disappointed to miss out on the Doodle American Pale Ale 5.9%.

Makeshift Keg Taps

I’m glad I went. I brought home a few bottles but I think I’ll reserve judgement on the beers themselves until I’ve tried them on cask. Cask ale is a different beast after all. Considering these fellas have only being going since November, I think  it is quite exciting to think what they might end up producing for us.

Good luck to them and it’s certainly good to see a brewery in South West London again.

They have another open day on the 19th May but no details are available as yet.

Ghostly Clerkenwell!

21 Apr

Woooah!

Clerkenwell is a ghostly place all right. At least it would be, were it ever quiet enough to be so. The nearest I ever got to it being quiet and spooky was at weekends when I used to go walking around town getting myself lost or when I used to scramble out of  the Talc Room at The Jazz Bistro’s Happiness Stan’s, Smithfields Market, at 4am on a Sunday morning not knowing which way to turn to get back home. However, there’s certainly no shortage of history in the area.

Flicking through some early digital pictures the other day, I came across this window with a much quoted paragraph stencilled onto it.

Bleedin' Hell

This is the window of the Bleeding Heart Tavern, which dates back to the 1740s as a public house. The era, I think, was the time of the gin explosion in London. You’re probably aware of William Hogarth‘s portrayal of Gin Lane and the misery and destitution therein. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on the era you refer back to, this is now a French restaurant.

Hogarth Gin Lane

It is behind said restaurant where the spooky goings-on were purported to have taken place. Bleeding Heart Yard once belonged to the Bishop of Ely before Queen Elizabeth I gave the land to one of her ‘favourites’, Sir Christopher Hatton. She may or may not have been a few sheets to the wind at the time, we all know how she enjoyed a few tankards, but give it she did. Both of those men are now immortalised in local street names, Hatton Gardens being famous for diamonds nowadays and Ely Place is famous for a) being officially part of Cambridge and b) having a really good pub on it.

As one might expect with the Queen carrying on with her husband, Hatton’s trouble and strife, Lady Hatton, got the right pip. So while Betty and Chris were getting down to the Volt, Lady Hatton decided to have her own little dance with a tall, dark stranger – the devil – and in the process just so happened to sell him her soul.

Anyway, after a while, relations with the Hattons began to improve. However, one night, when they were holding a bit of a shindig in their ballroom, who should pop along uninvited but a tall robed figure, all in black. He walked through the heaving dancefloor until he found Lady Hatton, who herself was a little too merry on meade for her own good. It was the devil himself. He took her by the hand and led her outside. All through the room the atmosphere changed in an instant, then there was a flash of lightning followed by roaring thunder as the rain started to tip down. The guests covered their ears as a spine-chilling scream shot through the room from outside.

Afterwards, all the guests ran out to the yard to see what had happened but all that they saw was a large bleeding human heart……..

Of poor Lady Hatton, it’s needless to say,
No traces have ever been found to this day,
Or the terrible dancer who whisk’d her away;
But out in the court-yard — and just in that part
Where the pump stands — lay bleeding a LARGE HUMAN HEART!
And sundry large stains
Of blood and of brains,
Which had not been wash’d off notwithstanding the rains,
Appear’d on the wood, and the handle, and chains,
As if somebody’s head with a very hard thump,
Had been recently knock’d on the top of the pump.
That pump is no more!– that of which you’ve just read,–
But they’ve put a new iron one up in its stead,
And still, it is said,
At that ‘small hour’ so dread,
When all sober people are cosey in bed,
There may sometimes be seen on a moonshiny night,
Standing close by the new pump, a Lady in White,
Who keeps pumping away with, ‘twould seem, all her might,
Though never a drop comes her pains to requite!
And hence many passengers now are debarr’d
From proceeding at nightfall through Bleeding Heart Yard!

And that, as my dear old mother would say, is as true as your trousers!

Check out the original poem here.

When you don’t want to be in the pub

15 Apr

I didn’t choose the location to meet last night, nor would I have. It wasn’t a horrible pub, it was just that there wasn’t anything I wanted to drink, which made me feel a bit awkward. Most people I was with didn’t really care what they were drinking as long as it was alcohol of some description. I’m not drinking too much in one night these days so I personally like to make each drink count. For that to happen I need something with some degree of quality. This generally means good beer as there isn’t really room in my life for all the good beer there is in the world AND another alcoholic drink and of course beer is far more versatile than, say, wine is, so it fulfills most of my needs.

I’d almost forgotten that there were pubs where you can only buy rubbish. What was more galling last night was that every other establishment in the immediate vicinity had brilliant options! But Hey Ho, I wanted to be with the people I was with and they were content enough so I didn’t make a fuss. I sipped on the worst pint of beer that I’ve had in a long time. Called London’s Glory, it was anything but. It was in good condition but I can honestly say I have nothing positive to say about it at all, it was simply a waste of everybody’s time, money and effort. I didn’t finish it. Water was the better option. I don’t eat mini babybels so I’m not going to waste my time on crap beer.

Once I’d made up my mind that that was what I was going to do, I had an OK time despite the jibes from my mate Bob.

So where was this excuse for a pub? ……..The George Inn in London Bridge!!

This pub is actually a must see pub in London. It is owned by the National Trust and is the last surviving galleried coaching inn in London. There are parts of it where the likes of Dickens and Thackery would have sat and quaffed themselves into their top hats. There is one lovely room underneath the original galleries and if you enjoy wood, which I do, there is enough to hold your attention. I love the small corner seats which obviously date from a time before cellulite and there is also a tiny bar, which isn’t often open but is worth sticking your nose in to see the old-fashioned beer engine. On top of all this, there is a seated outdoor area, which in zone 1 is something of a rarity.

So, on the surface there is much to admire but quite honestly this venue depressed me. The place is a national treasure and should be great in all respects but just seems to exist because it can. Tourists will always pop in for the ‘pub experience.’ It is no surprise to find out that this is run by Greene King, who could do so much better with their other pubs scattered around the capital, or indeed the country, not to mention their woeful beer and food (I don’t include their XX Mild or Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale in this but you hardly ever see them so it doesn’t really matter!) We might as well have met in the park.

This pub is in dire need of some lovin’. If you are in the area, I recommend that you go there take a couple of photographs, look at the old beer engine, then bugger off elsewhere for some decent food and drink, you won’t have to go far!!

Katzenjammers Bierkeller and the Hop Exchange

6 Apr

My previous post on U Fleku and Antica Birreria Peroni, started me thinking. A while back, in order to re-live some Munich memories, a few of us decided to get out to a German bierkeller called Katzenjammers in Borough, South London. I hadn’t thought I would like it, as I’d seen the places near the river at Richmond and the Bavarian Beerhouse operations and not been impressed. However, this place had something going for it in that it was located under the Hop Exchange. For those of you who didn’t know the Hop Exchange is the building pictured on the top of this blog.

The Hop Exchange minus 2 floors

Despite no longer having its original glass roof, which was destroyed during one of the World Wars, I think this building cuts a fine figure curving around Southwark Street as it does. The Hop Exchange, as its name implies, was once the centre of commerce for the hop industry where hops could be steam-trained up from Kent and people could trade in hops under the natural light entering from above. It is missing its top two floors now but it is a lucky survivor, surviving bombs, fires and redevelopment, so far!

A few years ago, I was allowed inside during one of London’s Open House weekends, when all sorts of great places open their doors to the general public for two days. It is both functional and beautiful inside, at least to my mind and worth a visit if you get the chance.

Hop Exchange Balconies

While this area was the centre of London’s brewing industry, it’s now a great centre for food, with Borough Market next door. The Hop Exchange itself has been converted into office space but it does let itself out for functions.

However, the beer connection hasn’t been totally lost, which is where Katzenjammers comes in, located as it is in the basement. The vaulted basement ceiling lends an air of authenticity to the German style beer and food hall. The oompah band, so irritating in Prague, doen’t get in your face and plays such covers as ‘I should be so lucky’ by Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley’s ‘Never gonna give you up.’ It’s quite possible that I imagined the Rick Astley song but I’m sticking with the story, it sounds better.

Unfortunately, it was too busy to get a table for food so I didn’t get to try the Schweinefleisch und Bierentopf, which by all accounts is a ‘hearty pork and dark wheatbeer stew’! On the plus side, I was able to opt out of drinking out of a stein and get some Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (a-love-it-or-hate-it smoked sausage-smelling smoked beer from Bamberg)  from the tap.  It was a busy Friday night and I think I might go there again, only earlier or on another day, I want that Swine flesh!!!!

A Tale of Two Cities – U Fleku and Birreria Peroni

6 Apr

Two beautiful cities. Two historical cities. Two tourist destinations. On the surface, the two cities seemed well-matched and I had high hopes of enjoying them both equally. Actually, they are very, very different in culture, style and what is becoming increasingly important to me, atmosphere. Atmosphere is a personal thing when I visit places, be they a village 20 miles from my house or a city on the other side of the world. Sometimes preconceived ideas of what to expect ruin an atmosphere unfairly and it takes you a little time to shift your mindset around this.

Stained Glass

I visited both cities within a short space of time and only for long weekends. In Prague, the weather was spectacular and the buildings were very beautiful and the tourists bled from every church, museum and statue there was. In Rome, the weather was spectacular, the sheer volume of history was overwhelming and the tourists cascaded down every dome, column and  balustrade in sight. I enjoyed the Rome experience and was slightly underwhelmed by the Prague experience. Why? How could I be so underwhelmed by such a beautiful place? On paper, it ticked all the boxes for me architecture, history and one of few countries with a bona fide beer culture.

It all came down to atmosphere I suppose. Italy is ‘literally’ bursting with historically important towns and cities but each one that I have visited still has a lively, life-goes-on-despite-what-we-have feeling. People go about their business and the tourists go about theirs. Rome had this feeling but Prague did not, for me at least. In Prague, I felt like a lot of the life had been squeezed out of the centre of the city turning it into a place with a splash of the Disneylands about it. There may be economic and historical factors for this, taking into account the Czech Republic’s communist history and the fact that people have been touring Italy since the Renaissance for example but that was my impression.

Prague

Now, I mentioned the Czech Republic’s beer culture and the Czechs are very proud of their beer, rightly so, and they do drink an awful lot of it. The Italians are less well-known for their beer but have recently begun to make some very nice brews themselves. In Prague, one beer seems to dominate, the famous Pilsner Urquell, which is a classic, but there are others around. On my visit, I was also able to try a number of other types which were all of a quality, if not always to my taste. Rome tended to have three beers per menu, two typical lagers and a bock or a ‘Rosso’, just enough to get by on.

U Fleku

It was in two particular establishments, one in each of the cities, that I could sum up my overall reaction to the two cities. One was the legendary U Fleku, a brewpub/restuarant which dates back to the 15th Century. They have been brewing there for 500 consecutive years and it has a medieval look, with Gothic and Romantic styling. There is one house dark lager called Flekovský ležák 13°.  It is a place of pilgrimage for beer lovers and was high on my list of places to visit, as it happened my hotel was a minute’s walk away so it was one of the first places I went to.  In Rome, there is a similar beerhall, less well-known, and while still a destination for tourists, not a mecca for beer lovers. This was the Antica Birreria Peroni, a beerhall which ‘only’ dates from 1909 and whose Art Deco style dates back to the 1920s. Inside it really looks the part and sitting there you could imagine wax moustachioed Italians with centre partings and white bibs sucking up spaghetti off their plates all those years back.

On entry to U Fleku, a rather grumpy man pointed glumly to a room where we could go in and find a seat. It was a nice room with a lovely beamed ceiling. I loved the fact that there was only one drink on offer and you were expected to drink it. The waiters just brought the dark, frothy brews into the hall and without looking banged them down on the tables. Perhaps this less challenging part of their job contributed to the disinterestedness and lack of charm they were showing to their customers. Next, a waiter came along and barked out that we needed to try this horrible, green, medicine shot because it was traditional, omitting to mention that they were about £100 each. OK, I guessed that they weren’t free and thought why not, but the manner in which it was done was a little forceful. The food was simple Czech fare but definitely not the same quality as the beer. The beer was very nice. I wasn’t raving that it was the best thing I’d ever tasted (which I do do) but it was very nice. I now wonder whether the atmosphere affected my enjoyment of it. Before and since, I had and have enjoyed oompah bands but the musicians in U Fleku were just a bit, well annoying, and in your face, certainly not the endearing ones I had expected. The bill, when it came, was relatively high and looking around the room it was easy to imagine that this place was no longer within financial reach of your average Prague pub-goer.

Pic from their Website

Onwards and upwards, Birreria Peroni, provided quite a different experience. On entry, we were greeted with that most precious of commodities, a smile. It was again lunchtime but this time looking around the room you were not just met with groups or tourists, although these were present, many local workers were also enjoying their lunches there. The hall was equally stylish but less steeped in history than U Fleku and, happily, there was no oompah band and nobody was trying to force Buck Rogers drinks down my neck. There was even a bit of banter with the staff despite the fact it was plainly busier than its Czech counterpart had been. Simple Italian food was available and was very tasty. The prices weren’t too bad. The beer was from Peroni and they had 3 types on sale, Nastro Azzuro, Rosso and Gran Riserva, no real attraction to the beer lover but it was fantastic to drink and eat in a nice atmosphere in a classy, historic beerhall and when I did drink those beers, I wasn’t thinking about how average they were, I was just enjoying every last drop of them, cold an’ all!

I would happily go back to Prague again and re-evaluate my impressions but as revered a beer as U Fleku has around the world, I’d give it a miss if I did.

Not mine either

*I always consider myself among the tourists, wherever I am and whatever form of travelling I'm doing. I don't buy into the idea of having a backpack makes you less of one, despite me being more likely to travel that way.

Meet the London Brewers

31 Mar

Down, down, deeper and down. Down, down, deeper and down…..

These, I believe, are the words to the famous Status Quo hit single. They also represent the feelings of many a misguided Londoner who is forced to travel beyond zone two of the London travel system. To some, a  journey to zone 5 might put them in mind of the journey of convicts going down under all those years ago, does a man ever return and if he does will he ever be the same again? But those of that mindset would be missing out on the local phenomena which is The Hope.

London Beerfest at the Hope

The Hope is a small, local pub run  It has won awards and it is easy to see why. It still falls slightly into the category of ‘old man’s pub’ in that it would be slightly difficult to persuade someone not of the beer persuasion to go there but it is so much more than this. It’s a local pub in one of London’s so-called villages. In fact, you can still easily see the villageyness of the surrounding area despite it lacking Dulwich or Wimbledon Village levels of wealth. The pub sits well in its environs, not being t0o olde worlde but retaining enough of that classic pub charisma. Its owners put on regular festivals and some very traditional events such as wassailing, hog roasts, straw jack and fireworks. It also serves its community well and includes regular meetings of a local environmental group. The place even has its own ‘joanna’!!

I’ve had beer in a lot of pubs with good reputations which have fallen woefully short of my expectations, the Bree Louise near Euston station being one that springs to mind. Not so in the Hope. I’ve visited on quite a few occasions now and have been extremely impressed not only with the condition of the beer but also the variation on offer. The pub is run extremely well by people who seem to care about what they are doing. They seem bright, friendly and very knowledgeable about their products.

Thursday night saw the opening of their latest beer festival, one which was showcasing the new breed of London brewers.  Two of the brewers, from Brodies and Redemption, were there to talk and answer questions about their breweries and beers and there was a decent turn out for them. Not so many years ago, the brewing situation in London seemed pretty inadequate with Young’s moving out and only Fuller’s and Meantime flying the flag. As one of the brewers pointed out on the night, this situation was absurd when we remember that about a fifth of the population of the country live in the London area. Fast forward and now the situation is far healthier with Sambrooks, Kernel, Brodies, Redemption, By the Horns, Twickenham Fine Ales, Moncada, Camden, East London, London Fields, Ha’penny….

In a marquee in the pub garden, the brewers turned out to be very open and friendly and, amongst other things, talked about their history, inspiration, plans for the future and the difficulties they faced getting hold of new world hops . They passed round sample hops in plastic bags and looking around the room one could be forgiven for thinking they were at a middle-aged glue sniffing convention.

Hopsniffing

Well, man’s not a camel as they say so I did sample a few of the beers on offer. The following are not intended to be tasting notes but they are the nearest you’ll ever get to them from me.

Boggart Dark Mild 4% (This was off the bar and not actually a London beer – OK)

Brodies London Lager 4.5% (A very hoppy lager, Simcoe and Centennial hops – Quite nice, interesting but I wouldn’t have too many)

Moncada Notting Hill Blonde 4.2% (Session pale ale Citra and Cascade hops and Maris otter and Munich Malt, the most laid back of the beers I tried but perhaps, boringly, the one I really liked)

Brodies Brainwave 4% (Simcoe hops. Described as a session pale ale but far too grapefruity and even peachy for me, very, very hoppy, belied its strength)

Redemption Port and Brandy Porter Special 5.8% (brewed exclusively for the festival, this was the first time I’d had brandy added to a beer, more of a christmas beer to my tiny mind)

Brodies Summer Saison 8% (Felt like a much weaker beer, a little fruity, citrus, didn’t really taste like the classic Belgian saisons but was very enjoyable)

All in all I’ve only got high praise for The Hope, if there was one drawback it’s the lack of food but then that’s not really the point of going there. In a month from now they are having another beer festival and the theme for this one is ‘extreme beers’, sounds like fun. I, for one, will be returning.

Short video here

Young’s at heart!!

28 Mar

Each time I walk past a Young’s pub these days, my heart sinks just a little bit. For those of an older generation, they can probably remember Young’s stance as a defender of cask ale in its darkest moments. I myself am not old enough to remember how John Young dug in, stiff upper lip boys, Dunkirk spirit and all that, and defended the cause. However, it was one more thing that appealed to me about the brewery’s story.

Young’s brewery was one with a lot of history. Located on the River Wandle, a stone’s throw from the Thames at Wandsworth, brewing there dated back to the early 1500s, and the video they used to show as an introduction to brewery tours suggested that Queen Elizabeth I herself had stopped off for a pint or three on her way to Westminster. It could be true, Lord knows she enjoyed a good quaff. It fell into the Young family in the early 1800s and remained so until 2006 when all brewing was moved to Bedford after a merger with one of the country’s least exciting brewers Charles Wells. A hole has been left in the heart of Wandsworth ever since. Young’s is now just another pub company, while Charles Wells deal with the brewing.

The brewery was full of stories and little quirks. It had a little farm with ducks and geese on it and had kept its stables as working stables until relatively recently, keeping up the old traditions such as delivering its ale to the pubs in the local area by horse and dray. All this, bear in mind, happened in the centre of Europe’s largest city and it wasn’t until the phenomenon of road rage, when rabid drivers started attacking the horses, that it eventually stopped.

When I lived in Wandsworth, a short walk from the brewery, most of the surrounding pubs were tied to the brewery and the beer in them was, as you might expect, impeccable. You may have thought this led to a limited choice of beer, which in one respect it did, but there was the added advantage of being able to buy the full Young’s range of ales, plus their export and pilsner lagers from these pubs. Yes, most of these were in bottles but then pubs with 10 handpulls were not exactly ten a penny back then. Being young and frisky at the time, I didn’t go to these places for a rip-roaring night on the town, it was more on those quiet nights when you sit down and enjoy a few beers and chat with mates. The choice was always a good one and I can remember Ordinary, Special, Winter Warmer, Oatmeal Stout, Old Nick, Ram Rod, Christmas Pudding Ale, Kew Brew, Champion, Special London Ale, Double Chocolate Stout, Dirty Dicks and maybe a stray Waggledance, all being sold behind the bar in the amazing gin palace of a pub that was and is the Spread Eagle. Other pubs also had an extensive range with take home deals. Great memories but sadly, no more.

The complaints that the beers had changed their character after moving from London to Bedford are well-documented in various places around the internet and I’m not one who thinks they’ve got worse. I drink their beers less and less these days anyway, gone is the blind loyalty I had to the old brewery and it’s a more exciting brewing world out there anyway. Winter Warmer and Special London Ale still stand up in my eyes but the charm has gone. Nevertheless, it’s still beer.

Young’s new lease of life as a pub company on the other hand has been a little more disconcerting. My main gripe with them is the interior designers they have employed to work on their pub estate!! All the new interiors seem to have come out of the A-Z of How to Strip a Pub of All Character and Charm by Lawrence LLewelyn Bowen. I walk past pub after pub that could have been updated extremely well and still screamed class and quality at a more well-heeled clientele but have instead been treated with a cheap-looking Changing Rooms makeover. Garish wallpaper and nasty obtrusive chandeliers. Horrible pinks and blues squashed together or just plain stripping of everything that ever was from the place. All of which will probably need updating in a year’s time. It’s no wonder my romantic vision has evaporated.

 The brewery site in Wandsworth is yet to be rebuilt but there are plans to build a modern town centre on the spot while retaining some of the older buildings. This is to include a microbrewery, which apparently has already been in limited operation. You can see a video of the plans along with some corporate twaddle from an uncomfortable man in a suit and an architect in an obligatory body warmer. You get glimpses of the old coppers and parts of the old stable too.

I really hope their plans do what they say but, to be honest, we’re not much good at creating either public space or buildings that will look good well into the future in our towns and cities. At least we haven’t been for a long time and as Confucius once said ‘When uncomfortable man in new suit speak, don’t hold your breath you mug!’

I swear that was Confucius, or was it from Monkey Magic?

Sexy Beer Glassware – My Top 10

23 Mar

There’s a lot of talk about glassware. There are those that don’t care for it or don’t notice it and there are those that talk endlessly about the importance of getting the right glassware for the right beer, because it’s sooo important to trap aromas correctly and to ensure you get the right sized head on your beer. Personally, it’s all about image for me. I don’t buy the glasses because of how they make the beer taste, I buy them for their seductive, sensuous feel in my hands when I’m drinking and because I buy into the idea that I suddenly become really sophisticated when I’m pouring a bottle of Chimay into my stemmed Chimay goblet and swishing it about like a 1930s lord dressed in tweed by his drawing-room fireplace, cognac in hand. So with that in mind I make no excuses for indulging myself in the following exercise in glassware masturbation. (Not literally of course, that would be quite hideous!)

These are my top 10 and I might as well tell you now that those steins you get in German biergartens are not on the list. They are a quite ludicrous drinking vessel.

10)  the nonik pint glass – This is looking a little bit old hat now but that little lip just under the head of your pint just accentuates the beauty of the pint, a fine measure of beer.

Bottom Right

9) the dimpled pint mug – This is one of the most awkward-looking of the list but it makes your beer look heftier. It has had a comeback in pubs recently, particularly in those which purport to be gastro pubs. It shows us they look after their beer, doesn’t it? I’ve included this because you can only have a sing-a-long sailor style with glass that has a handle. Obvious.

Dimpled mug on the sign

8) the tulip – so called because it resembles a.. a… tulip, apparently.Whatever it is supposed to be just look at those curves.

Get yer tulips round this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7) the conical pint glass – I like the oversized versions of these in decent pubs. A good size and you can still hold your beer up to the light to admire like a fool, unlike those ridiculous steins. Somehow these remind me of Edwardian pubs (I saw them in an old photo once) but are pretty much the norm these days.

Seen here with Dark Star Espresso

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6) Maredsous flute – This a delicately poised glass, which somehow I feel like I’m always going to knock over. If this wasn’t the case it might have been elevated a place or two. Definitely not one for the faint-hearted!!!

A bit too close to the edge!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5) Fullers ESB stemmed pint glass – It doesn’t look like a pint glass but it ruddy well is! The perfect quantity marries subtlety. This allows you to maintain an aura of manliness whilst deluding yourself that you’re sophisticated. A unique combination.

Manliness is next to godliness!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) Meantime stemmed curvy pint glass – Wouldn’t know what to call this one. It’s a relative newcomer on the scene but if you were to find yourself buying any of Meantime’s overpriced and overrated keg beers in a pub then this would ease the pain of forking out so much. It’s extra height allows you to run your hands down over its curves with the pretence that you’re just clearing away excess condensation, while a bit more girth sets your mind at rest that it won’t topple over like the Maredsous flute.

Girth AND finesse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) Chimay Trappist Glass – An oldie but a goodie.  The Belgians know their bacon when it comes to glassware and this is one class glass. Nothing more to say.

Class Glass

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) Orval Trappist Glass – Nothing to do with Keith Harris, this was designed by one Henry Vaes. The chalice is something special from a Belgian monastery. Quite beautiful. If you don’t believe me check out this fellow’s great post and the photograph 3/4s of the way down the page. Orval and cheese  is a wonderful combination, but don’t you wish you could have designed those glasses?

Who is your very best friend?

1) Westmalle Trappist Glass – The Rolls Royce of beer glasses. Solid and weighty, beautiful lines. Finesse. This is truly, without sarcasm, a piece of art. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so. A quick google search confirmed that at least one other gentleman agrees with me!

The Falcon Clapham Junction

21 Mar

The Falcon in Clapham Junction has always been a lovely pub, to look at. There are some wonderful glass windows and skylights and plenty of carved wood scattered around the bar. The bar itself is famous, having been in the Guinness book of  Records no less, for having the longest continuous bar in the world. It literally purrs with Victorian majesty both inside and out. OK I’m getting carried away a little bit but it really does look very nice.

The pub currently belongs to the Nicholson’s pub chain, which seems to be like a more upmarket Wetherspoons. Perhaps that is being a little unfair. However, it is part of the Mitchells and Butlers portfolio of crap chain bars which also includes Harvesters, Ember Inns, All Bar One and O’Neills. What Nicholson’s has in its favour though are its properties. It has a large number of rather nice traditional style pubs which are of architectural importance, at least to those of us who value pubs and our heritage. Among its other pubs are the Blackfriar, the Tottenham and the Argyll Arms, all of which have classic pub interiors. In recent years, the beer ranges seem to have improved greatly too. Once upon a time only the ‘standards’ used to make their way onto the bars. You know, London Pride, Spitfire, Deuchars, Landlord, etc. (3 of which I do actually like).  These days the situation is far more inspiring, with the range available including many newer breweries or microbreweries such as Thornbridge or Otley. An increase in the number of handpumps has been witnessed in their estate across the capital.

Going back a few years and I don’t know who owned the Falcon but it was an unloved pub trading on its location and pretty much that alone (it is situated next to the busiest railway station in Europe). The beer choice was poor, really poor standard Green King IPA and Bombadier that hardly anyone used to order. A brief attempt to turn it into a sports led pub followed and I’d pretty much given up on the place. Nicholson’s have gone in and, in my opinion, done quite a good job. The redecoration was rare in that it only spruced up what was already there and played up to the interior’s history. It now holds beer festivals and typically serves 18 cask ales along with many keg beers good and bad, which should be great. I wonder if it warrants so many as they can be of varying condition but generally they are ok. The staff, it has to be said, are not the most efficient or friendly I’ve ever encountered but when are they ever in a station pub.

If you have to drink in a chain pub, you could do a lot worse than drink in a traditional interior with a fine selection of beers. Just don’t order the food!!!

The Rake

17 Mar

Borough Market. South London. Situated just before the famous disappointment of London Bridge not being Tower Bridge, or any bridge of note unless someone is exercising their right to drive sheep across it (that’s another story). Apparently, markets have existed in this area since 1014 and in this particular location since the 13th century. I’ve watched Borough Market go through a bit of a transformation in recent(ish) years. Much of it exceptional and bits of it a little disappointing.

Over the years I’ve frequented the market and enjoyed proper nice food innit! That goes without saying. The pubs that served the market directly used to be the Globe, the Wheatsheaf, the Southwark Tavern and the Market Porter.  More recently, the microbrewery Brew Wharf and the Rake have been added to the list. The whole area is great for beers and great for food. Each has its own claim to fame.

Last night I went to Borough Market for a drink, which I occasionally do. I went to the old favourite the Market Porter and the newish kid on the block, the Rake. About 10 years ago the Market Porter was possibly the only pub in London where you could get 12 cask microbrewed ales always on, always changing. It was a beer Mecca. One of my personal favourite memories of this pub was discovering dark mild. I ordered a pint of Highgate Dark Mild (or was it Archer’s, can’t remember which came first), stood outside and watched a load of morris dancing women prance about with leeks in their hands for the best part of half an hour. Priceless. The mild was a revelation and the dancing won a place in my heart forever, sort of. Recently, I’ve not really enjoyed my trips to the Porter, the beer isn’t always as good as I remember it, the service isn’t as spot on as it once was and there are just not enough quiet times. Last night, there was no mild, no porter, no stout. I chose a bitter I can’t remember the name of from a Bristol brewery, which was just ok, so I left a little more than disappointed.

The Rake is a place I should love. It probably has a couple of hundred beers in its fridges and more unusual beers from Europe and the US on keg as well as about 3 changing cask ales. Great. I was so excited when this opened in 2006. I went along to enjoy the ridiculously priced rare beers from all around the world, and did enjoy them but not where I was drinking them. Still, I persevered, returned and tried to enjoy it again only to be met with slightly arrogant service and uninspiring surroundings. Great as the beers are, I just can’t warm to the place. Last night was no different, although the staff were OK on this occasion.

Do I really need to go for a drink in these pubs/bars any more? So many other places have caught on to the fact that beer choice is a selling point now and are more comfortable and friendly to boot. Do I really want that 10.2% American Superhopped Sherbert Brew enough to go and drink it in a place which I don’t like very much? Truth be told, the lure of all that fine produce will probably suck me into the market again, and we all need a beer when we’re shopping don’t we?

In the Rake, I had something not worth mentioning, Odell’s Crimson Stout 5% (Keg), which was quite nice, and a bottle of Flying Dog Porter 6% (bottle), which grew on me as I drank it, they way I like them. I think I liked it more than others seem to have. 

‘Real Ale’ Gets up my Nose

15 Mar

I even say that sentence through gritted teeth as the expression ‘real ale’ really gets up my nose. Maybe there’s a touch of the snob about me, maybe I don’t want to be tarred by the real ale bogbrush,  the beer mat collecting, the box ticking, the frankly ludicrous wearing of oversized crappy beer-related t-shirts.  After all, I’ve always considered myself quite cool, able to dance and beyond all that 1950s air-fix-plane-making boyishness. Who would possibly want to collect badges of breweries and where would they put them? Someone might say to me ‘Oh! You’re into ‘Real Ale’ and I can feel my skin leathering up from the toes. ‘It’s beer’ I would think, slowly but firmly, gnarlishly. ‘It’s a ‘Real Ale’ pub’ someone might say, ‘No, it’s ‘kin not! It’s a pub and it serves nice beer!’

Let me put the record straight, I love beer, and that includes the ales that are served from casks, I have often gone to beer festivals, I have books on beer, I have sought out pubs in strange places and beers with strange tastes, I have tried to preach to people about how nice beer is and scorned those drinking what I didn’t approve of, I have taken my beer interest to foreign countries and even having drunk thousands of different brews, would never forget having tasted one.

So what makes me so different then? Well, I’m better dressed than the average beer enthusiast, a lot thinner but other than that not a great deal. I’m certainly not cool any more (I like flowers for god sake.) Any analysis of my behaviour would reveal that I’m just as boring as the next man, I’ve just hidden the fact. I suppose I’m just now shaking off the snobbishness of youth and perhaps I’m becoming happier for it.

I still hate that expression mind! And as for the T-shirts….