london pubs

The pleasing perpetuity of the Porterhouse

The Porterhouse used to be good. The other side of a UK ‘craft beer revolution’, and of a pandemic, does it still have what it takes?

Last week I was in London for work and wound up in Covent Garden with a couple of colleagues looking for somewhere to have a drink.

The Porterhouse leapt to mind, mostly because at the moment it’s really difficult to guess where will be busy and where won’t, and The Porterhouse is, if nothing else, enormous.

We also haven’t been for a very long time, and I couldn’t resist the urge to check in and see if this relic from our early beer ticking days was still doing its thing.

It’s interesting to compare my notes with what we wrote almost 15 years ago. Even then, we were describing it with warm nostalgia.

We first drank there in the early noughties, no doubt also for some work do or other, and kept going back.

It was one of the few places in central London you could get German and Belgian beer and we were trying pretty hard to tick Michael Jackson’s 500 Great Beers.

It was ways worth fighting through stags, hens and lads to get to the bar. As we wrote:

…it’s a beer-centred venue which could survive perfectly well if it didn’t bother dishing up any decent beer at all.

And now? Well, it really is much the same – a party pub with a beer list that’s better than it ought to be.

A photo of the paper menu
The beer list at The Porterhouse in January 2022

It’s been updated to reflect current tastes. There are a lot more British IPAs, for example. 

There are now two lager options, Temple Lager and Hammer Pilsner, both of which are more characterful than Chiller ever was. More importantly, they’re also branded to look like they might have been made by a medium-large British craft brewery from about four or five years ago. If you like Camden Hells, you might also like…

I only had limited time, so I skipped the various pale ales and went for continuity. Plain Porter (4.2%) is a really great example of this style – a slightly smoky, easy drinking, toasty beer with a hint of bitterness for a finishing flourish.

Oyster Stout (4.6%) is a little mellower, with a subtle sweetness that suggests richness rather than being cloying.

It takes a lot of work to make a central London business stick – it changes constantly, and always has. But now The Porterhouse has made it past 21 years, perhaps it’ll be there as long as its neighbour, which was founded in 1798.


News, Nuggets & Longreads 13 August 2016: Ireland, North Korea, Hants

Here’s all the best beer- and pub-related reading we’ve come across in the past week, from Dublin to Pyongyang.

The week before last brought news of the death of Oliver Hughes, founder of Ireland’s Porterhouse Group and a key figure in Irish craft beer. There have been various obituaries and tributes but this one from the Irish Independent offers a good summary of his life, career and influence:

With Oliver Hughes’s flair for publicity they began by serving two beers called ‘Wiserbuddy’ and ‘Probably’ – which he said, prompted threatening letters from a solicitors’ firm on behalf of Dublin’s best-known brewery. Hughes negotiated a two-week truce and then promptly began advertising a nationwide radio competition for names for beers “formerly known as ‘Wiserbuddy’ and ‘Probably’”, which attracted another sheaf of solicitor’s letters.

The Japan Times reports that North Korea has just launched its first German-style beer festival which we’re going to call GDPRKBF. Does anyone else find it odd that this super-secretive totalitarian state keeps using beer as a sign that Things Are Fine Here, Honest? (The defunct British brewery mentioned in the article, by the way, is Usher’s of Trowbridge.)

Cartoon illustration: Richard Boston.

The Guardian, finally showing a bit of appreciation for the beer-related riches in their archives, has reproduced Richard Boston’s first Boston on Beer column from 1973 to mark its 43rd anniversary:

In the last week or so I have been talking about beer to a completely representative, sociologically precise cross-section of the community who, by an almost incredible stroke of luck, I happened to bump into in various public houses in London. The most widely expressed complaint was about keg (top-pressure) beer, which was unfavourably compared with the Real Thing which is pumped up by hand from the cellar… But grumbling about beer and pubs is a popular and time-honoured British pastime, and some complaints are better founded than others.

We were impressed by Hampshire brewery Vibrant Forest‘s Citra VPA at GBBF (disclosure: we had freebie trade tickets but paid for our beer) and, as luck would have it, Glenn Johnson has just written a short profile of the brewery based on a recent visit:

I want to shout out to all beer lovers about this brewery because their beers really are first class. ‘We won’t tolerate dull or boring’ it says on their website.  How very true. If Vibrant Forest were based in London you would get beer writers going all gooey eyed over them.  However, if you want to try their beers you will now find them all along the south coast across to Brighton and they also make regular trips to Bristol.

Detail from a vintage India Pale Ale beer label.

Paste Magazine conducted an epic taste-off of American IPAs which Jim Vorel has written up here:

[This] tasting ended up at an astounding, bewildering, quite frankly overwhelming 247 entrants. For perspective, the Great American Beer Festival tasted 336 American IPA entrants this year, meaning that we did only 89 fewer than the largest beer festival in the country… And where GABF awards medals only to the top 3 beers, we’ve ranked the entire top 50. To even make that top 50, it means that beer was in the top 20 percent of entrants. Literally every ranked beer is among the elite. So let’s get to it.

Via Jon Urch (@ClassDrinking)

1987 ad for Wrexham Lager.
Ad from Wrexham Ace, August 1987. SOURCE: Wrexham History.

Here’s something worth a browse if you’re interested in recent British brewing history: Wrexham History has begun digitising various documents as PDFs including this issue of the Wrexham Brewery in-house newspaper Wrexham Ace from 1987. (Via @jamesbxwm.)

And, finally, the responses to the latest brewery takeover news, of Texas’s Revolver Brewing by Miller Coors, have been jaded to say the least:

beer reviews pubs

Porterhouse Chocolate Truffle Stout


If you’re looking for an Easter treat, how about some Porterhouse Chocolate Truffle stout?  I gather it’s their spring special and it’s a beauty.  It’s smooth, bittersweet, and seems to have a hint of mint about it.

We tried it a couple of weeks ago when we were looking for the legendary Galway Hooker, without luck. The rather diffident bar man didn’t say whether they’d run out, or never took delivery, or give any explanation whatsoever.  There just wasn’t any, full stop. Perhaps it was at another bar and the effort of explaining this was just too much for him.  You only get a two second window to order a drink on a Saturday night at the Porterhouse, after all.

See here for an earlier article about the Porterhouse.


Galway Hooker in London

In a comment on our New Year’s wish list Beer Nut has kindly alerted us to the fact that Galway Hooker will be available at the Porterhouse in London’s Covent Garden this week as part of a festival of independent Irish breweries.

We’ll have to give it a go, crowds of Lynx-drenched teenagers nothwithstanding.

On which subject, if any landlords, brewers or boozers want to let us know about interesting beers on offer in London, we’d be grateful.

london pubs

Porterhouse Oktoberfest

A pint of porter at the Porterhouse (photo by 1gl, from Flickr Creative Commons)
A pint of porter at the Porterhouse (photo by 1gl, from Flickr Creative Commons)

The Porterhouse in Covent Garden is a funny place.

On the one hand, it sets itself up as a beer-lovers paradise, with an extensive beer menu containing pages and pages of text about the integrity, commitment and passion of its founders.

On the other hand, from the time it opens at midday, it starts to fill up with stag-dos, parties of posh people, ex-pats from Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, and confused looking middle-aged tourists. Most of the clientele — and we were looking — seem to drink wine, Magners, Corona or Porterhouse Chiller. Chiller, by the brewers’ own admission, is the least challenging of their beers (viz, it is very cold and fairly light in flavour).

So, it’s a beer-centred venue which could survive perfectly well if it didn’t bother dishing up any decent beer at all.

We’ve got a little soft-spot for the place, though, as it was here that we first tried Paulaner Salvator and some other beers that helped to open our eyes a few years ago. This particular trip was prompted by the Beer Nut, who told us that the Porterhouse’s own German-style altbier was on its way, and by his review of said alt.

We weren’t disappointed by the alt — it more than measured up the real thing, which we got to know and love earlier this year, and satisfied our persistent cravings. It was on the bitter, fruity side, similar to the output of the well-respected Duesseldorf brewpubs, and bore no resemblance to the rather burnt-sugar-like commercial alt from Schloesser which we see fairly often in London these days.

While we were there, and being fortunate enough to have a quiet corner to ourselves, we decided to reappraise the rest of the Porterhouse’s home-grown beers. Weird nitro-keg shaving-foam heads aside, the stouts are all pretty impressive compared to Guinness. And that, after all, is the management’s entire focus: beat Guinness. Bailey preferred the deeply bitter Wrassler’s; Boak liked the softer, maltier Oyster Stout. None of the other beers are mind-blowing, but it’s good to see such a range, including three lagers.

Maybe the chaps in charge could turn this venue over to the party people and open another somewhere quieter, where we can appreciate their hard work in the brewery? Perhaps next door to the Greenwich Union?

Photo from 1gl‘s photostream at Flickr, under a Creative Commons license. Thanks, 1gl!