The Society for The Preservation of Beers from the Wood

For information about beers from the wood


This is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of the SPBW. In addition, my thoughts and opinions change from time to time. I consider this a necessary consequence of having an open mind. This weblog is intended to provide a semi-permanent point in time snapshot and manifestation of the various memes running around my brain, and as such any thoughts and opinions expressed within out-of-date posts may not the same, nor even similar, to those I may hold today.



The Victoria

So, another year comes round and another round of pub judging. 12 pubs were nominated but one of these - the Cap in Hand, Surbiton - had to be withdrawn as it was due to be sold and was unlikely to remain as a pub. The nominator proposed an alternative pub in the same area to keep the round dozen.

This evening we begin in the Paddington area. For me this involves a long tube ride from the east end. The train is crowded and it crawls along. And the platforms at Paddington are a big hike from the main exit. So it's a relief to break free from the commuting crowds and stroll along to the Victoria. This is a wedge-shaped corner Fuller's pub in an elegant neighbourhood and dating from 1939. The walls are covered with pictures of Queen Vic and there are some nice gilded mirrors in one corner. It's here I find Patrick, James and John (the latter not judging but socializing). The pub is quite busy, there's a barmaid on her first day and there are a load of tourists who don't seem to know what to do so I have to wait a bit to get served. I opt for Oliver's Island, a golden ale, and join the others. There are mutterings around the table about the beer quality and I have to admit that none of the beers I tried were particularly inspiring; not bad but just a bit below par. As well as the Fuller's range, Adnam's Ghost Ship was a guest.

The pub itself is very well preserved; there is an upstairs Theatre Bar and Library and there is a quiz on Tuesday evenings.

Victoria, 10A Strathearn Place (off Sussex Place), W2 2NH;

Eventually we're joined by Aidan and Peter (making his judging debut) and, finally, Bill who's been at Fuller's AGM earlier in the day. No sign of Alasdair who'd also been at the AGM. Bill announces that we should leave at 8.15. At 8.10 he goes to the bar, comes back with two halves and a large bag of peanuts and assures us he'll consume the lot in his deadline. This he just about manages so we up sticks (literally in John's case) and head back to Paddington for the Bakerloo line. We manage to jump on a train straight away and alight at Charing Cross. As usual I take the wrong exit but still manage to beat the others to the Harp.

Harp Once at the pub I head straight up the stairs to the gents. Following a refurb, these have been moved to the top of the stairs, effectively swapping with the ladies. I'm joined by a gent who'd been queuing in the ladies until the waiting females pointed him in the right direction.

Back downstairs at the bar the others have arrived and are jostling to see what beers are on offer. Now the Harp, LPOTY winner for 2008, was sold to Fuller's last year, but ESB is the only sign of their presence. Instead there are the regulars: Dark Star Hophead and American Pale Ale and Harvey's best, plus 5 or 6 guests. I began with Burning Sky Plateau, an excellent 3.5% pale ale and we manage to find a table in the crowded pub. Standing at the bar is Dominic, local resident, SPBW member and inland waterways enthusiast so we have a chat with him (well, we managed a word in now and then). Bill, ever on the lookout for food, wangles some free sample scotch eggs which he shares out - very tasty they are too. Between us we go through most of the beer selection and Peter takes a liking to Blackjack Smoked Farmhouse Porter from Manchester, at a gentle 7.4%. While he swills pints of this I content myself with a half to finish the session.

Fairly late in the proceedings the errant Alasdair materializes and he's still just about standing. He seems to prefer the company of Francesca, the nice young barmaid, which I suppose is not entirely stupid.

The Harp is an essential pub to visit when in central London. It's handy for Charing Cross station, Trafalgar Square, theatre land and Covent Garden. It's not a large pub and can get very busy, but it's survived its takeover and make over (but where is the LPOTY certificate?) and still boasts some of the best service in London.

Harp, 47 Chandos Place, WC2N 4HS;

Alatstair Judging Francesca and Alasdair (note Fuller's tie). Which one has been drinking?

Bill, Patrick and Peter in full judging mode at the Harp.

So a jolly evening to kick off judging. First pub a bit disappointing beer-wise, the second up to usual standards. Next session is on 21 August taking in the Old Fountain and Bree Louise.



The bree louise

In my previous blog I quoted the date of 21 August which was obviously a deliberate mistake to throw any spies off the track. Or it might just have been a cock up, choose for yourself. Anyway it was definitely the evening of the 19th when I set out for another ride with the commuters on the Hammersmith & City line. This time the Guardian crossword proves a hard rock to crack and I manage little more than half of it by the time I arrive at Euston Square. There's a light drizzle as I make the short stroll to the Bree Louise. This well-known free house is just a short step to Euston main line station and so is highly popular with travellers. That is, people who are travelling, rather than "travellers" if you get my drift. So the pub is fairly busy when I enter but I do see John and Aidan sitting down and, at the bar, I discover Bill and Alasdair getting some beers in. This seemed like a good idea so I ordered myself a pint of Truman Swift, from the brewery closest to my abode.

We manage to grab a few seats and cram ourselves round a table. Although Patrick has had to cry off unwell, the rest of the judging panel are on parade and we're also joined by Garry and Colin. The evening's party is completed by Paul and Jeanne-Marie of SPBW's Chesapeake Bay branch who are over on vacation and keen to see the UK SPBW in action. I identify Paul from his CBay baseball cap and soon introductions are being made and beers ordered (and wine, in J-M's case).

visitors Now, the Bree Louise is renowned for its wide range of beers and ciders; there are at least 6 ales on handpump and about the same number served direct from the cask. Breweries like Sambrook, Truman and Windsor & Eton are usually represented and the others can come from all over. For instance I sampled beers from the likes of Downton, Tring, Lytham and Titanic breweries. Sometimes here the beers from the stillage can be in ordinary condition (presumably punters prefer pumped beer) but all the ones I tried were fine. The beers are not at all cheap but if you belong to a beer campaigning body based in St Albans you get 50p a pint off, which gives you a bit of change from £4. The beer menu is displayed on a large tv screen. Other screens in the pub show live sporting events. I'd suggest that it's best to visit the BL 'off peak' as it's not a large pub so you can relax and enjoy the many beers.

Bree Louise, 69 Coubourg Street, NW1 2HH

old fountain Time to move on. Aidan and I form the vanguard and head for the bus stop. After about 5 minutes we see a 205 go by without stopping! My London bus app tells me the next one is not due for 15 minutes so we utter a few curses and use plan B, namely the tube. A southbound Northern line train arrives right on cue and I jump on. Unfortunately I seem to have left Aidan behind, but he knows the way! So do I, having visited our second pub, the Old Fountain, many a time and it's only 5 minutes' walk from Old Street station

James and Alasdair have beaten me to it and ex-judge Hugh arrives shortly after me. A quick scan of the beer pumps and I immediately plump for Marble Pint, being a devotee of this Manchester brewery's output. It lives up to my expectations. Other beers on include three from Moor of Bristol: Nor' Hop, Raw and Sloe Walker, the last of these being a gin-flavoured 7.4% stout! Another stout available was Hammerton Baron H at a more friendly 5.8%. The OF also offers a few crafty keggy beers and the full range is listed on a chalk board.

The OF is a split-level pub with entrances on Baldwin and Peerless streets, both just off City Road and handy for Moorfield's Eye Hospital, should you be optically afflicted. It does get very busy early evenings but you can take refuge in the roof garden, which is popular with nicotine addicts.

Thankfully the pub's not too crowded by the time our expanded party assembles and we take over a couple of tables. Paul orders a large burger with loads of fries which he distributes around our number. Alasdair also eats here, no doubt grateful for a decent meal for once. All in all, it's a fairly jolly session. Like the Bree Louise, the OF is best appreciated at quieter times, but I definitely recommend a visit. Another renowned free house, the Wenlock Arms, is just 10 minutes walk from here.

Old Fountain, 3 Baldwin Street, EC1V 9NU