Categories
Beer styles london

Finding stout and porter in London

“What are the best places to find stout in central London?” asks Stuart via Patreon. It’s a good question.

London is strongly associated, historically, with porter and stout but these days it’s hard to find, apart from Guinness which is, of course, almost everywhere.

Anthony Gladman recently wrote about the resurgence in London porter for Good Beer Hunting. That’s worth a read if you want to understand the broader context. It’s interesting how few examples he was actually able to point too, though.

Some that were around a decade or so ago have all but disappeared, too, such as Meantime and Fuller’s. The latter is a bottle-only product these days – and even so, rarely seen in pubs.

On our recent tour of classic London pubs we didn’t notice much dark beer on offer at all.

The Sutton Arms had a dark lager; The Carpenter’s Arms was all bitter and golden ale; and The Pride of Spitalfields had nothing darker than Fuller’s ESB.

We know that The Pembury Tavern, one of our favourite pubs in London, always seems to have Railway Porter, one of our favourite dark beers, on cask. But it’s hardly central.

Bristol brewery Moor has a very good straight-up cask stout called, uh, Stout, which seems to be regularly available at their London taproom. Bermondsey is a bit easier to get to but still not central, though.

The Royal Oak at Borough, still maybe the best pub in London, full stop, had Harvey’s wonderful porter on cask when we visited a couple of weeks ago. If not that, there are always bottles of Harvey’s wonderfully funky Imperial Stout behind the bar. We think this counts as central, even if it’s not West End.

Samuel Smith pubs, of which there are many in London, have an own-brand Guinness clone that’s we’ve always enjoyed. They may also have bottles of Oatmeal Stout, Taddy Porter and Imperial Stout in the fridge – but at a premium.

Anspach & Hobday also have London Black which they call an “independent nitro porter” with a handy map showing all the pubs that serve it. There are quite a few in central London.

In general, visiting pubs with wider-than-usual beer ranges will probably pay off, especially in autumn and winter. Cask in Pimlico, for example, or The King’s Arms in Bethnal Green. If there’s going to be a guest stout or seasonal porter, this is when and where you’ll find it.

If you know of a London pub that always has porter or stout on offer, let us know in the comments below. ⬇⬇⬇

Does Britain do regional styles?

Stuart also asked a related question: “Can you visit a city and find places that specialise in a particular style of beer? What does this say about the UK if we don’t have the same definable geographic association as German cities?”

What immediately sprang to mind for us was Midlands mild country, highlighted memorably by Robbie Pickering many years ago.

We recently revisited The Great Western at Wolverhampton where there was not only cask mild but also a choice of the hyper-local light golden ale style, from both Batham’s and Holden’s.

And down in the West Country there’s maybe an argument to say heavy, brown, sweetish ales are a thing – Blue Anchor Spingo, St Austell HSD, and a few others.

“London murky” (another Robbie Pickering contribution) almost became something but that now seems universal. It’s certainly the dominant style in Bristol.

But, yes, Stuart’s right: beyond that, it’s hard to say “Oh, you must go to city X which specialises in beer style Y.” Perhaps Britain is just too small to carry it off.

Or maybe we’re wrong. Are there living beer styles you associate strongly with a particular UK town, city or region?

Categories
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.

Categories
beer reviews

New to us: Wilde Child Brownie Hunter

A theme is beginning to emerge: when we do find beer from a brewery we don’t already know, based on the available data, it will probably have lactose in it.

We came across this 4.9% chocolate fudge brownie stout from Leeds in a can at our local bottle shop, Bottles & Books, and paid (we think) £5.99 including a small drink-in surcharge.

It was neither flat nor a gusher — a good start — and produced two tidy, tiny glasses of transparent bear-brown.

For something billed as a dessert beer, it was fairly light-bodied, almost thin, with a touch of butterscotch, some vanilla, and a general milk chocolate easygoing nature.

We were reminded of:

  1. Meantime Chocolate Porter — a beer we used to love but which has undoubtedly been left behind in the fancy beer arms race.
  2. Cadbury’s drinking chocolate — the one you drank as a kid, before you realised you were meant to want something either darker or richer, or both.

Young’s Double Chocolate is perhaps in similar territory, but somehow has more heft.

This isn’t quite our thing these days but it certainly wasn’t flawed or faulty and we enjoyed drinking it.

So that’s another brewery through the first checkpoint and onto our drink-again list.

Categories
beer reviews breweries

Neon Raptor Total Eclipse Jaffa Cake milk stout

We’re trying to drink one beer every week from a brewery that’s new to us and this time round it’s a Jaffa Cake milk stout from Neon Raptor of Nottingham.

We’ve actually found ourselves having to hunt round a bit to find unfamiliar breweries. There might be 2,000 or so of them but it turns out that in Bristol, you only tend to see about, say, 150 of those in circulation.

To find Total Eclipse, we had to go to a pub that’s not on our usual rounds because we haven’t really warmed to it over the years — that is, the Famous Royal Navy Volunteer, or Volly.

What do you expect from a beer with 7.4% ABV, vapourwave branding and a lactose warning? It is not subtle. It is loud, and best looked at through Ray Bans.

One definite point in its favour was that it had the weight of its strength, being positively chewy. It looks like chocolate sauce and, yes, that’s about the texture it achieves too.

The reference to Jaffa Cakes is misleading — the orange and chocolate here are both bitter, and intense. We certainly found ourselves thinking of confectionery, though: Mum’s Christmas box of Black Magic, crystallised ginger, candied peels.

Ray liked it; Jess less so. She detected a dirty background flavour, something earthy, like… potatoes? But overall, once again, it was kind of fun, and we’ve got another brewery to keep an eye out for.

Categories
Beer history

Draught Guinness 1958: Two Casks, One Tap

Draught Guinness™ is something different to draught Guinness. Exactly how it worked, and how it changed over time, has long puzzled us. Now, we at least have a clear explanation from one point in time – 1958.

The edition of Guinness Time for spring that year includes a four-page article, heavily illustrated, on draught Guinness. It clears up some of the confusion we felt when we wrote this piece a couple of years ago based on a similar article from 1971.

Men working with metal casks.
‘T. Byrne and A.E. George cleansing casks under the supervision of Foreman L. Elliott.’

1. Wood gives way to metal

It begins by setting out the political situation around metal and wooden casks:

Although a few Public Houses still serve Draught Guinness ‘from the wood’, is is now normally set out in Stainless Steel metal casks. The development of metal casks suitable for containing Draught Guinness was not as easy as it may sound and it involved the introduction of new taps and other associated fittings. The original inventor of the equipment was Mr J.F.T. Barnes, the founder of Universal Brewery Equipment Ltd… but many improvements in design were effected by the late Mr E.J. Griffiths and J.R. Moore. The transition from wooden to metal casks, which attracted a great deal of criticism during the early days just after the last War, has now been virtually completed and is accepted everywhere.

There are hints of the Society for the Preservation of the Wood yet to arrive, in 1963, and this helps us pin down when ‘beer from the wood’ became a common phrase.