The ubiquity of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord

postll.gifWould-be trendy pubs seem to think it’s compulsory to offer Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. Maybe it’s something to do with Madonna?

Last night, I went to a friend’s birthday party in a supposed “gastropub” (viz. they had square plates). It was a perfectly nice place, with very friendly bar staff and (impressively) a dog. But I wasn’t impressed with the TTL. It wasn’t off — it was just old and tasted dull, with no discernible hop flavour or aroma. In fact, it tasted of Marmite, which is not a quality I look for in a beer.

The last good pint of TTL I had in a pub was in 2005, at the Trafalgar in Greenwich. Since then, I must have had 10 or 12 off, hot, stale or just plain dull pints. It’s a nice beer when it’s on form but, like a lot of similar products, its reputation is being damaged by indiscriminate distribution and poor quality control.

It must be a real dilemma for smaller breweries — push to expand and risk losing control over the quality of the product, or keep control and never sell a pint more than two miles from the brewery.

Hoegaarden Grand Cru

grandcru.pngOn Sunday, I made my 3000 words by lunchtime, so earned a Hoegaarden Grand Cru.

I’ve had it before and really enjoyed it, but I didn’t really have a tasting hat on then. This time, I really took my time over it.

There are many of the same flavours as Hoegaarden Wit, though this isn’t a wheat beer, as far as I can tell. Here, though, the accent is on spice (coriander, I guess) rather than citrus, although there are orange flavours). The thing that really stood out for me was how well the spices, the spiciness of the yeast and the alcohol (8.5%) complemented each other. It’s more warming than refreshing. It’s also a really beautiful golden colour, rather than the pale yellow of the Wit.

Both Boak and I are big fans of Hoegaarden Wit (although it’s not as good as it used to be, owned by a big company, etc. etc.) but Grand Cru really is something special. It might even make it into my top ten.

Fuller’s London Porter

london_porter_straight.jpgFollowing a tip-off from Stonch’s blog, I convinced some colleagues that, if we must go for an after work drink on a Tuesday night, we should do it at a Fuller’s pub, so I could try cask-conditioned London Porter.

It’s one of our very favourite beers — there’s a very short list of about four beers that both Boak and I agree are bang on — but I’d never had it on tap.

As is often the case, it was a very different beer than the bottled version. It had a lighter body for one thing and possibly also a lighter colour (transparent red). Unlike the bottled version, it maintained a lovely head all the way down. It was incredibly fruity, with a little less of the sourness or coffee flavour I’m used to from the bottle.

I probably ever so slightly prefer the bottled version, but nonetheless, it would be nice if this stayed on tap in Fuller’s pubs all year round. As it is, they often have both Honey Dew and Discovery, which are similar-tasting light, lagery ales, and HSB and London Pride, which are similar tasting brown bitters, and nothing like a dark mild/stout/porter except Guinness.

In fact, all pubs should make it their business to have one lightish beer, one brown beer, and one black beer. Then there would always be something to suit my mood.

Power Station Porter

battersea.pngBattersea Brewery’s Power Station Porter is cropping up all over the place these days, notably in the Rake where I first saw it, and in ASDA, where I bought a bottle today.

It’s a relatively light coloured, medium strength porter (4.8%), which is accented towards chocolate/fruit flavours rather than smoky/coffee ones. I like it, but both times I’ve tried it have been disappointed by a slight fizzy quality, and a head which disappears instantly. I went through an elaborate glass washing ritual today and even that didn’t help.

It’s one of those beers that isn’t astounding — I still prefer Fuller’s London Porter — but it’s full of flavour, and there aren’t many small London breweries, so I’m going to keep buying it when I see it.

I also think that their label design is fantastic, being contemporary but not trendy; traditional, but not mock-Victorian; and simple without being plain.

Secret Bars of Westminster

largeblm.gifI recently spent a night in a bar in Central London where you can always get a seat, which always has at least three real ales on tap (one of which is always a mild) and where a round of two drinks costs much less than a fiver. Sadly, it’s not somewhere I can recommend to everybody — it was one of the several members-only Civil Service social clubs hidden around Westminster.

These are some of the few surviving working men’s clubs in London, and that is exactly what this one felt like. I was reminded of Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights; of the railwaymen’s club my Mum and Dad joined a few years ago because the beer was a pound a pint; and perhaps a little of the club that Mr Mackay opens in the basement of HM Prison Slade in Porridge the Movie. In other words, it was rough around the edges, and maybe a little bleak, despite being a stone’s throw from both Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. But, for all that, the beer was half the price it is in the Rake, and just as good.

I drank Crouch Vale Blackwater Mild, which was in perfect condition, delicious, and reminded me of Anchor Porter (more hop aroma than is usual in a mild, perhaps?). But is it named after the sinister American “security” company…? They also had Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, and a couple of other beers whose names I didn’t write down.

If you know any civil servants, ask them if they can get you into their “social”. You’ll either love it or hate it, but either way it will be an experience.