Harvey's porter at the Royal Oak

royaloakpub.jpgIt’s hardly an original observation, but we have to say that the Royal Oak on Tabard Street in Borough is a great pub, with wonderful beer.

It’s an old-skool pub, with some amazing beards on display, but there were also some youngsters, and even a party of very jolly Spaniards in a corner who were enjoying pints of Best and shepherds pie.

The beers are all good — Sussex Best is a classic, the mild is absurdly drinkable at 3% and the Armada tastes like a weak (but not dumbed-down) IPA. In fact, one of the wonderful things about Harvey’s is their ability to deliver astounding beer in session-able doses.

The star of the show was the porter, the strongest of the offerings at 4.8%. Michael Jackson described the taste as “toasty, faintly anise-like”. It had stacks going on — waves of roastiness and dark fruits, with a very unctuous body and great aftertaste. I think I might even prefer it to Fullers*.

The Royal Oak is on Tabard Street, near Borough station, or a short walk from London Bridge.

*Which, incidentally, you can get on tap at the Euston Flyer. Don’t know if Fullers have responded to my prayers and started doing it all year round, or whether it’s just left over from the autumn, but it’s marvelous!

Picture by da mad pixelist at Flickr, under a Creative Commons license.

York — a great city for beer

york_brewery.jpgIf you like beer, York is a great place to spend a few days. And that doesn’t just apply to fans of real ale.

From our experience, you can’t go too far wrong following your instincts in York — if it looks a friendly pub, it probably is — but here are some pubs we tried and liked.

Continue reading “York — a great city for beer”

Cosy pub interiors

When we talk about pubs we like, we often find ourselves rating them in terms of their cosiness. And in contrast, barn-like is one of the most common pejorative terms used to describe pubs — big, cavernous pubs are simply not cosy in any way.

People seem to love pubs where they can have a little privacy, which is one of the reasons for the popularity of some of Sam Smith’s pubs in London. The Cities of York, for example, retains a quaint layout with multiple little rooms, within which are further subdivisions — cubby-holes and partitioned booths.

The great thing about this approach is that, if the pub is empty, it doesn’t matter — you’re not exposed, and don’t feel lonely. Conversely, if the pub is busy, you get some space, and can enjoy the buzz without having to overhear everybody else’s conversation.

We don’t really know why other pubs don’t try a bit of strategic partitioning to boost the cosiness level. How much is a sheet of MDF these days?

Dimple Glasses

dimple.jpgIn yesterday’s post, what I didn’t mention was that the Old Monk is serving its real ale in old fashioned handled dimple glasses. I gather that a couple of would-be trendy pubs in the Islington area have started to do the same thing.

This is an interesting affectation which seems designed to appeal simultaneously to the old school beer fan and the retro-ironic hipster. I suspect we’re going to see a lot more of it about.

I gather the reason for their demise was that they were relatively expensive to make, prone to breaking, and hard to stack. Those arguments hardly hold up now that fans of German wheat beers or Belgian obscurities are getting their favourite tipples served in ever-more elaborately shaped and printed glasses, some of them a foot tall, others as delicate as egg shells.

Mild in particular tastes a little bit nicer out of a dimple — well, it does to me, anyway, because that’s how my grandad used to drink it. Let’s hope that by May, when every decent pub in the land will have a mild on, the dimple has made its triumphant comeback everywhere.

Picture from h-e-d.co.uk, who also sell dimples if you fancy a few to use at home.

Bailey

The Old Monk Exchange

umbelale.gifYet another halfway decent if slightly charmless Westminster pub, the Old Monk Exchange usually offers a biggish range of foreign bottled beers. Recently, though, they’ve also upped their game on real ale.

This month, they’re having a “real ale festival’. In practice, that means they’ve got a rotating selection of ales, with four or five from cask at any one time, with another ten or so in bottles.

Tonight, I drank Nethergate Umbel Ale, Nethergate Suffolk County and Sharp’s Doombar (which is fast becoming ubiquitous). All were in good condition — it’s depressing that that’s noteworthy in London — and the first two were really quite interesting.

Umbel Ale in particular struck me as a well-made beer. The pump-clip makes much of the presence of toasted coriander seeds, but I’m sure there are some American hops in there too. Citrus and coriander is a classic combination. Would C-hops would work in Belgian-style wheat beers?