Porterhouse Oktoberfest

A pint of porter at the Porterhouse (photo by 1gl, from Flickr Creative Commons)
A pint of porter at the Porterhouse (photo by 1gl, from Flickr Creative Commons)

The Porterhouse in Covent Garden is a funny place.

On the one hand, it sets itself up as a beer-lovers paradise, with an extensive beer menu containing pages and pages of text about the integrity, commitment and passion of its founders.

On the other hand, from the time it opens at midday, it starts to fill up with stag-dos, parties of posh people, ex-pats from Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, and confused looking middle-aged tourists. Most of the clientele — and we were looking — seem to drink wine, Magners, Corona or Porterhouse Chiller. Chiller, by the brewers’ own admission, is the least challenging of their beers (viz, it is very cold and fairly light in flavour).

So, it’s a beer-centred venue which could survive perfectly well if it didn’t bother dishing up any decent beer at all.

We’ve got a little soft-spot for the place, though, as it was here that we first tried Paulaner Salvator and some other beers that helped to open our eyes a few years ago. This particular trip was prompted by the Beer Nut, who told us that the Porterhouse’s own German-style altbier was on its way, and by his review of said alt.

We weren’t disappointed by the alt — it more than measured up the real thing, which we got to know and love earlier this year, and satisfied our persistent cravings. It was on the bitter, fruity side, similar to the output of the well-respected Duesseldorf brewpubs, and bore no resemblance to the rather burnt-sugar-like commercial alt from Schloesser which we see fairly often in London these days.

While we were there, and being fortunate enough to have a quiet corner to ourselves, we decided to reappraise the rest of the Porterhouse’s home-grown beers. Weird nitro-keg shaving-foam heads aside, the stouts are all pretty impressive compared to Guinness. And that, after all, is the management’s entire focus: beat Guinness. Bailey preferred the deeply bitter Wrassler’s; Boak liked the softer, maltier Oyster Stout. None of the other beers are mind-blowing, but it’s good to see such a range, including three lagers.

Maybe the chaps in charge could turn this venue over to the party people and open another somewhere quieter, where we can appreciate their hard work in the brewery? Perhaps next door to the Greenwich Union?

Photo from 1gl‘s photostream at Flickr, under a Creative Commons license. Thanks, 1gl!

A crawl in Clapham

We’re not going to let the fact that most of the tube doesn’t work at weekends at the moment stop us from exploring. A couple of Saturdays back, we decided to go to Clapham and investigate some of the interesting sounding pubs mentioned in various guides and websites.

What did we know of Clapham before this visit? Well, it used to be home to around 300 dreadful stripped-pine and chrome contemporary beverage appreciation spaces — the kinds of place which we suspect soured a lot of CAMRA types on modern pubs for good, with their cold atmospheres and selection of identical and bland ‘world lagers’. On the high street, at least, those are still in abundance, but now looking increasingly careworn and old-fashioned. All the men were wearing little hats and skinny jeans; the girls were in Uggs. Style over substance.

Off the high street, however, there’s plenty to enjoy — the kinds of pubs which fall between full-on trendiness and catering purely to old men.

Summer Lightning and Downton German Pale Ale Face/Off
Summer Lightning and Downton German Pale Ale Face/Off

Our first port of call was the Mason’s Manor Arms, which is in the Good Beer Guide and has been for years. It made the trek worthwhile. It’s a small, cosy pub set back from the street behind a small beer garden. The only concessions to 1990s-style Clapham trendiness are some well-worn sofas and a rather nice contemporary frontage. All the cosiness in the world can’t make up for terrible beer, but the Mason’s Manor has nothing to worry about on that front. Their Summer Lightning was astoundingly good. Downton’s German Pale Ale, their current guest ale, was a fascinating, confusing and delicious beer, evidently brewed with all-German lager-type ingredients and fermented English-style. Similar to Summer Lightning, but fresher and crisper. Timothy Taylor Landlord and Ringwood Bitter were also on offer and beyond criticism in their freshness and condition.

The Bread and Roses
The Bread and Roses

Comfortable as we were, we managed to haul ourselves up and out to make it along the road to the Bread and Roses. Now, on paper, this sounded like our kind of place: a pub run to raise funds for left-wing causes which offers a large range of guest ales and specialty beers. And it exceeded expectations.

First, the interesting beers on tap: Sharp’s Doom Bar, Sharp’s IPA, Purity Pure Gold, Budvar, Budvar Dark, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Stiegl (from Austria), Erdinger Weissbier and Maredsous Blonde. Then in bottles: Maisel’s Dunkelweiss, Brooklyn Lager, Brooklyn Chocolate Stout and Anchor Steam. Nothing we hadn’t tried before, but lots we were pleased to see on offer and, once again, all those we tried were fresh and tasty. We also liked the fact that there were lots of explanatory notes on the pumps and boards to explain what the various beers were like, and there were also suggestions on the menu as to which wine or beer would match with the food.

The pub itself is an old Victorian building decked out in late 90s trendy pub style, except that it also has paintings of left-wing orators in 19th century London, big screen football, copies of the London Drinker and numerous other things that undercut any sense of pretension. Why is this place not more famous? Why was it not crammed? Maybe being neither wholly trendy nor designed for old men makes for a hard-to-sell pub? It makes a point of being child-friendly, so perhaps that scared the GBG off. And, of course, it’s not right next to a tube station.

One caveat: the food was great and cheap (especially given the quality) but took a while to arrive (35 minutes) so don’t build your visit around a meal.

Our crawl was cut short at this point when we moved on in the drizzle to find that Microbar doesn’t open on Saturday afternoons. Another time. Clapham has a lot to offer, and we’re coming back for another session!

Notes

Both the Manor Arms and Bread and Roses are on Clapham Manor Street. The nearest tube stops are Clapham North or Clapham Common; alternatively, trains to Clapham High Street leave from Victoria and London Bridge approximately every half an hour. Microbar is technically Battersea, rather than Clapham, but it’s a fairly short stagger from the Bread and Roses; if you go along the Wandsworth Road you’ll pass the Plough Inn, now a Young’s pub, and an old, defunct brewery that goes back at least to 1869, before being bought by Simmonds and then Courage. Google map here, showing all the locations mentioned.

The Carpenters Arms with the Beer Nut

We’re very slowly becoming tickers for beer bloggers. This week, we finally caught up with TV’s the Beer Nut. We took the opportunity to try out a pub we’d never visited before, just five minutes walk from Marble Arch in the west end of London.

The Carpenters Arms is very much a Proper Pub, without making a big deal of it. There are usually five or six cask ales available on the big, brown, wooden bar. The big, brown wooden tables are worn and ringed with beer stains. There is a dartboard. The crowd is largely made up of builders and regulars.

Bailey thought O’Hanlon’s Yellow Hammer was on good form (we’ve only had this from bottles on location in Devon in the past, and not been impressed) but we note Beer Nut didn’t care for it, thus going to demonstrate again that although we seem to share fairly similar outlooks, we never like the same beers…

This pub makes a nice change from sweaty chain pubs crammed to the rafters. It’s worth knowing about if you’re in that area and looking for a decent pint.

Beer Nut is very much a Proper Beer Blogger, without making a big deal of it. He does have a notebook, but when he scribbles in it, he makes it look like he’s a busy man with great thoughts. And who’s to say he isn’t?

The Carpenters Arms (definitely no apostrophe) is at 12 Seymour Place, W1H 7NA. (Beer in the evening review here). As well as being handy for Oxford Street and the Lebanese restaurants on Edgware Road, there’s also an Austrian cafe (with beer!) over the road, which we’ll have to investigate some other time.

Posh pub/hotel in Hackney

Old pub livery on the Ship Inn, Hackney
Old pub livery on the Ship Inn, Hackney

We’d walked past the Ship Inn tons of times. We’d even photographed it and put the pictures here. From the outside, it looked like a pretty rough old dive, partly because of the gang of people smoking outside the long tunnel you have to walk down to get in.

Then we read somewhere that, far from being rough, it’s actually the poshest boozer in Hackney, so we got over our nerves and went in for a nosy round.

It’s actually a boutique hotel, and a nice looking one at that. The bar makes more sense when you think of it as a service for guests rather than a pub for locals. It’s done up, as the phrase goes, like a tart’s boudoir. A good half of it is laid up for dinner with table cloths, big wine goblets and silverware. The barmen/waiters are smartly dressed with continental aprons. One of them looks like Tobey Maguire.

Standing by the door, we had one of those moments: it’s too posh! They’ll expect us to eat even though we’re not hungry!

But they didn’t. And they were very nice. The beer was nothing special (several so-called world lagers, Tim Taylor Landlord and the now ubiquitous Sharp’s Doom Bar) but well enough kept. We enjoyed our pint and felt, on the whole, that this would be a good place to go on a date or to bring people from work who don’t like ‘old man’s pubs’.

More to the point, though, it’s across the road from the usual venue for the Pig’s Ear Beer Festival (scheduled this year for 2-6 December). Any out of towners struggling to convince other halves to join them at a beer festival could find a couple of nights in this place will clinch the deal, and it’s pretty convenient to stagger home to as well…

The Ship is owned by Urban Inns, who also own the Coach and Horses in Isleworth.

Adnam’s East Green and the Crown pub, Victoria Park

The Crown pub, Victoria Park, as photographed by EwanM
The Crown pub, Victoria Park, as photographed by EwanM

On one of our random wanderings round East London, we stopped off at the Crown Pub, next to Victoria Park. I gather this has been through a few incarnations, and is now part of the Geronimo Inns chain. It’s gastro-y, with a lounge bit downstairs and a dining room upstairs.

Top marks for the feng shui — despite the cowskins and bare floors, they do manage to make it feel cosy (good lighting, darkish walls and a cleverly placed book case).

They had Adnam’s East Green on tap, which claims to be carbon neutral. We haven’t heard lots of enthusiastic reviews about this beer, so we weren’t expecting much. We were pleasantly surprised. It had an orangey, spicy aroma, like a Belgian wit beer, which was how it tasted too. The Adnam’s website makes no references to use of spices, but I’m blowed if I can work out how they got that flavour without them. Refreshing and different, and worth trying even if you don’t want to save the planet.

They also had Pride and Doombar on tap, in reasonable condition. In bottles, the usual selection of dull world lagers, but they also had Anchor Steam.

We liked this place, as it was genuinely relaxing and cosy — too many wannabe modern pubs just don’t manage to pull this off. We didn’t try the food, although it’s supposed to be good. Worth a visit if you’re in the area, and a great spot for a Sunday afternoon pint after a stroll through the park.

Boak (via text)

Notes

1. The Crown is at 223 Grove Road, E3, next to Victoria Park, and is equidistant from Bethnal Green and Mile End tubes. Beer in the Evening review here.

2. Adnam’s have achieved carbon neutrality through a mixture of genuine reductions in carbon emissions and by offsetting the rest. We’re not that convinced by offsetting, but it’s interesting to see a brewery quantify the carbon emissions created by brewing and attempt to do something about it.

3. Geronimo Inns also own the Phoenix in Victoria, which is rubbish, and The Betjemen Arms in King’s Cross St Pancras, where we haven’t yet been. So I don’t know what belonging to this chain is supposed to mean in terms of quality.

Once again, we find ourselves indebted to EwanM at Flickr for the picture. He appears to be on a mission to photograph every London pub and put up his pictures under a Creative Commons license. Thanks, Ewan!