Beer hunting in London: Stoke Newington

The beer cellar was looking a little bare this weekend, so we decided to seek out some more. Having followed our own advice from an earlier post, “surviving a beer desert”, and tried out all the local shops, we thought we’d branch out and try to find some alternative sources of quality brews. We reckoned it would be interesting to go to another part of London to see what was available.

So we headed to Stoke Newington, North London. Trendy but lived in, we had high hopes that we’d be able to find something interesting to drink. In particular, we were after (a) “premium” ales and lagers (b) Baltic porters.

For the premium stuff, we headed for “Fresh & Wild“, the organic supermarket on Stoke Newington Church Street.

fresh-wild.jpg

They have a small selection of very nice British brews – Sam Smith’s organic ale and lager, Honeydew from Fullers; also Riedenburger, imported from Germany, although disappointingly, only one of their many varieties. (It was also, unhelpfully, labelled “lager” – yes, but which one?)

We felt in general that they could have offered more of a choice, even if they were being strict about the organic criteria, as there seem to be loads of organic ales and lagers around now. At Fresh & Wild, the beer section seemed a bit of an afterthought (especially given the enormous wine selection).

We then trekked up and down Church Street and Stoke Newington High Street looking for nice beers in general and Baltic porters in particular. Complete failure to find any Baltic porters (plenty of pale polski lagers though).

However, we did find an off-licence / convenience store with a great selection of ales, including at least 4 bottle conditioned ones and at least one from a brewery we’d never heard of, always a good sign. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a good selection of ales in a high street off-licence.  We were limited to what we could carry, but came away with a couple of Hook Norton beers that are not widely available (Haymaker and 308A.D), among others.

If you’re in the area, the shop’s called “Intercontinental Wines and Food” and it’s at 209-211 Stoke Newington High Street.

Lithuanian Lager Face Off Part 2: the face offening

svyturys_taste_test.jpg

A few weeks ago, we had a “taste off” between two lithuanian lagers – Utenos and Kalnapilis.

We weren’t blown away by either, but slightly preferred Utenos. This time, though, we went back to our old favourite for comparison – Svyturys.

They’re very proud of Svyturys in Lithuania, and it was one of the first Lithuanian beers to be imported to the UK. They have several varieties. Tonight, we tested Ekstra Draught (unpasteurised), Gintarinis (with a gold label) and Svyturio (with a red label).

Gintarinis is supposedly a pilsner (“Pilsner my arse” – Boak) but is not especially hoppy or “dry”. It’s really a slightly more hoppy version of a helles.

Ekstra (unpasteurised) is the poshest beer in their range, and a Dortmuner type. Its bottle is very swanky – no label except at the neck, with a big logo embossed in the glass. The beer is very nice, and very much “true to style”. It’s hard to say if the “draught” status makes much difference, but its nice to see this kind of thing happening.

They don’t say what type of beer Svyturio is supposed to be – only that it’s a cross between Gintarinis and Ekstra. But it tastes quite different. Guilty admission – we actually did a Pepsi-style blind taste test, and we were only able to identify “red” as different from the other two. It’s much thinner, despite being stronger, and pleasantly bland. It’s also a little lighter in colour.

Gintarinus initially won in the blind test, but as the beers warmed up, it started to smell a bit off. This could have just been an off bottle though.

We can’t quite work out whether Svyturys is a force for good or evil in the beer world. On the one hand, their website boasts such delights as Svyturys Extra Cold, and the tempting promise of “even lighter beers” to come (urgh…). On the other hand, we always enjoy a bottle of it, and even Roger Protz rates it (in “300 Beers to try before you die”).

We’re now going to try and track down the rarer treats in the Svyturys range – Degintas (a baltic porter type), Baltas (a wheat beer) and the most enticing, Baltijos, which according to the website is “distinguished for its hard scum”. Yummmmm.

Boak and Bailey

Old article on London Stout

450px-truman_black_eagle_brewery_2005.jpgIn the November 1854 edition of Fraser’s Magazine, there is a fascinating article called simply “London Stout”. It paints a vivid picture of how a mid-Victorian London pub would have looked:

One of the earliest things to strike our country cousins is the universal appearance of the names of certain firms, painted in the largest letters upon the most florid backgrounds of the numerous public house signs of the metropolis. “What does ‘Reid’s Entire’ mean?” asked a fair friend of ours the other day, looking up with her brown eyes as though she had asked something very foolish, and pointing to the puzzling inscription on a neighbouring signboard.

Later, the writer describes a street porter-seller “with his little rack of quart mugs brimmed with the frothy liquid, or rattling the shiny pots against the rails by their suspended strap”.

The best section, to my mind, is a detailed description of the interior of the brewery of Truman, Hanbury, Buxton and Co at Spitalfield, East London.

After the process of mashing the wort is pumped up into a large copper, of which ther are five, containig from 300 to 400 barrels each, where the wort is boiled with the hops, of which often two tons are used in a-day. The boiling beer is now pumped up to the coolers. To get a sight of these the visitor has to perform a climbing process similar to that required get at the upper gallery of St Paul’s, and, when he has reached the highest point ladders are capable of taking him, he finds his nose on a level with a black sea, whose area presents a surface of 32,000 square feet.

Photo adapted from an original by , and used at the Wikipedia article on the Black Eagle Brewery, on Brick Lane.

Was Wellington a fan of IPA?

wellington.jpgOn June 12 1841, The Times ran a story about how the duke of Wellington was greeted by the staff and management of the famous India pale ale brewery at Wapping.

On Monday last (says a correspondent) during the aquatic procession of the Trinity Board on the river, the firm of Hodgson and Abbot, pale ale brewers in Wapping, adopted a novel mode of complimenting the Duke of Wellington, Master of the Trinity-house, as he passed their premises on his way to Deptford to be sworn in according to the annual custom for the ensuing year. The river frontage was decorated with flags and banners from the corners of which hung bottles of India pale ale.

Later:

A Party of Conservative gentlemen in the drawing-room [of the brewery]… drank the health of his Grace when the shallop in which he was seated was opposite the window… in Herculean glasses of strong pale ale, each holding a bottle and a half, and his grace appeared much pleased with the compliment, and bowed to the gentlemen assembled.

Those glasses sound cool. How strong was the strong ale…?

Pimlico Ale – update

We found another book that mentions Pimlico Ale, which I spoke about in this post a few days ago.

William Carey, in his weird, limited edition history of the area, published in 1986, writes:

The most popular ale drunk in London between 1570 and 1700 was ‘Pimlico Ale’ otherwise known as ‘Derby Red Cap’ from the pink tinge of its frothy head. At first produced only in Derbyshire at a farm location named “Pimlico”, it was brought to London in huge barrels down the Watling Way.

This is very interesting. What makes the head pink/red? Fruit could, but the head on some imperial stouts is reddish brown. More research needed – in books on Derbyshire, perhaps…?

Pimlico Ale

UPDATE 15/12/2013: we wrote this post not long after we started blogging and it has at least one embarrassing historical error (re: Henry VIII). We’ll have to revisit the topic now we’re older and wiser.

Did you know that Pimlico, a district of London, is named after a beer that was the Special Brew of its day?

The official history of Watney’s brewery, published in 1963, talks briefly about “Pimlico ale”. It tells us that Pimlico was brewed from the middle-ages to the tudor period, but doesn’t give much of an idea how it would have tasted. So, we consulted a couple of other books (listed below).

We found out a few interesting things.

1. Pimlico ale was strong – strong enough that it was considered “wicked”. It was associated with real drunkards – the hardcore, if you like. The poem “Pimlyco, or runne Rec-cap” from 1609 is the most famous mention of the beer:

Strong Pimlyco, the nourishing foode
To make men fat, and breed pure blood;
Deepe Pymlyco, the Well of Glee,
That drawes up merry company.

It was served at a pub in “Hogsdon” (now Hoxton, in east London), run by Elinour Rummin, “the Ale-wife of England”. A pub in Westminster, in south west London, borrowed the name to cash in on Mrs Rummin’s fame. And the area where the pub stood came to be known as Pimlico – it’s actually named after the beer!

2. The beer itself was probably very lightly hopped, if at all, and had lots of unfermented sugar. It would have been sickly sweet. It would also have been dark and probably slightly smoked, given the primitive methods of malting at the time.

3. The Watney’s book suggests (probably erroneously) that it was “brewed by the monks of Westminster [Abbey]”. So, it might have been a British abbey beer!

If a historically minded brewer wanted to recreate it, I’d advise them to throw authenticity aside and add some hops. Henry VIII hated them and banned them from beer, but their addition could be justified, as they were growing in Britain from 1428, and were a recognised ingredient in continental beers from the 9th century. And it would certainly make the stuff more drinkable…

Sources:
P. Mathias, The brewing industry in England, 1700 1830 (1959)
A. Stout, Deep Well of Glee (1997)
H. Janes, The Red Barrel: A History of Watney Mann (1963)

Links

Medieval/Renaissance Brewing page

Curry and beer

The British Guild of Beer Writers reports on a recent “tasting event” at the Bombay Brasserie in London. Eminent beer experts got together for a curry and tried to work out which beers went best with spicy foods. Their recommendations are here.

Rupert Ponsonby, co-founder of the Beer Academy comments:
What this tasting hopefully shows is the potential for Britain’s 8,500 curry restaurants to look seriously at developing beer lists to inspire their customers and to match with their cuisine. This is a fantastic commercial and marketing opportunity for them. Top Michelin-starred restaurants such as Le Gavroche, Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons and Aubergine have already taken the lead in creating inspired beer lists, and it will be wonderful to see top Indian restaurants doing the same.

On a visit to the Cinnamon Club last year, I was appalled to find that the only beer they had available was Cobra lager. Cobra’s OK – nicer than you’d expect, is what I mean, for a mass-produced lager made in Bedford – but surely not anywhere near as posh as the food, the wine or the waiters? Ms. Boak visited one of Gary Rhodes’ restaurants in the City of London last year, too, and was similarly disappointed by the lack of any beer, never mind a beer list.

Of course, my local curryhouse, which is very cheap and cheerful, is run by Sri Lankans, and they sell wonderful Lion Stout. It’s not a perfect beer to drink with a curry, but it’s a great one to have as a dessert. So, posher isn’t always better for beer lovers.

The Anglo-Bavarian Brewery

William Henry Hudson’s Afoot in England (1909) is a memoir/guide book, which takes a snooty tone in places. This passage (from the Project Gutenberg etext) caught my eye because it mentions the Anglo-Bavarian brewery in Shepton Mallet, Somerset:

I went on a Saturday to Shepton Mallet. A small, squalid town, a “manufacturing town” the guide-book calls it. Well, yes; it manufactures Anglo-Bavarian beer in a gigantic brewery which looks bigger than all the other buildings together, the church and a dozen or twenty public-houses included. To get some food I went to the only eating-house in the place, and saw a pleasant-looking woman, plump and high-coloured, with black hair, with an expression of good humour and goodness of every description in her comely countenance. She promised to have a chop ready by the time I had finished looking at the church, and I said I would have it with a small Guinness. She could not provide that, the house, she said, was strictly temperance. “My doctor has ordered me to take it,” said I, “and if you are religious, remember that St. Paul tells us to take a little stout when we find it beneficial.”

“Yes, I know that’s what St. Paul says,” she returned, with a heightened colour and a vicious emphasis on the saint’s name,”but we go on a different principle.”

The Anglo-Bavarian brewery opened in 1864, making pale ale, but is really notable as the first brewery in Britain to make lager. It employed German brewers from 1873 onward, and won awards worldwide for it’s German-style beer. Of course, when World War I kicked off in 1914, they changed the name to “The Anglo”, but it was too late: the Bavarian flags and symbols all over the building led to it being trashed. It closed in 1920. The building is still there, but in bad shape (read more at English Heritage).

Nowadays, the most famous drink being made in Shepton Mallet is Babycham.