Category Archives: london

A Brief Bashing of the Bunny

Brodie's Brewery window sign.

We can’t claim to have really ‘done’ the Brodie’s Brewery ‘Bunny Basher’ festival, but here are a few observations based on popping in twice over the weekend.

The beer was never less than interesting, and the atmosphere was brilliant. Like the Blue Anchor in Helston, the pub is both a tourist attraction and a local boozer. People are there to drink and have a good time; some do it with Foster’s lager and football, while others sit alone with their third of kegged Belgian-style sour and write code on a laptop. No-one cares what anyone else is doing.

Brodie’s seem to be better at pale beers than dark. Apart from one dry-hopped with Motueka which smelled just a tiny bit too much like freshly-expressed urine, the yellow’n’hoppy ales were all at least good, and most were excellent. (But regular brew Citra at 3.1% is still our favourite.)

Cinnamon still doesn’t work in beer. Is there a market for a patented Beer Ruiner? If so, here’s the recipe: some cinnamon. (Coffee optional.)

We found the much-vaunted Elizabethan Ale (22% ABV) undrinkable. HP Sauce? We didn’t persevere past a couple of sips each, to be fair, and perhaps we need to get in training, c.12% being really the upper limit of our experience with strong beer.

We will certainly try to be in town if/when the Bunny Basher is on next year.

Matt ‘Total Ales’ Curtis’s take on the festival is also worth a read.

beermats_header

1950s Beer Mats

We picked up these among a bundle of 16 for £4.99 inc. delivery on Ebay.

Failing at the Beer Mile

The Anchor Tap, Tower Bridge.

We headed for London’s Tower Bridge fully intending to tackle the now famous Bermondsey Beer Mile but got distracted by pubs on the way.

Boak had previously visited the Draft House on Tower Bridge Road on her own a few weeks ago and, despite lacklustre cask ale, appreciated an atmosphere where she didn’t feel uncomfortable or get bothered by circling creeps. This time, visiting together, we winced at the prices (anything interesting seemed to start at a fiver a pint) and scratched our heads at the selection – why have both Stiegl and Budvar lagers on offer? To cater to both Austrian and Czech tourists?The house lager at a tempting £3.95 a pint caught our eye and we asked who brews it: ‘Shepherd Neame. It’s Oranjeboom.’ At that, as they say, ‘we made our excuses and left’.

But then we noticed, a few doors up, an enticing sight – an Adnams’ pub. Because we don’t drive, Southwold might as well be on Mars, and we certainly don’t see much of their beer in Cornwall, so we couldn’t resist. The Bridge House Bar is clearly designed for tourists, though we stop short of calling it a ‘trap’. It has a pleasingly nautical atmosphere only enhanced by the aroma of lemon squeezed over hot fried fish. The range of beer was temptingly comprehensive and we got our ticking hats on. A pint of Jack Brand Mosaic Pale Ale (cask) cost the wrong side of £4 and, though it tasted fine, was rather lifeless. Ghost Ship, however, was on stunning form — a poster boy for both cask ale and the ‘pale and hoppy’ style in particular. Quite comfortable, we considered making a session of it, but tasters of Dry Hopped Lager and Fat Sprat did their job, i.e. prevented us wasting the best part of a tenner. Ticking hats came off and on we went.

Eager for a round that wouldn’t sting too much, we decided to visit the Anchor Tap, a Sam Smith’s pub in the shadow of the former Courage brewery at Horselydown. Stepping inside was like entering a cathedral — dust motes on the air, beams of light, and plenty of polished wood. In the end, though, we just didn’t fancy Old Brewery Bitter and so, taking bottled India Ale (£5.50) and Pure Brewed Lager (£4+ a pint), ended up with another expensive round. The former was excellent, once an initial flavour of 2p coins had passed, though PBL seemed distinctly bog-standard. We didn’t care — we were in love with the pub which seemed right out of Mass Observation, with piano, status symbol pot plants in the saloon, and a lounge that seemed too good for the likes of us. That and the discovery of Imperial Stout (£5.75 a bottle) served in branded snifter glasses convinced us to stay a little longer.

Finally, feeling distinctly rosy-cheeked, and with the sense that the issues of the day had yet to be quite fully explored, we left the gloom of the Anchor for the bright whitewash of the nearby Dean Swift. The stand-out beer here was Redwell Indian Pale Ale (keg, 6% ABV), which we found juicy, fresh-tasting and clean. The cask ale was in good condition (though our notes and memories fail us on the specifics), and the expensive scotch egg that accompanied it was so good (well-seasoned, slightly runny) that it almost seemed worth the money. Bar staff who smiled and made conversation rather than offering teenage shrugs and grunts were the icing on the cake.

The Beer Mile will have to wait until another time, when we’ll try to approach it from an angle which takes us past fewer invitingly ajar pub doors.

Beer is Wisdom, and Wisdom is Beer

Adelphi Terrace off the Strand, 1906.

Adelphi Terrace off the Strand, 1906.

By accident, we’ve found ourselves collecting various bits of information about London’s trendy lager scene in the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods.

The passage below from a 1909 book by James DouglasAdventures in London (full text), seemed too good not to share. It comes from a chapter called ‘The Philosophy of Beer’ in which the narrator is enjoying a night out in the West End with his friend ‘Falstaff’.

* * *

Pointing to a lantern over a narrow door, he cried:

“A Berlin!”

“Berlin here,” said I, “and Paris round the corner? You are absurdly fantastic to-night.”

He pushed into a room, dim with smoke and crowded with men and women sitting at huddled tables. Falstaff seemed to know everybody, for as he led me through the maze he sent salutes in all directions. His path was paved with laughter. At last he flung himself into a seat, and throwing his sombrero on the table, he seized a stone beer-mug and rapped a postman’s knock with the metal lid. A waiter, whose face was slit with a wide grin, hurried up.

“Varlet,” shouted Falstaff, as he smote the table with his clenched fist, “let there be beer!” And there was beer. For a moment his tongue ceased to wag, while he buried his nose in the pale amber flood. Then he banged the lid amain, and cried, “Varlet, let there be more beer!” And there was more beer.

“Now,” he said in a calmer voice, “let us sup.” Seizing a huge sheet, covered with a bewildering catalogue of German delicates, he began to descant upon the glories of Teutonic cookery.

“My son,” said he, “the Germans alone know how to create an unquenchable thirst. Every dish emblazoned on this document is salt. What is salt for? It is for the stimulation of the divine drought that demands an ocean of beer. You eat in order to drink.”

“Your palate,” said I, “is perverted. I decline to eat and I decline to drink.”

“Abject! I despise you. But I will eat for you and drink for you.”

“And he did. I stared in stupefaction as he devoured Westphalian ham, Frankfort sausages, pig’s knuckles, and sauerkraut. I looked round me and I saw scores of jolly fat men, who were pickling their throats in the same heroic fashion. The very sight made me thirsty. Round the walls of this briny temple were horns innumerable — horns of the goat, the elk, the buffalo, the deer, the ram, the sheep. Little horns. Big horns.

The lid clicked musically on the stone lip, and Falstaff lay back at last in Gargantuan ease, his golden beard bedewed with golden beerdrops.

“When I was in Heidelberg,” he began dreamily, “there was a fair-haired girl, with forget-me-not eyes, and . . .”

“And what?” said I.

“Ah,” said he, “and what?”

He gazed sternly at me, straightened his back, squared his broad shoulders, and pointed proudly to a faint scar on his left cheek.

“And that,” said he. “I drink to her rosy lips.” He dashed away a tear, and, stretching forth his hand to a tumbler, took a long crooked cigar, with a straw sticking out of the thin end. He lighted it, blew a mighty volume of smoke up to the ceiling, and, turning to me, put his huge paw on my shoulder.

“My son,” said he, with immense gravity, “the Germans are the only true philosophers. They see life through a sea of beer. Beer is the drink of philosophers.”

“I have heard of Bass and Guinness.”

“Bah!” said Falstaff. “They pall. Give me the brew that keeps oblivion at bay, that nourishes thirst while it quells it. The nation that can drink without being drunk is invincible. Germany is that nation.”

“I perceive,” said I sneeringly, ”that you are a sot.” A flush of anger mantled his clear brow.

“Creature,” said he, “a sot is not a philosopher. I am a philosopher. I sit at the centre of life and watch it going round with the contentment of contempt. It amuses me. It
tickles me. It arrides me. I tolerate everything — even you. Yes, my son, I find a reason for the meanest of the mean. Your chill sobriety pleases me. It is a bubble of contrast.”

“Drink,” said I, “is a curse.”

“Shall we put out the sun because shallow-pates die of sunstroke ? Fie upon you ! Look at these good cits with their buxom wives. Would you begrudge them their little Paradise?”

“It is artificial.”

“Is there any Paradise that is not artificial? My son, read Heine and Kant and Hegel and Haeckel and Nietzsche and Spencer and Shaw, and then tell me if all their wisdom is not folly. I drown them in a draught.”

With that he emptied his stone tankard, and swallowed all the wise men of the West in a gulp. As the waiter collected his pile of papier-mâché discs, and reckoned up his bill, Falstaff smiled happily.

“Beer,” said he, “is wisdom, and wisdom is beer.”

(See also this short post about the Tivoli Bier Garten on our Facebook page.)

Ian Nairn on Ward’s Irish House

“This is a basement under the angle between Shaftesbury Avenue and Coventry Street. It is not trying to be Irish; it just is. A big, bare room with a central zinc-topped bar; no concession to comfort, but on the other hand some of the best draught Guinness in London… It has surely got the fairies on it, though mentioning fairies in this rough, shabby, real place you might get some strange looks.”

Ian Nairn on Ward’s Irish House, in Nairn’s London, 1966.

(NB. before it was Irish, it was German…)