News, Nuggets & Longreads 20 October 2018: Bermondsey, Breakfast, Birthday Beers

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that seized our attention in the past week, from greasy spoons to tap rooms.

For Imbibe Will Hawkes has been investigating what’s going on with London’s beer scene as outsiders infiltrate and success leads to exodus:

Enid Street is not London’s most picturesque road, despite the huge, verdant plane trees on the Neckinger Estate along its southern side in Bermondsey. It’s a place of light industry rather than elegant architecture, distinguished by its railway-arch businesses and the rumble of trains on the tracks above. For beer-lovers, though, Enid Street is special, and it is about to become even more so…. The recent past and immediate future of London beer and brewing is being played out here. Regulars on the ‘Bermondsey Beer Mile’…. may know about Moor Beer, the Bristol brewery that occupies number 71. And if they don’t yet, they’ll surely soon know all about number 73, which Cloudwater is turning into a London tap for its Manchester-brewed products.

London isn’t an island and all that.


Beer pump for Young's Ordinary bitter.

The weeks-old post Cask Report discussion continues, and continues to be interesting.

First, Pete Brown reveals some of the background research behind the Cask Report, which he didn’t edit this year, but did contribute to. Of particular note is the word-cloud showing what people who don’t drink cask ale think of it: “old man”, “unpleasant”, “strong”, “dark”, “warm”, “thick”, “hipster”, “piss”, and so on.

Meanwhile, at the narrative end of the lane, Jessica Mason has been conducting a thought experiment: what if cask ale was a person, and what if you were trying to convince a mate to go on a blind date with it?

You were so busy trying to describe them by comparing them to others and by trying to impress people with details on their past or intellect; you forgot all of the really great things about them.

You forgot the fact that they are honest. Humble. And really really nice.

You forgot to say how, when you met them, that moment was life-affirming. And how, for lots of your shared time, they have always been a pleasure and a comfort.


Greasy spoon cafe, Bethnal Green.

This article about greasy spoon cafes by Edwina Attlee for Architectural Review isn’t about pubs but also kind of is, in a week when there has been much discussion of boozeless boozers, and in the general context of thinking about ‘the third place’:

In one sense it was the immateriality of the food in these places that meant they were problematic for planners and puritans alike. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, you could always get breakfast. It didn’t matter how long you stayed as long as you ordered a cup of tea. If you were going there for one reason (company or comfort), you could pretend it was for another (eggs and bacon). If the planners hoped that civilians would start and end their day at the family home, these strayed homes made that less likely. They needed to be planned out.

(Via @gargarin.)


Trillium's Garden on the Greenway
SOURCE: Trillium Brewing.

Here’s another shout-out for new blogger Peter Allen who at Pete Drinks a Beer reflected this week on the supposed gulf between the world of beer geeks and that of ‘normals’:

Aside from the brewery based at trendy Fort Point, Trillium also run a beer garden (Garden on the Greenway) in a more offices-and-Irish Pubs part of the city that I visited twice. Perhaps the most notable thing about this was that, although there were a handful of the maligned “people sitting there with five small glasses in front of them, filled with different beers, taking notes”, the place was mostly filled with people who clearly had no idea that a) Trillium are a world-renowned brewery or b) that many Craft Beer Nerds would likely consider exchanging a limb for a night spent at the Garden on the Greenway. Most of them were drinking the lowest ABV beer on offer (the superb Launch Beer) and paying it basically no mind whatsoever.


Belgian beers from Guinness

The Beer Nut offers tasting notes on an interesting set of beers: a stout/Lambic blend from Guinness and Timmerman’s, with support from a bunch of Belgian-inspired beers brewed at the experimental Open Gate brewery in Dublin. Some hits, some misses, but overall an intriguing path for Guinness to be on, even tentatively.


Thomas Hardy in profile on the neck of our 1986 beer bottle.

We’ve never quite got into the Thomas Hardy game but we note with interest via our pal Darren Norbury at Beer Today that the 50th anniversary edition of the beer, brewed at Meantime, is now on sale.


Now, an advertisement for someone else: if you value what Ron Pattinson does (“Pedantically correct people on Twitter?” No, the painstaking research and writing and stuff) then you really ought to bung him some money once in a while. Now, there’s a fun new way to do that: for €25 he’ll dig into his vast collection of historic beer recipes and find one for a date of your choice — your birthday, or your kid’s, or your wedding anniversary, or whenever.


Finally, here’s an interesting bit of news for people who like to monitor CAMRA after the manner of Cold War Kremlinologists:


Want more? Alan does something like this every Thursday, too.

Incidental Lager, Pubs and Breweries in Photos of Edwardian London

Someone — we don’t know who — spent the week of 22-28 August 1908 visiting the capital of the British Empire and brought home as a souvenir a photo book called 350 Views of London.

They wrote the dates of their holiday on the inside cover in pencil. The book then spent at least some of the past century somewhere damp — an attic or shed — so that its cover buckled and the staples holding it together rusted away. That’s why we were able to by this relic for a couple of quid from the junk box in a secondhand bookshop in Bristol.

Among those 350 photos, some full-page, others fairly tiny, there are a handful that particularly grabbed our attention, for obvious reasons.

The Spaten Beer Restaurant, Piccadilly, c.1908.

This is one of the clearest, most detailed views we’ve seen of the Spaten Beer Restaurant at Piccadilly — a pioneering London lager outlet that we obsessed over during the writing of Gambrinus Waltz. We still desperately want to see a view of the interior but this is nice to have.

The King Lud, Ludgate Circus

The King Lud, Ludgate Circus

The book contains two views of one particular pub, The King Lud at Ludgate Circus. This is interesting to us because Jess drank in it fairly regularly in its final years when it was branded as part of the Hogshead chain. It is now a Leon restaurant, but recognisably the same building.

Omnibuses outside the Royal Exchange.

The beer connection in this shot of the Royal Exchange is a little less obvious: look at those two omnibuses in the centre — they’re advertising Tennent’s Lager, as distributed in London by Findlater & Co of London Bridge. This is a reminder that Germany and Austria-Hungary weren’t the only countries importing lager to London in the years before World War I.

Tottenham Court road from the south.

We haven’t seen this shot of Tottenham Court Road before, or any other from quite this angle. That’s Meux’s Horse Shoe brewery and the attached brewery tap to the right — the site of the famous beer flood. The sign above the brewery door advertises MEUX’S ORIGINAL LONDON STOUT. We’d like to know more about the Horse Shoe Hotel’s ‘American Bar’.

The Saracen's Head, Snow Hill.

The Saracen’s Head was on Snow Hill in the City of London. We can’t quite pin down the precise location, even after looking at contemporary maps, aerial photos and the comprehensive Pubs History website. An educated guess is that it was destroyed during the Blitz — if you know otherwise, or can tell us exactly where it was, do comment below.

Notable Pubs: The Royal Forest Hotel, Chingford

The Royal Forest Hotel in Chingford is a mock Tudor behemoth deformed by fire and forced to live out its old age bedecked with Premier Inn and Brewers Fayre branding.

When Jess told her Mum that we were staying there her reaction betrayed her memories of The Royal Forest’s reputation in the 1960s: “Ooh, get you!”

The Royal Forest in 1986.
SOURCE: Whatpub (CAMRA)

As a child growing up in Walthamstow Jess knew it as a place where you parked to eat your fish-paste sandwiches but wouldn’t dream of entering. It was alien territory — Essex culture, with Essex prices, not posh but still out of reach. We think with research that it was a Schooner steakhouse, Watney’s answer to the Berni Inn, if that helps place it in terms of culture and class.

Certainly its location between golf course and a genuine Tudor building, along with the sheer raging pretentiousness of its architecture, permits a certain grandeur to linger.

The approach to the Royal Forest along the main road.

Ray’s first encounter was this weekend, rounding the corner on foot to see its high flank with black-and-white timbering and multi-pane windows peering between the branches of old oak trees: “Bloody hell, it’s Nonsuch Palace.”

Brewers Fayre.

Faded sign on the front of the pub.
“Scotch Ales”

The corporate makeover isn’t elegant — plastic signs glued here, gaudy menus nailed there — but there’s the ghost of some old brewery livery at the front and a magnificent stained glass window inside, which you’ll probably only find if you’re staying over, or nosy.

Stained glass pub-hotel window.

Pinning down its history proved tricky, even with a trip to the local library on Sunday morning. Was it terribly ancient, or built in 1880, 1890, or the 1920s?

Eventually we decided the most efficient approach would be to contact London tour guide and Chingford history expert Joanna Moncrieff. We’ve followed on Twitter (@WWalks) for years and know that runs a guided tour of Chingford.

She laid it all out for us in an email (lightly edited):

It was built in 1879 as a hotel to accommodate the hordes of people visiting the Forest. It was renamed the Royal Forest Hotel in 1882 after Queen Victoria’s visit to Epping Forest to dedicate it to the People.

It was originally built by Edmond Egan, the Loughton architect who was responsible for some of the very decorative houses in The Drive and Crescent Road, Chingford.

The hotel’s busiest period was around 1910 but then there was a serious fire in 1912 which resulted in the hotel being re-built minus its top storey.

Until 1968 it was a terminus for buses.

1890 advertisement for the Royal Forest.
SOURCE: Hathi Trust.

Because it was a centre for tourism there are quite a few contemporary sources, such as A Forest Holiday from around 1890:

On the walls are some fine water-colours of forest scenery.

The wide staircase is decorated with a fine stained-glass window representing Queen Elizabeth and her Court at the famous Epping Hunt.

The landing is of noble dimensions, and lighted by another large window, opening on a broad balcony, from which is obtained a charming and extensive view of the Forest.

This source goes on to tell us of the great dining hall with its tapestries and heraldic designs, and of the six private dining rooms: Japanese, Watteau, Spanish, Queen Anne, Indian and Queen Elizabeth themed, with “furniture and appointments in harmony”. (An early theme pub?)

Lawn Tennis at the Royal Forest.

The fire is interesting. Of course “legend has it”, according to to hack-work local histories, that guests and firemen were killed and of course they are “now said to” haunt the hotel. But we looked at some contemporary newspaper articles and if anyone was killed, journalists were oddly silent on the matter, suggesting instead that most of the guests were out at the time.

At any rate, it didn’t feel haunted to us, as a lively 50th birthday celebration rocked the wooden beams, and the beer garden heaved with drinkers despite the whisper of drizzle.

Or did we perhaps hear the chug of a spectral beanfeast charabanc in the night?

News, Nuggets & Longreads 18 August 2018: Bartram’s, Belgium, the Barley Mow

Here’s everything published on beer and pubs in the past week that grabbed our attention, from teetotal tendencies to the extraordinary nature of ordinary pubs.

First, some trademark thoughtful reflection from Jeff Alworth at Beervana who asks ‘What If We Just Stopped Drinking?

[What] if we just keep drinking less and less until we’re consuming it like our old auntie, who only pulls out the sherry for special occasions? This won’t happen immediately, but the trend lines are pretty clear… A dirty little secret of the alcohol industrial complex: it relies on very heavy drinkers, many of them alcoholics, for the bulk of sales. Among drinkers, the median consumption is just a couple drinks a week. That’s the median–some “drinkers” basically don’t drink at all. That means, of course, that someone’s doing a lot of drinking…


A Belgian Brown Cafe.

There’s a new links round-up in town: Breandán Kearney at Belgian Smaak has put together a rather wonderful rattle through all the Belgian beer and bar news from the last few months. How can you resist a 15 item list including such headers as CHINESE HOEGAARDEN and BEAVERTOWN GOES BELGIAN?


The mad collection at the Prince of Greenwich.
SOURCE: Deserter

For Deserter the pseudonymous Dirty South gives an account of a day spent trying to entertain a sullen teenager in the cultural pubs of South London:

The Prince is run by Pietro La Rosa, a Sicilian who has not only brought Italian hospitality and splendid Italian food to SE10, but opened a pub full of curios that he and his wife Paola have collected from their travels around the world. An enormous whale’s jaw bone hangs over various objets d’arts, a rhinoceros’ head protrudes above an antique barber’s chair, surrounded by artwork from afar.

‘It’s mad,’ concluded Theo.


The Bridge Inn, Clayton.
SOURCE: John Clarke.

Here’s something we’d like to see more of: veteran CAMRA magazine editor  John Clarke dusted down a pub crawl from 30 years ago and retraced his steps to see how time had treated the boozers of Clayton, Greater Manchester:

The Folkestone was closed, burnt out and demolished. New housing now occupies the site. The Greens Arms struggled on and then had a brief existence as the Star Showbar… The Grove also continues to thrive as a Holts house and the war memorial remains on the vault wall. No such luck with the Church.


The Barley Mow, London.
SOURCE: Pub Culture Vulture.

Ben McCormick has been writing about pubs on and off at his Pub Culture Vulture blog for a few years now and a recent flurry of posts has culminated with what we think is a profound observation:

[The Barley Mow] must be the best Baker Street boozer by a billion miles… I was on the point of writing there is nothing special about the place, but stopped abruptly on the grounds that’s complete horseshit. There ought to be many, many more examples of pubs like this dotted around central London and further afield. But there aren’t.

Any pub, however, ordinary, becomes extraordinary if it resists change — that makes sense to us.


A bit of news: Bartram’s, a brewery in Suffolk, seems to have given up brewing (the story is slightly confusing) which has given the local newspaper an opportunity to reflect on the health of the market:

Now Mr Bartram is currently no longer looking to export overseas, and is not producing any beer. “There are about 42 breweries in Suffolk – when I started 18 years ago, there were just five,” he said. “There is a lot more competition. The market is saturated, it’s ridiculous.”

Another Suffolk brewer, who declined to be named, claims overcrowding in the marketplace is true of the cask ale industry that Mr Bartram is part of, but not the key keg ale market.

Also unclear: the key market for keg ale, or the keykeg ale market? Anyway, interesting.


If you want more good reading check out Stan Hieronymus’s Monday round-up and Alan McLeod’s regular Thursday linkfest.

Old Haunts #2: The Pembury Tavern

A collage of images of the Pembury Tavern.

The Pembury Tavern at Hackney Downs, one of the pubs where we learned about beer, has commenced a new phase as the Five Points brewery tap.

When we were first beginning to develop a serious interest in beer, in around 2005-06, we ended up at The Pembury because friends who knew more than us told us it was a must-visit pub. After years of neglect it had been bought and refurbished as a proto-craft-beer-bar — clean, plain, with a vast range of hand-pumps, and bottled beers from Germany and Belgium.

It was also a non-smoking pub before the ban was introduced, sending a very clear signal about the clientele it sought or, rather, wanted to exclude.

Circa 2006 Hackney Downs was posher than it had been 20 years before, but still less posh than it is today, with a lingering sense of wildness. For typical Pembury customers — overt CAMRA types, board-game nerds, hippies, and assorted oddballs not quite cool enough to pass their idiosyncrasies off as hipsterism — the scurry to and from public transport could be an anxious business. That people kept putting themselves through this ordeal is a testament to how welcome a bolthole The Pembury was.

When we left London in 2011, though, the shine had gone. The beer range diminished and what was left no longer seemed terribly exciting in the age of the Craft Beer Company, and with hipper venues popping up all over Hackney. When we checked in a couple of years ago, things were worse again — a dreariness, weariness, had settled over it all and we struggled to find anything decent to drink.

When we heard earlier this year that Five Points had taken over the pub we immediately thought, oh, that’s good news. It’s a beautiful building in a great location and it makes sense for it to be tied to a local brewery rather than one in Cambridge, and we were also excited at the idea of being able to taste all of Five Points’ beer in one place, presumably presented at its best.

On Saturday last, working around some personal business, we managed to find a couple of hours to investigate in person.

First impressions: the pub has been brought back to life. The whitewashed walls are now either rich green or vibrant red creating a sense of intimacy that used to be lacking. Heavy curtains dampen the once troublesome acoustics, and well-worn wooden furniture underlines the impression that this is a Proper Pub, only updated, rather than an outpost of Craftonia.

We were pleased to see, too, that the gamer geeks haven’t been driven away, and that locals (both posh, and less posh) are still using the pub. If any constituency has reduced its presence its the hippies, but perhaps that’s true of London in general these days, or of 2018.

The staff were energetic and efficient, serving Five Points’ beer in what we’re sure must be the best condition possible, in beautiful branded glassware, at what felt like reasonable prices for London. There is also unfiltered Budvar and a range of guest beers on keg, cask and in packaged form. All of the Five Points beers we tried were at the very least good, and it’s such a pleasure to be able to buy a pint of cask porter in East London.

The standout for us, though, was Five Points Pils. We enjoyed the canned variant  but the draught is on another level — so fresh tasting, hazy but not dirty, and full of blossom and perfume.

We would say, based on this trip, that The Pembury is once again worth going out of your way to visit if you’re a visitor to London, or rarely make it out east, especially as it is only 15 minutes out of Liverpool Street on the train.