Sunday, 15 February 2015

Chelmsford

With London house prices continuing to skyrocket with no end in sight, it really is outrageous what a sorry mess the housing situation in the capital is at the moment. In South London houses in former no-go areas such as Peckham and Hackney now cost a fortune where well off professionals find themselves living in enclaves with upmarket coffee shops and trendy craft bars uncomfortably close to poverty and crime stricken estates where the residents will never see the benefits of "gentrification." West London is now a joke where rows of grand houses stand empty as foreigners use them as a safe investment, rather than them being used as family homes. North London has long stopped being a place where anybody could hope to own a house - unless you bought it forty years ago and are now living off the profits off an "investment" that went up in value by dumb luck.

But you haven't come to this blog to read my simplistic ramblings about London's dysfunctional market, you've hopefully come here to read my ramblings about beers and pubs. Because there is now nowhere affordable in London for people on normal wages, more and more people are moving out of town, including good friends of mine who have recently moved to Chelmsford, around half an hour away on the train from Liverpool Street. Me and The Lovely Jemma visited their charming house for a weekend of catching up and maybe visiting a few pubs. Chelmsford has eleven(!) pubs listed in the Good Beer Guide, and I cherry picked four of them that sounded interesting.

First up was the White Horse which I picked more for proximity as it was just around the corner from the house. Marketing itself as a "bar and lounge" it looked like a shabby student pub from the outside, but it turned out to be a friendly and busy locals pub. Apparently boasting Chelmsford longest bar there was the usual selection of lagers and ciders available, but on the handpumps things got more interesting with a couple of Mighty Oak ales available. I went for Captain Bob which was in good form, reminiscent of Timothy Taylors Landlord on a good day. My friends went for the Oscar Wilde which was also in good nick. The rugby was on and the pub was pretty busy, filled with punters loudly enjoying the sport. We didn't stay long but this was a solid locals pub which I wouldn't mind returning to when it's a bit quieter.

We walked past The Royal Steamer which features in the Good Beer Guide, however it seems a new landlord has taken over and the ale selection had been drastically reduced. We decided to skip it and move on to The Golden Fleece, a rock pub which has had a recent makeover and is now targeting the burgers and craft beer market. Craft favourites Beavertown and BrewDog were on tap, plus there was an interesting selection of bottled beer. Like the grumpy bugger I am I ignored the craft beer on this occasion and went for the cask ale, Brentwood Marvelous Maple Mild. It wasn't exactly marvellous but was a well crafted mild, with the malty flavours present and correct. The pub was looking fresh after its makeover but there was something oddly hollow about the place - it was lacking character with its generic decoration and furnishing. The beer was in good nick though and the place was busy with young trendy punters so it's clearly winning over the people of Cheltenham. A nice enough place but not somewhere I would return to repeatedly.

Down the road we popped into The Railway Tavern, a long narrow pub next to the railway viaduct. Peeking through the windows I thought this pub would be a horror show of decrepit old punters and grumpy staff in a crumbling pub, but of course I was completely and utterly wrong. Walking in we got an effusive and friendly welcome from the landlord and barmaid, who helpfully pointed to a blackboard showing the ales available. I went for Farmers IPA from the the Maldon Brewing Co which was a very pleasant sup. In the back of the pub is a quaint area set up to look like a railway carriage - a bit cheesy but it worked. A friendly bunch of regulars were at the bar and overall the atmosphere was very genial. I would of been happy to stay for another drink but time was running short and we moved on to the next pub.

We were going to have a drink in The Plough, a Nicholson's pub across the road from the bus station, but the place was rammed with sports lovers so we went straight to The Ale House under the railway arches. Walking in you are greeted with an interior that is a bit like being in a aircraft hunger, and to the right a long bar serves a selection of 12 ales plus a good range of real cider. We were lucky to grab a bench in the busy bar and I worked my way through their exciting collection of ales. First up was Wibblers Chocolate and Vanilla Porter, which was basically liquid hot chocolate in a glass. A delicious desert beer.Alright Treacle? a treacle stout from Waen Brewery was sadly nowhere near as good, a bit lifeless and I couldn't detect any treacle flavor in there.

Last up was Rule of Thirds from craft beer darlings Siren. As it's a craft beer it was unsurprisingly an American IPA, and as it's from Siren it's unsurprisingly very good indeed, the best beer of the evening. It's the first time I've had Siren on cask rather than from a bottle and it was very good stuff, strongly hoppy but very drinkable. There are no hot food offerings in the Ale House but I did sample a scotch bonnet pickled egg which was very good but sadly lacking in heat. The Lovely Jemma enjoyed the large selection of real cider available. Apparently the place does live music as well, and judging from the crowd it's clearly a popular hub in Chelmsford. An excellent end to a varied and surprisingly good ale trail.

I was a bit jealous of my friends having such a decent selections of pubs in close proximity to their house and I must admit by the end of the drinking session even I was thinking of moving out to Chelmsford. But the sobering thought of having to pay £3,600 a year for a season ticket soon put a stop to that idea. The pub of the night for me was The Ale House but I'd be quite happy enjoying a pint in any of the boozers we visited. Well done Chelmsford!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Dalston and a little bit of Hackney

When you're a serious beer blogger like myself, averaging a whopping 25 posts a year, sometimes you have to do things you really don't want to do in search of decent beer and pubs. The avid reader(s) of my blog will know that I'm not a fan of hipsters, with their suspicious beards and brightly coloured trousers. The Lovely Jemma has recently been getting her hair cut at a trendy barber's near Dalston, an area known as a hipster stronghold. I've been tempted to travel there with her to try the pubs around the area, but the thought of being surrounded by preened ponces talking about nonsense in a ironic manner scared me off every time. I usually get as far as Liverpool Street before deciding I can venture no further. However a couple of weeks ago I decided to take the plunge and venture into the belly of the hipster beast. The sacrifices I have to make for this blog!

Dalston is supposedly gentrified although I couldn't tell at first glance, but at closer inspection I started to notice the poncy coffee shops, overpriced bars and gussied up vinyl shops amongst the grimy cafes and run down clothes stores. The perfect idyll for a hipster who can get posh beers and fancy coffee while also feeling a bit edgy as they hurriedly walk past the crummier stores hoping not to make eye contact with anybody inside. I soon became acclimatised to the bushy beards and horrible dress sense surrounding me and headed to the first pub on my mini jaunt, The Railway Tavern. Which was firmly closed despite the opening hours stating they open at 12pm on a Saturday, so it was off to the second pub on my list, The Duke of Wellington.

On entering I was surprised to see it was a fairly traditional pub, with a large central serving area in the middle of the room. The place was empty at lunchtime but there were plenty of "reserved" signs on the tables in preparation for the evening. I always find it a bit annoying when a pub allows you to book tables on a Saturday night - it's only fair that everybody has to fend for themselves. There was a well chosen collection of cask ales on offer and I went for a half of Shropshire Gold from the Salopian Brewery, a very solid sessionable golden ale. With the friendly staff and laid back indie atmosphere this was a pretty good local boozer - worth dropping in for a pint.

I wandered back to The Railway Tavern to see if they had woken up yet and the place was now open. I popped in and perused the beer selection. Along with a small collection of cask ales, mainly from Redemption, there was also plenty of trendy keg beer on offer including two beers from craft stars Pressure Drop, I stuck to the cask and went for the Railway Porter from the the Five Points brewery. This was an excellent porter with well balanced malt and coffee flavours, a delight to drink. The Railway is owned by the same people as The Pineapple and Tapping the Admiral both near Camden Town, and it had the same sort of vibe - a locals pub serving good quality beer. Thai food was also available. When trying to find this pub beware that there is another pub called the Railway on the main Kingsland Road - ignore this one, turn down the side street next to it and walk down until you find the Tavern!

My last pub in the Dalston area involved a jolly jaunt through the lively market, which seemed to specialise in selling every part of every animal that has ever existed. The Three Compasses is another locals pub that has been taken over by trendy beer. A large one room pub, the long serving area has plenty of keg on offer but only one cask was available, serving a Hackney Brewery ale when I visited. I opted for a Pressure Drop Pale Fire, a reliable and very tasty American IPA. As well as trendy beer there was also trendy food available with American burgers with a French twist provided by Le Bun. The burgers sounded pretty good but the last pub of the day is where I planned to have lunch.

With The Lovely Jemma joining me freshly shorn from her visit to the barber, we saunted down the Kingsland Road towards Haggerston, a dreary slab of London suburbia with precious little of note - except for Dukes Brew & Que, a street corner boozer which acts as the tap for craft beer darlings Beavertown Brewery. The place was packed with diners - this is really more of a restaurant than a pub. The selection of beer available was excellent and I went for a Brew By Numbers Session which was superb - the BBN guys really seem to do no wrong. For food I tried the heart destryoing Chicken Fried Steak which was delicious but probably accounted for my calorie intake for the month. Service was polite and pleasent, there was a good atmosphere going and me and TLJ both thoroughly enjoyed our time there. A great place to end my visit around the hipster joints - just a shame it's in the cultural void that is Haggerston.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Long Pond Micropub, Eltham

One of the benefits of living in South London is that there's so much change going on compared to the North. Most of North London has already been built up, gentrified, and is now catering for older types who can afford the ludicrously overpriced houses there, or got in years ago when there was a slim chance of affording them, and these oldies don't particularly like change. Well that's my (most likely rubbish) opinion anyway. Meanwhile everybody else is moving to the South, and new stuff is cropping up all the time. I've only been in SE London for two years and much has changed pub wise. When I first moved to the Mottingham area there was a chronic lack of decent boozers, apart from the excellent Park Tavern in Eltham town centre. The closest pub to me, The Prince of Wales, doesn't serve real ale and judging by the clientele standing outside happily puffing away in their tracksuits, next to a giant van labelled the "mobile tattoo parlor" it doesn't look like the kind of place a middle class Times reader like myself would want a drink.

Over the two years things have got better, with the reopened and excellent Baring Hall Hotel only a 25 minute walk (or five minute bus ride) away, serving all my real ale and decent food needs. The Old Post Office, a grubby booze barn that used to cater to pissed up underage drinkers looking for a reliable source of Blue WKD, closed down and became the Eltham GPO, another decent ale and food pub. Both the Baring Hall and Eltham GPO are owned by Antic, who are opening up respectable pubs all over South London but they do follow a (reliable) formula - distressed chic interiors, vintage furniture, reliable ales and good food. It's good but it all starts feeling a little formulaic after the fifth Antic pub visited.

I've also been lucky to have an excellent micropub open "sort of" near me - well thirty minutes on the bus. One Inn The Wood is a superb little boozer in the leafy suburb of Petts Wood. Now I'm even luckier with another micropub opening a little bit closer to me. The Long Pond is a 10 minute walk from Eltham High Street, in a quaint little parade of shops. The frontage is unassuming, with frosted glass making it difficult to see what is inside. But venture in and you're greeted by a surprisingly big room, with wooden benches and tables down each side, and a small serving area at the back. Unusually for a micropub there is even enough room for a second, snug like room with comfortable tables and chairs. To be honest the size of the place is stretching the definition of a "micro" pub.

Despite the large size the place does adhere to other micropub ideals. There are no fruit machines, no music, in fact nothing to distract you from the beer and real life conversation - speaking on mobile phones is also forbidden. Like One Inn The Wood, The Long Pond sells only local ales from the Kent and London areas, along with a small selection of real cider and soft drinks. There's also a small food offering of sausage rolls, pork pies and ploughmans. The ale is served from a small room behind the bar, and all the ones I tried were in good condition. Mildly Rockin from Rockin Robin was a straightforward and tasty mild, and Powder Burn from the Musket Brewery was a solid porter, although it looked like it was called Powder Bum on the chalkboard advertising the beers. The highlight was Good Sheppard from Goody Ales, an excellent and very tasty best bitter, expertly hopped and a pleasure to drink.

Micros are designed to encourage conversation among strangers but when me and The Lovely Jemma visited in the week between Christmas and New Years Day the place was full of mates of the landlord, presumably in town for the Christmas break. This made the atmosphere slightly awkward as we felt we were gatecrashing a party that we hadn't been invited too. However this didn't detract from the quality of ale and the excellent ploughmans lunch we enjoyed, and I look forward to returning. I was speaking to one punter at the bar who lives across the road from the place and he couldn't believe his luck that a quality pub like this had opened so close to him. Let's hope the quality continues and this place builds up a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.