Last night I took to the streets of Blackheath in south-east London with the excuse of investigating the gin content of each of the public houses. I enlisted my friend Jason, a long time gin-drinker and appreciator of the finer things in life – football, beer, short skirts, fine wines and good music. We lamented the loss of Prince and Victoria Wood, of bad days at Charlton Athletic and working hard for little reward.
We talked a great deal about gin – about production, bottles, brands and prices. Jason had recently purchased a bottle of Beefeater Crown Jewels special edition gin as a gift for a family member, and had received, again as a gift, a bottle of Monkey 47 and a crate of 1724 tonic. I decided that I need to get myself closer into his family circle.
Our plan was, within sight of the start of the London Marathon, to make our way, Marathon style, from The Crown, to The Hare and Billet, then across to the Princess of Wales, down to The Railway, then perhaps a couple of the wine bars. But, best laid plans of mice and men etc, we were hampered by rain, and by the heath itself being divided up by metal partitions for herding Marathon runners – we were doing this two days before the great race.
At our starting point in The Crown, the gin list was uninspiring – Gordon’s, Sipsmith and Bombay Sapphire – so we had a pint instead then headed up to The Hare & Billet. In recent years the Hare & Billet, a famous old pub on the outskirts of The Village, has come under new ownership and they do a fantastic range of beers. I wasn’t sure that they would have much in the way of gin at all, but I was pleased to discover they had a total of eleven different gins to choose from including Whitley Neil, Hoxton, No.3, Tanqueray, Haymans, Martin Millers, Gin Mare and Boodles. The only tonic they had was Schweppes, which was a great shame considering the extent of the Gin range, but this is essentially just a good boozer, so I wasn’t about to complain!
I’d recently had a No.3 and was keen for Jason to see if he liked it as much as I had, and he went for the Boodles. The No.3 was as excellent as I remembered and Jason concurred; the Boodles was, on the other hand, disappointing. Jason wanted to try one of their guest bitters, so he had that while I had my first Gin Mare – and it certainly won’t be my last as I very much enjoyed it. I’m not keen on reviewing anything I’ve only had one glass of, among several other drinks, without a good tonic, so that is all I will say on the subject for now.
The rain came down as we left the Hare & Billet and so we took an unplanned turn into O’Neals – an Irish-theme-chain that was for a while, 18 years ago, our pub of choice in Blackheath. Now, a sorry shadow of its former self, we stayed for one lager then left. For the sake of this blog piece I will tell you that they had Gordon’s, three different types of Gordon’s at that, and Bombay Sapphire. Still raining, we headed down to The Railway Tavern, which was packed. They had a four-gin choice of Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Sipsmith and Opihr, but at least they had Fever Tree to mix it with.
After introducing Jason to Opihr we decided to abandon the Marathon and take ourselves back to our respective homes, slightly tipsy to say the least. So, it was not a great success, we had a great time and laughed a lot, I found a new gin to buy in Gin Mare, and reinforced my view that No.3 should also be added to my collection; but we missed several pubs & bars and were largely unimpressed with what we did find – please publicans take note: there is nothing wrong with Bombay Sapphire or Gordon’s, but a bit of choice would be lovely – and ‘choice’ does not mean that you buy a couple of bottles of Sipsmith!