Wednesday 29 August 2012

The Blue Pig, Odd and PSBH

There is a new bar in Manchester. The Blue Pig is on High Street and owned by Odd it seems. Nice inside, with bare boards, lots of distressed metal and a little attractive side bar-cum-stall - though it isn't apparent if it is just a service point - selling Spanish meaty things, which looked rather tasty. It doesn't have any fancy craft fonts, but was selling a couple of weakish cask beers at a hefty £3.30 a pint on Saturday. I had Lancaster Straw which at 3.5% and well, straw coloured, was presumably their take on the Windermere Pale genre. Hawkshead can rest easy. This was wishy-washy, thin and disappointing with scarcely a hop to lift it. You do wonder what thought processes went behind that one. Hornbeam Chestnut was the choice of my mate Mike. It did what it said on the pumpclip and delivered a chestnut coloured beer of zero character.  This place is in a great location and has a lot of potential, but the welcome was entirely absent, as was eye contact.  That always makes for a less than comfortable experience, so a work in progress.

We called next at Odd, oddly enough. We had by contrast, a very warm and cheery welcome there and although the Phoenix Hopsack was in great nick, it was a fair bit too warm. It was likely the first pints poured I suppose and again we paid £3.30 a pop.  A step up in both quality, welcome and class next.  If you read this blog you will know that I am a great fan of the Port St Beer House.  They just do the right things.  While many criticise the high prices, these tend to be the fancy keg beers, which like other such places, are charged way beyond what can be justified by ingredients, taxation, or whatever, but you don't have to buy these.  The cask beers and indeed some of the weaker keg beers are pretty well priced for the absolute quality, the cheerful service with advice, the offer of tasters and the environment which just makes it a very nice place in wich to drink.  Mike,a newcomer to PSBH, was very impressed.  We drank Magic Rock Curious, which did have a touch of  diacetyl, but in bearable quantities. So much so that we continued with that beer in the main, though I did have a few other halves, trapped there by heavy showers which came just as we finished our pints.

A word too about Brodie's All Brett IPA.  I was given, unasked, a taster of this and was impressed.  Before he finished his shift, Will the manager, gave me another larger taste.  What a fantastic beer.  OK, you couldn't drink a lot of it, but it was classy and elegant, with a distinct Brett character and brilliant hopping.  I almost wish I had a notebook with me to tell you all about it, but I didn't have. Instead, just try it if you can.  A truly lovely beer.

I reckon the thing about the Port St Beer House (and Craft in London too) which sets them apart from, say, BrewDog, is the mix of cask and keg craft.  It encourages a good cross section of drinkers, beer styles and beer cultures.  I firmly believe that encouraging a cross section of drinkers is just a better way to do things.  It is also more pubby that way.

"Aha" I hear you say. What about cask only pubs?  Well, what about them?

There's a nice little piece about the owner of Odd here. Quite interesting

Friday 24 August 2012

What's The Matter With Beer Drinkers?

Thanks to William Lees-Jones of Lees Brewery, I learn that Virgin Trains have reached their 100,000 e-petition target in just about a week.  A week! They want the Government's decision to award the West Coast Mainline franchise to First to be reviewed. I am quite sympathetic to that aim - Virgin run a pretty good (but bloody expensive) service and there are doubts about First's ability to deliver on its promises,  but really?  Clearly so many people think Virgin so fantastic that they sign the e-petition in their thousands.  Why? It really beggars belief.

It seems that many more people care about a possible future problem on the West Coast Mainline train franchise than care about the excessive duty on beer in this country. The e-petition on beer is still struggling at around 80,000, after weeks of earnest endeavour. CAMRA members could have done this in a trice, but they are the minority of beer drinkers. Where is everyone? There are far more beer drinkers than Virgin West Coast passengers, but clearly they don't feel as motivated.  What is going on?

Nobody cares after all it seems.  Except Virgin passengers. There's nowt queerer than folk.

I haven't signed the Virgin petition. Not that sorry the Grinning Bearded One is going to get no more of my money, but will no doubt be picking up a bill in due course when it all goes tits up. Lose/lose situation.


Local Update

The new landlady is now fully ensconced in the pub and getting things moving again. I've mentioned before how when there is a change or impending change of licensee in a locals pub, how it has a very unsettling effect on us regulars. We worry about the beer, who they'll try and attract, what changes will be made and a thousand other trivial things, though mostly we just put it to the back of our mind while asking of each other in hushed tones "Any news about who's taking over yet?" It is normally considered bad form somehow to ask the current incumbent, though of course surreptitiously we do. After all who would be in a better position to know?

A sure sign of things returning to normal is eggs appearing on the bar for sale, a full range of beer and the promise of Lees seasonal appearing soon. The pub is attracting its usual crowd and the casual walkers from the nearby country park. The walls look a bit spartan however, as the new landlady has yet to put her imprint on them, but we are content enough.

Why do we bother? It is hardly convenient, being on top of a hill, up an unmade farm road, a mile from the main roads on either side. It's a bugger to get to in the winter when it snows and not so pleasant a walk when the wind howls or it is chucking it down.  Like all people that attend a local, you can't exactly say, except the familiarity of it once you've hoofed up the lane, the calls of recognition as you enter, the welcoming roaring fire in winter, the conviviality of our friends and the usual banter and conversation is what does it I reckon. It's a little piece of publand that somehow belongs to us.

It kind of sticks with you too. I had a call from the Landlady, an ex tenant who is in sunny Cornwall on her hols. After the usual exchange of pleasantries she asked "How's the Tavern?

She always does.

Read what Beer Writer Arthur Taylor said about it here. It was some time ago, but gives a flavour.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Mild and ESB

Two different styles and both controversial in their own way. Mild as Ron Pattinson never tires of telling us wasn't always dark,sweet and low gravity. ESB as all know is a Fuller's invention. Er.. no. Probably Possibly not.

Two photos for you to have a gander at: One shows a famous set of postcards produced by Robinsons of Stockport in the 1930s and 40s. Note that apart from two other beers, they all advertise "Best Mild". Note the colour. Not dark at all, but pale, verging on golden and all with a tight looking creamy head. Makes you re-think mild a bit doesn't it?

The second photo is Mitchell's of Lancaster. Still going, but their own brewery in Lancaster closed some years ago, but they do now own York Brewery.  Oddly, I have a poster of their planned seasonals for the year of closure (1999) but which didn't of course appear. Offers anyone? The photo is of a sign that used to appear outside their pubs. Note the beer styles: Mild, Bitter and Extra Special Bitter. I was told once and don't know if it is true, that theirs preceded Fullers. Anyone know?
To study the photos closely, just click on them. You'll see me taking the Mitchell's photo if you look carefully. Call that a bonus. The originals are both on the wall in my study.

I also wrote about Mitchells here.  If you want to goggle in astonishment about ESB, click here for Ratebeer.

Monday 20 August 2012

One That Got Away

Have I mentioned that Berlin is a big bugger? I think I have, but to emphasise, it is big, wide and very spread out. They don't seem to have been worried about space there when throwing up the odd building, street or avenue. The centre itself is big enough - not surprising really as it is two centres knocked into one - but pretty walkable. When it comes to moving out a little though, maps can be a bit misleading. What looks like an easy walk turns into a long trek down never ending streets. That's tip number one for you.

We decided that we'd go to Friedrichshain, to a brewpub that is gaining a reputation for moving off the mainstream a bit. In theory Friedrichshain is one area up from our hotel in Mitte and the pub, Hops and Barley, looked an easy walk from the Ostbanhof. Outside, on impulse, I flagged down a cab. It was a lovely evening and I was thirsty. Boy am I glad I did. I wouldn't have fancied the walk at all, dragging my thirst behind me. Thus we found ourselves deposited right outside the pub on Wühlischstrasse by our very friendly taxi driver. Now this is an area I like. Big tenement buildings, both new and renovated, lots of jumping studenty bars and restaurants and loads going on. It was one of the most damaged parts of Berlin during WW2, depressed during the DDR days, but now has  recovered its vitality and is a pulsing part of Berlin social life.

We sat outside and ordered our beers. A dunkel for me and a pils for E. Served in non cheaty half litre glasses.  The dunkel was dark - always a good sign - and its dark, chewy malt and light hopping were an excellent thirst quencher. E's pils was a cut above the usual brewpub stuff, though still a bit dull.  I asked what the special was.  "A Cascade Pale Ale."  Alas though it was competently enough made, it showed little trace of cascades, except in the aroma.  A disappointment, though probably better overall than I'd anticipated.  I've a long record of visiting German brewpubs and almost every one is an outright disappointment.

I'll come to our next beery port of call in a moment, but leaving the pub and heading towards Karl Marx Allee, on the same street, on a corner we noticed a pizza place.  Large open windows, graffitti decoration, candled tables and waitresses and waiters bawling at each other in Italian - what's not to like?  We hadn't eaten, so in we went and were squeezed into a table in the middle of the throng.  The pizzas were thin, crispy and superb.  The place was rightly going like a fair.   Second top tip.  And now, hot on its heels, the third.  If you are going to look for the new Tilsiter Brauerei as first revealed by Knut Albert, the easiest way is to walk along KMA to the Kosmos Kino (direction Frankfurter Tor), go behind it and follow the path onto Richard Sorge Strasse. Walk five minutes and it is on your right. This is much better than the roundabout way we went.  I'll now hand you over to Knut for the history and to tell you about the beer. I can't, as it wasn't on!  We settled for the full bodied, bitter and moreish Wernesgruner Pils instead and a chat with the barman about the cinema, which was showing West is West when we called.  The pub, converted out of the former cinema foyer, is stunning and charmingly old fashioned.  One little anecdote.  We were given a tour of the projection room.  No real electronics here, but old fashioned reel to reel from two giant metal projectors. Our host told us he bought them for a song.  They used to show films in the old Stasi HQ! Films of what, he didn't know.  The other titbit is they are maintained by the guy that does the brewing, which is off the premises in Mitte.  He was between brews and is apparently a kind of mad professor type. Needless to say, he built the brewery himself and produces 1000l at a time.  Two beers are produced; an unfiltered pils and helles and the odd special. When and if he gets round to it.

We returned along KMA to Frankfurter Tor U Bahn station. The beer festival was packing up, with vans and drays being loaded, while the odd reluctant drunk was still spinning out his last beer.  A good and different night out.

Sorry about the chopped off photo. It was dark in there and without the flash, which bounces back off the photo, I couldn't see a thing.

Friday 17 August 2012

Same Again. And Again

I have mentioned from time to time the moribund state of German brewing. I think probably the first time was in 2008 in this article, where the author I quote scathingly remarked that most German brewers can't even identify their own pils in a blind tasting, so alike have they become.

So what would it be like with dozens to hundreds of German brewers all in a row?  The Berlin Bier Festival gave me a chance to find out. Would they rise to the occasion or would we sink in sea of samey beer?  I think you can guess the result. What we used to get is the unholy trinity of pils or (helles), dunkel beer and a wheat beer.  Now we have added to that miserable mix, a special. This special will nearly always be called "zwickel" and will often be the pils, but unfiltered, while purporting to be a keller bier.  Well it might be, but it will likely be even less hoppy than the pils, whatever it is and you will never find out for sure, but they'll tell you anything.  Sometimes the dunkel will be replaced by a blacker beer - schwarzbier - and these can be quite good.  There might even be a stronger beer too, but you will have to ask for it. Franconian breweries will likely offer a kellerbier, but these will be a shadow of the wonderful country beers that you may be thinking of.

Of course, this being an international festival, you could avoid the native beer altogether.  There was beer from Williams Bros served by handpump, but re-racked. There was Belgian, though mostly mainstream, but you could get La Trappe and Chimay. You could also get Leffe and HoegaardenGuinness too and Smithwicks, Fullers, Greene King, beers from Poland, the Czech Republic, the Caribbean, South East Asia, Africa and more.  There was in fact something for everyone, though some of the foreign stuff was a lot more pricey.  All in all though you would be pretty fussy not to find something.  Unless you are a fan of the hop of course. Then you'd be in deep shit. Humulus Lupulus was hiding its light well under a bushel.  In fact it had pulled another bushel onto the one that it was hiding its light under and burrowed deeply underneath.

We stuck to German stuff mostly as we wanted to do some direct comparing.  First of all there is glassware and we tried to find decent glasses to drink out of.  Pils just doesn't taste as good in a thick walled glass, so we chose some stands on the quality of their glassware.  It does help. Now you can roughly chop it up as follows: Pils and Helles will be often be sweet, under hopped and underwhelming, though there will be exceptions of enjoyable poise and balance. Dunkel will be sweet, under hopped and underwhelmimg. You may just get one that has something about it, but it will be a long search.  Schwarzbier at its best will be like a really good dark mild. Or it will be like the dunkel.  Weizenbier will be competent, tick most of the relevant wheat beer boxes and will be cool and refreshing. If you like that sort of thing, you rarely get a bad one. Frankly, choosing a stand by its seating, people watching potential and standard of glassware is as good a plan as any. Unless you are some kind of demented ticker of course. Then you have hit the mother lode.

But we weren't here for the beer as such. It was the atmosphere, the people watching and the sense of gemutlichkeit and that was there in abundance. The sun shone like a shiny thing and we divided our time between stalls with a decent view and a stage with Deutsche Blasmusik - that folksy and innocent stuff you hear in the background a lot in Germany - for which we are both suckers and just wandering around doing more of the same.  We joined in the singing later on, watched the dancing, scoffed bratties, talked to Dutch people, fought our way into the Baltika Stand where there was a huge throng intent on cheap and strong beer, fought our way out and back in again for the deposit - no mean feat I assure you - drank loads of pils, wheat, schwarz and dunkel beer, seeking out some old favourites from our many German holidays. We also drank Muhlen and Reissedorf Koelsch and  some awful Czech beer - but the guy from the brewery was really nice so we didn't tell him. We queued for toilets, hopping from one leg to the other and I got misunderstood at the Schneider stall, not once, but twice, by the same guy.  Both times ending up with an extra beer.  Avoiding him,  I did manage to finish unwisely with a Schneider Hopfen Weisse, which wasn't visibly on display, but  a bottle of which was produced with a flourish by the dirndled barmaid and drank far too quickly by me.  Thus hoppily satisfied, we staggered off to a taxi.  Neither of us fancied walking.  We'd stayed far longer than intended, drank far more than intended and sat in the sun longer than advisable too. We'd had a great time, great beer or not.

I felt a bit rough next day, but we did go back.  Much more modestly.  Well it started out that way. It's the atmosphere you know - it gets to you.  Don't worry about the beer - just have a good time.

The next night was less of the same, punctuated by a leisurely Greek meal.  The place was jumping and again the sun beat down.  Some events may have taken place that night. It's hard to recall exactly which was which.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Berlin Bleibt Doch Berlin

Berlin is big. You notice that on the way from the airport and when walking around. It is ever changing and still, 22 years after the wall fell, a city of contrasts and still 67 years after the last shell and bomb landed, undergoing repairs and renovations. In short, in the centre at least, it is a large building site, with former buildings reappearing phoenix like from the sandy soil, or large U Bahn extensions causing diversions as you pick your way through it. It is a marvellous place, though frustratingly difficult to remember precisely, even though I've been there quite a few times.

Mitte is the centre of the old East and that's where we stayed in the excellent Novotel. Great for breakfasts - and handy for more or less everything - trust me on that one. Our short first night was spent trying to find the quaint Nicolaiveirtel, a small part of the former East German capital, renovated by the DDR in its dog days - mostly in concrete - but you can hardly tell. The building works didn't help either, nor did a sign that pointed to its direction the wrong way. They are wags these Berliners. The huge former Palace of the DDR, riddled with asbestos, is now a giant hole in the ground which seemed to block our every way, but eventually we stumbled on a neat little pub with excellent food and a very snooty attitude. We'd been there before with others a few years ago and it was the same then, but the Radeburger- the drink of the DDR politburo - didn't touch the sides and the portions were mighty, even if the craic wasn't. The next day, when the pouring rain eased, we found our goal a mere five minutes walk away. It's easy when you know how.

Determined to do better we headed for Brauhaus Mitte. Now I knew where that was and felt confident. It is more or less opposite the Fernsehturm, the huge former DDR TV tower which dominates Berlin. Well we found the tower OK - you could hardly miss it - and after only a little swearing and cursing, found Brauhaus Mitte. We sat outside, just as it started to rain again and enjoyed a flight of samplers. Nothing that special, but competent enough. A recurring theme.  We took our bearings and planned our day. It was a simple plan, therefore one I felt capable of executing. We were going to the Berlin Beer Festival. That's simple.  And so it proved. A quick shimmy round the Fernsehturm, along Alexanderstrasse and we were there. Karl-Marx Allee.  Now just a touch more history here for you.  Karl-Marx Allee started out as Stalin Allee, though of course in an even earlier incarnation, it was Grosse Frankfurter Strasse.  It arose from the rubble of the Second World War bombing and was perhaps the DDR's most ambitious building project. It is grandly stupendous in an insane sort of way.  Actually it is rather handsome. And why go there? It is where they hold Berlin Beer Festival.

Most of the 2km stretch of Karl-Marx Allee is used for the festival. Not in the middle of the road, but on one side. There is plenty of room, as the whole thing is nearly 90 metres wide.  Stand after stand for the whole stretch is filled with individual breweries beer offerings.  Any brewery who is noteworthy seems to be there and you simply start at the beginning - either end will do - and work your way along. Almost all the beer is German as you'd expect, though there was a bit of British, Czech and Belgian.  There  was even some Russian stuff and other oddities.  I'll tell you later about that in part 2.

To finish part one though, I'll tell you how it all works.  You can buy a festival glass for a few euros and wander around and have that filled, or just get a brewery glass from whatever stand you fancy and pay a deposit on that glass.  You have to take the glass back to the stand you got it from to get your money back - or you can keep it.  And despite the thousands of people, it is real glass. No plastic here. Most stands have a few benches where you can watch the world go by as you oil your neck.  Of course this being Germany, you won't go short of vittals.  Every few metres there is a bratwurst stall, a pizza stall, various chunky meat stalls, roast chickens, hamburgers, fried potatoes and more. You will be entertained by Bavarian Oompah bands, singers, heavy metal and rock, Beatles song singers (lots of that) and cheery German equivalents of Val Doonican, while all the while, elderly couples and old ladies dance away to Deutsche Blasmusik.

Another slight oddity is pricing.  This is set by the stallholders and varies a lot.  Many sold 0.4l, that odd, slightly cheaty, North German favourite, at a very reasonable €3, while some sold 0.25l for the same price or more. It was notable that those with the biggest prices were emptiest, including Zum Uerige who sold their beer "vom holzfass" that is straight from the barrel by gravity.  At the height of the festivities, the AB InBev stand was pretty empty. Who wants to pay top dollar for their stuff? Hardly anyone it seemed. By contrast, Baltika of Russia was bashing out their wares, including some pretty strong stuff, for €3 a half litre.  It was bursting with thirsty bargain hunters.

Customers ranged from young to very old.  Most were German, but there was, astonishingly quite a few British stag parties, looking completely incongruous and out of place, dressed in Joe 90 costumes, chicken costumes, silly wigs and the like.  Not the place for that really, but the atmosphere is one that encourages conformance and there was little by way of bad behaviour, though there was by the end a lot of completely pissed people, again almost all German, but rather well behaved pissed, though a tad noisy. Drinking makes you a bit deaf it seems.  There was one Scotsman in a kilt that was delighting the young frauleins, by showing what he didn't wear under his kilt.  I didn't see this myself thankfully, though I did see him, but E confirmed it was the case. Seems they all found it funny, though I'd have had him locked up.  Funnily enough the GBBF habit of wearing silly hats was noticeable too.  Why does a beer festival make some people want to wear daft headgear? A mystery to me.  Everyone who could had looked out a brewery T shirt too.

Lastly, a word about toilets and policing.  Portaloos were plentiful and free, though some were a grim experience. E opted for the paying version, where for 50 cents, you got toilet paper, guaranteed running water and hand washing facilities.  As the night wore on and things got more hectic, the signs for male and female were simply ignored and people dashed into the first loo available, often after a bladder stretching wait.  By closing time, the abundant bushes were freely and all too openly pressed into service.

All the while the place was patrolled by quite casual looking special police and various security guards.  I didn't see either of them doing anything at all in particular. Apart from public pissing, which was studiously ignored, there seemed no need.

The photo at the top show Leipziger Strasse and was the view from our hotel room.  East German practicality and function. 

Wednesday 15 August 2012

What Do You Think?

At GBBF, Braustelle Amarillo Schwarz Bier, 6.5% abv, imported specially from Cologne, duty paid, (presumably at the full rate of 72p a pint as there is no reduction on imported beers*); £4.80 a pint. Kernel IPA, also 6.5% in a well known London pub, specially imported from just round the corner; £7.00 a pint. Duty paid at the reduced rate of 36p a pint.

Is there possibly do you think, that there is a bit of overcharging in one case? Or do you perhaps believe that CAMRA didn't make enough money of the Braustelle and should have been charging more?

Seems to me, if they aren't careful, what will slow any craft beer renaissance isn't about being too cold and gassy, but pricing themselves out of the game.  Or is this part of what sets "craft" beer apart and if you don't like it or can't afford it, that's just too bad?

And the Braustelle was the far classier beer.

* See Beer Nut's response. I am wrong about the duty. Progressive Beer Duty applies it seems, to imports too. Well I never. 

Sunday 12 August 2012

Back Home?

No, not in Manchester, that's tomorrow. I mean back at Olympia for the Great British Beer Festival. I worked quite a few years there and liked it. When we moved to Earl's Court, we got used to that too, despite it always feeling that you were working in an underground car park. Going back to the renovated Olympia with its new mezzanine floor where we on the German bar were located, was wonderful. Light, airy, sunny and with pretty good aircon,it was uplifting. Light does make it all seem better. Better for staff and better for customers. There was loads more seating too, which is always a good thing.

I know there are logistic and size issues, but I reckon if we got the other hall too, then it could be a great and appropriate venue once again. Nobody compared it unfavourably to Earl's Court and none of my colleagues working there wanted it to go back if we could do it as well in Olympia. Can it move back to Olympia at its full size? That's a question I don't know the answer to, but I know it is being looked at. This was a great GBBF despite difficulties and the lack of tube trains, but overall it was brilliant. I had my own doubts about it going ahead during the Olympics, but it all seemed fantastic and it really worked - as usual due to excellent organisation and a vast army of volunteers and of course the enthusiastic crowd of happy topers.

So well done Olympia and well done us. CAMRA, like London can put on a good show I reckon.

This photo was nicked from the internet. Doesn't it look good?I forgot to take a similar one.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Bad Times, Good Times.

The lot of the beer drinker isn't always a happy one. While looking for the princess, you have to kiss a lot of frogs. Unfortunately it is the nature of the beast in beer drinking, as in life, that you have a lot of lows which make the highs so much more satisfying. In beer though, I doubt that it should be like this. Some beer is just out and out poor and a lot of beer is just poorly presented. An insult to both brewer and customer.

My trip to Scotland a couple of weeks ago was a case in point. There was highs in my first two beers. The Drum and Monkey offered St Peter's Mild and Roosters Welsummer. Both were splendid, with St Peter's Mild a superb example of the style. The Roosters surprised by being particularly good. As Tyson has pointed out, this isn't always so these days, though I have a feeling things are getting better there. Top marks to both.  Alas that ended the short run of success as in the Counting House, Salopian Lemon Dream was a vinegary nightmare and Bateman's Summer Swallow a dumper, which was a surprise, as despite their similarity, I quite like Bateman's beers. Sometimes things go from bad to worse of course.  In the Camperdown, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted was actively horrid. and Kelburn Pivo Estimo tasted mostly of unfermented wort. The highs and lows of cask, all in an hour and a half.  And I did note grimly that it was the English beers that shone.  I won't even bother mentioning some of the other awful Scottish tasters, mostly dark, mostly appallingly malty and all poor.  Things did very much look up the next day in the Henry Bell as reported here. but this was a reminder that you should be wary of those that suggest - and I have seen it suggested - that there is a wonderful, faultless Scottish Brewing scene.  There is indeed a revival, but some breweries have yet to find their way.

On the positive side, back in Manchester, a Saturday CAMRA meeting saw a cracker of a beer though. Allgates Ostrava on first tasting was a touch dry, but boy did it develop into a beer of great drinkability and I like drinkability. I'm hearing good things about Allgates and  thinking of trusted palates here, Tyson says good things about them and that makes me sit up and take notice.

There is a serious point to this unfortunate tale of woe.  Now I know there are many that don't like negative comments and naming names, but I wasted a fair bit of money on duff beers, had that sneaking feeling that I should limit my drinking to places and breweries I know and trust - and that isn't a good thing - and overall was hardly uplifted by my beer drinking.  On the whole, I felt badly let down and wondered what a less experienced drinker would have done.  Ordered a pint of Carling probably.

I keep banging on about quality at both breweries and in pubs and make no apologies for doing so.  Bad beer does no-one any favours. At least at the end though I did snog a couple of princesses, but why on earth were there so many frogs?

There is an optimistic side to this. It is still fantastic to discover a great beer. You then forget all the negatives.

Thursday 2 August 2012

The Holborn Whippet

I was alerted to a new pub by the excellent CAMRA Magazine London Drinker and liked the sound of it. Easy to find too, unlike the foreign exchange bureau I spent half an hour traipsing round Liverpool St hunting for. After that I needed a pint so hopped the Central Line to Holborn, walked up an eerily deserted Southampton Row and left into Sicilian Avenue and a neat little arcade of quirky shops and restaurants. At the Bloomsbury end - see how easy I'm making it for you to find it - is the Holburn Whippet, a craft bar created from three units knocked into one.

There are a few tables outside and inside large picture windows give excellent views of the arcade and if you fancy as I did, hopping on a bus, the 55 and 38 bus stop is right outside taking you straight to the west end - but that's very walkable too.  So it is handy.   Decor is wooden boards, brown tiles and cream walls with various whippet related pictures on the wall.  Beer is dispensed Euston Tap like to a series of taps in a central brick column, with the availability being displayed on neat blackboards on the serving column itself.  There are six cask beers mostly from London brewers and a smattering of Dark Star, though these change frequently.  In addition there is up to ten craft keg beers, a mixture of foreign and British, some served from keykegs. Lagers on my visit were from Bernard.  Prices are very keen for London and in a departure from the usual, there are no bottled beers, the thinking being that with around 16 taps including cider, there is enough beer choice to go at and the beers will be fresher. Quality was excellent, with the beers being cool and well conditioned. The cask beers are pumped from a cooled cellar to the column by an air compressor which is not in contact with the beer itself.   The pub prefers direct delivery from brewers where possible for freshness, so there will likely be an emphasis on London brewed beers. There is no tie on beer and anything can be obtained.

I sampled London Fields Hopster which was pale, hoppy and well bittered and a couple of halves of the keykeg Dark Star Redemption. One or two swirls knocked out a bit of the excess gas to reveal a truly lovely hoppy and balanced IPA. It was delicious, hence the second half, though perhaps at  5.7%, a bit too pokey for a session. Staff are happy to make recommendations for those a bit unsure and it was as a result of such a recommendation that I had the Redemption.

The Holborn Whippet is an excellent addition to the London drinking scene and though it is only a couple of months old, it is setting its own agenda by pushing draught beers only. The emphasis on fresh, cooled beer and quality is one I welcome. Food is of the gourmet burgers and fries type and sound fantastic.  The place is owned by one of the partners in the Euston Tap operation, so there is a great pedigree here and a fair bit of experience in the craft beer scene. The staff are cheerful and chatty and the manager, Neil a splendid chap who was happy to talk me through it all.

Will I be back? Certainly I will. It's my birthday next week and that's where we'll be going. Excellent beers, decent prices and posh burgers? What's not to like?

Oh you'll be wondering about the name as I was. It seems that in times gone by Holburn was, unlikely as it sounds, a hot bed of whippetry.  Possible I suppose.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

The Triumph of Experience Over Hope

There are three pubs within a four minute walk of my London flat. Good news you'd think. Well yes and no. I'll concentrate on two of them. A while ago I posed the question about what you do if you like the pub, but don't like the beer. You'll find it here.  Last night we had a small wander round a few of our local pubs.  I had hoped to find Fullers Wild River in the Chamberlain Hotel, but alas it wasn't on and the place was, as it always seems to be, depressingly empty.  We made our excuses and left and whizzed round to the pub at the top of our road, The Dispensary.  Now we've always found this to have inordinately warm beer and thus it was last night. I like Adnam's Ghost Ship, but not served this way. It is a long time fault of this place. I've given it umpteen goes and it isn't getting any better, so why throw money away? Well we won't be. It is off the list.

The nearest pub, by a few yards is the Princess of Prussia.  That's the one I wrote about above. We had the usual warm welcome - that's one of the reasons we like it - and were given a recommendation. Kent's Best Invicta Ale. Now Shep's website describes it thus: "An ambient bitter, which successfully merges the biscuity sweetness of English malt with the fruity, floral bitterness of locally grown hops from the Kent countryside, to give a clean, satisfying and moreish drink ( to quaff, effortlessly, among friends)." It is written by no less than Ben McFarland.  Well he must have been drinking a different beer to me. It was the usual harsh Shep's taste of thin malt and incredibly weedy hops, this time with a good dash of burnt caramel.  Horrid.  Now in fairness, I just don't get on with Shep's cask beers. I have tried and tried and now I'm giving up. At London prices - or even at any price - for me at least, it is a waste of money. Eileen has been more than once bitten by Shep's and is now very shy indeed. She had a half of Oranjeboom Lager.  As I grumbled my way through the Kent's Best, I tasted E's beer. It was clean, full bodied and not overcarbonated.  Quite drinkable in fact.

We really like the pub, so will be back. Next time though, I'll drink Oranjeboom.

We didn't have a chance to try the jukebox mentioned in the original article. There is a jukebox hogger in there,but actually he chooses quite well.