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.

fresh-wild.jpg

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.

The Devil Tavern

I saw this sign on an office building on Fleet Street in London, and was intrigued.
deviltavern.jpg
You don’t see pubs called “The Devil” much these days, even though Britain is actually much less religious now than it was in the 18th century.

How did this long-gone boozer get its distinctive name? Well, it was originally called “The Devil and St Dunstan”, but St Dunstan got dropped. Samuel Pepys mentions the Devil Tavern several times in his diaries.

Here’s a bit on the history of the pub:

The noisy “Devil Tavern” (No. 2, Fleet Street) had stood next the quiet goldsmith’s shop ever since the time of James I. Shakespeare himself must, day after day, have looked up at the old sign of St. Dunstan tweaking the Devil by the nose, that flaunted in the wind near the Bar. Perhaps the sign was originally a compliment to the goldsmith’s men who frequented it, for St. Dunstan was, like St. Eloy, a patron saint of goldsmiths, and himself worked at the forge as an amateur artificer of church plate. It may, however, have only been a mark of respect to the saint, whose church stood hard by, to the east of Chancery Lane.

Quotation from: ‘Fleet Street: General Introduction’, Old and New London: Volume 1 (1878), pp. 32-53. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=45023 . Date accessed: 04 June 2007.

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.

Nice pubs near stations #1: Victoria Station, London

UPDATE APRIL 2012: These days, if you’re at Victoria, you’re fifteen minutes’ walk from Cask, arguably London’s best pub.

I thought it would be good to start collecting information about nice pubs near stations. There’s nothing more frustrating than having an hour to kill at a station and no idea where to head for a decent brew, so I hope this is of some use.

First up, Victoria Station, London. If you only have 20 minutes or so, your best choice is probably the Wetherspoons in the station itself. Head outside the station and it doesn’t look particularly hopeful. However, there are some excellent pubs in the vicinity, if you know where to look.

5 minutes walk away
This will get you as far as the Jugged Hare on Vauxhall Bridge Road, an excellent Fullers Ale and Pie House. Alternatively, you could head for the Cardinal, a Sam Smiths pub near Westminster Cathedral, but it’s only five minutes if you know exactly where you’re going…

10 minutes walk away
The Horse and Groom is a charming Shepherd’s Neame pub tucked away in a Belgravia Mews. Listen to the locals discuss the price of diamonds.

15 minutes walk away
Head down Buckingham Palace Rd (away from the Palace) and eventually you get to the Rising Sun, a Young’s pub on Ebury Bridge Rd. Last time I went, they did tasty cheap pizza as well as most of the Young’s range.

Alternatively, head into deepest Belgravia for the Star Tavern. This is a great Fullers pub with a decent menu, hidden behind the Austrian embassy.

Google Map link to all these pubs.

Boak

Surviving in a beer desert

These days, it’s easier than ever to get a wide range of decent beer in bottles. There are supermarkets everywhere, almost all of whom have a range of drinkable beer. But what do you do if there isn’t a specialist beer shop in your area, and you’ve tried everything in every supermarket?

1. Make sure you try *all* the shops in your area. I only realised by chance that what I had thought for five years was an organic veg shop near my house was actually a pretty big organic supermarket, with the full range of Pitfield’s organic bottled beers.

2. Co-op have some interesting beer, including a couple from Freeminer. CO-OP’s “Strong Ale” (brewed for them by Thwaites) isn’t that strong, and is full of caramel, but I like it anyway.

3. My local Londis (see their virtual store, pictured above) stocks a really good range of St Austell’s beers, including the bottle-conditioned ones. They are independent retailers who can choose what to sell, so they sometimes have weird and interesting beers, depending on how interested the managers are.

4. Some nice beers don’t have nice bottles – they look like tramps’ brew. Those are the ones you’ll find in your local corner shop. Guinness Foreign Extra, a world classic imperial stout, is available in almost every grubby corner shop in London. There’s quite a trend, too, for importing czech lager from smaller breweries. Corner shops often have “Lobkowitz”, “Ostravar” and other beers which are less well known than Budvar. Most of them are nothing to write home about, but they’re often better than tins of Stella. Roger Protz rates Svyturys Ekstra from Lithuania. My local Turkish supermarket stocks the unpasteurised version, which is even better. But the label is in Lithuanian, and it’s in a fridge next to Polish tramp brews (Warka Strong and Okocim Mocne).

5. Take away from pubs. Lots of Young’s pubs in London offer take away bottles, in nifty carriers, at about £1.50 a bottle. Lots of other pubs are also “off-licensed”. Try asking.

6. Order from the internet. Onlyfinebeer hardly ever have the stuff I order in stock, but the fact that you can pay for beer online and have it turn up behind your wheelie bin a few days later is great. Or try CAMRA’s beer club.

7. Read about beer. This is also better for your health than drinking it. Michael Jackson’s 500 Great Beers and Roger Protz’s 300 Beer’s You Must Drink Before You Die! have lots of photos of exotic foreign beers in provocative poses.

8. Brew your own. Get a decent book (I like this one) and order some kit (from these nice people, for example) and give it a go. I can’t describe the joy when, after a year of tinkering and reading, we managed to brew something which tasted as good as a real beer from an actual shop. Not just passable, but really good. We’ll never be thirsty again.