The Flat, Warm Pints of London Town

Illustration: a flat pint.

I didn’t realise I’d missed London’s characteristically headless, lifeless, lukewarm pints of beer until I had one on Friday.

It was brown, weary-tasting, with barely a fleck of scum on the surface, and yet… I kind of loved it.

I’m not saying this kind of thing is good, or that I wouldn’t have preferred something with a bit of condition given the option, but confronted with it in that moment, it resonated with my homesickness like the stink of a hometown factory.*

For many Londoners, perhaps less so now than it used to be, I’m sure this is actually a preference: no space wasted by mere froth, maximum possible booze for your cash. I remember friends from my sixth-form college and Leyton Orient supporting days grumbling if they were served even slightly foamy pints: ‘What’s going on ‘ere — are we up Norf or summink?’

I didn’t say when I Tweeted about it but the pint in question was at the usually very reliable Royal Oak in Borough, our favourite London pub these days. I stayed drinking there with friends until we got booted out so it can’t have been so bad.

But that’ll do me for a while — back to cool, properly conditioned beers with proper heads now, I think.

* Not an abstract example — Bailey grew up under the foul cloud of British Cellophane and gets sentimental when he smells anything similarly disgusting.

12 thoughts on “The Flat, Warm Pints of London Town”

  1. There’s a big difference between good, fresh beer served with minimal head (such as on gravity) and flat, stale beer devoid of condition. If people actually *like* the latter they really don’t know what they’re missing.

  2. ‘barely a fleck of scum’ – reminds me of drinking tea at my nan’s council flat when I was a kid, watching It’s A Knockout in the bed settee, and everything smelt of lavender. She lived Chiswick way and tea always had scum on it from the water, and the only food I remember having there was cheese and onion sandwiches.

  3. After three decades of working and drinking in London the only pint I have there these days is London Pride at the ‘Spoons in the magnificent LHR T2 as I’m passing through to sunnier climes.
    And I have to say it is always cool,in great nick and with a decent head on it.
    The toss-up between one last pint and the race to the gate is always a scrotum-tightener.

  4. There is, or was, a certain southern style of bitter which had almost no head. There might be come loose bubbles but the pint came to brim or almost.This style was the preserve really of cask drawn from thumb-taps, but hand pull could deliver it too. The key was a slight prickle on the tongue, if it had that it was right and didn’t need the sloshy froth of very fresh hand pull let alone the roil of the CO2 or mixed gas pour. Michael Jackson once told me such bitter was rare because it had to be beautifully kept which was almost never. This is southern beer, a unique heritage which a huge wash of angry bubbles especially married to extra-harsh load of new world hops can never rival.

    I think it’s true that a slightly off pint can deliver a similar experience but the purpose-made one is umbeatable – when you can find it.

    Gary

    1. Sorry, corrected:

      There is, or was, a certain southern style of bitter which had almost no head. There might be some loose bubbles but the pint came to brim or almost. This style was the preserve really of cask beer drawn from thumb-taps, but hand pull could deliver it too. The key was a slight prickle on the tongue, if it had that it was right and didn’t need the sloshy froth of very fresh hand pull let alone the roil of a CO2 or mixed gas pour.

      Michael Jackson once told me such bitter was rare because it had to be beautifully kept which was almost never.

      This is southern beer, a unique heritage which a huge wash of angry bubbles especially married to an extra-harsh load of new world hops can never rival.

      I think it’s true that a slightly off pint can deliver a similar experience but the purpose-made one is umbeatable – when you can find it.

      Gary

  5. The Harvey’s at the Royal Oak is always less lively than at the Harp in Covent Garden, IME. When I first started drinking in London the Chiswick was often like cold stewed tea, the hops becoming discernible only halfway through the second pint.

  6. The flat, warm EXPENSIVE pints of London. I was last there in February and the amount I paid for two pints would have bought me 3 pints in my (Star pubco) local with 55p to spare.

    1. Without knowing what comparative overheads your local and the London pub are paying, and what their relative returns on capital are, that’s totally meaningless.

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