9 September 2008

Croydon’s Main Drag

Like any normal person, I wouldn’t ordinarily travel to Croydon by choice. As far as I’m concerned its stereotyped image of an ugly concrete ghetto with a stabbing waiting for you around every street corner is a fair one. The town centre on a Friday night is a microcosm for everything that is wrong with Britain today – both the environment and the scary youth who populate it.

But I do like a good stand up comedian, and so couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Jimmy Carr let loose his twisted thoughts on South London.

With tickets for the world-famous Fairfield Halls booked (the seamless architecture from concrete theatre to attached concrete NCP car park is a sight to behold) all that remained was for Jnr and I to seek out a decent boozer in the immediate vicinity in which to sink a few before showtime. After perusing the beer guides and B.I.T.E. it seemed our options were limited to the usual dreary Fullers/Youngs London offerings, two Wetherspoons and a Lloyds No.1. Tremendous.

Then I happened upon the existence of a previously unknown pub, the Green Dragon. Located on the High Street, formally belonging to the Hogshead chain, to the untrained eye this looks like any other town centre drinking barn. Spread across two floors with high ceilings, pool tables (pl.), a dartboard, flashing gambling machines and the obligatory government health warning posters, there are a series of awkwardly-arranged tables, some with booths and dividers. Upstairs is a ‘stage’ area complete with high-octane rig and yet more posters advertising the recurrent ‘Psychobilly Experimental Prog Madness’ events. Whatever floats your boat.

It was early evening when we arrived and the clientele was a mixture of office and retail types of all ages winding down after another tough working week. Almost all were drinking the much maligned mainstream lagers and bottled fruit-based fizz. However, a quick perusal of the bar confirmed that the choice of venue had been a good one. Dark Star Hophead and Festival sat temptingly alongside a beer from Ironbridge. In addition was a Hogs Back branded stillage built into the wall behind the bar, offering HOP and Summer Ale on gravity.

The Summer Ale was, as you can see in the photo, sat at a rather ‘obtuse’ angle and did not have much life left in it, although the HOP was pleasant and well presented. I understand that they’ve been known to sell A Over T in this form (if ever there was a beer to get you in the right frame of mind for some comedy) but, alas, not to be on this occasion.

Unsurprisingly, however, the Dark Star beers were the ones that shone brightest. I go out of my way to have the opportunity to consume the fantastic Hophead on a regular basis and its zesty light bitterness and munificent late cascade hopping didn’t disappoint here. The Festival is an altogether different beast, dark and rich with more than a hint of smooth plain chocolate in the prolonged malt-laden finish.

We were so impressed that we returned after the show for further lubrication before braving the arduous bus journey home. By 11pm the place had switched and was now catering to something of a niche market. A DJ loudly spun rock vinyl records interspersed with occasional hip-hop from a central perch and the punters were noticeably younger and grubbier, with the odd inebriated townie thrown in for good measure. Not your average scene in a pub with such an admirable selection of ‘old man ale’ but nonetheless refreshingly different.

Suffice to say, Jimmy was riotously funny and really involved the crowd, who didn’t seem to take exception at all to his constant jibing at their beloved hometown. And if I find myself thirsty in Croydon again - God forbid - I wouldn’t hesitate to make the Green Dragon my first (and in all likelihood only) port of call.


Soggy Celebrations in Peterborough

For the last few weeks both the Beer Monster and I had been eagerly anticipating the autumn beer festival at the delightful Coalheavers Arms, Peterborough (September 4th – 6th).

Having discovered the pub early this year and attended their Easter festival a couple of weeks later, I already had a fair idea of what to expect – great beer in excellent condition, warm and friendly service, plus some of the finest grub it’s been my good fortune to sample at any festival.

Although the event had started on Thursday evening we were sadly unable to make it over until the Friday morning due to work commitments (boo, hiss), and arrived at the pub shortly after 1pm having first lined our stomachs with a McSpoons breakfast (something of a fiasco, but that’s another story).

We arrived to find the pub quite quiet, although the fact that a couple of beers had already sold out gave a fair indication that there had been a roaring trade the night before; after greeting licensee Tom Beran we took our seats in a corner of the pub and, having effectively set up camp with note books, pens, packs of mini Smarties and ornaments (!) spread out on the table before us, set down to the serious business of drinking.

Once again, Tom had pulled out all the stops to offer a diverse range of ales with a number of beers I’d not encountered before. Milton, who own the pub, had provided a couple of specials in the form of Asterix and Obelix, along with their Five Hop, brewed by Coalies volunteers for the Peterborough festival, but these were by no means the only winners on offer with Green Tye (website under construction), Tring and Nethergate all supplying quality scoops, plus new seasonal brew Autumn Equinox from the mighty Dark Star.

A complete list of beers, plus tasting notes can be found here.

Despite some truly foul weather Tom nevertheless braved the elements to man the cooking station in the beer garden, serving up his stunning Beer ‘n’ Beef burgers (with fiery homemade chilli sauce) and a cracking chilli con carne on the Friday night, while Saturday evening saw the burgers complemented by one of the finest curries it has ever been my pleasure to eat.

A fully trained chef, the guy is an absolute kitchen god – for those who don’t believe me, try his recipes yourself; you can find them here, and although the chicken curry hasn’t been posted as yet I have no doubt it’ll be up within the next few days....

All in all another superb effort; my heartfelt thanks to the team at the Coalheavers – they pulled off another cracker.

On a personal note, Friday also saw me record my 1,000th scoop (a hell of a lot more beers have been consumed, but alas many went without recording the gen); for those who are interested, the attached video is the landmark beer going down the hatch…


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