A Thirst & A Fresh Oyster(card) – A Wandering Week in London – March 2014


” I had entered into a marriage in the summer of my 21st year and the bells rang for our wedding,

Only now do I remember it clear, alright, alright, alright.

No more a rake and no more a bachelor, I was wedded and it whetted my thirst,

Until her womb started spilling out babies, only then did I reckon my curse,

Alright, alright, alright!”

(“The Rake Song” – The Decemberists)

(Video courtesy of http://www.decemberists.com/)

As I mentioned in my last post, I fell in love with music again having discovered the online store / club E-Music. This website led me to discover a whole wealth of bands that I would probably never had otherwise heard. Chief among these bands was The Decemberists from Portland in Oregon.

From the moment that I heard the jangly entry notes of “The Crane Wife 3” I was hooked and fell in love with the lyrical worlds spun by Colin Meloy and this fabulous band. Tracks like “Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect”, “We Both Go Down Together”, “Yankee Bayonet” the list goes on….I can just wallow for hours in lyrical beauty backed by expert musicianship that straddles between folk and almost Prog Rock (One track was described to me as “Steeleye Span meets Black Sabbath”!). Meloy has a way with words and sometimes writes in an antiquated verbal manner using words that you’d never hear elsewhere.

With topics ranging from unrequited love “Angel Won’t You Call Me” through bloody murder ballads “Shankil Butchers” (sic) to infanticide (“The Rake Song” see above), you’ll never be bored!

Suffice to say, The Decemberists are my favourite band with never a slack track in their 6 full-length albums (+ several EPs) so far. They may be recording a new album as I type and – should they hit the UK on tour, I will certainly fill the gaping hole in my music CV and see them live. Given what I have seen online, their performances are never less than enthralling!

With the end of this musical revelry, I shall get on with the matter in hand. Beer and great places to drink it!

2 weeks ago today (Wednesday), “The Boss” asked for volunteers to work in London for a week with odd shifts being the order of the week. Now, I am a bit of a home bird – having missed nearly the first 18 months of my youngest so due to living and working away –  I’m not all that keen to spend time away. The bait on this hook for me was to visit pubs and bars that I have regularly read others like Nate, Chris Hall & Tandleman write about and make me drool. So, with a (forced) smile on my face and beer in my heart, I was on the train to Euston one drizzly Sunday.

Let’s Begin!

Arriving at approx 7pm on a Sunday evening, with a London Transport Travelcard in hand, I unpacked my considerable luggage and pondered my first move. Only then did I consider the erratic opening hours of London pubs of a weekend! Fortunately, a well placed tweet revealed that – if I was quick – A certain mighty (yet mini) hostelry might be open!

TheRake_005_1(pic courtesy – http://boroughmarket.org.uk/)

The Rake – (Winchester Walk, Borough Market)

I don’t get down to Capital City much these days, but the last time I came, I popped in The Rake and it made a big impression for such a small bar, great cask ales, brilliant keg range and a bewildering array of bottles beers too from far and er…. wide.

I went twice during the week once on the Sunday, then on the Wednesday. The Sunday visit was quiet as it was virtually closing time when I got there. The guys working the bar and cellar were good as gold and twice as friendly as I was served with a Chockwork Orange Stout from Brecon Brewery (Welsh Beer Festival that weekend). Not hugely orangey, but a fine full-bodied Stout.

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This was, perforce, a flying visit, but I just had to have a read of the Wall of Fame. This is an enormous white wall where brewers sign and comment about the bar, a quirky but unique feature, then again, this small single room bar (the beer garden is larger!) is unique and quirky itself!

I called in again on the Wednesday. My original idea was to drag a colleague all the way from Vauxhall to Leyton for some Brodies at their tap The King William IV. However, the mighty Dave let me know that there was a Rake “Tap Takeover” by Brodies that night. Bit of a no brainer really!

Myself & my buddy Phil settled down to pints of really light, pale gold, refreshing and citrussy London Fields Pale Ale which, at 3.9% abv, were just the ticket after a rather longer than expected walk from Vauxhall. With tart grapefruit and a hint of lemon, a superb sharp pint.

Bethnal Green Bitter was next at 4% and was again a cracking pint. Amber coloured and full-bodied for the strength, biscuity malt and gentle grapefruit making for an excellent sessionable beer.

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This small single room bar was getting really busy, so we were lucky to grab a table in the outside area / beer garden on this beautiful bright late afternoon. A couple of halves of fruity, sharp and roasty dark Dalston Black followed and were consumed with resinous relish!

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(Hackney Red IPA)

Chatted for quite a while with a couple who shared our table. Demien a Colombian tattoo artist with a fabulous orchid on his neck (national flower of Colombia dontcha know!), the evening just flowed as we chatted about anything and everything with Demien and Sara (his Dallas based girlfriend), a lovely way to spend a couple of hours in great company and with Brodies excellent beers. Having had a sniff of Sara’s Hackney Red IPA, I just had to have one! Spicy and citrus tart. Gorgeous.

Rolling back to Sunday, chanced my luck by trying the Market Porter which I thought was about to close. A stunningly good pint of gloriously roasty Harveys Porter was had. Dark and delicious as was the fabulous tuneage, with some early Black Keys and some Nick Cave. Sunday Bonus!!!

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Pelt Trader (Dowgate Hill, just at side of Cannon Street station)

A couple of hours on Monday saw me venture into the City. I’d heard many great things about this bar from luminaries such as Nate Dawg, Chris Hall and Tandleman, so it would have been remiss not to give it a spin!

Nice, cool and spacious railway arch built into the underside of Cannon Street Station. Fairly quiet at the time I went in, but got steadily busier. Being owned/run by the people behind the excellent Euston Tap (and given the excellent things that I’d been hearing), I had no fear for the beer quality. This was borne out by stunningly good pints of Oakham Citra and Quantum American Light. (Can’t escape Jay’s beers…even in London it would seem!)

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(Looks suspiciously like a pelt!)

As with The Rake, Pelt Trader has all the elements in place for me. Nice building (lots of exposed brickwork, broken up with artifacts here & there – a Kayak?), with REALLY friendly staff (had a chat with a guy I presumed was a bar manager) and – most importantly – damn fine beer.

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Draft House (Seething Lane, nr Tower Hill tube)

Just a quick one in here. A quick taste of a Purity Black Ale was less than sound, so plumped for a rather nice and refreshing Outlandish Pale Ale by Offbeat Brewery (Crewe, Cheshire). Pale gold, light and refreshing and nice and hoppy. Bargain of the week at £2.70 a pint!

The neon may be attractive to some, but was harsh on my eyes. Nice big open room with (probably) a bit of an accent on food. Loads of tables and a nice attractive exterior. can’t escape that neon though! 6 handpumps though meant quite a bit of choice with Sambrooks, Marble & Twickenham breweries also represented.

Stretching my legs a bit, headed up to Shoreditch to a bar that had been recommended. So, on a hunt for some Five Points on cask, I headed to The Crown & Shuttle on Shoreditch High Street.

Crown and shuttle

(pic – crownandshuttle.co.uk)

Again, loads of exposed brick in this bar that was so long, it had the feeling of a tunnel. Busy for a Monday evening. Large choice of beer both cask and keg, with no Five Points to be found, yours truly settled for a Galaxy Burst by Alechemy on cask.

Lovely friendly staff, they could even understand my dialect! The Alechemy was lovely, full of spring grass on the nose, full-bodied with lashings of tangerine and orange an d a nice piney finish with a gentle bitterness. Top tunes too! Sly Stone, Marvelettes, Detroit Spinners. My boxes were all ticked! Cracking bar.

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(Tuesday? – Must be Hackney then!)

Tuesday was dedicated to seeing an old friend that I hadn’t seen for nigh on 25 years! Living (as she does) in Leyton, we arranged to meet in the Pembury Tavern

Located on Amhurst Road, this angular pub was reasonably quiet as I entered. A plethora of hand pumps, most from the Milton Brewery of Cambridge

Pembury bar-panorama

(pic : https://www.individualpubs.co.uk/pembury/)

Settling down a a lovely fruity and refreshing pint of Milton Tiki at 3.8%, I took in the view. My kind of pub. Leaving aside the single roomed aspect, loads of space close to and in front of the bar, plenty of tables to the sides with seats and benches, there was just such a relaxed vibe here. Then my friend Andrea arrived and all considerations of decor etc went right out the window! Catching up with her (and spilling a few stories to her cute daughter – doing her homework!) was utterly precious. Transpires that she knew the regulars and staff ever so well.

This pub just FEELS welcoming and friendly. Certainly family and (well-behaved) pet friendly. Great pizzas (according to my lovely friend) and well….it just felt right. Certainly right enough to have another pint of Tiki! Unfortunately, I had to move on as I was due to meet Dave from The Rake at the next pub (cue Keystone Cops like farce!)

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A swift Twitter poll decided my next move after a number of people (including the redoubtable Connor “Beer Battered” Murphy) suggested The Cock Tavern on Mare Street in Hackney.

This is the brewery tap for Howling Hops Brewery. Haven’t had much by them, so was really looking forward to a pint or 2. That plan was rodgered when my colleague I was expecting on Wednesday, arrived on Tuesday and expected me for company. This left me with one pint worth of time. After a number of tweets to Dave, I realised that I made one almighty balls up. He was in The Pembury!!!

Being a Northern chap and therefore of good grace (Well, a fellow Lancastrian and all!) he hauled himself down to the Cock for a swift pint! Top bloke who took my apologies in good heart and with the aforementioned good grace. The Milk Stout it was for both of us and it was absolutely LUSH! Gorgeously roasted and with that hint of lactose sweet/sour, it was a lovely pint. I will have to see if my good buddy The Ale Man has some stashed away!

The Cock deserved a longer stay. Felt like a proper local, but on the edge of the big city. Dark inside with wood panelled walls, lots of dark wood seating on the exposed wood floor, it really is a lovely pub. Next time I’m down, I’ll make a bee-line! However, I had my colleague waiting in Pelt Trader……Oops

More Keystone Cops stuff here as my buddy needed to eat. So I suggested Cask on Charlwood Street, but by the time I stood outside Pimlico Tube station, he’d give up and headed back to t’hotel! Not to be discouraged, I just got a step on. I was a tad peckish too by this point!

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(Cask was busy!)

Much to my chagrin, I don’t bump into too much cask ale by Mallinsons in Manchester. To my delight, there were THREE on at Cask! Unfortunately, I had a monstrously early start so couldn’t do all three to go with my scrummy Stilton & Bacon burger….Citra & Alias were more than fine enough The Citra brought out the best in that hop with lovely tart grapefruit clearing that Stilton palate. The Alias had plenty of fruit along with a pronounced bitterness which, if anything, lifted it above the lovely Citra! 2 Single hopped pales by one of my favourite breweries! Beer Heaven!

Really friendly & helpful staff here – could have stayed ’til closing…..damn that early start!

Thursday saw me (via little advanced St Patrick’s Night drink with some swanky Irish associates!) at The Southampton Arms in Gospel Oak. I love this long bar and it was really busy this evening. Fortunately we managed to grab a table so I could enjoy a lovely slightly bitter and gorgeously roasted pint of Long Nines Stout by Hopcraft. I didn’t care that it was 6% abv. It was lush! The only shame tonight, was that I couldn’t hear the Jimmy Cliff album being played on the turntable! Great bar, friendly staff and locals. (Didn’t realise that it was the same people who owned The Cock Tavern in Hackney!)

A damned long week. Would’ve liked to have visited more bars/pubs, but you know what they say “Work is the curse of the drinking classes!”

In summary though, the thing that made this week the undoubted pleasure it was, was meeting new people, both from the other side of the bar (unfailingly friendly), or chance encounters. This beer malarkey is all about the people. They were lovely! (Now. where IS that Shadwell based tattooist…..just fancy a chalice glass on my arm…..)

Well…..that’s it with London for a while I suppose…

On that note….’til next time….

Slainte!

Weird Beard – Great Beer From West London

Weird Beard

The first time I heard about Weird Beard was on Twitter earlier this year, I think from Burnley Dave, from The Rake at Borough Market, London (a cracking bar BTW!). A new brewery making their name in the ultra competitive London beer scene. The first time I tasted one of their beers was in Port Street, late in the evening. It was OK, but I was over refreshed and pledged to give them another try.

Last month, I got the opportunity at Font. Black Perle,a coffee milk stout. What a belter! Ticked so many of my taste boxes! A lovely creamy beer with more than a hint of latte.

Shortly after that, I found myself in contact with Damian O’Shea (known on Twitter as @TheAleManMcr). Damian kindly offered to send me a couple of bottles to try. In the year I have been wittering on about beer, nobody has done that before. A strange feeling! However, for various reasons, we never quite “hooked up”. Damian has a stall at Castlefield Market some weeks and it was there that Jaz met him (and bought me a bottle, lovely fella!). Then one Sunday, I got a text to say he’d picked up a couple from Damian for me. Needless to say, I got in the old jalopy and high tailed to Manchester to pick up my loot!

Damian is the “Northern Distributor” for this brewer from Hanwell, West London. They only started brewing commercially earlier this year but have already started to find their way consistently onto some of the city’s better bars, making a name for themselves, with hoppy pales a speciality. I’d been smitten by the Black Perle (one of my top 3 of 2013), but how would I like the pales…….

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Five O’Clock Shadow

A 7.3% abv American style IPA (7% on draught). This 330ml bottle conditioned beer was deep copper coloured with a fine white head and abundant tropical hop on the nose. Made with 3 malts and 4 hops (Summit, Apollo, Citra and Columbus), this had an initial biscuit malt sweetness more than offset by some assertive hopping with the grapefruity Citra well up there, taste of apricot too with a dry grassy/herbal aftertaste. A cracking start!

20130702_213006(“A Boring Brown Beer”?)

Chinook

What to expect from this beer, labelled “A Boring Brown Beer”. Well. It certainly wasn’t an aroma with licorice and spice! A deep ruby brown colour, those aromas hit me straight away. Confused me, because I wouldn’t expect licorice in a beer like this. 2 malts (pale and crystal) and single hopped, more licorice in the mouth with a little barley sugar sweetness from that crystal. 7.2% abv this and some of the alcohol warmth comes through. Nice bitterness in this beer which, to me,  I can only say (boringly) tastes dark! Which works for me! And, it’s certainly NOT boring.

Mariana Trench

(Damn! Can’t find my pic!)

At 5.1% abv, this (for their pale beers) is probably about as close as you get to a “sessionable” beer! Gold coloured with lots of citrus on the nose, mostly grapefruit (Hops being Citra and Pacific gem). Nicely balanced and surprisingly easy drinking beer this, a nice marriage of citrus hops with rich tea biscuit malt. Really refreshing beer with a nice bitter dry finish.

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Nelson Saison

Well, this was a lively little puppy! It virtually exploded into the glass! Golden to copper coloured with abundant foamy white head. Aromas of Belgian yeast funk with some floral notes and as the beer went down, more than a hint of marmalade. A surprisingly warming beer this with some elderflower in the mouth and a spicy grassy tinge. The warmth reminded of the same feeling I get with the afterglow of a nice cognac. A nice slightly spicy finish. I’m not that big on Belgian styled beers, but it surprised me how much I enjoyed this.

To sum up. If pushed, my favourite would be the Five O’Clock Shadow. A 4.5 rating for me. The others merit a 4. Considering that they’ve been commercially brewing for less than 6 months, they’re making some cracking stuff in Hanwell!

As far as getting the beers up here, Damian has a stall at Castlefield Market some Sundays. He’s a nice bloke to talk to who is evidently passionate about what he sells. His beers are from a variety of areas, I popped down last weekend and picked up my first bottle from Cheshire Brewhouse as well as stuff from the likes of Magic Rock, DeMolen of Holland, Rocky Head from London etc…nicely priced too. I picked up a DeMolen Imperial Stout for £6.Pop down and see him. He’s a decent bloke (and that has nothing to do with the samples he offers!)

Final point, some of the best labelling I’ve seen since Magic Rock. Attractive, with detailed ingredients! Not bad at all.

Right. Time to settle to see Germany beat Iceland in the Womens Euros!

On that note….til next time!

Slainte!