Monday, 26 September 2011

Bengal Lancer and Walt Disney World

One day I'll invest in a decent camera

Bengal Lancer is a relatively new India Pale Ale brewed by Fullers. I've had the cask version a few times and have always enjoyed its distinctive, rather understated hoppy taste. It's quite a fine example of a IPA although at 5% you have to be careful with it. I recently enjoyed the bottled version for the first time. It's brewed slightly stronger at 5.3% although the flavour remains unchanged. The subtle hops are there and there's a rather pleasant if faint spiciness to the finish. A fine ale and well worth a tipple in both cask and bottle form.

One thing Bengal Lancer has going for it is a pretty cool name. As I'm a little bit pathetic I sometimes like to think up names for ale, especially if it involves a really terrible pun. I must warn you now that I'm going to go into a long, slightly pointless story. I can't promise you'll get any worth out of it. But you may as well read on as I doubt you have anything better to do.

Hooray for Disney!
Faces blurred to protect the innocent.
The best ale name I ever thought up was at the Epcot theme park in Walt Disney World. At the back of Epcot Disney have faithfully recreated eleven countries of the world. They're really just oversize, three dimensional tourist brochures to get confused Americans to visit each country for real, but they are fun. My favourite area is the cafe in the Moroccan pavilion. Forget Space Mountain or the Tower of Terror, there's nothing more entertaining than watching confused Americans work out how to pronounce “schwarma” and then work out what the hell a “sch-a-mar” is. Most of them give up and end up going to the French or German pavilion next door. Disney should just admit defeat and call it "Slicey spicy meats in sauce" to avoid the hassle.

To be fair although Americans get a bad rap for not knowing about anything outside their own country or even their own state, world ignorance is rife in the UK as well. I was once at the top of the Blackpool Tower. Behind me I heard a lady explain to her hubby how it looked a bit like the Eiffel Tower. He responded in that blissfully ignorant way that only stupid people can pull off “Eiffel Tower, that in Blackpool?” Sadly the police didn't immediately show up, say “I'm sorry” and then euthanise the poor bugger for the good of the country. All I could do was shake my head and tut slightly, safe in the knowledge that the Eifell Tower is actually in Paris, Las Vegas.

Getting back to the original subject of my greatest ever ale name, every country in the World Showcase has a bar serving the local brews. Sadly I couldn't indulge as I was driving. It was however amusing watching downtrodden parents deal with the problem of being sunburnt, harassed and on the edge of bankruptcy by getting absolutely rat arsed. As I got to the China pavilion the best ale name I had ever thought up was born. I figured that if Disney ever imported a ruby red beer brewed in China, they could call it Mulan Rouge.

There you go. Three paragraphs to get to probably the worst pun you've ever read. I apologise profusely and can promise you the next entry will actually be informative and possibly even humorous. It's all about the Derbyshire Ale Festival at The Bricklayers Arms so please do read it when I actually get round to typing it up and putting it online! Thanks.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Edgware, Harvesters and Betty Stoggs

For my sins I live in a town called Edgware in North London. Edgware is pretty much like every other faceless commuter town on the outskirts of Zone 5. Its only notable feature is that it's the last stop on the Northern underground line. This means every time I take the tube home I get to hear the automated voice say “This train terminates at Edgware” which makes me think Edgware is so depressing even the trains want to end it all once they get there. To be fair the high street isn't too bad with a fair mix of chains and independent restaurants and shops. Sadly a Cash Converters has recently opened in place of a Pizza Hut, perhaps reflecting the downturn in Edgwares fortunes in the past few years from “slightly shit” to “quite shit.” Still economy wise Edgware is probably doing better than Italy.

Great pun there guys (does it even
count as a pun?!)
One thing Edgware is severely lacking is a decent boozer. The only pub on the high street, The Edge of Town has an admirable score of 1.6/10 on beerintheevening. Needless to say I've never been in there. It looks like the sort of place which would be filled with racists, sexists and xenophobes. Every time I've got a glimpse inside my assumptions appear to be correct, at least about the racists and sexists. I'll admit I'm not sure what “xenophobe” means. I just wanted to sound clever by using some stupid foreign word that I don't really like. There is another pub on the high street, The Railway, which unfortunately has been closed for years.

It's sad that in my formative years there wasn't a nice friendly pub to waste my youth in. I'd sometimes meet my mates at the Harvester for a pint which is not only desperate but terribly middle class. I'd sit there enjoying my pint of fizzy Fosters (I was young OK) while next to me sat young parents who had realised they had ruined the rest of their lives as they fed spitroast chicken to their screaming, puking loinspawn. Speaking of vomit I once puked so hard in the Harvesters toilets that vom shot out my nose, ears and possibly my eyeballs. As I surveyed the horrific state of the cubicle I had to admire that the body could hold so much rancid fluid, before desperately starting to panic about how I could clear this disgusting mess up. In the end I did the right thing: I cleaned up my trousers to look vaguely presentable before darting out of the place.

The rest of the crowd was usually the type of people who would consider a visit to the Harvester “a treat.” You can see the glee in their eyes and the stomach sticking out their T-Shirt as the bored 17 year old server asks “Have you been to a Harvester before?” The correct answer to this by the way is to shout out “SALAD BAR!” before grabbing a bowl and loading it full of saggy tomatoes and crinkly lettuce, and piling on the tasty but probably artery destroying salad dressings.

But I digress. This is a beer blog so I should probably mention something about ale. Last Saturday I ended up in the Wetherspoons in Victoria Station while I was waiting for The Lovely Jemma to be delivered. For a station pub it's not too shabby. The inside may have all the atmosphere of a tramps fart and the clientèle look like they've probably seen better days, possibly back when you could buy a pint of Watney's Special Mild for 2d. However the ale on offer is usually quite good, and sometimes very good. I enjoyed a lovely pint of Skinners “Betty Stoggs,” a warm, charming Cornish ale. This has won awards from CAMRA and rightly so, with a delicious malty taste and a fine finish. A pleasure to drink, and the pub isn't a bad place for a tipple if you find yourself stuck waiting for a train.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Fellow and The Bull.

If you asked my friend(s) to describe me one word they wouldn't use is “trendy.” Although I am stunningly handsome, have a wonderful sense of humour and am incredibly modest, I'm not really a man of trendy tastes. By trendy I mean, of course, a bit wanky. So whenever I find myself in a trendy pub, or even worse, a “bar” I tend to get a bit scared and sweaty. I also tend to end up babbling in a confused manner, saying things such as “HOW MUCH WAS THAT PINT?!” and “SERIOUSLY HOW MUCH?!” Luckily I don't usually end up anywhere “cool” or “hip,” I'm happy to dwell in comfortable cosy pubs supping a pint while idly watching a old codger lose countless pounds on the Deal or No Deal quiz machine. Before losing countless pound coins myself in that bastard machine.

Plenty of gastro but where's the pub?
Sometimes however sacrifices must be made and on Friday I ended going out with some work mates to The Fellow in Kings Cross. I don't think this place can really call itself a pub. The ground floor is pretty much given entirely to diners. There's a small corner in the back for anybody who wants to entertain the ridiculous notion of actually having a pint and a chat in a pub. Upstairs is a hot and dank bar complete with DJ and a pleasant roof terrace which is sadly rather small and packed full of smokers.

Things got to a bad start when I ordered a Sharp's “Doom Bar” and was charged £3.70. An utterly bonkers price for a fairly average 4% pint. The ale was OK although not spectacular and certainly not worth what they were charging. As a Londoner I made a point to complain about the price to everybody except the bar staff and manager. There was also Hook Norton “Old Hooky” but I was afraid to order that in case it required a credit check and two character references before a pint would be poured and payment made. After two pints I'd had enough of the hot room and overpriced beer and made a swift exit for the Euston Tap where I enjoyed a fabulous pint of Arbor “Inferiority Complex” mild at a more reasonable £3.10. This was a top notch pint with the wonderful coffee/chocolatey flavours you get from a good mild. The taste may have been heightened by the fact that I was just happy to get out of The Fellow.

Saturday I was out in Islington with The Lovely Jemma and friends and paid a visit to The Bull, which I hadn't been to before. From the outside I was worried it would be another The Fellow as the place looked far to cool for school, had a DJ and appeared to be full of your typical Islington customer (wankers.) Incidentally as I type this Spotify has decided to play the Beach Boys “I Just Wasn't Made For These Times.” I think it's trying to tell me something.

A good pint and AMAZING NAILS. Look at them. 
How did they get  that way. 
It's amazing what science can do these days
Despite my initial fears that there would be no ales The Bull had four handpumps on. I had a rather well kept Brakspeare “Oxford Gold” in a proper ale glass and everything. This lightly hopped beer had a pleasant fruity taste and a healthy citrus aroma. Very suppable and it helped to distract me from the awfulness of the DJ and the clientèle. Overall The Bull confounded my expectations and wasn't too bad at all. Maybe I shouldn't tar all trendy bars with the same brush. But I probably will because I never seem to learn.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Old Thameside Inn, The Harp and high London prices.

A meagre attempt at a arty photo here. I call it DoorMirrorStepsBEER.
London is many things but one thing it really can't be described as is cheap. There may be thousands of pub in this filthy but charming city but you'll be lucky to find a pint of bitter for less than £2.80. It's even worse for fizzy larger drinkers as most pubs take advantage of their low intelligence by charging astronomical sums for cheap piss (also known as Peroni or San Miguel.) The only place you can get a cheapish pint is in a Sam Smiths pub but to be quite honest I don't trust a pint that costs under £2. How do they make it so much cheaper than other beers? There must be some terrible secret to the brewing process. I'm looking forward to the day they create a new brew called “Taddy Soylent Green” to prove all my fears correct.

If the pub you're visiting happens to have a great location expect to pay even more over the odds for what is usually substandard beer. For example the pub I ended up at last Thursday – the Old Thameside Inn near London Bridge. You can't fault the location, right on the bank of the Thames with a fine view of the City. As it's a Nicholsons pub there is usually a fair selection of ales on, although not always in the best condition. The prices, however, are ridiculous. A bottle of Rekorderlig cider (don't worry it was for a lady) cost £4.90. For 20p less I could buy a large McChicken Sandwich meal or a small Romanian child. A substandard pint of Harviestoun “American IPA” was an incredible £3.70. Actually when I say substandard I mean disgusting. I'm not sure if the beer was off or if it's just not a good ale but it did not taste good. It didn't have the vinegar taste you get from an off pint but it was a little sour with a unpleasant aftertaste.

I would of asked for another ale if it wasn't for the fact that the service was appalling. I was afraid I would have to wait until Friday to actually get my replacement pint. I should probably give the IPA a go at another Nicholsons (apparently it's brewed exclusive for them) but I'm not sure I'll bother.

Not bad for a Sunday evening
This is the "Grandstand" (I think)
modelled by The Lovely Jemma.
Scary lady picture in the
background for dramatic effect
Things were better on Sunday where I ended up at The Harp in Covent Garden, a favourite of mine. This small boozer always attract an eclectic crowd of confused tourists, ale drinkers, students and even some normal everyday folk just out for a pint. No matter how busy this place gets, and it's usually very busy, you always get served quickly and the ale is always in good condition. You can't really ask for more from a pub. I had a lovely pint of the Twickenham Brewery “Grandstand,” a nicely hopped ale with a delicious and refreshing finish. This was followed by the Dark Star “Partridge”, a delicious dark bitter with a good malty tone that was a delight to drink. The prices in The Harp aren't silly (for London) either – about £3.30 a pint. Of course that's still a price that would make a northerner shout out “You what pet?!” before snorting a whippet out his nose in shock and disgust. But as a Londoner I quietly put up with it before posting snide remarks about high prices on a blog. Hooray for the internet!