Jolly Ole London Town

OK, so I'm live blogging from London and I broke my absolutely-no-work-while-on-vacation rule, but there's no way I could have remembered every detail if I had waited until I returned home.  I needed to get some of this info into print while it was still fresh in my head.  London is such an amazing city.  In fact, it's so amazing that we completely canceled our trip to Paris so that we could spend another week in London.  There was a bit more to it than just that (namely the $1100 train tickets to Paris because we waited until the end to buy them), but it was no disappointment for us - we love it here.  In fact, I'm still not sure we're coming back.  They've got Pimm's o' clock here and that's heaven for two Pimm's addicts like ourselves.

London is gigantic and London is old.  The Prospect of Whitby has been open since the 1800's and it used to serve such booze enthusiasts like Dickens, Thackeray, as well as various thieves and deviants. You can go along the Thames, through an old neighborhood, and into an unassuming pub like the Prospect and be engulfed in a historic booze milleu.  It's quite overwelming if you stop to think about it.

Pimm's Cup.  One of the most popular cocktails in England.  Horridly under-appreciated in the U.S. and rarely seen on a pub menu.  I plan to rectify that transgression.

If you want some high-end with your history, you can head over to the Rules restaurant and bar - the oldest continuously-operated establishment in London, open since 1798.  Dickens used to have a private room here upstairs which you can visit and H.G. Wells was a perminant fixture at its tables.  The food is quite splendid and the drinks are practically unmatched.  Check this out:

I thought that I was making authentic Blue Moons at home with Creme de Violette, lemon juice, and gin, however, the Rules bar is taking it to a new level.  They don't use Creme de Violette as far as I can tell and the mixture utilizes crystalized violet petals instead.  It's still a gin base, but the color is actually a vibrant blue as the name would imply.  The crescent-shaped lemon peel sealed the deal for us - it's like an actual moon floating amidst the pale night sky.

If you want to visit one of London's premier drink locales, head over the Hix Bar in the Soho region for some serious cocktails and service.  Abou Jollow is running the scene there and making some outstanding beverages for the faithful who attend his service.  Chiseling ice from a giant block, Abou made me a wild highball full of PX sherry, single cask rum, Spanish brandy, lemon sherbert, green tea, and soda water which was then topped off with house-made pineapple syrup and a Champagne float!  As if that wasn't enough, John Glaser joined us for a few rounds and things got nuts.

Sneaking in a bottle of his new King Street blend, John conviced Abou to start pouring off rocks glasses of Compass Box + soda, King St. on the rocks, and a straight shot for the three of us to sample.  The new release is wickedly smooth, unassuming, and well-crafted - just as you would expect Glaser to do it.  I can't wait for it to hit the States this September and I am already excited to pop the few bottles I plan on smuggling back.  Then John pointed to two giant punch bowls of whisky sitting on the bar.

It appears that John was so friendly with Abou and the Hix bar staff because he had been there not too long ago for a blending lesson.  The staff members were allowed to create their own blends and John had taken the top two creations and created a larger scale version of each one.  Both are available to order from the menu - how freakin' cool is that!?  I only wish we could do such projects in the states!

After taking a few days to recover in the countryside, we got back to London tonight and happened to head around the corner to a local pub called Cask.  They claimed to have to largest beer selection in London.  When I got inside I couldn't believe what I saw.

We talked with C.J., an ex-pat from Maine, and his wife for practically the entire evening as we drank Mikkeller from the tap!  They have an insane selection of craft beers in bottle and a staggering selection from cask and keg that would make Bay Area beer geeks cream in their pants.  If you're in the Kensington/Chelsea area then this is a must-visit stop on your itinerary.  The fridge looked like the K&L Redwood City selection with all the hard-to-find selections that we work so hard to obtain.

C.J. recommended we try a new stout from Magic Rock distillery, a brand-new producer from the Yorkshire that had been tearing up the local beer scene as of late.  We were mightly satisfied with the result.  Full of rich flavor, but light on the tongue, it was the perfect contract to the limited-edition Mikkeller triple-IPA that was also on tap tonight.

There is so much booze culture in London that it would take you years to merely scratch the surface.  They are so far ahead of us in every way possible.  That's partially due to the lax restrictions on what they can do.  For example, you can pour booze and sell it for take-out as well.  That's insane, but that's the way it should be.  More to come in a few days.  I broke my silence but it was worth it.

-David Driscoll


David Driscoll