Strong cornershop stouts

Four stouts from our local cornershop
Four stouts from our local cornershop

Last week, we tasted four strong stouts from our local cornershop.

We know Guinness Foreign Extra is good and wanted to see how the others on the market compared.

So, we got a bottles of:

  • Dublin-made Guinness FES (7.5%)
  • Nigerian-made Guinness FES (7.5%)
  • Dragon Stout (7.5% )
  • Lion Heart Stout. (7.6% )

To save you reading too much more, Dragon and Lion Heart were pretty horrid, both lying somewhere between cola and tramp’s brew. Neither had much body, both were fizzy, and both tasted overwhelmingly of caramel. Lion Heart boasts that it’s made with “the finest pilsner malt”, but that certainly didn’t come through. And here’s a choice quote from the Big City Brewing Company’s Lion Heart Stout web-page:

Lion Heart Stout makes the men Roar and ladies Purrr. 100 percent Jamaican stout which, being true to its brewing heritage, is smoother in taste, stronger in body and flavour and not too bitter providing the drinker with the increased ability for excitement, power, tenacity and vigor in the pursuit of life’s pleasures.

Hmmm. It’s like Viagra, then? Don’t think you’d get away with that in the UK.

We poured most of these two away.

Dublin FES was as good as we remembered, so it was only the Nigerian-made version that offered any hope of a taste revelation. We drank them side-by-side and noted a creamier, lighter head on the Irish version. The Nigerian version is much sweeter, but not overwhelmingly so, and certainly miles ahead of Dragon. It’s grainy and burnt tasting, with a lot of bitterness at the end to balance things out. Boak liked it; Bailey wasn’t so impressed.

Those in the know say that Belgian version of Guinness (“Special Export Stout”) is best.  We think we’ve had it before, but are not sure.  It would have been good to try it alongside the others.

Sales of (mostly terrible) beer down

According to advertising trade mag Marketing Week, sales of the top beer brands are down 5 per cent up to April 2008.

The biggest drops are in sales of Kronenbourg 1664, Stella Artois, Carlsberg Export and Grolsch. Sales of John Smith’s Extra Smooth and Carlsberg (ordinary) are up.

Their say that the current ‘drink-aware climate’ and England’s absence from the European Championship are the main reasons.

The first certainly sounds plausible to us. People we know seem to be much happier ordering a shandy or a ‘weak beer’ than they were a couple of years ago.

And, of course, there’s been a huge defection to cider from beer, as witnessed by booming sales of Strongbow.

London pubs in the 1960s

The cover of the New London Spy (1966)
The cover of the New London Spy (1966)

Beatles biographer Hunter DaviesNew London Spy was published in 1966. It’s a travel guide aimed at cool people, and an excellent window onto the city at the height of its hipness.

In his lengthy section on pubs, Davies makes some interesting observations:

Pubs are what other countries don’t have. In England, country pubs are perhaps nicest of all. After that come the London ones.

Pubs change character as you tipple down from the top of Britain. In the dry areas of Skye you have none at all. In Glasgow they are just drinking shops. In Carlisle they are cheerless and state controlled.

But in London, there are pubs for all men and for all seasons.

He then goes on to classify London’s pubs into six categories:

  • rough pubs
  • posh pubs
  • arty pubs
  • pubs for unaccompanied men (“not queers”)
  • pubs for unaccompanied women
  • pubs associated with crime.

His descriptions of various posh pubs and of some of the pubs he recommends for women suggest that gastro-pubs had their genesis in this era — “serves very decent food, far better than the average pub meal (though naturally priced accordingly)”; “both setting and clientele are almost exaggeratedly decorous”.

A London pub, as illustrated by Kaffe Fassett for the New London Spy
A London pub, as illustrated by Kaffe Fassett

It is the so-called rough pubs that sound most intriguing, though. Dirty Dicks opposite Liverpool Street had dead cats, cobwebs and sawdust for decor. Charlie Brown’s (the Railway Tavern) on West India Dock Road housed a “collection of Curiosa” from all around the world (sadly sold off in the late 60s). And of the Steps (the Custom House Hotel) on Victoria Dock Road, Davies says: “It is not unusual to see somebody almost kicked to death outside.”

The illustrations in the book are by world-famous knitting pattern designer Kaffe Fassett. You can pick up a copy of the New London Spy for next to nothing at abebooks.co.uk if you want to read more.

The Beer Rep Cometh

A band of aggressive beer salesmen seems to have passed through our neck of the woods, or maybe a new cash-and-carry has opened?

Some cornershop beers
Some cornershop beers

A band of aggressive beer salesmen seems to have passed through our neck of the woods, or maybe a new cash-and-carry has opened?

At any rate, the range of beers available at fairly ordinary corner shops and grocers near our house has expanded massively in recent weeks.

Here’s a partial list of bottled beers we can buy on the way home from work without going near a supermarket:

  • Grolsch Weizen (big thumbs up from Bailey, Boak not so excited)
  • Jennings Cocker Hoop, Cumberland and Sneck Lifter
  • Bateman’s Combined Harvest and Victory
  • All the Badgers, including unseasonal Pumpkin
  • Young’s Bitter (bottle conditioned), Special London and Chocolate Stout
  • Wychwood Hobgoblin, Wychcraft, Black Wych, Circle Master and Goliath
  • Hen’s Tooth
  • Cooper’s Sparkling Pale Ale
  • Theakston’s Old Peculier
  • Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay, Spitfire, Bishop’s Finger, Master Brew and 1698
  • Fuller’s London Pride, ESB, Golden Pride, Honey Dew and 1845
  • Svyturys Ekstra, Gintarinis and Baltas
  • Baltika porter, wheat beer, dark lager and helles
  • Pilsner Urquell
  • Budvar and Budvar Dark
  • Pitfield Red Ale, Stock Ale and EKG
  • Gulpener Rose (eugh!)
  • Paulaner Helles
  • Brakspear Organic and Triple
  • St Austell Proper Job and Tribute
  • Baltika porter, dark lager and wheat beer
  • Usher’s Founders Ale.

That covers a great many of our day-to-day needs, but it would be nice to see more porters and stouts; more Belgian beer; and the return of Brooklyn Lager, which has disappeared from our local off licence.

And, of course, there is a bit of an illusion of choice here, because many of these beers are very similar in taste and appearance and, in some cases, are made and owned by a handful of umbrella companies.

Buscando tapas auténticas en Londres (1): El Noroeste

English version

Solemos ir a España en el otoño. Por desgracia, debido a nuevos puestos de trabajo, no hemos arreglado nada este año. Como echamos de menos España tanto, hemos empezando a pensar cómo podemos replicar algunas de las mejores experiencias españolas en Londres. En particular, queríamos identificar todos los auténticos bares de tapas en Londres, para planear tapeos variados.

No estamos hablando de restaurantes que sirven tapas o comida española. Estamos hablando de lugares informales donde se puede charlar sobre algunas copas y una tapa o dos. Estamos buscando especialmente los lugares donde se puede sentarse en el bar, hablar con el dueño y escuchar a los viejos discutiendo en dialectos impenetrables…

Así que, después de un poco de investigación por Internet, planeamos el siguiente tapeo en el noroeste de Londres, una zona que apenas conocemos.

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