You can see the Ghosts of London’s pub past around every corner. Derelict pubs boarded and decaying, converted pubs stripped of their past and signs of long defunct Brewers etched in stone and glass. It’s rare that once gone these ghosts can pass back but I’ve being seeing apparitions in Vauxhall and Clerkenwell in the form of Truman’s Runner.
A few years ago I sat with English in a pub having one of those conversations that you tend to have after a few pints. It revolved around reviving names like Truman’s. The beauty of such an idea being that the name already has recognition for many and that name is on old Truman pubs across East London. As with most of these conversations it’s lost in the mind fog that you tend to get by pint 5 or 6. Then years later and I’m reminded of this conversation by the first apparition in Vauxhall’s, Black Dog and again in the Peasant, Clerkenwell.
It passed me by that the Truman story had started a new chapter in 2010 and judging by Runner, a solid sessionable ale, it won’t be the last. For more info see their website.
I’m all for championing British brewers and those at the other end of the chain who sell it to me. So the release of the SIBAProud of British Beer film was something that piqued my interest. The 5 minute film I assume is to act as a rallying call for support of producers, suppliers and retailers. Great you might think? Well not quite. The idea I support. The execution I find lacking. Taking the much copied Greg Koch template of I am a Craft Brewerfalls flat. I enjoyed the original. It’s what our American cousins do well. I enjoyed I am a Craft Beer Drinker homage. By the time I got to the I am a… Homebrewer, Canadian Craft Brewer, Ontario Craft Brewer it was getting old and this was 8 months ago! So it’s a shame that a nation known the world over for innovation couldn’t come up with something original, that didn’t rely on stiff collars, upper lips and even stiffer dialouge. I don’t want to see a re-hash of something that’s been copied to the point of parody. I’m just thankful that the budget didn’t allow them to shoe horn a couple of Sptifires in for good measure. Anyway, see what you think…
Perhaps you think it’s spot on and I’m off the mark? It will doubtless appeal to some but wouldn’t an original offering actually have been more effective, interesting and relevant?
A visit to Perth without venturing to Fremantle and Little Creatures would, could or should be grounds for deportation. Their citrus packed Pale Ale became my go to beer throughout my time in WA and the chance to visit the mothership was one that I wasn’t going to miss. Established on the site of an old Crocodile farm the brewery has gone from strength to strength. Yes, I said Crocodile farm. Lou, Col and Elise told me of the Crocodile farm they once visited on the site as children. Only a week later they told me of the “Drop Bears”. A marsupial that drops from low hanging trees, biting and and scratching the unlucky sod below. They exist purely in fiction, to torment tourists and in particular Poms. I looked up into the trees for a matter of seconds, but that’s a minute long enough for its still to be brought up. I’m pretty sure that the Freo Crocs did exist unless that’s all an elaborate conspiracy as well. It’s quoted on the Little Creatures site so I thinks it’s a safe bet that they did exist. Anyway, what is left is a great experience for the beer lover and foodie alike. For the Beer Geek in us all you have the breweries inner working around you and plenty of space to enjoy the finished product, great food and in the heat of WA.
On a weekday afternoon it was busy with a mix of locals, and tourists alike. Service initially was slow but the promise of a cold Pale Ale, a light sea breeze and Lou’s favourite White Rabbit and that can be easily forgiven. I am reminded of a Sunday afternoon at the Brooklyn Brewery with English, which I always thought would take some topping. As the food is served I think it has. It would be easy to have the great setting and beer and fail on the food but the food ranks up there with the beer. The Chilli Squid I could eat all afternoon and writing this from a cold London my mouth is watering with the thought. If there is a perfect chip it’s at Little Creatures and then there is the wood fired Lamb pizza… I should stop before I drool too much!
Faced with a dark January evening, monotonous drizzle and waves of commuters my patience is quickly waning. I’m heading to the most eagerly awaited addition on the London Craft Beer scene, the Euston Tap and telling myself it will all be worth it. Having watched English cover all sides of the Euston concourse in search of a working cash machine we head out of the station in the wrong direction and towards King Cross. I’m close to breaking at this point. Craft beer, craft beer, craft beer is the mantra in my head willing me forward. Finally, after the interventention of google maps we are heading the right way. A neon sign glows up ahead of us like a craft beer beacon.
Housed in a a remnant of the original station, the Portland stone lodge bears no resemblance to the 60s concrete blight of the modern Euston. The view as you enter through the double doors is of a bar top clear of pumps. Taking a cue from across the pond beer is dispensed from a wall of taps set into a copper backingl; the blackboards flanking each side are almost overwhelming with a choice on tap of 25+ beers and much much more in the fridge. It’s difficult to know where to start. Working through the blackboards we start light with Camden Town Brewery Pale Ale and Mahrs Pils before moving to Erdinger Urweisse.
The downstairs horseshoe space is compact and you could be forgiven for missing the original narrow spiral staircase leading to the upstairs seating. A tad precarious after a few pints perhaps but pint holders are available. Upstairs is a litlle sparse but is perhaps a work in progress and lets face it – we are not here for the decor.
As the evening progresses as does the thirst for something new which leads us from the lighter starters to the heftier and to my mind superior ThornbridgeRaven and Bristol Beer FactoryUltimate Stout. With only a small dent made in the ever changing list there is no chance of getting bored with whats on offer and now I know where it is there’ll be no need for google maps or the mantra as “craft beer” just doesn’t come close to describing whats on offer. Another landmark on the London craft beer map.
I have eagerly awaited a visit to Mason & Taylor since hearing that the folks behind The Duke of Wellington were opening on Bethnal Green Road. The Duke in Dalston was at one time just around the corner and quickly became a firm favourite. It has it all. Great staff, great beer, great food. It is as you may have guessed Great.
I was willing Mason & Taylor to be on a par with the Duke as I don’t live around the corner from the latter anymore but I do work nearby Bethnal Green Road. A first attempted visit had been thwrated by their Christmas Party but undetered and in fact more eager I headed to Mason & Taylor the next day. I won’t leave you hanging. It is in fact also… Great. The décor is stripped back concrete and canteen chairs. It bucks the trend of filling the space with kitch which more often than not looks like an explosion in an Oxfam shop. The staff are, as with The Duke, efficient, friendly and knowledgeable. The food is small plates for sharing; a British tapas I suppose. The York ham with poached duck egg and parsley sauce and a rarebit were my particular favourites. As for the beer there is a wide choice with around 12 ales and beers on draught as well as a seasonal bottled list. I had my first pint of Brodies, Redemption and Wandle at The Duke and Mason & Taylor continue the trend with an introduction to the Camden Town Brewery and their American style, Camden Pale Ale and the helles style Camden Hells Lager. Judging by the empties which soon pile up you can say it went down well.
In my post on the Owl and the Pussycat I pondered if it would only ever be a fallback. On the form of Mason & Taylor I don’t see that a fallback would even be needed.
After a Christmas where any TV choice was dictated by a Ben 10 obsessed 3 year old it was a welcome change to return home and see what the V+ box had in store. Oz and Hugh Raise the Bar seemed like the most appealing offering but in televisual terms proves that the bar tends to be quite low these days. The format is the well worn travel mission where our hosts supposedly showcase the best of what’s on offer with a challenge in the last programme of running their own bars: for one night only that is. It’s laboured, gimmicky TV which relies on stereotypes and a scattergun approach to content. It leaves me asking: why can’t we be more like the Belgians! Yes that’s right the Belgians. Stay with me.
Such was my despair I went to the fridge, reached into the bottom shelf and cracked open a bottle of Tournee Generale. Quite possibly the only beer created as part of a TV show (of the same name) and sold commercially? Now i’m sure I may be corrected at this point, but its the only one I know of. And yes you guessed it. It’s Belgian. The result is Tournee Generale (6.5%). It’s a cloudy, amber beer, with a creamy head and a definite Coriander taste and smell. It’s not a classic but is more than drinkable. In some ways, the fact that its brewed (by Duvel Moortgat) as a result of a TV show is its most interesting characteristic
For those who remember MTV in the 90s, when it was about the music and not awful teen reality, you’d recognise the shows co-host, Ray Cokes who is paired with Jean Blaute who you probably don’t. As the name suggests the series is a tour of brewers in search of the countries best with the objective of brewing a Speciale Belge. From what I’ve viewed so far it’s not the scattergun approach of our BBC equivalents; crediting the viewer with a little intelligence and as and added bonus there are no shots of a hungover Oz Clarke in his pants!
Here’s a taster! Interested to know what your views are on the treatment of beer in the mainstream media.
With the snow descending again, London faces the prospect of grinding to a halt in literally centimeters of snow. A merest snowflake sees the tube full of welly wearing Bankers, panic buying and train operators dusting of the excuses tombala. Its at these times that I spare a thought for our friends in the North.
As any good son would I ring my Mum to check that everything’s ok. The news is invariably that their Pennine village is snowed in. To some this would be a problem but to the village its just a fact of life and to the local landlord its a winter windfall. All roads blocked means a captive market and the tills ringing all day. This particular local isn’t exactly where i’d want to spend my snow days. That pub would have to be the Old Crown at Hesket Newmarket in Cumbria. On the Northern edge of the Lake District National Park, the pub is supposedly the first cooperatively owned pub. And did I mention there is the Hesket Newmarket Brewery in the back? I mean who wouldn’t want to be snowed into a brewery!
If you can’t arrange to be snowed in you may just have to pop by for a pint of Doris’ 90th Birthday Ale, checking opening times to avoid disappointment.
The Old Crown
My appreciation of the Canton Arms seems to be growing with each visit. I need a weekly fix as a minimum and this week found myself sharing the fix over dinner.
Our meal for 4 (with Lou, Meister and O) had swelled to 7 when news spread that we were dining as well as drinking. Captain English dropping hints as big as his eyes when faced with a Fopp sale secured the invite with his other half, Hadedar. Making up the seven was Silvio; to whom I promised not to mention his recent appreciation of a corked bottle of wine. “Hmmmm. Interesting…. Its different. But I like it”. His name has been changed (as with all) to protect his pride further. I mean its a mistake any Italian could make (well at least that’s what he told us).
Enjoyment of the Canton starts with the ale board, which rarely disappoints. New to me were Tring Brewery’s, Jock O’Legs, copper coloured with a hoppy bitter taste and Acorn Brewery’s, Barnsley Bitter. At 3.8% this dark chestnut bitter could sustain for a session with its rich flavour.
The dining room was busy but securing a table was effortless (no bookings taken under 8 diners). Presented with the option of a Salt Marsh Lamb, slowly pot roasted for 7 hours, served with Boulangere Potatoes (my mouth is genuinely watering), there was no contest and a quick show of hands confirmed we had the required 4 to manage the dish. Starter was similarly an easy choice. There was no answer other than “yes” when Meister suggested the Foie Gras toastie to share. I rub my hands with glee at the prospect.
Neither course disappoints. The toastie had as much for its novelty value than the fact I love foie gras wasn’t as rich as I thought. For £8 you aren’t going to get masses of it but what you get is more than enough. accompanied by a chutney or relish it won’t be the last time I sample this dish, or the further choice of haggis.. Served from the oven, the Lamb and Potatoes were placed in the centre of the table with serving spoon, fork and tongs. The Lamb had benefited from every minute of its 7 hours, the meet falling from the bone. The potatoes were the standout, crisp with a rich onion taste from white onions reduced to almost puree. I could order this on its own, although I don’t think my belt has enough notches to cope. The Canton goes from strength to strength. Next stop Haggis Toastie!
A good night can often can turn into an impromptu pub crawl and planned pub crawls can in turn be mundane tick box exercises; dictated more by the proximity of the first to the second to the third pub. With this in mind Captain English and I set out on our Easter Crawl knowing only the starting point: The Grosvenor, Stockwell.
Set amongst council blocks and displaying posters for thrash metal gigs many would have second thoughts about our starting point. Having downed plenty of pints there in the past we had no such hesitation. Slightly down at heel and with a well used pool table its a reminder of student days spent in smokey pubs playing pool badly and feeding the jukebox. The crowd at 6pm on the Thursday was a mix of Portuguese tradesmen playing pool, a couple of old Irish pensioners sat supping at the bar and a group of students putting the world to rites as well as a barrel of cider. Being Cask Ale Week and feeling nostalgic I went for a Moorhouses Bitter, a hoppy session beer. A great start. Two pints down and we move on towards Brixton and the The Queens Head.
Formerly The Far Side, The Queens Head as it is now is far removed from The Grosvenor. Superficially it’s nicely renoavted, as premium lagers and one token ale. Adnams. My heart sinks at the sight of it and we opt for a cool pint of Erdinger. Large Gorillaz canvases adorn the walls, and although they are now on their third album, its still a touch that you would expect in about 2000. My thoughts overall would be that its nice. Not exceptional. It’s proximity to the Brixton Academy would probably make it a good stop for a pre gig drink but otherwise I wouldn’t make a point of stopping by. With that in mind we declined a second round and moved on.
It may be cliched to say that stepping into the Marquis of Lorne is like stepping back in time but in this case it is fitting. Approaching the pub you notice the original ornate tiles outside. It is hard to think many breweries or pubco’s today would lavish money on something so ornamental. Much more likely to invest in a Sky subscription and a Big Screen. Thoughts of an interior to match are dashed as we get inside. This is pub three in our crawl, and as much a change from the Queens Head than is possible. On the inside its a faded boozer with character (or characters as the case may be). Looking round the pub seems to be pretty much exclusively regulars. The pool table is in constant use and there are signs that the dart board gets its fair share also.
After five minutes I take a call a call from Lou and step outside as I feel that along with a smoking ban phones should be next. I peer through the window to see that Captain English has made a new friend. Stepping back inside I am intoroduced to the Landlord, who’s sat at the bar. He tells us about his improvements and plans for the pub, the area and how its changed. He’s a South Londoner through and through and proud of his pub. It has to be said that he’s had a few at this point but amiable with it. As he launches into a passionate description of his Garden he reaches over to his cigarettes tapping one on the box, lights up and casually chuffs away, waving the fag around as he talks. Now in saying its a step back in time you could date this as anywhere before 1st July 2007, when such a simple act wouldn’t raise so much as an eyebrow. The barmaid, gave a concerned look toward the guvnor but he was plainly oblivious. Two pints and it was time to leave Summer 2007 and venture back to a cold 2010 and the next pub…
Citizen Smith could easily have been dismissed in our search for a pub, slating itself as a “Drinkery”. The day to this point had been spent with Lou, her mum and sister; while watching another participate in the Head of The River. It was early evening and we literally needed a stop gap before the weary rower arrived after team drinks. Located opposite Putney Rail Station its main appeal was that it wasn’t the nearby Wetherspoons and it had plenty of free tables. Hardly a ringing endorsement but we just needed a pub. Looking like a venue for a girls night out of overpriced cocktails and Tom Cruise wanabee barmen, as opposed to a meeting place for the Tooting Popular Front, I wasn’t hopeful, but it was preferable to squeezing into the Rugby fans at the Wetherspoons.
Greeted by an Aussie waitress (well this is Putney) we were told that a menu was on the table and she would come and take our order. My impulse was just to ask for something generic rather than waiting for her to make her rounds again. Lucky I didn’t. Far from having just a standard British and European choices there was a far better mix than expected. Next to the four pages of cocktails there was an ample choice of draught Meantime (Kolsch, Pale Ale, Smoked Back, Stout) and Cornish Coaster for the UK, bottled Little Creatures and Coopers for Down Under and from our friends across the pond a mix of draught and bottled Sierra Nevada (Pale Ale and Porter), Brooklyn Brewery (Lager and Brown Ale), Goose Island and Liberty as well as a number of German offerings such as Schneider Weisse. Its fair to say that my interested had now piqued.
My mission for the day had been to create a good impression which I think I had to this point. This could have been a tipping point however as I pored over the choices. It was a case of do I go for a Sierra Nevada which at £4 a pint seemed reasonable to the £5+ i’ve paid in East London or bring back memories of Bedford Avenue with a Brooklyn Lager. After much deliberation its was the Meantime Smoked Back which clinched it. Having had a particularly lethal traditional German smoked beer weeks earlier I was interested to taste the Meantime take. Lou’s mum (also Australian) attracted the waitresses attention and enquired as to which beers were chilled. With a quizzical look the waitress ventured that all the beers were served cold and they didn’t actually warm any of them up. Not wanting to explain the difference to the waitress between chilled and what some people refer to as warm or room temperature I suggested a Sierra Nevada.
The Meantime Smoked Back arrived and I tasted cautiously. While still retaining the malty, smokey taste of the Rauchbier it was a lot more subtle, suiting a wider audience. While caught in my one man tasting session I was oblivious to Lou being short changed by a tenner. The waitress was apologetic and slightly embarrassed and all the more so when she did exactly the same thing to the next table. Perhaps its time for the Drinkery to invest in some product training and calculators. Leaving after the one beer, it won’t be somewhere I would return to out of choice but if faced with it as a best alternative I wouldn’t say no to a Sierra Nevada.