The Cuckfield, Wanstead

The Cuckfield is a wannabe gastropub/bar on middle-class Wanstead High Street, where East London begins to turn very clearly into Essex.

It’s a hard place to like, exactly, but it is getting some things right.

First, the selection of la-de-da beer is pretty decent — all three Chimays; Duvel; Liefman’s Kriek; Meantime Chocolate Stout; Schneider and Erdinger wheat beers on tap; Budvar on tap; and Veltins pils. Nothing Earth-shattering, but mostly nice stuff, chosen (we suspect) by accident.

Secondly, it’s very child-friendly. Some people don’t count that as a positive, but we were with friends who have children and it’s nice for them to be able to come out without having to apologise all afternoon for the fact that their children are behaving entirely naturally, viz. laughing and getting up from their seats.

And the building is nice, too. It’s Victorian and, despite some stripped floors and 90s style gastropub decor, the underlying cosiness comes through. It’s easy to get sink into a big sofa and feel very relaxed.

On the real ale front, things aren’t so rosy: there are three pumps, for London Pride, Adnams Broadside and Bombardier. Only Broadside was on, and it wasn’t in great condition.

So, a nice place to pop into when you’ve been for a walk in Epping Forest, or to meet friends with children, but hardly a beer-lover’s paradise.

Hogs Back brewery — some of it our cup of T.E.A

Various Hogsback Brewery beers
Various Hogsback Brewery beers

Lots of people seem to rate T.E.A. (Traditional English Ale) by the Hogs Back* brewery. We’ve had it on a number of occasions (on cask and in bottle) and never really liked it. There’s just something a bit acrid about it. So we’ve never made much of a point about seeking their stuff out.

However, the other night we were in Stonch‘s pub, and he got out some of their OTT, a 6% old ale. As he says in his post, it had a “surprisingly sour, funky character”, tasting almost like an Oud Bruin. It worked extremely well and was very tasty, but we did wonder whether it was supposed to taste like that.

We’ve just drunk a bottle we’ve had stashed away for a while, and it’s a very different beer. There are elements of a dark Belgian beer like Ciney Brune in the nose and mouth. I suppose there’s a hint of sourness right at the end, but you would not call this a sour beer. It’s much more fruity. It’s very pleasant. I don’t know which I prefer — this version, or the potentially “off” bottle we had the other night!

Anyway, this made us keen to try the rest of the Hogs Back stash we’d accumulated over the years. Burma Star Ale is 4.2%, and a percentage of the revenue goes to the Burma Star Association. It’s a well-rounded, red ale, with spicy, fruity aroma. An almost creamy maltiness gives way to a nutty, dry finish. Nice.

Then came Wobble in a Bottle, which packs a powerful punch at 7.5%. It didn’t look all that great — the head vanished almost instantly — but this tasted like a good Belgian abbey brew. Similar sugary-fruity-chewiness. I really enjoyed this one.

Finally, we had to try T.E.A. again. I would love to say that the conversion process was complete, but it still didn’t work for us. But it made wonderful beer-rye bread.

Boak

*And there’s another lack of apostrophe to wind the Beer Nut up.

Rogue Smoke Ale

A bottle of Rogue Smoke Ale

Wow. What a great beer.

When we asked people to bring us bottles of beer for our 10th anniversary in February, our chum Nick presented us with a bottle of Rogue’s Smoke Ale.

We had a feeling it might be special and, as often happens, that’s stopped us drinking it.

Tonight, after a particularly successful day’s brewing, it felt like the right time to crack it open.

It smells, as expected, like bacon, but once that’s died away with the big fluffy head, there’s a lot of zesty hops and a crisp malt flavour which beats the pants off a lot of dunkels we had on our recent German jaunt. It’s top fermented and that might be why it reminded us a little of a brown ale.

So, like we said at the top, a great beer, and inspirational. We have to make something like this now!

Bailey

First encounters with Belgian beer and the Dove revisited

Boon beer at the Dove pub, hackneyRon’s been posting a fair few reminiscences recently, including a couple of posts on first encountering Belgian beer – here, and here.

My first encounters were not so cool. Around about the turn of the century, when Leffe and Hoegaarden were beginning to appear in trendy London pubs, a mate suggested going to the Dove, Hackney for her birthday.

Having got a bus to the really rough bit of Hackney, and walked underneath some dodgy railway arches to get there, I was already in a bad mood that she hadn’t suggested somewhere closer to home. I got even grumpier when I saw what was on offer – weird foreign stuff at MORE THAN £4 A PINT!!! The barstaff did try to explain some rubbish about how in Belgium you drank it from nice small glasses, but I wasn’t having any of it. And it tasted weird.

I can’t remember exactly what I drank – I think I had a fruit beer (don’t people always when they’re faced with a Belgian beer menu for the first time?) and a Delirium Tremens, because the elephants were cool. We moaned to my friend for having brought us there for quite some time afterwards.

I’m always sceptical about people who claim they’ve always been into cool stuff. I’m happy to admit to being a philistine. And I think my experience is illustrative of the difficulties that Belgian beer faces in gaining acceptance in the UK, particularly the insistence on the pint as the only measure that makes sense.

Anyway, I went back to the Dove a year or so later, when I was a bit more open to it (i.e. had a job and could afford it). I picked beers with odd names (Slag Pils! Mort Subite!) and funny beer glasses (Kwak pipes aplenty), and enjoyed the food. It became a bit of a treat. Then it became the victim of its own success, and the last time I went there before today I remember the service being dreadful, the food so-so, the beer a bit off and the whole place full of smoke and screeching media types.

Then, having watched “In Bruges” earlier this week (we liked it) we got a bit of craving for Belgian beers in “gay glasses” (to paraphrase the film) and decided it was time for a return.

We’ve learnt from past experience that places in London can go from being great to lousy to great again — the power of the internet, perhaps, as bar managers respond to comments on review websites and blogs? At any rate, the Dove was in top form today – superb food, and a great selection of Belgian beers on tap and in bottles. They also had six or so British ales on, included Oregon Best from Crouch Vale, a delicious homage to American pale ales.

The staff look like they’re all in trendy bands, but manage to hold it together long enough to carefully serve your beer in the right glasses.

It’s a very cosy spot, full of nooks and crannies and reminiscent of a pub in Ghent we went to. With the smoking ban in place, it’s an extremely pleasant place to spend a gloomy afternoon and gently souse one’s liver. Highly recommended.

We may blog more about some of the bonkers Belgian brews we had, including one that tasted like Heinz spaghetti…

Boak

Here’s a map to the Dove.

Baltic Porters again

A little while ago, we wrote about a handful of Baltic porters we’d been able to get our grubby hands on. After much hunting and hoarding, plus a generous gift, we’ve got enough together for a second round.

D. Carnegie & Co Stark Porter (Sweden)

The label boasts that this was first brewed in 1836 and is still brewed to the same recipe, although now by Carlsberg Sweden. Michael Jackson penned an article over 10 years ago about the brewery’s founder, a Scot, which you can find here.

Once again though, for us this was a case of the history being more interesting than the beer. It’s a lovely opaque black, with a pillowy head. There’s a hint of coffee in the aroma, but not much else. The initial gulp is lovely — milk-chocolate and coffee flavours, some wine-like fruit and a good bitter kick at the end — but then it’s gone. What aftertaste is left is a bit like Marmite.

It’s pleasant enough and reminded us of Sam Smith’s Oatmeal stout. It’s definitely got a heavy stout-like body. It tastes stronger than it is (it’s “only” 5.5%).

Baltika no 6 “Porter” (Russia)

We’ve been looking for this little beauty for ages, ruthlessly scouring every new Russian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian shop to open in our manor. Finally, a new Lithuanian shop called “Tradicia” at the bottom of Walthamstow Market was able to deliver. [The shop has lots of other goodies too, which may fuel a blog post or two…]

It was worth the wait. It too is inky-black with a slightly off-white head. It has an oily, slightly bubbly texture, definitely lighter than the Carnegie. The aroma reminded me of creme caramel.

As for the taste, there’s a huge explosion of roasted malt, biscuits and molasses. It’s rich without being sickly sweet, and has a fruity aftertaste (cherry?) that lingers. It slips down way too easily for 7%.

I think this is what we were after when we went looking for a Baltic porter. Something where the English stout influence is clear, but that has evolved into something else. All the publicity says that this is brewed to a traditional English recipe and is bottom fermented, but there were definitely elements of Schwarzbier in there too.

Pardubicky Porter (Czech Republic)

In response to our first post on Baltic Porters, Evan Rail drew our attention to the tradition of Czech “baltic” porters, telling us that Pardubicky had been the only regular example for a while. Upon hearing that we couldn’t get it in London, he sent us a bottle in the post. Top man. Sorry it’s taken so long to review it…

This is definitely an interesting beast. On their website, this also claims a nineteenth century recipe. It looks great, with a fluffy head, and smells a bit Belgian — candy sugar and booze!

Tastewise, it has a pleasing sourness that the other two didn’t have, as well as notes of molasses and port. At 8% it’s also stronger than the other two. Overall we probably preferred the Baltika, but this one’s definitely worth trying, and also delivers the right mix of the familiar and the exotic…

Boak