Candidate #21- The Snowdrop Inn, Lewes, England

The postcard town of Lewes is home to Harveys Brewery, who take advantage of the River Ouse ambling through town. A raft of decent pubs serve Harveys straight from source as it were- overlooked by the impressive brewery building itself. But for something a bit more special, take ten minutes to walk a little through the suburbs in search of The Snowdrop Inn.

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Legend has it that after a devastating avalanche of snow from the nearby tor, the Snowdrop Inn was built upon the ruins. I think they just left a canalboat here for so long a pub was built around it.

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Alongside quality, incredibly local English ales (7 by the looks of things in the above photo), they stock a range from the local Burning Sky brewery, which offers less traditional pub tipples, such as Saisons and American-style IPAs.

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There are a bunch of recent bad food reviews on Tripadvisor, but we thought the tagine and enormous olives were very good, particularly since we weren’t actually in Morocco and one portion was enough for both of us.

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A quaint pub in a quaint town, just a few stops away on the local train from Brighton.

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Venue: 8/10

Oddly like a narrowboat. Set before an impressive landscape.

Beer: 6/10

Ambitious new beers alongside classic ales.

Worthy? Maybe.

 

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148. Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington, DC

I’m not sure what this place is trying to be. I’m not sure they do, either.

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Apparently the oldest dinning saloon (whatever that means) in Washington D.C. and very close to the White House, so all sorts of important white grey men must have come here for beer. Their website proudly offers 1856 as their opening date because, you know, history, but this was when it was in Chinatown. So not really that old is it? And now it is owned by a local restaurant conglomerate boasting thirteen properties. So it’s in a different location and owned by different people. But: history.

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Their website also claims the patronage to be a bustling mix of tourists and politicos. Score. Apparently the oysters are great, if that’s your sort of thing.

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Venue: 5/10

Grand, very expensive looking, which can make your typical beer enthusiast feel a bit unwelcome because, as everyone knows, fermented grapes, not grain, is the sophisticated thing. Because the Romans did it, presumably.

Beer: 2/10

If oysters were beer, then this would be right up there. They’re not though, are they?

Worthy? No.

A grand venue, no doubt, but not a beer bar.

Mapped: The Best Beer Bars in the USA.

USA

According to some people, these are the best beer bars in the contiguous USA. Granted, I took this list from a 2010 publication of Beer Magazine (I think), so it may be a bit dated, but you can’t manufacture historical whimsy, so at least some of these must still be right. I have only visited those with a blue label, so there’s much to look forward too.

104. McSorley’s Ale House, New York, NY

Step back in time: before ruining a good old pub with plastic tables and blank walls went by the insidious name of ‘gentrification’, before every beer had a comically large handle to thrust their advertising in your field of vision even once you have ordered their damn Rocky Mountain water-brewed beer and before women were allowed in (their motto was once “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies”. You can still get the onions.) and forced us to re-invent our public house etiquette (OK, not so much that one).

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Staggeringly, not at all ruined by the ‘cool kids’ (count the beards below: very few).

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The walls are the end-product of years of collecting and hanging all sort of excellent crap: former presidents, flags, pins, and never removing anything since 1910. And underneath, some fine, dark, probably original, wooden panelling.

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McSorely’s is the oldest ale tavern in New York City, probably dating back to 1861, and as such sustains a few myths and legends. One that may be true is that the wishbones hung behind the bar were placed there by soldiers on their way to WWI, to be removed upon their return.

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The usual suspects of literary figures are thought to have drunk here: Hunter S. Thompson, E. E. Cummings, Brendan Behan et al., and a roll of presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, and also a guy called William Tweed, who used to own the third most land in NYC and chose to spend much of his time on this bit. But don’t listen to them, listen to Beckiboo1983 on TripAdvisor who had her feelings hurt by the bar staff and didn’t like it, so she gave the whole place a 1 out of 5. Because what Beckiboo1983 doesn’t know about customer rotation, the cut-throat line between profit and loss in prime Manhattan real estate without the spongy cushion of outlandish food profit margins, about continuing an 150 year old legacy, about the festering languishing of tourists for an hour over each drink and forcing other cash-filled tourists to walk on by, well, what Beckiboo1983 doesn’t know about that, frankly, isn’t worth knowing.

Venue: 10/10

Resisting gentrification since 1854 (and women, until 1970).

Beer: 8/10

Enjoy the simplicity of their options: dark or light.

Worthy? Yes.

As trite as this sounds: it’s an institution.

 

31. d.b.a., New York, NY

A largely unconvincing entry. It’s just a bar.

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Filled on a Saturday night with yuppies and and shirted gents, barely a scenester in sight. I’m not sure what that is indicative of, perhaps that they have given it up for the masses. They probably weren’t particularly sad to see it leave.

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I might sound harsh; after all, they serve beer. But from the range to the decor, there is nothing extraordinary. Nothing that lets it hold a candle to the 150 best beer bars in the world, or even a bunch of others in the same city.

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Things on draft that don’t work on draft- Old Speckled Hen on nitro cask anyone? Thought not. It’s embarrasing to think this is what American’s think English ale tastes like. People have probably supped it and said ‘Nah, bro, I don’t really like English ale’. You are doing us a disservice.

Venue: 2/10

Maybe it suffered for being a Saturday night, but I felt very little rapport for the place. Would not like to idle away hours in here.

Beer: 3/10

Nothing exceptional.

Worthy? No

Vanilla.

144. The Dubliner, Washington, DC

The Dubliner seems to be an institution in DC, but it wouldn’t really stand-out in Ireland. Since this is a global list, it seems hard to justify this inclusion.

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In truth, the dive-bar Irish pub right next door was much more affable and relaxed and had a better beer selection AND live music too.

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On a summer night such as on my visit, the expansive outdoor seating is a boon, and the close proximity to the station  adds to the appealing location, especially for a swift half between trains or a first port of call after a long journey. I imagine it is popular with the suited 5-o-Clock-finisher’s from the surrounding downtown offices.

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The interior is split into two: restaurant and bar, the latter of which offers a long row of stools, sports on tv and attentive bar staff to help you while away some hours. But so does next door.

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Yes, that’s a lager served in a Guinness glass in the background. Come on people.

 

Venue: 5/10

Nothing extraordinary for Ireland, but a real good effort for the States.

Beer: 3/10

Very decent Guinness for this side of the pond, but a very limited selection otherwise.

Worthy? No.

From an American history perspective, perhaps. But not for the beer.

72. Blind Tiger Ale House, New York, NY

West Village, New York, a new beer movement.

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No more ostentatious tap handles, faux-craft beer (here’s looking at you, Sam), and well beer Wednesdays. Blind Tiger will guide you through the excellent emerging United Statian craft beer world. It could be argued that Blind Tiger not only predates the real beer movement, but was already a local institution whilst localised, craft brewing was but a twinkle in the hipster’s bourgeois eye.

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27 taps is not enormous for the States (Sunset Grille & Tap has 112), but it represents at least a days (ahem) effort. Europe is much more bottle-centric (400+ in Belgium is not uncommon; you need more like 800 to stand out, like Kulminator, Antwerp), so for Jonny foreigner, this array of taps is bewildering in all the right ways.

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Spot the hipster.

A fantastic quirk of Blind Tiger is the countdown to the tapping of a new brew: when I was there, the chalk board told me that at 5pm, a new saison will be opened for sale. Given that I decided to wait a few hours for this, I can’t remember exactly what this tasted like. Since I had been on a summer wheat/fruit beer binge, I think the saison fitted perfectly with my contemporary needs.

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If I’m being honest, which I’d rather not since I really liked this place, the layout of the venue needs some thought. I understand that space is at a premium in Manhattan, but Blind Tiger is bigger than many pubs in the Netherlands. The problem here is the large space in the middle, leftover from the awkward high tables by the window and the low slung benches by the wall. Maybe people can accumulate and drink vertically during peak times, but here you will find yourself clumsily in the way. A seat by the bar is a fine thing though.

A special nod must go out to the staff. On both visits, they were excellent and patient, despite being borderline understaffed the second time, with something of a Rain Man memory.

Venue: 6/10

A seat around the bar is an optimum place to sit, otherwise the void in the middle seems like a waste of space.

Beer: 8/10

Countdowns to new beer tappings? Brilliant. The staff are happy to showcase an excellent knowledge and passion, too.

Worthy? Yes

A bar for real connoisseurs, which doesn’t exude esoteric pretentiousness, unlike this sentence.

28. The Brickskeller, Washington, DC

The Brickskeller has unfortunately been sold off and re-opened as The Bier Baron Tavern. So it’s kinda on the list.

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Fortunately, the excellent beer can collection is still there. Apparently (according to the surprisingly extensive Wiki page) The Brickskeller was a stalwart during the collecting fad in the 70’s, where the fathers of well-healed underage collectors would pay for hundreds of dollars worth of cans to be emptied from the bottom, in order to preserve the top, and deliver them as the valuable trinkets they are to their kids.

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They even have an old Waitrose one from the UK- I didn’t even know they ever existed.

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Great venue, vast beer menu; why the bad review? One women is responsible for this: the barmaid. Maybe I’m used to superhuman attentiveness and almost-ass-kissing joviality when I’m in the States, maybe she wouldn’t have stood out in Europe. She certainly wouldn’t have in Zum Uerige. The difference there is that the gruff efficiency with which their staff sling another alt on your table is part of the charm. She was a ruinous scourge on an otherwise excellent beer bar.

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I get that bar staff work for tips (whaaat- they work for MONEY?!) but one of the huge advantages about working in a beer bar is…working with all that yummy beer. If you’d rather do shots with your friend/love-interest at the end of the bar, then go find a lovely little dive-bar where not only is this fine, it’s recommended. But these places should be a haven where I can ask which saison she recommends (some of which are United Statian, so new to me), and get some passion, maybe some tasting notes- not just a name, with no explanation. This might sound petty, but this is but one instance on a list of aggrievements.

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Venue: 4/10

A lot of potential; almost great decor. The staff are ruining this place.

Beer: 8/10

A broad, well-described selection, helpfully categorised by country and style, with explanatory tasting notes to help you through the varieties.

Worthy? No

It almost definitely used to be, and I really want it to be.  Sadly, this has fallen by the wayside. A large menu is not enough these days: otherwise this list would be largely comprised of Belgian bars.

Candidate #12- The Rake, London, UK.

Near London Bridge, hiding in a back-alley around Borough Market, is the curiously named The Rake.

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London, for a city so large, is not resplendent with ‘Little insert-part-of-the-world-here‘. Sure, there’s a Chinatown, but I’m not looking for tea (or msg). So it comes to The Rake to single-handedly prop up the Little American-dive-bar area of town.

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It does a pretty good job. I like dive bars. I like the worn, rough individuality, and how they always seem to have better tables than their ‘renovated’ cousins (see The Market Street Porter nearby). The Rake has used the scribblings and wisdom of craft brewers to decorate the walls, with brewer memorabilia to add flair.

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Not the first bar of the day.

The garden is bigger than the venue, and in truth this is the front-end of a beer distribution business. This ensures a great selection and rotation of international beers, the best I’ve sampled in London. One particular member of staff let these efforts down, as he shrugged his shoulders when I asked if they stocked any Dutch beers; I then sat down and put my beer on a Texels coaster.

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Venue: 6/10

If you like this sort of style, you’ll feel at home. Top effort, given the space limitations. A little bright and hard to relax in during the day.

Beer: 7/10

Great for London, merely above-averaged for the States.

Worthy? Maybe

Probably the second best bar in London, for those who want to sample from the international faucet.

Candidate #10- Strange Brewing Company, Denver, CO.

Watermelon, goodness.

Watermelon, goodness.

Thanks for not reading the Rocky Mountain News. Thank you Rocky Mountain residents, for chilling out and not generating much news. When the paper closed, two former employees took a punt on a 20-gallon home-brew kit and a beery dream. Strange was born.

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There are eleven beers detailed on their website, but no mention of the watermelon bomb I tried in July 2013. They also say they close at 9 though, so I don’t know what to believe. The Strange Pale Ale was also good, and I’d already had a Pliny the Elder that night to which it was inevitably compared.

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The Strange Brewing Company is really well hidden in an unremarkable industrial area of Denver. All chipboard and business inside, the decor is a stark contrast to the effort made by bars this side of the pond to create an homely, affable vibe. But, despite their decorators best efforts, or in spite of them, they have created a brilliant atmosphere. I loved it. I was also on my nth ±6 beer when arriving, so make of that what you may.

That really is where it is.

That really is where it is.

There was some kind of bluegrass yokel band swinging on a trailer in the garden which, given the location, was disturbing no one.

Venue: 7/10

The bar really is the brewery- the garden is reached by walking through a room full of brewing vats.

Beer: 8/10

The (temporary?) watermelon beer is perhaps the best fruit beer ever.

Worthy? Maybe

Huge novelty value, instantly welcoming community feel and an all-round positive of the new micro-brewing explosion.