Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Returning in 2016

You may have noticed that there's been a bit of a gap sine my last blog post - and some of you may even care. It's been a pretty busy couple of months - I finally married The Lovely Jemma on the 21st November, and Christmas has been a hectic time. I've not given up on this blog though, and I will be resuming regular updates in 2016. I hope you've had a very peaceful Christmas and I wish you all a happy new year. See you in 2016!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Leeds: The Return

The Lovely Jemma and I were recently up in Leeds for a couple of days. Jemma was getting a new tattoo from an excellent tattoo artist who works up there and I came along for moral support. It would of been rude of me not to visit a few pubs as well while I was there. I first visited Leeds last year and enjoyed some good beer in excellent pubs, and I was excited to go back and try new entries in the Good Beer Guide, visit a couple of pubs I'd missed on my last visit, and return to a couple of favourites.

While waiting at Kings Cross station for our train we stopped for a couple of drinks in The Parcel Yard, a large Fullers pub next to the tourist ridden Harry Potter shop. This is a large, two floor pub, and it was disappointing to see the top floor closed during peak evening travel time. This meant the downstairs was much more busy and cramped than usual.  My halves of Fullers Front Row and Windsor and Eton World Cup Drop were both in good nick but pricey at around £4.50 a pint. The high prices don't seem to faze most of the punters who hand over there money with dead eyed acceptance of being fleeced. Despite the wallet busting prices this is a nice enough pub to enjoy a drink.

We made a quick stop across the road at Sourced market in St Pancras station, a little gem of a place that sells an extensive (and expensive) range of canned and bottled beers. I got a can of Five Points Pale, and it was delicious,with none of the metallic flavours that can sometimes be associated with canned beer. We hopped on the train and just over a couple of hours later we were in Leeds and checked in to the glamorous Travelodge hotel.

The next day while Jemma was getting ink stabbed onto her arm, I took the opportunity to visit a couple of the less glamorous pubs in Leeds featured in the Good Beer Guide. First up was the Stick or Twist, a larger Wetherspoons opposite the Leeds Arena. The interior is identikit Spoons - brown-red carpet, sticky wooden tables and chairs, and a long bar with plenty of cheap booze on offer. The customers were identikit as well -mainly  single older men but there were a few groups of students popping in for a cheap lunch. The Wetherspoons real ale festival was on but sadly the special collaboration brews that were on weren't very exciting. I ended up with Oakham Owl & The Pussycat, a hoppy treat to start the day off with. To be honest the place was nothing special and I was quick to move on to the next pub.

The Templar Hotel is a handsome looking pub from the outside with gorgeous tiling, and inside was like stepping back in time. Warm oak boarded walls, old fashioned pub furniture and cosy bench seating at the back made this a pleasant retreat. Serving bells were still on the wall at the back of the pub, I wasn't brave enough to press one to see if they still worked. On a Tuesday afternoon the customers were just as old fashioned as the pub interior and I imagine some of them had probably been there since the pub first opened. There was a decent selection of ales and my half of Devils Advocate from Three Kings Brewery wasn't bad, although it went a bit wonky in the finish. The pub was a pleasant little time warp but again it's not somewhere where I would want to spend a lot of time, the main reason being I was skewing the average age of the punters by about forty years.

I met up with Jemma with her new and excellent tattoo, and headed for lunch at Friends of Ham. I'd heard very good things about this place, and sadly it was closed for refurbishment when I tried to visit last year. Walking into the bright airy space I was pleased to see three blackboards with details about the three things I love most in life (apart from The Lovely Jemma of course) - meat, cheese and beer. We went for the Spanish Meat and Cheese platter, and I also enjoyed a pint of Iti NZPA, a big hoppy fruity treat from Hawkshead, with plenty of flavour considering the 3.8% ABV. It was superb and the best beer of the trip. The food was also excellent. This was a lovely little place and well worth visiting if you're in Leeds.

Last pub for the afternoon was the Crowd of Favours, a former chippy converted into a pub. Owned by the Leeds Brewery, there was plenty of their brews on offer. A pumpkin ale was the seasonal special but I wasn't feeling brave enough to try it and I stuck to the Leeds Pale Ale, which was very tasty. The place has a studenty vibe, with retro consoles set up in one area, and plenty of activities throughout the week such as quiz and cinema nights. Jemma and I settled down for a few matches of Mortal Kombat 2 on the SNES, and after I won ten matches in a row we retired to a comfy sofa. The place was bigger than expected (it must have been a spacious chip shop) and I would be quite happy to pop in on a busy Friday night and enjoy a couple of pints here.

We headed back to the hotel for a nap before preparing for an evening of eating and more drinking, including the trendsetting North bar. But I'll tell you about that next time. Hope you can join me then!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Stag Do Part 2 - London's fabulous East End (and a bit of Dulwich)

Following the success of visting a whole two breweries on the beer mile, we headed on over to Dulwich Hamlet FC for a"pay what you feel" charity match. Hamlet are a local team who the hipsters of Dulwich have taken a shine to, and the supporters section is filled with men with immaculate beards accusing the referee of being a lib dem and shouting "Tuscany" a lot. Normally this would annoy the hell out of me but I was pretty tipsy by this point so found the whole thing amusing. I'd also heard rumours that decent real ale is served at the ground, and it's always good to support your local football team. We headed in and I must have had a few beers in me as I handed over a rather generous £10 to the chap on the turnstiles.

The place was packed which was great for the team but it also meant that the queue for the bar was terrifying. The real ale queue was very long and not moving very quickly so I had to settle for the lager bar, and enjoyed a pint of Hamlet Lager. I was reliably informed that it's just rebadged Oranjeboom, and the atmosphere of the place made the lager taste much better than it had any right to be. The game turned out to be a bit of cracker, with seven goals in all, although the last two came in the last few minutes when we had already made our exit. The Hamlet won, the supporters were in good voice and beard form, and it was a very jolly way to spend an afternoon. I'm looking forward to going back - although I'd get there earlier to secure a proper ale before the crowds build up.

We headed down to Whitechapel for dinner at Tayaabs, a barn of an Indian restaurant that pretty much only caters to large groups these days. Following a recommendation from the Craft Beer London app we stopped into Indo for a quick pre dinner refreshment. I tried the Lagunitas Mozango (Fusion XXXI), which was basically mango juice in beer form. It was pretty good if very sweet, and a half was more than enough. The bar had a run-down, student vibe which was fine on a quiet Saturday afternoon but I wouldn't fancy being crammed in here when it's busy. We left and made our way over to Tayaabs, which is BYOB, and I got a bottle of  Anchor Steam IPA and a Goose Island Honkers Ale from the local off license. Both went down nicely with the well prepared curries at the restaurant.

By this point I was well fed and (very) well watered, so apologies if things get a little vague. We made our way further into the East End, stopping into The White Heart. Microbrewery One Mile End are based in the basement and there was plenty of their beer on offer. My brain was running too slowly to bother seeking out handpumps so I stuck to the keg offerings, with the Salvation! Pale Ale a solid beer. The place was busy so we sat outside and enjoyed the beers in the chilly breeze. The rugby was on and it was England vs Australia, a lone Aussie punter in the pub was very bravely cheering for every try as the Aussies soundly beat the Brits.

Everything was a bit of a blur by this point but I do remember finishing the night at the Redchurch brewery in Bethnal Green. There is a spacious taproom upstairs, complete with dart board and a brewery cat. Strangely I was still able to operate Untappd by this point and apparently I enjoyed a pint of Great Eastern India Pale Ale. I also managed to fit in a game of darts, where miraculously nobody was injured or killed despite the fact I was seeing two dart boards by this point. The cat quickly clocked that our group was a soppy bunch of bastards and plonked himself firmly in the middle of us ready for a fuss, and a fuss he received. Sadly I forgot to take a picture of our furry friend! There was good music playing, the time flew by, and before I knew it I was bundling out of a cab and dancing like a idiot at The Shackletwell Arms in Dalston, drinking sambuca before crashing at my best man's flat down the road.

I woke up the next morning in surprisingly good health - maybe it was because all the beers were good quality, maybe it was because I had eaten plenty of food to sop up the booze. Either way after a delicious breakfast at Cafe Z is Stoke Newington I was ready to head home, and I managed to remain somewhat functional for the rest of my Sunday. Good booze, good football, good curry - what more could a man want from a stag do?

Monday, 12 October 2015

Bermondsey Beer Mile

As a beer blogger you can rely on me to bring you the latest and greatest things happening in the beer world, and what better way to live up to this promise than by writing about the Bermondsey Beer Mile, something that has been going for around three years and every other beer blogger has written about already. Even better, I visited the beer mile for my stag do - I really should just hand in my beer blogging badge now.

Our group started the proceedings on a Friday evening, visiting Anspach and Hobday for their Oktoberfest festivities. The brewery was decked out in bunting, the staff wearing their finest lederhosen, oom-pah music was playing over the PA and there were a number of special brews for the event. As it was my first ever visit to a brewery on the beer mile, I must admit I was a bit sceptical. The internet had led me to believe that I was in for hipster beards, murky beer and a packed out, uncomfortable bar. I did get the hipster beards and the murky beer but the place was fairly quiet and laid back, and I was surprised by the amount of children at the place. I'm not one of those who gets annoyed by kids in a pub, especially if there's stuff there to keep them entertained. But this brewery wasn't particularly child friendly with no activities for the kids and the event geared towards adults, resulting in was bored sprogs toddling around the room and being a minor annoyance while their parents slowly drank their worries away.

The beer was fairly good. The Berliner Weisse had the sour goodness that's expected from the style, it's an acquired taste that I enjoy although a pint may have been a bit much. The Bavarian IPA was pleasantly hoppy  and the Alt Bier had a pleasing nuttiness about the flavour. All the beers tasted however they were also murky in appearence. I'd expect some haziness from the Weisse but I was unsure about the other beers. I enjoyed the beers overall but it did make me feel slightly uneasy wondering if the murkiness was by design or from below par brewing.

We left the bar in good spirits and headed on down the road to London Bridge to find some food. Along the way we passed the Southwark Brewing Company. I poked my head in and spotted eight handpumps on the bar, and before I knew it I was wandering in bellowing "I'm so happy to find a brewery round here with cask beer!" and blurting out it was my stag do. Rather than the staff looking at me with a mixture of disgust and pity and chucking me out, I was instead given a free pint of 5 Hop and it was absolutely delicious - and it tasted even better as it was free! I did pay for my seond drink, the Top Drop Ale, and it lived up to its name, this was a tasty ale. The tap room was full of cosy sofas and bench seating, the rugby was on the television, the toilets were nice, the beer was clear and there were no kids running about. This ended up being my favourite brewery of the mile - even though technically it's a return to the slightly unfashionable, cask driven breweries that some pockets of the craft beer movement were initially rebelling against.

The next day we started at the other end of the beer mile in the middle of South Bermondsey, a place I never even knew existed in my thirty four years of living in London. In an industrial park, behind the ScrewFix and Tool Station stores is Fourpure brewery. I was impressed by the size of the operation, it's a big setup they've got here with an impressive cannery the centrepiece. Plenty of their beers are available on tap, and I tried the Oktoberfest, which was a bit too sweet but rather tasty. I also enjoyed their brown ale Beartooth. Both beers were clear and looked excellent. We sat outside enjoying the ambience only a trading estate in South Bermondsey can provide, the client base mainly consisting of men celebrating major life events. Nice place but I'd rather enjoy a Fourpure in a cosy pub, or at home - their canned beer is always excellent quality.

Technically Partizan brewery should have been next but as we had a football match to attend (more on that next week) we headed straight to Brew By Numbers, a 20 minute walk away. Arriving at around 1pm the place was pretty busy, with a long but quick moving queue at the bar. I tried the Brown Ale which tasted good but unfortunately looked like a foamy chocolate milkshake. Murky beer was here and in abundance. I've never had a murky brown ale and I'm fairly certain this beer wasn't quite ready to be served. We enjoyed our beers outside in the sunshine, and although it was nice to get beer direct from the source I think I'll stick to Brew By Numbers in a pub or at home rather than drinking it at the brewery. I believe the ambience of where you're drinking is just as important as what you're drinking, and a small room under railways arches and a couple of portaloos just isn't as appealing as a cosy pub.

We bid farewall to the beer mile and headed on down to Dulwich Hamlet FC, as recommended by the excellent Deserter blog, to watch some hipsters chant while men kick a ball and we attempted to get some beer. I'll be telling you all about that and the pubs we ended up visting in trendy East London in my next update. Hope you can join me!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Chelmsford - The Return

A few weeks ago I visited good friends of mine who are living in Chelmsford in sunny Essex, just on the outskirts of Greater London. A popular commuter town, the place is also home to a surprising amount of decent real ale pubs. I'd written about some of them previously on my first visit there, and this repeat visit gave me the opportunity to visit some of the pubs I had missed - luckily my friends were more than willing to join me on this real ale jaunt!

We first stopped for a spot of lunch to help sop up the alcohol in The Plough, a Mitchell & Butlers (M&B) pub near the train station. I believe this used to be a Nicholson's branded pub, but it now just appears to be a regular M&B's. Food wise burgers are the specialty of the house, with a varied selection of heart destroying beef (or chicken) treats available.  You get a free pint with every burger but sadly the guest ales weren't included in the deal. This meant I had to settle for a Sharps Doom Bar. Like a million other ale drinkers around my age (34) this was one of the first real ales I drank regularly, before moving onto the more adventurous beers. It was one of the better pints of Doom Bar I've had, and sitting in the afternoon sun the drink went down a bit too quickly. I followed with one of the guest ales, the Lambton's Cask Ale from the Maxim Brewery. This was a refreshing pale ale. It was nothing outstanding but it did the job, much like the pub itself. If this was the only pub in town it would be a standout but in Chelmsford, which is overflowing with decent ale pubs, it's more a reliable standby, especially for food.

Next up, after a fifteen minute walk through the town centre, was The Queens Head. An unassuming backstreet local, it's worthy of attention as it's a Mighty Oak tied pub. The interior is sparsely decorated, with a small U-Shaped bar. The pub garden was a pleasant little oasis, with the highest number of dogs I'd ever seen in a boozer's backyard. The Mighty Oak Citra was in good form and by now the sun was beating down hard, so this refreshing pale ale went down a treat. Next up was Dark Star Redhead. This was a rich, satisfying red ale, and packed quite a flavorful punch considering it was only 3.7% abv. Despite the manageable alcohol percentage this beer was a bit too rich for me to make it sessionable, but it was a tasty sup nonetheless. A nice little local and also the most keenly priced of the pubs we visited.

Near the Queens Head is the The Orange Tree, although sadly it was closed when we visited due to unexpected structural problems with the premises. It sounded a bit worrying but hopefully they got it sorted out. We sauntered back through the town centre with the intention of visiting the Ale House, but we stumbled across a micropub along the way. I've enjoyed every micropub I've visited so far. I admire their principles of selling good beer in a environment designed to encourage conversation, usually achieved by using bench sitting which encourages punters to mingle with each other rather than being glued to the comforting glow of their mobile phone screen, no fruit machines and (usually) no music. Some people have reported finding them a bit "cliquely" but I've always found them welcoming. The Hop Beer Shop is another micro I can add to the "like" list. There was an excellent selection of local ales on, and it was also the first micropub I'd visited which also boasted a well curated selection of bottled beers. It's definitely more like a pub than a bottle shop though.

The manager was friendly and approachable and after mentioning that I was thinking of opening a much needed micropub in my corner of South East London we had a friendly chat about starting a micropub and the challenges involved. Following the recommendation of the barman I enjoyed a lovely half of Tring Pale Four, which was a superbly hoppy treat. To avoid appearing rude I also bought a few bottles to take home as well. The bottled beer selection ranged from local Essex ales to continental beers and they were all very tempting. The pub is small but although there were quite a few in it didn't feel cramped, the atmosphere was buzzing and overall this was an lovely place for a drink.

We eventually made it to The Ale House, which I wrote about in my previous Chelmsford visit and again it did not disappoint. The half of Salted Caramel from the Almasty Brewing Co that I enjoyed was a highlight. We ordered a calorific but delicious pizza from the take away across the road, which you're more than welcome to bring into the pub. It was so bad for me but also so good at the same time - the perfect takeaway pizza. We finished the night at Barista, a trendy nightspot. I never would of thought of going in here had it not been in the Good Beer Guide, as the place is a glitzy bar along the lines of Tiger Tiger and isn't the usual CAMRA friendly place. But nestled in the back as promised were three gravity dropped ales. My pint of Skinners Copper was in top condition and I enjoyed my drink as the bright young girls and sleazy old men of Chelmsford enjoyed a dance to enjoyable cheesy pop hits. A bit of a surreal end to an excellent day (and night) of boozing.

Chelmsford really is lucky to be blessed with several excellent places for beer, and I wish the micropub all the best success in such a crowded marketplace! I look forward to returning again to pay The Orange Tree a visit - plus The Ship which has snuck into the Good Beer Guide 2016. Well I got to make sure both pubs deserved their place! See you soon.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Norfolk Part 3 - Great Yarmouth

I love a trip to the seaside. The sea air, the amusement arcades, the shops selling every kind of tat imaginable, the bad but delicious food and of course a relaxing pint once the sea and sun has become too much. As part of my Norfolk break The Lovely Jemma and I had a day out at Great Yarmouth. I'd never been before but was looking forward to it, and it didn't disappoint. The shops did not let me down on tackiness, there was plenty of trashy food available, although we chickened out and ending up eating at a Spoons, the arcades were plentiful and there was even a surprisingly thrilling wooden rollercoaster to ride at the far end of the prom.

The aforementioned Spoons was The Troll Cart - despite the original and amusing name the pub was sadly an identikit Spoons with the usual grubby floor, sticky tables and solid range of ales and reliable food.  Once settled in the pub I ended up going for a Southern Fried Chicken strips and chips, which was a glorified chicken nuggets but despite being a meal clearly designed for children it filled a gap. To continue the American theme of my lunch I enjoyed a SixPoint The Crisp which went down a treat and was included with the meal - bargain. I really enjoy the SixPoint beers and am glad that Spoons are still selling them despite rumours of poor sales. The pub was packed when we arrived at noon but soon emptied out once the lunch time crowd were down and we left sitting amongst typical Spoons "characters." A less reputable blogger than I would make a comparison between the name of the pub and its weekday afternoon customers but I'm better than that. It was soon time to move on to the next pub.

There are two Great Yarmouth pubs in the Good Beer Guide and we only got the chance to visit one of them. The GBG can be a bit hit and miss - sometimes the pubs are pretty grim but because they serve a good pint the CAMRA beardies are happy to put it into the guide. Luckily The Mariners turned out to be a bit of a gem. An impressive stone facade outside, and a cosy two room interior made this a cosy and welcoming pub. There was a good selection of ales on and my half of Slap in the Face from Totally Brewed was in great condition and tasted hoppy and delicious. Only one of the rooms seemed to be open. As I'm a nosy bastard I couldn't resist opening the door to the second room where I was greeted by a large dog looking at me inquisitively before deciding he didn't like me and barking his head off. I quickly shut the door, the barmaid had a good laugh and all was well in the world. Located off the beaten track this pub was a nice place to enjoy a quiet pint.

We headed on down to the Pleasure Beach, stopping at the Lacon Brewery along the way. They have a shop at the brewery which was supposed to be open until 2:30pm, but was firmly shut when we arrived around 2pm. Luckily the head brewer saw me looking forlorn at the shop and took pity on me. As they were very busy he'd taken the staff member who usually mans the shop on to the production line, but he got him back in. The brewer also had a chat with me about the history of Lacons and led me into the small museum that they had. Founded in 1760, the brewery had a illustrious history until it was bought out by Whitbread in 1965, and they sadly closed the brewery in 1968. InBev, who make Budweiser, subsequently bought out Whitbread and the Lacons trademark was passed over to them.

After lying dormant for nearly 50 years, in 2013 a drinks distributor tycoon bought back the Lacon brand and brewing returned to Great Yarmouth. There's clearly a bit of money behind the operation and the museum and shop are in great nick, and the branding is very smart. I bought a few bottles in the shop. I've only had the chance to drink the Legacy so far, and it was a decent bitter with pleasant floral notes in the finish.

Overall I had a great time Yarmouth and North Norfolk overall. The weather was on our side, the pubs and beer were excellent, and the scenery was lovely. Well played Norfolk, well played.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Norfolk Part 2 - Norwich

I'd been looking forward to visiting Norwich ever since looking up the town on the handy Good Beer Guide mobile app, and was pleased and a little bewildered at the number of results returned. Arriving in the morning, The Lovely Jemma and  started the day by having a look around the market and a stroll around the shops in this charming little city, and soon it was time to get down to the serious business of enjoying a half in as many of the Good Beer Guide pubs as possible. We both started in The Murderers, handily located near the Primark. The interior was quite amusing with a smugglers cove look, and posters of infamous murderers dotted about. My half of Wolf Brewery Edith Cavell, named in tribute of the famous nurse was a floral, hoppy treat. I'm sure it's what she would have wanted her beer to taste like (maybe.)

After leaving TLJ to carry on her shopping and enjoy lunch with her mum at Zizzi, I headed on to the second pub. It nearly ruined my itinerary for the day as despite the GBG describing the pub as being on the "outskirts" of the city centre it was actually a good 20-30 minute walk before I arrived at The Fat Cat. Nestled on a suburban street corner this place is a CAMRA member wet dream of a pub come to life. Classic pub furnishings, plenty of real ales on handpump and gravity, and lots of little nooks and crannies to sit in. On a damp Tuesday afternoon there were a goodly amount of people in enjoying the ale and chat friendly atmosphere. The Fat Cat has their own brewery, although it's not based in this pub, and I tried a half of their Hell Cat. It was a hoppy, reliable sup, and I couldn't help but invest in one of their pork pies as well, which was very tasty and great value at £2.50, compared to the £4-5 I'd have to pay for a slice of decent pork pie in London. With the soggy weather outside I could have quite easily of camped in here for the rest of the day, but I had a helluva lot of other pubs to visit so I sadly moved on. I'd be happy to come back.

Next up was the The Alexandra Tavern, another street corner boozer nestled in a residential area a few minutes walk from The Fat Cat. An attractive pub inside, with a large horseshoe bar and comfortable seating areas on each side, there was also a nice selection of ales. Beers from the Chalk Hill Brewery seemed to be the house favourite and I tried the Tap, which sadly wasn't brilliant. It was lacking punch and tasted a tiny bit sour and tired. Settling down on a bench I noticed that there was a rather happy four legged fellow a few tables down catching forty winks. Judging from the size of him I thought he'd be more home at The Fat Cat. I gave him a little bit of fuss but he was too sleepy to notice. The pub was quiet and I enjoyed my half in peace, looking at the photos of the immense amount of charity work the landlord has done for the area. I could see this being a lively little local after work hours.

I started walking back to Norwich city centre, stopping in to the Earlham Arms as it was on the way. This large, imposing pub is tastefully decorated in greyish hues inside. Although there is a strong focus on food, I had missed the lunchtime rush and was able to enjoy a half in a quiet, relaxing pub. The half of Norfolk Kiwi from Jo C's Norfolk Ales was really rather good, and the food the punters on the table next to me were enjoying looked tasty as well. Service was friendly, and if this was the only pub in the nearby area it would be an excellent option, but with all the competition nearby this place was reliable if a little bit bland.

A ten minute walk later and I was back in Norfolk Town Centre, and on to a pub I was looking forward to visiting, The Plough. This boozer serves as the tap for the reliable Grain Brewery, and a full selection of their beers were available in this sparsely furnished, small two room pub. The serving area is awkwardly sprawled across the two serving areas, making it difficult to squeeze past even on this quiet Tuesday afternoon. I ended up having a half of the Best Bitter and it was an excellent example of the style, rich warm and comforting. With a pleasant beer garden and friendly service this was a more than capable pub despite the tight layout. Next up, down a side street near the market was The Vine, a small pub serving a nice selection of ales and a tasty looking Thai menu, although sadly I didn't get to try it. My half of Comet by Newby Wyke was a tasty, easy drinking ale, and generally this seemed to be a easy going pub, although I imagine it can get rather cosy during busy periods.

The last pub on my journey around Norwich was The Mash Tun, conveniently located near where I'd parked the car. Owned by trendy Norwich brewers Redwell, the place was done up in traditional craft bar style - exposed brick work, metallic surfaces, a BBQ menu and a absence of handpumps, but plenty of keg available. A wide range of Redwell beer was available, and the Pale Ale I enjoyed was a lovely hoppy treat, although it was delivered freezing cold which lessened the flavour initially. There didn't appear to be a lunchtime menu and the beer prices were high so I wasn't surprised to be the only punter in the pub. Sadly this meant the atmosphere was deathly dull, and the lady behind the bar looked like she wished she could be anywhere else. I couldn't blame her. I'd like to come back at a busier time as I didn't get an accurate feel for the place on my visit.

Norwich didn't let me down with the pubs, with an excellent and varied selection of boozers available catering to just about every taste, from old fashioned ale houses to trendy craft emporiums. I had a great time.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Norfolk Part 1 - The North of Norfolk

Last week I was up in Norfolk, in the Great Yarmouth area. The Lovely Jemma's parents had booked a cottage and we joined them for a week of relaxing, walking and maybe even some beer drinking. Norfolk has an excellent reputation for real ale and I was looking forward to trying out the goods. The cottage we stayed in was in the charming chocolate box village of Winterton-on-Sea, featuring pretty houses, a well kept village green and an impressive lighthouse. There was also a pub and it seemed rude not to visit.

The Fishermans Return with its classic red brick façade, homely furnishings and traditional wood backed walls inside fits the part of the traditional village pub. However it has a secret, a large and modern extension to the back, which looks a bit out of place and was empty on the few visits I made, it is presumably mainly used for functions. The small serving area in the main pub had four ales on offer, including the "house ale" Skippers Tipple. A 4% bitter the brewery wasn't displayed on the pump clip, but according to the internet it appears to be a Greene King "house beer," a generic beer which they ship out to pubs who slap a custom clip on the handpull. It was tasty regardless. The Adnams Ghost Ship I tried was also in excellent nick. I didn't get to try the food but the menu looked appealing with plenty of pub classics.  Sitting outside on one of the wooden benches in the sunshine and surrounded by the sweet little village was a great way to start the holiday.

About a thirty minute walk along the beach from the cottage is the seaside resort of Hemsby. It's like a miniature Blackpool, with a small selection of gaudy, neon lit arcades and little shops selling all kinds of seaside tat populated by sugar filled kids and tired parents. The arcades were depressing to visit, all of them packed with two penny pushers and claw machines offering the same tacky "prizes" - I miss the video games and pinball from arcades of my childhood back in the 80's and 90's. On the outskirts of the Hemsby prom is the rather grand looking The Lacon Arms. A large family pub, on the few visits I made the pub garden was usually full of groups enjoying a pint and/or eating lunch. As it was billed as a "family pub" my pub snobbery kicked in and I wasn't expecting much of the beer selection but it was actually pretty good. Alongside the ubiquitous beer from the Norfolk Woodforde brewery, there was also another Greene King house ale and a beer from the recently reopened Lacon brewery, who are based down the road from the pub in Great Yarmouth. Their Encore was a fine, citrusy pale ale which was a joy to drink and possibly the best beer I had on the trip. I would have another run in with the Lacon Brewery later on in the trip.

Another half hour walk on from Hemsby is the cosy seaside resort California, which again has a small prom with a smattering of arcades and cafes, which no doubt get a lot of custom from the large holiday park nearby. There's also a pub, the California Tavern. Rather generic looking inside and out, this was a good spot for a drink and a meal. The Ploughmans Lunch I shared with The Lovely Jemma was very tasty, and my half of Wolf Brewery's strangely named Granny Wouldn't Like It was a rich ruby ale that went down a treat. Sadly my follow up pint of Woodforde Wherry wasn't so great. With a strong aroma of old socks and a taste that was marginally better, this was a disappointing pint of a normally reliable bitter.

On the Tuesday we took a walk in the opposite direction, across the beach and through the outskirts of the broads to the Nelson Head, a picture perfect country pub nestled in the tiny village of Horsey. This small two room pub has a wide range of ales and cider, plus a tempting if pricey food menu. The cider according to TLJ was very good, and the food was very tasty. Sadly the ale was hit and miss. Tom Wood's Best Bitter was either in poor condition or just a poor beer - slightly sour and a otherwise flat tasting profile. There was a lot of sediment at the bottom of the glass as well. I was desperate to drink anything after the long walk but I wasn't impressed. Cheddar Bitter Bully, which was gravity dropped rather than hand pulled, was a million times better, a clean, refreshing and hoppy pint that was a treat to drink. I tried my luck with another gravity dropped beer, but sadly my final pint of Arizona from the Tombstone Brewery was a return to average form, but the very pleasant walk back to the cottage cheered up my mood.

That's enough rambling for now. Over the next couple of weeks I'll be telling you about the pubs I visited in Great Yarmouth and Norwich. Hope you can join me!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Old Red Cow, Farringdon

I work in the Farringdon, an area in London which is bereft with decent pubs. I've visited several in the past and you can read my thoughts in the blog archive. Last Wednesday I popped into a pub in the area that I hadn't visited previously which was highly recommended by the Craft Beer London app. The Old Red Cow is near Smithfields market, a two floor pub with a small area downstairs and a dining area upstairs. Walking in on a Wednesday evening the place had a smattering of punters in, and the cosiness of the room made it feel busier than it was. Similar to the Euston Tap there are ten keg beers dispensed from taps on the back wall, plus four beers on handpump. I was pleased to see a strong selection of beers available, with plenty of bottles to choose from as well.

All was looking good and there was even a tempting food menu. I was ready to settle in for the evening with a friend of mine who was due to join me and I ordered a pint of Blond from Nene Valley brewery, a refreshing session pale ale at 3.8%. Sadly the night hit a snag when I was charged £4.50 for the pint. Now I don't mind paying a premium for a craft beer especially if it has a high ABV, but £4.50 for a 3.8% cask session ale is, in my opinion, taking the piss. Even worse was that I couldn't see this price advertised anywhere, only the keg beers appeared to have their prices listed on a blackboard to the side of the bar. They were also very highly priced, averaging around £6 a pint for beers in the 5-6% ABV range.

Maybe I'm out of touch and this pricing is normal, but these were the highest prices I'd ever seen in a pub as far as I could remember, and I've had plenty of experience getting stung in Central London pubs. My friend arrived and although we reasoned that we could just stick to halves the prices were just too unpalatable to spend a lot of time in the Cow. Additionally, and although it's not the fault of the pub, a group of braying City boys hogging the bar were getting loud and spoiling the atmosphere. One of them bleated about ordering "the most expensive beer the pub had.' I hate to think how much he paid for it.

My friend and I ended up going down to the Wetherspoons near Farringdon station (The Sir John Oldcastle) which was as gloomy and sticky as usual, but at least I could enjoy a can of SixPoint for £2.98. We then moved on to Smiths of Smithfields for dinner, where I enjoyed a burger along with a pint of their house beer, a refreshing pale lager that went down a treat. Even though Smiths is a restaurant for those on expense accounts it still felt more reasonable than the Red Cow. It's a real shame that the Cow was so expensive, as it could be a lovely cosy respite away from the hustle and bustle of Farringdon, but the prices were bordering on exploitative. With so many other decent pubs nearby I'm a little bit surprised they're getting away with it.

Sunday, 14 June 2015


Last weekend I was up in Blackpool or the "Vegas of the North" as it's known by absolutely nobody. My nan lives in nearby Cleveleys so I have had many visits to Blackpool over the years. Three or four years ago things were not looking good for the town - they missed out on the "Super Casino" bid, development plans had stopped and the tourist attractions were outdated and slowly crumbling away. But in the past few years it has gone through a bit of a renaissance - Merlin (who own Alton Towers and Thorpe Park) have come in and bought up the Blackpool Tower and the hilarious Louis Tussauds, whose waxworks were so bad that I once had to ask a friend why Paul Merton was on the Titanic, and they had to point out it was actually Leonardo DiCaprio. It's now an official Madame Tussauds and both it and the Tower are looking much better for themselves.

With Merlin throwing money at the resort and the council also starting to wise up and continue developing the town, the town centre is now looking much better, although the area around the Blackpool Pleasure Beach is looking a bit forlorn and forgotten. Hopefully the cash will start to make its way there. Along with Merlin another company making its way into Blackpool is Wetherspoons, who now have three blockbuster pubs in the town. In a way Spoons are a perfect fit for Blackpool, as their giant pubs serving cheap booze and food make it perfect for hungry families and the thirsty stag and hen do's.

The first Spoons of the weekend was The Velvet Coaster, a short walk away from the Pleasure  Beach. This is by far the biggest Spoons I've ever visited, spread over three floors and featuring a roof terrace and a glass lift. Each floor has a bar and they were serving different ales at different bars, which got a bit confusing. The location used to be an amusement arcade, and the decor is designed to evoke memories of fun at the seaside fair. For my first beer I went for the local offering of
Lytham Gold from the Lytham brewery which is only a 15 minute drive from the pub. It was a solid pint once it had time to settle. While ordering my second beer I noticed that New Zealand craft beer superstars Yeastie Boys had a beer on cask. I was initially excited but a little bit of research revealed that the beer was actually made at the Wadworth brewery in not so exotic Wiltshire, although the pump clip didn't indicate this. Bit disappointing but it's nice to see Spoons continuing to try and cater for the craft crowd, although I didn't see anybody order it.

My second drink was the Gold from the Ramsbury brewery which was a very refreshing and hoppy sup. On a Saturday afternoon the pub was in full swing with an eclectic mix of couples, parties and families and the barn like acoustics meant the downstairs was very noisy, although things were a bit quieter upstairs. Staff were friendly and serving as quickly as they could, the toilets were clean, the atmosphere was typical Spoons and quite frankly I liked the place. It's a great option for families who want a decent value lunch away from the expensive Pleasure Beach eateries.

Next up was the Spoons outlet in the centre of town, the Layton Rakes. Not as big as the Velvet Coaster, but still boasting a roof terrace, this was a more traditional Spoons experience, with slightly worn carpet and somewhat sticky table and chairs. Music was being played on a Saturday night which was unusual but actually welcome in this Spoons, as otherwise the atmosphere would have been pretty dead. The place was rather quiet punters wise, and I thought more would be coming in for a cheap drink before hitting the clubs. Although to be fair Blackpool clubs tend to be quite reasonable with their drinks prices, probably because there's so much competition.

I initially ordered a Bengali Tiger from SixPoint, but after the confused barman bought me back a bottle of the Singapore Tiger beer I had to point out in the cabinet what I wanted. Turns out they were all out of Bengali anyway, so I settled for SixPoint The Crisp at a wallet satisfying £1.99. Curiously the "premium" lagers such as Heineken were priced at around £3.40 which I found a bit high for a Spoons - maybe that's why there weren't many punters in. I find The Crisp to be the weakest of the SixPoint offerings but it's still a well made and very tasty pilsner. After a drink me and The Lovely Jemma headed on down to Funny Girls, an amusing drag cabaret and Blackpool classic that has to be experienced at least once by every visitor. I stayed away from the beer their though - I wasn't in the mood for a fizzy lager or Worthington Creamflow.

It's great to see Blackpool doing a bit better for itself and I hope the regeneration continues. The town centre is looking much smarter and they've even got a Pizza Express and a Nando's - things are truly on the up! If you find yourself there it's well worth a visit to the Coaster or the Rakes - to be honest there's precious little else you can go in town to get a decent pint of ale. On the way back home we stopped in Preston to enjoy lunch at The Continental, a fabulous pub nestled on the banks of the River Ribble. The food was excellent and my pint of Brewers Gold from Pictish was a superbly refreshing session pale. An excellent pub and a very pleasant end to an entertaining weekend.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Helsinki Part 3

After a very entertaining evening at the Helsinki Beer Festival, I woke up on Sunday morning surprisingly refreshed. I'm not sure if it was the fresh Helsinki air or the top quality of the beers I had been drinking but my head was clear and I barely felt any regret whatsoever unlike most other mornings after I've been on the lash. I was terrifically hungry though due to the lack of decent food options at the festival, but the hotels outstanding breakfast buffet soon filled that gap. Even though I wasn't flying back until Monday, I checked out of the hotel as I moving to one nearer the town centre, the functional and slightly quirky Hotel Finn. It was a great base for the centre of town, and was surprisingly reasonably priced as well. Another bonus was that it was directly across the way from Villi Wäinö, a bar I would be visiting later in the evening.

But first off I met with my friends to visit Bryggeri Helsinki for lunch. As well as brewing their own beer on site, they also have a very tempting BBQ menu. Sadly on arrival the place was firmly shut, presumably the staff were sleeping off their beer festival antics. We ended up eating in the fancy Kappeli which is nestled in a regal park that cuts through the middle of Helsinki. Although it looks very posh from the outside, it serves very reasonably priced meals. I stayed away from the beer here to give my body a rest before the night of drinking, but the Gravlax was very good indeed. After a obligatory visit to the Moomin shop up the road it was back to the hotel for a nap and watching YouTube videos on the free wi-fi. The beer blogging life is an exciting one.

As the evening rolled on I ventured out for a nights drinking on my lonesome. First stop was a return to Oluthuone Kaisla, which I've already written about in Part 1 so go back there and read it if you're interested. Next was St Urhos. The guide I was using described this as a "Fullers style" pub but it turned out to be an actual full blown Fullers. It was an odd  feeling stumbling into a traditional Fullers in Helsinki but I'm glad I did as it was excellent. ESB was available on cask and other Fullers ales were available on keg. The real stars were the bottled beers, an eclectic and well chosen selection from all over the world. I ended up with an Australian ale, Single Hop IPA Galaxy from Bridge Road Brewers. Sadly I paid the price for choosing something so exotic as it cost a wallet melting ten euros for a 330ml bottle. Thankfully it was very tasty.

A food menu was available and the offerings were similar to the Fullers pubs back in England. I went for the Liver and Mash, but as a concession to Finland it was served with some lingonberries. Pretty much everything in Helsinki is served with a side of lingonberries. It's a good job I love 'em. The food was good, the atmosphere was jovial, the service friendly and efficient and overall this was an excellent pub. Well worth visiting.

I returned back to the hotel for a quick lie down and digestion afrer the hefty portion of mash, before popping across the way to Villi Wäinö. This large bar in muted black decor has more of a clubby feel, but on a Sunday evening it was quiet and rather pleasant. Villi is one of the few places in town that serves "Sahti" beer, a traditional Finnish style. I went for the Lammin Sahti  by Lammin Sahti Oyand and it certainly was an experience. It felt like I was drinking the contents of a herb garden, and although it's a strong beer the boozy flavours weren't too overpowering. It was surprisingly good but the half I had was enough to be honest. There was a nice mix of punters in, with a couple of large groups of students, some older  gentlemen enjoying a drink, and even a few single drinkers - it was nice to not be the only weirdo sitting on a table on their own. Nice place although apparently it gets very busy on a Friday and Saturday night, with drinkers spilling on to the street outside.

The next day was my flight back to the UK. We did manage to make it back to the Bryggeri Helsinki but sadly they don't serve the BBQ menu at lunch time, and instead serve a rather dreary looking buffet consisting of Finnish home cooking - fish soup, meatballs etc. To avoid a wasted trip I felt obliged to have a drink there, and the Citra was a very good example of this tasty style. That turned out to be my last beer of a trip that involved a huge amount of very tasty beer. It was like being a student again. I flew back to London tired but happy- and looking forward to returning to Helsiinki again once I've saved up another few hundred quid so I can afford the beer there!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Helsinki Part 2 - Helsinki Beer Festival 2015

After the slightly disappointing visit to the One Pint Pub, it was time to head on to the main event - the Helsinki Beer Festival. It was taking place in a building known as the Old Cable Factory, a massive former, erm, cable factory which has been converted into an exhibition space. But before we got there, there was one more pub on the way that I wanted to try out. Amsterdam is a large, airy modern pub owned by the same company as the excellent Kaisla. Despite the name of the pub it downplayed the Dutch theming, with the odd reference to a bicycle being the only concession to our Dutch cousins. The beer list was sadly nowhere near as exciting as Kaisla's, and again I didn't notice anything on cask. The pub had a mini festival on showcasing IPA's, so I felt it rude not to try one. Notkea IPA from Panimo & Tislaamo Teerenpeli was a rather good example of the style, with a lovely hoppy finish that was very enjoyable.

After this pre-game drink it was onwards with my pals to the festival. Although the festival started at 12pm we got there for 4pm, as the entertainment started at 10:30pm and quite frankly it looked unmissable:

We wanted to be concious for these guys so the later start was a good idea. As with anything beer related in Helsinki the entrance fee wasn't cheap - 17 euro to get in, although we could check in our coats for free because we had pre booked. The cloakroom check scam was one of the more annoying things about Helsinki - just about every bar after 11pm required you to "check in" your jacket into the cloakroom - an easy way to charge an entrance fee without charging an entrance fee as everybody wears a jacket there! After the cloakroom check in we walked into the large main hall - its factory history showing quite clearly with the high ceiling and industrial decor.

Unlike the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) in London Olympia which lets in lots of natural light to brighten the proceedings, the Cable Factory's large windows had been completely blacked out, leading to a dark and slightly foreboding atmosphere. However unlike the GBBF the crowd in Helsinki where mainly young, so maybe they appreciated the more clubby surroundings. The place was packed with breweries local and international plying their trade. Apart from a "British Ale" bar on the upper level, the majority of the beer was keg. This didn't really matter in the end as the majority of the beers I tried were very tasty.

I sampled many beers throughout the evening. A guide in English listed the award winners and other notable beers. Highlights for me were Thor Bock by Suomenlinnan Panimo, a supremely drinkable Bock style beer with excellent, easy drinking malty flavours. Hillbino's Rye Hiffer IPA by Panimoravintola Bruuveri was an excellent IPA, with big hoppy flavours in the finish - top stuff. Sadly the food offering at the festival wasn't anywhere near as good as the excellent food selection at the GBBF. I spotted around five stalls selling grub, including BBQ, Burgers and German sausages, the last of which I decided to grab some tasty, and inevitably expensive, currywurst. It was washed down with Hainfelder Spezialbier Dunkel by Brauerei Hainfeld, which matched the food very nicely indeed. My favourite beer of the festival ended up being one from the local Helsinki Brewery, their IPA being a top notch example of the style - hoppy, fruity, and not to heavy on the booze.

We managed to stay awake until the entertainment, and Martti Servo and the boys didn't disappoint with a very enthusiastic performance. The Finns absolutely loved them - singing along merrily, dancing wildly and there were even a couple of conga lines. I didn't understand any of the lyrics apart from one song where you were expected to shout "sauna" during the chorus - I was happy to oblige. This was clearly a kitschy act with a bit of cult appeal and it was a lot of fun. Look them up on YouTube for an idea of their act. An excellent end to a well run and very pleasurable beer festival.

In my next update I'll be telling you a bit about the pubs I visited on the Sunday and Monday after - yes somehow despite drinking my weight in booze at the festival I managed to cram some more in at some very good Helsinki boozers. See you soon!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Helsinki Part 1

A few weeks ago I visited Helsinki with a friend of mine for the annual beer festival that was taking place. I'd never been to that part of the world before and a beer festival was a good excuse as any to visit, so I took the opportunity to spend a long weekend in this charming if chilly city. We were going to the festival on the Saturday, so I had Friday night to explore some of the pubs in town. After doing extensive research on ratebeer.com, I had a list of decent pubs recommended by the crazy beardies on that site. It looks like over the past few years Helsinki has really embraced the craft beer scene, and there's been an explosion of pubs serving decent beer, including an inevitable BrewDog. I intended to visit as many of these boozers as possible!

First up was Oluthuone Kaisla, a large pub centrally located by the train station. This pub looks deceptively small from the outside, but once inside it's surprisingly cavernous, and as I ventured deeper and deeper into the pub more and more rooms revealed themselves. With plenty of nooks and crannies and a buzzing atmosphere this was a comfortable place to enjoy a few beers. My friend had already staked out a table, so it was down to the tricky business of choosing what to drink. The beer list was extensive, with plenty on keg and bottle, but sadly nothing on cask. I played it safe on my first beer with Kukko Pils from Laitilan Wirvoitusjuomatehdas (get ready for more crazy brewery names throughout this post) as I needed something refreshing and sharp after being cooped up in a packed plane. The Pils certainly fit the bill, clean and refreshing and a pleasure to sup. My next beer was more adventurous, the Hoppe IPA from Suomenlinnan Panimo. This was a big IPA with bold, brash flavours and it was absolutely delicious.

I was prepared for Finland to be expensive beer wise, but those two beers came to a combined total of around 14 euros! Apparently the alcohol tax had just been raised again - I'm sure it was merely coincidence that it happened just before a beer festival was due to take place. Despite the initial shock of the prices I very much enjoyed my time at the Kaisla. It was like a larger than life version of a Wetherspoons but with a jolly, classy atmosphere and music being played.

I liked the Kaisla so much I returned on the Sunday evening where it turns out they do a special promotion - pints for the price of a half. I doubt the barmaid had seen a smile so wide as the one on me when she told me the news. This much welcomed promotion brought the prices down to an almost reasonable level. I enjoyed pints of Pekko Pale Ale by Malmgårdin Panimo and Plevnan Smörre IPA from Koskipanimo, both of which were very suppable and in the case of the IPA packed full of big flavours. They tasted even better as I was only paying around 5 euro a pint instead of 8 euro! The promotion did highlight an irritating habit of Helsinki pubs where they do not halve the price of a pint when ordering a half - it was always a little bit over.

Back to the Friday evening. After the Kaisla, we moved on to The Black Door, a solid interpretation of a British pub. Two handpumps were on the bar, serving Skinners ales, including Cornish Knocker. I dread to think how much it would cost, and I'm not a huge fan of Skinners anyway, so I stuck to the Finnish keg beer. Diane was a new beer from the local Maku Brewery. It was a bit rough and ready and needed a bit more work but it was pretty tasty. The pub was packed and lively with young and old alike, some tables with big groups and some customers happily enjoying a pint on their own. Helsinki is one of the few cities I've been to outside of the UK that captures the spirit of British pubs, people are here to drink and chat, but it's done on a bigger and dare I say better scale. The rest of the night was a bit of a blur as I ended up in a Russian bar which served only one beer (Carlsberg) and one vodka before ending up dancing like a idiot in "authentic Oirish" bar Molly Malones. I think I drank a Kilkenney. It's not important. I had a lot of fun.

The next morning I wasn't feeling so much fun, but after a hearty breakfast it was time to head to the Beer Festival. By lunchtime I had perked up a bit and decided to try a couple of more pubs on the way to the festival. First up was One Pint Pub, a well respected little bar at the bottom of a block of flats, it was so well hidden I had a bit of trouble finding it. With its dark glass and low lighting I thought the place was shut from the outside, but through the gloom I could make out some punters. Walking in there were only three punters in, all sitting at a table to themselves reading a paper. With no music and no fruit machines it was a bit like being in a very small Wetherspoons. My half of Red Neck Ale from De Proefbrouwerij was OK - a bit of a limp IPA and not as strongly hopped as the label suggested. There was a huge selection of bottled beers available, plus plenty of keg from little known breweries, but it all came at a cost - this was the most expensive of the pubs I'd visited so far. The atmosphere was dead so I left after my half, but I imagine this place can get quite jovial when there's a few people in.

That's it for now - next week I'll tell you about the festival and some more pubs I visited in Helsinki. See you on Sunday!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015


After a splendid afternoon in the comfy surroundings of Carshalton, it was time to head to the grittier climes of Croydon, a half hour bus ride away. Croydon has the air of a place that was built with great intentions, in this case an attempt at being a New York style city of business, but the time and money wasn't really invested into it to pull it off so it got left behind and forgotten about. It's a real shame the council can't do more with the place as there is huge potential with its decent transport links and plenty of office space available. Apparently the monstrous American shopping "mall" experience Westfield will be moving in, but judging by their soulless labyrinths in Stratford and Shepherds Bush, I'm not expecting much from them - it will likely end up being a glamorous playground for bored scummy kids to hang about in.

Despite Croydon falling far short of what it initially promised, it does have some decent pubs. I'd written about two of them previously and this time I tried out a few pubs mentioned in the Good Beer Guide that I hadn't been to before. First up was the Skylark, right on the outskirts of town. This is a large Wetherspoons, and probably the most generic Spoons I'd visited in a long while. No excitement here, just the usual muddy brown/red carpet, slightly sticky furniture, dim lighting, collection of bored single elderly punters and a long bar serving a big collection of ales. Their beer festival was on and I tried a Bedfordshire Clanger from Banks Brewery which to be honest was a bit of a mistake. It was ludicrously bitter and a chore to drink - it was if they'd messed up the quantity of ingredients during the brewing process and couldn't be bothered to fix it. I tried the new burritos Spoons are doing now and it was fine - a bit like having a Tesco ready meal but tasty enough.

After this lacklustre experience I was looking forward to the Green Dragon, a popular pub that gets good press. This large centrally located pub is right next to the Tiger Tiger and Reflex nightclubs, so no doubt a good place to load up on booze before attempting to have a dance. Five ales on handpump were on offer, plus a barrel of Black Sheep was being gravity dropped. Nothing really stood out as exciting from the ale selection, and I went for a Dune Raider from the Sunny Republic brewery. Sadly this was another disappointing ale, with a limp watery flavour - it needed more oomph. There was a smattering of young and old customers in on this dreary Thursday afternoon, and while music was being played when I walked in it cut out shortly after, leaving a bit of an odd atmosphere. I have a feeling this place might be more fun in the evening.

The last pub on my tour is owned by the former landlady of the Green Dragon. The Oval Tavern is a surprisingly large pub in the middle of a largely residential area. The Lovely Jemma works nearby and I had no idea this pub existed until I saw it mentioned in the guide - I thought it was all houses in the area! The decor inside is a little shabby and studenty but it has charm, there's also a large beer garden accessed by a flight of stairs. I was the only customer in but it was a comfortable enough place to enjoy a quiet half. Sadly I was lumbered with another beer that wasn't too great, although it was my fault for not reading the label correctly. Blue Boar from Everards is a standard bitter but with honey and mead chucked in, and unfortunately I didn't realise this fact until it was too late. I was basically drinking boozy Lemsip. Luckily the amusing posters dotted around the pub and the good music being played made the drink go down easier.

With a lot of live music events on as well, The Oval is having a good stab at being a community boozer, and I wish them all the best. I look forward to returning. Next week I'll be telling you all about Helsinki which I visited over the weekend, hence why this post is a few days late. Hope you can join me!

Sunday, 29 March 2015


If there's one thing Boris Johnson should have sorted out in his tenure as London mayor, during which he appears to have done absolutely nothing except waste newspaper pages with his buffonish "antics," he should have spent millions of pounds joining up South East London (and even Croydon) with decent transport links. Carshalton is 12 miles away from my house in SE London, a 40 minute car journey. However to get there by public transport took 1 hour 30 minutes, as I had to go into London and out again which is ridiculous. After trundling through the cultural desert that is Mitcham, I arrived at Carshalton, a nice enough little town nestled on the main road between Sutton and Croydon which is blessed with three decent pubs.

First up was the Windsor Castle, a Shepherd Neame pub although you wouldn't know it from the outside as it doesn't appear to advertise itself as a Neame. This imposing street corner pub on a busy junction has an exterior clad in wonderful green tiling, and inside the traditional feel continues. It's a surprisingly large place with a central oval bar dishing out Neame ales, plus three guest ales. As I've drunk far too much Neame in my lifetime I tried out the guests, and went for a half of Legless Rambler from the Beachy Head microbrewery. This award winning ale was a little rough around the edges, but there was plenty of promise and it was a pleasant enough bitter sup. Only two other customers were in and Smooth FM was being played so the atmosphere wasn't exactly electric, but the pleasant decor made this a nice enough place for a lunchtime half and possibly a nap. Food was available as well with standard pub grub options.

Next up was The Sun. From the outside this was another imposing street corner boozer, but the inside was nearly the exact opposite of the Windsor Castle. Modern decor and furnishings gave it a boutique feel, and although the focus was mainly on good looking food, I felt comfortable just having a drink. There was a well chosen selection of ales on offer and my Off Beat Brewery Kooky Gold was a solid example of a British pale ale. There were slightly more customers in this one, so there was a bit of atmosphere going. The light and airy style of pub isn't usually my favourite, I prefer my boozers dark and dank so I'm not distracted from the serious business of drinking ale, but I did quite enjoy the look and atmosphere of this pub, even if the dramatic black patterned back bar wallpaper looked like it may be more at home in a hairdressers. Nice little pub and I'd like to return to try out the food.

The last pub was the main reason I made the trip out to Carshalton. The Hope is a CAMRA favourite, and was voted Pub of the Year 2013. This old school boozer was bought out by the locals, and a beer revolution is happening inside. Some well chosen ales were on offer and there was also a smattering of craft beer offerings on keg, such as the Pale Ale from Five Points brewery. I ended up going for the Arbor Triple Hop, which was a fruity, hoppy treat. A few regulars were in hogging the bar but they were friendly enough. Preparations were in place for a beer festival which, just my luck, was due to start the next day. There's no music, no fruit machines, and the decor and furnishing look like they haven't been changed in years. No wonder CAMRA love it so much. Luckily it's my kind of pub as well. A very simple food offering was available, and I was pleased to see a billiards table in the back. A classic and welcoming boozer, and the excellent beer on offer makes it even more worthy a visit.

I carried on to Croydon to meet up with The Lovely Jemma and try out a few new pubs, but I'll tell you all about those in my next blog post as I desperately need the content. Until next time!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

SE London Pub of the Year nominees

Being a paid up CAMRA member I recently received an email from my local South East London branch about nominations for the branch Pub of the Year. Depressingly I had only been to one of the pubs on the shortlist, the excellent Park Tavern in Eltham. I had been meaning to visit the other pubs on the list and the email gave me the kick up the arse I needed to go out there and give them a go. Of course a single visit isn't enough to get a true feel for a pub and nominate it for the award, unless the place serves free pints of perfectly conditioned real ale served by dazzlingly beautiful bar staff in a opulent Grade II listed interior. But at least I could say I'd visited these pubs, and I get a blog post out of it as well.

First up was the Blythe Hill Tavern. I'd heard good things about this place but I'd never visited even though it's only a 30 minute bus ride from my house. This is probably because it involves going to Catford - an area that always seems to be on the brink of "gentrifying" but the hipsters and professionals just can't bring themselves to do it. The Blythe is a good looking traditional street corner boozer from the outside, and I gingerly went to one of the three entrances hoping I wouldn't have to face the locked door of shame. Luckily I chose wisely and walking in I was greeted by a small seating area and bar. Initial looks proved to be deceiving, as there was another room behind the bar and a further room around the corner, making the pub surprisingly spacious - and also explaining the numerous entrances.

Five ales were on offer including firm favourites Harveys Best and Dark Star Hophead. I went for Whitstable Centinneal, a single hop beer which was very pleasant. I took a seat next to a telly showing the (Irish) horse racing, and was amused by the posters advocating temperance dotted above the bar. The pub was very quiet with only three other punters in - but it was a Thursday lunchtime, or perhaps those temperance posters did have an effect. The beer was good, the pub was good and I imagine on a Friday evening quite an atmosphere gets going. A decent boozer.

Next up was a pub that wasn't up for nomination, but as it has received a lot of good buzz and was nearby I thought it rude not to drop in. The London Beer Dispensary is the tap for trendy brewery Late Knights. Even though I knew that this place didn't have a traditional "bar" I was still amused by the set up. In one corner of the pub there is a wall with some handpumps, a barrel with a keg dispensary stuck on top and a rack with some cask ales lined up. This is all out in the open, so you walk up, the friendly bar staff pours a beer for you - as this place is "on trend" only jugs are available - and you enjoy the beer. I went for a Late Knights Penge Porter which was really rather good, but unfortunately the keg delivery meant it was served far too cold. After a few minutes to settle the pleasant mocha and chocolate flavours starting coming through a treat. I also enjoyed a half of Crack of Dawn, also from Late Knights, which was on cask and was very good - an easy drinking, hoppy pale ale.

The place had the feel of a craft beer take on the micropub - with the focus on ale and the tables close to each other to encourage conversation it shared some of the same ethos. A food menu of burgers and, inevitably, pulled pork was available, plus some bar snacks. Sadly they were out of black pudding pork pies. A second room at the back of the bar was done up like a posh living room, complete with stately leather sofas, and an impressive fireplace with a stags head looming above. The cheery staff made me feel welcome, and overall I was impressed with the place, although I imagine it gets a bit cramped on a busy evening.

My final stop on this mini pub tour was the one I was looking forward to the most, a pub with a heart-warming history and a splendid interior. The Ivy House is a barn of a pub nestled in a residential area of Peckham. Walking in you're first greeted by a small room with cosy furnishing and a serving area in the corner. Walk through the doors at the back though and you enter a much larger, and very impressive, main room complete with a stage. The fit out is very plush, all deep dark woods, and the stage area is very ornate. It looks absolutely fantastic. Being a pub in a rapidly improving area of London it was due to be converted to flats but thankfully a local campaign managed to secure around a million quid in funding and it was bought by the residents of the area. It is now run as a co-operative. A wonderful story for a wonderful building.

The beer selection was top notch with a good collection of traditional ales and more crafty selections as well. I enjoyed half of Cottage Brewery Aphrodite, a straightforward pale ale. The pub does food as well, a small menu with pretty much every pub classic represented - pies, fish and chips and so on. I went for the bangers and mash and they were superb, three plump meaty sausages on a creamy mash bed. Great stuff.

A couple of days later I paid a visit to the final pub on the nomination list, The Fox on The Hill. This is a very large Wetherspoons in leafy Denmark Hill. The first thing that struck me was the impressive size of the garden, and it was packed with drinkers doing the traditional British thing when the sun comes out for the first time in months - sitting outside and enjoying a beer even if the weather is actually a bit chilly. Inside the pub is split into several large rooms, with a L-shaped bar dishing out drinks to thirsty punters.

I had a few beers here, for research purposes of course, and also because the beer is keenly priced thanks to it being a Spoons. Clarence and Fredericks Cascadian Black was a highlight, a "Black IPA" that maintained the malty goodness of a stout with the hoppy madness of an IPA, a very solid effort, and a steal at £1.75 a pint after using my CAMRA 50p off voucher. I also enjoyed Wettons Golden Taff, a crisp pale ale from Wales that had a very pleasurable dry finish. Spoons full "craftwork" offering was available, and I enjoyed a Sixpoint Bengali with my chicken burger. You can't really complain about getting a well made 6.5% IPA free with a meal. I gave the Devils Backbone IPA a try as well, a good interpretation of the classic American IPA by the Banks Brewery.

I enjoyed my time at all the nominated pubs, and to be honest it would be difficult to pick a winner. They're all cosy, welcoming boozers that are an asset to the community they serve. Definitely worth popping into them if you're nearby, and The Ivy House is worth a special trip for the amazing interior alone.

Sunday, 15 February 2015


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.