January 31st, 2013Lagers
A cyclist eases along the uncluttered embankment; a couple stand contentedly at the waters edge peering towards their future; a couple of suits stroll happily in the yellowing evening light towards an ice cream van sat under the shade of a riverside tree.
So is printed the scene on every bottle of Meantime London Lager. I imagine the inky outlines slowly awakening into a perfect city portrait, rustling and rising to the cafes and bars for a peaceful drink.
The reality is more likely to be Boris bikes avoiding brisk paced briefcases and couples cringing into cameras, tensed outstretched arms aiming backwards to frame faces in front of famous skylines; seagulls, crisp packets and gust-strewn hair swirl and swoosh in an orchestrated effort to ruin the shot.
Luckily I can gaze at the winning shot hanging on the wall whilst sipping a brisk and fizzy lager, reminiscing on our recent trip to the capital (the winner was the best of a bad bunch). The creamy body, cornflake flavours and subtle lemony scent are a picture perfect beer, a long way from the stereotypical lager of crummy pubs and industrial processes. Even the bitterness feels calm and natural, light and transient like the crunch of celery.
The London Eye creeps skywards over the serene label edge. The only way to enjoy this surreal version of the city is to jump aboard; and with that I grab another bottle of this seductively crafted (and marketed) beer.Tags: lager, London, Meantime
January 25th, 2013Desert Island Beers
Back in September ’12 we started a ‘Kiwi & Oz’ series on Desert Island Beers saying these were exciting times for New Zealand and Australian brewers, with both countries experiencing major growth in “craft” beer sales and the number of “craft” breweries. With this major growth as background we will have featured nearly twenty of our Kiwi & Australian brewing and blogging cousins when the series finishes in the next few weeks.
There is however a similar story closer to home as one of the great things about being a beer drinker in London at the moment is the vibrancy of its beer and brewing scene. We have therefore planned our next series of castaways on Old London Town.
The growth in London breweries in recent times has been nothing short of amazing. When in 2011 Des de Moor published his excellent guide, London Brewers and Beers he reckoned there were thirteen operating breweries, an increase from the eight that remained after Young’s left Wandsworth in 2006. He now reckons there are thirty six breweries operating in London, including ten brewpubs, with at least a further eleven under development, including three brewpubs. And with some of these projects well advanced its likely there will be over forty by the summer!Tags: brodies, camden, Fuller's, kernel, London, Meantime, redemption, truman, watneys, youngs
November 6th, 2012Beer and travel
It’s a pub like any other. Traditional, wood panelled (old wood) with a real bar (brass?). There’s a perimeter shelf for empties (nice touch) and a place for coats (polite). Perched on high seats huddled around circular tables with cheap beer mats. The bar is awash with suits finishing work. It could be the bar of a provincial Wetherspoon’s in an old civic building turned public house.
But this is a bar like no other. The beer garden looks over a sheer drop to the Thames and smoker’s corner is guarded by an armed police officer. A sign above the bar decrees that ‘Only members’ may purchase drinks. Members as in Members of Parliament.
This is the most powerful working man’s club in the land. I stand, out of place, wondering how many decisions supposedly made in the Chambers along the corridor were actually made in here, the members bar? How many votes have been swayed under the influence of a hand pulled beer rather than the glare of unhappy backbenchers or a fuming whip?
It’s from the Chambers that our host marches towards having just pitched his argument in a debate about air ambulances. Greg Mulholland has an air of relaxed confidence about him as he introduces us to the collection of MPs and industry experts gathered today. And he buys us a pint, which is fitting, because we’re all here to talk about beer.
Actually, I’m a gatecrasher, having assumed my pre-arranged pint with Greg would be down the road in the Red Lion or one of the pubs that scatter Whitehall.
Instead I’m directed to the visitor entrance of the House of Parliament. And then I’m ushered through scanners and eased towards a large lens camera and shuttled to the doors of the Palace of Westminster.
Gladstone stares down at me, Disraeli too. I’ve passed the steps where Spencer Perceval died, the only British Prime Minster to be assassinated.
And after dropping in on all-party parliamentary beer group session with Visit Britain and Roger Protz, I find myself in a MPs only lift shuttling down the creaking floors to grab a beer and chew the cud with the members and industry experts.
Amongst the rotund suits and red faced seats of power are civil servants, guests of honour and representatives of associations, clubs, movements, charities, lobbyists, think tanks, quangos. Least that’s what they look like. In my jeans and brogues and tie-less check shirt I like to think I look like a young entrepreneur or digital strategist or media advisor.
In truth I look like an awestruck school child staring high up at the lofty spires of the Palace of Westminster with naive wonder, thinking of the Empire that grew out from this spot and contracted back towards the banks of the hazy river below.
Three pints later the policy makers are chatting about their wives and their weekends, their husbands and their holidays, and again I’m wondering how many parliamentary decisions are made in the twilight suns as the powers that be overlook the Thames sipping beer and wine.
On a summers evening like this, I wonder if it’s any at all.Tags: London, Parliament, whitehall
August 1st, 2012Pubs & bars
Sweaty arms, clammy knees. Bag heavy with laptop and a change of clothes. And four hardback books bought from a dodgy looking bookshop opposite Kings Cross Station.
I couldn’t have done that on the way home?!
Four hours of software training weighs heavy, countless lost minutes suffering from syntax and segmentation, not to mention the unfulfilled honeymoon dreams of the course leader.
Lord save me.
Instead The Lamb does, just off Grays Inn Road.
It’s on a quiet street, with a reassuringly traditional green-tiled exterior. The mosaic entrance hall beckons from across the street.
Inside mahogany dominates and the woes of the world are left outside in the sun, too scared the cross the threshold and face the shadows of the snob screens.
Early afternoon respite is a pint of guest ale and a good book, perched on a window stool occasionally eavesdropping the banal conversations of regular patrons, who are few and far between.
An hour and two and a half pints later trade picks up. Tourists poke their heads in, some take a punt on this poky oasis in the heart of London, others can’t quite get their heads around what the pub is for and retreat to the sun and the search for a ubiquitous coffee shop.
You could call the Lamb ubiquitious or common, or traditional, or aged or out of date. But where else can one read in peace without being bothered for another latte, or interject on a conversation about Bobby Fischer and end up talking about the wonder of eighteenth century engineering whilst the staff play chess?
If the coffee houses of Vienna were the melting pot for poltical strategy and evolution of football tactics then pubs like the Lamb are surely Britain’s philosophical front room. And pubs like the Lamb don’t have the same financial clout as those omnipresent frappucino chains.
If the Lamb did for Charles Dickens and Ted Hughes, then The Lamb’ll do for me.
The Lamb, along with Lamb’s Conduit Street, was named for William Lamb who helped renovate Holborn Conduit back in the 16th century, thus improving access to fresh water in the area. A stroll along the street reveals a clutch of independent shops and the People’s Supermarket who have Bethal Pale Ale (mmmm!) in their local beer fridge.Tags: bloomsbury, charles darwin, chess, Lamb, London, london pubs, ted hughes
July 15th, 2012Desert Island Beers
It’s a special week on the desert island as we celebrate a half century of castaways being swept up onto our shores. Robinson Crusoe # 50 is a real coup for us as it features none other than Sir (it’s only a matter of time) John Keeling; Head Brewer at Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC, (better known simply as Fullers).
John was born in Droylsden, Manchester, in September 1956. When he left school without telling his mother, she forced him to take a job as a lab technician at Wilsons, the local brewer – hence starting an incredible chain of events. The job at Wilsons opened John’s eyes and he decided that brewing was the career for him, so in 1977 he left Wilson’s and headed to Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh to take a BSc in Brewing.
On leaving Heriot-Watt, John joined Fuller’s as a junior brewer in 1981 and progressed through the ranks under the watchful eye of Head Brewer, Reg Drury. In 1999, on Reg’s retirement, John became the Brewing Director/Head Brewer.
He held the post of Chairman of the Heriot-Watt alumni group from 1999 to 2001, and Chairman of the Brewers Guild Southern Section from 2001 to 2003. In 2006, John was asked to join the Heriot-Watt ICBD (International Centre for Brewing and Distilling) Advisory Board.
John has received world-wide acclaim for his brewing achievements and is often asked to judge beer competitions across the globe. He was heavily involved in the development of Fuller’s Vintage Ale, and was responsible for the development of Discovery Blonde Beer. In 2006, he was awarded the title of Brewer of the Year by the British Guild of Beer Writers.
John has recently been described by one member of the Fuller’s Fine Ale Club – a group of some 13,000 Fuller’s fans – as the Winston Churchill of brewing. Fuller’s has won five CAMRA Overall Champion Beer of Britain’s during his tenure.. He believes that brewing great beer needs real pride and passion.
John’s other passions include Manchester United and an eclectic selection of musical heroes such as The Fall and Captain BeefheartTags: boddingtons, brooklyn brewery, esb, Fuller's, fullers vintage, London, Timothy Taylor Landlord, victory
February 14th, 2012Beer and travel
“I’ll explain how the process works as I prepare your order” shouts Ahrash over the buzz of the crowds and the whirrrrr of the industrial food mixers.
And donning a thick gauntlet, and dropping plastic safety glasses, he turns to the cannister containing nitrogen oxide and casually turns the latch, releasing a gushing of colder-than-ice-cold steam into the pureed ice cream mixture.
This is Camden. This is England. Eating nitro ice cream in the 2010′s and drinking Gentleman’s Wit bier under a winter sun, the former created in the shadow of the famous lock, the latter brewed a short walk (or intricate bus ride) beneath the nearby railway aches. And this is brilliant.
The forty minute walk from Oxford Street serves only to highlight the excitement and buzz that infiltrates Camden as if seeping from every nook and cranny. From the tower blocks and simmering back streets of Mornington Crescent we arrive ready for refreshment; the bustling pavements and exciting shop fronts are just the tonic.
First stop the Black Heart, branded with just a single unpolished charcoal heart hanging above the shadows of a side street like a cynical acme weight. Inside the spirit of art and entrepreneurship that encapsulates Camden is visible in the gig poster prints and the illustrated flyers for local events.
The beer taps host a variety of pilsners, wheats and lagers from around the world but most importantly, the local brews from just around the corner at Camden Brewery. It’s no surprise to find out that the team can barely get their precious liquid fast enough to the hungry cellars north of the river. And hungry bars there are aplenty – as we leave we’ve just enough time to poke our heads through the ajar door of the building site that will soon be the latest BrewDog bar, another uber cool haunt on the Camden circuit.
Warmed and refreshed we march onwards, tightening jackets and donning gloves, because at our next destination we risk chilblains.
Chin Chin Labs is the first liquid nitrogen ice cream parlour in Europe and before wide open eyes they combine science and gastronomy in a frieze of frosty concoctions at temperatures that make even the crisp December air blush.
Emerging from another blast of icy steam, Ahrash and wife Nyisha appear under the intricate network of pipes and hanging platforms that run from ceiling to floor.
From this playful production line come such experimental delicacies as Pondicherry Vanilla (using unrefined cane and palm sugar heavily flecked with seeds), Sourdough French Toast (made with locally baked French toast infused with mace, nutmeg, cinnamon sugar) and Junk Food Frozen Yoghurt (2% fat homemade yoghurt with chocolate, gummy bears, marshmallows and popcorn).
Booze isn’t left out in the cold. The devilish Beer & Dulce de Leche flavour is blended with Belgian Duvel, whilst the weekend brew bar serves hot winter Pimms, whisky eggnog and thick 80% Valrhona Coeur De Guanaja hot chocolate to warm the cockles of the crowd peering through the nitrogen clouds that billow onto the pavement.
We leave with the smoothest, most delicate ice cream experience imaginable, plus a beginner’s crash course in the technology of low temperature foodstuffs. Not to mention smiles from ear to ear and we ponder over the best beers to pair with Madagascan Vanilla Bean and honeycomb pieces?
Hot mulled wine would be perfect today; it’s brisk and cold (although I’m on the Mulled Malbec ChinChin Special, so that might be vino overload). The streets are swarming with winter coats and colourful knitted hats as we bumble through the crowds towards the station. Camden is a window shopper’s paradise, from cutesy craft to tourist kitsch, and all the music inspired tat that you might expect in a place built on market trade and a liberal outlook on life. And it’s alive with community spirit between its eclectic mix of businesses and traders.
We grab a tall luscious glass of Camden Wheat from the brewery, where pipes and bespoke fittings are crammed under the arches of the overground. Innovation and passion hang around the brew kit (and the ice cream kit up the road), bottom-up guardian angels of commerce and craft in this pocket of winter fun.
And we head to the train, lured by the word of mouth reports of the Southampton Arms a few miles north, and a similar promise of local spirit and good beer.Tags: business, camden, Ice Cold, ice cream, London
Down in the bowels of Shoreditch a little revolution is bubbling away. Or more appropriately, distilling itself into a concentrate of Dickensian drinking decadence.
Behind the beautiful mahogany bar of Worship Street Whistling Stop magical things are happening. Here innovation, care and service win out over such whimsies as cost or conformity.
Smart haircuts of perfectly uncombed hair greet us. Working uniforms are braces, well-pressed overalls and shirt collars. Knowledge is intrinsic and delivered with aplomb. These are career bartenders, dram-filling baristas of gin, and worse.
Adjust to the dim basement to find homage to Victorian gin palaces, with just a dash of Gatsby grandeur for good measure. The seating plan is made of Chesterfields and pews; the wooden furniture houses collections of oil lamps; a piano holds various old glass bottles and steel vases. Leather, strong wood, exposed brick and gold detailing in abundance. There’s curiosities too, including a scrapheap bath tub which makes an overly cosy gin tasting snug. The trendy styling but well worn character echoes the contradictions of the age in the spotlight.
We’ve come here to drink and our creations do not arrive fast, but they do arrive with drama – simple to look at but luxurious to taste my Panacea could cure even the hardiest of sceptics of the virtues of the cocktails. Whiskey, honey and lavender caress lustily – the sage dust adds a dry love bite. It is sublime in the Victorian sense of the word, despite its physical diminutiveness.
The Cappuccino Baby arrives swiftly after. Baby is a reference to its use of formula milk, without which it wouldn’t be the creamy, coffee bean dream that it is. In a tall glass it’s gulped down rather less sophisticatedly than it arrived, and my friend orders another within minutes. Which at £9 a pop is not a sign of fiscal disregard, but of his childlike delight to say hello to this comforting friend again.
The craft involved in these drinks is to be revered, and more so because in their creation the spirit of 19th century alchemy lives on. In the poky distillation room to the rear of the bar alcohol meets mad scientist. Trial and error moulds and remoulds constituents from one concoction into another – super heat treated beer ‘Vermouth’ joins cognac and roasted yeast bitters to become a Broiler-Maker. High pressure hydrosol takes vodka and Gancia Bianco, shakes it up and bursts into an Exploded Vodka Martini. Salts, herbs, bitters, yeasts, liquors and syrups all leave the room combined with other parts to become a whole. The finished article then may meet frozen sugar or malic acid, or suffer irradiation or the dreaded ‘méthode champenoise’ (a second fermentation in the bottle, providing fizz and flavour). And all this in the name of an experience in sensory displacement and indulgent imbibing.
Rakes would have loved the booze and the theatre, but Worship Street Whistle Stop is perhaps a little sophisticated for the darker desires of William Hickey or Dorian Gray. In this dark setting nothing more intoxicating than magnificent drinks are consumed, and no destruction of character other than over indulgence takes place. Wallets may tremble in terror, but the experience is worth it.
Drinking den information:
Tags: cocktails, distillation, gin, London, london pubs, shoreditch
Venue: Worship Street Whistling Shop
Town/city: Shoreditch, London
The Fuller’s Brewery probably stands a litle too far West of the City of London to claim it can hear the bells of St Clements (regardless if you favour the claims of the churches in Westminster or Candlewick).
As London beer goes though, this is the only one I’d associate with a certain nursery rhyme , for no reason other than Bengal Lancer is orange and lemons through and through.
A citrus nose, voluptuous marmalade rind body and a cheap grapefruit juice finish exert plenty of flavour over a temperate backbone of peppery-toffee.
This hops and malt in all their IPA glory without been obtrusive or over zealous.
In a bottle, Bengal Lancer has fast become a favourite from the supermarket (Sainsbury’s and Waitrose both stock it). On cask – if you’re lucky enough to find it during it’s all too short stint in London pubs – it’s equally tempting and subsequently rewarding.
Whether or not it would have found favour in colonial India, who knows. But it sure packs enough of a punch to stand out whilst being tantalising undecided about it’s ability to quench or leave you desperate for more.Read the rest of this entry » Tags: bengal lancer, Fuller's, india pale ale, IPA, London
Nothing beats breakfast in Borough market. A steaming hot wild boar sausage in bread roll, juggled between cold hands, a generous splash of spicy home-made ketchup and sprig or three of chard and spinach leaves. And to the stall next door for a few succulent pieces of just grilled halloumi to finish it off. Bellissimo!
It’s too cold to sit on the wall outside Southwark Cathedral so the pigeons scrounge our scraps. In fact it’s barely warm enough to eat as we prepared for a second day wandering around London in minus degrees centigrade weather.
A long day starts by working our way along the rail tracks to Tower Bridge following the perfectly symmetrical arches. Under numbers 98 – 100 sits Kernel Brewery. There’s a striking resemblance to Marble of Manchester: the home under the railways, the emphasis on hops, the appreciation of good food and the influence from distant shores.
In nearby archways sit bakeries, green grocers and purveyors of continental delicacies. So no surprise that cheese and ham are been carved on the counter next to the Imperial Stout, S.C.A.N.S. IPA and Kernel White Ale. And the beer that broke the yeasts back, cooking porter (apparently that’s all it’s good for).
Evan, mastermind behind Kernel’s flavour-packed beers, shows us the kit which take up a fraction of the space under the curved roof. Hops litter the mushroom cloud of yeast in the first fermentation tank whilst something stout-like slowly bubbles, getting stronger by the hour on it’s way to an ABV% from the dark side of the moon.
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The tasters of Evan’s 12% imperial stout hits pretty hard but the cold air soon knocks the lucidity back into us. Tower Bridge is just around the corner, a magnificent symbol of London’s prowess, the most famous bascule in the world. On the approach to the majestic structure we nip into the Draft House purely for warmth and cheekily walked out after checking the beer list (which was fine, but nothing took our fancy). Mere doors away is the Bridge House, Adnams Dining Pub of the Year. It shows; above the bar Veuve Clicquot magnums are arranged neater than the Selfridges Christmas window display and the food looks nothing less than divine. A hearty winter meal is tempting but curry at Greenwich market is on the to-do list so we settle for sharing a bottle of Adnam’s IPA. It’s just the ticket as we adjust to the sudden warmth and the über geek-chic staff (who look like they’ve just walked off the main stage of an über trendy music festival).
We can’t stay for long, Mark’s itinerary is packed tighter than sedimentary rock (and would take as long to be fulfilled) so it’s back towards the train via the fascinating Southwark Tavern. Football fans, shoppers and bar-proppers are thrust together like sardines in the upstairs bar so we try our luck down the steep winding stairs. Far from escaping the hustle and bustle it’s packed and rowdy. The low bricked ceilings supposedly once housed a debtors prison, perhaps the very jail where William Smith and Marc Isambard Brunel were once coalesced*, but its probably just as likely that in the tiny cubby holes stewed less salubrious activities. At 12pm it’s no bordello but it’s not the time or place to a quiet beer and a chat. One to try another time because the building and beer list are alluring to say the least.
Cold and thirsty the packed overground offers brief respite. Luton fans are hunting for tickets on the way to Charlton in the cup and one, particularly well lubed up with cheap lout (not that that’s of any consequence) is demanding everyone’s attention with his bionically integrated foghorn because his mate Biscuit has dropped some sort of bollock…
(click on images to enlarge)
Greenwich saves us. Inspired by Michael Jackson’s beer collection which adorns the walls of the Old Brewery we do what beer geeks do best. Meantime London Porter, Helles and a French bock are quaffed in the strange surroundings of a museum-cum-tourist-information-cum-café-cum-restaurant in the shadow of Meantime’s brewing coppers and in earshot of an engrossing dissection of astrology by a very intellectual looking couple drinking wine.
Nearby Greenwich market is surrounded by Grade 2 listed buildings, a covered collection of stalls crammed in the open spaces that were once dark streets filled with slaughter houses and traders peddling their wares. These days hand carved nik-naks and world food stalls cater for the hoards of punters. Polish dumplings and thai green curry stove our fires and home-made champagne cider warms us up again.
The next stop takes us overground and underground, through Brixton towards the huge tardis that is the Florence brewpub. Disembarking from the train Herne Hill looks like a Lego town due to it’s cobbled main thoroughfare that cuts between the main roads sheltering local hardware shops, salons and greengrocers. It’s quite unlike anywhere else in London so far. The Florence overlooks a big park and has a family atmosphere (there are copies of the Guardian and children everywhere) and is quite unlike any pub I’ve been to in London so far. For a start the smell of wort hangs from the rafters but unfortunately their own beer isn’t on although the beer mats make interesting reading whilst we enjoy a spicy seasonal Adnam’s and peruse the menu – Weasel, Beaver and Bonobo are all brewed on site in the tiny glass brew room where two burly figures are repairing what looks like a heat exchanger.
It’s a whistle-stop tour and the day is running out so we rush for the train – luckily it’s late – which sends us rattling over a completely different London; lights across the city twinkle on as far as the eye can see and there’s a strange quiet, the calm before the storm of Saturday night.
At Cask Pub & Kitchen that twilight drinkers are a mix of people just starting their evening in the city and those, like us, bringing a long day to a close. We have an hour and a half before the X Factor express takes us back to Kent. That’s just enough time to try most of the Mikkeller beers on draught as well as a sneaky Moor Old Freddy Walker, an incredible beer that’s perfect for the time of year. The Mikkellers fall faster than I can scribble then names down.
Cask has a cosmopolitan atmosphere to it, a pub that you can relax in and chat. We get talking to two lads who tell us a titillating tale about a beery stag do in Bruges and we convince them to try some of the outrageously strong beer we’re sampling. Long before we leave the table is covered in empty glasses, though very beer served in a different glass from an unrelated brewery, the only blotch our the last stop of a day of unrelenting exploration.
*The father of geology and the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel respectively were both short-term residents at King’s Bench prison in Southwark, but neither that nor Marshalsea, the two major debtors prisons of Southwark, were in quite the right place to be connected to the Southwark Tavern in any form other than prison guards watering there.Tags: adnams, borough, borough market, Bridge House, Cask Pub & Kitchen, draft house, London, southwark, The Florence
Beneath the glinting facade of the half built Shard – a sharp glass stalactite stretching toward the smog-less skies – sits ones of London’s ugliest train stations. Brown corrugated shelters just about cover the platforms at London Bridge and the scruffy mustard floors are no welcome to weary travellers.
Beyond this minor aesthetic setback, arriving into London is always something to cherish. It’s a moment that makes me want to scold myself, such is the childlike exuberance that floods my brain as I step off the train and fumble for a tube map or travel card. No other city gives me this uncontrollable rush of blood to the head.
London is a city built on layers of history and generations of equal hardship and innovation. Every street offers a story, every borough a different surprise. London’s bounty can only really be revealed by walking (with a little help from the Tube).
On a cold November Friday this in exactly what we’re doing, four and a half excitable beer lovers braving the rasping wind and diving temperatures. Back in Leeds the first snowflakes are appearing and Britain’s biggest early winter freeze for 17 years is, unbeknown to many of us, about to bring the road and rail network to it’s knees.
Starting off from the striking Old Fountain, a pub cum pie shop with a lively atmosphere but lacklustre beer, we walked from Old Street to Farringdon. Starting with the bright exterior of the Old Fountain we passed a smorgasbord of architectural styles: Edwardian terraces, Victorian churches and Tudor barricades. The Knights Hospitallers once walked these streets, maybe even visited these pubs.
At the Gunmakers Arms, hidden inconspicuously down a strangely empty side street, landlord Jeff greets us and serves pints of Mad Goose, Town Crier and Harvest Moon. From the beautiful façade to the all wooden interior The Gunmakers oozes retro chic, an image tarnished only by the market-town-circa-1750 feel to the beer list. Is this the middle of modern London or middle earth? In a surreal twist of fate conversation turns to social security, the cultural identity of Africa and the Millennium Bug. I shit you not.
Imbibed and refreshed we march down Leather Lane, London’s jewellery quarter and it doesn’t disappoint. The only two non-jewellery establishments are a couple of bookmakers. Presumably for winning back the money you’ve just reluctantly spent on your loved one.
Turning the corner the glass behemoth of the Sainsbury’s Customer Support Centre dominates Holburn Circus where once the statue of England’s only official Prince Consort stole the show. Only a stones throw away is Cittie of York, a typically London-style Sam Smith’s pub. Wooden clad across every available surface, the cosy upright booths are a far cry from The Fountain in Morley, and the Cittie of York deserves its place in CAMRA’s inventory of historic pub interiors. Cheeky jokes about the price of beer in London are greeted with a crafty smile and a pint and a half only just breaks a £2 coin. Weirdly Sam Smith’s seem to have more of a heritage in the capital than Yorkshire sometimes and for a Thursday afternoon trade is as lively as the Angel of Briggate in Leeds (a pub where two pints of bitter leaves you change from £2.50).
Lubricated, the vaguely south-westerly march to Embankment continues, via a stop at The Harp in Covent Garden. The area is cosmopolitan and cultured; shoppers, tourists and office skivers scurrying around, in and out of shops, eateries and festively-lit alleyways. The Harp is the perfect drinking hole: narrow and busily decorated; and so it’s no surprise that it’s on the short-list for CAMRA pub of the year. Space for four is found upstairs in the B&B style living room and lively Friday afternoon banter ensues. Thornstar takes us over the threshold of tipsy and I make the mistake of a pint not a half. But outside it’s freezing and getting dark so a beer jacket is required.
The winter night draws in fast and we beat the commuter rush by hiding in a McDonald’s queue, cardboard meat filling a hole just long enough for us to get to The White Horse at Parson’s Green, a standing tube ride through throngs of Londoners desperate to get home to warm meals and a weekend away from the office. Our journey west takes us to a haven of dark, strong beers: scores of half pints litter a long evening drinking whiskey-aged, barrel-aged, imperial-esque stouts, porters, barley wine and Christmas beers.
After much beer exploration and mingling with beer friends already well watered with 8%+ beer, the night suddenly swallows us up, spitting half of us out on trains homeward bound and the other half of us at a late night burrito bar. Memories fade in and out; a French couple sharing enchiladas; people on their way out, people on their way home; theatres spilling happy revellers into inapprorpriatelysmall streets; galloping through vaguely familiar roads towards the train with the thrill of not knowing exactly where you are. My travelcard is weathered and worn as we enter countless metal barriers and Whipping Picaddilly is racing through my head ( I’m nearly drunk enough to sing along out loud).
We finish where we started, under the now dark presence of the clandestine Shard, and those ugly, plastic-looking platform shelters at London Bridge. Exuberance has kept me going all day and the god-awful design is merely a long forgotten hiccup in London’s ability to send me into a state of tongue-hanging wonder. The mix of buildings; the volume of things to see; the vast horizon stretching in every direction; the countless beers ready and waiting to be sunk tomorrow. If Brian Cox told me it was the centre of the universe I’d believe him.Tags: Cittie of York, Clerkenwel, Covent Garden, Gunmakers Arms, Holburn, London, Old Fountain, Parsons Green, The Harp, White Horse