Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Budget: Some Thoughts on Saving the Pub

While glad that, for once, alcohol is exempted from duty increases I am disappointed that Cameron, Osborne and Clegg didn't use this moment of economic crisis to bring about positive change for the licensed trade and therefore for the country as a whole.

Most seem agreed that the pub is in crisis.

One of the key reasons for this is extreme promotional discounting by supermarkets - often to below the cost at which landlords can buy beer. Why not, therefore reduce tax on draft beer and cider sold into the licensed trade?

And set a minimum price for alcohol while you're at it.

If we want to save the community pub, and I think most are agreed that we do, these are crucial first steps.

(you can expect a book on this subject from yours truly in due course, but don't start holding your breath quite yet)

Saturday, 19 June 2010

North vs South Pouring Battle: THE SPARKLER VERDICT

The latest in our somewhat nerdy series of beer tasting events was less well attended than some. Clearly a couple of hours discussing different head consistencies is not everyone's bag. Still, Pete Brown (Beer Writer of the Year 2009) and Duncan Sambrook (Wandle brewer and all-round local hero) were there along with a small but focused crowd, all of whom were able to walk out unaided at the end.

So what was it all about?

In essence, cask ale in the North of England is often pulled though a sparkler, a small showerhead-type object affixed to the end of the nozzle. This forces the beer through microscopic holes, agitating the carbon dioxide in the ale and thereby delivering a more full-bodied pint with a thick, creamy head. A bit like (forgive me) tinned Boddington's, though that effect is created by releasing nitrogen so is, in fact, an entirely different process. Draft Stouts use a similar device with a similar outcome, though the creaminess seems more profound and long-lasting on the black stuff.
By contrast, in the South, the beer is poured straight out and - if well kept, pulled and served in a very clean glass - creates a foamy head which disappears after a few minutes. 

Our goal on Wednesday, other than drinking a cellar-load of beer, was to play around with the sparkler a little and see what happened. Thus we selected an archetypal Southern brew (Sambrook's Wandle) and a quintessentially Geordie effort (Mordue's Workie Ticket) and sampled them both with and without the Sparkler.

Having discussed this at some length on Twitter (and - gasp! - in person) with Drapers Arms-owner Nick Gibson I was forewarned. But nothing prepared me for how dreadful Wandle would taste through the Sparkler. Duncan was appalled (see below). Pete refused to drink his. That's how bad it was. Wandle is a truly great beer which perfectly encapsulates the unique genius of traditional British brewing - namely to produce full-bodied, full-flavoured ale with a low alcohol content (in this case 3.7%). But put through a Sparkler it became sweet dishwater.

By contrast, Northerners, it would appear, swing both ways. Mordue's Workie Ticket worked well with and without the sparkler. But again they tasted entirely different.

There it is above, in all its creamy-headed glory. Still sweet but balanced by the extra-bitter hops included in the brew to balance the sweetening effect of the Sparkler. 

Duncan Sambrook, a chemistry graduate, explained the sweetness. Apparently the agitation of the CO2 by the sparkler causes the bitterness molecules from the hops to attach themselves to the CO2 molecules. Thus most of the bittnerness is removed from the beer itself, and resides afterwards in the head. To prove this, Duncan encouraged us to take the teaspoon test. This involved spooning a small amount of the creamy head into one's gob - and sure enough it was astringently bitter. Fascinating.

Attendee James Diggle (above) enjoying a Workie Ticket without sparkler. This had a goodly amount of bitterness and kept its head well.

Having learned to drink cask ale in Edinburgh - my palate shaped on the forge of such great sparkler-led institutions as the Athletics Arms, the Windsor Buffet, Mathers, and the legendary Blue Blazer, I expected to like the sparkler more than I did. 

In all honesty, I have been corrupted by weak Southern ways and I like my beer foamy and thin. Ho hum.

Thanks to Pete brown (of whom I neglected to get a picture) and especially to Duncan Sambrook for allowing us to roundly mock the Sparkler-Wandle (followed by much adulation of the straight-out version) and to all attendees. Watch this space for future chronic outbreaks of beer-geekiness.

Friday, 18 June 2010

New Site East-Side...

Last week we exchanged on a new site - our third! - on the south side of Tower Bridge looking onto the mayor's office from the front and onto Shad Thames at the back. This is our first tentative step outside of SW11, the Draft House heartland, so we shall see if the Easterners like our blend of honest food and beers which aspire to greatness. We take possession of the site at the end of this month and, following a 6-week fit aim to open by end-August.

Time Out Says Draft House is Best Pub

Last year they gave us 4 / 5 stars. Then in April they said we were the best "Pub with Great Beer". And this week, in Time Out's list of "London's Best Pubs & Bars" we came second, beaten by Mark's Bar at Hix Soho.

So I guess, in their eyes, that makes us the #1 pub in London.

It's kind of hard to take in.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

And the winner of the DH Westbridge Quote Competition?

We asked you, the customer/reader/boss which quote you wanted over the bar in the Westbridge. An astonishing 210 replies to our surveymonkey.com yielded only one winner:

"No soldier can fight unless he is properly fed on beef and beer." -John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough

And, in order, the runners up were:

2. "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there will be no more cakes and ale?" -Sir Toby Belch from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

3. "Home of the Third" (me)

4. "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." -Benjamin Franklin

5. "Make sure that the beer - four pints a week - goes to the troops under fire before any of the parties in the rear get a drop." -Winston Churchill to his Secretary of War

...with the wooden spoon going to Abe Lincoln: "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer." 

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


England vs USA 12/06/10

GK     Anchor Porter

LB     Left Hand Milk Stout
CB     Brooklyn LAGER
CB     Anchor Steam Lager
RB     Brooklyn Brown Ale

LW     Goose Island “Honkers”
MF     JW Dundee Honey Brown
MF     Samuel Adams Lager
RW     Belgica

CF     Titan IPA
CF     Lone Star

RED CARD: Anheuser-Busch Budweiser