Old Haunts #2: The Pembury Tavern

A collage of images of the Pembury Tavern.

The Pembury Tavern at Hackney Downs, one of the pubs where we learned about beer, has commenced a new phase as the Five Points brewery tap.

When we were first begin­ning to devel­op a seri­ous inter­est in beer, in around 2005-06, we end­ed up at The Pem­bury because friends who knew more than us told us it was a must-vis­it pub. After years of neglect it had been bought and refur­bished as a pro­to-craft-beer-bar – clean, plain, with a vast range of hand-pumps, and bot­tled beers from Ger­many and Bel­gium.

It was also a non-smok­ing pub before the ban was intro­duced, send­ing a very clear sig­nal about the clien­tele it sought or, rather, want­ed to exclude.

Cir­ca 2006 Hack­ney Downs was posh­er than it had been 20 years before, but still less posh than it is today, with a lin­ger­ing sense of wild­ness. For typ­i­cal Pem­bury cus­tomers – overt CAMRA types, board-game nerds, hip­pies, and assort­ed odd­balls not quite cool enough to pass their idio­syn­crasies off as hip­ster­ism – the scur­ry to and from pub­lic trans­port could be an anx­ious busi­ness. That peo­ple kept putting them­selves through this ordeal is a tes­ta­ment to how wel­come a bolt­hole The Pem­bury was.

When we left Lon­don in 2011, though, the shine had gone. The beer range dimin­ished and what was left no longer seemed ter­ri­bly excit­ing in the age of the Craft Beer Com­pa­ny, and with hip­per venues pop­ping up all over Hack­ney. When we checked in a cou­ple of years ago, things were worse again – a drea­ri­ness, weari­ness, had set­tled over it all and we strug­gled to find any­thing decent to drink.

When we heard ear­li­er this year that Five Points had tak­en over the pub we imme­di­ate­ly thought, oh, that’s good news. It’s a beau­ti­ful build­ing in a great loca­tion and it makes sense for it to be tied to a local brew­ery rather than one in Cam­bridge, and we were also excit­ed at the idea of being able to taste all of Five Points’ beer in one place, pre­sum­ably pre­sent­ed at its best.

On Sat­ur­day last, work­ing around some per­son­al busi­ness, we man­aged to find a cou­ple of hours to inves­ti­gate in per­son.

First impres­sions: the pub has been brought back to life. The white­washed walls are now either rich green or vibrant red cre­at­ing a sense of inti­ma­cy that used to be lack­ing. Heavy cur­tains damp­en the once trou­ble­some acoustics, and well-worn wood­en fur­ni­ture under­lines the impres­sion that this is a Prop­er Pub, only updat­ed, rather than an out­post of Crafto­nia.

We were pleased to see, too, that the gamer geeks haven’t been dri­ven away, and that locals (both posh, and less posh) are still using the pub. If any con­stituen­cy has reduced its pres­ence its the hip­pies, but per­haps that’s true of Lon­don in gen­er­al these days, or of 2018.

The staff were ener­getic and effi­cient, serv­ing Five Points’ beer in what we’re sure must be the best con­di­tion pos­si­ble, in beau­ti­ful brand­ed glass­ware, at what felt like rea­son­able prices for Lon­don. There is also unfil­tered Bud­var and a range of guest beers on keg, cask and in pack­aged form. All of the Five Points beers we tried were at the very least good, and it’s such a plea­sure to be able to buy a pint of cask porter in East Lon­don.

The stand­out for us, though, was Five Points Pils. We enjoyed the canned vari­ant  but the draught is on anoth­er lev­el – so fresh tast­ing, hazy but not dirty, and full of blos­som and per­fume.

We would say, based on this trip, that The Pem­bury is once again worth going out of your way to vis­it if you’re a vis­i­tor to Lon­don, or rarely make it out east, espe­cial­ly as it is only 15 min­utes out of Liv­er­pool Street on the train.

Edwin Taylor’s Extra Stout

We’ve fall­en out of love with the Pem­bury a lit­tle recent­ly. It’s part­ly that famil­iar­i­ty breeds con­tempt, and part­ly that we’ve got bored with Milton’s so-so beer.

But last night, in a strange rever­sal of the usu­al sit­u­a­tion, we end­ed up there because some­one else had cho­sen the venue, and our faith in the pub was some­what rekin­dled.

The cause of the turn­around? Between us, we man­aged sev­er­al pints of Banks and Taylor’s superb Edwin Taylor’s Extra Stout. It was in fan­tas­tic con­di­tion, and suit­ably autum­nal. We weren’t tak­ing notes, so there’s not much we can say oth­er than that it was black and tast­ed it.

Our preg­nant and there­fore near­ly tee­to­tal friend sat star­ing mourn­ful­ly at our booze over the top of her J20 most of the night. When we weren’t look­ing, she would grab one of our pints, nurse it, and breathe in the aro­ma and say exul­tant­ly: “It smells soooooooo good!”

Edwin Tay­lor also stood up well to the bot­tle of Her­cule Stout that we enjoyed near the end of the evening – no mean feat at half the strength (4.5% up against 9).

In oth­er news, dis­as­ter was nar­row­ly avert­ed when we point­ed out why Stel­la wouldn’t be a good name for a girl…

Monkey beer

Schneider Aventinus (aka Monkey Beer) in action at the Pembury
Schnei­der Aventi­nus (aka Mon­key Beer) in action at the Pem­bury

Schnei­der Aventi­nus is 8.5% alco­hol by vol­ume. That’s bloody strong.

A few weeks ago, we watched a pair of big lads in the Pem­bury drink about five bot­tles each with­out look­ing gid­dy.

We now hear from a friend that these chaps are reg­u­lars and love Aventi­nus so much they rarely drink any­thing else. And they call it ‘mon­key beer’. Because of its banana-like yeast aro­ma?

No – because it makes them act like mon­keys.

Lamb and Kriek Pie

I noticed that the Pem­bury Tav­ern in Hack­ney, East Lon­don (my favourite pub) was serv­ing Lamb and Kriek Pie today. I didn’t try it, but I’ve been pon­der­ing oth­er pie/beer com­bi­na­tions.

Obvi­ous­ly, there’s the clas­sic steak and ale – I’ve found Hook Nor­ton Old Hooky a great ale to use for this, as it’s on the malty side. I used ESB once and it was a touch too bit­ter.

But what beer to go with chick­en in a pie fill­ing? Some­thing not too bit­ter, light in colour, per­haps cit­rusy… a Ger­man weiss­bier? Chick­en and weiss­bier pie could work.

How about for the veg­gies (like Boak)? Lentil, car­rot and onion cooked off in Koelsch might work. Or mush­rooms in mild… as long as a com­plete­ly black fill­ing doesn’t make the pie look too unap­petis­ing.