Category Archives: pubs

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

Brett In Unexpected Places

When is a quality control problem not a problem? When it makes a good India pale ale into a great one.

The Windjammer in the centre of Dartmouth is a funny pub — quiet on both our visits, despite friendly people behind the bar and a well-worn, cosy interior. The counter is literally ship-shape, the walls are papered with nautical charts, and the back wall is covered in at least 30-years’-worth of yacht club pennants from around the world.

What caught our eye, once we’d dismissed the house bitter and guest ale as boring-going-on-bad, were bottles of Goose Island IPA. We used to trek across London in search of it but now, it’s everywhere. But, at the Windjammer, we were offered something that swanky craft beer bars could do well to copy: a choice of bottles from the shelf (room temperature), cellar (recommended ‘for this particular beer’) or fridge.

We went with a cold one and asked for a large wine glass to go with it; it cost £4.75.

It poured hazy and, at first, we just thought it was ‘off’. It took a moment for our palates to recognise what we were tasting: Brettanomyces, plain as day.

We didn’t think we were ‘Brett-heads’ or even that we were entirely confident in spotting it in beer unless cued by packaging but this was so pronounced that there could be no mistake. It tasted like one of our Orval blending experiments, and was utterly delicious. The Brett provided a wild top note, like a Gypsy fiddler sneaking into the violin section of a symphony orchestra. Where GI IPA can sometimes, these days, seem rather on the candied side, this was bitter, lemon-pithy and bracing.

If Goose Island was still a tiny one-man-band as it was at its founding in Chicago in 1988 then this oddity might not be all that surprising, but it is now owned by AB InBev (as in Anheuser-Busch, as in Budweiser) — a company which, if nothing else, is famed for the consistency of its products and the rigour of its quality control. How could this have happened?

Our first thought was that it might not be GI IPA at all but another of the same brewery’s beers mislabelled — Matilda, maybe? — but that seems less likely than that some Brett simply got where it shouldn’t have been, migrating from one part of the brewery to another, perhaps stubbornly lingering in a pipe.

We came back for more a couple of nights later and enjoyed it just as much, perhaps all the more so for the knowledge that it was an un-repeatable experience: a few bottles of this one batch, packaged a year or so ago, are probably the only ones with this particular ‘problem’. If you want to try to find them yourself, though, look out for a best before date of 17 July 2015 and what we think is a batch number of 0947.

UPDATE 09/04/2015: Mike Siegel, Brewing Innovation Manager at Goose Island, has emailed to say: ‘The IPA you had was brewed July 17, 2014 in Chicago at our Fulton Street Brewery.  This batch was actually flagged as having an elevated micro count and held back.  After re-plating and a thorough analysis and tasting, it rechecked as clean and ready to go.  I would love to get my hands on some of these bottles to see exactly what has happened over the past nine months.’ So, not a confirmation based on a QC sample as we’d hoped for, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s impossible.

Sorry for the quality of the photo, which was snapped on a smartphone under ‘intimate’ lighting.

The Lesser-Spotted True Red Lion

Last weekend, we stumbled upon The Red Lion overlooking the Dart Estuary in High Dittisham, Devon, which is not only a true inn, offering both booze and accommodation, but also the village shop and Post Office.

Approaching from the road, our first impression was of rustic dishevelment: the sign has faded in sun and rain, the whitewash and weatherboarding have streaks of rust, and a bench outside is fashioned from upturned milk crates and a warped plank.

Did it look much different in 1944 when the estuary below teemed with landing craft preparing for D-Day? Probably not.

Inside, the trappings of its multiple functions, and preparations for the upcoming holiday season, gave a somewhat chaotic feel. There was a pile of parasols here, racks of children’s toys there, cakes and pastries balanced on the end of the bar, while furniture in the process of being moved from one place to another made the back room feel like a house clearance auction. But it functioned perfectly well, and the clutter was at least authentic — far preferable to a job lot of horse brasses, ‘vintage’ nautical or agricultural tat, and old Reader’s Digest abridged novels being arranged about the place.

Though there were hand-pumps on the bar, pints of Palmer’s Copper Ale (Dorset, 3.7%) were fetched from the cellar. They were perhaps too cool for some people’s tastes, but not ours, and were otherwise in perfect condition. An amber-brown, vaguely toffeeish beer with the accent on bitterness rather than aroma, it was hardly exciting, but fit the mood admirably.

We drank on a deck at the rear of the building which provided a Cinemascope view of the busy river buzzing with tourist boats and yachts, and of the lush green, intermittently wooded hills on the opposite bank. (Greenway, once the country home of crime writer Agatha Christie, is a minute’s ride away across the water.)

Though it was in need of a tidy and a lick of paint, this back yard came closer to the feel of a Bavarian beer garden than anywhere else we’ve been in Britain and yet, at the same time, could not be anywhere but in England: above the purple-grey slate rubble tower of St George’s church to our left fluttered the red cross of the national flag, while downhill was the high thatched roof of a cottage around which newly-arrived swallows were swooping.

We’d hesitate to call the Red Lion something special — it is too hard at work serving the community to pretty itself up — but it is somehow perfect in its imperfection, and refreshingly honest.

Not Enough Opening Hours in the Day

It seems that this is ‘Quirks of Licensing Law’ season here on the blog: today, a few notes on the problems, and opportunities, of neighbouring districts with different pub opening hours.

The 1921 Licensing Act gave magistrates the freedom to fix within limits the opening and closing hours of pubs in their districts. In London in particular, this led to great consternation among publicans, who simply wanted uniform pub opening hours from, say, 11 am to 11 pm.

It also turned the whole business into something of a game, as one report in The Times pointed out:

A curious effect of these varying hours is that anybody setting out to get drink during as long a period of the day as possible could begin at 11 am in Kensington, continue — if he took lunch — until 3:30 pm, start again at 4:30 in Stoke Newington, and by returning to the Holborn area have a glass before him until half an hour after midnight. (03/11/1921, p.7.)

What was fun for some, however, meant trouble for others. In 1929, Mr E.H. Keen, chair of the Holborn Licensing Justices, told the Royal Commission on Licensing of the result of Holborn’s pubs staying open until 11 while those in neighbouring Marylebone, Finsbury and St Pancras closed at 10:

Between the hours of 10 and 11 outsiders from all quarters pour into Holborn, and the scenes in the public-houses nearest the boundaries baffle description. The bars are overcrowded with disorderly men and women, many of them the worse for drink, and at closing time they are turned out with difficulty and behave outside in the most disgusting and rowdy manner. The nuisance to the neighbours is unbearable… The condition of things is a disgrace to civilisation. All decency is disregarded. (Lancs Evening Post, 05/12/1929, p.7.)

But it would take years for this problem to even begin to be solved — until the 1961 Licensing Act, as far as we can tell — during which time the strategies of drinkers became cleverer and more elaborate as they learned of more dodges and tricks.

Continue reading Not Enough Opening Hours in the Day

Sun Trap

Near the end of last year’s wonderfully elongated summer, we managed to make like we were on holiday and sit outside the Yacht Inn in Penzance drinking lager on a still, warm evening in late September.

The memory of that perfect moment got us through a gloomy winter until, last Sunday, we welcomed Spring by returning to the same table in the same pub for a few Spanish-style cañas of St Austell’s increasingly impressive Korev.

The pub, a pleasingly modest bit of provincial art deco, is painted white, while the granite walls of the public garden across the road (complete with palm trees) break the breeze from the sea, giving that particular spot, around that one rickety iron table, the same dry, baking heat as a square in Seville even on a fairly cool day.

It was nice to drink cold beer, get warm through to our bones, and feel our foreheads turning just a little pink.

Bring on the summer — we’re ready.