Now we think of it, lustre is a good word for that elusive ‘magic’ that can make a pint of beer especially enjoyable, and it’s certainly a classier term than ‘zing’. We’ve just spent several days in London for research purposes and, because the research dictated where we drank, we experienced what you might call a Tandlemanian interlude, finding lustre, zing or whatever you want to call it, in short supply.
Arriving late on Tuesday, we went to the first pub near our hotel to catch a couple of pints before closing time. There were a few ‘craft beer’ signifiers – trendy new breweries on the keg fonts, bottled foreign beer, weird wallpaper – but, within five minutes, we’d been served a kegged British lager well past its best and a pint of warm, lifeless stout. Nothing we tried – even beers we know are good – tasted right. We left wishing we hadn’t bothered.
On Wednesday, we had a few beers with CAMRA founder Michael Hardman at his choice of venue, a Wetherspoons in central London, handy for his train home. Michael found one of his favourites to drink and stuck with it, though it wasn’t to our taste. Instead, we tried almost every other cask ale on offer, eventually deciding that the Adnams Explorer was pretty good, especially compared to the knackered, buttery Greene King IPA and various burnt-toast flavoured novelty Christmas ales.
On Thursday, we met a big party of mates most of whom prefer ‘normal pubs’ without ‘weird beer’, that aren’t ‘in the middle of nowhere’. We sneakily suggested the Wheatsheaf, which was once Becky’s Dive Bar, so that at least we could get a proper look at the place and try to soak up the atmosphere. It still pongs a bit, especially towards the back, and, again, we slogged through several warm, worn-out, slightly vinegary cask ales, growing increasingly miserable as we did so. One particularly charmless brew tasted like nail-varnish remover. (Though Michael Hardman told us that Becky’s beer was always dreadful, so perhaps this was a fairly authentic experience?)
On Friday, we had the same dilemma, with a different bunch of mates, and so ended up at Ye Olde Watling, erstwhile City of London base for the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood. The pub is pleasant enough, and Bow Lane is incredibly cute, especially at this time of year, but the beer… well, we’re getting tired of writing about tired beer, but you get the idea. Let’s just say that neither Adnams or St Austell are being done any favours by the way their beer is served in this pub.
It wasn’t until the last leg of the trip, waiting at Paddington to come home to Cornwall, that we had a pint which set the heavenly choruses singing: Fuller’s Traitors’ Gate at the Mad Bishop and Bear. That was followed by the best pints of London Pride and ESB we’ve had in some time – bright-tasting, clean, popping with flavour in every corner of the mouth and away down the throat. It was a relief, to be honest, as we were beginning to think it might be our tired palates.
Next time we’re in London, research be damned: good beer will come first.