Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Return to the Tap

I actually remembered to take photos! Hooray!

A welcome return to the Euston Tap last week. Plenty of ales were on offer as always, and as it wasn't raining there was plenty of punters as well. Euston Tap is a fabulous place but as it's located near the station it does tend to attract a varied crowd. Last weeks crazy was a sozzled elder Irishman who managed to grab my friend Tony's arm and started mumbling unintelligibly to him. Thankfully our ales were served just in time to make a hasty exit outside before the tales of the war or famine started. Sadly we managed to walk straight into the path of a couple of smackheads having an argument. I didn't catch what the argument was about but despite my hopes I doubt it was whether F. Murray Abraham provided an accurate representation of Salieri in the hit movie Amadeus. Luckily they departed fairly sharpish and we could enjoy our pints in the relative peace of Euston bus station.

I do love this place.
Things got off to a good start with the Thornbridge “Browne.” The blackboard inside the pub helpfully pointed out this is a dark brown ale. This is the newest beer from the exciting Thronbridge brewery, in fact it was only launched on the 8th August. It was a delicious beer, with a good combination of light fruity flavours, a nice bitterness and a satisfying caramel finish. Sadly things went downhill with the second pint, the WJ King “Brighton Best.” This ale was bland, bland, bland. I can barely remember the taste except that it had a faint bitterness. There was no discernible flavours. A rare duffer from the Tap, I don't know if it was just a poor beer or in poor condition (I suspect the former.)

I still think it looks like a urinal (the bar, not the young lady.)
Thankfully things were quickly redeemed by the Thornbridge “Kipling.” This was the first time I've tried Kipling and what a spectacular ale it was. Superb grapefruit and citrus flavours come through with a tremendous crisp finish. Apparently the flavours come from a special hop from New Zealand which only Thornbridge use at the moment. Thornbridge market it as a South Pacific ale which probably explains why immediately after drinking I had the urge to wash a man out of my hair before singing a lament about dames and how there is nothing else like them. A pleasure to drink. Me and Tony both agreed it was one of the finest pints we have ever had and also that I should never sing again.

Sunday I paid a visit to another Wetherspoons. The Metropolitan is a functional boozer next door to Baker Street station. The rather grand main room apparently used to be a London Underground recruitment centre. Sadly after my photo frenzy at the Euston Tap I completely forgot to take photos of this pub. Instead I present to you an accurate representation of a Wetherspoons drinker courtesy of the awesome Wangleberry:

This will be me in 20 years time. Oh who am I kidding this will be me next week.
First up was the Otter “Amber” - a perfectly pleasant amber ale with a light bitter taste and a refreshing finish. The other ales on offer were mainly from Adnams. I always find Adnams a little disappointing. Their Bitter just isn't a very pleasant drink with a heavy flavour and a weird chemical after-taste. The Broadside is just plain disgusting. There were a couple of Adnams I hadn't tried before so I gave them a go. “Ghost Ship” was a pale ale which in true Adnams style didn't quite hit the mark. Despite the initial refreshing taste, a rather unpleasant chemical after-taste kicks in. This may have been due to the condition of the ale rather than the beer itself but I wasn't impressed.

I did remember to take one photo. Here's the Otter Amber
hand modelled by The Lovely Jemma.
However my world was turned upside down as I tried a pint of the Adnams “Explorer.” Amazingly this pint was actually very pleasant. The beer had a citrus and flowery nose, and this was followed with a refreshing citrus taste. There was even a nice crisp finish with no unpleasant after-taste. I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed this beer that I expected a cat to start tap dancing on the bar and the surly European bar staff to start smiling as the walls of reality came crushing down around me. Luckily it wasn't all a beautiful dream and Adnams had actually produced a decent pint. On that happy note I shall bid you goodbye. Have a great evening and love to the wife and kids.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


It was Benjamin Franklin who said “In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death, taxes and having a slightly shameful pint in a Wetherspoons.” The kite flying loony was correct and so it was I ended up in two Wetherspoons pubs over the past few days. 

Wetherspoons are a odd beast. They sound in theory the perfect pub – big spaces with plenty of ales fairly priced and cheap food. Unfortunately something gets lost in translation and most 'Spoons end up having all the personality of an aiport lounge. Especially the ones in airport lounges. The cheap beer means they can attract some “colourful” characters - mainly scary old men and scumbags. Still 'Spoons are good in an emergency and you're generally guaranteed an OK pint. The breakfasts are also pretty good as long as you don't look any of the other customers in the eye – the customers usually consisting of two old blokes nursing a whiskey at 10am and a tattooed bruiser on his fifth pint of Fosters.

Last Thursday I paid a visit to the Crosse Keys near Bank station which is considered a sort of flagship Wetherspoons. Granted “flagship” Wetherspoons probably means as much as a “flagship” Cash Converters but it was actually very pleasant. A former bank it's a massive open space with plenty of seating, huge marble columns and a bar in the middle with around 20 handpumps. Despite being in the city it was refreshingly free of wankers, and despite being a 'Spoons all the ales were on. I enjoyed a very tasty pint of Iceberg by the Titanic brewery. This refreshing hoppy ale is not always seen in London so it was a pleasure to have a decent pint of the stuff.

On Sunday The Lovely Jemma and I visited a newly opened 'Spoons in Bromley called The Greyhounda rather pleasant pub with a large airy seating area in the back. I sampled two ales: The BOB by Wickwar and the Rutterkin by Brewster's. The BOB was suppable but not a standout. A golden brown ale the malty taste wasn't spectacular and the aftertaste was a little unpleasant to be fair. The Rutterkin was much nicer with a good citrus flavour coming through nicely.

As this was a new 'Spoons we had about five people in a row asking if we were being served. Not sure why as they were all in earshot of each other and must have heard me say “Yes I am” over and over again. Still at least they were keen. And as this new 'Spoons was in Bromley there was a argument at the bar as some kid tried his luck getting served before being kicked out. No doubt he wandered the streets of Bromley lost and confused before finding a bin where he could vandalise the “Gum” sign to read “Cum.”

Overall both pubs were a pleasant experience and had something missing from other 'Spoons – a bit of character. However one word of warning if you go to a 'Spoons – don't ever ask to look at the nutritional information guide of the food served. The Mixed Grill with a jacket potato is an amazing 1800 calories, and the Wetherspoons sharer is a heart destroying 2400 calories. Have one of those every day for a week and you'll never need eat again. Because you'll be dead.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Pubs of Kings Cross and Euston

Kings Cross once the regeneration is complete (hopefully)

Working in Kings Cross is not a lot fun. The area has been going under a “regeneration” program for about 20 years and apart from the magnificent St Pancras station not much seems to have got done. Nothing says “Welcome to London” like a tatty row of shops, the horrific Camden Town Hall, and depending on the time of night, some ratty looking whores. Luckily most tourists don't get beyond the hastily cobbled together Harry Potter “Platform 9 3/4” photo spot at the front of the station. Here they can queue up to get a photo of the amazing spectacle of half a luggage trolley leaning against a wall. I'm surprised one of Kings Cross “ladies of loose morals” hasn't had the idea of dressing up as a witch and offered to handle tourists wands until they produce their patronus. Personally I like my idea of plying a dwarf full of booze, dressing him up with a suit and monocle and offering tourists the chance to take a picture with Griphook from Gringotts. But I digress.

The most criminal thing about the hovel that is Kings Cross is that there are precious little decent pubs around. In the local area there is Smithys which serves below average pints of Harveys Best and Doom Bar. I haven't dared tried the Landlord there for concern of my stomach. It also has one my biggest pet peeves in a pub – a separate area for diners where drinkers are not allowed. Places that do this should just become a restaurant and be done with it. What's the point of having a pub with areas you can't drink in?

The Harrison is a passable little boozer which serves an OK pint of London Pride and the aforementioned Landlord. However it's surrounded by some grotty council estates and can sometimes be full of wankers. I once saw a girl there dressed as a tiger. It wasn't halloween and there was no childrens party in sight. Anyway the crowd was so full of hipsters nobody even thought of saying “YOU LOOK LIKE A BLOODY IDIOT.” I did say it but really quietly under my breath while staring at her (turning away quickly when she looked back at me) because I'm a Londoner and proudly passive aggressive.

This was my favourite image when
doing a search for "Mabel"
To get a decent pint after work I have to head down to Euston Station where there's a cluster of good real ale pubs. First up is Mabels Tavern which is a decent Shepherd Neame boozer. The Kent Best, a satisfyingly malty bitter is always well kept here. As is the Master Brew, a session ale with a cleaner, crisper taste that goes down well. The prices are a little expensive and it's always tremendously busy on a Thursday and Friday night but it's worth stopping by if in the area.

Next door to Euston Station is the Doric Arch, which used to be the pretty good Head of Steam. Sadly the old bar billiards table that used to be there is long gone but it's still a nice pub with a good selection of Fullers and guest ales. I had a great pint of Bitter and Twisted by Harviestoun there last week, the hoppy flavours in this delicious blonde ale coming through wonderfully.

Across the road the Euston Tap is a great boozer which at last count had a selection of 27 beers and ales on offer. The place is tiny and it's impossible to get a seat. If the weather is nice though it's fine to stand outside and watch the buses whiz in and out of Euston bus station, sometimes narrowly avoiding hitting some toothless smackhead that has wandered on to the road. There are a couple of drawbacks with the Tap – to get to the toilets requires a scary climb up a narrow spiral staircase, and the beers look like they are being served from a urinal. Luckily most of the beers don't taste like piss. I enjoyed a perfectly pleasant pint of Festival by Dark Star there recently. This strong ale has a good caramel flavour, the heavy malty aftertaste might not be for everyone though.

The Bree Louise is nearby but I shall review that at a later time as I haven't visited recently. Also I've typed up more than enough and am starting to get a headache. Until next time!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

SA Gold – Brains Brewery

Last Thursday I treated myself and The Lovely Jemma to a visit to the Everyman cinema in Islington to see Super 8. I've always been a bit wary of Everymans in the past. They are a chain of upmarket cinemas with a choice of sitting on sofas or comfy chairs. There's also a bar selling alcoholic treats that you can take to your seat. Although this sounds lovely in theory, I always imagined it would come off a bit wanky as these type of things in London inevitably do. Another risk with nice places in London, especially Islington, is that they might be full of twats. But this time I decided to take a punt. Did it pay off? I've been told to add more dramatic tension to my blog so you'll have to wait until after the next couple of paragraphs to find out.

Before going to the cinema we stopped into the Steam Passage Tavern next door for a warm up beer. This is a Brains establishment. Brains is a Welsh brewery who do a large variety of ales and are often at the Great British Beer Festival. Incidentally I went on a coal mining holiday in Wales once. Never again – it was the pits. I opted for a pint of SA Gold. This is the newest Brains beer launched in 2006. It was a pleasurable and refreshing golden ale, although I suspect it was not being kept in peak condition. The hoppy taste was there but it felt a little flat. I'd be willing to give it another chance, perhaps at a different pub where it is better kept.

The Steam Passage Tavern itself was a perfectly serviceable pub but with not much character. There were TV's showing music videos, and the music played in the pub was actually matching the videos! Nothing annoys me more when a music video is on but the music playing is completely different, especially when it's a decent song playing on the TV. The sight of seeing The Who on the telly while the Black Eyed Peas are playing on the speakers is depressing on a incomprehensible amount of levels. It also gets a bit baffling after a few pints when you're trying to work out why Roger Daltrey is singing about his lovely lady lumps.

After the pint it was off to the cinema. Luckily it turned out that my fears about the Everyman were unfounded. The experience was lovely and the only twats in the cinema (apart from me) left the film about 45 minutes in. Super 8 itself was a good effort. The film is director J .J Abrams love letter to Spielberg, and boy does it show. Even the film poster is a charming hand drawn effort reminiscent of Spielberg's 80's classics. As for the film itself, although Abrams did a great job emulating Spielberg, it felt like a facsimile. It was missing the heart and sense of wonder (and sometimes fear) Spielberg nailed in his 80's classics. Overall it was a fun film and the personalities of the child actors carried a sometimes weak script a long way.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

CAMRA Great British Beer Festival - Part Two

Not bad attendance for 1:30pm on a Friday

Earl's Court Exhibition Centre really is a terrible place to hold the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival. Essentially a big metal warehouse with a concrete floor the place has no charm, no atmosphere and not nearly enough men's toilets. Apparently this is the last year the beer festival will be held there. I would love for the festival to be held in a massive park with plenty of marquees, entertainment and a firework show at the end but I suspect it will return to its roots at the Olympia centre.

Despite my initial fears Friday afternoon turned out to be a fairly quiet time for the festival and much beer was drunk. Earls Court was unbearably hot and the cynical may think this was a ploy to get punters to buy more beer. However I genuinely think it's because years of the Daily Mail Home & Garden show and the middle class tossers it attracts has turned Earls Court into a vengeful, hateful entity that wishes misery on anyone who enters.

Getting the ale ball rolling was the Triple fff “Alton Pride,” a previous championship winner. Despite the brewery having a terrible name this is a refreshing and delicately hopped session ale that got the day off to a good start. Next up was the Black Swan Dark Mild by the Vale brewery. This was a fairly standard mild with a pleasant chocolatey and coffee taste but nothing to really make it stand out.

The escalator went to the CAMRA lounge.
I was too scared to enter.
I opted for a Steak & Ale pie with mushy peas at this point. One of the best things about the festival apart from ale is the food that is on offer. Just about every type of pub grub is available with pies, scampi, curries, kebabs, bratwurst and more just waiting to go into stomachs that really don't need any more padding. There's also a olive stall for the hippies and Sloanes who have wandered in by mistake. You could probably spend more on food here than you could beer.

After the pie it was back to ales and I kicked things off with the Championship Beer 2011, the Oscar Wilde by Mighty Oak in Essex. I had to queue 15 minutes for a taste – it was like being at Disneyland Paris. Except I wasn't surrounded by 15 year olds smoking like trains and sporting mullets that make you think that an unfortunate rodent has died on top of their heads.  The Oscar Wilde was a lovely ale but I don't understand why the brewery didn't go for the Oscar Milde pun. For this reason I would not have awarded it Championship Beer. Luckily for Mighty Oak I'm not on the voting board.

Plenty more beers followed as the day rolled on. Highlights included Caskadia by Hopshackle, a very fruity but very refreshing ale with a nice vanilla tinged aftertaste. As the Cains Liverpool brewery were not in attendance I settled for a Hyde's of Manchester ale for my taste of the North West, with their Swift Delivery offering. A golden summer ale the taste was fine but it wasn't anything special. It also wasn't bad enough to be nicknamed "Shit Delivery" which in a way made me hate it more. The Kinver “Edge” was a hoppy treat with a lovely fruity flavour which made it a pleasure to drink. The Lancaster “Blonde” was fine if unexciting. The guide promised “lemon, grapefruit and elderflower” flavours but none of these really came through.

I also managed to sip a couple of my friends choices who turned out to have bonkers taste in ale. The first was Chocolate Cherry Mild by Dunham Massey which tasted exactly like cherry coke. The second was a German beer so foul I've forgotten the name, although I would suggest the name “Worse than the Nazi's.” It was a beer that somehow tasted like yoghurt. Not good.

The night started to take its toll.
I'm sure I drank plenty more ales but the notes in my beer guide got more and more incomprehensible as the night wore on so I can't really comment on any more. Also the laptop is starting to warm my crotch to terrifying levels so for the sake of my fertility I'll stop here. I had a great time at the beer festival as always and CAMRA do a fantastic job organising what is essentially the worlds biggest Wetherspoons. However next year please make the festival last longer. The festival finished on Saturday and on Sunday half of London was in flames. Coincidence? I think not.

AN APOLOGY: In my last blog post I used the name “Horatio” as a fake name for one of my co-workers. The blog post was typed before I had learned of the death of Horatio Chapple at a polar bear hands. I would like to apologise for any distress caused to the family of Horatio and any other families who have had a son eaten by a polar bear.

Friday, 5 August 2011

CAMRA Great British Beer Festival - Part One

It's the time of the year where old beardy blokes, young hipsters and confused tourists get together to celebrate the wonderful world of beer. Yes the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival at Earls Court is upon us once more. I've planned carefully for this year – mainly by taking a weekday off work to go.

It's always fun explaining to co-workers what you're doing on a day off to go to a beer fest. I find it best to have a code so your colleagues don't think you're a beer crazed alcoholic. Unless they once caught you vomiting onto a cat after the Christmas party. Then they probably already know. Below is an example of a good coded response. I've changed names to protect the innocent.

Me: “Oh hi Horatio”
Horatio Xavier Hufflepuff III: “Going somewhere nice for the weekend then?”
The Best IT Manager in the World (Me:) “Yeah I'm taking my CAMERA to a beautiful EARLS COURT. I better HOPS to it.”
Hufflepuff: I assume by that series of awful puns you're off to the beer festival then.”
Me: “Yes.”
Hufflepuff: “I'm named after a Harry Potter character.”

Unfortunately the only day I had free was today (a Friday) which is a gamble as it'll most likely be mobbed and the beer might run out. To mitigate the damage I decided to take a little “preview” of the festival yesterday evening with a fellow overworked manager. Getting there at 7:30pm I immediately recognised that something was off. There was a tremendous amount of people wearing sharp suits and appalling pink shirts. It seems the GBBF is now a corporate event favourite. Or maybe it always was. Once inside it was like walking through the stock market floor from the end of Trading Places but the only commodity is sweet sweet beer instead of pork bellies and frozen orange juice.
This picture was taken in Nevada

The place was absolutely rammed. I would of taken pictures for evidence but screw that, there was beer to be drunk. I can't remember all the beers I drank but two stood out. The first was the Sierra Nevada Porter mainly because it cost a knee-knocking £5.40 a pint. Luckily I didn't have to pay for it. It was actually a decent drink from our debt ridden American cousins. I'm not a huge fan of porter but it was very suppable with a good malty flavour and a nice hint of caramel. There is no way I would pay £2.70 for a half though.

At this point I met one of my colleagues friends who had been drinking pints since 1pm, and just to prove that he was completely sozzled he called me a “handsome man” and congratulated my Jamaican heritage before staggering off bleary eyed but happy into the distance. Nice chap.

The second was the Bathside Battery Bitter by the Harwich Town brewery. I was actually hoping to try the Oscar Wilde (the Champion Beer 2011) but despite signs to the contrary it was sold out. The Battery Bitter was hopped to hell and back and all the better for it. Very fruity, very tasty, very refreshing.

I actually only had about five half-pints as the place was so busy. I also took some time to enjoy a German sausage. A 20 inch sausage was on offer, leading to lots of hilarious innuendo eliciting smirks from absolutely nobody.

Anyway I must dash. I'm supposed to be back at the beer festival in a couple of hours and I'm currently sat in my pants typing out this nonsense. Best get dressed I suppose!