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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Jolly Butchers: my manor gets its own serious beer pub

I write for lots of different reasons, some of which go very deep. I've wanted to be a writer - of some kind - since I was nine years old. But among all the complex psychology, creativity and ego needs, there are a few more pragmatic reasons why I've wanted to write specifically about beer over the last ten years or so.

One of these is that I really love drinking well-made, tasty craft beers, be they American hop bombs, beautifully balanced real ales or perfectly made pilsners.

The trouble is, until a few years ago not many pubs served them. I much prefer drinking in pubs to drinking at home, and nine times out of ten I would have to settle for something deeply average.

So purely selfishly, I figured that if I wrote about beer, and I was really good at it, I might in some small way encourage the spread and appreciation of great beer, and that would make it more common in pubs, and that would mean I could enjoy better beer when I'm out. You might think I do it to turn other people on to great beer, but my ultimate motive is entirely selfish.

And it's kind of working. I'm not claiming any measure of direct credit for the spread in good quality beer, the huge rise in imports and the critical and commercial revitalisation of cask ale, but I am part of a big wave of enthusiasm that's pushing the spread of great beer.

My local, the White Hart, used to have one dusty Spitfire pump in the corner of the bar. Now it has three well-kept cask ales - Doom Bar and Tribute on permanent, and a rotating guest.

And as of today, up the road, opposite the bus stop, we have the Jolly Butchers.

Previously, the Jolly Butchers was a Stoke Newington institution - in more than one sense of the word. It was also known as Stokie's Bar and Father Ted's, each rebrand not replacing the previous name but adding fresh layers to to it, like the coats of grime on the windows.

It was populated exclusively by old men wearing what the late Pete McCarthy dubbed 'Irish drinking suits', those once smart, now shiny and stained dark jackets and trousers that are the uniform of a certain type of veteran drinker. They'd huddle together in a vast, derelict space to watch an endless diet of horse racing on the pub's many TVs, pumping the change from their pints of Foster's into a bank of gaming machines.

The pub had a certain notoriety in Stoke Newington's broader population thanks to its 3am licence, but whatever business this brought in it clearly wasn't enough: rumour has it the pub was losing thousands of pounds a week when it finally closed earlier this year. Twitter briefly flurried with comments along the lines of "Where are we going to go to have a late night fight with an Irishman now?" and then fell silent.

Two days ago I was invited for a sneak peak at the new Jolly Butcher's.


The Victorian wrought ironwork and stained glass above the windows, previously boarded over, has been exposed. The walls have been stripped back to the brickwork and left unfinished, stylishly shabby, apart from one wall covered in trendy Fornasetti wallpaper.


The central bar that once dominated the centre of the room has been moved to the side, and an open kitchen has been built in the corner. And as for that bar, well...

There are ten handpumps, combining beers from London's late-to-the-party but finally emerging range of craft brewers, plus regular beers from Thornbridge and Dark Star, real cider from Gwatkin's and a perry.


Apart from the ales, there's smoked beer Schlenkerla on draught, as well as De Koninck, Bruges Zot, Mort Subite Kriek, Vedett, Erdinger and Meantime Helles. Yes, all on draught. Then there's a lot of Chimay in bottles, some more Meantime and a few others. The bottle range does need beefing up, but landlord Martin wanted to focus on getting the draught range right first.

I used to have to get on a train for two hours to drink Jaipur on draught. Now I have to walk five minutes to the end of my street. My plan has worked.

I can't claim any credit at all for the Jolly Butchers though - Martin had never heard of me until he started placing orders for beers. But when he did, people kept telling him I lived locally and he should get in touch with me. I'm so glad he followed their advice.

The other day I chipped in a few comments about the beers as the staff were taken through a tutored tasting of them by Martin (behind the bar, above). Some of the Irish drinking suits were hanging around outside, curious, proprietorial. They're still welcome if they're happy with no racing, no bandits and Meantime Helles instead of Foster's.

Martin knows what he's doing - he also runs the Rose and Crown in N16 and the Wrestlers in Highgate. Both those pubs are tied, but the Jolly Butchers is a freehouse. As such, he couldn't wait to get his hands on it and turn it into a beer shrine. Why? Martin is a beer fan, but not a beer geek. He enjoys a decent pint, but talking to him you realise first and foremost he's a businessman. He's reinvented the Jolly Butchers, taking it from one extreme of the pub spectrum to the other, purely because he believes he'll make a lot of money by doing so.

"If this doesn't work, that means I don't understand pubs. And the thing is, I do understand pubs - I've worked in them all my life," he says.

It's striking that he had to wait until he could get a freehold to do this - that PubCos simply wouldn't allow him to create this dream. When the Jolly Butchers makes more money than Martin's other pubs, than other Enterprise and Punch pubs, it will prove what readers of this blog understand but PubCos, global brewers and mainstream media still do not - craft beer is thriving, and when forty pubs a week are closing, catering to craft beer is a sure fire route to profit.

See you there tonight.

21 comments:

Cooking Lager said...

I’ve been in a couple of these multi beer gaffs that cater for the beer geek. I find them largely middle class, actually quite pleasant is the sense that you are unlikely to get into a fight, but not really what I would call a pub. Not a place you see all sorts rubbing shoulders by the dart board. A niche watering hole for guardian reading middle aged and middle class public sector workers. No shortage of corduroy. Some are better than others. If they have a menu describing the beers on offer alongside more helpful than average bar staff then they are accessible beyond geeks. Personally I don’t really need a choice of 20 beers. I only want to drink one good one. As nice as it is, it really is just one more theme to appeal to a market niche, and shows the fragmentation of the pub and bar trade.

Pete Brown said...

Don't necessarily disagree Cookie - it's just nice to have one of 'em on my doorstep!

John Q. Publican said...

o_0

I didn't know you were local to me, Pete! Tomorrow is (annoyingly!) my last day running the Pembury Tavern in Hackney, just down the bottom of Amhurst Road relative to you. We're another Victorian-built now-real-ale venue, and if you haven't been in yet, I'm sure Steve Early (my soon-to-be-ex boss) would welcome your company some evening :)

Pete Brown said...

Oh! I've driven past there so many times and every time thought "That looks like a good pub, we must go in there some time." I will remedy my oversight - shame you won't be there!

Nigel Legg said...

@cooking lager - you should come to Bristol and check out the Seven Stars - recently voted pub of the year by the local Cahpter of CAMRA, at a weekend it is full of bikers and a bit intimidating, but always has eight or nine cask ales (no permanent brews) and a couple of ciders on draught. That is a real pub - as is the Victoria, which I will be visiting tomorrow for their St George's Beer festival - 24 cask ales. Should be good, but by no means middle class or safe. Both of these places allow you to taste the beers and the staff know a lot about the product they are selling. I always go for a recommended pint first, and the recommendation is always spot on.
As for the Jolly Butchers, I remember it in one of it's old incarnations about ten or fifteen years ago - I'm glad to hear it's coming up good now.

Toby Young said...

I know Martin from the Wrestlers, (but thats Highgate not Finchley if it's the same one!)But I will have to pop into the Jolly Butcher some time if I can drag myself out of The Juntion in Tufnell Park that is!
cheers Toby

Andy said...

Have to agree, Martin has opened a cracking pub, great beer range (cask and draught) with cool interior and what really struck me was how keen he was for the staff to really understand and appreciate the products they were selling. Pubs like this really do help promote good beer.

Stephen Beaumont said...

What Cookie is missing is that craft beer is going mainstream, so the young hoodlums queuing up for their 20 pints a night could very well soon be ordering Jaipur instead of Fosters. Ditto non-corduroy wearing labourers, darts-throwing service industry schlubs and many of the general, unwashed common class. Oh, and impoverished writers, too.

Martyn Cornell said...

"A niche watering hole for guardian reading middle aged and middle class public sector workers."

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that it's precisely that sort of market - maybe a little younger than middle-aged - that is now ready to move on from All Bar One and the like into this sort of joint, and both this market and this sort of pub are far more likely to survive and be healthy than the ones catering for elderly Irish building workers. (No offence to elderly Irish building workers and their pubs intended there.)

Incidentally, Pete, the sub-editor in me forces me to say it's "sneak peek" rather than "peak". Sorry: it's the day job interfering again.

Koops said...

Great beer + selection + comfort + a lack of violence = middle class? Hmmmm. Don't get me wrong, I love a good heed-kicking as much as the next hoodie, but to suggest I wear corduroy whilst I down my Duvel or Westmalle goes a tad too far. I hate corduroy, but I love Belgian ale. Where do I fit in?

BLTP said...

well, putting aside bizarrely out of date anachronistic social stereotyping the REAL Jolly Butchers is rather lovely. Difficult to judge on its first night but come 10 pm it's was pleasingly full of grown ups sitting a round drinking and chatting. The food we had was really good, the cheese and bratwurst were my fave.
The beer was good too and will better when they get the cellar temp right (this is being sorted as we speak). So if your in stokie there's now another good place to drink. Hurrah!

DJ said...

I could feel the excitement bursting out of your words there Pete! Sounds great, you lucky bastard!

The Pub Diaries said...

"I find them largely middle class, actually quite pleasant is the sense that you are unlikely to get into a fight"... unlikely to get into a fight.... obviously never inadvertently picked up someones copy of G2, oh its handbags and fisticuffs... Queensbury rules of course.

2 hours for a pint of Jaipur. I note they now sell it at the Old Thameside Inn... which is all that place has going for it!

jrg said...

Glad to see some local (Redemption and Brodies) Beers there, hopefully we'll get down soon to check the place out (if the Rose & Crown along the road is anything to go by, then it should be good.)

Rob said...

Such a moving story Pete. I had to hold back the tiers.

Bailey said...

Cor, blimey -- that's exciting. Looks not unlike Cask, but is nearer our house (on foot or bus, that is, but not on the tube). We will put on our Irish drinking suits soon and give it a go. (Boak has a particularly fetching ladies power drinking suit.)

PCL said...

Looks great, I will have to make the trek up from South London! What a great selection of handpumps, and foreign draught. I personally always like us much (unusual) choice as possible. Very lucky to have this on your doorstep!

Barley McHops said...

Beautiful. Like you, I began writing about beer in a not-so-transparent attempt at improving my local beer culture. Unlike you, I'm not very good at it.

What I wouldn't give for multiple beer engines at the end of my street. I have two hand-pumps within a 100-mile radius of me. Two!

There is a slow, but hopefully inexorable push towards more cask-conditioned ales here in the States. I thank the Brits for starting the revolution...let's see if we can maintain that momentum here.

Eddie86 said...

It must take some balls to open a pub like that straight off though - that's 680 - 700 pints of ale to sell every 3 days, let alone keg!

Far play to the man, and good luck with it to him. If I'm ever in the area I'll pop in, strictly for business research though.

Anonymous said...

yo,
went here tonight, pub was schwag. pure money making scheme, i didn't feel any love for the ale, be interesting to see how they turn over 7 ales and keep it fresh, give me old fountain anyday........place is for pseudo hipsters.
like dey know nelson sauvin.

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