Beer hunting in London: Stoke Newington

The beer cellar was looking a little bare this weekend, so we decided to seek out some more. Having followed our own advice from an earlier post, “surviving a beer desert”, and tried out all the local shops, we thought we’d branch out and try to find some alternative sources of quality brews. We reckoned it would be interesting to go to another part of London to see what was available.

So we headed to Stoke Newington, North London. Trendy but lived in, we had high hopes that we’d be able to find something interesting to drink. In particular, we were after (a) “premium” ales and lagers (b) Baltic porters.

For the premium stuff, we headed for “Fresh & Wild“, the organic supermarket on Stoke Newington Church Street.

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They have a small selection of very nice British brews – Sam Smith’s organic ale and lager, Honeydew from Fullers; also Riedenburger, imported from Germany, although disappointingly, only one of their many varieties. (It was also, unhelpfully, labelled “lager” – yes, but which one?)

We felt in general that they could have offered more of a choice, even if they were being strict about the organic criteria, as there seem to be loads of organic ales and lagers around now. At Fresh & Wild, the beer section seemed a bit of an afterthought (especially given the enormous wine selection).

We then trekked up and down Church Street and Stoke Newington High Street looking for nice beers in general and Baltic porters in particular. Complete failure to find any Baltic porters (plenty of pale polski lagers though).

However, we did find an off-licence / convenience store with a great selection of ales, including at least 4 bottle conditioned ones and at least one from a brewery we’d never heard of, always a good sign. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a good selection of ales in a high street off-licence.  We were limited to what we could carry, but came away with a couple of Hook Norton beers that are not widely available (Haymaker and 308A.D), among others.

If you’re in the area, the shop’s called “Intercontinental Wines and Food” and it’s at 209-211 Stoke Newington High Street.

Lithuanian Lager Face Off Part 2: the face offening

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A few weeks ago, we had a “taste off” between two lithuanian lagers – Utenos and Kalnapilis.

We weren’t blown away by either, but slightly preferred Utenos. This time, though, we went back to our old favourite for comparison – Svyturys.

They’re very proud of Svyturys in Lithuania, and it was one of the first Lithuanian beers to be imported to the UK. They have several varieties. Tonight, we tested Ekstra Draught (unpasteurised), Gintarinis (with a gold label) and Svyturio (with a red label).

Gintarinis is supposedly a pilsner (“Pilsner my arse” – Boak) but is not especially hoppy or “dry”. It’s really a slightly more hoppy version of a helles.

Ekstra (unpasteurised) is the poshest beer in their range, and a Dortmuner type. Its bottle is very swanky – no label except at the neck, with a big logo embossed in the glass. The beer is very nice, and very much “true to style”. It’s hard to say if the “draught” status makes much difference, but its nice to see this kind of thing happening.

They don’t say what type of beer Svyturio is supposed to be – only that it’s a cross between Gintarinis and Ekstra. But it tastes quite different. Guilty admission – we actually did a Pepsi-style blind taste test, and we were only able to identify “red” as different from the other two. It’s much thinner, despite being stronger, and pleasantly bland. It’s also a little lighter in colour.

Gintarinus initially won in the blind test, but as the beers warmed up, it started to smell a bit off. This could have just been an off bottle though.

We can’t quite work out whether Svyturys is a force for good or evil in the beer world. On the one hand, their website boasts such delights as Svyturys Extra Cold, and the tempting promise of “even lighter beers” to come (urgh…). On the other hand, we always enjoy a bottle of it, and even Roger Protz rates it (in “300 Beers to try before you die”).

We’re now going to try and track down the rarer treats in the Svyturys range – Degintas (a baltic porter type), Baltas (a wheat beer) and the most enticing, Baltijos, which according to the website is “distinguished for its hard scum”. Yummmmm.

Boak and Bailey

Old article on London Stout

450px-truman_black_eagle_brewery_2005.jpgIn the November 1854 edition of Fraser’s Magazine, there is a fascinating article called simply “London Stout”. It paints a vivid picture of how a mid-Victorian London pub would have looked:

One of the earliest things to strike our country cousins is the universal appearance of the names of certain firms, painted in the largest letters upon the most florid backgrounds of the numerous public house signs of the metropolis. “What does ‘Reid’s Entire’ mean?” asked a fair friend of ours the other day, looking up with her brown eyes as though she had asked something very foolish, and pointing to the puzzling inscription on a neighbouring signboard.

Later, the writer describes a street porter-seller “with his little rack of quart mugs brimmed with the frothy liquid, or rattling the shiny pots against the rails by their suspended strap”.

The best section, to my mind, is a detailed description of the interior of the brewery of Truman, Hanbury, Buxton and Co at Spitalfield, East London.

After the process of mashing the wort is pumped up into a large copper, of which ther are five, containig from 300 to 400 barrels each, where the wort is boiled with the hops, of which often two tons are used in a-day. The boiling beer is now pumped up to the coolers. To get a sight of these the visitor has to perform a climbing process similar to that required get at the upper gallery of St Paul’s, and, when he has reached the highest point ladders are capable of taking him, he finds his nose on a level with a black sea, whose area presents a surface of 32,000 square feet.

Photo adapted from an original by , and used at the Wikipedia article on the Black Eagle Brewery, on Brick Lane.

Was Wellington a fan of IPA?

wellington.jpgOn June 12 1841, The Times ran a story about how the duke of Wellington was greeted by the staff and management of the famous India pale ale brewery at Wapping.

On Monday last (says a correspondent) during the aquatic procession of the Trinity Board on the river, the firm of Hodgson and Abbot, pale ale brewers in Wapping, adopted a novel mode of complimenting the Duke of Wellington, Master of the Trinity-house, as he passed their premises on his way to Deptford to be sworn in according to the annual custom for the ensuing year. The river frontage was decorated with flags and banners from the corners of which hung bottles of India pale ale.

Later:

A Party of Conservative gentlemen in the drawing-room [of the brewery]… drank the health of his Grace when the shallop in which he was seated was opposite the window… in Herculean glasses of strong pale ale, each holding a bottle and a half, and his grace appeared much pleased with the compliment, and bowed to the gentlemen assembled.

Those glasses sound cool. How strong was the strong ale…?