Some pictures we took while walking from one meeting to another in London a couple of weeks ago. We’d forgotten quite how densely ‘pubbed’ London is, and how characterful and varied those pubs can be.(There’s more of this kind of stuff on our Facebook page, by the way.)
Should small ‘craft’ brewers worry about the appearance of ‘craft beer’ in JD Wetherspoon pubs? Or should they welcome it?
Beyond major cities, this will be the first time many people will have had the chance to enjoy a sexily-packaged American-style IPA in a pub. Do you remember the first time you tried Goose Island IPA? We do. That eye-opening moment ought to lead at least some people to decide that’s their thing:’I'm well into the old craft beers, me.’ That would be good news for smaller brewers.
On the other hand, at £5 for two bottles or cans, this might be the moment when the rug gets pulled out from under the price structure of ‘craft beer’. ‘Spoons may not be able to compete with the Craft Beer Company or The Rake on cosmopolitan ‘vibe’ or variety, but you don’t get much for £2.50 at either of those venues.
If JDW can keep the range rotating, even if the selection is middle of the road, they might lure some beer geeks (like us) who had previously turned their noses up, and who welcome the thought of an extra tenner in their pocket at the end of the night.
It doesn’t hurt that many of the recent US-UK cask ale collaborations have been excellent — the Sixpoint/Adnams Make it Rain tasted so good on Sunday that we ended up drinking more than planned, despite the frankly dismal surroundings, and still spent less than the price of two bottles of Orval in a pub round the corner.
Disclosure: as we mentioned on Sunday, JD Wetherspoon sent us samples of their new Sixpoint American craft beer in cans: we weren’t impressed.
With photographs by Teninchwheels.
For those of us who feel sad whenever a pub vanishes, this is a sad life. Progress, reconstruction, town-planning, war, all have one thing in common: the pubs go down before them like poppies under the scythe.
Maurice Gorham, The Local, 1939
Early in 2012, regulars at the Ivy House, a 1930s pub in Nunhead, South London, were stunned when its owners, Enterprise Inns, gave the manager a week’s notice and boarded the building up.
Howard Peacock, a secondary school teacher in his 30s who regarded the Ivy House as his ‘local’, felt what he calls a ‘sense of massive injustice’:
[The] pub was one that should have been able to stay open in any fair trading environment. The small local pubco that was running it… had been making a go of it even with restricted stocking options and limited profit margins thanks to the beer tie…
But he and his fellow drinkers (Tessa Blunden, Emily Dresner, Stuart Taylor and Hugo Simms) did something more than merely grumble and begin the hunt for a new haunt: instead, they launched a campaign to SAVE THE IVY HOUSE!
Nowadays, the idea of a community campaign to save a pub hardly seems remarkable — they are seen as an endangered species, the cruel property developers’ harpoons glancing off their leathery old skin — but a hundred years ago, thing were very different. Then, a cull was underway.
“This is the story, told by those who made this possible, of how the local community rallied round and fought hard to save the Ivy House pub using the Community Right to Bid. They now plan to re-open the pub as a community hub raising funds through community shares and to restore this legendary music venue with its amazing 1930s interior, where Elvis Costello and Joe Strummer performed.”
Our trip to London coincided with Craft Beer Rising, a big event on the beer geek calendar, but we didn’t get anywhere near it. Nor did we get to take on the Bermondsey mile.
Fortunately, in London, you’re never far from a pub, and we don’t know many people who take much persuading to meet in one.
1. Friday afternoon: The Craft Beer Company, Islington, for a meeting
This happens to be the nearest pub to our publishers’ offices and so we adjourned to what they call ‘Meeting Room Three’ for the last part of our discussion. We weren’t concentrating on the beer, really, but enjoyed Burning Sky Saison L’Hiver and Kernel London Sour well enough. A party of female students from various parts of the world sat to one side while two burly Londoners perched on stools in a corner. Very pubby. We could happily have spent the entire weekend here, but duty called.
2. Friday night: The Pelt Trader, City of London, to see friends
Our friends demanded a central location, ‘not one of those real ale pubs’, near a station, with room for a fairly large group. The Pelt Trader fit the bill, though there were still grumbles about the lack of ‘normal beer’. A bit of a bare, noisy echo-chamber, but very efficient, with lots of bar surface to minimise queuing. It was good to try Burning Sky Aurora (a decent US-style pale ale) and to have another go at this Lagunitas IPA everyone is on about, though none of the beers blew our minds. Lasting memory: great service driven by a bar manager who seemed to grow happier and more energetic the tougher the crowd got.
3. Saturday evening: The Queen’s Arms, Walthamstow, out of thirst and curiosity
Having spent a day clearing out and cleaning a store room, we literally had dust in our throats. Seeking fresh air, we went for a walk around our old stomping grounds, and couldn’t resist checking out the Queen’s. It used to be just short of rough, but when we occasionally went there to watch football we were always made to feel welcome, as long as we behaved. It has recently, however, become a ‘gastropub’, straight out of 2002. It has a small range of not-the-usual beers, but nothing actually very good. Bare brick, candles, pushchairs. We felt sad at the loss of the karaoke stage and dart board. ‘One gastropub too many,’ seems to be the local view.
4. Saturday evening: The Nags Head, Walthamstow, for old times’ sake
This was our local for years — the pub we went to at least three nights a week and most weekends. It hasn’t changed much (cats, red lights, jazz) though the beer selection has taken a turn for the worse in some areas (Caledonian where once there was Crouch Vale and Mauldon), and improved in others (bottled Brooklyn East India Pale Ale in the fridge). Thwaites’ 13 Guns is a very nice bottled IPA, but by no means ‘intense’ as the label claims. The crowd was more Shoreditch than it used to be — younger, trendier, and more ostentatious about it — but the local bearded CAMRA stalwart and his partner were still sat in their usual corner — ‘one fixed point in a changing age’.
5. Saturday night: The Chequers, Walthamstow, for a pint with our hosts
We were staying with friends and this is where they like to drink, even though the William IV is nearer their house. Of course we were also interested to see what had happened to a pub that was once no-go, was taken over by Antic, and then taken away from them in mysterious circumstances. From outside, it looked as tatty as ever, and High Street remains eerily deserted at night with market packed up and gone. There was a healthy buzz inside, though, with, at a guess, 90 per cent of seats taken. We drank more Lagunitas IPA (we’d have loved it five years ago) and pints of Sambrook’s Porter, the first of their beers we’ve really enjoyed. Surprisingly, it had a real East London feel: if the DJ had stopped for a moment, we wouldn’t have been surprised at a spontaneous chorus of Roll out the Barrel.
6. Sunday lunchtime: The Castle, Walthamstow
Multiple sets of friends with multiple children adding up to a party of fifteen required a banqueting table and Yorkshire puddings. It was absolutely heaving with every seat and surface occupied. There was hardly a beer worth drinking (Adnams’ Broadside was just about OK) but the food was good, and the staff were friendly and professional, feeding and ejecting us in two hours flat without hurting anyone’s feelings.
7. The Village, Walthamstow, out of convenience
Our party of fifteen wanted to keep boozing, so we retreated to the nearest pub likely to have room for us — the poor old Village. This was once the best in the area, but hasn’t really kept up. Even here, though, there was something for the beer geek to observe: an off-the-shelf ‘craft beer solution’ for pubs seeking to capitalise on the latest market trend. That is, a fridge containing Kwak, St Stefanus Blonde, Viru Estonian pilsner, and so on, probably supplied by Matthew Clark (PDF) Twitter reckoned.
8. Sunday evening: Tap East, Stratford, to see Boak’s little brother
He was working a double shift behind the bar but we caught him on his break to discuss some family business. We took the opportunity to drink a couple of pints of Tonic Pale Ale brewed on site — austerely bitter and genuinely refreshing. Bear Republic Red Rocket Ale was the last of the day and reminded us why we used to get so excited about American beer: widescreen and awe-inspiringly Spielbergian. Almost everyone else was drinking Fuller’s Frontier Craft Lager or Koenig wheat beer — make of that what you will.
9. Monday lunchtime: The Mad Bishop & Bear, Paddington, on the way home
Most of our trips to London finish here. It’s not a lovely pub, but it has (a) a departure board; (b) cask ale kept to the high standard of most managed Fuller’s pubs; and (c) a nearly complete bottled range on offer, too. This time, we noted approvingly the addition of an information board listing all the available cask ales, when they were tapped, and when they were first served. We were also pleased to see a few beers from outside the Fuller’s empire, notably Castle Rock Harvest Pale.
All in all, this was a reminder that beer isn’t the only reason to go to the pub, and a great opportunity to look outside ‘the bubble’.