The Famous White Horse at last

The White Horse at Parson’s Green, West London, has a nickname which is amusing the first time you hear it but tiresome after the 100th, so I’ll say this only once: it’s known as the Sloany Pony because, unlike most serious beer pubs, its clientele is made up largely of tall, skinny posh girls.

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The White Horse on Parson’s Green, West London, has a nickname which is amusing the first time you hear it but tiresome after the 100th, so I’ll say this only once: it’s known as the Sloany Pony because, unlike most serious beer pubs, its clientele is made up largely of tall, skinny posh girls.

Several things become obvious on entering. First, the range of beer is huge and covers all the bases. Secondly, the bar staff are obviously being paid and trained properly, because they’re extremely cheerful despite item three: the place is absolutely crammed.

Standing about looking forlorn because we had nowhere to sit paid off after a few minutes, though, as a young Scottish couple moved up so we could share their table. How very civilised — that doesn’t happen often in London. And, what do you know: they’re only friends of the chaps that run Brewdog! They should be on commission, too, for their sincere salesmanship of Brewdog’s wonderful Paradox which features on the White Horses’s extensive bottled beer menu.

Notable among the many beers we tried were Schlenkerla Rauchbier on tap (almost as good as in Bamberg, but not quite); a startlingly good lambic kriek from Oud Beersel; and a 2006  Fuller’s Vintage Ale (with cheese).

We left feeling skint and rather unglamorous but will certainly be returning, even though it’s an hour and half trek from our place.  Perhaps on a weekday afternoon, though, so we’ve got room to breathe?

Czech waiters aren't that bad

Perhaps living in London, one of the rudest cities on Earth, has given us a twisted perspective, but it seems to us that Czech waiters are getting a bad rep. Here’s a typical comment from a 2004 column in the Independent:

I thought French waiters were rude until I went to Prague. I saw a bullet-headed Czech waiter terrorise a French family, who asked if they could have half a meal for a small child without paying the full price. “Is not possible,” the waiter repeated over and over. “Is not possible. You better go now.” Whether this is Czech behaviour or post-Soviet behaviour I’m not sure, but the phrase “Is not possible” seems to be the motto of all Czech restaurants, hotels and taxi firms

On our recent holiday, we had geared ourselves up for sullen indifference at best; Fawltyesque rudeness at worst. Would we get shouted at? Insulted? Ignored?

In short, no. We found all but two waiters fairly friendly. A couple of the better ones were, well, downright cheerful — almost as if there was a spark of genuine human feeling behind their professional smiles.

It might have helped that we’d mustered a few words of Czech (“Hello”, “two beers, please”, “thank you very much”).

Of course, another possibility is that, having noted the uniform disgust with which their manners are regarded across the internet and print media, some of Prague’s bar managers and landlords have had a word with their staff:

“OK, impromptu staff meeting… I’ve had a crazy idea. I thought we’d try making our customers feel comfortable and happy here. Apparently, that goes down well. Weird, I know, but there you go. Let’s give it a try, see how it pans out.”

Inside the mind of CAMRA

We hope CAMRA appreciates the brilliant if unsanctioned work of its activist bloggers. All the paid-for PR and press releases in the world can’t compete with the kind of insight we get daily from Maeib, Tandleman, Steve and others.

Recently, all three have come into their own, explaining the murky world of Good Beer Guide selection to outsiders in posts like those linked above. When we questioned why a particular pub wasn’t in the Good Beer Guide a few months back, Steve commented here, chased up with his contacts in the region in question, and then posted a detailed response here. Although Steve is careful to remind everyone that he isn’t speaking on behalf of CAMRA when he blogs, he certainly boosts its image by doing so.

We still don’t understand why, in some towns, the GBG lists so many indifferent Wetherspoons and Greene King pubs; and we’d rather be told, straight up, which are the most interesting pubs in town, rather than those with the most consistent beer quality (inconsistency is half the fun with real ale, right?); but at least we know now that the decisions aren’t made by robots or at random.

Oxford: smoke, hops and ginger

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Here are quick reviews of a few beers we enjoyed on a recent trip to Oxford.

1. White Horse Village Idiot, 4.1%

An attempt, we think, to clone Hopback’s venerable Summer Lightning, Village Idiot is actually a somewhat better beer. Pale yellow, crisply bitter and slightly sweet, it was so full of the flavour and aroma of fresh hops, we though it should probably count as one of our portions of fruit and veg for the day. We guessed at a mix of German and British hops — if anyone knows for sure, tell us! The normal bitter (3.7%) is also superb.

The brewery tap at the Royal Blenheim has a ludicrously cheerful singing barman and 10 real ales in total, too, so well worth a visit.

2. Leatherbritches Ginger Spice, 3.8%

The best ginger beer we’ve had yet, where hefty amounts of (candied?) ginger make for a characterful pint. Often, ginger in beer leads to a gritty dryness but this beer is almost sickly sweet. Normally, that would be a real turn-off, but it definitely balances. But, as the expert barman at the excellent Turf Tavern said as he served it, “tasty, but you won’t want more than one”.

3. Thermal Cheer, by Isle of Purbeck brewery, ?%

This brewery seems to favour smoked flavours: all three of their beers that we tried tasted like they’d been lightly barbecued (although their website makes no mention of this). An acquired taste. This, a dark bitter, was the best of the bunch and certainly an interesting experiment. Did we actually like it? We still haven’t made up our minds. We had this one at the Turf but also saw their beers (the bitter and “Solar Power”) in a couple of other pubs.

4. Cotswold Brewing Company Wheat, 4.2%

Also at the Turf Tavern, this unfiltered kegged German-style wheat beer has alerted us to the existence of yet another interesting British lager brewer. Sadly, it wasn’t all that fresh, but the local students were mad for the stuff and its underlying quality shone through. If, like us, you’ve ever thought German wheat beer would be improved with a bit more bitterness, then this will be just the job. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to try the rest of their range sometime soon.

We got some ideas for which pubs to visit from the Good Beer Guide, Maeib’s pub crawl post and whole bunch of other websites. There are a fair few decent places to drink in Oxford!

How much!?

The Rake at Borough Market can be hard work. We’ve found it’s more-or-less bearable between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, though, which is when we happened to go for a pint on a recent afternoon off.

We’ve written about the Rake lots of times before, but one thing we’ve always shrugged off is the price of the bottled beer. Our view has always been that imports should cost more and that it was worth paying the inflated prices to be able to drink hard-to-come-by beers somewhere other than our front room.

This time, though, even we were astounded to find ourselves paying £9.50 for just over one UK pint of Stone Cali-Belgique IPA.

Yes, this is something to do with the exchange rate; and, yes, the very nice bar manager did warn us before opening the bottle; and, yes, it was a very interesting beer. In short, we’re not really criticising the Rake for charging what they need to — they’re running (an apparently very successful) business, after all.

What it did make us question is our own priorities. Should we take such a prohibitive price as a sign that we ought to focus our energies on drinking local beers, at least until the dreaded Crispy CrunchTM is over? After all, it’s not as if we can’t get insane IPAs or stouts full of citrus hops in the UK these days.

The Stone Cali-Belgique IPA is their standard IPA made with Belgian yeast. It’s almost an educational tool, demonstrating what difference a brewer’s choice of yeast can make. It tastes spicy, floral and sugary, with reminders of Duvel and Hoegaarden. Probably not worth £9.50, though… Thom of the Black Cat brewery reviewed it here and didn’t like it much.