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.

    1. I think it’s less about lik­ing it on its mer­its and more about find­ing it crap in a reas­sur­ing­ly famil­iar way.

  2. I love this beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten post, par­tic­u­lar­ly recog­ni­tion of the beau­ty of scum. This may, of course, be the per­fect back­hand­ed com­pli­ment.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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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