Pub Nightmares

teddybear
A giant singed teddy bear in a pub. Why?

When you’ve got a nice office job like us, you have feedback directed at you left, right and centre. But if you run a pub, who is there to give you frank and constructive advice?

Beerintheevening.com and other ratings sites offer some feedback from punters but, in most cases, it doesn’t look all that helpful: “the managers no help, he should get a job at pickfords, cos moving the furiture is all he’s good for”.

Gordon Ramsay’s TV series Kitchen Nightmares might look like yet another example of contrived, confrontational reality drama but, underneath all the shouting and would-be tense music, there is an experienced businessman reviewing his peers’ business practices. The changes he suggests are almost always small things and often common sense but they make a big difference and are exactly the kinds of change someone who’s too close to their own business would never dream of.

For example, Ramsay almost always tells restaurant owners to shrink and simplify the menu. Wouldn’t that same advice translate to a lot of pubs, too: you don’t need five boring lagers, just two. Or, that other classic: “Why are you buying fucking crab from Vietnam when your restaurant is on the seaside?” Pubs in London that only sell beer from Yorkshire (unless it’s a Yorkshire theme pub) are missing a trick, surely? Ditto pubs in the West Country whose only ale is London Pride.

Ramsay also redecorates the restaurants he visits. Invariably, they look tons better. The phrase “fresh pair of eyes” springs to mind. Lots of pubs could do with this: “You know what? You should lose the weird skeleton made of lacquered cigarette ends. It’s quite creepy. And that giant singed teddy bear by the fire…?”

So, who is out there to give the people who run pubs the same kind of guidance?

Just to be clear, we’re not volunteering for the job. We like pubs, but we’ve got no idea how you run one. We’re also not asking Channel 4 to make Ramsay’s Pub Nightmares or the BBC to give us Oz, James and Neil Morrissey Bicker with Landlords.

Porter in the pub

porters

I wish more British pubs had a porter on tap, at least between September and March. More as in all.

I’ve been weaning my brown-beer-loving Dad onto dark beer for a few months now. He was bowled over by Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter at his birthday dinner; loved their Imperial Stout when he tried it in London; and had his socks knocked off by a particularly impressive bottle of Meantime’s London Porter on Christmas Day.

On Boxing Day, he sighed and said: “I might go to the pub if they had a nice porter on, but they won’t, will they?”

Knowing the pubs in my home town, I had to agree that the chances were slim of finding a dark beer other than Guinness.

It was with some excitement, then, that he reported his discovery of a pub in Plymouth (the Thistle Park Inn, where his band were playing) which was serving Sutton’s Plymouth Porter. It sounds delicious — Dad said treacle; Adrian Tierney Jones suggests it’s made with Cascade and/or Bramling Cross hops. It made my Dad’s day.

Galway Hooker in London

In a comment on our New Year’s wish list Beer Nut has kindly alerted us to the fact that Galway Hooker will be available at the Porterhouse in London’s Covent Garden this week as part of a festival of independent Irish breweries.

We’ll have to give it a go, crowds of Lynx-drenched teenagers nothwithstanding.

On which subject, if any landlords, brewers or boozers want to let us know about interesting beers on offer in London, we’d be grateful.

Beer and cheese #4

Detail from the label of a bottle of Caracole's Nostradamus
Detail from the label of a bottle of Caracole's Nostradamus

You might remember our experiments with beer and cheese pairing from a few weeks ago. Well, we’re by no means done yet.

For our fourth experiment, we took the cheeses we used with the Brooklyn Local and tried them with Brooklyn lager, Brakspear Oxford Gold and Nostradamus, a dark sweet 9%-er from Brasserie Caracole.

The Wensleydale is an absolutely gorgeous cheese, but hard to match.  It brought out an unpleasant iron flavour in both the Brooklyn lager and the Nostradamus — quite bizarre.  It was OK with the Brakspear, but flattened the flavour a little.

The camembert was the best match for the light-but-lovely Brakspear.  (Incidentally, the Beer Nut reviewed it here. trying it with bleu d’auvergne.) The cheese gave the beer a nice malt boost.  It brought out the oranginess of the Brooklyn lager and made the Nostradamus taste even more of raisins.

It would have been poetic if the Oxford blue had gone with the Oxford gold but, unfortunately, it made the beer less interesting.  It killed the hops in the Brooklyn and made the Nostradamus sweeter and less complex.  This is another fabulous cheese that is annoyingly hard to pair.

We thought that the Stinking Bishop would be a challenge for these beers.  Brooklyn lager stood up surprisingly well, the cheese making the flavours more rounded and smoother without killing the hops.  It didn’t completely kill the Oxford Gold either.  However, the standout match was with the Nostradamus — it brought out cherry and chocolate flavours in the beer that the others did not.

So, conclusions to date: blue cheeses and Wensleydale are proving tough to match.  Stinking Bishop (and perhaps other hardcore rind-washed cheeses) go surprisingly well with a lot of beers, but particularly strong Belgian (or Belgian-style) beer.

Any suggestions for what to try next? We’ve got Harvey’s Imperial Stout with blue cheese on the list for starters.

Our own idyllische biergarten

idyllischebiergarten

Today was the first day it’s seemed warm enough in London to sit outside with a beer.

So, we set up our own ‘idyllische biergarten’ (we saw that written on a road sign in Germany and liked it) and pretended we were on holiday.

We drank our own attempt at Pilsner Urquell and bottled Bernard Dark from stone krugs; ate very convincing bratwurst from our local butcher; and reminisced about our various beery holidays in the shade of a parasol. The stack of beer mats in the photo is a key part of the whole tragic fantasy.

Don’t mock. It makes us happy.