What are pubs for?

Why do people even bother going to the pub? Or, to put that another way, what does the pub have that you can’t get at home?

One obvious answer is: other people. You might be sat in the corner on your own reading the paper, but you want there to be other people around. Empty pubs are depressing places.

Another possible answer is: proper beer. For some people, that means cask-conditioned beer. For quite a few other people, it just means anything fresh tasting off a pump, hence the push to sell those little kegs for drinking at home which will supposedly replicate the experience.

For me, though, the reason the pub is special is because it’s like home, but not home. Your local pub should feel as comfortable as your front room but, unlike your front room, there should be the buzz of conversation, decent beer and, most importantly, four walls to stare at that aren’t your own four walls.

Fuller’s London Porter

london_porter_straight.jpgFollowing a tip-off from Stonch’s blog, I convinced some colleagues that, if we must go for an after work drink on a Tuesday night, we should do it at a Fuller’s pub, so I could try cask-conditioned London Porter.

It’s one of our very favourite beers — there’s a very short list of about four beers that both Boak and I agree are bang on — but I’d never had it on tap.

As is often the case, it was a very different beer than the bottled version. It had a lighter body for one thing and possibly also a lighter colour (transparent red). Unlike the bottled version, it maintained a lovely head all the way down. It was incredibly fruity, with a little less of the sourness or coffee flavour I’m used to from the bottle.

I probably ever so slightly prefer the bottled version, but nonetheless, it would be nice if this stayed on tap in Fuller’s pubs all year round. As it is, they often have both Honey Dew and Discovery, which are similar-tasting light, lagery ales, and HSB and London Pride, which are similar tasting brown bitters, and nothing like a dark mild/stout/porter except Guinness.

In fact, all pubs should make it their business to have one lightish beer, one brown beer, and one black beer. Then there would always be something to suit my mood.

Dreadful supermarket gift sets

I noticed this weekend that Sainsburys and BHS have stacked the shelves with beer-related Christmas gift boxes. Both shops are selling a “Lagers of the World” set, including such rarities as Fosters, San Miguel, Cobra, Kronenbourg 1664 and Stella Artois.

My eye was caught by BHS’s ale gift set, though, because it has a tiny 330ml bottl of Ridgeway IPA in it. That’s a beer I had once and quite liked, but haven’t seen since.

Both shops also have a shockingly large selection of plastic beer steins with “humorous” designs. How many of you will be getting one of those from a well-meaning relative this Christmas…?

Power Station Porter

battersea.pngBattersea Brewery’s Power Station Porter is cropping up all over the place these days, notably in the Rake where I first saw it, and in ASDA, where I bought a bottle today.

It’s a relatively light coloured, medium strength porter (4.8%), which is accented towards chocolate/fruit flavours rather than smoky/coffee ones. I like it, but both times I’ve tried it have been disappointed by a slight fizzy quality, and a head which disappears instantly. I went through an elaborate glass washing ritual today and even that didn’t help.

It’s one of those beers that isn’t astounding — I still prefer Fuller’s London Porter — but it’s full of flavour, and there aren’t many small London breweries, so I’m going to keep buying it when I see it.

I also think that their label design is fantastic, being contemporary but not trendy; traditional, but not mock-Victorian; and simple without being plain.

Secret Bars of Westminster

largeblm.gifI recently spent a night in a bar in Central London where you can always get a seat, which always has at least three real ales on tap (one of which is always a mild) and where a round of two drinks costs much less than a fiver. Sadly, it’s not somewhere I can recommend to everybody — it was one of the several members-only Civil Service social clubs hidden around Westminster.

These are some of the few surviving working men’s clubs in London, and that is exactly what this one felt like. I was reminded of Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights; of the railwaymen’s club my Mum and Dad joined a few years ago because the beer was a pound a pint; and perhaps a little of the club that Mr Mackay opens in the basement of HM Prison Slade in Porridge the Movie. In other words, it was rough around the edges, and maybe a little bleak, despite being a stone’s throw from both Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. But, for all that, the beer was half the price it is in the Rake, and just as good.

I drank Crouch Vale Blackwater Mild, which was in perfect condition, delicious, and reminded me of Anchor Porter (more hop aroma than is usual in a mild, perhaps?). But is it named after the sinister American “security” company…? They also had Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, and a couple of other beers whose names I didn’t write down.

If you know any civil servants, ask them if they can get you into their “social”. You’ll either love it or hate it, but either way it will be an experience.