Friday, November 09, 2007

london calling?

(finally got around to putting this bit up from my trip to England this summer)

Is that a music reference? I have no idea. But I do know that Cesare "Galileo is my dad" Pastorino was born and raised in Italy. Genoa to be precise. So close to France that he has an inordinate fondness for cheese. I said: "Isn't Italy a third world country? Lots of dust, not so many trees, right? The womenfolk are constantly heckled by sweaty, annoying thirty five year old men clad in red neck bandannas that still live with their mothers? I've really got Italy's number, don't I Cesare?" You know, idle chit chat between friends. Any time someone opens their London home to me for three days when I'm abroad I introduce myself immediately by insulting their native lands.

Tamara, Cesare's live-in girlfriend (scandalous!), stood there not quite sure what to make of me. I was bearded. Large. Smelled faintly of the tumbling, tannic waters of Dartmoor and sweat. I smelled not so faintly of sweat. We had met once before, briefly, at a department party. And here I was insulting the man she loved not more than five minutes after I set foot in their nest, crashing the harmony party like so much lawn mower. "New Mexico [editor's note: Tamara's native lands] is nothing but a dressed up Mexico. More sand and dust than Italy. That's saying something. It's a filthy place."

Tamara didn't like that one bit and struck me fast across the face with the back of her right hand. With impeccably good timing Tamara took advantage of my leeward motion and drove her right knee quick to my crotch. I crumpled to the ground in a heap. A low moan escaped my lips, I curled into a ball and rocked slowly back and forth, holding the vomit in.

"Alright then, let's go the park. Throw the frisbee around."

"Ok. But let's get some beers first. We'll lay on the blanket and sip and sup the afternoon away."

Beautiful day. Blackheath Standard is quiet. We purchase several bottles of English strong ale and proceed to Greenwich Park, ten minutes walking away to the north. Blackheath is so quiet because everyone is at the park. The sun shines brightly through a clear blue sky and lukewarm breezes waft the smell of grass and trees on the air. I lick my wounds. We consume several bottles of Young's Special London Ale which is much finer fresh, untransported across the Atlantic. Truly a great ale. Perhaps the best beer I had the entire trip.

The bleak bulging grass land stretches out before us endlessly. We skirt the edge arriving at the brewpub perched on a high corner where the street swoops down and around the patio like swirling stone bathwater carrying pedestrians into the bowels of Blackheath.

Zerodegrees Micro-Brewery is a small chain of brewpubs with locations in Bristol, Reading and Blackheath. Pretty fancy pants modern decor. Lots of glass and gleaming stainless steel. Slick logos and well placed beams of light shine from mysterious origins. They make a Pilsner, a Dark Lager, an American Pale Ale, and a Wheat. Not exactly your traditional English establishment. The Pilsner and Dark Lager were quite good. As clean as freshly polished glass and gleaming steel. I was interested to see American styles exported to the UK. All Cascade hops in the Zerodegrees Pale Ale. It was above average, but nothing special. Didn't try the wheat.

Two pots of mussels: one Thai style, one cajun style. They were excellent. Two pizzas (that Cesare endorses). Two orders of fries. Several beers. Fat, fat, fat. We walk it off down into Blackheath, led by the smell of fried food like Atlantic Salmon back to their natal rivers. We arrive at an assortment of fried foods so glorious and artery clogging that I gasp and exclaim, "Good god man! Is this a common type of shop?" Apparently it is. But we were quite full already and passed up the fried foods in order to indulge in Magnum handheld ice cream bars. I got the brand new Ecuador Dark. Tasty.

We crossed the heath like Ethelred the Unready. Wasted by a day in the park, mussels, ice cream, fighting Viking invaders, ours is a hard life.

The next day we took the train to Southwark near the old Thrale's Anchor Brewery, one of the most famous breweries from London's porter heydays. We went to The Market Porter pub, one of the better real ale venues in the city. Eleven real ales on at any time and one real cider. They typically go through 50 different casks a week. The bartender was very cool and gave me samples of lots of different beers. The ceiling was covered in pump clips from the beers that have passed through the pub. They fill the ceiling in less than a year.

The Sussex Best Bitter (4% abv) was quite bitter actually, grapefruit rinds, well put together. Royal Oak showed big, rich malts. Bolton's Port O'Call Porter was mellow and chocolaty. Beowulf Beorma from Staffordshire (3.9% abv) was light and extremely drinkable.

From here we took the tube north to an obscure residential neighborhood whose name escapes me now and I didn't write it down. We had dinner outside at a pub with pints of Wychwood from the cask (of course). Then we walked a couple blocks into an even more obscure section of the neighborhood to the Wenlock Arms, perhaps London's most traditional of cask ale outlets. It was a dirty bar. Well lived in. Old red carpet. Everything dusty. We were by far the youngest folks there.

I had a half pint of Crouchvale Brewer's Gold (4.0% abv), Champion Beer of Britain in 2005 and 2006. Very light color. Hint of apricots. Good. Old Bear in the Red (4.5%) was crap. Artificial red coloring made it look like a red light but didn't taste bad. Earl Soham Gannet Mild (3.3%) was quite good with a touch of chocolate malt character and herbal tea like hops. A great, traditional mild. Glad I got to try it. Unfortunately they had just run out of a Dark Star ale, one of the more famous traditional British beers amongst beer geeks here in the states.

The pub was a hot box with no breeze. A very hot day in London.

England really isn't a great place to go beer sampling. I know that sounds crazy, but we're spoiled in America. In England, everything is a bitter. Milds and porters are extremely rare and really not all that different from bitter. Dann Paquette has a pretty good piece in this month's Beer Advocate magazine pretty much lamenting the homogeneity of British beer. Sure, it's great for traditional English real ale. But after not too long they all taste the same. In England, beer is for drinking, not for "tasting." And I actually think that's a good thing. But if you're a standard American beer geek looking for a wide experience in a foreign land, Belgium's probably a better place to be.

We walked fairly far south from there (maybe took the tube too?) to Chiswell Street and the old Whitbread brewery, another of London's famous porter breweries from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was cool to see it as we talk about it in my beer class. Unfortunately it's being converted into luxury apartments.

We took the tube back down to Southwark and the train to Greenwich (I think) and hung out there by the observatory. We sat around in the park and got some drinks at a Philadelphia Phillies themed hot dog restaurant. I shit you not. I told the guy I was from Philadelphia and he asked me if I knew a lawyer he knew in Jersey. I didn't.


Tim Beaugard USNS Lawrence H. Gianella said...

Where are the pictures of the Phillies hot dog stand?
Matt was trying to get me to write blog about my travels with work but i'm too lazy..


Matthew D Dunn said...

I didn't get any pictures of the hot dog place, unfortunately. And you should start a blog. You probably get to see a lot of cool shit on your travels. I'd read it.

Brian said...

What is "anti climb paint"? I imagine it being a solution of

1 part paint,
1 part poison frog juice,
.5 parts king cobra venom,
.5 parts British blood pudding,
1 part blood from a cow with Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and
BHT (preservative).

Nasty stuff, that anti climb paint.

Anonymous said...

Anti climb paint is my favorite. That's how I lost a toe, but I had it coming.

Anonymous said...