Archive for June, 2008

The Ship Tavern
June 25, 2008

The Ship Tavern Stained Glass, originally uploaded by currybet.

On Sunday I was wandering around Covent Garden with friends and we found ourselves in Holborn. There is only one pub I know there and they are usually closed on Sundays but we tried anyway and– wonders– The Ship Tavern is now open on Sundays. This tiny back street pub is over 400 years old, but it’s not resting on its history or pandering to tourists (even though it seems to be featured on a “Haunted London” walk– I’ve never seen a ghost there, or a throng of tourists for that matter, but apparently during the reign of Henry VIII it was a place where clandestine Catholic mass was held. Some of the priests were found and executed in the tavern).

The people working the bar there are always friendly. Sunday they had on four real ales which the landlord offered for us to try. I fell or the Everards Sunchaser– very light and delicately hoppy, served a little cooler than cellar temperature, it was perfect for the rather hot day, as was the dark, cool pub which was lit with candles. We sat in a both that was stocked with lovely old books. The place was quiet, just my friends and two deaf women signing to each other. On the stereo Nina Simone and Dawn Penn made it feel like a home-away-from-home.

Soap Opera Ale
June 25, 2008

Kind of like the mermaid in Splash, when I moved to London I watched the telly to acculturate.  I found myself addicted to Eastenders.  After a year of rationalizing my affection for the Square, I forced myself to give it up.

It’s been a couple years since I went cold turkey but the other day I watched the omnibus on the BBC iPlayer.  Real ale is featured for a brief moment when Vinnie and Shirley put on a “Best of British” party at the Queen Vic, and the whole place is decked out in British Flags (No St. George flags to be seen– so much for realism).  There’s a little cask sitting on the bar and Shirley asks Vinnie disparagingly if anyone is drinking the “Speckled whatever” he’s got on.

Later in the episode there’s a dramatic fire and the British flag is used to catch Mickey as his sister Dawn pushes him, unconscious, from the burning building.  Later, the good-for-nothing Keith actually saves his daughter while wrapped in the same flag.  I thought maybe Shirley would use the cask of Speckled Whatever to douse the flames since it wasn’t selling in the pub, but the beer was only making a cameo.

If I could be for just one little hour…
June 10, 2008

Some days I dream of escaping London for a bit. Lately I’ve been dreaming of Brussels, a place I have yet to visit. I bought a bottle of Chimay Blue weeks ago and have been saving it for a day like today. (OK, beer pedants– I know Chimay is not brewed in Brussels, but it is Belgian.)

London doesn’t do well in the summer– its broad, grey shoulders look blanched in the sun and can only really seduce when rain-wet. Air conditioning is almost non-existent here, and the city floods with tourists, making it hotter, slower, uglier. What’s a native to do but dream of invading someone else’s city?

(Not to mention I had a miserable day dealing with arrogant, Apple/Mac-cultists at the Regent Street “genius” bar– whoever thought labeling customer service reps “geniuses” was an idiot, but I find myself in one of those I need a drink moments.)

I’ve always shied away from Belgian beers– seeing them as the yuppie choice here in London. So many lovely pubs here eschew British real ale for Belgian brews for which they can charge dearly. I tried Leffe and it left me cold, and Hoegaarden couldn’t charm me either– maybe I needed to pair the right food with it? I lost patience with the precious endeavor. That is until today.

I decided today was a good day to dream with my Trappist aid. The 9% seems to say: GOD(ess) WANTS US TO BE HAPPY. I’d found a Chimay-ready chalice at a charity shop a few days before, and it looked grand in it– amber and cloudy with an optimistic, beige head. It tasted of a dark mysterious fruit, the juice of something Edenic and forbidden. The dominant flavour was alcohol, or maybe that is what I most needed to taste at that moment. Prunes with a sour taste that’s unlike citrus- it is it’s own flavour and it’s delightful. I wished I had a some frieten– comfort food! But as the heady 9% hit me I decided it was time to book that Eurostar ticket.

Eats: yeast pate on seeded bread

While listening to: Jaques Brel– Jackie

Session 16– Beer Festivals
June 6, 2008

Teeshirts at the Great British Beer Festival

It’s Beer Blogging Friday. This one is hosted by the Geistbear Brewing Blog and the subject is beer festivals, a subject I have written about on this blog in a previous post, but also on my other London blog, Feral Strumpet Teatime. I’ve decided to revisit my post about the Great British Beer Festival for this month’s session.

Great British Beer Festival Ad by oiyou on flickr

Great British Beer Festival Ad, photo by oiyou on flickr

Upon entering the huge Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre,the first thing that greeted me, besides the overwhelming choice of beer available, was this tasteful billboard. I gave this Bishops Finger booth a wide berth, thinking, I see your finger and raise you a knuckle sandwich. The party mood evaded me from the get-go, even though it was “hat day” and most of the drinkers had on some kind of headgear– cardboard new year derbys, giant guinness pints with plush shamrock brims, white caps emblazoned with the Saint George flag and in the case of one gentleman, disco 45s taped together.

This was my first Great British Beer Festival, and I didn’t have a game plan. I did bring a friend who kept insisting with fatherly concern that I was “drinking too fast” from my third pint glass. (Note to self: don’t bring him this year!) I decided to people watch and became fascinated by the teeshirts on the drinkers and those displayed for sale. There was a strange mix of British nationalism (ie bulldogs pissing) and indulgent self-deprication (the “I ate all the pies” teeshirt.) But ultimately, it was a celebration of liver execration (see Oliver Reed themed shirts on special.)

And it was a dude kind of affair. Where is a woman’s place in this scene? (”If only these were brains” across the bust of a baby doll tee shirt.) There were women there, but we were like some alien race. (”I have the PUSSY. I make the RULES” tank top.) I felt a special allegiance with the women who were not under the arm of a man. Women who had come here because they liked beer, not because they’d been dragged along.

When 4:30 came round and the suits started rolling in, things went in the lad-derly direction– a wink’s as good as a nod–kind of direction. But before then I got some drinking in. Not as much as I would have liked. All my careful planning (light to dark, start with thirds and NO CIDER) failed me.

Having no posse to buffer the culture shock, I tried to take it all in but I needed a drink first, and fast. To get oriented I committed what felt like sacrilege, going to the international counter. It was very small and mostly featured bottled stuff, but unlike the other counters it wasn’t packed with punters. I was looking for Rogue but my country was singularly represented by Sierra Nevada. I shuddered and slid down to the German section. Behind me, all of Britain was represented and I held out my glass for kölsch. It was illogical, ridiculous really.

And then I had a dunkel.

I was about to try the Bavarian Andrechs spezial when my friend convinced me to branch out, go native. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say-no-more. The Hambleton Nightmare Porter was singularly spectacular and worth the price of admission. I only wished I’d had a whole pint of its malty comfort. I sat with two friends on the floor of the utilitarian Earl’s Court Exposition Centre, splitting a plate of buttery Wensleydale cheese and ale chutney with biscuits and a few different ales. It was perfect. For a moment I understood this English pride precisely– the urgent love of the countryside and the bounty of tradition and all that. And I wanted another beer.

My friends were set on cider and I caved– I broke my no cider rule. Why? Cider makes me drunk and does my pallet in. I had something that was quite drinkable if not memorable, and it predictably went straight to my head. I felt an achy melancholy creeping up, like when I drink champagne. The choice was either to buy an Oliver Reed tee shirt and keep up the red-cheeked work or go home. The later course won out.

I even thought of going back to the festival the next day by myself just to undo this grave error. (Does she go? Is she a goer?) This year I’ll start at the Yorkshire counter and work my way widdershins around the island, map in pocket (said the actress to the bishop).

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