Categories
beer reviews london pubs real ale

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.

Categories
beer reviews london pubs

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.

Categories
pubs The Session

Jukebox 1982

theetonrifles.jpg

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.

Bailey

Categories
opinion pubs Spain

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.

Categories
opinion pubs

“Kids running round screaming”

There’s a long-running graffiti debate on a cubicle wall in the toilets at the Pembury Tavern in Hackney, East London — some day, I’ll transcribe the whole thing.

One comment blames the pub’s “downfall” from an apparent heyday in the 1980s on “bearded CAMRA members”, which has prompted someone else to reply:

“No, not the CAMRA c***s — the f*****g child-friendly c***s.”

That’s just one bit of evidence of how angry the subject of children makes some people. Angry in an English way, that is. No-one says anything or complains — they just sit rolling their eyes and tutting. In Britain, there really does seem still to be a belief that kids should be “seen and not heard”, hence the ultimate passive-aggressive sign, popular in pubs a few years ago:

Quiet children welcome.”

Let’s translate that:

“Children who behave like children not really welcome.”

Why should kids have to stay at home? Or, worse, sit on the step outside with a Panda Pop waiting for their parents to emerge? Or, worse again, sit in the pub in absolute silence, bored to death, in case they annoy a nearby curmudgeon and embarrass their parents? I don’t have kids of my own, but I don’t find it hard just to ignore them. I just concentrate on having a nice time with my friends, engage in a conversation, read a book, or whatever, and soon forget they’re there.

Sometimes, it’s even nice to have them around — like in the Pembury, in fact, which can be a little sterile otherwise.