The real benefit of Cask Ale Week as we see it is not particularly that it encourages punters to drink more cask ale but that it convinces those selling it to up their game a notch.
In a Fuller’s pub (the Mad Hatter Hotel, near Blackfriars and Waterloo) last week, we were spoilt for choice, with our beloved London Porter (the Cask Ale Week special), a brilliant IPA (Bengal Lancer), London Pride, ESB and Chiswick all on offer.
Now, Fuller’s, let’s have that variety all year round: interesting beers are for life, not just for Cask Ale Week.
Guinness have set out (pretty successfully) to turn St Patrick’s Day into International Guinness Day but their’s wasn’t the only stout about this week.
For example, Cask in Pimlico had the brilliant, Guinness-baiting Sussex Extra Stout, while Shepherd Neame rolled out their own tastefully branded (ahem) Double Stout.
Could it be that the market is managing to do for stout in March what CAMRA is trying so hard to achieve for mild in May? We’d love to see stouts and porters other than Guinness on sale in pubs during the rest of the year, but this is a start.
As with koelsch, if you drink one Belgian wheat beer in the middle of a session with other beers, you’d be hard pressed to tell one from another. But, drink them together for comparison, and you can really appreciate the subtle differences.
We took Bailey’s folks to the Dove a while back and, as his Mum is a fan of wheat beers, helped her work through a few from their impressive selection.
Steenbrugge wit was like a drier, more lemony version of Hoegaarden. Next to Steenbrugge, Blanche de Bruxelles seemed to taste of honey, a flavour we’d never noticed before. Florisgaarden was the most interesting of the three, with a pleasing aroma and taste of juniper, which we really liked. Quite a surprise from the big boys. We’ll be nicking that idea for the next Belgian-style wit we brew at home.
In search of Fullers London Porter, and following a tip from reader Ant, we found ourselves back at the Royal Oak in Borough, south of London Bridge. The Porter was great, as always, if a little flat. Harvey’s Old Ale (4.3%) had rich fruit cake flavours and reminded us of Adnams Broadside. It was also a little sour, which made us wonder if they really do add some aged beer to new to make it, or just a happy accident.
The highlight, though, was the Imperial Stout (9%). The cheery barman was delighted when we asked if they had any and bounced off to get a bottle. He apologised profusely for the fact that it no longer comes in a corked bottle and presented it with some pride in a big wine glass. We’ve had before but fairly early on in our beer drinking adventures, when our tastebuds were less mature, and then found it too intensely flavoured to actually finish. This time, it was love at first sight. There is something very sexy about a dark beer with a brown, caramel-coloured head. The smell was pure Cantillon — sour, sweet, and (bear with us) bordering on manure. The flavours exploded with every sip: blackberry, chocolate, tobacco (never thought we’d enjoy that), leather… we could go on. Astounding, in short, and now in our top 10.
As we drank, it began to snow outside. A Victorian pub, snow and black beer: it couldn’t have been more Christmassy.
NB – Fuller’s London Porter is also on at the Mad Bishop and Bear in Paddington Station, in cracking form.
A merry Christmas to all our readers – we’ll be back in a couple of days.
Fuller’s London Pride from a cask mixed with Fuller’s bottled London Porter makes a cracking half-and-half.
My Dad has developed a deep affection for Fuller’s beers and, when he’s in London, always finds an excuse to drop into one of their pubs. On his most recent trip, he’d only been off the train five minutes when he had us installed in the Mad Bishop and Bear at Paddington Station. (“Best wait for the rush hour crowds to pass.”)
Another of his favourite things is mixing his beers. At home in Bridgwater, it’s a necessity — every third pint of Butcombe Bitter down there is a bit stale and he relies on Mann’s Brown Ale to rescue them. On this occasion, he insisted on mixing Pride and London Porter, not because the Pride was bad, but because he really wanted a pint of mild and that, in his view, is the next best thing.
Usually, I find mixed beers are less than the sum of their parts, but this really was very drinkable, and offers yet another reason for more pubs to offer a good bottled stout or porter.