Friday 30 July 2021

Normality. Of a Sort

On our return, slightly knackered, from London, we nonetheless felt we had to take part in so-called "Freedom Day". A quick trip to the Rose of Lancaster was therefore decided upon. For the first time in what seemed forever, we walked into the pub and straight to the bar - well, I say straight - we had to pause for a brief hug from the landlord on the way. We ordered our drinks and then had the choice of where to sit. Yes. Our choice. Anywhere we liked in the pub or beer garden. As our preferred seats within were taken, we went outside in the sunshine and chose a suitable place. Lovely. And back to cask too with JW Lees latest seasonal, Sail Away which was pale, golden, hoppy and served correctly - I imagine - I didn't have either means or, importantly, the need to check it - at a cellar cool 12C. 

And that was it until Friday when I had a couple of pints of the same beer in another of my locals, the Ring O'Bells. No need to check in, regulars chatting at the bar and mingling, with an atmosphere which felt liberated. It was most enjoyable.

It was another instance of normality on Saturday when I had the pleasure of presenting our CAMRA Branch Pub of the Year Award to the Cob and Coal, a micropub within Oldham's Tommyfield Market. Doubly so, as it was to my pal Michelle (ex landlady of the THT) and another pal, her husband Chris.  This time, given the pub is tiny, around 30 CAMRA members assembled in the outside area of the pub (which is still inside the market) for drinks and the presentation.  Most of us hadn't seen each other for over a year, so the chance to see friends in the flesh and the joy was palpable.  Excellent cask beer again was consumed (of course) as befitted the occasion.

Not to labour the point - but I will - in Chris and Michelle's other pub, the Fox and Pine, the same scene was played out, with people nipping round tables to chat and seat hopping as often happens when everyone knows each other.

On Sunday, my return to the Tandle Hill Tavern. It wasn't at its busiest, but again we had normality.  Our table was full enough, and it was a pleasure just to be there with my friends. Going up to the bar for drinks and mixing with others seemed so natural again. It was so good to be back to normal and thankfully there, as in other places mentioned, it just felt "right" after that first visit to the bar.

Now what about that there Covid 19 and being sensible, I hear you ask? Well, the pubs I drink in tend to have an older clientele. I doubt if many weren't double vaccinated. Yes, we mixed briefly with other people and tables, but each pub was totally well ventilated, and we all felt secure enough. Anyway, as someone once said "If not now, when?" That double vaccine isn't for nothing.

Did I feel I was taking a big chance? No. Did I miss being masked up, signing in, being told where to sit? No. Did I miss table service? Not on your Nelly. As my good friend Retired Martin says here,  The Bar is the Heart of the Pub. You bet it is.

Now, I know not everyone will feel as at ease as I did above. I very much respect that.  I am reasonably healthy and willing to make my own judgements, which may differ from yours and may even change over time. This still needs care.

Another thing. Not once, in any of the pubs, did I think the cask might be a bit iffy. And none of it was.

Thursday 29 July 2021

Clearly Better

Continuing my London adventures, which, although, I shouldn't, I tend to treat as a bit of a holiday.  Sunday was again beautiful, with scarcely a cloud in the sky. It was hot, but where to go?  We breakfasted at home with tea and bacon butties and by early afternoon were ready for a stroll.  When in doubt head over the river. So we headed over the river.

It wasn't busy. On such a day, Tower Bridge is usually rammed, but in the absence of foreign visitors, we strolled over in peace, stopping in the middle to admire the view and wave to the River Police. They even waved back. I fancied some stout, but our first intended stop, the Anchor Brewery Tap, was closed for renovations, so thwarted, we made our way down Druid Street, passing the closed arch of Southwark Brewing, to Ansbach and Hobday, who apparently had a nitro porter worth having. It wasn't exactly heaving, so we bagged a seat outside and perused the beer list. The porter was duly ordered, while E quizzed the server on which of the lagers on offer was the clearest. This seemed to puzzle the poor chap and after some discussion, E chose one which she didn't think much of.  My porter on the other hand, while slightly bland at first, morphed into a very good drink indeed.

Druid Street, while not exactly dead, was as near as made little difference. The odd couple strolling; the inevitable scooter riders; people trailing obviously reluctant dogs through the heat, and the odd car and cyclist. It was all very enervating, and we sat, watching it all, in a kind of torpor. Then it got exciting. E spotted a lass with what looked like a sparkling clear lager.  As a round was due, the server was summoned. "Aha" quoth he,"That's our Pale Ale." E's hopes were dashed and the proferred taste was given a reluctant "All right".  I happily got stuck into my second pint and finally got round to tasting the pale ale. I liked it.

Following the plan, we moved round the corner to Enid Street and Cloudwater. Sadly, there was no room at the inn, and we enjoyed a couple of halves next door in Brew By Numbers. The beers were good to very good, and we left quite pleased.

The tale doesn't end there. By then, the drink wanted a drink, and we sat outside the fabulous Marquis of Wellington, an interesting former estate pub, which is now a very decent beer destination.   This is just across from Ansbach and Hobday. The beers included the Pale Ale already mentioned. I ordered it and it was fabulous. Great sweet malt, a beautifully clean distinct and balanced middle and a rich satisfying clean hoppy, finish. My beer of the trip.

I have said it before and will say it again. Clean, clear beer with distinct identifiable flavours will always beat muddy messes. Two cracking beers from Ansbach and Hobday and a smashing pub. Not a bad way to end this London trip.


We did consider Druid Street on Saturday, but I reckon that would have been unwise. Way too busy and way too hot.

I did think of my last trip to both Cloudwater and the Marquis of Wellington with Matt Curtis. I think I've just about got over the hypothermia. The contrast could not have been more stark.

Wednesday 28 July 2021

The Near East

 I mentioned the posh(ish) wedding in Richmond, didn't I? Well, it went very well, but I'll gloss over the horrendous beer experience and say I enjoyed it all the same. I will just have my little rant though. Why do otherwise nice hotels sell such dross? The only draught beer - and there was precious little in bottles or cans - Becks at £8 a short measure pint, served warm through a home dispense unit! Not even a Lindr, which at least would have done the trick properly. Answers not needed. It's because they can.

On Saturday after the do, it was a late start. I was convinced, since I felt so odd, that I'd contracted Covid, but a full English, followed by lots of coffee, followed by - a little later - some beer. I eventually rationalised that I was merely hungover from a mix of prosecco, Swiss bottled beer, white wine, red wine and Becks. It is at least to my credit, I think, that I don't usually drink enough to be hungover, so I'd kind of forgotten what it is like. Did I miss out the sense of doom? That too.

The day was however sunny and warm, so early afternoon we had a walk along a very busy Brick Lane to Bethnall Green Road and hence to the Well and Bucket. Largely because of Covid, we hadn't been there for ages, and we bagged a seat outside and people watched. Camden Hells for both of us. The amber nectar restored me to some kind of equilibrium as we watched Hell's Angels, who were gathering, warn each other by hand signals of a police trap ahead and gazed at the extraordinary mixture of people who passed by.

Thus refreshed we headed for Shoreditch Tube Station and, via a rather run down cut through, to the fabulous Commercial Tavern on Commercial Road. This Grade two listed building is very imposing and has obviously been rescued from an early death. Its bare interior shows that it was likely stripped out in the past, but its elegant build, wooden floors and large windows, make for a fantastic boozer.  No room outside on this hottest of days, but with wide open doors and a pleasing draught, inside was better anyway. Beers were mainly from Camden, so back to Hells for us both. We had a couple there, and I can see us using it regularly, especially in winter, when we might be able to trust the cask.

Next up was another old London pub, the Duke of Wellington on Toynbee St, this one rather modernised, but still cosy and attractive inside. There was a little beer garden too, from which much merriment from a bunch of geezers could be heard.  No cask beer, but a huge array of mainly undistinguished keg beer, leavened by that rarest of beasts these days, Hoegaarden on tap. Probably not at its freshest, but a nice change.

Heading homewards, one last call before food. The Pride of Spitalfields needs no introduction, and we sat inside, as there was standing room only outside in the street. It really is a smashing little boozer. We also learned that only the bit directly outside the pub is allowed for drinking. Don't cross the road. We sat inside anyway, so all was well.

Near home, we nipped into the Efes Restaurant for a fine Turkish meal, washed down with a bottle of Efes Draft. The  restaurant is well recommended. The beer? Not so much.

In case you are wondering why no cask? This answer yesterday to Ben Viveur explains my logic. "In fairness Ben, a heatwave in London isn't a great time to drink cask and at the prices charged you dont want expensive dumpers." I'll wait until colder weather Folks.

Next up. A few Bermondsey tap rooms and a pub. 

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Richmond - A One Pub Visit

 I think I mentioned that my main reason for being in London was a family wedding.  Now the wedding itself was in Brixton where the happy couple live, but the reception was in leafy and ultra posh Richmond, in a rather swanky spot by the Thames, but that was yet to be discovered. What was known that other family members were holed up in Richmond for the festivities, so we popped on the tube at Tower Hill, Richmond bound, to meet them.

They had already arrived, and a  text advised they were eating at the Old Ship which was easily found, a seven or eight-minute walk from the tube station. Now, Richmond seemed prosperous to me as we made our way down what I'd describe as a High Street. No closed and boarded shops here, though the closing down sale of Gap would have soon altered that, but still, it looked busy and wealthy and there were pubs aplenty. What's not to like? Somewhat touchingly, too, for this exiled Scot, there was a completely functioning branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland - not RBS or NatWest - but the full Scottish monty. How my heart leaped. I could have been in Dumbarton if it wasn't for the complete lack of dereliction.

After a brief moment of hesitancy at the roundabout, we spotted the pub. A veritable feast of wood panelling and after the signing in rituals were observed, we noted that this was a Young's pub which hadn't been torn asunder, probably due to its long thin layout and somewhat venerable appearance; but unspoilt all the same. They had beer too. Young's Bitter and Special and even Proper Job. It was busy, and we joined our happily scoffing family to be warned -  and I paraphrase - that the Young's taste could best be described as absent and was a touch warm.

The pub, as mentioned, was busy. Adjacent was a large courtyard, also served by the same servers as the bar. That didn't help much, and table service was haphazard to say the least. Attracting a server is, I find one of the biggest downsides of the system.  But we persevered, with E, in an odd outbreak of role reversal, ordering Proper Job more than once and me, unwisely choosing Camden Pale which was astonishingly bitter and very gassy. I switched to something from Beavertown which was quite tasty once I'd knocked a couple of atmospheres of CO2 out of it.

Now here's the thing. E and I had spent a happy day in Richmond a few years ago.  Looking around, I couldn't remember or recognise a single thing about it. Not even the tube station, and we must have been there. It was so completely new to me that we vowed we'd come again. Some pubs looked rather good.

I'm not a fan of Young's or the Ram Pub Company as they now call themselves. So many of the pubs seem to have been very unsympathetically renovated to remove all character.

I didn't take any photos, except of the Royal Bank to send to friends of ours who once worked there. You'll have to make do with that. I must also point out that I am a customer of the Bank of Scotland, not this upstart.

Monday 26 July 2021

London Again

We spent about a week in London following our trip to check out the flat in late May. This time we had a better reason, with two "dos" to attend. Firstly, Eileen's small company's delayed Christmas Lunch and, secondly, our nephew's wedding.  It also coincided with weather which could probably best be described as "scorchio".

Our evening of arrival was however dull and overcast, though warm enough, so we set off for a wander, heading towards the Gherkin with the intention of having a pint at the nearby  Craft pub and thence on to the Liverpool St area and home via Pizza Union in Leman Street. Craft had several inside tables booked, so we sat outside on very uncomfortable stools, with our beers. This was a pale ale from Kent Brewery which seems to be a house beer - see below.  It was okayish, but lacked that peak of cask conditioning that might have set it above ordinary. But as the only cask ale of the trip, I thought it worth mentioning as it is fair to say, it didn't inspire me to repeat the experiment.  

We then had a couple (Camden Hells for me) in the rather attractive Kings Stores, a place we've been to before, then on to another haunt, the Castle on Commercial Road. This is an attractive pub, described on Google Maps as "Sophisticated Old World Pub". Well, sort of. We had Portobello Lager here in unetched tulip ale glasses, which did nothing for an otherwise very ordinary lager of little distinction. I should add,  in its dog days, the application of Covid 19 regulations here, was less than assiduous,  but we checked in and sat in a well ventilated area, between two open doors, so all was well.

Thursday saw another trip to Craft, this time on my own and this time to the Leather Lane one to meet my GBBF BSF colleagues, Jonathan and Stan. That's where I noticed the same Kent Brewery Pale Ale, so possibly it is common to all Craft pubs. 

As befitted our BSF credentials, we all supped imported beers while catching up.

The "Christmas" meal in the posh Charlotte Street restaurant The Ninth,  was excellent and open air, but you could see a lot of closed businesses around. Hopefully temporarily. A subsequent walk to a rammed Soho, was a bit abortive, as not only were outside areas filled, but people were hanging around hoping someone would leave.

We retreated to another old haunt, Sam Smith's Bricklayers Arms, just off  Soho in Gresse Street, and some excellent Nitro Stout and a most informative chat with the landlady who had been there for years. Sadly the pub was pretty empty. For those interested, a pint of nitro stout and a half of Pure Brewed was £8.45. Cards accepted.

Next Up: Richmond on Thames and the East End.

Friday 23 July 2021

Czech It Out

I was in London in late May. Just a couple of days visit to see what the (junk) mail mountain in Tandleman Towers (South) was like - considerable - and to make sure the gaff was still standing and in good order. There wasn't too much time for beer really, but there was an opportunity to call in on their opening day at Pivo, a new joint selling Czech beer at the Clerkenwell end of Old Street, which was a pity in some ways, as we'd just had lunch near the more traditional Old Street Roundabout end. At least it walked some of that off. But I digress.

This is a modern looking two roomed establishment with contemporary rather than traditional furniture, a big bar, large windows and a downstairs area, which you could describe either as cosy, or claustrophobic, depending on your sensibilities.  We chose upstairs and were rewarded with good views of the whole room. Service was quick and pleasant considering that it was the first couple of hours of opening, the choice of beers was good and rather unusual. Prices were very fair indeed, ranging from around £5.50 to £7 or so a pint, for beers that you won't usually encounter, plus Budvar, which you will.

We stayed for three and a bit of people watching. Quite a mixed bunch, but of course, few conclusions can be drawn from an opening day crowd. Many seemed to be East European, and maybe such émigrés will find a happy home there, but I would certainly imagine that I'll be calling in again too, as should you. The beers are good enough for that, even if the ambience was a little difficult to read, but as I said, allowances had to be made.

 So. Rare Czech beer at reasonable prices, and a pub review from me. What's not to like? 

I note some misery guts have complained  that the measures aren't full pints. I must say, I didn't notice, but then again, I like my beer with a traditional head.  Not sure what to make of the 12.5% service charge, though I just noticed it today!

We had intended to call at the - new to me - Farringdon Tap, but after Pivo and our preceding very filling lunch at Blackstocks, Shoreditch, a lie down was more in order. Next time, hopefully.

This really is late, but I am slowly catching up with a few things.

Monday 12 July 2021

The Beer Police

It all started so innocently. A few pints with a pal that I hadn't seen in over a year because of you know what and, in addition, my first chance of a pub crawl in Manchester City Centre for quite some time. Well - a year ago. With the same pal as it happens. Me having hopped off the bus at Shudehill Bus Station and him having arrived at Victoria, it seemed a good idea on this sunny Manchester day, to start  at the "new" Holts pub, in Shudehill. 

I say new but the pub in question, the Lower Turks Head is hardly new, dating back to 1745, when Bonnie Prince Charlie was still, just about, strutting his stuff. According to the Holts website, "Dating back to 1745, The Lower Turks Head was once an old stagecoach stop and enjoyed a proud heritage through successive centuries before closing its doors last August. Inside the deceptively deep and roomy venue, the pub is crammed with distinctive fixtures and fittings, including a long wooden bar, checkerboard floors, wooden staircases, cut tables and cubby hole seating." Sounds nice and as we checked in at the door, a glimpse showed that the boy Joey had done well. The place looked immaculate. We chose to sit outside, me drinking Holts Mild and Mike drinking Bitter. It was actually quite a good place to sit, with excellent and cheerful table service and great views of the comings and goings of both the Bus Station and the adjacent Metrolink stop.

We left with considerable reluctance for the joys of the Crown and Kettle and its rather large outdoor offering, where again cask pints and great service were had.

Now into each life a little rain must fall. We were peckish, so went to Bundobust for veggie offerings, Mike being a non meat eater. The bar there usually has a great range and so it proved. For Mike something by Squawk on cask and for me, a rather exotic sounding stout, Chaitro, brewed by the new in-house brewery. Described as a porter, but that is a very blurry line, this was served on nitro and was spicily different and bloody good. I tweeted accordingly, and we continued supping and munching in what was a very empty room, but the company, beer and food persuaded us to stay for another, though the staff seemed to prefer chatting rather than serving. Mike switched to the Chaitro, and we left, full and happy bunnies, to a quick couple of pints of Hydes cask outside the Abel Heywood, before going our separate ways.

Now, it seems that some folks don't like nitro stout or "well known" CAMRA types enjoying it. On Twitter rather a storm of annoyance about this occurred. 

Well. It did provoke quite a discussion and rather than go on about it, my point of view could be summed up as below: It is funny how tables have turned, but didn't CAMRA with its erstwhile disapproval of keg beer, used to get the same Beer Police allegations thrown at them?

For the record CAMRA is all about choice with an emphasis on cask ale. In line with that, my drinking last Thursday, with its overwhelming predominance of cask, fully complied with this. "Take that Beer Police."

The Beer Police have also been having a pop at us Bass drinkers. Liking Bass is harmless, doesn't mean approval of Molson Coors and there are bigger beery fish to fry, so lay off.

An aside is how much Manchester has changed in the last eighteen months. Wow.