Tag Archives: cask ale

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.

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Goodbye, America, for a While

7 Jul

So I up and left the USA.  Some of you know I’ve been planning my escape for a couple years; for others, this may be news.  I’m not leaving for good, unfortunately.  I am just taking a solid 5 weeks to explore the wonderful world of European beers.  A study, if you will.  If you won’t, 5 weeks of drinking with a side of debauchery.  That’s just semantics.

I’m sitting in this generic internet café off Piccadilly Circus right now; mostly, I just don’t feel like finding my hostel.  It’s apparently just a subway ride and a short walk away, but I’ll go in a bit.  Sometimes it’s just good to procrastinate by writing to a world of blog readers that may or may not really exist.  Anyway, I’m glad I made it to this cafe, because I kept passing out in the tube and thought I’d miss my stop.  I didn’t really know if Piccadilly Circus was the ideal stop anyway; I didn’t map out my hostel in relation to London at large.  But hey, Piccadilly Circus is kind of in the middle of shit, and it’s one of the few stops I recognized.  And now that I’m online, it seems the hostel isn’t that far.  And so my freestyle adventuring works out.

I flew here on Kuwait Airlines with just a backpack.  I didn’t really plan to backpack through Europe after college like one of those damn cliché college graduates that backpacks through Europe after college…but taking a big bag seemed like a big commitment.  I’ve done that before, and I promise you: the wheel always breaks.  Every time.  And then you’re walking down goddamn Calle San-whatever in the pouring rain, cursing this 45-pound dead weight bag and wondering why you had to bring a hair dryer, a bathroom scale, and your pet boulder collection in your stupid luggage.  I digress, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, I’m in London this week.  Other destinations include Munich, Brussels, Copenhagen, Prague, and Budapest.  The main reason I’m here, as I said, is to get the full-blown beer experience in these various nations.  Sure, I’ve had the imported stuff in the US, but there are quite a few beers that stay in their homelands.  So I came to them.  Here in London, I’m looking at cask ale.  I’ve had cask ale interpretations in ‘merica, but you gotta try the original stuff.  Who knows?  Maybe it’s just watery crap.  Just kidding.  We shall see.

I’m really kind of bummed, because Kuwait Airlines gave us all this damn food–two hot meals–I mean, what is this?  And now I’m not hungry enough to eat for a while.  American Airline companies make some hot millions taking one olive off every sad, little salad they serve their customers (if they serve food anymore–who even knows), and Kuwait is serving up braised lamb and cake and chickpea curry and pakoras and like a whole continental breakfast over there.  I really don’t understand flight disparity.  I really don’t pretend the airline industry as a whole is a logical, ethical operation, but I’m harsh and overly tired so I’ll shut up about it for now.  I guess the downfall of Kuwait Airlines is that most of the announcements on the TV were in Arabic, and I really couldn’t read it, to be honest.  I definitely know zero Arabic.  It’s very cool looking, though.  They also play this very meditative music as you descend, which is half cool and half reminiscent of an overpriced yoga studio.  I stopped asking questions when I was assigned seat 36H.  I don’t know.  It was a big ass plane.  I just gave up and went to sleep and ate braised lamb whenever the flight attendant woke me up.

More later.