Category Archives: pubs

Pubs We Can’t Walk Past

We’re just back from a few days in London and, though we were mostly busy seeing family and friends, did find time for a couple of beers in pubs that we now realise we simply cannot resist.

First, passing through Angel, Islington, even though we didn’t especially want a lunchtime drink, we had to stop at the Craft Beer Co for a couple of halves. There’s something about this particular branch of the chain that we especially like. It’s partly the guaranteed availability of at least one or two interesting beers among the vast range, but perhaps more so the combination of daylight, darkness, and a general sense of tranquillity. (Perhaps the management would like it to be less tranquil?) The beer was expensive but nice glassware, friendly staff, tasters all round, proper beer mats, and other perks made it seem decent value. We confirmed that Magic Rock Salty Kiss (Gooseberry) is still a wonderful beer, and also that we still don’t quite get what others see in The Kernel, though a half of pale ale with Mosaic and Zeus was perfectly decent.

In Walthamstow the pub that pulled us in, even though we really ought to have been doing something else with that precious hour and a half, was the Nag’s Head. It’s not the best pub in London, and perhaps these days not even the best in E17, but it’s our old local, where we first drank Kriek and sank endless pints of mild and Timothy Taylor Landlord. Since the last time we visited, the range of beers on offer has improved again — fewer Caledonian seasonals, more from Essex — while the cats-and-kitsch décor has intensified in strangeness. We sat in our old corner and drank Mighty Oak Marmalade Skies, a Beatles-themed pale ale at 4.7% which somehow reminded us of Batham’s Bitter — sweet but not sugary, and balanced as in balanced, rather than as a synonym for bland.

We’ll no doubt drift into the Nags next time we’re in town, too because, let’s face it, we’re not under any pressure to be on top of the latest thing in London: there are plenty of others on that beat.

Are there pubs you can’t walk past? If so, what gives them that quality?

Main image taken at the Craft Beer Co, Islington, in June 2014.

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.

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.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 02/05/2015

This is a scheduled post that we wrote on Thursday, by which time we already had a crazy number of interesting links in our stash.

→ First, an update on a story from a couple of weeks ago: the developers who illegally demolished the Carlton Tavern in London’s Maida Vale earlier this month have been ordered to rebuild it so that it looks exactly as it did before demolition. (This story has not only gone mainstream but also global: people really don’t like ruthless property developers.)

→ Award-winning blogger Bryan D. Roth gave us a two part epic about the economics of barrel-ageing, and of acquiring suitable barrels. Pt 1: Over a Barrel — The Rising Cost of a Speciality Beer | Pt 2: Reporter’s Notebook — Why I Wanted to Write About Barrels.

Benjamin Nunn took Windsor & Eton to task over the lack of clarity in the distinction between two beers with the same name, but at drastically different strengths: ‘How on the remotest quarters of King John’s Earth can 7.2% and 4.0% beer possibly be the same thing? It’s ridiculous.’

→ Matt Górecki, lately manager of Leeds’s North Bar and now an independent consultant and brewer, wrote a piece for Glynn Davis’s new Beer Insider website exposing the tension between north and south in British craft beer: ‘There was a slight bitterness in the North, a tangible harrumph when London went from “beer wasteland” to “totes craft” in the space of about six months in 2012.’

→ For the Morning AdvertiserLiberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland provided a lengthy inside view of the campaign to ‘Save the Pub’:

It seemed – and the pubcos and their lobbyists and friends, inside and outside Westminister were sure – that this issue was done and dusted for the parliament. A phoney ‘solution’ that would simply allow business as usual. Well they didn’t bank on the detailed Freedom of Information requests and the hours of analysis of the findings by me and Fair Pint founder Simon Clarke. What we unearthed – the obvious collusion between BIS and the pubcos – was devastating, BIS had cut and pasted the BBPA’s solution and slapped a logo on and presented it as their own, including even the same typos.

→ For All About Beer, Jeff Alworth considered the narrowing gap between established ‘craft’ and the ‘crafty’ end of big beer — ‘that bright line separating the corner brewery and Budweiser is getting fuzzier by the day’.

→ The launch of BrewDog’s fourth Equity for Punks crowd-funding scheme prompted this piece from Moneyweek‘s John Stepek:

What’s different about the BrewDog offering is that, technically, it’s an investment. You are buying a stake in the company. But really, on these terms, it’s no less of a ‘hobbyist’ investment than buying a virtual spaceship.

(Via @aletalk, via @philmellows.)

→ Lars Marius Garshol provided a typically evocative survey of the beer scene in Riga, Latvia:

Labietis is a modern craft brewery, but not in the naive “let’s brew some IPAs and porters” type of way. Instead, they’ve been very creative, drawing on past traditions without necessarily attempting (or pretending to attempt) any kind of historical veracity. Their Radzinš (4.3%, 11 IBU) is a wheat beer flavoured with carraway (as in some Norwegian farmhouse ales), and quite a lot of carraway by the flavour.

→ And, finally, we hadn’t realised quite how desperate things had become until we saw this:

 

Modern Pubmanship, Part 4: Nor Any Drop to Drink

The fourth in an occasional series of guest posts by our etiquette expert R.M. Banks.

We have, as our cousins across the p. like to put it, ‘all been there’: in the pursuit of some errand of great import, you come upon a public house handsome enough to lighten the dullest eye before which resistance crumbles, and in you stride, hands rubbing together and tongue lolling in thirsty anticipation of 20 fluid ounces of something piquant and wholesome. At which, like young Harker hoofing across the threshold of Castle Dracula, What ho!-ing freely, you confront a scene of infinite horror: there is not one beer on the bar counter worth your time, your precious coinage, or the strain on the old sock which serves in place of your liver.

‘Oh, you are being fussy again, Banks,’ you say, pooh-poohing, and, I dare say, wagging a digit. Well, I tell you, I am not – the most flexible of practitioners would struggle to limbo beneath my standards, which lie as close to rock-bottom as is possible without holing the hull. (Have I mixed my metaphors? No matter. We must plough on. (Oh, bother — there’s another one.))

Continue reading Modern Pubmanship, Part 4: Nor Any Drop to Drink