Horselydown Denied

Anchor Brewery building, Southwark

As Des de Moor points out, beer geeks got very excited last year when news broke that Wells and Young’s were to start brewing Courage Imperial Russian Stout again.

We’re still sulking that the first brew disappeared to the states, except for a few bottles sent to beer writers and industry types.

What we find particularly frustrating, however, is that it’s possible to disembark from a boat on the south bank of the Thames not far from the building which still bears the words ANCHOR BREWHOUSE HORSELYDOWN; to walk past the site of the old Barclay Perkins brewery; and to a Young’s Pub with a view of St Paul’s Cathedral, without finding one drop of IRS.

London is simultaneously spoiled for beer, and oddly neglected — out-of-the-way locations are increasingly stuffed with craft beer bars while more traditional breweries use their flagship locations to sell burgers and Peroni.

If you want to drink a historic interpretation of imperial stout in Southwark, Harvey’s at the Royal Oak is your best bet. Plenty of other British brewers are also selling bottled beers inspired by Courage IRS, including the Old Dairy Brewery whose Tsar Top is based directly on a historic recipe.

18 thoughts on “Horselydown Denied”

  1. I have to say Wells & Youngs seem to have a completely different take on the British beer market than any other brewer I know – they seem stubbornly determined to keep believing that there’s no market for stronger and/or more eclectic brews, when even their peers such as Greene King and Marston’s are looking closely at what smaller brewers are doing and starting to do more interesting stuff.

    Having said that, it is my understanding that Courage IRS will be available here later this year.

  2. Pete — and yet they dabble in ‘novelty’ beer — e.g. Banana Bread and Chocolate Stout. (Both of which we quite like, though the former is often skunked all to hell.)

    The Young’s pub on Regency Street in Westminster (the Royal Oak?) used to be the one place we could ever get their Oatmeal Stout, packaged for the US market, bottle redemption price in cents etc..

    1. John — yes, we must check those two out next time, although we were specifically suggesting the Royal Oak for Harvey’s Imperial Stout.

      1. I’m not dissing the Oak!

        But you said: ‘If you want to drink a historic interpretation of imperial stout in Southwark, Harvey’s at the Royal Oak is your best bet.’

        And I suspect the Dean Swift is a better bet if you want it a stone’s throw from Courage, as Kernel’s efforts are largely Courage clones, if I recall correctly.

        1. Ah, I see — hadn’t made the Kernel connection. (And [whispers] not sure we’re that convinced by Kernel based on what we’ve had so far…)

          1. Interesting – please elaborate…

            For my part, I love Kernel when on form but: a) find the *huge* amount of sediment in the IPAs a little off-putting; b) don’t think every beer is a success (and while Evin is charming enough to admit this, there will be some who say it is a useful position that every batch is different, avoiding the requirement to be consistent. I think this is a little unfair, but concede it’s annoying that just as a gorgeous beer is released you have such a short window before they’re off making something else); c) I think the dark beers – particularly the porters and stouts – are excellent (less sold on the brown porters, etc.)

  3. “London is simultaneously spoiled for beer, and oddly neglected — out-of-the-way locations are increasingly stuffed with craft beer bars while more traditional breweries use their flagship locations to sell burgers and Peroni”

    Yes, it’s disgusting the way these successful companies pander to populist tastes.

  4. Zak — sigh. Yes, that’s exactly what we’re saying, because we’re dreadful snobs.

    Our point is that breweries that make interesting beer than fail to stock it in their pubs. In other words, interesting beer is being ghettoised while big breweries fail to recognise a growing market. We want to drink beer they make in their pubs while eating burgers; they won’t sell it to us.

    Sigh again.

  5. Considering the size of the American beer geek market it’s a mystery why it took Wells & Youngs so long to brew Courage Imperial Russian Stout. Though they’ve obviously caught on now as they’re only selling the first batch in the states at $15 a bottle.

    And speaking of Barclay Perkins the next time Tsar Top is brewed I’m going to go further back in time and do it to a Barclay Perkins recipe.

  6. Funny, I was at Cask today talking to a regular about the Young’s Royal Oak in Regency St. A rare tied lock-up pub. The Morpeth Arms used to sell a lot more Young’s bottles until Youngs (at that time) prettied it up and drove most of the regulars out. Still an OK pub, just lost its soul in the refurbishment…

  7. Ed — how much!? That does help to explain why they’re targeting the US market. Most people here would probably be reluctant to spend more than, say, £4 a bottle. (And they’d grumble at that.)

    Sid — the Royal Oak is one of those pubs that just ‘has it’, whatever mysterious quality it is that makes a pub work. It’s the wrong shape; it’s too small; and the beer’s only usually fair-to-middling but, nonetheless, it’s a great place to spend Friday night with mates. Victorian building doesn’t hurt.

  8. jesusjohn — I guess we’re warmer towards the Kernel project than towards those of their beers we’ve tried so far (dark and pale). Others seem to love them, but we keep drinking them and thinking, really, is it meant to taste like that?

    Maybe it’s that we don’t like historical recipes as much as we think we do, or perhaps it’s just that they’ve got a distinctive flavour (from the yeast?) that we’ve just not got the hang of yet.

    After all, it did take us several attempts before something clicked and we really started to love Harvey’s Imperial Stout.

    1. The one thing that Kernel have definitely got right is location. Being close to Maltby St, where the knowing foodies now go, as opposed to Borough Market, which is now being ruined by the satanist nazis who run the place, has been a great move. People love wandering about, picking up some olives here, some cheese there, and going and getting their weekend beer direct from the brewery.

  9. Rod — Borough Market is one of those places which is so overcrowded, it’s hard to think about anything but surviving. Shudder.

    1. Which is another reason the food market insiders now go to Maltby St, leaving Borough Market to the plebs. I wish I’d thought of opening a microbrewery there, and had the sense to realise that selling the beer direct to the public on Saturday mornings would be such a brilliant (costless) marketing device.
      It was either a lucky accident or a stroke of genius to realise that the sort of people who do their food shopping round there would regard a total lack of consistency as a mark of the artesan, hand-crafted nature of the product.

  10. The last time I drank Courage Russian Stout in a pub, it was in a grotty place on the Roman Road in Bethnal Green. There was no cask beer and just a few dodgy-looking old blokes drinking Light Ale.

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