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.


*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!


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…


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…