pubs real ale

Deuchar's now synonymous with boring pubs?

Deuchar's IPA pump clip
Deuchar's IPA pump clip

Last week, I walked past a nice looking pub in an old Victorian building and thought: “This looks interesting.” Then I looked through the window and saw the pumps on the bar:

  • Fuller’s London Pride
  • Deuchars IPA
  • Wells and Young’s Bombardier.

My heart sank. “This is a boring pub,” I thought. “Those beers will probably also be in really bad condition.” I walked on.

All three of those beers were real ales, and all three have their fans (we’re partial to Pride ourselves). This pub would qualify for CAMRA’s pub guide, too.

So why the instinct to pass on my part? I guess I’ve been to too many pubs offering that particular line-up and been disappointed. It’s a learned response.

Deuchars, in particular, is a sad case. It used to be a beer I enjoyed, but it’s so often poorly kept and stale that I don’t bother anymore.

I suspect this is a result of pub company policy — “we serve real ale in our pubs because, but we don’t really care about it, or expect our managers and staff to”.  It’s bad because it can really tarnish some good brands. Timothy Taylor’s Landlord is getting dangerously close to being included in this list, which would be a pity as it is fabulous.

We had a half-decent pint of Deuchar’ IPA in the Speaker in Westminster a few weeks ago. Any other suggestions as to where we can find it on good form? Or is it just a terrible beer these days?


beer and food

Things to do with crap beer (2) – beer-rye bread

I stumbled across this beer recipe when I was looking to replicate some of the lighter German rye breads we’d eaten on holiday. It’s now my favourite bread recipe. Even if it wasn’t handy for using surplus beer, it’s really easy, and makes fluffy yet strong tasting bread. I’m not a talented baker – I have a tendency to end up with bricks, but this one works for me every time, and it also stays fresh for at least three days.

The original recipe can be found here. It’s pretty simple, and you’ll get great results first time. However, having made it a few times now, I’d make the following notes / amendments.

1. Choice of beer.

The various comments on the recipe describe different beers used. I think you want to use a brown(ish) ale, but it doesn’t need to be a good one. I’ve had great results with a tin of John Smiths, a tired bottle of Spitfire, and also with one of our drinkable-but-dull homebrews. I don’t think it would work so well with lager. Stout would probably be great, but I rarely have any stout in the stash that I don’t want to drink.

2. Changes and substitutions for other ingredients

I’ve found that you need to add a bit more flour for the main bit of the bread than the recipe suggests – around 480g as opposed to 410g. Also, you can substitute some of the white flour with a bit more rye, or wholemeal, if that’s your thing. Up to a 100g substituted still makes a very fluffy bread. The dough is also pretty sticky, so make sure you have plenty of flour to keep the surfaces and your hands dough free.

20g of salt seems excessive – 10g is fine. Butter substitutes for shortening, whatever that is.

Finally, seeds work well in this – add around 20g of sunflower or pumpkin seeds after you’ve knocked the bread back.

3. Overnight preparation

It’s always a pain when a recipe calls for overnight prep – it usually means you need to be organised for two days. Fortunately, this recipe is very forgiving; a five hour prep is fine. Equally, on a couple of occasions I’ve forgotten about the bread and left the rye and beer mix to mature for over 48 hours. It’s still fine.

The overnight prep is actually pretty good from the perspective of using up crap beer though – if you’ve just opened a beer, and a few sips has convinced you that you don’t want to drink it, you’ll probably have enough left (355ml) for the recipe. Just bung some flour and yeast in, and leave…

4. Rising & cooking time

The risings given in the recipe seem a bit optimistic, although that could be because I’m using old yeast. I’ve needed from 3-4 hours for the first rise, and around 2 hours to raise the loaves once you’ve knocked them back. This can be a bit difficult to fit into an evening, so there’s nothing wrong with letting it rise slowly overnight, or doing two rises.

With a fan assisted oven, you only need to cook it for about 20 minutes at 180degC. And don’t forget to slash the loaf before you put it in the oven!

5. Quantities

The original recipe suggests this makes two loaves, but if you’re using a standard oblong loaf tin, the recipe will make one loaf and 2-3 rolls. I would use an oblong tin in future as it looks neater and prettier – the picture above is of a free-form version, which tends to expand sideways rather than upwards…


Environmental stuff

Things to do with crap beer (1) – improve the lawn

What do you do with crap beer that people generously bring round? In an attempt to use up some of the cans of Stella and John Smith’s we’ve got knocking around from the last party, we’ve been researching some things you can do with excess beer. This will be an occasional series, hopefully with reports on how it’s worked in practice.

Number 1 – the gardening tool. Apparently, beer is useful to fertilise and improve your lawn. This site shows you how you can make various solutions to remove thatch and fertilise the greenery, and this site suggests using beer to remove brown spots.

We’ve not tried this ourselves (the landlord pays for a gardener, so our lawn’s in great shape) but there are lots of other websites out promoting the use of beer on lawns. If anyone’s tried it and it works, do let us know. Can beer be used to fertilise other plants?