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pubs

More Bottled Beer in Pubs, Please

goose_island_again.jpg We’re lucky in that we can get to the Pembury Tavern from our house in 20 minutes, and two of our nearest pubs serve real ales in good condition (including a regular mild). But last night, that just wasn’t enough for me — I wanted to go to the pub, but I also had a powerful craving for a strong, hoppy IPA1. That’s one of the few styles the Pembury doesn’t stock. Nor does any pub in our area.

Which made me wish that all pubs had as a minimum:

1. A small selection of cask ale in good condition — as much as they can turn over at a reasonable rate, but no more — ideally including a stout other than bloody Guinness.

2. A German or Czech lager on tap.

3. A German or Belgian wheat beer on tap2.

4. A rotating selection of bottled beer in every style not represented on the pumps.

It’s not reasonable to expect every pub to have ten different ales on tap, but bottles are surely the best way for landlords to offer choice without bankrupting themselves. Bottles last a long time; they don’t cost much to store; and they allow pubs to offer oddities which might only appeal to a small section of the market.

It would be nice if I could drink rauchbier, strong IPA, imperial stout, lambic and other ‘acquired-taste’ beers without getting on a train or bus, when one of these uncontrollable cravings overtakes me.

Yes, I guess I’m spoiled. I should just get off my arse, or drink what’s on offer. But I can dream, can’t I?

Bailey

—————-

1 We’d been brewing a strong, hoppy IPA all day — I always want to drink what we’ve been brewing.

2 We were in a pub on New Year’s Eve that had Franziskaner, Paulaner, Schneider and Erdinger wheat beers on tap. Seriously, one brand is enough!

Categories
beer reviews london pubs

Shepherd Neame Porter

shepherd_neame.jpg

The White Horse and Bower on Horseferry Road in London is a pretty decent pub. When I was there last night, I was very impressed by the incredibly friendly and helpful staff, the cosy atmosphere and the condition of the beer.

The main event for me, though, was drinking Shepherd Neame Porter for the first time in about three years.

It’s a completely different beast to Fuller’s London Porter*. SN’s Porter is lighter bodied and, despite the “Winter Hop Ale” tag, I was hardly aware of any hops at all. It’s distinctly mild-like, in fact, although at 4.8%, stronger than it tastes.

If I was feeling less charitable, I might say it was a little bland, but I can honestly say I enjoyed every sip, and wasn’t even remotely tempted to try anything else all night.

It’s great that there are now pubs in London where you can drink dark beer other than Guinness. Now it would just be great if all those Young’s pubs would get the Oatmeal stout on the pumps, or at least back in bottles behind the bar.

* We had Fuller’s London Porter at the Plough in Walthamstow on Monday night. It was supposed to disappear at the end of December, but the landlord has a bit left in his cellar and assured me that Fuller’s also have more in their warehouse, which he’s going to try to get his hands on. It’s tasting very nice now it’s matured a bit more!

Categories
london pubs

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 

Categories
london pubs

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.

Categories
Generalisations about beer culture pubs real ale Somerset

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