‘… shoulder aside the prostitutes …’

Since it appears that at least three fellow zythobloggers have named this site their favourite beer blog in end-of-year roundups, I feel obliged to hand out a few end-of-year gongs myself. So here we are:

Best pub or bar of 2009 No contest – the Harvester, Electra Street, Abu Dhabi, the absolute Everest of rough bars, the Mariana Trench of low dives. Once you have found your way round the back of the otherwise respectable Sands Hotel and down the stairs past a threateningly besuited bouncer of indeterminate ethnic origin but about as wide as he is tall, you then have to clamp on your oxygen mask and fit infrared goggles to negotiate through the crush, gloom and roiling cigarette smoke to the bar, shoulder aside the prostitutes from unpronounceable Central Asian republics blocking your passage, who will be stroking your arm and asking if you’d like to do the same to them*, and shout your order at a bored Filipino barman over the racket from an over-amplified trio of Slavic blondes backed by two disappointed and dissipated long-haired Americans in their late 30s on sax and organ and a drummer from Wolverhampton who once had a trial with an Oasis tribute band: except it won’t matter what you order anyway, because all the beer is utterly undrinkable shite, particularly the Smithwicks, a crime against humanity for which every brewer at St James’s Gate should be tortured to death, slowly, and the John Smith’s Smooth, which, remarkably, manages to taste as if it has never even been on the same planet as malt and hops; and you’d be far better to copy the locals, all of whom look as if they derive the majority of their income from smuggling Niger yellowcake in fast motorboats across the Gulf to Iran in exchange for raw Afghani opium, who sit at their own personal table with their own personal bottle of whisky in front of them, surrounded by twitchy tooled-up bodyguards. Marvellous. Unfortunately I was recently informed that the Harvester had lost its drinks licence (some little Health and Safety problem with brown envelopes not being stuffed full enough, probably, such behaviour, if you’re a bar owner, likely to be injurious to your health and threatening to your continued safety), and the place was now practically empty, except for a few sad and silent ladies in most un-Emirati dress clustered at the bar, apparently unable to find their way to the Tourist Club area further east where the rest of their flock had migrated.

Runner up: the White Swan, Twickenham, which manages to be the opposite of the Harvester in Abu Dhabi in every possible way, being up a set of stairs, not down; smoke, noise, fat bouncer and prostitute-free; and serving terrific beer. Despite all these failings, it’s still my number one recommendation for Tim Hampson’s upcoming Riverside Pubs of London book.

Best draught beer of 2009 Twickenham Brewery’s Naked Ladies. Twickenham Fine Ales is my local small brewer, and I’ve been thoroughly impressed with almost every beer they’ve made. They have a deservedly high number of local free trade accounts, and the beer rarely disappoints, but Naked Ladies, named after a set of local statues, is my favourite, a beautifully balanced best bitter.

Best bottled beer of 2009 It IS possible to find decent beer in Abu Dhabi, and one such is Cooper’s Best Extra Stout, a bottle-conditioned delight from Adelaide, tarry, roasty, ever so slightly chocolatey, dry, full of depth and highly satisfying.

Best beer book of 2009 Pete Brown doesn’t really need any more accolades, but I predicted Hops and Glory would be a shoo-in at the British Guild of Beer Writers awards, and it was. I’m pleased to reveal I spotted a couple of (very minor) errors just to show the bastard isn’t perfect: he can’t spell the name of Gabriel Sedlmayr, the great Bavarian lager brewer; and somehow his editor let him write “died in the wool” for “dyed in the wool”. I’m sure these will be put right in the paperback.

Best beer blog of 2009 No contest here, again: Ron Pattinson’s Shut Up About Barclay Perkins. A superb blend of deep erudition and lunacy – and that’s just Andrew’s book about tanks …

* © Max Miller

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