New Pubs and Old Favourites #3: The Bricklayers Arms, Putney

We can’t quite call the Bricklayers in Putney an old favourite because we only made it there once, about a decade ago.

On that occa­sion, we were delight­ed to find a pub in Lon­don with beer from Tim­o­thy Tay­lor. Not just the then ubiq­ui­tous Land­lord but the full range – Gold­en Best, Ram Tam, dark mild, and more.

But then we moved to Corn­wall, and while we were away, the pub changed, los­ing its unique sell­ing point and becom­ing just anoth­er Lon­don pub with a ‘great range of real ale’. Peo­ple stopped talk­ing about the Brick­lay­ers, and we for­got it exist­ed.

Then before Christ­mas, the buzz began again: Taylor’s was back at the Brick­ie.

We went out of our way to vis­it in the week between Christ­mas and the new year, despite Google’s insis­tence that the pub was closed on Fri­days. As we approached along the qui­et back­street we felt reas­sured: the lights were on, fig­ures were mov­ing behind the frost­ed glass.

Bricklayers pub exterior.

Not many fig­ures, though: we walked into an almost emp­ty pub, and the peo­ple at the bar were into the last inch­es of their pints, mak­ing their long good­byes.

It’s an excit­ing sight, a line of pumps with Taylor’s clips, espe­cial­ly when rar­i­ties such as the porter are there along­side the big names.

There’s been a lit­tle con­tro­ver­sy about this brew­ery late­ly. Depend­ing who you lis­ten to, it’s either over­looked and under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed, or over-hyped and new­ly trendy, but we like the beer and have liked it for almost as long as we’ve been pay­ing atten­tion.

This time, there were some hits and miss­es. Land­lord was off – a trib­ute to the pow­er of the brand, we sup­pose – and the dark mild was sim­ply mud­dy. Knowle Spring was sad­ly bland. The porter we’d been so keen to try seemed like a squirt of cheap cola.

But Ram Tam! Oh, Ram Tam. Anoth­er best mild, we think, and though peo­ple keep telling us it’s just Land­lord with caramel… It doesn’t taste like Land­lord with caramel. Per­haps we’re mugs being fooled by the optics, per­ceiv­ing flavours that aren’t there, but we are per­ceiv­ing them, so who cares.

A moth­er and father with moody teenage son arrived, made small talk, and agreed to try a mix of Gold­en Best and dark mild that the local CAMRA crawl had appar­ent­ly enjoyed on its sweep through.

A reg­u­lar arrived, con­ceal­ing his drunk­en­ness expert­ly until he’d been served, and then star­ing dumb­found­ed at a pint he didn’t real­ly want. “I tell you what, I’ll have a whisky,” he said, but didn’t get one.

The fire flick­ered.

The boards creaked.

Faces appeared against the frost­ed glass, scat­tered into pink points, fea­tures scrunched in con­sid­er­a­tion. To come in from the cold, or walk on? They walked on.

Passing Thoughts on Yorkshire Beer

Collage: Yorkshire Beer.

We spent a few days in Yorkshire last week (Leeds-Harrogate-York) and reached a couple of tentative conclusions.

1. Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord, like Bass, and prob­a­bly like many oth­er beers, can be so dif­fer­ent as to be unrecog­nis­able from one pub to the next. We’re not say­ing it’s an incon­sis­tent prod­uct but that it has a lot of poten­tial for change depend­ing on how it’s han­dled by pubs. We had pints that were bone dry and stony, and oth­ers that were sweet and nec­tar-like – old­er and younger respec­tive­ly we assume. We almost always enjoy it but there seems to be a real sweet spot where it becomes a lit­tle less cloy­ing and gains a sort of peach-like flavour with­out com­plete­ly dry­ing out. Expert opin­ion wel­come below, of course. In the mean­time, we’ll keep test­ing our find­ings when we can.

2. We might have final­ly zeroed in on the essence of York­shire bit­ter. Tet­ley*, Black Sheep and Taylor’s Bolt­mak­er, as well as look­ing more alike in the glass than we recall, all had the same chal­leng­ing, hot, rub­ber-band tang. We’ve noticed it before in Bolt­mak­er but hon­est­ly just thought it was on the turn. But there it was again in mul­ti­ple pints of Bolt­mak­er, in dif­fer­ent pubs, even in dif­fer­ent cities, and in mul­ti­ple pints of the oth­ers, too. It’s most pro­nounced in Bolt­mak­er (Jes­si­ca likes it, Ray finds it too much) and gen­tlest in the cur­rent incar­na­tion of Tet­ley (Ray likes it, Jes­si­ca finds it rather bland) but def­i­nite­ly the same thing. This is where our tech­ni­cal tast­ing skills let us down, unfor­tu­nate­ly. Is this maybe what peo­ple mean by ‘sul­phurous’? Again, expert sug­ges­tions wel­come.

* No longer brewed in York­shire, we know.

3. North­ern pale-n-hop­py beer is more to our taste than Lon­don or Bris­tol takes on the same style, on the whole. We knew this already, real­ly, but this trip con­firmed it. With­out want­i­ng to seem dog­mat­ic about clar­i­ty (we’re not) beers from brew­eries such as North­ern Monk, Rooster’s and Ossett were per­fect­ly clear with a light­ness and dry­ness that made them impos­si­ble to drink in any­thing less than great hearty gulps. Even with plen­ty of flavour and aro­ma there’s a cer­tain del­i­ca­cy there – per­fect engi­neer­ing. We did find our­selves won­der­ing if per­haps we’ve grown to pre­fer sparklers for this style because (per this post for $2+ Patre­on sub­scribers) the noto­ri­ous wid­get has a capac­i­ty for round­ing off hard edges and smooth­ing out flaws. ‘Don’t @ us’, as the kids say.

The Pub That Does That One Beer Brilliantly

You know the kind of place we mean: it’s perhaps a bit curmudgeonly, perhaps a little old-fashioned, and everyone knows it’s the place in town to go for a perfect pint of [BEER X].

Most often these days, it seems, BEER X is Bass. Cer­tain­ly in the West Coun­try that’s the case, and there are famous Bass pubs in Pen­zance, Fal­mouth, Bris­tol and no doubt many oth­er places. Here’s a bit we wrote for our now defunct Devon Life col­umn:

Sev­er­al pubs that sold great Bass 40 years ago are still doing so and one of the country’s very most famous Bass pubs is in Ply­mouth… The Dol­phin on the Bar­bi­can is a place to drink, not to dine or pose. There is a range of ale on offer but the main event, as it has been for as long as any­one can remem­ber, is undoubt­ed­ly Bass. An ornate plaque out­side the front door adver­tis­es ‘Bass on draught’; a huge Bass ban­ner hangs behind the bar; and the beer comes in straight-sided vin­tage-style pint glass­es bear­ing the famous logo.… Though Bass may not be the beer it once was, at The Dol­phin under the stew­ard­ship of vet­er­an pub­li­can Bil­ly Holmes, it still has some of its old snap and crack­le, with a chalky dry­ness and a won­der­ful mild funk­i­ness. It is unfussy but cer­tain­ly not bland.… The Dol­phin is by no means the only Bass strong­hold in Ply­mouth, how­ev­er. At the Artillery Arms in Stone­house Belin­da Warne has been learn­ing its ways for 20 years. ‘It’s tem­pera­men­tal,’ she says, reflect­ing the pop­u­lar mys­tique that sur­rounds the beer. ‘I’ve known it be fine and then, bang, there’s a clap of thun­der out­side and it’s turned bad in an instant.’

Becky's Dive Bar, photographed by Grant W. Corby (we'd still like to get in touch with him) and supplied by Eric Schwartz (pictured right).
Becky’s Dive Bar, pho­tographed by Grant W. Cor­by (we’d still like to get in touch with him) and sup­plied by Eric Schwartz (pic­tured right).

Becky’s Dive Bar, all the way back in the 1960s and 70s, made its rep­u­ta­tion on being one of the few places in Lon­don you would ever find Rud­dles, for exam­ple, and we once made a pil­grim­age to Put­ney in search of Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Ram Tam. (That pub sad­ly gave up on this unique sell­ing point.) The Muse­um Tav­ern in Blooms­bury, a nice pub but oth­er­wise unre­mark­able, is a go-to place for Theak­ston Old Peculi­er.

We reck­on the King’s Head here in Bris­tol is on its way to gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for its Harvey’s Sus­sex Best which seems to be per­ma­nent­ly on offer and as good as we’ve ever had it. The Bridge Inn round the cor­ner seems to have a sim­i­lar rela­tion­ship with Dark Star Hop­head, a beer we still love despite its ups and downs.

For this mod­el to real­ly work the beer ought to be from anoth­er part of the coun­try, the fur­ther away the bet­ter, and ide­al­ly one that doesn’t have wide nation­al dis­tri­b­u­tion through Wether­spoon pubs or oth­er such chains and pub com­pa­nies. But that doesn’t have to be the case: the sell­ing point is real­ly absolute reli­a­bil­i­ty. If you fan­cy a pint of BEER X, the pub will have it, and because they always have it, and per­haps not much else, they’ll both know how to care for it and get through plen­ty. (See: Prop­er Job at The Yacht Inn, Spin­go at The Dock.)

The pub­li­can has to hold their nerve, of course, when all the oth­er pubs in the area are offer­ing three, five, ten, twen­ty guest ales, plus kegs, plus bot­tles. How long does it take to build a cult rep­u­ta­tion and a steady clien­tele around sell­ing one beer real­ly well? Years, prob­a­bly – per­haps decades. And if a cus­tomer crav­ing BEER X turns up and it’s not there you might find your­self back at square one.

What are some of your favourite One Beer Done Well pubs? Let us know in the com­ments below.

The Great Porter Flood of 2017

At some point in the last year a memo must have gone round all the traditional-regional-family brewers: let’s brew porter!

So far this year we’ve noticed new ones from:

And that’s before we get into debat­able cas­es such as the revived Truman’s which has a vanil­la porter in devel­op­ment.

Have we missed any oth­ers?

We’d guess this has been enabled by the trend for small pilot plants which enable large brew­eries, oth­er­wise equipped to turn out tanker­loads of one or two flag­ship beers, to pro­duce styles with less main­stream appeal on the side. For a long time this was often cit­ed as the rea­son for the lack of dark beers – they don’t sell enough to war­rant a full brew – so this might also bode well for oth­er mar­gin­al styles such as mild.

We’re also firm­ly of the view that porter is a more dig­ni­fied way of meet­ing the cur­rent demand for nov­el­ty and vari­ety than dis­ap­point­ing cod-Amer­i­can IPAs, or beers that are sup­posed to taste of Tequi­la.

What­ev­er the rea­sons and motives we’d be quite hap­py if Octo­ber-Decem­ber became a sort of semi-offi­cial porter sea­son across the coun­try. Imag­ine know­ing that you could walk into almost any halfway decent pub and find porter on draught – imag­ine!

Londorval & Landlorval

Last night, we blended funky Trappist pale ale Orval with two classic British best bitters, Fuller’s London Pride and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.

Our think­ing was that mix­ing beers with some­what sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics – pale malts, old-school Euro­pean hop vari­eties –would add com­plex­i­ty through sub­tly har­monies.

We poured around three-quar­ters of a pint of each British beer and topped up to a pint with Orval.

First impres­sions were not good. Both blends gained a Granny Smith char­ac­ter that was most pro­nounced in ‘Lon­dor­val’. That is a com­po­nent of Orval’s flavour, yes, but, watered down, as it were, it became a grat­ing, insis­tent irri­ta­tion.

Bot­tled Land­lord isn’t a favourite of ours but, of the two, ‘Land­lor­val’ was the bet­ter blend. Still, as the pint pro­gressed, it began to seem ever more thinned out and gut­ted like… This might sound sil­ly, but like a pint of Wor­thing­ton Cream Flow from a keg that’s been sit­ting around for months in a hotel bar.

So, there you go: Orval doesn’t improve every beer to which you add it after all.

We can’t promise that this will be the last time we blend beers with Orval but it will prob­a­bly be the last such exper­i­ment we both­er writ­ing up. If you come across a good com­bo, let us know.