Friday, July 31, 2009

Day Three, London (updated)

We met just after 10am and laid out a plan: Since most pubs don't open until 11am or noon or even later, we needed a place that opened early. When England had restrictive pub opening hours, a few pubs were granted exceptions and one of those was the Market Porter, in the Borough Market. This was originally a wholesale food market, and so opened in the wee hours of the morning and by 9am or so business was mostly concluded. So the Market Porter would open at 9am for the workers to have a pint after their shift.

On the way from the tube stop (I mistakenly advised we get off at one I thought was closer but turned out in fact to be farther) I noticed a building that used to house a hop factor. Its brewing related architecture and so rated a picture:

Well, the Borough Market today is more a retail market and the UK has eased restrictions on pub opening times. So as we found out to our dismay, the Market Porter doesn't open until 11am, just like a typical pub. Another loss of tradition.

So we decided to walk over to the other side of the market to check out the hours of the new pub in the area, the Rake. While walking by, we noticed the Brew Wharf was open. This is a trendy pub that actually has a small brewing system on the premises. In the evenings it is often crowded with people definitely more posh than a trio of American Beer Tourists, so we haven't spent much time there in our visits over the years. But they do serve a number of the very good Meantime beers from Greenwich.

Our first trio of beers where all Meantime: Kölner, High Saison and London Stout. All were excellent, with the Kölner being perhaps the finest Kölsch style beer I've had brewed outside of Cologne. The Saison, while not up to the standards of, say, a DuPont, was much better than most of the microbrewery examples brewed in California. And the London Stout was downright nourishing.

London Stout, High Saison and Kölner, brewed by Meantime, served at the Brew Wharf

The also had a couple of very modern looking handpubs, so we ordered a half pint of each of them just to check out the beers...

Modern, chrome hand pumps.

The two beers where Wanderlust from Blue Bear and Ferryman's Gold from the Loddon Brewery. We were warned that the Blue Bear had just gone on and would probably be a bit yeasty. Well, for homebrewers that often is a feature not a bug so we said "Pump Away"

Loddon Ferryman's Gold, Blue Bear Wanderlust

Both were nice "morning beers" -- the Ferryman's Gold had some nice hoppiness in the middle and finished a bit (but not cloyingly) sweet. The Wanderlust was a bit cloudy but the yeast gave it a freshness and "bready-ness" that made it a good beer to start off the day.

By now it was well past 11am so we wandered back around the Market, stopping for a quick lunch of roasted meat on a baguette (I had salt beef, Tom had pork and Luis roast beef) we ended up back at the Market Porter.

The Market Porter, Southwark London (Borough Market)

The Market Porter is a must stop for beer tourists visiting London. They have nearly 20 hand pumps with a changing selection of beers. There is always something new to try.

I saw they had the Meantime Helles Bier and since the Kölner was so good, I thought I'd see what the helles was like. Tom had a Arbor Ales One Hop and Luis the Lymestone Stonefaced. Tom could see which hop was used (from the website it must have been "Lubelski" -- a Polish hop that I think is decended from Czech Saaz. It turns out, all three beers looked identical. The Meantime Helles Bier is on the right -- it was kegged not hand pulled so it has more carbonation. As it turns out, that picture could be used for the second rounds of beers as well -- all were pale gold and clear, so I didn't bother taking pictures of them :)

Lymestone Stonechaser, Arbor Ales One Hop, Meantime Helles Bier

Round Two was Hyde's Golden Fine, Skinner's Cornish Blonde and from a hand pump labeled "Secret Brewery" a beer called "Summer Saison."

The Summer Saison was disappointing -- it started off OK, but as it warmed up there was so much diacetyl that it was unpleasant. I managed to finish the half pint, but only because I was determined to leave no beer on the table. The other two were nice and refreshing. The Cornish Blonde was labeled as a wheat beer but you wouldn't know it from the flavor profile. In Germany a wheat beer has to be over 50% wheat and many are 60% or more. I don't think that is true in the UK so it wouldn't surprise me that it only had 25% or so of wheat in the mash.

We decided to have one last round. I went for a Moorhouse Pendle Witches Brew, Luis had a Harvey's Suffolk Best Bitter and Tom chose Oxfordshire Ales British Summer Time.

Harveys Suffolk Best Bitter, Moorhouse Pendle Witches Brew, Oxfordshire Ales British Summer Time

The British Summer Time had quite a bit of sulfur in the nose and a bit in the mouth as well. The Harvey's was as Harvey's always is -- great. The Witches Brew is sometime available in the bottle in California and it was pretty much the same on cask, only fresher.

On the opposite site of the market is The Rake. This is a new pub, just about to celebrate its 3rd Anniversary. They only have two hand pumps but always have some interesting kegged beer and a great selection of US and Belgian beers in the bottle.

The two handpumps had Brewdog Storm and Oakham Ales Helter Skelter. We were familiar with breweries but hadn't had either of these beers so we were looking forward to tasting them.

Brewdog Storm and Oakham Ales Helter Skelter

I feel sorrow for the Helter Skelter -- it was a nice beer but the Storm was so bad it overpowered everything. It (the Storm) had so much acetone that it tasted like flavored fingernail polish remover. There was some interesting malt in the background and I really, really tried to get past the acetone but with no success. What was left in the glass is a few cc's less that the picture above.

The Rake has a sign above the bar "No crap on tap" -- not true that day. I really find it hard to beleive that a brewery let this beer out the door and even harder to believe that a publican would serve it. Do you get the picture yet on how bad we found this beer? Usually on a trip we end up with a consensus of the one beer that stand out. Usually it is a good beer. I fear this trip it will be the Brewdog Storm.

They had Schlenkerla Rauchbier (Märzen) as one of their kegged beers, so I had a class of that. It was strong enough to erase the flavor (but not the memory) of the Storm.

We decided we needed something very tradition to reset out pallets and minds, so we wandered down to the Royal Oak, a Harvey's house not too far away.

The Royal Oak, Southwark, London

The Royal Oak is on the corner of Tabard Street and Nebraska Street. Nebraska? Yep. I would love to know the history behind that!

Yes, Virginia it is Nebraska

Since we'd had the Best Bitter at the Market Porter, we went with the Mild, Pale Ale and Armada. Harvey's beers all have a pleasant house character that we assume comes from the yeast. These did not disappoint.

All Harvey's: Armada, Pale Ale and Mild

The Mild was my favorite, though I think the St Peter's Mild we had at the Jerusalem Tavern is still the best Mild of the trip. The others were all quite nice and met expectations.

The interior of the Royal Oak is very traditional, with two rooms separated by the bar. Very comfy and a quite pleasant place to spend an afternoon with a couple of pints for company.

The bar at the Royal Oak

They had two beers none of us had tasted before, plus Tom wanted a cider so we had another round:

Harvey's Olympia and Tom Paine, Thatchers Heritage Cider.

The Olympia I would guess is a summer season, light and refreshing. The Tom Paine is nicely dry hopped with a nice hop bitterness as well. I wondered about the name and it turns out Tom Paine lived in Lewes (where the Harvey's) brewery is before he left for "the Colonies" where he achieved great fame for things other than beer.

We were meeting friend later that evening in Wimbledon so we decided to visit the White Horse Pub in Parsons Green since it was on the way. This pub had a long history of stocking interesting beers but a couple years ago there was a change in management and the beer selection was a bit shaky (and there was fear it might turn into a wine bar) but it seems to have recovered and is back in fine form.

The White Horse, Parsons Green

Among the keg beers where both Sierra Nevada Draught Ale and Sierra Nevada Summerfest -- the latter being one of my favorite bottled beers and I don't think I've ever had it on draft. It was hard to pass up, but I was here to drink British beers, so I did.

We started off with Hook Norton Hooky Dark, Thornbridge Jaipur IPA and Timothy Taylor Ram Tam.
Thornbridge Jaipur IPA, Hook Norton Hooky Dark, Taylor Ram Tam

The Jaipur was as you'd expect, hoppy and stronger than most of the other beers we'd had. It was really the only IPA we'd had that could be called an IPA in the US. The Hooky Dark was disappointing -- too much diacetyl overpowered the dark malts. The Ram Tam was delicious, nice dark malt flavor.

The White Horse has a comfortable "living room" feel to it with cooshy sofas and leather chairs. Its not the traditional English Pub decore but very very confortable none the less.

The White Horse Bar.

We had time for another quick one and so had a Twickenham Pale Beauty, Cottage Brewery Champflower Ale and a Hook Norton Old Hooky. It was such a quick one I forgot to take a picture and take much in the way of notes. I do remember the Old Hooky was much more pleasant than the Hooky Dark and the other two were pleasant golden ales.

So it was oft to Wimbledon to meet some friends at the Brewery Tap (which sadly isn't a brewery). We arrived just as they did and sat down to refresh ourselves after the trip.

The Crooked Billet, Wimbledon Commons

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Day Two, London

Tom Rierson arrived in late morning, his flight being an hour and half late (Bad US Air!). After he stashed his stuff, we headed down the street to a Wetherspoon's pub called the Masque Haunt.

Masque Haunt on Old Street

I had a Welton's Heatwave, Tom a Nethergate Esssex Border and Luis a St. Edmund's Golden. All were good. The Heatwave had some hops and the Golden was refreshing but a bit bland (its brewed by Greene King, a larger brewer). The Essex Border was a very nice, typical Bitter. It had a touch too much diacetyl for me but Tom thought it was spot on.

Welton's Heatwave, Nethergate Essex Border, St. Edmunds Golden

It being noon-ish, we decided to have lunch and another beer. Tom had a Ruddles Best Bitter, which at £1.29 for a pint is a very good deal. I had a "Tit-for-Tat", the summer seasonal from Robinson's. Both were nice.

It was starting to rain, so we headed back to the dorm so I could get my jacket. We just about got drenched on the way, but made it OK. Of course, after I got my jacket the weather was fine the rest of the day.

Tom wanted to visit Ye Olde Mitre a great little pub near Holborn Circus. As we headed in that direction, we realized we were close to the Jerusalem Tavern, the London taproom of the St. Peter's Brewery of Suffolk. So we made a slight detour.

Jerusalem Tavern

Tom ordered the Mild, I had the Organic Best Bitter and Luis the Regular Best Bitter. You couldn't tell the difference between to two bitters, so the extra 10p may have been wasted. The Mild was very nice with a distinctive dark malt flavor.

The Three Beer-skateers (Luis, Tom and Fred)

We continued on to Ye Olde Mitre, which is hidden in a tiny alley behind Ely Place and Hatton Gardens. The pub, the nearby St. Etheldra's chapel and the street Ely Place are a historical anomaly -- technically they are not part of London but are part of the Diocese of Ely, Cambridgeshire. In theory, even the local police have to ask permission to enter the enclave, though I doubt in this day and age that is still observed.

The alleyway towards Hatton Gardens

Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Place

Since I was last there three years ago, the pub changed owners and is now owned by Fuller's. We were afraid that there might be changes for the worse, but our fears were unfounded. They pub was basically unchanged and they still had a nice selection of beers. In fact, during the next week they were having a "Scottish Beer Festival" with 2 or 3 Scottish Beers on tap every day, rotating the casks were emptied.

Tom ordered a Deuchars IPA, Luis an Adnams Broadside and I had Saltaire Bavarian Gold. The Bavarian Gold didn't taste particularly Bavarian -- or even German -- but was a nice Golden Ale. I'm guessing they used German hops and hence the name.

Deuchars IPA, Saltaire Bavarian Gold, Adnams Broadside

The back bar at Ye Olde Mitre

Just a few blocks down High Holborn is the Citie of York, one of the few places in London with cask Samual Smith's beers. So we headed down for a pint of Old Brewery Bitter.

Citie of York, High Holborn, London

The main bar in the back is quite large with a vaulted ceiling. They have little enclosed booths along one side, with tables in the center. There is also a large bar in the celler and a couple of small rooms up front.

The main bar at the Citie Of York

They only have one cask beer, the Old Brewery Bitter, but all of the Sam Smiths beers are available in bottles and a few are also available as keg beer (the Lager and Stout).

Two and half pints of O.B.B.

Tom was feeling the jet lag, but said it was too early to quit, so we hopped on the Central Line tube to the Monument station and walked a couple of blocks to Gracechurch Street, where one can find the Crosse Keys, another fine Wetherspoons pub.

The Crosse Keys used to be a bank and retains much of its former opulance with marble columns and a fancy ceiling.

The Crosse Keys, Gracechurch Street, London

The have a large bar and an impressive number of beer engines (hand pumps) -- over 20. However many of the beers were on multiple taps, so the actual number of beers was quite lower -- much lower than I remembered from a few years ago. But the number is large enough and changes frequently enough that they have large video displays showing the beers!

The video beer menu at the Crosse Keys

For the first round, I had a Titanic Iceberg, Tom a Cairngorm Trade Winds (from Scotland) and Luis a Tom Woods Old Timber.

Cairngorm Trade Winds, Tom Woods Old Timber, Titanic Iceberg.

The Iceberg was surprisingly hoppy and with (American) Cascade hops. Later reading their website I learned it was a wheat beer, but that wasn't readily noticeable in the flavor. The Old Timber had a nutty and almost woody finish. An usual taste, but drinkable. The Trade Winds had a bit too much diacetyl and as it wormed up it was practically undrinkable. It was left on the table more than half filled.

Thursday night is Curry night at all Wetherspoons pubs, so we ordered the Curry Feast. The dinner comes with a drink, one of which is your choice of ale. So we ordered another round: White Horse Summer Beer, Everards Sunchaser and Bath Special Pale Ale (SPA).

White Horse Summer Beer, Bath SPA and Everards Sunchaser.

Well, I have to say the choice of food was better than the choice of beers. We had had a White Horse Rudolph the Red Nosed in our British Beer on the Patio event earlier in the year and it was the only beer we didn't like. This one was not much better. It and the Everards were left on the table. Only the SPA was finished. It was a pleasant, refreshing Golden Ale.

After all those beers and big meal it was time to head back to the dorm and call it an early night. Friday will be a big day as well do an evening pub crawl in Wimbledon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

London, the first afternoon

We arrived in London without mishap. After few minor delays (baggage unloading delays, etc) we found ourselves in London's Paddington Station. While heading for the Circle Line tube station, I spied a pub on the upper level and remembered there was a Fuller's pub up there. It was lunch time, so we went and had lunch and a beer.

Fullers London Pride and St Austell Tribute.

After lunch, we took the tube to Barbican and after a short walk we were at our place of residence. I don't say "hotel" because it is not -- is the the Finsbury Residences of the City University of London. That's right, we're staying in a dorm room. Its one of the best deals for a summer trip to London, if you don't mind roughing it a bit (bathroom and shower down the hall).

Where we are staying.

After getting unpacked and freshening up a bit, we decided it was time for a beer. We walked back to the tube station (after a stop so I could buy a UK SIM card for my phone) and headed for Covent Garden. A few blocks away from the famous Covent Garden Market is the London tap room of the Dublin Porterhouse Brewery.

The Porterhouse, Covent Garden

The Porterhouse brews a wide range of beers. They always have 3 "porters" (i.e porters and stouts), 3 ales and 3 lagers on tap. Their German style Lagers are as good as any brewed outside Germany and better than most. But I rarely drink them as they brew one of the worlds most interesting beers, the Oyster Stout.

Porterhouse Oyster Stout

Oysters are used in the brewing process, but they don't say where. I would guess in the boil, but that is just a random guess. There is no oyster flavor in the beer, per se, but there is a certain "meatiness" that is hard to describe and makes this a beer I drink a lot of when I am in London. And yes, the menu does say the beer is not for vegetarians.

After a couple of pints, we decided to move on. Not far from the Porterhouse is Leicester Square, where the is a nice J.D. Wetherspoon's Pub (more on Wetherspoons later). So after a short walk, fighting our way thru the crowds of people looking for cheap theatre tickets (what Leicester Square is most famous for) we came to The Moon Under Water.

The Moon Under Water, Leicester Square

The name comes from an article written by George Orwell in 1946, describe what would be his perfect pub. In the article the pub was called "The Moon Under Water" and the Wetherspoon's chain thought it described their philosophy toward pubs so they named this one after the pub in the article.

I had a Phoenix White Monk while Luis had a Deuchars IPA. We both ordered a Chicken Tikka Masala for dinner. Beer and food were great. If a typical American beer geek had tasted the two beers, they probably would have guessed wrong as to which beer was called an "IPA." My White Monk was aggressively hopped for a British beer while with the Deuchars IPA you really had to search for the hops. "Two peoples separated by a common language" applies -- an IPA doesn't mean the same thing here as it does in the US. Especially not an IPA from Scotland. But don't get me wrong, both were great beers (the Deuchars was the Champion Beer of Britain a few years back). Just judge the beer on its taste, not what you think it should taste like from its name.
\Phoenix White Monk and Deuchars IPA with Luis in the middle

Well, jet lag was finally catching up, so we headed back to our dorm rooms for an early night. Tom arrives in the morning. We'll probably be back at the Porterhouse as that is one of his favorite places as well.

First Beers in London

Fullers London Pride and. St. Austell Tribute. Hand pulled, of course.

-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Newark...

... on the plane to London.

-- Post From My iPhone

On our way to London...

.... and one last IPA at the LAX Terminal 6 Redondo Beach Brewing outlet.

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fall Beer Trip Planned

Just a note to let you know about our fall beer trip -- the original Sticke Warriors Tour. We've done this trip (in various forms) every year since 1998 and it's always been a blast.

This year we'll start in Prague, arriving Monday, October 12th and will finish up on October the Borefts Beer Festival at Brouwerij de Molen in the Netherlands (about an hour outside of Amsterdam). In between will be visits to Bamberg, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Anwterp, Brussels, Ghent and Amsterdam. All great beer cities with unique offerings.

The key event is Tuesday October 20th in Düsseldorf, the Brauerei zum Uerige releases their twice a year strong altbier know as "Sticke."

This is not a package tour -- we publish a schedule and anybody is welcome to join us for as little or as much as they like. We try and arrange hotels together, but everybody is responible for their own transportation. If you live in or near one of our stops, we'd love to have you join us for the day (or more). The detailed schedule is below:

  • Oct 12-15 Prague
  • Oct 15-19 Bamberg
  • Oct 19-22 Düsseldorf (day trip to Cologne on Oct 21)
  • Oct 22-27 Antwerp, Belgium, with day trips to Brussels and Ghent and ???
  • Oct 27-31 Amsterdam.
Mor info at

Come and join us!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One Week Until London

Next week I head off to London to visit the Great British Beer Festival, tour pubs in and around London and make a short excursion to Derby. Why Derby? Well we asked some beer friends for a recommendation of a city with interesting beer and the first one to answer suggested Derby, so off we go.

I've been to this festival 4 times previously, and it is one of my favorites. You have to (obviously) like British beer (hey, warm(-ish) and flat(-ish) is a feature not a bug!) but they also have good selection of Continental beers (Belgian, Germany, Netherlands, Czech, etc.) as well as some good American beers. Why go all the way to London to taste an American beer? Well, they mostly have real ale from smaller East Coast breweries and they don't make it out to California very often, so it is a chance to try something new.