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and manifestation of the various memes running around my brain, and as such any thoughts and opinions expressed within out-of-date posts may not the same, nor even similar, to those I may hold today.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round and another round of pub judging. 12 pubs were nominated but one of these - the Cap in Hand, Surbiton - had to be withdrawn as it was due to be sold and was unlikely to remain as a pub.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



The door hinge

This evening, the third judging involves a trip to Kent. Ok, it's in Greater London, but the pub has a DA postcode - DA is Dartford which is in Kent. It's been a fine day but no sooner do I leave my Bow Village apartment than it starts to rain. My journey to the sticks involves a DLR train to Lewisham, then a commuter train to Welling. Then a 12 minute walk, hoping the rain holds off, to the Door Hinge. It's almost exactly a year since we visited this micropub for LPOTY judging and it's a real pleasure to come back.

The DH was London's first micropub when it opened a little over 2 years ago. As you might expect, it's very cosy, sitting barely 20 (there is a tiny 'lounge' at the back). There is a tiny bar counter with the beers and cider on stillage in a small room behind. The pub is largely wood-panelled and decorated with old photos, breweriana and loads of pump clips indicating the substantial turnover of beers; hops hanging from the ceiling complete the scene. Oh and there is also a collection of mobile phones nailed to the wall; use such devices here at your peril! The pub is just across the road from Welling FC's ground.

In the pub I picked up a copy of Sussex Drinker, which included an account of a visit to the Door Hinge and explained the origin of its name. Ray Day, the ex-cab driving owner, wanted to name the pub after his mother, Doreen Inge who was nicknamed 'Door Hinge' by her schoolmates. For some reason she chose to be known as Jean since then.

As for the beer, there were 3 available on our visit: Peerless Fusion (the clear favourite with the judging panel), Ascot Aureole (Patrick thought this had strong hints of coriander) and Old Dairy Copper Top. Just as most of us were leaving Ascot was replaced by a beer from Canterbury Ales, but none of us sampled it.

All the team bar Bill (working late shift) and Alasdair (who knows?) were on parade and we were joined by Paul Williams, making his first visit out here. Somehow the conversation drifted to the works of Flanders & Swann and then degenerated to a sing song of dubious ditties (thankfully sotto voce) by Patrick and Peter. Aidan made and excuse and left for an early train. Peter decided to stay and keep Paul company so the remaining three of us hurried back to the rail station under glowering skies.

I've only been to a very few micropubs, but I like the idea - they're very friendly and sociable for one thing - and the DH is a fine example. Well worth the journey (unless you're lucky enough to live locally).

Door Hinge, 11 Welling High Street, DA16 1TR;

royal oak Compared to last year our journey is fairly efficient and uneventful. We change trains at Lewisham and travel on to London Bridge. We find the appropriate exit and scurry through the rain to the Royal Oak. As this Harvey's house won LPOTY in 2004, 2006 and 2012, and hosts NEC meetings, it should need no introduction. Suffice to say that any discerning drinker and pub lover visiting or living in London should make a session here a priority. The usual Harvey's suspects - mild, pale and best bitter - were available plus Wild Hop and the seasonal Tom Paine (4.8%). Sadly, Waterloo Rye IPA (6.1%) had run out. Any 'special' or seasonal beers from Harvey's can always be sampled here.

In the pub we're joined by John Rooth who vouches for the continued excellence of the pub's food. Peter and Paul eventually join us and some lively conversation ensues (minus the cabaret, thankfully). Having added to the considerable number of hours I've spent in the Royal Oak in the 18 years since Harvey's reopened it, I reluctantly drag myself out into the Southwark night and head north, across London Bridge, for my tube train home. Another good night out.

Pictured in the Royal Oak are Paul, James, Aidan and Peter.

Royal Oak, 44 Tabard Street, London SE1 4JU

So that makes us halfway through the judging. With no rest for the wicked we were back on the judging trail on Sunday (6th) starting at the Rifleman at Twickenham at lunchtime, moving to the Coronation Hall, Surbiton. I couldn't make it - though I've been told my colleagues had a good time - but I'll catch up in a day or two.




Having missed the 'official' judging session on Sunday I'm playing catch up, trekking across London into Middlesex. Arriving in Twickenham at lunchtime I opt for a walk across town, past the Green (and numerous pubs) until I finally reach my destination, the Rifleman. There is a small patio outside this former Courage pub and inside is U-shaped room around the bar. To the right is a short passageway leading to the loos and the garden. On the bar are 5 handpumps offering Twickenham Naked Ladies and Redhead, Youngs and Butcombe bitters and, my selection for first pint of the day, Dark Star Hophead. I am the only customer so the young lady behind the bar is quite pleased to see me. Taking a seat I look around at the leaded windows, framed collection of bank notes, an assortment of pewter tankards on the mantelpiece above an old fireplace and a small pile of SPBW leaflets, presumably left here on Sunday. There are a couple of TV screens for showing sports events (talking of which, a major sports venue stands barely a mile from here). For my second pint I asked for Naked Ladies which prompted the hostess to make as if to divest, purely in jest. I made an excuse and drank my beers, which was very nice indeed.

The Rifleman seems to be very much a community pub, located in a busy residential area, but one that's not exactly short of pubs. Situated just off Hampton Road, it's well served by bus routes. It was the local CAMRA pub of the year in 2014 and that seems like a decent recommendation. It's worthy of support, so go and support it.

Rifleman, 7 Fourth Cross Street, Twickenham TW2 5EL

coronation hall My next stop is Surbiton. Apparently the 281 bus takes you all the way there but it's about a 45 minute journey, which I'm not sure my creaking bladder can take. Instead I opt for a 10 minute walk to Strawberry Hill station and a train. I have to change at Wimbledon where, after the necessary pit stop, I jump straight on to the required train. At Surbiton (where the station has a curious art deco frontage), it's a short stroll to the right to pub number 2, the Coronation Hall. This is part of the J D Wetherspoon empire and I'll say right now I'm not the greatest fan of this chain. This is fairly modest in size compared to many JDW pubs and I assume it was previously a cinema. The clue is the projecting equipment and pictures of old movie stars that form part of the décor. (I've just checked the website and learned that the hall originally opened as a lecture hall on 21 June 1911, the eve of George V's coronation and later became a cinema and bingo hall).

At the far end are two gallery seating areas, otherwise it's pretty standard JDW identikit; and I'm obliged to add my grumble that most of the pub is dimly lit. Why? They don't show films here any more! Beer-wise there are two banks of 6 handpumps - the far one offers the mainstream stuff, the other has the guests. I begin with Triple FFF Apache Rose, a 4.2% pale beer which is very pleasant. Later I try halves of local-ish By the Horns Mayor of Garratt and, from Ireland, Dungavan Copper Coast. Standard price for guest ales here is £2.35 and it's nice to see they charge me £2.36 rather than crank up the price of halves. As it happens I put the 4p change in the charity box anyway.

I suppose I can say that the Coronation Hall is possibly one of the best 2 pubs in Surbiton. Leaving here I took the short walk to the Antelope in Maple Road which offers 3 beers from its own brewery - Big Smoke - and 7 others, plus a selection of draught ciders. This, to my mind, is a much better option should you be in Surbiton.

Coronation Hall, St Mark's Hill, Surbiton KT6 4LQ.

More sessions coming up fast: Sunday 20th at the Queens Head, Uxbridge and Wednesday 23rd taking in two previous winners, the Eleanor Arms and Ye Olde Mitre.



Eleanor Eleanor

Outside the Eleanor Arms and The Eleanor's beer line up (my pint on the right).

First thing, there was a judging session last Sunday which I couldn't get to. Most of the team managed to find their way out to Uxbridge but my visit will be next week.

This evening we're tackling two previous winners and we're starting at my local, the Eleanor Arms. This is actually a 25 minute walk away by the quickest route and I reckon I could do it with my eyes closed by now. When I arrive there are a good few people in the back bar watching a Rugby World Cup match on the big screen. Some are actually having a pre-match drink as France take on Romania later at the Olympic Stadium down the road.

I exchange some repartee with some of the other regulars at the bar while waiting for my colleagues to arrive. I suppose it's difficult to be objective about a pub I know so well but.... The Eleanor Arms is a Shepherd Neame house which regularly serves Kent's Best and Whitstable Pale Ale from Faversham, alongside one or two others from the brewery's portfolio, or evening a guest ale. The latter this time is Hat Trick, a golden ale from Holts and there is also Shep's Late Red.

The pub is expertly run by Frankie and Lesley with no little assistance from Keilley. They offer a friendly welcome to all (apart from passing low life). You can sit out on the patio at the back, play pool or listen to Frankie's DJ sessions (Saturday nights) or live jazz (Sunday nights). The pub is handy for Victoria Park, the Hertford Union Canal as well as the future home of West Ham United. And the beers is always good!

Eventually John turns up, fresh from a tour of some of the east end's other GBG pubs, followed by Aidan and Alasdair. James beat me to it by about a pint. Bill's working late and Patrick emails to say he's running late and will see us at the second pub. Some of the team indulge in the baguettes which are the only food on offer here. Really good pub, the Eleanor, go check it out.

Eleanor Arms, 460 Old Ford Road, E3 5JP

old mitre old mitre

Ye Olde Mitre's beer range and The team hard at work in Ye Olde Mitre.

We leave in dribs and drabs; James and I enjoy the scenic route of the 8 bus through Bethnal Green, Shoreditch and the City of London. We alight at Holborn Circus, dodge the traffic and find the alleyway that leads to Ye Olde Mitre. Aidan and Patrick are already here and John and Alasdair are hot on our heels, having come most of the way by tube. The pub is fairly quiet at this time of the evening so we make ourselves comfortable and enjoy the range of beers.

YOM was bought by Fullers a few years ago but London Pride and Seafarer's are the only beers from Chiswick here. Other regulars are Deuchar's IPA and Adnam's Broadside and two or three guests are always on offer: today we can choose from Elland Catch This Rainbow and Black Hole Red Dwarf. The first of these was particularly pleasant. The beers are not too badly priced for this part of the world and the pub offers a discount card to SPBW and CAMRA members giving you 15% off, a handy saving. For many years the pub was run by the legendary Scottie until his retirement earlier this year. His former head barperson Judith is now in charge and has fitted in seamlessly.

YOM is not that easy to find, being hidden down a narrow alleyway between Hatton Garden and Ely Court, but is very much on the tourist trail as well as being popular with local office workers. There are two separate bars, a tiny snug area available for hire and a function room at the top of the steep, narrow stairs, which hosts our annual Beer & Buffet event. It's genuinely historic and well-preserved and should be sought out by all discerning pub and beer enthusiasts.

Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Court, Ely Place EC1N 6SJ

So that leaves just one pub to visit (apart from those playing catch up), this being the Hope in Carshalton on Sunday 4 October. Some stiff competition here, I really couldn't predict which pub is the likely winner.



Queens Head

Today I'm catching up on the pub visit I missed 10 days ago, which involves a trek to the very fringe of western London, the town of Uxbridge. As it's a very pleasant sunny day I take a roundabout route: train out to Hayes, then a 5 mile walk north along the Grand Union Canal. I arrive in Uxbridge soon after noon and make my way into the town centre to the chosen pub, the Queen's Head. I'm standing in the middle of the road taking a few pics of the pub when I espy a large hirsute fellow heading my way. It is of course my old mate Derek 'Catweazel' Legg, local resident, nominator of the QH and, let me say, an SPBW member of even longer standing than me.

I remark on Cat's good timing but he confesses he's already got a beer in but had needed a cash top up from a nearby ATM. He ushers me inside and dips into his stash to buy me a pint of a Windsor & Eton Rugby World Cup cash-in (forgot to note the name but is was a 3.8% amber ale).

The Queen's Head is part of the Spirit chain which is now owned by Greene King, hence the presence of IPA and 'Hardy & Hanson' bitter on the bar. As well as these and the W & E there was also Twickenham Grandstand and a seasonal Cotleigh beer (apologies for the notebook failure on my part) which was probably the pick of the beers I tried. I also noticed a 'turned round' London Pride pump clip. CAMRA members get a discount - I didn't even need to show my card!

The Queen's Head has something of the appearance of a rural pub despite being slap in the town centre, the church directly opposite adding to this impression. Inside there is one large room although the layout creates a number of separate drinking areas. There were a couple of large TV screens showing a news channel which, even with the sound off, I find a bit distracting. No doubt they're a bit louder when the rugby's on. Instead, there was a pleasant hum of conversation in this very pleasant pub. There is an extensive food menu if you need to wash your beer down.

After three pints Cat has to leave me - he only remembered the day before that he was due to meet friends at the St Albans beer festival today. I enjoy another pint at my leisure before taking the Metropolitan Line back to London; the station is just a couple of minutes from the pub. With time on my hands I pay a first visit to (by chance) Campden Hill branch's previous and current meeting places, the Gunmaker in Marylebone and Union Tavern, Westbourne Park. Both good pubs in their different ways, but quite irrelevant to this exercise.

I wouldn't necessarily say I'd make a special journey to the far side of town to the Queen's Head, but if you're in the area a visit would make very good sense.

Queen's Head, 54 Windsor Street, Uxbridge UB8 1AB

Just one more pub to visit, the Hope in Carshalton; the official judging is Sunday 4 October and I intend my trek south will be soon after.



The Hope

And here I go for the last pub judging this year. Most of my colleagues visited the Hope at Carshalton the Sunday before last. I've been toying up the best options for a visit to Surrey, given that I've no other good reason for coming down here. But it happens that tonight there is a social opportunity in the evening so I decide to do my judging beforehand. There seem to be various means of getting there but in the end I opt for Thameslink. I can either get a train from Blackfriars or Farringdon but as a Hammersmith & City line turns up first I opt for the latter. Not a bad move as the train fills up quite a bit there. Anyway, I arrive soon after 6 and make the few minutes' walk to the Hope.

From the outside this is a mock-half-timbered former Charrington pub which for a few years now has been owned by a consortium of locals, including a few SPBW members. Inside the two bar counters effectively divide the pub into three areas (with a bit more out the back). A chalk board showing the beer range is in front of you when you enter so it's worth having a quick look before you go any further. The Hope offers 7 draught beers in all - Downton New Forest and Windsor & Eton Guardsman appear to be the regulars and this evening's guests included the likes of Vale Best, Magic Rock Ringmaster, Kissingate Powder Blue (a blueberry porter) plus Guerilla and Infinity from Blue Monkey. A nice varied selection.

The bar staff are mostly bearded fellows and it's no surprise that the British Beard Club hold regular gatherings here (I hear they're having a sponsored shave to razor few quid). The beers I try are in good condition and at a good price. The community spirit is demonstrated by the numerous posters advertising local events. Another plus here is the absence of background music so the buzz of conversation creates the atmosphere.

The Hope, 48 West Street, Carshalton SM5 2PR;

Having done my time in the Hope I head back to the station and a train to Victoria. After some bladder relief in the Wetherspoons in the concourse, I tube it to Old Street and thence to the Old Fountain, previously reported in these 'pages'. Fellow judge Peter is having a little birthday soiree here and I'm happy to let him buy me a pint. A particular point of interest is that a tiny brewery has been installed in the pub cellar. A 4.3% unfiltered pale ale from downstairs was available and was quite tolerable.

So that's that folks. All that's left is for the judges to sort out the merits of 12 pubs and come up with their order of merit. Personally I'd say that just 2 are definitely out of the running but not a lot between the rest. The final voting is on 4 November at the Blythe Hill Tavern and we'll put the word round about the winning pub and presentation as soon as we know the details.