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.

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.

Jukebox 1982


This month, the Ses­sion is host­ed by The Lost Abbey Brew­ery, and theme is music and beer

When I was lit­tle, my par­ents ran a pub. It was called the Artillery Inn and was a slight­ly grot­ty, fail­ing Whit­bread pub in Exeter. When I was four years old I used to help with the stock­take so I have vivid mem­o­ries of count­ing bot­tles of pale ale in crates in the cel­lar.

Fail­ing it might have been but that did­n’t stop my folks from try­ing hard at it, work­ing every hour the license would allow, organ­is­ing bands, social nights, bar­be­cues, pan­tomimes, darts tour­na­ments – any­thing to liv­en the place up.

But the one thing that real­ly helped give the place some atmos­phere was the juke­box.

My Dad, being obsessed with music, put a lot of effort into stock­ing it. It must have been one of the last to play 7″ vinyl sin­gles. I remem­ber watch­ing it pick out a record from the huge stack, swing it into place and drop a nee­dle onto it. The noise was great, incred­i­bly loud and mechan­i­cal. There would be a few moments of ampli­fied crack­ling and pop­ping before the music kicked in.

Par­tic­u­lar songs spring to mind: Eton Rifles by the Jam; Elec­tric Avenue by Eddy Grant; I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me by Nik Ker­shaw; Michael Caine by Mad­ness. Those were there because they were in the charts, but Dad would­n’t have a song in the box he did­n’t kind of like. After all, stand­ing behind the bar, he’d have to lis­ten to it over and over again.

Then there were his own records – songs from the six­ties and sev­en­ties. Lola by the Kinks must have been in there. His copy cer­tain­ly has the mid­dle punched out, like so many oth­ers in his col­lec­tion.

I think a pub should have a juke­box. I know there’s a “no music” lob­by, but I just don’t get it. Is the idea that loud music will some­how inter­fere with your taste­buds?

Well, frankly, I find silence inter­feres with my mood.


Irish pubs in Spain

guinness.jpgI 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.