Cleopatra’s Fruit and Martian War Machine Coolant
August 24, 2008

In the Olde Ale House at the Red Lion Beer Festival

In the Olde Ale House at the Red Lion Beer Festival

This weekend was the Champions Beer Festival at the Red Lion in Isleworth, which I consider practically my local. Even when there’s not a festival on, this pub has at least 7 guest taps that are ever changing, and the women behind the bar know their stuff and are always happy to recommend something based on beer you already like.

Walking in, it was hard to know that there was a beer festival on. There were no banners or signs leading people to the small outer cellar where all the casks were arrayed. In fact, when I was sitting at the bar a woman asked what ciders were on and the guy behind the bar looked bewildered and then told her “Only Strongbow.” I had to butt in and tell her to go in the back where they had three different kinds. After she left the bar hand turned to me and joked, “You made me look bad.” But did he not know there was a festival on?

A man and his two sons came up and squinted at the taps and kind of looked around. When we told them there was a room full of casks in the back worth checking out the old guy said, “You’ve been here for a while have you?” and the younger ones repeated what we said in American accents. I suppose we amused them. (In London, talking to strangers is mistaken for drunkeness. Or being from nutterville.)

I confess I actually didn’t drink any of the featured “Champions” from the GBBF and went straight to the Proper Job, after having read about it on Boak and Bailey. While not as sparkly as I had hoped it was lovely in its hoppy spice. I starting thinking about hops, and how for the longest time I associated very hoppy beers with something medicinal or astringent. I have gradually learned to like them. The first time I ever saw a hop was at my brewer friend Bob’s– he and Edie were having a tasting and they’d strung garlands of hops around. The smell was really comforting and herby and they were beautiful. Now that I knew what they looked like they didn’t scare me as much. And then I realized that different hops have different flavours, and the key was finding the ones you liked. I love estery hops but still can’t abide anything too piney…don’t think I ever will.

And speaking of estery– my favourite was probably Derventio’s Cleopatra Fruit, recommended to me by the woman behind the bar with Cleopatra eyes, no less. It had apricots in the nose and throughout the palate but it was actually quite dry.

there is way too much going on on this pump clip

there is way too much going on on this pump clip

Mr Malting of course stuck with milds. The Bateman’s was forgettable. The Martian Mild, which Wayland claimed was “used as a coolant by the Martian War Machines on Mars” was sweet and sour, not unlike some kind of candy we had as children. We concluded that Martian war technology must be cooled by Werther’s Originals. Still, it was a good beer– made even better by the sense of marketing absurdity.

The standout of the milds was the Hobson’s classic. Roasty, roasty comforting and still light. I had a half pint of it myself.

I regret not having a full pint of Old Scatness– a beer I loved at the GBBF. But I thought I should try new things. Interestingly, there were absolutely no disappointments, unless you count the band, who took over 40 minutes with a sound check. There was an accordian, a fiddle, a mandolin and a stand up bass…our interest was piqued and we waited. And waited while their fussing began to squash any potential joy they might make once they got around to making it.

Eddie

Eddie

More entertaining was the Red Lion’s gregarious Pomeranian, Eddie. I’ll forgive the band and the lack of signage. With a dog as cute as Eddie, and knowledgeable women behind the bar, plus not a single dud in the line up (at least of what I tried), this festival was a winner.

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).

Two Americans Walk into a Pub…
May 25, 2008

I have been to the Magpie and Crown in Brentford on several occasions. It is a short bus ride away from my flat, and I can confidently say the beer is the best I’ve had in London. The clientele is diverse and strange, many coming in from the nearby tattoo shop, and the landlord is friendly and clearly passionate about real ale.

Last week a heavily tattooed American sat drinking with a tattooed Dutchman and they got to talking politics in between discussing classic cars. I overheard the American, “Your people hate my people.” The Dutchman concurred amiably. I’d like to think anything can be discussed over a pint, especially a pint of lovely Twickenham Blackbee as I had there today. Steve, the landlord, brought over some roasted potatoes for us which were especially delicious, and when a game isn’t on the telly there’s The Stranglers, Meatloaf or Ian Drury on the stereo. It’s quickly becoming my favourite place on a Sunday afternoon.

Today, a scraggly geezer with a gin nose leaned into Mr. Malting and me as we sat conspiring, “So what’s it like to be in love?”

I giggled, which is usually my response for any conversation I really don’t want to enter into. It’s a habit I’ve been waiting 30 years to outgrow.

“What’s the matter with you? Why are you laughing?” He’s annoyed already and he hadn’t even properly met me.

I replied, “That’s a complicated question.”

Which led to the inevitable, “Are you Canadian or American?” When he heard we were American he asked, “Going around the globe with your machine guns, where do you get off?” Having neither owned a machine gun nor traveled around the world, I couldn’t really tell him. This proud member of the empire on which the sun never sets was drinking German weiss beer, in case this matters to anyone. He then offered an anecdote, “I met one of the likes of you, after 7-11 (I didn’t correct him) and I offered my condolences. But it’s no surprise, is it, after what you did to the Red Indians?”

I have never actually heard the term “Red Indians” used by a living person before. It was almost quaint. I wanted to say that my ancestors, as well as their crimes, were most likely the same as his, but I said nothing.

“Why are you here, anyway? Is it by choice?” He pried.

“I work here,” said Mr. Malting.

This man pointed to his chest, “You are sitting across from a genuine Englishman. Take a good look, we are a rare breed, most now being black or brown.” I took a good look, his face so blanched with booze it was the colour of his long, lank grey hair.  He looked like a ghost.

At which point we turned to our pints and I wondered if this would be on the “Life in the UK” test.

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