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.