Pride of Spitalfields – a great little boozer

We seem to be connected again, so I can quickly post a few notes about the Pride of Spitalfields, in Shoreditch / Whitechapel.

I used to go there quite a lot, around five or six years ago. Then I changed jobs and wasn’t in the area so frequently. In fact, I don’t think I’d been there for three or four years until I visited a couple of days ago. I was delighted to find it was as friendly and welcoming as ever.

It’s interesting – if you read the reviews, lots of people contrast this “traditional east end boozer” with unfavourable comments about trendy pubs and Nathan Barley types further up the road in Shoreditch.

But actually, there are a fair few trendy types that visit this pub too (we even spotted Tracey Emin once). And that’s my favourite thing about this pub – the fact that it’s genuinely welcoming to all. They don’t care if you’re a bearded CAMRA member, a “suit”, a local trendy or even an avant-garde British artist. They don’t judge you – or at least, if they do, they don’t let on.

The beer’s great too – as well as London Pride and ESB, they also had Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, an excellent beer in excellent condition. Oh, and there’s a fire and lots of cool photos of the East End. What more could you want?

It can get crowded towards the end of the week, but it’s just far enough from the City (10 minutes walk from Liverpool Street) for it not to become unbearable.

It’s the kind of place that I’d move near so it could be my local. Easily one of my favourite pubs in London.

Notes

The Pride of Spitalfields is at 3 Heneage Street, about 10 metres off Brick Lane. For transport details and map, see the Beer in the Evening review, although please note that Shoreditch station no longer exists.

If you’re a beer enthusiast in the area, you should brave the curry touts on Brick Lane to take a look at the old Truman Brewery buildings. It’s all bars and studios now, but most of the original buildings are still intact, and it’s quite awe-inspiring to see the size of the place. And of course, there’s plenty of curry around for before or after — my favourite places are on Whitechapel High Street rather than Brick Lane itself, but I’m sure you’ll find something tasty.

Boak 

The Greenwich Union – on the up again

Publicity photo of meantime coffee stoutTo Greenwich then, to visit the Union again. We haven’t been there much recently, maybe once every six months, as we weren’t too impressed with the service the last couple of times, and Greenwich is a bit of a hike from our gaff.

However, we are delighted to report that the Union is on top form at the moment, and well worth a visit. More than a couple of visits a year, in our case. Especially because Meantime always seem to be tinkering with their recipes, so the beers never taste quite the same from one visit to the next.

For the uninitiated, the Union in Greenwich is the main outlet for Meantime’s beers. Meantime seems to divide beer lovers; on the one hand, it has many fans, on the other hand, the fact that it serves most of its beers in keg form makes it a no-no amongst hard-core CAMRA types those who feel that cask is the best form of serving beers. [See comments]

After today’s visit, we would recommend a visit even if you despise Meantime beers. You can find excellent and well-priced food, plus a good range of bottled beers from other brewers. They’ve obviously taken on board previous negative comments about the service on sites such as Beer in the Evening — service was excellent, with bar staff keen to plug the Meantime beers, offer tastings and advice and generally look after the punters.

But onto the beers. The specials on today were a Strawberry beer, and a stout, which was called something like London Single Stout. The strawberry was very pleasant – not quite the thing for the bleak midwinter, but refreshing and fruity. The London Single Stout was definitely streets ahead of the Extra Dry Stout, reviewed here in May by Stonch, and here by us. It’s not too fizzy, it has a lovely big body with all sorts of vanilla and coffee flavours. Very impressive for 4.5%.

We also thought that the Wheatbeer and Raspberry beers had improved. These are also produced in “Grand Cru” versions in bottles, and we wondered whether this had helped improve the quality of the “base” product. The wheat tasted of bananas, as expected, but also had a fresh hop finish. The Raspberry has got much lighter over the years (it’s barely red at all now) but delivers a beautifully balanced fruit flavour. Unusually for a fruit beer, you can also taste the malt and hops. Clever stuff.

The Pale Ale tasted like a cleaner, more sparkling version of Young’s bitter. The Pilsener is now only available in bottles, but is absolutely delicious – it tastes herby and spritzy. To finish, we had a Chocolate beer and a Coffee beer (also in bottles). They’re both marvellously thick and creamy; the coffee porter is probably more complex, but it would be difficult to pick a favourite from the two.

Weirdly, they didn’t have any Winter Time, and the bar staff were as confused as us about why not.

Small town blues

bridgwater.jpgI’ve just come back from my home town (Bridgwater, in Somerset) where the pubs are having something of a crisis. For years, it’s been one of those towns that claims to have more pubs per head than any other. I don’t know if that’s true, but there are a lot of pubs. And, for almost as many years, those pubs have managed to make their way, despite the heavy competition.

Sadly, in recent years, a couple of big (and, crucially, cheap) chain pubs have opened in the town centre, leaving many of the smaller “locals” all but empty, even on Boxing Day (traditionally a very busy day).

Big business and the council are partly to blame here, but I have to say that some of the pubs are doing themselves no favours. In the face of stiff competition, they should be rising to the challenge and making the local the place to be. Instead, the pub nearest my parents house has decided that:

1. the best way to make the pub feel more lively is to put Radio 1 on at full volume and turn off the juke box

2. they’re too depressed to greet people when they enter the pub, or smile at them during service

3. it doesn’t matter if the excellent local bitter — Butcombe, on which more later — is stale or off

4. there’s no need to wash the glasses

5. that currying favour with five grumpy regulars is more important than making newcomers feel welcome.

This is typical, sadly. So, in my home town, the local pubs are now less friendly, more expensive, dirtier, less atmospheric, and have worse beer than Wetherspoons. And that’s saying something. My Dad, who has been drinking in Bridgwater pubs since he was old enough to lie to a barman about his age, got so depressed we had to leave.

I suspect that in Bridgwater, and many other towns across the UK, we’re going to see an end to the days when a population of 36,000 can support almost 200 pubs. Bad pubs are going to die. Cheap chain pubs will prosper. But good pubs — pubs that keep a small range of ales in good condition, which make their customers feel welcome, that create atmosphere, and that make you feel like a regular, or even a friend, when you’ve been twice in a month — will survive.

I’ll name names: the Bower Manor is a fairly unassuming restaurant/hotel, with a small bar. It, too, was quiet on Boxing Day, but the landlady was friendly; there was one fresh, well-kept real ale (Sharp’s Doom Bar — the best pint of this I’ve ever had); a roaring fire; and a Christmas Tree. It was hard to leave!

Oh, and I promised to say something about Butcombe Bitter: it’s a great beer. One of my favourites (my judgement being partly clouded by homesickness, I’ll admit). At its best, it’s very bitter, very satisfying, and slightly sulphurous on the nose. I can’t vouch for how it will taste if you see it on tap outside the West Country, but try a half and let me know what you think.

Bailey

The Rake at Christmas and Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout

If you want to get into the Christmassy spirit in London, a trip to Borough Market is a winner. Geese, game pies, mulled cider, and carol-singers under a tree. A real Dickensian wonderland (just wish they had Dickensian prices). All the better if you go on a weekday afternoon when you should be in work.

Having carefully selected some beers in Utobeer to go with Christmas dinner (more on that after Christmas) we retired to the Rake for a quiet drink or six. We hadn’t been for a few months – it’s rather difficult to get in the door in the evenings these days – and were pleased to see that what was on offer had changed considerably since the last time we were there. Not that there was anything wrong with the previous selection, it’s just good to see change and variety.

On tap; HopBack Entire Stout, O’Hanlon’s Goodwill, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, La Chouffe N’ice, Koestritzer Schwarzbier and I think Maisels’ Weisse. In bottles, another two hundred or so.

yeti.jpgOf the various beers we had, Goodwill was great in that it wasn’t just a standard bitter with some cinnamon in it. Instead, the brewers had gone for citrusy flavours and succeeded in creating a nicely balanced, warming bitter. Similar citrusy flavours abounded in Celebration Ale, which also tasted of peaches. La Chouffe was very tasty, but then at 10% it should be! All excellent beers.

But the star of the show was Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stout (in bottles). Now, we’d had a few drinks beforehand, so I’m not sure in the cold light of the morning I’d be as bold as to say it was the best beer I’d ever tasted (which I said a few times last night to anyone who’d care to listen…) But it knocked our socks off sufficiently that we ordered another one straight afterwards, rather than try a new beer. It’s 9.5% and almost jet black, with a gorgeous mocha-coloured head. It reminded me of an amazing hot chocolate I once had in Spain, which was 85% cocoa solids. Incredibly chocolatey, thick and silky, but not at all sweet. It’s very bitter (it proudly boasts “75 bittering units”) but the hop bitterness blends perfectly with the cocoa bitterness. It’s a sledgehammer of a beer.

The Frog and Rosbif, Toulouse and Paris

frogandrosbif.jpgFrogpubs are a chain of brewpubs in France; they have four outlets in Paris, one in Bordeaux and one in Toulouse. (According to their beermats in Toulouse, they have a new one in Pau, too, but this doesn’t seem to have made it onto their website.)

Each pub brews six beers to the same recipe, although they have slightly different names depending on the pubs. I had the pleasure of visiting the Toulouse branch and the St Denis branch in Paris on consecutive days, and both were great, although slightly different.

Firstly, the beers. One of the many clever things about the business model is that they make both lagers and ales; there is something for everyone. The “blonde” is a beautifully crisp and clean lager, unpasteurised and unfiltered, which tastes like a revelation in the context of all that bloody Heineken. Reminded me of the Helles you get pubs in southern Bavaria.

Next up is the “blanche”, with orange peel. I only had a taster of this in Toulouse, and it the overwhelming flavour for me was lemon.  Would be nice in the summer, I think, but wasn’t for me at that particular time. To complete the lagers, there is a “ginger twist”; as you might imagine, this has ginger in it. I like ginger beer in small quantities, and a half of this was pleasant enough, but I was keen to move onto the ales.

On the ale front, Frogpubs offer a paleish ale (called “Aeropost’Ale in Toulouse, and “Inseine” in Paris), a red-brown ale, and a stout. These were all very interesting, not lease because the taste varied from pub to pub. The Aeropost’Ale was my favourite in Toulouse; it had nailed the English summer ale style absolutely perfectly (if I can generalise about styles like that…) Hoppy, fruity and homesickness-inducing.  In contrast, I preferred the red-brown ale (“Brew de l’Industrie” in Toulouse, “Parislytic” in Paris) in the Paris branch, where it tasted not unlike Fullers ESB. The stout was good in both locations.

Both pubs had a similar mix of international students, locals and expats – I spotted at least one German party in both. The Frog in Toulouse doesn’t have a kitchen, but has the great business idea of hooking up with two local restaurants – one of which is a curry house – to keep the punters fed. The Frog in Paris offers fancy-looking pub grub which seemed to be very popular with French and expats alike.

Notes

Locations of Frogpubs, descriptions of beer and other fun stuff can be found on their website. You can read about the history of the company and even buy someone a drink online.