Porter in the pub


I wish more British pubs had a porter on tap, at least between September and March. More as in all.

I’ve been weaning my brown-beer-loving Dad onto dark beer for a few months now. He was bowled over by Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter at his birthday dinner; loved their Imperial Stout when he tried it in London; and had his socks knocked off by a particularly impressive bottle of Meantime’s London Porter on Christmas Day.

On Boxing Day, he sighed and said: “I might go to the pub if they had a nice porter on, but they won’t, will they?”

Knowing the pubs in my home town, I had to agree that the chances were slim of finding a dark beer other than Guinness.

It was with some excitement, then, that he reported his discovery of a pub in Plymouth (the Thistle Park Inn, where his band were playing) which was serving Sutton’s Plymouth Porter. It sounds delicious — Dad said treacle; Adrian Tierney Jones suggests it’s made with Cascade and/or Bramling Cross hops. It made my Dad’s day.

Dump Red Stripe, get Budvar on


Last night, we wanted to go somewhere with a bit of music. A quick search turned up the Carpenter’s Arms, a nice looking pub with a DJ playing “eclectic beats” (eh?) every Saturday night.

As it happened, it was just what we were looking for. We enjoyed the music and the atmosphere and got lightly pissed. Nice.

Even though we weren’t in beer geek mode, we couldn’t help but ponder the selection of beers on offer. We gather that this is one of Mitchells and Butlers undercover chain pubs and the familiar line-up on the pumps confirmed that. There were more than 20 draft beers, some interesting, others less so.

What struck us most was the menu which offered five ‘pilsners’: Carlsberg, Red Stripe, Peroni, Becks Vier and Heineken. Then there were the two very similar wheat beers — Franziskaner and Erdinger.

Why offer five such similar lagers? Couldn’t they spare a pump for something a bit better (Budvar, Urquell) or different (Budvar Dark)? We’re not being weird beer snobs here — those aren’t exactly obscure or hard to get hold of, and would just broaden the range a bit.

This is exactly the kind of pub which should have Brewdog’s beers on offer, too.

And, controversially, we’re going to suggest that they should drop their cask ales altogether, or have a really long hard think about how they’re looking after them.  We tried a pint of London Pride (no-one else was touching it) and it tasted very, very old and stale. Maybe this just isn’t the place for them?

Of course, being part of a chain, even if it’s kept a bit secret, they’re bound by all kinds of contracts and agreements, so this is really feedback for the owners, rather than the cheery bar manager.

All in all, we had a good night, and didn’t struggle to find nice things to drink, with the aforementioned Franziskaner, kegged Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, bottles of Chimay Red,  and bottled Meantime Chocolate and Raspberry. But a few small changes could make this a great pub, rather than just a good one.

Pubs and class

Inspired by an interesting post at Tandleman Towers (which was itself kicked off by this one over at Garrard’s gaff) I just rang my Mum and Dad and asked them: “Why don’t working class people go to the pub so much these days?”

Now, I should explain that, although I am now terribly middle class (I nearly bought a cheese dome in Peter Jones the other day) my folks are and always have been working class.

I live in London; they live in a small industrial town in Somerset. So, we have very different experiences of and feelings about going to the pub these days.

Here’s my perspective: I don’t bat an eyelid at paying £3.40 for a pint. I’m very blase about pub closures (“The ones that are shutting are probably horrible anyway, so who cares?”). I’m spoiled for choice, with loads of great pubs within an hour of my house on London’s excellent public transport system.

And here are the reasons my folks gave for their gradual abandonment of pubs in the last few years:

1. It costs too much — a pint should cost less than £2, surely?

2. The traditional pubs in town are cold, unfriendly and have a poor range of beer. Sometimes, says Dad, “it’s like walking into a hostile Wild West saloon”.

3. The newer pubs are almost like nightclubs, with DJs, dancefloors and offers on alcopops. To note: young working class people are going to those in some numbers, because they can get drugs and pull there, unlike at the distinctly unerotic Rose and Crown or Bunch of Grapes.

3. The nice pubs in the area are out of town, in the surrounding villages. Drink driving’s now taboo and there’s no public transport to speak of. Cabs are too expensive.

4. Working class homes are nicer now than they were in the 60s and 70s; it’s easier to get quality beer and spirits these days; and it’s relatively cheaper than it used to be. So, staying at home isn’t necessarily a compromise — it’s quite nice!

5. As it happens, they are going to the pub for the first time in a while tonight, and the draw is free live music from a local blues band. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother.

Interestingly, they didn’t think the smoking ban was an issue, although my Dad smokes and my Mum used to, and actually thought it had improved some of the local pubs.

Food for thought. I need to digest it.

The country pub out of season


When people talk with moist eyes of the English country pub, they’ve usually got somewhere specific in mind — a place which greeted them like old friends; which had an open fire; good food; low ceilings; and fresh, tasty beer. Cosy is the word that usually gets trotted out.

Sadly, not many country pubs live up to that ideal, especially out of season. One pub we visited in Cornwall last week seemed pretty typical of the reality.

We walked into the gloom and were struck by the smell of damp carpet and the chilly feel of the air.

The place was large (with seats for more than 100 people, at a guess) but almost empty. There was just one old man sat at the bar with a dog asleep at his feet. The only light was what made it through the small, dusty windows, and from the flickering mp3 jukebox.

The beer was actually spot on, although it did take a couple of attempts to find a pump clip that wasn’t purely decorative (“Ain’t got that ‘cept in bottles”). The landlord wasn’t unfriendly but nor did he look especially pleased to see us. Why should he? Our £5.20 wasn’t much of a contribution to a miserable winter weekday’s takings.

We sat on damp red velvet seats underneath foxed, curling pictures of local sporting teams and chains of dusty horse brasses for as long as it took us to finish our pints in seemly fashion and escaped into the fresh air.

Not so much cosy as bloody bleak.