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    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    Sebright Arms / Lucky Chip

    The bar is busy. The tables are full. The backroom is heaving and buoyant. Welcome to the Sebright Arms, dimly light and vivacious. We arrive from Soho at the fading of a sun drenched afternoon - four pubs, six pints, four hours. Three and a half miles later, bellies demanding meat and bread and barley, we bundle over the threshold. A table is found, pale beers ordered, burger menus devoured by hungry eyes. It's a young crowd, an old ...

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    A King and a Prince

    A Prince Amongst Beers

    It's not every day that you get the chance to try a beer that's older than you are. Last Saturday night I opened a bottle that was just that; I opened a beer that was older than me, so that’s over twenty five, give or take the odd ten years. In fact it was a lot older than me, more than twice my age. It was brewed in 1929 in fact, so that’s 83 years old. A mate ...

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    Build A Rocket Boys!

    Build A Rocket Boys! by Elbow & Robinsons

    Elbow are the kings of soaring melancholy, masters of poetic northern introspection.  Let Elbow's albums flow over you and you can be mesmerised by their beauty alone. Put in the time to listen, to soak up the poignancy, the humour, the extraordinary manifestations of the ordinary and their albums become life affirming tributes to the everyday. Conversely, it's quite easy to stick an Elbow album on and realise thirty lethargic minutes later that time - and ...

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    Man shed!

    Readers Pubs

    At the first pub there's a piano in the window but no one to play it. The seats are filled with ghosts. A long pew is adorned with individually wrapped cushions, resembling a bum-friendly box of Mr Kipling cakes. It's quiet, the fireplace glows warm and friendly, everything is cosy and snug. Welcome to Pete's Retreat. "We'll be at home here, let's get a pint." Much as we could stay forever we've a long crawl ahead ...

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    De Struise Pannepot 2008

    Pannepot 2008

    Broody and brown, like blood-red soil on a wet day, four-year aged Pannepot is dragged out of the beer cupboard and into a glass like Jack Dee to an in-laws barbecue... It simply doesn't want to open (the journey back from Belgium wasn't kind: a contemporary shot it's load in the suitcase, drenching the stash of bottles and it's still sticky and downtrodden) but eventually, after much gushing and fizzing, it acquiesces. Perhaps it's just the toll of ...

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    John Keeling Fullers

    Desert Island Beers #50: John Keeling - Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC

    It's a special week on the desert island as we celebrate a half century of castaways being swept up onto our shores. Robinson Crusoe # 50 is a real coup for us as it features none other than Sir (it’s only a matter of time) John Keeling; Head Brewer at Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC, (better known simply as Fullers). John was born in Droylsden, Manchester, in September 1956. When he left school without telling his ...

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    Will Hawkes

    Desert Island Beers #38: Will Hawkes, The Independent

    Welcome to the latest episode of Desert Island Beers which this week features Will Hawkes who works on The Independent’s sports desk and writes about beer in his spare time. Born in London and brought up in sunny Kent, he has had an interest in ale since he could convince a barman he was 18 – but his real conversion to good beer came after a year spent living in Southern California in 1999-2000, when the ...

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    Marston's Fever Pitch English Bitter

    Marston's Fever Pitch

    First off I should point out that I don't often take kindly to products and advertising that jump on the football bandwagon. The best footy related marketing is the football advertising by Nike and Carlsberg (ignoring their most recent attempts). So, I'm potentially a little biased against Marston's Fever Pitch... Let's start with the positives: oranges, lemons, citrus peel but not zest. It's more interesting than I expected, more summery. A mellow bitterness that isn't displeasing and ...

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    Englischer Garten

    Drunken in Munchen

    Let's be frank, I'm not brilliant at getting drunk. It's not that I'm a bad drunk per se, but since my uni days my tolerance has faded and I'm much better suited to a lazy pub garden or the frantic but well partitioned boozing of a hot festival day. So, the morning after the night before, eating pizza along the tramlines of Munich, Stag Day 2 of 3, the first beer is an inevitable mistake. The 12 ...

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    Lowlands Bier Festival

    Beer From The Low Country

    The smell of beer slopped on wooden tables, the glint of light in the top of the chalice, the sounds of a deck of cards and the clink of glasses. I'm in a bar in the north country but my senses are across the sea and howling winds, in the bustle of a backstreet bar in Belgium. Four pm on a sunny Friday, sampling the beers of the Low Countries in a bar in Leeds, dreaming of ...

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    BrewDog Blitz 2.8% ABV

    Brewdog Nottingham

    The blue logo can be seen for hundreds of yards. The windows that look out onto Hockley's student-filled streets, opposite a tea room, cinema and acclaimed bistro, are plastered with huge crest shaped decals, archetypal generation Nike branding for a Starbuck's influenced post-modern brand experience. B R E W D O G Reminiscent of the type of industrial themed sandwich shop found in downtown Prague or New York's Soho, but with added chutzpah and a munificence for ...

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    Shibden Valley by Tim Green

    Shibden Mill Inn

    Down a winding single lane road the descent to Shibden Mill Inn is not one to be taken with nonchalance. A careless clutch foot could result in an unexpected round of automobile tobogganing, even without the help of rain, ice or snow. But survive the swooning approach and there sits a fine pub to be snowed in at: good beer, warm hearths and food fit for kings. The pub is infected with sunny Sunday smiles. Gregarious family ...

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    Packhorse bridge and Old Bridge Inn Ripponden

    A bridge in time

    A brisk day in March, wet but without rain. Ducking through the dripping steel railway bridge, carving through residual puddles, Sowerby Bridge seems jack-knifed between the twenty first century and the 1970s. It's partly the lack of ubiquitous chain stores, partly the dubious puns of the shabby independent shops, but mostly the hues of a downtrodden day in a small Yorkshire town. Out the other side of the town the road befriends the trajectory of the ...

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    Hopback Summer Lightning: a bit of a legend in Beerland

    Hopback Summer Lightning

    Some beers have a pedestal. Sometimes it's deserved because they are truly great beers, technically and taste-wise. Some are headliners, built by a cheeky PR campaign or an elaborate story. And some are deserved winners of awards and a place within beery folklore. Summer Lightning by Hopback falls in the latter category. Back when I was enjoying my third year on this planet and coming to terms with the fact I would soon have a baby ...

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  • CRAFT

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    October 17th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel, Pubs & bars

    The first time I visited it was a chilly September night. S and I navigated our way via smartphone to find ATJ neck deep in a chalice of something golden and fizzy. We followed suit, once we’d navigated the smorgasbord of beers on the bar, each rarer and more expensive than the last.

    The second time I visited I waited patiently for my date, having used a combination of memory and verrrryyy sllloooww loading Google maps. A local glazier kept me entertained until J’s arrival, mostly with his Phil Mitchell innuendo and flashing of his big wad of cash. I think he’d like to have been Ronnie Kray, but I duly accepted a pint with nothing more than dirty water on my hands.

    The third time I turned up on my tod and with no prospect of kinship. Alone amongst a sea of pump clips and trendy bearded bar staff, with only an empty hotel room and an empty evening ahead, I clinked my change together until I could afford a Mikkeller and sunk back into a chair with a book and a weary head.

    Only one thing joins the dots between these visits and that’s that each time a decision was made in advance.

    ‘Meet you in Craft?’

    If ever a pub didn’t need a description of its tall curvaceous fonts, its terrifyingly eclectic mix of beer (37 draft beers including 16 hand pulls), its exposed floorboard and its trendy use of typefaces, then this is it.

    There is no doubt, Craft is a pub that you decide to go because its somewhere worth going.

    And next time I’m in London I’ll surely be going back.

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    August 1st, 2012FletchtheMonkeyPubs & bars

    Sweaty arms, clammy knees. Bag heavy with laptop and a change of clothes. And four hardback books bought from a dodgy looking bookshop opposite Kings Cross Station.

    I couldn’t have done that on the way home?!

    Four hours of software training weighs heavy, countless lost minutes suffering from syntax and segmentation, not to mention the unfulfilled honeymoon dreams of the course leader.

    Lord save me.

    Instead The Lamb does, just off Grays Inn Road.

    It’s on a quiet street, with a reassuringly traditional green-tiled exterior. The mosaic entrance hall beckons from across the street.

    Inside mahogany dominates and the woes of the world are left outside in the sun, too scared the cross the threshold and face the shadows of the snob screens.

    The bar at The Lamb

    The bar at The Lamb

    The Lamb, Bloomsbury, London

    Lamb’s Conduit St

    Snob Screens at The Lamb photo by Robert Gale of beerlens.com

    Snob Screens

    The Lamb, Youngs, Bloomsbury

    The Lamb, Youngs

    Early afternoon respite is a pint of guest ale and a good book, perched on a window stool occasionally eavesdropping the banal conversations of regular patrons, who are few and far between.

    An hour and two and a half pints later trade picks up. Tourists poke their heads in, some take a punt on this poky oasis in the heart of London, others can’t quite get their heads around what the pub is for and retreat to the sun and the search for a ubiquitous coffee shop.

    You could call the Lamb ubiquitious or common, or traditional, or aged or out of date. But where else can one read in peace without being bothered for another latte, or interject on a conversation about Bobby Fischer and end up talking about the wonder of eighteenth century engineering whilst the staff play chess?

    If the coffee houses of Vienna were the melting pot for poltical strategy and evolution of football tactics then pubs like the Lamb are surely Britain’s philosophical front room. And pubs like the Lamb don’t have the same financial clout as those omnipresent frappucino chains.

    If the Lamb did for Charles Dickens and Ted Hughes, then The Lamb’ll do for me.

    The Lamb, along with Lamb’s Conduit Street, was named for William Lamb who helped renovate Holborn Conduit back in the 16th century, thus improving access to fresh water in the area. A stroll along the street reveals a clutch of independent shops and the People’s Supermarket who have Bethal Pale Ale (mmmm!) in their local beer fridge.

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    June 12th, 2012FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel, Pubs & bars

    I would love to be able to call The Glad a university haunt of mine. Tiny, and frugally filled with ramshackle furniture, my feet tap away on the exposed floorboards to jitterbug ska and rocking robin boogie. The soundtrack, like the decor, is unmastered, mono.

    If named for the Honourable William Ewart then I can’t second guess what the old Liberal Prime Minister would make of it. Grandiose it is not, but dirty back street boozer it is neither.

    The tealit afternoon ambience is bolstered by square rays of sun picking up every airborne particle above the classroom style tables; the long rays lend calm; the little rooster soundtrack subtlely rocks ‘n’ rolls.

    This haven is unexpected – glance up the alley to see a typical and old fashioned London pub sign “The Glad”, just another pie and pint hole.

    But Lant St, narrow and unassuming, leaves The Gladstone Arms’ pretty facade invisible from Borough High Street, and the pretty facade in turn hides a tumbleweed interior of cacti littered window sills. Buckaroo, Pictionary and draughts hang precariously on an old metal radiator; watching nonchalantly is a Triffid-esque plant casually growing straight out of the neck of a French Horn.

    A pint of cask ale, a choice between a scribble in my notebook or a few minutes deep in a ruffled book. I lose my jacket, stick my feet on a wooden stool and sink into my armchair; there’s no need for books as an orchestra of recycled instruments begins to serenade me with an Arcade Fire cover played with melancholy gusto.

    This strange little oasis is the perfect matinee from the tedium of the mornings meetings. I hope the record collection takes up many shelves, and that the digital remastering hasn’t lost the crackles of vinyl.

    The Gladstone Arms
    Borough, London, SE1

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    December 6th, 2011FletchtheMonkeyBeer and travel, Pubs & bars

    Down in the bowels of Shoreditch a little revolution is bubbling away. Or more appropriately, distilling itself into a concentrate of Dickensian drinking decadence.

    Behind the beautiful mahogany bar of Worship Street Whistling Stop magical things are happening. Here innovation, care and service win out over such whimsies as cost or conformity.

    Smart haircuts of perfectly uncombed hair greet us. Working uniforms are braces, well-pressed overalls and shirt collars. Knowledge is intrinsic and delivered with aplomb. These are career bartenders, dram-filling baristas of gin, and worse.

    Adjust to the dim basement to find homage to Victorian gin palaces, with just a dash of Gatsby grandeur for good measure. The seating plan is made of Chesterfields and pews; the wooden furniture houses collections of oil lamps; a piano holds various old glass bottles and steel vases. Leather, strong wood, exposed brick and gold detailing in abundance. There’s curiosities too, including a scrapheap bath tub which makes an overly cosy gin tasting snug. The trendy styling but well worn character echoes the contradictions of the age in the spotlight.

    We’ve come here to drink and our creations do not arrive fast, but they do arrive with drama – simple to look at but luxurious to taste my Panacea could cure even the hardiest of sceptics of the virtues of the cocktails. Whiskey, honey and lavender caress lustily – the sage dust adds a dry love bite. It is sublime in the Victorian sense of the word, despite its physical diminutiveness.

    The Cappuccino Baby arrives swiftly after. Baby is a reference to its use of formula milk, without which it wouldn’t be the creamy, coffee bean dream that it is. In a tall glass it’s gulped down rather less sophisticatedly than it arrived, and my friend orders another within minutes. Which at £9 a pop is not a sign of fiscal disregard, but of his childlike delight to say hello to this comforting friend again.

    The craft involved in these drinks is to be revered, and more so because in their creation the spirit of 19th century alchemy lives on. In the poky distillation room to the rear of the bar alcohol meets mad scientist. Trial and error moulds and remoulds constituents from one concoction into another – super heat treated beer ‘Vermouth’ joins cognac and roasted yeast bitters to become a Broiler-Maker. High pressure hydrosol takes vodka and Gancia Bianco, shakes it up and bursts into an Exploded Vodka Martini. Salts, herbs, bitters, yeasts, liquors and syrups all leave the room combined with other parts to become a whole. The finished article then may meet frozen sugar or malic acid, or suffer irradiation or the dreaded ‘méthode champenoise’ (a second fermentation in the bottle, providing fizz and flavour). And all this in the name of an experience in sensory displacement and indulgent imbibing.

    Rakes would have loved the booze and the theatre, but Worship Street Whistle Stop is perhaps a little sophisticated for the darker desires of William Hickey or Dorian Gray. In this dark setting nothing more intoxicating than magnificent drinks are consumed, and no destruction of character other than over indulgence takes place. Wallets may tremble in terror, but the experience is worth it.

    Dram Snug at Worship Street Whistling Shop

    Dram Snug at Worship Street Whistling Shop, with thanks to www.tehbus.com for the snap after my camera broke in London

    Glossary of libation

    Glossary of libation

    Distillation equipment

    Distillation equipment

    panacea

    Cocktail cure all?

    WS2 map

    WS2 map

    Drinking den information:

    Venue: Worship Street Whistling Shop
    Website: http://whistlingshop.com/
    Town/city: Shoreditch, London

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