Cheers to Derek for the heads-up that The White Horse in Parson's Green were staging their annual American beer festival on the weekend I was in London last month. It was a scorching hot day and the pub was packed downstairs, with more spillover from the busy Parson's Green Fair than dedicated festival-goers, I'd say. But upstairs was quieter and, most importantly, had the air con on full blast, so was much more civilised.
The first beer to catch my eye on the listing was Flying Dog's Green Tea Imperial Stout. I mean, why is this the first time I've seen one of these? It all seems so obvious. It didn't disappoint when it arrived, either. A typical sticky waft of caramel dominated the aroma and it hit all the sweet roasty notes you would expect from an imperial stout, but right at the heart of it there's a fantastic grassy complexity from the green tea. Rather than the bitter taste you often get from a cup of green tea, it has the aromatic herbal flavour from dry green teabags. I'd say it's pretty tough to get anything subtle boiled into a powerhouse style like imperial stout at 10% ABV, but this works wonderfully well to counteract the heavy stickiness.
IPAs abounded, of course. I took the opportunity to try Lagunitas IPA, a California brewery rarely spoken of in anything other than reverential tones. It (left of picture) arrived a dark orange colour topped by an ivory head. Though I'm assured that the White Horse takes immense pains to source fresh beer for its festival, this seemed to be severely lacking in the hop department, being largely about the toffee. A hint of smoke adds to its character but it did leave me feeling somewhat disappointed.
Next to it is Ska Brewing's Modus Hoperandi: 6.8% ABV and clearer than the Lagunitas, but just as orange. The aroma is properly hoppy: heavy and resinous, with an odd tang of chlorine in it too, for some reason. There's the expected pungency from the hops and obvious toffee as well, but it felt a little brew-by-numbers to me: nothing that separates it from a thousand other very similar American IPAs.
I decided to finish on something a little more local, opting for a Lovibonds Dirty 69 black IPA. Red-brown rather than black and perfumed with some beautifully enticing floral aromas. It's a trap, though: on first sip the bitterness kicks in, delivering an almost burning harsh smack. The bad cop is followed quickly by the good one: some softer and sweeter rosewater and lavender candy, but it doesn't last long and the finish is uncompromisingly bitter. I'm sure it has its fans, but just too bitter for my tastes.
Further support here, perhaps, for Alex's thesis that making great beer locally trumps fancy imports almost every time. The UK just needs to get its green tea imperial stout on the go.
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