THE CASK WHISPERER
Blog by Nigel Walsh
What the Dickens? – Part IV (Sketches by ChatBOZ)
… and so, we come to the final episode of this exhausting exhaustive saga.
Driven by opportunity and curiosity, both the Cask Whisperer and Charles Dickens, upped sticks and headed over the western horizon to the New World.
Dickens first came in 1842 for a six-month tour of the Northeastern US; he arrived to a rockstar welcome and was pelted with rotten eggs and orange peels on his way out… or something like that.
Dickens crime was to irritate his hosts by asking that they do something about copyright infringement. Upon his return to the UK, he also pointed out in his American Notes for General Circulation, that he had an issue with that whole slavery thing; and then there was Martin Chuzzlewit.
The American press had a real problem with criticism at the time, unlike the tough-skinned media we are fortunate to have represent us nowadays.
But they all made up eventually, and Dickens came back for an encore tour in 1867.
I arrived in 1979 for a two-year work assignment and left in… er… oh yeah.
Although NYC was my destination, I was soon shuttled off in the literal sense, (remember the Eastern Shuttle which existed before the Tr!*P Shuttle?) to Boston for a little over six months.
I loved Boston, there was and still is, something very English about the layout of the streets in Beacon Hill and the Back Bay, and the pubs there were very atmospheric and friendly, and sometimes quite ancient, such as the Union Oyster House.
My local hangout was the Sevens on trendy Charles Street, a place I see described everywhere as unpretentious; so unpretentious it seems, that it doesn’t even have a website or working Instagram, just a Facebook page.
I remember a friendly locals’ place where everyone got to be treated as if they were a local too; a long, dark, narrow bar with barely enough room to edge by, on your way to the bathrooms at the back, which opened up right onto the oche for the dart board. We went there regularly to play darts ostensibly, but also just to chill. It appears to be pretty much unchanged to this day.
Unlike that other place around the corner, where I suspect that nobody remembers your name; it was the Bull & Finch in my day. Cheers!
No cask ale at that time unfortunately, but I managed to make do with Guinness on draft, or preferably in bottle-conditioned form, which was still available then and was a godsend.
My time in Boston was divided between the Park Plaza Hotel and a tiny apartment on Temple Street in the quiet side of Beacon Hill. Dickens stayed at the Parker House during his later visit to the States, pretty much at the midpoint between both of my residences.
It would seem that for much of his time in both Boston and NYC during both visits, Charles Dickens did not get to venture out to the pub, at least it wasn’t documented.
When he wasn’t being chauffeured around to his speaking assignments, or out walking (disguised?) on his daily constitutionals, he was apparently hunkered down in his lodgings, disturbed by the antics of his adoring fans.
It would be nice to think of him being treated to a few beers and some shellfish at the Union Oyster House though; he would have liked that place I would think.
New York City (the downtown bits)
My early years in NYC were spent working in the Financial District, which was then, as it is now, a cask ale wasteland; draft Guinness was the drink of choice necessity throughout the city for many years of the 1980s.
A brief respite came in the form of the Manhattan Brewing Company, which opened up in deepest Soho with fine English style brews all served through handpumps. It was way ahead of its time and had burnt itself out even before the first round of brewery fever struck the country in the mid-90s. Its legacy is the great Garrett Oliver, who worked there as an apprentice, left as brewmaster, and then moved across the river to work for a little startup brewery in Brooklyn, imaginatively called the Brooklyn Brewery.
It was over ten years before I was next to sample a real ale in NYC, when I wandered into dba on First Avenue one day to find a pin of Youngs Winter Warmer sitting on the bar. Another unpretentious place (at that time) with no website, but extensive craft beer and whisky menus; it even had (unpredictable) handpumps for a while.
Most of the reporting at the time of his first visit placed Dickens in the general area downtown south of Canal Street, and his own writings concerned himself with what he found there; money on Wall Street, politics at City Hall, and poverty in Five Points, but thanks to that modern day search (?) engine ChatGPT, it would appear that Dickens made at least one trip to the Upper East Side, and thoroughly enjoyed himself.
Here, in his own words, is his review of a session on the beer at Jones Wood Foundry.
“It was a misty evening in the bustling city of New York, where the streets teemed with people hurrying along, seeking solace from the rigors of the day. In the heart of the metropolis, nestled amidst the vibrant clamor, stood the venerable Jones Wood Foundry, a pub that exuded an air of antiquity and conviviality. As the hour grew late, the weary souls, seeking refuge from the incessant cacophony, gravitated towards its threshold.
With each creak of the pub’s heavy oak door, a gust of mirth and camaraderie swept through the room. Patrons, hailing from all walks of life, gathered in clusters, finding solace in the warm embrace of the flickering gaslights. The air was thick with laughter, thick with the scent of aged wood and frothy spirits.
Behind the polished mahogany bar, the skilled barkeep stood, his mustache waxed to perfection, as he adroitly poured amber nectar from the multitude of casks lined up like soldiers on the wall. The cask ales, an embodiment of craftsmanship, stood tall and proud, waiting to be released from their wooden confines.
The first cask, christened “Olde London Ale,” held within it a deep, caramel-hued elixir, reminiscent of sunsets over the Thames. Its robust aroma of toasted malt and earthy hops enveloped the room, inviting eager tongues to partake in its intricate dance of flavors. As the liquid ambrosia was drawn into tankards and passed from hand to hand, the pub resonated with delighted sighs and appreciative murmurs.
Beside it stood the “Ethereal ESB,” a golden potion infused with a symphony of citrus and floral notes. Its effervescence danced across the palate, a delicate ballet that whispered of blooming gardens and distant meadows. Each sip invoked memories of days long past and dreams yet to be realized, stirring conversation and inspiration among the patrons.
And then, nestled among its brethren, stood the mighty “Barrel-aged Stout.” Dark as the moonless night sky, it beckoned those with an adventurous spirit and an appreciation for the bolder flavors. Rich, velvety, and decadent, it was a potion best savored in measured sips, encouraging contemplation and camaraderie.
As the evening wore on, the tavern resonated with tales spun by raconteurs and the jovial banter of friends. The cask ales, like liquid alchemists, provided the elixir that fueled the stories and mended the wearied hearts. They were not mere beverages but catalysts for mirth, camaraderie, and the forging of lasting connections.
And so, in the hallowed embrace of the Jones Wood Foundry, a typical session unfolded, entwined with the spirited tales of New York’s denizens. The cask ales, with their charm and character, flowed freely, nourishing not only the body but the soul, ensuring that every patron departed with a buoyant step and a renewed sense of kinship.”
Well maybe not quite his own words…
But you have to admit, he had a nice turn of phrase.
Disclaimer! This “original” article was fabricated by the so-called Artificial Intelligence tool ChatGPT, the future of search engines… the future will be scary and not particularly honest it would appear.
Amongst other things, it will turn copyright on its head.
Dickens would have hated it.
Scorecard w/e 08/22/23
In the past week, The Cask Whisperer has enjoyed the following casks:
- Barrier Simple: Lager @ Jones Wood Foundry
- Wild East Radiance @ Jones Wood Foundry
And mis-remembered the following casks:
- Olde London Ale @ Jones Wood Foundry
- Ethereal ESB @ Jones Wood Foundry
- Barrel-aged Stout @ Jones Wood Foundry
Upcoming Cask Festivals
09/09/2023: 8th Annual Noah Webster Real Ale Harvest Fest
* I have my ticket for the 2:00pm session.