Archive for the ‘pubs’ Category

A Haunted Pint of Old Peculiar
February 26, 2011

The fireplace at the Black Swan Inn

Within the tiny city of York, circumscribed by the ruins of the medieval wall, there are myriad pubs.  I have not been to them all, and will probably never get to all of them.  York is also the “most haunted city in England.”   And I would believe it.

Even my own cottage seems to have a ghost, or so one of my house guests claims- he came down from the ceiling to greet her.  She described someone who looked a bit like Minty off Eastenders.

Ghosts are a part of the tourist trade here– men in stilts and archaic clothing hawk nightly tours, and on any night you can see similarly dressed men spinning yarns for gaggles of tourists who gasp and laugh at their storytelling.

Many of the churches are haunted but if one were to do a ghost-for-ghost accounting I would bet pubs would win out.  Just the other night I was in the Black Swan, a beautiful 15th century inn inside of the city walls.  It has an archetypal look, like something out of a fairy tale, with  black beams and iron fireplace, decorated antiques of rough domesticity– kettles, pots, bed warmers.  The space is intimate and friendly– you can hear everyone’s conversations and on the night I was there it was a convivial, fascinating crowd– ramblers, older women in bright colours sitting together, a woman in a cocktail dress with her suited-and-booted date.

At one point the pub was packed with a ghost-trail tour which ascended the stairs looking for  “Legs”.  He is, you guessed it, reduced in the afterlife to a pair of limbs.  There are other ghosts here:  a woman in white (isn’t she always?) looking after the fire, a man in a bowler hovering by the bar, waiting for someone.

The woman beside me kept looking around– at the Toby jugs on the shelf, lit from beneath and looking like disembodied heads, jolly trophies.  The iron chandelier, empty of candles, kept swinging of its own accord.   Over a door behind the bar hangs a set of Morris Dancing knives, woven in the shape of a pentagram.

These knives first became known to me watching the Wickerman as a girl in the early 80s.  (My parents forbid me to see it, which of course made me even more curious, and in many ways this film has had a formative effect on my imagination but that is for another post.) The knives appear in the famous masked “chop-chop” scene, where the be-wigged Lord Summerisle, played by a histrionic Christopher Lee, sends foaming barrels of ale into the sea.

The woman next to me shuddered and declared the place “creepy,” staring at the knives which I suppose could be a bit sinister.

Sword Morris Men in Hastings, May Day 2010

But I associate them with the joyful virility of this style of Morris, where men weave and interlace using the swords in a snaking puzzle.  (If anyone knows the name of this troupe pictured above, let me know so I can credit them.  They were amazing.)

That night at the Black Swan I had a Copper Dragon’s Golden Pippen, malty and light with a delicate bitterness, perfect served though the sparkler.  Then I unwisely changed to Theakston Old Peculiar, one of my favourite beers.  This pint tasted sour, as if the lines were not cleaned properly.  Next to Landlord, Old Peculiar has to be the most wildly varied cask ale I’ve ever had– no two pints are ever the same.  But this one had none of the characteristic dried fruits and dark malts, all the sweetness siphoned out of it.  I blame Legs.

Local, the Cover Version
February 24, 2011

Dunnington looks the same, except now there are smokers' tables outside the pub.

Moving from North London to a village in Yorkshire has carried with it a bit of culture shock.  And, to be American in this little village is even stranger.  Men will come to the door offering to cut trees or wash windows and when they hear my accent will ask for the person who actually lives in the house, or they ask me when I’m going home.

Despite these provincial reactions, this place is big enough to have three pubs. There is a pub called the Windmill which is right off the busy Hull Road, surrounded by a large parking lot.  It looks like a typical roadside pub, a bit lonely and incongruous.  I should brave it because maybe it’s not such a locals place.  But I am a local. Oh, nevermind.

The Cross Keys is technically my local.  One night I was killing time before stopping by the vet’s across the street and I got myself a pint of Black Sheep Bitter– the only ale on cask at the time.  It was perfectly fine, but nothing special.  There was a decent crowd on the week night.  The place was full of grey haired men in quilted coats, all dark green or navy blue, some old age pensioners waiting to eat. Are these the salt-of-the-Earth Yorkshire folk who people Herriot’s books?  Are they property owners full of aspiration, looking after their patch of grass?

The Cross Keys was obviously done up proper in the 80s and now the upholstery was looking a bit greyed-out. What was once a cozy colour scheme of vanilla and burgundy has faded to fusty.  None of this would matter if it were the kind of pub that dispels loneliness.  Such is the magic of the best kind of British pub– a woman can go in and drink unmolested and maybe even strike up a conversation and feel at home.  Frustratingly, this is almost that place.

It was the music.  I would rather have silence than some kind of pollution parading as canned craic.  Overhead, buzzing from large speakers, a CD played generic covers of 70s pop songs.  Was it a pub equivalent to the Musak of the dentist’s office?   You can forgive even shite if the music reveals something about the person pulling the pints, or even the punters.  I looked around at the men drinking their pints, the young blonde barmaid with a drunken-dare star tattoo on her shoulder, the landlady in sensible separates with her pad in hand taking food orders orders.  Was anyone listening to it?

You Got a Friend sung by some random studio musician.

It’s enough to send you on the next bus into town.

Life Through a Sparkler
January 18, 2011

House of Trembling Madness Illustration by Rebecca Wright

I’ve lived in Yorkshire now for nearly two months, living in three different cottages and one hotel room.  My nomad ways are over (for a time) and I find myself in a little cottage (“Moonlight Cottage” it’s called on the door, in that affectionate way the British have of naming their houses) in a little village a few miles outside of York.

It’s the kind of place where people win prizes for floral arrangements and making elderberry wine.

Though I may not win any awards, I have begun a little private brewery in the Moonlight Cottage– the first batch is bubbling in the fermenter as I write, an American Pale Ale brewed on the Cold Moon from partial extract, steeped with Crystal malt and Northern Brewer bittering hops and lots of Cascade for aroma.  I’ll be dry hopping this batch with more Cascade or Amarillo hops– I have yet to decide.

In the two months of Northern living I’ve drunk many a beer from a sparkler, which is a particularly Northern way of serving cask ale.  It is a method of delivery that produces a denser head and a mouth-feel that is creamier, at least initially.  I like it, or maybe I just like the beer up here that seems to echo the laid back understatement and love of place– predominant Northern qualities, if I can generalize.

I’ve had some cracking pints, which must be fuel for a future post.  The House of Trembling Madness, a medieval drinking hall specialising in Belgian beers, has become my new York local.  Oh how I love it’s cozy strangeness.  But there are no handpulls– no cask ale.  Mr. Malting made the mistake of asking the guy behind the bar if they had any “real ale” on, and he returned with a perfectly straight face, “What do you mean by real?” Which just made me like the place more.  And in the Shambles there is Pivni, which always sets my heart racing as I peer in at the taps.  It was there I tried BrewDog’s There is No Santa, the standout Christmas beer (and I tried quite a few this year)– with its velvety-nugmeg-dark-comfort– unforgettable!

The other unforgettable pint was of the omnipresent Black Sheep Bitter.  Yes, it’s everywhere here, and I was loathe to try it as the pints I’d had in London were just not that great, but I found myself snowed in in the village of Hutton-le-Hole on the moors during the beginnings of the brutal winter snows.  The Crown pub had been closed due to the snowy roads but somehow on this night the landlord made it in, and this was the beer they had.  There were just a few of us there but he’d stoked a roaring fire and if that wasn’t the most beautiful pint of bitter I’d ever had, I’d be lying.  And I had two more, something I almost never do.  I commented that the beer was so much better than the Black Sheep I’d had in London and someone called out, “It don’t travel well!”

On that night, tucked up near the fire, all the moors coated in fondant and sparkling in the moonlight, I thought, “and why should it?”

Suffer the children, for the Old Brewery belongs to such as these
May 13, 2010

The Old Brewery, Greenwich

Last weekend I met Chris at the Old Brewery in Greenwich, a place I’d been eagerly waiting to visit since I’d heard plans of its construction a year ago.  I am a fan of Meantime’s beers, and what Alastair Hook the brewer has done in redefining historical beers is truly exciting. With the Old Brewery, Hook has used part of Wren’s grand Old Naval Hospital  for his new brewpub, making beers inspired by the space, including a porter.  It is a glorious idea, but one that, on the afternoon I visited, felt much like stepping into a brochure, a concept rather than a welcoming space. Perhaps this is the problem with so much history– to respect it is to care for it and make it live somehow, but in doing so how do we make room for ourselves in it?

Hook has done a wonderful job surmounting this paradox by brewing traditional London beers but using processes and philosophies from both the German brewing tradition as well as the American craft brewing movement.

I had read much about the brewpub on blogs and other reviews, so I imagined something a little different.  It is a brew pub, in that the beer brewed is served there, and you can even sit near the gorgeous copper vats. Though you will be surrounded by a sea of buggies and families who, though I’d like to think are admiring the shiny beer apparatus, aren’t there for the beer at all, but for the space which they are using as a pit stop on their day out visiting the “interactive learning stations” (this curmudgeon shudders) of the Discover Greenwich exhibition next door.  On the day I visited, this cafe/brew pub felt more like a National Trust tearoom.  In the main room there are aproned staff serving up chocolate muffins and sandwiches, and in the bar there are many very efficient and helpful staff, there’s just not enough space or tables to sit comfortably.  On the rare occasion the weather behaves, the outside beer garden looks promising if a bit overly-groomed.

The Old Brewery

I didn’t take any pictures.  These are promotional photographs.  Much like estate agent documentation, they distort the space slightly, offering a perfect angle. The place just isn’t that big, which shouldn’t be a criticism but if it’s going to be an overblown creche, I would prefer to drink elsewhere.

But drink we did.  Between Chris, Mr. Malting and myself we must have tried almost all the Meantime beers on keg.  They were all quite tasty and refreshing, though in danger of being somewhat interchangeable, their differences were so subtle.  The exception was the wonderfully named Hosptial Porter which was exceptional, and at 8% quite dangerous. A delicious lactose note laced with  lots of deep chocolate, quite balanced with a soft mouthfeel and no sour note or alcohol tang as I had been expecting.  It did seem to have medical properties, lightening my rather grumpy mood.  (It’s not that I don’t like children, I just resent the private space of the parenting endeavor invading on the public space of the pub, which it too often does, becoming an obnoxious spectacle of entitlement, but at the risk of losing my readership I will stop now). Chris commented that Meantime’s dark beers are much better than the lighter ones and I fear he may be right.  The London Pale Ale, so blissfully zingy in the bottle, remained a ghost of itself in the keg (MarkBeer Nut, Knut and I found this to be the case when we visited the Union Pub last year, and our consensus must remain.) However the London Porter as well as the stout are outstanding beers both on keg and in the bottle.

I wonder if in the evenings the cafe is transformed into something closer to the promotional images?Though to be fair I’m a bit put off by the white tablecloths.  That is really taking gastro to the extreme– I look at it and think where’s the awkward wedding seating chart? I don’t know if I would travel the hour and a half it takes for me to get to Greenwich unless I can be promised something between the creche and the precious, upmarket dining experience, no matter how good the beer is.  Though, if they do that Tudor recipe, and put it on keg, the anachronist in me is just going to have to brave the buggies.

The Pub Post I Don’t Want You to Read
May 8, 2010

Fornasetti Wallpaper in the Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington

l shouldn’t write this.  The devil on my shoulder is insisting I not to tell you.  I should keep it to myself, and let it be my little secret.  But the rational angel wins out, reminding me that the Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington is already news and I’m late to the game  singing its praises. Pete Brown has already expressed delight, as have Boak and Bailey.

I’m just going to assume you don’t read those blogs, and you haven’t seen the new red facade, the light open space of the place filled with old wooden church furniture and decorated with the mesmerizing Fornasetti print wallpaper.

You’ve never met the friendly, knowledgeable staff who are content to offer tastings of the beer and are enthusiastic about the whole endeavor– a clear sign of good management.

You won’t be impressed by the myriad cask ale taps.  Take to heart the reviews that have said the beer wasn’t in top notch condition. When I say the Thornbridge Jaipur and Brodies Amarilla I’ve had on my two visits were  well-kept and exactly the right temperature,  you know I’m just not credible. Who’d want the many Belgians and Meantime keg beers on offer– all served in the right glass to a vibrant, fun, down-to-earth crowd?  And it is crowded.

So crowded you wouldn’t want to go.  No really.  I’ll go there for you and eat their gorgeously hearty grilled asparagus with weissbeer hollandaise and balsamic reduction sprinkled with fey, earthy beet sprouts. You’d think it’s too gastro pub, trying too hard to be perfect and maybe even coming close.

A Perfect Pint in a Perfect Pub
January 25, 2010

John, the Landlord of the Merchant Arms, Bristol

On our recent trip to Wales, Mr. Malting and I had a brief stop in Bristol where we found what might possibly be the perfect pub.  The Merchant Arms is a Bath Ale pub, the trademark ghost-bunny etched into the windows.  We tried all three ales on tap and they were immaculately kept.  The Spa turned out to be my favourite, with its bright hoppiness and caramel-corn malts.  Though Barnstomer was a close second– an easier mouthfeel than in the bottle, the brown-sugar nose dominating and coffee and dried fruit up front.  The head was quite substantial, lingering and lacing the glass.

The pub itself is cozy, the sills filled with succulents. The Landlord, John, is welcoming and witty.  There isn’t a bad seat in the house, as every corner had its own little table.  The telly is hidden away in a cabinet and good music was playing the first evening we were there, and on the second visit Radio 4 was on the stereo.  An array of books for browsing are stacked above the booths as well as games.  M and I played a round of Jumbling Towers.  Who knew ale could steady the hand?  If anyone is wondering, I won.

The Moon in a Vivarium*
December 28, 2009

Image by Happyralph on Flickr

The Oakdale Arms is a forlorn little place, far from any bus stop.  Drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, and neither does anyone else.

Its clientele seemingly consist of people who work or live there: the most regular of regulars.

The whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly mid-80s. Everything, including the day bed covered with a zebra throw, has the solid ugliness of the late 20th century.

The great surprise of the Oakdale Arms are the vivariums.  One holds a “25 year old” bottom-feeder. Another contains exotic amphibians half submerged in black water, shimmying frantically against the glass. The landlord, almost eight feet tall in his New Rocks platforms, wears a bearded dragon around the premises.  There is no television.

It’s quiet enough to talk. All that one hears is the buzzing of fluorescent lighting in the glass tanks about the place.  Amid the peace of a menagerie stunned with existential boredom, the chirping of uneaten bugs.

You cannot get dinner at the Oakdale Arms, though the barmaid is eating crisps so they must have them. There’s no stout for your pewter pot or china mug.  Instead, there’s Santa Slayer with a dominating copper tang, and middling Milton Dionysus, not really fitting of the name.

But now is the time to reveal something which the discerning and disillusioned reader will probably have guessed already. There really is such a place as the Oakdale Arms.  It’s just down the road, past the Harringay Superstores.

*apologies to Orwell.

The Green Dragon’s Hoard
December 18, 2009

Sir Frank Brangwyn's etching of Southwark Cathedral

London, in its infinite complexity, forces one to be a creature of habit, to stick with what you know.  I return continually to the shadow of Southwark Cathedral, crossing the Thames over London Bridge, built up, as the rhyme goes, with needles and pins.  Pricked and tingled, you take Green Dragon Court into the rabbit warren of delicacies that is Borough Market.

I am not a foodie; the dead creatures hung and bled, laid out on ice– I will never get used to the ordinary cruelties.  I believe the best food is the simplest, the most humble.  And yet the plenty of this little chaotic market moves me.  So much of old London is gone, but there has been a market on the south bank of the Thames here since Roman times, and this particular location has existed for 250 years.

The cathedral shimmers golden in the early dark– I pass in its chiaroscuro. Soon I will be at the Utobeer beer stall picking out something new.  It’s started to snow, now, as if the weather conspires in delight.  Yule beer!

But, I have a secret. I’ve come here tonight because I suddenly find myself the kind of drinker that will run after a beer tweet.  The trip to the beer stall is just a ruse– I’m kidding myself that I’m not really headed, once again, to the Rake because I’ve heard they have cask BrewDog on: mysterious Equity for Punks.  I’ve never had cask BrewDog, and this is about to change.

I’ve resigned myself– it will be a grumpy affair.  I’ll order, drink up, take notes and leave.  The place is already packed at 4pm, but there’s still some BrewDog left so I order a half and find a vacant stool by an elegantly bearded gentleman drinking Rodenbach’s Grand Cru, “Are they doing something with this place?” He asks, “it seems even smaller than when I was last here.  It’s like a temporary classroom or something.  All the beer in the world to drink and nowhere to drink it!” (exactly.)  And then we remarked that normally no one talks to strangers in pubs in London and why is that?  This guy, mild mannered and charming is a beer person.  Every year he makes a pilgrimage to Belgium in his Volkswagon, loads his boot with bottled beers and returns via the Eurotunnel in Folkstone.  I love this idea– a beer road trip! it’s so American– but I keep this to myself.  He never drinks “real ale” but his first Chimay, years ago, blew his mind.  He’s joined by his mate, a fellow car-boot pilgrim who turns out to be this blogger.

I’m warming up to the Rake now, grateful for good company and a corner perch– though maybe that’s just the 3.7% Equity for Punks coloring things.  In silent triumph I’ve gone back and snagged the last pint.  It’s red and piny, velvety with a lacy head staying put through the entire pint.  BrewDog have done their hat trick again, producing a profoundly hopped beer that remains balanced with lovely caramel malt on the finish.

And then who should pass by the window but Mike Hill, one of the owners of the Rake.  Before moving here my idea of a quintessential Londoner was some Dickensian, lock-stock-and-two-smoking-Dalloways amalgam: forthright, funny.  That Londoner is rare, but Mike is one, with his voice of shale and tailings.  I had the luck of meeting him through Pete Brown and just immediately took to him.  He waves, comes in from the snow and we have a proper chat.

My table mates have moved on and are now drinking Delirium Noel.  The beer is starting to work; the elegant gentleman is praising the designer who came up with the little archetypal DT elephant, “It is exactly what a pink elephant should be. The essence of elephant!”

I’m on to the inevitable Death and Taxes, Moonlight Brewery’s schwartz beer, from my old stomping ground in the Bay Area. It’s impenetrably black and roasty, with a dense mouthfeel that betrays the style but makes me like it more.  I resist the homesickess that might be equally inevitable.  I’m a Londoner now.

The Rake, Take Two
December 11, 2009

Conquest of Planet of the Apes, my alma mater

I went to college in a place that was built in the 1970s. The architecture was so alienating they filmed one of the Planet of the Apes movies there.  In the science quad there was this little snack bar, basically a tiny white room with stools and small round tables, and a guy behind a bar, frying things.

The Rake, despite all its hype, is really just like that. Except the snack bar played music, even if it was just the college radio over a small sound system, and sometimes the guy behind the bar was chatty.

I ventured to the Rake with Knut and The Beer Nut last Friday and I was not surprised that the service was very forthcoming and they had amazing beers on.  This was of course the Friday after the British Guild of Beer Writers Awards and there were lots of beer writers drinking in London.  I was in Borough a couple days ago and thought, maybe it wasn’t just because I was with famous beer bloggers that the place seemed friendlier?  Maybe they still have some of the Racer 55 on (I’m an optimist), or perhaps there’s something equally nice?

So I went in.  As I studied the taps, considering, the guy behind the bar looked sidelong and asked me, “Are you alright?”  Which to this American ear, sounds like the person asking thinks there’s something wrong.  I know this is a particularly British approach to customer service, but it’s not “Do you want to taste anything?” or the simple, “What would you like?”

Left Hand Ginger Julu label

Already I’m regretting my decision to come here. I order the Left Hand Ginger Juju because it’s a beer I like and even though there are only about ten men in the bar, it’s still too crowded to get a good look at the other taps without pushing.  A half pint of the underwhelming juju sets me back £3.20.  It’s not as good as when I had it before– the ginger totally MIA, the mouth feel not peachy with soft effervescence but dulled.   So I sit there nursing this luxury which really isn’t, next to a table of suited men. Since there is no music, I listen to their conversation: upping each other with business talk, foodie marketing strategies, which posh groceries are buying which and who is losing money, etc., etc.

You know you are in trouble when you’re in a pub and suddenly you want to put on your iPod.  I should leave, but part of me is thinking I’m being too hard on this place.  What I want from this place is to talk to the punters here about beer, about what beers are on and about what’s coming next.  Isn’t that what this pub is for anyway?  It certainly isn’t about ambiance or craic.  Give the Rake a chance, urge myself on.  So I go up and ask they guy to recommend one of the seasonal beers they have on tap at the moment– from my strained vantage there seemed to be at least two.  He turns to the massive fridge of bottled beers and starts to forage.

But I don’t want a bottled beer. Unless I’m in Belgium, ordering a bottled beer at a pub just seems like a cop out.  I love the living, unpredictable nature of cask beer, and I relish the I idea of visiting kegs, something that will only be around for a short while.  A bottle– I have those at home!

Anchor Christmas Ale, 2007

I say, “What about a seasonal beer on tap?” but he doesn’t hear me.  He presents me with a bottle of Anchor Christmas Ale from 2007, which is exactly the beer I would present to someone who asked me to suggest a holiday ale.  So, we’re on the same page but I really wanted to drink something new.  “A beer from the Home Country.” The joke falls flat. There will be no chatting.

Anchor Steam was the first “real” beer I ever had, the first local beer– I drank it before I could legally do so, back when I lived in SF;  I didn’t really like it then but I thought drinking it made me authentic.

I would like to think I’ve matured but maybe I haven’t.  I bought the Anchor Christmas as well as the other beer he suggested, the bottle of Hook Norton Twelve Days which I’d heard good things about– I was going to take it home to Mr. Malting.  Those two beers set me back £8.00, plus a 50p fee for using my debit card.

The 2007 Christmas ale was so beautiful– the seamless melding of the dried fig, molasses and delicate, spicy hops finishing it like little twinkles of lights strung on a pine bough.   It’s Yule and I’m happy! I thought, my nose buried in the novel I’d brought. I was content.  Forgetting temporarily the dreary white box of the Rake and the fact that after I’d spent £12 on three beers that weren’t even pints, there was no soap in the ladies toilet. (I expect this from crusty old boozers– often the ladies is either pristine from never being used or utterly neglected. But the Rake have women working there.  Do they not wash their hands?)  Please, Ghost of H1N1 Christmas Present, let the men’s toilet at least have soap, I thought, and then drank a little faster.

Returning home, I presented the Hook Norton gleefully to Mr. Malting, the Christmas ale making me quite jolly. He replied, “Oh yeah!  Did you get it at the offie on the corner?”

“No, the Rake.” My buzz quickly wore thin, “How much is it at the offie?”

“£1.75.  Why?  How much was it at the Rake?”

“Nevermind!”

“Why did you go to the Rake?  Didn’t you just go to the Market Porter?”

Well, exactly.

Ale Power Posse, Activate!
December 10, 2009

Funnest and most clever: The Beer Nut at the Greenwich Union

Last week Friday there was a truly epic beer crawl with Knut Albertson and The Beer Nut– you really couldn’t ask for two better drinking buddies.  (When Knut laughs you know it’s a party!) I joined them at the Market Porter where there were a bevy of bloggers who I only recognized from tiny 75 pixel icons.  It’s a rather surreal experience, being left to guess who is who. Forgive me if I failed to recognize you or introduce myself, even if I’m a regular reader.

Knut and The Beer Nut were already well into sampling beers– the stage was set when I sampled The Beer Nut’s Pictish Sauvin Blanc, a swoony hop cocktail. It really put my Acorn IPA in its place.  It was entirely drinkable but just not stunning.

And just so, I spent the rest of the day making safe choices and really coveting whatever the Beer Nut was drinking! We moved on quickly to the Rake, a place I haven’t visited since the unpleasantness of last year.  The staff outnumbered patrons when we arrived, and they were ready to welcome “the names of the industry” (their phrase not mine) who were to be arriving that day.  Again, I loved Beer Nut’s Racer 55, bursting with fruits and crazy drinkable at 7%.  This would be the kind of beer I would give to someone who says they aren’t a beer drinker– balanced, fruity and surprising enough that someone who is antibeer might be converted.  I opted for the Cantillon Gueuze on keg which was delicious but perhaps kegging interferred with its mouthfeel the velvety sparkle turned up to a distracting brighness? And it was served a bit too cold (easy to remedy this by waiting..) Knut braved the BrewDog Nanny State, a beer I really found rough going when I tried it at the Equity for Punks launch.  It’s kind of a bitterly metaphorical beer– we all had to agree that any beer that still has a discernible malt character after such brutal hoppage is indeed remarkable, if not drinkable.

Knut drinking Meantime's London Porter

And then we were off to Greenwich, to the Meantime Union.  We were all quite disappointed with the London IPA on cask–  something I adored in the bottle, with its grapefruit intensity.  All that juicy presence was missing in the cask.  Mark Dredge (who joined us later) also tried it in the keg and said it was still missing all the best parts. We were also joined by Mark of Real Ale Reviews, who impressed me with his enthusiasm and perception.  (I will save my thoughts on the New Wave of young UK Beer writers and drinkers for another post.) After sharing part of a big bottle of London Porter my liver was telling me I really had to rethink this whole Beer for Life thing. I was getting tipsy, but I knew everyone had grand plans: there was the Wenlock in Hackney, and then off to see Jeff at the Gunmakers in Clerkenwell, and lastly back to the Pigs Ear Beer Fest back in Hackney. I was never going to make it.

Beering of this magnitude takes planning: I ate a hearty meal before heading out and I stuck with halves and drank water between beers.  Even so, it caught up with me more quickly than I thought.  It’s not that I was crazy drunk, it’s just that I’m aware that getting beyond tipsy while inevitably traveling home alone from an unknown part of London without a planned route is a bad idea. (Edit: The link contains the offensive Cabwise PSA video aimed at rape victims and can be triggering.)  But I digress.

In London Bridge there was some difficulty at the train barriers.  All the guys were waved through but the Gate Keeper had other plans for me–I needed to go upstairs and buy a different ticket (I’d used my oyster on the way in, but it’s not accepted on the way out? Ah the joys of National Rail in London).  Luckily, thanks to an outbreak of fisticuffs on the second floor, I stealthily slipped by.

By the time we got to the Wenlock, I knew that to keep drinking was to just fuel the urban anger that had been stirred by the random officiousness and witnessing the full-on fight at the station wasn’t helping matters.  I had water and tried to regain my bearings.  While walking there I got a text from an old high school friend who was in town.  I invited him to come join us, not knowing that  plans were already in the works to move on.  I realized to keep going would be to keep drinking and eventually I would have to take a brain-addled approach to finding my way home from an unfamiliar part of London.

And besides, I really loved the Wenlock with its ramshackle crowd of local sports fans and myriad grey heads tucking in to their half pints.  There were beers I hadn’t even tried yet, and besides, I knew my friend from high school was going to love this place, with its dingy red carpet and massive cracks in the floor from which mysterious blue light poured forth.  I saw the guys off and went to meet my friend (thanks Beer Nut for the map print-out– I needed it to find my way back).

I can see the Wenlock becoming a a new favourite– people were very friendly– making room for us where there was none, and being generally quite amiable.  We both had Harvey’s Bonfire Boy.  From a distance the pump clip looked vaguely seasonal, like Father Christmas in a pith helmet. I love Harvey’s beers so we stuck with that for the rest of the night. The brewery website says this beer was first brewed in 1996 for the Emergency Services that fought the fire which destroyed the brewery offices.  But while I drank it I thought of it as a winter warmer sort of beer, with a lovely sweet malt presence and vague smoke, perfect for nursing in halves (though my friend was having pints), slowly the glow of it all returned as the two of us, having not seen each other in twenty odd years, caught up with the rapid passing of decades while the locals hollered at the telly and sang what to us, two American midwesterners adrift in London, sounded like shanties run aground.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28 other followers