london pubs

The Rake — empty on a Friday!

The Rake near Borough Market was so busy last time we went on a Friday that it took almost 10 minutes to get a drink and we had to drink it crushed into a corner by a stack of handbags.

We happened to be in the area last night and thought it was worth a look, as we were craving something strong and weird. We weren’t hopeful of being able to get through the door, but didn’t have any trouble at all. It was still doing good business, but not crammed.

The afterglow of that Time Out review has evidently passed and the fickle drinkers of London have moved on, it seems, perhaps influenced by various people on the internet describing it as expensive, crowded and grumpy.

We’ve never found it grumpy. It is still expensive, though — especially anything Belgian, German or American. But British cask ales (Harviestoun Behind Bars, for example, which Ally didn’t like, but we thought was OK) are only about £2.70 a pint, so not that bad. They usually have some strange foreign brews on tap that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else in the UK — Boak had some 8.5% Oesterstout from the Scheldebrouwerij in the Netherlands, which sorted the strong and weird craving quite neatly.

The crew of the Great British Beer Festival international beer bar turned up near the end and had a very cheerful, animated conversation with the barman. You’d have thought they might be taking it easy before the big match, really…

beer reviews The Session

Session #18 – anniversary beers

This month’s session is hosted by The Barley Blog, and we’ve been asked to knock back a limited edition anniversary beer and blog about it, perhaps explaining our choice.

Well, the reason for today’s choice is quite easy – the only candidate we had in was a Fullers’ Vintage Ale from 2005. Is it more common on the other side of the pond to have limited edition beers? I can’t think of many British breweries that do it.

The trouble with these limited edition, made-for-aging beers is deciding when to drink them. The longer you’ve had them in, the harder the decision gets. You need an occasion to justify it, and what better occasion than raising a glass to fellow beer-bloggers across the globe. Oh, that and the promotion one of us got this week.

The aroma of this 8.5% beastie was overwhelmingly of alcohol, specifically a sweet sherry or Pedro Ximénez. Like PX, it coats the tongue with sugar and fruits – we got hints of apricot and cherry. We didn’t notice a lot of bitterness at the end, and in fact the finish was a little on the sour side.

I’m not sure our tasting notes bear any resemblance to what Fullers say about this vintage, suggesting perhaps that it hasn’t aged that well — or that we, and the people we bought it from, haven’t aged it very well.

Still, it left a pleasant warming feeling in the belly.

Beer history

Bloody great barrels

As well as being home to some decent pubs, Heidelberg also boasts an enormous barrel as a tourist attraction. In fact, they’ve got several, going up in size as you go into the castle.

The biggest (in the photo) has a capacity of 220,000 litres and is referenced in books by Mark Twain and Jules Verne, among others. However, it’s a tiddler compared to the porter barrel that burst on Tottenham Court Road in 1814, drowning seven people. Stonch wrote about that here.

Apologies for the lack of blogging action recently and in the next few days. We’re mostly drinking mass-produced lagers in the sun, so not a lot to write about really.


Dull beer

We’ve all had one of these from time to time:

Label from a bottle of Dull Bier

As photographed on the wall of a Bamberg pub.

Generalisations about beer culture

The best pub is a comfortable pub

“Pub X is too poncified and it’s full of tossers.”

“Yes, but pub Y is too down-at-heel and full of smelly people.”

That’s a crude summary of a fair bit of debate on pub review sites and even some of our favourite British beer blogs.

We’ve been pondering this and have concluded that what makes a good pub is very much in the eye of the beholder: do you feel comfortable there? If so, it’s a good pub.

And we’re not talking about the quality of the soft furnishings. A pub where you can be yourself without worrying that you’re being judged — one where you aren’t the centre of attention for the wrong reasons — is what most of us seem to be after.

No-one should feel they have to go to somewhere as high-falutin’ as the Duke of Cambridge if they won’t feel relaxed because they’re wearing a football shirt; equally, if you don’t fancy drinking in the scary pub round the corner from your house, don’t force yourself.

Neither choice makes you a bad person.

Going to the pub is supposed to be fun, after all — not an ordeal.

Of course, there are some pubs which are so mixed and so welcoming that they genuinely transcend all of that. We think the The Royal Oak is one and the Pride of Spitalfields is another. Those are pubs where no one group of people rules the roost, and where everyone is so busy having conversations with each other that they don’t have time to give the stink eye to their peers.

The picture is from our trip to Wapping on Sunday. It’s of a pub, so kind of on-topic.