The Old Monk Exchange

umbelale.gifYet another halfway decent if slightly charmless Westminster pub, the Old Monk Exchange usually offers a biggish range of foreign bottled beers. Recently, though, they’ve also upped their game on real ale.

This month, they’re having a “real ale festival’. In practice, that means they’ve got a rotating selection of ales, with four or five from cask at any one time, with another ten or so in bottles.

Tonight, I drank Nethergate Umbel Ale, Nethergate Suffolk County and Sharp’s Doombar (which is fast becoming ubiquitous). All were in good condition — it’s depressing that that’s noteworthy in London — and the first two were really quite interesting.

Umbel Ale in particular struck me as a well-made beer. The pump-clip makes much of the presence of toasted coriander seeds, but I’m sure there are some American hops in there too. Citrus and coriander is a classic combination. Would C-hops would work in Belgian-style wheat beers?

Brewing lager: what’s all the fuss about?

landbier.jpgNow our first-born lager is but a distant and bleary memory, time to look back on the experiment.

It took us a over a year and a half of all-grain brewing to pluck up the courage to do a lager, mostly because our books and the guidance make it sound so damn complicated. The implication seems to be that if you can’t mirror the water quality of Plzen and don’t have lagering capacity of a cavern in the Alps, it just ain’t worth the bother.

This, coupled with a rather narrow definition of what a lager should taste like, makes the process rather daunting. However, having now had a go ourselves, we’d say that you don’t need to worry about things as much as the books suggest to get something very drinkable, and yes, even “authentic”.

More details of the homebrewing lager process after the jump. And maybe some gratuitous pops at the BJCP guidelines…

Continue reading “Brewing lager: what’s all the fuss about?”

First they came for the Special Brew…

diamond-white_lg.gifIt’s been all over the London news today that several supermarket chains will be removing “super-strength” cheap beers (and ciders) from their central London shops.

Brands such as the 9% Carlsberg Special Brew and Diamond White will no longer be within the reach of the gentleman of the road, at least not if he walks the beat in Westminster.

Before I go into paranoid ranting, I should point out that this is a voluntary scheme, not the result of any legislation, and that it is localised to several areas within Westminster which are particularly known for “street-drinkers”.

However…this is a move that has been discussed as potential government legislation, and the results will no doubt be monitored closely by policy wonks.

So now for the paranoid ranting. While I’m no fan of Special Brew or any of the other brands mentioned by name in the article, you do have to wonder how this scheme or any potential future legislation will distinguish between “tramp-juice” and, say, your average Belgian ale.

I like to think it would be obvious that something like St Bernardus Abt 12, at 10%, should not be outlawed, but how about some more subjective brews? What about Guiness Foreign Export Stout, one of the finest Imperial Stouts available, and a hit with the vagrant of distinction? Or even some of the Polish “mocny” beers available now – I don’t like ’em much, but other beer lovers do.

Yes, this is all hypothetical – I’ve been in pretty much every off-licence in the Victoria area and they never have anything exciting that might fall foul of a ban. But come on, let’s have your thoughts. How would you define rules that would allow you exciting exotic treats from Belgium while simultaneously banning tramp brew? Some kind of equation based on percentage and price? Percentage divided by Beer Advocate rating?

Anyway, will this really be effective? Surely hard-core alcoholics will move on to cheap strong red wine or counterfeit vodka instead. We already have laws and Asbos to stop people thieving, begging, pissing in the streets and other anti-social behaviour. Why not enforce them, instead of picking on a few derided brands?


You’ve got to love the Carlsberg blurb about Special Brew on their website. After claiming its links with Winston Churchill, they remind you that to drink responsibly, a man should drink no more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day, and then point out that a 500ml can of SB at is 4.5 units.


Our big party

party_pics.jpgIt’s been quiet on the blog front in the last week or two, mostly because we’ve been spending every spare minute preparing for our big party.

We’ve been together for 10 years (yikes) so we had all our friends round to celebrate. Of course, we got weirdly into the beer and booze arrangements…

We brewed four batches of beer just for the party — the aforementioned lager and IPA among them.

We asked guests to bring the weirdest beer they could find (a good way to restock the cellar…). And we set up a frankly over-elaborate bar which took up a good quarter of the front room.

Two observations:

1. Behind the bar is the best place to be at a party. You get to talk to everyone without moving from one spot.

2. It’s really easy to tell if people actually like your homebrew…

In the past, they’ve been polite — “Mmm, yeah, it’s OK,” and then the next thing you know you find a mostly full glass hidden behind a vase and they’re chugging from a bottle of commercial lager. Last night, all of our beer went, leaving us with most of the commercial beer we’d bought as a backup. People came back for seconds… and asked for takeaway!

The mild (from a polypin) went down very well, which was especially pleasing because when we tried it on Friday, it hadn’t conditioned. It carbonated overnight.

We love it when a plan comes together.

Normal service resumes — assuming we ever drink again…


Picture: the entries in our bring-a-beer competition.

Update on the Speaker

We popped along to the Speaker last night. All their guest beers this week are from Somerset. We tried Cotleigh Barn Owl (pleasant), Moor Revival (great) and Newman’s Wolvers Ale (funny tasting, but drinkable). As Tandleman pointed out, this pub is from the 70s — there’s a big tin of Henri Winterman’s cigars behind the bar, ploughmans were on offer, and there was a man drinking at the bar who looked like Peter Sutcliffe.