Hey Laaaaady
April 9, 2009

Can you spot the laydeez?

Can you spot the laydeez?

I’ve spoken before of my love of the Ship Tavern in Holborn, and I visited there yesterday.  The celebrations of Cask Ale Week were definitely on: a Theakston Mild and Bitter being the most significant and tasty offerings. After a day of checking out dead things in jars at the Hunterian Museum, nothing satisfies like a lovely pint of bitter!

Two American friends were visiting and were drinking the mild. I tried to explain the philosophy behind Cask Ale Week but it was difficult.  While perusing the official website, I had little luck figuring out how to find a participating pub, or even what events were on, (don’t get me started on the picture of the well groomed college students on the site’s homepage.  It’s just odd.) I was guessing when I explained it was a way to celebrate a distinctive national beverage that has been coded as unfashionable.

In the US, the microbrewery revolution has changed the kind of beer most people I know drink.  The offerings at most stores are quite varied now. Many Brits who have never been to America think it’s still the land of Bud and Coors, but in metropolitan places this is not the case.  My friends ordered pints of mild without having to be coaxed to do it, and one of them was…wait for it…a woman.  That cask ale is associated with old bearded men was impossible to convey to them as we were sitting in the lively Ship, surrounded by all kinds of people who were drinking ale.  (It’s true the women were mostly drinking, you guessed it, white wine.)

My friend Laura picked up a flyer announcing the events of Cask Ale Week at the pub, one of which headlined with the pun, “femALE” day.  It addressed us as Ladies, and my friend said, “See, they’ve gone wrong right there.  Ladies?”  To an American ear the word lady is an insult.  It’s something Jerry Lewis yells.  No one wants to be addressed as a lady– which either means you are a granny, a member of the Christian Right or the recipient of some stranger’s anger.   Here it’s perfectly normal, and even polite, to refer to a woman as a lady.  I still vaguely resent it, and all the ideas that come packaged in that word–which is probably why I engage in such unladylike activities like beer blogging.

The flyer suggested we try some cask ale for £1 on the 15th of April, technically two days after Cask Ale Week is over.   Presumably we don’t have to wear a hat and gloves to partake of our cheeky half, just a pair of XX chromosomes.

Not in the least bit creamy!
March 28, 2009

Hotter than a Match Head
July 28, 2008

Market Porter, Borough, SE1, originally uploaded by Ewan-M.

On Saturday night I found myself at one of my favourite London pubs, The Market Porter. When I first saw this pub I was meandering about Borough Market doing some cheese flirting and getting tipsy on dry New Forest cider. There on the corner was a typical looking pub, but somehow it wasn’t. Typical, I mean. Sure, it’s famous and everyone knows about it. Everyone but me and that’s OK– most of London is like that. Discoverable.

There’s something about that area around the Southwark cathedral that’s maze-like and human-scale in a way much of London isn’t. On that day I looked past the City workers in their identical black suits and saw inside the many many taps and little tables where girls with flowers in their hair sat drinking. Being a bit drunk already I made a note to return, which I have done over and over.

What I love about the pub is that despite its City banker clientèle, or the hipster-with-mortgage demographic that visits the place it seems to exist outside of this. So many pubs in London pander to these folk but not this place which is full of freaks and bohemians, tweedy flaneurs. And real ale nutters. I went to the back of the bar, where the balded, bearded real ale gargoyles guard the taps. It’s hard to see past them but I spy Harviestoun “Behind Bars” which I’m willing to try based on my devotion to their Bitter & Twisted. Plus, I like the name. As usual, I’m served immediately despite the crowds. The bar staff is always friendly and attentive.

Meanwhile Mr. Malting is on the futile search for milds. It’s his first time here and he still doesn’t believe me that it’s a decent place because he can’t find a mild. He’s even searching the pump clips displayed on the ceiling as proof this place maybe had a mild on at one time so perhaps it’s ok, but he’s still whinging on about how we could be at the Royal Oak instead drinking Harvey’s Mild.

I prompt him to try the Harvey’s Bitter which is my default choice. (I know people love TT Landlord but I’ve had a couple terrible pints of that stuff. Harvey’s was the first bitter I had that I actually “got”– where I understood why people would like this style of beer.) I admit that at this point I was wishing I had some Harvey’s Bitter because the Behind Bars was more like “Convict Fairy Burst”: metallic, detergent-like. I was happy to have only a half pint to finish.

At one point Mr. Malting and I looked longingly at the new, silver Meantime taps, specifically the Union dark lager. It was the hottest night of the year and I wanted to drink something that didn’t feel like work, something that met me halfway. At £3.50 the pint of Union was quite dear but it was cold and crisp-yet-malty, with a lovely head and bright mouth feel. As I sat there blissed with this continental style beer I thought about summer– how so much of British life is designed for rain and cold that when summer hits, as it has been doing more fervently each year, it seems most of Britain just runs out into the sun to get a bit of colour. But the heat is still on on most of the buses, everyone is still in wool suits, and the beer is still cellar temperature, even if that cellar just isn’t that cold anymore.

I’ve had enough year-long summers in Los Angeles to last me a couple lifetimes. Bring on the rain, the damp chill so I can drink my comforting bitters and stouts happily again.

Pubcrawling with Jack-in-the-Green
May 2, 2008

May 1st isn’t celebrated widely in London, but the handful of people who do honor this day of class struggle and pagan roots do it in fantastical style. Yesterday I went boozing with Jack-in-the-green, a leafy giant and his attending bogies, men dressed in green rags and ivy crowns. Following them were a motley group of musicians. We wound our way through the streets from one pub to the next, startling the suits and rushing commuters.

We started with Adnam’s May Day golden ale while waiting at the Charles Dickens for the revelers to show. In our pessimism– they were over 40 minutes late– we turned to Sharpes Cornish Coaster. But once they arrived– rather mysterious and triumphant– we were treated to a pint of bitter by a kind, green-faced gentleman from Hastings named Jim.

Later we switched to milds– Harveys Sussex and Knots of May to be exact. While the pub lit up with fiddling, tin whistles and squeeze boxes, I decided the malty, easy drinking mild would become a favourite of mine. It’s a shame the style is so rare. (CAMRA devotes every May to celebrating this style– otherwise I might not have even tried it, or perhaps the pub we were in might not have had it!)

I ended the night raising a pint of Harvey’s Best Bitter with green-bearded brethren. (I now understand why 1,200 Best Bitter drinkers signed a petition to have the drink restored to a local pub in East Sussex after it was removed from pub-owning giant Greene King. People here care about beer, they really do.)

I took no notes. I was too busy dancing.

Raise a pint to Alice Lisle
April 27, 2008

This pint came with a crash course in West Country History. RCH Pitchfork Rebellious Bitter, named after the Pitchfork Rebellion, or Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, was the best of a tasty group of locally brewed beers we tried with my friend Camilla while visiting her in Somerset. While we shared it Camilla told us of the uprising of local farmers, non-conformists and Protestants who wanted to overthrow the “papist” king, James II. Many of the supporters were executed most brutally in the “Bloody Assizes” of Judge Jeffreys. The first to go, burned at the stake, was Alice Lisle.

Despite this particularly dark history, this beer was bright and sunny. I pictured myself drinking this somewhere off the oldest engineered roadway, the Sweet Track in the Somerset Levels– an area that was once an inland sea surrounding the mythic isle of Avalon. It would be a new Spring day where the grass had, in in more recent history, worked the bloodshed, the bodies piled high, into itself. Beer is never very far from death, being itself a fermented thing, but I digress.

Pitchfork was bottle conditioned; the cloudy sediment in my glass settling at the bottom gave the beer a refreshing and whole presence. It had a citrus-weiss front, a floral hop middle with a dry closure and some pleasantly lingering bitterness. Camilla said it reminded her of Indian beer, and it shared a resemblance to excellent IPAs I’ve tried.

To say that each glass of beer is full of history, or that England’s story is older than the national identity of the U.S. would be cliche. I wouldn’t say I drink beer looking for a past. Many American tourists do come to the UK looking for ancestral roots and this is just the solipsistic version of looking for a history. But while drinking a pint, sometimes history finds you.

Eats: Chana Batura (extra spicy)

While listening to: Melvins, At the Stake.

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