What are pubs for?

Why do peo­ple even both­er going to the pub? Or, to put that anoth­er way, what does the pub have that you can’t get at home?

One obvi­ous answer is: oth­er peo­ple. You might be sat in the cor­ner on your own read­ing the paper, but you want there to be oth­er peo­ple around. Emp­ty pubs are depress­ing places.

Anoth­er pos­si­ble answer is: prop­er beer. For some peo­ple, that means cask-con­di­tioned beer. For quite a few oth­er peo­ple, it just means any­thing fresh tast­ing off a pump, hence the push to sell those lit­tle kegs for drink­ing at home which will sup­pos­ed­ly repli­cate the expe­ri­ence.

For me, though, the rea­son the pub is spe­cial is because it’s like home, but not home. Your local pub should feel as com­fort­able as your front room but, unlike your front room, there should be the buzz of con­ver­sa­tion, decent beer and, most impor­tant­ly, four walls to stare at that aren’t your own four walls.

Fuller’s London Porter

london_porter_straight.jpgFol­low­ing a tip-off from Stonch’s blog, I con­vinced some col­leagues that, if we must go for an after work drink on a Tues­day night, we should do it at a Fuller’s pub, so I could try cask-con­di­tioned Lon­don Porter.

It’s one of our very favourite beers – there’s a very short list of about four beers that both Boak and I agree are bang on – but I’d nev­er had it on tap.

As is often the case, it was a very dif­fer­ent beer than the bot­tled ver­sion. It had a lighter body for one thing and pos­si­bly also a lighter colour (trans­par­ent red). Unlike the bot­tled ver­sion, it main­tained a love­ly head all the way down. It was incred­i­bly fruity, with a lit­tle less of the sour­ness or cof­fee flavour I’m used to from the bot­tle.

I prob­a­bly ever so slight­ly pre­fer the bot­tled ver­sion, but nonethe­less, it would be nice if this stayed on tap in Fuller’s pubs all year round. As it is, they often have both Hon­ey Dew and Dis­cov­ery, which are sim­i­lar-tast­ing light, lagery ales, and HSB and Lon­don Pride, which are sim­i­lar tast­ing brown bit­ters, and noth­ing like a dark mild/stout/porter except Guin­ness.

In fact, all pubs should make it their busi­ness to have one light­ish beer, one brown beer, and one black beer. Then there would always be some­thing to suit my mood.

Dreadful supermarket gift sets

I noticed this week­end that Sains­burys and BHS have stacked the shelves with beer-relat­ed Christ­mas gift box­es. Both shops are sell­ing a “Lagers of the World” set, includ­ing such rar­i­ties as Fos­ters, San Miguel, Cobra, Kro­nen­bourg 1664 and Stel­la Artois.

My eye was caught by BHS’s ale gift set, though, because it has a tiny 330ml bot­tl of Ridge­way IPA in it. That’s a beer I had once and quite liked, but haven’t seen since.

Both shops also have a shock­ing­ly large selec­tion of plas­tic beer steins with “humor­ous” designs. How many of you will be get­ting one of those from a well-mean­ing rel­a­tive this Christ­mas…?

Power Station Porter

battersea.pngBat­tersea Brewery’s Pow­er Sta­tion Porter is crop­ping up all over the place these days, notably in the Rake where I first saw it, and in ASDA, where I bought a bot­tle today.

It’s a rel­a­tive­ly light coloured, medi­um strength porter (4.8%), which is accent­ed towards chocolate/fruit flavours rather than smoky/coffee ones. I like it, but both times I’ve tried it have been dis­ap­point­ed by a slight fizzy qual­i­ty, and a head which dis­ap­pears instant­ly. I went through an elab­o­rate glass wash­ing rit­u­al today and even that didn’t help.

It’s one of those beers that isn’t astound­ing – I still pre­fer Fuller’s Lon­don Porter – but it’s full of flavour, and there aren’t many small Lon­don brew­eries, so I’m going to keep buy­ing it when I see it.

I also think that their label design is fan­tas­tic, being con­tem­po­rary but not trendy; tra­di­tion­al, but not mock-Vic­to­ri­an; and sim­ple with­out being plain.

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.