The BBC’s Inside Out programme investigated Samuel Smith brewery owner Humphrey Smith and his influence on Tadcaster in 2009. Not very flattering!
Some pubs appear in Top Ten lists and pub guides time and again. They are the places that you must visit, according to the experts of Twitter and the Blogoshire.
But what distinguishes them from the many run-of-the-mill, perfectly adequate boozers that sit on corners and high streets throughout the country?
Our first thought was that star quality requires one or more of:
- ‘Cheapness’. This came to mind specifically because of Sam Smith’s and the Blue Anchor at Helston: the fact that the beer is unusually cheap is all part of the fun.
- ‘Character’. Hard to define, but can mean anything from an interesting history to unusual décor. Real character will divide opinion. It is also, we think, hard for a brand new pub to have character: it takes a few years to develop (but not as many as you might think).
- ‘Good beer’. This can mean something unique or unusual; a wide range; or a particularly expert handling of the product. A pub with good beer but no character, and scary prices to boot, had better have very good beer if it wants to be loved.
So, here’s our attempt to map a few well-known London pubs with those in mind. (Note the emptiness around cheapness: though many branches of pub chain Wetherspoon’s could claim to have good, cheap beer, they are rarely loved.)
Looking at this prompts one suggestion for struggling publicans: if you can’t be cheap and can’t sell good beer (for whatever reason), make the most of ‘character’. It goes a long way.
Last week, this Tweet got us thinking:
— Carpe Zytha (@CarpeZytha) January 25, 2012
Well, in a way, the answer is yes, but bear with us.
How do you reduce the price of beer when you’ve got a price point to reach? You reduce the cost of production, storage and distribution by
- producing in greater volumes
- using fewer and/or cheaper ingredients (e.g. hops)
- conditioning/lagering for shorter times (see Tandleman on this here)
- brewing your beer to be acceptable to the widest possible market.
It’s still possible to brew a good beer within those parameters and, in fact, we’ve had the odd pint of Sam Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter which rivals Harvey’s Sussex Best for complexity and zing. On the whole, however, the more corners are cut, the more industrialised the process, the less likely the beer is to excite anyone. Everyone got that likely, right?
While it would be wrong to answer the question “Is this a craft beer?” with “Depends, how much did it cost?”, it wouldn’t be reckless to bet that a pint that costs £1.30 will be a bit boring. It might still be satisfying, it might not be nasty, but it probably won’t be exciting.
Note: we’re not making the case for super-expensive beer; our beer of the year for 2011 costs £2.60 a pint. And the Sam Smith’s beer pictured above is anything but cheap…
I often like to have a dark chocolatey beer for dessert, but I’d always been a bit sceptical about matching beer with sweet treats, particularly after some unsuccessful attempts. For example, Young’s double chocolate stout just tastes like a watery bitter ale if you drink it with real chocolate.
However, having tried a dark chocolate orange mousse with Sam Smith’s Imperial Stout, I think it can work beautifully when you have a full-bodied and bitter beer. In this particular case, the mousse did bring out the bitterness in the beer, but in a fabulous way. It made the stout taste like really dark, unsweetened chocolate (not unlike Yeti by Great Divide). It certainly works better with chocolate than with cheese.
Recipe for mousse after the jump.
A few weeks back, we went for a riverside walk in the East End and blogged about various pubs there. This time, we went Surrey side, starting at Tower Bridge.
While the tourists were busy snapping the bridge, we were photographing the remains of the Anchor brewery. Or rather, one of the Anchor breweries. There were (at least) two on the south side of the Thames. The arguably more famous one was further upstream, on Bankside, and was home to Barclay Perkins.