Saturday 30 November 2013

What Do You Make of This?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the nearest JDW to my flat in London and remarked on how much it had improved.  Seems I may have spoken too soon about the Goodmans Field.

A couple of weeks ago we popped in on the way home and though I can't remember the beer names, I ordered pint of whatever this guest beer was.  It was extremely murky.  I queried it and asked for a replacement.  The next guest beer was identically murky, as was the beer from a third pump.  The poor barman obviously had no idea what was going on and asked if I'd like to see the manager.  I would.  I was assured that I had just struck an unlucky co-incidence and that they had all reached the end of the barrel at the same time.  I may just have looked doubtful.  "Hmm" I thought. "OK. I'll have a London Pride".  You are probably way ahead of me.  It was like electric soup.  Another co-incidence I was advised.  So I had a pint of the cruel Heineken.

A couple of days later I called in again, reasoning that it would all be new beers by then.  My ordered pint of Vale Misty Hop was cloudy.  I wasn't going through all that again, so tasting it gingerly, it wasn't that bad.  "Misty Hop" I thought. "Wonder if it is meant to be cloudy?"  The Blogosphere didn't know, so I emailed the brewery. This what they said "Misty Mountain Hop should be served crystal clear."  Now my first thought was to bubble this mob to Cask Marque and I will if next week when I'm in London, I call in and there is the slightest doubt about the beer.  But it may just be they had a disastrous weekend in the cellar and its a one off. I'm a kind sort underneath, though there is no excuse for selling under par beer, which they were quite blatantly doing. My second thought was about the Misty Hop.  I had thought that this might have been one of those daft beers that are meant to be served cloudy?  I didn't know and the name hinted that it might.

Nonetheless when an old hand like me can be well and truly fooled by the possibility of badly kept beer being this new fangled "unfined beer" or whatever they call it, what's happening to other poor innocents?  Are they being fooled too?

I'm not a fan of unfined beer as you can probably tell

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Well Meaning Bar Staff

If like me you prefer your advice to be solicited, you may be slightly put out by bar staff offering guidance.  Things such as "I like that one" when you are surveying the range of beers are, to me at least, a little bit unwelcome.  While I may well turn to a trusted palate, generally what someone else likes, without knowing their predilections, is likely to be just as hit and miss as guessing and turning down their advice politely makes you seem churlish.  Of course helpful advice such as "it is pale and hoppy, dark and stouty" etc. is more useful, but these can be written on a board and that, frankly is better, though hardly foolproof.

A couple of things occurred on Saturday which I'll share with you.  In one pub after enjoying two sparkled pints of the same beer, I was so impressed with it and since neither me nor my companion were intent on moving on, why not order another?  I looked around me, taking in the scene, as my pints were poured, not by the charming young lass who'd patiently offered us tasters, but by a bebearded hipster type.  I looked at my pint. No head.  I looked at the handpump.  The sparkler had been removed.  "What's going on.  Where's the sparkler gone?" I asked.  "I took it off" quoth he, "the brewer doesn't like sparklers."

Now that may or may not be the case and anyway, a brewer's preference is just like mine. A preference. He isn't Moses.  It isn't written in tablets of stone.  Bad form to change a customer's beer in that way mid stream and anyway, Manchester is the North and beer here is sparkled as a default.  Later in a different pub, the reverse happened. Well sort of.  There was no sparkler on my Buxton beer and when I asked for one, the barmaid tossed her head and advised me that "it doesn't need one."  Hmm.

It goes back to the old adage that the customer is always right (even when he is wrong) and anyway, there is a simple way round presumption.  Just ask.

Can I also slip in a big recommendation for Young's Winter Warmer?  I only had a half, but it was delicious.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Bring In the New

It's a bad habit of mine, but one until now has been born of necessity.  Going to more or less the same pubs in London that is.  Oh of course there are changes and one or two have dropped off my radar and one or two have come on, but it's all been a bit samey.  Thus it was a couple of weeks ago that E and I decided to get out and try pubs neither of us had been to before, or at worst, to ones at least one of us hadn't.  We decided to keep it simple, visiting any pubs we hadn't been in between Cannon Street and the area around Fleet St and Temple.

First up was the Old Bell in Fleet St, part of the Nicolsons chain.  Small and intimate with lots of wood, this was cosy and though the welcome was nothing special, the beer was really rather good.  I opted for Gadd's Rye Pale Ale and really enjoyed its dry crispness, while E had no complaints about the condition of her Nicolsons Pale Ale, though she wasn't quite so keen on the beer. Not far for the next one and of course a bit of a classic.  Now I have been in the Old Cheshire Cheese before, though E hadn't and I hadn't been downstairs.  What a gem, with a coal fire, an "olde worlde" appearance which actually is genuinely old and Old Brewery Bitter at sensible prices.  OK it was getting to the end of the barrel, but by no means undrinkable and the place was warm, the barmaid chatty and cheerful and downstairs a revelation, with its benches reminiscent of a German beer hall.  We then had a quick bit of culture in the nearby Romanian Orthodox Church before nipping into Ye Olde Cock Tavern, where although the beer was in splendid nick and the barmaid again welcoming, the beer was badly chosen by me.  Brown and Browner I think they were called, with Brown coming from East London and masquerading under the name Foundation Bitter and Browner pretending to be Hackney Best Bitter.  No real redeeming features, but ten out of ten to the pub for offering something local and in good nick.

Now funnily I hadn't been to the Old Bank of England before.  A Fullers pub of considerable grandeur and once again, despite its fullness, a warm welcome.  Fullers Black Cab needs a sparkler, but was tasty and my first ESB for quite some time was thoroughly enjoyable, with distinct Seville orange flavours.  Great for people watching too.  We left rather impressed and went on a bit to the George, a thin narrow, old fashioned long bar, bristling with handpumps.  Great quality here too, with Gadd's No 7 pretty damn good and Truman's Lazarus, pale and hoppy, the the pick of the bunch.  An oddity was an "English Craft Lager" called Noble which wasn't anything special.  Fantastic service here too from a barmaid who was a positive blur as she shot up and down the bar. We'll be back here for sure. Leaving there with some reluctance, we decided to retrace our steps, as we'd missed one. The Tipperary is London's oldest Irish Bar and though the craic was anything but mighty from the taciturn barmaid, the beer was again spot on. Portobello Pale was a very decent hop forward golden ale.

If this crawl and my other experiences in my recent six day visit are anything to go by, it isn't just the number of breweries that is increasing in London, but the overall quality and variety of the offerings, though a caveat is that the cold weather must have kept things cooler in the cellar. But you can only speak as you find and I found good things.

Very pleasing indeed.

We did pop into a a couple more pubs back near home, but as we'd been in them before, we decided the crawl had officially ended at the Tipperary.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Confidence in Cologne

Tyson has mentioned a few of the beery delights of Cologne and as I often do, I agree with his assessments, so I'd like to concentrate mainly on the pubs themselves and the attitudes and idiosyncrasies that govern them.  First of all if I had to choose between Cologne and Düsseldorf, it would almost certainly be Cologne.  If you could just move Zum Uerige to Cologne, then everything would be perfect.  Sacrilege I  know, but there you are.  Cologne for me is much buzzier and alive than its Rhine neighbour and has better places to drink.  Does it have better beer to drink?  Well, yes and no.  A matter of preference really.

Near the main railway station, PJ Fruh is one of my favourite places.  Mostly I'm hugging the wall in the schwemme or public bar, where one can watch the waiters fill their trays with beer freshly poured from a wooden barrel and of course, not wait more than a second or two for a another glass. We certainly needed a drink after severe train delays and standing all the way from Düsseldorf - Deutsche Bahn is going through a bad patch. Being mob handed, the schwemme was out of the question of course, so through many rooms we went, all huge and all full to the brim, until somewhere deep beneath,  there was a room that was busy but could still take the 14 or so people we had.  The place had hundreds outside on a beautiful Autumn day and even more hundreds inside.  Here is lesson number one.  Most of the good pubs in Cologne are big and boy are they busy.  The Germans like to eat lunch out.  And dinner it seems.  Service was brusque and business like.  When things are done on this scale, there is little time for chat.

Then a quick visit to old favourites Sion and round the corner Peter's Brauhaus, where one of our female tripsters was refused a glass of wine as the waiter had counted 12 of us and brought 12 glasses of beer.  (She could have wine the next time he patronised.) That's another thing common to both Cologne and Dusseldorf.  You'll have the devil's own job to get anything other than beer and one beer at that mostly.  Confidence or cheek? You decide.

Tyson, Eddie and I then went seeking different Kölsches.  As Tyson has pointed out, most are brewed in the same place and the Dom Brauerei Ausschank (Brewery Tap) did not, alas, include the brewery.  Outside as it is on the Rhine, beer terraces overflowed with customers.  Inside was as deserted as could be. Another little quirk you find in Germany emerged. We picked a table by the window among a sea of empty tables.  A waiter rushed over.  "You can't sit there."  He gestured to another row of identically empty tables and we went over. He didn't like the one we chose then either, but asserting ourselves, we just stayed put.  He wasn't happy.  That happens a lot too, but Old Grumpy was replaced by a cheery young lad who sorted our beer out.  German waiters want you to do it their way. Another German trait.

Again in the empty beer hall at Sünner, a lovely out of town  brewery that actually still brews, we had to plead with Herr Ober before we were allowed to have a drink.  We said we would be an hour and we were.  We were gone before any of the evening guests arrived and no tables had reserved signs at that point.  Just German intransigence? Probably.  Later that evening we were in no uncertain terms told we couldn't have a drink in Haus Töller, as it was fully booked with diners.  I'd particularly wanted my friends to see the inside of this remarkable survivor of bombing.  Fair enough I suppose, but there was a smugness that bordered on arrogance in this dismissal.

Of course, where there are downs, there are ups.  In most places, waiters couldn't have been kinder or more accommodating, but certainly later in the day, if you are not eating, or inside early, you may have to forgo your chosen watering hole.  It was nearly thus in the Reissdorf Brewery Tap, an old haunt, but fortunately the unseasonably warm weather allowed us to drink outside where a lovely young waitress cheerily kept our glasses filled. No mean task I assure you. I like Reissdorf, it's a bit more pokey than most examples of the kölsch genre. Less traditional was a place I'd always wanted to go to as we've sold their beer for years now at GBBF.  Braustelle do more than standard beer in a very busy pub, filled to bursting with a mixed crowd,  but mostly twenty plus.  Regrettably we'd just missed the pale ale, but the alt, yes alt in Cologne, was more like a porter and very moreish, so we had some more.

So what's going on?  Cologne if anything seemed to be booming more than Düsseldorf.  Pubs were going like a fair but we got the impression that this had allowed a touch of complacency to emerge in some quarters at least.  How easily are the seven lean years forgotten, when plenty is all around.

Nonetheless these are minor points.  We stayed in Cologne much later than planned, drinking good beer in busy friendly pubs.   It's that kind of place.

I've missed out visits to several more pubs that are positive gems.  Some other time eh?

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Underneath the Arches

I have been in London for a few days and of course visited a few pubs. Shortly after my recent arrival in London,  we walked the mile and a half or so to one of my favourite London pubs, the Pelt Trader.  The place was comfortably busy and, with it being a Tuesday, there was a few less suits than usual.  In fact, quite a good mix of customers  made for a pleasant atmosphere.  Kirsty, a top bar operative if ever there was one, was running the bar with one other staff member. (Or maybe he was running it with her?)   Either way, the place was busy enough for more than two staff, but working as a team,  they never stopped and nobody had to wait long. It was all done with a smile too, reminding me, as if that was really needed, that great bar staff are a prerequisite to a great pub.  The beer here was spot on too, though for once Mallinsons Creak Mouse was a little too sweet for my taste. At 4.8%, it needed more hops. Yes.  A Mallinson's beer needed more hops. I can't believe it either.

I also tried Adnams Dry Hopped Lager, which I liked.  Decent body and a bit of discernable hops, it wasn't a bad drink at all and one I'd happily have again.  Kernal Citra and Summit was decent too, but maybe not their best.  Perhaps I'm just expecting more and more hops from them and certainly less wateriness, but nonetheless we both enjoyed it as our intended last drink, though it didn't bowl us over. The Pelt Trader is a good place,the beer is good, the prices are fair and the staff are brilliant.  Possibly something for others to consider?

Walking home though makes you thirsty, so we nipped into the Draft House in Seething Lane.  I like the buzz of this place and though it is great for people watching, a point or two must be deducted for the awful repetitive bass thumping away.   Hardknott Continuum was my choice and though I did enjoy it, I felt it didn't hang together as well as it might, with some clashing flavours and jaggy edges, though I suspect that's what many like about it. That's a good thing. As I remarked to E, "If we all liked the same beer, there wouldn't be many brewers about."

Profound I am. Or obvious.  I'll take either.

Pleased to report that the Draft House has found the cool setting on the thermostat too!

Thursday 7 November 2013

Dear Do in Düsseldorf

Germany, well North Germany, is getting an expensive place to drink.  On my recent trip to Düsseldorf, the brew pubs in particular, the glorious four of Uerige, Schumacher, Fuchsen and Schlussel all the alt beer hovered around the €1.80 mark for a 25cl glass.  That's pretty hefty, especially when you effectively pay €2, as given that when there was a lot of us and the bill was paid jointly, you ended up chipping in two euros for convenience.  Even when you paid yourself, it seemed a bit petty to wait for 20c change. I'm guessing too that is pretty standard.  Not a great deal for the drinker, but admittedly it was at least nice for the waiter. Twenty five centilitres isn't much either, so you end up with quite a few glasses to pay for.

Germany is wealthy. North Rhine Westphalia is one of the better off places in a better off country. Düsseldorf is one of the better off places in a better off state.  You see the picture.  The place seems to be booming.  The pubs were pretty much full to bursting point.  We were refused admission to some, so busy were they.  Even with these pubs typically flowering into room after room receding into the distance and deep into the bowels of the earth where even more rooms lurk,  it was "house full." There was no room (or very little of it) at the inn.  Dining, despite its sameness in that part of the world, edges drinkers out too and a point for those that think smoking bans always affect trade adversely, North Rhine Westphalia has recently extended its ban to all but the smallest of places and that seemed to make no difference to custom at all.  Pub going was a thriving affair in every way.

Nor, in most cases, did you have to run a gauntlet of smokers outside.  They all seemed just to be getting on with it despite smoking being more or less a national sport. A different world it seems.

There is a degree of confidence, maybe more than that in Germany that you just don't get at home.  More to follow.

Monday 4 November 2013

Copying Curmudgeon

Having just read Mudgie's latest blog post, it reminded me of a photo I took from Chester's ancient walls (hence the dodgy quality). You can still read it though.

I don't suppose everyone will agree with all of the sentiments expressed, but one or two of the diktats may find some support, where some no doubt won't. Still, in these days pubs have to find a niche and I assume that it works for them.

 You can click on it to make it bigger and a bit more readable.