Department stores and beer: Fortnum and Mason

I was walk­ing past Fort­num and Mason at lunchtime, and thought I’d wan­der in to look at the new­ly refur­bished food hall. With proud boasts of an expand­ed wine sec­tion (and bar) I thought it would be worth check­ing out the beer selec­tion.

Stonch’s post about the beer selec­tion in Army & Navy had remind­ed me that A&N was actu­al­ly one of the bet­ter places to shop for beer in Lon­don; it also remind­ed me of the fact that the best place to find beer in Spain was not spe­cial­ist booze shops but actu­al­ly El Corte Ingles, a good-qual­i­ty chain of depart­ment stores. So I thought F&M might be a rea­son­able place to find some nice beer.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly not.

They sell two beers, yes, two. They are an “Eng­lish Ale” and an “IPA”, both brewed for them by the West Berk­shire Brew­ery. You can get them in gift packs (though not on their web­site – search “beer” and you get beer mus­tard and… er… ted­dy bears. Are F&M cus­tomers real­ly such slop­py spellers?)

F&M sell more types of aver­age Pol­ish vod­ka than they do beer. They even sell “Spiry­tus Rek­ty­fikowany” which at 79% is just meths, right? It’s not as if there aren’t plen­ty of “lux­u­ri­ous” beer styles they could stock, like impe­r­i­al stout, bar­ley wine, vin­tage Bel­gian abbey ales etc.

How­ev­er, before I picked up my pen to write to Messrs Fort­num and Mason and give them a piece of my mind, I thought I would at least try their own brand. Per­haps these beers are just so good that no oth­er beers are nec­es­sary.

So: The IPA (5%) – bit­ter yet bal­anced with a love­ly hop aro­ma. A very nice brew indeed, though can’t match the body and over­all impact of a clas­sic such as Goose Island.

The Eng­lish Ale (4%) – appar­ent­ly “this rich, full-bod­ied ale calls to mind stout yeomen at archery prac­tice in the autumn before Agin­court – and oth­er images of antique Albion”. Eh? That said, it’s quite inter­est­ing, because there is a hint of smok­i­ness in the aro­ma and flavour, unusu­al for this style, I’d say. It also has a good body and a rather bit­ter after­taste. Good, but not as drink­able as say, Young’s Spe­cial or Lon­don Pride.

So def­i­nite­ly good brews – but if I ran a shop and only stocked two beers, they wouldn’t be it. So it’s pen to paper time in the Boak and Bai­ley house­hold.

Ran­dom plus point though: the top-hat-and-tailed shop assis­tants are experts in wrap­ping bot­tles ele­gant­ly yet quick­ly so that they don’t clink in a car­ri­er bag. Great for the bud­ding alco­holic who doesn’t want to attract atten­tion at work!

Boak

Notes

  1. Stonch has cov­ered Army & Navy’s beer selec­tion here.
  2. Fort­num and Mason are at 181 Pic­cadil­ly, Lon­don and have been serv­ing posh ready meals there for 300 years. It’s a depart­ment store although most­ly famous for its food hall (cur­rent­ly being expand­ed) and its lux­u­ry ham­pers. It’s worth a look if you’re a tourist, look­ing for a nice gift, or just up town on a wet after­noon and want to gawp at how the oth­er half live (yes, those peo­ple real­ly are doing their week­ly shop here…)
  3. Here’s a link to the West Berk­shire Brew­ery - they make no men­tion of the F&M link on their site. I don’t think I’ve had the plea­sure of tast­ing their oth­er stuff, but they seem like a decent bunch. I’d cer­tain­ly want to try more after these beers.
  4. For more about El Corte Ingles, see the Wikipedia arti­cle here. I’m sure I’ll be writ­ing more about them and their mag­nif­i­cent selec­tion on import­ed beer lat­er this year…

Truman, Hanbury and Buxton in the East End

Tru­man, Han­bury and Bux­ton were one of the biggest brew­eries in Lon­don in the 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies. They moved to Bur­ton in the 1970s, merged with Wat­ney Mann not long after, and then closed alto­geth­er. East Lon­don – the area imme­di­ate­ly around the old Black Eagle Brew­ery – is par­tic­u­lar­ly rife with small reminders.

bethnal_green_road.jpg

bethnal_green_road21.jpg

bethnal_green_station.jpg

More after the, er, “more” link…

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Tru­man, Han­bury and Bux­ton in the East End”

Brew Wharf – interesting idea, poorly executed

Hav­ing bought a load of fan­tas­tic beers from Uto­beer (see pre­vi­ous post), we popped over the road to Brew Wharf to see what the fuss was about.

Brew Wharf opened in Octo­ber 2005 as part of the Vinop­o­lis empire at Lon­don Bridge. This is a brewpub/restaurant with a cou­ple of house brews and some of the Mean­time range on tap and around 30 bot­tled beers from around the world. Sounds good?

Many oth­ers don’t think so. It is pret­ty much uni­ver­sal­ly panned on Beerintheevening.com and fancyapint.com for bad ser­vice and expen­sive drinks. It doesn’t seem to be pop­u­lar for its food either; the mag­a­zine Time Out called it “a bad restau­rant with very good beer”.

I have very mixed feel­ings about it – there are some strong pros and cons.

Pros

Goose Island IPA

  1. One of the Wharf brews (I didn’t get which one, but it was either Wharf Best or Cen­tu­ry Ale) was very fresh and tasty. A pub with its own beer is shock­ing­ly rare in Lon­don, so this in itself is a plus point.
  2. Some­one had obvi­ous­ly put a lot of thought into the bot­tled beer list; there was a good range of styles, and some absolute crack­ers on the list. As well as Mean­time Choco­late and Cof­fee, they stock the excel­lent Goose Island IPAfrom Chica­go
  3. They have a good range of glass­es to match the beers. This may sound like a minor point, but we believe that the look of a beer con­tributes enor­mous­ly to the over­all enjoy­ment, and we’re always impressed when peo­ple make the effort to serve the beer in the right glass.

Cons

  1. The ser­vice is pret­ty poor; a cou­ple sat down next to us and then left after 10 min­utes of try­ing to get served at the bar. One of the bar staff tried to take my drink away before I’d fin­ished.
  2. The prices! They were charg­ing £5.65 for a bot­tle of Schlenker­la Rauch­bier. Now this is a nice beer, and per­haps used to be rare, but it’s not that dif­fi­cult to get hold of these days. The Pem­bury Tav­ern in Hack­ney does it for half the price charged here.
  3. I could see what the review­ers meant when they said it was soul­less. There was quite a nice atmos­phere on the ter­race but the pub itself would be pret­ty dread­ful with­out it.

Is this the way to get peo­ple into beer? Not sure. Despite the fact it was a brew­pub with a large beer list, I didn’t get the impres­sion they were out to con­vert peo­ple. Most of the cus­tomers seemed to be drink­ing wine or Bud­var. Per­haps descrip­tions of the beers would help? This could poten­tial­ly be a good place to bring some­one you were try­ing to con­vert – but the Green­wich Union is much cosier and has a sim­i­lar (if not the same) range of bot­tled beers.

So would I go back? I can’t imag­ine hav­ing a cosy pint there, but it’s quite a good place on a week­end after­noon to pre­tend you’re on hol­i­day – pre­tend the prices are in Euros and that the ser­vice is just down to mis­un­der­stand­ing…

Boak

Beer heroes of the month (June) – Utobeer, London

Beer hero of the month is Uto­beer, who sell a fan­tas­tic range of bot­tled beers from all over the world from a cage in Bor­ough Mar­ket, Lon­don.

A trio of porters from UtobeerWe went there today, for the first time. Yes, the first time – I can­not believe I have nev­er been here before. A mix­ture of lazi­ness, and sus­pi­cion of Bor­ough mar­ket (some great food, but boy, do they charge for it…) mean that we had nev­er got our ars­es over there in the past.

It was def­i­nite­ly worth it – I have nev­er seen such a fan­tas­tic range of porters and stouts in one place. Rea­son­ably priced too – we came away with 10 beers we had nev­er had before for just over £20.

We will def­i­nite­ly be return­ing.