The Duke of Cambridge organic pub

The Duke of Cambridge organic pub's trendy blue barThe Duke of Cambridge in Islington is a restaurant/pub which prides itself on its ethical credentials. Ninety-five per cent of its fruit and veg comes from the UK; everything, from the oil in the candles to the washing up liquid, is organic; everything is Fair Trade.

The place itself is all stripped wood, black ceilings and pot plants, but also full of sunlight and fresh air. The staff were friendly (we got a ‘Hello!’ on entering), even if they did make us feel rather lumpy and unglamorous. The clientele is solidly middle class — so much so, in fact, that they’d passed beyond suits and into expensively scruffy designer casuals.

Bailey’s Dad wouldn’t like it, let’s put it that way.

In line with their ethical mission, the pub’s owners get most of their beer from breweries in the south east of England, namely St Peter’s and Pitfield. We’d never seen Pitfield beers on tap, but were very impressed. These beers do not suffer at all from being organic!

The Pitfield SB (the first organic bitter in the UK, apparently) tasted a little sweet on its own, but with fish and chips suddenly gained a new dimension — drier, crisper and with more apparent hop aroma.

We also worked our way through Pitfield East Kent Goldings (Summer Lightning-like), Eco-Warrior (sweet and citrusy); St Peter’s Organic; and Pitfield lager (fruity, malty, very pleasant).

But the real revelation was a bottle of Pitfield’s N1 Wheat Beer. Coriander seed, orange peel and hops gave it a pronounced Belgian flavour, but darker malt made sure this was no mere Hoegaarden clone. Poperings Hommelbier sprang to mind, in fact.

In short, a lovely place to go if you fancy a treat (it’s not cheap) on a summer evening… of if you’re a ticker missing a few of Pitfield’s beers from your collection.

The Duke of Cambridge is at 30 St Peter’s Street, ten minutes walk from Angel tube station. The photo above is from their website.

End of the line pubs

Here’s a thought that occured to me as I was negotiating the night-bus network home last night.

There are lots of parts of London named after pubs, which helps lend the place a certain exoticism, and perhaps underlines the importance of pubs in our culture. Angel and Elephant & Castle are a couple of famous ones, but there are loads more, particularly in the suburbs, where they act as landmarks / terminus points for buses.

Some of these have long since been demolished, although that doesn’t necessarily stop them having a review on Beer in the Evening (eg the Crooked Billet in Walthamstow, which despite being knocked down well over twenty years ago still achieves a 6.3 rating).

Anyway, as I got booted off the bus next to the Swan, in Tottenham, which has a certain infamy, I whiled away the time trying to think of any of “landmark” pubs which are both (a) still in existance and (b) any good, i.e. that you might actually choose to go to.

I’m still struggling.

Incidentally, is naming areas after pubs just a British thing? Can’t say I’ve noticed it in other countries, but I am pretty unobservant.

Boak

Picture of a London night bus courtesy of Alistair Rae on Flickr.

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

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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!

All I want for Christmas is…

pie.jpgI’ve been a good person this year. I’ve supported and promoted pubs and shops selling good beer, I’ve recommended beautiful microbrews to people who might not otherwise have drunk them, and I even got round to joining CAMRA.

I don’t really want much for Christmas, aside from the odd nice beer, and peace and goodwill to all men, but here’s my fantasy Christmas wishlist:

  1. The hop and grain harvests to be full and plentiful this year. I don’t think the smoking ban will kill pubs, but £4 a pint might.
  2. UK brewers to do more porters and stouts year round and less summer ales. Oh, and pubs to stock them. I find it strange that even in really good “real-ale” pubs you rarely find a stout that isn’t Guinness.
  3. My local supermarket to change the beer selection more than once every couple of years.
  4. Pubs that don’t want to do good cask ale to discover the wonders of bottle-conditioned beers.
  5. A home-brew shop that gets round to processing your order perhaps the day after you made it, rather than waiting three days before phoning you to say they don’t have the stuff. Thus making you miss your brewing schedule.
  6. The BBC to commission and show a beer appreciation programme. Or any channel really. Get Oz Clarke to team up with some beer writers and see what happens.
  7. CAMRA to stop wasting my subs money on the campaign for a full pint and focus more on the quality of said pint, i.e. perhaps visit a few more of these allegedly good pubs in the Good Pub Guide? See superb rant by Pete Brown on this a few months back, one of my favourite blog posts of the year.
  8. Our first-born lager to work.
  9. To discover that the wild yeasts in the Lea Valley are capable of spontaneously fermenting a tasty beer, thus starting a craze for London lambics.
  10. All the fabulous pubs, breweries and beer shops we’ve mentioned (and many more we haven’t had a chance to) to have a productive and profitable new year. Cheers!

Brat

Weird cider/beer hybrid

women_in_bar.jpg

The latest issue of Marketing magazine brings news of the launch of an appalling-sounding half-beer/half-cider chimera from one of the big international brewers. It’s made with cider, barley malt and “sparkling water”. I can’t be bothered to give this foul-sounding product any publicity by naming it… so I won’t.

The interesting thing is that they claim to have devised the product based on research which shows that a significant number of women “don’t like beer and distrust the quality of wine in bars”.

For one thing, I’m not sure that the logical conclusion from that research is: “I bet those same women would just love a weird cider-beer hybrid!”

But I’d also observe, paraphrasing their line, that there are many people of both genders who “don’t like wine, and distrust the quality of real ale in pubs”, which explains the popularity of bland lagers and Guinness in the UK. Too often, the choice is between a corporate product which is boring but consistent, and a “real” product which stinks, tastes bad and looks bad because it’s not been well looked after. You can’t blame people for going down the bland route when that’s the choice.

In both cases, the solution is probably campaigning to improve the quality of the wine, beer, cider, whisky or whatever, in bars and pubs.

One way to do that would be for CAMRA to make the criteria for getting into their Good Beer Guide slightly more strict. At the moment, as far as I can tell, it lists every pub with any kind of cask ale on offer, although they say “only pubs with a consistently high standard of real ale are considered for entry”. Sadly, my experience has been that quite a few unwelcoming, grotty, smelly pubs get in because they’ve got an old, rank cask of Greene King IPA on one pump at the bar.

Cellar doctor

cellardoctor.jpgGreene King are obviously trying to win some brownie points in the face of a lot of vitriol from ale fans – they’ve launched a website to help pub landlords diagnose and cure problems with their cellars which are leading to dodgy pints.

It’s a clever idea, and could really be useful, especially for novice landlords. Many are saddled with poor quality cellars, or are dealing with equipment that their predecessors just didn’t look after, so this could make a real difference.

But it’s also standard practice for companies with poor reputations – and Greene King are going that way – to try to associate themselves with the very people who oppose them. BP are now branded much like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, for example. Is this Greene King’s attempt to start a “Campaign for Decent Pints”?

And, of course, a good beer tasting course might be just as usefu. The landlord of one of my local pubs – which often serves bad pints – told me once that he didn’t drink ale, and had no idea what it was meant to taste like… worrying.