Category Archives: london

Innocuous Fluid, 1856

“The respectable man of the lower order is a clerk undoubtedly… He lives in a small, eight-roomed house, in a terrace with a high-sounding name, ‘Adeliza’ or ‘Navarino’, in Camden-town or Dalston. He lets the drawing-room floor to a single gentleman… Pewter pots are never seen hanging on the area rails; for, in his respectability, he looks upon public-houses as the favourite baits of the devil, and has a four and a half-gallon cask of the mildest and cheapest bitter beer from the Romford brewery always on tap in his coal-cellar. It is with this innocuous fluid that the single gentleman and his friends are occasionally supplied, and charged at the rate of fourpence per pint.”

From ‘Respectable People’ by Edmund H Yates, The Train magazine, 1856.

(We think he’s describing what we’re beginning to suspect was the original AK, brewed by Ind Coope in the mid-1840s.)

Vienna Beer Today

Piccadilly Johnnies, 1904.

As the 1860s turned into the 1870s, absolutely the trendiest thing to drink in London was Vienna beer, aka Vienna lager — the pricey imported ‘craft beer’ of its day.

It seems to us that it was not so much a ‘style’ as the product of a single brewery — Dreher, of Klein-Schwechat, Vienna — with a few imitators trying to muscle in on the market it had created.

It appealed to Piccadilly Johnny — the hipster of his day –because:

  • It was served cold.
  • It had higher levels of carbonation.
  • It was paler than Munich Dunkel. (Though not as pale as Pilsner.)
  • He believed it wasn’t ‘intoxicating’. (We think this was psychological.)
  • ‘German’ stuff was fashionable, while English stuff was considered inherently naff.

Now, almost 150 years later, though there aren’t many descendants of Dreher’s Vienna beer, they are at least relatively easy to find, and not just in the West End of London.

Even near us, in deepest Cornwall, there are several pubs selling kegged Brooklyn Lager (5.2%), while bottles can be found in your local Wetherspoon, and most supermarkets. It’s one of the first self-declared ‘craft beers’ many people drink — it certainly was for us. Is it a convincing Vienna beer? Without going back to 1870, we can’t be sure, but we can’t believe its flowery hop aroma is remotely authentic. It is Dreher’s beer, via the 19th century New York beer hall, via the ‘real ale revolution’, via US ‘craft beer’.

Another widely available example is Negra Modelo (5.4%) from Mexico. In production since the 1920s, it is a lingering reminder of the country’s historic connections with Austria. It’s been a while since we drank one but our recollection is of a lager already lacking bitterness into which someone had then stirred a teaspoon of refined brown sugar. The brewery themselves sometimes call it a ‘Munich Dunkel’ — it is certainly darker than amber.

Finally, there’s Thornbridge’s Kill Your Darlings (5%), a case of which we have been working on for a couple of months. Smooth and clean almost to the point of blandness, it certainly tastes authentically Continental, and makes a change from pale lager while offering a similar kind of straightforward refreshment. It, too, is perhaps rather too Munich-dark to be quite authentic. Still, we’d like to drink a pint or two of this at the Craft Beer Co in Covent Garden, which isn’t far from the Strand – epicentre of the original Vienna beer craze.

On balance, the least authentic of the three, Brooklyn Lager, with its distinctly English dry-hopping regime, is probably the tastiest.

One of the projects we’re working on now is about lager in London in the 19th century — probably for a short e-book. In the meantime, we wholeheartedly recommend Ron Pattinson’s book Lager.

The Launch and Sinking of a Flagship

Burger King, Leicester Square, by Matt Brown.
Burger King, Leicester Square, by Matt Brown, from Flickr under Creative Commons.

Next time you find yourself picking the gherkins out of a Whopper® in the Burger King® on Leicester Square in central London, take a moment to appreciate the building’s place in British pub history.

In the 1950s, Whitbread, like many other breweries, were desperate to revive enthusiasm for the public house — to show that it could be part of modern life alongside satellites, pop music and trendy coffee bars, and wasn’t just a quaint relic of a bygone time.

Read more after the jump ↠

Beery Highlights of a Week in London

Brew by Numbers Cucumber and Juniper Saison.

Spending more than a week in London, we set out to drink things that we rarely see in Cornwall. These were our highlights, in chronological order.

1. At the London and South East Craft Brewing Competition, where we took part in judging some excellent home brew alongside more experienced tasters, we were especially impressed by (a) the overall winning beer, Josh ‘Evening Brews’ Smith’s black IPA (a super-clean commercial-quality product) and (b) Lee Immins’s strong scotch ale.

2. At BrewDog Camden on Sunday 22 June, we were pleased to finally try a beer served through a ‘Hopinator’ (Randall). We think that what the IPA gained from being filtered through Cascade hops at the point of service was a fresh raw vegetable note (celery, carrots) — nicer than it sounds, perhaps. It tasted as if it was good for us, is what we’re saying. A gently perfumed Jasmine IPA was also intriguing enough to warrant more than one round.

3. We took two passes at Brew By Numbers Cucumber and Juniper Saison, the first at the Three Johns, Islington, and the second just down the road at the local branch of the Craft Beer Co. It’s an odd beer, but we found it absolutely charming — not a ‘stunt’ or ‘novelty’ beer, but a classy, refreshing brew with well-integrated flavours.

4. Young’s Bitter. Yes, really. We first enjoyed it a decade or so ago when it was already ‘not what it used to be’. Then, in recent years, with the move to Bedford, it seemed to have become browner, stickier and duller, slowly morphing into Courage Best. Having not tried it for some time, we were delighted to note that both beer and brand appear to have been spruced up. Paler than we ever recall it being, it was also truly bitter, with a lemon-zestiness that left our mouths dry. It’s not one for hopheads, but we’d certainly be happy to have a session on it.

5. West Berkshire Brewing Bruce’s Original Dogbolter — the Kings Arms in Bethnal Green not only hosted our compact and bijou book launch ‘do’ last Friday night but also acquired a cask of this recreation of recent brewing history. CarsmileSteve, who drank Dogbolter back in the Firkin days, declared it convincing. We, used to drinking Blue Anchor Spingo, found it very enjoyable, though very much a beer of its time (the 1980s) – brown and hearty, or, in Steve’s words, ‘twiggy’.


GALLERY: London Pub Details

There are lots of pubs and former pubs on almost every street in London, often with advertisements for long-gone brands.