Old School Beer “Blogging”

Before blogging, anyone who wanted to record something interesting they’d come across to do with their hobbies and interests had to stick it in a scrapbook.

The Westminster Archive1 (which we’ve mentioned before) has an astounding collection of beer related scrapbooks — 82 volumes in total — all of which were the work of a mysterious chap2 called “D. Foster”.

Between around 1880-1900, Every time Mr Foster came across anything in a book or magazine to do with beer or pubs in London, he copied out the section by hand. His scrapbooks, of which there are between 10-20 per bound volume, are meticulously organised. The first 60-odd volumes cover London pubs from A-Z. Then there are volumes on beer and ale; drinking vessels; coffee shops; and so on.

It really does read like a blog, and is a priceless resource of knowledge about beer. The copy in the Archive is the only one — it’s never been printed or published — so if you’re in the area, it’s worth popping in for a look.

Notes

1. The archives are on St Ann’s Street, in Westminster, and are open every day except Sunday and Monday.

2. We’re assuming D. Foster was a chap — the librarians didn’t know much about where the scrapbooks had come from, except that their author was an “enthusiast”.

Department stores and beer: Fortnum and Mason

I was walking past Fortnum and Mason at lunchtime, and thought I’d wander in to look at the newly refurbished food hall. With proud boasts of an expanded wine section (and bar) I thought it would be worth checking out the beer selection.

Stonch’s post about the beer selection in Army & Navy had reminded me that A&N was actually one of the better places to shop for beer in London; it also reminded me of the fact that the best place to find beer in Spain was not specialist booze shops but actually El Corte Ingles, a good-quality chain of department stores. So I thought F&M might be a reasonable place to find some nice beer.

Unfortunately not.

They sell two beers, yes, two. They are an “English Ale” and an “IPA”, both brewed for them by the West Berkshire Brewery. You can get them in gift packs (though not on their website – search “beer” and you get beer mustard and… er… teddy bears. Are F&M customers really such sloppy spellers?)

F&M sell more types of average Polish vodka than they do beer. They even sell “Spirytus Rektyfikowany” which at 79% is just meths, right? It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of “luxurious” beer styles they could stock, like imperial stout, barley wine, vintage Belgian abbey ales etc.

However, before I picked up my pen to write to Messrs Fortnum and Mason and give them a piece of my mind, I thought I would at least try their own brand. Perhaps these beers are just so good that no other beers are necessary.

So: The IPA (5%) – bitter yet balanced with a lovely hop aroma. A very nice brew indeed, though can’t match the body and overall impact of a classic such as Goose Island.

The English Ale (4%) – apparently “this rich, full-bodied ale calls to mind stout yeomen at archery practice in the autumn before Agincourt – and other images of antique Albion”. Eh? That said, it’s quite interesting, because there is a hint of smokiness in the aroma and flavour, unusual for this style, I’d say. It also has a good body and a rather bitter aftertaste. Good, but not as drinkable as say, Young’s Special or London Pride.

So definitely good brews – but if I ran a shop and only stocked two beers, they wouldn’t be it. So it’s pen to paper time in the Boak and Bailey household.

Random plus point though: the top-hat-and-tailed shop assistants are experts in wrapping bottles elegantly yet quickly so that they don’t clink in a carrier bag. Great for the budding alcoholic who doesn’t want to attract attention at work!

Boak

Notes

  1. Stonch has covered Army & Navy’s beer selection here.
  2. Fortnum and Mason are at 181 Piccadilly, London and have been serving posh ready meals there for 300 years. It’s a department store although mostly famous for its food hall (currently being expanded) and its luxury hampers. It’s worth a look if you’re a tourist, looking for a nice gift, or just up town on a wet afternoon and want to gawp at how the other half live (yes, those people really are doing their weekly shop here…)
  3. Here’s a link to the West Berkshire Brewery – they make no mention of the F&M link on their site. I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of tasting their other stuff, but they seem like a decent bunch. I’d certainly want to try more after these beers.
  4. For more about El Corte Ingles, see the Wikipedia article here. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about them and their magnificent selection on imported beer later this year…

Truman, Hanbury and Buxton in the East End

Truman, Hanbury and Buxton were one of the biggest breweries in London in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They moved to Burton in the 1970s, merged with Watney Mann not long after, and then closed altogether. East London — the area immediately around the old Black Eagle Brewery — is particularly rife with small reminders.

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More after the, er, “more” link…

Continue reading “Truman, Hanbury and Buxton in the East End”

Brew Wharf – interesting idea, poorly executed

Having bought a load of fantastic beers from Utobeer (see previous post), we popped over the road to Brew Wharf to see what the fuss was about.

Brew Wharf opened in October 2005 as part of the Vinopolis empire at London Bridge. This is a brewpub/restaurant with a couple of house brews and some of the Meantime range on tap and around 30 bottled beers from around the world. Sounds good?

Many others don’t think so. It is pretty much universally panned on Beerintheevening.com and fancyapint.com for bad service and expensive drinks. It doesn’t seem to be popular for its food either; the magazine Time Out called it “a bad restaurant with very good beer”.

I have very mixed feelings about it – there are some strong pros and cons.

Pros

Goose Island IPA

  1. One of the Wharf brews (I didn’t get which one, but it was either Wharf Best or Century Ale) was very fresh and tasty. A pub with its own beer is shockingly rare in London, so this in itself is a plus point.
  2. Someone had obviously put a lot of thought into the bottled beer list; there was a good range of styles, and some absolute crackers on the list. As well as Meantime Chocolate and Coffee, they stock the excellent Goose Island IPAfrom Chicago
  3. They have a good range of glasses to match the beers. This may sound like a minor point, but we believe that the look of a beer contributes enormously to the overall enjoyment, and we’re always impressed when people make the effort to serve the beer in the right glass.

Cons

  1. The service is pretty poor; a couple sat down next to us and then left after 10 minutes of trying to get served at the bar. One of the bar staff tried to take my drink away before I’d finished.
  2. The prices! They were charging £5.65 for a bottle of Schlenkerla Rauchbier. Now this is a nice beer, and perhaps used to be rare, but it’s not that difficult to get hold of these days. The Pembury Tavern in Hackney does it for half the price charged here.
  3. I could see what the reviewers meant when they said it was soulless. There was quite a nice atmosphere on the terrace but the pub itself would be pretty dreadful without it.

Is this the way to get people into beer? Not sure. Despite the fact it was a brewpub with a large beer list, I didn’t get the impression they were out to convert people. Most of the customers seemed to be drinking wine or Budvar. Perhaps descriptions of the beers would help? This could potentially be a good place to bring someone you were trying to convert – but the Greenwich Union is much cosier and has a similar (if not the same) range of bottled beers.

So would I go back? I can’t imagine having a cosy pint there, but it’s quite a good place on a weekend afternoon to pretend you’re on holiday – pretend the prices are in Euros and that the service is just down to misunderstanding…

Boak