Sunday, 22 June 2014

Football and jousting

Eltham Palace is one those local gems that you may not visit often but you're glad it's there. It's strange to come across the grand palatial grounds nestled in the bland suburban sprawl of Eltham. I went inside the Palace grounds for the first time yesterday for their annual "Grand Medieval Joust" event, which was a lot of fun. The grounds had been turned into a full fledged medieval "faire", with plenty of stalls, activities, and portly men squeezed into chain-mail and armour. It was all entertaining and even better there was a beer tent, the aptly named "Stagger Inn" selling real ales and ciders. The beers were listed as "Tudor Tipple" and the "Stanley Surprise" but they were actually Bath Ales Gem and Barnsey, both of them in good nick. The chap behind the bar mentioned that he liked Gem because it travels well and is ready to go in three hours. The flavours backed up his claim, it was in great condition with plenty of subtle fruity flavours. If you're ever in Eltham take the time to visit the palace, it's well worth it and there's bugger all else to do in Eltham anyway (except maybe visit The Park Tavern or the Eltham GPO)

It's World Cup time and I've made the terrible mistake of watching the England games. What a frustrating experience it is, watching a shower of clowns attempting to work together and get a ball into the back of a pretty wide net. Now they're safely knocked out I'll probably not watch the rest of the cup as I'm one of those terrible people who only watches football during the World Cup or Euro championships, and only when England are playing. I just don't have the stamina to watch overpaid knuckleheads kick a ball around for ninety minutes of which about seven of those minutes contain any excitement, the boredom and the jealously of how much they're getting paid is too much for me.

I watched the first England game at the Baring Hall Hotel, which has really come along since my first visit there. It's become a true local gem, with friendly staff and an excellent selection of ales, although they have gone a bit cider crazy over the past few weeks. What I like about the Baring Hall is that even though it's the only pub in the Grove Park/Downham area it hasn't rested on its laurels and it is determined to offer a quality pub experience. They're now serving food and it's really good, and the beer is top notch. During the game I enjoyed a By The Horns Stiff Upper Lip and a Hastings Best, both of them in excellent condition and very tasty. Sadly the football wasn't anywhere as good as the beer, although it was fun and a little surreal being in a pub at 1am watching the football. I'd like the Baring Hall to make it into the Good Beer Guide this year, but I'd also like the place to be the little secret it is at the moment and not overrun with beardies hogging all the tables and selling the place out of pork scratchings.

The second England game I watched at home, using the terrible ITV Player, which meant having to watch a poor quality match in poor quality video - not exactly a winning combination. I had a top notch beer to "enjoy" the game with, Pressure Drop Stokey Brown. I'd forgotten just how rich and nutty this beer is, a great bitter and it makes such a nice change from the usual IPA's and Porters that flood the craft beer market.

Next week I'm hoping to pay a visit a new micropub which has opened not far from me in Petts Wood, One in the Wood. I was actually thinking of opening a micropub in Petts Wood before realising I'd be terrible at it and it would shut within days, so I'm interested to see how the micropub is doing. If I don't make it there I'm sure I'll find something else to witter on about next Sunday. See you then!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Paternoster - A surprise in the City

I work near the City of London, otherwise known as the "Square Mile", the financial enclave smack bang in the middle of London. Working near there has its perks ,as there are countless bars, restaurants, and grand buildings many with a rich history. One of the downsides however is the people working inside these buildings. City workers are generally acknowledged by the public and the press as being trumped up, braying wankers. From what I can tell whenever I have the misfortune to venture into a City bar, that is completely true. A city bar is usually a miserable experience of being surrounded by people more interested in their iPhones than their peers, necking back expensive pints of Peroni or Budvar (the new Stella and Carling) and a sweaty air of desperation, sexism and misogyny about the whole sorry affair.

Last Friday I was due to meet up with some ex-colleagues in St Paul's which is smack bang in the middle of the city. I was preparing for the worse. But something miraculous happened - I found a pub in the city that wasn't full of twunks. The Paternoster is just behind St Pauls, with Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and other bastions of twatness nearby. As it was a balmy summer evening I was expecting the worse, the streets overflowing with pinstriped moneybots, bleating about their latest swindling of the British public while eyeing up passing "totty" with their piggy eyes. As I walked past each soulless city pub on my way to the Paternoster the clientele were certainly living up to the stereotype.

But the Paternosrer, my ultimate destination, was a bit different. This Young's pub wasn't too busy, and the people who were there seemed fairly normal. Fairly young, not a pinstripe in sight, no braying, just a good mixed crowd. Hooray! Looks like this is the place the decent people in the City go to - which probably explains why it was only half full on a pleasant Friday night. A full selection of Young's beer were on offer. I'm not a fan so I avoided most of them, but I did try the Hummingbird, purely because I'd never had it before. Turns out I wasn't missing much. Despite promising tropical notes this was a fairly bog standard pale ale and one pint was enough. I spent the rest of the evening sticking to the guest ale, Sambrooks Wandle, which was in good form with some great crisp bitter notes coming through.

A standard pub menu was available and we sampled a sausage platter and plougmans platter, both of them meeting the requirements of being tasty yet horrifically bad for you. A bowl of "sharing" chips was a bit of a piss take priced at £9.95, but they were good quality chips at least. Prices were standard for the City - £4.14 for my pint of Hummingbird, which would of made any passing Northerner pass out in shock. But it was so refreshing to find a halfway decent pub in the City (that isn't tiny or smells a bit funny) that I could put up with the prices. Worth a visit.

My next update will definitely be on Sunday - I promise.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Beer apps

I've been on this planet for 32 years and have had internet access for 17 of them, and I find it hard to remember the dark times before I got my first 28.8 modem. This could be because I was too busy doing social interaction with actual real life people, but more likely because I was playing video games all day. I honestly can't remember. What I do know is that the internet is slowly eroding social interaction and devolving us all to anti-social, goggle eyed goons. Where before I would have to make an effort when mingling with strangers, now I can just whip out my trusty smartphone and avoid all forms of social interaction while writing blog posts complaining about how nobody socially interacts anymore.

We may not be getting along as well as we did before the internet came along but one thing the net has bought us is countless amount of knowledge. How did the world function before the internet? It must have been a arduous, tedious time having to look through books, journals or talking to an expert. Now I can just do a quick Google search to find out how to do my job and get a full listing of every episode of "Fraiser." It's true that about 90% of content on the internet is misinformed bollocks but that useful 10% helps me do my job, learn new things and most importantly find out where all the exciting pubs are.

If you told me 20 years ago that in the future you would get the internet ON YOUR PHONE I would have laughed for a few minutes before actually thinking about it and agreeing it's probably likely. For beer geeks smartphones are an invaluable tool for finding out  about top pubs and top drinks. There are three apps I find very useful.  Untappd is probably one of the best known beery apps. It allows you to "check in" beers so you can keep a record of all the booze you're consuming like the big old lush you are. This blog wouldn't exist without Untappd as I have the memory of a forgetful goldfish. Untappd is meant to produce recommendations based on your list of beers but it's ropey at best. The missing link is that the beers it recommends aren't always readily available. It would be better if it gave you recommendations based on other local check ins, so you might stand a chance of buying a "Dave Beards Craft IPA Explosion" or whatever it recommends. Still the app is well worth downloading purely for logging beers.

Next up is Craft Beer London. This handy app tells you what local hipster beer hangouts are nearby just in case you've got a hankering to be surrounded by trendy beards sipping on mega hopped IPA's (otherwise known as craft beer.) It's a good app but for some bizarre reason it doesn't list opening hours, which has caught me out a few times when I've visited a bar for a cheeky lunchtime half only to find out it doesn't open until 4pm. It's a pay app but I think it's definitely worth a purchase for any beer loving Londoners. But following on from my gloomy "state of the craft beer scene" article a couple of weeks ago I wonder if this app will still be as relevant over the next few years.

The last app is the Good Beer Guide from CAMRA. It's amazing to think I can have a nationwide listing of decent boozers sitting on my phone. The app works fine, you can search for pubs or get the app to tell which ones are nearby. It gives plenty of info about each pub including opening times. The one flaw is not related to the app but inherent to the GBG itself. It's a very useful tome but you have to remember pubs are included based on beer quality rather than the pub itself. Thanks to the guide I've been to some amazing pubs but I've also been to some real shockers in terms of atmosphere, sipping my admittedly tasty pint in a room with crumbling architecture and terrifying "locals." Unlike Craft Beer London which is updated every few weeks the GBG is updated once a year, and a year is a long time in the pub trade, where formerly decent boozers can change management and become shoddy, or even just close down. The app is not cheap but it's more economical than buying the book - and it's much easier to lug around with you.