I used to avoid Irish pubs, particularly when abroad, thinking they´d be full of tourists. Then I discovered that in a lot of places they´re actually really good places to meet the locals thanks to (a) the bizarre belief that Irish and British things are just inherently cool (b) the fact that they´re shunned by self-righteous tourists like me. So I became more tolerant, and stopped going into a sulk everytime someone suggested going to an Irish pub. But now I’ve been in a few here in Spain, I find myself very unnerved by the fact that they are, here at least, another weapon in the fearsome armada of Heineken International.
Salamanca has at least four Irish pubs and for various reasons I’ve now been in three of them. They´re all Heineken beasts so you get Paulaner and other delights such as Adelscott and Desperados. You may also come across an advert for the local Octoberfest franchise, a subject I blogged about a couple of months ago.
More sinister still (I find) are the various efforts to make the locals drink more and more. Special offers for large drinks, for example. Even the pub quiz turns out to be a syndicated marketing effort.
The very things about the drinking culture in Spain and France that the Government in the UK want us to emulate — moderation and smaller measures — are an anathema to people in the business of selling.
It’s not all bad news though — some of these Heineken outlets do have a guest beer from another brewer. Guinness. Sigh.
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.
There’s a long-running graffiti debate on a cubicle wall in the toilets at the Pembury Tavern in Hackney, East London — some day, I’ll transcribe the whole thing.
One comment blames the pub’s “downfall” from an apparent heyday in the 1980s on “bearded CAMRA members”, which has prompted someone else to reply:
“No, not the CAMRA c***s — the f*****g child-friendly c***s.”
That’s just one bit of evidence of how angry the subject of children makes some people. Angry in an English way, that is. No-one says anything or complains — they just sit rolling their eyes and tutting. In Britain, there really does seem still to be a belief that kids should be “seen and not heard”, hence the ultimate passive-aggressive sign, popular in pubs a few years ago:
“Quiet children welcome.”
Let’s translate that:
“Children who behave like children not really welcome.”
Why should kids have to stay at home? Or, worse, sit on the step outside with a Panda Pop waiting for their parents to emerge? Or, worse again, sit in the pub in absolute silence, bored to death, in case they annoy a nearby curmudgeon and embarrass their parents? I don’t have kids of my own, but I don’t find it hard just to ignore them. I just concentrate on having a nice time with my friends, engage in a conversation, read a book, or whatever, and soon forget they’re there.
Sometimes, it’s even nice to have them around — like in the Pembury, in fact, which can be a little sterile otherwise.
It’s early days yet, but research from the Publican magazine and soft drinks company Britvic suggests that three quarters of pubs are happy with the smoking ban which kicked in the UK in July. They’re selling more food and more soft drinks — there are more kids and pregnant women going to the pub.
I know I’ve certainly found pubs more pleasant in the last few months, and it’s been nice to get friends out who would normally avoid the pub because of the smoke because they’re asthmatic, pregnant, or just don’t like it. For me, at least, the atmosphere of most pubs has got better in part because I’ve got better company.
The article says that the winter will be the real test of the ban, when people are faced with the prospect of standing out in the rain, snow or frost to smoke. I’ll be interested to see how this goes, but my guess is that it will work out OK for pubs. After all, the lure of a cigarette is surely nothing compared to the lure of booze.
To quote former Prime Minister John Major, “It’s there! It’s still there!”
I discovered on Friday morning that the “hulking old brewery” that my Pevsner said was in Central London is, at least in part, still standing.
The area where the surviving buildings stand is now a somewhat trendy shopping district, but in the 19th century, it was filled with warehouses, most of which were there to supply the nearby fruit and vegetable market at Covent Garden.
It’s because of that that all the streets around Long Acre have such beautiful Victorian industrial designs, even though they’re now boutiques and bars.
If you want to see the remains of the Combe brewery yourself (there’s not *much* to see) head for Long Acre and walk around the block of buildings facing out on to Neal Street, Shelton Street and Langley Street. The brewery itself was in the middle of that block (where “Old Brewer’s Yard” is now, round the back of Marks and Spencer). Surviving buildings are at numbers 6, 7 and 8 Langley Street; 24-26 and 34 Shelton Street; 3-7 and 17-19 Neal Street.
View Larger Map