Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Nothing Wrong With It?


After a busy weekend in London, we wound down with a long walk on Bank Holiday Monday and for me, a determination that my last few pints of the weekend would be guaranteed to be good ones.  Thus it was that we headed over Waterloo Bridge and into Maiden Lane for some non cask stout at the Porterhouse Brewing Company.  As always I ordered Wrasslers 4X and as always the uncompromising bitterness delighted.  We sat outside watching disappointed antipodeans gazing forlornly into the closed Australian.New Zealand/ South African shop opposite, with me wondering as I always do, whether I shouldn't have had a pint of Plain Porter first,  but deciding the step down in flavour and gravity would be unwise. E wasn't nagged by any such doubts, sticking happily with Oyster Stout.

The RV1 bus leaves from just around the corner and goes, via Tower Bridge to Tower Gateway, a mere cockstride from our flat.  Temptingly, it passes very near to several well known craft outlets and we nipped in to one and despite my promises to myself, I ordered cask, which was a bit warm and tired.  "Listen to yourself " I said grimly, but letting myself off, as the search for top quality cask in London is usually experienced best in hope rather than expectation. E smugly said her (bloody expensive) Kernel was rather good.


Not wishing to be caught out twice, keg was acquired in the next and last pub.  It was from Camden and was Pale.  Nice enough, but not a patch on their late, lamented, cask Inner City Green .  E had a half of Paulaner and as we sat outside people watching, she took her first sip and grimaced.  "This is off" she said.  I looked at it.  It was a touch cloudy and smelt stale and cidery.  It certainly tasted awful. Hmm. I took it back. The barman expressed surprise, poured himself a little and said "It's fine - that's how it's meant to taste, but I'll change it if you want."  Now this of course implies that the customer is wrong, but in a nicer way.  I asked him if he was sure that it was Paulaner Helles and was advised it was.  "So that's meant to be cloudy and taste cidery?" He looked nonplussed. A colleague was called who confirmed it was fine and I was given a half of something else.

From our vantage point at the door, I could see we'd generated a discussion among the bar staff.  When I went in for a refill, the original barman said "I think you might be right about that beer - we've taken it off."  What I do wonder though is how many other poor sods had had off beer and said nothing and how it came to be off without anyone knowing.  Don't they taste all the beers first?  It isn't the first time I've had imported keg beer which has tasted stale. Is this common?  It is certainly a dear do to buy in the first place and even worse when it isn't right. It also makes me wonder about some of the folks behind the bar in some of these destination craft places.  Do they really know what they are talking about?

At least Sam Smith's Pure Brewed Lager doesn't suffer from staleness. I'll be mostly sticking to that in summer visits to the capital. Damn sight cheaper too.

Yes this is another London moan.  I'll happily (unhappily) moan about bad beer anywhere though.

27 comments:

Cooking Lager said...

I like the occasional Weiss bier, which is not too widely popular and once went on a jaunt necking it in a variety of localish pubs that served it with a view to getting pissed up and disgracing myself. I found 1 pub where it was up to scratch. The second cheapest and the only pub I spotted others drinking it. Most of the regular CAMRA award winning multi beer houses were selling tired slop and were oblivious to it. I got the impression it was there for show more than serving. The Sam Smiths Organic Wheat beer was the only one that I had to return and they did so with a smile and apology. None of you’re wrong but okay nonsense. Paulaner appeared the default draft option. Outstanding & Sam’s being English versions in poor nick.

My lesson was one of turnover, whether cask or keg and if in doubt have a bottle, and attention to what others are necking is a solid indication of what is good. If no one else is on it, it’s been there a while.

Tandleman said...

Turnover is always important.

Cooking Lager said...

I can understand how it would stick in the craw though, when you pay over the odds, get crap & then have a complaint dealt with poorly. I think the British have a masochistic streak when it comes to customer service. Some like paying over the odds to be treated like crap. Look at pricey celebrity restaurants. Some pub punters seem uncomfortable with people being employed in service occupations, wrongly equating it to 19th century “service” occupations, and desperately take their glasses back to the bar because god forbid someone employed to do so might collect them.

I think you should get a tweed jacket, Rupert bear trousers and a monocle so you can say “see hear young man” before any complaint. I think you’d be dealt with better, though you might be mistaken for a UKIP nutter.

Ron Pattinson said...

I take my glasses back to the bar for two reasons:

- if you don't, you can end up with a table full of empty glasses.

- I'm so used to doing it at home, it's automatic.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

I love Wrasslers, hasn’t been on last couple of times I was there

Pete said...

To be fair, it's hardly limited to keg beer or "craft" bars - I had to take back three cask milds in a row last year in a very "camra" pub.

Like you, I couldn't believe that they (clearly) hadn't tasted the beers that day, and I was especially surprised that after taking back two pints, they didn't at least sniff the third (equally off) beer before handing it over.

bailey said...

I take my glasses back to the bar, too. It's partly about keeping the table clear but, yeah, mostly about wanting to make some kind of connection with the human beings behind the bar so they'll be nice to me. If only I was cooler and more self-confident.

I had a very stale pint of Brooklyn lager the other day -- just a hint of sourness and definitely lacking 'zing'. Waste of £4. Sam Smith's Pure Brewed tends to have the advantage of freshness -- I'm quite a fan, especially after any kind of stressful tube journey.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

I have always taken glasses back and said cheers when leaving a bar, starting to do it in coffee houses now much to my bemusement…

Cooking Lager said...

I think what I learn from this is that if I want a pint of cask, go drink somewhere the CAMRA lot give gongs too, it’ll be alright but steer clear of the lout in there as none of ‘em touch it. If you want a lout go drink where people neck that. If you are fussy about your lout that might be via the airport. If you want to complain, be nice but if they’re shitty with you I think you can be shitty with them. Oh and please you lot, it’s the 21st century, service is not servility. It’s okay that someone paid to clear up, clears up, it’s not an embarrassment for you or them. Let them do their job, respect them for it. All labour deserves its respect. It okay to leave the empties on the table. If you want to be nice, they don’t want to be your friend, tip them when they serve you, they probably need it, it’s probably a bum temporary job.

RedNev said...

I always take my glass back - I often clear the table I'm sitting at of empty glasses - because I want the staff behind the bar ready to serve me, not wandering around all the tables. Plus, as Bailey says, they like you for it.

I'm surprised when I read on beer blogs drinkers commenting that a pint was £X wasted after they were unhappy with it but didn't return it. If I'm dissatisfied, I take the pint back, and it's been a very long time since I've had any argument. Being friendly and courteous while doing so, rather than a stereotyped CAMRA grump, undoubtedly helps.

If a loaf of bread costing about a third of the price of a pint were stale, you wouldn't hesitate to complain.

bailey said...

Nev -- fair point, although (a) it wasn't completely disgusting, just not at its best; and (b) I probably wouldn't complain about a loaf of stale bread if it meant having to get out of my seat when I was nice and comfy to have an awkward conversation with someone!

But then I'm a bit of a wuss.

Tandleman said...

I take my glass back too. I've worked in a pub and that's appreciated. Mind you, I agree with Nev. Don't want them mucking about on tables when I want to be served. Nor do I want to sit amid a load of dirty glasses.

RedNev said...

Sorry, Bailey, I didn't mean to have a go at you. I'm just surprised how often I've read that kind of comment on beer blogs. I tend to assume beer bloggers are more knowledgeable about beer than the average drinker. I too don't like making a fuss, but with beer so dear nowadays, I want it to be reasonable - at the very least.

Cooking Lager said...

Heh, group hug guys. Get your hand off my arse.

But guys yey, please. Don't be taking your glasses back. Have some respect for the dignity of labour, the guy or gal paid to do that job. It's a pub not a McDonalds. You'll be offering to wash the glasses next.

py0 said...

When you're standing waiting at the bar wondering why there is no-one serving you because half the staff are out collecting glasses, you've only got yourself to blame Cookie.

Tandleman said...

Think Cookie has called this one wrong. They don't pay a pot boy these days. The same fecker does it all and he/she is a lazy one more likely than not.

Not that any of this had anything to do with what I wrote about, but hey ho.

Sid Boggle said...

Pure Brewed a bloody sight cheaper? Not down here, mate. I think Sam Smith's in London have decided they're competing with the 'craft' bars. Last time I had some if was well over £4 a pint, so was the wheat beer...

Tandleman said...

It was in London I bought it. Maybe I have become desensitised to London prices. I'll check it out next time.

Cooking Lager said...

When in Europe do you ever become sensitised to the good service and wonder why in Blighty people actually think it reasonable to pay through the nose for self service and think it a trade off between clean tables and being served?

Tandleman said...

Of course people do think about these things, but what has that got to do with the practicalities?

To paraphrase Marx. The problem isn't how to identify what's wrong with the world, but to work out how you can change it.

I doubt if Marx would have sat at a table full of empty glasses either. Unless he was more of a cynic that I had him down for.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

As a former pub owner I can't walk past ANY table with empty glasses on without struggling to resist the temptation to pick 'em all up.

I've also got a bee in my bonnet about complaining about poor qaulity food and drink - I once spent 18 months hounding the MD of a company that owned a restaurant in LHR Terminal One about the dire quality of his rip-off scrambled eggs on toast.

I kept getting fobbed off with crap from his PR man but the ignorant fucker gave in eventually and responded to my complaint after I threatened to disrupt his AGM.

But 18 MONTHS ?

py0 said...

I actively dislike table service. The traditional pub model of empowering the customer to go to the bar himself and interact on equal terms is far, far superior to helplessly sitting there trying vainly to attract a waitress's attention every time you want another pint/to order your main course/the bill etc. It so often takes 2 hours to do what could be done in 20 minutes.

Cooking Lager said...

I've worked out how to change it. Steer clear of boozers with dirty tables and crap service and go in places that are better run.

Mark said...

Intersting that you had that with a Paulaner beer. I had some Paulaner dunkel weiss in that part of the world recently and it had some acetic flavour going on.

In the same area, I've also been served keg beer that tasted strongly of bleach. Barman told me it was fine and that the bleach flavour was down to "all the crazy dry hopping those American brewers do". The fact that it was just after opening on a Sunday and the lines had just been cleaned (but not rinsed?) was obviously just a coincidence ...

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

What the hell they doin letting Yappies in our shop! :-)

Curmudgeon said...

If beer is obviously cloudy or vinegary you should have no problem getting it changed. But if it's just a bit tired and stale and past its best, it's more a matter of judgment and you may just end up causing a scene for no benefit. Plus, you're going out for a relaxing drink, not an argument.

I also (as Cookie knows) agree with most of the others that, in a pub context, returning your empty glasses to the bar is basic good manners. In the old days, some busy pubs did have potboys who would snatch them away before you had chance, but that's a thing of the past.

David Nicholls said...

I've had mixed results when asking for a beer to be changed because its obviously off.

I've met with pure indifference, argumentativeness, "seems ok to me" and with a smile and "sorry about that I'll change it straight away"

I always vote with my feet.