First encounters with Belgian beer and the Dove revisited

Boon beer at the Dove pub, hackneyRon’s been posting a fair few reminiscences recently, including a couple of posts on first encountering Belgian beer – here, and here.

My first encounters were not so cool. Around about the turn of the century, when Leffe and Hoegaarden were beginning to appear in trendy London pubs, a mate suggested going to the Dove, Hackney for her birthday.

Having got a bus to the really rough bit of Hackney, and walked underneath some dodgy railway arches to get there, I was already in a bad mood that she hadn’t suggested somewhere closer to home. I got even grumpier when I saw what was on offer – weird foreign stuff at MORE THAN £4 A PINT!!! The barstaff did try to explain some rubbish about how in Belgium you drank it from nice small glasses, but I wasn’t having any of it. And it tasted weird.

I can’t remember exactly what I drank – I think I had a fruit beer (don’t people always when they’re faced with a Belgian beer menu for the first time?) and a Delirium Tremens, because the elephants were cool. We moaned to my friend for having brought us there for quite some time afterwards.

I’m always sceptical about people who claim they’ve always been into cool stuff. I’m happy to admit to being a philistine. And I think my experience is illustrative of the difficulties that Belgian beer faces in gaining acceptance in the UK, particularly the insistence on the pint as the only measure that makes sense.

Anyway, I went back to the Dove a year or so later, when I was a bit more open to it (i.e. had a job and could afford it). I picked beers with odd names (Slag Pils! Mort Subite!) and funny beer glasses (Kwak pipes aplenty), and enjoyed the food. It became a bit of a treat. Then it became the victim of its own success, and the last time I went there before today I remember the service being dreadful, the food so-so, the beer a bit off and the whole place full of smoke and screeching media types.

Then, having watched “In Bruges” earlier this week (we liked it) we got a bit of craving for Belgian beers in “gay glasses” (to paraphrase the film) and decided it was time for a return.

We’ve learnt from past experience that places in London can go from being great to lousy to great again — the power of the internet, perhaps, as bar managers respond to comments on review websites and blogs? At any rate, the Dove was in top form today – superb food, and a great selection of Belgian beers on tap and in bottles. They also had six or so British ales on, included Oregon Best from Crouch Vale, a delicious homage to American pale ales.

The staff look like they’re all in trendy bands, but manage to hold it together long enough to carefully serve your beer in the right glasses.

It’s a very cosy spot, full of nooks and crannies and reminiscent of a pub in Ghent we went to. With the smoking ban in place, it’s an extremely pleasant place to spend a gloomy afternoon and gently souse one’s liver. Highly recommended.

We may blog more about some of the bonkers Belgian brews we had, including one that tasted like Heinz spaghetti…

Boak

Here’s a map to the Dove.

11 thoughts on “First encounters with Belgian beer and the Dove revisited”

  1. It’s true, it’s difficult to have a good session. I think a fair few are unnecessarily strong… and unless you’re really into fruit or wit beers, it’s difficult to find anything at 5% or less.

    Then again, we Brits probably drink too quickly – compare the drinking speed of the Belgians in Belgium to the British tourists! I think that’s why the service in Belgium has a reputation for being slow – they’re trying to help us!

  2. I think most Belgian beers are great for tasting or for pairing with food, but not when you are thirsty, fruit or wit being the exceptions, and yet, they are not suited for all tastes.
    My first experience with Belgian beer was at the Brussels airport, I think it was Hoeegarden, there was a sign that said “white beer”, I had a glass, but wasn’t too crazy about it, as you say above, tasted weird

  3. I have had great and miserable experiences at the Dove– it’s so hit or miss. I have a hard time with Belgian beers, too but I’ve been feeling like I need to give them another try.

    I really loved reading this post– it made me laugh– Slag Pils!

  4. Inspired, I drank Dupont Saison and Rodenbach yesterday.

    The Dupont Saison was excellent but 6.5%, that’s not really necessary. The Rodenbach was only 5.2% but very hard work, small sips and remind yourself it’s supposed to taste like that. Gueuze is one thing this is quite another!

  5. Ally – hit and miss is right. But from what we saw on Saturday, it seemed to be in its groove at the moment. I think lunchtime / afternoon is probably the best time to go.

    Andy – we couldn’t drink the Rodenbach last time we tried it, although that was a couple of years ago. Now we like gueuze we’re going to give it another go…

  6. I like Gueuze, but to me Rodenbach just tastes off! This one was OK datewise, the last bottle I had was past its best before date, that was a real mistake, it went down the sink.

  7. You should try the Dovetail in Clerkenwell. Owned by the same people, and much more Belgian in character. Beers are the same, atmosphere can be excellent.

  8. Thanks for tip, Stonch. That might explain why the Dove was relatively quiet, too — there’s a similar pub you can actually get to on the tube…

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