Secret Bars of Westminster

largeblm.gifI recently spent a night in a bar in Central London where you can always get a seat, which always has at least three real ales on tap (one of which is always a mild) and where a round of two drinks costs much less than a fiver. Sadly, it’s not somewhere I can recommend to everybody — it was one of the several members-only Civil Service social clubs hidden around Westminster.

These are some of the few surviving working men’s clubs in London, and that is exactly what this one felt like. I was reminded of Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights; of the railwaymen’s club my Mum and Dad joined a few years ago because the beer was a pound a pint; and perhaps a little of the club that Mr Mackay opens in the basement of HM Prison Slade in Porridge the Movie. In other words, it was rough around the edges, and maybe a little bleak, despite being a stone’s throw from both Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. But, for all that, the beer was half the price it is in the Rake, and just as good.

I drank Crouch Vale Blackwater Mild, which was in perfect condition, delicious, and reminded me of Anchor Porter (more hop aroma than is usual in a mild, perhaps?). But is it named after the sinister American “security” company…? They also had Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, and a couple of other beers whose names I didn’t write down.

If you know any civil servants, ask them if they can get you into their “social”. You’ll either love it or hate it, but either way it will be an experience.

Krusovice schwarzbier

krusovice.jpg Last night, I really wanted to drink a beer I hadn’t tried before, so I rummaged about in the “cellar” (garage) and found a bottle of Czech Krusovice  schwarzbier someone had left after a party.

It’s a very gentle 3.8% (perfect for a school night). In the glass, as you can see from the photo, it was very dark, but still transparent, with a nice off-white head. The taste, however, was disappointing at first.

I’m one of those suckers who expects dark beer to taste stronger than lighter coloured beers — even though I’ve done blind taste tests on glasses of helles and dunkel and not been able to tell the difference! This beer was very light bodied and lightly flavoured, despite its colour.

After the initial let down, though, I decided this beer was in the subtle category, rather than being bland. Or perhaps “mild” is the right word because, yes, this looked and tasted not unlike a dark English mild. Not much in the way of hop flavour, aroma or bitterness — just some sweet, chocolate-like malt and a refreshing wateriness. I know wateriness is not something people generally praise in a beer, but I don’t always want goop.

With hindsight, I wish I’d drunk it with a desert, or perhaps just with a juicy orange, rather than a big salty pizza, which might have brought out some bitterness, but I enjoyed it anyway. Worth a go if you see it about.

San Sebastian postscript – Keler lager

I got quite excited to see that San Sebastian had a “local” lager, Keler, with basque on the labels and all. The bottles tell a story about some German brewers who set up in San Sebastian in the 1890s, yada yada yada.

However, I was disappointed. Not so much by the fact it´s the usual yellow fizz – that I was expecting – but to find out that it was now brewed by Damm in Barcelona. I thought that at least I´d be able to recommend it on environmental grounds.

Still, at least it´s not Heineken, who really do dominate San Seb (although they tend to hide under the Cruzcampo brand).

Boak

Sam Smith’s Extra Stout — a good beer, all of a sudden?

ssbadge.gifI occasionally drink Sam Smith’s Extra Stout (the one on the pumps) when I just want a half of something, and don’t fancy a “pure-brewed lager”. Usually, it’s a black and fluffy white Guinness clone, albeit one with marginally more flavour. But yesterday, I had a half in the Fitzroy which knocked my socks off.

1. It didn’t seem to have been nitro smooth-flowed to death — it was still creamy, but not like someone had put shaving foam on top.
2. The head was that pleasing tan you get on good stouts, instead of the usual glacial white.
3. It was warmer than usual (that is, several degrees above freezing).
4. The body wasn’t a scary, opaque, artificial black — it was dark red, and clear.
4. It was delicious: coffee, chocolate, a little note of sourness, and some salt — just perfect, to my mind.

What’s going on? Is there a cask variant which some pubs have and others don’t? (As is the case with some of Sam Smith’s bitters.) Or have they changed the recipe?

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find out. The brewery’s aversion to “modern ways” means they’re not online and don’t really do press releases. The bar staff in the pub were none the wiser, either. Hmm.

Pagoa post script – Zunbeltz (and style nazis)

In my post two days ago, I reviewed two Pagoa beers – now the third, “Zunbeltz”, which describes itself as a stout.

Again, this seems to get real bad reviews on Ratebeer, and I can’t really see why.  It’s got bags of flavour, toasted malt, coffee and chocolate notes and a lovely long finish. This is easily one of the tastiest beers in Spain and would stand up very well against a British mild like Oscar Wilde.

And perhaps this style “confusion” explains the bad reviews - it hasn’t really got the body to be a stout, which is what the reviews seem to focus on.

While I can’t get as worked up as some bloggers about overclassification of beer – I think it’s quite useful for homebrewing if you’re trying to copy a particular favourite – I think in this case, it has resulted in a good beer getting some very bad reviews because it’s not “true to type”.

Or alternatively I’ve had a taste lobotomy since being out here…

Anyway, it is definitely worth trying, and I won’t even qualify that with “if you’re in Spain”. 

Boak