Tag Archives: bone marrow

London: That Happened

12 Jul
cask ale is good mkayyy

cask ale is good mkayyy

So I’m sitting in my hostel in Brussels right now.  I just got off the train from London and I’m running on about 3 hours of sleep.  I don’t know what to do besides deliriously blog about London, because I can’t get into my room for another 3 hours.  This hostel, Meininger Hotel, beats the shit out of London’s Phoenix Hostel.  That’s just a fact.  I’m not complaining; The Phoenix had a bar and all, but this place is huge, hip, and has a giant bar and really good Belgian beer just everywhere.  I am definitely giving it the thumbs up.  It was also only around $20/night or something stupid like that.

Anyway, London.  I had a weird experience there, because I didn’t feel like I wanted to take part in any of the typical reindeer games.  By that I mean I didn’t want to go back and look around at palaces and guards and crowned jewels and shit.  They’re very cool and historic, but I checked them off my life about 9 years ago and felt little need to re-do any of those tourist attractions.  And let’s be serious: would I rather spend money to go on a glorified Ferris wheel (the London Eye) or beer and food.  That’s not even a question for anyone with whom I’d associate.

So the day I got into London, I just sort of randomly chilled out and ate a sandwich and drank Jack and Cokes at a nearby bar to try to cope with jet lag.  It worked out alright, and the next day I felt pretty good.  I guess that was Monday.  On Monday, I putzed around London to get a feel for where everything was and went shopping.  I have a budget and all that good shit, but that didn’t stop me from blowing around $200 on a really cool scarf and shirt at a sick boutique I found.  Oh well.  I never think of it as spending.  It’s just investing in my personal brand.  It’s all just accounting (making categories for spending to justify everything).  I digress.

Monday night, I met up with my friend, Giselle, who I’ve known since the good old days of pre-school.  She is spending her summer interning for an English bank, so we met up for dinner to catch up at a random bar.  We didn’t eat anything quintessentially English, and since the bar had little in the way of interesting beer, I went to my go-to gin and tonic mode.  Anyone who was excited for me to go to London and immerse myself in the mysterious, sexy traditions of real ale is probably face-palming hard right now (because I totally have an abundant following like that).  Don’t worry though, all you fans out there; after dinner I made a small pilgrimage.

Since Giselle is currently “real person” status, she went home to go to sleep like a responsible intern.  I decided to check out a pub recommended by Time Out London for its cask ale.  The Jerusalem Tavern.  I was being lazy and defeatist about figuring out the tube situation, so I splurged on a cab over.  When I got there, I walked into this cramped hole-in-the-wall bar at which an Italian bartender (Italian Stallion, to be honest) was busy flirting with a Spanish girl at the bar.  In a very English comedy kind of way, an average looking English dude came to take my order while the picturesque couple switched to Spanish and ignored everyone else in the bar, even though Italian Stallion was on the clock…So average dude’s name was John.  John the bartender became a fast friend that night, since I am now That Person Alone At The Bar.

After my first pint, the St. Peter’s Best Bitter, I was ready to talk beer with Señor John.  All the cask ales on draft there were from St. Peter’s brewery.  And try them all, I did.  John was very chill about letting me taste the beers first, just as any bartender might be, but a taste tended to be about 4 oz of beer.  Over the course of the night, I bought 3 pints of beer but probably drank 5. It wasn’t my fault; John said from the outset that English cask ale is meant to be had about 10 of.  That just kind of sat at the back of my head the whole night.  The beers I tried included the Best Bitter I mentioned, a St. Peter’s Mild, a St. Peter’s Porter, a St. Peter’s Grapefruit Ale, a St. Peter’s IPA, and a St. Peter’s Ruby Red Ale.

The beer I was most surprised to enjoy was the grapefruit beer.  I like fruit beers, but I’m wary of them, because they often taste bitchy. This grapefruit ale was actually really refreshing and citrus-y.  I think it was cool because the smell of grapefruit really livened up a pale ale that was being served close to room temperature.  Maybe I should take a second to introduce the idea of cask ale, for those of you who don’t know the ways.

Cask/real ale is a style of beer rooted in English tradition.  Basically, instead of a brewery force-carbonating and kegging their beer, the brewery will “prime” their beer with sugar and yeast to facilitate natural carbonation, and then the beer will be served out of a cask in a direct draw pump.  That means the beer continues to change over the course of its useful life, drying out more toward the end, and morphing flavors slightly over time.  The beer is not refrigerated, so it comes out closer to 60 degrees F–something offensive to many people who aren’t used to it.  Those who appreciate cask ale are said to think of its changes like a change in the weather.  Maybe the ale isn’t as good one day over another day, but it’s just a fact of life.  John definitely had opinions about which beers were doing the best the day I was there.  It’s kind of like aged cheeses, if you can think of it from that perspective–sometimes a harder, crumbly bloomy-rinded goat cheese is good, but of course everyone loves it the more it ripens and gets all gooey and dank and delicious.  These are living foods, so we have to recognize them as such.

After drinking those beers in addition to other classic English cask ales, I joined the side of the divide that likes cask ale.  It reminds me of a Spring day; it’s not cold but not overly warm.  It’s refreshing but not overtly quenching.  Restrained hopiness and maltiness allow you to just sit and think about other things as you drink it as opposed to getting punted in the mouth by an American Double IPA, for example.  That’s what this beer is for.  Drinking while hanging out and shooting the shit with friends or getting some work done.  Or if it’s too early to start drinking and you don’t want to admit you’re about to start drinking anyway.  Most of them hover around 4% ABV, so they really are sessionable beers.

So after I drank more than my fair share of cask ale (learning happens fastest in total immersion), John gave me a free Scotch quail egg, since I had the drunk munchies.  I walked around for a bit after leaving before going home and noticed that the bars and clubs in London close pretty early.  It seemed last call was mostly around 1:00 AM.

The next day, I wandered aimlessly again during the day.  However, I stumbled upon Regent Park, which was a really nice walk.  Later that evening, I had a dinner reservation at St. John, a restaurant I’d been dying to go to since I was about 15 or whatever.  When I got there, I found the interior pretty cool if fairly bare-bones.  I sat down and perused the menu for a while before inevitably ordering the famous bone marrow with parsley salad in addition to mussels with cucumber and dill.  I originally planned on drinking beer with the meal, but the restaurant’s beverage list was 100% wine, so I decided to just let the beer thing go for a night.  I ordered a glass of the house Bordeaux to start, just because I was being super indecisive.

I have to be brutally honest: that wine was really pretty not great.  Besides it just being a little simple and too high in acid, the restaurant really served it too warm.  That was a sad experience for me.  The next glass I ordered, a Provencal red, was better but also far too warm.  Why, St. John?  Why?  Anyway, I didn’t let the wine get me down.  The food was delicious.

The mussels dish was really fresh and so up my alley.  I don’t know what to say about it besides…how could chilled mussels with cucumbers, dill, capers, and vinaigrette be bad?  It was definitely one of those dishes that reminds us that simple is often better.  So did the bone marrow.  What is better than hot, fatty cow substance spread on toast with coarse salt, parsley, shallots, and capers?  This is one of those dishes that’s kind of not fair.  I mean, when you have bone marrow, it’s kind of a gimme.  You just put it in the oven and know someone’s going to have beef fat dripping down their chin with a stupid smile on in a short period of time.  That’s just a life fact.  And I was the goof smiling that night.

On my way to dinner, I was having a cynical discussion with myself in my mind about the institution of dessert.  Where did it come from?  Why do people want to eat random sweet food after having a full meal?  “I want diabetes after I finish my dinner,” said no one ever.  Well…the answer came to me in the form of eccles cake with Lancashire cheese.  It was my waitress’s suggestion.  Looking back, I just don’t quite know what happened.  It came out with the Balvenie 12 year old Scotch I ordered, and I kind of just went crazy on it.  I’ll admit it was my first time with an eccles cake…But I will never see life the same again.

It’s just a pastry filled with spiced dried currants, but it was so damn good.  With the cheese, it was just so fucking delicious.  It reminded me of the holidays, but I don’t even care it’s July right now.  Any time my mouth is like twerking after eating something, I’m open to the situation.  Anyway, I left feeling like a whale.

The next night, I went out to some bars with a group of girls from my hostel.  It was a good-ish time, but I spent about $90 on drinks without successfully getting trashed, and these betches were a little crazy.  Not that they could out-drink me or anything.  Definitely not that.  I just didn’t expect a group of 26-year olds with lives to act like they were in high school.  It made me question all those young teachers I had in elementary school.  Were they out hooking up with random dudes at bars while I was at soccer practice on the weekends?  I shudder to think.  Anyway, moving on.

Yesterday was my last day in London, and I just didn’t do much of anything.  I had a beer and a sandwich only to make up for the previous night’s wonky spending situation.  And then I went to see “Thriller,” this Michael Jackson musical.  By myself.  And that is when I knew it was time to leave London.

The moral of the story is: cask ale is good and don’t expect 26-year-old girls to know shit about life or even heavy drinking for that matter.

Hello, Brussels.