08 October 2008

Jet set whistle-wet

I reckon I'm pretty adept at the whole London-in-a-day thing, despite my protestations last time round. My old friend the Heathrow Express is a vital part of this: it's pretty much impossible to make it into central London in time for anything even resembling "morning" without using the businessfolk's 15 minute rail service to Paddington. Of course, there's a side effect whereby a sufficiently late flight home leaves time for a pint or two in town before the effortless slide back west to the airport. On Monday evening the pub of choice was the Carpenters Arms, a freehouse just a couple of streets away from Paddington, and my drinking companions were London's beer blogging legends Boak and Bailey.

I started out with a pint of Leeds Best, having read great things about it and been hugely entertained by the brewery's co-opting of the Carlsberg-owned Tetley's look and feel. The beer itself is a limpid shade of orange with a tight head and gives off a strong marmalade aroma. On first tasting there's an unsurprising sweet mandarin flavour but it's quickly knocked into touch by the rising force of English hops bitterness. It rushes towards harshness but stops just short, finishing dry and setting the stage for the next mouthful. A gorgeous beer and a tough act to follow.

Peter's Well, from the Houston brewery near Glasgow was next up, suspiciously golden but definitely not one of your lager-a-like summer ales. The dominant notes here are lemons, with the zestiness sitting on a flat and full, slightly greasy, body. The whole thing puts me in mind of Jif Lemon, creating fond thoughts of pancakes. Of course there had to be a dud in the bunch, and it was the O'Hanlon's Yellow Hammer Bailey set up for me next -- after I asked for it, I should add. Like so many of the beers haunting English casks there's really not much to it. It's another pale yellow job with a good body but very much a let-down in the flavour stakes.

After putting that away deftly, there was just one more new beer to be had. Kentish Reserve by the Whitstable Brewery was as malty as its amber hue suggested, yet still retained a lovely bitter hops flavour for balance. At 5.2% the whole experience reminded me of another, more commonplace (digitally inspired) strong ale from Kent: one I've only ever had from clear glass bottles so I probably shouldn't proclaim the Whitstable Brewery version as infinitely superior, but I will anyway. So high were my praises that Boak reckoned she'd go for a pint of the same next, thus prompting a practical demonstration of the vagaries of cask ale. The pint she brought back to the table, though looking identical to mine, smelt almost exactly like a kriek. When it passed my way for assessment (like I know anything about out-of-condition cask beer) I found it wasn't quite ready to go on chips, but probably would be by the end of the pint. So I got to witness Boak performing that great British ritual of Taking A Bad Pint Back. It was substituted without fuss. I was secretly disappointed.

Time was marching on but I couldn't leave without a pint of Harvey's Best Bitter, a beer I thoroughly enjoyed earlier this year. It barely touched the sides of the glass, but then it's one of those complex-yet-unfussy beers that still works well when inhaled at speed. And with that I said my goodbyes and sped off into the night, back on the Heathrow Express and into Terminal 1 where the departures board was telling me that, against any semblance of normality, the evening flight to Dublin was expected to leave as scheduled and that I really ought to be heading to the gate if I didn't mind too much awfully. "I don't really have time for a beer in the landside Wetherspoons" I thought. But I went and checked what was on anyway. To my horror I saw a pump clip for Hooky Gold, and was steeling myself for the swiftest half in aviation history when I noticed with relief a "Coming Soon" tag above it. Phew. So I turned tail, nipped through security, had a quick butchers for anything interesting in the airside bar -- Pride and Adnams Bitter: nice, but not worth missing my flight for -- and plonked down in my aisle seat just before the Aer Lingus lady shut the aircraft door.

Yes, I've got this post-work pints in London thing down to a fine art.

A big thanks to Bailey and Boak for the recommendation of a lovely pub within walking distance of both my day's work and Paddington, and it was great chatting to you, though far too brief. Shame I couldn't bring any of your homebrew back with me, but those airline regulations are in place for my safety, y'know?


  1. In the Paddington area, I prefer The Victoria, which is a nice well kept Fuller's tied house. The amount of Ale that goes across teh bar there guarentees you a good pint. I can't wait till they get the porter on!

  2. Bear in mind I'm looking for horizon-broadening experiences (read "ticks") on my brief sessions in London, rather than a decent, well-kept pint of something familiar. Decent, well-kept pints are for people who have the luxury of taking their time over a couple of them.

  3. I've been meaning to check out this place for ages but never seem to find myself at that end of London. It's run by Market Taverns, the same lot who are behind the Market Porter so stands to reason that the ale selection is plenty diverse.

  4. I visited the Houston Brewery earlier this year and enjoyed a pint of Peters Well - didn't realise they were in the cellar of the Carpenters Arms. I also have a bottle conditioned Yellow Hammer in my cupboard awaiting consumption that i picked up at the GBBF this year...so I won't raise my expectations.

  5. Anonymous12:53 pm

    I think I may drop into the Carpenters Arms next time I'm London, it looks like it's just round the corner from where I work too.

  6. The pleasure was all ours!

    As we said the other night, we just don't seem to have the same tastes in beer...Bailey liked the Yellow Hammer, and I thought the Leeds effort tasted a bit home-brew-like.

  7. Yeah, I get the homebrew association, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

  8. Fine art? I'll say

    'having a butchers'?

    sounds like you are fitting in very well me old china.

  9. Oh yes. I'm quite the linguistic chameleon, er..., bro.

  10. interesting to see the Leeds Best in London! glad you enjoyed, it's doing very well up here. Young upstarts! the gem in thier range is Midnight Bell - pounce on it if you see it on tap.