Sunday, 9 November 2014

Out of office

No update this week as I've not nothing exciting to report, and no update next week as I shall be in Hong Kong. I've got my list of decent pubs and bars to visit over there ready. I'll hopefully get to try some local beers and maybe some craft offerings from the US or Australia that are hard to find in the UK. Whatever happens, I'll be blogging all about it on my return.

In the meantime why not follow me on Twitter? Just search for @bitterbloke, or click on the button on the right hand side. As well as my usual musings I might actually do some live tweeting from Hong Kong. Cheers and see you in three weeks time!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Old Jail, Westerham

The Lovely Jemma's parents live in leafy Biggin Hill, right on the border of London and Kent. When visiting we often take a walk around the surrounding countryside. Biggin Hill is in the London borough of Bromley but walking through the rolling fields it feels a million miles away from the big smog of the capital. There are plenty of pubs in the surrounding area for the thirsty rambler, including the Queens Head and the Aperfield Inn, both of which I've written about previously. Be careful when going into the Queen's Head though, as humble man of the people and millionaire city banker Nigel Farage lives in the area, and you may just find him in the pub necking 100 pints in one sitting or whatever down to earth activity the papers are portraying him doing.

When on our walks there is one pub we frequent more than others, mainly because it's just far enough to make the walk worthwhile but not long enough to get me whining like a little girl who has dropped her ice cream down a drain. The Old Jail is a Enterprise inn with a comfortable countryside feel inside, all low beams and old wooden furniture, and a sizeable beer garden outside. I think the reason I haven't written about this pub is that it's a bit, well, "vanilla." The ales are in good nick but the selection doesn't get any more exciting than Harvey's Best Bitter, and the food is good but I'm writing about pubs, not restaurants. It's certainly a nice place to stop if you happen to be in the area but it's not worth making a special journey for. However last week they held a beer festival which is just about noteworthy enough to write about, and quite frankly it's been a quiet week for blog content.

My heart sank a little when the beer list posted on their Facebook page included Doom Bar and Bombardier, but I also noticed there were a couple of local Westerham Brewery beers on which I hadn't tried before so I headed down. The festival setup was quite jolly, with a decent food tent and some arts and crafts stalls. After nosing around the stalls and buying some delicious home made salad dressing, I popped to the back of the garden, where the beers where being served in a hidden corner behind fencing. The beers seemed to be the shameful secret rather than the main event. The Westerham Brews were available so I tried their Bonfire and Hop Bomb. The Bonfire was very pleasant, a solid best bitter perfect for a slightly chilly autumn afternoon. The Hop Bomb was OK but it had a slight sourness to it which I didn't find appealing. I also tried a Sharps Special which despite my low expectations was actually pretty good, a strong bitter which would easily warm the soul on a long autumn night.

Despite the slight chill the sunshine was out and we enjoyed hog roast sandwiches along with the beer. There was a good turn out and hopefully it will encourage the Jail to do more beer fests in the future as it was pretty good overall. It always pleases me to see pubs doing these community days, and if some local traders and breweries get some business out of it all the better. Cheers.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Outskirts of the City (of London)

I recently had some free time on a weekday around Holborn and Cannon Street. This gave me the oppotunity to visit some pubs that I'd been meaning to visit but never had the chance because they're either closed on weekends or it would involve going on a weeknight when the pubs are filled with suited, loud City men barking at each other and into iPhones while the three women unfortunate to be there look bored beyond tears. I got to visit some lovely pubs but the downside is that I became the "single bloke sipping halves while checking in to Untappd" guy, a stereotype which seems to be getting more and more hated on the interwebs. Well screw it, I enjoyed myself anyway.

A happy punter at the
Seven Stars
First up was the Seven Stars, a small boozer on a side street off Chancery Lane. Located among the courts and barristers chambers, this pub has a legal theme inside. Even the pub cat joins in the fun, wearing a rather fetching ruff while enjoying a fuss from the doting landlady. I enjoyed a half of Topaz Gold from Adnams, which was a refreshing golden ale with a good dry finish, and was in decent form. I perched on a stool and the cat joined me on the bar for a few minutes, enjoying some treats from the cat bowls placed there. On a Tuesday afternoon the pub was quiet and peaceful, but I imagine this small place can get quite packed on a Friday night. Overall I thought it was a lovely little boozer and I'd be happy to go back.

Next up was the Devereux, a Taylor Walker pub down a side alley off Fleet Street. Deceptively spacious inside, there were around five ales on offer. I tried the house ale, Taylor Walker 1730 brewed by the Westerham Brewery, who seem to be doing rather well for themselves. There's the chance it's a rebadged beer, but it was a tasty, well hopped and very suppable session bitter. I sat in one of the booths were my seat had a weird constant vibration - a little bit exciting at the start but it got unneverving after a while. Generally this was a rather nondescript pub, fine for a pint after work if you're nearby but not worth making a special trip for.

Just around the corner from the Deveraux is the Edgar Wallace. Walking in there were a small collection of besuited customers enjoying sandwiches. Notices on the tables asks customers not to use the pub as a meeting room or to use their mobiles - which tells you all about the potential clientèle in this part of London. I ended up having a small taster of around four beers courtesy of the friendly barman, and settled on the Raspberry Blone from Saltaire Brewery. I'm not usually a fan of fruit beers but this was rather good, with the sweet raspberry notes making way to more traditional bitter flavours. I was going to order a half but a pint was poured for me before I could say anything, and not wanting to appear rude I drank it all. Good job it was a pretty tasty beer. I had a quick look upstairs which was more airy than the traditional, wood boarded downstairs, and sporting a large collection of Edgar Wallace novels on bookshelves at the back. A nice little pub and definitely the pub I would choose to have a drink in if I was in the area.

A quick jaunt on the District Line and I was in Leadenhall Market, to visit a pub I'd been meaning to go to for a long time, but as it's only open weekdays and I don't fancy being crammed in with the City's finest on a weekday evening. Old Tom's Bar is a basement bar, and despite the traditional look from outside it was surprisingly modern inside. There were a fair few beers on keg and in bottles, but sadly the cask selection was limited to Youngs Special or Bitter. I went for the Bitter which was below par. No fault of the pub, it's just not a very exciting beer. There was a funky vibe to the place, and the mix of traditional tiling with more modern fixtures worked quite well. It was the busiest of the pubs I'd visited by far, with a lot of punters enjoying lunch. I quite liked the pub - just a shame that the (cask) beer selection was a bit boring on my visit.

Last up is a place that couldn't possibly be criticised for having a boring beer selection, the Pelt Trader which is down the side of Cannon Street station. Owned by the same guys as the Euston Tap and Holborn Whippet, the bar is similarly set up with a "wall of beer," with taps protruding from the large back wall behind the bar dispensing a wide range of ales. I went for a half of Moor Envy and found a table in the round alcoves to the side of the room. I've walked past this place plenty of times in the rush hour and it always looks horrifically crammed, which has put me off visiting before. But as the place doesn't serve much in the way of food with only pizza on offer, it was nice and quiet in here at lunchtime.

I boarded the train from Cannon Street back home tipsy and quite satisfied - I'd be happy having a pint in any of these pubs but the Seven Stars won out for me, although I'd be interested to see just how busy and potentially uncomfortable it gets in the evenings. Until next time!