On one such outing, this time around Parliament Square (I know how to live) I noticed a Shepherd Neame pub and joked about getting a half there. Anna agreed and suggested that I do exactly that one day. That night, after checking and finding no shows on, Anna suggested that I go and do a half there and some other pubs too. I, of course, did not need asking twice. And so it came to pass that I spent a very nice evening, the night of the fire in Holborn, gadding about in London sampling ales and public houses.
Does this sound like your cup of tea? It doesn't? Oh, what about your pint of ale? Ah, well then, time to read more...
Reasoning that this was a bit special and that I really ought to try all things new I plumbed for some Early Bird from Shepherd Neame and took to the back area of the main bar to sample my gains. I didn't catch the ABV, couldn't see any on the tap and so had to guess at it being about 4%. The aroma was good, subtle, and full of citrus tang. This was to be expected from a spring ale and it seemed to fit the day nicely. Hoppy nose was supported by the taste that was heavy on the orange hops and with an almost absent malt. It rushed over the tongue like the wind across St. James's Park and blew through to a pleasant but bitter aftertaste that left you in no doubt that you had drunk a decent British ale with a penchant for focussing on the weather and in a negative way at that. The mouthfeel was thin and blustery, and I had been thinking about spring adages such as coming in like a lion and leaving like a lamb, in that case this ale fit the season beautifully and was worth a second but I decided to go for a wander and find a second pub.
A phone call to my father, as he works in the capital from time to time, as I walked up from Whitehall to Trafalgar Square gained the suggestion of the Sherlock Holmes. I am reliably informed by people who have been to London and lived there that this is something of a tourist trap and that it feels a little too kitsch. On entry I found the place busy but it appeared as though the people there were locals. Sure, the walls were festooned with memorabilia and there was obviously a tourist angle going on, but the conversations I overheard were about working and living in London between people who clearly saw this as their local. In that sense, I felt safe here.
Even better was the fact that this place had their own brewery in situ and so I tried Sherlock Holmes's Ale from the Sherlock Holmes Brewing Co. Again, I did not see an ABV on the label and did not ask. At a guess I'd put this around 3.8% ABV and the colour suggested that this was a chestnut ale. The aroma was musky and very much the working man's ale feel to it. Taste was therefore exactly as one would expect from a working ale: bitter and malty. A good creamy head allowed the malt to open on the tongue followed by a wave of fresh hops cresting behind it and then folding over like some great surfing wave and splashing smoothly toward the back of the mouth. Full mouthfeel after the spring thinness of the Early Bird with a peaty finish and feel to the aftertaste that remained bitter and strong. In short, this was very much a proper ale that was very inkeeping with the surroundings, if not with the tipple of Holmes's choice if memory serves.
After that I decided to check out the side roads from Trafalgar and ended up at what appears to be a well-known Camra haunt called The Harp. I was anxious to avoid pubs that seemed to have the same ales on selection so that I could try more and more interesting ales and this place seemed to fit the deal nicely. The bar was small but festooned with beer mats that had a large amount of ales that I have tried already and even more that I had been told of by proper beer reviewers as being worth a go and some even that ranked amongst beer drinkers favourites. It was lively, there was no music that I could hear and the people were actually very polite and friendly, which is not something I ever thought I would say about London. I guess pubs are just great levellers.
I was to be disappointed because despite finding the Hop Gardens of London (and yes, they were all about the hops) I was firmly in China Town, the West End (I caught a street performance by a juggling gymnast) and crowds. All the pubs here seemed to be owned by Nicholson's and they all had the same four ales on offer. As a consequence I eschewed them all and caught the Northern Line to Mornington Crescent because of the game of the same name.
Sure enough, on stepping from the station and taking more photographs than would be strictly sensible, I was confronted with a pub called The Lyttleton Arms. I couldn't believe that this was anything but deliberate, given that one of the founders of Mornington Crescent (the game, not the tube station or the area) was the one and only Humphrey Lyttleton. Of course I just had to go in and sample some of the ales. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was independent enough to have an entire selection of ales that I had never heard of, much less seen that night, and a music selection that was pleasingly different from what I had heard in my travels about the West End, very much more '70s and easy listening with a few subversive tunes thrown in for good measure. Sparsely populated but friendly bar staff, there was a feeling that this was a good place to be a local and a desire to visit there again someday.
Then it was back on the tube and a long ride back to Walthamstow Central where I made a beeline for the pub that was near where we were staying. Not least because at the start of my trip I had bobbed in to see if a half could be had but without having stopped to get cash out to find that there was a minimum of £5 on a card. Curiously I had failed to notice that this had the same selection as the Nicholson's pubs despite its boast of having real ale on cask. It did not. It had some good ales, sure enough, but these were not on cask and the selection that was trumpeted (and rightly so) on the chalkboard outside were only in bottles. It was thus a disappointing end in The Goose after the entertaining trip that I had had. Still, seized by the fact that this would be the last chance to sample ales from London for a while I got in two.
Overall then, I had two winners from the evening. The best ale, by a country mile, was the Love Not War from London Fields and the best hostelry had to be the funky and understated environs of The Lyttleton Arms which deserves a second visit. It seemed to make a big deal of steak meals, so maybe a good place to visit with the family to have a meal and play a few rounds of the local variants of Mornington Crescent, if I can pluck up the courage to ask the barstaff for any house rules we need to be aware of after the 1967 ruling on local stipulations when playing above the line.