14 March 2008

My hat comes off

Found myself in London again this week and, for once, not in the distant and hostile reaches of the far west end. Instead I was able to make use of Stonch's London Beer Map, which led me to The Harp on Chandos Place. Past the stained glass exterior it's a bright and clean little boozer, arrayed with rows of high benches back beyond a bar festooned with pump clips of guest ales gone by. The fact that I recognised more than a couple gave me a warm glow from knowing that my education in the beers of Britain is well under way.

There were three guests on, in addition to regulars including Landlord and Black Sheep. I knew I was in the right sort of establishment when the seat in front of me was taken by a specimen from the species Camracus Tickerius, displaying his distinctive anorak colouring, biro clenched in his teeth as he dug in his backpack for The Good Beer Guide, perusing it over a carefully sipped half. I started with a Daleside Old Legover, since I knew and liked the brand of old. The big up-front whack of chocolatey flavours -- rather like Clotworthy Dobbin -- pleased me, but it was followed by an unhopped sort of wortiness that didn't sit so well. Enjoyable to begin with but sadly lacking afterwards, and a beer divided against itself is, er, unfortunate.

On my return to the bar the barmaid asked how I enjoyed my Legover. "I've had better" was my response. It's that kind of pub. I followed with a White Adder from Mauldon's. This is a pale gold ale with a strong fruit profile, almost grapey. Dry like a sauvignon blanc. Where I felt it fell down was the temperature: served cool, this would be a great refresher, as was at 12°C or so, it was heavy going and quite tough to finish.

Utter redemption came before I left, in the shape of Harvey's Best Bitter, a regular. This is a corker of a beer, smacking you up front with tart fruity mandarin notes and a sultry sandalwood spiciness thrown in as well. Best of all it was poured at an invigorating cool temperature. The first sip had me wondering why, with beers like this around, British brewers even bother with summer golden ales. Half way down, the spice made me realise the redundancy of winter warmers as well. A real desert island beer from the East Sussex brewer.

My second glass tip of the trip goes to beer explorer extrodinaire Knut Albert, for pointing out a pub which has been under my nose (while being above my head) for years. Usually on excursions to London I scurry back for a pint of cask dullness at The Skylark in Heathrow Terminal 1 via the Heathrow Express from Paddington. This time I lingered in the station and paid a visit to the Fuller's establishment upstairs, The Mad Bishop and Bear. I kicked off with some Festival: Fuller's mild. This is a very very dark beer with just a skim of cream-coloured head. There's not much to it unfortunately. A little bit of roast; a little bit of bitterness; but altogether mild, too mild. Similarly dull was Fuller's Chiswick Bitter: not bitter at all and really quite a grainy affair, though otherwise rather plain. The best of the bunch was Tribute from the St Austell brewery in Cornwall. This is a pale gold number, surprisingly highly carbonated for a cask ale -- bubbles clung to the side of the glass, though my attempt to photograph them (right) failed due to cameraphone crapness. Tribute doesn't have much of an aroma but it tastes aromatic, if that makes any sense: sort of perfumey. It's very tasty, very refreshing, and one of the good English golden ales.

And that was it for this visit. I'm sure I'll be back in London later in the year for more explorations, and maybe a trip to some of its top-flight beer pubs. In the meantime, just thanks again to Knut Albert (real name Knut Albert) and Stonch (real name Colin Stonch) -- true friends of the beer tourist.

11 comments:

  1. The Harp is great. Sometimes the beer selection is limited in terms of style (all bitters), but recently I've had porters and stouts in there too.

    The pub was originally a Welsh place, but current landlord Binnie is from your own country and it frequently gets identified as an Irish pub as a result.

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  2. It's nothing like an Irish pub, nor even an Oirish pub (inasmuch as there's a difference these days).

    The main difference is carpet: a real rarity in Irish pubs.

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  3. Pub carpets are getting pretty rare over here, too. Not sure that's such a bad thing. But then I like things like music and modern food in boozers, so I'm not sure if my view counts for much!

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  4. Paul Garrard9:44 pm

    Glad you enjoyed the Tribute - on of the great golden ales, that and Exmoor Gold. Shame about the Chiswick - past it's best perhaps?
    The best beer I've ever had at a festival was Chiswick, but then I don't care for bitterness much.

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  5. Could well have been a freshness issue, Paul.

    The important thing is, I've learned that railway stations are better for cask ale than airports.

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  6. Bailey9:13 pm

    We've spoken favourably of the Mad Bishop and Bear. For a station pub, it's really excellent. On Thursday, on our way to York, we stopped off at the Euston Flyer, which is similarly decent, given its proximity to both Euston and King's Cross. Gale's/Fuller's Festival is growing on me, but the main excitement was finding London Porter on tap again. Did you notice if it was on at the MB&B?

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  7. So you did, Bailey. My hat comes only partially off because of your misspelling of Bishop, which caused me to miss your review.

    London Porter was bottled in the fridge but I don't think it was on tap.

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  8. Bailey2:40 pm

    Oops. Yes, we really ought to proofread more thoroughly. Or profreed more thurighly.

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  9. After I started using a spell checker, I can often understand what I have written, even if it's in English.

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  10. And if you want the other end of the spectrum, there is the Hole in the Wall by Waterloo Station.
    For tickers and drunks only - you get the Battersea Bitter there.

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  11. For tickers and drunks only
    Now there's a fun Venn diagram.

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