What better way to spend a Tuesday afternoon than visit the nicest pub you never knew about, drink some fantastic beers over a hog roast and watch your dog be utterly humiliated?
Meet Captain PBBB - the final member of the PBBB family:
Captain is a rescue dog, and we're not quite sure of his progeny - we think he's a Yorkshire terrier mixed with a Shitsu or laser apso. In other words, Yorkshire with a bit of ponceyness mixed in - just like his master.
On the scale of doggie hardness, Captain marks out one end of a continuum of which the foam-flecked, wild-eyed hounds of the Flying Dog Brewery's labels pin down the other:
But the two ends met yesterday at an event to mark the launch of an expanded range of Flying Dog beers in the UK, including two of their best sellers - Doggie Style Pale Ale and Gonzo Porter - now being listed in over 300 Tesco branches across the country. (Of course, in Tesco it won't have the words 'Doggie Style' on the label - after all, that would bring about the collapse of civilisation).
I've always liked Flying Dog and have visited the brewery when over at the Great American Beer Festival. We went out drinking with them one night and all I can remember is my sides hurting from laughing. Their beers are excellent - not the most envelope-pushing ever, but American craft brews don't always have to try to reinvent the wheel. A small range has been available in the Uk for a few years, and when I was touring Three Sheets to the Wind three years ago, doing events with a selection of beers from around the world, Gonzo Porter - inky like alien blood, full of spicy chocolate malt and yet at the same time a Cascade hop bomb - converted a surprising number of women to beer for the first time. It's great news for any beer lover that this and the pale ale - zingy, hoppy, but light and perfectly balanced - now have such wide distribution.
And it turns out that Flying Dog are more experimental than their limited (till now) range in the UK would suggest. I'm looking forward to trying my bottle of the 11.5% Double Dog Double Pale Ale I scrounged from lunch. We tried a German-style smoked lager that can be enjoyed even when you're not eating bacon - so an improvement or a 'dumbing down' on German smoked beers depending on your point of view - mine is certainly the former. And we heard great things about a new Belgian-style IPA, which isn't bottled yet. Good luck with the Portman Group over the name of that one when it does get over here, guys.
The event was in the Spaniard's Inn, on the north-west side of Hampstead Heath. I've never been there before but it instantly became one of my new favourite pubs. It's an M&B place, and within that group it's the only pub other than the famous White Horse that has free rein over its beer stocking policy. A great range of draft and bottled beers - Doggie Style was on tap, along with the great and good of English cask beer and a few new ones I've never seen before. And a fantastic food menu with dishes like slow-cooked lamb shank, pearl barley and creamy mash and organic pies at prices that are lower than some really dreadful wannabe pubs I've visited recently.
And my new test of a pub menu - a Ploughman's should have ham and cheddar in it. So why do pubs normally ask you to choose between the two? Why do they not even give you an option of paying a quid extra and having both? A good pub is one that does both on the plate. The Spaniards goes better: a choice of two from rare roast beef, honey roast ham, Cropwell Bishop Stilton or mature Cheddar - for £7. I've paid more than that for some pretty dire city centre Ploughman's before now.
The building itself is centuries old, and rumoured to have been a haunt of Dick Turpin. Dickens visited, but Dickens seems to have visited every single pub that was standing in the Great London Area at ay point in the ninteenth century. Whatever, The Spaniard's age, affluent location and basic pub infrastructure combine to make it a blend of gastro and traditional boozer you rarely see pulled off so successfully. Other nearby pubs have gone down that infuriating route where they still insist on calling themselves a pub even though they ask if you've booked a table as soon as you walk through the door. The Spaniards is definitely, 100% a pub - albeit a pub that did 700 covers for food last Sunday. As pubs that Dickens has visited go, just thinking about how this place compares to the Anchor on the Thames makes me want to cry.
The location means it's popular with dog walkers, and you can even buy boutique, artisanal dog food and treats at the bar. Sounds a bit poncey, but if you believe your dog deserves as nice a meal as you're getting, well there you go.
Proximity to the Heath means some of the dogs must be a bit muddy sometimes by the time they get here - and that's why, at the bottom of the car park, there's a Doggie Wash. In goes the dog, up go the screens. A few tokens from the bar and your dog has the pleasure of shampoo and conditioner, rinse, cold air blow down and warm air blow dry.
So yeah, nice pub, great beers and everything. But the true highlight of the afternoon was this - a mutt who won't be inspiring any Flying Dog beer labels any time soon:
Heh heh heh.