11 December 2007

Royal Borough of Kensington & Hackney

Back to London again. Not literally, but in the notes I have scribbled on the back of a map of Kensington.

It was in Kensington, at the Scarsdale Arms, that I had my first pint of the trip. Accompanied by Knut Albert and a most excellent steak and ale pie, I had a Fortyniner -- a smooth cask bitter with lovely, rounded and slightly sweet flavour notes. My guess is that the ancestors of John Smith's and similar crap keg ales tasted like this. Much later the same evening I dropped in to the Prince of Wales on the way back to my hotel. There they were serving Timothy Taylor Landlord, a beer I believe is due to arrive, bottled, in Ireland soon. It's a very bitter bitter which arrives quite harshly on the first sip. After a while it mellows a little, but doesn't come through with enough malt or fruit or the other things I like -- my opinion of it hasn't changed since last time.

Next day I was at a corporate party in a swanky Bloomsbury winebar. Amongst the canapes and vins de table was an (almost) endless supply four-pint copper jugs of Old Wallop (re-badged Director's sayeth Stonch -- see comments). We were given pewter mugs to drink it from, so I'm not 100% sure of the colour, but it appeared to be quite a bright, clear red shade. It looked to be served from a keg, and was indeed very cold, but the faintly carbonated texture was that of a beer cask conditioned: a remarkable achievement, if I'm right. Tastewise, it is a sweet and malty ale, and very easy going. Good for a session and great for free.

Finally, to my English local: Wetherspoons, landside, Heathrow Terminal 1. Normally I'd have one of the four cask ales they always have on. Nothing interested me this time round so I went for a bottle of Shepherd Neame Late Red. This "autumn hop ale" is a lovely ruby shade and, despite the name, hardly bitter and really quite malty -- anyone looking for serious hops will want their money back. On first taste there's a big sugary crystal malt explosion but it's not followed by very much at all. On the second sip the novelty wears off and the beer blogger runs out of things to write about. Next!

In between all this, there was my trip to the Pig's Ear in Hackney, as mentioned in my last post. Once I was satisfied I had clocked up enough Christmas beers (and was fed up with the pale ones) I settled down to enjoy myself properly. First up, Fox & Newt Dark Side. This is in the old ale style, which is rapidly becoming one of my favourite beer genres. The dominant flavour is mildly bitter chocolate and the whole lot slips down easily and silkily. It's a contrast with Custom Special Mild, a ruby ale which is sharp and fruity but still manages to keep a lid on any harsh or powerful flavours, just like a mild should.

Among the drinkers at my table, many complements were being paid to Twickenham Strong and Dark, and rightly so for this delicously smoky, hammy ale. The festival special everyone was talking about was a barleywine: Night on Mare St. 2. Stronger than its predecessor last year, this one is 14.2% ABV and tastes every bit. Yet, amidst the overwhelming sugary alcoholic notes, there is a tasty touch of ripe, dark fruit.

As well as the main bar, another one at the back of the hall was serving foreign beers, mainly bottled but with a handful on cask. The few bottles I had a sip from (not directly!) will be covered in the next post.


  1. Old Wallop is Courage Director's rebadged (brewed by Wells & Young's), and is indeed cask conditioned.

    It's served under that name in Davy's Wine Bars, a chain which is not entirely unappealing. I must say though, I'd never describe them as "swanky"! They're (intentionally) rather basic, attempting to imitate old fashioned cellar bars. Many of them even scatter sawdust on the floor!

  2. I thought all the agéd wood and wrought iron expressed a sizeable quantity of swank, but I confess to not being up on winebar chic. In fact, I don't think I've ever been in a non-swanky one.

    Thanks for the info. I was sure the handpumps were fake and concealed a keg tap behind them, but I didn't do a full audit.

  3. While Davy's is indeed "not entirely unappealing" I find the prices entirely appalling, even for central London ... the name Old Wallop always makes me sneer, too, as historically "wallop" was a nickname for mild.

  4. Martyn, can't say I agree - they aren't that pricey, surely? In my last job the boss used to take us to a Davy's when wanted a quick and dirty team lunch!