08 September 2007

London (not) for beginners

It's 3.30 yesterday afternoon. I've just come out of a meeting in Camden, north London and have arranged with a colleague to meet at Paddington Station at 5 for the train back to Heathrow. At Camden Town tube station I discover that the Northern line is severely disrupted and all service on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines has been suspended. The question: have I time for a quick pint of St. Peter's excellent cask ale at the Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell?
'Course I have.

Had I not been navigating on the hoof I'd have hopped out at Euston, walked to Euston Square, and taken the Metropolitan line to Farringdon. I didn't spot this easy option, however, and opted instead to leg it from Euston, across Bloomsbury, past Gray's Inn field and into Clerkenwell.

I arrived at the Jerusalem in Britton Street at 4.15. It's a strange, simple little pub, furnished in rickety wood and giving the appearance of being held together by paint and varnish. The taps on the bar serve Bitburger and Aspall's cider. Behind it, however, a row of spigots promise beers from the pub's parent brewery: St. Peter's in Suffolk. Though tempted to order something I know, and compare its cask and bottled incarnations, I went instead for a pint of mild, a beer style which is nigh-on impossible to find here at home. St. Peter's Mild is very dark, with a thick creamy head. The taste is indeed mild, offering subtle coffee and roasted grain notes.

As I sunk my mild, I consulted my map and figured that I'd be able to take a much shorter route back to Paddington: from Farringdon, changing at Baker Street. And that meant I had time for another pint. This time I went for St. Peter's Grapefruit beer, having read good things about it, and to find out how the wizards of Bungay do fruit beer. More than anything, it reminded me of Früli. It doesn't look like it, taste like it, smell like it or feel like it, but it has a similar beer-fruit relationship, with the fruit definitely wearing the trousers. It's clear, almost headless, a deep red-gold colour and tastes overwhelmingly of real grapefruit. Marvellously refreshing and innovative.

At this point I took my leave and was back at Paddington at the appointed hour. We arrived at Heathrow with time to spare. Anyone who flies at all regularly between Ireland and Heathrow will be very familiar with the complex of metal tubes housing gates 80 to 90 of Terminal 1, affectionately known as "The Paddyshack". Time was, the Paddyshack Wetherspoons had Theakstons on draught and the last couple of pints at the airport was something I always looked forward to. Alas those days are gone, and it's necessary to drink landside in order to get anything better than Heineken these days. Armed with this knowledge I led us to the main landside Wetherspoons, where the handpumps were pouring Schiehallion, Marston's Pedigree, Bombardier and Deuchars IPA. The last of these was the only stranger to me, so that's where I started. I was disappointed from the first sip. This is a rather bland affair, lacking the hoppy citrusy warmth one expects from British IPA. Instead, it's creamy and smooth with only the fainest hop character at the very back.

Having polished that off I should really have opted for a Schiehallion, knowing that I really like it. Instead, I decided to give a dull beer a second chance. Having been disappointed with bottled Marston's Pedigree, I tried a draught pint and found it to be exactly the same forgettable sensation. Marston's should be proud that their bottling process manages to reproduce the cask experience perfectly. If only it were an experience worth having...


  1. I've only had the Deuchars on draft once, and that was in Wetherspoons in Belfast. They served it at room temperature and it was of an unexciting bland taste. Had it been served chilled as the brewery recommends you would have had a completely different taste experience.

    I'll stick with bottles straight from the fridge, an ideal wind-down on a hot day. Rapid cooling of body temperature without sacrificing taste.

  2. I think you've been unlucky with your Pedigree - when good, it's very, very good ...