Beer hunting in London: Stoke Newington

The beer cel­lar was look­ing a lit­tle bare this week­end, so we decid­ed to seek out some more. Hav­ing fol­lowed our own advice from an ear­li­er post, “sur­viv­ing a beer desert”, and tried out all the local shops, we thought we’d branch out and try to find some alter­na­tive sources of qual­i­ty brews. We reck­oned it would be inter­est­ing to go to anoth­er part of Lon­don to see what was avail­able.

So we head­ed to Stoke New­ing­ton, North Lon­don. Trendy but lived in, we had high hopes that we’d be able to find some­thing inter­est­ing to drink. In par­tic­u­lar, we were after (a) “pre­mi­um” ales and lagers (b) Baltic porters.

For the pre­mi­um stuff, we head­ed for “Fresh & Wild”, the organ­ic super­mar­ket on Stoke New­ing­ton Church Street.

fresh-wild.jpg

They have a small selec­tion of very nice British brews – Sam Smith’s organ­ic ale and lager, Hon­ey­dew from Fullers; also Rieden­burg­er, import­ed from Ger­many, although dis­ap­point­ing­ly, only one of their many vari­eties. (It was also, unhelp­ful­ly, labelled “lager” – yes, but which one?)

We felt in gen­er­al that they could have offered more of a choice, even if they were being strict about the organ­ic cri­te­ria, as there seem to be loads of organ­ic ales and lagers around now. At Fresh & Wild, the beer sec­tion seemed a bit of an after­thought (espe­cial­ly giv­en the enor­mous wine selec­tion).

We then trekked up and down Church Street and Stoke New­ing­ton High Street look­ing for nice beers in gen­er­al and Baltic porters in par­tic­u­lar. Com­plete fail­ure to find any Baltic porters (plen­ty of pale pol­s­ki lagers though).

How­ev­er, we did find an off-licence / con­ve­nience store with a great selec­tion of ales, includ­ing at least 4 bot­tle con­di­tioned ones and at least one from a brew­ery we’d nev­er heard of, always a good sign. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a good selec­tion of ales in a high street off-licence.  We were lim­it­ed to what we could car­ry, but came away with a cou­ple of Hook Nor­ton beers that are not wide­ly avail­able (Hay­mak­er and 308A.D), among oth­ers.

If you’re in the area, the shop’s called “Inter­con­ti­nen­tal Wines and Food” and it’s at 209–211 Stoke New­ing­ton High Street.

Heineken UK relaunch

Today’s issue of Mar­ket­ing Week car­ries a sto­ry about Heineken, who are appar­ent­ly relaunch­ing in the UK with a more “con­ti­nen­tal” image. They want peo­ple to drink Heineken in small­er mea­sures, with a thick­er head, as a “pre­mi­um beer”.

This won’t do any­thing about the actu­al taste of their beer – it’s still “cook­ing lager” – but it is an inter­est­ing step away from British lager cul­ture.

Mar­ket­ing Week also points out how bad­ly Heineken goofed when they relaunched last time, putting their beer’s ABV up to 5% just when every­one got upset about binge-drink­ing. They spent a for­tune on announc­ing “new, stronger Heineken”, and then a year or so lat­er their com­peti­tors were all announc­ing, for exam­ple, “new, weak­er Becks”, or Stel­la, or Car­ling.

They’re also announc­ing a new “draught keg” for home use. Er… Par­ty Sev­en?

Lithuanian Lager Face Off Part 2: the face offening

svyturys_taste_test.jpg

A few weeks ago, we had a “taste off” between two lithuan­ian lagers – Utenos and Kalnapilis.

We weren’t blown away by either, but slight­ly pre­ferred Utenos. This time, though, we went back to our old favourite for com­par­i­son – Svy­tu­rys.

They’re very proud of Svy­tu­rys in Lithua­nia, and it was one of the first Lithuan­ian beers to be import­ed to the UK. They have sev­er­al vari­eties. Tonight, we test­ed Ekstra Draught (unpas­teurised), Gin­tari­nis (with a gold label) and Svy­tu­rio (with a red label).

Gin­tari­nis is sup­pos­ed­ly a pil­sner (“Pil­sner my arse” – Boak) but is not espe­cial­ly hop­py or “dry”. It’s real­ly a slight­ly more hop­py ver­sion of a helles.

Ekstra (unpas­teurised) is the posh­est beer in their range, and a Dort­muner type. Its bot­tle is very swanky – no label except at the neck, with a big logo embossed in the glass. The beer is very nice, and very much “true to style”. It’s hard to say if the “draught” sta­tus makes much dif­fer­ence, but its nice to see this kind of thing hap­pen­ing.

They don’t say what type of beer Svy­tu­rio is sup­posed to be – only that it’s a cross between Gin­tari­nis and Ekstra. But it tastes quite dif­fer­ent. Guilty admis­sion – we actu­al­ly did a Pep­si-style blind taste test, and we were only able to iden­ti­fy “red” as dif­fer­ent from the oth­er two. It’s much thin­ner, despite being stronger, and pleas­ant­ly bland. It’s also a lit­tle lighter in colour.

Gin­tar­i­nus ini­tial­ly won in the blind test, but as the beers warmed up, it start­ed to smell a bit off. This could have just been an off bot­tle though.

We can’t quite work out whether Svy­tu­rys is a force for good or evil in the beer world. On the one hand, their web­site boasts such delights as Svy­tu­rys Extra Cold, and the tempt­ing promise of “even lighter beers” to come (urgh…). On the oth­er hand, we always enjoy a bot­tle of it, and even Roger Protz rates it (in “300 Beers to try before you die”).

We’re now going to try and track down the rar­er treats in the Svy­tu­rys range – Degin­tas (a baltic porter type), Bal­tas (a wheat beer) and the most entic­ing, Balti­jos, which accord­ing to the web­site is “dis­tin­guished for its hard scum”. Yum­m­m­mm.

Boak and Bai­ley

Government strategy on binge-drinking

The UK Gov­ern­ment have announced a new “alco­hol strat­e­gy”, with the title “Safe. Sen­si­ble. Social.” [Link to 1mb PDF]

Home Office Min­is­ter Ver­non Coak­er said:

It is unac­cept­able for peo­ple to use alco­hol and uri­nate in the street, vom­it and car­ry on.

It’s almost regard­ed as accept­able to drink to get drunk and we want to change that atti­tude.

Apart from the fact that I don’t know exact­ly what “car­ry­ing on” means (laugh­ing? swear­ing?) I broad­ly agree with these sen­ti­ments.

I also think, though, that cheap, nasty beer which it’s impos­si­ble to drink for any oth­er rea­son than to get drunk, is part­ly to blame. There’s a good rea­son why you don’t hear much about “ale louts”, isn’t there?

More nice tast­ing beer; small­er mea­sures; in nicer glass­es; and a beer “tast­ing” cul­ture, would all help to com­bat so-called binge-drink­ing.

Times arti­cle

BBC news online

The Devil Tavern

I saw this sign on an office build­ing on Fleet Street in Lon­don, and was intrigued.
deviltavern.jpg
You don’t see pubs called “The Dev­il” much these days, even though Britain is actu­al­ly much less reli­gious now than it was in the 18th cen­tu­ry.

How did this long-gone booz­er get its dis­tinc­tive name? Well, it was orig­i­nal­ly called “The Dev­il and St Dun­stan”, but St Dun­stan got dropped. Samuel Pepys men­tions the Dev­il Tav­ern sev­er­al times in his diaries.

Here’s a bit on the his­to­ry of the pub:

The noisy “Dev­il Tav­ern” (No. 2, Fleet Street) had stood next the qui­et goldsmith’s shop ever since the time of James I. Shake­speare him­self must, day after day, have looked up at the old sign of St. Dun­stan tweak­ing the Dev­il by the nose, that flaunt­ed in the wind near the Bar. Per­haps the sign was orig­i­nal­ly a com­pli­ment to the goldsmith’s men who fre­quent­ed it, for St. Dun­stan was, like St. Eloy, a patron saint of gold­smiths, and him­self worked at the forge as an ama­teur arti­fi­cer of church plate. It may, how­ev­er, have only been a mark of respect to the saint, whose church stood hard by, to the east of Chancery Lane.

Quo­ta­tion from: ‘Fleet Street: Gen­er­al Intro­duc­tion’, Old and New Lon­don: Vol­ume 1 (1878), pp. 32–53. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=45023 . Date accessed: 04 June 2007.