Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Tap East, Stratford and The Bricklayers Arms, Putney

The gigantic Westfield shopping centre in Stratford has never appealed to me. To be presented with that many shops in one sprawling place scares the hell out of me and just the thought of the place sends me into a cold sweat. It doesn't help that Westfield is pretty much unnavigable inside and you just have to hope the bright light you're heading for is an exit and not a particularly well lit entrance to Boots. There are probably people in there who have never found the exit and have just resigned themselves to living in the shopping centre, like Tom Hanks in saccharine "The Terminal." Except these poor souls have got a better option of buying a nice pair of shoes or, as they're in Stratford, getting stabbed.

There is a glimmer of hope for the seasoned ale drinker in this bastion of capitalism. Head towards the back of shopping centre near Waitrose (which looks sorely out of place in Stratford) and you'll find Tap East. The modern interior is simple and even a little dull but the main attraction isn't the décor but the beer. Tap East has a microbrewery on site and you can see its gleaming tanks filled with mirth making juice through large glass windows at the back of the bar. I was visiting one of their festivals so there was a very good selection of guest beers, and it also featured collaborations between Tap East and other breweries.

Things got off to a good start with Hoxton Special IPA, a hoppy, fruity treat with a deceptively high ABV. It's OK though, I was sticking to halves, what could possibly go wrong? Next up was The Boss by Roosters. Thankfully it didn't taste of Bruce Springsteen, but it didn't really taste like ale either. Instead it tasted distinctly of grapefruit juice. Despite this it was oddly charming. The only collaboration ale I tried was the Beer Called Framboise, made in conjunction with Howling Hops. Despite the name I didn't twig this would be a raspberry flavoured beer, mainly because I'm an idiot. I'm not usually a fan of fruit beers. I find them too sickly and just a bit weird. After I took my first sip my immediate thought was "Oh God this is a fruit beer, where is the nearest toilet?" Luckily it was actually a really enjoyable beer. A nice dry flavour but plenty of fruity goodness as well. I wouldn't drink more than a half but it was good tipple.

Lone Ranger by Tap East was a fine if unmemorable English bitter. Texas Ranger by Mikkeller was very memorable though. This was a bit of a bonkers pint, as to be expected from those great danes over at Mikkeller. Sadly not great danes as in the dog, but rather the Danish people, although a bunch of dogs brewing beer would be pretty cool. Although I imagine the beer would probably taste a bit ruff. The Texas Ranger was a malty beer with chipotle chucked in as well. To be honest it was all a bit of a horror show but it was oddly drinkable. By this time of the night I had drunk beers with a combined percentage of about 50% so that probably helped the flavour. I wouldn't of drank more than a half of it though.

Food was provided by a man outside cooking ham, potatoes, and cheese in a massive pan. It seemed legit and I couldn't say no to this fatty feast so I bulked up on the delicious carbs. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Tap East and it has definitely edged out the King Eddies as my favourite pub in Stratford.

I recently paid a return visit to the Bricklayers Arms in Putney, which is essentially a permanent beer festival - it even says this on a sign outside the building. It was a pleasure as always and some excellent beers were on offer. The highlights were the Triple fff Ramble Tamble, an excellent, fruity pale ale that went down a treat. In fact Triple fff had another winner with Apache Rose Peacock, a oddly named American IPA full of fruity goodness. Red Dawn by the Red Squirrel Brewery was also a treat. Thankfully it didn't taste of Patrick Swayze but was instead a very pleasant mild with a great rounded flavour.

As there was no official beer festival on I was free from the tyranny of the Morris Men who like to show up with their devil worshipper ways during festival events. In fact the pub was pretty much empty for the majority of the Saturday afternoon I was there, with it getting a little more busy as the evening went on. An excellent pub like this deserves a bit more patronage from the good folk of Putney.

The next update will be about my tales 'oop North as I visit the fine pubs of Preston. It will even have pictures! See you again soon.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Bull's Head and the Queens Head, Chislehurst

If you've never heard of Chislehurst, it's basically the Hampstead of South London. If you've never heard of or been to Hampstead, it's a ludicrously expensive little alcove of North London, filled with "boutique" outlets, antique shops and other assorted nonsense frequented by the rich unemployed who have nothing to do but look at expensive tat all day. There's also a handful of pubs, all of which require you to have a credit check before buying a beer and handing over the deeds to your house before buying a gin and tonic. There was a Wetherspoons in Hampstead once for the more "unwashed" visitor but sadly it shut down.

Chislehurst doesn't feel as rich as Hampstead but it does have the gentle air of a place where money probably isn't an issue for most of its residents. There are a decent number of pubs in the area. I've only managed to visit three pubs so far, after reading on the internet on what would be the best bet for a pint of decent ale. I'm not one for spontaneity. Just ask anybody who has had to visit a theme park with me, as every ride, meal and toilet break is planned to the last detail in what I like to call "regimented fun."

None of the pubs in Chislehurst feature in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide, and you'd have to venture to Bromley or Eltham before you would find a pub featured in its hallowed, yellow and slightly curled pages. The Guide can't be treated as a bible though and there are a few good pubs in the Chislehurst area. First up is the Imperial Arms. This pub has been recently refurbished with rather eclectic décor and furnishings. It looks like the landlord has gone on a mad shopping spree in the local antique shops. Upon entering the pub I was greeted by two hand-pumps. After getting over the shock of talking hand-pumps I plumped for a pint of Harveys Best Bitter which was in excellent condition and very drinkable.

The other ale on was Sharps Doom Bar, so the pub may not have had the best ale selection but it's better than no ale, or even worse, John Smiths on keg. The only other customers in the pub were a group of rowdy labourers, their colourful language rather at odds with the attempted classiness of the décor. A tasty dish of ham, egg and chips rounded off a very pleasant stay at this comfortable, reasonably priced pub.

They like their cars ugly in Chislehurst
A not so reasonably priced pub is the The Bulls Head, in the more villagey part of Chislehurst nestled amongst quaint little shops selling wares you'd never want or need but will pay a fortune for anyway. An imposing building, it comprises of two bars, a restaurant, event/conference room and even has seven hotel rooms. The two bars are completely different decor and atmosphere wise - the lounge bar is decked out with traditional wooden walls and red booths and stools, and seemed more popular with the older clientèle who just wanted to enjoy a quiet drink. I was immediately attracted to this slice of old world pubbery, but The Lovely Jemma, with her young and modern ways, wanted to drink in the up to date main pub instead, complete with its sofas and high chairs (for adults.)

A pint of Youngs Bitter went down nicely, although it was close to £4 a pint which is a bit cheeky for this neck of the woods. The clientèle was certainly more moneyed than the Imperial Arms more down to earth lot. Standing at the bar was my favourite pub customer, the moneyed loud American. Not used to the surroundings of a nice country pub he resorted to barking orders at the staff and loudly telling "hillarious" stories to his tipsy British hosts. Despite him getting more rowdy and sweary as the afternoon went on I did what any British pub goer should do and stoically ignored him. Overall this was a decent pub but the high prices put me off making this a regular haunt.

Haven't had a TLJ nails picture in a while.
Here's the Summer Lightning.
My final Chislehurst pub is the Queens Head. Chislehurst seems to like pubs with "Head" in the name, with the aforementioned Bulls Head and there's also a Tigers Head in the vicinity. Let's hope a landlord called Richard doesn't open a pub named after himself here. The Queens Head is a Ember Inn, so basically it's a slightly more upmarket Wetherspoons. There was a good selection of ales and all were in good nick. Hop Back Summer Lightning was a pleasure as always. This was followed by a pint of Butcombe Brewery Great Grey Owl which smelled a bit like old socks but was a rather nice attempt at an American Pale Ale, with all the citrusy goodness that comes with the territory. A massive plate of nachos covered in pulled pork went down a treat and rounded off an enjoyable day out in this pretty little village.

I've got a fair few updates coming along in the next few weeks, including a jaunt around Preston and a trip to Tap East in Stratford, so don't give up on this blog just yet! Cheers.