After a very enjoyable and relatively dry lunch in Mayfair last week (large gin £13 but very good) I was a little thirsty. Some kind Twitter folks had pointed me in the direction of some possible thirst slaking destinations near where I was lunching. The pubs are pretty posh in that neck of the woods with prices to match. The usual London rules apply though. Unless you know the place, avoid cask beer in an unknown pub. That was firmly fixed in my mind. I was after some lager. Probably just as well as I eyed, somewhat uneasily, Greene King IPA and something called London Glory - brewed in that far flung suburb of the great Metrolopiss - Bury St Edmunds. "Well serves you right for going into a Greene King pub" I hear you say, but it wasn't. It was the King's Arms in Shepherd Market, owned by Taylor Walker.
I had a pint and a half of Portobello London Pilsner (4.6%) with £1.10 change from a tenner. Six quid a pint,but it was fine in its own way. No obvious brewing faults, clean enough, no off tastes and I necked it down. But I wasn't happy at all about the glass (pictured). This tulip glass was without nucleation - in other words a glass designed for ale and most commonly known up here at least - as a Yorkshire glass. Let's be clear here. It isn't an appropriate glass to drink pilsner lager from. It takes the edge off drinking what was a decent enough pint. Surely if you can charge people six notes a pop, you can buy some appropriate glasses to serve the overpriced stuff in? It is just not good enough in my view. Mind you, to my shame, I did have a second. Well, I was thirsty as I said and we had a lovely spot at the window with lovely views of the foreign barmaids taking turns smoking.
Going back to Taylor Walker, there seems to be rather a lot of them (around 100 in London) and it seems that this chain has somewhat of an alliance with GK as I noted through various pub windows as we made our way back through the Christmas lights and the purring Rolls Royces awaiting their well heeled clients outside Aspreys, Oswald Boateng and many others. Want to see wealth. Take a walk along Bond Street. Still it was all very pleasant and the lights were very nice.
I've rabbited on about glasses before, but I make no apology for it. Good glassware is important and failure to provide it lets the customer down.
We moved on to drink Sam Smith's Pure Brewed in various Sam's pubs. Two quid or more less the round and better and stronger beer too.
The beer was nowhere as brown as this awful ophoto suggests. It was proper pilsner coloured. Lees Original Lager is served in its own glass. Good lads. Read more rantings and some praise about glassware here
How do you know how an unknown beer might taste before making a purchase? Well, in a good pub you might ask the bar staff, or perhaps consult the tasting notes supplied by the brewery- if any. Or you could Google* it. You can even ask for a taster if the pubs policy allows - and not all do. Or you can just order and hope for the best. I think most of us have done the latter a lot and the rest a bit less so. Of course you can just take a leap into the unknown and who knows, you might enjoy it. But then again, you might not. Even having a quick taste of a small amount may not be a help. In my experience it can in fact be downright misleading, as when the beer is scaled up, it presents somewhat differently and usually not as nice as you imagined from that small sip. It's a bit of a minefield, especially as we now have so many breweries in the UK.
I was quite taken by a bit of an internet discussion the other day by a publican and a brewer over something I haven't given too much thought too over the years - well not in any great detail anyway.. How does the beer get on the bar in the first place? Putting aside price, agreements, ties and other such, the argument on Twitter basically ran along the lines of "As a publican I must taste and approve a beer before inflicting it on my customers" while the brewer countered with "New Breweries need to be given a chance or we'll end up with the same old beers everywhere." Now I can see where both are coming from but a number of thoughts occur to me. How is the publican going to get to taste all the beers available to him or her? Does the brewer or his sales person bring a plastic bottle with a sample along? That wouldn't work surely? Does the new brewery offer a cask that can be returned if the licensee doesn't like it? Well that's more possible, but of course the liking it or not by a landlord doesn't necessarily affect the sale of any particular beer. I've refused to drink some awful and pretty damn faulty stuff, while others have opined "Not a bad drop that" - or some such. I had just such an experience of condemning beers at the Rochdale Beer Festival while others were happy to drink them.
My own experience is that many licensees just take a beer and hope for the best that when they test it in the cellar before putting it on (and they all do that don't they?) the beer will be of sufficient quality to allow it to go on sale and if it isn't, they will take it up with the brewery. To me that seems a fairly reasonable compromise. Not liking it is one thing, finding it to be quite unsaleable, another.
I turned to an experienced landlord of a respected free house for his opinion. Simon Crompton runs the Baum in Rochdale, is a former CAMRA National Pub of the year winner,is known for giving new and up and coming breweries a chance to appear in a top pub, so likely knows a thing or two about this subject. What does he do? "I try and encourage new breweries. I have a mix of tried and tested and new as that's what my customer base expects. If the new brewery's beer is poor, I take it up with them and likely won't re-order. It's the best sanction I have while supporting a broad range of beer. It works for me." I reckon that's what I'd do. What do you think?
*Other search engines are, apparently, available.
Got to say the Baum is a great place to try new beers, though I don't always like every one, but then again, others do like beers that I don't. It's all down to taste or I suppose we'd just be drinking one beer.
One or two of my most dedicated readers may have noticed that there has been nothing from me to read for a bit. I'm not ill, just busy. CAMRA stuff has been a full time job recently and makes me wonder if, far from being held back by us old duffers the organisation is actually gaining a huge amount from experienced types like me ensuring, where possible, that local CAMRA operations are run as professionally as possible.
I have also been away a bit, but nowhere exciting. I've had crap cask ale in the only real ale joint in Dumbarton, JDW's Captain James Lang, where knackered beer was sold or rather not being sold to an uncaring Tennents Lager drinking brigade, leaving me to very much give up and switch to bottled Morretti which is a rather nicer lager than Tennents. To be fair to JDW, I also spent an afternoon with an old friend in neighbouring Helensburgh, where the local Spoons there, the Henry Bell supplied me with excellent cask and added a smile or two when serving, which also helps. Another thing that helps there is the large number of Royal Navy types from the Clyde Submarine Base, mostly English, who keep the beer turning over nicely. Both points illustrate that old quality thing again. What are you going to drink? Tired out cask beer or fresh Morretti? I know the answer.
I also had excellent beer in the JDW Counting House in Glasgow, a vast barn of a pub which was chokka at 11.30 in the morning and one on which I'd almost given up on quality wise. Bet they have a new cask loving manager - that's usually what perks a JDW up. On Rob Pickering's advice I also nipped into The Vale, where a perfect pint of Fyne Ales Avalanche was much more enjoyable than a typical Glasgow pub, atypically festooned with TVs all tuned to a different sports channel, while inside not a word was being spoken, as everyone gawped at these silent conversation killers. I'm guessing as it is directly opposite the Dundas St entrance to Queen St station, that it gets customers whatever. On this point I'll add, not getting engaged in conversation in a Glasgow pub is pretty near impossible.
In between times we sold out of beer at Rochdale Beer Festival and good it was too, despite the unseasonably warm weather that had vented beers going off like rockets, with fountains of beer everywhere. The answer to this though is not a soft spile and the beer turned out very well in the end. Manchester Beer and Cider Festival is also taking up a fair amount of time, but trust me, that will be worth it.
Lastly I attended the excellent British Guild of Beer Writers do in London last week. I'd never heard of half the winners which means I need to read more about beer obviously, though I wouldn't have previously thought so. Things clearly move on quickly beer writing wise as in everything else.
And no, I didn't win anything.
This was my entry for the Beer and Travel section. I thought you'd like to read it as we near the festive season.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
This blog mentions specifics; pubs and beer, good and bad. The opinions will be forthright, but you can always disagree, just don't be offended. Comments from those mentioned are particularly welcome and a right of reply is hereby offered.
Read my information and links and then decide for yourself. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes.
If you wish to email me you can do so by using this address: tandleman[at]yahoo.co.uk
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Beer samples are welcome, but I cannot guarantee a good review. You, the brewer, on the other hand can.
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