Archive for July, 2008

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.

July 25, 2008

Maybe it’s all this apocalyptic talk of the hop shortage, or my own dire skintness, but I haven’t been drinking a lot of beer because it seems like a luxury. And I haven’t been writing about it.

Sure, I could drink cheap beer in cans but I have never liked it. I never drank beer until I tasted the nice stuff. I would start homebrewing so I could have something to drink, if I didn’t live in a little shoe box of a flat with an even smaller sink and a cat that sheds. A lot.

I’ve been slowly breaking into my stash. I open a beer after I finish a round of sending out cv’s. The last round was crowned with a bottle of Duchesse de Bourgogne, a Flemish Red I splurged on (at almost £4 for a small bottle at Whole Foods) when I was feeling rather flush. I had hoped the beer would cheer me but it was overly sweet. I ate it with some luxurious stilton and pear pate, a lovely gift from my friend Liza, but maybe that was the wrong food choice. Usually tannins and stilton go together. (For a better take on this beer, see The Hot Knives’ review, which remains my favourite beer review, like, ever.) Maybe it was just my palate that was messed up but I didn’t get the sour balance at all, and I kept thinking about the Duchesse falling from her horse while hunting with a falcon. I’d just had a birthday, the kind of birthday that makes one weary rather than gleeful, the kind of birthday that makes you think about the closed circuit of death.

Once I saw a falconer in Trafalgar Square and the bird took wing around Nelson’s column with a wild certainty. It was one of those slyly seductive moments London gives up too rarely. And in between those moments there is beer. Or there should be.

So, I have a beer hoard. Last night I was impatient for a glass half-full outlook, so I made some very garlicky pizza from scratch and cracked open a bottle of BrewDog’s Punk IPA which turned out to be the the hoppiest beer I’ve ever had.  One could almost say it was aggressively hopped, almost a hop tea left to steep at a slow seethe, except that it was most certainly a beer– a fruity, summery nose with a delightfully bright mouthfeel. I confess I don’t even know what colour it really was because I drank it straight out of the bottle. It seemed like the thing to do. Hours later my palate was still coated with resins. It was a beer with something to prove, not unlike the brewery itself.

Is it possible to crush out on a brewery? Yes.

The brewery sent this beer along with a bottle of the Anniversary Paradox, one of the most expensive beers in the world, which was a gift from Mr. Malting (he doesn’t share my pessimism about money or life which is part of why I love the guy.)

I thought I should save that bottle for some good news, but maybe beer is the good news.

Greenwich Beer Fest Blues
July 19, 2008

Wednesday was my birthday so I had the grand idea I would hit the Greenwich Beer Festival on its first day to catch everything fresh. It took me forever to get there, as the Docklands Light Railway was severely delayed. When I got there it wasn’t very busy, it being a weekday afternoon. It was on the gorgeous grounds of the Royal Naval College and there was plenty of space to lounge in the grass and there were even chairs and tables available– that’s how uncrowded it was.

The James Evans Giraffe band was on stage doing a kind of Rutles version of New Orleans’ Professor Longhair’s Tipitina. I admit nothing scares me like white-baby-boomer-property-ladder-blues/jazz. (You know, music for the chaps who buy Ron Wood’s paintings for their second homes in the South of France). I was happy that this band dispelled my dread– no bids at authenticity here, just eccentric interpretations.

Beer-wise, I started off with something I thought I knew– Twickenham’s Sundancer. It was pleasant enough for looking over the tasting notes and planning the next few hours of drinking, but it wasn’t the beer I thought it was. Perhaps I had it confused with Sunchaser? Or maybe it was just that subtle difference between casks and contexts.

I looked longingly at the cider line up but knew that it would get me drunk too fast and ruin my palate. I decided I would start with the lighter, hoppier beers and move to stouts. I planned to end on Meantime’s London Porter, having never tried it. I knew I could get it at Waitrose and it would be the same, as it’s not in a cask, but I thought it would be appropriate, being that I was in Greenwich and all that. I never got to try it but I will explain later.

Mr. Malting had a mild masterplan– he was going to try them all. His favourite was the Woodforde’s Mardler’s Mild. I started with Oakleaf’s Hole Hearted, which was lovely– peppery, floral and refreshing. Next was West Berkshire’s Dr. Hexters– I’ve like all the beers I’ve tried with them. It was drinkable but would have been better complimented with food rather than by itself.

Then I went dark– Burton Bridge’s Bramble Stout. Complex and dry juxtaposed against a very sweet nose. I wrote down that cheese & Branston pickle would have gone well with it. I must have been hungry. I particularly liked the copper tang in the middle.

Then followed Nelson’s Blood. I was almost put off by the vegetal stink. It was the first day of the festival– how could it have gone off already? It tasted ok but was hard to get through. Disappointment continued to the Milestone Black Pearl– described as an Irish stout, it had the thinest mouthfeel of any Irish stout I’ve ever tasted. The “burnt toast” description in the tasting notes was more like burnt brisket. Mr. Malting tasted it and we both agreed that the swamp gas aspect couldn’t be gotten past. I poured it out.

My next move was to the Exmoor Beast. It was lovely but I made no tasting notes. As I was drinking I noticed everyone was ordering full pints, many people going back for the same thing over and over. I didn’t see many tickers here at all. Was I the only one taking notes? I wondered how they really managed this– pint after pint after pint. This is not a new revelation though–I’m still in England, where people can put away six pints in a session.

But, you know, sometimes they can’t. I noted an table of old men near me who had been drinking round after round all afternoon. One completely hairless geezer with the leather skin and upmarket casuals of someone who winters in Spain, stood suddenly and countless pints coursed out of him. With zen calm he reached into his mouth in mid-spew to pull out his false teeth. Everyone, including his mates, sat around drinking and eating as if this were not going on right next to them. (Brits are very down on anti-social youth but to be honest much of the bad drinking-related behavior I’ve witnessed has come from men old enough to know better.) I never in my life thought I would say this but you know, shame has its uses. Sometimes shame is good.

I had a half eaten cheese bap in front of me, which I had planned to eat with the London Porter in a kind of happy birthday salute to my chosen home, but I instantly lost all interest in eating or drinking anything more. It could be that old man was just reacting to the Celtic-jazz-fusion act that had just come on stage. Someone behind me snorted, “For fuck’s sake! Anyone play the recorder want to take over?”

Yep, It was time to make the two hour trek home.

Back in the Land of the Beering
July 15, 2008

I have been away for a while. I was fasting on doctor’s orders, and then I broke my fast with a tiny bit of cider from some enabling friends. And then I found myself drinking lots of cider…in pubs like the Green Man in Fitzrovia where they have Old Rosie on tap. I’m hanging out with my old tribe– goths– and drinking cider. In the US cider is a sweet hot mulled thing children drink at Halloween…here in the UK it seems cider is the madwoman in the Real Ale attic– and, more strangely– it seems to be associated with goths.

Then I went beer slumming for an extended period, finding myself addicted to the rosy-hued Sam’s Smith’s cherry beer. The label is beautiful and old-timey, and every time I look at it I think happily about the rainy British summer.

And then I continued on this path away from beer snobbery by visiting Garlic and Shots in Soho and drinking their garlic beer. It is basically generic lager with minced garlic floating in the head. A lot of minced garlic. My friends and I sipped it with trepidation, feeling like we were on a college party dare, and all of us were delighted with the sweet pungency. With perverse glee, I realized that this is maybe the one way I could learn to drink fizzy yellow beer.

I’m going to the Greenwich Beer Festival tomorrow. If I can survive the “jazz” I will be reporting back fronting a more evolved palate.

Immigrant Dreaming
July 3, 2008

flags, originally uploaded by MarcusB*.

Last night I dreamed I was in a pub that was being renovated but was still open to the public. It was a mess of plaster and fallen beams. They had a huge painted Union Jack and it said under it, HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY YANKS. Across the middle stripe of the flag BEER was scrawled and then crossed out and MOULD was written over it. For some reason in the dream I thought this was amusing.

The pub is crowded with locals, mostly working class men. I get to the landlord and before I can even order a beer he presents me with one. It’s a pint glass full of lager with a little juice glass inside with lemonade (the British kind which is like 7up). It’s like some shandy shooter thing. There’s ice in the glass and I’m pretty sure he’s made this for me because I’m “Female” and a “Yank”.

He said, “I can highly recommend this,” and he winked.
“Id rather just have beer.” At this point Mr. Malting is with me and is embarrassed that I don’t just drink it. The landlord takes the juice glass of lemonade out with his hand and hands me the pint. It is very warm and the ice cubes in it are melting fast. I realize he’s given me warm, flat Becks.

I sit down miserably and this guy pulls up a chair. He looks like an old school ska/skinhead guy with sideburns and tall docs and garters and a Fred Perry shirt. He slaps down this little stein, puts his hands behind his head and smiles at me like he thinks it’s really funny.

“What are you drinking then?” I ask him and he pushes the stein towards me. I drink from it, having to move cocktail straws out of the way. Before I can even take a sip he’s trying to take it back, “Hey, whoa, slow down!” I barely get to taste it before he takes it away but it’s really good beer. He wants me to guess what it is and I start going on about cumin and how there is a cumin note in it but he doesn’t know what cumin is. “Like in Indian cooking,” and this offends him greatly. Then I happily wake up.