Right, to ease me back into blogging again after a lengthy lay off, I am posting a little photo diary of this weekend’s trip to Copenhagen. It was savagely cold, in a way that the UK has not been so far this winter. The east wind goes through any layers you are wearing and eats its way into your very being. Copenhagen is a compact little city, with a lot of waterways, and a few very good real ale pubs. These shots were all taken with my little Samsung point and shoot camera, because we only took hand luggage and the big camera is too big!!
This is an attempt to divert my attention from photography for one moment, and to recall that FR is actually a blog concerned with all manner of good things, including cycling, beer and travelling as well as taking pictures. In this spirit, I am pleased to post a short account of my Saturday night, which was very enjoyably spent in good company at The Dove, Bury St Edmunds’ finest beer house.
The Dove is one of a rare breed – a ‘proper’ pub which is run by a beer enthusiast, the impressively bearded Roger Waters. Dating back to the mid-1800s, the pub has, probably by virtue of its rather out of the way location, managed to remain unaffected by the march of lager, jukeboxes and fruit machines, remaining a basic, bare-floorboarded two room bar which does not have gastro pub pretensions, but instead concentrates on serving six real ales at all times. In recent years there have been a few ventures in the town that aim for a similar purpose – The Old Cannon being one, The Beerhouse being another. Both of those pubs are also micro breweries as well, and the Cannon is very firmly in Gastro Pub territory. But they both just miss the ‘real pub’ ambience – they just seem to be too self conscious in their attempts to be the real thing, and end up looking like they are trying too hard.
Our arrival saw the pub in a nice, half full state, with locals already enjoying the available ales. We were sharp enough to bag one of the scrubbed wooden tables, which was a shrewd move because the bar soon filled up with drinkers. The ales that were ‘on’ constituted an interesting choice. Woodfordes Wherry and Crouch Vale Brewers’ Gold are always available as the staple beers, but in addition we also noted Nethergate IPA at 3.5 percent and a very interesting 5.2 percent bruiser from Lowestoft, Green Jack Mahseer IPA. One for later, I thought.
We began almost unanimously on the Nethergate. All the beers here are kept fastidiously, Roger being apparently something of a font of beer related knowledge. The pint was clear, amber-coloured and had a lovely frothy white head. At this relatively low strength, it didn’t pack much of a punch, but had a nice, malty flavour and a reasonable finish of [apparently fuggles] hops. As somebody who used to live in Huddersfield, now the apparent real ale capital of the UK’, you do get somewhat used to a certain style and the northern hop-monsters do make you a little blase when tasting anything else. In order to have something to wash down with our beer, we also bought a pint of pork scratchings from the bar – not the plastic bags of Black-Country rind you often get in pubs, but big, majestic bits of salty crackling which were ideal for producing a continued thirst.
The problem with a sessionable beer such as the Nethergate is that you are tempted to drink it very quickly and then want another one. This was the case and so I suggested to my fellow drinkers that we move on and try a pint of the Green Jack, a much more formidable beer. The bar, although now full, was being served efficiently and waiting doesn’t seem to be a problem like it is in some pubs. The other thing that I noticed, first with surprise, but then delight that such a reactionary step could be taken, was that The Dove has no lager taps on the bar. Now I did not trouble myself to look into the fridges behind the bar, but I am sure a meagre supply of bottled lager may be available. However, what a statement, and what a great one at that. If you want to ensure that your pub is kept free of the kind of person who quaffs Carling habitually, then here is your template.
Now as I mentioned, The Dove does not ‘do’ food. However, a short chat with landlord Roger later on revealed that a bespectacled stranger sat at the bar was, in fact, also a local butcher, and his pork pies were available from the bar, wrapped individually in greaseproof paper and with a little mustard sachet included. We felt we had to continue our beery patronage of pork in its many, manifest forms, and so a pie each was procured. They were quite excellent – firm, meaty, with good short pastry and little jelly to distract from the taste. What a great drinking accompaniment – and luckily the Green Jack Mahseer IPA was strong enough to cut through the fatty pork.
Mahseer is a really great pint. It tastes like all of its 5.2 percent strength – you feel a sense of respect for it in the mouth. It is a strong, amber coloured pint with a creamy, tight head and a very long, almost American IPA kind of finish – probably because it has both English and American hops in the brew. I would place it close to Adnams American IPA for taste and strength.
And so the evening carried on – although we were generally sensible enough to swap back to the sessionable Nethergate after one Green Jack. Full marks to Roger and his team at The Dove.
It’s soon after my birthday, the 44th to be precise. I feel that the inevitable coming of middle age is amply demonstrated by something I did last week – I joined the Campaign for Real Ale.
Yesterday, the membership pack landed on my door mat. Newsletter, membership cards, and rather excitingly, 50 pence a pint off vouchers for use when I next find myself in a Wetherspoon’s and in need of real beer. So why did I sign up?
I’ve been enthusiastically consuming British beer for some years now, having dispensed in the main with my love of all things fizzy and lagery. And as the last decade has passed, I have been increasingly heartened to observe that many things which were by a common orthodoxy despised when I was a nipper seem to have found their way back into our national good books. And British ale is most definitely one of those things.
Yes, the days of King Keg, Watneys despised Red Barrel and the rest have well and truly gone, to be replaced by a burgeoning beer scene which has seen CAMRA at the fore front of arguing for quality standards, criticising the big pubco’s, and generally making a noise in favour of the small, local brewer. Let’s face it, we have the ingredients all around us, and hundreds of years expertise in brewing ale. To lose all of that to some vast, anonymous contract brewery based in the foggy plains of Belgium would have been a national tragedy, so let’s celebrate our beer industry with….errr, a beer!
The other effect that the renewed interest in a decent pint has had is a general raising of the bar in pubs. Yes, I’m sure the vast majority of pubs are still noisy, crowded warehouses with watered down Castlemaine on tap, but I am increasingly finding, to my quiet delight, old pubs being renovated and stocking decent beers. Maybe we are rising up slowly and quietly to reclaim the British pub?
Anyway, I’ve come out. I hope this doesn’t manifest itself in a flowing beard and a love of folk music, but as far as British Beer is concerned, I’m officially now a supporter.