Notable Pubs #1: The Eagle Tavern, London

The Eagle (Shepherdess Walk, N1) is known to generations of children from the nursery rhyme ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’: ‘Up and down the City Road/ In and out the Eagle’.

Charles Green as painted by Hilaire Ledru.
Portrait of Charles Green by Hilaire Ledru, 1835, via Wikipedia.

On Monday 4 April 1825, the aeronaut Charles Green ascended in a balloon from the gardens at the Eagle. After much trouble, he got airborne at 5:30 pm and drifted away south. He returned to the Eagle for another ascent on a later occasion, this time seated on the back of a ‘very small Shetland pony’ (Stamford Mercury, 01/08/1828).

Famous as the site of a theatre and other entertainments, The Eagle was the subject of one of Charles Dickens’s Sketches by Boz (1833-1836) entitled ‘Miss Evans and The Eagle':

[The] waiters were rushing to and fro with glasses of negus, and glasses of brandy-and-water, and bottles of ale, and bottles of stout; and ginger-beer was going off in one place, and practical jokes were going on in another; and people were crowding to the door of the Rotunda; and in short the whole scene was, as Miss J’mima Ivins, inspired by the novelty, or the shrub, or both, observed—‘one of dazzling excitement.’

The present building dates from around 1900.

Not to be confused with The Eagle, Farringdon, ‘the original gastropub’. There will be more on balloon ascents in a future post on The Star & Garter, Richmond. Main image: ‘The Eagle Tavern Pleasure Gardens, from an old print’, from Dickensian Inns & Taverns by B.W. Matz, 1922, via Archive.org.

100 Words: Describing Brettanomyces

The sacred texts told us Brettanomyces had a ‘horse blanket’ or ‘barnyard’ aroma. It is, they said, ‘sweaty’, ‘leathery’, ‘mousy’.

But none of that worked for us and we couldn’t spot Brett unless we’d been cued to expect it.

We know what the experts are getting at with the animal comparisons — earthy, musky, funky, right? — but it’s like trying to describe the colour red by saying ‘Purplish, but also orangey.’ Brett is Brett, and nothing else.

We eventually cracked it by drinking a lot of Orval, and ‘Orval-like’ is the most useful descriptor for Brett character we’ve yet discovered.

Any other suggestions?

Main image from the BBC website.

There Are Other Pubs in Helston?

We’ve given the Blue Anchor in Helston, Cornwall, plenty of attention in the past and so last Friday, in town for Flora Day, we decided to make a point of drinking elsewhere.

Of course, this is no normal trading day, and all the pubs were on an emergency footing to cope with crowds of visitors and thirsty locals, so we’re not going to pass judgement based on these single visits. Still, there is something instructive in how they handle the chaos.

Our first stop was the Red Lion — not a common name for pubs in Cornwall where the default tends to be the Star or the Seven Stars — on Church Street. It’s a plum spot for watching the dancers emerge from the museum in the ‘Ancient Furry Dance’ at midday (the main event). It also seems to be the preferred destination for members of the Helston Town Band to wet their whistles and, before we could enter, we had to make way for a procession of merry blue-coated brass musicians off to join their colleagues.

Hand-drawn Tribute pump-clip.

Though the pub was busy, it was very orderly, and we got served immediately. We were tickled by the handmade pump-clip for St Austell Tribute and, as we took our photo, the person serving us chuckled and said:

Good, isn’t it? We can’t draw, but we know how to spell. We’re not really a real ale pub, as such — more a lager pub. We find if we serve real ale, it goes off in the lines. Today’s different, though — we know we’ll sell it. So we’ve got Tribute and Doom Bar in, special.

(She also told us the pub was for sale and asked if we were interested in buying it. We are not.)

It was not, to be honest, the best Tribute we’ve ever tasted, and was served at near-freezing temperature in plastic glasses, but we didn’t mind, especially as we sat drinking it in a coveted window seat with a view of the parade. A classic ‘not about the beer’ moment.

Next, we tried the Angel Hotel on Coinagehall Street. Tried is the right word because we couldn’t actually get served and, as our buzz began to fade, decided that we didn’t want to spend any more time waiting for two pints of St Austell Trelawny, and left.

A little further down the street, effectively acting as overspill for the Blue Anchor, is the Seven Stars. (See?) Like its near neighbour, it is housed in a cavernous historic building but seems to attract a different, younger crowd. Big screens were showing distinctly un-fun General Election post mortem coverage. The bar staff seemed overwhelmed, though they remained resolutely friendly, and pints of Caledonian XPA were all but undrinkable — gritty and acidic. Normally, we’d take them back, have a discreet word, and so on, but a Friday afternoon masquerading as Saturday night wasn’t the time. We abandoned our glasses and scooted.

The Rodney on Meneage Street is nominally a St Austell house and we had high hopes of finding trusty old Korev lager. We had no such luck so instead ended up with a bottle of Hoegaarden for Boak and a pint of Proper Ansome from (gasp!) Devon for Bailey. The entertainment was a huge TV tuned to a music channel while completely different tunes were played over the PA system — torture! The atmosphere was rather pleasant, though, with extended families occupying the front of the pub, grandparents fussing over babies and toddlers while young mums and dads partied moderately hard. Everyone seemed to be eating piping hot pasties, taking advantage of a ‘bring your own food’ policy.

After all that, we had to finish up the Blue Anchor. There were bouncers on the door, and the entrance corridor, which seems cute when the pub is quiet, was a moving game of sardines with plastic pint glasses in the mix, just for fun. That ordeal over, however, we managed to get hold of two beers without any waiting thanks to several temporary bars, including one marked BEER ONLY operating out of the stable-door to the pub cellar, underneath the brewery. We had pints of Flora Daze, served by Gareth himself, that tasted drier and more citrusy than in recent months. Spingo Middle, which we’ve sometimes found a bit rough around Flora Day, presumably as production is stepped up to meet demand for the big event, was also on impressive form.

There’s a reason the Blue Anchor is the only pub in Helston you’ve heard of.

Bottle Parties, 1940s

In London between the 1920s and 1940s, it was possible to go on drinking after hours if you knew where to go and had (technically) ordered your booze in advance.

The ‘bottle party’ was another of those oddities that arise when legislators attempt to manage people’s drinking habits. Its workings were described by Lorna Hay for Picture Post, 25 December, 1948:

To be admitted to a bottle party, you must be ‘invited,’ and to be ‘invited,’ you must be sponsored by one or more existing invitees. But you must also have an order with a wine company, so that the drinks you order after midnight are, in theory at any rate, already paid for, and are, in theory at any rate, fetched by wingèd bicyclists from the shop. If your merchant is not an all-night one, there is nothing for it but to bring your own bottle along in your own hands.

Throughout the 1930s, there are newspaper reports of attempted prosecutions of people running ‘parties’, such as this account from the Times of 27 July 1934 of the case against Mr. Bridgeman Rochfort Mordaunt Smith, proprietor of the Front Page on New Compton Street, Soho:

Mr Melville, prosecuting, said at a previous hearing that the Front Page was not a registered club. Nominally persons went there by invitation to nightly ‘at homes,’ or bottle parties. Visitors were required to sign a form declaring that they had been invited to a private party, and were contributing 5s. towards the cost of the party. When ordering drinks they filled in another form directed to the Maddox Wine Company, which read: ‘Please place the following goods on order for me. I will give you instructions at a later date.’

As long as they stuck to the letter of the law, however, they were able to continue trading, like half-arsed speakeasies under half-arsed prohibition. The Met managed to close many during World War II using rather draconian emergency powers which permitted them to target ‘undesirable premises’ (Times, 28 June 1944) but they couldn’t do away with them altogether.

Ms. Hay wrote about bottle parties in 1948 because they were under threat thanks to proposed changes to licensing laws which would make it illegal to drink anything at all after hours except in the privacy of private homes, ‘or go to bed’.

She acknowledged that London nightclubs, quite apart from the weird rituals required to gain entrance, were seedy — ‘lush and draped and quilted, over-discreet and over-dim’ — and expensive, with bottle party entrance fees at a guinea (21 shillings) and spirits at £100+ a bottle in today’s money. Nonetheless, they were necessary:

Yet people do go to night-clubs in London. Why? Broadly speaking, for two reasons. The first, that most people from time to time get the feeling that the night is still young, and that it would be pleasant to go on drinking for a bit in company. The second, that, what with the night and the wine and the music, it is a way of getting your girl a step further. Or, from the girl’s angle, of appearing so double desirable in this ‘romantic’ atmosphere, that her young man will want to get her a step further.

(We’re filing that dainty euphemism for later use.)

In fact, in 1949, the Home Secretary, James Chuter Ede, extended the hours at which night-clubs could serve drinks with music and dancing until 2 am, with half-an-hour’s drinking up time, thus all but doing away with the need for bottle parties, and spiv-like wine dealers.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 09/05/2015

It seems rather trivial to be thinking, reading and writing about beer in the week of a general election but life goes on, so here are the beer-related highlights of the last seven days.

→ For CPL Training, Phil Mellows made an important point in typically measured terms: drinking is normal.

It is possible to drink too much, or at the wrong time or place. Certain boundaries are built into the rituals themselves, others are imposed from outside… But we can’t start by telling people what they’re doing isn’t normal. They’re likely to look at you in a funny way and carry on.

→ Jeff ‘Beervana’ Alworth wrote about historic cocktails and mixes containing beer for All About Beer:

Beer doesn’t need rum and fire to improve it; on the other hand, beer can add something to a cocktail other ingredients can’t. Don’t think of them as adulterated beer; think of them as enhanced cocktails.

→ Beavertown, Camden, BrewDog and Magic Rock have formed the United Craft Brewers’ Association, as reported by Daniel Neilson at Original Gravity and expanded upon by BrewDog here. We don’t know if this is really significant or not — only time will tell — but it certainly makes explicit the existence of an ‘in-crowd’ we all knew was there.

→ Justin Mason continued to shine a light on the brewing scene in his home county with this profile of Ian Chisholm’s Essex Brewing Company:

Not content with an indoor brewery, he wants to have an outdoor brewery too with demonstrations of ‘hot-rock’ brewing on a semi-covered outdoor area also able to stage barbecues and beer festivals.

(Yes, this piece is really an opportunity for a businessman to put across his PR pitch, but every single blog post doesn’t have to be ‘challenging’.)

→ CAMRA veteran Paul Bailey (no relation) asked, first, if it’s worth trying to save mild and, if so, why do it in May? And then, in a follow-up piece, recalled his experiences of drinking mild over the decades, concluding that ‘there is nothing wrong with the basic formulation of mild; just its strength’.

'Saccharomyces pooled' by Sui Generis.
‘Saccharomyces, from a pool of 10 colonies.’ SOURCE: Sui Generis Brewing.

→ Next level home brewing geekery: the author of Sui Generis Brewing blog explained how to use ‘streak plates’ and a microscope to harvest pure yeast strains from contaminated samples.

→ We’re pleased to see our Orval blending experiments from earlier in the year continuing to bear fruit:

Over-thinking beer, pubs and the meaning of craft since 2007